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September 24, 2007

“I don’t need to know the details.”
Posted by Teresa at 10:16 AM * 416 comments

Albatross posted some insightful remarks in the comment thread of Lying in the name of God:

I think there’s an idea here without a clear term to point to it: ideologies that require or encourage a kind of willful ignorance. Those can be cured, but only by breaking with the ideology.

Frex, a lot of economic determinists (Marxists and neoclassical economists) seem to have the idea that they don’t need to know much about the world to understand it, because their economic models give them the fundamental insights. I think the screwups in Iraq have largely been caused by very smart people whose ideology led them to think that they had grasped the essentials of the situation there, despite scary stuff like not knowing the difference between Shia and Sunni. I think there’s also a widespread idea in management that you should be able to manage things whose details you don’t understand all that well. (But that’s way outside my field or interests, so I may just be misunderstanding.)

The hard thing is, you *have* to have simplifying models—they’re what make a fiercely complex world usable. But your model can really screw you, by convincing you that you know the important stuff, even when you’re frightfully ignorant of the details. And people with very powerful or convincing models often get screwed in just this way, as they try to apply their powerful model from one situation into a different one. Even worse, some models’ strength is that they make for good rhetoric, and when tested against the real world, they fail horribly. But group decisionmaking is largely done through rhetoric—both national politics and internal politics of most groups. You can have disastrous ideas that win all the arguments, sound great, and reliably gain power—I’d say that the rhetoric about the Middle East being ripe for democracy, democracy leading to peace, etc., is a good example of that.

Comments on "I don't need to know the details.":
#1 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Isn't there an aphorism to the effect of 'Don't confuse the model with what it represents?'

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:39 AM:

Albatross is correct, you need simplifying models otherwise the complexity of the world will blind and deafen you, but the model is not the world.

The devil, it has been said, is in the details, and, contrary to what almost all ideologues say, they do matter. Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims began as contingent products of what were, in essence, leadership disputes in early Islam, but they became distinct streams within Islam very quickly, and they are still harping on 1,1400-year-old quarrels. Unlike some 'ancient' hostilities that hardly go back to the 19th century, the differences are real -- and to have missed them is not only to have ideological blinders on, it is to be completely incompetent.

Models are not the world, just maps; and the map is not the territory.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:39 AM:

Albatross is correct, you need simplifying models otherwise the complexity of the world will blind and deafen you, but the model is not the world.

The devil, it has been said, is in the details, and, contrary to what almost all ideologues say, they do matter. Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims began as contingent products of what were, in essence, leadership disputes in early Islam, but they became distinct streams within Islam very quickly, and they are still harping on 1,1400-year-old quarrels. Unlike some 'ancient' hostilities that hardly go back to the 19th century, the differences are real -- and to have missed them is not only to have ideological blinders on, it is to be completely incompetent.

Models are not the world, just maps; and the map is not the territory.

#4 ::: Jim McGee ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:48 AM:

Another useful observation about models:


All models are wrong. Some models are useful.
George E.P. Box

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:55 AM:

Fragano @ 2-3... Models are not the world, just maps; and the map is not the territory

That way way lies disaster, especially when the guy who makes the decisions does do nuances.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:56 AM:

(correction to #5)

...especially when the guy who makes the decisions does NOT do nuances...

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:57 AM:

My opinion on this is best summed up by Clive James, from The Crystal Bucket (a book of TV criticism from the 1981):

The advantage of being in possession of an all-embracing political theory is that you need never be at a loss either to explain events or to propose their remedy...

My own all-embracing political theory, for what it is worth, is that an inordinate proportion of the world's misery is brought into being by all-embracing political theories. These might tend either to the Right or to the Left, but what they have in common is the unwavering conviction that ends justify means. In this respect any attempt to choose between the two sides is pointless. Nor should anyone who finds himself in the middle feel weak on that account. Powerless yes, but weak no. if history is with anybody, it is with those who are not sure where it is heading...
[Vanya] Kewley elegantly embodies the principle that the truth is absolute, even if our grasp of it is relative. Q. Baebius Herennius [James' strawman for the essay, but a useful one] believes that the truth is relative and his grasp of it absolute. She can understand him, but he will never be able to understand her.
#8 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:58 AM:

Yes, simplifying models are necessary.

But you've always got to pay attention to the circumstances under which your model is valid, and when it breaks down. Be very clear about what assumptions you're making in order to simplify your model. And you've got to check your model predictions against experiment or at least the known laws of physics.

*has math modeling course notes in her lap*

And yes, the idea very much exists that you should be able to manage things you don't really understand. Hence, management consulting.

#9 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:10 AM:

The SF writer Jerry Pournelle, who's absolutely against the Iraq war, refers to the current ideology for the war as Jacobinism.

The French revolutionaries that overthrew the monarchy thought that they could quickly convert France into a utopian democracy. They were wrong.

Failure to understand the model is not reality, or being overly enamored with rhetorically-powerful but inaccurate models, explains why people seriously advocate libertarianism and communism. Both systems fail in predictable ways, but they sound good (for certain values of good.)

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:10 AM:

The tension in model-building is between keeping out the detail that doesn't matter, because it makes the model harder to understand and use, and including the detail that does, because the model doesn't work correctly without it. There's always a temptation to strip the model down both because that makes it easier to build and use and because it's more "elegant"; 19th and 20th Century physics, with its terse mathematical formulae, taught people who aspired to scientific precision to value brevity; unfortunately many of them didn't realize that, for instance, "e=mc²" isn't the whole


of the model.

The other common mistake with models is to take a model that works in one domain, and apply it to a domain where it doesn't work. "Democracy leads to peace" worked (sort of) in Europe; it isn't clear that it works well in other parts of the world possibly because "democracy" has different meanings to different people.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:22 AM:

On the other hand, it's also notable that these points are frequently harped on as a way of encouraging political quietism and discouraging critical thought. "Ideology" isn't evil and it certainly isn't stupid. Oversimplification is foolish and can lead to evil results. It's perfectly possible to have an ideology (for instance, to believe that some resources ought to be held by the duly-constituted state for the good of all, rather than concentrated in private hands) without being oversimple and hence stupid about it.

#12 ::: michael vassar ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:25 AM:

There *are* some models that do a VERY good job at relieving the requirement that one understand the details. Thermodynamics is probably the best such example, but in analyzing many situations one can use logic to find terms that cancel out and can then ignore those terms (as in all objects falling equally fast in vacuum because mass is on both sides of the equation so it cancels out).
Neoclassical economic models *do* show some of this strength, but only if used *very* carefully, e.g. if maximum attention is paid to the exact meaning of the assumptions, those are recognized to be assumptions, and in general the process of turning symbols back into concepts is a faithful reversal of the initial. process of turning concepts into symbols.

#13 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Certainly there's "a widespread idea in management that you should be able to manage things whose details you don’t understand all that well." The Dilbert cartoons show the effects of that idea, and many of us will have enountered it in 'real' life.

The trouble is, it's also a necessary idea. Say you're running an outfit, such as a university or an aircraft carrier, that includes a wide range of specialisms. You can understand them all superficially, but you can't have in-depth knowledge of everything, yet somehow you have to keep the show on the road. It takes a good manager to do that well.

#14 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:29 AM:

Good points about checking models against reality.

This article from National Geographic goes into more detail on how our models can lure us into danger.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/survival/skills/index.html


#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Patrick @ 11... It's perfectly possible to have an ideology (for instance, to believe that some resources ought to be held by the duly-constituted state for the good of all, rather than concentrated in private hands) without being oversimple and hence stupid about it.

That's what good models do. Look at the Constitution. It's a good model for Democracy, but it doesn't spell out all the details because circumstances can change.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Maps and models are both kinds of analogies. No analogy is perfect—and that's by definition, because when it becomes perfect it ceases to be an analogy and becomes a description of reality, or even reality itself (because descriptions, however detailed, are models as well).

In fact, your understanding of anything is a model that exists in your brain, and there absolutely will be discrepancies between it and reality. The important thing is to keep that in mind, and fix the discrepancies when they become serious. And by "serious" I mean that they impair the purpose of the model.

For example, my model of the world I live in, like most people's, is essentially Newtonian. I know that if I pull my leg in I spin faster, if I knock a ball into a row of balls the one on the other end may move, and that if I throw something straight up it will probably come down on my head.

That's suitable for everyday use, and pretty consistent. It is not, however, how the universe works on a larger scale.

But that's OK, because the purpose of my model is to allow me to function in the world, to avoid getting hurt whenever possible, and to put off dying as long as I can. Relativity and quantum mechanics don't really affect my daily world very much. But if I want to write about interstellar travel, I have to know something about relativity. (I have yet to think of a situation in which I need to know about quantum mechanics, but it could come up.)

So it's not that the model is discrepant from reality. All models are, and in fact that's what makes them useful. It's whether the discrepancy is relevant to the purpose of the model that matters. The difference between Sunni and Shi'a is not only relevant to the model of outcomes in Iraq, it's critical, and they either missed that, or didn't care.

#17 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:39 AM:

John S @ 13

You can understand them all superficially, but you can't have in-depth knowledge of everything, yet somehow you have to keep the show on the road.

The problem is when the necessity of that superficial understanding isn't understood either. That produces the idea that the MBA (or whatever) is in itself sufficient background to allow running any business or other organization, without knowing anything about the business or organization being run. (Usually resulting in said business or organization being run right into the ground.)

#18 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:40 AM:

The whole Barney and Betty Hill saga, which Jim wrote about so compellingly a few days ago, seems to me a classic example of fitting unusual data (the light in the sky) to the wrong model (an alien craft), and then continuing in such a way that that wrong model got further and further wedged into place.

We all need to model-fit to get through the day, but some models are less useful, and harder to displace, than others.

#19 ::: Samuel Tinianow ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:42 AM:

I think the screwups in Iraq have largely been caused by very smart people whose ideology led them to think that they had grasped the essentials of the situation there, despite scary stuff like not knowing the difference between Shia and Sunni.

I disagree. I think the screwups in Iraq were caused by people whose ideology led them not to give a tenth of a shit if they grasped one iota of the situation there. They understood perfectly well what they were doing; successful management just didn't figure into it.

The rest of it's spot-on though. Can you say "Show, don't tell?"

#20 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:46 AM:

Patrick #11:

Yeah, I'm not saying all ideologies are evil. In fact, I think there are adherents to most widespread ideologies who do see the difference between map and territory, who do understand that there are places where their models will and won't work. But most ideologies I can identify in the world also have their blind adherents, and it often seems like the guys who get into power and apply the ideology to governing are the ones who confuse map and territory.

Perhaps this has to do with the inherent complexity of their jobs; it's a little scary to think of how much you'd need to know to be a decent president or secretary of state or secretary of defense, and I can imagine a deep desire for simplifying models that helped you make sense of the mass of data facing you.

#21 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:50 AM:

As an aside, I was a little surprised when I checked Making Light and saw my own post at the top. That was cool!

#22 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:51 AM:

As the pioneering linguist Edward Sapir put it, "All grammars leak."

(For some reason, I've always found this observation, with its acknowledgement of the unwillingness of reality to make a perfect fit with anything except itself, to be a comforting one. I suppose that for someone with a different cast of mind, it might be an inducement to despair.)

#23 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:52 AM:

Fragano (#2 and 3):

Not only is the Devil in the Details, but, as any Connie Willis fan is aware, God, too, is in the Details.

#24 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:54 AM:

Samuel Tinianow @ 19 - whether the Bush administration believed their rhetoric or not, they had to sell the concept to others. The model of we'll bring democracy to Iraq was a fairly easy sell to Americans.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:00 PM:

Serge #6: The guys at the top rarely do nuance, this causes them all manner of surprises.

#26 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:02 PM:

I think there's a useful distinction to be made between principles and ideology. Principles act as side constraints - they rule out certain actions a priori, leaving you to solve your practical political problems within the remaining possibility space. This is a good thing: it means you rule out, say, tackling a problem of street littering by introducing armed street wardens to shoot dead anyone who drops any rubbish on the pavement.

Ideology is different: it tells you the answer - often the One True Answer - to your problems, whatever they may be. This can lead you to do ineffective, counterproductive or damaging things because you haven't chosen the most reasonable possibility, but rather the one that most closely fits your ideology. So, for example, you might be driven to solve the littering problem by instituting a complex set of private property rights over the street, and enabling complex legal battles over punitive damages for dropped litter.

If it turns out that the most efficient way to deal with this particular problem is to install a set of litter bins in the street, the principled person would be happy to do this: the ideologue would remain fixated on their One True Way.

(Or could this just be another of those irregular verbs? I am principled, you are an ideologue, he/she is a raving nutter.)

#27 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:06 PM:

Adam Lipkin #23: Oh, no doubt!

On other parts of this discussion: I agree with Patrick that ideology (in the sense of a coherent explanatory system)is useful, and necessary. The problem is always not mistaking the map for the territory -- the map will get you where you want to go but it won't show you the kind of detail you may need to get there.

#28 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #3: the map is not the territory

That is one of my favorite quotes from the movie "Ronin", spoken by Sam (played by Robert DeNiro).

#29 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:30 PM:

"Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." -- A. Einstein

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:49 PM:

Adam Lipkin @ 23... Not only is the Devil in the Details

Combine that with the well known fact that the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions is paved with tiny stepping stones?

#31 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Debra Doyle @22 reminded me of Joel Spolsky's Law of Leaky Abstractions, which is another way of looking at this entire subject: from the perspective of an engineer who has to work with the models because the details are hidden.

#32 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:52 PM:

I think Bruce Cohen's point about the elegance (or perhaps tractability/computability might be better nowadays) of models being a crucial ingredient in their acceptance can be extended: elegance and tractability become increasingly important as the testability of models declines.

Which means that the less you know about a subject, or the more difficult it is to tease meaning out of the facts on the grounds, the more attractive a simplified picture of the world will look.

Then apply positive feedback.

#33 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Adam Lipkin (#23): God, too, is in the Details.
Very true, unless the "Details" are arbitrary and imposed by an institution -- then, they revert to the Devil again.

#34 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 01:41 PM:

Chris #24: - whether the Bush administration believed their rhetoric or not, they had to sell the concept to others. The model of we'll bring democracy to Iraq was a fairly easy sell to Americans.

It was an even easier sell than that, considering that wasn't the justification they used to start the war.

#35 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:00 PM:

#32 paul: I think you're right about this. Thomas Sowell* talked about this a lot in a couple of his books, particularly _Knowledge and Decisions_; when your decisions cause some kind of immediate feedback, they get judged on how good they are. When there's no feedback, your decisions get judged on how good they look.

* It's important to distinguish Thomas Sowell the Republican hack who writes a newspaper column from Thomas Sowell the deep and insightful thinker who writes some really fascinating books. Same guy, different hats, but radically different quality of thought.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:07 PM:

Earl Cooley III #28: The saying's been around longer than that. A quick search shows that it was originally uttered by Korzybski.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Iain Coleman, #26: I think your last sentence is what nails it.

#38 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:33 PM:

Ah ha! Fragano just beat me to it regarding Korzybski. Maybe I am the only one here who's actually read "Science and Sanity"?

(Bearing in mind I'm just making this up as I go along:)
The funny thing about models is that they are abstractions of "reality". Therefore they leave information out. Hence, as has been said above, they are always wrong, but sometimes useful, i.e. their symbols and structure accord closer to reality.

At the moment the biggest topic I see this on is climate change. I've lost count of the number of denialists and simply ill-informed people I have talked to who are so dismissive of models. Yet models are used to do everything from design cars to airplanes to help with new medicine research.

My current place of employment is run by bad managers, and they seem to like making great big complex models on whiteboards, and then fouling things up bigtime. This is because in making their models, they have not checked out the small stuff adequately and thus abstract the wrong information to the model itself. They do this partly because they do think they are competent is various areas, so of course they can be competent in this....

It's reached the stage where all 3 members of the technical department, who know quite a bit about how things work and how they should be modelled, are just leaving them to it.

#39 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 02:36 PM:

For more about models and survival, see Deep Survival by Gonsalez. This is a fascinating book, and I think it's beyond cool that it's online for free.

For models and predicting the human world, see Expert Political Judgement by Tetlock. From what I've read about it, it's about a cruel experiment of asking pundits to make predictions, then checking to see if anyone got things right. IIRC, pundits with less comprehensive theories are more likely to be accurate. I had no idea it had been put up for free.

#40 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:06 PM:

re Nancy @39,

Tetlock's talk at the Long Now Foundation's ongoing lecture series* is summarized here and available for listening here (scroll to Why Foxes Are Better Forecasters Than Hedgehogs. Also, yay for LN for providing an Ogg version**). It was one of the best lectures this year, and that's competing with people like Vinge.

What he'd done is get several hundred experts and asked them to both give forecasts and say how confident they were in their forecasts. He also classified the experts as Hedgehogs (one theory explains all) or Foxes (borrow from multiple theories).

Foxes were much more accurate, but foxes- with all their "Yes, but also consider that's" don't get onto Fox.

He mentioned that several of his experts are currently in government positions. Are they hedgehogs? How accurate and confident were they previously? He can't say due to his study's confidentiality agreement.

---------
* If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend the LN's lecture series.

** an open source and higher quality audio type.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:18 PM:

guthrie @ 38... Maybe I am the only one here who's actually read "Science and Sanity"?

I wouldn't know, but I recognized the line from A.E. van Vogt's use of it in his null-A books.

