Showing posts with label thoughts from the shower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thoughts from the shower. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The first homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.

If you think about it, it's really weird that homophones became a thing in the first place!

Yes, I know, homophones tend to enter the language from different origins.  For example, "sight" comes from Old English, and "site" comes from Latin.

But someone at some point in human history was the first person to attempt to use a homophone, and at some point (may or may not have been the first attempt) the notion stuck.

It's so weird to me that the notion stuck!  If you imagine a world where there's no such thing as a homophone, it seems like homophones would be a dealbreaker - think of the confusion if words suddenly started meaning multiple unrelated things depending on context, in a universe where words have only ever had one meaning!

But for some reason it stuck. No one said "Dude, you can't call it a "site" - that sounds exactly like "sight" and everyone will get confused! We already have perfectly good words like "place" or "location". Use one of those."   (Or they did say this and went unheeded.)  And then, as time passed, even more homophones got added. (Including, in this specific example, the word "cite".)

If it hadn't already happened, no one would ever believe that something like that could happen.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Those People (but not you)

The following is a quote from Believe Me by Eddie Izzard. As usual, any typos are my own:

Which was odd, since one of her really good friends - a man she'd met in San Francisco when she was on holiday there with my father - was gay and he and his partner lived there together. I think she definitely must have known that they were gay, but somehow it didn't bother her.

I think lots of people in the world behave similarly: they can like individuals for who they are, despite the fact that they don't' necessarily agree with or approve of the bigger issues and ideas related to their sexual or gender identities. Its a strange disconnect to me -  not wanting to let facts affect your opinions - but it seems to work that way. I've been on the receiving end of this kind of thinking. I may seem more acceptable as a transgender person to some people, and they may be more accepting of me because of my charitable marathon running, and perhaps being on the telly, but they won't necessarily change their mind-set about LGBT+ people in general.

This makes me think of an odd phenomenon I've experienced over the years: people who rant and rail about "those people" (who have a certain characteristic or do a certain thing) but then don't include you in that, even though you do or might plausibly have that characteristic or do that thing.

Initially I thought they were just putting on a show of backpedalling in an attempt at being less rude. But then I had relatives whose hobby is ranting and railing about people who don't have jobs seem genuinely surprised that it never occurred to me that they would help me out if I lost my job.  They seemed to think it was glaringly obvious that of course they'd help me out if I lost my job, even though every word I've ever heard them say about unemployed people is that they're bad and wrong and lazy and unworthy of any help.

I was also once in a conversation with a small business owner who was expressing prejudice about a certain identifiable group, but then seemed genuinely surprised when I assumed they would prefer not to have clients of that identifiable group.  (And then, in an interesting feat of mental gymnastics, expressed the idea that the problem with Those People is they aren't interested in being a client of the business in question, and if they were a client of the business in question they would be One of the Good Ones.)

I don't understand how people can think this way.  And I'm not saying that in a bemoaning-lack-of-human-compassion sort of way, I'm saying I can't extrapolate from my own experience having a human brain to figure out how the human brain can do this.

If they think being unemployed is bad and wrong and means you're lazy and unworthy of help, why wouldn't they conclude that I'm bad and wrong and lazy and unworthy of help if I lose my job?  If they do conclude that but feel morally obligated to help me anyway, why would they be surprised that I wouldn't expect them to do that?  And why would they reassure me in advance that they'd help me if they think being unemployed is so bad and wrong it needs additional external disincentives?

Conversely, if they want me to be confident I'd cared for and supported if unemployed, why would they spend so much time ranting and railing about unemployed people in the presence of someone who could become unemployed at any time and historically has had difficulty getting jobs?

If the small business owner expresses prejudice against a certain identifiable group, why would they be surprised that I'd conclude they'd prefer not to have clients from that group?  If they want more clients from the group, why would they express prejudice against that group?  If they are in fact prejudiced against that group, why do they see it as a problem that members of the group are disinclined to do business there (as opposed to being indifferent or tacitly relieved)?

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.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Conspiracy theory conspiracy theory

I think internet conspiracy theories either are, or are being used as, trial balloons by the powers that be.  The powers that be are observing the public's response to the various conspiracy theories, and if enough of the population believes a particular theory, the powers that be will use it next time they want to cover something up.

For example, I've heard conspiracy theories that various massacres didn't actually happen, alleging that the powers that be hired actors to pretend to be victims of the massacre.  Of course, that's ridiculous because if the powers that be wanted people to believe there had been a massacre, they would achieve that by killing a bunch of people. That's far more feasible and efficient than faking a massacre!

