In a struggle to be happy and free

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Dawkins on astrology

Astrology […] is an aesthetic affront. Its pre-Copernican dabblings demean and cheapen astronomy, like using Beethoven for commercial jingles. It is also an insult to the science of psychology and the richness of human personality.

Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, 1998

On accident

Over the years, I’ve heard many children say on accident rather than by accident. Kids haven’t learned the finer points of grammar and phrasing, so it’s but one of the many mistakes they sometimes make. This is born out by the fact that I’ve never heard any child over the age of about ten say it.

Until now. I saw a U.S. John Deere television ad in which the voice-over states:

To make sure people don’t break John Deere tractors on accident, we try to break them on purpose.

I was reading at the time and my head snapped up so quickly that I surprised myself. The only good thing I can stay about this is that I now know why kids make this mistake! Is on accident accepted usage somewhere in the U.S. or should John Deere be looking for a new ad agency before they embarrass themselves further?

Workplace recollections

Things I learned from my workplace neighbours:

  • Don’t use a squeaky grip exerciser in the office. Nearby coworkers will hear it and be annoyed.
  • Carefully consider your lunch choices if they’re strongly scented. Nearby coworkers will notice if you use the microwave oven to reheat a lunch that smells like burnt garbage or a tire fire.
  • Don’t trim your fingernails in the office. Nearby coworkers will hear and be annoyed.
  • Don’t spout off about how lotteries are a tax on the stupid, and then rush to join the office lottery pool because you don’t want to be left out if the pool members happen to strike it rich. Your coworkers will notice that you’re a hypocrite, and that you’ve got a big mouth.
  • Don’t create a ringtone of your very young child speaking a foreign tongue and keep your cellphone at maximum volume. Nearby coworkers will notice when you receive a call and believe you’ve summoned a tiny demon. Again.
  • Don’t trim your toenails in the office. Nearby coworkers will hear and be revolted.
  • Don’t take off your shoes if your feet smell like a wet dog. Nearby coworkers will smell it and be annoyed. They’ll wonder why you don’t wash your feet. Why don’t you wash your feet‽
  • If you’re caught airing out your dog feet once, simply don’t do it again. Don’t tell your co-worker to tell you if your feet bothers him/her again. Keep your shoes on. Why would you risk subjecting your pleasant co-workers to your weapons-grade feet?
  • Don’t chew your lunch with your mouth open. Nearby coworkers will suddenly find themselves not very hungry.
  • Don’t take it a step further and talk to them while chewing. They may throw up on you if they can’t get away quickly enough.
  • Don’t change in your cubicle. If you ignore this advice, your bad karma will certainly have your neighbour pass by just as you’re stripped down to your underwear. Your neighbour will then be forever traumatized by this unwelcome and unpleasant image. Don’t feel relief that only one person saw you, as everyone else in the office will hear about it before lunch.
  • It’s fine if you never talk to your coworkers, but then don’t blow up at them months later because they don’t talk to you.
  • Mute your cellphone. This is doubly important if you text frequently with your spouse. Ignore this advice and nearby coworkers will fight over the privilege of shanking you the next time you visit the washroom.
  • Don’t wear sandals over your socks. If you do, your coworkers will notice and wonder why you don’t know how to dress yourself.
  • Please have more than one shirt, and make sure all your shirts aren’t identical. If you only have one shirt, your coworkers will notice and think you’re gross. If all your shirts are the same, you coworkers will believe you have only one shirt and think you’re gross.
  • Don’t spit in the kitchen sink at work. Your coworkers will notice and wonder what’s wrong with you.
  • If you bring canned drinks to work and forget to put them in the refrigerator when you arrive, don’t put one in the freezer to get it cold quickly when you find yourself suddenly thirsty. You’ll forget, it’ll burst, and when you go to get it, five people will be gathered around the freezer griping about the jerk who left his drink in the freezer. You coworkers will notice you standing there and you’ll be forced to agree with them and leave without your drink.
  • Don’t talk to your invisible friends in the office. Nearby coworkers will hear you and realize you’ve got toys in the attic.
  • Don’t forget your condom wrapper in the mop closet. Your coworkers will notice and…isn’t that enough?

I’ve witnessed these events in all but one case. In that instance, I was the offender.

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned? Let me know in the comments!

Film? I don’t think so.

It always happens. When you notice a new quirk of language, you begin to hear it more and more often, in many different places. It’s almost as if you’re more attuned to it, so it is suddenly everywhere. Unfortunately, the same thing is true for incorrect uses.

Such is the case for me and the word film. The use of actual film has been on the decline for more than fifteen years. When you go to the theatre to see a film, it’s not film. When you film something with your phone, it definitely isn’t film! Still, people keeping using it.

Part of the problem is that there’s not a nice drop-in replacement. For both film and tape, the noun translates to the verb when you record on the medium. Such isn’t the case with flash memory and hard drives. Record works perfectly, but I suspect that people associate the term specifically with audio. Still, it’s the most accurate and as a bonus, it’s not media-specific.

