The legality of prostitution in Canada

Canada’s laws criminalising aspects of prostitution are going to be challenged before the Supreme Court.

Personally, I cannot see how treating prostitutes as criminals helps anybody. If government wants to reduce exploitation in the industry, they would do better by regulating it and fostering good relationships between sex workers and the police.

One virtue of small cities

One nice thing about Ottawa is that – as long as you avoid homes in distant suburbs or jobs in distant industrial parks – commutes are manageable. As long as you live and work in the general area of Centretown, walking to work will probably take less than half an hour.

That isn’t true of larger and more interesting places like Vancouver or Toronto. It’s a significant consideration, given that commuting time is basically dead time that gets wasted five days a week. It may be possible to make some use of the time, like by listening to podcasts or trying to read, but there is certainly a frequent sacrifice of sleep or interesting activities that accompanies any lengthy commute.

Fountain pens

Earlier, I wrote a mini review of an inexpensive Pelikan fountain pen. It also seems worth commenting on the pen type generally.

The two principal virtues of fountain pens seem to be that it takes very little pressure to write with them – which eases the task of writing for hours on end – and that it is a fun novelty to write with an unusual implement.

Those virtues being recognized, there are also good reasons why fountain pens are no longer prevalent. At least when it comes to the inexpensive ones I have used, it can be hard to start writing with one when it has been left alone for a day or two (much less for a week or two). Getting the ink flowing often involves the messy business of spinning the pen like a centrifuge to drive ink down through the nib. Similarly, fountain pens experience issues with the flow of ink being randomly interrupted while writing, which is especially annoying when you are trying to jot something down quickly. Avoiding this requires that you clean the nib regularly, which is messy and a bit annoying, since you need to write with extra-watery ink for a good while after you clean it out.

Fountain pen cartridges run out of ink much more quickly than your standard ballpoint / rollerball / gel ink cartridges, and are messier and more difficult to replace.

In short, there are many inconveniences that seem to be associated with fountain pen use. They may be less of an issue for very expensive pens, but I am hardly going to spend hundreds of dollars to find out. Fountain pens can be fun to use from time to time – and are genuinely useful for circumstances like three hour essay exams – but I doubt they should be replacing anybody’s favourite modern pen options for ordinary day-to-day uses.

Radiation threats to health

I must admit to being perplexed when I see sentences in news stories like: “TEPCO vice-president Sakae Muto said, however, the plutonium 238, 239 and 240 collected were not in concentrations harmful to human health.”

While I am far from being an expert, it seems to me like at least some of the discussion of the risks from radiation is misleading. In particular, I think it is a bit misleading to pretend that radiation is a homogenous mass like a magnetic field. In reality, the radionucleotides that have been released from Fukushima are solids and gases getting blown around in the wind. They are less like the fading signal from a cell phone tower as you walk away, and more like a person’s ashes that have been scattered into the wind. You can take an average measure for the amount of radiation in an area, but that doesn’t give you a good sense of how much exposure a person will get if they inhale or ingest a random batch of windswept particles.

This seems especially true when it comes to plutonium. Imagine a little speck of plutonium that was part of a burning MOX fuel rod in the Number 3 reactor at Fukushima. Burning zircaloy cladding on the fuel rods could have shifted it into a puff of radioactive smoke that either escaped through a crack in the reactor’s containment or was intentionally vented as part of ongoing efforts to cool the reactors. If that little speck ends up in your lung, it certainly seems as though it would be a danger to your health.

Am I totally off base here?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Ordinarily, the multi-generational family story is my least favourite kind of novel. I usually find them tedious and uncompelling. It speaks especially well of Junot Diaz’s book, then, that I found it engagingly written and worthwhile, though a rather darker read than I was expecting.

Diaz succeeds in giving distinct voices to his multiple narrators, though it wouldn’t have hurt to identify them at the beginning of each section. The book is also full of poignant and clever descriptions, though they may be a bit crass for some tastes. Diaz’s writing includes many untranslated Spanish passages, some of which at least provide hints of meaning to speakers of English and French, while some of which are simply incomprehensible without assistance. It also includes numerous references to science fiction and fantasy books, which are a passion of the novel’s titular figure.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is the way in which it effectively expresses the experience of living in a dictatorship that is also a police state: the arbitrary arrests, the inconsistent application of justice, the torture, the rapes, the fear, the spying between neighbours, the absurdity, and the inevitable abuse of power by the secret police. Diaz is very effective at conveying an impression (I cannot judge how accurate) of what the Dominican Republic was like under Rafael Trujillo, the man who looms over the book but whose assassination is relegated to a long footnote.

Reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao could serve as a bit of a vaccine for those who are frustrated by the imperfections of democracy and who wonder whether a benevolent despot might do better. With visceral language that makes for anxious reading, Diaz expresses the injustices that arise when power exists without oversight.

Planning for Vancouver’s mega-quake

Everyone in Vancouver knows that one day, the ‘big one’ will come – a massive earthquake starting at the Cascadia subduction zone that runs between California and Vancouver Island. Back on January 26th, 1700, the zone experienced a ‘megaquake’ of magnitude 9.0 or more that swamped villages in Japan with the tsunami it created. It is estimated that the chances of a similar quake during the next 50 years are about one in three.

That is certainly something that should be borne in mind when deciding whether to construct dangerous infrastructure in the region. That includes nuclear power plants, but also oil refineries, natural gas infrastructure, chemical plants, and more.

It seems possible that lifelong awareness that a massive earthquake could occur might contribute a bit of apocalyptic psychology to the people of Vancouver. Even as a small child, I remembered being grateful to live in one of the parts of the city well above sea level. In elementary school, we each had little emergency preparedness baggies with food and water. They probably wouldn’t have done much good though: both my elementary school and high school had cinderblock walls with heavy concrete slabs for ceilings and floors. In a big earthquake, everyone inside would probably have been crushed.

Flex your rights: anonymity

Being able to speak anonymously on the internet is an important right, in this age of increasingly constant surveillance. Because of organizations like the NSA, GCHQ, and Canada’s CSE, we can never know when our private conversations are actually being intercepted.

One tiny way to push back is to continue to be bold in asserting the importance of freedom of speech, even what circumstances compel that right to be used anonymously.

To leave anonymous comments on this site, just use whatever made-up name you like, including ‘anonymous’. If you use as your email address, you will get an anonymous logo beside your comment.

None of this is intended as an endorsement of the amorphous group ‘Anonymous‘.

International storage services

The longer one stays in a place, the more material goods one tends to acquire: everything from clothing to furniture to photo albums. One problem with this is that it inhibits a person from taking advantage of distant opportunities, particularly those that are temporary and ill-paying.

One may to reduce the extent to which possessions are anchors would be to have a company that specializes in managing the personal possessions of mobile people. Say you were leaving a city where you had worked for a few years, in order to try something new elsewhere. You could box up all the things which you did not expect to need immediately and put them in the keeping of the company. They would keep track of your boxes along with those of thousands of others, and could send you things as requested. Similarly, you could submit additional materials to be added to your archive.

This would save you the bother of setting up storage space in various cities – which can be hard to administer from afar. It also reduces the burden of moving. You may not need your Ottawa winter clothes for a temporary position in San Francisco, but you can pretty easily set them aside somewhere safe for later access if needed. The same goes for books, furniture, art materials, etc. Customers could produce electronic records of what was inside of standard storage containers, then request them when they were needed. Rather than having to travel halfway around the world to pick up some desired books and a photographic enlarger, you could just request that the appropriate boxes be shipped from the storage site where they have been kept.

Another advantage to this system is that it would allow people to invest in higher quality possessions. Rather than buying terrible pots and pans (probably soldered with cadmium) in each new city, people could purchase a decent set and have it shipped whenever they expected to be in one place for a long time. In the event that a person’s possessions became unwanted, the storage company could auction them off and retain a portion of the revenues.

The service would also be useful for people who want to travel. You could spend six months or a year exploring the world, without having to sell off all your possessions beforehand and buy replacements after.

Because the firm would specialize in storing and shipping personal possessions, it could operate at a lower cost than individuals trying to undertake these tasks themselves. There would also be opportunities for diversification – for instance, coordinating the subletting of apartments, or even the exchange of pets between those who are moving into circumstances that are not pet-friendly.