The Airport Ritual

Oct. 17th, 2017 04:21 pm
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Posted by Evan Stewart

This weekend I was at the annual conference for the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, where they held a memorial for sociologist Peter Berger. I thought of Berger and Luckmann’s classic The Social Construction of Reality in the airport on the way home. Whenever people say ritual is dying out, or socially constructed things “aren’t real,” I think of airport lines.

There are always two lines, but rarely any separation other than a sign like this. If you’re lucky, you can catch the gate agent making a big show of opening the “general boarding” lane, but everyone ends up at the same scanner right past the sign (usually only a minute or two after the “elite” passengers). From Berger and Luckmann (the Anchor Books paperback edition):

The developing human being not only interrelates with a particular natural environment, but with a specific cultural and social order which is mediated to him by the significant others who have charge of him (p. 48).

The symbolic universe orders and thereby legitimates everyday roles, priorities, and operating procedures…even the most trivial transactions of everyday life may come to be imbued with profound significance (p. 99).

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at

"Artist=President Barack Obama"

Oct. 17th, 2017 04:00 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Alex Jones, contact LLOG immediately! Never mind Pizzagate, never mind Sandy Hook, never mind the FEMA concentration camps, never mind the fake moon landings. This morning I stumbled on evidence, lying around in plain sight, for a systematic program of deception so huge — and yet so improbable — that even InfoWars listeners will find it hard to believe: Donald Trump is actually Barack Obama in disguise.

For years, I've been collecting and analyzing the weekly addresses of various American presidents — see e.g. "Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016; "Some speech style dimensions", 6/27/2016; "Trends in presidential pitch", 5/19/2017; "Trends in presidential pitch II", 6/21/2017.

Today I was catching up with Donald Trump's weekly addresses, downloading the .mp3 files from The most recent weekly address is available at

with the mp3 download link

After downloading the mp3 file, in order to check its characteristics, I ran soxi. I've done this before, but in the past I just looked at the things I cared about, namely the sampling frequency and number of channels. But this time, I happened to look at the ID3 metadata fields as well:

Input File : '20171013_Weekly_Address.mp3'
Channels : 2
Sample Rate : 16000
Precision : 16-bit
Duration : 00:03:26.17 = 3298752 samples ~ 15462.9 CDDA sectors
File Size : 3.45M
Bit Rate : 134k
Sample Encoding: MPEG audio (layer I, II or III)
Comments :
Title=Weekly Address
Artist=President Barack Obama
Album=The White House

I wondered whether this was a one-time glitch, so I checked the history. The first of President "Trump"'s weekly addresses is available at

with the mp3 download link

And the metadata is the same:

Input File : '20170203_Weekly_Address.mp3'
Channels : 2
Sample Rate : 16000
Precision : 16-bit
Duration : 00:04:20.24 = 4163904 samples ~ 19518.3 CDDA sectors
File Size : 4.27M
Bit Rate : 131k
Sample Encoding: MPEG audio (layer I, II or III)
Comments :
Title=Weekly Address
Artist=President Barack Obama
Album=The White House

In fact this is consistent in all of the Weekly Addresses from Donald Trump's White House.

It's not an issue in all mp3 encodings from the White House — thus Melania Trump's 10/17/2017 "Hurricane Relief PSA" is attributed to "Artist=The White House", even if the year is still given as 2016:

Input File : '20171011_FLOTUS_DTC.mp3'
Channels : 2
Sample Rate : 16000
Precision : 16-bit
Duration : 00:00:31.50 = 504000 samples ~ 2362.5 CDDA sectors
File Size : 696k
Bit Rate : 177k
Sample Encoding: MPEG audio (layer I, II or III)
Comments :
Artist=The White House
Album=The White House

And the same is true for the president's joint news conference with PM Theresa May back in January:

Input File : '20170127_POTUS_and_PM_May_JPA.mp3'
Channels : 2
Sample Rate : 16000
Precision : 16-bit
Duration : 00:18:19.20 = 17587168 samples ~ 82439.9 CDDA sectors
File Size : 17.8M
Bit Rate : 130k
Sample Encoding: MPEG audio (layer I, II or III)
Comments :
Title=POTUS and PM May JPA
Artist=The White House
Album=The White House

It's just the weekly addresses that are attributed to "President Barack Obama"

By the way, you may be as disappointed as I was to learn that the "Genre=12" just means "Other" — I was hoping for maybe "[23] => Pranks" or "[58] => Cult" or "[136] => Christian Gangsta".

Jokes aside, what this means is presumably that the Trump White House inherited a recording and web-distribution set-up from the Obama White House, and neglected to change the ID3 metadata information for various categories of material.


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Posted by John Scalzi

Today Tor Books is releasing Old Man’s War in a spiffy new “mini”-format hardcover edition: All the benefits of a hardcover book, miniaturized for your convenience! It’s available at your favorite bookstores in the US and Canada, and it’s no coincidence that it’s being released just prior to the holiday season. Stocking stuffer, my friends, and/or a nice little gift for, like, day four of Hanukkah. But you don’t need to wait for the holidays to get it. You can get it today. For yourself! And pick up several copies for friends! Distribute them like Pez! It’s the Covandu version of OMW, if you will, and if you get that joke, thank you for being a fan.

I’m delighted at this new mini hardcover of OMW because, among other things, the original hardcover run of the book, almost thirteen(!) years ago now, is actually pretty small: about 3,700 for the first printing, and about 7,700 overall. OMW really took off in the trade paperback edition a year after the initial release. As a result, the hardcovers have always been hard to find — great news for collectors, to be sure. Not so great for anyone else.

So, dear everyone else: This edition is for you. Enjoy!

Invitational spam from a junk journal

Oct. 17th, 2017 03:04 pm
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I continue to be astonished by the sheer volume of the junk email I get from spam journals and organizers of spamferences, and by the utter linguistic ineptitude of the unprincipled hucksters responsible for the spam. Every month I get dozens of new-journal announcements, calls for papers, requests for conference attendance, subscription offers, and so on. Today I got a prestige invitation based flatteringly on my published work. It began thus:

After careful evaluation and reading your article published in Journal of Logic, Language and Information entitled "On the Mathematical Foundations of", we decided to send you this invitation.

Clearly the careful evaluation and reading did not enable them to get to the end of my title (it does not end in of). And what was the invitation?

In light of your remarkable achievements in Critical Care, we would like to invite you to join the Editorial Board of Journal of Nursing.

Nursing. I'm an expert in critical care nursing, apparently. If the email were not so clearly machine-generated, I could almost have seen it as a cruel allusion to my year of looking after my wife Tricia before she died last year. But no, it's not that. They claim to have ascertained my distinction in critical care from their careful reading of a paper of which the full title is "On the mathematical foundations of Syntactic Structures." It's a technical examination of the formalism of Noam Chomsky's first book on syntactic theory (Journal of Logic, Language and Information 20: 277-296, 2011).

Almost all of the hundreds and hundreds of new rip-off journals who send me this sort of spam are based in China. This one "is supported and partially financed by the hosting organization, Beijing Spring City Educational Publications Research Center."

The support of this research center has allowed the publishers "to reduce the OA article publishing charges from $800 to $150 (additional $50 applied if print version is required)." So if you want to see your article about nursing in print, you send them $200. And I suspect that when choosing whether to publish your paper they will exercise all the care they showed in reading my syntax paper and confirming my credentials in critical care.

There are many things to worry about in connection with the birth of flocks of spam journals, scores at a time: confusion for students, pollution of the scientific literature, degrading of the concept of a refereed journal, publication of ill-reviewed junk science, and (if even a few libraries occasionally take out misguided subscriptions to these crap journals) waste of library budgets.

Gross syntactic errors in promotional material provide an almost infallible indicator of spamhood in a journal. Not many journals send unsolicited email to advertise themselves, but the few promotional emails I occasionally get from proper journals are always at least literate. Whereas this one says:

Our journal, Journal of Nursing, is a new journal which urgently needs professional like you to join our editorial board and help and support the journal to a healthy grow.

I hope none of you professional will support it to a healthy grow. You don't need to be much of a sleu to know they are not telling the tru; their journal is not wor one twelf of the paper that it costs an extra $50 to be printed on.

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bonesteel

Oct. 17th, 2017 02:07 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Hey, you know how irritated you get when your internet access goes down? Elizabeth Bonesteel gets you. And so does her latest novel, Breach of Containment. She’s here to explain — provided your connection doesn’t suddenly go out…


We live in the woods, and that means, among other things, we have the crappiest internet service in the state*.

(*This almost certainly isn’t true. I’ve heard rumors there are towns in the western part of the state that still rely on dialup. I keep hoping that’s an ugly rumor spread by Verizon to keep us all compliant and grateful.)

People in town rely on a mish-mash of solutions. Ours is a T1 line. It’s slow (1.5 Mb up/down), and when it drops it drops for days. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of seeing Netflix give up the ghost, and then pulling up your web browser to see that progress bar just…stall.

It amazes me how much I’ve come to depend on the net—not just for news and cat videos, but for a sense of connection to the rest of the world. When the line goes down, it’s so easy to imagine there’s nothing out there at all anymore—that the silence will go on forever, and we’ll sit here alone in the woods, never discovering what’s happened to the rest of the world.

Within my lifetime, society has become dependent on instant communication.

Breach Of Containment is set roughly a thousand years in the future, where we’ve colonized a (still pretty damn small) part of the galaxy. Despite the distances, everything is elaborately connected. In addition to a network of government and military communications channels, all monitored and encrypted, there are entirely unregulated data streams over which both reliable and unreliable information fly unfettered. Most of my characters live aboard Galileo, a military starship, and they’re never disconnected from the officers giving orders. Neither are they ever free of consequences when they get creative about interpreting those orders (which happens far more often than it should).

At one point, as I was assembling this book, I thought: what if all that gets cut off? What if I dump them in the soup, and sever their access to intelligence, orders, even news of their families?

Structurally, that idea both simplified and complicated the plot. Breach Of Containment is, in many ways, your traditional are-we-preventing-or-starting-a-war adventure story. Galileo is working in an atmosphere of uncertainty and deceit at this point: some of their orders are legit, some are distractions designed to keep them out of the way of internal government intrigue, and they don’t always know which are which. When the communication channels back to Earth are lost, it suddenly stops mattering which commanding officer is trustworthy and which is a seditious traitor. Losing communications meant my characters didn’t need to waste time figuring out whether or not a bunch of tangential folks we don’t care about are on the right side or not.

