Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label musings. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What if Star Trek: Discovery could desexualize the miniskirt uniform?

I recently saw an article saying that Star Trek: Discovery should use unisex miniskirt uniforms.  The article quoted Nichelle Nichols:
“The show was created in the age of the miniskirt, and the crew women’s uniforms were very comfortable. Contrary to what many may think today, no one really saw it as demeaning back then. In fact, the miniskirt was a symbol of sexual liberation. More to the point, though, in the twenty-third century, you are respected for your abilities regardless of what you do or do not wear.”
I absolutely agree that, when Discovery inevitably runs up against the original series uniforms (which, being set about 10 years before TOS, it will if it has a full run), it should present the miniskirt uniforms as unisex/gender-neutral, like TNG briefly did before it phased them out entirely. 

But what if, in addition to making the miniskirts gender-neutral, Star Trek: Discovery could make them non-sexy?

Imagine if the most prominent occurrence of the miniskirt uniform was a person whom modern television costuming standards would not normally put in a miniskirt. Someone whose legs are hairier than average.  Someone whose thighs rub together below the hemline of the skirt.  Someone noticeably older than the rest of the cast.

For example, maybe 10% of the background cast is in miniskirts (at least 50% of whom are male), and maybe one or two characters who have "Aye, Captain" sort of lines are seen wearing miniskirts in one or two brief scenes.  And then the most prominent instance of a miniskirt is on a stout, battle-hardened octogenarian admiral, with a reputation for being a brilliant military tactician as well as a bit of a hardass (like Captain Jellico), who is called in for some particularly dire crisis where particular bravery, heroics and expertise are required. And throughout, the camerawork is done exactly the same way it would be if everyone is wearing pants, neither lingering on nor ignoring any particular character's legs.

From a production perspective, this would be difficult to carry off well.  First of all, every actor deserves the dignity of flattering, thoughtful costuming, and non-sexy miniskirts would not be perceived as flattering.  Secondly, there's a history of putting revealing female-coded clothing on performers who aren't women who meet the narrow Hollywood definition of sexy and presenting it as comedic. ("HA HA HA! Look at that dude's hairy man-legs in that miniskirt!")  It would be absolutely essential to avoid inadvertently doing this, and I don't know whether they could avoid having the less-savoury parts of the audience interpret the scene that way.

But if they could carry it off, it would disarm the unfortunate connotations of the miniskirt uniform and reclaim its original empowering intention s in a way that's consistent with woke Star Trek: Discovery values and with Federation values.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

What if construction workers weren't even allowed on construction sites during quiet hours?

The most frustrating thing about all the construction near me is the frequency with which they wake me up by starting work early. City of Toronto noise bylaws state that construction can't start before 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on Saturdays, but all too often they're out there making noise before that.

The thing is, I think that most of the time when they're making noise too early, they think they're not working yet.  I think they think they're just getting ready to work.

The noise that wakes me up is stuff like gates opening, trucks being backed up, the external elevator operating, and equipment being moved into position (note to construction sites: moving dumpsters around is the single loudest thing you do!).

Then, at 7 on the dot, the noise picks up - big loud whirring machines spring into action, millions of people start hitting things with millions of hammers, etc.  As though they were waiting until 7 to start all this stuff, as though they thought the stuff they were doing before 7 didn't count.

But, nevertheless, the stuff they were doing before 7 still woke me up.

Idea: what if construction workers weren't even allowed on the construction sites before 7? That way they couldn't possibly make noise to wake people up, regardless of whether they think they're working or not.

It would also be easier for by-law officers to enforce (if we ever get by-law officers working outside of business hours - and I'm strongly confident that such an initiative would pay for itself in fines collected if they patrolled the Yonge and Eglinton area between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.) because if there is any activity or worker presence whatsoever before 7 a.m., that's a violation.  Gate open? Trucks present? Violation.  No debating whether work is being done or not, instead it's a hard and fast "yes or no" question.

On top of that, it would make life easier for workers by disincentivizing the employer from requiring them to report to work obscenely early.  The earliest I was ever woken up by construction was 5:36 a.m. - and this was in the middle of winter!  Imagine how early they had to wake up on a cold winter's morning to get to the construction site in time to wake me up that early!  But if the construction company got fined for workers being on the site early, the employer wouldn't make them come so early, and would in fact order them to "sleep in" another hour and a half so they aren't there before 7.