#42 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:22 PM:

Richard Brandt @ 34 - I hate to quibble, but "bring democracy to Iraq" was in fact one of the stated reasons for the war. There were a number of reasons stated.

(Please don't assume I support Bush - the last Bush I voted for was in 1988)

#43 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Re #40: I agree in principle with use of the Ogg format, but unfortunately it won't work in my iPod... really that's a failing of Apple rather than of Ogg, but it's still a nuisance.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:38 PM:

One of the really serious mistakes that's commonly made in using models is based on "physics envy"*: where the model-builder fails to realize that not all models can or should be made mathematically precise. Psychologists and economists fall for this one all the time. And anyone who bases sociological and political models on those psychological and economic models is going to be still farther from a working model. Even where you can build a precise numeric model, you have to remember the error bars on your data: precisely inaccurate data lead to precisely incorrect conclusions.

* Where a professional in a less rigorous field than physics thinks that the rigor comes from the use of numerical models, so throwing numbers into fuzzy** models will make them rigorous.

** Fuzzy isn't a negative term, it just means that your models don't map well to models with mathematical metrics and infinitely precise category boundaries. Just don't try to use fuzzy models and descriptions to get out results more precise than they can really give.

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:47 PM:

paul @ 32

And that's another serious misuse of models: choosing one model over another because it's computable or easily worked with, even if it's not as good a model in the areas you need.

Stephen Hawking, who isn't a dumb guy, once astonished everyone by solving a wavefunction for the entire universe that showed that time went forward from the Big Bang to some median time, then reversed back to the BB, which became a Big Crunch to any observer because their arrow of time was reversed with respect to the BB. Many people oohed and ahed until one less reverent soul pointed out that the model he was using was matter and energy free, isotropic, and homogeneous, removing several classes of physical action that overwhelmed the effects of the metric all by itself. The model did have the advantage that it could be solved with the mathematical tools that Hawking had available at the time. Yea, even the best of us go down the rabbit hole on occasion.

#46 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 03:58 PM:

Dan @40,

They also have MP3 versions. (LN originally only had MP3, iirc) For a speech it might not make a difference- Ogg was optimized for music, and so for speech it might not be better than mp3. But then some of LN's lectures include music.

And what was Apple's model that they think that no one cares that much about better quality codecs? Given the existence of people who buy $10k stereo systems (at the very low end of high end) and gold-coated CDs, did Apple simply decide to ignore them? Or does Apple include a better but proprietary music codec?

#47 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 04:34 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #36: The saying's been around longer than that. A quick search shows that it was originally uttered by Korzybski.

I knew that. I just didn't figure out a clever way to slop that gobbet of information into my post. It was just to show that there are more reasons to like "Ronin" than the bang-bang car chases.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #44: A lot of political scientists suffer from 'economics envy' (a quick glance through the APSR or the AJPs will demonstrate that -- I might even go so far as to suggest that there's a degree of 'sigma competition' [i.e., mine's bigger than your's] going on).

I think, though that rather than 'physics envy' economists suffer from 'mathematics envy'. Formal theory (or positive political theory as not-so-closet econometrists like Neal Beck or Jonathan Katz are wont to call it) in both political science and economics is mathematics, as is game theory which is now occupying a large chunk of political science.

The problem, of course, is that while a formal model can produce a good rough guide to reality, it's never going to be an exact guide to human reality because human beings are not the two-dimensional creatures they have to be for formal modelling to work (that is, we have more motivations than the micro-economic ones). And we're also not always rational actors (I seem to recall that surveys done in the South in the 1940s showed that whites realised that segregation was a drag on economic growth, and liked it that way).

#49 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 05:15 PM:

One problem with models as information filters: they usually decide early on as to which effects are first-order effects (that will make a difference to the outcome).

That makes implicit assumptions to ignore second/third order effects as being too small to affect the big picture
(and that they're independent, so that their cumulative effect is not all weighted in the same direction, and sum to something that is neglibile compared to a first-order effect).

Once those assumptions are set in stone, they are rarely re-examined, even if the model is being used in very different circumstances (which might be as simple as used sometime later than the original...) -- and they need to be.

#50 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 06:48 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 48

That's even worse. Physics models systems in the real world using mathematics. It seems reasonable to describe economics in the same way. Mathematics doesn't model anything; it's sui generis and self-describing. For economics to be like mathematics we would have to say that it described some set of Platonic ideals rather than things in the real world. That strikes me as either useless, or if you ignore the ontological dissonance, quite dangerous to anyone trying to use the results.

#51 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 07:05 PM:

As a dyed-in-the-wool constructivist (since last Tuesday), I have to quibble with ``the model isn't the world''. That's true , but pointless (and to my mind, meaningless). We can never know ``the world''; all we ever have are models. We can never know if our models correspond to ``the world'', all we ever know is that this model works (or, more commonly, not) in our experience, and if it is consonant with our collection of other models. However, it is perfectly possible to place the model above the experience, neatly inverting the chain of knowledge.

That's not always wrong -- at least to some degree. If I have a passing jaundice, it makes perfect sense for me to refuse to believe that everything is yellow tinged. However, if my model of the universe is that God made it all in six days and nights, resting on the seventh, then subordinating experience to that isn't a great idea.

Models don't get in the way of our knowing objective reality; models can get in the way of our understanding subjective experience.

#52 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 07:05 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale (#46): Apple supplies several additional codecs.

AAC (Advanced Audio Coding, part of the MPEG-4 spec) is the better-than-MP3 lossy codec which is the current default for iTunes when ripping CDs, and (combined with Apple's DRM) for songs sold on the iTunes Store. (Other gear also supports AAC, including Sony Ericsson cell phones and the Zune.)

iTunes and the iPod also support "Apple Lossless" (roughly 50% of the size of an uncompressed audio file), WAV, and AIFF.

#53 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 07:50 PM:

guthrie @ 38; Yep - read it in college as a freshman. I was *so* stoked to see it on the shelf after having read van Vogt. Much less stoked after grinding through all of it, but I've never lost "the map is not the territory, the word is not the thing described".

#54 ::: Bernard Yeh ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:00 PM:

(slightly off-topic, but on-topic to the MP3 player discussion)

For those wishing that their iPod could use other common audio formats, check out Rockbox, an open source replacement firmware for most models of iPod and some other portable MP3 players. It installs such that your player can boot into either the original firmware or Rockbox firmware.

You will need to keep the original firmware around because Rockbox doesn't do video (yet) or DRM-protected audio (probably never will), and doesn't do non-DRM'd AAC as well as Apple's firmware.

It does take a modest amount of computer literacy to install and configure at the moment, and installing it may void your warranty. I have it installed in my non-apple MP3 player (Cowon iAudio X5) and have been pretty happy with it (it's better than the original Cowon firmware). But then again I really despise the overall iPod and iTunes interface and way of doing things, one of the reasons why I didn't buy an iPod in the first place.

#55 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:08 PM:

linnen: There is, "the map is not the territory"

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:24 PM:

The crap is not the lavatory.

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:26 PM:

The pad is not the upholstery.

#58 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:30 PM:

The joke is not the humour.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 09:53 PM:

Especially that one.

#60 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:12 PM:

Yet another kicker is 45 and 51 together:

Not only does the model condition your understanding of reality, but in many social-science or economic situations it creates your reality. If you have enough power to treat people according to your model (without too much immediate reality-check feedback), then by golly people will start acting in the ways your model allows for. Small examples include pretty much every spectacularly ill- or well-managed place of employment.

Large examples: the interlocking mobilizations that started ww1 and on several occasions almost started ww3. Or the Bush administration, which has created pretty much out of thin air an America standing alone, beseiged by the unshriven hordes...

(About 20 years ago I wrote a paper about the dangers inherent in easily-computable models of human behavior, but my initial audience got so hung up on the idea that such things could even exist that it didn't go anywhere.)

#61 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:40 PM:

The LDAP is not the directory

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Bruce Cohen #50: What econometrists seem to aspire to is the purity and elegance of mathematical proofs. Some people in both economics and political science get stuck in the beauty of mathematical models and forget that human beings are not the same sorts of things as physical particles or pure numbers. That's not much of a problem if you're talking game theory, but gets to be if you're talking about formal theories that are more concerned at the elegance of the solution than what people actually do.

#63 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:43 PM:

guthrie @ 38... Maybe I am the only one here who's actually read "Science and Sanity"?

Not quite, though (age 16-ish, c. 1945) I didn't understand it nearly as well as I had Hayakawa ("Language in Thought and Action"), and probably should (but probably won't *sigh*) try re-reading.
Both of them, come to think on't.

But I've thought of that Basic Concept every time I've seen the phrase "Flag-desecration amendment". Treatment of a symbol/map does nothing to affect any reality it might represent.

#64 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:53 PM:

Me; (#63)

There may well have been better works, later, but (IMHO) the Hayakawa one still should be Required Reading for all teen-agers who aspire to become reasonably-rational human beings. Or even just more rational than their parents, which might be a more common attitude.

#65 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:19 PM:

#60 paul:

Further, if your model becomes widespread among decisionmakers, then the model really does become part of the territory instead of the map. This affects stuff like how the Fed tries to be unpredictable and inscrutable, or what gambling games a casino ought to offer. (Once card counting strategies are widely known, the casino has to change its behavior or lose money on blackjack.)

Come to think of it, I bet there have been times when a literal flawed map held by many different sides of some fight has basically shaped the fight.

#66 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:32 PM:

Frangano(#62) beat me to it in part. It's one of the great failures of many modern economists and the politicians who believe them that emotional, partly informed human beings will always make the most rational decision possible, at least if they're encouraged to do so by economic incentives or disincentives. This is reflected in the health care debate. Those who believe that the market is virtually infallible think that if you just penalize those whose use of the medical system isn't optimal financially by making them pay more in one way or the other that they will shop around. They'll evaluate doctors and hospitals just like they would televisions and cars. In their dreams. Everyone who knows they're going to need a cardiologist tomorrow raise your hand. Very often we don't know what treatment or kind of care we are going to need. And when we do find out what we need we are often not in the most rational state of mind nor do we have the time to just carefully evaluate different doctors or hospitals. We take the advice of the doctor who diagnoses our problem and move on. But the models (Yeah, I got back to it.) that these economists and politicians choose to believe in insist that every decision that involves money will have an economic answer that counts on the rational actor model working. And they aren't going to abandon that model for anything.

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 11:40 PM:

The crap is not the suppository.

#68 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:10 AM:
Not only does the model condition your understanding of reality, but in many social-science or economic situations it creates your reality.
This is eerily reminiscent of the Bush Administration rhetoric about creating their own reality...
''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

An unnamed Bush Administration aide said that to Ron Suskind in 2004. Subsequent events have demonstrated - at least to the reality-based community - the hazards of acting on reality without first studying it.

#69 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:26 AM:

albatross observes: "...the widespread idea in management that you should be able to manage things whose details you don’t understand all that well."

That sounds to me like the fundamental animating principle of the Harvard School of Business. Everything and everyone in the enterprise reduces to line items in the financial model, so a good manager needs only to be a specialist in finance, c.f. the recent particle about ERS packages. Everything else can be outsourced to interchangeable peasants.

One idea I think is related (though I have trouble describing the relation I think I see) is that much of what goes wrong in management, and in particular with managers blinded by an ideology like the ones albatross is talking about, is a failure to recognize that management is about organizing things, while leadership is about organizing people. The other side of "I don't need to know the details" is "You only need to know what I tell you." That's a basically dehumanizing posture, I think. It says, "You're not a person requiring leadership. You're a thing to be managed. Don't bother me with details. Shut up and do what I tell you, or I'll replace you with someone who will."

Pick any of your favorite 'isms from the set in the original post. Scratch the surface and you're likely to find that the phenomenon of relying on willful ignorance is basically founded in efforts to turn thinking feeling human people into cogs in an elaborate machine.

#70 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:32 AM:

Jim Satterfield, Fragano Ledgister,

OK, so why haven't those people heard of Herbert Simon's theory of bounded rationality? I know, he's pretty obscure, he only won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Simon explicitly stated that humans are not rational, optimizing actors, and they are always making decisions with insufficient information, and can't optimize the results of their actions to get the best results; they best they can do is get satisfactory results.

Of course, I know of him primarily because of his work on the foundations of complexity theory, and on artificial intelligence. He was a one man scientific revolution.

#71 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:34 AM:

paul @#60, albatross @ #65: Specifically, it's social contexts where the model can feed back to the reality. Presumably that's because social interaction depends heavily on people negotiating agreement (or boundaries) for their world-views.

That actually might be why the map/territory confusion is so common -- so much of our attention does go to social matters....

paul: If you have enough power to treat people according to your model ... people will start acting in the ways your model allows for.

Note that in this context, even an economic or political model is manifested through, essentially, communication backed by power.

Thanks to several people for the source references! I'd heard and appreciated a variation of the phrase ("the map is not the terrain"), but never knew where it came from.

Serge: The snowclone is not the meme. ;-}

#72 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:56 AM:

j h woodyatt @ 69

Any model that includes people provides a great temptation to consider people as components of the model, plug-replaceable and fungible. That is not an attitude that's compatible with the attributes necessary to make a good leader.

One of my very favorite quote is something I saw in an article about the effect of the Vietnam War on the US military. The article made the point that the McNamara regime in DOD changed the nature of the hierarchy in the military from leadership to management, and then stated that it failed to create a viable military command structure that way because "You cannot manage psople to their deaths."

#73 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:28 AM:

Back in the 70s or so whenever the health insurance thing about making a profit with hospitals a bit of my thoughts went, Ut-oh, something is farked. I was reassured that patients would get care no matter what so "don't worry my little head."

The hospital I candy striped/transportation orderly'd at was closed recently because it wasn't profitable enough for HCA. It does still have an ER, but that leaves me queasy because if you have something bad, you'll have to be transported again once they stabilize you.

#74 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 02:20 AM:

Paula Leiberman,

We have a severe shortage all over the rural areas of the western United States of both practicing doctors and hospital beds, because you just can't make a lot of money at it; not enough people, not steady enough a patient stream, too much capital outlay for the return, etc. Even offering bountys to doctors to spend a year or two in the boonies isn't working.

Oh, and if you think that's bad, I was talking to my son the other day about the mental health situation in New Orleans. They have half the population pre-Katrina, twice the suicide rate, and less than 10% of the trained mental health workers of all kinds. Nobody seems to want the workload even for the bounty money they're offering. My son is trying to set up a link between his lab in Baton Rouge and a clinic in NO, so he can get 6 or 7 grad students to do basic screening and therapy under a clinic license umbrella. The clinic he's been working with has one doctor, who's retiring in two months.

The profit motive is much overrated as a means for solving problems. And the public sector not doing very well either.

#75 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Oops, I'm sorry. That last post should have been addressed to Paula Helm Murray. Really, I know that Paulas aren't fungible; I was remiss in not double checking that comment.

#76 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:51 AM:

Details quotation (Adam Lipkin @23): — according to this source

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations says: "God is in the details: A popular aphorism with the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the art historian Aby Warburg; attributed [Le bon Dieu est dan le detail] to Gustave Flaubert but without verification."
William Safire mentioned it in a New York Times article on July 30, 1989. He spoke with the editor of Bartlett's, who said: "We've had little success with 'God (or 'the Devil') is in the details,'" says Mr. Kaplan. "We know that Mies van der Rohe used it in discussing architecture; Flaubert has been suggested, but nobody can find it in his writings. I think it may come from John Ruskin, because it sounds like him on the subject of workmanship, but we need the specific citation."

albatross @ 65: "if your model becomes widespread among decisionmakers, then the model really does become part of the territory instead of the map.". Yes, there can be feedback in these things. It's the reason I didn't completely dismiss the whole of the "we aren't reality-based" idea from a few years back. You can get self-fulfilling aspects of life if everyone (or enough of the people with power & influence) believes and behaves as if certain things are true or untrue, but then there's the time when it all does run into a brute physical fact, or up against a different group which has different beliefs and behaviour.

#77 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 05:52 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 70:

I've recently become aware that there are economists who know about Simon, and of the limits to rationality, and who are even approaching the field as an exploratory science: i.e., "People clearly aren't always the simple, all-knowing/all-rational selfish automotons of neoclassical theory; let's see if we can find out how they actually behave." And so they are talking to and working with experimental psychologists and sociologists, and apparently making some progress. Here's an example of sorts in the form of a discussion about people's attitudes towards welfare. (I discovered this via Cosma Shalizi's long but fascinating post on what's wrong with "econophysics".)

One of the interesting approaches seems to be using game theory as an exploratory tool. That is, rather than assume participants are all selfish, rational maximizers and using game theory to predict how they'll behave, you set up game theory scenarios, invite real people to play them, and then look at what they do and try to work out what underlying strategies or motivations they might be using.

#78 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:07 AM:

Building a good simplifying sociopolitical system without understanding the underlying details. That would be like expecting, say, an electrical engineer to design a chemical reactor.

The devil is always, always, ALWAYS in the details. You have to know what you can safely ignore.

#79 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:22 AM:

Fragano @ 48:
I think, though that rather than 'physics envy' economists suffer from 'mathematics envy'. Formal theory (or positive political theory as not-so-closet econometrists like Neal Beck or Jonathan Katz are wont to call it) in both political science and economics is mathematics, as is game theory which is now occupying a large chunk of political science.