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that the next time the powers that be want to cover up a massacre, they'll "leak" "evidence" that it was just faked with actors.

Another weird conspiracy theory is the sovereign citizen movement, which, as far as I can tell, believes that the laws of the US have secretly been replaced by another set of laws for the purpose of enslaving everyone, but can be circumvented with the appropriate paperwork. Of course, that's ridiculous because of the powers that be wanted to enslave us all, why would they create a loophole that can be accessed with mere paperwork?

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that next time the powers that be want to let off someone who has done something so inexcusable for which there is so much evidence that the perpetrator can't possibly be found not guilty in court, they'll "leak" documents showing that the perpetrator was a sovereign citizen.

The weirdest conspiracy theory I've ever heard of (haven't actually seen this in the wild, but haven't looked too hard) is that the earth really has two suns, and the powers that be are hiding one of them for us.  Of course, that's ridiculous because what would that achieve?

However, if enough people believe this, I theorize that next time the powers that be want to cover up something like a nuclear blast, they'll "leak" the idea that it was just the second sun briefly escaping.

I can't even begin to speculate on whether the powers that be are the ones coming up with all these conspiracy theories to see which ones stick, or whether they're just piggy-backing on existing online conspiracy theorists who are in it for the clicks and/or merch sales. But in either case, we'd be naive to think they aren't looking at which conspiracy theories stick and how to leverage them.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A pragmatic approach for law-abiding citizens

The biggest benefit of being a law-abiding citizen is credibility. If your job or your landlord or the kids' hockey team you want to coach wants a police check, you'll pass with flying colours.  If anyone is trying to dig up dirt on you, they're going to find nary a parking ticket. If you ever want to criticize anyone else's less-than-optimal behaviour, you can stand up tall, look the world in the eye, and proclaim "I am a law-abiding citizen!"

That is why the greatest threat to us law-abiding citizens is non-law-abiding authorities, in particular those whose abuse their authority in a way that causes people harm.

Many people's visceral response to this statement is "No, the greatest threat to us is criminals!"  But non-law-abiding authorities are criminals.  They can do anything to us that criminals can do. Authorities can kill us. Authorities can steal or destroy our possessions. Authorities can rape us. Authorities can cause us permanent injury.

And, on top of that, non-law-abiding authorities who abuse their power can destroy our hard-earned credibility. They can lay charges that will lead to us failing police checks, regardless of whether we're actually convicted, regardless of whether we actually did it.  Our names would get be in the paper (and therefore googleable) associated with these charges, regardless of whether we're actually convicted, regardless of whether we actually did it.  They can detain us - even if we're not found guilty, they can detain us until the trial is over - thereby preventing us from going to work and earning a living, thereby making it more difficult for us to pay our bills. This could cause us to lose our jobs, our homes, our credit rating, and our credibility in many areas of life. Ever had an employer or a creditor cheerfully give you the opportunity to correct an honest mistake because you've proven your reliability over the years?  Think they'll still do that if you've missed work or missed payments because you were in jail?

Therefore, the most pragmatic approach for law-abiding citizens is to come down hard on non-law-abiding authorities.  Give them the full force of your law-abiding, hard-working taxpayer outrage, and make this outrage known on social media and letters to the editor and messages to your elected representatives.  Call for the dismissal of those who allowed it to happen. Don't let them distract you with particulars of the case that they claim justify their failure to comply with the law.  Make it very, very clear that their failure to comply with the law is unacceptable and beyond the pale, and we will not stand idly by while such things happen.

In the specific case of Omar Khadr, this means our outrage should be focused on the non-law-abiding actions (or inactions) of authority figures that led to this whole situation. If the settlement specifically is what bothers you, focus your outrage on the non-law-abiding actions (or inactions) that led to the settlement being legally required, making it very, very clear that you will not tolerate authority figures behaving in a way that makes it necessary to spend tax dollars on these kinds of settlements, whereas if they had just abided with the law they could have saved us all this money.

It is not in our best interests as law-abiding citizens to express outrage about the fact of the settlement, because the settlement was a legal requirement. By expressing outrage about the fact of the settlement, we'd be suggesting to authorities that failing to comply with the law would be a popular decision. Whereas by expressing outrage about the non-law-abiding behaviour that made the settlement necessary, we will make it clear that complying with the law is a popular decision and failing to comply with the law is unacceptable.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Childfree for Dummies: Part VI (plus: help write the analogy!)

