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March 2, 2011

Dutch lessons
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:00 PM * 192 comments

I was getting ready to go to work this morning, choosing whether to be impolitic in the red pashmina* or more neutral in the purple one. And Fiona’s conversation suddenly turned wildly incomprehensible.

The red one, that’s anger, and fighting back. If the one you’re wearing now is blue, that’s walking backwards and being quiet. And you could pretend that this orange one is yellow. Then it would be talking about things.

Alex chimed in.

Yellow is the only way that both of you win. Red means you both lose, and blue is win-lose.

I’ve been a parent long enough to know that children only seem to talk in koans. There’s usually underlying sense there, if you can only find the pattern.

It turns out that it’s part of their school’s social skills program, de vreedzame school†. One of the modules is about different responses to aggression. “Red” is meeting it with your own aggression. “Blue” is retreating in the face of it. And “yellow” is talking things out. The kids have been role-playing the different approaches, learning techniques to turn conflict into dialog. It’s a valued skill, here.

I’ve seen this stuff in action, too. A couple of weeks ago, Alex was late coming out of the school building at the end of the day. So I went in to fish him out. He was standing by the coat rack outside of his classroom, looking vexed. I came up to him and started to ask him what was up when J, one of his classmates, walked over.

Addressing me civilly, he explained that Alex and D, another boy in the class, had had a quarrel, and they needed to make it up. I could see D sitting on a windowsill down the hall, hunched up and sulky. When I nodded that it was OK, J steered Alex over to D. I eavesdropped as he did a very graceful job of mediating between them, not so much about the foundation of their disagreement (I never found out what it was) as about the subsequent emotions. He explained their feelings to each other, persuaded them to apologize to one another, admit to being friends, and shake hands.

Now, J is clearly an extraordinary kid. He’s a couple of years too young to be one of the school’s official peer mediators, but he’s got a real aptitude for moderation. However, he’s obviously been trained how to use that talent, and his classmates have been taught to respect and value the role he played.

Frankly, I’m envious. It’s not a perfect environment; there is still teasing and bad behavior. Kids are kids. But I’d love to have been given lessons in conflict resolution in primary school.

* I wear them draped over my shoulders most of the day. But the red one is special: I tell people I redye it occasionally in the blood of careless developers. However, considering that we had to roll back a priority implementation yesterday, and the fault is about even between dev and QA, it seemed like a bad time to wear the red one.
† the peaceful school

Comments on Dutch lessons:
#1 ::: Liz Ditz ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 04:16 PM:

If readers would like more information, the general approach is (mostly) called "social and emotional literacy"or "learning" and is making inroads in USian schools.

Two good places to start and

#2 ::: Keith E. ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 04:25 PM:

Is it sad that my first thought is, "this would never fly in certain parts of the US, because the parents would cry bloody murder that the school was indoctrinating their kids with liberal, sissy ideology and would rather the kids beat each other bloody, like patriotic Americans."?

Clearly I've been reading too many political blogs.

#3 ::: marc sobel ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 04:55 PM:

That's interesting. The Texas solution is to let the kids carry and deal with their problems as adults.

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 05:03 PM:

marc, #3: "An armed society is a polite society" is another one of those aphorisms that only works when you have an author standing over you to make sure it works. I suspect we'll be finding that out over the next couple of years, and feel sorry in advance for the grieving parents.

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 05:09 PM:

I am full of admiration at all those children.

#6 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 05:35 PM:

Oh, I wish we'd had that. Then I wouldn't need to be going on AVP courses now...

#7 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 06:17 PM:

I've been seeing more of this in my daughter's schools--partly because for a long time San Francisco was plagued by gang violence, and teaching mediation skills was one of a many-pronged approach to reducing it. There's more in middle school and high school than in elementary school (which is where my younger daughter needed it most--in 4th grade the Mean Girls came out and targeted her, as the only Anglo girl in the grade).

There are always some kids, like J, who are particularly gifted in this way. I really admire the fact that the school has given him tools to mediate, and that the other kids accept the mediation.

Of appalling number of decades ago, I went to a school that made attempts at teaching this sort of conflict resolution. It was terrific--except that the kids who were inclined to bully by exclusion or ostracism used the lessons as guidelines on how to avoid being caught...

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 06:22 PM:

"I've been reading too many political blogs."

Or, in my case, hobby blogs where the troglodytes feel a need to share their spittle-flecked nutjobbery.

#9 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 06:28 PM:

Re: Lee, #4. "An armed society is a polite society" is a catchy Heinlein aphorism, but the only real example in the US is street gangs. I wouldn't say polite is how their members are described. :)

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 07:14 PM:

Lüscher Color Diagnostic + Transactional Analysis = Win?

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 07:20 PM:

This is wonderful. I do wish I'd had that kind of training.

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 07:21 PM:

And hell, I'll say it: why does Texas, not a bastion of civilization in the first place, insist on doing everything possible to get less and less civilized?

#13 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 07:58 PM:

@9: Or the Mafia. In both cases, they're certainly quite concerned with etiquette, considering an infraction can be fatal, but some people consider their disregard for *ordinary* laws (including the use of murder to privately enforce the unwritten ones) rather impolite.

One of the recurring problems with politeness is the occurrence of situations where two people each sincerely (and, often, self-righteously) believe that it is the other who is being impolite.[1] The armed society tends to resolve this with a duel, or even less formal violence, and if this is itself considered impolite, then it leads to blood feuds and vendettas.

Indeed, you could say that if the "etiquette" was well-developed enough to decisively and nonviolently determine who was in the wrong, it would be a legal system.

[1] Of course it's also possible for one person to sincerely believe that, and another to insincerely claim it. But that's not necessary to produce conflict -- ordinary mistakes and misunderstandings are sufficient.

#14 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 08:03 PM:

"This is Media-Break. Top story, Austin. The threat of weaponized semiotic confrontation in Central Texas escalated today when the democratic government of that besieged city-state unveiled an Open Source wikileak cluster munition and affirmed that it would use it as the city's last line of defense." -- RoboCop 2013

#15 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 08:55 PM:

OP: I wish I'd had that too -- not just for conflict resolution, but for all the social modeling and feedback that goes with it!

Earl #14: RoboCop? sounds more like Vinge. ;-)

#16 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 09:18 PM:

David Harmon @15 -- Earl Cooley III @14 sounds much more like Brunner's The Jagged Orbit than either Vinge or Robocop to me!

And it's wonderful to hear this sort of thing being taught so young. I don't know where I picked it up, but I seem to have gotten a good dose of how-to-do-it myself. It's amazing when it works.

#17 ::: DN ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 09:26 PM:

So I'm the only one this gives a little bit of the creeping willies to?

Besides all of Texas and whomever else has already been identified as distasteful, I mean.

#18 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 09:32 PM:

Would you care to expand on those "creeping willies", DN? I'm curious about what it's hitting that raises them.

#19 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 09:47 PM:

The kids in my son's Montessori elementary school learn conflict resolution methods, though I think it's not as developed as this system. They are taught to deal with interpersonal conflicts in class using a system called the "Peace Rose", which builds on active listening techniques.

(Yeah, that would go over even worse with a lot of insecure macho types.)

#20 ::: DN ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 10:04 PM:

Tom, so am I. It's mostly visceral.

Part of it is the pure systematization, I guess. And an uneasiness with social engineering generally speaking. Madeleine @7 put words to part of it, at the end of her post -- it somehow feels like a tool to be manipulated, as if the realm for conflict has moved from the regular one of physicality and emotion to one of method. Of course, any tool can be manipulated, and that doesn't invalidate it.

#21 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2011, 10:25 PM:

I wonder whether that very systematization isn't a reflection of the rise of Asperger's in people minds: a systematic approach to conflict resolution has some obvious benefits. And what Madeleine points to isn't subverting the tool, but getting around it, IMO. I'd appreciate more unpacking when/if you can; I can see that someone would have such a response, and I remain curious about it. It may point out some un-examined consequences.

#22 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:02 AM:

I remember actually seeing some educational film or other about Transactional Analysis in junior high school. But it didn't help much.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:32 AM:

A few contextual points:

  1. My husband, who was raised in the Netherlands, didn't get this kind of instruction. This isn't a universal, timeless thing; it's a new approach.

  2. Remember that this is a society that prioritizes and valorizes discussion above pretty much everything else. I've discussed this before. Collaboration and cooperation is an expectation of Dutch culture, and this is merely a way of teaching kids to be good at it. De vreedzaamde school is a more systematic thing than the countless little nursery rhymes, songs, aphorisms, fairy tales, and subtle expectations that surround Dutch children, but the cultural pressure has always been there to work together and talk things out here.

  3. In addition to being happy to openly discuss these things, the Dutch are willing to do explicit social engineering (after carefully discussing the pros and cons and considering all viewpoints). One thing I have come to understand is that our American resistance to social engineering is not a universal reaction or an automatic good, any more than English speakers' aesthetic problems with spelling reform (which the Dutch also do periodically) is.

    Another area that this affects is sex education (though since the eldest is nine, we haven't hit the things that will startle me). The Dutch have also re-engineered their approach to that, which results in (a) some astonishingly frank (though always age-appropriate) discussions, and (b) an extremely low rate of teenage pregnancy.

  4. There's not as much perception of "the rise of Asperger's" in people's minds here. Nor, in my purely anecdotal experience, is it a widespread diagnosis. I know one diagnosed kid here, and my son, who comes from an Aspie family, was evaluated for it and not diagnosed with it, though he has many of the characteristics.

I'm interested in DN's reaction, too, but it might be useful if we could get a brief explanation of the cultural background that that reaction comes from. Because the big lesson for me, living abroad, is that the American expectations and values that I grew up thinking were universal...aren't.

#24 ::: John D. Berry ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:32 AM:

Although this is entirely new to me, it reminds me of my first impression of the Netherlands, when I visited in 1969: like the United States but without the frontier. The Dutch seemed more like us than any other European people (including the English).

I still think there's something to that perception, though I have many more layers of knowledge and occasional insight since then.

#25 ::: Nicole Fitzhugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:39 AM:

We used a conflict resolution system at the elementary school where I used to work. It had a formal process, which we taught/ reviewed at the beginning of the school year. It taught the kids some important things about conflict in general. One important thing is that some types of conflict are inevitable parts of group relations, and that some conflicts are more serious than others. It allowed each student to identify when a conflict took place, and forced others to recognize when someone felt there was a problem. It made them take turns listening and speaking, and required them to use I-messages (vs. "you always..." types of language.) It made them both agree on a solution and record it so that if the agreement was violated it could be proved. It was very positive for students lower on the social hierarchy because it gave them a voice. It also took time, which made some behaviors less worthwhile (if you keep cheating in handball, you have to keep having conflict meetings, & then you don't get to play at all.) Also, outright breaking of the rules didn't get conflict resolution, it got consequences. You don't have to tell someone "I didn't like it when you hit me," you just told the adult. Part of the training was reinforcing that sometimes you need adult support, and part of the teacher training was how to be a supportive adult.
It was not perfect, but nor was it social engineering in any negative sense. Being forced to acknowledge everyone's feelings is not a negative result, in my experience.

#26 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 01:54 AM:

With apologies to DN, I believe social engineering might prove to be the second-person-plural conjugation of the verb phrase:
We teach values to our children;
You are social engineering children;
They are brainwashing helpless children!

#27 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 01:55 AM:

Social engineering, like ideology, is always what the other person does. But one of the core functions of any society is teaching people how to continually reproduce that society: it's all social engineering. It's happening whether you know it or not, so you might as well do it self-consciously and mindfully.

#28 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 02:06 AM:

I hasten to add that I think this sort of social engineering (if that's what it is) is immensely helpful. The more kids who have the skills to mediate, and the understanding to allow someone to mediate for them when they're in a difficult place, the harder it will be for the kids who want to manipulate the system to pull it off. The (far less sophisticated) conflict management stuff I was taught as a kid at Little Red School House in the early 60s was a few steps more advanced than "play nice," and the most manipulative kids did learn to appear to play nice, while doing elsewise. But I still carry a lot of those lessons with me, and they've stood me in good stead in defusing tense situations and generally getting people to deal effectively with each other.

#29 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 02:27 AM:

The Asperger's was a random thought -- glad to let it go, abi. And you're right that it'd be nice to know DN's cultural background (not in detail, but in general terms, DN -- no attempt to suss out who you are!).

I don't see a problem with this approach to training kids unless people actively lie (rather like the paradigm in Getting to Yes). And there's no obvious way to work around people lying (unless they do it continually).

#30 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:32 AM:

"An armed society is a polite society" is a quote from a character in Beyond This Horizon, and what he lived in was an armed society, and a dueling society, and a bullying society, and a bored and decadent society.

I like to think Heinlein knew at the time that people make up plausible-sounding nonsense to defend what they want to do anyway.

