Sunday, November 11, 2018

Polite conversation and consent

Reading this Ask A Manager discussion about conversation topics that are totally off-limits in the workplace, I developed a theory:

The rules of polite conversation are essentially there to keep conversation consensual.

For example, religion is off-limits because not everyone consents to being converted or to being told their beliefs are Bad and Wrong or to being interrogated about and asked to defend their beliefs.

Politics are off-limit because not everyone consents to being converted or being debated or being told their core values are Bad and Wrong or being told Those People are Bad and Wrong.

Family planning is off-limits because not everyone consents to disclosing or being pressured to disclose the personal details of their medical history and their sex life and finances and interpersonal dynamics in their home.

And consent is all the more important in places like the workplace (and, I'd like people to start believing, the family) where there are power dynamics, and you can't just walk away and never speak to the people again.

Now, sometimes people do discuss these topics consensually.  But, as with everything in life, it is important to make sure you truly do have consent first, and that the person is giving consent of their own free will rather than feeling pressured into it.

Some people will argue "There's no need for all these rules! If they don't want to talk about something, they should just say so!" 

But enough people who don't feel they can say no have gathered enough empirical evidence that they'll suffer negative consequences ("Not a team player" "C'mon, lighten up!") that they don't feel safe saying no.

So if you want to live in a world where no topics are off-limits because people can just say no, start by influencing your corner of the world in a direction where people aren't shamed or spoken of negatively for not wanting to talk about something.

Just as more advanced sex acts, (e.g. BDSM), require a more robust consent environment, (e.g. safe words), so do more advanced conversation topics.

Things I Don't Understand: objecting to assisted dying when you don't mind if people die

This post was inspired by, but is not directly related to, this op-ed outlining how the new provincial government's policies could kill people.

Policy can kill people.  Politicians who enact such policies and other proponents of these policies either don't care if people die, or see people's deaths as acceptable collateral damage.

What's weird is the intersection between not caring if one's policies kill people, but being opposed to medically-assisted death. If you don't care if people die, why would you object to people dying?

Some people hold the idea that people should contribute to society rather than being a burden to society.  Others refute argue against this idea, saying that your value comes from who you are as a person rather than what you can contribute.  (I actually don't hold either of these ideas - I don't feel it's my - or anyone's - jurisdiction to go around insisting others contribute to my satisfaction or accusing others of being a burden, but I also don't feel that every human being has intrinsic value for the simple reason that I can't perceive any intrinsic value in my own essential humanity.)

So I also find it weird when people who hold the "contribute to society or you're a burden" idea are opposed to assisted death. In a paradigm where it is possible for a person to be a burden, why would you be opposed to someone saying "I'm too much of a burden, so I'm going to get out of the way now.

One reason I have heard for objecting to medically-assisted death while not objecting to death itself is that if you can do it yourself, you don't need medical assistance.

But the benefit of medically-assisted death rather than suicide is it doesn't leave a mess for other people to clean up.  Currently, we don't have any non-medical method of suicide that doesn't leave a carcass in a place where it's inconvenient to others for there to be a carcass.

In contrast, in medical settings where people die, they're fully trained and prepared to move a dead body and hygienically clean up afterwards. (In my grandmother's long-term care home, they have whole procedures in place for this eventuality!) Until we have Suicide Place, medical contexts are our only option for people to die without being an undue burden upon others.

So it's really strange to me that people who don't mind that their policies might kill people are opposed to people choosing to die.

A real-life example of how spending more money can result in better value

I blogged recently that, when looking into how to get best value for money in public services, they should study ways to add value, not just ways to save money.

Real-life has just given me an excellent example of how this can work.

As I've blogged about before, I'm truly terrible at washing my windows. I've been considering hiring someone to do it, but I have no idea how to go about hiring someone who is good.

It turns out, this year my condo decided to do a pilot project: the professional window-washers the building hires to wash our inaccessible windows would also do our balcony windows.

It was a resounding success!

It took two window-washers with just 10 minutes to wash all my balcony windows as well as the inside and outside of the glass under the balcony railing, and I can't see any streaks! 