Monday, July 02, 2018

A new colour

A common thought experiment is "imagine a new colour", i.e. a colour that no one has ever seen before.

But that must have been a thing that has happened in human history.

On an individual level, there's the fact that there's a first time for every life experience, including the first time you see each colour.  If there isn't any orange within your immediate field of vision when you're born, you will one day see orange for the first time.  You probably won't realize that you're seeing a new colour, because you're experiencing all kinds of new weirdness, like eating and peeing and breathing and air and light, but the fact is you did, at some point, see orange for the first time.

But it might also have happened on a societal level. Within the full scope of human history, people have lived (and still do live) in some pretty desolate environments. In the past, where people didn't travel very long distances and didn't have access to dyes, maybe there have been societies living in the Arctic or the Sahara who went years without seeing a particular colour, because it simply wasn't present in their environment.

Then, one day, someone goes on a journey, sees a new flower, and OMG, what is that colour???

Sunday, July 01, 2018

The voice in your head vs. the voice outside your head

The first time I ever heard a recording of my voice, I was completely weirded out. My voice sounds nothing like it does in my head!  (And everything about it is gross, but that's a whole nother story.)

Many, if not most, if not all people feel that way about hearing recordings of their voice.  It just sounds so different!  (I wonder if anyone thinks their recorded voice sounds better than the voice in their head?)

This is why I'm surprised that vocal impersonations/impressions are a thing.  We sound so different outside our heads that I'm surprised anyone can even do a vocal impersonation that is recognizable to anyone outside their head.

Or do they record themselves, see what their attempt sounds like, and adjust accordingly?  Then you'd have to remember what an accurate impression sounds like inside your head.

I wonder if they eventually develop the ability to determine "If I sound this way inside my head, I must sound exactly like Famous Person to others."

Or do people who can do accurate vocal impressions sound the same both inside and outside their head?

I wonder if vocal impersonations existed before recording technology?  I wonder if they were less accurate/recognizable than they are now? 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The logistics of being rich

When you go through customs, they ask you if you packed your baggage yourself.

But very rich people probably don't - they probably have their personal assistant or whatever pack their bags.

So how does that conversation go?  "No, of course I didn't back my own bags - I had my assistant do it."  Then what happens?  Do they need to question the assistant?  What if the assistant isn't there?

Rich people also probably don't wait on hold - they have their assistant call the cable company. But often when I make these kinds of phone calls, they verify my identity.  So how does that work?  Does the assistant pretend to be their employer?  Does the employer have the assistant added to their account? Do they have to change a whole bunch of accounts every time they get a new assistant?

When I make an appointment, I have all kinds of preferences.  Ideally after 4:30, although I might be able to do earlier if necessary. Afternoons are better than mornings. Thursdays are worse than other days, although not completely out of the question.  Certain medical appointments need to take place at certain points in my menstrual cycle. Certain beauty appointments need to be timed vis-à-vis other beauty appointments and a certain amount of time before the event in question.

Rich people don't make their own appointments, they have their assistant do it.  So does the rich person have this big complex conversation about their preferences with the assistant, and then the assistant has to write all this down and convey it in making the appointment?  Or does the assistant just stick the appointment in wherever the rich person has an opening on their calendar, and their preferences don't get taken into account?

Friday, March 09, 2018

What if societal minimization of menstrual pain causes women to underassess their own pain?

Recently tweeted into my timeline: menstrual cramps can be as painful as heart attacks.

We've all heard of doctors taking women's pain less seriously. But this makes me wonder if the fact that menstrual cramps are considered just something you have to deal with make us underassess our own pain?

The first time I got menstrual cramps, at the age of 11, I was curled up on the floor unable to move.  But it's part of being a woman, and everyone deals with it. So I eventually learned how to work through it. The pain was the same, but, in those horrible years between menarche and birth control pills, I learned how to stand and walk and pay attention in class and pull in straight As while experiencing that same pain that left my 11-year-old self immobile on the floor.