I remember reading a review in Nature of an economics book (back sometime in the 90s) where the reviewer suggested that the problem with economics (or at least the kind of economics exemplified by the book in question) was that it was fundamentally a form of "applied mathematics" rather than anything like a science -- mathematical rigor trumping any sense of empirical fidelity.


"Physics envy" doesn't just take the form of using mathematical models, though. It also involves the hope (or delusion) that one can find clear, simple principles which are easy to understand and universal within the field under study: "iron laws" of [insert your field here], to match things like Newton's Laws of Motion, conservation of energy, etc.

#80 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:46 AM:

Epacris #76:

Keynes talked about this kind of very unstable situation, where everyone's model incorporates estimated models of everyone else. (This describes financial markets pretty well.) The interesting thing is, these models can globally change very quickly (making a speculative bubble burst) because the whole market is dependent on this recursive set of models (I model you modeling me modeling you...).

I think something similar happens in the transition from peaceable change of government to civil war. Part of your decision about whether or not to try a coup is based on your evaluation of whether anyone else will go along, and their evaluations of whether they should go along has to do with whether they think others will go along. A coup won't work here because too many people will absolutely not go along, partly because most everyone expects that many others will also refuse to go along. And yet, let that belief change, and a coup becomes possible, as the announcement from the new Presidente Para Vida is greeted by people staying home, waiting to see what happens, rather than by people taking to the streets or potshotting soldiers attempting to impose martial law.

#81 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:57 AM:

#72 Bruce and others:

The problem is, if you're going to teach management in a generalized way (rather than specifically management of engineers building suspension bridges in Oregon, say) you need to be able to abstract out the parts of the management tasks that are generalizeable. But some part of being a good manager is knowing your employees and the business you're in, and how those vary from the "default" model you'd carry.

#82 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:16 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 72: "You cannot manage people to their deaths."

"The trick is to take a break as soon as you see a bright light and hear dead relatives beckon." -- PHB

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:18 AM:

albatross @ 81

The trick to teaching management is the same as for any other subject which is based on abstract principles but has a strong empirical component; engineering, for instance, or political science. There has to be a practical portion of the curriculum in which students become in effect apprentices, learning how the principles are applied in the wild. My sense, without doing any research to back it up, is that less of this is done in most fields than has been done in the past, at least in the US.

#84 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Joel Polowin @ 82

Just be sure not to go towards that smoky red ... oh, well.

#85 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:07 AM:

I am surprised that no one has mentioned Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave' yet.

Terry Karney @55 Thanks.

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:17 AM:

Joel Polowin #82: Sacrifice: Your Role may be Thankless, but if You're Willing to Give it Your All, You Just might Bring Success to Those Who Outlast You.

#87 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Grumble. Marxists, for all our failures, are always trying to fit their theories to new facts, even if some have a tendency to quote Marx or Trotsky or Lenin in the same way as Christians quote the Bible.

Iain, #26: absence of ideology is an ideology too; the great swindle of the last thirty years has been making people belief that you can have politics without ideology.


#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:40 PM:

Martin Wisse @ 87... Marxists, for all our failures, are always trying to fit their theories to new facts, even if some have a tendency to quote Marx

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

#89 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Bruce Cohen #70: To be fair, rational choice (public choice, social choice) theory isn't a single simple thing.

Some rational choice theorists, such as Amartya Sen, make the point that human beings aren't simple utility maximisers but have more complex motivations not all of which are rational. Still, it's much easier to create a mathematical model if you assume that human beings are all driven by microeconomic motivations (i.e., that we all want to do well in the market) providing you define almost every kind of interaction as a market. Human beings, of course, have many more motivations -- and they can't always be caught by a mathematical model.

The thing is, there are interactions that can be modelled (how deals get made in Congress, how peasants make choices about cultivation, how businesses respond when customers go bankrupt). They just aren't the full range of political or economic interactions. And they can't explain the full range of human motivations.

Nonetheless, because models (for example, the Prisoners' Dilemma) do have some predictive power, the temptation is to apply them to everything. Now, I'm a state-and-society type, so I want to look at interactions in terms of things like values, beliefs, uses of power and so on that aren't always (or even often) quantifiable or reducible to simple microeconomic motivations. Human beings are perverse (in an economic sense) because our motives may often run contrary to our economic good.


#90 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 12:55 PM:

Peter Erwin #79: Interesting.

Economists do have real laws (supply and demand in microeconomics) that explain real-world events (how prices are created). They can't explain, for example, choices that have little to do with price (ask most Americans if they'd like a nice bunny stew, and step back quickly).

There are some statements in political science that qualify as laws (or at any rate, we call them that) such as Duverger's Law on the relationship of the single-member plurality constituency system and the two-party system.

#91 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:03 PM:

God is in the details:

"I don't see why my belief in a God you can't accept is any more rarefied than Mike's vision of the atom as a hole-inside-a-hole-through-a-hole. I expect that in the long run, when we get right down to the fundamental stuff of the universe, we'll find that there's nothing there at all – just no-things moving no-place through no-time. On the day that happens, I'll have God and you will not – otherwise there'll be no difference between us."
(James Blish, A Case of Conscience)

#92 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:06 PM:

Serge #88: "All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice."

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:14 PM:

Fragano @ 92... Harpo?

#94 ::: Jon Marcus ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Serge @ 93: Honk!

#95 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:49 PM:

To me, the greatest lesson of game theory, and especially of the Prisoner's Dilemma, is that it's really easy to lock the solution out of your problem box.

(The biological solution to the PD can be summed up as "figure out who you can trust". That's exactly what's forbidden in the classical form of the dilemma....)

#96 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:50 PM:

Good to see some more people have read "Science and Sanity". General Semantics was the name of teh orientation method (I don't think it counts as a philosophy) and I think the basics of it could indeed be tought to people at school.


Being somewhat cynical, I thought you could manage people to death, I'm sure it happens all the time in companies with a poor health and safety record (Telling you all about the place I work would take 5,000 words at least), or else in underfunded hospitals.


#98 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 02:07 PM:

David Harmon #95: The problem, certainly as we learn it in political science, is how to cooperate without communicating (that is to say, creating trust). That requires, at least according to Axelrod, iteration.

#99 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 02:13 PM:

ask most Americans if they'd like a nice bunny stew

Damn you Fragano @ 90! Damn you! Now you've got me craving the rabbit pies our local baker used to do back when I was a wee peerie lad, and that I've never found the like of since. Gaaaah!

Disclaimer: Not an American

#100 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 03:27 PM:

guthrie @ 96

I probably misquoted the original, but the meaning was, you can't manage people into sacrificing their lives for others. You can blackmail them or extort them into it, but you can't make them want to do it. Leaders can; it's not necessarily a good thing, but sometimes very useful for the leader. A manager who does that typically will get fragged: a grenade will be thrown into his bed while he's asleep or in the bathroom.*

* I've never heard of a female officer getting fragged, though it might have happened, hence "he".

#101 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 03:31 PM:

SKapusniak #99: Rabbit pie sounds tasty to me (but I'm not an American either, although I do live in the states).

#102 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 03:45 PM:

It is. Jugged hare is good too.

#103 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:00 PM:

SKapusniak @ 99

Yeah, my mouth is watering too, and I am an American.

#104 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:25 PM:

Bruce #100:

ISTM that most really productive, creative people are not primarily by money or even by other non-monetary rewards like reputation. They like what they're doing. I think good managers in general find a way to hook into your internal motivations, rather than your fear of punishment and desire for reward. One reason is that punishment/reward schemes are often gamed by people whose primary motivation is avoiding the punishment and gaining the reward. (Man, that looks *way* more convoluted in print than it did in my head.)

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Fragano #98: Yes! Axelrod's work is cool. Though he's often talking about iterated prisoner's dilemma setups where you have to deal with many people to succeed.

One of the creepier parts of that was the discussion of stable discrimination in _The Evolution of Cooperation_. Skin color can be a form of communication, which can make a strategy of screwing minorities stable in some circumstances.

I keep thinking a lot of the discussions of rationality really involve what people have experienced. For interactions that occur a lot, the iterated prisoners dilemma sort of setup is probably a pretty good model for how your strategies adapt over time, as being too nice or too mean in the wrong circumstances just doesn't pay off. People learn from experience even when they can't explain what they know, so if they try a strategy that doesn't work, they're likely to realize it sooner or later.

#106 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:40 PM:

Fragano @ 90:
ask most Americans if they'd like a nice bunny stew, and step back quickly

I suspect the reaction might depend a little on where in the US you asked.

For what it's worth, my main US-produced cookbook (Mark Bittman's modestly titled How to Cook Everything) has a recipe for "Marinated and Stewed Rabbit," and includes in its discussion of "Game Meats" this observation: "Thus rabbit, which is raised in a manner similar to chicken and can be found in the freezer compartment of most supermarkets (and the fresh meat department of many), is lumped into the same category as rattlesnake or camel..."

It's certainly a bit unusual, but I don't think most Americans consider it a true non-food, the way they would dog or rat. (E.g., Bittman's book, despite its title, does not have recipes for dog or rat.)

#107 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 05:38 PM:

A bit OT, but since we are talking rabbit stew the follow exchange was brought to mind. Ahem;

Rabbit hunting season!

Duck hunting season!

Rabbit season!

... Rabbit season!

Duck season! Fire!

BLAM!!

You're despicable!

#108 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:13 PM:

albatross @ 104

You won't get any argument from me on any of that. I will say that, based on the criterion that a good manager does that sort of thing, that there aren't many good managers. Also, reward schemes (aka "compensation policies") frequently reward the wrong things, hilarity and unintended consequences ensue.

#109 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:46 PM:

linnen @ 107:

Curse you... made me go dig up my Looney Tunes DVD and watch the cartoon again!

(But now I'm wondering: why does Bugs Bunny have a cookbook entitled 1000 Ways to Cook a Rabbit in his hole?)

#110 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:53 PM:

A "hobby" of mine is to cook for friends things they've not had before. From different groups at different times, everyone wanted to try pigeon, most of them were okay with rabbit or crab, but most of them did't like the idea of eel.

(I get the idea that those who don't want to eat rabbit do so because it's cute; crabs or eels are non-food because they're rugose and sqaumous)

why does Bugs Bunny have a cookbook entitled 1000 Ways to Cook a Rabbit in his hole?

For the same reason I keep a copy of To Serve Man handy in the kitchen?

#111 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:02 PM:

I've had skunk and mountain oysters (just about anything is palatable if your common sense is reinforced with Everclear strawberry punch) but I've never had a chance to try rattlesnake.

#112 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:13 PM:

Albatross #105: Well, you're dealing with complex interactions, and those involve many actors. Axelrod's a good summary of the Prisoners' Dilemma, with some interesting examples.

#113 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:17 PM:

Neil @ 110: From different groups at different times, everyone wanted to try pigeon, most of them were okay with rabbit or crab, but most of them did't like the idea of eel.

On my last trip to the UK, I was determined to have eel in Ely, and I did--as an appetizer for an entree of rabbit stew.

Yum.

#114 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:17 PM:

Neil Wilcox @ 110

Interesting; I don't think I've ever lived anywhere for any length of time in the US where crab wasn't considered a delicacy. I grew up catching the little buggers (well, they were little there) and cooking them on the beach. And the crabs where I live now are much better tasting (and much bigger). Eels, on the other hand, not so much. I've eaten them and I'm not enthused. Most places they're not verboten, but they're not high on the menu.

On the gripping hand, everywhere I've lived but where I grew up (and maybe for 50 miles around at the most) the very thought of scrapple makes people ill. For me, at least when I can find it and hide it from my wife (she hates the idea), it's what's for breakfast.

#115 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:21 PM:

re #111: Reinforced or dampened?

I've always found the Miesian attribution of "God is in the details" highly ironic, as the one thing he was definitely NOT good on was details.

You have to say one thing about rational choice in economics: powering it with the highly emotionalized greed is not a recipe for success.

#116 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:33 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 44 - physics envy
Of course it only looks like that to non-physics majors. There are any number of physicist jokes that end with the punchline - 'first we assume a perfectly spherical cow....'

Knowing that your model is an approximation is the important first step. Then you have to find out if the higher order terms really drop out.

#117 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:22 PM:

Steve @ 116

Oh, certainly, it's not the physicist's fault if non-physicists insist on putting physics on a pedestal.

Then you have to find out if the higher order terms really drop out.

Often the first sign that your model is pooched is that the higher order terms get ornery and your equations diverge. They didn't call it the "ultraviolet catastrophe" for nothing.


#118 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:29 PM:

Bruce Cohen @117 -- ayup.

"Holy crap, it blows up! We need a boundary condition, stat!"

#119 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:19 PM:

Steve @ 116

'I think you need to be a little more explicit here in step 2'?

#120 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:35 PM:

OK, in spite of the temptation to keep on talking about Looney Tunes, I just have to mention fallibilism, which is the idea that certain knowledge is basically impossible. I got my introduction to fallibilism through Charles S. Peirce's work on logic -- Peirce says that one of the useful things about scientific method is that it keeps checking hypotheses against fact, which is falliblism at work.

Wikipedia has a decent discussion of fallibilism (at least, they did when I checked two seconds ago), and the short article there rightly draws in Godel's Incompleteness Theorem (or, better, Unprovability Theorem). At one point in my life, back when I was smarter, I could actually follow Godel's proof, and he makes a convincing case that at least some axioms of mathematics are unprovable from within mathematics. By extension, it's probably safe to doubt that any logically consistent system or model is provable from within that system or model.

Peirce goes on to develop the idea of a community of inquirers, who are constantly checking theories against facts, and so (with any kind of luck) gradually adding to a store of knowledge that's fairly certain. Ideologies are dangerous because they pretty much assume that their theories are Provable, True, and Certain (wrong!), they ignore input from a wider community of inquirers (stupid!), and then the ideologues act on that basis (potentially life-threatening!). Umm, that last sentence was not something Peirce ever said, it's something I just made up, and it's probably very questionable. And wait, if fallibilism means we can't be certain of anything, does that mean we can't be certain of falliblism? Uh, guess I'm not certain about any of this.

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:13 PM:

Dan 120: Doubt is a cardinal virtue.

#122 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Ah, but what is `fact'?

Again, I assert that the notion of `fact', of `reality', etc., are essentially nonsensical, or at least essentially pointless. Science doesn't find facts or laws, it finds possible models.

However, there are often multiple models that fit the data, and there's no sensible meaning to saying that one is `right' or `wrong', provided they fit the data, because we can never find out the `truth', merely those models that we have experienced working, and those that we have experienced failing. And, of course, usefulness.

What the scientific method does is keep checking models against experience, and throwing out models that fail the experiential test.

Ideally.

In reality, people often keep the model, and the experience, and merely add epicycles. This is ideological thinking. It is probably a good thing, in the main. Again, the example of a passing jaundice -- it'd be dumb to throw out previous knowledge of colour. However, it can go insanely wrong. Take a conspiracy theory, like the `liberal media'; the experience is being subordinated to the theory in a rather stupid way, and useless.

The pathology of conspiracy theories is quite interesting here, because often conspiracy theories (and I include IDism as conspiracy herein) fit the evidence, if you squint, and rely on bizarre epicycles. If your theory doesn't have to predict, if isn't useful, then it can fit the data perfectly.

There's probably a good book on pseudo-science, epistemology, conspiracy theories, and radical constructivism to be written.

If you're interested in this stuff, read Piaget, or von Glaserfeld. They're specialising in pedagogy, but a general theory of learning is essentially universal, in as much as anything is universal. I think Lakoff may have some constructivist ideas as well, but I've never read those specifically. Greg London specifically, I'd think you'd find constructivism quite interesting.

#123 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:51 PM:
On the gripping hand, everywhere I've lived but where I grew up (and maybe for 50 miles around at the most) the very thought of scrapple makes people ill.
Western Ohio, perchance? I'm not sure I want to *think* about scrapple either. But if Grandma's cooking it, I'll eat it.

Pinker's How the Mind Works has a section on food habits, in which he claims (IIRC) that learning food habits as a child and sticking to them later is a way of learning which foods in your area are safe to eat - your parents introduce you to the safe foods as a child and then you avoid anything that isn't Known Safe later on.

Despite this, though, I'd be willing to try deer, rabbit or squirrel; even though I've never eaten them in my life, I know that quite a few people do eat them and aren't harmed by it. (But I'd have trouble generalizing this reasonable stance to termites, even though the same facts are true for them too. Ditto cats.)

#124 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:22 PM:

Peter, #106: I've had rabbit, and would happily eat it again. Shortly before I moved to TX, I'd found a reasonably-local person who raised rabbits for food and skins, and would supply one dressed and ready to cook. No, it didn't taste at all like chicken.

Neil, #110: Crab is non-food because it's seafood, which as a general rule I don't care for. Eel I might be coaxed into trying, depending on how it was prepared.

Aha, someone else who keeps To Serve Man in with the other cookbooks! :-)

#125 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:32 PM:

Well, eel is fish. Actually, having met it (sushi, and I think also tapas), if it's in pieces, you can't tell much else about it. I understand that elvers (baby eels) are very tasty when fried.

#126 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:05 AM:

Xopher @ 121

Orioles have it too.

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:18 AM:

Bruce 126: Of course. Everyone doubts in Baltimore.

#128 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:44 AM:

Xopher, I used to doubt in Baltimore; it seems improbable enough. But every time I drive down the highway, it keeps on being there.

(Unless it's a mass delusion, of course. I always wondered what that "Charm City" business was about.)

#129 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:37 AM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy @ 128

I always wondered what that "Charm City" business was about.

