Category Archives: Thoughts and rants

Damia

Damia. ‘Mond ychydig o wythnosau yn ôl penderfynes i gyhoeddi mwy yn y Gymraeg, yn enwedig wrth sgwennu am fy mab. A ddoe ysgrifennes i ddau gofnod newydd amdano yn Saesneg. #Ochenaid hir# Mae arferion yn anodd eu torri. Wel, mae gen i’r esgus bod y ddau gofnod wedi eu anelu at bobl sydd efallai yn ystyried gwneud yr un beth â ni, ac dwi ddim yn meddwl bod angen llawer o anogaeth neu gyngor ar Gymry Cymraeg yn hyn o beth.

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Filed under Language, Thoughts and rants

My son’s name (2)

As promised, here is a list of arguments people gave against our not passing on either of our surnames to our son, along with my responses. They either come from friends and acquaintances, or from responses to my Yahoo! Answers question. I hope they will be helpful to people who are thinking of doing something similar.

How will he know he’s part of your family?

(Yes, someone genuinely said this!) If you have to rely on your last name to know who your family is, then your family has done something very wrong indeed. Or you’re adopted… in which case you’ll probably have your adoptive parents’ last name anyway. Or there’s been some other dramatic event severing ties with your family. In which case your last name is the last of your worries.

It’ll make things really hard for future genealogists.

Fine. I like to give them a challenge. Not that I think, given how good record keeping is now, that this will be much of a challenge. But it may at least be sort of interesting for them.

It’s not traditional.

Fine. I don’t see any point in being traditional for the sake of it. Besides, it sort of is traditional in Wales, as it happens. Since there are so few Welsh surnames (and they’re seen by some as something of an English imposition), lots of Welsh kids use given last names. I find it very intriguing that people seem happier with the idea when I tell them this. As if anything is justified by being traditional somewhere.

If you’re worried about him only sharing a name with one of you, then isn’t it worse that he’ll share his name with neither of you?

This sort of misses the point, which is that we don’t want his relationship with one of us to be emphasised more than his relationship with the other. In any case, I rather like the idea that, instead of his simply inheriting one of our names automatically, he’ll get a name that we worked together to choose specially for him

It’ll cause him no end of trouble filling in forms.

No it won’t. He has a first name and a last name, and a birth certificate to prove it. He’ll be in no worse a position than anyone else. In fact, it’ll be easier for him than for me, since I’ve always used my second name instead of my first (my parents’ choice, not mine). And that can get annoying.

He’ll be bullied.

If I genuinely thought this would make him much more likely to be bullied, I wouldn’t have done it. But I’m simply not convinced that it will, particularly given how many kids there already are who have a different name from at least one of their parents.

You’ll have to take his birth certificate along with you on flights and things.

This may be a little annoying, but it’ll be annoying for us than for him. And I don’t think it’s a very big issue.

So what do you gain?

No one actually asked us this, but I think it’s worth answering. What we gain is that we’ve given him what I think is a nice name, which is a little unusual, but which doesn’t sound too weird, and which we thought very carefully about before choosing. My wife doesn’t feel that her family’s been ignored at the expense of mine, and I don’t feel that mine has been at the expense of hers.

And if it turns out he grows up and doesn’t like it for some reason, he’s free to change it if he wants!

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My son’s name

When we married, my wife didn’t take my last name. This didn’t bother me in the slightest; nor does it appear to have bothered anyone else. We did, however, think for quite a while about our children’s names, and when our son was born the question stopped being hypothetical.

We had a number of options. Some people in the same circumstances give the child one of the parents’ two surnames. We didn’t want to do that because neither of us has a particularly interesting surname that we were keen to pass on, and because we didn’t like the idea of emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.

Another option is to combine the parents’ surnames. But we don’t especially like double-barrelled names, and, what’s more, they don’t really solve the problem: You have to make equally difficult decisions about which name comes first, and they get unsustainable after a generation or two. There was also no obvious way of merging our names more creatively to come up with something we liked.

