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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

A spam email I received this morning (addressed to me and three other addresses, no subject; the sender was "david mark" at davidmark0066@gmail.com) had the following text:

Hello this is david i will like to know if you can handle my weeding ceremony  and do you own the service ??

I actually never realized people had weeding ceremonies. I thought you just got out there with a trowel and a pair of kneepads and dug out those unwanted plants without benefit of any rituals of any sort. But some may have different traditions. We must be open to cultural diversity.

Sino-Japanese faux ami

Apr. 24th, 2017 03:51 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

Nathan Hopson saw this sign on the ferry from Hong Kong to Macau.

Jisuberi 地滑り means "landslide" in Japanese. Nathan, a Japanese specialist, had a moment of confusion before he noticed the English.  Fortunately, the English on the sign translates the Chinese, xiǎoxīn dì huá 小心地滑, correctly.

This four character warning is actually (in)famous for causing a flood of Chinglish renderings (see also here), e.g.:  "carefully slide", "carefully slipping", "slip carefully!", "beware of slippery", "beware slippery", "caution, slip", "be careful of floor slide", "cautio! wet floor!", "Gaution Wet Floor", "care fully slide",  "watch your steps", "wet flool!", "be careful of landslide", "careful landslip", etc. For more, see: "Slip carefully" (May 6, 2014).

Annals of targeted advertising

Apr. 23rd, 2017 06:18 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

I'm used to getting spammed about every plausibly product-related web search I do. But I'm at a loss to understand what triggered an email this morning with the Subject line "Trending Just For You: Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls". The body of the message:

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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Last January 21 The Economist actually printed a letter I wrote pointing out that how wirelessly to hack a car was a ridiculous way to say "how to wirelessly hack a car," and resulted from a perverted and dimwitted obeisance to a zombie rule. But did they actually listen, and think about changing their ways? They did not. I have no idea how they manage to publish a beautiful magazine every Thursday night when they are so mentally crippled by eccentric 19th-century grammar edicts that they will commit syntactic self-harm rather than go against the prejudices of a few doddering old amateur grammarians in the middle 1800s who worried about the "split infinitive." Take a look at this nonsense from the magazine's leader in the issue of April 22, about UK prime minister Theresa May's chances of having more flexibility after the general election she has called:

With a larger majority she can more easily stand up to her ultra-Eurosceptic backbenchers, some of whom seem actively to want Britain to crash out.

They don't seem actively. Active seeming makes no sense. They seem to actively want Britain to crash out. What is so hard about the point I am making here?

I know you think I am becoming repetitive on this particular point with respect to this particular magazine. And my answer is yes, I am repeating myself, but clearly, not nearly enough.

I feel I should be trying to explain the point in words of one syllable. But I can't: although "split" has only one syllable, I need other words like "infinitival" and "adverb" and "grammatical" and "mythical" and "atavistic" and "editor" and "fucking" and "moron" for which I find no really satisfying one-syllable synonyms.

Or the arbitrary cat, horse, or pig

Apr. 23rd, 2017 08:32 am
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I think Mark Liberman may have been concerned that perhaps my post "Pronominal reference to the arbitrary dog" hinted at being tempted toward the Recency Illusion. Not true, of course: even when surprised by some point of usage that I notice, I never conclude I must therefore be the first to have encountered it. On encountering the use of singular they for a dog, I didn't say "This has never happened before"; I said "we should expect this sort of use to increase in frequency." But anyway, just in case, Mark sent me some other cases of animals being referred to with singular they. They presumably indicate that where sex is irrelevant, the use of it should nonetheless be avoided, because it might offend the animal.

You see, the repetitive movement is not only serving as a way to promote milk flow, it also encourages maternal instinct and establishes a bond between a cat and their kittens.

When a cat died, their human family would go into a deep mourning and shave their eyebrows.

[By the way, notice that the foregoing example is ambiguous (cat's eyebrows vs. family members' eyebrows), and the ambiguity is caused solely by the refusal to use it for the arbitrary cat. People will risk being incomprehensible rather than change their mind about whether they could compromise on a pronoun gender choice. Or maybe the point is just that people do not avoid, and do not know to avoid, or even notice, dangers of ambiguity for the hearer or reader.]

Chirps and trills are how a mother cat tells their kittens to follow them.

The bond between a dog and their owner is unbreakable.

The Tale of a Dog and Their Man.

Anyone can report a dog and their owner to the police.

Here, the action all comes down to a dog adjusting their pinnae, or outer ears, to focus more strongly on the sounds

Lunging and long reining builds on a trusting relationship between a horse and their handler whilst teaching basic aids, such as turns, bends, voice commands, acceptance of tack and equipment.

How does a horse’s personality in the herd relate to how they behave towards people? … Observing these interactions gives us a better picture of our horse’s whole character (not just the side we see) and thus helps us to understand more about how that horse actually feels about people i.e where we fit in to their lives.

Between shows, in the off season, and of course after retirement, a horse does not wear their tail set and even a nicked tail will drop to some degree

Please, if you are thinking of getting a pig, commit to their lifetime… When a pig becomes overweight, their legs will eventually give them problems, manifesting in arthritis, poor joint health and locomotive problems.

Put simply, rooting is when a pig uses their nose to find grubs and other piggy “treats” from the ground.

Meanwhile, Tony Guilfoyle was looking around in the literature on saving dogs that have been baked in hot cars, and discovered, to his horror, this extraordinary avoidance of it on the website of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Continue to douse the dog with cool water until his/her breathing starts to settle but never so much that he/she begins to shiver.

For the RSPCA, evidently, the sex of an animal does matter, always; and it would be offensive; yet singular they would be an even worse offense than using the neuter pronoun; so they fall back on the grotesquely clumsy device of pronominal disjunctions!

Human linguistic behavioral choices continue to amaze me. Though I never conclude from my temporary state of amazement that I am seeing something that has never been seen before.

Long kanji readings

Apr. 23rd, 2017 02:43 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

SoraNews24 (4/20/17) has an article by Scott Wilson titled "W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 kanji with the longest readings【Weird Top Five】 ".  Before attempting to read and critique this article, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic terms and concepts about the modern Japanese writing system.  It basically consists of thousands of kanji (Chinese characters) and kana (a syllabary of 48 symbols, of which there are two different types, cursive hiragana and angular katakana).  As the name "syllabary" indicates, each of the kana symbols is pronounced as a syllable, except for one, which indicates the sound "n".

The pronunciation of the kanji is much more complicated.  One kanji may have multiple readings, of which there are two main types:  on'yomi / ondoku (lit., "sound reading", i.e., Sino-Japanese reading) and kun'yomi / kundoku (lit., "instructional / exegetical reading", i.e., Japanese or native reading).  The former are one syllable in length, while the latter may have two, three, or more syllables.

In his article, Wilson makes frequent reference to the monumental Dai Kan-Wa Jiten 大漢和辞典 (The Great Chinese–Japanese Dictionary) by Tetsuji Morohashi, which students of Sinology and Japanology fondly refer to simply as "Morohashi" (e.g., "Check Morohashi" or "Morohashi will certainly have it").

Here's the nub, one that Wilson himself raises:  are some of the longer readings of certain kanji actually definitions rather than kunyomi?  Here is Wilson's position on this point:

The way that the Morohashi dictionary “confirms” a reading for a kanji is via the index volume (yes, the index is an entire volume… sometimes more, depending on the edition). If the kanji’s reading is in the “Japanese reading” index, then I say it’s fair game to label it a “reading.”

Here's what Linda Chance has to say about this matter:

I looked in my Morohashi, and indeed he calls the pages a kun index, but I don't think these are readings. When you look at the entries for the characters, they do not appear as readings. What I think he has done in the index is to give a phrase by which you might try to find a character you cannot recall, or search to see if there is a character for a particular expression.

Just now I consulted the first volume 凡例, the hanrei, which explains how to use the dictionary (and as all my students know, is the one part of any reference work you must not skip). In fact, Morohashi does not have a category of 訓読 in his instructions; 音読 is the only kind of reading you get. He calls the hiragana entries 訓議 [VHM: kungi, where -gi means "deliberation;  consultation;  debate;  consideration"]. Now very often these are the same as the kunyomi for a character, so for example the meaning of  石 appears as いし. But it also appears as なげいし [VHM:  a family name], and you would normally not read the character 石 that way without some kind of aid telling you to do so. The fact is, I suppose, that in Chinese quotations, 石 may mean なげいし. But in Japanese we would only read 投げ石 as なげいし. (And of course we would read 石 as なげいし if the writer glossed it as such.)

The writer of this entry does not understand how kanji readings work in the first place (if I may be so bold) as he or she writes that 食 is a one-syllable kanji, pronounced ta. That character cannot be read as "ta." It is read "ta+beru." As we know, the purpose of the beru ending (okurigana) in the example 食べる is to inform us of the intended inflection for the verb. Even without the okurigana, if the grammar requires the reading "taberu," the reader should supply it. So the kun reading of the character is a properly inflected form of the verb "taberu." Japanese language textbooks do not, of course, make this distinction clear.

The writer has pointed out that the examples are all extremely rare kanji, and this is the crux of the matter–I would venture that these graphs do not have kunyomi, only onyomi. In fact not a single one of these graphs appears in a desktop-size dictionary. As far as I can tell (and I have gone as far as I plan to on this subject) they were not used to write any Japanese words, for which the writer can be thankful.

Comment by an anonymous colleague:

I assume this site is related to the trend that brought us something called 'Why Japanese people?!,' which I still have never watched, but it's one of those 'what the heck is wrong with this bizarre culture' tv shows that invariably make my blood boil. because they usually don't know what they're talking about, and no Japanese will set them straight because it is nice to hear that you're special, even if he's saying 'Japanese are especially dumb.'

Given the title of the article, which we should not necessarily attribute to Wilson, the comment by the anonymous colleague may not be far from the truth.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

In a comment on "Electric Sheep", Tim wrote:

Just want to share a little Google Translate poetry resulting from drumming my fingers on the keyboard while set to Thai:

There are six sparks in the sky, each with six spheres. The sphere of the sphere is the sphere of the sphere.

I want to preserve this gem for posterity (i.e. past the next GT update). So the specific keyboard banging sequence was


and here is a screenshot of the result:

Also Google Translate's reading of the output:

And the second repetition, slowed down (for better comprehension, or after a few cybercocktails):

Finally, Google's synthesis of the Thai input:

Roger C. responded:

I'd have believed you if you told me this was one of those passages from the Nag Hammadi codices that are very incompetently rendered into Coptic from Greek.


"I want to God bless America"

Apr. 22nd, 2017 10:00 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Donald Trump has developed the habit of ending his speeches with the formula "Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America". Thus from his 2/6/2017 speech at CENTCOM:

And from his 4/21/2017 Weekly Radio Address:

But at the end of an event yesterday, things got a bit tangled, perhaps because these were spontaneous remarks rather than a prepared speech — "President Trump Signs Financial Services Executive Orders", whitehouse.gov 4/21/2017:

In the case of the first element of the closing formula, "Thank you" and "I want to thank you" are effectively equivalent. But continuing with "I want to God bless you" is problematic — at the moment that phrase is not in Google's index of the internet — so it would make sense to drop "I want to" from the remaining two pieces of the formula: "I want to thank you, God bless you, and God bless America". Instead, Trump left out "God bless you", and continued with the blend "I want to God bless America".