But severing communications also let me play with people’s heads, and it’s no secret I love the messy character stuff. I’ve got three principals at this point, and Breach Of Containment begins with all of them stretched thin. Elena, formerly Galileo’s chief of engineering, has been out of the Corps for a year, and is feeling rootless and without purpose. Greg, Galileo’s captain, has been dutifully following orders, but is feeling less and less like his years of service have resulted in making any substantive difference for real people. Jessica, Greg’s now-seasoned second-in-command, sees most clearly the tightrope they’re walking between following potentially erroneous orders and dealing with a massive conspiracy that is almost certainly beyond their ability to stop.

Basically, I made sure everybody was tense and cranky, and then I cut their T1 line.

On top of that, I put them on a timer. There’s an armada headed toward Earth, and the big question is whether they’re intending to help, or to invade the vulnerable planet while nobody can warn them. And the only sources of information my happy crew has got? A retired Admiral who’s a gray-hat at best, a rival government’s starship and her relentlessly cheerful captain, and a nervous emissary who’s delivered a cryptic message that she seems convinced makes perfect sense. (Oh, and a talking box. I always forget the talking box.)

When you have no news and you can’t Google, how do you make your decisions?

Here in the real world, I didn’t have a smartphone until last December. (I’m not a Luddite. I’m just cheap.) Since then, the T1 outages have been far less unnerving. It’s comforting to be able to check Twitter and verify the outage isn’t part of some apocalyptic event. Sometimes I’ll even waste some data on a cat video. But every time, in that few seconds before my Twitter feed comes up, I feel that disorienting sense of being unmoored from the rest of the world. It’s not a great state of mind in which to make important decisions…but it’s not a bad catalyst for a plot.


Breach of Containment: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

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Posted by Victor Mair

Bilibili (bīlībīlī 哔哩哔哩; B zhàn B站 ("B site / station") "is a video sharing website themed around anime, manga, and game fandom based in China, where users can submit, view, and add commentary subtitles on videos" (Wikpedia).  When you register for this site, you're supposed to declare whether you're M(ale) or F(emale), in which case your posts will be referred to respectively as "tā de 他的" ("his") and "tā de 她的" ("hers").  If you do not specify your gender, your posts will be referred to as "ta的" or "TA的", i.e., neither M(ale) (tā de 他的) nor F(emale) (tā de 她的).

Here's a screenshot of a friend's bilibili page showing this usage:

Cf. also:

What seems to have happened over the long haul during the last century has been first a gendering of the third person pronoun, then a degendering, then a regendering accompanied by another degendering….  It's enough to make your head spin.  But all of that is in the written language: 他她它 ("he, she, it"), etc.  In the spoken language, they remain constant: tā.

[Thanks to Alex Wang]


Oct. 16th, 2017 12:51 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Does Spanish paramilitar have a different meaning than English paramilitary, or at least stronger negative connotations? This question has recently become the focus of reaction to a New Yorker article by Jon Lee Anderson, "The increasingly tense standoff over Catalonia's independence referendum", 10/4/2017.

The first paragraph of Anderson's article (emphasis added):

Voting rights have been under siege in the U.S. in recent years, with charges of attempted electoral interference, legislation that seeks to make access to the polls more difficult, and gerrymandering, in a case that reached the Supreme Court this week. But no citizens here or in any democracy expect that they may be attacked by the police if they try to vote. Yet that is what happened on Sunday in the Spanish region of Catalonia, where thousands of members of the Guardia Civil paramilitary force, and riot police, were deployed by the central government in Madrid to prevent the Catalans from holding an “illegal” referendum on independence from Spain.

In El País, Antonio Muñoz Molina accused Anderson of lying ("En Francoland: En Europa o América, les gusta tanto el pintoresquismo de nuestro atraso que se ofenden si les explicamos todo lo que hemos cambiado"):

Pocas cosas pueden dar más felicidad a un corresponsal extranjero en España que la oportunidad de confirmar con casi cualquier pretexto nuestro exotismo y nuestra barbarie. Hasta el reputado Jon Lee Anderson, que vive o ha vivido entre nosotros, miente a conciencia, sin ningún escrúpulo, sabiendo que miente, con perfecta deliberación, sabiendo cuál será el efecto de su mentira, cuando escribe en The New Yorker que la Guardia Civil es un cuerpo “paramilitar”.

("In Francoland: Both Europe and the US love what they see as Spain’s quaint backwardness so much that they feel insulted when we explain to them how much we have changed"):

Few things make a foreign correspondent in Spain happier than the opportunity to corroborate our exoticism and our brutality. Even the renowned Jon Lee Anderson, who lives or has lived among us, is deliberately lying, with no qualms he is aware that he is lying and aware of the effect his lies will have, when he writes in The New Yorker that the Civil Guard is a “paramilitary” force. [translation from the El País web site]

This has resulted in an energetic discussion on Twitter (Twitzkrieg?), in which Anderson's position is that many English-language sources call the Guardia Civil "a paramilitary police force" or something similar, e.g.

and that Antonio Muñoz Molina is using a meaning difference between English and Spanish in a disingenuous way, e.g.

Before looking into it, my understanding of the English word paramilitary aligned with Anderson's, namely that it means "organized along military lines", whether in reference to governmental organizations that are not part of the military, or to civilian militia-like entities. It's easy to find examples in English where paramilitary is applied to non-military governmental organizations, e.g. these examples from Google Books:

Correctional officers (C.O.s) were organized in accordance with a rigid paramilitary chain of command.

There is an obvious need to change the bureaucratic paramilitary structure of police organizations, so prevalent in the majority of police organizations around the world.

But on looking into it, I found that things are more complex. I was surprised to find that the OED's only relevant gloss would specifically NOT apply to a police organization like Spain's Guardia Civil:

Designating, of, or relating to a force or unit whose function and organization are analogous or ancillary to those of a professional military force, but which is not regarded as having professional or legitimate status.

The OED's earliest citation is from 1935, but seems to originate in the 1934 "Reply of the United Kingdom Government" at a League of Nations "Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments". The OED citation is the first sentence of the following:

A difficult problem has been raised in regard to the so-called " paramilitary training" — i.e., the military training outside the army of men of military age. His Majesty's Government suggested that such training outside the army should be prohibited, this prohibition being checked by a system of permanent and automatic supervision, in which the supervising organisation should be guided less by a strict definition of the term " military training" than by the military knowledge and experience of its experts. They are particularly glad to be informed that the German Government have freely promised to provide proof, through the medium of control, that the S.A. and the S.S. are not of a military character, and have added that similar proof will be furnished in respect of the Labour Corps. It is essential to a settlement that any doubts and suspicions in regard to these matters should be set and kept
at rest.

The earliest use of the term in the New York Times is in a report about the same discussions —

"Simon to the Commons", 4/9/1935: (Following is the text of the account given to the House of Commons today by Foreign Secretary Sir John Simon of conversations recently held by him and Anthony Eden, Lord Privy Seal, with leading officials in Berlin, Moscow, Prague and Warsaw)

Regarding land armaments, Herr Hitler stated that Germany required thirty-six divisions, representing a maximum of 550,000 soldiers of all arms, including a division of Schutzstaffel and militarized police troops. He asserted that there were no paramilitary formations in Germany.

The next example has the same negative connotations and the same association with fascist groups — "France suspects Klan counterpart", NYT 11/17/1937:

The question or whether a French counterpart to the Ku Klux Klan really exists was again raised today through the arrest of a wealthy Lille contractor, Rene Anceaux, M. Vosselm, one of his employes, and Gerard de ia Motte-Saint Pierre on charges which remain unspecified, but are in the case of M. Anceaux plotting against the security of the State and for the others possessing weapons of war and "association with wrongdoers." […]

M. Anceaux served as an officer during the World War and was wounded. He was the president of the Lille branch of the dissolved Rightist "Paramilitary League."

The 1939 New Jersey statutes contain a law using the term in a similar way:

Any 2 or more persons who assemble as a paramilitary organization for the purpose of practicing with weapons are disorderly persons.


As used in this act, “paramilitary organization” means an organization which is not an agency of the United States Government or of the State of New Jersey, or which is not a private school […]

So in English as well as in Spanish (and French and presumably other languages), the term paramilitary and its cognates seem to have originated in the 1930s in reference to fascist groups "whose function and organization are analogous or ancillary to those of a professional military force, but which [are] not regarded as having professional or legitimate status", as the OED put it.

At some point, the "not regarded as having professional or legitimate status" clause seems to have faded away — though perhaps without being totally lost, since the term continues to be used to refer to non-governmental as well as governmental but non-military organizations. Thus "Charlottesville Joins Suit Against Paramilitary Groups Connected to August 12", NBC News 10/12/2017:

Charlottesville is joining a suit to prevent what it calls unauthorized paramilitary groups from returning to the city.

Georgetown Law Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection filed a complain Thursday, October 12, asking Charlottesville Circuit Court to, "prohibit key Unite the Right organizers and an array of participating private paramilitary groups and their commanders from coming back to Virginia to conduct illegal paramilitary activity."

And my impression is that when someone uses the word "paramilitary" in connection with police forces, their attitude is often a critical one. Thus "Paramilitary police: Cops or soldiers?", The Economist 3/20/2014, begins with the subhed "America's police have become too militarised", and notes that

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams (ie, paramilitary police units) were first formed to deal with violent civil unrest and life-threatening situations: shoot-outs, rescuing hostages, serving high-risk warrants and entering barricaded buildings, for instance. Their mission has crept. […]

Kara Dansky of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is overseeing a study into police militarisation, notices a more martial tone in recent years in the materials used to recruit and train new police officers. A recruiting video in Newport Beach, California, for instance, shows officers loading assault rifles, firing weapons, chasing suspects, putting people in headlocks and releasing snarling dogs.

This is no doubt sexier than showing them poring over paperwork or attending a neighbourhood-watch meeting. But does it attract the right sort of recruit, or foster the right attitude among serving officers? Mr Balko cites the T-shirts that some off-duty cops wear as evidence of a culture that celebrates violence (“We get up early to beat the crowds”; “You huff and you puff and we’ll blow your door down”).

Anyhow, there can be little question that Spain's Guardia Civil is a "paramilitary police force" in the current English-language sense of the word.