It's irony, just like "City of Brotherly Love". I was born there, and my brothers and I don't get along at all.

#130 ::: Megan Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:09 AM:

Xopher @ 127 and Dan @128:

Just a conspiracy of cartographers? In that case, the map is most definitely not the territory.

#131 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:35 AM:

Another example of a conspiracy of cartographers is gerrymandering, wherein the voting power of the loyal opposition is leached away by meticulously drawn borders. In that case, the map is the tail that wags the territory's dog.

#132 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:38 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 89: "Some rational choice theorists, such as Amartya Sen, make the point that human beings aren't simple utility maximisers but have more complex motivations not all of which are rational."

It seems quite intuitive to me that people aren't, and can't be, simple rational profit*-maximizers. Any society composed solely of rational profit-maximizers would collapse. There's another word for an individual who works solely to maximize his own benefit without concern for any other factor: sociopath. Individuals aren't always the unit whose profit is being maximized; sometimes societies are. Individuals must be willing to engage in some sacrificial, for-the-good-of-the-whole behavior--otherwise we'd never be able to form social groups at all. And this hasn’t been left to chance: society-enabling behaviors are programmed into humans at a very basic level. This, I think, is the element that consistently defeats economic models of human behavior. We aren’t exactly competing with each other; nor are we exactly cooperating. It's a tension between the two, sliding one way or the other on a moment-to-moment, person-to-person basis.

*I thought about replacing “profit” with “survival,” but, in this context, they’re just two ways of talking about the same thing.

#133 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:43 AM:

There are any number of physicist jokes that end with the punchline - 'first we assume a perfectly spherical cow....'
Knowing that your model is an approximation is the important first step. ...
(Steve #116)

In all those calculations we did in physics class, assuming a frictionless spherical object in a vacuum (or whatever), the assumptions were put in, not because friction, irregular shape or air resistance were insignificant, but because ignoring them made the math easier (or, in many cases, possible). Perhaps people remember their schooldays and think the way to deal with difficult factors is to leave them out.

#134 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:18 AM:

John Stanning said @ 133:
In all those calculations we did in physics class, assuming a frictionless spherical object in a vacuum (or whatever), the assumptions were put in, not because friction, irregular shape or air resistance were insignificant, but because ignoring them made the math easier (or, in many cases, possible).

That really is pretty much a standard (and reasonable!) method in the physical sciences. There are even justifications beyond the fact that it's quick and tractable.

First, in many cases it lets you see if a particular approach is even vaguely the right way to go. (Is planet X heated by radioactive decay, remnant energy from gravitational collapse, or tidal forces from its moon? Do a really simple calculation for each; if, e.g., the radioactivity calculation suggests that it would supply only one-millionth of necessary energy, then refining that model is probably a waste of time...)

Second, if you try to add in all the possible realistic factors right at the beginning, you make it more likely that a hard-to-track-down error will slip in.

Third, if instead you gradually add in more realistic factors, one at a time, you have a better chance of understanding which of those factors is more important, based on how much closer the combined model is to the data. And understanding what's going on is

(Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that you can and will continually check your model against the data. And that if you ultimately cannot make it match the data, no matter how much "realism" you add, you'll throw it out and look for a new approach.)

#135 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:25 AM:

Dan @ 120:
Wikipedia has a decent discussion of fallibilism (at least, they did when I checked two seconds ago), and the short article there rightly draws in Godel's Incompleteness Theorem (or, better, Unprovability Theorem). At one point in my life, back when I was smarter, I could actually follow Godel's proof, and he makes a convincing case that at least some axioms of mathematics are unprovable from within mathematics. By extension, it's probably safe to doubt that any logically consistent system or model is provable from within that system or model.

More precisely, I think, Gödel's proof demonstrates that in certain minimally complete formal mathematical systems, there will be statements which are true, but which are unprovable by that system. In principle, you can extend the system to permit proving those statements; but the extended system will then have new true-but-unprovable statements.

Though I think it's kind of overkill to invoke Gödel to argue for fallibilism outside mathematics itself.

#136 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:52 AM:

Heresiarch #132: Of course human beings are as you describe and we find behaviour that focuses on profit alone sociopathic (though I cherish the title of Sen's critique of the extreme claims of choice theory: 'Rational Fools'). There are ways of modelling economic interactions, and if you assume only micro-economic objectives it's much simpler to do that maths.

Also, if we assume that micro-economic rationality is coextensive with human nature then some forms of libertarianism (and classical liberalism) make sense. I still remember the Randroid idiot who insisted to me that all human interactions were a market.

#137 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 07:16 AM:

And in 118, I of course meant boundary layer.

I do wish my fingers would stop making typing decisions of their own accord.

#138 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:16 AM:

Having grown up in rural central Georgia (U.S., not former Soviet), I've eaten deer, quail, dove, blackbird (tastes just like dove), rabbit, a wide variety of fish, and rattlesnake (chewy; a bit like squid; not a lot of flavor. My brother put some in a quiche and delivered a piece to me, helpfully labeling it "quiche of death").

#139 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:19 AM:

Oops--I forgot to include a recommendation for Raymond Sokolov's Why We Eat What We Eat, which is about the movement of food around the globe and the adaptation of local ingredients to the foodways of The Old Country.

#140 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Keir @ 122: "However, there are often multiple models that fit the data, and there's no sensible meaning to saying that one is `right' or `wrong', provided they fit the data, because we can never find out the `truth', merely those models that we have experienced working, and those that we have experienced failing. And, of course, usefulness."

I happen to agree that judging ideas on how well they reflect experiential reality is a good idea. The problem is that the idea that accurately reflecting experiential reality is a worthwhile goal is itself an idea, one whose validity is also debatable. This is a chronic problem in philosophy: the tools we use to test and manipulate ideas are themselves ideas, and just as vulnerable to critique. Ideology isn’t something thing that you can escape: ideology informs everything. Even though it’s ass-backwards and totally fucked, the idea in our head is realer to us than the experience that gave it birth.

And when your judging ideas against ideas, evidence is next to useless. At a certain point, it just comes down to aesthetics: which ideas feel better? Personally I highly value consistency: ideas that are not only internally consistent but that fit with other ideas to create a greater whole. I can prove all sorts of things using this principle, and I have, but what does any of that matter to someone who doesn’t give a damn about logical consistency? Like I said earlier, I am also deeply fond of empiricism, but what does that matter to someone who thinks that the experiential world is an evil lie told by a demon? I have no answer to that. You cannot argue with someone who doesn’t accept any of your axioms, and it’s frighteningly easy for people to do just that.

#141 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:09 AM:

I've just realized what my basis for "would I eat that" is; it seems to be loosely correlated with the intelligence of the critter.

So I'll eat rabbits (which can be pets) but not cats, because cats are smarter; I'll eat chicken, but I wouldn't eat crow or raven if I were given the opportunity. Reptiles are fair game, being dumb, and so are fish and crustaceans, but not dolphins or whales. Nor rat, nor ferret. But mouse, if you could get enough meat off a mouse to make it worthwhile.

I doubt I'd eat a horse, despite their unquestioned stupidity, because my teenage horse phase left an impression, but that's a special case.

#142 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:21 AM:

Bruce Cohen, 129: I wonder occasionally if it's less irony than hiding-in-plain-sight misdirection; we do have a Druid Hill Lake around here, after all.

(Also, as an aside: Why hello, fellow expatriate Pennsylvanian! *performs secret handshake, Lehigh Valley-style*)

Megan Messinger, 130: Well, that was a narrowly-avoided spit-take on my part. But you've reminded me that I really need to get that on DVD soon. So thanks, I think. :)

(Stoppard is actually another fine example of someone who is at pains to point out that the map of language is not the territory it attempts to describe; some of the labyrinthine games he and his characters play with words are little exercises in the ways reality does and doesn't change when the meaning of what we say to each other shifts and mutates.)

#143 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:26 AM:

Carrie S., I was just thinking the same thing yesterday in light of this conversation. I'm reluctant to eat octopus for just that reason.

It's such an odd and arbitrary and human thing to value, in the grand scheme of things, but there you are.

#144 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:32 AM:

Ack. The unfinished sentence at the end of my 4th paragraph (#134) should have been something like:

And understanding what's going on is kind of the point. (If all you were after was the ability to predict things, then you could in principle make do with a complex model whose workings you didn't understand, like a black box. Except that you wouldn't have a good idea when or where those predictions might fail...)

#145 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Megan Messinger

a conspiracy of cartographers

What a lovely title for a book. Let's see, nonfiction, it could be a rebuttal of Freidman's "The Earth is Flat" argument. Fiction: oh, all kinds of possibilities. How about a novel that does what the Davinci Code tried to do, and does it right. Oh, wait, that's "Foucault's Pendulum".

#146 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:47 AM:

Heresiarch @ 132

Individuals aren't always the unit whose profit is being maximized; sometimes societies are.

And sometimes the unit is the family, or the social group (church, fraternal organization, fan club), or the work group (corporation, ngo, standards organization), or a dynamically-formed entity (flash mob, audience), or whatever. Human economics is as complicated as it is in part because of all the kinds of groups we form, and often we are working for the benefit of several at once, making things yet more complex. All of the attempts to reduce this complexity to manageability that I'm aware of have resulted either in bad science or bad government.

#147 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:51 AM:

I tried eating octopus, early in the process of getting acquainted with sushi. I'm just as glad I didn't like it, because it means I don't miss it now that it's been borne in upon me how bright they are.

It is a weird thing to value, I guess. It's sort of an intersection of actual intelligence with, I don't know, personality. If I were starving, I would choose to eat a random cat before one of my cats, because I know their personalities.

#148 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:03 AM:

Peter Erwin #134 & 144 : yes, I agree. The thing is, in those school exercises we never got to add in the realistic (and difficult) factors; we moved on to the next topic. Maybe in the 'real' world, there's an analogous tendency to leave out difficult factors in one's mental modelling of a subject, especially among those who never got beyond basic science.

#149 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:14 AM:

I've eaten both octopus and whale, although the whale was back when I was a pre-teen. One of my uncles always sent us gift boxes of odd foods for Christmas, and whale meat was in one of them. It was pretty tasty IIRC.

Rabbit was a staple on our menu when I was a teenager. We raised them in pens and every few weeks we'd kill a couple and have them in a stew with dumplings. A little greasy but other than that, they --did-- taste quite a bit like chicken.

Also eaten quail and dove, but you've got to have a lot of them to make a meal. Duck and goose also, but removing their feathers was so much trouble my dad decided the remaining ones would just be farm ornaments afterwards.

#150 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:23 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 136

If all you have is a dollar, everything looks like a market.

#151 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:39 AM:

Peter Erwin @ 144

This is one of the great problems of using neural nets for practical tasks: given what amounts to a black box, which so far has reached conclusions you agree with in a way that is totally opaque to you, how can you trust that the next decision out of the box won't be completely wrong from the point of view of the assigned task? And the problem only gets worse the more complex the box is, which is why we have so much trouble some times trusting each other.

In the long run, I think the only solution is to make the boxes intelligent enough that we can hand them the problem of how we can trust them :-(

#152 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:43 AM:

Maps and territories...

The map said "Here be dragons" on the edge,
Beyond the farthest land, in open sea.
It seemed a little strange, at least to me:
Where did they build their nests? I like a ledge,
Some rocky outcrop on which I can sleep,
And hoard my gold, and dream up riddling quips
For jewel-thieves. I don't need much: just tips
Of stone between me and the chilly deep.
But I need dragons, too. I've been alone
For centuries. I want to rut, to breed,
To see my hatchlings on the wing. I need
A dragoness more than I need warm stone.
I searched for days, but all I found was sea.
Yet still the map is right, for here be me.

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:50 AM:

abi @ 152

*riotous applause, whistles, stomping feet*

*also more restrained snapping fingers from the beat elite*

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:51 AM:

abi @ 152... Thanks for the poem.

#155 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:52 AM:

abi.. What about the tygers?

#156 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #150: Nicely put!

#157 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:06 AM:

abi #152: Wonderful!!!

#158 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:08 AM:

re 127: That's what all the signs around Balto. saying "BELIEVE" are about. If it weren't for them, half the tax base would disappear through simple Berkelean evaporation.

#159 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:33 AM:

abi: I had wondered when this thread would get to some poetry (now that it's strayed into a food discussion), and you've done it proud!

Would roast dragon taste like rattlesnake? I've eaten quail (tasty), but probably wouldn't again now that they occasionally come to scarf birdseed on my side porch, and since I've seen little baby quail trailing around after their parents. We also have wild cotton tail rabbits nearby -- much too cute to eat without a guilty conscience, unless it was a matter of avoiding starvation in really hard times.

#160 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:20 PM:

Faren @ #159:

You can come over and eat some of the rabbits in MY neighborhood, then. With the absence of predators (other than the rare, too-well-fed cat), their population has exploded and they're eating everything in sight. When I go walking around the neighborhood it's a rare day that I see fewer than 15 of them sitting in people's yards.

#161 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Serge@155:

The tygers are with the dragons; that's why they're burning bright.

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:31 PM:

Bob Webber @ 161... I wonder who burns brighter. The dragon, or the tyger?

#163 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:04 PM:

I have no interest in eating octopus. The one time I tried it, it resembled fish-flavored garden hose. I don't expect squid to be any more interesting.

Which is just as well, because they're fascinating creatures to watch and I would feel guilty about eating them, if I had any interest in doing so.

#164 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:10 PM:

Carrie 141: But mouse, if you could get enough meat off a mouse to make it worthwhile.

My dad used to have a recipe for Mice Cordon Bleu (using "American field mice, captured live and fattened on nuts"). He kept it on his office door as macabre humor, and never prepared it. I would not recommend trying it anyway, due to the danger of hantavirus.

Bruce 150: Excellent. I shall steal.

Abi 152: That's really good. In fact, I think you should send it in to Asimov's and see if they buy it.

#165 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:15 PM:

Those interested in modelling complex systems may enjoy Platform for Change and Decision and Control, both by Stafford Beer.

(An economic model is a model you can afford to maintain...)

#166 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Xopher @ 164... Mice Cordon Bleu

Souris Cordon Bleu.
Yummy.

To think that only last week I had found five such succulent rodents hiding inside of our flower pots and instead of deep-frying them, I let them go.

#167 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:28 PM:

Ill put in a book plug here for Calvin Schwabe's "Unmentionable Cuisine", which is about meat taboos and is also full of recipes. I have eaten rabbit and found it palatable; it did taste a lot like chicken to me, and had less meat on the bones, but if I saw it offered at a reasonable price I'd buy it again. I'd also be willing to try horse; never had a close relationship with one, so they're pretty cows to me.

I have eel regularly in sushi (and have sushi regularly these days - who'd a thunk we'd see that in Scioto County?). I like it. I'm not sure I'd want to be confronted with a whole one, since they are ugly suckers.

I like venison, but don't hunt. There's the expense thing, and the mess thing, and the getting-it-out-of-the-woods thing, and the where-the-Hell-am-I-going-to-put-all-this-meat? thing (not to mention the hide and selected bones), but mostly I don't want to be out in the woods when they're full of gun-wielding idiots.

My own personal food limits are irrational, and I know it, and I'm not about to change them. I happily consume marine invertebrates, but not terrestrial ones. No bugs.

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:30 PM:

Serge 166: No, Souris Cordon Bleu would be made with French mice (I suppose Québécois mice would do). This recipe is for Anglophone mice.

I personally support your decision to release the mice, especially if they would have been useful in the recipe I mentioned. After all, mice who speak English (or French, as a matter of fact) should not be used as a food source!

#169 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:37 PM:

WRT mice, remember that movie Never Cry Wolf, where Charles Martin Smith played the researcher in Alaska studying caribou and whether the wolves were the ones killing them?

He finds out that the wolves are making meals of the countless mice, and he tests the theory by catching a bunch of them and frying them up. There's a scene where a mouse peeks from behind a wall and looks at Smith who returns the look as he plops a toothsome mouse morsel into his mouth.

#170 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 01:58 PM:

132 et seq:

Economists never say (well, at least the smart ones) that human beings act to maximize profit. They say that we act to maximize [real or perceived] utility, which is measured in millebenths or some such.

But then they make the math tractable by saying that U=f(M) instead of U=f(M, blah, blah, blah). The stupid ones say U=kM, while the smart ones at least used to say something like U=klog(M) until it becaming clear that the logarithm preached the demon redistribution of income.

And for another example of how the model becomes the reality, try swapping income for leisure in the US. It's pretty clear that U=f(M) is OK, but U=f(M, L) is not, unless you're going to price leisure at some utterly exorbitant rate.

#171 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:12 PM:

Bruce #146 and others:

I think the usual idea in economics is that the decisionmakers' goals and values are external to the system, but that given their goals and knowledge, you expect them to make decisions consistent with those. If Alice likes beer more than chips, and she has enough for either one beer or one bag of chips, you expect she'll buy the beer. If she values giving money to charity over spending it on flowers, you expect she'll give it to charity instead of going to the florist.

This model is far from perfect; people have built in biases, for example. But it's not quite turning people into mechanistic dollar-maximizers with no souls.