Which is only found so far on the internets in reports of Trump's remarks, but still. Maybe to God Bless America will catch on as a sort of phrasal verb. After all, it's fifth on this list of 101 Great Cuss/Swear Word Alternatives:

  1. Shnookerdookies!
  2. Fudge nuggets!
  3. Cheese and rice!
  4. Sugar!
  5. God bless America!

I've often wondered why phrases are so rarely turned into verbs in modern English, given how easily we make phrases into prenominal modifiers. From Mark Liberman & Richard Sproat, "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun Phrases in English", 1992:

… in some informal styles, various phrasal categories can be freely used as prenominal modifiers, with an appropriately generic meaning. Verb and adjective phrases are particularly common. This usage permits free inclusion of pronouns, articles and other things that are usually forbidden in modifiers. Many such phrases — top-of-the-line, hole-in-the-wall, turn-of-the-century — are fixed expressions, but nonce formations do occur. Examples are extremely common in certain journalistic styles, from which the following examples are all taken:

an old-style white-shoe do-it-on-the-golf-course banker, the usual wait-until-next-year attitude, a wait-until-after-the-elections scenario, a kind of get-to-know-what's-going-on meeting place, the like-it-or-lump-it theory of public art, state-of-the-union address, a 24-hour-a-day job, a 1-percent-of-GNP guideline, a run-of-the-mill meeting, a sweep-it-under-the-rug amendment, a middle-of-the-road format, the state-teacher-of-the-year title, a take-it-or-leave-it choice, the yet-to-be-written 1987 bill, a certain chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, make-it-from-scratch traditionalists, Speak-Mandarin-Not-Dialects Month, a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul system, the nothing-left-to-chance approach, get-out-the-vote drives, the don't-trust-anybody-over-30 crowd, national clear-your-desk day

Maybe people are a little uneasy about where to attach endings. "You know you are YOLOing when …", OK, but "You know you are you-only-live-once-ing when …"?

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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Following Bean's guest post about being scorned by an 8-year-old child for not using singular they when it was appropriate, Language Log now presents the first evidence (to my knowledge) of a newspaper abandoning the usual use of it to refer to animals, and instead using singular they for an unknown arbitrary animal. This is from an article in the Metro (a free UK daily) on what to do if you find someone's dog close to death because it has been locked in a car on a hot day; I boldface the pronouns of interest:

Get the dog out of the car and move them to a shaded, or cooler area. Then, douse the dog with cool water and let them drink small amounts of it. Make sure the water is cool but not cold, to avoid shock.

If the dog is not displaying signs of heatstroke, let them rest while you establish how long they were in the car, and make a note of the vehicle's registration.

I take it you know how much I approve of singular they. But even I find it very strange to use it to avoid it with animals. But if (as I suspect) it is becoming de rigeur to use they for cases of reference to an arbitrary unknown entity (as in anyone who thinks they would like to or a person who has their wits about them), we should expect this sort of use to increase in frequency.

Comments have not been enabled on this post. And if you saw the 60 or more cases of uninformed peeving and troll-feeding that followed Bean's post, you'll understand why.

Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 4

Apr. 22nd, 2017 03:23 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

Spotted by Greg Ralph in a London restaurant:

I will give each item on the receipt in both simplified and traditional characters, followed by explanatory notes:

liángbàn hǎizhē 凉伴海蜇 / 伴海蜇

Note:  bàn 伴 ("partner; companion; accompany") has been substituted for bàn 拌 ("mix [in]; blend")

Běijīng tiánjiǎ 北京填甲 / 北京填甲

Note:  the only native speakers of Sinitic languages to which I showed this who could understand why it means "Peking duck" were Cantonese speakers, but not even all the Cantonese speakers who saw this could understand it.

tián / tin4 填 ("stuff; fill")

Cant. gaap3 甲 ("armor") is shorthand for
aap3 鴨 ("duck" — same final and tone)

Several of my respondents mentioned that they had received a "tiányā shì jiàoyù / tin4aap3 sik1 gaau3juk6  填鴨式教育" ("stuffed duck style education"), which they said is Chinese style education where things are just crammed down students' throats.

The standard way to say the name of this dish in Mandarin is Běijīng kǎoyā 北京烤鸭 ("Peking roast duck").

For additional notes on why Peking duck is referred to in Cantonese as "stuffed / filled / force-fed", see the appendix at the bottom of this post.

lóngxiā 龙虾 / 龍蝦

Note:  It's ironic that they didn't use shorthand versions for these complicated characters, especially the first.

miàn 面 /

Note:  The full disyllabic form of this word in is miàntiáo / min6tiu4*2 面条 / 麵條.

qīngchǎo dòumiáo 清炒豆苗 / 清炒豆苗

Note: This is stir-fried / sautéed pea sprouts / shoots.

báifǎn 白反 / 白反 (lit., "white reverse")

Note:  This stands for báifàn 白饭 / 白飯 ("white rice").

Earlier posts on this subject:

It's intriguing to note that these shorthand versions persist even in the days of tablet or iPhone ordering, when it would presumably be no harder to select the "right" character than the "wrong" one from a preset menu of options. It seems that Cantonese waiter shorthand has made the jump from handwriting to the digital realm.



Note on the force-feeding of ducks and geese from Wikipedia:

Foie gras (/ˌfwɑːˈɡrɑː/, French for "fat liver") is a luxury food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. By French law, foie gras is defined as the liver of a duck or goose fattened by force-feeding corn with a feeding tube, a process also known as gavage. In Spain and other countries outside France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding. Ducks are force-fed twice a day for 12.5 days and geese three times a day for around 17 days.

Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. Its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of an ordinary duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or is prepared into mousse, parfait, or pâté, and may also be served as an accompaniment to another food item, such as steak. French law states that "Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France."

The technique of gavage dates as far back as 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding. Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in other European nations, the United States, and China.

Gavage-based foie gras production is controversial, due mainly to the animal welfare concerns about force-feeding, intensive housing and husbandry, and enlarging the liver to 10 times its usual volume. A number of countries and jurisdictions have laws against force-feeding, and the production, import or sale of foie gras; even where it is legal, a number of retailers decline to stock it.


[Thanks to Abraham Chan; Tang Pui Ling, Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, Mandy Chan, Judy Weng, Carmen Lee, Alan Chin, Norman Leung, and Bob from Detroit]

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Posted by John Scalzi

Look, it’s LA, being LA. 

I’m here for a few days! I get to catch up on my sleep! Wheee!

No event today, but tomorrow I am signing books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (3pm-4pm booth 368), and then on Sunday at 1:30, Cory Doctorow and I talk about life, the universe and everything, also at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Come to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books! And see me! And also, you know. Other authors too, I guess.

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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday, in honor of Kathrine Switzer running the Boston marathon 50 years after she was physically removed from the race because it was Men Only.

The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896. It was open to men only and was won by a Greek named Spyridon Louis. A woman named Melpomene snuck onto the marathon route. She finished an hour and a half behind Louis, but beat plenty of men who ran slower or dropped out.

Women snuck onto marathon courses from that point forward. Resistance to their participation was strong and, I believe, reflects men’s often unconscious fear that women might in fact be their equals. Why else would they so vociferously object to women’s participation? If women are, indeed, so weak and inferior, what’s to fear from their running alongside men?

Illustrating what seems to be a degree of panic above and beyond an imperative to follow the rules, the two photos  below show the response to Syracuse University Katherine Switzer’s running the man-only Boston marathon in 1967 (Switzer registered for the marathon using her initials). After two miles, race officials realized one of their runners was a girl. Their response? To physically remove her from the race. Luckily, some of her male Syracuse teammates body blocked their grab:

Why not let her run? The race was man-only, so her stats, whatever they may be, were invalid. Why take her out of the race by force? For the same reason that women were excluded to begin with: their actual potential is not obviously inferior to men’s. If it were, there’d be no risk in letting her run. The only sex that is threatened by co-ed sports is the sex whose superiority is assumed.

Women were allowed to begin competing in marathons starting in 1972 — not so very long ago — and, just like Melponeme, while they’ve been slower on average, individual women have been beating individual men ever since. In fact, women have been getting faster and faster, shrinking the gender gap in completion times, because achievement and opportunity go hand in hand.

Thanks Kathrine Switzer, and congratulations.

Originally posted in 2012.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

Schooled on singular "they"

Apr. 21st, 2017 01:25 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

[This is a guest post by Bean]

My eight-year-old daughter in conversation with me last night:

Scene: I am giving her a sock, which she had brought home, only to find she already had both of her socks. So it logically must belong to some other girl (it's obviously a girl's sock).

Me: So, bring this lost sock back to school, and put it in the lost and found. Do you remember who was wearing it? Well, anyway if the other girl is looking for it she can find it. I'm assuming it was a girl so I'm going with "she".

Daughter [scornfully]: You mean "they".

I think this clearly illustrates the way the kids use "they". We know it's a girl, but since we're not sure which girl, it becomes "they". And it was such a firm rule in her mind she felt the need to sneer at me. :)

The girls (and, I think, us parents) also use this consistently in their all-girls' hockey league, and in Brownies – both all-female pursuits. For example, I heard something along the lines of: Q. "Is the other goalie any good?" A. "I don't know, I've never seen them play before." Whereas if we were talking about our goalie, whose name and face we know, it would have been along the lines of "I don't know, she hasn't played much lately."

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Posted by Victor Mair

Banner displayed on the main campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, by members of the women’s basketball team:

The banner reads:

wéihù Zhōnghuá mínzú chuántǒng lúnlǐ
hànwèi shèhuì zhǔyì héxīn jiàzhí
dǐzhì xīfāng fǔxiǔ sīxiǎng qīn shí
ràng tóngxìngliàn yuǎnlí dàxué xiàoyuán


Maintain the traditional morals of the Chinese people,
Defend the core values of socialism;
Resist the corrosion of decadent Western thought,
Keep homosexuality far from our university campus

When a photo of the students holding the banner was posted online by the team's coach, there was widespread opposition.

"Furor in China Over Team’s Banner: ‘Keep Homosexuality Far From Campus’" (NYT, Javier C. Hernández, 4/20/17)

"Mothers united to fight against a homophobic banner unfurled at a college in China" (Mashable, Yi Shu Ng, 4/20/17)

bié ràng kǒngtóngzhě shānghài wǒmen de háizi!


Don't let homophobes harm our children!

If only China could have such open debate of opposing opinions on other pressing social and political issues!

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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Sometimes you have to take the long view.

This week Bill O’Reilly — arguably the most powerful political commentator in America — was let go from his position at Fox News. The dismissal came grudgingly. News broke that he and Fox had paid out $13 million dollars to women claiming O’Reilly sexually harassed them; Fox didn’t budge. They renewed his contract. There was outcry and protests. The company yawned. But when advertisers started dropping The O’Reilly Factor, they caved. O’Reilly is gone.

Fox clearly didn’t care about women — not “women” in the abstract, nor the women who worked at their company — but they did care about their bottom line. And so did the companies buying advertising space, who decided that it was bad PR to prop up a known sexual harasser. Perhaps the decision-makers at those companies also thought it was the right thing to do. Who knows.

Is this progress?

Donald Trump is on record gleefully explaining that being a celebrity gives him the ability to get away with sexual battery. That’s a crime, defined as unwanted contact with an “intimate part of the body” that is done to sexually arouse, gratify, or abuse. He’s president anyway.

And O’Reilly? He walked away with $25 million in severance, twice what all of his victims together have received in hush money. Fox gaves Roger Ailes much more to go away: $40 million. Also ousted after multiple allegations of sexual harassment, his going away present was also twice what the women he had harassed received.