By The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein seems to have come to believe that an armed society is a polite society, though there's one possible crack in the idea. The viewpoint character is from an elite family-- we don't see much of what life is like for the stilyagi.

#2 ::: Keith E.:

It might be worth posting something about teaching conflict resolution to kids to conservative blogs to see what the actual reactions are.

#31 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 05:16 AM:

I would guess that the red pashmina is carmine, and that its color must occasionally be renewed with the dissolved bodies of thousands of stomped bugs.

#32 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 06:57 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 30: "An armed society is a polite society" is getting an is from an ought. There is a very obvious reason why an armed society might be polite, in an arms-dependent manner. But it might be just silent and violent instead - or hyperpolarized in its distribution of politeness and rudeness. I don't think the argument is nonsense of itself: I do think it's attractive nonsense inasmuch as it considers people only in their capacities as rational arms-bearers, neglecting the possibility that their society might have one or even two other dynamics as well.

Not to lead this off into a herd of gnus, it occurs to me that arguments about armed citizenries often - as the Heinlein one does here - conflate two very different propositions:

1) Altering the typical stakes in hostile interactions will have $Effect;

2) Altering the typical capability differentials in hostile interaction will have $Effect.

I don't think these necessarily lead the same way at all.

So, curving back again towards Abi's original point, suppose we applied both those questions to the rather large set of human clashes that stay purely verbal and emotional?

1a) Is a harsh, touchy, or unforgiving society a politer society than a gentle, easy-going, or forgiving one?

2a) Is a rigid, hierarchical, or differentiated society a politer society than a fluid, egalitarian, or generalist one?

I suspect the answers may be undefined again. But I also suspect that, for any given society, the questions are well worth looking at.

My first intuition in every case is "lower stakes good, equal competence good," and that sometimes the two tug in different directions. I'm not very confident that it works out so simply, though.

#33 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:23 AM:

We have plenty of evidence to weigh the 'armed/polite' assertion. The European nobility in the early-modern period attempted to make this connection between the preservation of personal honour and the possibility of violent retaliation. The result was an endemic culture of duelling, which was quite far removed from the highly-regulated and 'gentlemanly' forms into which it evolved by the later C18 - a point in time noted for the fact that men largely ceased to go armed.

When the carriage of personal weapons was commonplace, in the C16 and C17, 'duelling' was more likely to resemble brawling; when it did not closely equate to ambush, crossfire, home-invasion or a variety of other premeditated and murderous practices. Dumas's writings on the 3 Musketeers give a sanitised and retrospective view of this, but one in which it is clear that 'politeness' required the running-through of enemies. For a more disillusioned view, I recommend this book:

From the blurb: "as this original work of archival research shows we continue to romanticize violence in the era of the swashbuckling swordsman. In France, thousands of men died in duels in which the rules of the game were regularly flouted. Many duels were in fact mini-battles and must be seen not as a replacement of the blood feud, but as a continuation of vengeance-taking in a much bloodier form."

An armed society, it turns out, is one in which it's always safer to shoot first.

#34 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:35 AM:

heresiarch: Amen.

Gray Woodland #32: There's also the point that one of the functions of society is to be more forgiving than a state of nature! A society where you seriously need to worry every day about getting killed by your co-citizens, is not a terribly functional society.

#35 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:55 AM:

There's also the fact that "polite" does not necessarily mean "nice," or "kind," or "egalitarian" or "considerate of the feelings of others" -- it can also mean things like "hyperconscious of distinctions of rank and forms of expected social behavior" and "hypervigilant in enforcing social norms and distinctions."

#36 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:57 AM:

Re #34: Yeah, what's the Conan quote? "Barbarians are more polite, because a civilized man knows he can be rude without getting his head bashed in, as a general rule." (Quote from memory and therefore apprx.)

The issue being that Howard presented that line as if it were a bad thing.

#37 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:11 AM:

Trying to unpack my nervous admiration a bit.

I grew up in an Amish-Mennonite community, in Appalachia. To say those two cultures have different approaches to violence is an understatement. So in my family/church culture, violence was wrong. Period. Pushing, hitting, and such like were MAJOR offenses. So far, the admiration.

The problem is that disputes tended to change from "who did wrong" to "who followed the right approach to resolving the issue?" And I was always socially awkward, and somewhat clueless, and my family were outsiders--so that question tended to be to my disadvantage, and I felt that often I got in more trouble for clumsy attempts at resolution than the person who'd actually started out acting badly did. I'm good at gaming rules, but I'm not good at reading people. And this feels like one of those rules that the popular and clued-in can use to further disadvantage and diminish the weird and clueless.

And yes, that's probably more driven by history than anything else.

The other problem was that our nonresistance was always a reason that "we're better than them" wrt to the surrounding society--and a lot of times they were kind and thoughtful in important ways that we weren't.

#38 ::: a chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:25 AM:

Well. My little thought on this doesn't address deeper cultural and ethical questions, but I'll jump in anyway: "Me too." I really could have used some training in mediation (and negotiation) as a kid.

Did anyone else misread Liz's (#1) comment to say that "learning" was making inroads in USian schools? I had to read it three times to understand the intent (judge me as you will). Gave me a giggle.

#39 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 10:42 AM:

#37 ::: SamChevre:

One of my reactions to Abi's account was that it could work out as the person who was aggressed against is obligated to make nice regardless of how they actually feel-- not that I have issues about trust and authority, you understand.

Maybe that's the issue-- I was harassed a lot at school, and I'll goddamned if I'll see it as a matter for conflict resolution if conflict resolution means that both sides have legitimate points as distinct from real emotions. Oh, those poor girls who just couldn't take it because I'd rather read before class. And my feet turn out. And I'm short.

On the other hand, conflict resolution of any sort wasn't attempted, and there may well be an honest version which isn't the default way I imagine it.

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 10:53 AM:

the boys i mean are not refined ...

#41 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:25 PM:

DN @20: it somehow feels like a tool to be manipulated, as if the realm for conflict has moved from the regular one of physicality and emotion to one of method.

You mean, like in Patrick's Particle?

#42 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 12:52 PM:

marc sobel@3: The proposed change to Texas law will not change the age requirement, or any other requirement, for carrying a firearm in Texas. All it will do is remove the specific prohibition from carrying on college campuses. The people who would be allowed to carry on campus are already allowed to carry in WalMart, Starbucks, and so forth.

Since the age is and would remain 21, this is largely about allowing faculty and staff to carry (though some non-traditional students and graduate students will also be old enough to qualify).

Your statement "let the kids carry" is just plain false as a description of what that bill in Texas would do.

(And I wish to point out to the commentariat at large that I don't start these things. People drag guns in, sometimes out of left field like this. What I do is refuse to let the falsehoods stand unchallenged (the Texas law in question would not "let kids carry"). And occasionally argue about policy; but that I can sometimes let pass.)

#43 ::: Quixote ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 01:22 PM:

Delurking briefly to add why this gives me the creeping willies.

I can easily imagine a scenario where mediation is used as long as the grown-ups are present and bullying rears its ugly head when they are not. This can include the mediating child as one of the bullies. Look proper when being observed, resume bullying when not. Use mediation techniques to make yourself look like the reasonable party and inoculate yourself from accusations from the bullied child. I can easily imagine it because that was my elementary school experience.

So my thoughts are simple: Teach civility and politeness and mediation skills. Teach the children to use them first. But also teach them to defend themselves if the time comes.

#44 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 01:42 PM:

ddb, #42: In the interest of counteracting falsehoods... most college students reach age 21 during their junior year. So saying that this bill "won't let kids carry" (or that only a few "non-traditional" students will be able to) is palming a card at best.

Not to mention the irony of this happening in the state infamous for the clock tower sniper.

#45 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 01:58 PM:

"Talking things out" as the only acceptable alternative, rather than disengaging entirely, assumes the the aggressor is at some level willing to see reason, and that conversation with them can have a beneficial outcome. This may be true in some cases. It was not true in my experience as a verbally bullied child.

I think this approach has great merit in the cases of a two-sided argument rather than a one-sided bullying or harassing situation, but I don't like using it as a one-size-fits-all approach. It seems to share something with the "moderate" approach to issues of taking the positions stated by both sides of a political issue, no matter what they are, and declaring a point in the middle to be the "reasonable" position. Sometimes one party really is just wrong.

#46 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 02:06 PM:

@DN #20: "it somehow feels like a tool to be manipulated, as if the realm for conflict has moved from the regular one of physicality and emotion to one of method"

Or it makes plainer that, as Lois McMaster Bujold once wrote, The first and last battleground is the human mind. All the rest is just manoeuvering.

Plainer than in the alternative, at least. (This is why I was never impressed by the Heinlein aphorism, BTW. An armed society can only be "a polite society" if everybody has their emotions firmly in check in the first place. Which is a logical fallacy: it supposes the problem is already solved for the solution to work.)

#47 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 02:13 PM:

I've just checked back with one of my primary sources, and she says that this is not the only style of interpersonal interaction they're taught. They are also taught about disengaging if someone is "pesting" (bullying, teasing, verbally abusing) them. And I can confirm from previous situations that the teachers are genuinely and intelligently on-side in dealing with persistent bullying at the school.

This skillset is about genuine conflict: a difference of opinion giving rise to interpersonal hostility.

Also, note that in the Netherlands there is no expectation that you will necessarily come to agreement (though the way they deal with conflict does improve the chances). You're expected to hear the other side out, politely, and be clear in your own exposition of your position. The two parties aren't required to agree. They're just to work together and live alongside one another without hostility as they disagree.

#48 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 02:44 PM:

Kids getting conflict resolution and active listening training? That - is freaking awesome, as the current idiom around here would word it.

TomB @ 31 - red dye from cochineal bugs is actually one of the longest lasting natural dyestuffs, witness textile relics from Peru with rich rich reds from 6000-odd years ago. Fascinating stuffe.

#49 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:00 PM:

Lee #44:

Not to mention the library incident last fall; mercifully, the only person killed (or even injured) was the 19-year-old shooter, a math major whose father had given him the AK-47.

#50 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:17 PM:

Lee@44: You're reversing the definitions, then? Saying they're "kids" because they're still in college, even though they've reached age 21?

I can't make your numbers come out. I had to get special permission and testing to start school when I did instead of waiting a year, which means I'm younger than most people in my class. I turned 18 the fall I started college, so I didn't turn 21 until the start of my senior year -- and, as I say, I'm younger than most people in my class (my birthday is in September).

But even if entry dates have changed or something, and your claim that most people turn 21 their junior year is right, that's a small portion of the student body. And it's not the portion that's being talked about. The people actually pushing such laws think the adults working on campus should be able to carry. They do also think that anybody otherwise able to carry should be able to carry on campus -- it's all part of the general argument; we think allowing adults with a clean record to carry makes everybody around them safer.

Remember, they're adults from age 18.

You claim irony in the connection to the first famous school shooting, the clock tower sniper. Why? Given his clear intention to commit a mass shooting, do you think a law forbidding carry on campus would have stopped him? Do you even know there wasn't such a law at the time? What stopped him, in the end, was gunfire from police. And what kept the death toll down was gunfire from civilians, who used personal firearms to return fire and cause Whitman to seek cover and avoid exposing himself to sight (interfering with his ability to shoot, in particular greatly limiting the directions he could shoot). I find it ironic that you're trying to use that case, where law-abiding citizens using firearms were clearly part of the solution, as an argument against civilians having firearms on campus.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:26 PM:

Must we? Again?

#52 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:32 PM:

Chiming in a bit uncomfortably: ddb's buttons are being mashed, so he's stimulus-responsing. Reasonably so, in my opinion, though perhaps at more length than the discussion requires.

HOWEVER. He did not start it, and the initial post does contain an awful lot of densely-packed resentment and anger towards all gun-owners (and Texans, and ...), and illictly conflated college students with GRADE SCHOOL KIDS.

I think we can probably drop the subthread entirely from further responses, without losing much to the discussion, but I can see why ddb felt attacked by the initial poster's (probably also button-mashed, stimulus-response) sudden vitriol.

And I really hope I'm not dogpiling or derailing my ownself; I've been trying to learn the gentle art of disagreeing without being disagreeable through my years of lurking, but I have no idea if I'm doing it well or not.

#53 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:34 PM:

Argh. In my @52, all uses of 'initial post' mean marc sobel @3, not abi's top post. Of course. I really wish I'd caught that BEFORE hitting post, instead of just after ... as many times as I rewrote that comment, you'd think I'd've noticed I hadn't gone and gotten the comment number yet, but no.

#54 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:48 PM:

abi @47: I've just checked back with one of my primary sources, and she says

I love the Internet! To hear about a practice used by a different culture on the other side of the world, and then to hear questions raised about it, and then to get back responses to those questions in near real time...the future is very cool.

Oh, yeah, and let me join the chorus of wistful sighs about getting this training at a formative age....

These skills would make my life at work much easer, as only one example.