And it's not clear to me that the current Spanish usage is actually different. Thus the Real Academia's Diccionario de la lengua española defines paramilitar as

1. adj. Dicho de una organización civil: Dotada de estructura o disciplina de tipo militar.

without any stipulation of illegitimacy. And since the same dictionary defines civil in the relevant sense as "Que no es militar ni eclesiástico o religioso", and since the Guardia Civil is self-defined as "civil", it seems that paramilitar ought to apply to that organization without any untruthful intent or effect.

[h/t David Lobina]



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Posted by Richard Jeffrey Newman

I met my Harvey Weinstein when I was around 13 years old. He was the head waiter at the catering hall where I worked, and he spent the next three or four years groping and fondling me as often and in as many ways as he could. Once, when we had back-to-back jobs to work and had almost no time to sleep, he gave me Black Beauties to take so I could stay awake. This was when Black Beauties were really Black Beauties, not the diet pill that later had that name, and he hinted very hard that I owed him something in return, and that, if I couldn’t afford to pay him money, there were “other ways” he’d agree to be compensated. Nothing ever came of that, though. I think he backed off in part because he was sort of a friend of the family and he was worried what would happen if I told. It’s important to remember that, at this time—around 1978 or so—while people were beginning to talk more openly about sexual violence against women, no one was talking about the sexual abuse of boys. Even if I had wanted to tell someone, there was no language in which to describe what he was doing to me as the sexual assault that it was. I literally did not have the words to understand and name my own experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this man lately, as I’ve been thinking about the significantly older male colleagues of mine who, when I was first hired at 27 at the college where I teach almost thirty years ago, would pull me aside at the beginning of every semester to ask, “How many really hot women do you have in your class?” When I refused to answer, which I did every time they asked, they would look at me incredulously and tease me by saying that I wasn’t answering because I probably had my eye one or more of those women. I have often wondered at my own silence back then, which—while it was a form of resistance—was a relatively passive one, in that it did not confront those men with an open and explicit refusal of the sexist, exploitive male bonding in which they were trying to engage me. In the late 1980s, there wasn’t much of a language yet—I’d say it was just starting to develop—in which men could confront other men on those terms. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t yet have the words to assert and insist on my own disloyalty to that male code.

Those are just two examples of how impoverished our language for talking about not just manhood and masculinity, but also male sexual vulnerability, was back then. That language is far less impoverished now, and I have been listening to and reading the words of men who are using it to talk about who Harvey Weinstein is, what he did, and what he represents. It is heartening. At the same time, though, I am very aware that, because the people Weinstein targeted were women, this talk, from both men and women, tends to render my own experience with my own Harvey Weinstein invisible. It is, in other words, explicitly heteronormative—a fact that poses a serious challenge.

On the one hand, it would be dishonest and irresponsible to hold sexual violence against women and sexual violence against men as entirely equal in every respect. Regardless of what may be true about the frequency with which men experience sexual violation (ETA: studies suggest the numbers may not be all that different from women), or the kinds of violation we experience (ETA: we are assaulted by both men and women, and, in some contexts, some studies suggest, more frequently by women), it is not the case that sexual violation is used against men in the pervasive and systemic way that it is used against women as a class, to keep them silent and subservient, to hold them back, etc. We have to be able to talk about what Harvey Weinstein did and what he represents as part and parcel, and as perpetuating of that system, and we have to be able to have that discussion without it being diluted by calls to pay simultaneous and equal attention to sexual violence against men.

At the same time, though, if we do not find a way within the larger context of this discussion to give sexual violence against men and boys the weight it deserves on its own terms (not in a weighted comparison to women’s experience), then we will be telling an incomplete and ultimately impoverished story about sexual violence in our culture. Not only would that be doing real harm to the men and boys who, like me, are survivors of sexual violence (or, perhaps more accurately, not only would it perpetuate the harm that is already pervasively being done); it would, in the end, precisely because of its heteronormativity, perpetuate many of the notions about manhood and masculinity with which all too many people seek to normalize, excuse, rationalize, justify, and/or minimize what Harvey Weinstein did and what he represents; and that would do real harm to the women whom men like Harvey Weinstein continue to target. Not to mention how much more difficult it makes things for those men who are working out ways of being men that are not exploitive, and for those men and women who are trying to raise sons who will stand in opposition to the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.

Sacramento Photos

Oct. 15th, 2017 08:25 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

I’m in Sacramento, California. Here are some pictures from where I am.

Hope your day is fabulous, wherever you are.

Five things

Oct. 14th, 2017 10:04 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

I've noticed recently that there's a tendency for things in the media to come in fives. Thus recently at The Hill (warning – autoplay videos): "Five things to know about Trump and NAFTA", "Five things to know about Trump’s controversial ObamaCare decision", "5 things to watch for at campaign cash deadline", "Five things to know about Trump’s immigration principles", "Five things to watch as Trump visits Puerto Rico", etc.

At the Washington Post: "Five things to watch in Alabama’s special election", "Five story lines to watch as NBA training camps get underway", "If Trump really wants to fix troubled schools, here are five things he could do", "Why are there protests in Poland? Here are the five things you need to know", "Five things I learned about Russia last week", etc.

At the New York Times: "Esteem, Money and Mystery: 5 Things to Know About the Nobels", "Five Things I Hate About New Cars", "Five Things to Remember Before You Renovate", "Five Things to Do This Weekend", "Five Things T Editors Are Really Into Right Now", etc.

At Politico: "5 things we learned from the Senate's Russia probe update", "Five things to watch in the Alabama runoff election", "Virginia governor's primary: 5 things to watch", "SESSIONS TESTIFIES TODAY – Five things to watch during today’s hearing", "5 things to know about Trump's FBI pick Christopher Wray", etc.

At The Independent: "Five things we learned from Crystal Palace's stunning upset victory over Premier League champions Chelsea", "Five things to look out for when the IMF and the World Bank meetings happen in Washington this week", "Five things we learned from Watford's superb comeback win against a misfiring Arsenal", "Five things to look out for in the economy this week", "Five things to bear in mind as Hurricane Irma hits the US", etc.

Things come in other cardinalities, of course, but in general five sticks out:

two things three things four things five things six things seven things
Bing News  16.5M  8.39M  2.35M  17.4M  3.84M  2.71M
 The Hill  738  263  66  967  9  34
 WaPo  5952  1923  438  1174  159  145
Politico 1162 358 87  453  59  57
 Atlantic  1830  464  98  170  19  14
Economist 4180  1580 128 252 15 16

I wonder when the press turned pentatonic?

Anyhow, these days the ratio of "five things" to "four things" seems to be a kind of click-baitiness index.


Easy versus exact

Oct. 14th, 2017 06:49 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

Ever since people started inputting Chinese characters in computers, I've had an intense interest in how they do it, which systems are more efficient, and why they choose the particular ones they adopt.  For the first few decades, because all inputting systems presented significant obstacles and challenges, I remained pretty much of an onlooker because I didn't want to waste my time struggling with cumbersome methods.  It's only after I discovered how simple and fast it is to use Google Translate as my chief inputting method that I became very active in entering Chinese character texts.

Because of the above considerations, during the last three to four decades, I have developed the habit of closely and carefully scrutinizing friends, colleagues, students, and others as they enter Chinese characters in their computers, cell phones, tablets, and other digital tools.  I have written about my observations in many Language Log posts, including the following:

"Chinese character inputting" (10/17/15)

"Stroke order inputting" (10/30/11)

"Cantonese input methods" (1/20/15)

"Google Translate Chinese inputting" (1/27/13)

"Creeping Romanization in Chinese" (8/30/12)

"Chinese Typewriter" (6/30/09)

"Chinese typewriter, part 2" (4/17/11)

"Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin" (1/14/14)

"Zhou Youguang, 109 and going strong " (1/13/15)

"Swype and Voice Recognition for mobile device inputting" (1/22/14) — esp. ¶¶ 3-5

"Language notes from Macao and Hong Kong" (6/22/14) — search for "Starbucks"

Usually I just watched what people did as they entered characters and drew my own conclusions from what I saw, not wanting to interrupt their typing.  Lately, however, as in the last post in the above list, I've had more opportunities to ask people how they choose from among the many inputting methods that are available to them.  The answers I've been receiving are quite revealing.

I shan't go through all possible methods, but will focus only on the two most popular means for inputting characters.  By far the most common method for inputting Chinese characters — especially for people who are around forty or younger — is Hanyu Pinyin.  The next most common method — particularly for those who are over forty or so — is to write the characters with the tip of one's finger on a glass touch screen or pad.  In several of the above posts, I have described the frantic flailing one witnesses when people input Chinese characters this way.

From my earlier observations, I noticed that people who entered Chinese characters via the tip of their index finger (less often with a stylus) frequently seemed frustrated and aborted the effort to produce a desired character because what they wanted was not showing up in the list of characters displayed.  Some would try again and again till they got what they wanted, or they would shift to Pinyin to call up the character they were after.

Recently, I have asked some of the people who were switching back and forth between writing the characters with their fingertip and typing them via Pinyin why they didn't just use Pinyin all of the time if they often had to resort to it anyway.  The usual answer was that they would start out writing with their fingertip on the glass screen or pad of their electronic device because, especially for very simple and common characters like nǐ 你 ("you") and hǎo 好 ("good"), because they felt it was the path of least resistance, but would switch to Pinyin when they were frustrated at calling up more complex and difficult characters such as lài 癞 / 癩 ("scabies") and pēntì 喷嚏 / 噴嚏 ("sneeze").

As I watched some of these individuals inputting a variety of characters and being stymied when their software proved incapable of quickly retrieving recalcitrant characters, I asked them precisely why they would change over to Pinyin.  The answer was that the fingertip writing offered too many possibilities for them to have to choose from (and many times none of the proffered characters was the one they were after), whereas when they switched over to Pinyin and typed by words in context, the choices presented by the software were much fewer, and, in many cases, were narrowed down to precisely the exact combinations they were after.

I wish to emphasize that the majority of people who are inputting Chinese text do use Pinyin exclusively or nearly so for inputting characters, and they do so because it is faster, more convenient, more accurate, and more efficient than other methods, and above all it does not require them to learn any special codes, mnemonics, or non-intuitive techniques for decomposing the characters.