#172 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:35 PM:

Thena, #163:
"Now I am eating sushi when I do not like sushi,
But he loves sushi, and I love him.
I'm poking with a chopstick at a living, breathing fishstick --
Omigod! I think it's trying to swim!
Some people say that sushi is like chewing on your own cheek,
Or sucking down a bucketful of tentacled slime.
I do not like sushi, but I am eating sushi;
It's a good thing he can't read my mind!" - Christine Lavin

Steve, #169: The movie was based on the book by Farley Mowat, which I've read. One of the details that sticks in my memory is that when he first tried living on a diet of mice, he developed a terrible craving for fats. Then he realized that the wolves ate the whole mouse, while he'd been (effectively) treating them as if they were beef. Once he started eating the internal fat and organ meats as well as the muscle meats, his fat cravings went away.

#173 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:44 PM:

What's for breakfast, Farley?
Mice Krispies.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:47 PM:

And for dessert?
Chocolate mouse.

#175 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:57 PM:

I wonder if that was one of the completely-made-up parts of Never Cry Wolf? And how many people have been tricked into eating mice as a result?

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:25 PM:

Ratvioli for supper.

#178 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:26 PM:

Just, nobody go eating URBAN mice. Goodness knows what they've been into. You could... you could..

ew.

now I've made myself all squeamish imagining an urban society where a significant fraction of what people eat is the small rodents and bugs living among them. Very green, as it were. "Mom, one of these fence posts is infested with termites!" "Great! Scatter these vitamin supplements around it, we'll come back and harvest them in a week."

#179 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:40 PM:

Dan @ 120
Any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic can not be both consistent and complete.

What is really amazing is how difficult it is to construct a system that is NOT capable of expressing elementary arithmetic.

#180 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:42 PM:

Lee@172

Hey! Either you're my college roommate or you share a name with the person who introduced me to Christine Lavin (and is, until now, the only person I've known to have any of her recordings, including me, because I never got around to buying them.)

#181 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:45 PM:

"Welcome to McRats - can I take your order?"

"Yeah, gimme two Big McVermins, fries, and Coke. Hon, what you want?"

"Mouse McNuggets, with honey Mousetard."


#182 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:09 PM:

mjfgates -- You're not a Discworld fan, then? The standard Dwarf diet in Ankh-Morpork seems to involve a lot of rat.

#183 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:10 PM:

Unforeseen consequences of the new FAA air traffic control system.


"This was a quiet place," the gryphon said.
"A perfect place to raise a chick.
All things in time, no need to be so quick."
She turned away to hide her eyes, hot red.
"But with the years the humans' way has spread,
the migrant birds that once had flown so thick,
now gone, as if erased by magic trick."
She turned her head and raised her voice in ire,
"Full well the years yield grief to us who fly.
Our glamor's almost gone, as you can see.
But it's too soon to put us on the pyre,
for we'll away where still is open sky,
and lands where maps still show where dragons be."

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:14 PM:

Joel Polowin @ 182... The standard Dwarf diet in Ankh-Morpork seems to involve a lot of rat.

I much prefer a low-rat diet.

#185 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:23 PM:

Serge 184: But you could be eating one of the highest-ratted diets in the world!

#186 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:23 PM:

mjfgates @178,

Hmmm. that puts a different meaning on my neighborhood's Yahoo group discussion of "keeping an eye out for termite swarms because this is subterranean termite week*."

One of my office-mates when I was in school was from Kenya. She said that the insects they ate had the consistency of, and tasted like various nuts. Makes sense, as they can be fatty.

I recall her asking non-insect-eaters to contemplate shell-on shrimp the next time one was discriminating among arthropods.

She said that preparing a meal of the hard-to-find tastiest insects was one way to show a fellow that one was interested in him.

----------
* noon-2pm on the first hot days after the first heavy rain** of early fall is when the termites will swarm.

*Yes, the termites can predict this event without being fooled by a summer rain. We don't have those. This is California.

#187 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:34 PM:

Thena 180:

and is, until now, the only person I've known to have any of her recordings

*Raises hand, plays some of "Mysterious Woman" to prove it* *

-----
* I want to be a mysterious woman
I want to write mysterious songs
I want everyone to wonder, "What is she thinking about?
Existentialism? Nihilism?" Wrong.
I am thinking about defrosting my refrigerator
Though I think I could get into a mysterious mood.
Watch me ask the bartender for a drink he cannot make
Watch me order mysterious food...
Foods even Julia Child cannot pronounce right
From cookbooks that time has forgot†
Then maybe I will read "Crime and Punishment" for fun.
(Then again, maybe not.)

† Though I see some of them mentioned upthread

#188 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:36 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 186... I recall her asking non-insect-eaters to contemplate shell-on shrimp the next time one was discriminating among arthropods.

I'll have to reconsider an alternate to jumping out of my skin next time I find a vinegarone scorpion in my backyard. And I won't shoo that tarentula away from the lawn but inside a pot instead.

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:41 PM:

abi @ 187... I am thinking about defrosting my refrigerator Though I think I could get into a mysterious mood.

"What IS that mysterious bowl? Could it be last Christmas's leftover potato salad?"

#190 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:45 PM:

Serge @189:
Actually, the song continues with a pastiche of a Suzanne Vega-style mythological riff, which drifts her toward the Milky Way, which turns out to be a candy bar stuck to some of the other items in her icebox.

#191 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:49 PM:

abi @ 190... a candy bar stuck to some of the other items in her icebox, right next to the mice cream.

#192 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:51 PM:

Xopher #168: You have mice that speak English?

#193 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:55 PM:

Serge, Xopher: You're both forgetting that Greek standby mousaka...

#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 04:59 PM:

True, Fragano, but I did remember to get a bottle of Mousecadelle.

#195 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:00 PM:

re 171: One of reasons I've always mistrusted economics (even though I find it very interesting) is that it seems to me quite obvious that the decisionmakers' goals and values aren't external to the system. There's the one level in which money is assigned value quite beside its utility as an exchange medium; but there is also the fact that economic theorizing changes the way that people interact.

#196 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:22 PM:

also, if " decisionmakers' goals and values are external to the system", what are advertisers doing?

#197 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Bruce @ 100- the words sound right, its just that the context wasn't entirely clear to me, so I suggested a different one concordant with my experience.

#198 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:27 PM:

And for the wine, a muscat?

#199 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:29 PM:

Thena (180), abi (187): Raising hand. Quoting a favorite bit as proof:

[spoken] 'This song is called "Regretting What I Said to You When You
Called Me 11:00 On a Friday Morning to Tell Me that at 1:00
Friday Afternoon You're Gonna Leave Your Office, Go Downstairs,
Hail a Cab to Go Out to the Airport to Catch a Plane to Go Skiing
in the Alps for Two Weeks, Not that I Wanted to Go With You, I
Wasn't Able to Leave Town, I'm Not a Very Good Skier, I Couldn't
Expect You to Pay My Way, But After Going Out With You for Three
Years I DON'T Like Surprises!!"

'And it's subtitled "A Musical Apology"

'In this song I attempt to take back everything I said while
standing in a phone booth on the corner of 49th and 3rd.'

#200 ::: Wristle ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 05:33 PM:

abi @ 190 -
It's not surprising that Christine Lavin might write a song that morphs into something sounding like Suzanne Vega: they're both Speakeasy regulars.

#201 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Upon the map are all the magic places
where childhood dreams and adult hopes may meet
while radiant dragons lend us all their graces.

Who can forget the shining children's faces
given the chance those mighty ones to greet?
Upon the map are all the magic places.

We see great beings, unbound by stays and laces,
but tied to us by meanings still and sweet
while radiant dragons lend us all their graces;

not one of us the cherished chart misplaces
while we can climb the mountain with glad feet;
upon the map are all the magic places.

We'll meet one day the strange unhuman races
and walk together on the self-same street
while radiant dragons lend us all their graces.

Each of us knows that there are special cases
ensuring that our plans are incomplete;
upon the map are all the magic places,
while radiant dragons lend us all their graces.

#202 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:05 PM:

Serge #194: But that won't go with the very tasty Arab cuisine of Mousecat......

#203 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:15 PM:

I've only heard "Mysterious Woman" once, and it was a long time ago, but my recollection is that it not only resembled Vega, it was intended as a parody of her style.

#204 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 201

* applause *

A lovely sentiment.

#205 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 06:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #204: Thanks. Your sonnet was very good.

#206 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Wow.

#207 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 07:57 PM:

I am playing bagpipes because I like my bagpipes
My boyfriend likes my playing, and I love him
He's totally unmusical which sometimes is a minus
But my previous relationships have been quite grim
All my other boyfriends would whine and beg and holler
They said my drones and chanter made their eardrums bleed
But I can play my bagpipes for my boyfriend who is tone-deaf
It's a good thing he can't mind my reed.

("No, dear, that was 'Amazing Grace', not 'Star-Spangled Banner'...
I think.")

#208 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:15 PM:

Hmm... Abi comes back and people start committing rhymes. Coincidence?

#209 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:24 PM:

Serge @ 208

No coincidence at all. You've heard of the Reality Warping Field that surrounds Steve Jobs? Well, there's a Poesy* Creation Field around abi that leaks out with her poems.

* No, that's not "Posey".

#210 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:39 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 209...

"Captain! The Ab'i ship has decloaked dead ahead!"
"Spock?"
"They appear to be powering up their Poesy Generation Field."
"Raise shields."
"Captain! The shields can't hold."
"Scotty, I need that power now."
"Bones?"
"Dammit, Jim!... I'm a doctor... Not a rhymer!"

#211 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Serge @ 210

"Captain, we're being bombarded by trochaic rays; we'll all have defective feet!"

#212 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #211:

"Ward them off with an amphibrachic ray, Mr Sulu."

#213 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:24 PM:

"Launch Vogon torpedoes!"

#214 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:41 PM:

"Cold pizza for breakfast
Warm Coke to wash it down.."

Lavin and food. I got to see her live one time, back when Mountain Stage was actually broadcast live and I was living in South Charleston WV.

#215 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:04 PM:

"They fired first! That makes us the respondee! Give them the old one-two double stress punch!"

#216 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:04 PM:

"I am unable to penetrate their sonnet fields, Captain. They don't scan."

#217 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:12 PM:

The news is just saying that DC Health is trying to get rid of rats in a woman's apartment because they're eating through her son's feeding tubes (he's a quad). I'm pretty sure they have to clear the entire block or so.

#218 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:00 AM:

"Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, we need a heroic couplet to win this battle; you're up."

#219 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:16 AM:

"Captain, the starboard pentameters aren't scanning!"

"What, all five of them?"

"Yes and now the port ones are gone too."

"A minute ago we were seeing all the stars in the universe, and now everything's gone. Now we're looking at..."

"A blank 'verse, Captain?"

#220 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:23 AM:

Returning to the original subject (and I am snowed under with work, so I have only time for this thought): one of the differences between the grand generalizations of physics and the sort that our winger leadership believe is that the physics generalizations order large amounts of specific data, and applying them properly requires extensive study of specifics. Consider conservation of mass-energy. This is so reliable a general law that, when it seems to be violated, physicists look very, very closely at specifics. And, so far, when this is done, the conservation law survives. There is nothing of comparable strength in sociology, psychology, or economics.

#221 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Serge, Bruce, Fragano, Xopher: You Are Wonderful.

Mary Frances

P.S.: So is everyone else who has committed poetry in this thread. Abi, I love your dragons. Please submit that sonnet somewhere.

#222 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:42 AM:

Yes, abi, do please submit that sonnet. It's definitely a keeper.

#223 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 05:09 AM:

Bruce, Serge, Xopher,

You guys are awful*. I just choked on my coffee.

Re submitting that, I haven't a notion where I would. Needs a polish before I did anyway.

-----
* you generate awe.

#224 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 05:48 AM:

abi @ 223... You guys are awful * you generate awe.

Well, we could have done verse than that.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 07:08 AM:

Serge @224
Well, we could have done verse than that.

That stanza reason.

#226 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 08:22 AM:

Sometimes, these threads are like some random concrete wall you walk by every day, ignoring it as you go to work. Then, one morning, you walk by, and some people have covered it in striking and interesting and wonderful pictures.

I'm not anywhere in the same league with you guys, but when I thought of "here be dragons," I thought of Jim Rigney and the WOT books.

Here did dragon be
Who can see the folk he left?
shattered with a leaf

or

Madman shakes the night
call upon the red sisters
here false dragons be

or

Kin all killed in madness
mountain raised by suicide
Here did dragon be

#227 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:09 AM:

"Well, captain, this uncomfortable yet spacious location is like a nineteen-line poem."

"What do you mean, Mr Spock?"

"It's a villa in hell, captain."

#228 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:14 AM:

Marilee @ #217, I Googled and found this. I've heard some hair-raising stories from friends who work in home health care, but this is miles beyond any of them.

#229 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:18 AM:

Vogon torpedoes remind me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game. Anyone else ever play that? Did you solve the puzzle of getting the (IIRC) Atomic Vector Plotter from the case while the Vogon captain reads his poetry (and your ears bleed)? The answer is very telling about how Adams' mind worked; there's a kind of warped glee there that appeals to me: lbh rawbl gur cbrgel!

#230 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:20 AM:

Rat story update: TV viewer puts family up in hotel.

#231 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:27 AM:

"Spock! Please refrain."
"Captain, iambic-inning to enjoy these hunman emotions."

#232 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:00 AM:

Bruce Cohen (#218): "Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, we need a heroic couplet to win this battle; you're up."

Mr. Chekov: "My great ancestor once said, 'Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.' But my own couplets are all cowards!"

(Not much of a joke, but thanks to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations anyway.)

#233 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:04 AM:

The dragons vanished first, one day at dawn,
A close-packed mass of wings and teeth and tails
That voicelessly, just rustling their scales,
Crouched, launched themselves, and in a flash, were gone.
The gryphons, barren since the hatchling blight
Around the eggless phoenix gathered near.
So when it flamed, they too began to sear,
Then sprang aloft and burned to ash midflight.
The dryads soon were gone, their trees cut down;
The unicorns their pearly horns all shed;
Beneath the autumn leaves curled pixies, dead;
And undines taught the naiads how to drown.
The secret world, the one no searcher finds,
Was Google-mapped, and we fled to your minds.

But human minds were wider than we knew.
We refugess, resettling in song
And poem, myth and story, ceased to long
For our lost world the more we studied you.
We found to our surprise that you still build
Imaginary worlds where we can live.
Computers showed our secrets; now they give
Us cyberspace to roam, with wonders filled.
The gryphons' hatchlings soar in EverQuest,
While dragons hoard in Linden dollars now
And eBay leprechauns sell gold for WOW.
(The trolls have many homes, as you have guessed.)
The homesickness is gone, and we'll forget
Until you find a way to map the Net.

(The first sonnet was so glum I had to write a sequel).

#234 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:10 AM:

abi... undines taught the naiads how to drown

You've got to send this to some magazine.

#235 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:27 AM:

Abi #233: Wonderful, but the second line of the second sonnet has the rather odd word 'refugess'.

#236 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:34 AM:

We scan the globe for one last hidden isle
where dwell the wizards and the ones who speak
not with a mouth but with a sort of beak,
near deadly ladies who sailors beguile;
inland we know there's a narrow defile
leads to a palace on high mountain-peak,
difficult traverse, not for the weak,
yet gods are there who when they see us smile.
There is a road we're now afraid to take
past villages where old chimneys still smoke,
into the country where the dragons dwell.
We knew it once, that sure was no mistake,
nor any dream. But now we're under yoke,
and grown into a world that's more like hell.

#237 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Abi @233: Oooh. Okay, Polish, and send it out. Please.

#238 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:02 PM:

Mary Frances #237: Did you just command abi to be Polish? Or maybe to translate the sonnet?

Polish: the only word I know of in the English language that changes pronunciation when you capitalize the first letter.

#239 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Serge @ 234

Affirmative. That line made chills run down my spine.

#240 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Ethan@238: *snicker* Isn't English a wonderful language? Nah, I (to be obvious) was just getting excited and typing too fast. And referring to Abi's own earlier comment on the need to "polish" her previous sonnet before sending it out . . . if she feels that way, I was saying, she should do just that, and then start submitting.

#241 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:41 PM:

For the record (someone's keeping one, right?), I agree that abi should Polish and Submit.

#242 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 236

Very good, if a bit grim. Reminds me that I was reading in Julie Phillips' biography of Alice Sheldon this morning that she was diagnosed as bipolar when she was young. I sometimes wonder if there aren't mood disorders that are required for writing fantasy and sf of particular kinds.

#243 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:03 PM:

I think there's been a sort of meta-mapping going on: see Alberto Manguel's _Dictionary of Imaginary Places_. Of course, when the mapping metaphor first arose on this thread, I was reminded of Kinglay Amis's _New Maps of Hell_, at least as a title.

#244 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Polish and submit.

#245 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #242: Hmm. Perhaps not a mood disorder, just a deep disappointment at adulthood not being as magical as a child would hope.

#246 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:26 PM:

There's plenty of magic and wonders in the world, Fragano. Not the same as in the stories, true.

#247 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:46 PM:

I too vote Polish and Submit.

Yet...if she doesn't Polish it enough, won't she get in Dutch? (Or is she there already?) Is that caveat really Germane¹? She could put enough English on it to get it past an editor, I'm almost sure...and if it's a respectable magazine they won't Welsh on the deal.

All abi's poems leave me Hungary for more. Her poems Turkeys in my heart, and Sweden my mood.

I'd better Finnish this now, before I get Spanished for incorrigible punnery (don't incorrige me). Besides, I have to Czech on a few things!

¹In a way this is cheating, because of the origin of the word 'German', but hey.

#248 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:48 PM:

Xopher @ 247.. Keep it up and you'll be on the receiving end of Abi's Eire.

