Open Thread 97.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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668 Responses to Open Thread 97.25

    • aNeopuritan says:


      1) They talk about the (pre-Arya) Indus Valley Civilization, but it’s also thought that some of the ancient Arya states on the Ganges Basin were democratic or had elected monarchy (see: janapada) – some say Siddharta was the son an elected king. [yes, Buddha was Arya]


    • Chlopodo says:

      I don’t know much about Mexico, but I’ve been reading Matthew Restall’s new book When Montezuma Met Cortes lately, and according to him the whole “Tlaxcala was a republic” thing is overblown and mostly the result of Spanish propaganda:

      Part of the mythistory of Tlaxcallan as the city of “good Indians,” the antidote to the Aztec “bad Indians,” was the supposed difference in their governmental system– a virtual republic run by senators. In fact, Tlaxcallan was organized socially and politically just like any Nahua altepetl (town or city-state), with local variations similar to those of the Aztecs. Tlaxcallan itself was a complex altepetl, made up of four constituent altepeme (plural of altepetl), each with its own tlahtoani (one of whom, Xicotencatl, was most senior); Tenochtitlan was also a complex altepetl, comprising Tenochtitlan itself (with its own four subordinate neighborhoods) and the sibling altepetl of Tlatelolco at the north end of the island (whose tlahtoani had been demoted to the level of a governor by the huey tlahtoani of Tenochtitlan).
      p. 209

      • aNeopuritan says:

        1) the architectural argument does sound persuasive to me – though yes, even they admit they might still be missing counterproving stuff.

        2) not saying it’s impossible, but why would *Spanish* propaganda of all things use republicanism as sympathetic?

        3) [reminder to readers that the “Aztec Empire” itself had actually had a degree of pluralism in having three co-capitals each with their vassal cities; though arguably it’d finished evolving towards a true Mexica Empire with a single all-powerful city right before the Castillians came]

  1. zaphod says:

    Do any codexers know of good youtube series for learning some form of yoga, tai chi or other martial art that involves ritual forms? Basically, I want a set of workout routines that can be performed anywhere, without any equipment, and that involve the same sort of concentration as an etude for violin. I’m not terribly interested in learning how to fight; I’m more interested in training my body. Also, if this search is futile and really I should just find a decent dojo or yoga place or something, I would like to hear that instead of going on a pointless internet chase.

    • johan_larson says:

      Look up something called the Sun Salutation, a traditional yoga kata of beginner-level moves.

      • JonathanD says:

        Buy this book:

        It presents the Ashtanga yoga sequence, which is a very long set of poses, one flowing into another. It also has short forms estimated to run 15, 30, and 45 minutes.

        It’s spiral bound, so you can flip it open to the page you want and have it stay there, and it has several variation for each pose so you can find the level that’s appropriate for where your body is.

        I recommend starting with the 15 minute routine, doing that until you find you can do it in something close to 15 minutes, then moving up to the 30 and then the 45. After that you can jump off into the full sequence, if you have the time.

    • Nornagest says:

      Martial arts kata aren’t that great as exercise routines. Yoga’s good for what it is, but it won’t get you strong on its own; I’d recommend finding a good book on bodyweight fitness and doing what it says.

  2. I rarely see people interested in poetry nowadays.

    I am interested in poetry, not so much in prosody. We’ve had a long discussion of favorite fantasy novels, let’s try favorite poems. Not limited to the past ten years.

    My first set of candidates:
    “The Mary Gloster.”
    “They flee from me that sometime did me seek.”
    “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

    • Doctor Mist says:

      “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

      I love the villanelle form, though you don’t see it much. In some ways it’s more constrained than even the sonnet, which imposes enough constraints that when well done it’s grand. Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art is another nice example, the a little more relaxed version of the form than Thomas’s.

      I’ve always been partial to Robert Graves (author of I, Claudius). “A Time of Waiting” has always spoken to me. (The writer at this link seems to think it’s a poem about writing, which I didn’t get; I just took it literally.) And “The Leap”, a real gem which I have not found on-line:

      Forget the rest: my heart is true
      And in its waking thought of you
      Gives the same wild and sudden leap
      That jerks it from the brink of sleep.

