Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Zouheir and I went to see Love, Loss and What I Wore (LLAWIW) at the Panasonic Theatre on Saturday night. I had read a 4-star review in The Star and was very much looking forward to seeing Mary Walsh, Andrea Martin, and three others perform this work. It was a short performance of an hour and a half without an intermission. It was a very rainy night and the theatre was perhaps two-thirds full. Before the show, we had a non-descript dinner at The Artful Dodger pub around the corner, followed by coffee and a crepe at Cafe Mania.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Do you experience stress? Are you bored? Do you need a break from the everyday? Are your children whining that summer is boring? You should ask the Internet about VACATION™ to see if it might be right for you. VACATION™ has been used to treat Regular Life for years, and is the number one Internet-approved method for slacking off.
VACATION™ is the simplest, most effective way to develop an appreciation of your own bed, kitchen, “alone time,” and access to over 200 channels even when nothing is on....
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle? I have? I've now carried it with me about town, on the subway, into cafes, and have totally loved the freedom to have a bunch of books with me wherever I go. I like that I can increase the font size when I want to lay it on a table while eating, and that I have a choice of books for every mood. One of my friends asked me to bring it with me on our outing yesterday so she could see it, and I may have a couple of converts. I'll never totally give up paper-based books (Toronto has one of the best library systems in the world), but it's making reading very pleasurable nonetheless.
Am reading (on my Kindle) The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I'm currently enjoying the section on neuroplasticity, the idea that our brain can change depending on the experiences/tasks/trauma it undergoes. Carr and I have had a similar history with computers and the internet, and similar feelings of loss of the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. A snippet:
At first I'd figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot. But my brain, I realized, wasn't just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it -- and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became. When when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling. I wanted to be connected. Just as Microsoft Word had turned me into a flesh and blood word processor, the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, a human HAL.
I missed my old brain.
I am working on my third course through the Institute of Genealogical Studies, the second Methodology course called Organizing and Skill-Building. I've been creating numbering systems and binders for each of the families associated with my four grandparents. It feels great to get my stacks of paperwork and documents organized, and my next step is to try to make some headway with a Rubbermaid bin of photographs. I'm also hoping to do more genalogical blogging, and possibly set up a separate site for those posts.
My summer choir program is coming together nicely. We have a concert scheduled for August 15th at a Marian Shrine in west Toronto. The music is lovely, is a workout for the brain and the voice, and I leave rehearsals feeling calm and happy. Almost meditative. I've met some very nice people and have enjoyed it very much. I may decide to stay on in the fall if I can get the okay to skip the last Monday of each month for the Toronto Branch (OGS) meetings.
Michael has been working on both his tuba and bass trombone this summer. He's taking lessons on both from two excellent (and very different) teachers. He's getting ready for music camp at the end of the summer (jazz camp on trombone) and the three music courses he'll be taking in the fall. He's hoping to be in the Junior Concert Band, Junior Orchestra, and Junior Stage Band this year as well as a vocal ensemble, so he'll be a busy boy. He's also planning to audition for a couple of community bands with the hope of getting some more playing. I'm just thrilled that he's enjoying music so much as I know how much pleasure it's brought me over the years.
Made a very tasty quinoa salad this week. Will definitely make it again, possibly adding more parsley and/or cilantro to green it up a bit. Keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days.
We said goodbye to our niece, Magali, on Wednesday. She came to Canada from France 2-1/2 years ago to work for Danone in Montreal and is returning to work for their Evian division. She frequently came to Toronto on business, so we saw her every couple of months. It was great getting to know her better, and having her relatively close to us here in Canada. She leaves Montreal on Sunday, will have a few days in Paris to relax, and then will start apartment hunting in Evian. We wish her the best!
Here's a little memory of Canada for her...the visit to Niagara Falls on an incredibly cold day two winters ago!
Visit our host Jennifer at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I had a lovely day out with two friends. We met at the Royal Ontario Museum to take in the Terracotta Warrior exhibit, here from China. These artifacts are from the Qin dynasty, and include some of the full-sized sculptures of warriors, administrators, and horses. It's the first exhibit of these items in North America and it's very impressive. Zouheir had the privilege of seeing them in the original site of their discovery when he was in China last year, and so I was happy to see the exhibit here in Toronto with friends. We spent a couple of hours at the exhibit. The documentation was excellent: a mix of text, photographs, maps, and video commentary that added to the excitement of seeing these ancient artifacts.
At noon, we went upstairs to C5 for lunch, the elegant restaurant added to the ROM during the renovation. On the top floor, it has lovely views to the south and west of Toronto, including a new garden/green roof that was added since I was there last. While still relatively young, it provides a respite from what was a rather "industrial" view of the adjoining rooftop.