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I continue to be astonished by the sheer volume of the junk email I get from spam journals and organizers of spamferences, and by the linguistic ineptitude of the unprincipled responsible parties. I have been getting dozens per month, for a year or more: journal announcements, calls for papers, requests for conference attendance, subscription information, and invitations to editorial boards. Today I got a prestige invitation that began thus:

After careful evaluation and reading your article published in Journal of Logic, Language and Information entitled “On the Mathematical Foundations of", we decided to send you this invitation.

Clearly the careful evaluation and reading did not enable them to get to the end of my title (it does not end in of). And what was the invitation?

In light of your remarkable achievements in Critical Care, we would like to invite you to join the Editorial Board of Journal of Nursing.

Nursing. I'm an expert in critical care nursing, apparently. And they have ascertained this from their careful reading of a paper called "On the mathematical foundations of Syntactic Structures," an analysis of the formal aspects of Noam Chomsky's first book on linguistic theory.

Almost all of the hundreds and hundreds of new rip-off journals who send me spam are based in China. This one "is supported and partially financed by the hosting organization, Beijing Spring City Educational Publications Research Center."

The support of this research center has allowed the publishers "to reduce the OA article publishing charges from $800 to $150 (additional $50 applied if print version is required)." So if you want to see your article about nursing in print, you send them $200. And I suspect that when choosing whether to publish your paper they will exercise all the care they showed in reading my syntax paper and confirming my credentials in critical care.

There are many things to worry about in connection with the birth of flocks of spam journals, scores at a time: confusion for students, pollution of the scientific literature, degrading of the concept of a refereed journal, publication of ill-reviewed junk science, and (if even a few libraries occasionally take out misguided subscriptions to these crap journals) waste of library budgets.

Gross syntactic errors in promotional material provide an almost infallible indicator of spamhood in a journal. Not many journals send unsolicited email to advertise themselves, but the few promotional emails I occasionally get from proper journals are always at least literate. Whereas this one says:

Our journal, Journal of Nursing, is a new journal which urgently needs professional like you to join our editorial board and help and support the journal to a healthy grow.

I hope none of you professional will support it to a healthy grow. You don't need to be much of a sleu to know they are not telling the tru; their journal is not wor one twelf of the paper that it costs an extra $50 for it to be printed on.

Naming a Thing

Oct. 14th, 2017 12:16 am
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Posted by John Scalzi

A couple weeks on, a brief follow-up to this piece, in which I noted how much 2017 was messing with my word count.

It turns out it was really useful for me to write that piece. Not necessarily because I’ve increased my writing speed since then — I’m still slogging away at a slower pace than I’ve done in previous years — but because, basically, in naming my problem I’ve lifted a fair amount of the psychic weight of it from my shoulders. I’m not kicking myself for writing slower right now, and as a result, the writing is easier. Which ironically means the writing is more regular, and because of that, there’s at least slightly more of it. Who knew.

I’d also like to acknowledge the folks who wrote me or linked in to the piece, saying, more or less “Yes I have been feeling the same thing I’m glad somebody finally said it.” One, you’re welcome and I’m glad the piece accomplished at least part of its intended effect of letting folks know they weren’t alone in their creative miasma at the moment. Two, your chiming in also helped me, because as much as I strongly suspected I wasn’t the only one in the spot I was in, getting actual confirmation of it was heartening. I was right! Alas! But the knowledge meant a bit of fellowship, and that made the burden a little easier to bear. Which made the little readjustments I’m making now easier to do. Thanks, folks.

(Mind you, I had some of my usual suspects out there pointing at me at going ha ha Scalzi has writer’s block, because they’re sad little dudes like that. While I could push my glasses up on my nose and say well, actually I was never blocked I was just writing slower, which you would know if you could read, in point of fact they read perfectly well, they just have a pathological need to see me as a failure. And to be honest, that cheers me up a little too. I like enraging these sad little dudes so much just by existing that they have to create voodoo doll versions of me to stab stab stab stab. They want to be enraged, and it literally requires no effort from me to oblige them. Keep at it, sad little dudes! It’s good for you to stay busy.)

And now, back to it.

Terror of singular 'they'

Oct. 13th, 2017 08:32 pm
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Joining a crowd of other recent fraudsters, Paul Roberts and Deborah Briton returned from their Spanish vacation and subsequently turned in a completely fake claim against the Thomas Cook package-vacation company, alleging that their time in Spain had been ruined by stomach complaints for which the hotel and the company should be held liable. They sought more than $25,000 in damages for the fictional malady. The judge sentenced them to jail. And in this report of the case my colleague Bob Ladd noticed that Sam Brown, the prosecuting attorney, showed himself to be so terrified of blundering into a singular they that he would not even risk using they with plural reference, preferring to utter a totally ungrammatical sentence:

*Sam Brown, prosecuting, said: "Both defendants knew that in issuing this claim he or she would be lying in order to support it."

Beware of struggling to obey prescriptive injunctions that don't come naturally to you; they can warp your ability to use your native language sensibly.

And also beware of trying to cheat Spanish hoteliers with spurious claims of stomach trouble. They're onto the scam. One hotel in Mallorca (see this story) became suspicious about the way about 200 claims from among 9,000 guests were distributed among nationalities:

United Kingdom Germany Netherlands Other
200 0 0 0

Notice also this statistic concerning when the illness was first reported:

While staying at hotel After returning to UK
0 200

And these data about exactly who did the reporting and made the claim:

Reported by guest Professional claims company
0 200

Somewhat improbable statistically, the hotelier thought.

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

The first review of Don’t Live For Your Obituary is out and it’s a good one! The full review is here, but the pull quote is thus:

“[Scalzi] writes accessibly and so commonsensically that this book should appeal to writers in all disciplines.”

Yes! Yes it should!

Remember that Obituary will be out in December (i.e., in time for holiday gift-giving) and that you can pre-order the signed, limited hardcover edition directly from the lovely folks at Subterranean Press. It will also be available in eBook format.

Speaking of eBooks, Subterranean is now directly selling ebooks, so you can get them directly from the publisher. The first batch of eBooks available through SubPress’ story includes The Dispatcher. Here’s the full list of the first set of eBooks. So while you’re pre-ordering the hardcover of Obituary, you can pick up the eBook of The Dispatcher to keep you company. Convenient!

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

So, nine years ago this week, I switched the Whatever blog over to the WordPress VIP service, after months of access difficulties with both previous blogging software and previous providers. And in the nine years since switching over to WP VIP, the amount of time the site’s been down can be counted in minutes, and on my hands. That’s some pretty great uptime. Since the time I switched over, WordPress has also expanded the types of hosting services it offers bloggers and sites, so even if you don’t need the full VIP service, there’s probably a level of service that could work for you, and your site’s needs.

In almost a decade, WordPress has never asked me to make an endorsement of their software or services, but every year near the anniversary of my switch I make an endorsement anyway. I do it for the simple reason that WordPress just plain works, and it works for me, and I’ve never regretted using their service or software. There’s not much in the world I can say that about. If you’re looking to create and host your own site, I hope you’ll give WordPress a look. I’m one happy customer.

The less… umm… fewer the better

Oct. 13th, 2017 02:26 pm
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Someone with a knowledge of usage controversies, German language, and modern political history put this on the web somewhere; I haven't been able to find out who or where:

[Hat tip: Rowan Mackay]

The Big Idea: David Siegel Bernstein

Oct. 13th, 2017 01:41 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

The phrase “science fiction” has two relevant parts to it. In Blockbuster Science, author David Siegel Bernstein delves into the science of the fiction, and separates out the fantasy of the genre from the fact. Here he is to tell you process of his exploration.


Science fiction is driven by fear or hope, while science is driven by necessity or curiosity. The overlap between their motivations is huge. Science fiction has always had the power to inspire scientific and technological breakthroughs that change our world. Companies used words like “robot” and “android” after they were popularized in fiction, and today’s STEM experts often say they were first inspired by stories they read when they were young.

To me, what could be a more fun way to explore the world of science than through its use—accurately or fantastically—in science fiction entertainment: movies, books, and TV shows? This question is the big idea behind Blockbuster Science: The Real Science in Science Fiction. So as you may imagine, this book was born from my geeking love for both science and science fiction. This made it incredibly fun to write. How could it not be? I got to explain the science behind popular narrative concepts like time travel, AI, genetic mutation, asteroids, cyborgs, alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse, and more. I also created lists of songs (consider it science and science fiction mood music), movies, and books that highlight chapter topics.

The entire experience of writing this book was different from my fiction writing, where I’m mostly locked inside my head. Blockbuster Science was much more an external journey. I scoured research journals, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines to learn what is old news, where cutting edge research is heading, and new outcomes possible from widely accepted theories. I made my best attempt to explain key scientific principles in jargon-free, easy-to-understand narratives. For the creators of hard-science fiction, I hope this book draws the boundaries that cannot be broken and teases those that are begging to be broken with the right what-if.

I like questions—even ones for which we have no answers, yet. I made sure to season in a lot of question marks throughout each chapter. A lot of recent discoveries have led to questions that scientists never thought to ask before. Curiosity about our world drives fiction authors and filmmakers to explore the realm of possibility. Besides, isn’t science itself all about asking questions? Questions such as, what caused the big bang? Consider how cause comes before effect. In the standard big bang theory, as described in the book, there was no before (i.e., time) before the big bang. Think of searching for the cause of the big bang as being like searching for north while standing at the North Pole. Don’t worry, I address on a few of the newer theories that may provide you with a more satisfying theoretical answer to that question.

Every chapter of Blockbuster Science covers a different topic. Time and space, which are so interwoven that they are cleverly coupled under the moniker spacetime, and quantum mechanics start the learning process. The weirdness of string theory, the origin story called the big bang, parallel worlds, black holes, evolution and biology provide truckloads of building blocks for fictional worlds. Interconnectivity, AI, extraterrestrial life, interstellar communication, energy sources and rocketry buttress those building blocks. Substance, materials, invisibility, the holographic universe and technology spin up more possibilities until everything ends in the chapter that covers the end of everything (the sun, the universe…everything). Is it really the end? I offer up a few “workarounds” based on the science described throughout the book, but I warn you, it will sound like science fiction.

Blockbuster Science isn’t only for science fiction fans who want to know more about the science behind the plot. This book is for the curious—anyone who wants to know more about the natural world and the universe of which they are a part. It’s for the science geek in everyone, especially those who smirk at jokes such as: Schrödinger’s cat walks into a bar, and doesn’t. My kind of people!


