In one ear and out the other

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A significant percentage of adults have forgotten elementary school lessons, but does it matter?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 17, 2016

A recent survey conducted by YouGov revealed something worrisome: grown-ups have forgotten basic lessons in math, English, and science. One in five adults in the study admitted to having trouble with calculating fractions and percentages. About a quarter of adults cannot recall how to use a semi-colon in a sentence or the names of all the planets within the solar system.

Now, it might seem embarrassing for an adult to forget about lessons they spent so many hours studying in their youth. But that type of knowledge is now trivial. We live in a wonderful age where we are as smart as our phones. We calculate our bills with them, we end arguments with them, and we can easily relearn all that was taught to us in elementary school via watching YouTube on them.

The ability to remember everything taught to us is not necessary a product of smarts, but rather the product of skilled memory. We remember what’s important for us. While we are able to train our memories like we are able to train our bodies, many of us have more important things to deal with.

Remember when you were young and you memorized all 150 (at the time) Pokémon? Try recalling them now. We remember what is important to us. If we enjoy sports, we’ll remember names of athletes. If we like video games, we’ll train our fingers to remember combinations. If we like history, we’ll remember specific moments and characters from the past. We choose what to remember.

Adults who have forgotten about math, English, and science lessons aren’t stupid. They’ve been putting their cognitive energy into other things in their lives that require it. They don’t have time to sit down and review their elementary school lessons once a week. Nobody is going to randomly do long division if they don’t have to.

But should they? Sure they should. Everybody should be confident with math, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be proficient in everything.

Elementary education is the basic foundation for lessons in the rest of our lives, but now that we are older we can happily decide what we need to know. And luckily, we are living in an age where if we do want to learn something or review something, we can do it with a few clicks. Intelligence is not the ability to memorize everything. Intelligence is the ability to find the answer when it is needed.

Adults today are different from the adults of the past. We can store our knowledge in the cloud and pull it down when it is needed. This gives us more room in our brain to think about other things.

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Americans want to move to Canada if Trump wins

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It’s so American to abandon a problem they’ve caused

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 17, 2016

Whether it’s meant as fodder for comedy or as a legitimate survey, the American people sounded off. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos, 19 per cent of Americans said they would move to Canada if Donald Trump wins presidency, and 15 per cent would do the same if Hillary wins.

As a Canadian, I first thought this was a compliment, since we do call one of the most livable countries in the world home. Sure, we have our own problems, but compared to America’s, our issues seem so fixable.

Then, I thought a bit more about it, and realized it was not a compliment to Canada. If Americans idolized Canada, America would be like Canada. No, like an angsty teenager threatening to run away from home, Americans are doing the same when they are not getting what they want. Grow up, I say. The problem is not going to fix itself if you just run away from it. Time and time again, Americans are dealt a heavy lesson and seldom do they learn from it. Just watch the American news; it’s the same episode every day. It’s history repeating itself.

I digress. At this moment, less than one per cent of Canada is made up of American immigrants. That is an insignificant amount—and usually we see Canadians crossing the border south rather than the other way around.

Yes, perhaps the Americans feel like victims, but give me a break. Resorting to flight instead of fight is no way to solve a country-sized problem. If a country is your home and you feel passionately enough about the politics that govern it, you’d fight for what’s best.

Instead of trying to piggy back off of us Canadians, why don’t you try to learn from us? In 2015, we went through a pivotal election that ousted the Right Honourable—and backwards thinking—Stephen Harper from his seat as prime minister. During the campaign, the country was divided, but we banded together to do what’s best on Election Day. Some of us might have threatened to move to Switzerland or somewhere else if Harper won, but many took to the polls to vote, not necessarily for the candidate they believed in, but the candidate that would beat Harper’s Conservative party. It was strategic, and it worked.

