Not To Be Trusted With Knives

{October 18, 2008}  

Saw a link to this article over on Derek’s blog:

“Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce.”

It’s an interesting read – check it out over at the Scientific American website: Never Say Die: Why We Can’t Imagine Death


{October 17, 2008}   Oink!

Plane tickets have recently turned mega-cheap, so my sister booked a flight for me to go to T.O. for my niece’s birthday weekend in November.  Madeline is turning 4 when, apparently, she is going to be a big girl.  And have a pig-themed party.  So excited!

{October 16, 2008}   Unfortunate Truncation

So I’m clearing my browser history before class yesterday, as I was going to be showing my students this YouTube video, given that I was doing a presentation on how to give effective presentations, which is pretty gutsy, if I do say so myself, as you really have to do a kick ass presentation if you are talking about how to do kick ass presentations, and… where was I? Oh yes, I’m clearing my browser history because I think it’s generally a good idea not to put one’s browser up on the big screen in front of 40 students just in case you start typing a URL and then it brings up other websites you’ve been to and maybe you don’t want to be explaining those to said students. Not that I would ever look at any untoward sites.  But I digress.  As I was clearing my browser history, I notice something a little odd on my Delicious toolbar:

It’s actually a link to my site of awesomeness:

But it appears to have been unfortunately truncated.  Anyway, glad I caught that and was able to hide it so that I didn’t go to class and put up “drbethsnow is fucking” on the screen.  ‘cuz that might be awkward.

{October 15, 2008}   Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day:

Global issues like poverty are extremely complex. There is no simple, clear answer. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas. Each blogger posts relating to their own blog topic. And each blogger engages their audience differently.

What I want to talk about is a comment that Stephane Dion1 made in the party leaders debate (English) in response to Harper’s “tough on crime” stance.  Dion talked about how we need to fight the root causes of crime by fighting poverty.  The Conservatives “get tough on young offenders” strategy attacks a symptom (crime) and ignores the root cause (poverty).  Similarly, I work in the area of addictions research and something that my colleagues find time and time again is that stable housing, specifically lack thereof, is a major problem in the lives of many people living with addictions.  But instead of dealing with the housing and poverty crises, we get “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” attitudes that ignore the root causes of these problems.

I don’t have any solutions, but I’m am putting these thoughts out there.  Hopefully raising awareness, getting people thinking and talking. Which is the point of BAD2008, right?


1I know I said I’d stop talking all about politics after yesterday’s election. But it’s Blog Action Day. I promise tomorrow will be a non-political blog posting, k?

{October 14, 2008}   Election Night

Been watching the election coverage all evening.  So depressing.  I mean, I’m trying to look on the bright side – at least it wasn’t a majority for Evil Stephen Harper.  And the polls were pretty clear that the Evil Conservatives were going to form the government, so I don’t know why I was holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, people would come to their senses and vote to keep the Conservatives out.  I don’t want a Conservative government. And neither do most Canadians.  But thanks to our first-past-the-post system, and our splitting of the vote on the left, here we are with something we don’t want.

Other thoughts on tonight’s developments:

  • After spending $300 million on an election, we essentially have the same Parliament.  Sure there was the shifting of a few seats, but we still have an Evil Conservative minority government lead by Evil Stephen Harper.  Evil Harper still can’t do anything without votes from at least one of the other parties.  He claimed to have called an election because Parliament was “broken.”  I’d argue that Parliament is just as “broken” now as it was 300 million election dollars ago.
  • The Conservatives still do not have a candidate in any of Canada’s three biggest cities – Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.  Leading Peter Mansbridge to ask, ““Are there any David Emersons1 out there for Stephen Harper to pick off?”  Let’s hope not!
  • There’s been lots of talk tonight on Dion’s inability to lead the party. I like Dion – I think he’s intelligent and I think he really does care about the country and about the environment. But I don’t think he can lead the Liberals to win an election. I think the Liberals need to regroup and pick a leader who will resonate with the public.
  • Jack Layton pointed out that, given this minority government, no party has been given the mandate to do anything without agreement from the other parties.  Personally, I don’t think Evil Harper is naturally inclined to compromise.  Apparently, he’s a terrible micromanager and doesn’t even trust anyone on his own team to do anything without him watching over the shoulder, so how is he going to compromise with the other parties?  Not to mention the fact that that Evil Harper is a righty-righty and the other parties are all centre or left of centre.  Is Harper likely to make compromises that will be acceptable to lefties? (Of course, the left parties had been letting Evil Harper continue to rule without making any real compromises up until now).
  • Why did Elizabeth May and Adrienne Carr – the two biggest names in the Green Party – run in ridings against very, very tough competitors (against Peter MacKay and Hedy Fry, respectively)?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to run in ridings where they have a good shot at winning?
  • The voter turnout for this election was the lowest in history.  Roughly half of the population voted. Meaning that roughly half of the population did notvote.  Lame, people. So lame.
  • Ian Hanomansing is hot. I’m just sayin’

1You know how I feel about David Emerson.

