Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The time I accidentally meditated

I've been carrying around a lot of stress and worry and general disproportionate bad feelings about the latest round of condo drama for about the last week and a half. (I think it's almost over...)

So on Saturday evening I went to bed early, then woke up at 8 a.m. on Sunday, which is uncharacteristically early for me.  I went to the bathroom as usual, and realized that I was physiologically done sleeping, but I still really wanted to be in bed under the covers.  I couldn't explain why, I just wanted to snuggle up in bed more than anything else.

Well, I figured, it's only 8:00, I'm usually still asleep now, it's a Sunday, I'm getting back under the covers!

So I snuggled up in my usual fetal position, surrounded by my nest of pillows, cocooned in my big fluffy duvet, with my sentries in position...and didn't fall asleep.  I just lay there. My eyes didn't close.  I just lay there.

But my brain didn't do anything.  Normally if I return to bed after waking up to pee, I either drift in and out of dreamland, or start thinking through things that need to be thought through, or start mentally writing fiction.  But none of that happened.  I just lay there.  Not sleeping, not thinking.  Just lying there.  For two hours.  With my mind blank.

It was nice, very peaceful.

I think that's what meditation is supposed to be, and I've never done it before.  I tried later to duplicate it on demand, and I couldn't turn my brain off.  But this one time it happened organically, without my even trying, and I enjoyed it.

Interestingly, the only time I've ever done visualization was also during a round of condo drama.  Maybe this endeavour will prove to be mind-expanding...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Improper use of photoshop

In the past year, there have been a lot of fit and flare dresses in stores that have one thing on common: when I put them on, it looks like they shrunk vertically.  It's not just that the hemline is high, it's the entire proportions of the dress somehow make it look like it shrunk vertically in the wash and/or that I'm a child who had a growth spurt.

I know it's specific to this season's fashion as opposed to a change in my body shape because all my old dresses fit the same way they always have.  It's just that every time I try on a dress that's new in stores this year, I find myself wishing I could photoshop it to stretch the length by like 20%

While trying to google up a picture of this phenomenon, I stumbled upon the image below from Fashion Bomb Daily:

The lady on the left is actress/comedian/writer Mindy Kaling.  The lady on the right is modelling the same dress in the designer's catalogue.

The way the dress fits Ms. Kaling is similar to the way similar dresses fit me that I dislike (although it's worse on me), and the way it fits the catalogue model is the way I wish they fit me.

At first I thought this was because my body's far more similar to Ms. Kaling's than it is to the catalogue model's.  But then, when I looked more closely, I realized the proportions of the dress in the two pictures are different.  On Ms. Kaling, the skirt of the dress is 130% of the length of the bodice (putting a ruler up against my monitor, the skirt is 3.6 cm long, measured vertically from the waistband; the bodice is 2.7 cm long measured vertically from the highest part of the shoulder to the waistband).  On the model, the skirt is 182% of the length of the bodice (skirt 3.1 cm, bodice 1.7 cm).

So, in response to the design problems that caused me to wish I could photoshop the dress longer, it looks like they actually did photoshop the dress longer!

Using photoshop to make the model appear more flawless is one thing, but using it to correct design flaws when attempting to sell a dress is quite another!  If the proportions of the dress are so bad that it has to be photoshopped to look good on a model who was specifically cast to make the dress look good, the dress should have been redesigned long before the photoshoot.  And if the designer can't make a dress with proportions that look good even on a model, perhaps they're in the wrong line of work.

57 channels and nothing on

This whole blog post is obsolete, in that it applies to the world before streaming and on-demand.  However, it just occurred to me now, so I'm blogging it now.

People complain that there's hardly ever anything good on TV, that there are so many channels but only a few show anything you want to watch, and even then there's only one or two things a day you're interested in out of the whole day's programming.

It just occurred to me that this is good.  We don't want every single TV channel to show us stuff we enthusiastically want to watch every minute of every day, because we could never get to it all.  We want a maximum of one thing worth watching on at any given moment.  And, for the vast majority of the day, we don't even want that.  We need to sleep, we need to go to work, we need to shower, we need to do errands and chores - all kinds of things that are incompatible with watching TV.  Really all we want is a maximum of maybe 2 hours of programming that we're enthusiastic about in any given day - maybe more on a rainy Saturday, maybe less on a day when there's soccer practice.  I myself find that about four shows a week meets my needs quite nicely.

