Showing posts with label advice columns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice columns. Show all posts

Friday, June 01, 2018

How to ethically dispose of vintage pornography

From the Ethicist:
A female friend says she is planning to sell her late husband’s vintage collection of Playboy magazines, which she says are in excellent shape and worth a lot of money. Normally, this woman is a progressive feminist. Selling this “literature” would seem to run counter to ethical values in our “#MeToo” world. Am I off-base here?
A person who wanted to dispose of some vintage pornography while addressing these ethical concerns could do so by being very choosy about the buyer.  For example, they could sell them to people who plan to use them for academic research, or for an art project, or as set dressing for a movie with a historical setting. Perhaps they could even find some relevant organizations that take donations, so they aren't in the bizarre situation of posting a Craigslist ad "Playboy magazines for sale, non-lecherous inquiries only".

Of course, I understand completely if the seller doesn't want to do this. It would take time, energy and work to find a suitable recipient, and screening people to make sure they don't have lecherous intentions towards Playboy magazines could be an unpleasant interpersonal interaction.

But, nevertheless, that is how you would dispose of vintage pornography while addressing the ethical concerns raised in this letter.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Half-formed idea for how to warn prospective tenants of bad neighbours

From The Ethicist:

I have a rental property, and the neighbors next door are extremely racist. We didn’t know this when we bought the house. We have had both white and Hispanic people as renters. The next-door neighbors harassed the Hispanics until they left. The white family had no issues getting along but did hear their racist rants. I cannot legally do anything about this behavior. Am I obligated to tell any prospective renters about this problem? I don’t want people to move in without knowing of it. If I do tell them, how do I phrase it so that I’m not perceived as discriminatory?

I know what to do to solve this problem, but I don't know how to get it done.

What you need is online reviews that turn up on the first page of Google results for the address, accurately describing the quality of the property and of your services as landlord, and accurately describing the neighbours' behaviour.  Then anyone who's interested can be warned about the neighbours and make decisions accordingly, but it won't come across as the landlord trying to dissuade tenants of certain ethnicities.

The problem, of course, is making online reviews happen. Working hard to convince former tenants to leave online reviews is bad form, and leaving them yourself as a landlord is outright inethical.

Nevertheless, the best medium for communicating this message is the voice of former tenants.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Better advice for the LW who didn't want to disclose her surgery

While searching for another old post, I came upon this old post responding to an advice column where the letter-writer wanted to avoid disclosing the nature of her surgery to her co-workers.

In my previous blog post, I came up with a somewhat complex subterfuge approach. But upon rereading it, I came up with something much simpler that requires less subterfuge.  This is obviously now irrelevant to the LW, but here it is for any googlers.

First, the letter:
I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.

Dear LW,

If your budget permits, acquire some unflattering clothes that drape poorly and hide your figure.  Ideally do this some time before the surgery is scheduled. (It would be extra effective if the unflattering clothes were on-trend.) Start wearing the unflattering clothes as soon as possible.

Ideally, you do this long enough before the procedure that your unflattering clothes cease to be interesting or novel and just blend into the background.

Then go about life as usual, get your procedure when it's scheduled, and continue wearing your unflattering clothes for a period of time after the procedure.

Then after some time as passed (perhaps as the weather transitions into the next season) start wearing clothes that fit properly. If your pre-surgery clothes no longer fit your post-surgery body, start by transitioning from the unflattering clothes to your pre-surgery clothes, then (as you acquire them) to clothes that fit your post-surgery body. (Again, it would be extra effective if the more flattering clothes were on-trend.)

This way, the change in your body won't appear sudden, and your improved shape will appear at least partly attributable to to more flattering clothes.  If you can do both the unflattering and the flattering with trendy clothes, it will just look like the evolution of fashion.

