Movie Friday: Laughing With

So for whatever reason, my musical selection is skewed strongly male. It probably has more than a little to do with the fact that I primarily listen to rock and hip-hop, both of which genres have strong macho bias. But whatever the reason, there are very few female singers who I really like to listen to. I’m a big fan of the Cardigans, Lauryn Hill (obviously), I was a big fan of Poe’s debut album (long before her name was a synonym for an internet troll), I thought Tragic Kingdom was pretty good… other than that though, women don’t feature large on my iTunes.

There is one female artist, however, that grabbed me from the moment I first heard her voice in a duet with Ben Folds – Regina Spektor:

(Please forgive the intro and the Spanish lyrics – the official video has embedding disabled)

She has a lot of amazing songs, and a lot of amazing videos, but this one got stuck in my head the other day. The lyrics are incredibly enigmatic, and they strike me as something of a Rorschach Test – the level of subjectivity lends itself to multiple interpretations. Ms Spektor apparently refuses to tell people what they ‘really’ mean, leaving it up to interpretation.

To me, it seems like she’s talking about the concept of ‘God’ as opposed to expressing an actual belief. Everyone takes the idea very seriously when the chips are down, but you’ve got to remember the lighter, more hilarious side of the idea that there’s a supernatural being handing out rewards and punishments. She also singles out its most fervent believers for a bit of ridicule – basically, it’s not something to be taken seriously. It’s a joke that we can laugh with.

Then again, the top-rated comment says something completely different:

Basically, if your plane is crashing, God doesn’t seem like a joke. You can spend your whole life not believing in a higher power and even ridiculing it, but if you’re moments from death and you know it, I think everyone would wonder.

Ah yes, the old ‘atheists in foxholes’ nonsense. Glad to see that some things never die. Wait, did I say ‘glad’? I mean ‘exasperated’.

Anyway, leave your interpretations in the comments! Lyrics below the fold.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked cats. I probably got the attitude from my father, who was allergic and disliked animal hair on his black slacks (he wore black slacks a lot – my dad’s got style). It’s not usually a big deal – I don’t hate cats or anything, I’m just not a fan. If you can split the world into ‘cat people’ and ‘dog people’ I am totally a ‘dog person’. I love dogs. They’re awesome. Cats are some special combination of insane, needy and dickish; dogs just want to play. Plus you can train dogs to do stuff – cats train you.

I don’t like cats, is what I’m saying.

But you know who does like cats? The fucking internet. I can’t go three links on Reddit without someone posting a picture of their goddamn cat doing something completely uninteresting. “Look, he’s sitting in a shoebox!” Hi-fucking-larious, bro! A million upvotes for you! “Look, she’s chasing a laser pointer because of an instinctual attraction to movement and a lack of comprehension of human technology!” Wowee! I’ve never seen that a million times before! That certainly didn’t stop being amusing to me by the time I turned 8!

I don’t like people who go nuts about cats, is what I’m saying.

But now I think I have a bit more sympathy for them: [Read more…]

The power of Dr. House

I was recently reflecting on a fact that I usually ignore: I am in excellent health. That’s not to say I’m in excellent shape (I’m not), but I am able to live a more or less ‘normal’ life completely free of any infirmity. I don’t have any recurrent pain, difficulty sleeping, food allergies, mental distress, social anxiety… basically I’m kicking ass at life. When I consider what the reality is for many people, even if I restrict my thinking only to those in North America, I am still coming out ahead of a good chunk of the population who has to interact with the health care system in one way or another.

It is somewhat ironic that I make a living researching ways to improve the health care system, but that the only time I actually interface with it is when I go to the office. The irony expands a bit when I think of the myriad of ways in which people’s ill health makes working either an impossibility or a real difficulty. Even with a publicly-funded health care system, there is a severe economic consequence associated with illness. This association diminishes somewhat in white-collar jobs (unless you have some kind of injury that interferes with cognition, or a mental illness that makes knowledge work difficult), but your health is the foundation of your entire life if you work in a trade – a busted knee or a broken finger means the difference between working and starving.