In contrast, it takes me an hour to clean the same windows, and I always leave streaks behind.

They did have to come through my apartment to get at the balcony, but they were accompanied by a building security guard who is known to me.

In contrast, if I hired someone myself, I'd have to be alone in my home with this unvetted stranger, or impose upon someone to come sit around my apartment so I wouldn't have to be alone in my home with this unvetted stranger.

These window-washers were professionals, with professional-calibre equipment that I've never even seen available for sale in the kind of retailers where someone like me might plausibly buy cleaning equipment.  And they were hired by my building's professional property managers, who have experience in hiring workers for building maintenance tasks.

In contrast, I am a very amateur window-washer with amateur equipment, and anyone a private individual like myself can hire for a one-off job is also likely to be pretty amateur with amateur equipment - an odd-job sort of person rather than someone who washes windows 40 hours a week.  And I have no experience whatsoever hiring anyone to do anything, and haven't a clue how to tell if someone is good and trustworthy until after the fact (and sometimes not even then).

And the marginal cost to me? Zero!  It was so easily absorbed into the building's overall maintenance budget that my condo fees aren't even going up for next year!

The rental apartments I've lived in would never have done this, because they were businesses with a profit motive. Hiring window-washers to wash windows they could reasonably ask tenants to do themselves would take away from their profit.

But a condo doesn't have profit motive - the purpose of the condo's budget is to meet residents' needs.  So we were at liberty to spend more money to pay skilled professionals to do the job, which got better results far more quickly and easily than if they'd left the task up to us to do individually.

Definitely better value! And definitely the sort of value we'd want to add to our public services.

My 2019 New Year's resolution

So I've been feeling that turning 38 is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and trying to figure out what it's going to be.

Then, in the past few weeks, things keep happening where being perfectly diligent results in bad outcomes, but being less than perfectly diligent results in good outcomes.

And I realized this needs to be my next new year's resolution: be less diligent.

The need for less diligence isn't just a result of the bad luck I've been having the past couple of weeks.  It's also a result of the fact that my system hasn't been serving me well.

My system was originally designed when I was 22 and unemployed.  Social media didn't exist then, and my personal care required far less diligence.

Since then, whenever something comes up that I need or want to be part of my routine, I've been adding it to my system.  But I never took anything out, because everything in there seemed just as necessary as it has always been.  I did notice problems with this approach, but I still continued it.

However, since my head injury, this has all been snowballing.  What with the massive amounts of rest I needed in the aftermath of my head injury, and the general need to scale back on everything, and the addition of vision therapy to my routine, I'm essentially 6 months behind. Parts of the system were designed to be cumulative, so if I don't finish the task today I have to do it tomorrow, but since the head injury it has gotten ridiculous.  I feel hopelessly behind, which is a stupid feeling to be living with every single moment of every single day when you're meeting all your work deadlines and paying all your bills on time and getting ahead on your mortgage.

So my project for the next year is to destroy and rebuild my system.

I will continue following the current system until my birthday, but for the purpose of gathering data. I will note what aspects aren't serving me and reflect upon how to fix those problems. 

Then, on my birthday, I will erase my backlog so I'm no longer "behind", introduce any fixes I think of between now and then, and continue following the system for the purpose of gathering data.

The next year will be spent pinpointing which aspects of the system don't serve me, and figuring out ways to fix them so they do serve me. Then I will reboot the system again on my 39th birthday, to reflect everything I've learned in the interim.

And, hopefully, I will enter the second half of my life with a system that serves me well and reflects my actual needs, rather than punishing me for not meeting some completely arbitrary standard of diligence.


When I turned 8, I had the sudden feeling that I had stopped being a Little Kid and started being a Big Kid.

When I turned 18, I became a legal adult and endeavoured to start living as such rather than as my parents' child (which was difficult given that I was still in high school and living in my parents' house - both normal for an 18-year-old at the time, because this was back when high school was still five years long).

Turning 28 also felt significant, in that I suddenly didn't feel like I was cool enough for my age. I made myself a series of three anti-resolutions, that ultimately led to my Entitlement journey, which would ultimately give me the tools I would ultimately need to adult properly.

