Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Links Old and New

Adrian Coyne discusses Quebec election debates in full utopian dream mode.  Imagine a place and time when ideas are discussed fully and openly.  Who has time for that?  One day, elections will be preceded by frank, in-depth discussion of the issues in a variety of formats that foster thoughtful insights to find the best course of action for government.  I do think that the one-on-one format could be an improvement on the usual 3,4 or 5-way formats often used in Canada, but keep dreaming Adrian.  It's a good dream.  Perhaps we could use blogs and Internet forums to discuss issues and find consensus.  I just don't think human nature is built for honest, open discussion - not from what I've seen so far.

Transgendered mother (trigger warning: creepy bearded lady) thinks that it's not enough to breast feed while sporting a goatie, but must become a breast-feeding leader for LeLeche League, or become a victim of "old-fashioned" human rights violations.  Strange Sentence: Mr. MacDonald said in an interview regarding mothering and fathering as two distinct concepts is “old fashioned.”
Culdesachero says:  This lady made a choice to have her body altered and to take hormones  to appear more like a man.  Then she changed her mind temporarily to give birth.  She needs supplemental milk fed through a tube to "breast feed" her child, but she thinks she'd be an ideal candidate for breast feeding coach.  I'm not certain, but, if I was a new mother seeking help for breast feeding (the epitome of female power), I don't think I would choose someone who has rejected her femininity.  Perhaps she should become a breast feeding consultant for other transgendered mothers (that position could require travel and long periods of unemployment).
I guess I'm dating myself by saying that my two children have ONE FATHER and ONE MOTHER (both wonderful people).

Economist blogge W.W. on social responsibility and corporations (i.e. Chick Filet). Interesting point: Doesn't the demand that corporations act responsibly in the interests of society, in ways other than profit-seeking, directly imply that corporate leaders who find same-sex marriage socially irresponsible should do something or other to discourage it?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

London 2012: Choreo-Gasm-A-Delic

I'm watching the closing ceremonies and I feel lie puking.  I've never-never-never been one for glossy, feel-good, highly choreographed entertainment.  The opening and closing ceremonies is always so full of this cheerful atmosphere that it becomes sickening to the cynical like me.

The London opening and closing ceremonies were more enjoyable than most, because of the focus on the music.  A lot of my favourite classic rock artists were highlighted in the mish-mash of music and dance.  Much of the music, however, is actually rather dark - unbecoming an extatic event like the Olympics.  No matter, they just choreograph the whole thing to with a few skipping, jumping dancers and everyobody feels ok.  The Who provided a brief medly for the finaly, graciously cutting out the chorus of "teenage wasteland" from Baba O'Reilly.  We're not introducing the image of drugged out mods on this scene featuring the world's top athletes.  But acts such as Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney (too hippy) and Muse(too dark and edgy) don't really fit the scene either.

Nevermind.  This is the Olympics and everything (I mean EVERYTHING) is wonderful(especially if it is British).  Criticism not welcome.  Everybody smile and be happy.

It would be fine if this lack of criticism was only extended to the ceremonies.  Britain gets to showcase the best their culture has to offer, past and present.  However, the Olympic spirit is also taking this one step further into the realm of the athletics.

Nobody seems to be asking questions about mechanically enhanced athletes.  I don't mean to belittle the feat of a double amputee running as the fastest athletes in the world.  I think it's a great achievement of engineering and personal will.  In a word, it is awesome.  But, you cannot tell me that this Oscar Pistorius is participating in the same sport as the other runners in this race.

Read one reporter's fauning op-ed about the heart of this athlete.

The Wikipedia article mentions the struggle he endured to be approved.
After a two-day hearing, on 16 May 2008 the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Pistorius's appeal and the IAAF council decision was revoked with immediate effect. The CAS panel unanimously determined that Dr. Br├╝ggemann tested Pistorius's biomechanics only at full-speed when he was running in a straight line (unlike a real 400-metre race); that the report did not consider the disadvantages that Pistorius suffers at the start and acceleration phases of the race; and that overall there was no evidence that he had any net advantage over able-bodied athletes.
So, the test to prove whether an advantage was gained was pushed aside because it did not take into account certain disadvantages.  Here is the biggest question that nobody wants to ask.  What will happen when those disadvantages are eliminated through developments in the technology?  If Pistorius is given an advantage at full speed and can start just as well as a regular runner, would the entire apparatus not be considered advantageous?  Human ingenuity will eventually overcome all of the short comings and allow amputees to run faster than anyone else; this is absolutely inevitable and likely happening sooner than later - 2016 perhaps?
Here, then, we are brought to a cross-roads.  Either, ban all limb replacement devices and mechanical assistance in running sports or regulate them to provide no apparent advantage.  It is no easy task to determine some level of advantage gained by replacement legs.  Considering that without any mechanical apparatus, he would not be able to run at all, any apparatus is an advantage.