Blockbuster Science: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted by Victor Mair

Pro-Cantonese sign in Hong Kong:

A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally in 2010 against mainland China’s bid to champion Mandarin over Cantonese. Picture: AFP

The sign says (in Cantonese):

ngo5 oi3 gwong2dung1waa2 ("I love Cantonese")

m4 sik1 bou1dung1gwaa1 ("I don't know Putonghua [Modern Standard Mandarin / MSM]").

Note that Pǔtōnghuà / Pou2tung1waa6*2 普通話 ("MSM") is here written punningly as bou1dung1gwaa1 煲冬瓜 ("stewed winter melon").

It could also be written with another pun:  paau4*2dung1gwaa刨冬瓜 ("shaved winter melon")

The above photograph and caption are from this sensible article by Lisa Lim in the South China Morning Post, "Language Matters" (9/29/17):

Why it’s hard to argue there is one Chinese language

To a linguist ‘the Chinese language’ is a family of languages – not dialects – that for the most part are mutually unintelligible and written different ways; an appreciation of this variety would help discussions about language policy.

Biographical note in the SCMP:

Lisa Lim has worked in Singapore, the UK, Amsterdam, and Sri Lanka, and is now Associate Professor and Head of the School of English at the University of Hong Kong. She is co-editor of the journal Language Ecology, founder of the website and co-author of Languages in Contact (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Although some things the author says may be open to discussion (e.g., "Chinese" is comparable to the Romance or Germanic "families", is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan family, etc.), much of what she says is spot on (e.g., most of the "Chinese" language groups are mutually unintelligible, her calling into question referring to these groups as "dialects", and so forth).

Modern written Chinese is technically not bound to any specific variety, though it mostly represents the grammar and vocabulary of Mandarin. But Cantonese has its own written forms, for both formal (“High”) and colloquial (“Low”) vari­eties. The latter flourishes in Hong Kong, where, for instance, one finds  (fan) for “sleep” in addition to the more formal  (sèoih).

[VHM:  Nobody would understand you if you used the term fan3 瞓 in Mandarin, even if you pronounced it fèn à la mandarin.]

In classrooms, Chinese texts are often taught using H Cantonese, with Putonghua pronunciation having little currency – for example, the word for “no, not”, realised as  (m̀h) in colloquial Cantonese, is written as  in Standard Chinese, pronounced  in Putonghua, but the formal H Cantonese pronunciation b¯ a t is likely to be used. There is even Hong Kong Written Chinese, influenced by Cantonese and English.

Official references to these various systems are often blurred and confused under the label “Chinese language”. Parents’ and policymakers’ worries about students’ “Chinese language” proficiency, as well as the medium-of-instruction debate, will continue, with issues of mother-tongue-based education and national-vs-local identity at their core. A more nuanced appreciation of all that “Chinese language” encom­passes will go a long way towards more fruitful discussions.

[VHM:  These are the last three paragraphs of the article.]

What a breath of fresh air Lisa Lim's article is!

[Thanks to Bob Bauer and Abraham Chan]

Awesome / sugoi すごい!

Oct. 12th, 2017 07:48 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

From Diane Moderski:

Is this the beginning of the end of the need for interpreters?

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Three videos

Metro Manners PSA: Super Kind – Seat Hogging ホギング

Metro Manners PSA: Super Kind – Eating イーティング

Metro Manners PSA: Super Kind – Aisle Blocking ブロキング

From Nikita Kuzmin, who first learned about them on this Russian media website.

The Big Idea: Felicity Banks

Oct. 12th, 2017 03:20 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Writing alternate history is fun and interesting, but here’s another interesting thing: Every day, we’re making a history too. What happens when the latter crashes into the former? Author Felicity Banks has some thoughts on that and how it affects her new novel The Antipodean Queen.


Every time there’s a crocodile attack in Australia’s Northern Territory, tourist rates go up.

That should probably make me fear for humanity, but it just makes me smile. We Australians often laugh at over-the-top depictions of our deadly animals and even deadlier landscapes. I’m a city girl myself, so I know how silly it all is.

Okay, so there was that one time my grandma killed a snake. And the kangaroos hopping around the major roads at night are a bit of a hazard. Sure, there’s that one playground I always check for brown snakes these days. The annual bushfires aren’t great, either. Yes, my backyard has a little bit of a red-back spider breeding program. And it’s a teensy bit creepy that huntsman spiders are so common that the ones living inside have a shared nickname (Fred).

In Australia, nature is constantly reminding us that humans aren’t as impressive as we like to think―and we love it.

I’m quite patriotic, for an Australian. Ever since Europeans invaded, Australian culture has been a curious mixture of British, American, and other cultures. Our manners are more straightforward, and our suspicion of authority runs deep. Most Australians are uneasy with national pride, and not just because it’s a favourite tool of racists. Sometimes we do awful things to try to keep ourselves safe from a perceived threat―and we know it.

A love for one’s country is a curious and complicated thing, and the more history I learn the more complicated it gets. How can I respect the unique prehistory of Australia when my university sprawls cheerfully over a sacred site? How can I be proud of my country when the white middle-class life I know was built on attempted genocide? How can I enjoy Australia’s excellent lamb when I know that flocks of imported sheep permanently devastated vast areas of once-productive land?

These are the questions that flutter around the edges of my writing, dipping into a half-sentence here or there as I write a story that looks like it’s all fun and fantasy.

Here’s the thing: I write with hope, and magic, and optimism. Sometimes it’s not easy, and sometimes it feels closer to outright lies than fiction. But if I can write something better than real life, I believe the power of my imagination can haul that version of Australia closer to reality. If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t go on.

I had my Big Idea of writing Australian alternate history back in 2011, not knowing then that important parts of my history are only now coming to light. As I began to read more deeply about Australia’s colonial era―smiling sometimes, and crying often―I found a few things to be proud of. Part of Australia granted the right for women to vote in state elections in 1861. Back in 2011 I had a vague notion that the second book of the trilogy would be something to do with women’s suffrage. The question was how to make it relevant to modern readers. Surely any character who wanted to silence the political voice of half the population could only come across as cartoonishly evil.


Speaking of cartoonishly evil. . .

Right now, in Australia, our government is risking the safety of thousands of vulnerable LGBTIQ people by making the entire population take an expensive and non-binding postal plebiscite on gay marriage, even though it’s already well established that the majority of Australians support equal rights. I’m bisexual but married to a man, and cushioned by the appearance of heterosexuality. In recent weeks even I have felt the sting of half-heard conversations, advertisements that would usually be classified as hate speech, and an email telling me that as a Christian I should vote ‘No’.

So here I am writing a fantastical version of history while being haunted by the uncomfortable knowledge that real-world history is still being written. I’m heartbroken over the real mistakes of both the past and the present, but I choose to believe that my country can grow to better deserve the love I give it.

Oh, and there’s a crocodile in the book too.


The Antipodean Queen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

For the last two decades or so, my brother Denis and I have been working on a translation of the Yìjīng 易經 (Classic of Changes).  We shall probably finish the first draft within a year.

Of all the Chinese classics, the I ching is the one that most Sinologists do not want to touch because of its maddening opacity.  In this regard, it is worth quoting at some length the words of James Legge (1815-1897), the Victorian translator of all the Confucian classics, a monumental achievement that still stands today as an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to acquaint him/herself with these essential texts of early Chinese civilization.

On the I ching / Yi jing, Legge opines:

The peculiarity of its style makes it the most difficult of all the Confucian classics to present in an intelligible version. I suppose that there are sinologists who will continue, for a time at least, to maintain that it was intended by its author or authors, whoever they were, merely as a book of divination ; and of course the oracles of divination were designedly wrapped up in mysterious phraseology. But notwithstanding the account of the origin of the book and its composition by king Wăn and his son, which I have seen reason to adopt, they, its authors, had to write after the manner of diviners. There is hardly another work in the ancient literature of China that presents the same difficulties to the translator.

When I made my first translation of it in 1854, I endeavoured to be as concise in my English as the original Chinese was. Much of what I wrote was made up, in consequence, of so many English words, with little or no mark of syntactical connexion. I followed in this the example of P. Regis and his coadjutors (Introduction, page 9) in their Latin version. But their version is all but unintelligible, and mine was not less so. How to surmount this difficulty occurred to me after I had found the clue to the interpretation ;⎯in a fact which I had unconsciously acted on in all my translations of other classics, namely, that the written characters of the Chinese are not representations of words, but symbols of ideas, and that the combination of them in composition is not a representation of what the writer would say, but of what he thinks. It is vain therefore for a translator to attempt a literal version. When the symbolic characters have brought his mind en rapport with that of his author, he is free to render the ideas in his own or any other speech in the best manner that he can attain to. This is the rule which Mencius followed in interpreting the old poems of his country :⎯ ‘We must try with our thoughts to meet the scope of a sentence, and then we shall apprehend it.’ In the study of a Chinese classical book there is not so much an interpretation of the characters employed by the writer as a participation of his thoughts ;⎯there is the seeing of mind to mind. The canon hence derived for a translator is not one of license. It will be his object to express the meaning of the original as exactly and concisely as possible. But it will be necessary for him to introduce a word or two now and then to indicate what the mind of the writer supplied for itself. What I have done in this way will generally be seen enclosed in parentheses, though I queried whether I might not dispense with them, as there is nothing in the English version which was not, I believe, present in the writer’s thought. I hope, however, that I have been able in this way to make the translation intelligible to readers. If, after all, they shall conclude that in what is said on the hexagrams there is often ‘much ado about nothing,’ it is not the translator who should be deemed accountable for that, but his original.


From: Legge, James (1882). The Yî King. In Sacred Books of the East, vol. XVI. 2nd edition (1899), Oxford: Clarendon Press; reprinted numerous times.  Preface, pp. 14-16.

What Legge says about the difficulty of understanding the I ching and rendering it into another language, to varying degrees, is true of all other texts written in Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese.  Many of them are brutally difficult to fully understand in their entirety.  That is why I always spend the first few days of my Introduction to Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese trying to dissuade all those students who I think are not prepared for the excruciating challenges they will face during the coming year in my class, and, indeed, for as many years as they persist in reading texts written in this dead language.  Achilles Fang (1910-1995), one of my mentors, also did the same thing in his classes.  He would ask us, "Why do you want to read these 'dirty books'?" and he referred to our profession as "Assinology".  Once you convinced Achilles that you were determined to stick with the daunting task of learning how to read Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, he would go all out for you, and he was devoted to teaching you all the intricacies of utilizing all the tools and techniques at your disposal, if only you had the stamina to do so.

Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese is not for the faint of heart, and I am grateful to Achilles for imparting that wisdom to me.

Incidentally, my recollection is that Achilles did not have much use for the I ching, nor, for that matter, did any of my other teachers and colleagues.  Many of them scorned it openly — and yet, it is the most lastingly influential of all the Chinese classics.  It is this Gordian knot that Denis and I trying to untangle in the way we translate, interpret, and explain the Yì 易 (Changes).

See also:

"Philology and Sinology" (4/20/14)

"Which is harder: Western classical languages or Chinese?" (3/6/16)

"Chinese, Greek, and Latin" (8/8/17)

"Chinese, Greek, and Latin, part 2" (8/15/17)

[Thanks to Jane Reznik]

New Book and ARCs, 10/11/17

Oct. 11th, 2017 07:00 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

If you don’t mind me saying so, I think we have a particularly tasty stack of new books and ARCs this week. What here is calling to you? Tell us in the comments!

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Posted by Evan Stewart

On the Data is Beautiful subreddit, a user going by the name fencelizard recently took a look at gender differences in full-time staff salaries in the last four U.S. Presidential administrations. This is only a quick descriptive picture (notes on the methodology below), but it highlights an important point about organizations: inequality doesn’t always neatly align with ideology.

Both the wide and the narrow median pay gaps are bipartisan. While the Clinton and the early Trump administrations have the widest gaps in median earnings, the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were the closest to gender parity (the gap was not statistically significant in the Obama years).

Of course, these gaps mean different things in different administrations. The parity among Bush staffers looks like it came from pay cuts on both sides, with more men remaining in a higher salary range, while the Obama administration had a much more even distribution across men and women. Part of the pattern for the Trump administration could be due to understaffing in general.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the salary distribution for women staffers has remained relatively consistent and lower than fluctuating salaries for men. Sociologists know that inequality can be embedded in the day-to-day operations of institutions like schools, prisons, and government offices. Bias certainly can and does play a role in this process, but the ideological support that we often associate with such biases—like political preferences—doesn’t always have to be the deciding factor for whether inequality happens.

Some background on the analysis from fencelizard:

Salary data was sourced from white house press releases for Trump (PDF tables; FML) and Obama (UTF-8 csv’s; thanks Obama), and from the Washington Post for Bush ( and Clinton ( Supposedly full salary data for Bush I exists too, but I couldn’t find it anywhere online.
I cleaned up the data in R, used the ‘gender’ package to guess staffers’ gender from their first names, and made the plots with ggplot2 and gridExtra. I used a Wilcox test to compare the distribution of salaries across genders for each president. Asterisks in the figure above indicate significantly different distributions.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at

The Big Idea: Elizabeth Bear

Oct. 11th, 2017 12:03 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Hey! It’s Elizabeth Bear! She’s my Hugo-winning pal! She’s awesome! And she has a new fantasy series beginning with The Stone in the Skull! That’s aweseome! She’s here to tell you about it! And that’s awesome too!


I’m here under false pretenses.

Let’s just get that out of the way. I’m here under false pretenses, because I’m not sure that The Stone in the Skull actually has a single unifying big idea so much as it’s stitched together out of a patchwork tapestry of little ideas that all play off one another, and the story arises from the consequences of those decisions. It is actually natural that it would work that way, because it’s my attempt to meld two of the great traditions of fantasy into one whole. This is a story with sword-and-sorcery roots, and an epic destination.

There are four protagonists in The Stone in the Skull. They include (in the order their points of view arise), the Dead Man, raised from infancy to be the personal guard of a Caliph long since deposed; Mrithuri, the young and brilliant but inexperienced rajni of a small but wealthy kingdom that was once the capitol of a now-fractured empire; the Gage, a brass automaton constructed by a wizard who replaced each piece of a living body with metal, in turn; and Sayeh, the widowed middle-aged rajni of another and poorer empire-remnant, ruling as regent for her young son and desperately trying to cling to power for his sake.

These are disparate people, set in motion by circumstance–or manipulation–faced with questions both of natural catastrophe and political disaster. But they have something in common, and so does the fractured political structure that they’re moving through: they’ve all in the process of facing and dealing with the aftermath of disaster, and the necessity of putting together something new out of the broken fragments of the old. A mosaic. A resurrection.

Which is why I say that the Big Idea of The Stone in the Skull is a lot of little ideas stitched together, I suppose. Because that’s how things–big things, things too huge for one person to do by themself–get built, isn’t it? One piece at a time. One mismatched fragment stitched to another. One fragment in the mosaic, and then another, and then another.

The Big Idea of this book is that you can build big things out of little things–small actions, small choices, small loyalties.

Small people in a big world, with difficult pasts–but all of them, rising up out of some shattering. All of them, in search of a future, and hope.


The Stone in the Skull: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Harvey Weinstein and Other Abusers

Oct. 10th, 2017 08:35 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

(For those who need it, a warning: I’m talking rape and sexual assault here today.)

First, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse of women, from the New Yorker and the New York Times. There are more news stories out there — lots more — but those two cover a lot of ground on the present state of things.

And now, some thoughts, not necessarily in order of importance.

1. Harvey Weinstein is by all indications a rapist and general piece of shit. Just to put that out there up front, so there’s no confusion. He deserved to be fired by his company (as he was) and should almost certainly be in jail.

2. He’s also solely responsible for his own actions. Which apparently comes as a shock to the scads of people who, when the news got out, started wanting to blame prominent film people who knew him (particularly women) for their silence, and the people who worked for him for not taking a stand against him. I’ll get to both of these things in a minute, but look: Harvey Weinstein intentionally and systematically sexually abused women, sexually harassed women and targeted them for sexual coercion. He promised professional advancement and threatened professional oblivion in order to compel sexual compliance, and bribed and threatened women for their silence. And he did this, it appears, over three decades. He owns it.

3. But what about the systematic problem of harassment in the film and television industry, you ask? Well: Yes, it is there, and yes, Weinstein both participated in it and furthered it for his own pleasure, and yes, it needs to be addressed and rooted out, and anyone who sexually coerces another person should be punted hard on their ass. But let’s be clear that Weinstein was not compelled against his will to participate in it and to further it. He did that on his own. He was the author of his own moral story, and his moral story sucks. Acknowledging that Weinstein is solely responsible for his own choices neither ignores or exculpates the systematic issues of the entertainment industry. He raped and assaulted women. He owns that.

4. While we’re on the topic, let’s dispense of some other nonsense. Weinstein tried to imply that coming of age in the 60s and 70s meant his moral compass was pointed a few degrees off true. Well, that’s bullshit; I know lots of people who came of age in the 60s and 70s who know perfectly well sexual coercion and rape is immoral. Pretty much all of them, in fact. Donna Karan (who is apparently one of the few who does not) just made news by sort of airily suggesting that issue with Weinstein was more that he was a symbol of various sexual issues than a real live man who raped and sexually assaulted numerous women, and well. No. It’s possible he is both, but any story framing that attempts to keep his personal actions from being front and center is crap. He wouldn’t be a synecdoche for these issues if he wasn’t a coercive assaulting piece of shit. Any explanation of Weinstein’s behavior that does not center his own choices is a bad one. He’s a grown man. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was doing was wrong. He did it anyway.

5. What about the staff at Miramax and The Weinstein Company who knew — or at least could guess — what their boss was up to but did nothing about it? I’m not here to excuse them, and we are all responsible for our moral choices. I am also aware it’s easy to judge when your career and income aren’t riding on the necessity of not looking too closely at what your boss is doing. Bear in mind that the film industry is the industry that perfected blackballing — one day you’re fine and the next no one’s returning your calls. At the height of his powers there’s no doubt Harvey Weinstein could make working in the industry very difficult, and the further down the food chain you were, the more difficult he could make it.

I am fortunate that when I was working for others, I never had a boss whose moral baseline (as far as I knew) substantially conflicted with mine. I was never put in a position of having to cover for, or look away from, a bosses’ actions. I would like to think that if I had been, I would have done the correct thing, even in the face of losing my job. I’d like to think that, but it’s easy to think about what you would do when you’ve never been confronted by that actual decision point.

Again, I’m not here to excuse the moral choices Weinstein’s employees made — or didn’t make — and they’ll have the burden of their choices for the rest of their professional lives. I do know that the burden of their choices was placed on them because Weinstein chose to sexually assault and coerce women. His actions had consequences beyond him.

6. As for the issue of very famous people apparently not knowing what Weinstein was up to, I’m going to tell you a story. In my line of work there was an editor named Jim Frenkel, who worked for Tor, my publisher, and who as it turned out was a harassing piece of shit. It also turned out that he was very good at hiding that fact from his bosses and fellow editors and from authors, like me, who did not fit the profile of the sort of person he liked to harass. I was male, I was already published and successful, and I suspect Frenkel knew I would talk if I found out anything. I found out because Frenkel finally harassed a person who was more than happy to talk out loud about it, and who had people who would amplify her voice. Lots of people lateral to or above his status were shocked. Lots of women below his status asked how the hell the rest of us did not know.

We didn’t know because we didn’t see it personally; we didn’t know because the “whisper network” didn’t reach us. And why didn’t it reach us? Maybe because the women were scared about what Frenkel could do to their careers. Maybe because they assumed some of us already knew and were doing nothing about it. Maybe because some of us were men and the women didn’t want to have to deal with the emotional burden of trying to make us believe harassment was a real thing. “Whisper networks” can be useful, but as my friend Naomi Kritzer noted on Twitter, they’re full of holes. And more than that: They propagate downward and attenuate upward. After a certain height, you don’t hear many whispers.

No one knows a food chain better than a predator. Harvey Weinstein was not going to prey near or above his station; doing so served none of his purposes and represented risk. He wasn’t going to prey on (say) Meryl Streep or Hillary Clinton, and the chances that someone he would prey on would be able to tell either of those two women — or other women of a similar stature, or men on the same level — was pretty slim, and what reaches someone at that level is often spotty and inconclusive, for all the reasons noted above.

(Please note I’m not originating these observations; check out this Twitter thread yesterday from a woman screenwriter which makes basically the same point. It’s not the only thread like it out there.)

