Monday, July 30, 2012

Soybean and/or canola oil

I recently found out that someone I know is allergic to soy, and apparently soy is in many many things. So, out of curiosity, I started reading labels myself, and it turns out soy is in many many things. But the most annoying thing I discovered was "soybean and/or canola oil". I've seen this on multiple products, and it must be so annoying for people with allergies! Basically they're saying "this product may or may not contain the thing you're allergic to."

But how does this even happen? How does it even occur to someone to not use the same ingredients every time when mass-producing food? And what circumstances lead them to have to change oils so frequently and unpredictably that they can't change labels at the same time?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Complaints about baby toys: LeapFrog Learn and Groove Musical Table

My Favourite Little Person, who is now eight months old, has a LeapFrog Learn and Groove Musical Table, which you can see in action here. (I don't know the people behind the video, I just googled it up.)

It's enormous fun and I had a great time sitting down and figuring out what all the things do. I can see it having significant longevity as a baby toy, and later on being reappropriated as the control panel of a cardboard box spaceship or something. However, there are two points that I think would be detrimental if this toy does work as a language acquisition tool like it's supposed to.

1. Use of vocal scat. When the toy is set to vocabulary (by turning the pages of the book in the middle), it says the word that corresponds with the action you're doing. For example, if you open the door it says "open". If you close the door it says "close". When you press the green button it says "green". When you press the red button it says "red". When the toy is set to music, each manipulable part of the table plays a little tune, with a reasonable electronic approximation of a different instrument for each one.

Unfortunately, one of the instruments they chose is vocal scat. You can see this at about 1:50 in the video linked above. When the door is opened, the toy sings "BOPbadoobadooba". The problem is that "BOPbadoobadooba" is a sequence of phonemes, just like words are. How is the baby supposed to conclude that "open" means "open" but "BOPbadoobadooba" doesn't mean "open" and is just nonsense? I'm sure the manufacturers of the toy will point out that the scat only happens on the music setting, not on the vocabulary setting, but I doubt a baby would understand that. (Can they even process they idea of music and language as two discrete entities?) After all, if babies acquired vocabulary only when we wanted them to, we wouldn't have to worry about swearing in front of them. If this toy does in fact help language acquisition like it's intended to, are we going to have a generation of children who think that "BOPbadoobadooba" is a synonym for "open"?

2. French word order. In the Canadian version of this toy (which is not the same version shown in the video), you can switch it between English and French. When it's set on French, the vocabulary function says the French equivalents of the English words used in the English vocabulary function. The problem is with the coloured shapes. When you press each coloured shape, the toy tells you both the colour and the shape (you can see this at about 1:06 in the video linked above). For example, when you press the green circle, it says "Green! Circle!"

The problem is that, in French, it says the French equivalents of the exact same words in the exact same order. In other words, when the English says "Green! Circle!", the French says "Vert! Cercle!" However, as we learned in our very first year of elementary school French class, French colour adjectives go after the noun, so the correct word order is "cercle vert".

The manufacturers would probably point out that the words aren't intended to form a phrase, and it is in fact clear from the intonation that it's saying "Vert! Cercle!", not "vert cercle". However, I question whether a baby could grasp this nuance, especially since adults tend to use funny intonation when talking to babies. Regardless, using correct word order would add value. (It's like if the English said "Circle! Green!" You'd probably be thinking "How hard would it have been to just switch the order?")

It's also possible that they chose this order to provide word-by-word French translation for Anglophone children. They might be thinking of an Anglophone child switching between the languages and learning that "green" = "vert" and "circle" = "cercle". However, this is exclusionary towards Francophone children, because they don't get to hear their language in its natural state (and, again, if this toy actually works as a language acquisition tool, it might be detrimental). French isn't an enrichment opportunity for Anglophones. It's a living language that millions of Canadians speak in the home, at work, and in everyday life, and Leapfrog is doing them a disservice by not representing it as such.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thoughts from advice columns: passive-aggressive responses to bring your own dinnerware

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I have been invited to dinner at a friend's house who is very "green" conscious. After accepting her invitation, we've been asked to bring our own dinnerware since she is not sufficiently equipped as she has recently moved into the city.