#55 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:53 PM:

If gnu discussants wish to continue, maybe move to the open thread? Elliott @52, you did fine, for my money.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:55 PM:

Elliot @52:

Well and gracefully said, and at the right time, too.

Were I to try to improve it at all, it would be to change "I think we can probably drop the subthread..." to a question "Could we perhaps drop the subthread? I don't think we'd lose much of the discussion..."

That gives the others in the discussion more of a feeling of control; some people react badly to statements that sound like exertions of control over the conversation. They bounce off and become aggressive and negative, even if they weren't involved in the original clash.

But that's really the difference between an A and an A+, and I only mention it because you said I have no idea if I'm doing it well or not.

You are.

#57 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 03:57 PM:

abi: So what I want to know is: Is this training a longitudinal track that continues and deepens as one passes through one's school career? Really nifty, if so, as that would be more successful in instilling the relevant habits of thought than, say, a once-a-year brush-up would, for example. (Or, what I've run into more often, which is a once-and-then-you-move-on-and-forget class.)

#58 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:02 PM:

abi@51: I'd be happier without it myself.

After marc sobel's message@3, I waited until the next day, and over 30 responses, before I said anything.

@3 expressed what seemed to me a substantively incorrect understanding of the law it ridiculed. It was also very laden with negative emotions. People could very easily come away from that (and some of the actual news coverage, as well) with the idea that Texas was proposing to make special rules for campuses to allow students to carry weapons. And they'd probably think that was totally crazy. And this would contribute to their general impression that people favoring the right to carry were basically crazy. Including me.

My choice at that point is to remain silent and essentially consent to that view, or to raise objections. That's really not something I've ever found a difficult choice.

If people want to not discuss firearms law, the way to achieve that is to...not discuss firearms law. I don't think it's reasonable to expect one side to keep quiet and let a discussion assuming the other side of the issue go on without saying anything.

Since we can't control when somebody else might bring something up, a few suggestions for when somebody does, and you wish they hadn't:

If a person or two had said "Please, let's not drag that in again", it would have helped me let it pass. If somebody had corrected the factual error (perhaps more concisely, as per Elliot Mason@52), I could have passed on (or just acknowledged that I agreed with the correction, without expanding on it; "Yes, that's my understanding of the law").

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:02 PM:

Jacque @57:

It is a longitudinal thing, and multi-layered, from role playing and group discussions to extra training for peer mediators. I should photograph and translate some of the posters on the hall walls, which are brief reminders of how to deal with conflicts.

Like I said, this is not a universal program. But it appears to be a modernization of a set of traditions that are also encapsulated in the ubiquitous little rhymed commonplaces and songs that the kids soak up like little sponges.

#60 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:04 PM:

Elliott Mason@52: Thank you. And I'm sorry I have to be a pain on this topic (but not extremely sorry; because I'm rarely the one bringing up the topic). (More detail on why it seems like "have to" to me in previous message to abi.)

#61 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:05 PM:

abi @ 51: I think it possible that, by hewing reasonably close to your original topic, some of us may learn some new things that may apply by extension to wildebeest management. I see no reasonable hope that staying with wildebeest management will teach anybody anything new about either subject.

Which may, itself, shed some light on how desirable is the 'politeness' one gets by upping the stakes in even purely peaceable interactions.

Debra Doyle @ 35: Precisely. Politeness is the oil on the wheels of civilization. But some civilizations need, not lubrication of all things, but a change of wheels. An aristocrat's airy condescension and a peasant's fearful servility may represent politeness on both parts: the frankness and freeness of equals is much more like my idea of real civility. If it takes a period of friction to get to that, then, fuck, bring it on!

#62 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:10 PM:

OP ...not so much about the foundation of their disagreement (I never found out what it was) as about the subsequent emotions.

To a certain extent the foundation of the disagreement isn't important. The loudest screaming match when I was working in a school was because somebody was reported to have said something moderately derogatory about someone else's sister. The one time I had to physically hold a pupil back was because they misunderstood something they were told. It goes wrong when people react first, think and talk later (or never).

On the other hand we* were pretty good at getting them to resolve conflicts peacefully and stopping bullying. There was always the tendency to appeal to authority, leading inevitably to two 13 year old girls making me the arbiter of who is the best singer - Justin Bieber or Stephen Gately.

* By which I mostly mean the other staff who had been working at it for years and years and years to make it unacceptable.

#63 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:27 PM:

abi @59: I should photograph and translate some of the posters on the hall walls, which are brief reminders of how to deal with conflicts.

Yes, you should. :-)

it appears to be a modernization of a set of traditions that are also encapsulated in the ubiquitous little rhymed commonplaces and songs that the kids soak up like little sponges.

Synchronicity strikes again: I was reading a nifty article in the January '11 Scientific American this morning about the effect that language has on cognition, perception, and worldview.

Ask a roomful of scientists to close their eyes and point north, and you'll get fingers aimed everywhere. Ask a five-year-old Aboriginal girl in Pormpuraaw, Australia the same question, and she will unhesitatingly point to north, and be accurate. Lots of other cool examples. Fascinating stuff.

#64 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:28 PM:

In fact, social engineering is a big part of what schools are for, right? Turning little savages into civilized human beings and all that? I think the terminology has changed over the years, and what was a commonplace of my childhood is somewhat transgressive now, but the underlying meaning remains the same, even if it's now put more in terms of "social skills".

I suspect it would have been useful to discuss social skills and issues in meaningful ways early in school. But since families have very basic disagreements with each other over this, getting any agreement on what the schools should teach would be hard. Many of the families are insane, and some more are overly fearful, I think, but they're still real, and they vote.

#65 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 04:30 PM:

How do you dessicate a gnu? Do you need to salt it, or is it better to just cut it into strips and smoke/gently heat it?

#66 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 05:31 PM:

ddb @60: I noted the extremely dense non-semantic content (emotional neutronium?) in @3 as I read it, and decided I had no interest in clicking the link or otherwise engaging. However, I can see why you yourself have a need to; if the semantic content of the comment were the same, but its magisterium was one I have strong feelings about, I may very well have gone off at nearly the same length you did. However, doing so is definitely (to callback to the top post) going red, which as abi's kids know, is lose-lose. I went blue, which was cowardly, and win-lose (he won, because his assertion was unchallenged).

Thankfully, I later had the courage to try to work through a yellow reply, and hope to resolve to try to do so more in future. Interestingly, this conflict was exactly the sort of thing the color-system was designed to be best for handling ...

ddb, the semantic content of your reply was factual, interesting, and on-point, but the way you said it button-mashed some other people. It's not fair to you that you have to constantly be reining in your emotional responses in order to engage everyone else, but if you can manage it, it would probably prevent some of the successive negative responses from other regular posters. And I'll try to have your back in future, too: the best friends, IMHO, are the ones who definitely tell you when you've got spinach in your teeth, as well as pointing out unfair appearance-policing by others. Which drags THAT metaphor all the way down the street and leaves it tattered and dirty, so I'll quit while I'm ahead.

abi @56 * Squee, faint! * I shall endeavor to continue to deliver work of similar level, mi professora.

#67 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 05:39 PM:

Sorry, abi -- I must have still been more pissed off from the last round than I realized.

Without going any further into the controversial elements, I want to "show my work" on the claim that most college students turn 21 during their junior year. I was born in 1956; had I not jumped a grade in high school, I'd have graduated in 1974, at age 18 -- and my birthday came late in the school year, so almost everyone else turned 18 before I did. Add 3 years, and I'd have been 21 at about the end of my junior year, with (again) almost everyone else having beaten me to it. Most U.S. school systems have minimum age requirements at the entry level which will produce similar results at the graduating end.

#68 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 05:50 PM:

Elliott @66:

And I, meanwhile, will spell your name correctly.

#69 ::: Dr Rick ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 06:04 PM:

ddb @50 : if you are a year younger than most in your class, then when you turn 21 in your senior year, they are turning 22. They turned 21 last year, then, as juniors. I don't see how the numbers aren't coming out.

Anyway, back to the topic. As a schoolmaster myself (11-19), the original post made me think "wow. I wish that happened here". This is not an uncommon reaction to Dutch culture for me, to be fair.

#70 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 06:36 PM:

I think that one big difference were I in school again - and, really, this is deeply dangerous territory, for reasons one can probably troll ML for and work out - would be that I could have a recorder of some sort in my posession and live at all times - unless I needed to not overwrite what I had just recorded, of course.

And a few "he said, he said"s would go out the window. Of course, I'd expect after a few of those did go out the window, that "he tripped and fell and happened to break the recorder", or "he must have left it somewhere, and I found it and was getting ready to give it back to him", or even "you must have lost it. You lose a lot of things."

#71 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 07:34 PM:

Should we start understanding Homeland Security's color-threat-level indicator as a barometer of how aggressive we're supposed to be?

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 07:59 PM:

Erik Nelson #71: Instead of how scared? flip sides of the coin!

#73 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:31 PM:

The next step is to turn this system into a card game.

I would recommend teaching it to kids before showing them how to use it in conflict resolution.

Nelson@71 and Harmon@72, I thought the threat level was supposed to tell us how cautious and observant we were supposed to be.

#74 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 08:44 PM:

Re the difference between imparting values and social engineering, I guess it's like C.S. Lewis's example of the difference between opening an experimental school and announcing that you want to start experimenting on children.

Gray Woodland @61, courtesy is good if a noble is holding court. Chivalry is good if you happen to be a cavalier. For the rest of us and the rest of the time, we civitas and polity can depend on civility and politeness.

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:00 PM:

Mycroft W: That would depend on where you were. In Calif. the use of tape recorders in classrooms is illegal, absent the explicit permission of the instructor.

re politesse and armed societies: Japan was an "armed society" It was also very polite. The Tokugawa shogunate reduced the categories of people who were allowed to be armed, but not to a degree that would make not an armed society.

It got even more polite.

It also got more violent, both intergroup (where a lack of polite behavior was grounds for summary execution. I wonder if that's why Japan is a culture with a lack of irony, but a love of subtle wordplay, but I digress), and intragroup, where accidental slights could lead to sudden violence (the knocking of one scabbard against another when passing on the street).

On the flip side,the "Wild West" was armed, and by all reports, not all that polite.

#76 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:13 PM:

Mithras on a Melba Toast, guns again?

Since this keeps fucking happening, I propose the following arrangement:

  1. People stop making stupid snarky comments about guns. Or about anything, really. If you've gotta be snarky, at least be smart about it. The belief that you are surrounded by people who support your politics does not excuse you from your responsibility to understand what you're talking about.

  2. Try to avoid bringing up guns at all, unless it's really relevant to the thread. If Teresa does another one of these, then, yeah, sure, go to town. Until then, tread lightly.

  3. Special rule for DDB: If someone says something egregiously stupid about guns, email me and call my attention to it. I can't guarantee that I'll respond instantly, but it's probably not going to be any worse than you sitting on your hands for a day and stewing.

#77 ::: Bob with a pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:15 PM:

eric@65: You start by downloading the source code. This is generally followed by asking simple questions on various fora, to which the typical response is, "Read the source."

Dr. Psycho @73: No, it's a system to communicate to TSA agents in the field just how aggressively they may search cute air travellers flying alone and still maintain the support of management.

#78 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 09:55 PM:

My friends who are US Elementary School teachers inform me quite firmly that these sorts of things are now being taught in the early grades here, too. It does give me hope, that we are at least trying to do better...

#79 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 10:03 PM:

Lee@67, Dr. Rick@69: I was trained as a theoretical mathematician. Therefore I cannot do arithmetic. Yes, I somehow have had a sign-reversal error in my thinking on school ages for all these years.

#80 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 10:07 PM:

Avram #76: Special rule for DDB...

Putting yourself in the line of fire, as it were? :-)

#81 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2011, 10:26 PM:

Elliott Mason@66: I come from a place where arguing with people is win-win; when you're done, both of you know more than you did before, and respect each other more, and know each other better. In fact, refusing to engage with someone's argument is about the rudest thing you can do; that's refusing to take their ideas seriously, which is refusing to take them seriously.

I was aiming, in my response @42, for emotional flatness, with the intention of de-escalating. I did stop short of inserting meaningless qualifiers all over the place; but basically, I was making a very flat response to a highly charged message. (I did scan the article linked -- but only to verify I was talking about the right issue. The various bills in various states to remove carry restrictions from colleges are frequently reported in my RKBA activist sources, and I'm generally familiar with what's going on there already.)

In fact, I think the emotional flatness is part of what makes it read as harshly as it does. I am suppressing my emotions pretty ferociously, and that comes through a bit.

Thanks again for posting your opinions and thoughts, now and previously.

#82 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 01:04 AM:

#62 ::: Neil W:

This reminds me of anti-violence training in a school (sorry, no cite, the best I can do is that it was in the US and I heard about it in the past five years or so) which had a very strong rule against gossip.