But quality programming 24/7 on every single channel would just be a recipe for frustration.

My latest Twitter win

The negatives of having a system

As I've blogged about before, I have a system and I find it beneficial.  But there are two consequences of this that sometimes seem a bit negative.

1. I don't feel like I have spare time.

If you were to ask me what I do in my spare time, my first answer would be that I don't have spare time.  I don't feel like any time spent doing something I'm "supposed to" be doing is spare, or any time that is scheduled is spare.  I've been surprised to hear other people say that they do yoga in their spare time, because to me it's a chore. Time spent on things that are objectively recreational but my system requires me to do, like reading books and newspapers, doesn't feel like spare time either, because I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing at that moment. Even something that's pure fun like going to see Eddie Izzard or going out to dinner doesn't feel like spare time, because it's an appointment - I have to be in a specific place at a specific time, so the time isn't spare.  (For this reason, appointment television doesn't feel like spare time either, and I haven't idly channel-surfed since I transitioned to idly internetting.)

2. Tasks that aren't part of the system are disruptive

When something unexpected comes up, it disrupts the system.  Having to go to a place and do a thing gets in the way of completing the day's system.  Even if it's seeing Eddie Izzard - something welcome, enjoyable, anticipated, unquestionably worth doing - it still interferes with the day's system.  I can't do all the things I'm "supposed"  to do because I have to do the exceptional thing.  I haven't yet figured out how to make the system flexible enough to seamlessly incorporate exceptional circumstances.  I have a few measures I do take, but I'm not there yet.

Despite these problems, I still think having a system has enormous value in the long term. It lets me get shit done without even trying.  And it gives me a point where I can rightfully stop doing stuff (even if I don't reach that point many days), so I don't get overwhelmed by everything I ever have to accomplish in my entire life and feel guilty for not having paid off the mortgage and finished saving for retirement.

I also think it will be useful to have the system as an ingrained habit when I reach my declining years. When I look at my grandparents in long-term care, it seems like the difference between peace and despair is a sense of "this is what I'm going to do today" rather than sitting around waiting for something interesting to happen. If I can automate the system well enough that it survives the loss of my faculties, hopefully my elderly self will just keep going through her daily routine by rote.  Wake up, go to the bathroom, collect the newspapers (maybe not print newspapers any more when I'm elderly), boot up the computer (maybe not a computer any more when I'm elderly), open the blinds, sun salutation, etc. etc. Keep moving forward, no room for despair.  (Which is why I invented the system during a period of unemployment in the first place!)

And if I need a break from it, hey, spare time!

Easy vs. hard, virtue vs. laziness: a braindump

1. In my last post, I mentioned how I can't cope with interior decorating but can do my job well.  This is because my job is easy, or at least is easy for me.

2. Conventional wisdom dictates that you're supposed to challenge yourself, and just doing what's easy is lazy and coasting and slothful and generally non-virtuous.

3. So am I doing a bad thing by choosing a job that is easy for me?  Would it have been more virtuous to go into engineering like grownups were always pressuring me to do, and do something that I struggle with and might sometimes even fail?

4. Or was it virtuous to choose something I'm good at, thereby giving the world an always-competent translator with the potential to become exceptional, rather than giving the world a mediocre engineer?

5. My approach to life as a whole is similar: I arrange things to make them easy for myself. The vast, vast majority of the time, everything I do is something I can handle without breaking a sweat, because I have eliminated the need for the things that make me struggle.  Is that laziness?  Or is it cleverness that I've been able to find workarounds for the hard stuff?

6. But, again, making things easier reduces the chance of failure, which makes me less of a burden to other people.  If I fail to pay my rent on time or crash a car in an ill-advised attempt to drive, I'm inconveniencing others.  If my little corner of the world just quietly and unremarkably runs smoothly, I'm minimizing my footprint.