She says that because she is very environment-conscious, she shuns disposable dinnerware. Although I respect and admire her efforts at being "green", I am surprised that guests will be asked to get their own dinnerware when invited to dinner.
I almost want to take my own disposable dinnerware because the idea of carrying my plates, bowls, and glasses to her house, eating in them and cleaning them and bringing them back makes me feel uncomfortable.

One's contribution towards a greener planet is their own personal choice and in this case I feel pressurized into following her ideology of being green. Will it be bad etiquette for me to take disposable plates when the hosts shuns them? Am I making a big deal out of it?

My first thought was to bring disposable, but Miss Manners vetoed it. However, a surprisingly wide assortment of other passive-aggressive responses came to mind. In order from most to least productive, (and without presuming that any of this is consistent with etiquette), they are:

1. Buy her a set of dinnerware big enough to accommodate the party as a housewarming gift.

2. Bring your own and leave it behind, leaving her with all the annoying clean-up work (and saving yourself from having to schlep dirty dishes home).

3. Bring your own, but have them accidentally get broken in transit. You get there, greet everyone, open up the bag they're in, and find shards.

4. Bring your own, but have them accidentally get cracked in transit without your noticing. So you go to pour red wine into a glass, and it leaks out of the glass through the crack that you didn't notice and dribbles all over her rug.

5. Cellphone call at the last minute: you got bumped on the subway and broke your dishes and now won't be able to come.

Me, I'd either get dinnerware as a housewarming gift (at about the Kitchen Stuff Plus price/quality point), or I'd say "I'm terribly sorry, I won't be able to accommodate you" when she asks me to bring my own dinnerware, or, if I was together enough to carry it off, I'd go with "Oh no, I can't possibly impose on your hospitality before you've finished setting up housekeeping. We'll reschedule for sometime after you're settled in, I insist!"

What I can't fathom - as in it doesn't compute at all and I cannot even begin to imagine how a person thought of it - is how the hostess came up with the idea of having a dinner party when she didn't have the equipment. Why doesn't her brain process the number of plates in her cupboard or forks in her drawer (or the number thereof that she can reasonably acquire by the date of the dinner party) as the maximum number of people she can have over for dinner?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things PBS Should Invent: let donors from outside the US watch online videos

I recently nodded off while watching a documentary on PBS (the US public broadcaster), so I went looking for it online so I could see the bit I missed. I was very pleased to find that the whole thing was available for watching on the PBS website, but then I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that PBS videos can't be watched outside the US.

This surprised me because my PBS station actively embraces its Canadian audience. It brands itself as WNED Buffalo-Toronto, has a combination of the Canadian and US flags in its logo, includes some Canadian landmarks in the photos of local landmarks on its station identifiers between shows, and actively solicits Canadian donors, even allowing them to donate in Canadian dollars. This does make sense, because there are 10 times as many people in Toronto as in Buffalo, not to mention all the people between Toronto and the US border (off the top of my head, I know that Mississauga, Brampton, and Hamilton all have more people than Buffalo). It's quite possible that its signals actually reach more Canadians that USians.

But imagine how irritating it would be to have donated to this PBS station only to find that you're not allowed to watch online!

Proposal: PBS should allow donors from outside the US to view its videos online. Perhaps smaller donors could view a limited number of videos, and larger donors could view more videos.

I know the geographical restrictions have something to do with international broadcasting rights. But it seems that if it were a gift or incentive for donation, that wouldn't really count as broadcasting as much. PBS sometimes gives away DVD sets as gifts for donations, and it seems that they'd be able to do this without regard for whether the DVD is commercially available in Canada. Giving away (limited, if necessary) access to online videos as a gift should be morally equivalent.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Apparently more women are using contraception in the US than in Canada

I was surprised to see on this chart on the situation of women in different countries that 72% of women in Canada are using modern contraception, and 73% of women in the US are.

This surprises me a bit, because, at least based on the news that makes it up here, the US seems to have more policies intended to make it difficult to get contraception and seems to lack some policies that we have that make it easier to get contraception. I would have assumed that, because of this, a slightly smaller percentage would be using contraception in the US.