We all chose the special Terracotta Warrior menu (pdf), starting with a hot and sour egg drop soup, a choice of two entrees (Duck Confit or Tong Mein Noodles), and then a fabulous puff pastry with mango puree, fresh fruit, and sesame ice cream.
The exhibit is a must-see, and is on until early in 2011. With the wonderful conversation and a delicious lunch, we're making plans for another outing next month.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Media advisory: 2011 Census
July 21, 2010
OTTAWA — There has been considerable discussion in the media regarding the 2011 Census of Population.
There has also been commentary on the advice that Statistics Canada and I gave the government on this subject.
I cannot reveal and comment on this advice because this information is protected under the law. However, the government can make this information public if it so wishes.
I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act.
I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.
It can not.
Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.
I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity of serving him as the Chief Statistician of Canada, heading an agency that is a symbol of pride for our country.
To you, the men and women of Statistics Canada – thank you for giving me your full support and your dedication in serving Canadians. Without your contribution, day in and day out, in producing data of the highest quality, Canada would not have this institution that is our pride.
I also want to thank Canadians. We do remember, every single day, that it is because of you providing us with your information, we can function as a statistical agency. I am attaching an earlier message that I sent to Canadians in this regard.
In closing, I wish the best to my successor. I promise not to comment on how he/she should do the job. I do sincerely hope that my successor’s professionalism will help run this great organization while defending its reputation.
Munir A. Sheikh
For more information, contact Media Relations at 613-951-4636.
For details on the 2011 Census, see 2011 Census questionnaire.
Cet avis aux médias est aussi offert en français.
I am appalled by this whole fiasco and wish Dr. Sheikh the best. After 38 years in public service, this is a very sad day for him and for all his people at Statistics Canada.
by Mir on July 21, 2010 in Haven't been hit by lightning yet!
Yesterday turned out to be one of those days where we look around at the end of it and say, “… and let us never speak of it again.” Nothing horrible, really, just not a good day in terms of patience and kindness to your fellow family members. It turns out that sometimes absence DOES make the heart grow fonder, especially if you’re talking about escaping a small box by taking a walk for a while. So.
Accordingly, then, rather than regaling you with more tales of our exploits, I thought there’s been so much general interest in camping that I might help some of the on-the-fence amongst you decide if camping is right for your family. You know, because I’m an expert. Or I play one on the Internet. Or something. I forget.
Really, there are just a few key things you need to ask yourself if you’re considering taking your family camping. And—as usual—I’m here to help. Don’t be scared.
Do you enjoy sleeping under the stars, and by “under the stars” I mean “with nothing but nylon separating you from the wild, in extreme temperatures, and possibly being eaten by bears?”
If the answer is yes, you’re probably ready to go camping in a tent. Also, I think you’re nuts, but whatever.
If the answer is no, don’t worry! Camping may still be right for you! Keep going....
I've shared this on Twitter and Facebook, so apologies to those of you who've already read it, but it's just too funny. Click on the link to read the whole thing!
I camped when I was, oh, under 40. This just confirmed what I already knew...Zou is welcome to take the boys camping anytime. On his own.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
We've really enjoyed the live broadcasts of plays from the National Theatre in London this past year. The next season has been announced, and it begins with a play about mathematicians G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan called "A Disappearing Number." So we'll be first in line to get tickets. [The plays are broadcast live in HD around the world to selected CIneplex (and presumably other) cinemas, and we've got a broadcast location not too far from us.]
This piece appeared in the NY Times last month, and begins:
SIMON McBURNEY understands that beginning a play with an esoteric discussion of the concept of infinity is a risk, but he doesn’t mind if the audience gets lost in his new drama, “A Disappearing Number.” In fact he’s banking on it.
Trailing rave reviews from its original London run, the latest work by Mr. McBurney’s company, Complicite, comes to the Lincoln Center Festival beginning on July 15. It tells the story of the intense working and personal relationship between the mathematicians G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan during World War I. Ramanujan, a 23-year-old Indian with no university education, introduced himself to Hardy by sending a 10-page letter with his theories on subjects like prime numbers and infinity.
Click on the link below the image to read the entire piece.
Monday, July 19, 2010
This is simply awesome. Like the post says, the smile on the guys face tells the whole story.
My new Kindle is keeping me busy as I now seem to be juggling my library hold list, stuff I've downloaded to the Kindle, my own library of unread books, and some loans from my sister-in-law. So here's the latest:
One of the best reads so far this summer, this is a charming novel about a widower in a small English village (the Major) who befriends the local Pakistani shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali. This is Simonson's first novel and she has a wonderful ear for dialogue that is sharp and funny. This was a book that I absolutely did not want to end, and that would make a wonderful film in the right hands. A deft melange of the old and new worlds, the British and the American, the village and the city, I found myself laughing out loud, reading bits to my husband, and wishing that I could underline sections (were it not a library book). Highly recommended!