Then we considered the Welsh option of calling our sons X ap Gareth, and our daughters X ferch Lottie (you can read more about this here), or some variation on this. But this still involved emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.

Then it occurred to us that you don’t need to make reference to the parents’ names at all. So we didn’t. When we filled in the birth-certificate form at the hospital, we put Iorwerth in the first-name box and Rowan in the last-name box. Rowan was just a name we happened to like (in fact it was in the running as a first name for quite a while). We’ll choose other last names for our other children.

No one since his birth has criticised our decision. When we suggested it to people before the birth, however, we were quite surprised by the negative reactions. Some people liked the idea very much. Others disliked it a lot. I also posted a question in the relevant section on Yahoo! Answers to see what people there would say. The reaction was very negative. Perversely, however, we were encouraged that we were doing the right thing. This is mainly because no one came up with a negative consequence that we thought believable and which would affect him rather than us. As far as I can see, the main disadvantage to doing this is that we may need to take his birth certificate along on certain occasions in case officials or school teachers refuse to believe we’re his parents. I can live with that.

I’ll list the main counter-arguments (and my responses) in a follow-up post, because I think they’re interesting. But to some extent I’m more interested in why some people seemed to dislike the idea so much. Part of it is probably that people get very uneasy when anyone does anything unconventional with children, however innocuous it may be. Another possibility (perhaps a superset of the other) is that a lot of people are simply much more conservative than I’d realised, and any flouting of normal practice puts them a little on edge. There’s another possibility as well. Some meat-eaters respond to vegetarians almost as if they’re offended by the vegetarians’ not eating meat, and I think this is because they take the vegetarians’ lifestyles as an implicit criticism of their own lifestyles. In the same way, I think some people assume that, by not giving our son either my surname or my wife’s, we were aiming a criticism at people who pass on their last names.

I would like to assure these people that we most certainly were not.

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Tystiolaeth a barn

Pam mae pobl yn meddwl bod tynnu barn allan o’u tîn yn gywerth â cheisio deall tystiolaeth gwyddonol?

A pham mae pobl yn dyfalbarhau i feddwl bod yr hawl i fynegi barn yn meddwl yr hawl i fynegi barn heb gael eich herio ynglŷn â’r barn hwnnw? Weithiau mae rhywun fel Galileo yn sefyll fyny ac yn herio’r consensws, ac yn cael eu camdrin—er mai nhw sy’n gywir, nid y consensws. Ond yn amlach, y pobl sy’n darlunio’u hunain fel hereticiaid sydd yn anghywir. Sut y gallwn ni wahaniaethu rhyngddynt? Y rhai sy’n talu mwy o sylw i dystiolaeth ac yn gwybod sut i’w deall yw’r rhai i ddilyn. Weithiau maen nhw’n gwneud camgymeriadau, ond mae’r rhai sy’n anwybyddu’r tystiolaeth yn gwneud llawer mwy.

Ond mae pawb yn gwneud camgymeriad weithiau. Ac mae’n well i’r pobl sydd o blaid y consensws beidio â gweiddi “heretic” yn rhy groch chwaith…

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Stupid things that meat-eaters say

I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. This post is not intended to promote vegetarianism or veganism (or, indeed, meat-eating). Its purpose is to point out that some of the things many meat-eaters say about vegetarians and vegans are really stupid. And they should stop saying them, because they’re embarrassing the rest of us.

Here they are (I’m sure you can think of more):

But other animals eat meat!
The stupidity of this should be obvious. Are other animals good moral examples suddenly? If another animal does something, is it therefore OK to do it? Have you watched how cats mate?

There’s a slightly more sophisticated version of this argument, where it’s pointed out that vegetarians are more concerned with human morality than with actually reducing animals’ suffering. If they were really concerned with the latter, the argument goes, they’d try to stop other animals eating meat too. This is a better argument, but not much. Most meat-eaters tend to agree that torturing small rodents is bad, so they don’t do it and are quick to condemn others who do so. But very few of them form vigilante groups devoted to saving mice from cats. We’ll also note in passing that stopping obligate carnivores like cats from hunting mice and eating meat is itself rather cruel (ooh, a dilemma. Why don’t our brains explode?).