7. Also, if I make my life easy, I'm less stressed.  When I'm stressed, I have trouble keeping my emotions to a civilized level, which also makes me a burden to people who have the misfortune of having to interact with me, and makes my life more difficult because it's detrimental to my credibility.

8. Or is behaving like a civilized person at all times while stressed just another hard thing I should be doing to challenge myself?

9. Another one for the Things They Should Quantify list: the optimal balance between challenging yourself and not being a burden to others.

What if we could objectively quantify competence?

I blogged before about how it would be interesting if we could objectively quantify luck. 

With the latest round of condo drama, I've been feeling extremely incompetent because I simply cannot cope with the very notion of interior decorating, and despite the fact that many people in the world have problems that are many thousands of orders of magnitude more serious, I still can't get my head together and just get this shit done.  I just can't.  I'm stuck, and had to go crying for help.

But while this was going on, I was also doing some stuff for work that's sound pretty hardcore and serious, although in reality it's no big deal, I just sit down and get it done.  I thought about this, and was amused at the fact that I could handle this serious work stuff without blinking but still can't even cope with the very notion of interior decorating.

Then I found myself debating: is my competence at work enough to make up for my incompetence at even thinking about interior decorating?  Or does the fact that I can't help but make big hairy drama out of something as inconsequential as interior decorating far outweigh the simple everyday act of being competent at my job like most people who do a job are?

It would be interesting if we could objectively quantify this, and people could know if they're good enough at enough things or if they have room for improvement.

Bad condo finish selection setup

A few days ago I got a call saying I have to make an appointment to choose my condo finishes.  But there are a lot of problems with how it's set up:

1. They don't provide you with a list of the decisions you have to make ahead of time.  I'm not just choosing colours, I'm also choosing materials.  And I don't know anything about materials.  And it's certainly not feasible to research every single possible material in the world!

2. You have to do it in-person.  It's the 21st century, you'd think they'd have a website where you can log on and put the different finishes on a simulation of your suite and see how they look together.  (Sims mods have been able to do that for at least 10 years!)

3. The office where you go to do this is only open weekdays during regular business hours.  A lot of people are at work during those hours!  I have to use my vacation time to do this! (And not everyone has the luxury of vacation time!)

4. You have to make the appointment within two weeks of when they call you.  On top of the problem of getting time off myself, this means I also have to find someone to help me who's can get some free time on a weekday at the same time as I can *and* at the same time as the office has an appointment slot available.  One of my closest friends (who is the mother of my fairy goddaughter) is very enthusiastic about this whole condo finish thing so I was quite happy to hand all the decision-making over to her, but she couldn't get childcare on a weekday within such short notice, so she couldn't do this thing we were both looking forward to.  Ultimately I ended up going crying to my mommy, who is knowledgeable about such things and fortunate enough to be retired so she can come and help me.

I've been happy with my builder so far and felt they're taking my needs as a regular person (as opposed to some posh investor who picks out condo units like they're choosing wine for a party) and a first-time buyer into consideration, but this condo finish selection setup makes me worried.  It feels like they're not taking into account that these are actual homes for actual human beings, not a game of monopoly where everyone's just trying to shuffle property around to make money.  It feels like they're trying to pressure me into making bad decisions.  I just feel so much less safe with this arrangement.

So I'm going to go in with my mother (in a total adulthood fail moment) and look at the stuff, and I'm totally prepared if necessary to walk out with no decisions made and a list of stuff to research. But that would still mean more vacation time to go back and make another appointment.

Really what they should have is a website where I can log in to see my unit and put different finishes on it, design and save different combinations, and let other people log in to look at it too.  Quite a few people I've talked to during this time think choosing condo finishes would be fun, but the vast majority of these people can't take time off on a weekday on such short notice. So I'd love to have it online and open it up and crowdsource the whole thing - let everyone who's interested put together a look and let people vote on them.  My friend could put together a look for me from the comfort of her own home after my fairy goddaughter is asleep, and maybe my fairy goddaughter could even put together a look herself! 

This would be good advertising for the builder, especially if they made it sharable on social media so everyone could crowdsource. It would be far easier for the end users, and it would probably save the builder some money on setting up and staffing a design centre.  If they found that people still wanted to look at stuff in person they could still have a design centre, but there wouldn't be as much traffic through it because a lot of the work could be done online.  It would be a win-win situation!

