Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Secularism: ur doin it wrong

At first I wasn't going to blog about Quebec's Charte des valeurs. I've already written many times about how assholic it is to force people to expose more of their bodies than they're comfortable with and was weary of having to cover the same ground again, and most of the media coverage of this story has already taken that approach so I was weary of having to repeat myself and didn't think I had anything to add.

But in the shower, it occurred to me that it's interesting to look at it from from the other side: instead of looking at what's banned, let's look at what's allowed.

Here's an English-language version of the visual aid that's been circulating.

Look at the "banned" items in the bottom row.  Apart from the giant cross in the left-most picture, all these items have a practical and/or theological function.  They all have the practical function of covering a part of the body that the wearer wants to be covered (with the possible exception of the yarmulke - I'm not clear on whether covering that part of the head is necessary, or whether it's the yarmulke itself that's necessary.) They all also have the theological function of being something the wearer needs to do to avoid going to hell, or whatever the equivalent in their religion is.  (I have heard that the hijab per se is not necessary, just that covering the head is necessary.  And I have heard that the hijab per se is necessary.  So let's split the difference and say that some people believe it is theologically necessary.)

Now look at the "allowed" items.  They're all small pieces of jewellery that display the wearer's religious affiliation.  They have no theological function, and they have no practical function other than displaying the wearer's religious affiliation.  They aren't a part of the actual practise of the wearer's religion, they aren't going to help send the wearer to heaven or prevent them from going to hell (or whatever the equivalent in their religion is).  They are simply a gratuitous display.

If Quebec wants to create an image of secularism, the place to start is by eliminating gratuitous displays of religion that serve no purpose.  Banning the functional while permitting the gratuitous eliminates all credibility.

Analogy: Suppose I have a car, and suppose you have a baby. We have an awesome, supportive friendship full of mutual assistance, which includes me lending you my car on those occasions when you need a car.  But then one day I tell you "You aren't allowed to put your baby's carseat in my car.  As you know, I am a Voluntary Human Extinctionist, and displaying the carseat would come across as promoting breeding."  But, before you can even open your mouth to protest, I add, "But it's okay if you want to put your Baby On Board sticker on the car, because that's just small."

Update: I was so caught up in imagining how awful it would be to be forced to expose more of my body than I'm comfortable with in order to keep my job that I failed to notice two very important things pointed out in this article:

The Charte wouldn't (my emphasis):

1. Remove religious symbols and elements considered "emblematic of Quebec's cultural heritage." That includes: the crucifixes in the Quebec legislature and atop Mount Royal in Montreal, the thousands of religiously based geographic names (e.g. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!) and the names of schools and hospitals.

4. Ban opening prayers at municipal council meetings, which was recommended by the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission report into cultural accommodation. The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in May that such prayers do not necessarily violate Quebec's current human rights legislation.
Yeah. So they're forbidding people to wear as much clothing as they'd like to in government buildings because it might be interpreted as a religious symbol, but they're allowing actual religious symbols actually on display in government buildings.  They're forbidding individuals who happen to work for the government in one capacity to practise their own religion with their own body, but still permitting situations in which individuals who work for the government in another capacity are forced or coerced or pressured to participate in the collective practise of a religion to which they may or may not subscribe in order to do their jobs.

So let's revisit the analogy.  I own a car that I lend out to my friends in a spirit of mutual assistance, but I forbid people to put their children's carseats in my car because "displaying" the carseats would counter my stated Voluntary Human Extinctionist principles.  However, I permit the "Baby On Board" sticker on the basis that it's small.

But now, with this new information, it comes to light that I have a gaudy, brightly-coloured children's playground in my front yard.  Because, like, it's always been there.

Also, since I lend out my car to my friends so often, I'm gathering together a circle of friends to give me their input on the next car I purchase.  However, if you want to be part of this circle, you have to donate gametes to help me in my attempt to conceive a child of my own.

But you still aren't allowed to put your baby's carseat in the car.  Because that would promote breeding.

Not so very good for the credibility, is it?

Mme. Marois suggests that the Charte will unite Quebecers.  I believe it will, against her.  You don't win over the secularists by allowing gratuitous displays of religion in the name of secularism.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why is Facebook crawling blogs?

Shortly after I post each blog post, I get a hit from something called Facebook Bot, which statcounter says is a bot crawling my site, presumably to index it.

Why does Facebook care about indexing my blog contents?  I know they have a web search function, but that's powered by Bing, so it would show up as a Bing crawlers.  I don't have any Facebook widgets or anything, my blog isn't connected to any Facebook profiles (unless I have an imposter out there), so why would Facebook care about my existence enough to index my every update?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Trading lives to cure jealousy

There's a theory that if you're feeling jealous of someone, you should ask yourself if you'd trade lives with that person.  (For example here's Carolyn Hax recommending this thought experiment.) The idea is that when you think about whether you'd trade whole lives with them, your answer will be "Of course not!", and then your envy will be cured.

However, apart from the fact that there are cases where  the answer is going to be "Hell yeah! Of course I'd love to trade whole lives with them!  I didn't know that was an option!", this approach simply isn't logical.  Not every aspect of the person's life has a causal relationship with the aspect you're jealous of, and suggesting that they do undermines the credibility of the whole approach.