What would you do if you were starving and the only available food was meat?
Well, what would you do if you were starving and the only available food was human being?

If you visit vegetarians/vegans, you have to eat vegetarian/vegan food. If they visit you, you have to make them vegetarian/vegan food!
Curiously the people who make this argument seem more tolerant of friends whose diet is restricted on cultural or religious grounds. Which is rather silly. I’d rather accommodate to life choices that are based on ethical considerations than tradition or old books. In any case, the argument’s stupid. It seems to be trying to imply that non-meat-eaters are being selfish. If anything, it’s the reverse. How many meat-eaters eat meat because they think doing so is ethically preferable to not eating it?

I don’t feel as if I’ve had a proper meal if it didn’t contain meat!
Then your diet probably isn’t very healthy. And you either have little experience of good vegetarian food (plus an impoverished imagination) or you’re very fussy. The problem is all your own.

We evolved to eat meat!
At least this is about us, not other animals. It’s still a bad argument though. We evolved to be able to eat meat. This doesn’t mean we should, or that it’s unhealthy not to. We evolved to do a lot of things we don’t do now.

I don’t understand vegetarians who eat fake meat products. Why don’t they just eat meat?!
This is a bizarrely common question. It’s also a really really stupid one. Weren’t these people paying attention? If someone thinks eating meat is wrong, then they’re right not to eat it. And if they miss the experience of eating meat, then it’s entirely reasonable for them to choose something meat-like to eat. You might as well ask, “I can’t understand people who chew nicotine gum. Why don’t they just smoke a cigarette?!” And anyway, what if you just happen to really like nicotine gum? Seitan is pretty delicious.

That’s it for now. I may think of more. Also look out for upcoming posts on stupid things vegetarians and vegans say. It turns out no one has a monopoly on saying stupid things about diet.

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Garic Gymro’s first law of fiction

Many authors and directors release books and films that follow on from earlier books and films that they’ve released. Harry Potter is an obvious example. Now, both the Harry Potter series of books and the Harry Potter series of films were released in chronological order. The second book recounted events that occurred after the events of the first book, and so on. This doesn’t always happen. C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew was published much later than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but is about events that happened earlier. Similarly, of the six Star Wars feature films, the last three to have been releases are about events prior to the events of the first three.

The question faced by people who come late to these series if, “Which should I read/watch first?” The answer is simple:

It is almost always better to enjoy the series in order of release, not in chronological order.

First, authors, publishers, directors and producers need their books and films to do well. They don’t want people to read or watch the first one to be released and feel they haven’t got enough backstory to understand the plot. In other words, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever find you need to read later-released books to understand earlier-released ones.

Second, while reading books in release order is unlikely to spoil your enjoyment, reading them out of release order (even if this means reading them chronologically) may well do so. Isn’t it better to watch Return of the Jedi before you know what the relationship between Darth Vader and Luke is? Isn’t it better to be presented with the mystery of the lamp-post in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before having it explained in The Magician’s Nephew?

Sure, it doesn’t make all that much difference (my wife routinely reads book series in random orders), but it seems obvious to me that if you care about such things at all, release order is better than chronological order. Interestingly, authors and directors don’t always agree. George Lucas seems to think you should start with The Phantom Menace. C. S. Lewis apparently recommended reading The Magician’s Nephew first, but added that authors don’t always provide the best guidance.

I agree with that last point.

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Muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat?

This is an interesting example of what can perhaps best be described as deluded pedantry. Google “does muscle weigh more than fat”, and you’ll find a variety of sources telling you that it doesn’t. As one of them puts it:

Muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat. Muscle is more dense than fat though, so a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat.

In other words, every substance in the universe weighs the same as every other substance. Just to clear this up: when people ask if muscle weighs more than fat, they’re asking if an equal volume of muscle and fat have the same weight. Which I would have thought was obvious.

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