(Another option is, if asked, to say the unflattering clothes are due to an unspecified medical situation that requires loose clothes.  I'm not sure whether this would be helpful or not.)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ideas for the Dear Prudence reader who's lying to her mother about fanfic reader counts

From a recent Dear Prudence chat:

Q. I lied to my mom ... how do I keep lying so I don’t get in trouble?: Last year, my mom was going through a rough time. She was depressed, and she came to me and said that she wanted to try her hand at writing. I write fan fiction, and my stuff is pretty good. So I created an account for her, and we published her writing as a fanfic. It didn’t do well. No follows, no favorites, no reviews. I didn’t want her to give up on her dream, so I created a few fake accounts and wrote a few reviews, followed her story. She was so happy. But then after a while she wondered why her number of readers wasn’t going up. So I showed her my page and pretended my readers were hers. I have more than a thousand readers, and she got extremely happy.
This went on for some time. She kept writing, and I kept posting her stuff. I kept writing and posting my stuff. My number of readers went higher and higher. Hers didn’t. Now she wants to get her story published. I wouldn’t mind, except she keeps mentioning the number of readers that she already has. I’m trying really hard not to panic, but I’m sure that I’m going to get caught. People are going to read it, and they’re going to tell her that it isn’t good. Then she’s going to bring up the number of fans that she thinks she already has, and they won’t believe her, then she’ll show them and the truth will come out and then she’s going to hate me and I don’t want her to hate me. How do I get out of this?

My first thought on reading this was about reader numbers and saleability. 

You say your mother thinks your readers are hers, and that you have "more than a thousand readers", which I assume means less than 2,000.

Conventional wisdom is that less than 1% of free online readers are willing to pay for a product. So even if your mother did have your over 1,000+ readers, that would mean there are no more than 20 (and likely fewer than 10) people willing to pay.

There's also the question of whether this 1,000+ represents unique readers or just hit count.  If it's hit count, at a minimum you need to divide the number by the number of chapters.  If it's a 10-chapter story, that would mean 100-200 unique readers - or, very optimistically, two people in the world willing to pay.  And that's before we even take into account people rereading the story. 

When I look up fanfic authors who have subsequently self-published (in the Jane Austen fandom), their AO3 hit counts were in the 10,000-20,000 range.  And that's self-publishing. The only fanfic I can think of that went on to getting published (i.e. by a publisher) was Fifty Shades of Grey, which, according to Fanlore had 56,000 reviews when it was taken down. Reviews, which is only a fraction of unique readers.

Even if you're unable or unwilling to disabuse your mother of the notion that your 1,000+ readers are hers, you can talk to her about how she's not even in the right order of magnitude to consider being published, with focus on how she should keep honing her craft.  (I mean, this half-assed blog of mine has about 10,000 unique readers a year, and I'm sure you'll agree that I'm nowhere near publication calibre!)

I doubt someone who can be tricked into thinking that your stats are hers could work out how to self-publish, but if she somehow did, a talk about numbers would prepare her for the possibility of no sales whatsoever.

In short, you don't have to worry about the reader count fraud coming up if she wants to publish, because even the fraudulent reader count isn't nearly high enough to make her a good bet for publishers or to guarantee any sales whatsoever.

So, either instead of or in addition to the other advice given, a chat with your mother about the proportion of free online readers that converts into sales would probably be helpful before she digs further into this publishing idea.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to set up your friends

 From Captain Awkward:
Hello Captain,
My distant friend Sally and I went out to dinner and she started asking me about my past relationships. I’ve known Sally for over a decade and she’s never pried into my dating life. I told Sally I wasn’t interested in dating anyways as I am looking for a job and like to online date or meet people through work. She tried to reason me out of all of this which seemed troubling.
A couple weeks ago Sally had a birthday party. She had put the event on Facebook. After our dinner, Sally texted me that her friend John saw me on the invite list and became “interested” in me. She said he might hit on me at the party ( he did not show up). This made me uncomfortable as I hate flirting with strangers. It’s odd but I’ve never even flirted with someone who’s become my boyfriend.
I also don’t trust Sally’s judgment at all. To be blunt I’ve met her friends and they aren’t horrible but they’re the “I don’t suffer fools gladly” type.
John has also been asking Sally about me. He wants to know when I’ve found a job and want to meet him. I have never indicated I want to meet John. I’m refusing, there’s something odd about a person in their late twenties being this invested in someone because of their FB profile. I rarely if ever post on FB. He is also asking me out through my friend which seems manipulative.
Do you have script suggestions?
– No thanks stranger ( female pronouns)

This is completely outside the scope of advice to LW, but my brain immediately responded with advice to Sally on how to set up your friends better:

Dear Sally,

The first thing to do is tell LW "My friend John saw your facebook profile and would like me to introduce the two of you." Then show John's online presence to LW so she can get to know him a bit.  If LW has any questions about John, answer them as comprehensively and truthfully as possible.  Give LW as much information as she wants.  And then, if she's interested in John after having all available information, facilitate the introduction.