I was introduced to Laura Zigman's writing through Twitter...I think I started following her after she was retweeted by someone. This took me to a most moving blog post, after which I put her first book on hold at the library.
Animal Husbandry is the anatomy of a relationship seen through the eyes of a zoologist (I guess). Zigman's protagonist examines her life through the eyes of a scientist, creating what she refers to as the Old Cow - New Cow theory. Thoroughly entertaining.
This was the first book I downloaded onto my Kindle. It's Fallis' first novel, a satirical look at Canadian politics through they eye of an executive assistant on The Hill, and is very funny. I have been listening to The High Road (see below) through weekly chapter podcasts and felt I needed to whip through the first novel as The High Road is a follow-up to this one. I've just got a couple of chapters to go and it's been a fun, light read.
This doesn't come out in print until the Fall, but Fallis is podcasting it chapter by chapter, free, at iTunes. A follow-up to The Best Laid Plans, it continues the adventures of an originally reluctant MP as he tries to participate in the Canadian democratic process using his brain and his conscience, rather than simply following party lines. Plus he's a Scot, a mechnanical engineer, is building a hovercraft, and has some personal grooming issues. Doesn't get much better than this!
I first heard about this book on The Colbert Report when Stephen interviewed Nicholas Carr, but then it started popping up on all manner of blogs, magazines and newspapers. The Kindle lets you download a free sample before you buy, and that was enough to get me hooked. I've just put a toe in so far, but it should be a good read. I worry not just for the next generation but also for myself, as I feel my attention span shrinking with every tweet.
My sister-in-law just lent me this. We're both big Picoult fans and I thought I'd read them all, but this is from 1998 and it doesn't look familiar, although I will be the first to admit that I have gotten a chapter or so into a book before I realised that i'd read it before. But I hope this is a new one! She had it up at the cottage where our paths crossed last weekend, and she sent me back with How Do You Tuck In a Superhero?: And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys by Rachel Balducci.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
I became a big fan of Alan Bennett when I saw his play The Habit of Art broadcast live from the National Theatre in London. I just got this in Audiobook format from the library and have loaded it onto my iPhone. This novella imagines what might happen if the Queen (Elizabeth) suddenly discovers the pleasures of reading (via a mobile library van) and loses interest in the normal queenly preoccupations. Am VERY much looking forward to this!
Study Is Hard Work by William H. Armstrong
This was mentioned on Mental Multivitamin a few couple of weeks back and I quickly put it on hold at the library. I want to press it on my teen sons, but will read it first so that I can speak with enthusiasm about something that I think will be of great use to them.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier
As I mentioned previously, it was Chevalier who got me interested and engaged in historical fiction. This is her latest, about a (female) fossil hunter in 19th century England.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I have had the same pair of (bright pink) earbuds for my iPhone for months and they have disappeared. One of my sons has the annoying habit of borrowing them without asking. (I bought bright pink specifically so the men in my life would NOT feel so inclined.) Said son went away for the weekend, about the same time as they disappeared.
He claims (via SMS) to not have them.
It will take all my self-control to not search his bags as he walks in the door tonight.
I wouldn't be making a big deal out of this, but there are no other earbuds in this house that have a freezie's chance in Hades to stay put for more than 2 seconds. I must have weird ears or something.
Thanks for listening.
I feel better now.
Friday, July 16, 2010
I've just started listening to podcasts of National Public Media's Speaking of Faith program with Krista Tippet. It's a very though-provoking show, covering aspects of what it means to be human with a focus on spirituality and ethics.
I've listened to a show on what autism teaches us about human-ness, a show about Goethe, science, and contemplative practice, one about teaching children about spirituality, and I have another dozen or so on my ipod waiting for me.
I linked to the show on Facebook and this flowchart from the Speaking of Faith blog was on their wall. I loved it, but there's a more complex one that's great too. Go to the link above and scroll down.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
He speaks about how we make excuses for not doing things, things we supposedly want to do, except that, well, we don't have the time, or we're too fat, or we don't have enough money. How it's easy to think that we want to do those things but find that when what we thought was the obstacle is removed, we still don't do them.
Marshall comments about the time before he lost weight in junior high:
I'd often fantasize about my glorious post-fat future. Oh, the question wasn't about what I would do after being fat; the question was, what wouldn't I do? This gave me a certain amount of motivation, but in retrospect it was a recipe for grand malprocrastination. I pushed everything into the then-speculative after-fat era. Should I play music? Nah, I'll do it when I'm not fat. Should I act more? Nah, I'll do it when I'm not fat. Should I maybe make some more friends? Nah, I'll do it when I'm not fat. Now are you gonna pass that tray of peanut-buttered bagels, or aren't you?