Democracy is your right; however, welcoming yourself to someone else’s home is not. Americans, known for their arrogance and self-righteousness, often thinks that the whole world belongs to them. They think that Canada is their little brother, who, if their get-rich-fast plan falls through, will let them just crash at their place until they get their footing back.

It doesn’t surprise me that Americans would consider moving up north, but it would surprise me if they actually do. Like government, like citizens—if you talk the talk, then you better walk the walk.

Whole Foods to start selling ‘imperfect’ fruits and vegetables

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Why we should stop being so shallow towards our food’s appearance

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 17, 2016

First it was organics, now Whole Foods is aiming to make the buying and eating of “imperfect” fruits and vegetable as mainstream as drinking kombucha.

Approximately 20–40 per cent of all fruits and vegetables end up in the trash. According to Environmental Protection Agency, US consumers wasted 35 million pounds of food in 2012. There are a number of reasons why such a large quantity of food ends up in the garbage, and including the fact that supermarkets have a high standard for the produce they sell. So, like a model for a talent agent, the tomato in your supermarket must also go through an appearance assessment.

Now whether this experiment is going to work for Whole Foods and a number of other forward-thinking grocers is still up in the air. Consumers, especially consumers in developed countries, are quite fickle about what they buy. We work hard for our money, so why would we buy something of lower quality when we can have the better one for the same price?

Still, there is something heartwarming about finding a good home for these rejected fruits and vegetables. Like an orphanage for food, it’s good to know that Whole Foods is doing its part to change the superficial ideal that is ultimately harming our society. Buying “ugly” food is not a novelty, though. It’s not a freak show, it’s not for a one-time entertainment, it’s something we need to make habitual. That is where the challenge will be.

We must remember that in the end, it all just ends in the same place. Why does it matter how good an avocado looks before you mash it up into guacamole? Why does it matter how a carrot looks before you toss it in a stew? Sure, some fruit and vegetables—those you set on a platter for a house party, for example—need to look somewhat desirable, but in the end, why does it matter?

We are so shallow about fruit and vegetables, but when it comes to animals we are fine with them being unattractive. Beef, pork, and seafood are not as cute as the little potato, but many of us eat them all the same. As long as you can tell the difference between fresh and spoiled, it rarely matters how the ingredients look.

In fact, I believe we should start eliminating the idea of disgusting food from our society altogether. Our diets consist of many environmentally damaging productions. Acres of forestland are dedicated to cattle. Animals that were once in abundance, like species of salmon, are now being carefully rationed for fear of causing a greater imbalance. Yet, there is one species in the animal kingdom the Western world still finds grotesque: insects.

Like ugly fruits and vegetables, insects are often scorned for their pesky nature. We see them as many things, but nutritious is not one of them. However, many people in developing countries depend on them for survival daily.

Pushing for ugly foods to be sold is a small step, but there is a long way to go to create a sustainable world. If that is the goal, we need to change our opinions about imperfect fruits and vegetables—and soon our opinion about all things edible.

No money for elaborate Carnival

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Image via abcnews.com

Why there is little for Brazil to celebrate

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 9, 2016

There were no flowery floats, high-tempo samba music, or scantily clad performers this year. For Brazilians, the cancelation of the world-famous, multi-day, nationwide street festival known as Carnival must have felt as though someone pulled the plug on Christmas.

The announcement that many Brazilian cities would be putting a hold on the celebration, which traditionally ends on Ash Wednesday, must have been disappointing, but not completely surprising. It seemed like an easy decision; after all, when you are sick and broke, the last thing you would want to do is invite everybody over for a party, right?

Brazil is currently caught in one of the worst recessions in decades. With declining tax revenues and the Zika outbreak, over 40 towns and cities have decided to spend the money annually spent on the parade on resources such as new ambulances. Nobody can deny the value of medical services, but with approximately eight per cent of all employment in the country based around tourism and travel—nearly the same amount as unemployment—the absence of Carnival will undoubtedly take another big bite out of Brazil’s fast-shrinking gross domestic product.