Note that your job as a matchmaker is not to convince or coerce these two people into dating. Your job is to make a good match, which means setting up people who are compatible with each other.  If one person sees a reason for incompatibility, accept it and don't force them into a bad match.

And if LW just has no active interest without seeing any particular incompatibility, the best thing you can do is leave it be.  She knows that John is interested, she knows where to find him.  There's a small chance that if you leave the idea to stew for a while, she might warm to it.  But there's a large chance that if she feels too pressured, she's going to find the whole thing creepy and want nothing to do with him.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spotted in the wild: a person who can leave the house without a plan

I previously blogged about how baffled I am that there are apparently people who can leave the house without a plan. One of these people was seen in the wild in a recent Ask A Manager column:

I have been working at my job (a Fortune 500 company) for nine months, after I graduated college last year.

My boss and I went to a business lunch and he drank a lot. He was upset that I couldn’t drive us back to the office because I don’t have a driver’s license. He assumed I did. He didn’t tell me to drive until we were in the parking lot. I have epilepsy that makes me have seizures in my sleep. I have never had one when I an awake, but because it’s still epilepsy, I am not allowed to drive by law. I live in a large city with buses, cabs, and a subway, so I get along just fine if none of my family or friends can drive me.

I refused even though he insisted, and we had to take a cab back to the office and my boss had to take a cab back to get his company car the next day. Instead of expensing it, my boss and his boss want me to pay both cab fares. My boss said I should have told him I can’t drive. I work a desk job with no driving component and it was not mentioned in the requirements for my job. The cab fares totaled over $100 and I don’t think I should have to pay because my boss decided to get falling down drunk while he was on the clock. And even if I did have a license I wouldn’t have driven a company car without permission from someone higher than my manager. Is it okay to go to HR with something like this or is it expected I would have to pay?

The comment thread on Ask A Manager already has a lot of productive discussion on what the letter-writer should do and on the appropriateness of drinking during a business lunch, so that's probably the best venue for advice to LW on actual substantive issues.

What I'm interested in here is the boss's thought process (or lack thereof) when he left the office.

He was on his way to what he perceived as the kind of event where you get drunk.  But he just automatically assumed that someone else would be in a condition to drive him back to the office. He didn't ask, there was no history of this person driving him home, he just blindly assumed someone would take care of him.

It's mindblowing to me that someone can have been adulting long enough and well enough to become a boss without either getting in the habit of or automatically making a plan for how to get home.Why doesn't his brain do this automatically? What has his life thus far been that he's never had to think about it before, or at least hasn't had to think about it enough times that he automatically thinks about it?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to apologize to someone you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without imposing upon them

A recent Savage Love Letter of the Day contains a twitter thread on whether or not a man should apologize to a woman he only now realizes he assaulted back then.  (I can't find the original discussion - it might be from a podcast.)

I've seen this question - whether to seek out someone you've wronged in the past but are no longer in contact with so you can apologize to them - asked in various forms in various advice columns over the years, and the argument against doing so is the same every time: the wronged person may well have moved on and the apology would simply dredge up old bad feelings, with the end result being that the apologizer feels better for unloading/doing what they perceive as penance, but making the wronged person feels worse.

But today my shower gave me an idea for how to apologize to a person you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without dredging up any bad feelings.

Post an apology on your primary online presence (blog, facebook, twitter, whatever). Do not use the wronged person's name, but do include enough details that they'll recognize themselves in the apology.  Ideally the post should be public, but if you don't have it in you to make it public it should be visible to as many people as you dare.

If the wronged person ever thinks of you, they'll google you. If they care, they'll start reading through what you've posted.  And they'll find your apology and see themselves.

If the wronged person ever mentions you to a mutual acquaintance, and your post has reached the mutual acquaintance, through the natural combination of social media and gossip mill, the mutual acquaintance will tell the wronged person about the post, and the wronged person will check it out if they're interested.

If the wronged person isn't thinking about you, this won't intrude upon their lives at all.

In either case, your emotional needs are still attended to. If your emotional need is to express your remorse, it's put out there and they'll receive it if they're in a position where they're seeking out information about you. If your emotional need is for penance, you'll get it by admitting your wrongs in front of all your followers.