But, barring that, the very very very least they could do is send you a list of the decisions you're going to have to make ahead of time!

Current status (aka First World Problems)

I've been having some stress about having to choose my condo finishes. Then I've been feeling incompetent because I find this stressful.  Then I've been feeling stressed about feeling incompetent about finding this stressful.  Then I've been feeling guilty about feeling stressed about feeling incompetent about finding this stressful.

So, since I'm blogathoning today, some of my posts might be me working through this.  If you're a person with real problems, you might prefer to skip these posts.

I might also decide to stop wallowing in my head and post other stuff instead.  Not sure yet what's going to happen.

Good morning!

Here's what I'm doing today and why.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The marginal cost of buying happiness

Working from home is so good for me that I can't think of any reasonable salary increase that would induce me to switch to a job where I have to go into the workplace.  I might consider doing it on a temporary basis for some ridiculous amount of money - like if I earned enough in six months to pay off my entire mortgage - but only if I could be certain that I could return to my current arrangement afterwards. If not, it wouldn't be worth this.

Some people would use this as an argument in support of the idea that money can't buy happiness.  But the fact remains that quite a bit of the happiness I do have was bought with money.  It's not that more money wouldn't make me happier, it's that the cost in happiness of earning more money would be greater than the amount of happiness that additional money would buy me. 

So, if my quick googling has led me to the correct economic terminology, it's not that money can't buy happiness.  It's that there's a threshold where the marginal cost (in happiness) of more money is greater than the amount of happiness that that same money could buy.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Reaching for the dictionary

I'm currently reading Hild by Nicola Griffith (no spoilers please, I'm only a little ways in), which is set in 7th century English and therefore contains a lot of Old English words to describe concepts for which le mot juste doesn't quite exist in modern English.

My first instinct is to look up every one of these words I don't recognize, and, before I discovered the book has a glossary in the back (which still isn't as comprehensive as I need), I was rushing to Google every single time, which is intrusive, slowing down my reading and spoiling the atmosphere.

A while back I read a book in German for the first time in years. I've always had more difficulty reading in German than in other languages, and when I was in school it would take me forever because I felt the need to look up every word I didn't understand and annotate the text as I went.  But in my recent German reading endeavour, I discovered that translator brain make it possible for me to tell which parts are and aren't important, even when I don't understand every word, and to look up only the words I need to understand the story as a whole.

So, knowing full well that I can get full enjoyment and comprehension out of a story without looking up the words I don't understand, why do I feel compelled to do this when I'm reading in English?

To further complicate things, this is something I deliberately didn't do when I was a kid.  Our teachers would always tell us to look up words we don't understand and keep a running list of words we'd looked up, and I never wanted to do that.  I just wanted to keep reading the story.

So what's changed?

My first thought was that it might be translator brain - I live in a world where I have to know what all the English words mean.  But translator brain also caused me to stop using the dictionary when reading in German, so I don't know if it can be the cause of two opposite actions.

Then I wondered if it might be because I've been reading quite a bit of historical non-fiction lately, in which I looked up all the things I didn't know ( also most often the names of objects used in historical times that are no longer used today).  Since non-fiction isn't building a world for me to get lost in, it seems more "normal" to be googling as I go.

But maybe it's just Google brain! In daily life I've become so accustomed to googling every passing thought that I have trouble turning off that impulse when visiting fictional universes.  I guess Hild is just the first book I've read in quite a while that leaves me with so many questions that the googling becomes intrusive.

Which perhaps means I need to be reading more challenging books...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Ford family writing prompt

There's an interesting, non-politics-related, factoid about the family of Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

Rob Ford is one of four children of Doug and Diane Ford.

The names of the four children, in birth order, are: Kathy, Randy, Doug, and Rob.

Rob's brother Doug, as I'm sure you've concluded, is named after his father Doug.

But Doug Jr. is the second-born son.  The first-born son is Randy, who isn't named after his father.