#83 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:00 AM:

Dr Psycho @ 74: Apropos of that comparison, I think there are two fundamental kinds of social engineering. There is the familiar one: policy is tool, ruler is wielder, ruled are objects. This I find pretty detestable, but it's the clearest mapping from engineering as we know it to social policymaking.

And then there's the opposite kind: release social tool into the wild, figuring that people as agents can meet some of their needs with it, and that the result of the obvious thing to do with that tool is something the toolmaker will like. This I highly approve of, but since it's permissive engineering, it's not something with an obvious analogue in the inanimate sphere. 'Social ecologizing' might convey its nature at least as accurately.

It has huge scope for unintended consequences, of course - but here the simple sense of 'social engineering' misleads us about the other kind, because the metal is really engineering right back at you whether you like it or not, so the result is no more certain.

The more I hear about abi's example, the less creepy it sounds, and the more it seems to lean towards the ecological category.

I don't so much agree on the points you addressed to me. Firstly, there is plenty in courtesy and chivalry which is worth practising freely, providing the practitioner doesn't insist on seeking the privilege of a courtier or a cavalier as part of the package. When people referred to my grandfathers or father, correctly, as conspicuously 'gentlemen', they certainly weren't referring to a non-existent attempt to emulate the manners of the gentry. What they meant was a peculiar combination of grace, steel, and consideration, to which the gentry certainly liked to lay special claim in justification of their privilege. My experience is that the quality is a real and admirable one, but that the Quality are not necessarily the first place to look for it.

Secondly, I disagree that we are a polity any more than we are a conversation or an economy or even a struggle. We are only people who engage in or with all these things - and at our peril we forget that we are not the same kind of entity as our collectives, and that any agendas we can reasonably ascribe to them will not be much like any of ours. I fear that familiar confusion so much, I will even put the spoke into a neat bit of wordplay for its sake! :-/

#84 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:00 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz - All gossip or just malicious gossip? Otherwise it sounds like a job for King Canute. Also that would put a stop most staffroom conversations.

I have this image of puils walking round the school in near-silence with the occasional call of "Is it history next?" and "Can I borrow a pen?".

(Then a fight breaks out. "What on earth's going on?" I say to them. "He looked at me funny, sir.")

#85 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:28 AM:

Avram @76: If Teresa does another one of these

Thank you! I really need to go back and systematically reread ML from the beginning.

And I was unsuccessfully looking for photos of Teresa with the tommie gun a couple of weeks ago. Now if I could just remember why....

#86 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:34 AM:

I am reminded of a bumper sticker I enjoy: "Laws keep us from killing each other. Manners keep us from wanting to."

#87 ::: disconnect ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 09:47 AM:

As a longtime lurker, I appreciated ddb@42's rebuttals. Without a dissenting voice, you're left with an echo chamber.

And I didn't see a followup to the claim that most students turn 21 their junior year (with which I agree; if you turn 18 during your senior year of high school, 3 years later would be junior year of college). My response would be, "So what?" What makes people in college less capable of carrying than the same age people not in college? In fact, since the college people have studied, they will have learned that man is mortal, and they will be more likely to shoot before thinking is one possible argument that could be made.

Back to the topic at hand. I was relentlessly bullied throughout junior high and my freshman year, and nobody would help me. My teachers told me "I didn't see anything", "they're just teasing", and "you need to learn how to deal with people". I got physically bullied, but whenever I fought back I got sent to the office and my parents were called, and I was chastised for "failing to keep the peace". So my guidance counselor got involved, and she suggested that I try being their friends. Try to understand their side of things, see the world from their point of view. So for a year or so, I got to be their bitch. 30 goddamned years later, I still get the shakes when I think about it.

I feel like I should expand on "their bitch". I lived in constant dread of turning the corner and one of them being there. My property was defaced (one time, my mom ripped me a new asshole because I had let them cut holes in a new shirt. Well, what was I supposed to do, Mom, fight them or acquiese? Mixed messages, yo). I got to laugh with them at how stupid I was for being so smart. So my grades took a nosedive, and then I started dreading going home because my parents wouldn't let up. One of them was an altar boy at my church, so even Mass wasn't a safe haven.

It was three years of hell, and I was powerless to change anything, and I blame the culture of "nonviolence above all else". I do believe that mediation skills are awesome WITH PROPER SUPPORT. abi@47's followup makes me believe in its power, but the key is that the support structure is already in place. I just need to figure out how to implement that over here.

So that's like next week's project or something.

#88 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:07 AM:

Jacque @ #63: Ask a roomful of scientists to close their eyes and point north, and you'll get fingers aimed everywhere.

It's thataway. *points*

A bit of trivia for anybody who's interested in hearing about how other people's brains work:

I can point north with reasonable accuracy anywhere in my hometown; the actual mechanism seems to involve calling up a specific memory of taking a compass reading in the museum forecourt when I was in primary school, then using my mental map of my environment to figure out where that was relative to where I am now.

#89 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:11 AM:

Paul A. @88: My spouse is scary-accurate about compass bearings, even if he's just been in an unfamiliar building, walked around a lot, and come out a different door.

He used to think it was due to dead reckoning, but then he moved from Toronto to Chicago. He was off by 90degrees for nearly 5 months, and was exTREMEly disconcerted. He realized with surprise that the 90-degree turn he was off could be accounted for if you realize he moved from somewhere that THE BIG LAKE IS SOUTH to somewhere it is EAST. No idea if he has some kind of odd biological big-body-of-water sensor or if he was cueing off the fact that the city suddenly ends on the lakeside, but it was interesting.

#90 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:49 AM:

Jacque@86: Have to disagree with both parts of that. From vehicular homocide on up, we kill each other far too frequently, in contravention of the laws.

Furthermore, "manners" are very much about external expression; not about my internal emotional state. I don't see how they prevent me from wanting to eliminate certain people; in fact, having to be polite to them sometimes increases the emotional urge to just make them go away.

#91 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 11:51 AM:

disconnect@87: good luck with the project next week! Should keep you busy :-) .

#92 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 12:05 PM:

I recall hearing that at least some humans have a true compass sense -- magnetically-sensitive cells in the nose. It occurred to me that such a sense might well be vulnerable to damage by overload -- that is, strong magnetic fields -- which might make it rarer in modern times.

#93 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 12:13 PM:

ddb @90 I don't see how [manners] prevent me from wanting to eliminate certain people; in fact, having to be polite to them sometimes increases the emotional urge to just make them go away.

I wondered the same thing when I first read that. But I think it's that if they have good manners, you are less likely to want to eliminate them, not if you do.

#94 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Otterb@93: Ah; okay, in that version, that half makes sense. And one of the benefits to me of my being polite to them is reducing their urge to eliminate me.

#95 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 01:48 PM:

As you know Bob, the gnu source code is rather well obscured, and is only available in a 4 symbol alphabet. I wonder if 23andMe could decompile it into something that would be a little more understandable.

#96 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Terry: Oh, I'd be happy to turn off the perma-record in class, when the teacher was present. There was a witness, after all, and *most of the time* it wasn't the teacher that was the problem (or at least when it was, it was just their teaching style, not deliberately attacking me.

Were that not the case, then I have no compunction requiring me to be the only person following the law. "Oh, the only reason I have evidence of *your employee* assaulting me is because I did something illegal? I guess I'm going to have to take my punishment."

ddb: Thanks for the explanation - and I'm not going there (I'd like to, I think I have something productive (and nasty - not attacking, just ugly) to add; but it wouldn't be productive to this thread). One thing that I should warn you about though - some people here have an idiosyncratic "deliberately dispassionate" mode that is the opposite of neutral, and may be (are, in my case) prone to reading "deliberately emotionally flat" writing as anything but de-escalating. That's not *your problem*, of course, and I really appreciate what you're trying to do; I'm just pointing out that it might in certain cases backfire badly, and I want to cue you to the "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over?" reaction to the reaction.

I am also from the community where a good, loud, argument is both win-win and potentially fun, provided it sticks to the points in order and avoids the person presenting the arguments. So I get it. But that requires a world where "I know you think I'm your peer, even if *horrendously wrong and deluded*" is a given.

Having said that, I didn't read your original post as anything but "what, here, again? And with the same cards being palmed?" Avram's "Mithras on melba toast" reaction, in other words.

#97 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 04:20 PM:

disconnect @87: It was three years of hell, and I was powerless to change anything, and I blame the culture of "nonviolence above all else".

It's the culture of maintaining appearances above all else. A real culture of nonviolence would apply to bullies and not just their victims. I'm really sorry you had to go through that.

#98 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 04:47 PM:

#84 ::: Neil W:

That's a good question, but I don't know the answer, nor do I know how the program worked out.

Jacque @ #63:

Ask a roomful of scientists to close their eyes and point north, and you'll get fingers aimed everywhere.

It's funnier if you ask a bunch of pagans.

#99 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:40 PM:

Elliott Mason @89

I suspect your feller and I might navigate the same way, or at least your description reminds me of myself.

I mostly cue on topography, so my ability to find north inside a building is dependent on my ability to remember which way the building faces*, and my ability to find north outside is dependent on the shape of the land**.

Seattle is a topographically varied city, so this is pretty easy (I can figure out where in the city I am by finding hills or water pretty reliably) but in flat cities I get lost easy. Portland, for instance, is easy, while New York is hard (actually, NYC is easy too but only because the street grid's simple enough for me to track, if I'm mid-block I do often have to walk to an intersection to figure out where I'm going.)

I'm pretty sure what I'm doing is short-term dead reckoning, combined with frequent triangulation as landmarks appear. I'd be confused by a major lake-shift too, because although I'm not necessarily looking for the lake to know where I am, I am relying on my last lake-sighting and the relationship I noted then between my direction of travel, the slope of the land, and the position of the lake. So even if I can't see the lake from right here, the fact that it's in the wrong place will throw me off.

(The suddenly-ends-at-the-lakeside thing has an effect too: growing up in Seattle you get used to the idea that bodies of water distort the street grid, and that you can sorta tell how close they are by how sharp the distortion is).

*I used to work in a store where the doors were on the South wall. Then I transferred to another store where the doors were East. It confused me for a good six months.
**Plus, I'm a city boy so cues like the kind of neighborhood, the nearest arterial, and which direction looks more commercial vs residential come into it as well.

#100 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 05:57 PM:

Elliott Mason #89, Devin #99:

I think you two, between you, have finally put a finger on why my directional navigation gets screwed up every time I go to Berkeley, such that I start saying "go north" when I mean "go east". It's because to a longtime Austin resident (including 10 years before I spent the 80s in Palo Alto), going from landmark body of water (Town Lake) to university is north. So of *course* it's north from the Bay to the Campanile! (Not to mention the topography matches--in both cases it's uphill.)

#101 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 06:09 PM:

joann @100 -- the direction away from water is usually uphill.

#102 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 06:24 PM:

Devin @99: I am innately extremely disoriented.

Thankfully, my mother★ noticed this early on, and started consciously training me in orienteering methods☂, so I can FAKE knowing where I am pretty well. I'm darned lucky I was born in Chicago and not Boston or something; if I had to handle streets laid out by colonial cows every day of my life I don't know if I'd've survived it.

My BEST XMAS PRESENT EVER☯ was in '08, when spouse gave me a GPS. The turn-by-turn navigation is nice, and its (somewhat spotty) database of store locations and the like is kind of cool, but the killer app of it, for me, is having a massive map-book with a live-action YOU ARE HERE marker, so I don't have to flip through repeatedly, hyperventilating at the thought that I might have no idea where I am or how to get where I'm going.

Plus, glancing down to see what that next street up there that couldn't be bothered to post a sign saying so, is also nice.

★ I would feel self-conscious for talking about her so much, except that I know (a) there are people here who adore her third-hand and would never mind another My Mother Says/Did/Is story, and (b) most of the stuff she taught me is of very useful general fannish interest.

☂ Inter multi alia:
. * How to glance for the sun and estimate compass quarters, especially with reference to a street grid I understand.
. * How Chicago's street grid and numbers work, so even if it's overcast I can ask THE HOUSE NUMBERS which way is which, as long as I know if I'm on a N/S or E/W street.
. * City landmark-seeking: craning one's neck for the line of highrise apartment buildings that edge the lake, or other visible-a-long-way orienteering markers.
. * Having me memorize, and quizzing me on, all the streets my bus crossed between home and high school, and most of the major mile/half-mile arterial street names in the city, and their numbers.

☯ Ok, ok, best EXCEPT for 2002, but John cheated, getting me that diamond and popping the question! That's hardly a giftmas-level thing, that! Cheating dirty CHEATER. :->

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:01 PM:

I once invited a lifelong Manhattanite to a party in Hoboken. I told her to walk West from the PATH train. Later she told me my directions were terrible because "west is toward the river." "Not when you're west of the river," I pointed out, to her immediate mortification and embarrassed apologies.

She went to Yale, too. One of the smartest people I've ever met, for realo trulo. Happens to the best of us.