In short, everyone's needs are attended to, no one is imposed upon.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Advice for "Too Stressed For This" from Captain Awkward

Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.
Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).
Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).
Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?
Thanks bunches
Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

Dear Too Stressed For This:

Until you are comfortably settled in your new home, your excuse for skipping church will always be that you have to move.  When people ask your husband where you are, he should always answer "She couldn't make it - there's so much work to be done because we have to move in March." When people comment to your husband on your having to work, his response should be "Yeah, what with the expense of having to find a new place to live, she has to get all the hours she can." When people ask you "How are you?" your response should be "A bit stressed about finding a new place. You?"

Basically, the goal is to get out the message that you have to move and haven't found a place yet (not to mention all the work and expense). The reason for this is in some churches people help each other, and in some other churches they like to believe that they're the kind of people who help each other. On top of that, a church is a network.  There might be someone in the church who has a home for rent or knows of someone who does.  If they don't know you're going through this, they can't help you.  But if they know that you're going through this, they might help you.  (Given what you hint at about their politics they may well not be helpful people, but if they don't help you you're no worse off than you were before.)

You say that your pastor and deacon told you not to tell anyone that they plan to remove the parsonage. You don't have to tell anyone that. You just have to tell them that you have to move.  If pressed, you can say "We aren't authorized to discuss it yet - the pastor should be making an announcement soon."  Best possible outcome is that there's pressure from the congregation for the pastor to disclose, and, after they've disclosed, to take better care of your family. Worst case, the pastor is mad at your family.  But, as one of the Captain Awkward commenters mentioned, what are they going to do? Not pay your husband for his work and leave your family homeless?

Yes, you don't want to deal with these people at all. You want them to leave you alone and let you get on with your life.  But the members of this church might be a resource to help you solve your current problem. Since it's the church that created this problem, you should take full advantage of them.  Then, after you're settled in your new home, you can cut them off and/or work on finding a new church and/or work on your husband finding a new job.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shitty relatives cannot be persuaded. That's why they're shitty relatives.

From this week's Savage Love (emphasis mine):
Perhaps you're not the best person to ask, being a cis white man, but as a queer woman of color, the election had an extremely detrimental effect on my relationships with my white partners. I love and care for them, but looking at those results has me wondering why the fuck they didn't do better in reaching out to their shitty relatives? I'm sick of living at the whim of white America. I'm aware this is the blame stage of processing, but it's left me unable to orgasm with my white partners. I'm really struggling with what Trump means for me and others who look like me. I know my queer white partners aren't exempt from the ramifications of this, but I wish they had done better. Respond however you like.

The thing about shitty relatives is they cannot be effectively reached out to. If they could be effectively reached out to, we wouldn't know them as shitty relatives because they would have been effectively reached out to (and therefore ceased to be shitty) long before we became politically aware.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that LW should continue to have sex with people she doesn't want to have sex with, regardless of the reason. (And Dan Savage also stresses this point in his answer.) If recent political events have brought LW to the realization that she's only interested in partners who can effectively persuade their relatives towards acceptable politics (or whose relatives all had acceptable politics to start with), that is entirely her prerogative.

However, my point here today is that some people cannot be effectively reached out to. (Can you? Could a straight white cis man* effectively reach out to you and change your vote?)  And if your partners' shitty relatives were people who could be effectively reached out to, they would have been effectively reached out to long before their relative's partners became aware of them, and therefore wouldn't have fallen under your mental category of "shitty relatives" in the first place.  In a world where there are people who cannot be persuaded on a particular point, I don't think failing to persuade should be seen as insufficient diligence.

*I didn't learn about the English order of adjectives until well into my translation career - and learned about its existence from my Francophone colleagues! But I'm still struggling to figure out what the order of adjectives should be in the phrase "straight white cis man". LW lands on "cis white man", which is counterintuitive to me, but I can't objectively assess which is right/wrong/better/worse.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What to do when you never have an opinion

An excerpt from a recent Captain Awkward question:
And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?
(I recommend clicking through and reading the whole question with all the background before commenting on LW's specific situation.)