From Terry at UBC.

{October 12, 2008}   Hockey Updates

Well, sports fans, hockey season is upon us. The Canucks are undefeated, with two glorious victories against the Calgary Evil Flames. Thursday’s game was a 6-0 thrashing, which came after a beautiful tribute to the late Luc Bourdon, who died in motorcycle accident over the summer. Luc’s best friend on the team, Alex Burrows, scored 2 of the 6 goals. Saturday’s game was closer, but ended in an OT win for the good guys. It’s kind of funny now to remember all the naysayers over the summer and their “The Canucks have no players! Who is going to score the goals?” naysaying. By the looks of the pre-season and the first 2 games of the regular season, the answer to that question is “everyone.” Hell, even Rick Rypien scored a short-handed goal! Seriously!

Also started is the Blazing Blades season. The arena where we play got enough teams to make three divisions instead of the two we had last year. As you may recall, last year we won Div 2 quite easily. We were easily the top of Div 2, but properly would have been slaughtered in Div 1. This year, most of the Div 2 teams are in Div 3, and we are in Div 2 with the bottom team from last’s year’s Div 1 and a couple of new teams. It’s totally more fun, because the games are competitive and we really have to skate hard, have our heads up and really think about what we are doing to stay in the game. Our record so far is 1-2-1-1, including tonight’s tie game. And tonight’s game was quite a physical one – I got *totally* flattened in front of the net. After the whistle, I might add. I was doing what I do best – sitting in my office1, getting in the goalie’s face and trying to pick up a rebound and, after the goalie covered up and the ref blew the whistle, this chick on the other team punched me in the chest. Like hard enough that I went *flying*. Nice. And later on, a fight broke out! Chaos!! They are lucky I wasn’t on the ice at the time, because I may be little but I am fierce2.

NOT started up3 is the UBC Rec hockey league. Well, more accurately, started up and then stopped. UBC Rec only managed to scrounge up 3 women’s teams, and then one of them dropped out. Then, not wanting to play the exact same opponent every single week, the other team bailed too. Sooo lame! I was really looking forward to playing some Aggie hockey. I’m really, really hoping they can get their act together to put together a women’s division for January3, because I just recently picked a class4 to teach at UBC next term, meaning I’ll be allowed to play in Rec, if there’s enough teams to put together a division. So, keep your fingers crossed fo rme, k?

1That’s what we call it when I get all up in the goalie’s face, waiting for a rebound – being “in the doctor’s office.”
225 points to the first person who correctly identifies the source of that (modified) quotation.
3If you happen to be a woman who goes to, or works at, UBC – or if you know a women who goes to, or works at, UBC – you should totally recruit a bunch of peeps to play hockey next term. I’m just sayin’.
4A research methods course. I’m so stoked!

Hey, did you know that there’s a Canadian federal election on Tuesday?  I might have forgotten to mention it here on NTBTWK.  For those of you who love my special brand of political coverage, I hope you enjoy today’s posting . For those of you who don’t care about Canadian politics or Canada or, like, democracy and such, I shall return to other hard hitting issues, like how hot Rick DiPetro, goalie for the NY Islanders is, after Tuesday.  Mostly.

A while ago, Rebecca posted a summary of the candidates in her riding of Vancouver Centre. And I thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea! I’m totally doing for that my riding too!”  Then I got sick/busy/[insert excuse here]. Anyway.  I’m doing it now. So there.

Vancouver Quadra

  • encompasses the University of British Columbia, the Musqueam Indian Reserve No. 2 and Vancouver’s West Side.  West Siiiiide, represent!
  • population (according to the 2006 Census) of this riding is 119,627
  • created in 1947
  • has been represented by 7 different MPs over the years – 5 Liberals and 2 Tories
  • was represented by the Right Honourable John Turner, who was the Vancouver Quadra MP from 1984-1993 and was the Prime Minister for about 2 seconds
  • incumbenent is Liberal Joyce Murrary, who won a by-election earlier this year after former MP, Liberal Stephen Owen resigned.  Murrary beat Conservative Party* rival, Deborah Meredith by a mere 151 votes in that by-election.