[Go read the whole piece. Very convicting stuff.]
Lots of us (most of us?) do this or a version of this. We substitute losing weight with "having more time", "having more money", "once the kids have moved out", or even "once I retire". About three seconds of introspection on my part suggests that I have more free time than the majority of 50-year-old women, yet not that much to show for it.
That's not to say the past few years have been easy. Job-loss, international moves, teenagers, depression, downsizing have at times been paralyzing. Just moving from a nine-to-five job to grad school to full-time motherhood took me a few years of adjustment. It really did a number on my sense of self, particularly when the world around me really doesn't value the work of a woman at home, even when it's her choice. Plus a partner with a high stress job and relatively little free time.
But crossing the threshold to the big 5-0 has caused me to pause and consider plans for the next fifty. I'll always be a wife and mother. A very part-time housekeeper. I know that I want to get more involved in genealogy, perhaps starting a consulting business as I work my way through my own research and complete course-work. Z wants me to do some investment/trading but I'm not sure that I'm really jazzed by that (although I've done pretty well in with my fake portolio.) I'm involved in volunteer work and enjoy singing in choirs. I'm taking courses and encouraging my sons in their work and life outside of school. I attend arts events with Zouheir and/or the kids, with friends, and on my own. I like to do all manner of needlework and sewing.
I remember a management training course based on Stephen Covey's First Things First. We were supposed to think about what our obituary would look like: how people would remember us after we died. I remember thinking that the exercise seemed kind of arrogant. Why would you care, or want to think about how other people thought of your life? But yet it was compelling. What DID you want to be remembered for? What were the accomplishments that you would want your friends and family to remark on? I'm not sure that I've figured this out yet. But I know that I spend a lot of my 24 hours not doing things that are notable whatsoever, or support notable goals. Mindless internet surfing comes to mind. Running errands every day that I should be grouping into once or twice a week forays. Perhaps a little goal-setting is in order as I begin the next fifty, not to stress myself out but to link my core values with how I actually spend a lot of my time. And to just get things done.
This little quiz has been circulating for a while....it analyzes word choice and writing style.
Brown's certainly engaging and I've enjoyed his novels immensely. (And yes, my fellow Catholics, I KNOW it's fiction. Lay off.) Now if I can just turn some writing into big bucks like Brown, I'd be a happy camper!
Oh, and Margaret Atwood did the quiz and tweeted that she writes like Stephen King!
Jennifer at Conversion Diary is one of my favourite Catholic bloggers. Her post today about her mother-in-law Yaya is one in a string of hilarious posts about this woman. Here is the beginning, but you need to go there to read the whole thing:
My mother-in-law,Yaya, is Baptist. Well, currently she attends Joel Osteen's church, but the official denomination that she would claim to be a part of (and in which she raised my husband) is the Southern Baptist church.Friends sometimes ask if there's been any tension between us and Yaya since my husband and I converted to Catholicism in 2007, but there really hasn't been. Occasionally my husband will try to start a good-natured debate with her about doctrinal differences, but she's never interested: "I love Jesus and y'all love Jesus and Jesus loves us and that's all I really need to know," she once said....
Like in every other area of life, the details of Christian doctrine are of little importance to her -- in fact, I'm not sure if she notices them at all. She is so intensely focused on the big picture that she doesn't have time to mess around with the small things. (For example, when she unloads the dishwasher when she's visiting our house, she takes the silverware basket and just dumps the whole thing into the drawer. "I'm not gonna sit there and sort knives and forks when I've got grandchildren I could be hugging and kissing!" she says.)...
Nevertheless, as a gesture of respect I rarely bring up the areas of Christian doctrine where Baptists and Catholics differ. In general, I figure there's no need to wade into controversial territory and risk causing tension between us.But then Yaya lost some important paperwork. And I decided to tell her about St. Anthony.
Go and read about Yaya's experience with St. Anthony.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
...the sun is setting. It's been cooler the past couple of days with a bit of rain. Everything feels a little fresher and more focussed.
I am thinking...
…about the future. I turned 50 last Friday and it feels like a time to think about what I want to do with the next 50.
I am thankful for...
…my Kindle e-reader, a gift from Z that arrived from amazon in the mail today! I am so excited about it. I have already downloaded one book and moved a bunch of pdfs that I've been wanting to read over from my computer. It's so small and light, and I'm excited about always having reading material with me!
From the kitchen...
…we had grilled flank steak with a salad of romaine, cucumber, tomato, avocado, and blue cheese for dinner tonight. A perfect summer meal. Accompanied by bread and Ontario cherries.
I am wearing...
….an olive green sport skirt and tank.
I am going...
… to see Miss Saigon at the Four Seaons Centre this Friday night.
I am hoping...