I have seen this sort of situation ("my partner asks what I think and I genuinely don't have an opinion") mentioned various times in various relationship advice forums, and I have an idea for how to handle it:

If you genuinely don't have an opinion on a multiple-choice question and, for whatever reason, you don't want to respond with "I genuinely don't have an opinion," pick the choice that is presented to you first.

If the other person objects, cheerfully go along with whatever they prefer.

If you find yourself viscerally objecting to whatever the first choice is, congratulations, you've just developed an opinion!

And if this is something that happens repeatedly within a particular relationship, the other party will eventually (consciously or unconsciously) start to notice that you always pick the first option, and will begin to (consciously or unconsciously) list their own (conscious or unconscious) preference first. Then they'll feel like you're both perfectly in sync and everyone will be happy.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Things They Should UNinvent: any policy that requires you to have a support person

From a recent Carolyn Hax chat:

Hi, Carolyn. Love your weekly chats! Thanks for all you do! I have to have a (non-emergency but necessary) medical procedure (think a colonoscopy). The facility will not admit me for the procedure unless I am accompanied by someone who will be there for the duration of the procedure and drive me home. I cannot take a cab home, and I cannot arrange for someone to pick me up when I'm ready to go. I'm not married, I don't have kids or other family that could take me, and although I have good friends, none that I feel comfortable asking to take a day off work to sit in an office waiting room with me. So I've repeatedly had to delay the appointment. What do people like me do in this situation? I have a chronic medical condition, and I'm suddenly very depressed about the fact that I have to go through life wondering who is doing to take me to my various appointments. I realize that this is a silly logistical question, but it's really triggered some profound feelings of loneliness and fear, and I'd be interested in your thoughts. Thanks!
This is actually a serious procedural problem in the medical system. The job of the medical system is to take care of you, so it's simply not appropriate for them to require you to bring someone to take care of you. 

You arrive at the doctor's office capable of getting home yourself, so they should release you in a condition where you are capable of getting home yourself.   Maybe they can achieve this by letting you rest in the recover room for longer, maybe by providing you with food and drink or additional medication - they're the medical professionals, they'd know how. To do anything else is simply a failure to care properly for patients. Policies like this should be prohibited.


And you know what? Let's be bold and extend this rule beyond simple medical care.  All aspects of life should be achievable by anyone without a support person, and if they aren't the relevant organizations should change their policies and practices.  Driving schools should organize their standard courses so people can get fully licenced without having to find their own accompanying driver to practice with. Dresses should be designed so the wearer can put them on and do them up completely without help. The school system should be set up so students can be just as successful even if they don't have a supportive parent.

People who, for whatever reason, don't have a someone who is a fully competent adult who speaks the predominant local language and is able to drop everything to help them when needed are already at a disadvantage. Society and its institutions should be set up to mitigate this disadvantage, not reinforce it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Compromises from this week's Ethicist

When I read this week's Ethicist, I kept coming up with ideas for compromises.

My husband’s sister died recently, after a short, unhappy life. In her will, she asked that her ashes be scattered in the ocean near a place she lived during one of the brief happy times of her adult life. Instead, my mother-in-law interred the ashes in a family plot near her home, saying that she needed a focal point for her grief. I realize that life is for the living, and none of us believe that my sister-in-law is watching the proceedings from on high. But I nevertheless feel viscerally appalled by this cavalier contravention of her last wishes. Am I right to be upset? Do we have ethical obligations to the dead? NAME WITHHELD
I wonder if a reasonable compromise if a survivor wants to keep ashes but the deceased wanted them scattered would be for the survivor to keep them for the time being and to provide in their will for the disposition of the ashes in accordance with the deceased's wishes.  Interring them wouldn't be appropriate, but what if the mother kept them in an urn on the mantelpiece for the rest of her life, and then stated in her own will that they were to be scattered in the ocean per her daugther's wishes?

