Rules are made for people, not people for rules

Yesterday I wrote about Merriam-Webster announcing that it had chosen to make the non-binary singular personal pronoun ‘they’ its word of the year. I have been using it that way for some time now and it comes naturally for me. But it was not so at first. When I first started using it, it was reluctantly and with a sense of unease every time even though I was fully aware of the positive reasons for adopting the practice.

I initially thought that my unease was because it seemed to violate a basic rule of grammar that I had learned and that had become instinctive to me. But I began to realize that there was a deeper reason and that it was because I thought that people who heard or read me using it might look down on my lack of knowledge of proper English and thus think less of me. Since I take some pride in my writing and speaking skills, this bothered me.

Following that self-realization, I made the conscious decision that if something is the right thing to do (which this clearly was) then I should go ahead and do it because why the hell should I care what other people think? In my pre-occupation with my self-image, I had forgotten the basic fact that rules are made for people, not people for rules.

Keeping that front and center turns out to be quite a significant and simplifying factor in decision-making. It should have been obvious to me from the beginning, of course, but sometimes we are not aware of how much our behavior is based on seeking or keeping the approval of others, even those whom we do not know or perhaps even like.

Non-binary singular personal pronoun ‘they’ is word of the year

This was announced by Miriam-Webster today.

Merriam-Webster has named “they” its word of the year.

The US dictionary also recently added a new definition of “they”, reflecting its use as a singular personal pronoun for non-binary people.

Searches for “they” on Merriam-Webster’s website were 313% higher this year than they were in 2018.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told the Associated Press news agency that searches shot up when Oslo Grace was rising to prominence, when Sam Smith came out, and when US congresswoman Pramila Jayapal spoke about her gender-nonconforming child while arguing for LGBTQ rights legislation in April.

“It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term – a personal pronoun – can rise to the top of our data,” the dictionary said in a statement.

“Although our look-ups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of ‘they’ has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years.

“English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like ‘everyone’ or ‘someone’, and as a consequence ‘they’ has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.”

In addition to being respectful towards the gender non-binary community, it also immensely simplifies things when trying to write in the third person.

The solution to yesterday’s logic puzzle

The solution to yesterday’s puzzle was deduced by some in the comments. I was not able to solve the puzzle myself but in such cases, once I know the solution, I try to figure out why I could not figure it out, to see what I had overlooked.

In this case there are four possibilities for the two coin tosses: HH, HT, TH, and TT where H stands for heads and T for tails. The two coin tosses are independent of each other and so knowing the result of one doesn’t enable one to predict the result of the other. This tempted me to ignore (or not properly register) the information that each person gets to see the result of his or her own toss before predicting the other. And since the captives each gets to make just one guess, that seemed to me to suggest that they must guess wrong at some point.
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Nice little brain teaser

I came across this nice little puzzle that I got from the Quora website from someone named Alejandro Jenkins who said that he cannot recall where he first heard or read about it. In its essentials it is easy to state and understand even though, as seems to be the tradition with such puzzles, a story is constructed around it.

The two leading mathematicians in the kingdom, Alice and Bob, have run afoul of their tyrannical king. Rather than behead them outright, the king decides to prolong their misery by locking them in separate dungeons, so that any communication between them is impossible.

Each morning, a guard is to enter the corresponding dungeon and toss a coin so that the prisoner in that dungeon can see the outcome. Then the prisoner will be asked to guess the outcome of the coin toss in the other dungeon (i.e., Alice has to guess the outcome of the toss witnessed by Bob, and Bob has to guess the outcome of the toss witnessed by Alice). If at least one of the two prisoners guesses correctly, they will live to see another day. Otherwise they will be put to death forthwith.

It would seem that the mathematicians are doomed. But as they are being led away in chains Alice and Bob manage to confer for a brief moment and they agree on a strategy that will delay their execution indefinitely. What is the strategy?

What I like about this puzzle is that there is no trickery involved, no hidden meanings and the like. It is a straightforward logic puzzle. Jenkins provides the solution but for some reason, I cannot deep link to it and so will wait a day to let people discuss it in the comments if they so choose and then post the solution in the comments.

Isn’t regular football brutal enough?

American football is a brutal game and so it should not be surprising that it occasionally erupts into outright violence. This feature was on display recently when Myles Garrett, a player for the Cleveland Browns, yanked off the helmet of an opposing player and repeatedly beat him on the head with it until he was restrained by other players. As is often the case there were events that led up to this assault but it was still egregious by any standards. In fact, yanking out a player’s helmet can be very dangerous because the neck is violently jerked. He has been suspended indefinitely but it made me wonder at what point this kind of on-field violence moves into a territory where the perpetrator is subject to legal prosecution.
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A critique of commercialized mindfulness

I am sure that pretty much everyone has heard the term ‘mindfulness’ being bandied about in the media. While it has its roots in Buddhist meditative practice, it has been taken to mean that, at least in its most drastically simplified form, it involved ‘living in the moment’, that one should pay full attention to what one is doing at any given time and not be trying to do many things at once. i.e., it is the opposite of multitasking. For example when you are driving, focus on where you are going and how you are driving and don’t try to talk on the phone, text, read or daydream.
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