…for continued cool weather this week.
I am hearing...
…the television in another room, where Z is watching Life Unexpected. Also some strange intermittent beeping from the kitchen, the source of which I cannot determine.
Around the house...
…I still have curtains to hem and a lot of dusting to do.
One of my favorite things...
… is preparing a meal that everyone in the household enjoys and comments (positively) on!
A few plans for the rest of the week:
I'm getting together with a friend for lunch on Thursday, and then taking Michael to his tuba lesson that evening. Friday is Miss Saigon. I also want to get a couple of weeks work done in my genealogy course, and do some photocopying at the North York Central Library for an enquiry that's come into the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. And play with my Kindle!
Here's a picture thought I am sharing:
This is my mother-in-law Josephine taken with all her children when we were in Paris last month. They are not often all together, so this was a wonderful opportunity. From left to right (back row): Marie-Louise, Jean-Louis, Gemma, Tony. Front: Zouheir, Jacques, Josephine.
The Simple Woman’s Daybook is brought to us at http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/ . Head over there to join the fun!
Joe Keohane has a fascinating summary of our political biases in the Boston Globe Ideas section this weekend. It's probably not surprising that voters aren't rational agents, but it's always a little depressing to realize just how irrational we are. (And it's worth pointing out that this irrationality applies to both sides of the political spectrum.) We cling to mistaken beliefs and ignore salient facts. We cherry-pick our information and vote for people based on an inexplicable stew of superficial hunches, stubborn ideologies and cultural trends. From the perspective of the human brain, it's a miracle that democracy works at all. Here's Keohane:
A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare -- the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct -- but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)
Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the "I know I'm right" syndrome, and considers it a "potentially formidable problem" in a democratic system. "It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs," he wrote, "but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so."
In How We Decide, I discuss the mental mechanisms behind these flaws, which are ultimately rooted in cognitive dissonance:
Partisan voters are convinced that they're rational⎯only the other side is irrational⎯but we're actually rationalizers. The Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels analyzed survey data from the 1990's to prove this point. During the first term of Bill Clinton's presidency, the budget deficit declined by more than 90 percent. However, when Republican voters were asked in 1996 what happened to the deficit under Clinton, more than 55 percent said that it had increased. What's interesting about this data is that so-called "high-information" voters⎯these are the Republicans who read the newspaper, watch cable news and can identify their representatives in Congress⎯weren't better informed than "low-information" voters. According to Bartels, the reason knowing more about politics doesn't erase partisan bias is that voters tend to only assimilate those facts that confirm what they already believe. If a piece of information doesn't follow Republican talking points⎯and Clinton's deficit reduction didn't fit the "tax and spend liberal" stereotype⎯then the information is conveniently ignored. "Voters think that they're thinking," Bartels says, "but what they're really doing is inventing facts or ignoring facts so that they can rationalize decisions they've already made." Once we identify with a political party, the world is edited so that it fits with our ideology.
At such moments, rationality actually becomes a liability, since it allows us to justify practically any belief. We use the our fancy brain as an information filter, a way to block-out disagreeable points of view. Consider this experiment, which was done in the late 1960's, by the cognitive psychologists Timothy Brock and Joe Balloun. They played a group of people a tape-recorded message attacking Christianity. Half of the subjects were regular churchgoers while the other half were committed atheists. To make the experiment more interesting, Brock and Balloun added an annoying amount of static⎯a crackle of white noise⎯to the recording. However, they allowed listeners to reduce the static by pressing a button, so that the message suddenly became easier to understand. Their results were utterly predicable and rather depressing: the non-believers always tried to remove the static, while the religious subjects actually preferred the message that was harder to hear. Later experiments by Brock and Balloun demonstrated a similar effect with smokers listening to a speech on the link between smoking and cancer. We silence the cognitive dissonance through self-imposed ignorance.
There is no cure for this ideological irrationality - it's simply the way we're built. Nevertheless, I think a few simple fixes could dramatically improve our political culture. We should begin by minimizing our exposure to political pundits. The problem with pundits is best illustrated by the classic work of Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at UC-Berkeley. (I've written about this before on this blog.) Starting in the early 1980s, Tetlock picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living "commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends" and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits were asked to rate the probability of several possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the pundits about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their minds. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.
After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of the pundits became obvious. Although they were paid for their keen insights into world affairs, they tended to perform worse than random chance. Most of Tetlock's questions had three possible answers; the pundits, on average, selected the right answer less than 33 percent of the time. In other words, a dart-throwing chimp would have beaten the vast majority of professionals.