And because it's so ingrained in me that it's just part of regular life, it would never have occurred to me before reading this article to see medical attention for something that's "only" as bad as those menstrual cramps that left me immobile on the floor. Even if it was debilitating, I'd try to work through it, maybe take an Advil if it was particularly bad.  It would never have crossed my mind that pain comparable to menstrual cramps could even be something serious!

Now I think back to all the times I've experienced something I didn't perceive as pain: "I wouldn't call it pain, I'm just weirdly...aware of it." "It feels like it needs to stretch, but when I stretch it, it doesn't feel better." "I can feel it pulsing. I wouldn't call it throbbing because that implies pain, but I can feel a pulse there." "My body is telling me not to move it that way, but it doesn't hurt when I do move it that way." "It's uncomfortable." I would never have sought medical attention, I would never have taken painkillers, because I didn't perceive them as pain.

But what if they were?

Just a couple of years ago, it occurred to me for the first time in my life to take Advil (which is an anti-inflammatory) for something (I forget what) that was inflamed. I perceived it as "uncomfortable", but would never have described it as pain.  The Advil got rid of the inflammation, and the discomfort never came back.  Prior to that, from the point of view of Advil = painkiller, I would have lived with the inflammation and discomfort for a couple of days, because I didn't perceive what I was experiencing as pain.

How much other needed, helpful medical treatment might I be missing out on because I wouldn't have characterized my experience as pain? And might I have characterized these experiences as pain if I hadn't internalized the idea that we're supposed to be able to cope with menstrual cramps?

Thursday, February 15, 2018


When watching both Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville, I've had moments when I find the technobabble unconvincing.  My visceral reaction is sometimes "No, that will never work!" or even "WTF? It doesn't work that way!"

Which is ridiculous, because it's technobabble - it doesn't reflect any aspect of reality, and if the writers say it works that way, it's works that way. (And every technobabble I've questioned did end up working on screen.)

Nevertheless, I find myself convinced that it doesn't work that way, even though I don't actually know how it works.

I wonder if this might be due to translator brain. Some of my work involves translating things that I don't fully understand - sometimes the author and the audience know exactly what they're talking about and I don't, other times I'm learning the technical terminology and how the processes work as I go. Even when I don't fully understand the text, I still need to understand its internal logic. Should this be a "however" or a "moreover"? (Sometimes the source language vocabulary is ambiguous and I need to look at the actual logical structure.) Does this sentence support the thesis of the text, or is it a counter-argument to be refuted?

It's been over a decade since I watched new-to-me Star Trek (and for the purpose of analyzing my response to technobabble, The Orville can be grouped in with Star Trek), so it's quite possible my translator brain has developed significantly since then. Of course, it's also possible that my understanding of science and technology have developed significantly, so I'm more sensitive to meaningless technobabble.

And it's also possible that Television Writers Today are simply not as good at technobabble as the Star Trek writers of my youth.

I've just started watching DS9 (which I wasn't able to watch when it first came out), so we'll see how I handle their technobabble.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Do tone and aesthetics make TV audiences self-selecting?

Even before the PTSD plotline, there was some discussion around whether Star Trek: Discovery was appropriate for children.  Some have fond childhood memories of watching Star Trek and want it to be suitable for their children, others pointed out that even if children did enjoy it, it was always intended for adults.

TNG is my primary Star Trek, which I watched and enjoyed starting in my preteen years.  However, when DS9 and Voyager came out, I wasn't able to enjoy them because they were too dark for me at that age.

The interesting thing is I could tell by looking at them that they were too dark for me.  I perceived this to be a function of lighting and set design, although incidental music may also have had an impact (I wasn't mindful of incidental music at the time, and blithely allowed it to manipulate my emotions without giving it a single thought.)  I watched like half an episode of each, and I just felt like "This is going to be too scary or sad for me," so I stopped watching.

Aesthetically as well as tonally, Discovery is even darker than DS9 and Voyager.  So I wonder if my child-self's reaction to the aesthetic darkness of DS9 and Voyager is typical and, if so, people who aren't ready for Discovery will screen themselves out?

As an interesting side note, other shows that I found too dark aesthetically as a child were Cheers and MASH.  I've watched both of them in adult life and they worked for me, but I do think they were too adult for my younger self.

My parents watched Doctor Who in the mid-80s, and I found the theme music so scary that I'd leave the room. Many people talk about hiding behind the sofa when the scary parts of Doctor Who came on, but I didn't even get that far because the theme music so accurately conveyed to me that it would be scary!