The article doesn't define the concept of "women using modern contraception", so it's possible it might include male condoms being used by the woman's male partner. I haven't heard anything about making condoms difficult to access in the States, what I've been hearing is more about cost of and access to medical care, which would affect access to thinks like birth control pills, IUDs, diaphragms, etc.

It would be really interesting to see numbers on a) percentage of the population who wants to use more contraception than they're currently able to, b) proportion of unwanted pregnancies, and c) percentage of the population deliberately not using contraception (either because they're "trying" or because the particulars of their private life are not going to result in a pregnancy).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Plastic bag ban vs. weak joints

I don't normally use reusable shopping bags, but I ended up doing so one day recently, and I discovered another problem with banning plastic bags: weight distribution.

On the day I was shopping with a reusable bag, my purchases turned out to be heavier than I'd anticipated when I left the house that morning. The peaches in the grocery store turned out to actually be good for the first time in ages, so I bought a couple dozen in addition to my usual produce. The frozen yogurt I wanted was only available in a 2L container. Some of the cleaning products I use regularly were on sale at an especially good price. And, right before I left the house that morning, I discovered that I'd run out of milk. All my purchases still fit in my reusable bag, but I was carrying nearly 20 pounds more than I'd planned. This extra weight was too much for my shoulder. I knew if I carried all this stuff home in my reusable bag, I would, at the very least, need to apply Icy Hot before bed.

Fortunately, plastic bags are available. I got two plastic bags and had the cashier put some of the stuff in each bag. Then I had my reusable on one shoulder, my purse on the other shoulder, and one plastic bag in each hand. The weight was distributed more comfortably, I wasn't going to do injury to any of my joints, and I could walk home like a normal person. If I'd had more stuff to carry, I could have taken more plastic bags and hung them on my elbows and forearms by the handles. The plastic bags are small enough that you can shift the weight distribution around quite easily, without having to unpack anything, without even breaking stride. None of this is news, people do this every day.

But how would this have played out after the plastic bag ban?

Paper bags would actually have made things worse. Because they don't have handles, I would have had to carry the paper bag with my arms wrapped around it. However, because I have narrow shoulders, carrying a paper bag this way causes whatever's on my shoulders to fall down to my elbows. So my big reusable bag hanging on my shoulder with my heaviest purchases would have come crashing down onto the place where my elbow meets my forearm, and could have done some serious damage.

Buying more reusable bags from the store would be really annoying, because I already have way too many at home that I don't use and they're probably going to end up in the landfill eventually anyway. Reusables could also be problematic for people who are shorter. I'm 5'7" and, when I carry my reusable bag in my hand, it dangles down as far as my ankle bone. (In comparison, plastic bags hit not too far below the knee.) Someone who is shorter might have more trouble carrying a reusable in their hand - especially if it's heavy enough that they can't comfortably carry it with their elbow slightly bent or hang it from their forearm. Shorter tends to correlate with older and with more physical limitations. My one grandmother is 4'6". Does she even have the option of carrying a reusable bag in her hand? (I don't know, we haven't tried. When her grocery store asks her if she'd like a plastic bag, she says "Yes please, I'd like 10" and uses them for household purposes, as the finds them more practical and economical than the garbage bags commercially available.)

But the only other option would be to take everything I can comfortably carry home, empty my bag and put my stuff away, and then head back out to get the rest of the stuff. This triples my errand time if I'm doing the errand in my neighbourhood, and makes it even longer if the stuff I need to buy is in another neighbourhood.

This would be even worse for people who are less physically capable than I am. I'm not especially strong, but I'm not especially weak either. I'm not post-menopausal, I don't have recent injuries, I don't have specific diagnosed joint problems, I don't have arthritis. Other people with these problems - which will become more and more prevalent with the aging of our population - would have even more trouble with some unexpected weight, and weight distribution would become a factor when carrying even less stuff. On top of that, taking some of your purchases home and then going back to the store for the rest is more likely to be more difficult - and more time-consuming - for people with more physical limitations, who might not be able to handle as much walking in a day.