Sometimes medical professionals insist on taking measure to protect the patient's fertility even when the patient is childfree and doesn't want to be fertile.  And sometimes, if you complain about this, people will counter with "But he's just looking out for your health."

But unwanted fertility is not part of health.

Fertility is a thing my body does that I don't want it to do, much like acid reflux or gaining weight or sweating profusely.  It has no benefit for me and adds nothing to my quality of life. On top of that, unlike acid reflux or gaining weight or sweating profusely, fertility could have the most severe negative consequences possible - both for myself and for innocent others.

Therefore, fertility is not an aspect of my health, but rather a chronic condition to be managed.  And managing it is the top priority of my life. The vast majority of the medical care I receive is in service of managing this chronic condition. If it were not possible to receive the medical care that permits me to manage this condition, I would take drastic measures - up to and including breaking the law, risking my personal health and safety, and relocating to another part of the world - to keep it under control.

So when medical professionals disregard the fact that a patient is childfree and give them treatment that preserves their fertility in cases there are also options that may reduce or even eliminate fertility, they're basically refusing to cure the chronic condition that overshadows every aspect of the patient's life.


I'm trying to think of an analogy for this concept, but it's not working out as well as I'd like. Here's what I've got so far.

Analogy: imagine you're a pre-op transman, and you're diagnosed with breast cancer. One possible treatment is mastectomy. This would not only eliminate the cancer and either vastly reduce (or even completely eliminate) the likelihood of its returning, and vastly reduce (or even completely eliminate) the amount of follow-up care you'd need, it would also remove the breasts that you don't even want (and, depending on their size, may cause you day-to-day discomfort).

But the doctor refuses to give you a mastectomy, and in fact says they will make every effort to save your breasts.  Because most women want to keep their breasts. When you point out the unfairness and very near cruelty of the doctor making you keep your unwanted breasts when removing them would be an effective treatment to everything that ails you, people counter with "But he's only looking out for your health!"

Of course, the problem with this analogy is it's likely ineffective to the people who need it. People who aren't able to imagine what it would be like to not want to have children ever are also likely to have difficulty imagining what it would be like to be transgender. (Unless there are transfolk who can't imagine being childfree, which would be an interesting combination of characteristics.)

Can you think of another comparable analogy that would explain the concept more effectively for the target audience?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Uber but for driving practice

I've blogged before about the problem of driving schools being based on the assumption that you  have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you while you practise.  And if you don't have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you, you won't get enough practice to get good enough to pass the test, unless you pay your driving instructor a significant (and prohibitive to some) amount of money to accompany you while you practise.

It occurred to me in the shower that the Uber model could fill this gap.

The client creates an Uber account indicating that they are a learning driver looking for an accompanying driver to practice with.  The car owner accepts the client as usual, arrives at the client's location as usual, and the only difference is that the client drives the car to their destination and the accompanying driver sits in the passenger seat, serving as accompanying driver.

The client would pay the car owner more money than the typical Uber fee to make up for the increased risk incurred by the car owner. (It would have to be less than the a driving instructor would typically charge for a lesson - I don't know offhand if Uber drivers would consider that sufficient compensation for increased risk.)  Uber drivers could, of course, opt out of providing driving practice, and instead provide only driving services.  I don't know how it would work for insurance, but Uber has operated (and possibly still does operate) in a questionable insurance environment and that didn't stop it.

Even if the client does supplement their practice with additional professional lessons, the Uber model could be useful by allowing the client to get driving practice whenever they have to go somewhere (which is often how it works when you already have a car and an accompanying driver in the household) rather than having to book lessons whenever they fit in the instructor's schedule. Going to work? Driving practice! Going on an errand? Driving practice!

Obviously, this model is not ideal. The ideal would be a baseline driving instruction system that works equally well for clients who have a car in their household and clients who don't have access to a car, where instructors are well-paid, well-trained and properly insured, and where quality driving instruction is reasonably affordable to all clients.

But in the meantime, this is a need. If there are people willing to serve as accompanying driver in exchange for pay, the Uber model could fill this need. And it would enable new drivers for whom practice is inaccessible to become more experienced before getting fully licensed.