      • I like the Petrarchan sonnet better than the Shakespearian. It’s harder to do, but feels better when done successfully. My favorite sonnet writer is probably Millay, who did a lot of them.

        If you get the first verse of a villanelle right you are almost home free. Satisfying to write as well as to read.

        Bishop’s poem has only one refrain, and even that she varies at the end. Where the other refrain is supposed to be she has only a consistent end word, so not a villanelle so much as a poem inspired by the form of the villanelle.

        But her one refrain is a good one.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “slaughter-painted poop.”

      • Part of a line from one of my favorites, but not a poem itself.

        For anyone curious about context:

        Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
        Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
        Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
        Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
        Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
        White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

        • aNeopuritan says:

          T. E. Lawrence’s dedication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom is good – at least until you learn the context.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Aubade, by Larkin (and really all of Larkin’s work)
      Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 (Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame)
      The Kiss, by Sassoon
      McGonagall’s Tay Bridge trilogy

      • powerfuller says:

        Larkin’s Faith Healing is one of my favorites.

        Do you like McGonagall ironically, sincerely, or ironically-at-first-but-went-on-so-long-it-became-sincerely?

        • Tarpitz says:

          Like ironically, love sincerely, perhaps?

          I’m certainly not under the impression that they’re good, if that’s what you’re getting at. But they have given me a great deal of joy.

      • Nornagest says:

        The Kiss, by Sassoon

        Huh, I really thought I’d be the only one with that pick. Great poem, though. Small and hard-edged and violent, like a blood diamond.

    • keranih says:

      Hart Crane’s Repose of Rivers

      A E Houseman’s The Oracles

      Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Windhoverdapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

      Edna St Vincet Milay Intention to Escape from Him

      Kipling’s The Gods of the Copybook Headings – but I almost put that one in with nonfiction, as that is where it resides with me – I like it for the meaning/lesson, not the images or the sound.

      (In the same way, Repose of Rivers is almost natural history…I’d be interested in other suggestions of poetry that is science-like.)

      • I knew the final verse of “The Oracles,” didn’t realize it was part of a larger poem. It’s good, but mostly the same message as a lot of other Houseman poems. My favorite is probably “Terrence, This is Stupid Stuff.” But “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is also very good, and different.

        Windhover is great.

        I hadn’t read that Millay poem, which is odd—I thought I had read them all. But there are still lots I like better. “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.”
        I’m also fond of a pair of sonnets with opposite claims: “Oh think not I am faithful to a vow” and “Love is not blind. I see with single eye”. And “We talk of taxes and I call you friend,” with the reverse from a modern and realistic view of an affair to a romantic, mythic view at the end. Millay Sonnets.

        Millay and Kipling are among the few poets for whom I find a large fraction of their work good, but Kipling has a wider range. “Hymn to breaking strain” is another favorite.

        • keranih says:

          Millay is…she’s a favorite, but not all of her stuff is accessible to me.

          Anna Akhmatova’s You thought I was that type is another with the same theme as that Millay poem. I do like the single eye sonnet.

          For me, Housman’s Epitaph is never complete if unaccompanied by Hugh McDiarmid’s Another epitaph – look, I like Housman’s pov better, I think it is more true and it resonates with me, but to me, a world without this sort of call-and-response, without this reflection, this pushing back – that’s a thinner, lesser, poorer world.

          I get that if different sorts of people are making poetry back at each other, that there may well be different resources and dialects and some of the responses will never measure up. But I do love it when poets (people) can talk back to each other over years or decades or centuries.

          Kipling is rarely unappreciated. Another I like is Ford o Kabul River.

        • Nornagest says:

          “Hymn to Breaking Strain” is probably my favorite Kipling right now, but I’ll always have a soft spot for “In the Neolithic Age”.