So those talking heads on television are full of shit. Probably not surprising. What's much more troubling, however, is that they've become our model of political discourse. We now associate political interest with partisan blowhards on cable TV, these pundits and consultants and former politicians who trade facile talking points. Instead of engaging with contrary facts, the discourse has become one big study in cognitive dissonance. And this is why the predictions of pundits are so consistently inaccurate. Unless we engage with those uncomfortable data points, those stats which suggest that George W. Bush wasn't all bad, or that Obama isn't such a leftist radical, then our beliefs will never improve. (It doesn't help, of course, that our news sources are increasingly segregated along ideological lines.) So here's my theorem: The value of a political pundit is directly correlated with his or her willingness to admit past error. And when was the last time you heard Karl Rove admit that he was wrong?
Once again, Jonah Lehrer nails it.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Vie pratique / Gourmand
lundi 12 juillet 2010
Salade creole a l’ananas
Temps de preparation : 15 minutes
Temps de cuisson : 12 minutes
300g de chair de crabe
1 boite de mais
150g de riz
1 ananas Victoria
1 poivron rouge
Sel & poivre
Faites cuire le riz. Egouttez et rafraichissez-le, mettez le dans un saladier, puis preservez-le.
Egouttez et emiettez la chair de crabe. Egouttez et rincez bien le mais. Epluchez l’ananas, coupez-le en tranches pour la presentation et decoupez le reste en petits des.
Coupez le poivron rouge en petits des.
Ajoutez l’ananas, la chair de crabe, le poivron rouge et le mais dans le saladier.
Emulsionnez l’huile et le jus de citron. Salez et poivrez genereusement. Versez la sauce sur la salade et melangez bien.
Ajoutez de la coriandre hachee.
Z likes to watch French television in the morning and he came down today, requesting a crab, pineapple, and rice salad he saw demonstrated on Telematin. I've grabbed it from the website above. Excuse the lack of accents...I have no ideas how to produce them on my keyboard so I just went through and replaced them with the unaccented letters.
The original recipe is here. There's also a video demo (in French, but it's pretty self-explanatory.) I substituted tomato for the red pepper as we have some pepper-haters in the household, and I also added a chopped avocado. I served it with store-bought rosemary focaccia and everyone loved it. A definite winner meal!
Early last week, I read The Restoration of Emily by Kim Moritsugu and blogged about it here. I just realised that this book is eligible for The Canadian Book Challenge so that's one down, twelve to go!
I alsoI read The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald which is a simply wonderful, magical book. It tells the coming of age story of Henry, a boy who starts off life as a "practice baby", an orphan who is given over temporarily to a university Domestic Science department to be cared for by women studying to become, well, domestic scientists, or more likely, homemakers. Grunwald read about such babies in some archives at Cornell and her novel suggests what the impact might have been on such children who, rather than forming a primary attachment to one or two caregivers, has a stream of women caring for him. The novel follows Henry into adulthood and suggests that his special way with women is a direct result of this early life. While all is not wonderful in the tale, it interweaves popular culture in the sixties (when he works at Disney and in London on a Beatles movie) in a remarkable way. Highly recommended.
On the weekend, I read Split Image, the latest (and last) novel by the late Robert B. Parker. It's from his Jesse Stone series, and while I've been a fan of his fast-paced novels for years, I found this to be choppy, with very short sentences and rather unrealistic dialogue. On the plus side, he brings Sunny Randall, another one of his protagonists, into this book which makes for an interesting side-plot.
Yesterday I started Major Pettigrew's Last Stand which has been on my library hold list forever. It's a first novel by Helen Simonson and, like the Grunwald book above, it's one of those pleasures that you want to extend for as long as possible. I'm only a third of the way in, but it concerns a widowed Englishman, Major Pettigrew, and his burgeoning friendship with a local shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali, who is a very-well read woman of Pakistani origin.
Next up will be Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures. Chevalier's previous works really got me excited about historical novels, a genre that I had stayed away from in the past. So I'm looking forward to this novel set in 19th century England, about a pioneering fossil collector.
Oh, and I'm following Terry Fallis' podcast version of The High Road, described in more detail here. I restarted it on the weekend so that Z could listen to it with me, so it now falls within The Canadian Book Challenge criteria as well!
Hosted by John Mutford over at The Book Mine Set, this challenge is to "explore, celebrate and promote Canadian books."
We are asked to read AND review (online) thirteen books, either by or about a Canadian, between 1 July 2010 and 1 July 2011. Full details are at the link above.
I've signed up, and while I don't have a Canadian book in my current pile, I'll be looking to add them in as I go! I have Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Curiosity by Joan Thomas and Tish Cohen's The Truth about Delilah Blue coming up on my hold list at the library and they're all eligible.
Consider joining the fun. There are prizes!
Friday, July 9, 2010
Followed a tweet to this wonderful list from a literary agent Rachelle Gardner titled "How to become a better writer: 11 non-writing related ideas". I love this list, not only because I enjoy writing and would like to incorporate more of it into everyday life as well as my genealogical work, but also because it's good advice for life.