Man, sexism really does pay.

But they’re gone. Ailes and O’Reilly are gone. Trump is President but Billy Bush, the Today host who cackled when Trump said “grab ’em by the pussy,” was fired, too.  Bill Cosby finally had some comeuppance after decades of sexual abuse and rape. At the very least, his reputation is destroyed. Maybe these “victories” — for women, for feminists, for equality, for human decency — were driven purely by greed. And arguably, for all intents and purposes, the men are getting away with it. Trump, Ailes, O’Reilly, Bush, and Cosby are all doing fine. Nobody’s in jail; everybody’s rich beyond belief.

But we know what they did.

Until at least the 1960s, sexual harassment — along with domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and rape — went largely unregulated, unnoticed, and unnamed. There was no language to even talk about what women experienced in the workplace. Certainly no outrage, no ruined reputations, no dismissals, and no severance packages. The phrase “sexual harassment” didn’t exist.

In 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it became illegal to discriminate against women at work, but only because the politicians who opposed the bill thought adding sex to race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion would certainly tank it. That’s how ridiculous the idea of women’s rights was at the time. But that was then. Today almost no one thinks women shouldn’t have equal rights at work.

What has happened at Fox News, in Bill Cosby’s hotel rooms, in the Access Hollywood bus, and on election day is proof that sexism is alive and well. But it’s not as healthy as it once was. Thanks to hard work by activists, politicians, and citizens, things are getting better. Progress is usually incremental. It requires endurance. Change is slow. Excruciatingly so. And this is what it looks like.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Posted by John Scalzi

Parking lot in there. Just barely.

Tonight: San Diego! Mysterious Galaxy bookstore! 7pm! Be there or be somewhere else!

Tomorrow: Nothing! I have a travel day and a break. BUT Saturday and Sunday I’ll be at the LA Times Festival of Books. I’m signing at the Mysterious Galaxy booth an Saturday at 3, and on Sunday have a panel with Cory Doctorow, followed by another signing. Come see us!

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Posted by John Scalzi

Not a parking lot, but there is street parking, so that maybe counts?

Tonight: I’m at University Temple United Methodist Church for an event sponsored by the University Bookstore (if memory serves the church is across the street from the bookstore). That’s at 7. Come see me then (but remember it’s a ticketed event)!

Tomorrow: I’m all the down in San Diego for an event at another of my favorite bookstores, Mysterious Galaxy. Also at 7. See you soon, San Diego!

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Posted by Tempest

Today is my birthday! Break out the confetti and the cupcakes and the ball pit! A real ball pit, not a DashCon ball pit.

Those of you who know me know that I like to celebrate hard when the anniversary of my rotation around the sun comes around. So be warned: this is the first post of many in which I will mention that IT’S MAH BIRTHDAY.

You’re all invited to celebrate with me. So step into my virtual party and collect your party favor. (That’s a free thing you get for showing up.) I’m a writer, so all I can give you is some writing. But it’s free, so hurrah!

The story below is a bit of background writing I did for one of the characters in the Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress, which you have perhaps heard about? If not, there’s an explanation of it over on my Patreon. And yeah, I’m gonna mention how, if you support me via Patreon, you can read more excerpts from this novel and related writings, such as this, each month.

All right, shameless plug over, let’s get to the fiction.

Ibi’s First Dance

The morning of the equinox. The year’s first equinox. The balance of day and night before the night overtakes the sunlight hours. More time for marking the turning of the night sky and the movement of the stars. Ibi’s favorite time of year. It also meant she was closer to the Long Night, marking the end of her second year training in the Spirit House and the beginning of her last.

Two hours before dawn the sorors rang the first bell, calling for the trainees and acolytes to wake up. Ibi was already awake. Fretting. Thinking about the dance. She was a ba-adept, one of the rare people who could see the ba spirits of the dead and guide them. One day guide them. That would be her role, if she completed her training and passed her tests. She was not expected to dance the Hathor ceremony with precision and perfection. But it was her first time and she could not stop being nervous.

She knew the steps. She knew the words. She knew the notes. How many times had she practiced? How many times growing up did she see the dancers and musicians of the Spirit House perform it? Still, she couldn’t shake the fear that she would misstep, fail to hit a note, and ruin the great celebration for everyone.

A good part of her nervousness came from knowing that the Great Mother, Tani, and all the kinswomen of the Pharaoh would be at the ceremony. All of them including Ziwat. What did she look like now? Would she recognize Ibi if she happened to see her dancing?

When she was small and was Ziwat her mother’s favorite student, she attached herself to the woman almost as soon as she got to know her. Ziwat was the best person in the world, aside from her parents and her older siblings. And, like her sisters and brother, Zi grew up and left to live her own life. Natural, yes, but heartbreaking.

Now she was the Superior Engineer of the High House, the netjer Seshat in human form. Ibi was just another ba-adept in the crowd. She probably wouldn’t notice her.

The Supreme Musician of the Spirit House wouldn’t reveal her place in the formation until later that morning. The dancers would be assigned a quadrant in the festival square and stay within certain bounds as they went through the ceremonial steps. The kinswomen would be watching from the West. Part of her hoped to be assigned there, part of her didn’t. To mess up at all would be mortifying. To mess up in front of the Great Mother and Ziwat?

The second bell brought her back to the present. It was time to get ready.

She pulled on the fine, white linen dress worn for ceremonies, its skirt loose to allow for full leg movement, the arms sleeveless to display the Spirit House tattoos and make working the sheer veil easier. She wrapped the veil around her waist for the moment, then followed the other trainees to the inner sanctum.

There were over sixty of them in the columned room, and their energy–mixed nervous and excited–made them want to chatter. None did. The sanctum was only for sacred sound.

The Supreme Musician, voice of Hathor, emerged from the netjer chamber and they all stilled, waiting for her words. She said nothing for heartbeat on heartbeat until a final bell rang announcing the appearance of the Aten disk above the horizon and the emergence of the Kheper-dawn.

She then moved among them, singing the notes for the four directions and touching each of their foreheads as she did. You go north, you go east, you go south, you go west. That last she sang to Ibi; West it would be, then.

The dancers moved to the walls of the room that corresponded to their direction, waiting in no set order. The Supreme’s voice, low, sonorous, and resonant, made the walls vibrate just a touch. At some signal in her tone, instrument players came into the room and moved among them, wrapping belts around their waists and hanging two of the sacred sistrum at the hips. This instrument, only allowed during ceremonies and often only played by dancers, bore the face of Hathor and was sacred to her.

While this happened, the Supreme chanted words marking the passage of time and the role of Hathor as the guiding hand on the sun barge. In response, trainees and acolytes, adepts and sorors, chanted the mirror words. She came to each and arranged them in lines, showing where they would be for the dance. When she came to the West, the last group, she placed Ibi in the front line. Ibi tried not to break her chant, but did take the woman’s hand in her own and squeeze it, her eyes asking “Are you certain?” The Supreme only smiled and cupped her cheeks for a moment, certainty in her own expression.

That should have made Ibi less nervous. It didn’t. Now she wouldn’t even have the comfort of hiding in the crowd.


The Ra-sun crested the endless blue sky, coming to its highest point before dipping back down to the horizon. The dancers filed out of the Spirit House’s main entrance into the cheerful cacophony of the Festival crowd. They moved to their assigned positions in the Festival square without speaking, the only sound a collective sussurus from the sistrum banging against their hips. Ibi’s feet knew where to go, and she kept her eyes on them while she concentrated on getting to her place.

Around them, the voices of the majority of hetWaret’s citizens called out words of praise and respect and thanks. The dancers and musicians would deliver the grateful joy of the Khemetan people to the netjer and ensure the continuation of the world with their words and notes and music.

When Ibi’s group reached the western quadrant she finally looked up. The congregation of the High House sat on a raised platform a few yards away. Above them, on a higher dais, the kinswomen stood in front of the Pharaoh and the Great Mother, who stood in front of a giant copper scarab. The outer wings were raised halfway up, bouncing the rays of the sun back to the sky. The massive machines were taller than two tall men, wider than two wide elephants, made all of copper on the outside, which had been newly polished on this one. Likely the Pharaoh and Great Mother had come to the square riding in it.

And standing just in front of them: Ziwat. Ibi recognized her right away. Same sand-colored skin, hair twists longer now with touches of silver, wide brows still dark, complimenting her wide, red-tinted mouth. She was beautiful. How was she so beautiful? How had Ibi not remembered that?

Rapid drumbeats signaled the start of the ceremony and the crowd came to attention. The dancers did not move. Still, still, still; counting until the right moment. The first note burst from the Superior Musician’s throat and, as one, they all lifted their arms and began the dance.

Ceremonial song took over Ibi’s mind and body and transported her beyond herself within the first few beats. All nerves, all worry, all self-consciousness dissolved as she became one with the others, one with the voice of Hathor. The dancers moved in unison, each step, arc of the arm, position of the hand, note of the song carrying layer on layer of meaning. Their celebration praised all aspects of the netjer as she moved through the mill of time.

When the first verse ended all the dancers turned to face the center of the square and lifted their voices to create a note that reverberated up to the sun itself, an offering to the Hathor at the center of everything.

Now came the hard part.

They turned back and all danced into the crowd. People parted to allow them in as the front line was expected to move all the way to the back of the crowd and the base of the kinswomen’s dais. Once they were all properly dispersed, the dancers began again, this time inviting the citizens around them to join. The women in the rearmost line took the hands of children new to ceremony to teach them the movements. The lines in the middle danced with adults who knew their part in this well. The highest ranking citizens stood in the back of the crowds on all four sides and often only watched the front line dancers. Their presence was sacred offering enough. Though sometimes they were moved to join the dance.

Ibi lifted her eyes to search for Ziwat and discovered her friend was already looking at her, recognition in her wide smile and joyous gaze. Ibi knew not to approach her directly, even though she wanted to. But with her own smile she tried to communicate the same happiness at seeing Ziwat again.

At a prompt from the song, she unwrapped the veil from her shoulders and spun, the fabric rippling around her in waves. When she faced the dais again, Ziwat was there in front of her. They danced together, Zi matching or mirroring her moves in accordance with the ceremony. They were Seshet and Hathor, celebrating each other, spinning, clapping, harmonious on Earth as in the heavens.

Other kinswomen joined the dancers–more than had in many years, Ibi learned later. Her whole being overflowed with joy.

The Supreme’s voice sang out a note as the song crested toward its highest point, a signal to the dancers to return to formation. Ibi touched Zi’s arm one more time, then spun away, her veil almost wrapping itself back around her. Fingers unhooking the sistrum, feet landing exactly so, arms raised at a right angle, she joined the others in this final display of gratitude and celebration. As one, they shook the sistrum, the small metal disks strung between the cow’s horns clattering against each other. The sound came to the ear harsh at first, then transformed into a sacred vibration that reached into every body, every stone, every thing.

Ibi’s brown eyes swirled to gold and she saw hundreds of fluttering lights rushing toward them. These were the ba spirits of those who had not yet passed beyond the Door to the West. The sound of the sistrum drew them, always. Just as they had at her first Hathor Festival. She’d seem them and cried out “What are those shining birds?” That’s when her family discovered she was a ba-adept. The moment that set her on the path that led to this one.

Dancers shook the sistrum side to side, shaking or rolling different parts of their bodies in precise, isolated movements. Arms only, now wrists, hips now, one leg, then the other, the midriff, then finally absolute stillness as the song and ceremony ended and the crowd burst into cheers and praise.