The candidates, in alphabetical order by last name, are:

Barens, Norris – Libertarian Party

  • doesn’t have a website
  • there’s a link on the Libertarian Party‘s website to an email address for Barens, but no info about the candidate
  • I have yet to see a single lawn sign for Barens
  • I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Barens is not a contender

Caplan, David – New Democratic Party

  • shares his name with an Ontario provincial Liberal cabinet minister, making him a pain in the ass to Google
  • has been in the Armed Forces, a lawyer, a financial analyst, a freelance writer, a homemaker
  • has degrees in science, law, business administration and Chartered Financial Analyst
  • now wants to be a politician – I’m not sure if he’s really diverse, or doesn’t know what he wants to do1
  • there is little info available on Caplan, but in fairness he only took over after civil-liberties lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who had been the NDP candidate in this riding, stepped down on September 19 because he video smoking marijuana
  • his website, such as it is

Grice, Dan – Green Party

  • is a “new media and technology consultant” and appears to have a company that I have never heard of.  I mean, I like to think I know a fair number of the tech peeps in Vancouver, but I’ve never heard of “VanAlive Communications” – has anyone else?
  • He did his B.A. in Classical Archaeology and the History of Rome, Greece, and the Near East at UBC
  • He answers the question “Why are you running?” with “I want to help modernize our political structure and help move Canada to a low carbon economy. I come from a generation that values ingenuity and I feel that we need politicians to be more responsive and more concerned with fixing the problems of today rather than worried about their public perception.”
  • his website

Meredith, Deborah – Conservative* Party

  • evil
  • teaches at the evil UBC Sauder School of Business
  • likes to stick “tackling crime” stickers on her evil lawn signs

Murray, Joyce – Liberal Party

  • has been the MP for Vancouver Quadra since the by-election earlier this year
  • formerly an MLA with the (admittedly, evil) BC Liberals before she was defeated in the 2005 election
  • introduced a private members bill proposing to exempt bikes, bike accessories & repairs from the GST
  • did her MBA at Simon Fraser University
  • her website

As there was a by-election earlier this year where Murray beat Meredith by a mere 151 votes, many people suggest that this will be a tight race (and VoteforEnvironment suggests strategically voting for Murrary to keep out the Conservative*). The Election Prediction Project, which has a pretty good track record for predicting election winners, says that this riding is going to the Liberal.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are right!

1I’ve been accused of this myself. At my interview, my eventual Masters supervisor, upon hearing I was doing a minor in Drama with my major in Honours Biochemistry called me “conflicted.” I told him I prefer to think of myself as well-rounded.

{October 10, 2008}   Nice Happy Pretty Things

Due the election and my rising fear of being stuck with another Conservative* government, my blog has been filled with a lot of piss1 and vinegar2 lately.  Plus, I’ve been sick and, thus, whiny.  So I thought that today, you know, for a change of pace, I’d talk about some nice things. Happy things!  Pretty things!

First, check out these beautiful lilies:

When I was home sick on Tuesday, I heard a knock on my door.  It turned out to be my landlords’ daughter, who was stopping by to leave some flowers and groceries for her parents, who were returning the next day from a 17 day cruise to Hawaii3.  “You are actually lucky I’m home,” I said in the Satan-like voice I had that day due to my ridiculously messed up sore throat, “I’m usually not here during the day but I’m home sick today.”  I wasn’t actually saying that for sympathy – I really just felt the need to explain why I was lying on my couch in my PJs on a weekday afternoon.  She went upstairs to put the groceries in the fridge and on her way out she stopped by to give me one of the lilies.  “Here you go,” she said, I thought it would be nice for you to have something that’s pretty and smells nice to make you feel better.”  Isn’t that sweet?

Also, while my landlords were away, I was responsible for watering their plants.  I was kind of freaked out by this, as I am the most useless person when it comes to plants. Seriously, I’ve never had a plant that lived. Ever.  I’ve watered the plants for them when they’ve been away before, but never for 17 days!  I was *sure* that all the plants would perish under my care and my poor landlords would come home to a plant cemetery.  Surprisingly, not only did the plants not die, but one of the African violets, which my landlady lovingly refers to as “my babies”4, bloomed into the most beautiful flowers the day before they got home.  The look on her face when she saw those flowers was thanks enough, but to thank me for watering their flowers, they gave me this:

You know you are jealous!

And finally, because no post about wonderful things would be complete without it: a quotation from my niece.  My niece, like the rest of my family, lives in Toronto.  I, as you know, live in Vancouver.  You know, like, 4000+ km away.  So, my niece says to my sister, “I want to visit Aunt Beth and see her city and her house. But I think I may need to bring a snack. I might get hungry on the way.”