This doesn’t mean no people above certain level didn’t know. But it does mean predators are good at hiding their tracks, or at least making their path confusing. It also means that predators know how to leverage their power — and in the case of Harvey Weinstein, he was very powerful indeed.

And for the women of power who did know and who kept quiet, or at least quietish: Surprise! This is where the systematic sexism and harassment in the film/TV industry raises its head. You knew it would show up sometime!

7. Anyone who voted for an admitted sexual predator for president who is now blaming women for not knowing or not confronting Harvey Weinstein: Sit the fuck down. You don’t even have the veil of plausible deniability to cover the fact that you helped make Mr. “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” the President of the United States. You knew and you didn’t care. To go after Clinton because she knew Weinstein after you cast your vote for Trump, well, shit. Got a Bible passage for you, son.

And, not that I’ve seen it, but in case it’s out there (and it probably is, somewhere): Anyone defending Weinstein on the basis of his ostensible politics or because of the great art he’s helped produce, you can sit the fuck down, too. The correct politics and the ability to spot good films and filmmakers isn’t a pass for being sexually coercive and a rapist. I’m happy to cede this piece of shit human has very fine taste in cinema. He’s still a piece of shit human.

8. I’m all for condemning both Trump and Weinstein, and any other man who uses his power to sexually coerce other people. Weinstein is a liberal and Trump is, well, whatever the hell he is (white supremacist authoritarian populist masquerading as a conservative), but both are men who have decided that they get to force themselves on women, and women should be happy or at least quiet about it. There’s no political angle to it; or more accurately, certain men of any political stripe seem happy to be predatory pieces of shit. Nor should there be any political separation to the solution to this problem: Kick all that shit to the curb.

9. And of course some of the backlash from this is that some men in corporate settings are now avoiding women, which makes me want to smack my head and wonder what the fuck is wrong with my sex. The solution is not to cut women out of your professional life, you assholes. The solution is to fix your goddamned corporate culture and root out the sexual harassers and predators so neither you nor any woman have to worry that a closed-door meeting means a quick two-step to the HR department. Redlining women from professional advancement because you don’t know how else to deal with the issues of harassment and predation means you are the problem, not them.

10. Harvey Weinstein is a piece of shit, but he’s not the only piece of shit out there. The film/TV industry has a sexism and harassment problem, but it’s not the only industry with a sexism and harassment problem. Today is Weinstein’s moment in the barrel, and he should be shot to the moon for it. But there’s a whole line of dudes waiting after him, starting from the president and working on down.

All of which you would know already, my dudes, if you listened to women and believed them. I’ve been working on that one myself a lot recently. I’m not perfect, but I like to think I’m getting better at it. We’ll see. Maybe you should make an effort at it too, if you’ve not done so already.

"Moron" considered dangerous

Oct. 10th, 2017 08:17 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

In all of the foofaraw about Rex Tillerson calling Donald Trump a "fucking moron", no one seems to have picked up on the fact the Mr. Tillerson may have endangered his immortal soul. (And not on account of the expletive.)

In "The S-word and the F-word", 6/12/2004, I noted that the gospel quotes Jesus delivering a strongly-worded threat to people who call other people stupid. Thus Matthew 5:22:

Original: Ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει: ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ: ὃς δ᾽ ἂν εἴπῃ Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

Transliteration: Egô de legô humin hoti pas ho orgizomenos tôi adelphôi autou enochos estai têi krisei: hos d' an eipêi tôi adelphôi autou Rhaka, enochos estai tôi sunedriôi: hos d' an eipêi Môre, enochos estai eis tên geennan tou puros.

KJV: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

NASB: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ' You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

The Greek word translated "fool" in that verse is precisely μωρός, which is the etymon of "moron", as the OED explains:

Etymology: ancient Greek μωρόν, neuter of μωρός , (Attic) μῶρος foolish, stupid (further etymology uncertain: a connection with Sanskrit mūra foolish, stupid, is now generally rejected).

I would have filed this post under "theology of language", but our wildly excessive number of categories doesn't include that possibility.


What is Trump demanding now?

Oct. 10th, 2017 08:05 pm
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Posted by Ben Zimmer

Here's a nice crash blossom (that is, a difficult-to-parse ambiguous headline) noted on Twitter by The Economist's Lane Greene, with credit to his colleague James Waddell. In The Financial Times, a promotion of an article inside (a "reefer" in newspaper-speak) is headlined: "Trump demands dog 'Dreamers' deal."

The headline for the article as it appears online is: "Trump's demands temper hopes of immigration deal." And the lede explains: "The prospects for a bipartisan deal to protect 800,000 immigrants brought to the US illegally as children are facing new doubts as Donald Trump pushes a hardline list of immigration and border security demands to Congress as a condition for his backing."

As Lane observes, the ambiguity is set up by the use of demands as a plural noun and dog as a verb, when it's quite easy to go down the garden path thinking demands is a verb and dog is a noun. So a casual reader might think Trump is demanding a "dog 'Dreamers' deal" (and since this is a British newspaper, such a noun pile isn't out of the question). Alternatively, he could be demanding that "dog 'Dreamers'" have to deal with something.

The ambiguity is helped along by a couple of journalistic expediencies. First, in the intended reading, the subject of the sentence is the noun phrase "Trump demands." There would be no ambiguous reading if it simply read "Trump's demands," as in the headline to the online article. But given the space requirements for the "reefer" headline, there might not have been room for that extra "'s" in print.

We can also blame the terseness of headlinese for the verb dog, which lends itself well to crash-blossom readings — see, for instance, Mark Liberman's 2015 post about the Reuters headline, "China Nov inflation edges up, but deflation risks dog economy." The structure of "deflation risks dog economy" closely mirrors "Trump demands dog 'Dreamers' deal," with an intended reading of N-N V N ambiguously flipping to N V N-N, thanks to the use of dog as a verb. As Jonathon Owen commented on the 2015 post, "I think we can add the verb 'dog' to the list of words that journalists use that nobody else uses."

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Posted by Victor Mair

Public notification posted in villages of Makit County (Màigàití xiàn 麦盖提县; Mәkit nah̡iyisi / Мәкит наһийиси مەكىت ناھىيىسى) near Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR):


A few key terms:  kěn 垦 means "reclaim; reclamation".  Sìshíwǔ tuán 四十五团 refers to a particular military-agricultural bīngtuán 兵团 ("corps; brigade") in Xinjiang.  Some of my archeological investigations in Xinjiang were carried out in areas belonging to such bingtuan.  Life in these bingtuanis usually harsh and the land is generally stark.  One of the main tasks of the bingtuan is to reclaim desert land and make it suitable for agricultural use.

Jǐnjí tōngzhī

Guǎngdà jūmín tóngzhì:

Xiàn jiē dào kěnqū gōng'ān jú yāoqiú, yào duì běn xiáqū jūmín jiāzhōng suǒyǒu lìqì, jí càidāo, fǔzi, tiěqiāo, chútóu, tiěchā, gāngguǎn, pí jiákè xiǎodāo děng lìqì shàng jìnxíng dǎyìn shēnfèn zhèng hàomǎ, xiànqí 10 yuè 5 rì zhì 8 rì sān tiān, dìdiǎn zài gè xiǎoqū dàmén chù, fán bù jìnxíng dǎmǎ de dāojù, yījīng jiǎnchá yīlǜ mòshōu, wèi pèihé hǎo dǎmǎ gōngzuò, jūmín xūyào xiédài běnrén shēnfèn zhèng, bìng měi jiàn dǎmǎ yòngjù shōufèi 4 yuán, tècǐ tōngzhī.

Sìshíwǔ tuán yī shèqū

2017 nián 10 yuè 5 rì






Urgent Notice

All residents-comrades:

Now, in responding to the reclamation area Public Security Bureau’s requirement, it is necessary to stamp national ID numbers on all sharp implements, such as kitchen knives, axes / hatchets, shovels / spades, hoes, pitchforks, steel pipes, leather jacket knives (VHM:  presumably knives that are small enough to be put in the pocket of a leather jacket), etc. in the houses of all community residents in this jurisdictional area within the time limit of three days between October 5th and October 8th. The location is at the main gate of all communities. All tools which are not stamped with ID numbers will be confiscated upon examination. In order to coordinate with the task of stamping ID numbers, community residents must bring their own national ID card and will be charged 4 Yuan for each implement that is stamped. It is hereby announced.

The 45th Corps Community No.1


[h.t. Geoff Wade; thanks to Jinyi Cai]

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Posted by Victor Mair

Photo taken in Hangzhou by Nikita Kuzmin's Chinese teacher:

This can be read either as:

wúwèi zhīzú 吾味知足 ("I / my flavor know / feel sufficient / content")

or as:

wǔwèi zhīzú 五味知足 ("five flavors know / feel sufficient / content")

It seems as though the Chinese are having a lot of fun with this quadrisyllabic, disemous character, as is evident from this blog post and this online user forum.

The native speakers of Chinese whom I approached for their opinions about this character are pretty much evenly divided on which of the two readings they think is better, though there seems to be a slight preference for the latter:  wǔwèi zhīzú 五味知足 ("five flavors know / feel sufficient / content").

Three respondents remarked thus:

My first reaction is that wǔwèi zhīzú 五味知足 ("five flavors know / feel sufficient / content") makes more sense to me since it's related to food. Wǔwèi 五味 ("five flavors") might refer to the five flavors: suān tián kǔ là xián 酸甜苦辣咸 ("sour sweet bitter hot / spicy salty"). When you can taste all five, it means you are eating something special (in a good way). Wúwèi zhīzú 吾味知足 ("I / my flavor know / feel sufficient / content") sounds a little bit strange to me. But it also makes sense. I interpret it as "I am satisfied with my taste / the things that I am tasting". But once I think about it more, it also fits the restaurant theme because when I am satisfied with the things I am tasting, I must be happy with the restaurant.

I just realized why I naturally think wǔwèi zhīzú 五味知足 ("five flavors know / feel sufficient / content") sounds more common than wúwèi zhīzú 吾味知足 ("I / my flavor know / feel sufficient / content").

Somehow I am more familiar with the sequence of wǔwèi zhīzú 五味知足 ("five flavors know / feel sufficient / content"), meaning wǔ zhǒng wèidào (wǒ) dōu zhīdàole 五种味道(我)都知道了 ("[as for] the five kinds of flavors, [I] know all of them").