#249 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:09 PM:

Dan @ 120
Any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic can not be both consistent and complete.

What is really amazing is how difficult it is to construct a system that is NOT capable of expressing elementary arithmetic.

#250 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Serge #246:

Magic enough in ripeness and in flagons
but where are all the unicorns and dragons?

#251 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:16 PM:

Xopher #247: You evidently need to be Scotched, those national puns give me a Spain. You really need to talk Turkey, however, or you'll be left collecting Seychelles by the seashore. Hmm. Perhaps I need some more Java, otherwise I might be Borneo.

#252 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Fragano @ 250... True, but there is magic and wonder in dogs and humans being able to cooperatie. There is magic in a surgeon bringing people back from the dead. There is magic in huge planes flying in the sky. There is wonder in monkeys having evolved to do all those things.

#253 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Serge #252: All true! And there are more kinds of magic than that, but no wise centaurs, no river mothers, and insistent alarm clocks. :)

#254 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 03:34 PM:

Well, here's the polish*, but I have no idea where I would submit such a thing. Really, my heart is in the first sonnet, so rather than try to turn in a perky ending**, I've followed it to its logical conclusion.

The dragons vanished first, one day at dawn,
A close-packed mass of wings and teeth and tails
That voicelessly, just rustling its scales,
Crouched, launched itself, and in a flash, was gone.
The gryphons, barren since the hatchling blight
Around the eggless phoenix gathered near.
So when it flamed, they too began to sear,
Then sprang aloft and burned to ash midflight.
The dryads withered, and their trees fell down;
The unicorns their pearly horns all shed;
Beneath the autumn leaves curled pixies, dead;
And undines taught the naiads how to drown.
You humans mapped the world, despite the cost:
That you be found, the rest of us are lost.

-----
* It looks like English, but that's because I put a spell on it†
** Sixteen lines of perky ending is still a perky ending.
† Only after a spell check. One can't be too careful.

#255 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:00 PM:

Randolph Fritz @ 220 -
It strikes me that fundamentalist/literalists treat their texts the same way.
If you show a scientist plans for a perpetual motion machine, he'll dismiss it. If you show one a working perpetual motion machine, she'll search for the battery driving it.
To a first approximation, this is the same behavior exhibited by a biblical literalist when confronted by, say, evidence of the age of the universe. It's rejected because it contradicts 'facts' in their model of the world.

#256 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:03 PM:

Abi #254: Magnificent!

#257 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:03 PM:

Abi @ 254... Hats off, once again.

#258 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:08 PM:

we have fresh apples now and wine in flagons
but see no unicorns and spy no dragons

choose well the realm where you will sink your heart
for after you will have no proper rest
the whole of life's just playing a small part
routine injustice removes any zest
we find that nature's got a sort of art
but what we see in dreams remains the best
the ones who rule us never give a fart
but simply lie and tell us it's a test

we have fresh apples now and wine in flagons
but see no unicorns and spy no dragons

a child may move from myth onto the map
and find that truth requires a kind of lie
a world half glimpsed between the game and nap
a shape that's written on the empty sky
elves that tread quietly and dare to tap
your sleeping shoulder and stare in your eye
and then we grow up and the world's just crap
you work your arse off and you have to die

we have fresh apples now and wine in flagons
but see no unicorns and spy no dragons

each day we sink far deeper in the hole
burnt in the sun and soaked by dreary rain
we get no closer to the hoped-for goal
and all our promise turns to gritty pain
explorers do not seek the distant pole
all life seems focused on some petty gain
work and commute grind down each weary soul
smiling requires that we must sweat and strain

we have fresh apples now and wine in flagons
but see no unicorns and spy no dragons

a tiny change what others call a blunder
would take us to a place where light is grand
where frolic all the creatures of great wonder
where perish all the tasks and duties bland
a world made out of lighting and thunder
where happy warriors may make a stand
break all the hellish bonds at once asunder
and show us all a better promised land

we have fresh apples still and wine in flagons
but dance with unicorns and sport with dragons

#259 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:10 PM:

abi @ 254

Beautiful. F&SF used to take poetry but I don't seen anything about it in their writer's guide page now. Might be worth a try.

#260 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:23 PM:

Steve @ 255

The scientist has some knowledge of the theories that say that perpetual motion is a mirage, and those that say where to look for the cheats that should be in the machine - they look plausible on the surface, but where are the subsurface bumps?

Fundamentalists just say, okay, it's a perpetual motion machine, let 'er rip. Faith, for them, seems to be more important as a guide than logic and experience.

#261 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:32 PM:

abi, I think you should submit both 152 and 254. Doesn't Asimov's still print poetry? Last I looked they were printing things like "Lament of the Werewolf's Wife" and so on.

#262 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 04:47 PM:

Once Upon a Time

Libraries were replete with sense of wonder
Books were maps to places I might find
Rocketships and magic rings, and under
All, unspoken hope in humankind
Ad astra. Tesseract. The game’s afoot
The unicorn is searching for her kin
Toad Hall and Rivendell and Warlock put
Me on the road to battles yet to win
That universe held wonders. I was one.
Now my reading's lessened by misgiving
I’ve lost the run to joy, the will to run
Eaten, not by dragons, but by living
Too much mundane, I’m weighed down till I snap
Alas, my territory’s not the map

#263 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 05:10 PM:

Just to confuse the issue a little more ....
I do quality control of maps. For me, the map is, in some ways, the territory (I'm looking at drawn-on-paper-or-linen, using it to check drawn-on-screen-over-aerial-photo). Although when I get into areas like Terminal Island, the map and the territory most definitely are not the same; the aerial photo is closer to real-world. ('Scuse me, that bridge there does not run in the direction it's drawn. And where's the streets it's connecting to? And these streets over here? They don't really exist any more.)

#264 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 06:27 PM:

Abi, I haven't a clue about submitting poetry. But someone out there must be interested in this sort of thing. Maybe it's time for some query emails?

#265 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 06:46 PM:

The world was so small when I was young;
so small I needed more on maps than showed.
The world should have basilisks that crowed
and dragons who could speak in any tongue.
But as I grew so did the world, hung
in night with stars like diamonds in a lode,
and crowded out the magic I'd bestowed
with space and time where planets moved and swung.
Still later though I found a 'verse so vast
that space cried out for more to fill the gaps.
Now I am small, desiring to go back
before the world's size had grown so fast
and left no beasts and dragons on the maps.
I find now naught but poems fill the lack.

#266 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 07:44 PM:

OtterB #262: Very nice. Welcome to the club.

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #265: Lovely!

#267 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:10 PM:

Thena, #180: Sorry, not me -- I never had a college roommate, because I lived with my parents until my senior year and then had a single. But I love Christine Lavin's work; she has a knack for putting the rhythms of natural speech into a metrical format that I envy greatly.

Serge, #189:
"Something lingers in the fridge,
Waiting in a pool of mayo..." - Robin Nakkula

Joel, #207: SPLORT!!!

Okay, now I have to name-drop. Christine Lavin came to a music venue in Nashville some 10-12 years ago, and after the show she was chatting with people and autographing things. I told her that I'd written a pastiche verse to that song in honor of my then-husband and his hobbies, and she wanted to hear it. So I sang:

Now look at me, I'm hiking when I do not like hiking,
But he loves hiking, and I love him.
I'm climbing up a hillside and it feels like it's a mountain;
There's a canyon right below us and we're on the rim!
The footing is unstable, and there's nothing to hold onto --
How'd I get talked into anything of this kind?!
I do not like hiking, but look at me, I'm hiking;
It's a good thing he can't read my mind!

And she liked it! EGOBOO CITY!

Re poetry and submitting: perhaps it's time to look into a Lulu-published edition of "Making Light: The Poetry"? I'd certainly buy a copy!

#268 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:27 PM:

Lee 267: Robin Nakkula

O my gods below. That's a name I thought (hoped) I'd never hear again. Are we talking about a small brown-haired being, who went to Michigan State University, is a filker, and has a tendency to breed loathsome vermin as if they were...pets?

#269 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:41 PM:

abi, #254 is wonderful! You do need to submit that. Try Asimov's.

#270 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 10:42 PM:

abi: I love the imagery in that poem. I keep thinking it would be neat to somehow see it illustrated, though I guess it's too short for comic. But I can visualize every line as a panel or two, drawn in the style of the disasters befalling the world of dreams in _The Kindly Ones_.

But how did the Phoenix go? He burned, but that's not final for him.

OtterB: Damn, I've felt that, but couldn't have expressed it like that.

#271 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 11:20 PM:

PJ @ #263: which brings to mind the lovely expression "ground truth". One of those phrases I liked the instant I first heard it.

#272 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 01:04 AM:

albatross #270: Ooh, imagine a webcomic, every strip an illustrated version of one of abi's sonnets. I'd like that.

#273 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:11 AM:

One of abi's sonnets, I think it was on the previous open thread, made me think of the Artzybashef illustrations for the Firebird myth. I think they were pen & ink done to look like woodcut prints from the 1930s. I can't find any of his work in that style on the web, but if I come across something like it, I'll post a comment so you can see what I mean.

#274 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:51 AM:

albatross @270
But how did the Phoenix go? He burned, but that's not final for him.

She was eggless. When she burns after laying an egg, her heat keeps the egg warm until it hatches into the next phoenix. To ignite without an egg is to end the line.

#275 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:53 AM:

Bruce Cohen, Fragano, Owlmirror, albatross:

What a fantastic thread of poems! I love it when we do these theme sets.

Anyone else going to join? Anyone?

#276 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:58 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @273

One of abi's sonnets, I think it was on the previous open thread, made me think of the Artzybashef illustrations for the Firebird myth.

Was it the one of Xopher as an angel? Or the other angel one, for Teresa?

I'd be interested to see that. I actually have a phoenix tattoo, and I love illustrations of them.

#277 ::: Koneko ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 07:24 AM:

A little late, but it took a day to form... am I too late for the poetry parade? >.>

I used to dream, and dream I did,
Now dreams I do not do.
I no longer trade in the images,
They have become too few.
Aching memories are all I have
Of dragons in morning skies,
And fallen angels in the mist,
Of my once-lover's eyes.

I used to dream, and dream I did,
But dreams hold not their sway.
My pens and papers are gone as well,
All neatly packed away.
The path of writers, the way of words,
Is weed-strewn under my feet
And where in my chest the sirens sang
A mere mortal heart will beat.

#278 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 07:38 AM:

Koneko #277: It's never too late. Thanks for your poem.

#279 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 09:25 AM:

Never too late, Koneko. And keep at it.

#280 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 11:33 AM:

Koneko @ 277

Another poem is always welcome; doubly so from someone new to the thread, with a new perspective.

#281 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 11:43 AM:

I guess I'll take a crack at it (and line 1 *isn't* meant as a slur on Naomi Novik!):

The dragons have been commandeered for war
And unicorns have lost their innocence.
Cherished illusion shows a rotten core,
Fatality's replaced coincidence.
Our children love the cynic not the sage,
Too many moralists are clumsy liars,
And if they speak the truth we turn the page.
Believers spin their tales to court the buyers.
Must sadness always lurk behind surprise
And fear become a weary commonplace?
Does beauty come unwilling to our eyes
When evil always sports a human face?
Yet even when despair would strike us blind
The universe still beckons to the mind.

#282 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 01:38 PM:

I notice that now nobody but Fragano seems to be giving us a happy ending. (I still want to know what error I have to make to get both dragons and unicorns *and* year-round fresh fruit.) The others were either unabashedly filled with loss, or ambiguous.

Though Fragano's first poem wasn't so cheerful. (For some reason, I guess because of the wizards with beaks, I was thinking of life on the Ringworld, perhaps with the attitude jets/solar flares going and people along a fringe dying off horribly.)

#283 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 02:14 PM:

Abi - Suzette Haden Elgin writes science fiction poetry (as well as her other science fiction and non-fiction), and maintains an active LiveJournal (http://ozarque.livejournal.com/). I'm positive that she would respond positively to your poems and to a query about possible outlets for such work.

#284 ::: fermion ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 05:56 PM:

My slightly belated attempt, partly inspired by an article I wrote about sonar-based seafloor mapping.

-----

The boundaries of our maps have grown indeed
Across their parents' blank bedragoned space
Through jungles and cold barren lands they lead
And with their growth our knowledge grows apace
Volcano, mountain, seafloor, lunar plane
They compass airless peak and crushing sea
It seems no barriers to our sight remain
But make no error: boundaries still there be.
A sun burns hot a thousand years away.
The dragons know the trick to travel there
They bask beneath a blue-lit summer's day
Flame-breath tinged by trace gas in alien air
Above seas rent by vast sharp rocks they soar
Awaiting our cartographers once more.

#285 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 06:40 PM:

I'm really enjoying all the poems.

Albatross #282 points out that this topic seems to have brought out a collective turn for the melancholy. Having produced my own lament for lost possibilities, I thought I'd try my hand at a more positive spin.

Wise people warn us that the map is not
The territory. We all know it's true
Proceed with caution, for the gaps can kill you
Who knows if all the errors have been caught
What lies upon the map, and what’s not there
Are crucial. Who decides what it will show?
If dragonkind you seek, then you must know
They’re not upon the paper. Check the air
But do not blame the map. It is not flawed
It’s meant to be an index, not the book
Stand up and stretch. Put down your pen and look
The devil's in the details. So is God.
Delight is in the details, too. Let's go
And find what lies beyond what maps can show

#286 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 07:00 PM:

Koneko #277: am I too late for the poetry parade?

No need to worry about that ever happening. Poetry tends to travel in clades around here; some whistle while they walk, others jog to disco, and more often than one might expect, one rattles the chandeliers with a sonic boom. heh.

#287 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 06:53 AM:

I notice that now nobody but Fragano seems to be giving us a happy ending

Poems dark and grim
From where come these heavy hearts -
Equinoctal blues?


GRRM fans may wish to use an alternate last line: Winter is coming

Ooh, imagine a webcomic, every strip an illustrated version of one of abi's sonnets. I'd like that.

I can't even begin to draw my image of And undines taught the naiads how to drown and how to draw the egg of the phoenix that isn't there is an interesting problem, but if there weren't so many people watching I'd sketch something like this for the dragons (or this, with the words on).

#288 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:21 AM:

Neil Willcox @ 287... A web-comic of Abi's poem? Neat concept. Nice illustrations too.

#289 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 08:34 AM:

abi @ 254: A trans-humanist response:

Fire taught us to author the world.
To build stories of steel, far from the ground
Dragons or no, there’s still wonder to be found
For brave explorers, our sails unfurled.
Picture our sails! Strange fractals uncurled
In weird geometries, occult and profound.
To find new stars, with planets around
Each a marvel, delicate and whirled:
The universe fills my mind with knowledge;
My eyes with beauty; my heart with glory
I exult, for my quest goes ever on.
This I know: every map has its edge,
Every fact is the seed of a story,
And somewhere dragons will always live on.

#290 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 10:22 AM:

Serge - Ethan came up with the webcomic idea in #272. I won't be making a habit of it, firstly because most of them don't come out so well the first time, and more importantly, eventually I'd have to illustrate something like this and then my head would explode.

#291 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 10:29 AM:

Neil Willcox... True. We don't want your brains all over ML. It might draw the attention of the cerebrum-eating walking dead.

#292 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:22 AM:

Albatross #282: I can think of places where you can get year-round fresh fruit (but not apples, per se). As for the 'blunder', see Peter Pan.

#293 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:52 AM:

I'm just amazed and awed at all the poems.

#294 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 12:03 PM:

Fragano... Considering what the starting subject was, one could say that this thread now has rhyme and reason.

#295 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 01:40 PM:

Serge #294: Indeed so.

#296 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Neil Willcox #287: I can't even begin to draw my image of And undines taught the naiads how to drown

Yeah, that's the line that really got to me.

#297 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 05:22 PM:

I'm flattered by the idea of the webcomic, though I think y'all may be cherrypicking a little in your memories of the sonnets in question.

As for the tone of these sonnets, well, it is autumn. But though I regret the loss of dragons, the matter is a bit more complicated than simple tragedy or loss of innocence in my mind:

Teresa guards a treasure-trove of prose
From trolls who come to ruin and despoil.
Her comrades and her commentaries foil
All but a few; she disemvowels those.
We watch Macdonald's ghostly tales unfold,
While Patrick burns with periodic fire
(Then phoenix-like, recovers from his ire!)
And Avram delves the web for links like gold.
Then tiger Bruce trades puns with Serge the Muse,
Heresiarch the Centaur, Greg the Ent.
And then come bards whose verses each invent
Another story: wealth that we can't lose.
The older archetypes their places cede:
You guys are all the dragons that I need.

#298 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 06:48 PM:

Abi @ 297... You guys are all the dragons that I need.

Thanks.

#299 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 10:25 PM:

abi @ 297: !!!*

* (stunned speechless, I am forced to rely on punctuation.)**
** And footnotes.†‡
† So: Thank you!!! That poem§ just made my day, like, three hundred and sixty five times.
‡ A guilty secret: anytime I need the more exotic footnote symbols, I just click "view all by" on a convenient abi post and scroll down a bit.
§ Coming straight from open thread 92, at first I thought it was Serge the Mouse.

#300 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 10:37 PM:

Heresiarch...

Here I come to save the day!
That means that Mighty Muse is on the way!
Yes sir, when there is a wrong to rhyme,
Mighty Muse will inspire in time!