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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Things They Should Invent: outlaw commission

Originally I was writing a blog post about how commission-based compensation for various professionals involved in real estate transactions is a problem - it disincentivizes taking on first-time buyers of primary residences as clients (because we have less money to spend and need more hand-holding) and incentivizes taking on investors as clients (they have more money to spend, have less at stake because they don't actually live in the property, and are more likely to buy again soon). I was writing some half-formed ideas about whether this commission model might be encouraging sales to non-resident investors at the expense of regular people just trying to buy a home, especially first-time buyers.

But as I was writing this, I realized the problem is not limited to commission on real estate transactions.  The problem is commission on all sales.

I propose that it should be banned, and salespeople should be paid a salary instead (possibly with bonuses for excellent customer service.)

I'm not saying this from my point of view as a worker. (Although it certainly is a labour issue too!)  I'm saying this from my point of view as a consumer.

Even moderately experienced salespeople know far more about their products than I do. They know stuff like "If you can squeeze into a 10.5 in the Operetta shoe family but would prefer 11, then you're a 12 in the Miracles shoe family." or "If your primary motivation in looking at this $700 phone is that it has more storage, you should be aware that that $300 phone can accommodate an SD card."

But because they're incentivized to sell more rather than to provide excellent customer service, they might not want to share this expertise with us, and we might not know if we can trust the expertise they do share.

If salespeople weren't incentivized to sell more and instead were incentivized to best meet the customer's needs, then products that actually meet people's needs would sell better. Demand for products that meet needs would increase, demand for products that don't meet needs would decline, and the overall offer of products on the market would improve.

As consumers grow more confident that products they buy will meet their needs, they will grow less reluctant to shop. (I would buy so many more clothes if I knew they would work, and didn't have to keep trying on things that didn't work!) Insofar as there is disposable income, people will be happy to spend it. This will boost the economy, and make the market function more optimally.

If you ever buy things, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you want eliminate any consumer reluctance to shop, you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you want the market to function as it should, with demand for things that meet consumer needs and no demand for things that don't, then you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you're a company that produces excellent products and want your excellent products to outsell less-excellent products, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you're a salesperson who truly wants to use your expertise to help guide people to the right product for them and enjoy return business from happy customers, you would benefit from the elimination of commission.

Basically, unless your primary objective is to cheat, coerce and manipulate people into buying things they don't need, you would do better without commission.

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 mangĂ© (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.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

I would never think of borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour. Here's why that's a good thing.

A while back, a politician said that she moved out of Toronto because she felt it lacked community, citing as an example “I would never go next door and ask my neighbour for a cup of sugar. It just wouldn’t happen.

This led to a brief flurry of journalists attempting to borrow sugar and documenting the results, but I didn't give it much thought, until it bubbled up in my mind in the shower today and it occurred to me:

I would never, ever even consider knocking on my neighbour's door to borrow a cup of sugar, literally or metaphorically. It just wouldn't happen.

And the reason for that has absolutely nothing to do with my neighbours. And absolutely everything to do with my neighbourhood.

I chose my neighbourhood because it's easy and convenient. And part of being easy and convenient is having stores that sell and services that provide nearly everything I might ever need all within the immediate neighbourhood.  I can get a boxspring, a biopsy and a bridesmaid dress all within easy walking distance.  And, more importantly, I can get sugar - or any other foodstuff I might need - within a two-minute walk, 24/7/365.

Many urban neighbourhoods - especially high-density neighbourhoods - are like this.  There's no need to bother your neighbours because the neighbourhood infrastructure and amenities meet your needs.

That's a sign of a successful, functioning community, where people can get what they need through the normal mechanisms and infrastructure, without having to even consider imposing upon the kindness of - or being at the mercy of - those who happen to be in the vicinity.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What if different kinds of lies were like apples and oranges?

Conventional wisdom is that politicians lie.

But when we say this, we usually mean "They don't keep their electoral promises." They say they're going to do something and then they don't, or they say they aren't going to do something and then they do.

But sometimes politicians lie about objective, observable facts.  And this is a problem, because they aren't just stating objectively incorrect information, they're also using the objectively incorrect information as a basis for questionable policy.

For example, a politician says there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses in their area, and therefore libraries should be cut. However, the fact of the matter is that there are more Tim Hortonses than libraries in their area.  And even if there were more libraries than Tim Hortonses, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. And even if the ratio were a problem, perhaps the solution would be more Tim Hortonses.  And maybe the ratio is even a problem the other way - maybe there aren't enough libraries.  One possibility is that there are more libraries than Tim Hortonses but still not enough libraries (for example, if there were two libraries and one Tim Hortons, that wouldn't be enough libraries for the entire city.)