But not if you're a native speaker of Irish, apparently. I was taught that they use direction words a lot more often in Irish. If they ask you to hand them something they say "hand that west to me" (or whatever direction it is).

You'd have to keep track of directions then, or make a fool of yourself all the damn time (which I expect would be my fate).

And btw, Nancy, in my Wiccan tradition, one wall is always North. It's part of the Rule of Simplicity.

#104 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:12 PM:

Elliott Mason #102: I am innately extremely disoriented.

Likewise -- to the point of diagnosis! Oddly, it was medication that helped me on that one. Also, in Boston, you keep track of which side of the major streets you're on... Mass Ave, Boyleston, in Cambridge Oxford & Beacon, etc. Also, it's small enough that if you get sufficiently lost, you'll eventually reach someplace you know. :-)

#105 ::: vee ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:22 PM:

Adding to Elliot Mason@89, Devin @99, and joann@100--

My little sister just moved to the East Coast for her Ph.D after having spent the majority of her life on the West Coast. She spent the first few months totally turned around until her East-Coast-born classmates pointed out that the ocean was on the *other* side.

#106 ::: Scrappy ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 07:41 PM:

Hope you told their teacher about the great job they're obviously doing! We're working on this in my school and getting kids to resolve their own conflect and understand how others feelings led to their actions is a hard concept to teach.

#107 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:13 PM:

Since I work in a lot of special-ed rooms, I see a lot of training-what-others-think-is-automatic. It ranges from, "Are you having a feeling?" to a kid with tears pouring down his face (the answer is usually, "NO!" and more flipping out) to What You Can Control When You Are Angry to, "Look at me and say hello. Hello! It's very nice to meet you," to Superflex, who gives you Superflexible Thinking!

It is amazing how much stuff 'everyone understands' is taught.

For directions: I'm actually better at directions now that I don't live downtown and walk the grid system twice a day. For my entire aware-of-directions life, my world had a north-south axis. Then I lived downtown and walked east-west. Now that home is South (of just about everything) I have a better idea of where North is: toward the yarn store, toward the boy, toward the library.

#108 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 08:38 PM:

Directions subthread:

I have a better-than-average sense of dead reckoning which I suspect may have a magnetic component. "North" in Maine is not where I think it is, it's a few degrees clockwise from where it feels like it should be. I had the opposite problem in Oregon - and in both cases it corresponds roughly to the magnetic declension.

Also, on this coast, the ocean is on the wrong damn side. It's supposed to be over -there- (waves hand in a vaguely westerly direction.)

And while I admit that GPS is highly useful to many people, I can't stand the damn things and just knowing the system exists is mildly annoying (in a Your Gadget Ate My Privilege sort of way.)

#109 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 09:02 PM:

I usually know which way is north, but I've occasionally been turned around - the worst time was in Wales, where one location had me turned 180 degrees, and I never figured out why.

#110 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 09:58 PM:

I'm very bad with east and west (and left and right--probably related). In fifth grade US geography class, I finally determined that "East is toward the Atlantic Ocean, west is toward the Pacific Ocean." This works fine for the Americas; not so well in Eurasia and Africa! In my high school world geography class, I was horribly confused for a while. ("East is toward the Atlantic Ocean, so it's that way. No, wait. Ummmm.") Now I mentally face north (or turn the map so that north is at the top). Then I know that east is to the right and west is to the left. If I forget which way is right, I hold out my writing hand. Kludgy, but it works.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2011, 10:11 PM:

Elliot Mason: I have a friend who has amazing directional sense (and a killer ability to recall maps. His first trip to California, from Boston, as a child he looked at area maps, and then started to identify the correct mountains, by peak name. He was facing 'x', and on such and such a road, so 'Y Mountain' had to be there). When he moved to Seattle he, for the first time in his life, had moments of misdirectedness. He finally traced it to the international border being the wrong way.

Here, in the Pennisula, S. of San Francisco, I have a similar problem. The mountains are E/W of me, not N/S. It scrambles my sense of anchorage.

Xopher: Maia and her mother use some of that when backing the truck. Drives me crazy, because the use of "W" is constant, relative to where the truck was when things started. I did manage to teach her Army ground-guide signals, so I could back her without audible commo.

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:25 AM:

I learned in my junior year abroad that my direction-finding was relative to the big body of water in my area (in this case, San Francisco Bay). When I went to St Andrews, where the North Sea is north instead of west, I was entirely unable to recall which street in town was North Street and which was South. I had to re-derive it every time from remembering that the water wasn't west.

Now that the water is all around me, I have given up on my inner sense of cardinal direction.

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 03:27 AM:

Scrappy @106:
Hope you told their teacher about the great job they're obviously doing!

I confess that I haven't. My anxieties about the quality of my Dutch get in the way.

I did tell J that I thought he had done a well.

#114 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 04:28 AM:

abi @ 112

For a city with only about three streets, St. Andrews is a remarkably easy place to get lost. Or so I found in my year there.

#115 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 10:09 AM:

disconnect, #87: "As a longtime lurker, I appreciated ddb@42's rebuttals. Without a dissenting voice, you're left with an echo chamber."

I don't have a problem with the rest of your comment; indeed, I sympathize. But you're lucky that I read the rest of your comment, because there aren't many more effective turnoffs, for me, than your opening gambit.

Dude, there are plenty of "dissenting voices" around here. People dissent from one another all the time. When a newcomer begins by lecturing us about how we need their own (or anybody else's) special particular "dissenting voice" on their own special particular favorite subject or we're just an "echo chamber," my own impulse is to specify in detail the very special and particular direction in which they can fuck right off.

Having a minority opinion doesn't automatically make anyone a brave truthteller. Injecting a minority opinion into a discussion isn't automatically a heroic act. Having most members of a group agree on something doesn't automatically make them an "echo chamber." The overwhelming majority of Making Light commenters probably agree with the basic tenets of the germ theory of disease. This doesn't make us an "echo chamber," nor does it mean that someone who decided to interrupt every discussion of medical matters to promote the miasma theory or the "spontaneous generation" model would be an admirable force for good.

(Note: I am not suggesting that ddb is doing the equivalent of promoting the miasma theory of disease.)

Opinions are worthwhile based on how good a case is made for their validity. (Also, and this is sometimes underrated around here, based on whether they actually spark and advance the actual discussion in progress, as opposed to sidetracking it and forcing a different issue to center stage.) Opening with the argument that anyone deserves special treatment because they're in the minority on some issue (or because you've jumped to the conclusion that they're in the minority) does not make you look smart. And most importantly, opening with the suggestion that you'll cry "echo chamber" if your views aren't given what you judge to be a sufficiently respectful hearing doesn't make me think you're here for a real conversation. It makes me think you're here to make threats.

Fortunately, the rest of your post is reasonable. But I have no idea why you or anyone would think it makes sense to begin one's approach to an audience that way.

#116 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 01:12 PM:

As to directions, my Chinese teacher in high school, who was quite an interesting character, had this story to tell:

From his childhood through young adulthood he had a perfect sense of compass direction, as did pretty much everyone in the part of rural China where he grew up. He continued to have a good sense of direction regardless of where he was, until one day when he was in the army - that would have been Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist army - and he got blind drunk with a bunch of his comrades. They stumbled into a swamp and got completely lost and were unable to find their way out. When he sobered up the next day he had completely lost his sense of direction and never got it back.

(That makes it sound almost as though for him it worked like an gyroscopic inertial navigation system, requiring continuous integration of all moves and turns to work correctly...)

#117 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 01:56 PM:

In re navigational subthread ... in the Lost & Found episode of RadioLab (an occasional NPR show, available via podcast), a sociologist-I-think who was studying an aboriginal Australian culture found her acquisition and fluency in their language greatly hampered by the fact that all directions were absolute -- and that direction came up a LOT. Like, "How are you going today?" "East-southeast in the middle distance, thanks," and equivalent.

The local children were very, very amused at her problems doing something that was so self-evidently simple to them. However, after an extended period among them, she had a very odd sort of visualization/hallucination walking while tired -- she seemed to float out of her body and see herself walking along the landscape from a bird's eye view, with the ground oriented on a fixed axis and herself moving around on it.

When she recounted her odd experience to a local, they blinked at her and said something to the effect of, "Yes. How else would you do it?"

#118 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 09:25 PM:

Random thoughts about the "social engineering" subthread. In my mind there are distinctions between engineering, which you do to things; training, which you can do to animals or people (or, I suppose, artificial intelligences), and teaching, which you do to people.

As with most things, any of these can be either helpful or harmful depending on intent, on choosing the right approach or combination of approaches for the problem you want to solve, and on competence of execution.

Social engineering runs the greatest risk of being manipulative, of treating people as objects to be arranged and altered. It can also be beneficial, though, if you set up routines and norms and environments that encourage people to behave the way you want them to behave, assuming that way is congruent with what they want as well. The book Nudge covers a lot of this territory.

I think of training as being for skills that should be well-learned, perhaps to the point of reflex, where the goal is to have someone do something in a particular way. This would apply to training in mediation skills, for example, or the routine use of some kind of conflict-resolution checklist. Often helpful, often necessary, but doesn't engage the cognitive capacity in deciding what to do, beyond recognizing that you are in a situation where training X applies.

And then teaching, e.g. of values, would be when you want someone to understand the principles behind what they are asked to do, so that they can reason out other applications or decide what to do when two sets of instructions conflict.

If you want a value deeply ingrained, these three approaches should reinforce each other. If you set them up (intentionally or, more likely, accidentally) to conflict, then you will get unpredictable and undesirable results.

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 09:57 PM:

re Australia: I recall reading a story about some Aboriginal singing which was a sort of map, based on the sound of one's foot striking the ground, and how it varied, as well as a sense of time between surfaces.

Someone, it seems, had gone walkabout in London, and came back to sing of it. Someone else was then able to go walkabout and find things, based on the map.

#120 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2011, 11:11 PM:

Diatryma @ 106 — the older I get, and the more attention I pay, the more I think that kind of training (teaching/education/choose the term you find most appropriate) is useful for everyone, regardless of one's level of neurotypicality. For the things where one's instinctual response is "well, yeah, of course that's the way it is"... why is it? (To quote my favorite Zen teacher — or possibly all Zen teachers — "how do I know that?") For the things where one's instinctual response is "oh, yeah, I guess that's the way it is, although I'm not sure why"... why is it? And definitely for the things where one's instinctual response is "is it that way? huh!"... why is it?

(Said favorite Zen teacher talks about how continuing to pay attention to this sort of thing often winds up in becoming an "awareness junkie". I can think of worse things to be...)

#121 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:16 AM:

Speaking of directions and north and south and lake and left and right: when I was a teen in the late 1970's, we lived in Nicaragua for a bit and we encountered their interesting system for addresses. It's all directions. "From [store or landmark], 1 block south, 3 varas down." To make things more confusing, sometime the landmark had been gone since the earthquake of '72. So, "from where landmark used to be, etc., etc." One of the landmarks was a restaurant called El Arbolito (The Little Tree). So, what we heard was, "From where the little tree used to be, etc., etc."

Time magazine has a short explanation of this. I also found a detailed primer.

#122 ::: bentley ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:25 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 110: If I forget which way is right, I hold out my writing hand.

I'm left-handed for writing, right-handed for everything else. Everytime I pretend to hold a pen, I hold up my right hand. So that doesn't work for me.

In daycare, they taught my nephew to make an L shape with both hands. The one that's actually an L (and not a backwards L) is the left hand.

#123 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:34 AM:

bentley (122): I certainly didn't mean to imply that my system would work for everyone. The "make and L" thing is an interesting approach.

#124 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 10:16 AM:

bentley @121: Along with Boston, somewhere ELSE I'm glad disoriented me didn't grow up is Tokyo, because of how their addresses work.

In the US, streets have names, and numbers progress (sometimes irregularly) along the streets. Houses are named and numbered by the street they're on, and people navigate by the numbers, or by remembering the nearest major crossing of streets.

In Tokyo, what we would call blocks are what is named. The area of buildings and land between a set of streets. Seriously. And within a block, structures are numbered *in the order they were built*. So the numbers do progress logically, but only in the 4th dimension. With gaps, if some buildings once built there are no longer present.

Streets do not have names; they're merely the uncommented-upon spaces between the blocks, which are what's important.

repeated headdesking

I mean, I'm sure it's just as confusing for Japanese tourists in Chicago, but, but, but, CLEARLY, the method I grew up with is RIGHT and theirs is WEIRD, right? :->

#125 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 10:57 AM:

Elliott Mason@124: Well, in a big city (or even a modest town) there are a LOT more blocks than there are streets (to an order of magnitude, blocks = streets ** 2). And knowing ONE block is of little use in navigation (you're unlikely to run into it), whereas one street is a bit more useful (hence knowing the "major streets" in an area you don't otherwise know).