In December I turn 38, and that also feels significant because it's the halfway mark in many respects:

- My statistical life expectancy at birth is 76, and 38 is half of 76.
- I moved out of my parents' house at 19, and 19 x 2 = 38. So, starting this coming year, the majority of my life will have been spent living independently rather than as my parents' dependent.
-  At the age of 38, I will mark my 16th anniversary as a professional translator.  This is significant because I was 16 when I came to the realization that translation is the right career for me, so, starting this year, I will have spent more of my life a translator than not a translator. (The six years between realizing I should be a translator and starting to work as a professional translator were spent completing high school and going to university for my translation degree.)

38 feels like it's going to be meaningful, and I think I'm just starting to figure out how. That's for my next post.

Good morning!

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Books read in October 2018


1. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
2. Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
3. Kuessipan by Naomi Fontaine


1. Brotherhood in Death
2. Apprentice in Death

Monday, October 22, 2018


The polling place was in my building, so no doggies.

The physical environment was distressing because of halloween decorations that trigger my panic attacks. I find myself wondering if that's allowed. But the decorations were put up by fellow residents (as opposed to by property management) and I has already politely asked property management to remove the ones that distress me (when I thought property management had put them up), so I don't want to pursue this too aggressively when the resident committee who put them up now know where I live and know my greatest weakness.

This year, I got one flyer from each incumbent councillor candidate, and one from one of the challenger trustee candidates.  I got multiple emails from the incumbent candidate of my old ward because I was subscribed to his newsletter in my capacity as a constituent. Weirdly, I also got one email from the other incumbent candidate, even though I don't think I've ever emailed him.

I saw signs for the incumbent councillor candidates, the incumbent school board trustee candidate and both frontrunner mayoral candidates.

Despite the fact that my head injury still hinders my reading, I feel like I was able to make an informed decision. I do have some ideas about how the media could have helped me do that better, which will be the subject of future blog posts.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Another tool to figure out how to vote: anti-endorsements

One strategy if you're struggling to figure out how to vote for is to see if any organizations that align with your values are endorsing candidates in your ward, and why they are endorsing the candidates they choose.

I recently figured out another strategy: see who organizations that don't align with your values are endorsing.

While googling some candidates in my ward, I discovered a website I find politically abhorrent was rating various municipal candidates.

It included ratings and comments on some candidates about whom I had, until that point, been unable to find enough useful information.  And I found that knowing what politically abhorrent people think of these candidates and why is a useful information to have.

So if you're not finding enough information about particular candidates or about a particular race in your ward and can tolerate some exposure to abhorrent politics, check out who the politically abhorrent are endorsing and why. After all, just because they call it "endorsements"  doesn't mean you have to do what they say - you can systematically do the opposite, or otherwise use the reasoning behind their opinions to inform your own.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The only requirement for assisted death should be wanting to die

I've always been thinking about medically-assisted dying from the point of view of not having access to it. I fear reaching the point where I can no longer have a quality of life that meets my minimum standards, but not being eligible to be put out of my misery.  I fear decades of being tube-fed against my will, or never being able to have privacy because I'm too far into my decline to be unsupervised but not permitted to die.

And I've been writing about assisted dying from this perspective. Recent attempts at assisted-dying legislation set out very specific medical prerequisites for qualifying for assisted death.  I see gaps in these criteria, so I'm trying to come up with policy ideas that would fill in the gaps while being sufficiently palatable to pass into law.

It recently came to my attention that some people think about it from the opposite perspective: they're concerned that the existence very specific medical criteria will create a situation where people who meet those criteria but want to continue living will be pressured or coerced to die.  I've noticed that, in particular, people with disabilities who have been through some shit are concerned about being seen as less worthy of living if they meet the assisted dying criteria.

As a proponent of assisted dying, this is not my intention!  My wanting death to be available to me and not wanting to have life inflicted upon me against my will doesn't mean that I don't want life to be available to others and want death to be inflicted upon others!

