Saturday, 28 July 2012

Little Joys of Discovery #1A

     This post is just a followup of the one in which I mentioned leafcutter bees, as now I've had the chance to capture a couple of photographs of some.

      On occasion you might notice the signs of leafcutter bee activity before you see the bees themselves. This is a picture of some leaves on flowers in our garden, where you can see a few neatly cut-out sections. I'd seen this sort of thing many times before I learned of leafctter bees, and assumed some caterpillar was at work, but I was puzzled as to why it seemed to have eaten in such regular patterns and left, rather than just devouring the whole leaf.

     I didn't get a picture of any bees actually harvesting these leaves, so maybe these were done by fickle caterpillars after all, but my money's on the bees.

     When I first went outside with camera in hand, hoping to stake out a nesting site where I'd seen a bee the day before, I first crouched down to look around the porch steps to see if I could find the entrance to the nest. Then, I happened to notice that sitting right there on the step was a resting bee, complete with a piece of leaf, almost as if waiting for me to come take her picture.

     And as soon as I took this shot, she flew away.

     Unlike honeybees, leafcutters are not eusocial; all the females lay their own eggs, rather than tending to the eggs of their mother the queen. According to this site, all leafcutter species are solitary, but  alfalfa leafcutter bees (Megachile rotunda) are happy to build nests in close proximity to each other, which is why I think the ones in my backyard are of that species. Each of the drainage holes in the base of these flowerpots is the front door to a leafcutter's burrow; I saw bees come and go from all of them, but they're pretty quick, and it was hard to catch good still photos of any of them. I did manage to catch a little video of some, which I've put on my YouTube channel. Boy, nature photography takes patience!


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Why do Persons Have Rights? A reader asks...

A reader emailed me with the following question: Why does a person have rights?

First of all, it's not clear they do, in the absolute cosmic sense. But if rights exist at all, then persons are the things that will have them, by definition.

Persons I define as moral agents, beings who are capable of having interests, acting upon them, and who may be said to have moral obligations in some sort. Rights are a form of moral obligation; if you have a right to life, I have a moral obligation not to kill you. If I have a moral obligation to treat you with respect, you may be said to have a right to be treated with respect. And so on.

(I'm distinguishing moral obligation from prudential reasons to do something, here. It might be in MY best interests to treat you with respect or not to kill you, but the fact that I'm better off by doing something is not what creates moral obligation.)

Now, this doesn't answer the question as to why persons have rights, or why non-persons don't have rights. I may have a moral obligation not to burn the Mona Lisa; doesn't that translate into the Mona Lisa having a right not to be burned? Well, no; I'd rather say that everyone else has a right to keep the Mona Lisa in existence, and it's that right I'd be violating, not any right the painting itself has.

So why do persons have rights? I think it goes hand in hand with the notion of personhood and moral agency, or the exercise of autonomy. We make choices base on what we feel to be right, whatever that means, and while we may not know what right is in all cases, we still have to choose. And it's autonomous agents, PERSONS who much choose. So in a practical sense, it's persons who determine what matters and what doesn't.

Your choice between chocolate or vanilla is an exercise of your will and your determination that one or the other flavour will better satisfy your interests. I presume that the satisfaction of interests is ultimately what we're interested in as choosing beings, and since persons are the seat of interests, I believe it follows that we have an obligation to defer to others with respect to their own determination of their interests. Hence it's not for me to decide whether you should have chocolate or vanilla, when it's you who are better situated to identify your interests.

It gets complicated with interests clash, and that's where rights come in. I may actually have an interest in your eating chocolate and abstaining from vanilla for some reason. (For something like this, it's probably an irrational reason, but who cares? I don't want to beg any questions about what constitutes a valid or an invalid interest. Maybe I think God hates vanilla or something, or maybe I'm deathly allergic to the presence of vanilla byproducts in the sweat of people I might shake hands with.) Rights are the way we try to balance conflicting interests, by identifying a systematic priority of interests. So there's core interests we all have in common, which we agree to treat as paramount. My right to believe God is pleased that you don't eat vanilla is, presumably, less central to the protection of my autonomy than my right to choose what flavour I eat myself, and so I must recognize that YOUR autonomous right to eat what you want trumps my pleasing-God interest. But if I'm deathly allergic to vanilla byproducts, my right to remain alive might well trump your choice of ice cream in contexts where it might make a difference.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

     I just received an email from a friend of my parents with a political joke in it. Apologies for abridging it and spoiling the punchline, but the gist of it is this: A little girl calls her newborn kittens, whose eyes haven't opened yet, "Liberals", and later, when their eyes have opened, she calls them "Conservatives".