But ignoring that fact, as the IAAF seems to do, officials would have to determine some standard by which any apparatus could be judged and accepted.  The mechanical advantage would have to be similar to the human body and engineers would basically have to calibrate it as such.  The question would be, to what kind of human should it be calibrated.  Usain Bolt is the worlds fastest human.  Would it be fair, then, to provide a leg that provides as much energy return as a Usain Bolt leg?

This is where it gets morally sticky.  Amputees would be given Usain Bolt legs (or whatever standard is decided upon), while everyone else would get the legs that they're born with.  In that context, would not mechanical legs be considered an unfair advantage?  If you take 100 amputee athletes, you could simply customize a leg for each one and have half of them running the 100m in 10 seconds, albeit with hard training.  You could random pick 100 able bodied athletes and no mater how hard they trained, you'd be lucky to find one to run near 10 seconds.  Again, I can't deny Pistorius heart and desire, but it is simply unfathomable, that he his anything more than a good athlete.  Good is fine, but the competition at the Olympics MUST be elite.  If you can take a good athlete and attach an apparatus to his body and make his run about as fast as elite athletes it is called cheating.  Why can we allow this if we are so upset at the mere allegation of drug enhanced performance?

How long before the first person has his legs replaced on purpose to allow for faster replacement legs to be attached?  How long before it is a common practice, like Tommy John's surgery is for baseball pitchers?

One day Usaine Bolt's records will be broken. If it is by a man who has his legs amputated and is wearing similar devices, will people be able to honestly look him in the eye and that it is the same as what he did?  Or, will our Very-Nice People in charge of the Olympics with their feel-good politics and inability to speak truth when it might hurt go into overdrive as we gush for the all-wonderful Olympic Dream?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marketing Newspeak in Everyday Conversations: Playpen or Play Yard

I recently had a conversation with some friends that went basically like this:

Friend: "My baby is outgrowing the bassinet. I think it's time to put him in a crib."
Culdesachero: "I guess he's growing."
F:"Yeah, it's a lot sooner than with our first. We didn't move her until she was X months old."
C: "Oh really, interesting."
F:"Of course, with her we didn't move her directly into the crib."
C: "Where did you move her?"
F:"Well, she moved to the play yard first."
C: "You had her sleeping, like, on the floor?"
F: (Slightly indignant) "No, of course not. It was in the play yard."
C: "I'm sorry, what do you mean by play yard?"
F:"It's a square thing you put the kid in so they don't get hurt. But this has extra sleeping and change table attachments."
C: "Oh, so it sounds just like the playpen we had for ours."
F:"Yeah, but they're also called play yards."
"Sorry, when I think of a play yard, I think of those little fences with gates where you just go in." making little gate-swinging motion.
F:"No. A play yard has a floor..."
C: "I guess a couple of years makes a big difference in the language."
F: Scoffs.
C: "It's still called a playpen. No matter what the marketing geniuses try to rebrand their product as. It sounds like they're just trying to separate the idea that you're penning your child in there like a dog."
F: "huh? That's just what they call it."
C: Cheekily, "It's CALLED a playpen. You don't have to invent new words. The word already exists."
F: "Well, at least you're open minded about it."
C: Laughing, "That's me, Mr. Open-minded."

Inside, I was facepalming like mad. If I hadn't deflected the conversation in a lighthearted, self-deprecating, "I'm-so-stuck-in-my-ways" manner to let everyone know that I understand that it's not really a big deal, this could have gotten pretty heated. Still, the point was made, although, I'm sure some participants and observers are of the opinion that I'm just a jerk.