It creates a stream of hypotheticals that the people least likely to be willing or able to stay fully informed are least likely to be willing or able to follow. If you focus on debunking the clear, objective lie (more libraries than Tim Hortonses), you're implying that the problematic logic that follows (that more libraries than Tim Hortonses would be a problem, that libraries should be cut) is not a problem. If you focus on the problematic conclusions, you're implying that the false premise is accurate and failing to call out the politician for a glaring objective falsehood.

But not enough people see this lying about objective facts as a massive deal-breaker problem that needs to be immediately and drastically nipped in the bud, because we're coming from this baseline conventional wisdom that of course politicians lie.

This makes me wonder how our political discourse would be different if these different kinds of lies were completely different concepts in our language and concept system. We can, of course, describe the different kinds of lies that exist using words and phrases, like I've done above, but they're all lies.  What would happen if they were different concepts, like apples and oranges? Yes, apples and oranges have things in common (they're both round and sweet and edible, they both fall into the broader category of "fruit" in our concept system), but they're clearly different things in our concept system.

If different kinds of lies were apples and oranges, no one would say "Of course that politician is oranging, everyone knows that politicians always apple." No one would say "Why are you calling out that politician for oranging but not that other politician for appling?"  People could be aghast that the politician oranged without even having to address the conventional wisdom that politicians apple, because they're two completely different concepts.

I wonder what our political discourse would look like then?

I wonder if there are any languages where different types of lies are completely discrete concepts?  I wonder if the cultures where those languages are spoken also have the conventional wisdom that politicians lie?

Sunday, February 05, 2017

How Google can solve the "post-truth" problem in one easy step

Google searches contain the option to refine results time posted. On the results page, click on "Tools", then click on the little drop-down arrow next to "Any time".

This means that Google maintains "last updated" metadata for the pages it crawls.  Which means that Google can sort results by date.

Google can use this power to combat the "post-truth" problem with one easy step: allow users to sort search results from oldest to newest.  That way, the very first instance of a particular combination of keywords will be right at the top.

This will make it a lot easier to see when a story or an alleged fact has been fabricated out of whole cloth, because the first result (or, at least, the first result that actually refers to the thing in question) is very recent and originates from the person making the false statement.

It would also be an incredibly useful feature to have in Google's Reverse Image Search. Often I do a reverse image search to find the origin of an image that's circulation, but the fact that even Google's relevance algorithm tends to favour novelty means I get pages and pages of results from social media. If we could easily show the oldest instances of an image first, we could quickly identify cases where someone is posting "This is what's happening right now" when really it's an image taken in a different country several years ago.

Google already has this data, as evidenced by the fact that it allows you to refine results by time posted. Any computer can sort by date. All Google has to do is put an "Oldest First" option on its interface, and everyone will be able to fact-check with a single click.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

How do people on the wrong side of the confidence gap perceive other people's abilities?

I blogged before about the notion of the confidence gap, where some people are loudly overconfident about their own abilities.

I wonder how these people who overestimate their own competence assess other people's abilities? ("Competence" is actually a better word than "abilities" for what I'm trying to express here, but the post rapidly became ridiculous with the conflation of the similar-looking and -sounding words "confidence" and " competence")

To make it easier to give examples, let's pretend that abilities can be measured in Ability Points.  Does a person who actually has 50 Ability Points but is overconfident enough to think they have 70 Ability Points perceive someone with 60 Ability Points as more competent or less competent?

Or do they equate loud overconfidence with ability, and so can't recognize that the quietly-competent person in the corner easily has at least 100 Ability Points, but the loudmouth down the hall only has 40 Ability Points on a good day?

I suppose you could also look at this from the other side: how do people with imposter syndrome perceive other people's abilities?

I can't tell you for certain that I underestimate my abilities, but both anecdotal evidence and other people's comments to my younger self suggest that I have done so in the past. (I'm too close to the present to accurately assess it.)  And during that time, I simply assumed that other people had the level of awesomeness that I myself felt subpar for lacking.  For example, I thought I had 50 Ability Points, and assumed that others had 100 Ability Points, when in fact they were within 10 Ability Points of me. (I'm too close to the situation to tell you objectively if that meant we both had ~50 Ability Points or ~100 Ability Points or some vastly different number.)