     Ha ha. Cute.

     Yet I found it troubling, because it is part of perpetuating the myth that conservatives are somehow the hard-headed realists who know how the world really works, and everyone else is a naive idealist. And that's simply false.

     The source of the confusion, of course, is the word "conservative". By itself, it's a fine word, and it's conveys an admirable sense of caution and thrift. To be conservative is to avoid unnecessary risk and expense, and these are both things that we'd want in our leaders. It's natural to hope that this kind of conservatism (cautious and thrifty) is rooted in an understanding of how very wrong things can go if we're not careful, and it's natural to import this idea that conservatives' eyes are open to the harsh realities of the world.

     But there's a danger in that assumption, and all the more so because it's so seductively reasonable. If you buy into the idea that you are wise to the ways of the world, while others are naive and gullible, you become especially naive and gullible yourself. You become smug and complacent, and feel that you don't need to listen to the ideas of those naive and gullible idealists who have no idea what the real world is like. Their eyes are closed, and yours are open, so you can't be fooled. Heck, you know how things really are, so you don't even need to look anymore...

     And that, I fear, is exactly what's happened, as evidenced by the joke I referred to at the beginning of this post. Conservatives have become so confident in their superior expertise (and the utter worthlessness of any opinion that doesn't bear the label "conservative") that they are willing to barge on ahead with policies based entirely on idealistic visions of how the economy is supposed to work, or "common sense" ideas of how the criminal justice system is supposed to work, or how foreign governments ought to respond to our clearly superior morality.

     (Our own federal Conservatives have been systematically closing their eyes by slashing funding to Statistics Canada and a host of other government agencies and research programs intended to give government and Canadians the objective information needed to make sound decisions. Republicans in the United States have been doing much the same with not just budget cuts but also legislation like the Data Quality Act.)

     The scorn I sense from conservatives in expressing their opinions about things is palpable. They talk about how obvious it is that this or that policy is the right one, and how stupid anyone would have to be not to see it. Well, if everything true was obvious, and everything obvious were true, this would be a very different world. There are things which seem obvious but are in fact false, and truths which are very subtle and profoundly counterintuitive. You cannot hope to understand these things if you think you already do.

     I love the quote from The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." There is no surer way to keep your eyes closed than to convince yourself they're wide open.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Was the Apollo Mission a Waste of Money?

You are probably familiar with this photograph.

This very famous image of Earth was taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17. It has been seen by pretty much everybody, and has been used so much as to have become a cliché. And yet, it's still an amazingly beautiful and inspiring shot.

But was it worth all the money spent to go to the Moon? There were many people at the time who thought it was a waste, and people today still make that argument. Advocates of space exploration point out that the technologies developed as part of the Apollo program played an invaluable role in advancing our standard of living here on Earth, and there's truth to that, certainly. We have a lot of neat gadgets that we probably never would have developed had it not been for Apollo.

But I want to talk about something else. Look at that image again, and think of how often you've seen it before. It's appeared in books and magazines, T-shirts and posters, advertising campaigns... you name it. It's such a compelling image, it's used everywhere.

Now, copyright and piracy are very much on people's minds these days, and the RIAA in particular is complaining about losing staggering amounts of money to unauthorized copying. Whether their claims are accurate or not, we can agree that images like this photo have commercial value. So I'd like you to consider for a moment just how rich you'd expect to be from royalty payments if you owned the copyright to that iconic photo of the Earth.

Of course, if NASA charged royalties for the use of that photo, it probably wouldn't have been used by nearly so many people, and they almost certainly would have had the same problem that RIAA complains of when it comes to collecting from everyone who uses it. But that isn't really the point. What I want to argue is that if you were to sit down and put a dollar value on the intellectual property of that one, single photograph, taking into account how many people have used it for how many different purposes, the amount of value generated would be staggering. Now, think about these images:

NASA doesn't charge us royalties on using these images. They are part of our culture, and belong to all of us. We are richer for having them. I don't know what dollar value to put on them, but it's got to be pretty large, especially if we listen to RIAA and the film industry.