This could also be a financial burden, by making it more difficult to buy the more economical larger sizes. In the trip I described in the first paragraph, if I'd needed to lighten my burden, I would have ended up not buying the cleaning products (thus missing an opportunity to stock up while they're on sale) and/or buying 2L of milk, which costs nearly as much as 4L. If this happens often, it will start to add up - especially since there is a correlation between people with more physical limitations and people with tighter budgets.

Some people are probably reading this pointing out engineering solutions, and engineering solutions do exist. I'm not saying there's no possible way to get the stuff home, but that's not the point.

The point is that this introduces a whole extra burden of inconvenience. Not only do you have to think "Can I carry all the stuff I need?", you also have to think "How, exactly, am I going to carry all the stuff I need? What will go on my shoulder? Is it too heavy for my shoulder? What will go in my hand? Is it light enough to hang on my forearm?" And you have to decide this before you leave the house in the morning if you're planning to pick up groceries on the way home from work.

The point is that this burden of inconvenience is borne disproportionately on those with joint problems and other physical limitations, for whom the threshold where weight distribution becomes a factor is lower.

The point is that this burden of inconvenience is exacerbated by physical limitations, because not only is the weight distribution threshold lower, but, if you walk slower, taking two trips takes up more time. And this extra time, in turn, exacerbates the weight distribution problem because you have to carry the weight for a longer time.

The point is that, with the aging population, the demographic who has physical limitations - especially joint problems - will only increase, leading more and more people to have to bear this burden of inconvenience.

The point is that this burden of inconvenience also falls disproportionately on the less fortunate, because it will make buying larger, more economic sizes more difficult, because it will make stocking up when things are on sale more difficult, because those with less money tend to live in less conveniently-located housing and therefore have farther to walk (which, as mentioned above, exacerbates the physical burden by having to carry an iffy weight further, and also exacerbates the financial burden by making it more difficult to take multiple trips if you do want to stock up) and, to add insult to injury, because the remaining handled bags available in stores will be more expensive (one or two dollars for a reusable as opposed to five cents for a plastic bag).

The point is also that this inconvenience (which, remember, came in the name of environmentalism) will make people who don't drive for all their trips more likely to drive for certain trips. If you're a car owner who normally takes the subway to work and buys groceries on your way home, but, because carrying all your stuff home in your reusable would wreck your shoulder, you have to take two trips, why not just go home, grab the car, drive back to the store, and save yourself the heavy carrying?

And the point is that this additional inconvenience that disproportionately burden those who already have more difficulty with the activities of everyday life was introduced impulsively, without study, without time to consult the public, without even telling the public it was coming so we could let our councillors know what we think, by councillors who, according to some reports, weren't even intending to vote for a ban. And all in the name of something that won't even achieve its stated objective of reducing the amount of plastic in the landfill, because we'll all end up buying (less useful and less convenient) garbage bags anyway.

Updated with an analogy: This is like they didn't allow taxis to park within reasonable pick-up distance of the grocery store, using the logic that taxis emit pollution. Some people never use taxis. Many people only rarely use taxis. But sometimes you have unforeseen circumstances where you need a taxi, and it's a really dick move to eliminate the option. Especially since people are still merrily driving around in their pollution-emitting cars and the taxis are only a drop in the bucket. And if it turns out there are in fact so many people taking taxis to the grocery store that it's causing a major pollution problem, that's probably a sign of some kind of infrastructure flaw that needs to be identified and fixed at its root, not by making it difficult for the people who already have the most difficulty to do their grocery shopping.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I do not recommend O.P.I. Nail Envy Sensitive & Peeling

A while back, I was given some O.P.I. Nail Envy Original nail strengthener. It totally worked and my nails got stronger and longer, but it didn't do anything about my peeling nails (which is not uncommon for products whose primary mandate is growth.) However, I discovered that they had another formula for Sensitive and Peeling nails, so I decided to give that a try.

Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. It didn't help them at all, and might even have made it worse. Most nail products, when I paint them on my nails, "glue" the peels down so they don't snag and get worse. This one didn't do that, and it also didn't strengthen my nails as well as the original Nail Envy.