#301 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 11:44 PM:

Dragons went elsewhere.

In Star Trek's episode "This Side of Paradise", there was a scene where Spock is lying on the bare ground, wistfully looking at the sky as he tells the woman he loves of a world where dragons exist.

#302 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 01:47 AM:

abi @ 297

* gives a deep bass purr *

Thank you for including me; I've always wanted to be a dragon.

#303 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 04:17 AM:

Serge @301:
Funny you should mention Star Trek.

The sonnet about the dragons leaving was started by a random thought about Apollo's speech in "Who Mourns for Adonis?", when he describes the deaths of the other gods.

I can't remember it well enough to be confident quoting it, but he described how Athena was the first to go, and simply spread herself out and grew more and more transparent until she was gone.

#304 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:02 AM:

It seems unfair, abi, that in writing sonnets for everyone else you are left without. So:

Abi’s quill is made of phoenix feather
Sketching light and fire in our minds
She could fill with wonders the books she binds
So gracefully she ties it all together.
Skillfully she sews new skins of leather
For ancient ideas too long left behind
Under her fingers they’re soon intertwined
With fresh-sprung shoots of holly and heather.
Her breath brings new life to tired old ashes
Alone, a burnt shell stirs, trembles and cracks
A young old voice trills, a bright form flashes
Through the sky, leaving incandescent tracks.
Crowing, she heralds the coming of dawn
Like the phoenix, she will ever burn on.

I hope it serves.

#305 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:42 AM:

Abi @ 393... I saw Who mourns for Adonis again not long ago, and the episode is as sad as it was then.

Apollo: I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?
Kirk: We've outgrown you. You asked for something we can no longer give.

#306 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 09:49 AM:

abi #297: Lovely!

#307 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 11:27 AM:

Heresiarch§ @304:
Thank you.

(Sometimes writing sonnets is like baking chocolate cake*. It's nice when someone bakes one for you.)

-----
* I am the Official Baker of Chocolate Cake in my family, which means if I want chocolate cake on my birthday, I either have to bake it myself** or store-buy.
** Which violates some rules somewhere.
§ You're welcome to the symbols. I keep having to ransack Unicode; my mind is just too untidy for linear postings.

#308 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 11:48 AM:

Abi @ 397... if I want chocolate cake on my birthday, I either have to bake it myself** or store-buy. ** Which violates some rules somewhere.

It does? Ooops. Sue and I keep buying things that we want for Christmas or our birthdays, then we give it to the other to give us when the time comes.

#309 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 04:41 PM:

abi & Heresiarch

If you use or have access to a Mac, you can get just about any Unicode symbol you want. This is how I get the less common symbols like daggers and †, §, ¤, ∑, and so on. Start TextEdit and go to the Edit Menu; select the last item, "Special Characters". The Character Pallette will come up; this is a Service, not part of TextEdit, so you can shut TextEdit down now if you want, the palette will remain up. At the top left of the palette is a View pulldown menu; select Roman and look in the left column view below the menu. There are categories for Math, Arrows, Punctuation, etc. The daggers and so on will be shown in the right column view after you select Punctuation. Since the palette coexists with an open application, you can get symbols directly into the current cursor position of your webbrowser or text editor by double clicking on the symbol. Play around with the palette and you'll find a way to drag a symbol out and drop it into you app, and there are other cute little features.

#310 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 05:32 PM:

ethan, "238: "Polish: the only word I know of in the English language that changes pronunciation when you capitalize the first letter."

Oddly, that brings up a Mike Ford story, from 1989.

Teresa and I were driving home from the World Science Fiction Convention, which had been held that year in Boston. Teresa was driving, and talking to our friend Mike Farren in the front seat. I was sitting in back reading a book. At the other end of the back seat, a somewhat ill Mike Ford was (we thought) sound asleep.

Spying a sign advertising "Polish Sausages," Mike Farren made the same observation you made in #238.

From the back seat came Mike Ford's soft, reedy voice, saying "Tangier."

We were all silent for a moment. Mike Farren turned to Teresa. "I've heard about him. Now I believe it," he said.

#311 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 07:26 PM:

polish
tangier
august
herb
job
lima
nice
rainier
reading

#312 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:52 PM:

Serge@305: Which part do you see as sad? That humans no longer need minor wonders because they make their own, or that a god (little more than an over-powered human, as the Greek gods generally were) is incapable of dealing with children that have grown up? I can think of at least one other oST script that pointed at the illusory desirability of dependency -- nothing kicked-out-of-the-cradle about them, no insistence that dreams be lost, just that adulthood has greater rewards than does remaining a child.

All poets: I hope you're familiar with Anderson's "Ballade of an Artificial Satellite"; it may look like 1950's optimism from our perspective, but he carried some sense of keeping a dream alive.

#313 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 08:58 PM:

abi @ 307: "* I am the Official Baker of Chocolate Cake in my family, which means if I want chocolate cake on my birthday, I either have to bake it myself** or store-buy."

Me too, actually.* I don't mind that much though, since I a) have a multitude of awesome chocolate dessert recipes and b) really like licking the bowl.

* I do recommend that you teach your kids how as soon as they can reach the mixer. Teaching me to make bread and cake was one of the cleverer things my parents ever did, regretted only, perhaps, when standing on the scale after one of my visits home.**
** I've yet to live anywhere for long enough to accumulate the necessary equipment, or to have a really nice kitchen, so every trip home descends inevitably into an orgy of baking.
§ I will use them with honor!

#314 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 09:56 PM:

Moving into my current flat gave me a working oven and griller for the first time in several years. There followed an 'orgy of baking' cakes, also cheese on toast, grilled (broiled?) chops, etc. Still haven't got up the courage for a roast dinner.

CHip (#312) Even if we recognise that becoming adult we 'put away childish things', and that is good; it doesn't mean we don't sometimes regret losing some parts of childhood. A lot of my childhood was difficult or painful, but I can remember certain sweet moments and hours. Both the bitter & sweet together made me what I am now — whether that's good or not.

Avram (#311) Looking at your list of words changing pronunciation with capitalization reminds me that 'herb' is one of those instances of two peoples divided by a common language. Is the dropped 'h' in the plant/cooking word something of long standing in American English, or only in the last couple of decades?

Bruce (#309) Thank you!

Lila (#271) [referring to PJ @ #263] I too love the phrase, and the concept, of "ground truth". I wonder if there's a job like PJ's around here? It sounds like something I could do if/when my current employers decide they could let me go.

#315 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 11:54 PM:

PNH #310: Which way did he pronounce it? Incredible.

Avram #311: I have been shamed.

#316 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:30 AM:

Actually, the Star Trek episode is "Who Mourns For Adonais?", not "Adonis". It's a quote from this poem by Shelley.

Bruce@309: It's actually not necessary to open TextEdit to get at that palette -- if you go to System Preferences | International | Input Menu, you can set it to be always there up in the top bar.

#317 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:21 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 316... I stand corrected. Shelley, eh? Well, the original Star Trek did have better titles than the series that came after it.

#318 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:32 AM:

CHip @ 312... Which part do you see as sad? That humans no longer need minor wonders because they make their own, or that a god (little more than an over-powered human, as the Greek gods generally were) is incapable of dealing with children that have grown up?

The second part, I'd say. Apollo was dangerous, and I can talk about sadness from the comfortable position of not having to deal with his kind's capricious nature. Still, it was sad, within the context of the story, that he could never change, like the other gods who needed us and who, without us, just faded away. I'm not sure I made myself clear. Anyway, if you look at some of my recent posts, I find plenty of magic and wonder in the world that we live in, and some of that magic and wonder is of our own making. (Well, not of my own making, mind you.)

#319 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:37 AM:

(cont'd from 318)

Also, the theme of yearning to return to Paradise often came up in Star Trek, but it showed itself to be undesirable because we have to grow or we die.

#320 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:28 AM:

Mez @ #314: the no-h "herb" is documentable at least as far back as the 1970s, when there was a Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo commercial featuring a couple arguing over how to pronounce "herbal" that ends with the wife saying, "Not 'herbal'--'erbal', 'Erb!" To which the husband replies, devastatingly, "Herb."

#321 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:45 AM:

Avram 311: August? Two different words, I agree (though obviously related), but I pronounce them identically.

Mez 314: At least my whole life.

#322 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:52 AM:

Xopher #321: Really? I pronounce the adjective 'august' with stress on the second syllable, while I pronounce the proper name of the best month of the year with stress on the first.

#323 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:20 AM:

I second that pronunciation.

#324 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:23 AM:

Fragano... The stress on this or that syllable is one thing I never could grasp, probably because there's no such thing in French. I don't know if that's because my native language took care of stress with the use of those funny little symbols on top of vowels. The result is that I sound like Christophe Lambert.

#325 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:26 AM:

You talk funny, Serge--where you from?

#326 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:26 AM:

abi #307, Heresiarch #313:

I baked my own birthday cake once. I was nine, and it was the first cake I ever baked; it was kind of like the present was the getting to bake, not the cake itself. From scratch, even, out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. We had a set of three cake pans of different sizes, so I used two of them and got something that looked remarkably like a flying saucer. Chocolate, with white fluffy icing.

I now realize, with decades and decades of hindsight, that I should have added some green frosting aliens.

After that one, I mostly did mixes. Can't think why.

#327 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:32 AM:

Carrie S @ 325... "All sorts of places."

#328 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:43 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 316

Thank you, that's a much easier way to get to the palette. The funny thing is that I discovered that about 2 or 3 years ago, and set the preference. I forgot completely about it along the way, but it got carried along across several OS revisions and from one computer to the next§, so when I went to set it just now, after reading your comment, there it was. *Ice cream cone to forehead*

§ I adore the installation option that copies all your preferences and personal files from an old computer to the new one.

#329 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:52 AM:

From the "Everybody and His AI is a Critic" Desk:

The top google ad on this page at the moment is for a site where you can watch plays being performed. The second play in the current list has a synopsis that begins:

god's own cartoon anvil

"There is no magic in this world"

#330 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:39 AM:

Mez @ 314

Try your friendly local utility companies. If they're any good at all, they'll have groups that map their stuff. Where the utility companies hide them in their organizations is another problem.

#331 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:53 AM:

Serge (#324): Since August in French has only one consonant -- unless its accent mark implies one -- that's kind of a different story. (So much of our vocabulary turns out to be slurred Latin....)

#332 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:59 AM:

Faren Miller @ 331... So much of our vocabulary turns out to be slurred Latin...

...and a lot of it from the plebe's Latin, if I'm not mistaken. Abi?

#333 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 12:29 PM:

Fragano 322: Really? I pronounce the adjective 'august' with stress on the second syllable, while I pronounce the proper name of the best month of the year with stress on the first.

I do just the opposite. I pronounce the adjective with the stress on the first syllable, and the proper name of the best month of the year with the stress on the second: ok-TOE-br.

Serge 324: Really? I didn't think the accent marks changed the stress so much as the actual quality of the vowel. Am I just wrong?

At any rate in the absense of accent marks French stress is predictable from the spelling of the word, and rather weak compared to English stress. And French is rhyme-rich compared to English. These facts led to one of the masterpieces of translation when Brian Hooker took Edmund Rostand's French masterpiece Cyrano de Bergerac (in rhyming syllabic - i.e. non-metric - verse) and translated it into English blank verse (metric and unrhymed).

I remember being overcome with admiration for this, even as a teenager.

#334 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 12:37 PM:

Xopher @ 333... You are right. Accents change the quality of the vowel, which is different from putting the emphasis on a syllable. I blame the lack of sleep and the lack of coffee - that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Seriously though, I can't for the life of me remember ever being taught to put the emphasis on one syllable over another, and I spent the first 30 years of my life in a francophone environment.

#335 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:13 PM:

That's because in French it's never distinctive - that is, it can never make the difference between one French word and another. Once you pick up the pattern for French stress, you do it right automatically, and there are no exceptions.

#336 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:25 PM:

I was taught that French has a very slight stress on the final syllable, but that it's not all that important.

This was presented as a contrast to Russian, where stress is about as difficult to predict as in English and, at times, phonemic. (The only Russian pun I know only works in writing, since it's based around changing the stress of the verb.)

#337 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Xopher @ 335... True. Meanwhile, when using the word 'peche', one has to be careful which accents one uses. Depending in those, it can mean 'peach', fishing' or 'sin'.

"Dear, I'm off for the weekend for some sinning."

#338 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:31 PM:

(Incidentally, I once toyed with learning Polish, and the most confusing part* for me, having studied Russian throughout college, was the fixed penultimate stress. It just felt wrong.)

* After the whole "there's a present tense of 'to be'" and "there's a verb for 'to have'" things, of course.

#339 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:37 PM:

I spent a few moments therapeutically banging my forehead against the textbook after the introductory class meeting of the French Phonetics course I took in college. "Waitasec... I've taken HOW MANY years of French to get to this point, and it's only NOW that a teacher tells me about the importance of 'syllabation ouverte' and that the stress almost always falls on the final syllable?" *thud*

#340 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:42 PM:

Serge @332
...and a lot of it from the plebe's Latin, if I'm not mistaken.

Kindasorta.

Latin evolved over time, as any language will. The literary world, though, did not follow the evolution of the spoken language. So a late Latin poet might extol the virtues of a felis*, but it was a cattus** that left dead mice in his atrium.

To the extent that writing, particularly poetry, was reserved to the aristocracy, you could call it aristocratic Latin. But even aristocrats stepped in caballus droppings†.

Think of poetic Latin like Psalm 23 in the King James Bible. Nice language, but you don't buy fish using it.
-----
* much as a Latin poet of any era would††
** whereas a Republican Roman would use the same term
† whereas an equus, being fine and noble and all that, probably didn't poo at all
†† If I wrote Latin poetry, I'd use felis too‡
‡ unless it didn't scan; then I'd cheat

#341 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:51 PM:

Abi @ 340...even aristocrats stepped in caballus droppings

"Horsepuckey!" Colonel Potter would say.

#342 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Xopher #335: The thing that annoys me most about the French language is all of those wasted letters; I think I'd be happier with it if it were all spelled phonetically (and not using that weird juːnifɔːm stuff, either). I suppose I'd rather that French words were spelled as if England had really conquered France in the Napoleonic wars instead of merely winning and letting them spell their words any way they wanted to. heh.

#343 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 02:04 PM:

Abi #340: I just wonder why the French and Italians drink Germanic bière and birra, while the Spanish and Portuguese drink very Latin cerveza and cerveja....

#344 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Earl... Those letters aren't wasted. They're... ah... being hoarded for rainy days. By the way, if Ian Holm shows up on your doorstep, don't be surprised.

#345 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Abi... Speaking of Latin, it's my understanding that Sergius was a saint. Probably was eaten by a lion. Or nibbled to death by a pit filled with little dogs.

#346 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:07 PM:

In current Latinate scientific binomial nomenclature <ahem> both your everyday moggy and your pampered pedigree Persian (or can you write persian§ for a cat?) are covered by Felis cattus. Not to be confused with, say, F. wiedii, the Margay. (For all y'all animal lovers, here's a quick Felidae overview, also see here, and a fancier one. There's even a www.felidae.org)

PJ, thanks for your advice re utilities. I shall keep it in mind.
Also thanks to the 'erbal advisers (<mouth buttermelt=no>does that mean Xopher is <30 years old?</mouth>)
I join the thanks to David Goldfarb (#316) for simplifying my Mac usage along with Bruce Cohen (StM).

§ pronounced the same (hee, hee)

#347 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Serge #344: If Ian Holm shows up on my doorstep, I'll suppose I'll have to prove to him that I'm not hiding Milla Jovovich in my fortress of empty pizza delivery boxes.

#348 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:01 PM:

mez #346:

Whatever happened to F. demesticus? Is he obsolete?

#349 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:02 PM:

Scuse me, I meant dOmesticus. Boy, do I want to get rid of these #$%^ glasses.

#350 ::: Odalchini ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:35 PM:

Serge #345, you can choose between several different St Sergiuses, according to the Patron Saints Index.

#351 ::: Odalchini ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Joann #348: F. demesticus probably became obsolete after drinking too much Greek wine...

#352 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:58 PM:

Earl @ 347... If Ian Holm shows up on my doorstep, I'll suppose I'll have to prove to him that I'm not hiding Milla Jovovich

I was thinking of the Corsican character he played in The Emperor's New Clothes and in Time Bandits, not the one in The Fifth Element, but... Are you hiding Jovovich in there?

#353 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:59 PM:

Odalchini @ 350... So many Serges. Hmm... Sounds like the War in Iraq.

#354 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:40 PM:

Serge, #305: From where I stand, Apollo's claim that he would cherish us "as a father loves his children" contains the implicit command that we remain children. This implication, not the actual words, is what Kirk responds to.

Much of hate-based Christianity seems to include the same command; God is the strict and to-be-feared Father, and we are no more than His disobedient children. It's less common, but not completely unknown, in love-based Christianity... and is one of the strongest reasons I walked away from that religion. Any deity that can't recognize me as a competent adult doesn't get my worship, TYVM.

#355 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:47 PM:

Hey, my boyfriend, who is annoyingly smart, points out that Degas is another one of those words...but if we start including prefixes the party never ends.

#356 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:36 PM:

joann @ 326: "I now realize, with decades and decades of hindsight, that I should have added some green frosting aliens."

Interestingly, poetry often works the very same way.

Xopher @ 333: "I do just the opposite. I pronounce the adjective with the stress on the first syllable, and the proper name of the best month of the year with the stress on the second: ok-TOE-br."