    • Deiseach says:

      Swinburne is good too, but as somebody (perhaps Chesterton?) said, he has almost too much facility in verse-making and can churn out yards of poetry that eventually becomes just musical noise and no meaning – the music is marvellous, though:

      From A Ballad of Death:

      By night there stood over against my bed
      Queen Venus with a hood striped gold and black,
      Both sides drawn fully back
      From brows wherein the sad blood failed of red,
      And temples drained of purple and full of death.
      Her curled hair had the wave of sea-water
      And the sea’s gold in it.
      Her eyes were as a dove’s that sickeneth.
      Strewn dust of gold she had shed over her,
      And pearl and purple and amber on her feet.

    • Telminha says:

      These are my favorites, including prose poetry. My impression is that the first four are liked even by those who are not fond of poetry. I had some of them framed to decorate the walls:

      If by Rudyard Kipling.

      Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.

      Invictus By William Ernest Henley.

      The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

      The Ladder of St. Augustine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (What an interesting name he had!)

      I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.

      Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

      On Children and On Marriage by Kahlil Gibran. I think that the first would be a good gift for new parents.

      “Song of Myself,” section 48, and “O Me! O Life!,” both by Walt Whitman.

      Alone by Edgar Allan Poe. Over a century later an (internet?) poet called Michael Anderson wrote an answer to Poe’s poem. He finishes with:

      “Singing the same song at a different tone,
      In thoughts, destined to die, unknown.
      Born unto a world not of our own,
      We walked together, walking alone.”

      This last gives me a felling of sadness. I think of all the lovely people (that were born somehow “disconnected” from this world) that I will never meet because they were from a different era, or because of language/economic barriers. But we still walk together, walking alone, right?

      Be drunk by Charles Baudelaire. (I would skip the wine.)

      The Old Stoic by Emily Brontë.

      To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick — as a reminder to seize the day.

      De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of things) by Lucretius.

      Love is a fire that burns unseen by Portuguese poet Luís de Camões.

      “Hope” is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson; but because Nietzsche says that “hope, in reality, is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man,” I have to juxtapose it with A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad.

      By the way, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is also one of my favorites. Thank you for posting this; I’ll add all the other poems shared here to my reading list.

      “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.”

      — Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not sure if it’s a favorite as such, but I’ll throw my hat in for “An Arundel Tomb”.

  3. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Random superhero thought.
    Marvel’s Wolverine is an action figure: the original, doll-for-boys kind. Dress him up as a cowboy, a WW2 soldier, a samurai, or in superhero spandex!

  4. Deiseach says:

    Happy Feast Day of our National Patron to everyone!

    I wish to point out that the Irish are not responsible for green beer, green-dyed rivers, or “Kiss Me I’m Irish” hats. That’s all on you Americans. On the other hand, we do send our politicians over to annoy your politicians (and politicians worldwide in every nation that will let our shower in) for a week around this time, so we’re even 🙂

    Hey, we have to put up with them for fifty-one weeks of the year, this is a chance for the country to get them out without resorting to violent revolution. Between Cheltenham and St Patrick’s Day – now week – we get a lot of them from local to national level descending on other countries and leaving the rest of us alone. I would really recommend that the US try something equivalent for the Fourth of July – have American politicians do global touring to celebrate the gifts of freedom and democracy that the US has bestowed to the world. Your people would be very happy and it’s bipartisan, so annoying yappers from both parties could be shunted off on others to put them up!

    • cassander says:

      this is not a very convincing piece. On point one, all the examples he lists as support for free speech are blue tribe shibboleths. I’d be much more interested in seeing their answers to “Should an anti-muslim priest be permitted to teach in a public school?” or “Consider the question of whether someone who is anti-gay marriage be allowed to make a speech in your community?” a point the author acknowledges, but doesn’t directly address.

      point two seems too unspecific to be meaningful.

      point three the author admits isn’t actually a myth, and jumps to some more left wing shibboleths.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        On point one he gives two graphs, one from the left, one from the right.

        • cassander says:

          I think that example is very weak. A coup is so unlikely a prospect that it can be treated more dispationately than something more politically salient.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe, but that’s far from a blue-tribe shiboleth.