This is really interesting to me, because there's a story behind that!  We don't know the story because it obviously isn't applicable to anything that's in the public interest, but there is a story.  Either there was something so important about the name Randy that they had to name a child Randy before even naming a child after the father, or something changed between the birth of Randy and the birth of Doug that made them feel the need to name a child after the father.

I think this would make a good writing prompt. The firstborn son is not named after the father. The second son is. What's the backstory? How does this affect sibling relations?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Books read in October 2014


1. The Queen's Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth's Court by Anna Whitelock
2. The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess in Her Own Words by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
3. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin
4. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
5. A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport


1. Fantasy in Death

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things They Should Invent: tournament-style mayoral debates

In this past election, Toronto had a ridiculous number of mayoral candidates and a ridiculous number of mayoral debates.

But, for the vast majority of debates, only the handful of candidates deemed "mainstream" by the media are invited, with the dozens and dozens of others being completely ignored.

This is a waste of perfectly good scheduled debate time!  What's the point of having such a ridiculous number of debates if you aren't going to host all the candidates?

Therefore, I propose tournament style mayoral debates.  During the first few months, candidates debate each other in a round robin sort of format, so as many people as possible debate as many people as possible.  Then the people who have won the most debates move on to debate the other people who have won the most debates, until the top debates in the city are facing each other towards the end of the election period.

I'm picturing a sort of World Cup format for this, but it wouldn't be exactly the same because debates most often have more than 2 people.  And a true round robin might not be possible, depending on the math.  But, in any case, they should do whatever most convenient mathematically and scheduling-wise to get as many people as possible to debate as many people as possible.

So how do we determine who won a particular debate and gets to move on in the debate-offs?  My first thought is an audience vote - perhaps just in person, perhaps both in person and online.  But I don't know if that could be over-influenced by candidates stacking the audience. 

Another idea is a panel of judges.   But would they assess the candidates objectively, or would they favour the big names?  Although, the existing system already favours the big names, so could it be any worse?

What if audience members are assigned tickets to a debate, but they don't know who's going to be debating at the time they sign up for tickets (which would make it impossible to stack the audience).  But would enough people actually go to debates where they don't know who's debating?

Another alternative would be not to vote on winners of individual debates.  Candidates round-robin, the videos are posted online, and online viewers can vote for which candidates they'd like to see debate some more.  But, again, how could we prevent candidates from stacking the votes?

I haven't fully worked this out.  But the fact remains: if we must have dozens of candidates and dozens of debates, all candidates should get to debate.

Monday, October 27, 2014


A non-descript fall day for a very descript municipal election.

As I've blogged about before, I have a superstition that I need to pet a dog on the way to vote in order to get a good election outcome.  I had a couple of errands to do on my lunch hour, so I tucked my voting card into my purse just in case I met any auspicious doggies.  But, to my surprise, I only even saw one dog, and it wasn't in a place where I could pet it!

Worried by this uncharacteristic shortage of dogs (I usually see 2 or 3 dogs at any time of the day or night), I started planning the route I'd take to the polling station after work, to maximize the chance of encountering a pettable doggie.  The polling station is extremely close to my home - just a couple of buildings down the street, and then through a pedestrian pathway to the other side of the block.  But surely walking down the actual street rather than along the pedestrian pathway is a perfectly reasonable act, right?  Even if it increases the distance I had to walk by 50%?  And when I worked in the office I'd always do my after-work errands before voting, so it's perfectly justified to do that today, right? And so on and so on until I'd justified walking at least three times the distance, possibly meandering through some side streets, in the hope that I'd encounter a pettable dog.

I needn't have worried. Directly en route to the polling station, I saw an adorable little dog who stopped walking and sat down on the sidewalk.  "Awww, you don't want to go any more?" I squeed at him, and full-fledged petting ensued, with the doggie's enthusastic consent and the owner smiling.  So then, my mission accomplished, I walked straight to the polling station, only to discover there was another doggie tied up outside the polling station! When I said "Hi doggie!" he thumped his tail and smiled at me, so I gave him a pet too.

Two perfectly organic dog pets, not contrived at all, would totally have happened if I'd been walking the same route without a superstitious reason to pet dogs.  I hope that bodes well.