For example, suppose you're jealous of my long gorgeous hair.  So, in an attempt to assuage that jealousy, you tell yourself "Yeah, but her rent is atrocious."  That's absolutely true.  And absolutely unrelated to my hair.  My hair would be just as long and gorgeous if I lived somewhere cheaper - maybe even more so, because I could afford to spend more money on it.

It is true that there are negative characteristics of my life that have direct causal relationships with my long gorgeous hair.  I do spend more than I care to admit on it, and the same genes that produce my hair also caused me to start going grey at 19 and start getting acne at 9 (and the acne will persist for the rest of my life.)  Someone who wanted to make themselves less jealous of my hair might be able to do so by thinking about these aspects.

But the fact that my rent is atrocious, or the fact that I'm not married, or the fact that my feet are larger than standard women's shoe sizes are all completely unrelated to my hair. I could still achieve the same hair if these aspects of my life were different.

What interesting is sometimes you see this in political discussions.  Someone points out a positive aspect of a different jurisdiction or political system, and someone else says "Yeah, but they have [negative aspect] too!" even though the negative aspect is unrelated. 

For example, one person says "Quebec has $7 a day daycare! We should do that here!"  And another person replies "Yeah, but they get weirded out when people play soccer wearing a hijab.  Do you want that?"  But the two aren't related!  You can totally implement a daycare policy without touching soccer uniform codes.

How do they land on the idea that you must necessarily appropriate every aspect rather than picking and choosing what works best?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Is there a name for the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

In one of my very first translation classes, the prof asked us to think about how we'd translate a short English sentence into French.  The sentence was grammatically simple and contained three words that rhymed. (I'm not posting it here because it will become googleable and ruin my prof's whole lesson plan.)  The point of this lesson was to discuss the various factors that many need to be translated.  Are we after the meaning of the sentence?  Are we after a rhyme?  Do we need to convey its brevity and simplicity?

My classmates seemed to find this a reasonably easy request and immediately began discussing it.  But I was panicking, because I didn't even know how to say one of the three key words in French!  I felt in over my head and desperately out of my league!  It was only the first or second classes ever, and already I couldn't handle it even though every else could!

So I frantically and stealthily looked up the word I didn't know in the dictionary, and discovered that if I used the first word in the dictionary entry and the most straightforward translation of the two other key words, I could have two out of the three key words rhyme.  And if I replaced the third word with another word that would fit nicely into the sentence and create a similar image, I could have all three rhyme.

(As an analagous example, suppose looking in the dictionary led me to "Bite the red kite."  If the rhyme scheme was more important than the meaning of the actual words, I could use "Bite the white kite.")

It seemed so glaringly obvious!  This was quite clearly the correct answer!

But why weren't any of my classmates coming up with the same thing?  They were coming up with all these things that were way different and no one had even touched on the words I had in mind...this must mean there's something wrong with my idea!  So I said nothing the whole class and felt in way over my  head.

This memory came to mind in the shower the other day, 13 years after the fact, with 10 years' professional experience under my belt.  And I realized: my idea was perfectly good!  It may well even be the optimal translation! It was more effective at rendering both the meaning of the original and the rhyme scheme than what my classmates were suggesting, even after 10 years' experience I can't think of anything better, and, even if something better exists, any competent translator would agree that my idea was a perfectly valid attempt.  And I was still a teenager at the time!

I was so afraid at that time.  I was surrounded by people who had been to immersion and on exchanges and could use slang and real-life accents, and I felt so hideously incompetent in comparison.  But I knew my shit, way better than I could even have imagined.

(Which makes the conventional wisdom that teenagers and young adults think they know everything all the more frustrating.)

Monday, September 02, 2013

The lunch money mystery

Conventional wisdom is that you should pack your lunch from home to save money. I've never done this.  There are enough lunch options near my office that I've always just gone out and bought whatever I happened to be craving every particular day.

However, I've been working from home since April, so I'm not buying lunches, and I think I'm spending slightly more money.

I don't keep track of money super closely, but I know that I typically use cash for groceries, household and personal care items, and buying my lunch when I'm at work.  I always withdraw the same amount when I go to an ATM, and I find I'm going to an ATM an average of one more time a month since I started working at home, which means I'm going through cash faster.

I have a certain core set of groceries that I always keep my kitchen stocked with, and a few other core items that I keep in stock under specific conditions.  I'm still doing this the same.  I have a system to determine what my "main" meal will be most days, to be purchased either in the form of groceries or take-out, and I still follow the same system.  I'm actually impulse purchasing less now that I'm working at home, because I'm never hungry or cranky when I do my grocery shopping.

When I worked in the office, I had a standard breakfast at home before I left for work, bought whatever I wanted for lunch, had my main meal when I got home from work, and grazed from the other food I had on hand if I was still hungry.

Now I start my day with the standard breakfast (which I end up eating later in the morning), don't eat a lunch per se, eat my main meal in the early evening (earlier than when I worked in the office), and grace from the other food I have on hand if I'm still hungry. As far as I can tell, I'm eating either less food or the same amount of food depending. And yet I'm spending a bit more on food.

Apart from the fact that I like eating exactly what I'm craving that particular day, I also theorized that I wouldn't save any significant amount of money
by packing my lunch, because I spent so little on lunches.  It was very rare for my lunch bill to exceed $5 and often it was under $3, and I figured that even if I packed my lunch at home, I'd still have to pay for that food.  (Not to mention that it's not worth it under a time=money calculation.)  I guess that turned out to be right.