However, wúwèi zhīzú 吾味知足 ("I / my flavor know / feel sufficient / content") literally means wǒ chī de wèidào, wǒ hěn zhīzú / wǒ quánbù zhīdàole 我吃的味道,我很知足/我全部知道了 ("of the flavors I've eaten, I know them sufficiently / I know them completely"). (This is the sequence of Chinese sentences. But now my Chinese grammar is broken and I think the opposite way.) It's very interesting for me to reflect on this.

I feel like wúwèi zhīzú 吾味知足 ("I / my flavor know / feel sufficient / content") makes more sense to me in terms of the visual pattern: every character around the outside borrows the "口" in the middle.

If anyone wants to observe an elaborate polysyllabic Chinese character in the wild and happens to be near the University of Pennsylvania, go over to the Han Dynasty restaurant at 3711 Market Street and you will see a version of this at the front desk:

That is read zhāocáijìnbǎo 招財進寶 ("bring / usher in wealth and riches").

Some earlier posts on polysyllabic characters:

[Thanks to Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, and Fangyi Cheng]

The Big Idea: Matt Harry

Oct. 10th, 2017 02:52 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

When Matt Harry set down to write his novel Sorcery for Beginners, he undertook a journey that, as it turns out, had a parallel in the book he was writing. Here he is to tell you about that journey.


This whole thing started because of Einstein.

I know the date exactly, because I take notes on such things. It was 21 April, 2013. I was looking for a little light reading material during my lunch. I scanned the bookshelf, picking up my wife’s copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Einstein. By the time I finished my sandwich, I decided I must somehow be more than a complete idiot. Even with the helpful explanations and jokey sidebars, I still couldn’t grasp the Theory of Relativity.

But flipping through the book gave me an idea. If they can explain something as difficult as theoretical physics to people, I mused, what if they could do the same thing for something impossible? Something that doesn’t exist, like Monster Hunting, or Time Travel, or Magic?

Magic. The concept hit me like a falling apple approaching the speed of light. Enchantments for Morons…Spell Casting for Dummies…okay, so the title doesn’t work yet, but a how-to guide that explains how to do magic, real magic? There’s something there.

I spent the next couple of days fleshing out the story — a lazy teenage protagonist whose parents had just divorced, a mysterious bookseller, a group of bullies tormenting our hero. I also changed the title to Sorcery for Beginners, realizing that ‘Dummies’ might not be the best way to address a potential audience. High on the fumes of a new idea, I pitched the concept to my then-agent—as a screenplay.

“Love it,” he said with the tooth-cracking enthusiasm only an agent can muster. “Great idea, fantastic, just one problem — no one’s buying spec screenplays right now. If you told me this was based on a book, it’d be an immediate sale, six figures easy. But since there’s no book …”

I was frustrated. I’d been repped in Hollywood for a few years at this point. I’d had a couple scripts optioned; an indie movie I wrote had been made and gotten distribution; I’d written projects for some big producers, but nothing had taken off. I was still working a day job and writing on nights and weekends. The time had come to try something new.

So it’d be an immediate sale if it was based on a book, huh? I fumed as I hacked my way back home through LA traffic. Guess I’ll just have to write Sorcery for Beginners as a book and sell it, then. Easy!

This wasn’t completely unknown territory for me. I had actually started as a prose writer, way back when I was a middle-grader myself. My first ‘novel,’ The Great Girl Chase, was written in seventh grade. The title alone should tell you how terrible it was.

Then I focused on plays for awhile, then journalism, then in my sophomore year at Ohio University I took a film analysis class and got hooked. For the next ten years I wrote screenplays and made movies. I had some minor success (see above), but when a good friend of mine got a three-book publishing deal, it inspired me to take up prose again.

I began outlining my first real novel in 2008. I thought it’d be fun to do something in the vein of the books I’d loved as a kid, like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark is Rising sequence. Unfortunately, while my finished novel had some cool details and world building, it ultimately wasn’t good enough to get me a lit agent.

But Sorcery would be different, I vowed to myself as my car crept past the Hollywood Bowl at 0.1 mph. I was a better writer now than I was five years ago, and I was more excited about this idea than I’d been about anything in a while. How hard could it be to crank out another book? I threw myself into it with the ferocity of a kirin, and two months later I had a first draft. I sent that off to lit agents, got multiple offers of representation, and a big publishing deal soon followed.

Just kidding. My first draft was only okay. And I had learned enough by that point to realize it was only okay. I sent it to my good friend, got notes, and I started to rewrite. I beefed up the secondary characters. I added more obstacles to the plot. Halfway through the third draft I realized it would be kind of fun if my story about kids finding a magical help guide was formatted like a help guide. That required adding about 15 thousand words of sidebars, spell pages, and fake magical history. Cue additional rewriting.

Somewhere during draft seven, I realized that what I was going through with this book was a perfect theme for the story. We all want things to be easy, but doing anything of value takes work. Owen, the main character, wants sorcery to fix everything in his life. But he needs to realize that only he can change his circumstances, and doing that takes effort. This led to more rewriting.

Finally, I had a draft I felt pretty good about. I queried agents and got a lot of good responses, even a couple offers of representation. Ultimately I went with Inkshares because the CEO Adam Gomolin really believed in this book and vowed to push it as hard as he could.

But even then, the work wasn’t done. My editor at Inkshares suggested increasing the presence of the bad guy Euclideans (who didn’t even have a name until the sixth draft). That required more rewriting, adding a few scenes, and putting a whole new chapter in the beginning. Even the captions for the illustrations went through some finessing. (I should stress here that all of this contributed to making a much better novel, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me through the process.)

Now, four-and-a-half years, 11 drafts, many tossed pages later, my debut novel Sorcery for Beginners is complete. And I’ve learned the same lesson as Owen: that no matter how easy something seems, doing anything of value takes work.

Also, that Einstein was a pretty smart guy.


Sorcery for Beginners: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Really, that’s it. If you send me story ideas, I immediately dump them unread into the trash, and I won’t acknowledge I’ve received them.

The reasons should be obvious, but in case they aren’t:

1. I have lots of ideas of my own, thanks;

2. Seriously, I have more ideas for books and stories than I will ever actually be able to write;

3. We live in a litigious society what I don’t want to be doing is spending time or money defending myself from some random person claiming I took their story idea, and yes, there’s past precedent of people sending writers ideas and then getting angry when they’re used.

Also, bluntly, I don’t need help. I’m pretty good with this whole “think up cool concepts to write stories about” thing. By all indications, it seems to be working out for me.

I suspect the vast majority of the people who want to give me story ideas mean it as a compliment, as in, “Hey, you could do this better than I could.” A rather smaller number mean it kind of in the other way, as in, “you’re not very good at this writing thing so I will graciously deign to help you out.” And some people mean it in another way, as in “the tin foil hat slipped and the voices are telling me to send this to you.” Regardless of the reason these ideas are sent, however, they all end up in the same place: The trash, unread and unacknowledged.

So might as well just not send them to me at all. Keep them! And maybe one day write them yourself. And then maybe I’ll read them, and go, “Hey, that was a cool idea. Glad I got to read it.”

Representing Race in Fashion Media

Oct. 9th, 2017 03:00 pm
[syndicated profile] sociological_images_feed

Posted by Alyssa Scull

Cosmopolitan is a highly influential fashion magazine, the 15th highest circulating magazine in the United States. Its covers matter, seen by 18 million readers a month and many more at checkout and newspaper stands across the country. Who are their covers representing, and have they become more racially diverse?

I did a content analysis of Cosmo covers, randomly selecting a sample of 214 between 1975 and 2014. Since the 1970s and 2010s have fewer years represented, about half the number of covers were examined during these decades as compared to the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Following sociologist Mary Nell Trautner and Erin Hatton’s study of Rolling Stone covers, I coded each image for race. Since the cover models are well-known, I could double check race codes with accessible biographical information about them.

Overall, only 8% of the covers featured a person of color, including eight Hispanic women, four African-American women, four Middle Eastern women, and one Asian woman. The figure below shows that representation did increase over time. Among the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s covers together, just 3% represented minorities, while the 2000s and 2010s covers together pictured minorities 16% of the time.

What accounted for the increase? I posit that it had less to do with an interest in diversifying Cosmo’s cover models, and more to do with a shift in focus. In the late 1990s, Cosmo began using celebrities and pop culture icons on their covers instead of models, a trend which continues today. It was in this same time span that minority representation had the largest increase.

This fits Mavrody’s (2014) study that there are lower numbers of models of color in the industry, at about 19%, and there is no action being taken to change this representation. What may be changing, however, is the representation of minorities in the entertainment industry. Movie and television stars shown on magazine covers in the most recent few decades include many more people of color than were seen when strictly models were on the covers.

Despite little change in the modeling industry, the entertainment industry has begun to work toward more equality in representation. In television, while there are roles that have been written just for people of color, there has also been a trend of mandating the inclusion of minorities. It seems as though this industry knows their audience and what they desire, and they are actively trying to diversify all shows, not just those that solely represent minorities and the minority experience. This work toward inclusion would bring about more fame for minority actors and actresses, which would explain their higher representation in the media, as well.

Alyssa Scull graduated from The College of New Jersey with a BA in Sociology. She is currently a MSW student at Columbia University, focusing on family, youth, and children in the practice and programming track. 

(View original at

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Terms and concepts related to "letters" and "characters" were used at spectacularly crossed purposes in many of the comments on Victor Mair's recent post "Twitter length restrictions in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean". I'm not going to intervene in the tangled substance of that discussion, except to reference some long-ago LLOG posts on the relative information content of different languages/writing systems. The point of those posts was to abstract away from the varied, complex, and (here) irrelevant details of character sets, orthographic conventions, and digital encoding systems, and to look instead at the size ratios of parallel (translated) texts in compressed form. The idea is that compression schemes try precisely to get rid of those irrelevant details, leaving a better estimate of the actual information content.

My conclusions from those exercises are two:

  1. The differences among languages in information-theoretic efficiency appear to be quite small.
  2. The direction of the differences is unclear — it depends on the texts chosen, the direction of translation, and the method of compression used.

See "One world, how many bytes?", 8/5/2005; "Comparing communication efficiency across languages", 4/4/2008; "Mailbag: comparative communication efficiency", 4/5/2008; "Is English more efficient than Chinese after all?", 4/28/2008.



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