So forget about all the fancy technology we enjoy as a result of the Moon landings. I think we may even have turned a profit just on the intellectual property assets alone.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Addicted to the War on Drugs

How did we get addicted? The same way all addictions start.

We started out with a kind of moralistic malaise; there was something vaguely irksome about those people using that recreational drug. It just didn't seem wholesome. We thought we should do something about it. And so, we passed a law trying to constrain it. And ooooh, that's a good feeling. We've done something! We've taken a stand for righteousness!

Of course, that high didn't last, and after a while we begin to notice that people were still using the drug, despite the reasonable measures we took to curtail it. Sure, some stopped using it, but those who didn't were a somewhat more unsavory sort of person, not just dabbling in a recreational drug, but also defying the law. That just can't be tolerated. So we had to crack down! Enact a tougher law! Yeah, that's the stuff! Moral righteousness, there's no high like it.

And when that high wore off, we noticed that people were still using the drug, except that they'd gone underground, and a decidedly criminal element had become involved. What's more, since the ban made it hard to ship the stuff in its natural form, they started refining out and concentrating the active ingredient and smuggling that more compact product instead. Of course, that just makes the drug itself more potent and more dangerous. So we definitely needed to implement stronger enforcement measures, because good heavens, just  look at how horrible that drug is and the lives it ruins!

And before we knew it, we couldn't quit. We can't bring ourselves to face the terrifying process of easing up on our enforcement measures. These drugs are just so horrible, so bad for people, and the people involved in producing and selling them are such dangerous criminals, how could we possibly stop? No, we need stronger measures to combat these ever stronger drugs on our streets and....

Stop. That isn't going to help. Yeah, I know, we probably can't just go cold turkey. Quitting's going to be a long, difficult and painful process. But we do need to get off the stuff. We need to ease ourselves off the habit of thinking of drugs as a criminal problem, and recognize that at root, it's a health problem.

And recognizing the nature of the problem is the first step towards overcoming it.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Making Sense of the First Three Commandments

     When I was in the fifth grade, the Gideons came to my school and handed out New Testaments. I still have mine, a tiny red volume with a the Ten Commandments prominently laid out near the beginning. It was reading the third, in particular, that planted a seed of doubt in my young mind. After, all, the commandments about killing and stealing, well, those were pretty straightforward unassailable moral doctrines. I wasn't entirely sure about all of the others; I didn't understand why God would care which day of the week we took off, and as a fifth-grader I simply figured I'd defer questions on the morality of adultery until I knew what it was.
     But the second and third commandments troubled me. For one thing, "graven images" couldn't possibly mean any likeness at all, as the King James version seemed to say. Not only was I raised in an artistic household (although, to be fair, my father's paintings are kind of abstract), but the church had stained glass windows depicting apostles and saints, and there were mosaics and statues all over the place. If the people whose job it was to preach this stuff thought it was okay to make likenesses of these things, then there must be some special meaning to the word "graven" I didn't understand yet.
     The third one is what really got me angry, because unlike the "graven images" thing, everyone around me seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what it meant. It was even explained to me thusly: Don't use the name of God in a disrespectful manner. And I'd seen people scolded for saying things like "God damn it!" or "Jesus CHRIST!" as an expletive.

     Okay, I'll accept that this is a rude thing to do, I thought. But come on. Commandment #6 is "Thou shalt not kill." The ten commandments are supposed to be the ten biggies, right, the really serious important rules? How does using a mere word come anywhere close to making the list, much less coming well before murder as a no-no? I couldn't imagine that God would be so petty, so vain as to be offended by such an ordinary and commonplace utterance, much less condemn someone to eternal damnation for what he might have said after hitting his thumb with a hammer.

     Thus the seeds of doubt were planted, and eventually I found myself simply abandoning any assumption that the authors of the Bible had any more clue what they were talking about than any other mortal of the time.

     Oddly enough, it was only after becoming a de facto atheist that I began to appreciate a subtler and more important interpretation of the commandments that troubled me so, the first three. In fact, I now believe they are the three most important, for believer and non-believer alike, because they are aimed at fostering a proper sense of humility and piety (and yes, I think an atheist can be pious).