This is when Ibi sunk fully back into herself, breath and heartbeat rapid, dress clinging to sweaty skin. Above all the heads in front of her she saw Ziwat, hand cupped to her mouth, her ululation directed right to her.


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Posted by Tobias Buckell

I’m really excited about this anthology. It features my short story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance.

I really love the story. It wasn’t an easy write. Had to do a lot of edits, as I wrote it coming off another huge project and I was exhausted. Like, blurry screen exhausted. But I had come up with the title a few years back in a twitter exchange with Christie Yant and I really, really wanted to find a story that respected the title and did something really cool.

The seed of the story came out of my reading about some ugly, tough pieces of deep Caribbean history while also thinking about the Three Laws of Robotics. After selling this story, I told a friend it was something I was deeply proud of having written, though I wasn’t sure if would resonate with anyone.

Rich Horton at Locus Mag highlighted it as a must read story out of the anthology, Publishers Weekly did as well. Rocket Stack Rank also said kind things here, so I’m hopeful others find the story.

But enough about me, there are also a ton of other great stories in there. I know because I got to see the book early for copy edits.

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Posted by John Scalzi

That’s almost the Platonic ideal of the hotel parking lot photo.

Tonight: I’m visiting Boulder for the first time ever! My event is at the Boulder Bookstore at 7:30. Hope to see you there if you’re in the area!

Tomorrow: Seattle — one of my favorite stops — and University Bookstore (actually it will be at the University Temple United Methodist Church). Remember this is a ticketed event, so if you still need tickets (they admit two people each), you can still get them here.

Where did your 2016 tax dollars go?

Apr. 18th, 2017 07:25 pm
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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

More than 80% of the US federal government’s budget comes from payroll and income taxes. The National Priorities Project is dedicated to helping Americans understand how that money is spent. Here’s the data for 2016:

The highest individual income “top” tax rate in history was 94%; that was the rate at which any income above 200,000 was taxed in 1945, equivalent to almost 2.8 million today. Today it’s 39.6%. The Nobel laureate Peter Diamond and economist Emmanuel Saez argue that the top tax rate should optimally be 73%.

Last year corporate taxes made up only about 11% of the federal government’s revenue; this is down from a historic high of almost 40% in 1943. This is partly because of a low tax rate of 35% and partly because of legal loopholes. According to the Project’s 7 Tax Facts for 2017, 100 of the 258 most profitable Fortune 500 companies paid zero in taxes for at least one of the last eight years. General Electric, Priceline, and PG&E haven’t paid a penny in taxes for almost a decade.

Visit the National Priorities Project here and find out how each state benefits from federal tax dollars or fiddle around with how you would organize American priorities.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Posted by brainwane

A sort of topic-specific collection of links from about the last year, broadly talking about inclusion in communities, online and off, especially in geek(y) spaces.

What kind of discourses and conversations do we want to encourage and have?

  • Nalo Hopkinson’s WisCon 2016 Guest of Honor speech: “There are many people who do good in this field, who perform small and large actions of kindness and welcome every day. I’d like to encourage more of that.” In this speech Hopkinson announced the Lemonade Award.
  • “Looking back on a decade in online fandom social justice: unexpurgated version”, by sqbr: “And just because I’m avoiding someone socially doesn’t mean I should ignore what they have to say, and won’t end up facing complex ethical choices involving them. My approach right now is to discuss it with people I trust. Figuring out who those people are, and learning to make myself vulnerable in front of them, has been part of the journey.”
  • “On conversations”, by Katherine Daniels: “I would love for these people who have had so many opportunities already given to them to think about what they are taking away from our collective conversations by continuing to dominate them, and to maybe take a step back and suggest someone else for that opportunity to speak instead.”
  • “Towards a More Welcoming War” by Mary Anne Mohanraj (originally published in WisCon Chronicles 9: Intersections and Alliances, Aqueduct Press, 2015): “This is where I start thinking about what makes an effective community intervention. This is where I wish I knew some people well enough to pick up a phone.”
  • “The chemistry of discourse”, by Abi Sutherland: “What we really need for free speech is a varied ecosystem of different moderators, different regimes, different conversations. How do those spaces relate to one another when Twitter, Reddit, and the chans flatten the subcultural walls between them?”
  • “Hot Allostatic Load”, by porpentine, in The New Inquiry: “This is about disposability from a trans feminine perspective, through the lens of an artistic career. It’s about being human trash….Call-out Culture as Ritual Disposability”
  • “The Ethics of Mob Justice”, by Sady Doyle, in In These Times: “But, again, there’s no eliminating the existence of Internet shaming, even if you wanted to—and if you did, you’d eliminate a lot of healthy dialogue and teachable moments right along with it. At best, progressive people who recognize the necessity of some healthy shame can only alter the forms shaming takes.”

How do we reduce online harassment?

  • “Paths: a YA comic about online harassment”, by Mikki Kendall: “‘It’s not that big of a deal. She’ll get over it.’ ‘Even if she does, that doesn’t make this okay. What’s wrong with you?'”
  • “On a technicality”, by Eevee: “There’s a human tendency to measure peace as though it were the inverse of volume: the louder people get, the less peaceful it is. We then try to optimize for the least arguing.”
  • “Moderating Harassment in Twitter with Blockbots”, by ethnographer R. Stuart Geiger, on the Berkeley Institute for Data Science site: “In the paper, I analyze blockbot projects as counterpublics…I found a substantial amount of collective sensemaking in these groups, which can be seen in the intense debates that sometimes take place over defining standards of blockworthyness…..I also think it is important distinguish between the right to speak and the right to be heard, particularly in privately owned social networking sites.”
  • “The Real Name Fallacy”, by J. Nathan Matias, on The Coral Project site: “People often say that online behavior would improve if every comment system forced people to use their real names….Yet the balance of experimental evidence over the past thirty years suggests that this is not the case. Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment….designers need to commit to testing the outcomes of efforts at preventing and responding to social problems.”

What does it take to make your community more inclusive?

  • “Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.” by Mel Chua and then “Beyond ‘Childcare Available’: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly”, by Camille Acey: “I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move ‘Childcare Available’ from just a word on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.”
  • Project Hearing: “Project Hearing is a website that consolidates information about technology tools, websites, and applications that deaf and hard of hearing people can use to move around in the hearing world.”
  • “Conference access, and related topics”, by Emily Short: “This is an area where different forms of accessibility are often going at right angles.”
  • “SciPy 2016 Retrospective”, by Camille Scott: “SciPy, by my account, is a curious microcosm of the academic open source community as a whole.”
  • “Notes from Abstractions”, by Coral Sheldon-Hess: “Pittsburgh’s Code & Supply just held a huge (1500 people) conference over the last three days, and of course I’d signed up to attend months ago, because 1) local 2) affordable 3) tech conference 4) with a code of conduct they seemed serious about. Plus, “Abstractions” is a really cool name for a tech conference.”
  • “The letter I just sent to Odyssey Con”, by Sigrid Ellis: “None of us can know the future, of course. And I always hope for the best, from everyone. But I would hate for Odyssey Con to find itself in the midst of another controversy with these men at the center.” (This is Ellis’s post from April 7, 2016, a year before all three of Odyssey Con’s Guests of Honor chose not to attend Odyssey Con because of the very issue Ellis discussed.)
  • “The realities of organizing a community tech conference: an ill-advised rant”, by Rebecca Miller-Webster: “…there’s a lot of unpaid labor that happens at conferences, especially community conferences, that no one seems to talk about. The unpaid labor of conference organizers. Not only do people not talk about it, but in the narrative around conferences as work, these participants are almost always the bad guys.”
  • “Emotional Labor and Diversity in Community Management”, by Jeremy Preacher, originally a speech in the Community Management Summit at Game Developers Conference 2016: “The thing with emotional labor is that it’s generally invisible — both to the people benefiting from the work, and to the people doing it. People who are good at it tend to do it unconsciously — it’s one of the things we’re talking about when we say a community manager has ‘good instincts’.”….What all of these strategies do, what thinking about the emotional labor cost of participation adds up to, is make space for your lurkers to join in.”
  • “White Corporate Feminism”, by Sarah Sharp: “Even though Grace Hopper was hosted in Atlanta that year, a city that is 56% African American, there weren’t that many women of color attending.”
  • “You say hello”, by wundergeek on “Go Make Me a Sandwich (how not to sell games to women)”: “Of course, this is made harder by the fact that I hate losing. And there will be people who will celebrate, people who call this a victory, which only intensifies my feelings of defeat. My feelings of weakness. I feel like I’m giving up, and it kills me because I’m competitive! I’m contrary! Telling me not to do a thing is enough to make me want to do the thing. I don’t give up on things and I hate losing. But in this situation, I have to accept that there is no winning play. No win condition. I’m one person at war with an entire culture, and there just aren’t enough people who give a damn, and I’m not willing to continue sacrificing my health and well-being on the altar of moral obligation. If this fight is so important, then let someone else fight it for a while.”
  • “No One Should Feel Alone”, by Natalie Luhrs: “In addition to listening and believing–which is 101 level work, honestly–there are other things we can do: we can hold space for people to speak their truth and we can hold everyone to account, regardless of their social or professional position in our community. We can look out for newcomers–writers and fans alike–and make them welcome and follow through on our promise that we will have their backs. We can try to help people form connections with each other, so they are not isolated and alone.”
  • “Equality Credentials”, by Sara Ahmed: “Feminist work in addressing institutional failure can be used as evidence of institutional success. The very labour of feminist critique can end up supporting what is being critiqued. The tools you introduce to address a problem can be used as indicators that a problem has been addressed.”
  • “Shock and Care: an essay about art, politics and responsibility”, by Harry Giles (Content note: includes discussion of sex, violence and self-injury in an artistic context): “So, in a political situation in which care is both exceptionally necessary and exceptionally underprovided, acts of care begin to look politically radical. To care is to act against the grain of social and economic orthodoxy: to advocate care is, in the present moment, to advocate a kind of political rupture. But by its nature, care must be a rupture which involves taking account of, centring, and, most importantly, taking responsibility for those for whom you are caring. Is providing care thus a valuable avenue of artistic exploration? Is the art of care a form of radical political art? Is care, in a society which devalues care, itself shocking?”
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Today is the birthday of the most fabulous person I know, namely, my wife, Kristine Blauser Scalzi, for whom my love is boundless. If you might wish to offer her felicitations on this most auspicious of days, I think that would be lovely, and I would thank you.

Electric sheep

Apr. 18th, 2017 09:16 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

A couple of recent LLOG posts ("What a tangled web they weave", "A long short-term memory of Gertrude Stein") have illustrated the strange and amusing results that Google's current machine translation system can produce when fed variable numbers of repetitions of meaningless letter sequences in non-Latin orthographic systems. Geoff Pullum has urged me to explain how and why this sort of thing happens:

I think Language Log readers deserve a more careful account, preferably from your pen, of how this sort of craziness can arise from deep neural-net machine translation systems. […]

Ordinary people imagine (wrongly) that Google Translate is approximating the process we call translation. They think that the errors it makes are comparable to a human translator getting the wrong word (or the wrong sense) from a dictionary, or mistaking one syntactic construction for another, or missing an idiom, and thus making a well-intentioned but erroneous translation. The phenomena you have discussed reveal that something wildly, disastrously different is going on.  