I wonder if TV shows also work this way for other people?

Sunday, January 07, 2018


There are several places in my neighbourhood where developers have bought houses or lowrise buildings and boarded them up, waiting for approval to tear them down and redevelop.

And meanwhile we're having a brutal cold snap and the City of Toronto doesn't have enough shelter spaces.

Something has to be done with this.  Perfectly functional buildings are sitting empty for the convenience of developers, and people can't find shelter in lethal weather.

My first thought was some kind of fine for leaving buildings unused, but I'm worried that that would incentivize developers to tear down buildings faster. Then I had the idea that developers have to fund shelter/housing for as many people as the old building would house until such time as the new building is actually under construction.  But I'm not sure how that would go over, because the approval process takes time and is outside of the developer's control.

I can't figure it out.  But someone has to do something! There are empty buildings, there are people who need shelter, and the weather is lethal.  This needs to be fixed!

I do have a very early, provisional, inadequate idea that could be implemented immediately with very little effort:

Rule 1: if a building is empty and the owner's stated intent is demolition, the owner is prohibited from locking the building or preventing entrance to the building.
Rule 2: squatting in an unoccupied building that is slated for demolition is henceforth legal.
Rule 3: owners of empty buildings slated for demolition are not liable for any harm that comes to people squatting in them as a result of the building not being maintained.

This is obviously not good enough.  Abandoned buildings don't have heat or electricity or water. They might be structurally unsound. These rules might create a loophole where a malicious owner of an empty building could set up booby traps to harm squatters with impunity. There's no mechanism to connect people in need of shelter with abandoned buildings.  Basic human decency requires sheltering people in functional buildings under safe conditions.

But doing it would be better than not doing it.  Enabling people to shelter in buildings that happen to be empty is better than the buildings sitting empty and the people needing shelter.

 Survival issues are really something where we need a "Yes, but..." vote. We need to be able to take "better than nothing" measures while continuing to work towards adequate measures and perfect measures.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if they had completely separate hospitals for infectious and non-infectious patients?

One of the risks of going to a hospital is that you might pick up a hospital-acquired infection, like MRSA or C. Diff.

At the root, there are a lot of infections in hospitals because many patients are infectious.

But there are also many patients who aren't infectious at all. For example, if you're in the hospital for surgery or chemotherapy to have a broken bone set or to give birth, you don't present any risk of contagion to others - but contagion may present a greater-than-usual risk to you.

So what if they had completely separate hospitals for contagious and non-contagious patients?  Different buildings, different doctors and nurses, never the twain shall meet.

Apart from money, is there any reason for not doing this? The only thing I can think of is that a certain subset of patients may or may not be infectious, and we don't know yet.  (I can think of several potential ways to handle that, but that's probably something better left to medical professionals.)  However, at the same time, there are also patients who are definitely not contagious - the surgeries and broken bones and childbirth that I mentioned above.  Is there any medical or non-money-related logistical reason not to keep them separate?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to make your children feel that you love them unconditionally

I've recently seen quite a number of pieces of advice suggesting that making sure your children know you love them unconditionally is parenting panacea. I've seen it mentioned as a way to protect children from predators, prevent children from growing up to be predators, ensure success in life and prevent all manner of ills.

I can't vouch for whether or not it's as miraculous as people say it is. But, as a child of parents who want me to believe their love for me is more unconditional than I actually think it is, I have some thoughts on how to convince your children your love for them is unconditional.

To make your children believe you love them unconditionally, you have to pay attention not only to your words and actions towards your children, but also your words and actions towards and about others.

The more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of people in certain situations or with certain characteristics, the more likely your child is to think you won't love them if they should ever end up in that situation or develop that characteristic. 

Even if you tell your child every day that you love them unconditionally, and even if you actually love them unconditionally every day, the more you speak disapprovingly or contemptuously of Those People, the more likely your child is to question whether you would love them if they became one of Those People.

For example, the more your preteen child hears you commenting on how disgusting it is that overweight people don't have the self-discipline to manage their weight, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them after the puberty fairy comes along and gives them a body that's prone to plumpness.