     Let's look at the first. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Trivially, this is no problem for the atheist to obey, because atheists have no gods at all. But more seriously, notice that it doesn't say "Thou shalt place me before other gods." It just says no other gods before God. God is frequently kind of evasive about putting into words exactly what or who He is; "I am that I am" is kind of vague. And yet, even as an atheist, perhaps even because I am an atheist, I'd insist that there is some kind of absolute, objective reality about the universe, something which for lack of a better term I'd be willing to name "God" simply because it's supreme and not subject to anything else. Or call it "Truth", if "God" is too laden with smiting and silliness. And if we put all the mythological baggage of "God" aside, then it turns out that the commandment to have no other gods before Truth becomes one that preaches a genuine piety.

     The second commandment, in my little Gideon New Testament, was explained to me as meaning not that one should never draw a picture of a flower, but that one should never make artifacts into idols. The paradigm case was right there in Exodus, where some of the Israelites made a golden calf and started worshipping it. Now, this is in a sense a violation of the first commandment, since worshipping an artifact is to have another god before God, but it's an especially tricky case, because it's so much easier to think that by genuflecting before a depiction of something, you're worshipping the thing it depicts and not the mere artifact. Yet the God of the Israelites, like the abstract Truth I mentioned in the paragraph above, is not a physical thing, and cannot be depicted at all. So it does make some sense to make it a separate commandment, which I'll restate as follows: "Never mistake a depiction of the Truth for the Truth itself." Or, to use my favourite Zen saying, "Words are a finger pointing at the moon: look at the moon, not the finger."

     Finally, the third commandment deals with a closely related impiety. It has nothing to do with speaking disrespectfully about the Big Guy, but with having the vanity to think you speak for Him. The commandments doesn't say "Thou shalt not speak the Lord's name in vain"; it says "take". What can it mean to take anyone's name, but to assume to act as an agent for them in some way? And is that not an extremely vain thing to assume, especially if it's God you claim to be speaking for?  The vitally important point here is that you do not get to speak for God, no matter what you think it is you're saying. Everything you think you know is just that: what you think you know. None of it has any divine authority, and every thing you ever say about God (especially, but anything else for that matter) should always be attended by the tacit qualifier "I think that..." or "I believe...."   You don't get to say "God hates fags"; you get to say that you believe God hates fags. You don't get to blame anything you say or think or do on the vain pretence that God told you to. For, as the second half of the commandment goes, "the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."
     That's significant, I think. None of the other commandments tack that on, that the Lord won't hold you guiltless if you steal or murder or covet. It's only taking the Lord's name in vain that gets this addendum, and I think it's because the thing that makes taking His name in vain so bad is that it makes you think you're guiltless, that you're playing it safe and just doing what God says. That's kind of the whole point of taking His name; you think you're just following orders.
     Remember Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end last year? I happened to download his PDF explaining his reasoning, which was subtitled "ANOTHER INFALLIBLE PROOF THAT GOD GIVES THAT ASSURES THE RAPTURE WILL OCCUR MAY 21, 2011".  It would have been fine for him to say, "I'm convinced the Rapture will occur, and here are my reasons," but no, he said it was GOD'S infallible proof. What vanity! What arrogance! What a grave intellectual sin, regardless of whether or not you believe there even is a God. 

     You don't need to believe God exists to see this is a sin. But you kind of need to believe God exists to be capable of committing it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Thinking about Mersenne Primes

     It is both a blessing and a curse not to be formally trained in a field like mathematics. The blessing is that every once in a while, I get to enjoy the sublime delight of figuring out something on my own. The curse is that when I go to share these exciting discoveries with others, as I'm about to do in this posting, it's almost certain that I'm putting my grave ignorance of the field on display for everyone who knows anything about the subject to see. Fortunately, I'm quite shameless in my ignorance, and after all, admitting you have a problem is the first step towards a solution.

     Anyway, I was thinking about Mersenne primes a while ago, prime numbers that take the form 2^n-1, where n is a prime number. I remember testing it out: 2^3-1 is 7, which is prime. 2^5-1=31, also prime. 2^7-1=127, ALSO prime. Hmmm. Now, I remember reading that not all numbers of this form will be prime, and as it turns out, 2^11-1=2047, which is divisible by 23 and 89, but it is certain that if 2^n-1 is prime, then n must also be prime.

    That's the part that puzzled me. What was so special about 2, and what is it about prime numbers that gave rise to other prime numbers this way? However, I did figure it out, and it's that proof that I want to share with you here.