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to meet the needs of both sides.  One, and only one, medical prerequisite for assisted death: the patient wants to die.

If the patient wants to die, they meet the legal requirements for assisted death.  If the patient doesn't want to die, they don't meet the legal requirements for assisted death. Period.

The only problem is, I don't think they'll go for it.  Too many people are uncomfortable with the idea of death on demand that they feel it's morally imperative to put obstacles in the way. I don't like it, but right at this exact moment I think our options are assisted dying with obstacles, or no assisted dying whatsoever.

But those obstacles shouldn't be medical prerequisites for assisted death.  Instead, they should be part of the protocol that medical professionals follow.

For example, when a patient requests assisted death, protocol could dictate that medical professionals first conduct a quality of life analysis, and try to resolve the quality of life issues through less drastic means. Perhaps even a minimum amount of time would have to pass between the patient first requesting assisted death and assisted death being administered, during which time other, less drastic interventions are tried to resolve the patient's quality of life issues.  (There would have to be an exception in cases where this minimum amount of time is longer than the patient's life expectancy prognosis, or when the patient and their medical team have already tried everything.)

But ultimately, in order to meet the needs of vulnerable people who want death to be available to them and vulnerable people who don't want death inflicted upon them, the only legal requirement,  the only official medical criterion, and the sine qua non for assisted death must be wanting to die. Everything else is merely procedural.

In other words, the only requirement for whether to provide assisted dying is that the patient wants to die.  Everything else is about how.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

How to un-spoil a surprise party

From a recent Miss Conduct:
I wanted to throw a surprise party for my mom, and had kept it a secret. But she found out about it by looking at my messages. What do I do?
Get mad at your mother.  Get really really mad at her, yell and scream and say you'll never talk to her again, giving every impression of a permanent breach in the relationship.

The throw the surprise party just as planned.

She'll never expect it!

Saturday, October 06, 2018

How to compare the voting records of incumbent Toronto city councillor candidates

The sudden reorganization of Toronto City Council from 47 wards into only 25 creates a situation where there are multiple incumbents running in some wards.

We are accustomed to the situation of one incumbent running in a ward. We keep an eye on the world of our incumbent councillor over their term and get a sense of their work and their voting patterns, especially on issues that are important to us.  We keep in mind what works and where there's room for improvement and compare all this with the platforms of the challengers running in our ward, as well as using it to evaluate the incumbent's re-election platform.

Having two incumbent candidates in a ward complicates things. Now two of the candidates have a voting patterns and a record of constituency work, but one of them we haven't been paying nearly as much attention to, since, up until now, they were irrelevant to our everyday issues and our voting decisions.

It would be foolish to disregard the record of the incumbent with whom we're less familiar, but it also takes a lot of work to familiarize ourselves with their years and years of council votes.

However, a more efficient way to do so is to compare the voting records of the two incumbent candidates and see where they differ. After all,  there's no point in focusing your time and energy on areas where they're in agreement - your existing assessment of whether your incumbent should be voted for or against will do the job there.

Here's a quick and easy way to make this comparison*:

Go to Matt Elliott's City Council Scorecard. This spreadsheet has one row for each councillor, and as your scroll rightwards you can see how they've voted on every vote, colour-coded for your convenience.

When you find a column where your two incumbents voted differently, simply look at the top row to see what the issue was.

This way you can quickly and easily scroll through years of votes to see where there are areas of difference requiring further examination.

(Here is a link to primary source data about councillor's voting records, which is far less user-friendly, but can be downloaded in .csv format if you prefer to do your own data manipulations.)

*Credit for this idea goes to the author of this comparison of Ward 12 candidates Josh Matlow and Joe Mihevic, which reached me via a tweet from Adam Chaleff. I'm under the impression that the author of this comparison wishes to remain anonymous, but if you are the author and you want credit, let me know in the comments.  And, of course, Matt Elliott gets credit for the mindblowingly helpful scorecard spreadsheet.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Books read in September 2018


1. Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places by Kathryn H. Anthony
2. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson 
3. Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work by Alison Green
4. The Stone Collection by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm


1. Devoted in Death
2. Wonderment in Death

Dear Miss Manners: what if you're bereaved and have poor acting skills?