One actual election-related note: there are these security folders that we put the ballots in before they feed them into the ballot counting machine.  Problem: the ballot is longer than the folder, so if you voted for one of the bottom few people on the ballot, your vote will be visible despite the security folder!

The strange thing is the ballot is so long in the first place because there are so many mayoral candidates.  The mayoral candidates are divided into two columns, but there isn't an even number in each column - there's way more in the first column!  If they'd made the two columns even, the ballots would have fit in the folder.

Alternatively, if there was some compelling technical reason why they couldn't have adjusted the format of the ballot, why couldn't they get longer folders?


Despite my attempts to find my councillor candidates,  no platforms for any of the challengers ever emerged.  I got like a hundred hits a day on that post - far more than the rest of my blog combined - so I'm certainly not the only one looking for them. Their target audience is ready and waiting, but they still won't show themselves.  And so the question remains: why did they bother? 


Edit, since I always record the campaigning that reaches me:

Signs seen: 1, for the incumbent councillor, plus one bus shelter ad (unfortunately negative) for mayoral candidate Oliva Chow
Robocalls: 2, for mayoral candidate (and eventual victor) John Tory. I disapprove of robocalls
Flyer: 1 in my mailbox for mayoral candidate Doug Ford, 2 under my door for the challenger trustee candidate, 2 under my door for the incumbent councillor, one of which was accmpanied by a knock on the door (which I didn't answer, because I don't answer the door to strangers, which is yet another reason why people should announce themselves as they knock on the door)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All Toronto municipal candidates should publicly post their Vote Compass results

I was pleased to see that there's a Vote Compass for the Toronto mayoral election, but I was disappointed that it only compared your position with that of the three candidates that the media is treating as "mainstream".  There are 65 candidates for the position of mayor alone, to say nothing of all the councillor candidates whose platforms could also be charted on the same compass.

I suspect the Vote Compass people limited themselves to the top three simply for logistical purposes.  They have to analyze platforms, break them down into issues, place them on the scale, validate them with the candidates and the public...it would probably be impossible to do it for 65 candidates, even with our ridiculously protracted municipal elections.

So as an interim measure until someone can design a vote by issue that can accommodate dozens of candidates, I propose that all candidates should take the Vote Compass quiz and post their results publicly. Then voters whose positions on the various issues don't coincide with any of the top three candidates can see which of the many other candidates actually meet their needs.

It would be extra awesome if someone could compile all the candidates' answers in one place.  It's a bit late for this election, but maybe next election the Vote Compass people could do this!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Telling Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla about Robin Williams's death

The question in this week's Ethicist is interesting:

According to press reports, Koko, the gorilla adept at sign language, seemed saddened to hear the news of the death of Robin Williams, whom the gorilla met once in 2001 (and bonded with immediately). I cannot fathom the ethical reasoning behind telling Koko about Williams’s death. What is the point of telling her about the death of someone she met once, 13 years ago? The press reports dwelt on the fact that she appeared sad. I don’t think any of us can know if she was sad or not — but even if this news opens the possibility of making her unhappy, it seems cruel to bring this into her life. What moral purpose does it serve? RITA LONG, OAKLAND, CALIF.

But as I read this, it occurred to me that if it is in fact inethical to tell Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla about Robin Williams's death because it made her sad, by the same logic, it should be inethical to tell anyone anything that will make them sad.

But when Robin Williams died, my first reaction was to tell people, even though I knew it would make them sad.

Why was this my reaction?  Is it in fact ethical?

Let's explore this:

As soon as I first heard of Robin Williams's death, I tweeted it.  That was to address my own emotional needs without the consideration of the needs of others.  I was shocked and needed to get the shock out of my system by sharing it.

But then I went on to share it directly with people whom I knew to be particular fans of Robin Williams.  My thinking was "They love Robin Williams - I must tell them this!" Even though I knew it would make them sad - almost because I knew it would make them sad, although I wasn't telling them because I wanted to make them sad.  I was telling them because I felt their fondness for Robin Williams made it imperative that they know.

Of course, when we're talking about human adults in the 21st century, the fact of the matter is they would have heard anyway from media.  Koko the Gorilla wouldn't have heard anyway.  But the fact that they were going to hear anyway wasn't a factor in my decision to directly share this information with the people whom I knew it would make the most sad.