     Forget about powers of 2 for the time being, and consider a number like 13,131,313. Is it prime? Actually, you can tell that it's not, because its digits show a repeated pattern: 13 repeated four times. So it ought to be divisible by 13, and sure enough, you get 1,010,101 when you divide by 13.
     The same principle can be generalized to any number that consists of a repeating pattern of digits. Simply take the pattern once, and the full number must be divisible by it. So 123456712345671234567 is necessarily divisible by 1234567 (you get 100000010000001).

     Now, take a number that is made up of nothing but repeated 1s. Obviously, that means it's divisible by 1, but all numbers are, so let's ignore that pattern, and look for longer ones. If the number of digits is even, then the number's pattern can be described as a repeated "11", and thus the number itself must be divisible by 11. If the number of digits is a multiple of 3, then it can be described as a repeated "111". And so on. So we can see, for example, that 111,111,111,111 must be be divisible by 11; 111; 1111; and 111,111. (Of those, only 11 is actually a prime factor; you can see that for both 1111 and 111,111 must also be divisible by 11. 111 is divisible by 3, but that's due to a different divisibility test; its digits add up to a multiple of 3.)
     So let's get back to the Mersenne primes, the ones that are expressible as 2^n-1. The thing to notice about the formula 2^n-1 is that if you write out the number in binary, you get a sequence of nothing but 1s. 2^n will give you a 1 followed by n zeros, so subtracting 1 you just get a sequence of n 1s.
    And so, if n is an even number, 2^n-1 will be divisible by 11 in binary, which is 3. If n is divisible by 3, then 2^n-1 will be divisible by 111 in binary, which is 7. n=6 give us 63, which is divisible by both 3 and 7.
    Tada! That's it. I can't tell you how pleased I was when this hit me. It was one of those aha! moments that make life good. But it also led me to some other interesting questions that I'm still thinking about today.

    In particular, I'm thinking about how it applies in other bases besides 2. Now, 10^n-1 just gives you a series of n 9s in a row, which is obviously divisible by 9, so we need to tweak the formula a little to cancel that out and give us a series of n 1s instead of 9s. Easy enough. I'm interested in number of the form (a^n-1)/(a-1). Obviously they must be composite when n is a composite number, but how many are primes when n is prime?

    So, in atonement for depriving you of the opportunity to figure out that Mersenne prime thing on your own, I leave you with that question. And if you're a mathematician for whom this is already all well known, I hope you at least enjoy the opportunity to tell me something new in the comments section.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Straight Talk on DHMO

     By now you've probably heard from some of those agitating for a ban on DHMO (dihydrogen monoxide). I'm somewhat distressed at the misinformation and distortions offered by these activists, and felt  it was high time someone provided a more balanced perspective.

Where does DHMO come from?
     Although it is frequently and easily synthesized in laboratories and as a by-product of industrial processes, most DHMO is actually extracted from naturally occuring deposits. In fact, Canada is blessed with some of the most abundant and high-quality DHMO of any country in the world, and although most of it is consumed domestically, we do export a fair bit of it, both in pure form and as an additive to other products.

Is it dangerous?
    The dangers described by the anti-DHMO activists are real. DHMO can be very dangerous indeed. Inhalation of DHMO can interfere with the lungs' ability to absorb oxygen. Prolongued exposure to DHMO in any form can cause harm, and although that caused by the gaseous and solid forms are more severe, even liquid DHMO is known to cause skin to become prematurely wrinkled. The earthquake that hit Japan last year and damaged a nuclear powerplant was greatly exacerbated by a massive spill of contaminated DHMO.
    I don't mean to downplay the seriousness of these and other dangers. However, as anyone who's ever worked with the stuff (as I have) knows, it's perfectly harmless when you take just a few common-sense precautions. You can literally drink a glass of pure, room-temperature DHMO and suffer no ill effects; your kidneys are actually more efficient at removing DHMO from your system than any other compound. Not only that, but a surprising amount of DHMO is excreted through your sweat glands.
    To be sure, humans have an especially high tolerance for DHMO among land mammals, but most creatures do have considerable resistance to mild exposure. Marine creatures are even more resilient. I once kept a live goldfish alive in a jar of pure DHMO for a week.
    It's true that we dump truly astonishing amounts of DHMO into our rivers and streams through sewage and industrial waste. However, exposure to solar radiation removes many times more DHMO from the ocean than we humans release into it. We could double, even triple our industrial and municipal output of DHMO, and the oceans would scarcely notice. Desert ecosystems are the most vulnerable to damage by DHMO dumping, but even there, sunlight quickly cleans it up; you'd have to dump an awful lot of the stuff to destroy the desert habitat.