Around the world, Brazil has a particular image: party host. In the past few years, Brazil had won bids to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. This led to liberal spending from the government, with the World Cup alone costing an estimated $14 billion. That’s a lot of ambulances. See, what ended up happening was that the country priced itself so high that only wealthy tourists can afford the luxury—and Brazil makes sure tourist are wealthy with their travel visa qualification process.

Now, it’s not the World Cup or Olympics that are causing Brazil’s economic downfall. There are a number of reasons, including corrupted political parties and energy companies, inflation in commodities, and the fact that the economy of China, one of their leading exporters, is also slowing down.

What’s happening with Brazil is something every country can learn from—heck, it’s something every person can learn from.

It seemed like yesterday Brazil was touted as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Not only did its continent ride on its back, but the world as well. The spotlight was on Brazil, and at a time when any wise government would have taken a step back and assessed the whole situation, the Brazilian government did not. It turned to greed rather than insurance. Instead of solving problems close to home—poverty, crime, employment—it, like a drunken frat boy, took one drink after another until he needed a friend to call his parents to drive him home.

The Brazilian power rose too high, they partied too hard, and they got too greedy. Now, they have to forgo a traditional event that their own citizens cherish. It’s sad to see such a rapid fall from grace, but I guess that’s often how a hangover feels. One moment you are on top of the world, booming. The next, you are waking up with the realization that your economy is now a bust.

There is a time to celebrate, and there is a time to pay it forward and invest within. There needs to be a balance. To keep partying, you’ll need to stay healthy—and wealthy. I love Brazil, and I hope I get to celebrate there again soon.

Can hypocrites save the world?

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via The Wolf of Wallstreet

DiCaprio gets heat for extravagant privileges while preaching eco-friendliness

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in the Other Press. March 9, 2016

When Leonardo DiCaprio won his long-awaited Oscar for his role in The Revenant, we all cheered for his deserved award. But it was the subject matter of his long speech that caused some people to roll their eyes. DiCaprio has been a long-time activist. Time and time again we see him appearing on screen—not dressed in a tuxedo, but in a “regular” jacket or sweater, in boots, with a rugged beard—talking about the destruction of our environment.

His most notable cinematic contribution to that cause is his producer, narrator, and writer roles in the environmental documentary—an unofficial epilogue to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth— The 11th Hour.

We don’t need movies or movie stars to tell us about the environment. We all feel the change. This has been one of the warmest winters of my life. I’m concerned, but I don’t have time to be both an advocator and fulltime employee, making money to live. Many people feel the same way and are insulted when big shot celebrities rub it in. And when the Best Actor winner, some big shot multi-millionaire, is only talking the talk instead of walking the walk, people have the right to be angry.

DiCaprio was specifically called out for having a 16,000-horsepower private yacht, the Topaz. For someone who cares so much for the environment, sailing the seas on a luxurious, diesel-gas-guzzling vessel is surely counter-productive, right?

Now, I could go on about how DiCaprio is a hypocrite—and how the movie The Revenant did nothing to improve the lives of First Nations people, the very people DiCaprio sought to empower, but in fact marginalized them more—but I won’t. Because, as rich and arrogant as I’m sure Leo is, he is at least putting his free time into advocating good. Is he good? No. He’s a hypocrite. But I would rather take a hypocrite actor over one who is a woman-beating bigot. What can I say? I have low standards for my celebrities.

There are many bad traits in the world, and being hypocritical is a minor one. With that being said, is there any more DiCaprio could do without giving up his fortune? Probably. But why should he? He’s not God. He’s just a servant of God. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, he is doing very little, but he is still doing it. When you are one of the most powerful actors in the world, you can merely sit back and accept awards, or you can use your clout to announce a concern. Some people choose racial equality, other chooses gender equality, but Leo chooses nature conservation.