Let's think about it from the perspective of the person receiving the news.  I have no particular emotional attachment to Robin Williams, but what if, dog forbid, it was Eddie Izzard (who, for those of you who are just tuning in, is my hero)?  I would be gutted and heartbroken and genuinely in mourning. And I would very much want to know.  If Eddie Izzard died and I was never informed, I'd start missing him anyway.  After some time had passed, I'd notice that I hadn't heard anything from him lately.  No new tours, no new projects, no new tweets.  Then I'd start worrying whether everything was okay, and the worrying would persist and the lack of definitive answers would be upsetting.  I'd much rather know.

This worry triggered by long-term lack of communication and creative output would apply to the Robin Williams fans in my lives, but somehow I doubt Koko the Gorilla would notice his lack of creative output.

So how I feel about being told of the death of someone I've met before and liked, but I'm not expecting future contact or creative output from?

 This has happened twice in recent memory.  One was my boss from my old job, who suddenly and unexpectedly died about 10 years after I'd left the job. The other was the grandson of my childhood next-door neighbours, whom I'd met when he was a toddler, and died when he was a teenager.

In both these cases, the news made me sad.  With my old boss, the sadness was exacerbated by the fact that I found out too late to send my condolences (which is inapplicable for Robin Williams fans and for Koko the Gorilla).  With my neighbours' grandson, the sadness was exacerbated by how young he was and the fact that he'd never gotten to enjoy adult life (which, again, is inapplicable for Robin Williams and for Koko the Gorilla).

If I hadn't found out about these deaths, I would never have noticed the absence of these people.  Even if I'd somehow been back in touch with my old job for professional purposes and my old boss wasn't around, I'd assume he'd moved on to something else.  And I'd completely forgotten about my interaction with next door's grandson until I heard about his death.

But, despite the fact that I felt sadness at learning of their deaths and wouldn't have felt anything if I remained ignorant of their deaths, I still feel like being informed of them was better than not being informed of them. I haven't been able to fully analyze this feeling in the course of writing this blog post, but I feel like people have the right to know when people they know die.

Therefore, I don't think informing Koko the Sign-Language Gorilla of Robin Williams's death was inethical. I think it was treating her with basic human respect.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Help me find the words to describe my idiocy

I tweeted this story when it happened, so it might be familiar to some of you.  Disclaimer: I do recognize the flaws in my thinking in this story and have learned from them. The purpose of this post is to figure out the words to describe the flaws in my thinking.

I was walking down the street, and I saw an Orthodox Jewish teen carrying a piece of plant matter, which looked very much like the palm leaves used on Palm Sunday in the Catholic church.

So I wondered, "What do they use palm leaves for in Orthodox Judaism?"

I walked on some more, and realized that line of thinking is racist.  Just because I believe I can identify this young man's religion based on his dress and grooming doesn't mean the object he's carrying has religious significance!  If I saw someone whose religion I didn't believe I could identify carrying a similar piece of plant matter, I'd think it's for a hobby or a science project.  It wouldn't occur to me that its significance would be religious unless it was actually Palm Sunday.

So I chastised myself for such racist thinking, and went home.

When I got home, I googled out of curiosity Orthodox Judaism palm leaves I discovered Sukkot, a Jewish holiday that involves palm leaves.  And Sukkot was actually in progress on the day that this happened!

Then I thought to myself, "So I wasn't actually racist!"

But, of course, my logic that the leaf must necessarily have religious significance because it was being carried by someone whose religion I could recognize was just as racist as ever. It just happened to land on a correct conclusion this one time.

So here's what I'm trying to figure out:

1. What logical fallacy did I commit by assuming the leaf had religious significance?
2. What logical fallacy did I commit by concluding that I wasn't actually racist just because my assumption ended up being correct this one time?
3. What word should I be using in this blog post instead of "racist"? "Anti-Semitic" doesn't seem correct, because there were nothing "anti" about it, and I'm not sure if "that person is Jewish, therefore I think they are in the process of practising Judaism" can quite be considered anti-Semitism. So what is the word for this particular flavour of idiocy?