It doesn’t work for going to the theatre though. My favourite term for that is an old one. In old films, they used to call them pictures. “Hey, do you want to go out tonight and see a picture?” or “Do you want to go to the picture show?” I haven’t been able to bring myself to use it, but I find it utterly charming. I suppose the dull and colourless movie will fill end up filling the gap.

If you do nothing else, for goodness sakes, stop saying that you film or tape video with your phone. You never have and never will.

Thirty-three things Americans should know about Canada

The Internet is a marvel. There is so much information out there, easily accessible. The downside is that not all of it is correct. A friend linked an article from tickld titled “33 Things Americans Should Know About Canada. Seriously.

I started to read it and my bullshit detector went off with the first point, and went off the scale at the second point.

Shall we fisk? Yes, we shall!

1. Our president is called a Prime Minister.

No, we have no president. Never did. The head of the government is the Prime Minister, and the approximate analogue in the U.S. government is indeed the President.

2. Baltimore, Maryland has more murders in a week than the entire nation of Canada does all year.

In 2010, the most recent year I could find homicide statistics for both Baltimore and Canada, Baltimore reported 223 homicides1 while Canada had 554 homicides2. That one city of 600,000 can suffer the same number of homicides in a year as a country of 35 million has in six months strains credibility, but the numbers prove it. The claim put forth by tickld would have you believe that Baltimore has 554 homicides every week, or 28,800 every year, which is plainly false. Two minutes with Google would show this claim as false so I’m left wondering what the author is thinking.

I wrote them about this egregious error a week ago and have heard nothing. I am not expecting a response.

3. You don’t have to be born in Canada to be Prime Minister.

You must be a Canadian citizen, however.

4. Canadians do not find, “Say ‘eh’ for me,” to be particularly funny.

5. Canada has rednecks, too.

6. We’re a lot bigger than you, in land mass, but our population is considerably less. The populations of Los Angeles and New York City would be around 30 million people. The entire nation of Canada has around 32 million people. Due to the fact that most of our country is in the northern latitudes, we huddle close to the border, for warmth.

Our population is smaller, not less. Even better would be to say we have fewer people. That way, it doesn’t sound like we’re all shorter than our southern neighbours.

7. In the War of 1812, we kicked your butts. The reason why your Whitehouse is white is because we set fire to it and it was whitewashed to hide the damage (for propaganda purposes). Some Americans will say that THEY won the war. However, to win, a party must reach their objective. Your objective was to take over British North America (what Canada was called then), our goal was to stop you. You don’t have any more northern territory along the Canada/US border than you did before 1812. So who won? (Alaska doesn’t count, you BOUGHT that state from Russia.)

Canada didn’t exist in 1812. The British colony of Upper Canada, with a generous dose of British troops, took the fight to the Americans. It’s up to you to decide if a country could win a war that occurred 55 years before it was created.

8. A form of baseball was played just outside of Toronto, Ontario three weeks before Alexander Doubleday played the ‘first’ game of baseball in your country.

First, historians have debunked the story of Abner Doubleday (not Alexander Doubleday) having invented the game in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. Second, the first game of baseball was first played in 1749 in Guildford, Surrey3.

9. We do not find the term “Canuck” derogatory, like Americans find “Yank” derogatory. It apparently originated during World War One. Your soldiers were call “doughboys” ours were called “Johnny Canucks”. I think the British coined the term, but I’m not sure.

If you’re not sure, you should check before you publish your errors. Johnny Canuck first appeared in political cartoons in 1869 where, according to Wikipedia4, “where he was portrayed as a younger cousin of the United States’ Uncle Sam and Britain’s John Bull.” I found no reference at all to Canadian Troops being called Johnny Canucks.

10. We are not “just like Americans”, we have our own national identity, we just haven’t figured out what it is, yet. Someone once said that, “Canadians are unarmed Americans with health care.” That pretty much sums it up, I guess. We are internationally (but unofficially) known as the “World’s Most Polite Nation.”

11. Our national animal is the beaver. Sure it’s just a rodent, but they’re not even CLOSE to being extinct. You can still get money for beaver pelts. It is NOT our main unit of exchange, we have money, just like you.

So the point is what, exactly? “Neener-neener, our national animal isn’t nearly extinct!”? Big deal.

12. We do not find the fact that American wear Canadian flag pins (so they can get better treatment in Europe) very amusing. So stop it.

13. We have Thanksgiving in October, so we don’t look like copycats (it IS an American originated holiday, after all). However, we celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Passover and other holidays at the same time you do.

We do this so we don’t look like copycats? Give me a break. Could it be that because Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration and with our colder climate, our harvest is earlier in the year, and therefore the celebration is also earlier?

14. We were formed, as a nation, in 1867.

Canada came into being on July 1, 1867 with the 1867 Constitution Act. Most Canadians you’re likely to meet were formed much later.

15. November the 11th is called Remembrance Day, up here. It is a day when all Canadians honour our war dead and the veterans who are still amongst us. Its significance is that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Armistice was signed, ending World War One.