So I would actually argue that the "street" method most of us are used to is objectively "better" in significant ways.

#126 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Elliott Mason #124:

How do the Japanese naming conventions work with GPS or Google Maps-type directions?

#127 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 01:52 PM:

joann @126: This is second- or third-hand, since I've not seen a GPS set up for Tokyo, but I've been told that human or computer directions in Tokyo involve instructions like,

As you pass (blockname) on your right, turn into the second left at the intersection. Proceed (distance), then turn left after (blockname) ...

Someone with a better knowledge of Tokyo landmarks could presumably ask Google Maps for directions from Shinjuku to a restaurant or something, but I'm unmotivated today. If you ask Google Maps for Tokyo and zoom way in, you can see for yourself that the blocks are named, but the streets are not, even on Google's data.

#128 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 03:34 PM:

re OP: I like that. I think it would have been incredibly useful. I am also passing it along to my cousin the elementary special ed teacher (with the card game idea!) - she had been talking about different methodologies for teaching social interactions the last time I saw her.

Re direction: because of where I grew up, the Mississippi is always east and the Missouri is usually north. When I lived in Omaha, I was always 90 degrees off, because the Missouri runs north-south through that part of the country. *That river over there* felt like the Missouri, so *obviously* that must be north. My internal compass in Minneapolis was just screwed. Until I had lived there long enough that I had built a mental map-overlay of the streets completely independent of my sense of direction, I would get lost out of 'familiar' areas where I had not completed the overlay and tried to use my sense of direction.

Hypothesis: there are two types of internal direction-keeping, absolute and relational. My father can always point north, and his mental map is based on "I need to get to X. X is west of me, and west is That Way." It is an absolute, based on things that don't change. My mother's internal map is relationship-based; "I need to get to X. I know that X is west of Y, and that I am east of Y, therefore, I need to go west." By inclination, I am absolute; by training, I am relational. I make those mental map-overlays out of ingrained habit, fitting streets-as-experienced with mental images of maps to form impressions and a sense of direction in unfamiliar places. This works everywhere except in the vicinity of my rivers where they are not in their expected locations.

Hypothesis 2: people are either N/S direction people or L/R direction people, and giving a traveler directions in the other methodology is using a language that they don't understand. It is important when reciting directions that you know which the recipient is, otherwise you may seriously confuse them. (ex: It is easy for me to follow the directions "turn north at the light, in three blocks, go east." It is much, much harder to use "Turn left at the light, in three blocks, turn right." The second takes significant mental processing, on bad days it includes making my hands into 'L' shapes for which one is left.) I have found people who grow up on a grid (urban or rural) tend to be N/S people and people in from non-grided areas (usually suburbanites or very organic cities, e.g. Boston) tend to be L/R.

#129 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 04:06 PM:

sisuile (128): I fit your Hypothesis 2, in that I grew up in Atlanta (extremely non-gridlike!) and am a left-right person. Getting directions in north-south format would require me to mentally face north* to make sense of them, regardless of my actual direction of travel. Boy, would I get lost-lost-LOST!

*see my #110

#130 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 04:09 PM:

Elliott @124, I'd heard about the Japanese method of building-numbering before, and it was pointed out that it's a system that makes near-certain that, if you're a stranger to the neighborhood, you're going to have to ask locals for directions a lot, which means there are a bunch of people more likely to remember your face if you turn out to be a trouble-maker.

#131 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 04:39 PM:

Avram #130:
if you're a stranger to the neighborhood, you're going to have to ask locals for directions a lot

It's not quite that bad, at least in Tokyo or Yokohama (the only places I've been). There are lots of little neighbourhood maps on the streets, showing the building numbers for a region of a few blocks. These give strangers (and tourists) have at least some chance.

I have read that there's a similar problem in Venice, where you need a copy of Campi, Calli e Canali to find addresses.

#132 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 07:25 PM:

thomas #131:

The Venice situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that there are many instances of multiple streets with the same name, such as "Forno", "Olio", "Magazin". Even worse, they're not always in different sections of the city.

In 1995, I bought myself a copy of Il nuovo indicatore anagrafico di Venezia, which, by sestiere (city quarter, only there are six of them), takes a range of building numbers and says what calle they're on. There's an alternate table that takes a larger range of numbers and says what campo it's associated with.

Note the "anagrafico" part, which is Italian for BringYourOwnMap. Because you're still going to need one, just to find the calli e campi.

#133 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 09:13 PM:

Thomas @131: On my two trips to Japan, I didn't have much trouble with addresses. Except twice: when I first arrived in Tokyo, I was disoriented due to jetlag and Shinjuku station (which is a vast underground warren, like a hollow manmade version of one of those fungi that spreads over vast acres under a forest... where was I? Oh, yeah) and couldn't find my hotel in Kabikicho, so I gave up and got a taxi to take me there.

The other time, the website I booked my ryokan in Fukuoka through had to move me to another while I was in Tokyo and I wasn't able to get a map out of them before I took the train down there. Using my own resources (and a bit of wandering around) I found the right block, but couldn't find the right building, due to no-one on the block putting their house numbers up where a dumb gaijin could read them. Eventually I broke down and asked a greengrocer, and he gently led me 50 metres up the road.

There's the thing, though: I've generally found Japanese people to be friendly and helpful, up to random passers-by asking me if I needed any help if I paused for just a moment to get my bearings. It helps to have a little Japanese, I guess, but the volunteers at least seemed keen to practice their English.

#134 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 10:28 PM:

joann @ #132, Atlanta also has the "too many streets with the same name" issue. They should never again be allowed to name anything "Peachtree" anything (Peachtree St., W Peachtree St., Peachtree Industrial Boulevard...).

#135 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 10:50 PM:

To all who offered their good wished to Gavin.

He's back now. He doesn't seen to have been badly affected. He's not talking much about it, but that's normal for him.

So, again, thanks to you all.

J Homes.

#136 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2011, 10:51 PM:

Whoops, wrong thread.

#137 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 12:08 AM:

lila @ 134 my brother lived off Peachtree Industrial Drive for years. That city has a bit of an obsession.

#138 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 01:20 AM:

In NYC, when we want to confuse people, we make them drive in the borough of Queens, where they'll have to figure out if they want 23rd Street, 23rd Avenue, 23rd Road, 23rd Drive, 23rd Place, or 23rd Court.

#139 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 01:57 AM:

sisuile #128

I'm definitely absolute rather than relational. In particular, it's a distinct perceptual jolt when I realize that I've got my map overlay the wrong way around. This most often happens after changing hemispheres * but can happen at other times, such as when I mistook which direction along the Chicago el I had been travelling and got the city back-to-front.

I don't think I count either way for your hypothesis 2 -- I grew up in Melbourne, which is on a grid, but in the inner suburbs only approximately so.

* I had a very disorienting five minutes or so climbing a hill near Rotorua in NZ when I noticed the sun was moving the wrong way. No! Wrong! Do not want!.

#140 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 02:46 AM:

Our Washington state school district uses the Kelso's Choice system to minimize violence:

It seems to work pretty well. By second grade the kids can talk about various Kelso options-- ignoring somebody, flipping a coin to resolve a disagreement, playing something else, etc. There is also a distinction between small problems that kids can solve themselves, and big problems that need adult intervention, and when a small problems persists into a big problem. Older kids are mediators. So far it's worked for our four very different kids, and the special ed child is not bullied. Academically I had a lot of issues with out elementary schools, but socially they really did a great job.

#141 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 10:24 AM:

disconnect, #87: What you've described there isn't a culture of non-violence, no matter what they may have called it. It's a culture in which bullies are privileged -- IOW, very like much of American culture in general. A genuine culture of non-violence does not allow bullying such as you underwent, because they recognize it as being violence.

sisuile, #128: Giving me compass directions in an unfamiliar area after dark is just asking to get me lost. My partner, OTOH, hates L/R directions because they're dependent on one's direction of travel, while compass directions are absolute. There have been Issues. :-)

Most of Houston is laid out grid-style (although there are two separate grids which intersect each other at an angle, and that's confusing). But there are also a couple of major streets which run at an angle across the grid, and dealing with them is like the Black Hole of Geography for me; I invariably get turned completely around unless I'm in an area for which I've already got a complete mental map independent of the wrong-angle road.

Nashville is laid out on a spoke-and-wheel system, but it's small enough that I had a complete mental map early on, and rarely got lost. (This, BTW, is also why their public transportation sucks -- it's easy to get back and forth along any given spoke, but very difficult and time-consuming to transfer from one spoke to another.)

Lila, #134: You think Peachtree is bad? Try Wacker in downtown Chicago. North Wacker, South Wacker, East Wacker, West Wacker, Upper Wacker, Middle Wacker, and Lower Wacker -- all cheek-by-jowl with each other in the heart of downtown and its traffic. It's enough to drive you wacko!

#142 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 10:49 AM:

Lee @141, in re Chicago and Wacker: Yes, but they're all the same street! It turns a right-angle where the river does, but all the Wackers lie on the same (bent) line. Upper/Middle/Lower Wacker is just three stories deep all atop itself. If you've internalized how addresses work (there is a Cartesian 0/0 point in downtown, from which all addresses, on all streets, increment consistently), you can pretty easily figure out where on which part of Wacker you want, is.

#143 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:05 AM:

Lila #134: You're leaving out Peachtree Battle Avenue, North Peachtree Road, Old Peachtree Road, New Peachtree Road, Peachtree Walnut Road....

When I moved to Atlanta I lived on Peachtree Industrial in Norcross; in fact I lived there for five years. Then I lived just off Peachtree Road in Buckhead, for about a year and a half. Then, for two and half years I lived adjacent to Peachtree Road in Brookhaven. In essence, for nine years, I resided at different points along the same road.

#144 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:23 AM:

And then there's the joy that is Memphis, where a typical set of directions includes "go East on North Parkway, then go south on East Parkway North."

#145 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 11:37 AM:

Then there's Casper, Wyoming, which has an M Street, an N Street, and an Elm Street. Keeping those straight can be a challenge, especially when giving directions over the phone. Long Beach, New York, has streets named Pine, Penn, and Pennsylvania, which causes its own confusions.

#146 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 12:12 PM:

Re: navigation

West isn't "toward the river." It's toward only one of them (or both of them if you are in Queens). East is also toward the river, if you are in Manhattan.

In numerous parts of Queens, 4 right turns do not always get you back to where you started.

I'm good directionally, and also at maps, but I have trouble sometimes telling people how to drive to someplace. Since I don't drive, I often find that I have to stop when giving directions to remember which streets only run one way.

otoh, people have asked me for directions in cities I do not live in. If I have been there for more than a day and have looked at a map at some point during my stay, I can often tell them how to get where they want to go, or at least can tell them to head "that way." The most interesting time this happened to me was during my first trip to England, when several people in London asked me for directions. Happily, I was able to help all three times, though in two of the three cases people were surprised to hear my American accent and may not have trusted my instructions as a result.

Possibly my best giving-of-directions in the US was when I was visiting friends in the Southwest--my first time there--and we got all turned around and lost. Partway into the argument I made someone give me a map. After a minute or so I said, "I think we have to go _this_ way." My friends, who lived in the area (but hadn't lived there long at that point), were doubtful, but agreed to try. And we got unlost.

After a day or so in a new place, I can generally identify NEWS. Altitude affects me, though, because I sometimes get altitude sickness, and that throws me off.

#147 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 02:23 PM:

Melissa #146:

So how is it that some people become obvious direction givers to total strangers? (My husband and I, both singly and together, frequently get stopped for directions. And for me, it's happened in foreign cities. Not just by tourists, but by persons who speak the language.)

#148 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 03:00 PM:

joann@147: Interesting, isn't it?

I think it may have something to do with a facial expression that somehow signals approachability. My daughter, who is about 15, reports that the same thing has recently started happening to her--out of a generally well-occupied sidewalk, people will stop her to ask for directions. fwiw, we look somewhat alike, she and I, and look pretty different from my mother, who is almost never asked for help.

Do people chat with you while waiting on/in line for something? I sometimes have the most interesting conversations while waiting to buy things . . . I figure these two phenomena are related.

OTOH, none of this does me any good in terms of making me any better at generic smalltalk. Giving directions or talking to someone on line are roles I can play; talking with someone at synagogue can be downright painful unless I have a specific topic in mind.

#149 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 03:26 PM:

Melissa Singer #148:

YES to the whole thing!

I'd always figured the direction-asking thing had something to do with looking like we knew where we were going or acting engaged with our environment. (You know how a lot of people just sort of plow straight ahead? We constantly look, and point, and ...)

#150 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 03:59 PM:

I get asked for directions; everywhere I go (even when on my motorcycle, I don't know how many times someone has rolled down a window at a light to ask me if I know the way to some "x"). I get asked for information at stores (on product, or location).