            Here are all 5 questions. Everyone is tolerated more, except racists, but even they are holding steady. (This doesn’t break it down by age.)

          • keranih says:

            Define “racist”.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Douglas, that blog really proves the point better than anything. I didn’t even know what a “militarist” was, and more to the point military takeover of the government doesn’t necessarily endanger identity politics (!!!). That’s the kind of thing that users like dndnrsn would use to attack moderate and slightly liberal people, but the thing is, as the guy says:

            In other words, it’s likely not Liberalism itself doing the work here

            Nah, it’s progressivism. I don’t know if extreme liberals are also a progressive group – they might be – but it’s entirely possible that extreme liberals are the old-school types, in which case my biases are confirmed. And that’s what I came here for, really!

            …but also, it proves the point that there is a campus left wing issue, it’s just a campus progressive issue specifically

          • Chalid says:

            Define “racist”.

            if you click through to the survey, it says:

            “Consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior…”

            followed by questions about whether such a person should be allowed to give a speech, whether their books should be removed from the library, and whether they should be allowed to teach.

            Support in all cases is pretty steady since 1975 among all political groups.

          • Deiseach says:

            Define “racist”.

            if you click through to the survey, it says:

            “Consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior…”

            Hang on, I thought the new agreed definition of racism and racist was “person who benefits either personally or as part of a dominant group from structural racism because their ethnic group are the ones wielding power in the society” and that it had nothing to do with thinking non-white people are inferior?

            So the next time someone is delivering a finger-wagging lecture about “no, stupid, we’re not saying you being racist means you’re in the KKK, it means you benefit from structural racism in society and have absorbed those embedded attitudes which means you need to consciously work to remove them”, yes it does mean that “you’re in the KKK”?

            For anyone who is wondering “What point are you trying to make or are you just being offensive?”, it’ this: there seems to be a push to present “when we talk about racism we mean structural racism and power plus opportunity, not personal attitudes someone has” as the working definition when “racism, racist” is used in discourse, argument, and media pieces. But I don’t believe that, I think “racism and racist” are still being used in the old context of “thinks non-white people are inferior” and that even if the “structural racism” theorists genuinely use this term as-is, they have equally imbibed unconscious attitudes embedded within their understanding so they do flip to “you personally think non-white people are genetically inferior” when in the heat of argument.

          • beleester says:

            @Deiseach: Using the stricter definition of “racist” in this case actually makes their case stronger – if bog-standard “blacks are genetically inferior” racists are still tolerated, how much more so are the people who are only racist in the more extended sense of the term!

            …Sorry, were you actually arguing against the study’s conclusions, or did you just want to make sweeping generalizations about how everyone on the left is wrong?

            EDIT: Okay, that was unnecessarily mean, but seriously: The entire point of this article is that the sort of leftist you’re railing against isn’t actually very common, so I am a bit upset that you chose here of all places to deliver a broadside against my half of the aisle.

            To respond to your actual point, I agree that it’s bad to conflate those two kinds of racism, but I also think that “institutional racism” does describe something noticeably different from the standard variety, so there should be a word for it. If you can think of a catchy term for it that can’t be easily conflated, I’m all ears.

          • Deiseach says:

            beleester, I think right now we’re in a transitional space where terms like “racist” and “fascist” are being flung about with no real tangible definition; we’re stuck between the old “fascist as in Hitler and Mussolini” and “fascist as in your opinions are the opposite of mine” and the “KKK member” versus “systemic” versions of racism.

            So the older, simple meanings which a great many people would have been familiar with and used are no longer sufficient, and the new ones are so embedded in certain places and strongly associated with the theoretical – as you say, “the sort of leftist …isn’t actually very common” that they are as yet confined to only a section of people who understand (or not!) their proper usage, but we’re constantly seeing these terms being used and not at all sure which definition is intended.

            And this muddled usage is powerful. People can and do whip up internet frenzies over “X is a racist!” or otherwise guilty of “problematic” thought or speech – see the hiring/firing story here – and yet it’s more opaque than ever exactly why any one person is being condemned.