I am a librarian at a large public university. Our library administrators, following a current fad, plan to radically ‘‘downsize’’ the library collection (i.e. throw out a lot of books). Essentially, anything in the general collection that hasn’t been checked out in the past few years is going straight to the trash-hauling bin. I believe that this poorly planned weeding project will do serious damage to a very valuable public resource and that if local researchers knew the scope of devastation underway, they would have strong objections. I have been outspoken enough about my opinion to be in hot water with said administrators. Do I have an ethical responsibility to persist in whistle-blowing? How much personal trouble am I ethically obliged to cause for myself in order to oppose an administrative decision that I believe is not just damaging to our organizational mission but stupid and wrong? NAME WITHHELD
What if, before throwing out the books, they attempted to give them away?  Inform the university community and any other networks of local researchers, and let them salvage whatever they want before it goes straight to the dumpster.  That's not to say that doing this would completely mitigate any detrimental impact, but, from a purely pragmatic perspective, LW's employers may well be more receptive to "Here's a zero-cost way to improve the optics of our plan while better fulfilling our mandate!" than they would be to "No, your plan is bad and wrong! Don't do it!"

Sunday, August 30, 2015


From The Ethicist:
When my mother passed away, I inherited an antique necklace made of carved ivory beads. I love the look of — and am sentimentally tied to — this necklace, but I am also a supporter of anti-poaching programs and organizations. I have avoided wearing the necklace because I don’t want to appear to support the ivory trade. On the other hand, I hate not being able to wear one of the few pieces of jewelry that I have from my mother. What should I do with the necklace?
 One thing that occurred to me while reading this: would people actually recognize it as ivory?

When I do a google image search for ivory necklaces, they look like plastic costume jewellery to me. I have no idea if they'd look non-plastic in person, but based on the image search I seriously doubt that I'd look at them and automatically think "Clearly, that must be made from dead elephant tusks!"

I have a few pieces of jewellery from my late grandmother, and one of the necklaces has a few white beads on it.  The only reason why I know for certain they aren't ivory is because my grandmother wasn't anywhere near wealthy enough be able to afford ivory, even as small beads in a necklace made of many other things, even if it were a special, one-time luxury. 

One of the lines of discussion in the column is whether wearing ivory jewellery promotes the notion of ivory as a glamorous luxury item that is beautiful and should be coveted. But I question whether anyone who isn't enough of an expert to already have their own well-established opinion on the matter would even recognize it as ivory.

And, if LW is asked about the composition or origin of the necklace, she could simply and truthfully respond by talking about how it was her mother's and has great sentimental value.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ideas for the Damage Control LW who wants to avoid disclosing her surgery

I didn't notice this Damage Control column when it first came out, but I have an idea for the letter-writer:

I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.
 The columnist recommends sending a mass email with an explanation, which I strongly disagree with.  Sending this email might give the impression that your private parts are open for discussion, not to mention that people could feel sexually harassed if they started receiving unsolicited emails about their colleagues' private parts. It might be appropriate in certain cases to tell the whole story to one or two selected colleagues one on one, if the subject should come up in an informal private conversation (depending greatly on context and the nature of the specific interpersonal relationship).  It's even plausible that in some offices, with some specific combinations of interpersonal relationships, it might even be appropriate to tell everyone at happy hour or around the water cooler.  But this isn't a subject for an email. I never thought I'd say this, but email's too formal.  If you disclose, it should be in an informal context that's marked as outside the scope of Business.

But as I read the letter, an idea occurred to me for a two-tiered sneaky approach that could be used if she chooses not to disclose the actual nature of her surgery.

Basic sneaky approach: come up with a cover story about how recovering from an unnamed surgery might cause your body to change shape.  For example, "My doctor recommended Pilates to help me regain strength in various areas after my surgery." True but secondary would be best (e.g. if you don't eat as much when recovering from surgery), but false but plausible would work too. Think about this very carefully, so it's consistent with any observable changes to your body after your first surgery and the changes that will be observed in your body after your second surgery, and script a delivery that will allow you to segue away from the topic of your surgery onto other topics (e.g. "But I've only ever tried Pilates mat work, I've never been to a gym where they use those machines. Does your Pilates class use the machines?  What's it like?")  Once you've worked this out, drop it into conversation with a co-worker or two next time the opportunity arises.  Then, if the rumour mill starts discussing the change in your body shape, an explanation straight from the horse's mouth is readily available.

Advanced sneaky approach: do some research and find another kind of surgery that could plausibly require two procedures and have similar recovery time and other observable effects to what your colleagues can observe about you.  I don't have the medical knowledge to come up with a real example, so I'll use a fake example: boneitis.  Suppose you do some research and discover that boneitis surgery can require two procedures, at similar spacing, with similar recovery times, and can result in a similar change in physical appearance.  Now, if you're ever in a situation where people are inquiring about your medical situation, you can hint in the direction of boneitis.  Don't explicitly say you have boneitis! Instead, present as someone who has boneitis and wants to be discreet about it, so that if people google the hints you're dropping, boneitis will come up near the top of the results.