Therefore, I do not recommend O.P.I. Nail Envy Sensitive & Peeling. Sally Hansen Miracle Cure continues to be the most effective product for my peeling nails, although it isn't a miracle. However, if you don't have peeling nails and just want strength and growth, I do recommend the original O.P.I. Nail Envy.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Complaints about baby toys: pianos and xylophones

My Favourite Little Person has a toy piano and a toy piano/xylophone combo. The problem is neither of them has a full octave of notes, and on one of them (I forget which) the notes don't even form a scale - they're just random notes that aren't all in the same key. The result is that you can't play any real songs on either of them. So I decided she should have a proper octave with all the notes in the same key, so she (or her grownups) can play an actual song.

You would not believe what a tall order that is!

I looked through three different stores, and found five different toys that didn't have a proper scale (in addition to the two that MFLP already owns!), and only one that did have a proper scale. Some of them didn't even have the notes in order from lowest to highest - different keys played completely random notes! Even the beautiful-looking wooden toys that fussy parents would daydream about their child playing with aren't in tune! The one that I did find (Little Tikes Jungle Jamboree Tiger 2-in-1 Piano) had a number of online reviews from people saying that they one they got was out of tune, although it also had some reviews from people saying that theirs was in tune. So I'm seeing only one attempt to even produce a proper scale, and apparently it doesn't always turn out right.

This really bothers me. It seems almost disrespectful of the children who will be playing with the toys. As though, just because all these kids initially get out of the toys is that mashing keys with their itty bitty baby hands causes noise, they don't deserve an instrument that can actually make even rudimentary music. Which seems detrimental to child development, really. Even if MFLP isn't up to playing an actual song on her toy instruments, the adults and older children in her life are. If she sees someone else play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on her toy, she'll learn that you can play actual recognizable songs on an instrument. When I was a kid we had a toy keyboard and a toy xylophone in addition to a real piano, and I remember it being a minor revelation that I could play the same songs the same way on all three instruments. Today's children deserve that learning moment!

On top of that, how hard is it to actually do it right? If you're mass-producing a product, you need to give exact specifications anyway. Someone has probably documented by now the relative bar sizes needed to produce a major scale. Take 15 minutes to look it up. Have your student intern calculate it as a project. There's no reason why a proper scale would make any appreciable difference in manufacturing costs, and it would certainly give your toy a reputation for better quality compared with the competition. It would also give the toy greater educational value and greater longevity for the end-users, because, long after "It makes noise when you hit it!" ceases to be amusing, "I can figure out how to play songs" will still be amusing. Even if you're a nefarious manufacturer who's into planned obsolescence, people whose children outgrow kiddie toy musical instruments aren't going to replace them with other kiddie toy musical instruments.

Are toy makers really that lazy that they can't get the one key usability detail right?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Victoria's Secret has changed my underwear for the worse!

It was time for fresh new underwear, so, like I've been doing for the past 5 years or so, I ordered a few pairs of the Victoria's Secret high-leg cotton brief. I first learned about it on a Tomato Nation thread, and I was able to get some good discount codes so I decided to give it a try. It was the perfect underwear! Comfortable, breathable, the elastics stayed where they're supposed to without making me look like a sausage, the cut was modest enough that I felt attractive but not so full as to make me feel frumpy, with the waistband below my belly-button but above the sticky-outiest part of my belly. My preferred plain black looked sexy and classy and together, and got rave reviews from those who are entitled to express an opinion on my underwear.

Unfortunately, they've changed the design somewhat. The fabric is of lower quality (thinner and seems more likely to rip than my old five-year-old pairs with the seams resewn), the elastics don't stay in place and keep trying to give me a wedgie, the seams on the hips are itchy (whereas the previous design didn't even have seams on the hips!), and, rather than being plain black, they have a pink Victoria's Secret logo on the left hip, which isn't even reflected in the photo of the product on their website.

In short, they've taken a product that made me feel comfortable and sexy and confident, and, with a few subtle design changes, made it into a product that makes me feel uncomfortable and tacky and gross.

