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October 5, 2003

Open thread 7
Posted by Teresa at 10:30 PM *

Home again, home again. Very tired, but it was a good workshop.

Comments on Open thread 7:
#1 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2003, 11:20 PM:

'Twas, indeed. Hope the trip back home was uneventful for you guys.


-l.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 02:13 AM:

Two comments on current particles -- nice to see George Lakoff quoted here on reframing the concept of taxes (hung out with him a few times, good crazy linguist with Lotsa Smarts).

Science pranks and jokes, not quite appropriate for there -- my first day in a high school general science class, the teacher said "I'm going to demonstrate that you can learn anything. Here's an idea that will show up on the final exam: green is square. It may show up as 'What shape is green' or 'What color is square' or some other way. I expect you all to answer that question correctly." I'll bet you even money that all 6 people in that class would _still_ answer that question correctly, over 30 years later -- and I'd give serious odds that at least 4 of them would remember.

Cheers,
Tom

#3 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 02:32 AM:

Tom:

So if green is square, are colorless blue ideas that sleep furiously cooler than the green ones?

(I don't recall any real pranks in science class, but we had a very cool high school chemistry teacher named Mr. Ferguson who let us spend our entire semester of advanced chemistry building a light-up periodic table -- it was about 3' x 4'and hung on the wall, and was connected by 100-pair telephone cable to a control box with a switch for each element, plus switches to light up whole rows and columns. He used it for years, but alas, it disappeared after he retired.)

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 02:50 AM:

Of course they are, Jordin, because the furiousness is clearly an indication of an excited (high energy, warm) state.

Other odd thought, in relation to Pub Behaviour -- it's fairly clear that there's a heirarchy of acceptable behavior here as well. There's a tendency to rally behind People We Know when an outsider "attacks" (see TNH's recent comment supporting Paula on the antiquities briefing thread); there's also a tendency for anyone who's perceived as a regular to be able to say outrageous things and have it accepted as a reasonable argument. I push again for the idea of doing Serious Sociological Analysis (and pay attention to Howard S. Becker's WRITING FOR SOCIAL SCIENTISTS if you do!) on the discourse structures of this sort of blog. I don't have time to do it myself, but it sure looks like fun!

Cheers,
Tom

#5 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 10:59 AM:

Story about a knitting convention in the NYT today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/06/nyregion/06KNIThtml

In another classroom, a crowd gathered around Lily Chin, the well-known pattern designer who had recently won the title of the fastest crocheter in the world. She was showing off a reversible cabled afghan, made of panels of patterns called orgy, rope and me9nage e0 trois. You could make a baby blanket out of them, she said, as long as you don't explain to the child what the patterns meant until years down the road.
#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Patrick Farley's snarky cartoony jab at the Book of Revelations has a new installment:

http://e-sheep.com/apocamon/

Bad news: Now you gotta pay. Will micropayments keep the franchise going?

#7 ::: S. Ann Ran ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 09:31 PM:

Found a report of "Why Do Gay Men Live In San Francisco"; granted, I intentionally went looking for this, as the (Lexington, Kentucky) Herald-Leader had an article Sunday over the fact Lexington has become a hot-spot for gay couples. The article went looking for the reasons why certain cities were more gay concentrated, but I haven't had time to really read it. The truly interesting part is three tables at the back, that list cities by concentration of gay/lesbian households. Lexington, KY, is third for gays in cities of populations between 200,000 and 700,000.

Personally, I think it's related to the fact Lexington is also a hotspot for the national Wiccan community, but hey, I don't think most people knew that either.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 09:54 PM:

I figure it's like Minneapolis -- a reasonably flexible, sophisticated city in the midst of a large conservative area.

#9 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 11:00 PM:

The theory on New York and San Fran is (according to the late Randy Shilts, if I'm getting him correctly) that post-WWII troop discharges accumulated large numbers of GIs, and that gay men just stayed put.

Fun fact that I did not know and am not certain I believe, especially since I can no longer find the cite for it I saw (I think): Randy Shilts was a Republican.

#10 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2003, 11:17 PM:

I hope you noticed the appearance of Patrick Farley's next installment of Apokemon. And there are lots of interesting issues raised by the fact that he is charging $0.25 for it...

#12 ::: Xopher, a Stratificationalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 01:29 PM:

I always thought that "Colorless green ideas..." thing was crap. If you make a well-formed English sentence, it WILL mean something -- even if it's something really confusing and hard to understand.