Interestingly, the relationship between health and wealth works in the other direction as well. While the correlation between education/income and health are well-understood in the realm of health research, the evidence supporting causation is somewhat less robust. However, the picture is getting a little clearer: [Read more…]

It’s a good day for the ladies

One of the most frustrating arguments I encounter when talking about feminism is the various double standards. Women are portrayed as the passive recipients of actions, and yet are the ones who must take responsibility for their marginalization (either by “grow(ing) a pair”, “get(ting) a sense of humour”, or not “dress(ing) like a total whore”). There is rarely the corrolary pressure put on men to moderate their (our) behaviour, at least not by non-feminists. Of course when feminists do say “hey guys, don’t do that”, they (we) get piled on for being a castration-hungry horde of groupthinkers who are just trying to get laid (if you’re a straight man) or who just need to get laid (if you’re not).

Not too long ago, I talked about an experience I had when I was doing undergrad orientation, where the women in my residence were taught a number of ways to safeguard themselves against date rape. Oddly (or, rather, not oddly at all), there were no accompanying instructions for the guys. Safeguarding people from date rape was a ‘victim-only’ responsibility. In that same post, I lauded a program that is seeking to shift the conversation away from that kind of blame-based advice and toward a “personal responsibility” *twitch* model. The idea seems to be picking up steam in some unlikely places. [Read more…]

Calgary chalks one up in the ‘win’ column

The cup of conservatism overfloweth with bromides about the virtues of small government. “That government is best which governs least” is a pithy quote from Thoreau. People today are probably more familiar with Ronald Reagan’s most dangerous nine words: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. There’s the oh-so-cute line about shrinking government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub (which, I’ve got to tell you, is a fucking creepy image). Of course, time and again we see that when “conservatives” are given power, they use it to rapidly expand government’s role in the social sphere while cutting the amount of actual good they do in terms of policy.

Hypocrisy aside, the maxims of ‘small government’ are still mostly nonsense. It is not the size of government that is meaningful, it’s the behaviour of government. Institutions that are transparent and made accountable to the people in its constituency can provide excellent services and aid in a variety of sectors. Insofar as a small government is easier for the electorate to monitor than a big one, there is some virtue in reducing size per se. Of course there is a trade-off to be paid in reducing government size – it becomes much less able to do things. A government small enough to drown in a bathtub is too small to react meaningfully to a national emergency or create a sufficient safety net – things it does much better than the private-sector alternative.

There is a balance that must be struck, to be sure. Big government isn’t always the problem, and shrinking it isn’t always the solution. Sometimes large social problems require government-assisted solutions. Case in point: [Read more…]

The changing face of American marriage

If you’re a really long-time Cromrade (and I don’t think too many of you still commenting have been with the blog for this long), you might remember a post I wrote about the proliferation of ‘interracial’ marriages in Canada:

I am heartened by the findings, of course. As the product of a mixed union myself (two, technically, after my dad re-married) I am obviously a supporter of marrying whoever you want to. As different groups begin to live together, go to school together, and work together, people become more exposed to other cultures and ethnic groups. As time goes by, they start wanting a bit more exposure (of the boobies kind) with other cultures and ethnic groups. Of course, this has a particular application to Canada.


What’s interesting is that the increase in inter-racial marriages isn’t an issue of simple familiarity (seeing different kinds of people in your day-to-day life), nor is it people becoming particularly philosophically enlightened. There is a phenomenon in social psychology called ‘in-group bias‘. Basically, you are more likely to favour members of your own group to the exclusion of those in other groups.

Well, as is the case with these ‘stories’, we have a new finding out of the United States that says much the same thing: [Read more…]

Americans: not as dumb as I thought

I have to admit something to my American readers: I have a complicated relationship with your country. I kind of see America like a big brother who’s kind of a screwup. Lots of talent, but makes poor decisions – gets drunk and picks fights, but then once he’s bailed out of jail he goes to the library and comes up with a brilliant get-rich quick scheme. And then blows all of the money on drugs. He gets into abusive relationships instead of dating that perfectly nice and cute girl (who is the one that keeps bailing him out of jail), because he likes ‘bad girls’. He’s powerful and brilliant, but erratic and dangerous.