1. Be creative any way you can. Cook new recipes. Paint a picture. Design a garden. Compose a song. Build something with Legos. Organize the garage.2. Pay attention. Observe the mannerisms of people around you. Listen to how they speak. Marvel at the way they're dressed. Notice their shoes and their posture and the look in their eye....
Go to her post to read the entire list. It's food for thought.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
These aging photocopies are part of my genealogical treasure chest, being the only record I have from Russia, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents.
Vera, my grandmother, was born to a Jewish father and Christian mother who converted to Judaism. Vera self-identified as Jewish. But this record shows that she was also baptized at age 3 days in Saint Nicholas Church in the village of Synelnykove, Pavlogradskii region.
My mother recently dug these out and had a Russian-speaking friend translate them.
The big notebook is a journal/scrapbook and the smaller one is a notebook that I use for lists, measurements, books to read, etc.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
…it's hot-hot-hot. So hot that the dog is spending the day lying on the cool tile. So hot that I cannot contemplate turning on the stove to make a meal. So hot that I might even jump in the lake at the cottage this weekend.
I am thinking...
…about the Renaissance music I’ve been singing with my summer choir, The Voices of St. Francis. It gets in your head and for days after rehearsal, it bounces around between my ears.
I am thankful for...
…my first fifty years, in which most of my dreams have come true.
From the kitchen...
…I’m thinking about salad with grilled chicken, harboiled eggs, and mango slices for dinner tonight.
I am wearing...
….a sleeveless cotton knit v-neck top, linen a-line skirt, and just the bare necessities underneath. And a hairband to keep my neck cool.
I am creating...
….a quilt for our bed in a Jacob’s Ladder pattern. From 101 Fabulous Rotary Cut Quilts. I’ve been a bit hampered by the heat and my lack of desire to iron, so I’m stalled at the end of the first step.
I am going...
…up to the cottage this weekend to see my family and relax in and around the lake.
I am reading...
The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald. A wonderful novel of a boy who is raised in a "practice house" for aspiring homemakers. Hard to put down.
I am hoping...
…to get going on some embroidery. It’s such a wonderful way to beautify ordinary household stuff. Check out these pillows!
I am hearing...
…faint sounds of lawn mowers, the washing machine, and my dog’s active dreaming.
Around the house...
…I need to get a handle on our bedroom, where my ironing pile is growing wild and I need to hem our new curtains.
One of my favorite things...
… is all the wonderful summer fruit and vegetables that are appearing in the markets these days.
A few plans for the rest of the week:
This week is pretty plan-free! My fiftieth birthday is on Friday, and I’ll be heading up to the cottage to spend the weekend with some extended family. In the remaining days, I’d like to crank up the quilting and get one genealogy course finished and another one started.
Here is picture for thought I am sharing...
I love this picture of Z and Alex. It was taken in a creperie in the Quartier Latin when we were in Paris a few weeks ago. In a rare stroke of solidarity, they both used it for their Facebook profile picture!
The Simple Woman’s Daybook is brought to us at.http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/ . Head over there to join the fun!
I've recently signed up to become an indexer with familyserach.org. Indexers are an army of (typically) genealogists who, reading from scans of original records, type the information into a database so that the reconrds can become searchable online.
It's a very efficient system. The scanned images are divided into batches that you download to your computer with the click of a button. You are presented with the image at the top of your screen and a form at the bottom (actually, three choices of forms) to enter the data. Each field has help information, and you really can't go wrong.
The main difficulty with the tasks is reading the handwriting. You have an option to leave fields blank or designate them as unreadable. Each batch is indexed (at least) twice, and discrepancies go to a moderator who has a third look at the data and finalizes the input.
As a beginner indexer, I started with some basic census forms that are fairly straightforward to enter. I did batches from the New York, Minnesota, and South Dakota censuses from around the turn of the last century. Once I felt comfortable with these batched rated "Beginner", I moved on to some Ontario batches, in particular, Marriages (1869-1927) and Deaths (1933-1937). These were rated "Intermediate", mainly because the data are spread out over the form, rather than in a straight line per record as in the census.
I found my mind wandering while indexing these important life events. The marriage records were all from 1871. Why was a 13 year-old girl getting married? Was this typical at the time? What about the 60 year-old man marrying a 43 year old woman? How had that come about? Or about a Jewish man marrying an Episcopalian girl? What kind of issues did they face back in 1871? Because I also had names and locations, names of parents and witnesses, and where the marriage took place, it was easy to weave a little story in my head as I typed in their names, squinting over the handwriting, deciphering numbers and dates.