And, to add insult in injury, now I have to shop for new basic underwear, which is particularly annoying because you can't even return it! This is a completely unnecessary chore and expense and irritant! All they had to do was nothing. Just keep manufacturing and selling as usual, I'll just keep buying as usual, and everyone's happy. Now I'm pissed off and returning my purchases, so both I and Victoria's Secret are out some time and money and effort, plus I'm uncomfortable and pissed off. What does this achieve?

Dear Victoria's Secret: please return your cotton high-leg brief to the previous design, from before the plain black one had a pink logo on the left hip. If you do this, I'll stop complaining and keep mindlessly buying them forever.

Meanwhile, can anyone recommend a plain black cotton panty that isn't too skimpy, has a waistband that falls below the belly-button but above the sticky-outiest part of the belly, and has elastics that stay put without causing wedgies?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Wherein Eddie Izzard becomes my hero all over again

As I've blogged before, I've been trying to figure out how Eddie Izzard translated his giraffes and tigers bit into French. Because it's based on charades, he can't just plug French words in, he'd have to find a whole new word to charade.

After wondering about this for years, I finally got my answer, thanks to "Claywoman" on Eddie's fan site (third post in the thread - I can't figure out how to make direct links):

The giraffes were there too but with twist because tiger doesn't work in French, it became a lion. "Lit" (pronounced lee) is French for bed and "on" is a French pronoun for we or they... different mimes but he still made it very funny.

This is particularly impressive because the tigers really should have been lions in English in the first place! Tigers live in Asia and giraffes live in Africa (hence Monty Python's "A tiger??? In Africa??"), but Eddie was using a tiger in the English-language charades because it's charadable in English. So this is not only an effective translation of comedy, an effective translation of the non-verbal, and an effective translation of the non-translatable, but it's one of those so very rare situations where the translation is an improvement upon the original!

Well done to you, Mr. Izzard! I'm quite genuinely impressed, and at the same time kicking myself for not having thought of it myself.

Why is Google encouraging people to move away from Web and towards apps?

I was rather disappointed that Google is discontinuing iGoogle, but outright shocked that they're suggesting using a selection of apps to replace it.

I use iGoogle to get an at-a-glance overview of what has updated since I last checked. I can see the subject lines of any new emails in my inbox, the titles of new articles in my Google Reader, the headlines of news articles on topics for which I have google alerts set up, the current weather and whether there's a thunderstorm alert, plus a few fun things like word of the day and joke of the day and daily puppy. Checking whether anything needs my attention takes about 5 seconds and can be done anywhere with internet access (at home, at work, at a friend's or relative's house, and on my ipod anywhere where there's open wifi).

To do this without iGoogle, I'd have to log into Gmail and Google Reader separately, scroll through Google Reader (and mark anything I wanted to read later as unread), get my news alerts delivered to my email and open each email separately - it would probably take at least 5 minutes to verify whether there's anything that needs my attention.

Using apps would not only be less effective, but it would also be detrimental to Google's primary mandate of indexing and making accessible the world's information because, as I've blogged about before, information contained in apps is ungoogleable. It seems to me that goggle would want information to be on the web and accessed through browsers, because then it can be indexed and searched. Information on a website accessible through a browser can easily be accessed by people with mobile devices, but information in an app is in a silo and can only be accessed by people with specific devices.

I can't imagine what Google is thinking with this decision. It seems like blind trend-following, and I can't see any benefit to them or to us.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Thoughts from advice columns: sperm donation

Q. Letting Wife Know About Sperm Donation: My wife and I are very good friends with a lesbian couple who is trying to have a baby. They asked me to donate sperm to conceive the child. After discussing it with my wife, I declined. They were very understanding and we remain good friends. However, in the course of our decision-making, my wife commented how odd it would be for me to have a child "out there." I agreed with her out loud, but the truth is, I have donated sperm. (I stopped before I met my wife, however.) For all I know, I could have several children "out there." I never told her about it because I never imagined it coming up and when I donated it seemed like I would always remain anonymous. After doing some research, however, it seems possible that a child that resulted from my donation COULD find and contact me. Should I tell my wife about my donations, and if so, how?

(This question is originally from a Dear Prudence chat, but I linked to the CF Abby entry because my thoughts are stemming more from the discussion.)