In the case of Chomsky's famous "content-free" sentence, I'd translate it as "The more banal eco-friendly beliefs and notions have disappeared from public discourse, and are lying dormant, but those who hold them hold them with passion and anger."

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 01:40 PM:

Note that "mean something" is not the same as "be true."

#14 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 02:11 PM:

The thing is, I don't believe that sentences "mean something" in and of themselves.

Meanings are associated with sentences by the speaker, and the speaker hopes that the sentences evoke similar meanings in the minds of the listeners; if speaker and listener share enough background, and the speaker does a good job choosing/constructing their sentences, the speaker's hopes are likely to be fulfilled.

Many sentences are thought of as having a single, universal meaning, only because the neccessary level of shared background is so common among English-speakers.

For example, think about "My car is out of gas". For most first-world English speakers, the meaning is pretty obvious. But what if Shakespeare had uttered that sentence? What would it mean?

As Xopher shows, it's possible to construct an imaginary context in which even the most (apparently) content-free sentence could mean something. Contrariwise, it's possible to imagine a context in which a sentence meaningful in many contexts loses its meaning.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 02:11 PM:

It can be read as having that meaning, but it doesn't adequately constrain meaning to that one reading -- which is such a basic problem in English that beta readers are the writer's only reliable recourse.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 06:35 PM:

RE "Electronically Generated Scientologists"

Years and years and years ago, I went to a summer camp administered by the Boys' Clubs organization.

There was a poster outside of the infirmary showing a huge crowd of boys in Boys' Club T-shirts.

I remember carefully examining it while waiting to have some scrape or grippe or fungus dealt with. I was scandalized to see that the crowd was a composite. A relatively small number of kids had been turned into a crowd through a primordial cut and paste process.

#17 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 06:42 PM:

"A sentence has meaning in the sense that a train has a track, not that a train has a passenger." -- Chip Delany

Hmm. I -would- remember that.

#18 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2003, 09:10 PM:

I am sure that sentence of the brilliant Chip Delany has a subtle and important meaning, but I am not sure that I know what that meaning is.

:-)

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 12:44 AM:

My interpretation of Chip's observation is that an individual sentence must be interpreted in the context of the sentences that surround it. Writing "The sky is gray" requires that the reader know whether the weather, a painting, a Steichen photograph, a person's mental state, a bombing raid, a vistiation of Simon Magus, or some combination of these is being described. "I'm leaving" is an entirely different sentence between a couple who are on their way to work and one that has just had a violent quarrel; it gets even more complex if one person has been saying that on the way to work for the last seventeen years, and says it this time (either through choice or mindlock) with precisely the same inflection.

Now, Chip might well tell me that I had missed the nuances, and in this case (to borrow a phrase elsewhere) the nuances are the best part.

#20 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 02:47 AM:

I suspect most of the people here have seen
the plot generator at:

http://www.rain-street.org/fightcrime.htm

It's old news, but I was just having a look at
the page and had the spooky realisation that most
of these descriptions sounded pretty good in my
present mood.

Must be the weather...

#21 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 11:21 AM:

The animated evolution of alaphbets: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/marry.htm

Tres cool.

---L.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 11:35 AM:

Larry, when I try that URL I get "Who Wants to Marry a Founding Father?". It's fun, but I don't think it's what you had in mind.

#23 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2003, 07:03 PM:

Er, no, it isn't. Try here.

Me today:physical manipulation of objects::weasels on acid:circumstantial evidence
---L.

#24 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 03:41 AM:

A side note on the Pat Robertson: Domestic Terrorist particle: The linked article notes that ol' Pat was pals with Charles Taylor, which . . . well, that's a category of odiousness all to itself.

But, see, Pat is a big-time neo-colonialist. A number of years ago, he bought some Zairean diamond mines on the cheap from the Graft Minister of the Week. Unfortunately, the railroads necessary to get the diamonds out were destroyed in domestic violence, and the country is too destitute to rebuild them. (One doubts that extracting Pat's diamonds will have much of a positive economic effect on Zaire, Ministers of the Week excepted.)

Pat, however, keeps trying to get the Zairean government to spend its vast surpluses on the railroad project. Laurie Garrett's book BETRAYAL OF TRUST (which contains an excellent discussion of this particular lye pit) describes one such attempt, a few years ago during the second major Ebola outbreak in Zaire. Pat arrived to as much fanfare as he could arrange, with a cargo of medical supplies for the stricken locals. Said bundles of mercy consisted of a truckload of secondhand rehydration packs, which might have saved quite a few lives had Zaire been going through a cholera epidemic, but were of no value whatsoever against Ebola. (Isolation and sterile equipment might actually have been some use, but I suppose Pat is powerfully opposed to the distribution of disposable syringes.)