Child exercising in "The Yard"
Do I take life too seriously? It amazes me how people accept corporate re-branding and renaming things that have existed for centuries with so little thought. Am I the only one bothered by this? Three years ago, nobody would have equated the terms playpen and play yard. Now, because my friends either read about play yards somewhere in some corporate-sponsored articles or talked to a slick saleperson who insisted on calling them play yards instead of playpens, they've completely erased the term playpen with this newspeak term play yard at the behest of marketing executives. (Yes, I really think about these things.)
I've never looked at one of these things and said, "Wow, look at that yard for babies to play in". I've never met a baby who liked to play in one regardless of the term used to describe it, but that's besides the point. The definition of yard means basically, a tract of ground next to, surrounding, or surrounded by a building or buildings, ofen enclosed. Whereas, a pen is defined as a fenced enclosure for keeping animals. This does not mean that pens have floors, but the definition of yard specifically mentions the word ground. So, pen may or may not have a floor, while a yard can not have a floor (other than the ground). Therefore, play yard is an incorrect term for a device with a floor designed to safely, temporarily confine and hopefully entertain small children while mom and dad are busy, but within earshot. But, you say, this is for indoors. Ah, I guess I'll give you that, but if you were to extend the definition of yard to an enlosed indoor area, the floor of the room would become proxy for the ground in that case, meaning you can call an enclosed area of floor could rightly be called a pen or a yard, a playpen that keeps the child off of the floor could not be called a yard.

Wikipedia currently has the following definition:
A playpen is a piece of furniture in which an infant or young toddler (typically those less than 35" tall and 30 lbs) is placed to prevent self-harm when her/his parent or guardian is occupied or away. The earliest use of the word "playpen" cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1902. More recently they have also been called "playards".
Recently(?) they have also been called playards????  Try, recently, a marketers have tried to remove the negative connotations of penning children like pigs, replacing it with the notion that they can be let "out" into the "yard" as if for fresh air.  I'm sure Lenore Skenazy could have some spin on this.  I mean, parents are being reported to police for letting their children play unattended in their own back yards.  Could this be the "yard" of the future?

I can picture the smarmy salesman speaking to the soon-to-be parent:
Mom-to-be: "But, I would never confine my child in a pen like a pig or a dog!"
Smarmy Salesman: "Of course not, madam, that's why you should consider our newest line of play YARDS for your precious ones. They'll enjoy the yard while you do their laundry or heat up their Kraft Dinner."
Mom-to-be: "Oh, well if you put it that way."

Makers of playpens have always had to deal with the notions of these insensible people who can't decipher between keeping an animal in a pen and confining your child to a safe place for short periods of time while you take care of important personal and household matters. The term pen always holds these connotations and, in the mind of marketers, prevents sales from reaching their full potential. So, they've invented a new word and are doing their best to wipe the old, more accurate, term off the face of the earth. When I google playpen, I get over 6,000,000 hits and images are fairly uniformly of playpens. "Play Yard" in quotes gets just under 3,000,000 and images vary widely between playpens and outside yards suitable for play. What we are witnessing is a corporate sponsored shifting point between these two terms. Nobody is much bothered by it except people like me who actually feel meaning behind words is important and who resist new expressions that loose accuracy. Granted, PLAYpen is using the word "play" fairly liberally, since all most kids do in them is scream to be let out.

Since the PC cleansing of our language that replaced such horrible terms as fireman, manhole cover and retarded with more inclusive or pleasant sounding firefighter, maintenance hole cover and developmentally delayed, we have become primed for such language adjustments. Strangely, it bothers me less that fireman has been changed to firefighter because at least the term does not conflict with its meaning. I'll still say fireman or firefighter interchangeably, but, I will not say play yard for a child containment device that has a raised floor.

Such conflicting terms have always bothered me, even before I finally completed Orwell's 1984 and learned more about the purpose and origin of Newspeak. It bothers me regardless of the motivations (power, money, goodwill). But, what truly disturbs me, is the ease with which the new words are accepted by people. I have this alarm in my brain that goes off whenever I see or hear something that conflicts with my previously held truths. If you tell me that something is blue and opaque and it is obvious to me that it is clear and yellow, my internal-conflic alarm will go off and I'll be forced to call you on your misconception. You cannot then say to me, "Let's agree to compromise and meet half-way. Perhaps it is green and transluscent." There is no perhaps about it. I can see that it is yellow and I can see through it clearly. There is no discussion. Your assessment is incorrect. As Winston Smith said, 2 + 2 = 4.