Something nonlinear: 18 consecutive repetitions of a two-character Thai sequence produce "This is how it is supposed to be", and so do 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and then 25 repetitions produces something different, and 26 something different again, and so on. What will come out in response to a given input seems informally to be unpredictable (and I'll bet it is recursively unsolvable, too; it's highly reminiscent of Emil Post's famous tag system where 0..X is replaced by X00 and 1..X is replaced by X1101, iteratively).

Type "La plume de ma tante est sur la table" into Google Translate and ask for an English translation, and you get something that might incline you, if asked whether you would agree to ride in a self-driving car programmed by the same people, to say yes. But look at the weird shit that comes from inputting Asian language repeated syllable sequences and you not only wouldn't get in the car, you wouldn't want to be in a parking lot where it was driving around on a test run. It's the difference between what might look like a technology nearly ready for prime time and the chaotic behavior of an engineering abortion that should strike fear into the hearts of any rational human.  

Language Log needs at least a sketch of a proper serious account of what's going on here.

A sketch is all that I have time for today, but here goes…

According to Yonghui Wu et al., "Google's Neural Machine Translation System: Bridging the Gap between Human and Machine Translation", 9/26/2016:

Our model consists of a deep LSTM network with 8 encoder and 8 decoder layers using attention and residual connections. […] To improve handling of rare words, we divide words into a limited set of common sub-word units ("wordpieces") for both input and output. This method provides a good balance between the flexibility of "character"-delimited models and the efficiency of "word"-delimited models, naturally handles translation of rare words, and ultimately improves the overall accuracy of the system.

"LSTM" is an acronym for "Long Short-Term Memory". As Wikipedia explains,

Long short-term memory (LSTM) is a recurrent neural network (RNN) architecture (an artificial neural network) proposed in 1997 by Sepp Hochreiter and Jürgen Schmidhuber. Like most RNNs, a LSTM network is universal  in the sense that given enough network units it can compute anything a conventional computer can compute, provided it has the proper weight matrix, which may be viewed as its program. Unlike traditional RNNs, a LSTM network is well-suited to learn from experience to classify, process and predict time series when there are time lags of unknown size and bound between important events.

Andrej Karpathy, in "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks", notes that an LSTM network trained on various kinds of text can be used to generate arbitrary amounts of new material in the general style of its inputs. Thus training on the the works of Shakespeare in modern spelling yields stuff like

Alas, I think he shall be come approached and the day
When little srain would be attain'd into being never fed,
And who is but a chain and subjects of his death,
I should not sleep.

Second Senator:
They are away this miseries, produced upon my soul,
Breaking and strongly should be buried, when I perish
The earth and thoughts of many states.

Well, your wit is in the care of side and that.

Second Lord:
They would be ruled after this chamber, and
my fair nues begun out of the fact, to be conveyed,
Whose noble souls I'll have the heart of the wars.

Come, sir, I will make did behold your worship.

I'll drink it.

In contrast, training on 96 MB of English-language Wikipedia yields hallucinations like this one:

Naturalism and decision for the majority of Arab countries' capitalide was grounded
by the Irish language by [[John Clair]], [[An Imperial Japanese Revolt]], associated 
with Guangzham's sovereignty. His generals were the powerful ruler of the Portugal 
in the [[Protestant Immineners]], which could be said to be directly in Cantonese 
Communication, which followed a ceremony and set inspired prison, training. The 
emperor travelled back to [[Antioch, Perth, October 25|21]] to note, the Kingdom 
of Costa Rica, unsuccessful fashioned the [[Thrales]], [[Cynth's Dajoard]], known 
in western [[Scotland]], near Italy to the conquest of India with the conflict. 
Copyright was the succession of independence in the slop of Syrian influence that 
was a famous German movement based on a more popular servicious, non-doctrinal 
and sexual power post. Many governments recognize the military housing of the 
[[Civil Liberalization and Infantry Resolution 265 National Party in Hungary]], 
that is sympathetic to be to the [[Punjab Resolution]]
cfm/7754800786d17551963s89.htm Official economics Adjoint for the Nazism, Montgomery 
was swear to advance to the resources for those Socialism's rule, 
was starting to signing a major tripad of aid exile.]]

Google's NMT system system differs from Karpathy's experiments in several key ways, including the fact that it deals with "wordpieces" as units rather than letters, and the fact that it was trained on trillions of words, rather than hundreds of thousands or millions. But like Karpathy's system, its recursive character means that it's capable of turning meaningless input into complex and seemingly unpredictable hallucinations that nevertheless evoke aspects of its experience.

More from Geoff Pullum on the dangers of recursion:

While preparing a talk on Emil Post for a seminar group at the University of Lille early this month I wrote a script that implements Post's problematic tag system on the alphabet {a,b}, and its behavior is truly extraordinary. Give it a string of anything up to 13 b's, and it loops forever (I conjecture!) on strings of varying lengths. Then at 14 b's it suddenly decides to terminate in 410 steps. On 15 b's, it terminates one step sooner, 409 steps; on 16, even quicker, 408 steps; but then at 17 b's it starts complicated looping behaviors again. And so on, chaotically, with no sign at all of any sensible or predictable behavior. Given the input "abbabbbbab-bbabbbabb-abbabb-abbba-bbbbbbb" it goes bananas for a while, building hundreds of strings up to 139 characters long, but slowly they begin to shrink, and eventually you get termination after 1,355 steps.

Post was trying to work out what systems of this sort would do, and whether derivability of a given string was decidable, using just pencil and paper (!), in 1921 when he did his postdoc year at Princeton. It almost literally drove him mad: my Lille friend Liesbeth De Mol has discovered evidence that it was working on tag systems that drove Post to his first manic episode, which was followed by thirty years of mental illness and occasional hospitalization for what we now call bipolar disorder.

I mention this only because the core of my script is tiny (only 7 lines of code, 38 words, 173 characters). As Post discovered, you can get batshit-crazy behavior out of extraordinarily simple systems. What these games with Google Translate are showing is that by adding enormous complexity and gigundo amounts of training data a system doesn't necessarily get any less batshit crazy.

For the relevant background, see Wikipedia on Tag systems, and Liesbeth De Mol, "Generating, solving and the mathematics of Homo Sapiens. Emil Post’s views on computation", 2013.

From what I understand of current self-driving car technology, manic episodes are unlikely. But I agree with Geoff that this aspect of current AI algorithms is something to wonder about, as it comes to be deployed in circumstances with more serious real-world consequences than amusing translations of variable-length gibberish.

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Posted by Victor Mair

From a Twitter account:

The four big characters say:

yǒu qián zhēn hǎo


It's really good to have money

Above the large, red characters is a list of dishes served by the establishment.  They are mostly one or another kind of beef noodles.

The notice under the DIY inside the red star asks customers to clean up themselves after eating because the shop is shorthanded.

The visual semiotic content on the wall is just as powerful, if not more so, as the verbal content of the signs.

[h.t. Geoff Wade]

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Posted by John Scalzi

Not quite pool season in Santa Fe, yet.

Tonight: I am at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, having conversation with George RR Martin. As one does!

Tomorrow: Boulder, Colorado, at the Boulder bookstore. Really looking forward to that.

Hello world! I’m back on tour!

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Posted by Lisa Wade, PhD

Sexism in American society has been on the decline. Obstacles to female-bodied people excelling in previously male-only occupations and hobbies have lessened. And women have thrived in these spaces, sometimes even overtaking men both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Another kind of bias, though, has gotten worse: the preference for masculinity over femininity. Today we like our men manly, just like we used to, but we like our women just a little bit manly, too. This is true especially when women expect to compete with men in masculine arenas.

A recent study by a team of psychologists, led by Sarah Banchefsky, collected photographs of 40 male and 40 female scientists employed in STEM departments of US universities. 50 respondents were told they were participating in a study of “first impressions” and were asked to rate each person according to how masculine or feminine they appeared. They were not told their occupation. They were then asked to guess as to the likelihood that each person was a scientist, then the likelihood that each was an early childhood educator.

Overall, women were rated as more feminine than men and less likely to be scientists. Within the group of women, however, perceived femininity was also negatively correlated with the estimated likelihood of being a scientist and positively correlated with the likelihood of being an educator. In other words, both having a female body and appearing feminine was imagined to make a woman less inclined to or suited to science. The same results were not found for men.


Banchefsky and her colleagues conclude that “subtle variations in gendered appearance alter perceptions that a given woman is a scientist” and this has important implications for their careers:

First, naturally feminine-appearing young women and those who choose to emphasize their femininity may not be encouraged or given opportunities to become scientists as a result of adults’ beliefs that feminine women are not well-suited to the occupation.

Second, feminine-appearing women who are already scientists may not be taken as seriously as more masculine-appearing ones. They may have to overperform relative to their male and masculine female peers to be recognized as equally competent. Femininity may, then, cost them job opportunities, promotions, awards, grants, and valuable collaboration.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at https://thesocietypages.org/socimages)

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Posted by Mark Liberman

In Finnish, that is. Garrett Wollman ("Some linguistic observations from my trip to Finland", Occasionally Coherent 4/14/2017) notes that Finnish morphology differentiates between "surface" and "interior" relationships of position and motion:

toward at away
surface allative
“on” or “at”
“off” or “away”
interior illative
(for stems ending in V)
“into” or “toward”
“in” or “inside of”
“out of” or “from”

Against this background, he describes his recent experience at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki.

All this intro is just to explain the very first thing that struck me, in the announcements at Hartwall Arena during the World Figure Skating Championships. As you might expect if you follow the sport even casually, there are a lot of Russians competing at Worlds; Team Russia has three athlete “slots” in three of the four disciplines. (All ISU member countries are entitled to send one athlete, subject to technical qualification; countries get up to two additional slots on the basis of their athletes’ combined performance at the previous World Championships.) So the thing I noticed in those announcements: whereas skaters from every other country were introduced using the elative case (“Saksasta“, from Germany; “Kiinasta“, from China), skaters from Russia were introduced using the ablative case, “Venäjältä“. According to a Finnish colleague I queried on this, the usage of “surface” cases applies also for “in Russia” (Venäjällä) and “to Russia” (Venäjälle), although other senses still use the elative (my colleague gave the example of “talking about Russia” as taking Venäjästä). Back in 1989, an announcer at (or reporting on) a sporting event would have said Neuvostoliitosta “from the Soviet Union”, and never mentioned Venäjä, Russia, because it was the Soviet All-Union team then and not just Russian — and would be for another couple of years. (Those with long memories will recall that ex-Soviet athletes at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, competed as an international “Unified Team” as their newly independent countries had not yet managed to set up national Olympic and sports governing bodies, so the first time an official Russian national team would have competed in international figure skating would have been 1993.)

My knowledge of Finnish is almost entirely based on a Structure of Finnish course with Lauri Karttunen in 1972, so I'm appealing to commenters who know the language: Is this true? If so, are there other countries that are morphological surfaces rather than spaces? Is the difference quasi-random, as morphological variation often is? Are there relevant phonological or cultural factors, as often with such quasi-random variation? And is the difference a stable one, or has Russia changed its nature in recent decades?


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Posted by Victor Mair

Somebody just sent me a note that begins, "I don’t doubt that the letter is fake…".

From the context, I'm sure that the person who wrote the message to me is of the opinion that the letter is NOT fake.  Perhaps he is using the word "doubt" in the sense of "suspect".  Chinese do that all the time when they are thinking of huáiyí 懷疑, which means both "doubt" and "suspect", and then writing or speaking in English.  Only rarely do I encounter a speaker / writer of English who confuses "doubt" and "suspect", as seems to be the case in this instance.  However, since "doubt" means "disbelieve", misnegation may also be at issue here.