For directions. I hate Seattle. The Quadrants of the city, each with the same streets, so that one needs to go to 2010 E 40th NW, lest one end up miles away at 2010 E 40th SW, or NE, or SE. This of course fails to deal with the different alignments of the different grids which where planned, and the hell that is Aurora. Then again, Market in SF, and Van Buren in Phoenix (the latter just because of how it screws up getting off of it, more than the way it angles across the town), are also a pain for me when I am trying to get around in those cities.

SLC has, for all it's pains, a painfully rational system. All addresses are a cross reference of easting/westing and northing/southing. So one can say, "go to 1034-2045" and there is only one possible place.

But it does make for a lack of charm in the names.

#151 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 04:53 PM:

I obviously "look like I belong"* when in a zoo. Any zoo. So I get asked for directions to X animal in zoos in France, Poland, Spain...

*probably assisted by my tendency to wear greens plus khaki or similar neutral colours - so not dissimilar from most zoo uniforms.

#152 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 05:08 PM:

On being asked questions:

When I was in library school, the professor for my Reference I class asked us to raise hands if we were the kind of people that got asked questions wherever we went. IIRC, more than half the class raised their hands and she was unsurprised (I suspect she asked that every time she taught the class).

It was common enough for me to be asked for directions while I was in grad school that I would habitually keep two or three copies of the campus map in my bag--and I needed to replace them frequently.

#153 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 06:05 PM:

Melissa 146: West isn't "toward the river." It's toward only one of them (or both of them if you are in Queens). East is also toward the river, if you are in Manhattan.

You underestimate the narrowness of this woman's perspective (at the time she was making this mistake). West is "toward the river" if you've lived on Central Park West your entire life except when off at Yale. And of course 'the river' means only one thing: the Hudson. This despite the fact that the Hudson isn't even a river when it's alongside Manhattan (it's an estuary, not that anyone cares).

Altitude affects me, though, because I sometimes get altitude sickness, and that throws me off.

It was very interesting for me to go to the Denver WorldCon. I avoided what they tell you to avoid and had no significant problems, but...Hoboken is 5 (that's five, not a typo for 50) feet above sea level. That's presumably either an average, or City Hall or something; the West Side (called "downtown" by Hobokenites), where I live, is much more than 5 feet lower than City Hall, trust me. So I suspect that downtown is below sea level, at least at high tide.

I noticed that walking around Denver was more tiring than I expected, but this was more than offset by my enjoyment of a) explaining the concept of a tidal estuary to Denverites who'd never heard of such a thing and b) teasing them about how Denver was too rainy for me (it rained every. single. day. I was there, but then it did the same thing in Santa Barbara when I visited).

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2011, 06:06 PM:

dcb: So, you're saying you look like you belong in a zoo?

#155 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 02:05 AM:

Lee@141: Houston's public transit is much the same. You live more or less due north of me, but if I were to want to get to your place on the bus, I'd have to go east to downtown and then back out on another line that goes north then west -- in effect traversing three sides of a square.

(I will say for Houston's Metro that the fare is nice and cheap, and the buses have good climate control.)

#156 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 03:31 AM:

Xopher @ 154: I walked right into that one, didn't I?

In all seriousness, I've been sort-of a part of the zoo community since I was still in my teens, and spent about 20 years helping to run what was effectively a private zoo (not open to the public, but we did have about 150 species), so, yes, I feel comfortable in zoos (good zoos, anyway) and I suppose that comes over in my body language - because I get asked for directions even when I'm toting a camera* and a zoo map and all the other things which should yell "tourist". Of course, my tendency to provide ignorant people with correct information about the animals they're looking at may also assist, but it happens even when I've not been doing that.

* To take pictures of the fences, and feeding arrangements, and water trough placement, and environmental enrichment and - oh, yes, and the animals.

#157 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 05:49 AM:

Melissa Singer @ 148: People seem to find me more than averagely approachable for help, but less so for random stranger-conversation. Generic small-talk is an unglamorous art I find more impressive with every passing year, but my skill does not bloom at the same rate as my appreciation. Depth-mode I can do; breadth-mode is more effortful and less pleasant, and I recognize that downright painful a lot better than I'd like.

#158 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 08:30 AM:


Yeah, I like the grid system in UT towns. Though it does get complicated a bit by the fact that the grid is overlaid on a three-dimensional surface that, unlike the bit of flatland on which I grew up[1], includes mountains. My wife grew up there, and uses the mountains extensively in navigating, where I just want to ignore them other than figuring out how they distort the nice grid I'm projecting onto them.

[1] From a very respectable family of hexagons.

#159 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 08:37 AM:

Xopher@153: Oh, I knew exactly what kind of person you were talking about--a Manhattanite of a particular stripe. I've known them nearly all my life (as have you, most likely).

They're the people who will spend 2 hours on the subway to shop at the Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn but won't spend about half that time to go to Target or the big mall in Queens (before there was a Target in Manhattan, obviously).

Who always expect you to come to their neighborhood for a movie or a meal, even though your neighborhood has just as many or more restaurants (of differing cuisines) and/or movie theaters.


Of course, there are people in Queens who are just as provincial--we know many people who almost never leave the borough, for whom a trip into Manhattan (other than for work) is momentous.

I went to the Pike's Peak Writers Conference once and was sick as a dog for the first couple of days. It was completely unexpected because I'd been at lower altitudes without having trouble, but that was apparently too high for my nervous system. For a while after, I had trouble at lower altitudes as well, but that seems to have eased off a bit in recent years. I've spent nearly all my life at or slightly above sea level (the part of Queens I live in is high ground).

#160 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 09:40 AM:

dcb @156 said: Of course, my tendency to provide ignorant people with correct information about the animals they're looking at may also assist, but it happens even when I've not been doing that.

I was at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and two random tourists were standing back staring at the baby chicks display. One asked the other (in that 'wow, how weird' way, not actually expecting an answer) why the yolk and white were different, and how it all just turned into a chicken. I attempted to explain, and they kept giving me OOOOOH YOU ARE A DANGEROUS MARTIAN looks. Finally, one said, "Wow, you know a lot about science." Everything I'd told them, I learned before the age of 8, IN THAT VERY MUSEUM. In fact, most of the info was ON THE SIGNS they were STANDING IN FRONT OF.

But no, they had no interest in actually wondering and finding out, they just wanted to stand there and google at the weirdness, or something, I guess? They moved off uncomfortably and I quit trying.

#161 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 10:29 AM:

Lee @ 141, David @ 155 -

One of the things that always interested me about cities is how the streets are organized. Houston has a good many East-West thoroughfares (Richmond, Westheimer, San Felipe, Memorial) but not very many North-South. San Antonio, on the other hand, has good North-South routes (San Pedro, McCulloch, Blanco) but East-West not so much. It's a good example of how early road layouts lead to development, which leads to more roads to the development, and so on....

#162 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 10:54 AM:

In Cleveland (my hometown) the lake is north.

In Chicago (where I went to grad. school) the lake is east.

It matters not one bit that the lakes in question are not the same lake. It took me six years of living in Chicago to stop feeling like someone had gone and moved the lake when I wasn't looking!

#163 ::: disconnect ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 11:09 AM:

Patrick@115, I agree with your comment. That second sentence really reads poorly, and I would completely remove it if I had the opportunity. I included it because I was trying to succinctly express why I liked ddb's original post, not because I felt that this place needed some shaping up. I've been reading here long enough to know how this place works, and I'm not going to waste your time.

Thank you for reading the rest.

#164 ::: disconnect ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 11:52 AM:

TomB@97, Lee@141, the school district never said "nonviolence", but the policy stated "violence will not be tolerated". It was the implementation that was just abysmal: anything not witnessed by faculty? No problem. Witnessed but one-sided ("accidental" shove + ear flick)? Maybe a verbal reprimand toward the offender, really just half-assed words from a teacher who would turn his back in five seconds. A single punch thrown after months of torment? 3 DAYS OUT OF SCHOOL. "No, I don't care that he hit first, in this school WE DO NOT FIGHT." (actual quote from vice-principal c.1987) Great, so the bully gets a 3 day vacation and I get 3 days of scrubbing the house because I actually stood up for myself. Thanks again, Mom.*

I've spent my life studying strength and conflict resolution, and I still have no idea how to change this culture. In the meantime, I'm raising my daughters to be as strong and as confident as they can, and I will have no compunctions about pulling them out of school if the shit gets anywhere as ridiculous as it was back then. I just wish I could fix this thing.

*Mom and I did make up over this many years back. She said she wished she could go back and fix everything, and I told her that I needed her to remember all this and help guard my kids against it. No guarantee that they'll keep telling her things, but at least it's another set of nonjudgmental ears.

#165 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:13 PM:

Terry: well, that should be simple. In Anchorage, the mountains are North (and, to be honest, East and West, too; but mostly North). The only thing South is the water, the oil, and the crabs.

(Serge, is this where I put in the "not that Anchorage, Mycroft"?)

Re: "make an L" - yeah, I used to think that was the simple way of doing it. Then I found out that works rather poorly for certain dyslexics where the letters are unclear enough in their minds (mirrorwise) that they can't tell which one is an L - they both look "equally right". The one I know about only resolved that issue by getting married, and she kept her wedding ring on at least partly because it was her only reliable guide (it also helped with the unwanted immediate advances in bars, of course).

North: Some of you know that I do bridge - and direct. One thing I learned only in my first working tournament was that North points from table 2 to table 1. Whatever direction that happens to be (we had one layout where there were 4 sections in a room, and North was pointing at a different wall in each one of them).

The treatise on why, if you're buying 6 sets of boards, you don't get 5 green and one blue, may come later, if there is any interest.

#166 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Elliott Mason @89: some kind of odd biological big-body-of-water sensor

I've actually wondered about this wrt to mountains. I grew up in Boulder = moutains-to-west. I'm quite happy in Vancouver = mountains to north, and Manhattan = mountains (e.g., tall buildings) all around*. I've speculated about some sort of gravitational-gradient sensor. Places that are flat (Boston,** Florida, Kansas) creep me out. Feels like I'm going to fall off the planet at any moment.

Not that this "sensor" is very effective if I do have one; I still get lost indoors if I can't see any windows. (I've been saying for years that Boulder should pass a city ordinance requiring that the west wall of any interior space be marked out visually, somehow.)

Elliott Mason @102: I would feel self-conscious for talking about her so much, except that I know (a) there are people here who adore her third-hand and would never mind another My Mother Says/Did/Is story, and (b) most of the stuff she taught me is of very useful general fannish interest.

Yay! MOAR Elliott's Mom stories! (She is aware, I trust, that she is a Supporting Character on Making Light? How does she feel about this?)

Mary Aileen @110: west-east, right-left

Newcomers to Boulder are often confused by a Boulderites tendency to give directions relative to the cardinal points rather than left-right. This derives from two things: easy and obvious directional reference and (in my case at least) unreliable handedness reference:

"Turn right. No! The other right!"***

Elliott Mason @117: sociologist-I-think who was studying an aboriginal Australian culture found her acquisition and fluency in their language greatly hampered by the fact that all directions were absolute

Yes, this was precisely the point made in the article I referred to. Your post summed it up much better than I could have, which is why I didn't.

Terry Karney @119: singing maps Ooo, cool! Cites?

I think there is some similar dynamic in play with Micronesian navigation, which I've always found fascinating.

Lee @141: [omni] Wacker My favorite nonsensical Boulder street name is South Boulder Road. Are we talking East South Boulder Road or West South Boulder Road? SamChevre @144's Memphis example is even better, though.

Xopher @153: teasing them about how Denver was too rainy for me (it rained every. single. day.

You just happened to be there during Monsoon season.


* Useful for not-falling-off-the-planet. Not so much for direction. First thing I did after my first trip to NY was go to McGuckin's and buy a compass for my keychain.

** Yes, really. Trust me.

*** Just to be obnoxious, someday I should threaten to give directions in port/starboard.

#167 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:47 PM:

disconnect, #164: As I said above, that's a system wherein bullying is privileged and victims are told to "suck it up and deal". It's very hard to push back against something like that when there aren't words to describe it properly. The fact that some push-back is now being accomplished is cause for hope.

#168 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 01:55 PM:

Melissa Singer #146:

I'm frequently asked for directions by strangers. I've even been asked (in San Diego) for directions to the LDS Temple. If there is anyone who looks less like a Mormon that me, I dunno who it would be. I certainly didn't look like a Mormon in 1990 when that question was asked (the afro alone should have been an indicator).

#169 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 02:36 PM:

In Pittsburgh, the only cardinal directions are "inbound" and "outbound". The street layout here is a victim of early settlement and lots of elevation changes; also, trying to tell someone to turn north (or whatever) generally fails spectacularly because, in addition to our many hills, we're also one of the cloudiest cities in the country. Unless you're one of those folks who just has a bump of direction, you can't even sight off the sun because it's behind the clouds.

Add in lots of intersections where you have to make distinctions like hard-vs-easy turns, and giving directions around here is all sorts of fun. Especially if you're me, and have a bad memory for street names.