3Holy jealous, Batman!
4Can you see why I was petrified that they would die? Where they = the plants, not the landlords on the cruise. I’m pretty sure Hawaiian cruises are relatively safe.

{October 9, 2008}   Science and the Election

Note: This blog posting is going to be a long one. I’ve been writing it for days. But it’s so worth the read, if you are interested in science, education, the Canadian election, or hearing my ongoing rants about the Conservative* party.

Today Yesterday The other day, I read this story on the CBC: Researchers wonder: What’s the plan for R&D?. Some of the key things that jumped out to me:

  • “On Sept. 17, federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion did pledge a 60 per cent increase of funding for university-based research — to $500 million a year — and proposed a $100-million fund to enable scientists, researchers and graduate students to take on projects that extend beyond the barriers of their disciplines.  But the topic was soon buried under the larger issue of government spending, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper that same day calling the spending proposals of Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton “mind-boggling” in size.”
  • The Conservatives have not issued their party platform, but neither they nor the other party leaders has devoted a speech to science-related issues outside the environment.”
  • Scientists “expressed dismay at political parties that want to build a knowledge economy but seem unwilling to contribute to it.
  • “Funding was the top concern: few scientists can complain about current funding levels, but some worry about the future of the funding while others worry those funds are becoming too narrowly focused on industrial spinoffs or favoured established programs at the expense of new initiatives.|

Few scientists can complain about current funding levels?” What? The Canadian Institutes of Health Research – the federal funding agency for research related to health and the agency with which I’m most familiar – has very depressing rates of funding: exact numbers depend on the particular grant competition, but it’s fair to say that you can expect ~ 25% success rate1,2 when you submit a grant application (i.e., 3 of every 4 grant applications submitted won’t get funded). And that’s not because the grant applications aren’t high quality.  They have a category called “Fundable, But Not Funded,” which basically it means that the proposed research is of high enough quality that it should be funded, but there’s no money for it.  According to a recent CIHR Operating Grant Program Analysis2, the success rate of “fundable but not funded” grant application is only ~30% – that means that 2 out of 3 high quality research applications submitted to the operating grant competition are not funded.

As I’ve mentioned before, the National Science Adviser to the Prime Minister was first shunted to the Industry Ministry (which shows how the Harper government views science – in their view, science is only important if you can make money from it) and then canned completely.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Harper government is willing to completely ignore scientific evidence and oppose Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, claiming that there isn’t enough science to back it up (I suppose all the scientific evidence that they choose to ignore doesn’t count?).

Shortly after reading that article, my friend and scientist extraordinaire, Mel Kardel, sent me and some other colleagues a summary of each of the main political parties’3 stances on science and on students, which she created by going through each of their platforms and searching for “science” and “student”4. Would you believe that the Conservative* party platform does not include the word “student” even one time? Oh yeah, the Conservative* party *finally* released their platform. One week before the election. The election that THEY called. And after some people have already voted in advance polls. Anyway. The only mentions of “education” in their 44-page document were vague references to “provid[ing] practical help to Canadian families to assist them with higher costs of living, and protect them from unfair retail practices so that families can focus on the things in life that matter most, like buying their first home and saving for their children’s education.” Which basically sounds like “as for actually paying for education – you’re on your own!” Oh wait, on page 9 it says that they’ll let charities and NPOs create RESPs for kids. Isn’t this like saying “hey poor people, want your kids to go to college? You better ask a charity, because the Conservative* government isn’t going to help!” And then there’s the vague: “Improving Aboriginal education is crucial to giving young members of the Aboriginal community the opportunity to succeed.” No mention on *how* they are going to improve Aboriginal education. Awesome.

As for science, the only mention of science in their platform is the claim that they “made major new investments in leading-edge science over the past three budgets, which will increase support for science and technology by $850 million by 2009-10,” (with no indication that most of this was directed very specific, industry-focuses areas rather than the basic sciences), a claim that they will “make additional investments in internationally recognized science and technology projects in Canada,” (with no suggestion of how much that investment will be, or in what areas).  And there’s a promise to “build a world-class High Arctic Research Station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development.”  And that’s it for education and science in the Conservative* party’s platform.  For real.

In contrast, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party all talk extensively about science and education in their platforms. I can provide you with the full details if you like, but in view of the fact that this blog posting has gotten quite long (!), I’ll just hit you with some highlights here:


  • increase in the indirect costs of university based research to $500 per year
  • increased funding for both CIHR and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to $1.275 billion/year (from $960 million) and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) to $450 million a year (from $320 million), plus $100 for interdisciplinary research
  • an Education grant of $1000/yr for postsecondary students, plus a $250 tax credit for students who also work
  • increased grants and bursaries for students in need
  • an extension of the post-graduation interest-free period before you have to start paying off your student loan from 6 months to 2 years, plus lower interest rates on student loans (man, could I ever use that!)