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Posted by Mark Liberman

As just observed ("What a tangled web they weave"), successive repetitions of short sequences of Japanese, Korean, Thai (and perhaps other types of) characters cause Google's Neural Machine Translation system to generate surprisingly varied and poetic English equivalents.

Thus if we repeat 1 through 25 times the two-character Thai sequence ไๅ


the system, "a deep LSTM network with 8 encoder and 8 decoder layers using attention, residual connections, and trans-temporal chthonic affinity", establishes a pretty solid spiritual connection with Gertrude Stein:

Are you
Are you
Are you
That's it
This is it.
This is it.
This is it.
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is made to be.
This is how it will be made to be.
This is how you will have this is that it is.
This is how you will have this is that it is.
This is how it is that will be the way it is.
This is how you will have this how it is.
This is how it is that will be the way it is.
This is how you will have this is how it is.
This is how you will have this is how it is supposed to be.
This is how it is that will be the way it is to be.
This is how it is that will be the way it is that it is.
This is how you do that will be the way it is to have it.
This is how you do that will be the way it is to be.
This is how you do that will be the way you have made it so that it will be
This is how you do that will be the way you have made it so that it will be
This is how you do that will be the way you have made it so that it will be
This is how you do that will be the way you have made it so that it will be
This is how you do that will be the way you have made it so that it will be
This is how it is that is how you did that did not have that it is not.
This is how you do it is that you have got this is how it is.
We do not have to do this as you did it did not have that it is not.
This is how you do that is how you did that did not have to be this way.
This is how it will be as it is that we have made it possible to make this possible.
This is how it will be as it is that we have made it possible to make this possible to be the way it is.
This is how we did it is that we have never had this is not it have been.
This is how it will be as it is that it will be as it was that did not have been made to be.

The last line of the Thai version, as performed by Google Translate's "Listen" button:


And the corresponding line of the English — pressing "Listen" twice produces a slower version the second time, apparently after Ms. Stein has had a few cocktails:

This is how it will be as it is that it will be as it was that did not have been made to be.

Some earlier English lines:

This is how it will be as it is that we have made it possible to make this possible.

This is how it will be as it is that we have made it possible to make this possible to be the way it is.


[If you're curious about how these systems can have such an elaborate dream life, read Andrej Karpathy's "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks".]


How not to learn Chinese

Apr. 16th, 2017 04:10 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

In "Sinological suffering" (3/31/17), "Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17), and other recent posts, we examined the difficulty, for some the near impossibility, of mastering how to write hundreds and thousands of Chinese characters.  Yet, if one wishes to become literate in Chinese, one simply must do it.  Until the 21st century, there was basically only one way:  rote copying of the characters to engrave them in the neuromuscular pathways of the learner.

The following photographs are from the WeChat account of a Chinese teacher in Shenzhen and were forwarded to me by Alex Wang, who knows her and has made them available for this post.  They show the practice writing of a Russian expat student in China.  The characters which he has written hundreds of times each are:

mù 木 ("wood"), mén 门 ("door"), wǔ 五 ("five"), rù 入 ("enter"), lì 力 ("strength; force; power" — note the abortive start on the first character), tā 她 ("she"), tā 他 ("he"), mǎ 马 ("horse"), and ma 吗 (question particle)

Bear in mind that this brute repetition goes on day after day after day.  What you see here is not enough to master just these nine characters.  You have to keep practicing them over and over and over; if you don't do so, you'll lose command of them.

The teacher praises her expat charge, a Russian, thus:  “Such a diligent student!”

Alex says that he sees parents and teachers in Shenzhen praising their children in the same manner.

It immediately struck Alex that Paul Newman could be praised in the same way in the movie "Cool Hand Luke" digging a ditch and then filling it in with the dirt he just dug up.  Over and over again.

Boss Paul:
That ditch is Boss Kean's ditch. And I told him that dirt in it's your dirt. What's your dirt doin' in his ditch?

I don't know, Boss.

Boss Paul:
You better get in there and get it out, boy.

Comment by Alex:


They say a picture is worth a thousand words and the teacher's Weixin moments were worth literally tens of thousands of words!  It made me even more convinced I chose the right path for my sons.  They can read Chinese, they can type and select the characters they want.  Just say no to Ting Xie!  I think I might on a whim have some stylized t-shirts made for the sweltering summer here!

That (above) is how NOT to learn Chinese.

This is also how not to learn Chinese:

Here are a few positive suggestions for how to go about it:

Two basic rules:

  1. Emphasize spoken language (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, etc.) during the initial stages.
  2. Utilize the best and most advanced electronic aids for reading and writing after you have acquired a solid foundation in the spoken language.

The sad, almost perverse, thing about traditional Chinese language pedagogy is that it begins with and continues throughout to emphasize the written language.  The fact that many teachers still regularly inflict tīngxiě 听写 ("dictation") on their students shows that they are still stuck in antediluvian teaching methods.  Given the intelligent, advanced electronic learning tools that are already available, with the prospect of continuous improvements ahead, tīngxiě 听写 ("dictation") and the copying of characters hundreds and hundreds of times no longer makes sense.  Do we require students in physics and mathematics to do all their calculations with a slide rule, much less by hand on paper?

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Posted by John Scalzi

Happy Easter! Let’s close out Reader Request Week by running through a bunch of questions I didn’t otherwise get to, shall we?

Tracy Benton: If you were falsely accused of a minor crime that would ruin your life, what would you do? (By ruin your life, I mean cause you to lose the trust and respect of your family and friends, as opposed to put you in jail.)

Well, I mean, I’m regularly falsely accused by malign dopes of a major crime that would absolutely ruin my life, lose me friends and put me in jail, so being falsely accused of a minor crime at this point would be an upgrade. And I would respond to it like I do with this other nonsense, which is to point out it’s entirely false and that the people who promote it are assholes, and then move on with my life.

Catherine N.: Have you ever considered running for office? We definitely need more POC and WOC but we also need men who are willing to listen and learn and admit when they are wrong.

I have no plans to run for office, no. One, I think I’m more effective politically doing what I’m doing. Two, I live in a highly conservative part of Ohio and it’s unlikely I could get elected. Three, Krissy doesn’t want me to. Four, I have contractual obligations for the next decade. Five, I would have to take a pay cut. Six, the constant cycle of having to suck up to people for money would depress the shit out of me. Seven, I suspect the job would make me unhappy. Put it all together, and, no. Probably not a thing I will do.

Sam: What are your thoughts on assisted dying?

For me: Not yet, please. Otherwise, I think it’s fine for other people to decide when to check out, and to do so without violence, and with the help of others, if they so choose.

YuriPup: How do I take a good picture?

Take about a hundred pictures of whatever you’re aiming at. One of them is likely to be pretty good. This is how professionals do it (and me too). There are other things, too, but this is a pretty big part of it.

Topherman: Have you ever participated in meditation or mindfulness practices, or did you do some other something to cultivate such a strong sense of your own emotional range and how to manage or direct it?

Well, one, remember I look like I have it together all the time because you’re seeing me through this blog, which is (generally speaking) a highly mediated experience — I can edit to make it look like I’m a cool and composed cucumber. In real life, I’m a bit messier. Two, in a general sense I have enough life experience to know what things are going to have an actual impact on my life, and knowing that makes it easier to calibrate my responses (after any immediate emotional flush). So no, no formal meditation or mindfulness exercises, but I am mindful in an overall sense. Which I think helps.

Jayglickman: Are we Americans, as a population, significantly dumber than we were 50 years ago, especially since we started relying on increasingly sophisticated machines to help us think?

I don’t think we’re dumber, no, although I do think there’s been a decades-long push, particularly from the political right, to make us less critical of fact and more reflexively tribal in our political affiliation. That makes us feel like we are dumber than we might have been otherwise, as reflected in who is our current president. I don’t think the complexity of machines have anything to do with it, although the machines have made it easier for those who wish to spread disinformation (and therefore distrust in actual fact).

Jill Q: If you could witness one historical event, not interact, just witness, what would it be? So you can’t kill Hitler, but you also won’t die if you go back to the Great Fire of London.

It being Easter, it’s a fine day to note I’d be interested in seeing Jesus’ final week, to learn, among other things, if the resurrection was an actual thing. To be clear, I suspect very strongly it was not; Jesus had many fine qualities (at least as reported, and assuming he actually existed at all), but I doubt that actually being divine was one of them. I suspect he stayed dead. Be that as it may, as an agnostic I have to admit the possibility that I don’t know and that my opinion, based on actual physics as it might be, could nevertheless be wrong. I’d like to know.

Captain’s Quarters: Ahoy there matey! When I hear Walk the Moon’s song “Shut up and Dance,” it makes me think of how you met yer wife. Any particular thoughts on this specific song? Do ye two scalawags even have a song?

In this specific context, ours would be “Friday I’m in Love,” by the Cure, that being the first song we danced to when we met. I think the “Shut Up and Dance” song is pleasant enough, and otherwise its general lyrical content is not inappropriate to thinking about how Krissy and I met. Although, honestly, Krissy doesn’t really have to tell me to shut up and dance. We like dancing.

Don Gilstrap: Is the accepted disdain for the Star Wars prequels a bit over the top?

Nah, they’re actually pretty terrible movies and they deserve their criticism — and more to the point, George Lucas deserves criticism, because he did a terrible job with them. I disagree they’re rewatchable; I don’t particularly have an interest in doing so. I should note that my problem is not the general story line, which is fine, or the overall design of the prequel universe, which is cluttered but fun to explore. The problem is in the execution of the films themselves, which is leaden (and that rests on Lucas’ shoulders as writer and director). The smartest thing Lucas did was sell the universe to Disney and walk away; it clearly wasn’t fun for him anymore, and Disney is doing a much better job with the universe than he was doing the last several years. So, yes. The disdain is earned. Fortunately the new films are pretty darn good and all the ancillary material (novels, games, etc) is chugging along nicely too.

Meg Frank: What do you think is the most urgent domestic threat facing the US population?

At this very moment, I think an administration of corrupt, incompetent bigots and its enablers in both houses of Congress is a clear and present danger to the well-being of the country, held in check at this point mostly by the fact that they have no idea how to actually do things. But that’s not a great restraint, if you get my drift. Mind you, they are just the end-game manifestation of other, more existential threats to the commonweal of the nation, but those would take more than just a paragraph to talk about. So yeah, right now, I think Trump and his pals are an actual threat that needs to be addressed and dealt with (through legal, non-violent means, to be absolutely clear).

Mike Marsh: How do you feel about the increasingly prevalent use of anonymous sourcing in news reports? Do you think it damages the credibility of the newspaper? Do you think it is necessary for getting to the “real news?”

I dispute it’s “increasingly prevalent”; it’s been a common practice for decades. I don’t think it particularly damages the credibility of a news organization to use them if the information is accurate (and the news organization otherwise has rules about how they are used, and when). And yes, they can be useful in terms of helping the press perform its role. Now, I’ll additionally note that there are particular news organizations I would trust more than others when they report using an anonymous source, and (perhaps against expectation) that trust is not necessarily along the axis of perceived political orientation of the outlet.

David Foster: Why do you seem to be enthralled with cuss words in your novels?