The more your child hears you saying that unemployed people are lazy ungrateful bums who deserve to starve if they don't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, the more your child is likely to think you'll stop loving them if they should ever struggle to find work.

And it's not just the things you say to your child that you need to be careful of. You also need to be careful of the things you say in their presence - conversations with other adults when your child is in the room, or things you post on the internet now that your child might read when they're older. (Don't you aspire for your child to grow up to be savvy enough to track down things people posted on the internet decades earlier? And don't you aspire for your child to be interested enough in your opinions and in you as a person to look you up?)

"Surely you're not saying that I have to express unconditional love for every random person I might ever speak to or about within my child's sphere of awareness!"

You don't have to express unconditional love for random people for the simple reason that our baseline feeling towards random people isn't love.  Our baseline feeling towards random people is neutrality.

So what you need to do is express unconditional neutrality for the random people you speak to or about within your child's sphere of awareness.

For example, compare the following two statements:

1. "That disgusting piece of scum drove drunk and killed three people! I hope he's raped repeatedly in prison and then dies of AIDS!"
2. "I hope he's isn't ever allowed to drive again so he doesn't kill anyone else."

In the first example, the speaker veers into hatred and contempt for the drunk driver.  In the second example, the speaker still wants the drunk driver to be suffer natural consequences, but maintains baseline neutrality towards them.

Children who hear their parents lose their baseline feeling (neutrality) towards people who are in certain situations or have certain characteristics may conclude that the parents will also lose their baseline feeling (love) towards their children in similar situations. And the more they hear their parents react to different situations by losing their baseline feeling, the more likely they are to think it could happen to them.

"But my child would never do that! My child would never become one of Those People!"

I'm tempted to point out that Those People's parents most likely didn't think they'd turn out that way either, but I doubt that argument would be effective.

Instead, think about it in terms of leeway.  If you end up not being entirely successful in making your children feel you will love them unconditionally, they might still feel you'll love them functionally unconditionally if you can convince them that you wouldn't lose your baseline feeling of love in the face of things they would never actually do.

For example, if I felt it was plausible that my parents would continue to love me if I did something so bad that I went to prison, I wouldn't even question that they would continue to love me even if I were unemployed.  I would never actually do something so bad as commit a felony, so, if I felt my parents would continue to love me if I did so, that would be functionally equivalent to unconditional love.

"But some things are Very, Very Bad and as a parent I need to make that clear to my child!"

That's your decision to make as a parent. Is it more important to you that your child knows you disapprove of Those People, or that your child feels you will always love them unconditionally? Only you can decide.

Colonel Fitzwilliam

The interesting thing about Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice is he is in pretty much the same position in life as the Bennet sisters.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is charming, but he isn't an eligible suitor for Elizabeth because, as a second son, he has little fortune of his own and therefore has to marry an heiress to continue living in the style to which he is accustomed. This is why he has to be charming - all he has to offer the as-yet-theoretical heiress he needs to marry is his charms, and perhaps connections to an earldom if he finds a new-money heiress who doesn't yet have connections with nobility.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters have little fortune of their own and need to marry someone with money to continue living in the style to which they are accustomed. And they have to be charming, because all they have to offer a prospective husband is their charms, and perhaps connections with gentry if they find new-money husbands who don't yet have connections with gentry.

Now, Colonel Fitzwilliam does have his career in the military, which earns him some money. Indeed, it is more money than many people of that era have. But he still feels the need to marry an heiress because he would suffer a significant decline in quality of life if he were limited to living on his military salary.

Similarly, the Bennet sisters do have their dowries, which are more money than many people of that era have. But they still feel the need to marry well, because they would suffer a significant decline in quality of  of life if they were limited to living off their dowries after their father dies.

So despite the fact that, on the surface, a colonel has far more freedom and options than an unmarried young lady in this era, Colonel Fitzwilliam faces essentially the same challenges as the Bennet sisters if he doesn't want his quality of life to decline, and he has to perform the same emotional labour to have any hope of maintaining his quality of life.

If you think the government is going to take your guns, you should sell your guns

The first panel of this The Knight Life comic: "Whenever gun nuts think their weapons will get taken away, they buy tons more!!"

I have no idea whether people actually think this way, but, at the very least, it's a fairly common trope - the idea that American gun people think the government is going to take away their guns, and stockpile guns in response.