From a recent Miss Manners:
Dear Miss Manners: At the funeral of a very dear person who was a founding member of the church I attend, I approached the deceased's sister outside the church before the service. I attempted to hug her and express my condolences. The sister all but recoiled, stating that she was not accepting any displays of condolence because it was "too upsetting" to her. Another family member, who was standing nearby at the time, just looked at me with a kind of "what-can-you-do?" expression on her face.
I was stunned and somewhat embarrassed because other people standing near enough heard her say this. I have not seen this person since the funeral about one month ago, and I am still a little rubbed about her behavior.
Should I be? She even made a remark to the effect that she knew her niece — the deceased's daughter — would probably hear about it and be upset with her, but that she didn't care.
Miss Manners replies:
Thus both admitting and defending being rude to you.
Although we try to make allowances for the emotional state of those in fresh mourning, that does not include hurting other mourners by repulsing condolences. On the contrary, the immediately bereaved should be representing the deceased to those who also feel their loss.
So yes, Miss Manners agrees that you should be a little rubbed about this behavior. And that for the sake of your late friend, you will now let it go.
Miss Manners did address the letter-writer's question, and did address the letter-writer's hidden question about whether it was appropriate for the family member in question to behave that way.

But, as the kind of socially-inept person who reads an etiquette advice column to better myself, I have another question: what if you are bereaved but, for whatever reason, don't have the acting skills to represent the deceased to the other mourners?

Is Miss Manners saying you shouldn't attend the funeral in that case?  Is there an etiquette-sanctioned way to attend the funeral but avoid people?

The family member whose behaviour so appalled the letter-writer and Miss Manners is the deceased's daughter's aunt, which, by my math, makes her either the deceased's sister or sister-in-law.

If we were to make a hierarchy about such things, the general consensus would be that the deceased's sister attending the funeral is more important than the members of the deceased's church getting their emotional needs attended to.  If we were to analyze the situation under Ring Theory, the sister would be the one who gets to do the dumping, and the letter-writer would be the one who has to do the comforting.

So would Miss Manners advise a person on an inner ring to skip a funeral if they can't attend to the emotional needs of a person on an outer ring?  Or does etiquette have something else in mind for people who, in their grief, just can't hold it together enough to fulfill the requirements of etiqutte?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


As I was struggling through yet another tedious round of vision therapy, I found myself thinking that if this were a movie, it would be portrayed as a heroic training montage, jumping between Brock string beads to the beat of Eye of the Tiger.

It occurs to me that it could be creatively interesting to do the opposite - show a character going through the slow, tedious practice of practicing or building up their skills over time, until, at a crucial plot juncture, they turn out to ultimately be highly competent at the skill they're seen practicing.

This would probably be more suited to a TV series than to a movie.  The character would be seen training/practicing in the background, or as the slice of life activity they're doing when they get interrupted by the episode's main plot. (Is there a word for that concept?)  Perhaps their training/practice equipment is seen in a corner of their room.  It could be fun to show but not tell - the character is frequently seen training or practicing in the background, but there's never an expositiony "So how's your training going?" conversation.

It might even work to have the character experience the failure or setback that leads to the training early in the season - as nothing more than a subplot, perhaps even as a background event or a passing joke or the slice of life activity that gets interrupted by the episode's main plot - then they work hard at their training in the background all season with the main plot taking centre stage, and the fruits of their hard work become a crucial plot point in the season finale.

Just as all of us who are slogging through something in real life, without the ability to save time by doing it by montage, hope that it will eventually pay off at a crucial plot point.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Telling your relatives about DNA test results

A common theme in advice columns recently has been whether to disclose information from genealogy DNA tests to one's relatives.

Examples from a recent Ethicist:

I’m 45, living in the United States. My brother is two years older and lives in Australia. Neither of us gets on with our 86-year-old mother, who lives in London. Our father, whom we were both really close to, died in 1985 after a long illness. I was 13, my brother 15, and it affected us very badly with little help from our mother.