Are there alternatives?
    DHMO is one of the most useful compounds ever discovered. It is used as a coolant, a propellant, a solvent, a hydraulic fluid, a disinfectant, a fire retardant, and even as a food additive. It is a vital reactant, consumed in the production of concrete. It is widely used in health care. It is indispensible to modern agriculture, and is even heavily used by organic farmers. However, more than 90% of the world's DHMO is reserved for use in fisheries and transportation, to control the bouyancy and stability of ocean-going vessels. It is no exaggeration to say that without DHMO, there would be a lot of ships lying useless on the seafloor.
     There are substitutes for DHMO for many of these uses, though not all. Unfortunately, we can't really reduce our reliance on DHMO by simply adopting substitutes, because in those cases where the substitute is as good or better than DHMO, it's already been adopted. In the remaining cases, the substitute is even more dangerous than DHMO. Most importantly from an economic point of view, DHMO is cheap and plentiful, and the substitutes simply cannot compete. And let's not forget how many jobs are dependent, directly and indirectly, on DHMO.
     And those industries where there is no substitute at all are the most critical. Agriculture and fisheries are the most committed to using DHMO, and scientists have no idea of even where to look for a viable alternative. The cold, hard fact is that there are 7 billion people on this planet, and we have to feed them somehow. Without DHMO, even the most advanced modern agricultural and fishing techniques could never hope to feed more than a tiny fraction of that number.

     So let's be realistic. Yes, DHMO has its dangers, but the dangers of doing without this vitally important chemical are greater still. There's no such thing as perfect safety, and while maybe someday scientists will find a better solution, that day is not here yet. Until then, we're stuck with DHMO.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Homophobia: My Excuse

     It's very fashionable to condemn homophobia these days, but I don't think anyone has ever clearly articulated the very good reasons why some of us are terrified by homosexuality. Not all of us, of course, but not all of us have as much to lose.

     It's all very well for ordinary people to be tolerant. They have nothing to fear at all. They can just live and let live, because whether or not someone is gay really doesn't affect how they can get along. It's none of their business.

     But me, I'm a very handsome man. I'm unspeakably charming, witty and just generally attractive beyond all description. So naturally, if homosexuality is to be openly accepted, I'm going to have men hitting on me all the time. ALL THE TIME. You just don't know what it's like, if you're not as stunning as I am, and you probably aren't.

     This is more than a mere inconvenience. If it were simply a matter of saying "No, thank you," and being done with it, then I'd be fine with it, as simply part of the cost of being so fabulous. We all have our burdens to bear, after all. But as we know from movies and novels, it's never simply a matter of just saying no and being done with it. No, as a general rule, we know that once a man sets his sights on a woman (or a man, I assume, though I haven't seen a lot of movies where a man chases a man romantically), he just has to be persistent, and in the end the girl will realize she's in love with him, and they'll live happily ever after. As the cliché goes, her lips may say no, but her eyes say yes. Eventually, anyway. Right?
     Oh, sure. I'm heterosexual, not sexually interested in men at all. The idea of being intimate with a man in that way, well, it even kind of creeps me out a little, no offense intended. But if you pay attention to the movies, that's not really much of a factor. The woman often starts out even being actively disgusted by the man, but over time she is no match for his relentless, determined pursuit. And in fact, it even helps if he's kind of unpleasant in a way, if his charm is unconventional and hard to perceive. It's just a matter of time before she discovers that she he's the man she's always wanted, even if she never thought she wanted a man at all. And so, well, I think I don't want a man, and I'm even pretty sure of it, but I don't think there's a defence against romantic persistence. Not in any of the movies or novels I've seen, anyway. Eventually he'll win me over in spite of myself, and I really don't want that to happen.

     So you see, the reason I'm so frightened of homosexuality is because, like many homophobes,  I'm such a delightfully attractive and wonderful human being. And we let you know we're homophobes because otherwise you'd have no way whatsoever of knowing how intensely desirable we are.