It occurred to me when I read this comic that stockpiling guns is the most foolish thing you can do if you fear the government is going to take your guns away.

On the day the government takes your guns away, they will take all your guns, no matter how many you have.  They wouldn't come to collect X number of guns from each person, they'd come for all the guns.  Regardless of how many guns you have at the beginning of Gun Confiscation Day, you will have zero guns at the end of the day.

Therefore, if you stockpile in advance of the government taking your guns away, you will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, plus less money than you did before you started stockpiling.  Nothing is gained, guns and money are lost.

A better way to prepare for the government taking your guns away is to sell as many of your guns as possible before the government gets there. You will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, but you will have more money than you did before.  Then, after the gun confiscation is complete, you can use that extra money to acquire more guns.

Some people might be concerned that it will be more difficult to acquire guns after Gun Confiscation Day. But stockpiling in advance won't negate that. If you stockpile, you'll come away with zero guns and less money. If you sell, you'll come away with zero guns and more money.  And it's always easier to acquire contraband with more money than with less money.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Shoes, Star Trek, and the glories of adult life

I recently got a new pair of Fluevogs, and, in addition to my usual pleasure in having a beautiful, funky pair of boots to wear, I also felt a renewed frisson of delight that I get to be a person who has a favourite shoe designer (acquired organically, not through a deliberate attempt to wear cool brands!) and a life (and paycheque) that accommodates wearing awesome shoes.

This didn't even occur to me as a possibility when I was a kid.  I wasn't into fashion not because I didn't like fashion, but because it didn't even occur to me that a person like me was allowed to even think about being into fashion. Fashion was for pretty people and cool people, which I most decidedly was not.

One thing I was into as a kid was Star Trek. And that got me bullied. The pretty people and the cool people would make my life a living hell for not being pretty and for not being cool and for being into Star Trek.

Star Trek: Discovery is the first Star Trek I've gotten to enjoy "live" - watching each episode as it comes out rather than watching the whole thing in syndicated reruns - in over 25 years. (And thank you, by the way, to Space Channel for showing Discovery on actual TV, so Canadians can enjoy our Star Trek in its traditional medium - and my preferred medium - without having to deal with streaming!)

So this has me thinking about 25 years ago, and appreciating everything that has changed in 25 years. I got to become the kind of person who has awesome shoes! I can be pretty whenever I feel inclined to make the effort. I'm not cool (although I've successfully tricked one or two people into thinking I am), but I'm in a place where my lack of coolness is irrelevant and I can love the things I love without worrying about coolness. I can watch Star Trek whenever I want without anyone giving me a hard time, and I can also tell everyone that I'm watching Star Trek and they still don't give me a hard time!

Plus, through the magic of 21st-century technology (i.e. Twitter) I can discuss Star Trek with like-minded people even if there aren't any in the room or in my social circle. I can talk to Star Trek cast members and Klingon translators (and have done so - and gotten likes replies - repeatedly!), and discuss serious themes like economics and colonialism interspersed with jokes and fannish speculation.

And I do all this from my very own condo in Toronto, which is significant because all those pretty people and cool people who bullied me aspired to leaving our small town and moving to Toronto, and, even though it didn't even occur to me at the time that a person like me was allowed to aspire to such things, I seem to have achieved it anyway.

My adolescent self would be mindblown!

I wonder if, 25 years from now, there will be elements of my life that currently don't seem like things I am even allowed to aspire to?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Two kinds of people in the world

Theory: There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point.  This leads you to conclude that they must be a more sensible person than you originally thought.
2. Someone you disagree with about almost everything agrees with you on a particular point. This leads you to question whether your opinion about that point is in fact correct.

I further theorize that each of these groups of people would conclude that the other group's approach/attitude is coming from a place of self-absorption.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do cell phones affect smoking rates?

The following is (a tangent) from Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard. As usual, any typos are my own:

In the old days we had cigarettes, so if you wanted to hang out somewhere looking relaxed, you could just light a cigarette an lean against a lampost and smoke it. You could lean against a wall in a station, or sit in a chair or on a bench. You could hang out anywhere with a cigarette. Now most of us have given up cigarettes, but we've got our mobile phones, which we can use much in the same way: we stand somewhere or sit somewhere while doing almost anything - reading a book, sending an email, checking our texts - on our smartphones.