I recently took a DNA test out of curiosity for the health information and couldn’t understand the result that I was 52 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. As far as I was aware, both my parents were from Jewish families going back as far as we knew. The following day, having not spoken to my mother for a year, I asked if she wouldn’t mind taking the test. She responded that it was a route that I might not want to go down. Of course, I asked why, and she just came out with the news that my father was infertile and that both myself and my brother were from artificial insemination. She told me not to tell my brother and said that she never wanted to talk about it again. 

I have been absolutely devastated by this news. Before speaking to my mother, I had mentioned to my brother that my DNA results appeared strange. He didn’t show too much interest. I genuinely do not know how my brother would react, as he is generally far less emotional than I. However, I am feeling a lot of guilt because I think it is everyone’s right to know such an important fact. As devastating as this news was to me, I am grateful to know the truth. 

Doesn’t everyone deserve to know the truth? Should I tell my brother outright, or should I inquire if he wants more details about his heritage or simply not bring it up? Should I give my mother the opportunity to tell him before I do? My concern for my mother’s request not to tell him is of secondary consideration.


I recently did 23andMe to learn about my genetic health and ancestry. A week after getting my results, I received a marketing email asking if I wanted to connect to the 1,000-plus other customers to whom I was related. I thought, Why not, as I might meet a distant cousin back overseas. To my surprise, I learned I had a first cousin born the day before my older sister and given up for adoption by my now-married-for-50-years aunt and uncle. No one in my immediate family was aware that they had given up a child before marrying and subsequently having four more children — cousins with whom I grew up and spent summer vacations. I waited for my adopted cousin to reach out to me, which she did after a few weeks, and we had a nice phone conversation. She informed me that her biological parents and four siblings responded to a letter she wrote to them 12 years ago that they want no contact with her or her daughters whatsoever. 

Do I let my cousins know that I am now aware of what they have spent over a decade trying to conceal? I know of at least two other second cousins who also took a genetic test and learned of this genetic cousin through 23andMe. To me this seems like a ticking time bomb for my cousins and aunt and uncle. Between these mass-market genetic tests and social media, it is just a matter of time before folks learn of this secret my aunt and uncle have tried to conceal for 52 years. My new cousin seems perfectly lovely and looks exactly like her genetic younger sisters. I’m surprised they don’t want to meet her and her daughters but respect that is their choice. 

Is it better to let my cousins with whom I have had a lifelong relationship know that I know this? Or do I wait until it all comes out via other channels and let them know then that I have known since 2018 and wanted to respect their desire for privacy with regards to this matter?

And one from Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: My sibling and I were raised as white. I know we're not. I'm being genetically tested to prove it officially.

This is not news my sibling will want, especially medically confirmed. He is wealthy and a somewhat public figure. We are not close. If I email or phone him, he will probably just ignore it, per usual.
It feels weird to tell someone who will not feel the relief I do — that now, things make sense — but who will just ignore it or still deny it. Is it best to just not contact him anymore? We do not see each other for holidays, etc. For me, this is like a brand-new start on life.

I think people should err on the side of not telling relatives DNA test results they don't want to hear, for the simple reason that those relatives could choose to take a DNA test themselves if they wanted to. Sometimes people say their relatives have "the right to know", but a right isn't an obligation. I think people also have the right to choose not to find out, especially when it's non-actionable and knowing would cause them distress.

The ideal approach would be to mention to relatives before you take the test "I'm thinking of having a DNA test done.  Are you interested in hearing the results?"  And if they aren't interested in hearing the results, think about how you'd feel about keeping the results secret from them - especially if the results are emotionally fraught.

Also, I think before taking DNA tests, people should think about what's the worst thing they could find out.  A lot of people seem to go in expecting something like "Cool, my third cousin once removed is a duchess!" or "Oh, THAT's why I have Mediterranean-calibre body hair despite my Northern European heritage!"  But I've heard stories of people finding that they have the wrong number of siblings, or not enough great-grandparents.

Then think about how you'd feel if you found out the worst possible thing you could find out. Find out or figure out if your family members would also want to know the worst possible thing, and, if they wouldn't, think about what it would be like to have to keep the worst possible thing secret from them.