"Wow, Xopher, that black leather trenchcoat covered all over with occult symbols looks really OK-toe-br on you."

#357 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:41 PM:

Mez@314: No argument that some parts of childhood are regrettable losses (I've left parts of myself behind that I'd rather still have) or on being the sum of the parts we do and don't regret. But Apollo was specifically about maintaining a parent-child relationship, and one of the best parts of childhood is growing.

#358 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:00 PM:

Lee @ 354... That doesn't make the story any less sad, which, like I said before, is an easy approach when I don't have to put up with Apollo's capricious behavior. Besides, I did point that ST frequently had stories where the theme was that we have to grow. I don't think we're disagreeing.

#359 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Serge @ 344

Not hoarded ... they go to the lexical vaults of the Society for the International Balancing of Phonemes where they are sorted into separate bins for vowels and consonants (this is incidentally where the vowels Teresa confiscates go). As needed, shipments are sent to parts of the world where particular letters are in short supply, consonants to Hawaii and Samoa, vowels to the Balkans and the North Sea countries.

#360 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Bruce @ 359

I'd have thought there was a surplus of consonants in Hawai'i and a shortage in the Balkans. Possibly I'm missing something here (a few screws, perhaps?).

#361 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 10:44 PM:

Serge #352: Are you hiding Jovovich in there?

No, but just in case, at least I know what "ecto gammat" means....

#362 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 12:07 AM:

Heresiarch @ 356

I have a fondness for sonnets covered with green frosting aliens too.

#363 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 12:17 AM:

P J Evans @ 360

The ration of consonants to vowels is 2:4 in the word "Hawaii" and 3:1 in "Brno". Now where's the surplus, and where's the shortage?

#364 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 01:43 AM:

That's what I meant: lots of vowels being used in Hawai'i, so there's lots of consonants lying around to be collected and sent in for recycling elsewhere.

#365 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 03:02 AM:

No, the Polynesians have a cultural shortage of consonants, not an excess of unused ones. I mean, you've never heard of the Dole Consonant Company, now have you?

Though some would argue that the problem is not cultural, but genetic, we have a name for these people: we call them sonobiologists and we refuse to play bridge with them or marry their sisters or brothers. And we never read their research papers.

#366 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 03:06 AM:

In a daring return to the original topic of this thread, "the nap is not the tapestry."

#367 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 06:31 AM:

I wonder if Norwegian has extra consonnants in words like 'fjord' and 'Mjolnir' because Vikings pillaged some consonants from the French coastlines before they settled down in Normandy.

#368 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 07:07 AM:

Lee, #354: "From where I stand, Apollo's claim that he would cherish us "as a father loves his children" contains the implicit command that we remain children. This implication, not the actual words, is what Kirk responds to."

<snark>On the other hand, this is Kirk.</snark>

#369 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 07:37 AM:

Even at the time I thought that depiction of Apollo was insulting and belittling. And today I find the implication that the gods are so weak and pathetic even more annoying, not to mention the implication that they are dead.

Apollo is very much alive. Just so you know.

#370 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 08:13 AM:

I wonder if Norwegian has extra consonnants in words like 'fjord' and 'Mjolnir' because Vikings pillaged some consonants from the French coastlines before they settled down in Normandy.

It seems like they took a lot of their j's back to Scandanavia from England after Canute's* empire fell apart, which lead to Jorvik** becoming York, and the j in my name*** being replaced with an e.

* Although we got to keep his 'a' and 'e'
** Along with the v and i
*** In old Norse

#371 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 08:55 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 366... The tap is not the brewery.

#372 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:05 AM:

Regarding Apollo's wish that his children remain children... That got me thinking. (I heard that snicker.) Some once pointed out that one difference between Republicans and Democrats is over the concept of God as a Father. Religious fundamentalists see the Father as a figure of Authority, whose wishes and commands cannot be disobeyed. Meanwhile, our side, religious or not, tends to see the Father as a nurturing figure who provides you guidance but who ultimately lets you make your own decisions.

Hmm... Kind of like Jonathan Kent...

#373 ::: Odalchini ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:17 AM:

#367: is the j in fjord a vowel?

#374 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:37 AM:

"Hawaii"

The ratio of vowels to consonants in that word is in fact 1:1; there's a glottal stop between the two Is. Hawai'ian has a rule about alternating vowels and consonants. What makes it look vowel-heavy to us English speakers is that there aren't any consonant clusters, and most of us can't hear glottal stops as independent phonemes.

#375 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:41 AM:

Serge #372: I've seen this in Libertarian circles as

"The Republicans want to be your father. The Democrats want to be your mother. We just want to be your friend."


#376 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:53 AM:

#369 Xopher: What did you think of Gaiman's treatment of old gods in the _Sandman_ comics?

I loved the Dancing Woman's final scene. [Quoting, and it's a spoiler, so I've rot13'd the quotation.]

V xabj ubj tbqf ortva, Ebtre. Jr fgneg nf qernzf. Gura jr jnyx bhg bs gur qernzf vagb gur ynaq. Jr ner jbefuvcrq naq ybirq, naq gnxr cbjre gb bhefryirf. Naq gura bar qnl gurer'f ab bar yrsg gb jbefuvc hf.
Naq va gur raq, rnpu yvggyr tbq naq tbqqrff gnxrf vgf ynfg wbhearl onpx vagb qernzf...naq jung pbzrf nsgre, abg rira jr xabj. V'z tbvat gb qnapr abj, V'z nsenvq.

That was absolutely haunting, to me.

#377 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 10:01 AM:

albatross @ 375... I think I've come across that one. One problem I have with it is its implied assumption that, if you nurture, then you're not a real man, but a woman in drag. That kind of takes us back to that thread where gender definitions were discussed.

#379 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 10:12 AM:

Serge @ 332

To understand that episode, and several others like it on various Star Trek shows, you have to remember that Gene Rodenberry was a humanist, and therefore an atheist*. I think the Greek gods in that story stood in for the Old Man in the Bathrobe whom the studio and the advertisers would never let him depict, let alone denigrate.


* if he didn't practice it was probably because he had gotten it right.

#380 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 10:36 AM:

#380: It was left to director William Shatner, in Star Trek 5, to have Kirk and the Enterprise confront the Bathrobe Guy and give rise to more Shatner ego jokes.

#381 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 10:40 AM:

Jon Meltzer @ 380... Pleasepleaseplease, don't remind me of that awful movie.

#382 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 10:43 AM:

Speaking of Apollo in comics... Ten years ago, I came across an independent comic-book with a few short stories with each issue. One was about a woman who was Apollo's latest lover and she was complaining that, with a boyfriend like that, your body has no place where the sun don't shine.

#383 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 11:09 AM:

Serge #381: There's a lot of awful in that movie, it's true, but for me it's worth it to see Sulu and Uhura kick the kind of major ass I always knew they could.

#384 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 11:12 AM:

ethan @ 383... it's worth it to see Sulu and Uhura kick the kind of major ass I always knew they could.

Or, as Sulu told the big security guard in The Search for Spock after putting him out of action, "Don't call me tiny."

#385 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 11:15 AM:

I recall being annoyed that Uhura was such a slouch with Tlingon-hoL, but that's because I've been corrupted by Diane Duane's version of her, who undoubtedly speaks Klingon competently if not fluently.

Come to that, Duane's version of most Trek characters and tropes is preferable to the canon one. Especially the Rihannsu.

#386 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 11:25 AM:

Carrie S... I never could figure out why Uhura had to resort to a dictionary. Did her Universal Translator go on the blink because it hadn't gotten the latest Microsoft upgrade?

I remember the time when Aeryn asked Crichton how his task was going and he replied "Slick as snot." She gave him a strange look, and muttered that her translator must have gone on the blink.

#387 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 11:29 AM:

Wasn't Aeryn's translator that Babel-fish sort of thing? How would that go on the blink?

#388 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 12:24 PM:

albatross #375:

Then what does that make me? I don't need a father or mother figure in government, and I sure as hell don't need it to be a friend. I just want it to work.

#389 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Me @370 Oh, and I meant to say we had to swap the Norse Jarls for English Earls.

#390 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 01:50 PM:

joann @ 348, 349: I'd suspect that F. domesticus now sleeps with the fishes, eliminated, indeed denigrated (can one still use that word in the US?)‡, in one of those classificatory grudge matches. It looks like even F. catus is being subsumed as a variety – once sometimes called a race – under F. silvestris/Felix sylvestris, a critter that covers a lot of ground.

‡or should I try these, instead of nesting commas, parentheses, etc?

#391 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 01:50 PM:

joann @ 348, 349: I'd suspect that F. domesticus now sleeps with the fishes, eliminated, indeed denigrated (can one still use that word in the US?)‡, in one of those classificatory grudge matches. It looks like even F. catus is being subsumed as a variety – once sometimes called a race – under F. silvestris/Felix sylvestris, a critter that covers a lot of ground.

‡or should I try these, instead of nesting commas, parentheses, etc?

#392 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Epacris #390,#391:

Not to worry. I once actually passed a course involving Lisp.

So what have all the scientists got against the idea of a domesticated house cat?

#393 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 02:35 PM:

mayakda... I'm not sure that Aeryn actually said that her Babel-fish had gone on the blink. But she seriously doubted it proper function after it translated what Crichton had said.

#394 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 03:10 PM:

Serge @ 377

Apropos of gender roles and cultural biases, I'm in the middle of reading Julie Phillips' biography of Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr) and I"m fascinated by just how much she represented in microcosm the horrible debate over gender that erupted after the Second World War†. At one point Sheldon began, but never finished, an essay in which she tried to define five gender roles that should be assumable by a person of any sex: Man, Woman, Mother, Child, and Human. I think she saw Human as sexless, or mostly so, and the primary role for intellectual and artistic pursuits. But she was fighting her way towards understanding against her own upbringing as a young, very pretty, society girl of 1920s and 30s in Chicago, who was also an explorer, artist, and scientist.* Major cognitive dissonance.

† Primarily because male soldiers coming back from the war wanted their jobs and domestic indentured servants back.

* she had spent almost 2 years traveling in Africa** and Asia by the time she was 15

** much of it by foot through Central Africa before there were roads there.

#395 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 03:14 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 394... Sheldon didn't have a Father category? Interesting.

#396 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Delurk again, to point out wrt #363:
The ration of consonants to vowels is 2:4 in the word "Hawaii" and 3:1 in "Brno".

that in some languages (yes, including English on occasions) 'r' can be a vowel. 'Brno' is 2:2.

JHomes.

#397 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 05:20 PM:

joann, #392

One essay on cat species points out that DNA, and observed breeding, makes the domestic cat a part of the F. silvestris species.

But F. catus has the priority over F. silvestris, just as Apatosaurus has priority over Brontosaurus. Cats got an exception. Dinosaurs didn't.

Well, they would, wouldn't they.

#398 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 05:43 PM:

JHomes 396: Are you sure it's a vowel? Because not every language has one-vowel-per-syllable as English does; in Spanish, for example, there can be more than one, and there are languages where not every word has a vowel at all.

In Czech there are two continuant sounds /r/ and /r(hacek)/ (sorry, can't make the hacek come out). They are fluttered ballistically, the second one with a 'zh' superimposed (that's the r-hacek in the name Dvorak). Neither of those is remotely like a vowel, yet a syllable can have one of those and no vowels. There's a famous sentence of Czech that doesn't have ANY vowels.

#399 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Serge 393: She said "My translator microbes could not have [verb-past] that correctly." Rendered or parsed or something. I can find it if you want it.

But he immediately pointed out that Southerners use odd expressions. Of course she wouldn't have known what a Southerner was, or even what South was (born and raised in space, right?) but she wisely let it go.

#400 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 06:41 PM:

Dave B #397:

Fantastic. Thanks. I'd had no idea things had been that screwed up by the Victorians.

#401 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 07:27 PM:

Xopher #398.

Fairly sure, although I'll defer to any professionals around.

AIUI, it's the vowel from English 'bird', and you can regard 'bird' as having a silent 'i'. This fits with how my colleague at work Mr Grkow pronounces his name, so I'm inclined to accept it.

JHomes

#402 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:16 PM:

Xopher @ 399... she wisely let it go

A prudent approach, as far as that crazy Earthman is concerned.

#403 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:46 PM:

Serge @ 386

Did her Universal Translator go on the blink because it hadn't gotten the latest Microsoft upgrade?

No, because it had.

#404 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 09:51 PM:

Bruce Coehn... That would also explain NCC-1701D's buggy holodeck.

#405 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 12:46 AM:

Serge #404: I never could figure out why they kept using that damned thing.

#406 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 01:45 AM:

Serge #386: Did her Universal Translator go on the blink because it hadn't gotten the latest Microsoft upgrade?

I was at a convenience store recently and had just withdrawn some cash from an ATM machine and was waiting for the receipt when there was a brief building power outage, and the durned ATM started to reboot Windows. I knew that intellectually, but it was a gut punch to think how badly I might have been hosed had the power failed just a few seconds earlier.

#407 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 02:01 AM:

albatross, #375: That's the con-man's cliche approach for a reason. They'll be delighted to be your friend, right down to the moment when they've convinced you that you don't need any protection against them.

Serge, #384: Or Uhura backing "Mr. Adventure" into the storage closet.

Carrie, #385: Hear, hear!

JHomes, #401: I was always taught that the vowel in "bird" is schwa. But that was quite a while back; it's possible that there has been a linguistic upheaval (or several) since then.

ethan, #405: The problem got even worse on Voyager. But at least they had a plausible rationale -- it was a desperately-needed escape valve for the crew under those circumstances. Any attempt to shut it down would probably have resulted in mutiny.

#408 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 02:54 AM:

Lee #407: Voyager? Plausible? Rationale!?!?!

Yee-ikes.

I'm trying to remember if the reason I gave up on that show was that there were four or five episodes in a row where CRAZY NEBULAS nearby made the whole crew act CRAZY, or if I'm imagining it. Based on what you say, I bet there was at least one episode where the CRAZY NEBULA made the holodeck act CRAZY.

#409 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 06:12 AM:

CRAZY NEBULA? Is that anything like a Cosmic Cloud? One of those was what turned green Kryptonite into the red variety. (I think a different one created gold as well, but I'm less sure.)

#410 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 06:59 AM:

Isn't the Crazy Nebula something that the SFWA gives to some of its more deserving members? I don't think my wife was ever nominated and... BONK!!!... Ow. Those synonym books are hard. I should have known better than to ask her about that.

That being said, I'm one of those people who actually watched Voyager from beginning to end. No, not because of 7 of 39. Heck, even DS9 lost me for a time when they tried to make the Klingons the center characters and I came back when Garyk, simple tailor, was introduced. Back to Voyager... I stuck with it, for some reason, although I winced when they brought Barkley into the whole thing. By the way, I don't think that their holodeck went kaput that often. And it gave us Captain Proton. And the Doctor. No, not the TARDIS one.

#411 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:07 AM:

#397: >i>Cats got an exception. Dinosaurs didn't.

It's because of that reputation for sodomy dinosaurs have.

#412 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:33 AM:

Carrie S... I never could figure out why Uhura had to resort to a dictionary. Did her Universal Translator go on the blink because it hadn't gotten the latest Microsoft upgrade?

ISTR that they were on a Klingon ship at the time, and that there was some handwaving about the Klingons would have been able to tell if the audio they were receiving were coming through a UT. The whole scene was obviously in there for the comedy value (low) and it just ticked me off.

Not nearly as much as the Next Gen "Romulans" did, since I couldn't plausibly derive them from the Rihannsu. (And Duane's last book on the subject did nothing to change that, despite her claim that it was intended to.) But it did tick me off.

#413 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:39 AM:

Carrie S @ 412... The whole scene was obviously in there for the comedy value (low) and it just ticked me off.

The comedy value was indeed low. Very low. And it annoys me too when the established Reality of a story gets thrown out the window for the sake of a cheap laugh.

#414 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 03:48 PM:

Vowels: Back in the Middle Ages of the 'net, there was a quote about UNIX that Amqueue(*) used to stick in her mail headers: "I donated my vowels to Yugoslavia, and all I got was this lousy operating system".

(*) who cannot be summarized, but if you hung in certain circles, she was very visible. ;-)

Gods @ #376 albatross: It's interesting how he considered the old pantheons almost as an endangered species, but one aware of their fading state. While the Endless were more like primal forces incidentally burdened with self-awareness.... But of course, they could all still meet in Dreamland!

Gaiman is a true mythmaker, with a talent for creating images and conversations that just settle into your mind than take up residence. (Me, I'm still wondering about those inchoate machine-dreams....)

Another favorite exchange of mine from that volume was: "... I got fifteen thousand years. That's pretty good, isn't it?..." "You lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."

And from another volume, the conversation ending in: "Look at it this way, do you want to be a ghost in an attic all your life?"

OK, I'd better stop now, Gaiman's just too quotable....

#415 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 04:17 PM:

re #354: The major insight/dubious premise of Judaeo-Christian religion is that we aren't competent adults. As far as I am concerned, it puts me in a choice between believing that people are always adolescents who have some hope of growing up under the direction of the Divine Parent, or are always adolescents who have no hope of ever fully growing up. As someone who is father to an actual adolescent, I can only say that I'm often--- too often-- impressed by the amount of disobedience which seems to be arise out of sheer rebellion.

#416 ::: Tom Whitmore suspects spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2014, 12:42 AM:

Strong suspicion....

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