This makes me wonder if the rising prevalence of cell phones and smart phones and texting and apps has resulted in a decline in smoking rates?  Perhaps not the percentage of smokers in society, but perhaps the number of cigarettes smoked.

Your phone gives you something to do with your hands when you have downtime, so you might not automatically reach for a cigarette out of boredom.  It also gives you something you want to do with your hands when you have a moment, and it might be harder to light a cigarette with a phone in your hand, or harder to text with a cigarette in your hand.  (I'm sure innovative people can find a way, but it would be an additional inconvenience).

I once read a theory of addiction that to cure an addiction, you have to replace it with something else, because the patient needs . . . something.  Maybe the phone could serve as that something?

I don't know if this could be studied, because there have been numerous efforts to decrease smoking rates for public health purposes before and during the advent of the cell phone, so I don't know if you could separate the effect of cell phones from other factors.  I know that in Europe in the 90s smoking was more widespread, and I know that Europe took up texting before North America, but I have no idea what else was happening in the interim that might have affected smoking rates.

I wonder if there's somewhere in the world where people do smoke, but there haven't been anti-smoking measures, and cell phones have also become increasingly prevalent.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

King Charles III (and some thoughts on cultural references)

I recently saw the movie King Charles III. The premise is that, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles ascends to the throne and causes a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign a bill into law.

The plot I could take or leave, but what made this movie particularly interesting is that it's written in a Shakespearean style, using blank verse, iambic pentameter, asides to the audience, etc. So watching it was akin to being one of Shakespeare's contemporaries watching a Shakespearean history play.  In fact, as I was watching it, I kept finding myself noticing references that would need to be footnoted if this were taught in schools centuries in the future.  But for me, they were just common knowledge with a soupçon of tabloid gossip.

It might be interesting to show this movie to students learning Shakespeare, just to give them that experience.  Anyone who can name or extrapolate from context the names of most of the people in this photo already has the necessary cultural references.


When I studied Shakespeare in school, the plays came in these books with extensive footnotes explaining the wordplay or cultural references that weren't part of our vernacular. The teachers said that in Shakespeare's time, everyone understood these references, with tone, delivery and connotations suggesting that if Kids Today would just be more diligent, we'd understand it too just like in the Good Old Days.

But as I watched King Charles III, I realized that those were just their modern cultural references at the time - contemporary slang, basic current events, current social media use patterns, the sort of celebrity gossip you pick up from seeing tabloid covers while waiting in line at the grocery store, etc.

Similarly, when we did an extensive unit on Greek and Roman mythology in Grade 8, the teacher said that people used to know all these references, again with tone and delivery suggesting that our lack of knowledge of these references that are apparently so crucial and vital and baseline to our culture made us somehow subpar.

But the 90s Jane Austen movies, and some subsequent reading on the concept of neo-classicism, made me realize that this whole Greco-Roman thing was basically a trend too. It was that era's equivalent of Simpsons references and/or dank memes. The flowery, wordy reference-laden Romantic-era writing style was that era's equivalent of today's dense, reference-laden hip-hop lyrics. And people were familiar with them simply because they had consumed the era's popular culture, just like how people who have seen the Marvel Thor movies starring Chris Hemsworth might pick up a thing or two about Norse mythology.

I think if our teachers had presented these aspects of the curriculum as a glimpse into the popular culture of the olden days, we would have found it much more approachable and much more interesting.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The origin of mansplaining and bootstrapping?

A while back, this story circulated where a male employee and a female employee switched email signatures on their shared inbox:

My first thought was that nothing like this has ever happened to me, but in the shower today, it occurred to me that this might explain another phenomenon I've observed.

When I ask for something that's perfectly reasonable and then don't get it, older men within earshot of my complaints often respond with "Well, did you ask?"  Of course I asked. And I didn't get it. That's why I'm complaining about it.

For example, when Dell said they couldn't sell me an extended warranty as promised (which, BTW was two years ago and I'm still using the same computer - they could have gotten hundreds of dollars each year and absolute loyal out of me by extending it), I kept getting "Well, did you tell them that you'd been sent this personalized offer?  And that you had a confirmation email?"  Yes, I did. And it didn't get me what I wanted. That's why I'm complaining about it.