#170 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 03:26 PM:

In Montreal, it's 'The Mountain'.* If you're not going around the Mountain, you're going over the Mountain. If you're downtown, then you can go toward the Mountain, away from the Mountain, or you drive with the Mountain either on your left or right.

The river is not used so much, though I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's all around us, as opposed to right there in the middle?

*I realise it's a wee mountain, as mountains go. Those living in/near the Rockies need not snicker. Still, it's our Mountain, and we like it. Only city in the world on an island with a mountain in the middle! Or so I'm told.

#171 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 05:16 PM:

Jacque @166, in re my mom: She doesn't know about ML. Currenly, we barely talk. Back when she used to occasionally read my livejournal (in which I sometimes anecdoted about her, and sometimes explored my mental brokennesses [see the Dysfunctional Families Day threads I've been too cowardly to participate in]), at one point she blew up into a towering rage about something I'd said in a friendslocked entry on the grounds that I was libelling her in public on the internet.

This is why all you fans are exceptionally unlikely to get a "Sh*t My Mom Taught Me" or some such book/blog.

Since then I'm much more careful about (a) what I say, (b) where I say it, and (c) how I link it to her real name or any identifying information. She is exceedingly sensitive to any hint of loss of privacy, because of some dramatastic nastinesses she's gone through over the years.

Jacque @166, in re silly street names: My grandparents lived for my whole childhood at 2130 N Lincoln Park West. You can imagine all the ways their address was munged by various catalogs and things more serious ... it was worth it to live directly across the street from the main entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo, though. At least, for me it was. :->

#172 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 09:03 PM:

Steve C. @161: In the particular case I mentioned, I see no reason why there ought not to be a bus that goes up Loop 610. (The feeder road, not the freeway itself.)

Mycroft W.@165: I'd be interested in that treatise, as a tournament bridge player. (Just this last Sunday I drove to Dallas and back, over four hours each way, to play in a unit qualifier for the Grand National Teams. My teammates really really wanted to win it, but we had to settle for second.)

#173 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 10:55 PM:

David, #172: Actually, there's a fairly strong reason -- the 610 feeder doesn't go thru at I-10, in either direction, and the work-arounds to get from one segment to the other are baroque unless you get on the freeway itself. Particularly northbound, where you have not only I-10 but also Memorial Park to contend with.

#174 ::: Julian ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2011, 11:56 PM:

David @172: If you have multiple sets of boards in the same color, somebody is going to pass theirs to the wrong section.

(OK, they probably will anyway, but at least there's a chance the receiving table will notice.)

#175 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 12:10 AM:

Elliott @171: N Lincoln Park West. You can imagine all the ways their address was munged by various catalogs

A netfriend of mine lives on Ohio Street, in Michigan City, Indiana. He says that ordering anything over the phone was a lost cause-- the customer service people could never figure out to which state his goods ought to be shipped.

#176 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 01:11 AM:

Cheryl #170:

Only city in the world on an island with a mountain in the middle! Or so I'm told.

Hong Kong?

#177 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 07:53 AM:

87 is right. It sounds nice, but the precondition is superior force.

#178 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 08:52 AM:

Jacque @166: Songlines. There's a walking guide to Manhattan that refers to this concept: New York Songlines.

#179 ::: Carol Witt ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 11:05 AM:

David @ #172 and Julian @ #174:

You especially don't want multiple sets of boards in the same colour during team events -- at least in the same sections, or the same table numbers in adjacent sections -- since it can be easy to get them mixed up when transporting them between tables if one isn't paying enough attention. Caddies are generally good, but they are human.

#180 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 01:50 PM:

#176 thomas

Cheryl #170:
Only city in the world on an island with a mountain in the middle! Or so I'm told.

Hong Kong?

I know vanishing little about Hong Kong. Wikipedia says "much of Hong Kong's terrain is hilly to mountainous with steep slopes". Does that count as having a mountain in the middle?

#181 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 02:51 PM:

Warning: massive, very specific geekery ahead.

So, David, Julian and Carol have it (who knew there were so many tournament organizers in ML?) In the bad old days, we had "metal boards" (some of them really were steel, and *heavy*), and they were (surprisingly enough) all "steel coloured". So you'll see on those sets that there's paint or fingernail polish in the impressed text (old-school RPGers, this is the same technique you used to label the +10 numbers on your 20s before they started printing 11s, or all the numbers if the impressing was hard to read), and/or there's a bunch of stuff applique'd or taped (or tape-over-applique; finding things that adhere to steel or aluminum, for years, especially in the repeated presence of human fingerprint oil, is a science). See the top-right picture of Wikipaedia's article on boards for a (nicer-than usual) example.

So, back in the old days, as I was saying, we'd have 5, 6 sets of these boards, all sort of "steel coloured". And (especially if we got 2 sets from this club and 3 sets from this other club, but in general, too) it was important to be able to keep each set separate. So one of the things people would applique (, tape, paint,...) on the boards was a marker (frequently school supplies like red or blue dots, or stars, or...) that was on each board in the set and the case.

Now, of course, in the less-bad new days, the metal boards come in the six standard ACBL colours (white (== "steel" or black), yellow, green, orange, blue, pink - and like those who've done Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, we TDs can rattle this one off in our sleep). One still might want to label them, but yeah.

Now, the Vimes "boots" theory applies in spades to these sorts of things. Getting 6 sets of aluminum boards, in all the right colours, with cards, inserts, labels, and felt bottoms, is going to run you about $3500. Of course, you'll never have to replace anything but the cards (and maybe a set of pliers to wrench tweaked corners three or four times a year, and maybe new felt every 5 or 6 years). But, if you're in a hurry to Own Your Own Sets, and not rent them from the clubs, you can buy plastic sets for about 100/set (instead of about 400 - the cards are the same cost, of course). And if you get a good deal on "what we have left" boardsets, you can get them for about 85/set. Of course, you get 5 "green" and one "blue", and you get the cheapest-quality plastic boards (with the confusing and not-R/G-colourblind-safe labels, and...) and when they break after being dropped on the floor one too many (i.e., 1) times, they get to be taped up, so after a year or two of use...

Re: Carol's comment about caddies: that's a very interesting mathematical conundrum (that again, bridge *players* tend to not notice). One would think that having different board numbers on consecutive tables would be sufficient. But, visualize a room set up for 24 teams in typical "wiggly-three" fashion:

1 6 7 12
2 5 A 8 11
3 4 9 10
1 6 7 12
2 5 B 8 11
3 4 9 10
(for those following along in non-bridge land, every table above the line is in section "A", with white mats saying "A1, A2,...", every table below the line is in yellow section "B"; the teams sitting at the same numbered tables are playing each other, with half the boards at An and the other half at Bn, with a caddy (usually a player's teenager (grand-)child) moving them between tables as needed.)

If you do a typical "8 sevens" two-session Swiss, the board sets will go:
1 - 1-7
2 - 8-14
3 - 15-21
4 - 22-28
5 - 29-35
6 - 1-7

See what I did there? Now "touching tables", 1+2, 2+3,... all have different boards (good, as the caddy (and players) can tell that if they played 9-11, they shouldn't be getting 1-3 back), but 1+6 have the *same boards*, and are also "touching". Sure, it isn't the same set of boards, but that only helps if they are distinguished in some way (so, this is Carol's point. If they just have different markers (these are "yellow-dot" boards, but the table is playing "red-dot" boards), the players aren't going to notice (the caddies should); but if they're different colour boards, it's likely that at least one of the players will notice...)

The real answer is: what one does isn't what I did above, but:

1 - 1-7
2 - 8-14
3 - 15-21
6 - 22-28
5 - 29-35
4 - 1-7
7 - 8-14

In bigger rooms, like at Penticton (6 sections of 20 tables on the "teams side", as well as the 8-10 sections of pairs), or in KOs (with sets of 12 or 14 boards) we tend to just start each row with board-group n+1, where we started the last row with board-group n. And, of course, different colours in each row (because we have them, right?)

#182 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 03:53 PM:


Hong Kong Island, has a definite mountain in the middle -- Victoria Peak, about twice the height of Mont Royal.
About half the city of Hong Kong is on Hong Kong Island, but the part that is on the mainland is also called Kowloon. The Hong Kong Administrative District includes a chunk of the mainland, including some larger mountains.

#183 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 04:25 PM:

And now, since I have been reminded of it by force, I'm off to post my AKICIML question.

#184 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 04:47 PM:

@182 thomas

Hong Kong Island, has a definite mountain in the middle

I'm sorry that I've communicated badly. I meant to say, Montreal, the city, has a mountain in the middle of it. That is, the city wraps around the mountain. Is that also true of Hong Kong?

There are lots of cities with mountains*, and lots of cities on islands, and lots of cities on islands that have mountains. It's the particular configuration I was going for.

*elevations with a much better claim to the word 'mountain', even.

#185 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 05:37 PM:

At a Regional this last January I had just that sort of caddy-confusion happen. We got through four boards, and the caddy brought us the other four; I noticed that the numbers weren't what I expected, but I figured that the caddy knew what he was doing. Then when we were just starting to play the third of those four, the director came over and told us that we were playing the wrong boards. "You mean I don't have to play this?" said my RHO, who was about to go for 800.

#186 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2011, 05:54 PM:


That is, the city wraps around the mountain. Is that also true of Hong Kong?

Ah. I see. Not as much as Montreal does. The mountain is much larger and the city is mostly on the north and east sides, though there are extensions of city all around in a ring.

#187 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 08:26 AM:

Steve C.: One of the things that always interested me about cities is how the streets are organized.

Seattle's (ahem) unusual layout is the results of what happens when one determined alcoholic ends up at loggerheads with two anal repressive brothers. One party favored laying streets out to match the directions of the compass, the other favored following the shoreline. So we got both. Ugh.

#188 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 03:21 PM:

Elliott Mason @171: This is why all you fans are exceptionally unlikely to get a "Sh*t My Mom Taught Me" or some such book/blog.

Ah. That's sad to hear, though I entirely understand. (I divorced my parents when I was 23. Woulda done it sooner if I'd had the courage chance.)

You could write it as fiction? ("This writer has a vivid and wild imagination, though it would be nice if there was something plausible in the narrative for the reader to hold onto...") Well, okay, maybe not.

#189 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2011, 03:44 PM:

fidelio @178: Songlines

Ooo, neat! Thanks for posting these!

#190 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2011, 09:20 AM:

I'm from the West coast of Australia. For me, it's pretty straightforward - the hills are always east, and the sea is always west, which means if I'm facing north the sun rises on the right and sets on the left, and vice versa if I'm facing south. Provided I can get up early enough in the morning or head outside at the right time of the evening, I'll be able to tell you where North is.

Of course, this got me completely tangled up in Canbrrra, because firstly, the water is right in the centre of the city, the hills are all over the place, and you can't really see where the sun rises or sets because there's a ruddy great chunk of landscape in the way. But then I realised that the key to navigating in Canberra is to remember it's a public service industry town, so no matter where you start from, if you keep heading in the same direction, you'll wind up back there (when they talk about "government circles" here in .au, they're talking about the Canberran street map).

Most of my navigation tends to be much more of the "pencil in landmarks, and fill in gaps" variety. If I'm going somewhere I've never been, I'll first map out how to get as close as I can from what I already know. Then I'll look at the maps, and work out the rest of the directions from there. Then the first time I travel that way, I'll take careful note of landmarks and plunk things into my mental map. If I've been taken somewhere, I can usually find my way home.

(Oh, and if you want to confuse folks here in Perth, Western Australia, well, that's what the Perth City Council is for - I swear they change the traffic conditions in the city for the fun of it. My directions on how to get around in Perth city tend to involve a lot of references to public transport - "First, catch the train into town. Then, get onto the Red CAT going clockwise, and hop off when you reach West Perth" - and similar such items. That way, it's someone else's problem to work out all the one-way streets, roadworks, closed off streets, contra-flow lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian malls, and similar).

#191 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2011, 09:25 AM:

The way British politics has been going seem to be getting interesting, if you're an observer from afar. As you know, we ended up with a coalition, after the May General Election, and it's not something that British politicians and journalists are used to. The Conservatives (the dominant party in the coalistion) tried to set things up so that the Liberals couldn't walk out, force an election, and wreck their plans. While electoral reform is still possible, the Conservatives seem to be pushing the same sort of thuggish class-war as the Republicans in the USA.

This weekend the Liberal Party told their MPs to grow a spine. And newspaper columnists are playing up the fear of another coalition as the consequence of a change in the voting system.

We're not used to coalitions. Perhaps that colours the British attitude to "conflict resolution": everything has to be a zero-sum game.

And the losing side are going to be the non-politicians, again.

#192 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II sees Russian SPAM. ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2012, 01:00 AM:

And I just dropped in to see if I could figure out Abi's e-mail address to ask about getting a book rebound...

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