This is a guess, but it's hard not to think that much of his quarrel with the State Department has to do with his attempts to conduct private diplomacy with people like, well, Charles Taylor and the Zairean Bureau of Scummy Deals.

#26 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 12:15 PM:

I'm startled and pleased to see White, Dahl, and Pullman on that Observer list. Tho' I winced at the description of The Scarlet Letter, possibly because it's true.

---L.

#27 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:03 PM:

Is anyone else pissed that the Observer list is a long advertisement for Amazon UK? I stopped reading after a page because I felt spammed....

Tom Whitmore
Independent bookseller who wishes he could lose millions of dollars of other people's money and become famous

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:50 PM:

Teresa: It can be read as having that meaning, but it doesn't adequately constrain meaning to that one reading -- which is such a basic problem in English that beta readers are the writer's only reliable recourse.

I would certainly hope that anyone who boiled my long sentence ("The more banal...") down to Chomsky's would be swatted down by hir editor pronto.

Mr. Ford, while I don't disagree with your observations, Chomsky's failed attempt at a content-free sentence isn't distinguished from any "normal" sentence by these facts...in fact, science fiction writers, good ones, convey a pile of information about context by the use of sentences that don't make sense in a normal context.

I can't think of an example, so I'll make one up: "Being turned inside out no longer had any power to frighten Turgido; in fact most of his annoyance at it was due to boredom -- boredom and the prospect of having to replace his blood again."

Hmm. Not syntaxy enough. Hmm.

DUH! "Things that made the obscure obvious by overturning overturned." By that same Saint Chip. The weirdest example of crooked self-reference I've ever come across.

Time flies like an arrow.

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 05:12 PM:

What, is that you?

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 05:16 PM:

Mike, I had no idea that Pat Robertson was so odious abroad. He's like the real-world version of that cardboard-backed self-seeking Bible-thumper I keep hearing about from the internet's village atheists.

#32 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 12:49 AM:

Waauughh! My parody post, meant to imply that Pat Robertson was the sucker for a 419 scam, got deleted!

#33 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 12:51 AM:

I mean, couldn't you at least have left the consonants?

#34 ::: DOCTOR JOSEPH UKULELE ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 12:14 AM:

GREETINGS MY NAME IS DOCTOR JUSEPH UKULELE, FORMER DEPUTY TRANSPORT MINISTRY FOR REPUBLIC OF ZAIRE. I AM WRITING TO YOU AS GENTLEMENT OF MEANS AND DISCRETION WHO CAN POSSIBLY ASSIST THE SITUATION. IN THE COURSE OF MY DUTIES AS DEPUTY TRANSPORT MINIST I BECAME AWARE OF A LARGE CACHE OF UNCUT DIAMONDS AWAITING EXTRUCTION AND TRANSPORT TO THE COAST. UNFORTUNATISTICALLY, THE LATE UNPLEASANTNESS RENDERED THE RAILROADS UNUSABLE. WE ARE DESPERATELY NEED FUNDING FOR REBUILD AND RESTART RAIL SERVICE TO DIAMOND MINES.

WITH YOUR HELP AND COOPERATON WE CAN FIX THE RAILROAD LINES AND RECOMMENCE THE MINING OF DAIMONDS. IF YOU COULD KINDLY FORWARD COMMITMENTS OF FUNDING FOR RAILROAD REBUILD PROJECT, I CAN OFFER IN RETURN A MAJORITY INTEREST IN DIMOND MINES TO BE RESTART.

PLEASE CONACT ME SOONEST SO WE CAN MOVE FORWARD ON THIS LUCRATIVE ARRANGEMENT.

#35 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 02:11 AM:

Hi, Dr. Joe. I have nearly forty years' experience in putting railroads through a variety of difficult terrain types (including, but not limited to, carpet, insulfoam, and plaster) and would be pleased to assist you in exchange for, nudge nudge, a piece of the action. Please describe the scale you desire to work in, and whether we should use Digital Command Control or Me4rklin three-rail (probably picked up cheap from one of Mal Forbes's estate sales). Please note that under no circumstances will I go anywhere near Zaire, but I'm sure you understand.

I have my own funny hat.

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