DiCaprio is not committing to his cause 100 per cent, we can all agree on that, but he is dedicating some of his time to it. That is more than what I can say about me… or even you. How much have you committed to saving the world, or any other cause?

Take a look at yourself the next time you criticize someone for wanting better in the world. The old idiom “Do as I say, not as I do” is one every parent has once evoked if not said. If the heart is in the right place, then the person is moving in the right direction. We humans are not perfect, and that is the very reason why the world will end with a hopeful whimper, or like The Departed.

The grief of giving

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Don’t lend if you don’t want to lose

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

I learned my lesson when I was young. I was old enough to know what was mine, but also had the teachings of generosity instilled in me. So, now and then, when someone expressed interest in something that I had, I would let them borrow it. Be it a book, a toy, a video, or a game, as long as they took care of it, I would lend it. The thing is, they wouldn’t take care of it. They would forget about it. I never issued a return date, so if I never asked, it would never be heard of again.

For a while, I thought such a lending process between friends and family is only flawed because my friends and family were irresponsible and inconsiderate. Turns out, the majority of the world is like this. And it makes sense. Since you yourself are not a library, you do not have the capacity to keep track of everything you’ve lent to people, or have any means of enforcing timely returns. Therefore, people do not fulfill their end of the deal.

I learned this when I was young, and today, I am hesitant to let anybody “borrow” anything that I wouldn’t instinctively give as a gift.

The lending between friends and family model is made more complicated in adulthood. Rather than borrowing toys, games, or other tangible crap, they are borrowing money. Which is fine, there is nothing better than treating your friends to a dinner or paying for their ticket to the movie—if it is a gift. However, when the exchange is referred to as “borrow” or “lending” it makes the lender wonder if they will see that money ever again.

What’s a few bucks between friends, right? I agree. I would never let $100—or even $200— ruin my friendships. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in dire need and would like to “borrow” a couple hundred bucks from them to sustain my extravagant lifestyle. For now, I’ll just treat is as a gift. Enjoy.

Nevertheless, if that’s how the wheels are turning, every once in awhile, I’d expect it to roll the other way. You pay this time; I’ll pay the next. Unless you are my Turtle from Entourage, I am not going to pay for everything you do. After all, you haven’t returned what you have borrowed.

We can bitch and moan about people not paying us back or having a ridiculous friendship-debt, but I believe the onus always fall on the lender. If a bank keeps lending money to degenerates, it wouldn’t be cool; it would be an unsuccessful bank. So I say this: whatever you are paying for people, whatever you are lending to people, whatever extra step or measure you take for someone else, make sure it is either respected as a debt that must be paid, or as a gift that can be received gratefully.

If you don’t want to lose something, don’t give it away. You are not the bank. You are not the store. You are not the library. You are a person. If it’s not a gift, don’t treat it as such.

In rage or outrage

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How celebrities continue to bait the public on social media

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb 24, 2016

When you are a celebrity trying to promote yourself, no news is not good news. It’s better to receive hate from some than go completely unnoticed. That has been the philosophy of many celebrities who have taken to Twitter to make a big splash before sinking back into the depths of their wealth and sorrow.

But the barrage of outrage has become too much for British comedian Stephen Fry, who rage-quit Twitter after the criticism he received for a joke he made at the BAFTA Awards show. Or was it just another publicity ploy? While hosting, Fry zinged costume design winner Jenny Beavan for dressing like “a bag lady.” The Internet rose to Beavan’s defence, calling out Fry’s “offensive” comment on Twitter. Comedians defending their jokes on Twitter is not anything new, what’s surprising is that they continue to respond to those faceless voices even though they know they cannot fight the trolls.

I don’t believe Fry was harmed by the comments, I believe Fry was doing what celebrities do best, which is making the PR move that will garner them the most press. Quitting Twitter was the apt solution. It silenced the critics and made his fans appreciate him more. It also got him trending, which is rare for the BAFTA host.