American people, to draw large, sweeping, and unfair generalizations, seem to be willing to put up with a lot more bullshit than I would think is rational. Part of that is the fact that they believe a lot of bullshit about “American exceptionalism” and Manifest Destiny and the shining city on the hill and “leaders of the free world” and “model of freedom for the whole world” all those myths that were sort of true about a half-century ago. The remainder, however, baffles me. To think that the same country that produced the Ivy League also produced Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is a fact that makes me have to have a little lie-down.

To put a point on it, I don’t think much of the American electorate. After the last election here in Canada I don’t really think much of the Canadian electorate either, but there’s no chance that Herman Cain would lead a national opinion poll here. I have to believe that. However, I may have to revise my impression of Americans upward slightly: [Read more…]

Religious no-longer-free-dom

If they weren’t such a bunch of self-righteous, predatory, literally holier-than-thou, shockingly dangerous and immoral scumbags, I’d have some sympathy for the Catholic Church. After all, after centuries of iron-fisted rule over the minds of powerful nations around the world, the level of power afforded the Holy See has diminished substantially. As people have learned to pull back the curtain and find out who’s working the levers and dials of the Great And Powerful Pope, the church has had to start chasing believers and whining like a bully whose victims are finally fighting back.

One of the things that truly baffles me about public policy and religion is the fact that churches are tax exempt. I suppose it is defensible insofar as some churches provide charitable services; however, that is not even close to all they do. Their main activity is doctrinal instruction, not charitable organization. That kind of ‘service’ does not, in my mind, warrant getting the special privilege of having all income declared tax-exempt.

The Vatican has a weird relationship with Italy. It’s like when a spoiled child announces that ze is now going by a new name, and then the parents just kind of go with it until ze grows up and stops demanding to be called “Tangerine”. Except in this case, the parents are all the countries in the world, and the bizarre name is “Vatican”. True to its form, because the Vatican is technically a church, it demands tax exemptions for all of its properties, even those which are obviously not places of worship (as though that made a relevant difference).

I think the parents are getting fed up: [Read more…]

Parents lose ‘right’ to shield children from facts

One of the most irritating bromides I hear from parents (predominantly conservative parents, but not exclusively) is that they don’t want things taught in their children’s schools that contradict their (the parents’) beliefs. I suppose the fear is that teaching children that not everyone thinks identically will so confuse them that their poor little heads will a’splode. I’ve actually had one person try to tell me that kids who learn things that contradict what their parents believe have a higher rate of developmental problems – so therefore public schooling is harmful. It took me way too long to stop taking that guy seriously (that’s what I get for trying to read conservative writers for the sake of ‘balance’).

First of all, bringing up a kid who knows how to disagree with you is a good thing. Second, since the only way to ensure your kid doesn’t encounter any dissenting opinions is to raise hir in a bubble, cut off from the entire world – there’s a legal term for that. Third, raising a child to accept authority unquestioningly puts them at greater risk of being taken in by unscrupulous hucksters of all manner of ideas. Fourth, it severely handicaps their ability to make independent decisions if ze’s never been exposed to stuff that Mom or Dad didn’t warn hir about. Fifth, it retards their understanding of the world – there are a lot of ideas out there and it’s important to be exposed to lots of them.

There is perhaps no corner in which this attitude is more popular than among parents who wish to raise their children in a particular religious tradition. Maybe it is because they know how weak and vapid the arguments for faith are, or maybe it’s because they truly believe that little Ashley couldn’t possibly cope with the knowledge that different beliefs exist, but religious parents are infuriated by the idea of comparative religious instruction. They’re about to get a lot angrier: [Read more…]

Good news week

For some reason, or perhaps for no reason, my ‘news item’ file is overflowing with good news this week. So in honour of that, I’m going to highlight happy stories. Well, happy for me. Sad for the forces of stupid. So… um… enjoy that.