Obviously this is a bit complex, and whether you actually want to do it will depend on how secret you want to keep your medical situation and your own capacity of subterfuge. But it is an option if you're finding it difficult to say nothing, but don't want to actively disclose.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What to do if you're offended at being offered a senior's discount

DEAR ABBY: I was at the hairdresser yesterday, and when I went to the register to pay, the receptionist asked me if I was over 65 "so I could get the senior discount." Abby, I am only 55! I found her question insulting, and several of my friends have had this same experience. I appreciate the young woman trying to save me a couple of dollars, but I'd rather pay full price than be asked if I want the discount.
Why don't businesses that offer senior citizen discounts just post a notice near the register? That way, if a customer is entitled to it, she or he can ask for it when they check out rather than have to hear that they look older than they are. -- INSULTED IN PEORIA, ARIZ.

I suggest that if you are offended by being offered the discount, you should say yes to the discount. Even if you aren't old enough.

By accepting the discount, you are disincentivizing the business from proactively offering the discount, by creating a situation where the more they offer the discount, the more money it costs them.  You're also getting yourself some compensation for your hurt feelings.

Some people will object to this on the ground that it's lying, and if you do object on those grounds you are, of course, free not to do this.  But since some people are apparently so insulted at being offered the discount that they feel moved to write to Dear Abby, I feel that accepting the discount is proportionate retribution.

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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Open letter to "No Acronym Here" in this week's Savage Love

From this week's Savage Love:

My husband and I have been happy swingers for four years. Our issue? I'm pregnant. My husband had a vasectomy two years ago, and neither of us has wavered in our desire to remain childfree. We know the "father" is the male of a couple we play with regularly. We used protection, of course, but we know these things are never foolproof. We consider ourselves good friends with this couple, but we are not in any sort of "poly" relationship with them. Our question is this: Do we need to tell the couple about what happened and our decision to terminate the pregnancy? We wouldn't ask them to help pay for the procedure, and their feelings on the matter wouldn't change our course of action. We're just unsure about the "swinger etiquette" in this situation.
The part of Dan Savage's answer that discusses how this man might feel or react:
On the off chance that your play buddy is one of those guys who either is against abortion or hasn't given the issue much thought—because he's never needed one—you should let him know that your freedom to choose has directly benefited him and his family. You should also let him know that there's a small chance your husband impregnated you. Either way, you're terminating this pregnancy.
But there's another possibility Dan Savage didn't mention: what if LW's play buddy is one of those guys who is against abortion because he wouldn't want a child he fathered to be aborted?  If this is the case, he might get very angry at you, and, if you tell him before the abortion happens, he might try to stop you. (And, from a political point of view, he'd cite this as a perfect example of why abortion should be criminalized.)

Unless you know him (or his feelings towards reproduction) well enough to be certain he wouldn't react this way, you and your husband should make a plan that includes what you would do if your play buddy reacts this way.  It is a thing that exists in the world, and you could be in for a bad time if you announce the abortion as good news when he'd take it as bad.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Answering Social Q's

From Social Q's:

While riding in the Quiet Car on Amtrak, which prohibits speaking on cellphones and loud conversations, I sat down next to a man who was reading a Kindle. Soon, I heard his breathing grow louder and increase to full-blown snoring. I know that snorers have no control over their sound level. But neither could I imagine reading quietly for several hours with that roar coming from two feet away. What would the appropriate response have been? (Note: Snoring is not specifically prohibited on the signs.)
The columnist suggests LW either move or wake up the snorer and tell him he's snoring.  But I don't think it's necessary to tell him he's snoring.  It's not like he can do anything about it.  Just nudge him and "accidentally" wake him up.