1. LW doesn't mention whether or not he and his wife have children or plan to have children, but if there is the potential for children in his relationship, I think he should tell his wife, just in case he one day decides to tell his children. There are reasons why you might tell your children that you've been a sperm donor (for example, so they know that they might have biological half-siblings out there and keep this in mind when making decisions about their own sex life), and different people have different ideas about whether this is a sufficient reason to disclose what some perceive as a private part of one's personal history. But, if it's a secret from your wife, that makes telling your kids harder. If your kids know, your wife should know first. And if you ever do have to tell your kids, it will be much easier to do so if your wife has already processed the information.

2. Some of the CF Abby commenters seem to think that it's not right for Wife to get a say in what Husband does with his sperm, citing his sovereignty over his own body. I question whether this really is a question of sovereignty over his own body (it makes no difference to his body if his sperm are donated or not), but, regardless, I think it's fair for Wife to at least express her opinion, and not unreasonable for Husband to take it into consideration.

What marriage has always meant to me is a deliberate choice to be each other's #1 person. If you didn't want to be each other's #1 person, you wouldn't get married. And, I think, part of being each other's #1 person is that you get first dibs on using their DNA to make children. There are arguments for or against whether the wife should be able to veto the husband's sperm donations, but I think it's completely reasonable and entirely within the spirit of marriage for her to have first dibs on bearing his children, because she's his #1 person. If Wife and Lesbian Couple all needed a kidney donation, Husband should offer to Wife first. If Husband, Wife and Lesbian Couple were all walking down the street one summer evening and it was a bit chilly, Husband should offer his jacket to Wife before he offers it to either half of Lesbian Couple. If Husband has two tickets to a concert, he should offer the other ticket to Wife before he offers it to one of Lesbian Couple. If he were to offer these things to Lesbian Couple without giving his wife right of first refusal, that would be completely inappropriate. Procreation is far more personal and intimate, so it would be even more inappropriate to let someone else bear his children first.

Another part of being each other's #1 person is respecting each other's emotional needs. This means that even if Wife's desire for Husband not to donate sperm isn't 100% rational, he might opt to respect her feelings rather than pushing them aside in favour of Lesbian Couple's desire to have a child (which is also not 100% rational). It's fair to express your emotional reactions to your partner without having to censor them for complete rationality, and it's anywhere from a valid choice to a loving choice to respect your partner's emotions without nitpicking them for rationality.

3. Personally, if I were to discover long after we got married that my husband had donated sperm in the past, I would feel that he had withheld important information. It would be kind of like discovering that your spouse had been a prostitute, or votes for The Worst Party. This is the kind of thing I'd want to know early on, because I find the egotism inherent in thinking it's a good idea to make new people out of one's DNA rather distasteful, and I'd have to work through it before I could potentially get involved with a person who has that specific shade of egotism. I'm sure some people reading this object to my distaste for sperm donation. And, if sperm donation is so important to you, wouldn't you want to know if I have such objectionable opinions before getting entangled in a relationship with me?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The other problems with the catcalling construction workers sign

Recently in the news: a construction sign suggesting that the construction workers are going to harass passers-by.

1. I think it's unfair to the workers to make them work behind a sign like that. Essentially, they're forcing the workers to work all day behind a sign labelling them as "Hi, I'm so pathetic I can't even handle the normal everyday situation of seeing someone of the opposite sex walk by!" That is a massive insult to the many many many construction workers who are perfectly capable of conducting themselves like normal human beings. If I were a worker in this situation, I'd be protesting the signage and also looking for another job.

2. Some people have complained that the sign was taken down, saying that the complainers lack a sense of humour. I think this is beside the point, because the sign is essentially advertising. Its point is "We'll have new stuff here soon! Check back and see what it is!" In essence, the purpose of the sign is to make its audience want to come back. But, in reality, the sign is making some of its audience want to stay away, because it gives them the feeling that the space is less safe than they thought it was. So regardless of whether the sign is actually funny (although, as John Cleese has pointed out, a piece of humour is only funny when the audience thinks it's funny), it is counterproductive as a piece of advertising. If the tool you're using is making things worse, you switch to another tool. It's that simple.