Below is a Census record from my personal research files. From the 1911 Census of Canada (Toronto), it shows my great-grandfather Stephen Goddard, his wife Minnie, and their five children. (They are the first family listed on the page.) I was able to obtain this because someone indexed these records to make them searchable online. It is unlikely that I would have taken the time to page through the entire census of Toronto to find them.
The image below is an Ontario Death Record for my great-aunt Barbara who died in January 1911 at age 8, of Diptheria. These records are even more onerous to search be hand because there are only six deaths listed per page, meaning a lot of page turns (or microfilm forwards).
The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society has partnered with Family Search to index the records from the Toronto Trust Cemeteries here in Toronto. I hope to be part of that activity as I get a little more experienced with indexing. Who knows? I may end up indexing some of my ancestors' records I'm thrilled to be part of this worldwide project to make important information available to genealogists and others seeking to learn about and from the past.
Interesting concepts presented here. Designers have clearly contemplated the frustrations inherent in travel and attempted to deal with them in these three twists on luggage design.
Obvious question, particularly for the Suren....how much space is left for actual, you know, stuff?
Monday, July 5, 2010
I've been listening to Terry Fallis read his second novel The High Road, another piece of devilish political satire. He and his publisher agreed to provide it free in podcast format before the launch of the print edition in September. It's a very funny tale of political shenanigans in a rural-ish Canadian riding. The serialization is six chapters in, and I very much look forward to each weekly installment. Fallis is the author of the very well-received The Best Laid Plans which I have not read yet, but it's on my list. It was the winner of the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Found myself on Colin Marshall's site The War on Mediocrity. Now, I don't know anything about this guy, or even how I ended up on his site, but his five-part series The Plight of the Social Maladroit is very compelling reading. Marshall discusses how communication today, particulary via the internet, including so-called socail networking sites, has become "autistic", or non-collaborative. Tweeting, Facebook, blogging, he argues, are intrinsically one-way forms of communication and as such, we may be losing the ability to interact socially in a give-and-take manner, whether face-to-face or online.
His series is in five parts, and I've excerpted a small bit from each part to give you a sense of where he's going. The series is definitely worth a read and some meditation, whether or not we have an online presence or not. Parents, in particular, might learn something about their teens modes of communicating.
I strongly encourage you to go to his site and read through the five parts. If you start at Part 1, you can easily click through to the next. Below, I've included a sentence or two from each part to stimulate your interest, but really. Go there and read it.
Me? I'm determined to leave more comments, reply to more Tweets, and work on my collaborative, interactive skills online. And in the real world.
It's no wonder that scattershot autistic declaration has become the internet's dominant form of speech. You could hardly design a better enabling device: allow people to lob as many messages as they can type into the void, and have that void sometimes reward them with just enough of a response to imply the alluring promise of much, much more.
If, like those "talented" kids who grow up lazily shielding the dubious glory of their intelligence, you buy your own hype, you might come to believe some weird things. If other people bow before the awesome power of your brain, for instance, then what could you ever stand to gain from interacting with other people? They're worshiping you, after all. You're a god to them! The assumption that you only need your projects, your own brain and maybe the friendship of the 99th percentile most like-minded and demographically similar people in your region....
This all comes back to Dale Carnegie, doesn't it? I somehow happened on his immortal How to Win Friends and Influence People in high school and, despite the book's dopey aspirational title, found that its ideas made so much sense I could hardly think directly about them.
Just as the near-epic challenge of developing a Dale Carnegie-style "genuine interest in other people" often goes unacknowledged, it seems to me that people tend to be wrong in the same way about openmindedness — or empty-mindedness, ready-mindedness, or beginner's-mindedness, or shoshin-mindedness....
I would submit that, like anything worthwhile, cultivating this sort of receptive mind demands actual sacrifices. I've mourned living people due to to their unwillingness or inability to understand this. If I could only frame life in one way, I'd frame it as the constant pushing outward of one's own comfort zone, with all the attendant risks. If you're not doing that, you are, in some sense, dead. With constrained interests, you're similarly dead. Without the willingness to separate your interests from your identity, from your various prejudices and from any other of the aforementioned lingering brain garbage? Dead.
But from what I can tell — in the parlance of the previous installment — nobody is quite so fucked as he who lacks an interest in social connection, even if he's awesome at work which itself has ostensibly nothing to do with the social world.
The deep trouble begins when you start seeing your potential audience, collaborators or audience-collaborators as the Other. This is the mindset of so many hapless teenage dudes on the hunt for a girlfriend: they forget that they're making a connection and not, say, playing solitaire. Adam Cadre made an astute point about this in regard to the generation of guys raised on computer games: "Want the treasure behind the door? Find the key. Want to get past the troll? Give him the fish. Want the monkey to follow you around? Give him some bananas. Want the girl to love you? Give her the right object, and just like the door, surely she will open up and yield her treasure."