Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

17 Sep 2015, 14:09 p.m.

On Paint, Spock, And Anonymity

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

For years I have wondered why the Spanish instructions on reporting unsafe building sites used "No tiene que dar su nombre" instead of the Spanish adverb for "anonymously". While researching this question so I could ask it properly on Ask MetaFilter, I started looking through New York City legislative history around the recent permutations of the required signage. And that's how I came across this transcript of the minutes of the New York City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings from April 30, 2013.

Only a bit of this meeting concerned the proposed changes to Building Codes Section 3301.9, but I enjoyed this moment:

Then why the color scheme. Why are we moving from blue to hunter green or green to hunter blue or whatever the-I mean why are we worried about a color scheme?

COMMISSIONER LIMANDRI: Well, currently today I do think that what we’re looking for is consistency. There have been conversations that blue is an interesting choice and so is green. What we are looking for is a color that is you know what maybe psychologists think are soothing colors. And so we chose green.


CHAIRPERSON DILAN: That’s better than hearing that somebody owns a lot of stock in hunter green paint.

Then the committee heard testimony on a proposed law affecting the sales of cooperative apartments, to reduce illegal discrimination against applicants by co-op boards. In discussing how to affect the behavior of boards considering discriminating against buyers:

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: You mentioned a TV show before. I'll mention another one. Do you watch Star Trek ever?

MR. GURION: The original one.


MR. GURION: Not like--

COUNCIL MEMBER FIDLER: Actually I am going to ask you a question about the original. I think we all agree that Mr. Spock is the smartest character of the show. In one episode he says to Captain Kirk. Every revolution is one man or woman with a vision. I think you heard testimony earlier when you were in the room when Ms. Ford stood up the right thing happened. And for you to say that 188 will have no effect. If you don't necessarily you know you may know the other four members of your coop board but you may not trust all four of them, if you are the only one in the room thinking the discriminatory thought you can't communicate it if Ms. Ford is in the room. And so if there is one person and it's the same thing as 26. If everyone in the room is going to sit there and figure out a really good reason that can't be challenged to say this is not discrimination? It's the same thing. It's the one honest person in the room theory. All right.

MR. GURION: It's not and in New York City unlike on Star Trek there is no Vulcan mind meld.

CHAIRPERSON DILAN: All right, guys.

I am pained to learn that the council member misremembered the speaker of his quotation; Kirk says it to mirror Spock (video). Regardless, I find it charming that Star Trek comes up at City Council committee meetings. And I love that Gurion's response totally makes sense as shorthand in this context; we don't have Vulcan mind melds, and so we cannot see into people's minds to know with certainty whether their actions had discriminatory intent; nor does anyone have telepathic shortcuts to get fellow board members to stop discriminating.

City Council minutes are so engrossing. I could read them for days.