But that's when comparing myself to other translators in the realm of translation.  In other areas of life where I very clearly don't have particular expertise, if someone who is supposed to have particular expertise doesn't appear to be vastly better than I am in a way I can clearly perceive, I feel betrayed. If I'm right about something and my doctor or lawyer or realtor is wrong, I don't feel I can trust them. I have no idea if this is representative or just one of my personal neuroses.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things They Should Invent: bottled flat ginger ale

A common home remedy for an upset stomach or nausea is to drink flat ginger ale.

This is less easy than it could be, because ginger ale only comes carbonated, so you have to open it and pour it out and wait for it to go flat.

Solution: sell ginger ale that's already flat. If ginger ale can't be manufactured without first making it carbonated, then they should let it go flat before bottling it, and bottle it like water or juice or similar flat beverages.

The market for this: airlines (and, perhaps, other modes of transportation that provide food service and where people might get motion sick, like trains where you might have to sit backwards). Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to offer one of the standard home remedies for motion sickness in your standard drink selection?

Some parts of the internet suggest that flat ginger ale doesn't actually help with motion sickness, but I'm not sure that that matters. Other parts of the internet are convinced that it's panacea, so the demand does exist.  And if you're stuck in a plane for hours and fighting off airsickness with nothing but a basic drink selection to help you, wouldn't you choose the common home remedy just in case it helps? Even if it's a placebo effect, it might still bring relief, or, at a minimum, the comfort of feeling like you're doing something for your motion sickness. And if it does in fact work for some people, even if just as a placebo, all the better!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Did you need an invitation to join the French Resistence?

This idea occurred to me when thinking about the French Resistance during World War II (at least as portrayed in fiction), but I'd imagine it would apply to a wide range of resistance movements past, present and future.

A movement resisting tyranny wouldn't be able to recruit openly, because the very tyranny you're resisting would use this to identify who and where you are and eliminate you.

This would mean that if you want to join the resistance, you'd need to be invited, or know someone, or know someone who knows someone.

Which means that there might be perfectly competent - and perhaps even highly useful - people who want to participate in the resistance but can't join because they don't have the right connections, or because the resistance doesn't know about them.

And when there are highly competent (or highly enthusiastic) who want to join the resistance but can't get an in, they might start their own resistance. (Especially if the resistance that they can't get an in to join is particularly good at its secrecy - the would-be resistance members might not even know that it even exists.)

I wonder if there were ever multiple and competing resistance movements? (Like this scene in Life of Brian

I wonder if tyrants were ever able to play one resistance movement off another?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

What if there are perfectly unremarkable sexual proclivities that no human has ever had?

Humanity collectively has a mind-blowing range of sexual proclivities, so I've always operated under the assumption that every imaginable proclivity or variation must exist within the full scope of human experience.

But what if some things that we would expect to exist don't and never have? And what if some of the proclivities that have never existed are really unremarkable or benign compared to other proclivities that do exist?

For example, what if no one in human history has ever been turned on by the idea of their partner wearing a hat during sex?  What if no one has ever gotten off on having the back of their knees licked? Not these specific examples per se (I thought of them, so they probably aren't good examples of things no one has ever thought of), but what if there are things that are comparably unremarkable but no one in human history has ever found them sexy?  Even though there are people who get off on the idea of being eaten alive (Savage Love column, no graphic images but textual content NSFW).

Sunday, December 18, 2016


When Eddie Izzard was running marathons across South Africa and periscoping his progress, I repeatedly saw people in the comments asking how he gets wifi way out in the middle of nowhere.

I've recently seen people call into question the authenticity of civilian tweets from Syria by saying that wifi couldn't possibly be working with all the war constantly knocking out power and infrastructure.

In both these cases, it's glaringly obvious to me that they aren't using wifi, they're using their data plan. They don't need a wifi hotspot (or electricity if their phone is charged), they're using...I don't actually know - satellites or towers or whatever it is that transmits cellular data.

My first thought was to wonder if people are now using "wifi" as a synonym for any type of wireless internet, even when it's clearly not actual wifi.

But another thing I hear about from time to time is the possibility of introducing free wifi in public places as a public service. And when I think about it, the number of places that offer free wifi as an amenity seems to be increasing - restaurants and stores and malls and even the TTC have introduced it, and the trend seems to be towards more rather than less public wifi.

All this time I've been assuming that everyone has a data plan (except me, because I'm frugal with my cellphone use). But could it be that far fewer people than I expected have data plans and far more people than I expected are dependent on wifi - to the extent that it doesn't even occur to them that people might have another method of connectivity?