For as long as I can remember, I've been baffled at this "Well, did you [do the most glaringly obvious first step]?" with tone and delivery suggesting that they think this is a whole solution.

But in the shower, it occurred to me that maybe, in the world of the men who say these things to me, the most glaringly obvious first step is the whole solution?  Maybe they live in a world where all they need to say is "I have a confirmation email" and people agree with them?

I don't know how to test this, but if it is the case, I wonder if there are any other disadvantages I might be experiencing that I don't perceive?

Also, might this be part of the origin of mansplaining?  If things tend to work out for them when they try the first obvious step, they might arrive at the conclusion that someone who's having problems hasn't tried the first obvious step?

And more broadly speaking, this would probably be the root of punitive "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" policies - people in positions of greater privilege have things turn out right when they do the basic right things, so they conclude that people who have things turn out wrong aren't doing the basic right things.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The notion of prayer is weird

Within a paradigm where there is a deity who is capable of answering your prayers but does not always choose to do so, the very notion of praying doesn't make sense.

A deity, being omniscient, would already know what you want, and how badly you want it, and the arguments for giving it to you, regardless of whether you go through the motions of praying. The only scenario in which praying would make a difference is if the deity is not just, and is so insecure in its own divinity that it wants its ego stroked by people getting down on their knees and begging. But shouldn't any remotely competent deity be above that sort of thing?


As I was writing this, I found myself wondering if there's some correlation between capacity for religion and capacity for emotional labour.  Religion (or, at least, the subset of religion to which I have been exposed) requires not just having certain feelings, but  performing those feelings, often publicly. (Or, if not truly publicly, then at least so it can be seen by your family or your religious community or your religious leadership.)  I wonder if being able to and willing to do that that might correlate with being able to and willing to perform emotional labour?

I don't think it would be outright cause and effect (in my case, I have far more desire to perform emotional labour than to perform religion, but far less ability), but nevertheless I do wonder if it correlates.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"It doesn't matter as long as people can understand you"

There are people who say that it shouldn't matter whether something is written properly as long as the audience understands it.

I've heard this said about things that aren't "correct" English per the prescriptivist definition (like "ain't"), and about spelling and grammar errors, as well as things like slang and txtspeak, which aren't the focus of today's post.

I have also found myself in situations where these things make it difficult for me to understand the text. For example, if the "incorrect" English or spelling or grammar error shifts meaning, I interpret the text literally, not realizing that the person meant something else.

And sometimes in these situations where I'm having trouble understanding because I interpreted an erroneous text literally, I'm accused of being pedantic, as though I'm not understanding on purpose as a judgement of their poor writing skills, with tone and delivery hinting that I should stop being difficult and just get along and understand it like a regular person.

This makes me wonder: do people whose English skills lead to spelling/grammar/usage errors that shift meaning find it easier to understand other people with similar English skills?  Do they not see the shift in meaning, or somehow instantly see what was intended?

(In this post so far, I'm talking about people whose first language is English, although it could certainly also happen with people whose first language is not English.)

One thing I've learned in my translation career is that Anglophones and Francophones make different kinds of mistakes in French.  An Anglophone who learned French in school wouldn't confuse manger (to eat) and mangé (eaten), or ses (his/her where the noun is plural) and ces (these) on the grounds that they're completely different parts of speech, but these are among the most common mistakes Francophones make on the grounds that they're homophones.  (I was so proud of myself the day I almost sent out an email in French with an infinitive where a past participle should have been! Finally thinking in French!) 

Meanwhile, a Francophone would never say il faut que je vais (indicative , where the subjunctive il faut que j'aille is correct), but this is one of the most common mistakes Anglophones make because subjunctive isn't as intuitive for us.

A French text written by an Anglophone with poor French skills is very easy for me to understand. A French text written by a Francophone with poor French skills is perilously close to impenetrable for me.

I wonder if the same phenomenon occurs with texts written by people with similar skill levels in English, even if English is their first language. Do people who are prone to make errors in English understand error-prone English better than people who have a better handle on spelling and grammar?  If so, I wonder if they can understand error-prone English better than error-free English?

(Aside: I'm quite sure the gods of irony will have inserted a few errors of the sort that I don't usually make into this blog post.)