Ricky Gervais, another fellow British comedian, is also no stranger to online outrage. As the host of the Golden Globes this year, Gervais made it his sole purpose to poke Hollywood celebrities and the Internet bear that defends them. Why? He openly admitted it. The more people bitching and moaning about how offensive he was on the show, the more publicity he gets. The more you get people talking about you, the higher you rise up on the Internet’s relevancy meter.

Celebrities have a powerful voice. When they speak, people listen, even when what they are saying is complete garbage. How has Donald Trump gone as far as he has on the presidential campaign? Shock factor. You cannot ignore it or pretend it wasn’t said because everyone will be talking about it days later. Simple yet ridiculous ideas that go against the grain are bound to evoke more attention than playing by the rules, nodding to what everyone else is saying, and conforming with the crowd.

Lastly, there is Kanye West. Does he have a new album coming out? Of course he does. But he didn’t market his new work as the latest Kanye West album, he marketed himself as a brand—a brand that’s so good it doesn’t give a fuck what you think. He sided with Bill Cosby, called out Taylor Swift, asked Mark Zuckerberg for money, and compared himself to Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry. Think about all the demographics he hit with those comments. Think of all the people he offended and honoured. He’s tapped into the Internet’s pathos and has manipulated it to do his album’s marketing for him.

So the next time you hear about celebrities saying something outrageous on a public platform, ask yourself: Do they want me to retaliate, or repeat what they said like some sort of megaphone?

When 2016 could have been like 1984

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Apple standing up against the pressure of FBI is a critical moment for our future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 1983, when Apple released one of the most monumental and memorable commercials to date. The ad depicted a heroine charging at a Big Brother-like figure, an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with a hammer. The heroine ends up throwing the hammer at the figure and the figure erupts, and then words appeared on the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.

We all celebrated.

On February 16, 32 years after the commercial aired, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to his customers, raising a lot of concerns and showing how close we were to losing our privacy, just like the characters from Orwell’s fiction. The technology company was receiving external pressure from the US government to build a backdoor to customers’ personal devices. This backdoor would enable government officials—under specific protocol and significant measures—to access data by bypassing security. In another word, the FBI would have been able to access your iPhone if they were “suspicious” of you.

Cook wrote in his letter that such a backdoor does not currently exist, and that they don’t intend to build one, despite the government’s pressure—and pressure from many fearful citizens. The risk is far too great. The slope is far too slippery. One thing will lead to the next and before you know it, the government will have access to all the data we keep in our devices. We keep a lot of data in our devices.

Creating this backdoor is undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the countless terrorist attacks that have taken place on US soil recently, because terrorists use the same technology we do and need to communicate with each other to orchestrate attacks. However, to simply give up our rights to privacy within our personal communication channels would be a victory for the terrorists. They want us to take extreme measures. They want us to turn the lens upon ourselves. The world does not become safer because of heightened monitoring. It becomes more paranoid.

I remember years ago when cameras in public places was a big controversy. Now, it is the norm. But those cameras are stationary. They don’t travel with us. They are not an extension of who we are. We don’t share our intimate moments with those cameras. Our devices, on the other hand, are in a sense our other hand, and to have the government forcibly hold it wherever we go is a scary thought. It’s what Apple vowed not to do when they aired that commercial. It vowed not to turn our world into a dystopian place ruled by a mistrustful administration, and it is holding true to its word.

While the answer is not to build a backdoor, I do believe there is a solution, one that requires thought and careful calculation, and one that does not compromise the security and privacy of law-abiding citizens. We just need to think about it differently.

Chinese creative constructions must be within constraints

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Does the world need more strange buildings?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

When it comes to art, there is nothing more impressive than a city that sparks imagination with its façade while also facilitating practicality. There are countless unique buildings of great significance in the world that we can identify in a flash: the Pentagon, the Burj Khalifa, and the Petronas Towers, for example. These aren’t monuments like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, these are functioning buildings where people work and live everyday. So what’s wrong with making them look interesting?