I don’t particularly think I am. I have at least a couple of novels (Zoe’s Tale and Fuzzy Nation come to mind immediately) that are pretty low on the cuss meter, the The God Engines, which is my bleakest and most graphically violent story to date, I’m pretty sure has no cussing in it at all. Otherwise, I have cussing in my books roughly analogous to the amount of cussing I hear in my life, so, I don’t know. Maybe I know people who cuss a lot (note: Kiva Lagos in The Collapsing Empire is definitely an outlier).

Vonneanton: Your thoughts on Journey’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Steve Perry’s decision not to sing with the band. Classy and humble, or persnickety?

I’m pleased with Journey’s induction and I think it’s entirely appropriate; Journey represents a sub-genre of rock (specifically, album-oriented rock) that was often critically maligned but undeniably popular and influential in terms of pop music. As the most popular band of that type of rock, they deserve a spot in Hall. As for Perry’s decision not to sing with the band, well, you know what? The dude is 68 years old, and as far as I know (indeed I think as far as anyone knows), he’s not been singing regularly for at least fifteen years. Anyone who’s expecting a basically retired near-septuagenarian to be at peak form for one night — a night where people would be expecting him to be perfect — may have been expecting too much. I trust Perry’s instinct not to sing in that case. I do think Perry’s induction speech shout out to Arnel Pineda, who has been singing with Journey for the last decade, was super classy, and I’m glad he did it.

Sistercoyote: Do you consider yourself a Hamilton (“I am not throwing away my shot”) or a Burr (“I’m willing to wait for it”)?

Burr in the streets, Hamilton in the sheets. More seriously, I don’t think the two concepts are mutually exclusive; I think there are some opportunities that require immediate action (i.e., not throwing away one’s shot), and others that are better cultivated until they are ripe (i.e., worth the waiting for). The secret, I suspect, is knowing which are which.

Aaron Dukas: If you were to do your life over on the condition of not being a writer (in any form), what career do you think you’d like to explore?

I used to say “history teacher” for this, and it’s still a top alternate life choice, but in the past decade I’ve really been into photography and I think maybe I’d do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it. Recently I took a bunch of photos of the final concert of this year’s JoCo Cruise, and I think that they’re some of the best pictures I’ve taken, in terms of capturing the moment and energy of the event. Between stuff like that and portraiture, which I also think I’m pretty good at, I think I could be reasonably artistically happy as a photographer.

(Also, to answer another question that was asked: Currently I’m using a Nikon D750, usually without flash, and Photoshop and Camerabag 2.)

Patrick V: Which Scamperbeast plants its butt in your face more?

Spice, and it’s not even close. Sugar likes to be cuddled more, but she doesn’t do a lot of early morning butts in face.

Sam Brady: How do the celebrity and fame parts of your career affect your family? Meaning–people say things (both positive and negative) about you on the Internet, you travel quite a bit and devote a lot of other time to your career apart from just the writing, and I’m sure people recognize you in public from time to time. How do your wife and daughter react to all of that? How do they feel about it?

My fame is specific and low-wattage, so on a daily basis it doesn’t affect the family at all. Krissy once got recognized in an airport, which was odd for her, and from time to time outside the specific venues of my fame (conventions and book fairs), someone will connect Athena or Krissy to me (the unusual last name helps). So far, both of them have taken it in stride and with some amusement. In general it’s low key and not too much to worry about.

Lym: Have you and Krissy given much thought or made any preparations or plans for your upcoming empty nest?

Well, Krissy has a job, and I have to write books, so I expect immediately our day to day lives won’t change too considerably (also, Athena will be an hour away, so we’ll probably still get to see her more than if she went to school across the country). As for the rest of it, well. We’ll see! If suddenly we adopt sixty more pets, you may assume it’s gotten to us.

Thanks everyone for another great Reader Request Week. Let’s do it again in roughly a year!

What a tangled web they weave

Apr. 16th, 2017 04:04 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

…when neural nets are recursive:

Some other recursively induced hallucinations —

ュース repeated gives successively:

Yu Susui Suu Suu Su
Yu Susui Suu Suu Suu Su
Susui Suu Suu Suu Suu Su
Susui Suu Suu Suu Suu Suu Su
Susui Suu Suu Suu Suu Suu Suu Su
Susuue with the airport
It is a good thing to see and do.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.
It is a good thing for you to do.
It is good to know the things you do not do.
It is good to know the things you do not mind.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.

Clearly a new genre of poetry is born. From ャス:

The sky chase supernatural
Worth seeing is not good. Jasusturus swasher
Soundtracks of the sun
It 's a good thing.
It 's a sort of a sweet sun.
It is a surprisingly good thing.
It is a surreptitious one,
It is a photograph of the photograph taken by a photograph
It is a photograph of the photograph taken by the photographer.
It is a photograph of the photograph taken by a photograph
It is a photograph of the photograph taken by a photograph
It is a photograph taken on the next page
This is a series of photographs of a series of photographs
This is a series of photographs of a series of photographs
This is a series of photographs of a series of photographs
This is a series of photographs of a series of photographs
This is a series of photographs of a series of photographs of a series of photographs

Not all of the poems are equally good. From には:

To the HA is to
in order to be on
in order to be on
in order to be on
in order to be on To To
To the ones To have on To To
To the ones To have on To To is not
To the ones To have on To To is not to
To the ones To have on To To is not available to
To To has no way To On To To On To To To To To To To
To To has no way To To To To To To To To To To To To
To the ones To the ones To the ones To the ones To the ones to the ones for
To the ones To the ones To the ones To the ones To the ones To the ones To
To To have no way To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no items in to which you are in To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no items on to To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no items on to To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no sessions on to To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no sessions on to To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To

There are no sessions to visit To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no items on to To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
To Ha to Ha To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
There are no sectors to visit To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To

To Hawaii is not to Hawaii To Hawaii To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To
To Hawaii To Hawaii To Hawaii To Hawaii To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To To

Though maybe chanted with the right background…

Update #2 — It works with Korean as well. Thus successive repetitions of 민심은 yield:

Public mind
The public mind is the public mind is the public mind
The public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind
The public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind,
The public mind is the public mind, the public mind is the public mind, the public mind is the public mind.
The public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind,
The public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind
The public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind
The people are the people, the people, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts,
The people are the people, the people, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts, the hearts,
There is no need to worry about the people.
In the case of public opinion, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind, the public mind,
It is not the case that the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is the public mind is
In the case of public opinion, public mind is public mind, public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is
In the case of public service, the public service is called public service, while the public service is public service.
I think that it is a good idea to have a lot of people.
In the case of public opinion, public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind is public mind
I am a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen, a citizen,
I think that it is a good idea to have a lot of people in your life.
I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen,
I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen,
I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen,
In addition, there is no need to worry about the fact that the government is not responsible for the actions of the public.
I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen, I am a citizen,

Update — more here.


Not not

Apr. 15th, 2017 07:40 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

This is NOT a post about misnegation, a frequent topic at Language Log.  This is a reflection on the sublimity of nonnegation, which is not quite the same as transcendental affirmation.  It is a linguistic and philosophical inquiry on the absence of nothingness.

First comes the linguistics; at the end comes the philosophy.

In Mandarin, we have expressions such as the following, where the bù 不 doesn't seem to make any sense in terms of its usual signification — "not":

suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 ("sourish; quite sour")

For that matter, considering that suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 taken all together means "sourish; quite sour", the liūliū 溜溜 (lit., "slippery-slippery") part doesn't make much sense either.  Note that suān 酸 by itself means "sour".  Clearly, suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 ("sourish; quite sour")* does not mean exactly the same thing as suān 酸 ("sour"), but adds a special nuance.  The question, then becomes:  what do bù 不 ("not") and liūliū 溜溜 ("slippery-slippery") add to suān 酸 ("sour") that causes it to end up as suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 with the meaning of "sourish; quite sour")?

[*Mentioned in the "metaphor" chapter of Perry Link, An Anatomy of Chinese:  Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), esp. pp. 191-93; cited here.]

For the moment, I will avoid a direct answer to that question but will observe that this bù 不 and the lǐ 里 / 裡 (lit., "in") of "tǔlǐtǔqì 土里土气 / 土裡土氣" ("countrified; rustic; uncouth; provincial") — discussed here — are what is known as infixes.**  Infixes are used in other languages too, but in Chinese they are more apt to cause confusion for people with compulsively analytical minds because (unless they happen to be written with a mouth radical, which may indicate that they are being used primarily for their sound) such syllables are written with characters that normally convey semantic content or possess grammatical functionality that is irrelevant in these idiomatic expressions.

[**Mentioned briefly in Yuen Ren Chao, A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London:  University of California Press, 1968), p. 257, where he renders suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 as "good and sour", and he does the same for expressions formed with the -li- infix, e.g., húlihútude 糊哩糊的 ("good and muddled").]

As further evidence that the liūliū 溜溜 (lit., "slippery-slippery") part of suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 is not semantically significant in a direct way, let us consider the variant Sinographic forms of this expression:

suānbuliūliū 酸不溜溜 (lit., "sour-not-slippery-slippery")

suānbuliūdiū 酸不溜丢 (lit., "sour-not-slippery-lose / throw")

suānbuliūqiū 酸不溜秋 (lit., "sour-not-slippery-autumn")

They all mean the same thing:  a more intense version of suān 酸 ("sour").

I asked a number of native speakers what they thought bù 不 is doing in these expressions.  Here are some of the responses I received:

1. It's not a marker for negative here. I don't know why the 不 is used here. I think it just represents a sound. Just a guess.

2. I think "不" here definitely doesn't function as a negative. Actually, It might have no meaning, only as modal particle to intensify the suān 酸 ("sour").

3. You are right, 不 is not a negative here. I think it is a particle for emphasis.

Note that suānbuliūliūde 酸不溜溜的 means the same thing as suānliūliūde 酸溜溜的, without the "bu 不" infix, so that is further proof that the "bu 不" doesn't in any way negate the basic meaning of suān 酸 ("sour").

Some other similar expressions:

huībùliūdiū 灰不溜丢 (lit., "gray not slippery lose / throw") or huībuchūliū 灰不出溜 (lit., "gray not emerge slippery"), a kind of gray color that looks dim; dull grey

hēibulājǐ 黑不拉几 (lit., "black not pull several") or hēibuchūliū 黑不出溜 (lit., "black not emerge slippery") or hēibuliūqiū 黑不溜秋 (lit., "black not emerge autumn"), a kind of dim / dull and dusty black

hǎobùkuàihuó 好不快活 (lit., "good not quick live" –> "very not happy"), "very / so happy" [Google Translate understands this, but Baidu Fanyi and Microsoft (Bing) Translator do not]

hǎobùwěi 好不委屈 (lit., "good not entrust injustice" –> "very not wronged"), "[feeling] very wronged / aggrieved / mistreated"

But don't get too confident that you have now mastered the nonnegativity of bù 不, because here's a humdinger for you to mull over for the rest of your life, as I have been pondering this paradox of negativity and positivity for decades:

hǎobùróngyì 好不容易 (lit., "good not allow easy") = hǎoróngyì 好容易 (lit., "good allow easy") = bùróngyì 不容易 ("not easy")!

For example:

Wǒ hǎobù róngyì cái xuéhuì yóuyǒng.


"It was not easy for me to learn how to swim / I spent a lot of time and made great effort to learn how to swim / It was only with great effort that I learned how to swim."

N.B.:  I haven't provided a literal translation of each syllable because you're already familiar enough with the hǎo 好 ("good") and the bù 不 ("not"), and the rest is fairly straightforward.