16. Not every Canadian speaks French. In fact, Canada is the only country where speaking French is not cool.

Speaking French is not cool? Where are you getting this stuff?

17. We spell words differently. Honour, valour, defence, neighbour, colour, centre and other words are from the British way of spelling. We also pronounce the last letter of the alphabet “zed”, not “zee”.

We spell some words differently. For some words we favour the British, for others we favour the American.

18. The Queen of England is not our national leader. She’s’ just a figure head and somebody to put on our money with the birds. (Some Royalists in Canada will have something different to say about his, but they’re a minority.)

The constitution states that the Queen is Canada’s head of state5. Period. No loyalist minority required. When the Prime Minister decides to call an election, what does he do? Does he go ahead and call the election? No, he must go to the Governor General of Canada, the Queen’s representative in Canada, and ask permission to call an election.

Yes, it is true that the Prime Minister advises the Queen on who should become the Governor General, meaning that in general, the Prime Minister chooses the Governor General. It’s also true that the Prime Minister’s requests of the Governor General are seldom declined. Still, suggesting that her role is simply to appear on our money is to entirely ignore the Constitution that defines Canada. Do that and you might as well make up any crap you want … just like some of the ‘facts’ put forth by tickld.

19. Our states are called Provinces. We even have three Territories.

Canada has no states. The largest political divisions within Canada are provinces and territories, and our provinces are roughly comparable to the U.S. states.

20. We DO NOT have snow all year round. We DO NOT live in igloos. We DO NOT ride around on dog sleds.

We DO NOT have to check the back yard for polar bears, before we let our kids go out to play.

These points are largely true, though how true they are depends on where you look.

21. Many Canadians have never played hockey in their lives. There are many who do not like hockey.

22. Besides, our national sport is not hockey, its lacrosse. It’s one of the few sports that originated on the North American continent, it was played by the Aboriginals.

23. We didn’t invent hockey, we just made it better.

24. Even if an “American” team wins the Stanley Cup (the “World Series” of hockey) it doesn’t matter to us, because all your best players are Canadian.

25. On the other hand, if a “Canadian” team wins the World Series we ignore the fact that all our baseball players are American.

26. Stop asking if we know somebody in Canada when you find out we’re Canadian. We DON’T know everybody in Canada.

27. We have no right to keep and bear arms. So leave your guns home if you’re visiting, otherwise they’ll be confiscated at the border. We have very strict gun laws, and fully automatic weapons are pretty much illegal. It almost takes an Act of God to get a licence to own a pistol. (This may be a contributing factor as to why we only have about 600 homicides a year, nation-wide.)

Act of God? Not by a long shot. You need to take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, and pass the exam (which includes a written test and a practical test during which you handle three weapons as directed by the examiner). Only then can you apply for your firearm licence, which includes criminal and background checks. If your application is approved, you receive your licence after a 28 day waiting period. Certainly an American can more easily acquire a firearm, but a Canadian need not call on the deity of his or her choice to get through the process.

28. The border between Canada and the US holds the title of the “World’s Longest Undefended Border”.

29. Our side of Niagara Falls is nicer looking than your side. In fact, even when Americans use images of the Falls in advertising and movies, they film the Canadian side. It’s called Horse Shoe Falls, by the way.

Rarely does anyone use film anymore. Further, the side of the border that looks better is largely immaterial. The point the writer is fumbling to make is that for the most part, is that the view of the falls is better from the Canadian side.

Goat Island currently splits the flow of the Niagara River. To the north, the water forms the American Falls. To the south, it forms the curved Canadian Falls, which is also known as the Horseshoe Falls (not the Horse Shoe Falls).

30. We own the North Pole, and therefore Santa Claus is Canadian. The internationally recognized mailing address for jolly old St. Nick is:

Santa Claus
North Pole
H0H 0H0

Canada doesn’t own the North Pole. No nation does.

31. We call eskimos “Inuit”, because that’s what they call themselves.

While it’s true that ‘Eskimo’ is now seen as derogatory, but ‘Inuit’ has not replaced it. The reason is that the people to which the term Eskimo refers are the Inuit and the Yupik6. ‘Eskimo’ is still used in Alaska but it has fallen out of favour in Canada and Greenland and there is no replacement name that encompasses the same peoples.

32. That movie you thought was filmed in New York, or Seattle, or Chicago, or Los Angeles — may have just been filmed in Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto.

So there you have it. Now you just might know more about Canada than most Canadians do!

The title promises 33 things. The authors can’t even manage to get the item count correct.

  1. Wikipedia, “Crime in Baltimore,” retrieved August 25, 2014.
  2. Statistics Canada, “Homicide in Canada, 2010,” retrieved August 25, 2014.
  3. Wikipedia, “Baseball,” retrieved September 1, 2014.
  4. Wikipedia, “Johnny Canuck,” retrieved August 25, 2014.
  5. Wikipedia, “Governor General of Canada,” retrieved August 25, 2014.
  6. Wikipedia, “Eskimo,” retrieved September 1, 2014.

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