  • $1000 grant to students who qualify for student loans
  • more funding to universities and keeping tuition fees affordable (although I’d argue with the word “keeping” here, as tuition fees are *not* currently affordable)
  • reforming student loan system, including interest relief for students completing an internship after graduation
  • increased funding for research and for grad students (to keep the best and brightest here in Canada)

Green Party:

  • “Post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence”  Hee hee. Debt sentence.
  • forgiving 50% of your student loans when you graduate (holy crap! that would have amounted to a $35,000 grant for me!)
  • increased funding to universities
  • working with provinces to lower tuition fees
  • “Fund universities to create more tenure track teaching positions, regardless of perceived commercial value of the area of pedagogy.”

Now, I realize that the proof is in the pudding and we’ll only know if anyone will follow through with these promises once they get into power. But I also think it’s pretty clear that the Conservatives* have no intention whatsoever of doing anything for students or for scientists.  At least the other parties have promises for which we can hold them accountable.  Time to replace Harper!

1How to Prepare a CIHR Application, University of Western Ontario
2Operating Grant Program Analysis
3Not including the Bloc, ‘cuz we can’t vote for them here in BC.
4My friends rock.

I saw it mentioned on Evany’s blog that voters in Missouri have to register to vote by today, Oct 8, in order to vote in the November US presidential election.  I also noticed this in the celebrities-telling-people-to-vote video posted on Rebecca’s blog – if you don’t register to vote in the US presidential election by whatever deadline your state sets, which may, as in the case of Missouri, be over a month in advance of the election, then you lose your right to vote.  What is up with that?  Here in Canada I can walk up to the poll on election day with my ID and proof of my address and register right on the spot.  I’ve done it many times.  It’s that simple!  Doesn’t it seem problematic to take away people’s right to vote because they didn’t register over a month before the election?  Is there some rationale for this that I’m missing?

As promised, I let the brochure of evil soak in vinegar1 – and not just overnight, but for a full 24 hrs!

And you know what?  It didn’t look much different than before I put it in the vinegar!  But apparently the vinegar did some work on degrading the fibres of evil, of which this brochure is clearly made, as when I picked it up it ripped apart very easily, making it simple to shred into bits and crumple up into this soggy clump of evil:

And that, my friends, is that end of that brochure.

I wonder if they’ll send me another one?

1Oh for the days when I worked in a lab with concentrated acids!

{October 7, 2008}   I am awesome

And not just awesome. Fucking awesome.

It says so on the internets:

Props to Miss604, on whose site I saw the awesomeness that is

… perhaps they heard that I no longer had the first one and felt that I needed another.

This time, I figured I would burn it:

Burn FAIL!  The damn brochure, which one would think was made of paper, wouldn’t burn.

So I decided to try again, this time with a little help from our old friend, rubbing alcohol1:

As you can see, the heat of the flames was overwhelming! But guess what happened:

That’s right, the rubbing alcohol burned away, leaving the paper virtually unscathed!! My best theory on why this is so is that these brochures are made by the spawn of Satan in the 7th layer of Hell, and thus must be constructed from flame resistant materials.

As I type this, the brochure is now sitting in a pan full of vinegar, where it will stay overnight:

Tomorrow, we’ll see how it looks.

1Me moving the bottle back and forth is my unsuccessful attempt to get my lame ass camera to focus on the rubbing alcohol label. Focus FAIL!

My throat hurts like a mofo.  I was fine yesterday, but I woke up feeling like someone had taken sandpaper to my throat.

I drank water. I drank tea. I drank more water.

I even choked down some dreaded Buckley’s Mixture.

I continued to drink water. I played a hockey game1. And I sucked on throat lozenges.  And, as I type this, I’m drinking Shopper’s Drug Mart brand Neo Citran2.

And yet my throat still hurts.

And so I shall not be writing about the next BC Primer like I should be on a Sunday3. I am going to bed!

Today’s excuse has been brought to you by “my throat hurts!!!”

1Not that I expected this to help my throat, I’m just putting it out there.
2The name of this product is actually “Hot Lemon Relief.” Which makes me laugh for some reason.
3I know, you are totally shocked that I’m being derelict in blogging about Premier duties.

Image credit: Posted by Dana Robinson on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.  While searching for a CC licensed photo online, I saw this ad. And given the title of this blog posting, this was that much funnier.

et cetera