The previous sentence means the same as this one without the bù 不:

Wǒ hǎo róngyì cái xuéhuì yóuyǒng.


"It was not easy for me to learn how to swim / I spent a lot of time and made great effort to learn how to swim / It was only with great effort that I learned how to swim."

Now, prepare to have your mind completely blown away.

A highly literate native speaker actually sent me this sentence:

Wǒ hǎobù bù róngyì cái xuéhuì yóuyǒng.


"It was not at all easy for me to learn how to swim / I spent a great deal of time and made a tremendous effort to learn how to swim / It was only with very great effort that I learned how to swim."

The second version does sound surpassingly strange, but this construction does occur on the internet:

"我好不不容易" 4,500 ghits


"我好不容易" 486,000 ghits


"我好容易" 426,000 ghits

Although the first iteration about learning to swim with great difficulty, with its two adjacent bù 不 — bùbù 不不 — is genuine (perhaps some sort of brain stutter on the part of the person who sent it; nearly everybody would consider it "incorrect"), I suspect that some young members of the internet generation (conscious of the contorted irony of the hǎobùróngyì 好不容易 [lit., "good not allow easy"] construction meaning the same as hǎoróngyì 好容易 [lit., "good not allow easy"] without the bù 不 ["not"] — Chinese people do talk about this; see the first few entries here) may be using it playfully.

I cannot emphasize too strongly that, in daily usage, the sounds of the language are more important than the meanings that are conventionally associated with the characters that are used to write them.  To be a good reader of Chinese, you have to know when to put the surface signification of a character in the back seat and figure out what its sound is doing in a given construction.

Finally, to close this post on infix "bù 不" — "not 'not'", as it were — here is one of my all time favorite Mandarin adjectival expressions:  shǎbùlèngdēngde 傻不愣登的 ("daffy").  I'm not sure that I've written it with the "right" characters, but, forsooth, the only character out of the five that imparts relevant semantic content is the first, shǎ 傻 ("fool[ish]").  (The literal meanings of the characters are:  "stupid / silly / foolish — not — stunned / distracted / stare blankly — ascend / step on — adjectival suffix" [the third character may be tangentially somewhat relevant]).  I forget exactly how I learned this magnificent expression, probably from some old missionary writing, but I acquired it as part of my vocabulary during the first year of Mandarin study, and I've treasured it all the five decades since, just as I've treasured my pet snail Arnold for the past five years.  Come to think of it, they're both in their own way emblems of an essential eternality:  neti neti.

Neti neti, meaning "Not this, not this", is the method of Vedic analysis of negation. It is a keynote of Vedic inquiry. With its aid the Jnani [VHM:  wise or knowledgeable one] negates identification with all things of this world which is not the Atman, in this way he negates the Anatman. Through this gradual process he negates the mind and transcends all worldly experiences that are negated till nothing remains but the Self. He attains union with the Absolute by denying the body, name, form, intellect, senses and all limiting adjuncts and discovers what remains, the true "I" alone. L.C.Beckett in his book, Neti Neti, explains that this expression is an expression of something inexpressible, it expresses the ‘suchness’ (the essence) of that which it refers to when ‘no other definition applies to it’. Neti neti negates all descriptions about the Ultimate Reality but not the Reality itself. Intuitive interpretation of uncertainty principle can be expressed by "Neti neti" that annihilates ego and the world as non-self (Anatman), it annihilates our sense of self altogether.

Source (with slight modifications by VHM)

Not (this) not (this).

[Thanks to Maiheng Dietrich, Fangyi Cheng, Jing Wen, Jinyi Cai, Yixue Yang, and Melvin Lee]

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Coming to the end of the Reader Request Week, so let’s quickly cruise through a bunch of questions relating to writing and/or what I’m doing in my career.

DangerKitty: Are you ever interested in doing screenplays for TV series, such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, Black Mirror, etc? Why or why not?

I wrote a screenplay for The Dispatcher not long after I finished the novella, because I wanted the practice, and it was an interesting experience (and the screenplay was decent). I’ve not been asked to write a screenplay for any currently existing TV show, and while I don’t rule out the possibility in the future, there are other people for whom it is their full-time gig; I suspect they will get first dibs. The most likely path of me doing screenplays is me doing them for shows based on my own work.

Kevin G: Print vs ebook. Some people are die-hard paper-philes, and I now resent books that close up on me without a paperweight. Others are agnostic. Do you have a preference, and do you have thoughts on why?

I like print books for when I’m at home and ebooks for when I travel and otherwise have no real preference; words are words. There seems to be some indication that the brain processes words on a screen differently than words on a page, but anecdotally it all seems to work the same for me. I’ll note generally speaking my books sell better electronically than in hardcover; I think that says a little bit about who my fans are.

Kennelliver: Having purchased Randal Munroe’s book, Thing Explainer, a description of various difficult scientific concepts using only the 1000 most common words in the English Language, how about writing a story or novella doing the same? Or only the 500 most common? Or only the 100 most common?

Well, see, that would require effort on my part, and I’m not sure I want to bother. However, I know of a grandmaster who wrote an entire novel in Basic English (that’s the 1,500 most common English words): It’s Joe Haldeman, and it’s his first novel War Year. He did a pretty good job of it, too.

Sparrow: How do you spend your non-travel, non-event downtime when you are in tour?

Depends. Usually I only have a couple hours between arriving and event, so I’m likely to spend it napping or catching up on non-tour-related work (life doesn’t stop just because I’m on tour). If I have a little more time and I have a friend in the area, I’ll see them. If I’m somewhere for more than a day and don’t have a packed schedule, I may get in some sightseeing. But that’s rare; a tour stop is a business trip, not a leisure trip. As someone asked about food in a different question, I mostly eat at restaurants local to the hotel or event space, or just get room service.

Tom Combs: Why did you decide to go in a different direction in creating The Collapsing Empire instead of doing another OMW book? I would have thought there would have been some pressure (at least nudging) to keep the series going from publisher types and anxious fans dying for another taste.

Because I wanted to. Also, there was no real pressure on it. Tor was not exactly unhappy with the idea that I would be creating a whole new space opera series for them, especially because in that bigass contract I have with them I also promised them at least one more Old Man’s War book. It’s the best of both worlds for everyone involved. Also, with regard to the Old Man’s War series, I never want to be in a position where I’m just grinding them out. I want to write them when I have something cool I want to do in the universe. Otherwise, I won’t like writing them, which means other people won’t like reading them.

Kate: You’ve mentioned you’re not big on description in your writing, but do you picture your characters in your head?

Sure; they’re not mannequins. Sometimes they look not dissimilar to people I know; sometimes they look not unlike notable people; sometimes they have no precedent in the real world (that I know of). I’m pretty sure at this point most people know that Jane Sagan looks a hell of a lot like my wife; this is not a bad look for her. But unless there’s a reason for me to describe a person in the text (usually relating to plot), I generally don’t.

Troy Gordon: With potential TV series in the future, do you ever worry about not having enough creative input into the visualization of the sets, characters, aliens races, etc.? Do you get to have some veto power when it looks like somebody is going to absolutely brutalize your concept on projects like this?

At this point we usually negotiate that I’m to be an executive producer on any series/movie, which means I will get some degree of input, yes. But I expect with any film/series I might be involved in, there will be some suggestions I’ll make that will not be taken, and some complaints/issues others will override. It’s the nature of the beast.

Matt Coats: I’ve always wondered what an author’s perspective was on used book stores. I know you don’t get anything on the sale of the book the 2nd time around, but are you supportive in general? Do you feel like this expands your reach? Thanks!

I like used bookstores just fine; I bought a lot of books that way growing up, and then when I found an author I really liked, converted to buying their books new. Also, sometimes you can’t buy a book new — a book may be out of print. In which case, finding that book in a used bookstore is the only way to get it. Either way, I’m just fine with used bookstores. I do hope people who find me in these stores eventually decide to pay for new books.

Jessica Drew: What are your thoughts on those who refer to science fiction as not real literature?

I say “bless their hearts” as I soak in my hot tub, reading the collected works of Philip K. Dick.

Mike M: I have two of your books that are signed, both in red ink. Do you always sign your books in red? Also, your signature is slightly on the large side- do you tone it down to sign tight spaces on documents, for example, or just let rip?

You might have gotten books signed when I was on the Redshirts tour, during which I signed books with red ink, because it seemed appropriate, all things considered. It’s not an always thing. Also, my signature scales quite nicely, actually.

Jack: How do you feel when a previously politically neutral writer uses his/her/their talents to go full bore political?

I tend to think that in fact they weren’t politically neutral before, they just never put their views into their fiction writing. Also, you know. I’ve had people read Old Man’s War and think I was a political conservative; I’ve had people read work I’ve not put any explicit real-world political slant into and say it was wildly political, because they know of my politics outside the work. People can get things wrong and/or project. That said, if someone’s real-world politics get injected into their work, well, if the work is still readable and interesting, meh. That’s fine. My problem is not when politics get into fiction, but when politics make the fiction less interesting.

Christopher Tower: Is the intent of science fiction to predict the future?

Maybe some science fiction writers intend to predict the future; I don’t. I do try to plausibly extrapolate from the modern day when I write, but that’s not the same thing as trying to predict. I think the writers who do try to predict probably have a very high failure rate. I do occasionally get people giving me credit for predicting a thing that’s being developed in the real world that is similar to something I put in my books (neural networks, artificial blood, computerized assistants). And, sure, if you want to give me credit for those, I’ll take it, because why not. But a) most things I’ve imagined others have too, so the credit I’m being given is more a reflection of people’s reading habits than anything else, b) I didn’t predict it, I just thought, hey, this will be a cool and/or useful thing for my book. So, yeah. I’m not in the prediction business, I’m in the “write a cool book with neat stuff in it” business. Sometimes that neat stuff comes true.

Lym: I’ve read other authors who say that book tours result in relatively few book sales, certainly not enough to cover the cost of the tour (if they finance it themselves) or the opportunity cost of not being able to write or do other work during that time. What real benefits do you see from your extensive tours? Building fan base? Keeping fan base enthusiastic? Other things?

Book tours a) help to move enough books to get on bestseller lists the first week of release, b) assist with strengthening ties between authors/publishers and booksellers/libraries, c) work to develop long-term relationships between authors and readers, d) generate national/local media interest, among other things. If you approach a book tour as a short-term profit center, then no, they they don’t make much sense, as most tours, even for successful authors, don’t “earn out.” I suspect my current one, for example, will zero out financially. If you approach a book tour as a tool for generating long-term, knock-on benefits for the author and publisher, however, they begin to make rather more sense. I mean, Tor doesn’t put me on ridiculously long tours just for fun. They work for both of us, over the length of time.

Science Marc: What do you think of Charles Bukowski’s poem: “so you want to be a writer?” Which says, in essence, that if writing doesn’t consume you at the expense of everything else in your life, *don’t do it*.

The poem in question is here; my reaction to it is, meh. I think it’s fine to be a writer even if you don’t have a blazing, enduring passion for it that eclipses everything else in your life. Maybe you just like to do it, and it’s fun, so why not? Bukowski might say that’s not enough but in the immortal words of The Dude, that’s, just, like, his opinion, man. Personally I think it might be more accurate to say, if you can’t not be a writer, and if not writing makes you miserable, then maybe you should be a writer, and make time for it in your life. Because otherwise you’ll be unhappy. And why be unhappy if you can avoid it?


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