Then think about how these negatives weigh against the positives of finding out whathever it is you hope to find out from the DNA test.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Things They Should UNinvent: italics as default blockquote style

Many advice columns put reader letters in italics. This is a problem, since advice column letters are often multiple paragraphs long, and italics are more difficult to read than regular text.

Since my head injury, I've been finding paragraphs of italics so difficult that I need to switch Firefox into Reader View or turn on OpenDyslexic. (Or I just go "Ugh, blah blah whatever" and skip that column.)

Most often, the letters are in italics because that's what the style sheet does with blockquote.  Unfortunately, that makes the quoted matter difficult to read when there are multiple paragraphs of it.

I would recommend that style sheet designers instead have blockquote differentiate quoted matter with some combination of indentation, design elements adjacent to the quoted matter (I've seen large quotation marks or vertical bars used to good effect), or different font colour (while taking care to choose a colour that is also easy to read).

If there are special circumstances where certain devices can't render these effects, then those devices can come up with their own suitable way to render the blockquote tag.  But the default should be easily readable, and style sheet designers should be mindful of the fact that italics are not easily readable for all, especially when there are multiple long paragraphs.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Things They Should Invent: notwithstanding clause penalty box

The notwithstanding clause enables provincial and territorial legislatures to override Canadians' Charter rights and freedoms.

This is a big deal, so there should be some kind of dissuasive measure to counterbalance it. Improper use of the notwithstanding clause can be an abuse of power - placing the rights and freedoms of Canadians at the mercy of the whims of those in power - so the dissuasive measure should require those who invoke the clause to place their power at the mercy of the whims of the people whose rights and freedoms they are overriding.

A couple of preliminary ideas, to inspire further brainstorming:

- When the notwithstanding clause is used, an election must be called within a fairly brief period of time.  (Three months? Six months? One year?)
-MPPs who vote to use the notwithstanding clause are not permitted to run in the next election (at any level of government). They can run in the one after that.

The flaw of both these ideas is they suggest rights are subject to majority rule - they only incentivize politicians to make sure the majority agrees with them, which could still create a situation where the majority cheers for infringing upon the rights of the minority.

So feel free to use this as a starting point and improve upon this, to come up with something that disincentivizes use of the notwithstanding clause when it's not in the people's best interest, while incentivizing its use when it is in the people's best interest.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The first cloth

Think about how you make woolen or cotton cloth.*

You get wool off a woolly animal or cotton out of a cotton plant. You card it, spin the result into thread/yarn, and then weave it into cloth.

Isn't it amazing that humanity came up with cloth at all!

Each of these steps requires specialized tools, and I can't really picture how you'd arrive at a rudimentary version before the tools exist.  Even just the idea of turning fluff into string is mindblowing, to say nothing of inventing a tool that makes it happen!  (While writing this, I've been watching youtube videos of how spinning wheels work, and I still don't understand how they work.)

The only thing that exists in nature that's remotely cloth-like is animal pelts. So someone had to come up with the idea of turning fluff into something that resembled animal pelts (as opposed to seeing them as two completely disparate things), and then they had to figure out a mechanism by which to do it!  Because they didn't have tools for as-yet-nonexistent processes just sitting around, they probably came up with rudimentary versions of carding, spinning, weaving and sewing that did not require any specialized tools!  And the results of these processes would have been useful and satisfactory enough that people kept using and refining the processes over generations until we got the old-fashioned processes and tools that are part of recorded history.

Based on what I can google, the details of how people figured this out, and all the intermediary processes and tools that were once used and subsequently obsoleted, are lost to history.  Which is a tragedy, because it's fascinating and mindblowing - possibly the most complex invention that we take completely for granted!

*Linen and silk are also types of cloth that predate recorded history.  They have comparably complex, multi-step processes, but I don't understand them as well and you can google them just as well as I can.  There are likely also other types of cloth I haven't heard of in other cultures whose histories I'm not up on.  And there may well be yet more that were tried and obsoleted prior to recorded history.