On February 21, China’s State Council announced that there would be stricter guidelines for urban planning. What does that mean? Well, in the past few decades, China has been erecting odd buildings all across the country, many without any links to cultural heritage or functionality. In another word, China was making buildings weird for the sake of being weird. Buildings shaped like pants, coins, and even a pile of debris can be found in China.

Now, I love art. I don’t always understand it, but I like the fact that it exists. I live in a city full of art instalations that serve no purpose but to take up a spot where a bench or a garbage bin could have been. But it gets people talking, so that is a positive.

However, I always question the monetary value of a piece of art. I know artists need to get paid and all that, but when the money is coming out of taxpayers’ pockets, there better be a damn good reason for the art. China, of course, is now faced with the same predicament. They want to construct interesting buildings, but when the production to make them “original” is costing more than the façades are worth, then the projects need to stop.

A building at its most basic is a box. No matter how interesting a building is, once you are inside, you are in a box. The world would be a pretty awful place if all the boxes looked the same. Take a look at suburban America, where every house is constructed from the same blueprint. That is something we must avoid at any cost… even if the cost is saving money.

Economically, keeping buildings cube-shaped makes sense. It saves room, and in a world with limited space, that’s important. But we need landmarks. Humanity is built upon landmarks; that is why we have the Great Wonders of the World. But greatness is not just about being strange or impressive, it’s backed with history.

It doesn’t matter how the world sees it, it matters for the people who walk in and out of those buildings every day. Yes, tourists will come and go. They’ll snap pictures, and they’ll share the image with people all around the world. Yet, for the people who work and live there, buildings need to be a structure of pride. We spend so many hours of our lives in buildings. Let’s create ones that aren’t just weird, let’s create ones we are proud of. And pride is worth paying a premium for.

Shouldn’t have brought that

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Why babies don’t belong everywhere

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

I get it: young parents need to have a life too. They want to go out to events, spend time on vacations, and have dinners at restaurants. But when you are bringing a baby with you, you are responsible for anything that happens, not the general public.

During a Montreal Canadiens open practice on February 21, a puck thrown into the stands by defenceman P.K. Subban struck a one-month-old baby. Throwing pucks into the crowd is a display of appreciation from the players. They are giving fans a souvenir for their experience. There is no fault on the players or the game. Even if the puck wasn’t tossed by a player, hockey is an inherently dangerous sport, not just for players, but for the fans too. Like foul balls at baseball games, the pucks often leave the playing field.

My sympathy goes out to the baby’s family, but it wasn’t like they didn’t know where they were going. They actually planned to bring the infant to the practice. The thing is, the baby doesn’t even know where she is—babies don’t understand the game of hockey—so why was she even there?

If you can’t find a babysitter, you shouldn’t go to an event. I’m sorry moms and dads. That’s just the way it is. Because if something bad happens, you put other people in a tight situation. In this case, it was Subban.

It seems many parents teeter back and forth between caring too much and not caring enough. I see moms riding their bikes with their baby in the back carriage, racing through a yellow light. I see parents bringing their baby to busy supermarkets with people and shopping carts moving this way and that. You want your child close to you, but you also want them to be safe. Sometimes you can’t have both. The world is rather dangerous, and babies are vulnerable in many ways.

I don’t know what the best parent in the world looks like. I don’t know what it’s like to have a newborn. But I do know the first few years of a baby’s life are pivotal. As parents, your baby depends on you to make the right decisions for them every day. It sucks, because that may mean missing out on a lot of fun activities. I’m sorry, you lost the privilege of doing whatever you want the day you brought another life into this world. I don’t know what the best parent in the world looks like, but I can tell you a good parent is one that understands that, and doesn’t resent their child for making them miss out on fun sometimes.

I guess, for those with children, it’s already too late to heed my caution. However, if you plan on having kids in the future, I hope you know that you should—will—miss out on some fun. Sorry.