I am regularly included in group text messages. At times, I receive as many as 100 texts from group members within a five-minute period, leaving me feeling as if I’m trapped in other people’s streams of consciousness. I rarely respond to these messages and would prefer not to be included. Is it possible to opt out of them?
I wonder if there might be a technological solution for this. With email, you can set rules that would screen out emails with multiple recipients, for example. I wonder if you can do this with texting, perhaps with some of the texting apps that people seem to find it useful to use?  If not, lets add it to the Things They Should Invent list!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Teach me about animal shelter economics

From The Ethicist:
Here is an ongoing argument among my friends: Group A says you should adopt a pet only from a no-kill shelter to support the shelter, while Group B says you should adopt a pet only from a kill shelter to save the animals from death. Which is preferable?
The question to which I don't know the answer:  to what extent does adopting an animal from a specific shelter actually support the shelter?

If these were regular businesses, it would be obvious.  For example, there's a Shoppers Drug Mart and a Rexall in my neighbourhood.  If I decided to stop shopping at Shoppers and shop exclusively at Rexall, Shoppers would make less demand and profit and Rexall would see more.  If everyone made the same decision, Shoppers would cease to exist.  If Shoppers saw that everyone was shopping at Rexall, they might think "What is Rexall doing that we aren't?" and try to emulate that.

But do animal shelters work that way?  If people adopt their animals, they have room for more animals.  If people don't adopt their animals, they don't have room for more animals unless they kill some. That part is clear. 

But does adopting the animals serve as an economic incentive? If nobody adopted from the no-kill shelter, would the no-kill shelter cease to exist?  Would it be incentivized to become a kill shelter? Would anything else bad happen to it or to its animals?

Conversely, if nobody adopted from the kill shelter, would it cease to exist?  Would it be incentivized to become a no-kill shelter?  Or would it just keep on killing animals it can't fit?

It seems to me that the primary factor in whether animals end up in a kill or no-kill shelter would be which shelter people choose to surrender animals to.  It doesn't seem like adoption decisions would enter into it. What am I missing?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wherein I play Carolyn Hax

Hi Carolyn. I've written and re-written this entry. I can't stop compulsively eating at work (where a lot of unhealthy snacks are free) and at home. Eating makes me happy (though fleetingly so). I have no self-control when it comes to putting food in my mouth, especially anything involving carbs and sugar. The worst/best part? Last year I made a major career change and my new path is off to a fantastic start. I use my great work situation as an excuse to let my guard down when it comes to my eating habits. Though, if I'm being completely honest, I'm just effing tired of constantly thinking about my weight and my eating (as I've done since puberty). Eating provides quick bursts of happiness. Whenever I try to amend my diet (not even to restrict calories, just to restrict empty calories), I feel terrible! Maybe not physically but certainly mentally. Saying no to snacks is like forcing myself to suffer. I know that sounds irrational but that's how my brain interprets it. I don't even know what I'm asking you here. I guess: how do I stop using my professional success as an excuse to not pay attention to my shi**y diet and the fact that my weight has spiraled out of control. Literally every time I put something in my mouth, in an effort to avoid self-hate I just think "who cares if I'm fat, I'm a hard worker and that's what matters in life!"
My first thought is to wonder if the unfettered eating is actually a problem.  Perhaps LW has found what does and doesn't actually make them happy, regardless of what society tells us should make us happy. LW states outright that eating provides bursts of happiness and amending their diet feels terrible and feels like suffering.

Carolyn's advice is focused on ways for LW to more successfully eat well and lose weight, but she completely disregards the fact that LW gets happiness from eating and suffers from dieting.  I think it would be better to take an approach that at least acknowledges this.

My first suggestion to LW would be to permit themselves to eat whatever they want with no guilt for a certain defined period of time (maybe two weeks, maybe a month - long enough for the novelty to wear off, short enough that any harmful effects are still reversible).  This is an experiment, and their only responsibility during this time is to gather data by eating whatever they feel like and observing what happens.

After this period of experimentation, LW takes stock.  What happened, and how do they feel about it? Maybe they will be perfectly happy with the outcome.  Maybe they will dislike how much weight they gain.  Maybe they'll discover that they eat less compulsively when they're "allowed" to eat whatever they want in whatever quantities they want.  Maybe they'll discover a threshold where it feels bad physically (this is how I ended up cutting back on sodium - not because I'm supposed to, but because there's a point at which it feels bad).  Maybe they'll be happy with how they feel, but discover they need to buy new clothes and that isn't worth the trouble.

They can then use this information to make an informed decision about whether they should be following Carolyn's advice for approaches to losing weight and watching what they eat, or whether they should be embracing what makes them happy in life, or perhaps some balance in between.