            So yes, perhaps only a very few are using such terminology, but it is seeping out into wider use, and the people acting on such labels have less knowledge of what is meant – they are reacting on the gut level to the older meaning that has the emotional punch of “lynching and burning” meaning of “racist”, while using the new theoretical model of “everyone is a racist because society is racist because systemic racism” and until we get an agreed-upon definition that is universally understood when it is said “Y is a fascist” do we mean “actual Nazi as in National Socialism” or “Nazi as in ‘punch a Nazi’ which in effect means anyone to our right” there is only going to be continuing muddle, to the point where flinging around “you’re a racist” is now meaningless.

            I’m a racist/fascist/homophobe/whatever? Instead of being ashamed and wanting to change my bad ways, I’ll now accept that label because hey, why not, if I’m a deplorable I will never be acceptable to you until I become your carbon-copy so I’ll accept those labels since they don’t mean anything more than “boo, bad guy!”

          • and the “KKK member” versus “systemic” versions of racism.

            Except that the non-systemic version in common use is a lot weaker than “KKK member.” Someone quoted the definition used in a poll, which was someone who believes that some races are intellectually inferior to others. Taking that as a statement about the average, not a claim that all members of one race are intellectually inferior to all members of another, which I think hardly anyone, including KKK members, believes, it’s a factual claim that may well be true.

            But publicly expressing it may well get you labelled “racist” by people who have never heard of the systemic definition. Indeed, Brad has come pretty close to claiming that publicly expressing it, at least if done at all often, means you are someone not worth talking with.

    • The Nybbler says:

      On the first point, on the one hand you have a survey. On the other, you have events being actually cancelled and disrupted (see FIRE disinvitation database). The lack of visibility of an effect on the indirect measure doesn’t cast significant doubt on the direct one.

      On the second point, this time there’s a survey I can’t get to. The title, however, is “Navigating Pluralism: How Students Approach Religious Difference and Interfaith Engagement in Their First Year of College”, so I’m rather suspicious of it’s actual relevance.

      The third point is just an attempt to wave away the problem.

      • Chalid says:

        There’s nothing incompatible about increasing disinvitations and the survey; disinvitations are due to small subsets of the population which will not swing population-wide survey numbers.

        What the survey *does* do is challenge some of the more sweeping conclusions about millennials/leftists/college students/whatever as a whole that people sometimes draw after seeing disinvitations.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        I’m pretty confident that if one or two public universities in Texas or Oklahoma dismissed a couple professors who advocated for gay marriage, the author of this piece would freak out.

        All this talk about “rare incidents” would go right out the window.

        Anyway, I graduated college many years ago, but even then you had to be pretty careful not to publicly express views or tell jokes which were un-PC. You did so among people you trusted and you didn’t put it in writing. I imagine things are worse now.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      The most worrying tidbit I learned looking through this is on something they cited but did not actually discuss.

      See this.

      On page 10 there is a chart indicating that just over 1/3 of students think hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment. Since hate speech is often defined as anything that doesn’t agree with the leftist mythology, we have lots of people saying that Republican speech should be outlawed. Yes I am exaggerating a bunch here. But it is troublesome that students don’t have a lot of faith in free speech.

      • Montfort says:

        Yes I am exaggerating a bunch here

        I appreciate that you freely admit it, but I think a better choice would be not to conflate the no doubt wide array of different ideas the respondents have about what, exactly, “hate speech” means with the single most worrisome idea of what “hate speech” might mean. I think this ambiguity in definition would be worthy of much concern if people were voting on a law or constitutional amendment (because then the vagueness can be later reinterpreted with legal consequences), but as a survey question it’s just a way to inflate the numbers. It’s pretty much asking “do you think the first amendment should protect speech you find to be worthless and mean?” – which is probably not going to be a big winner except among political nerds and people who’ve recently had their ideas called worthless and mean a lot (and here, before making the obvious rejoinder, note that >50% of republican students thought hate speech shouldn’t be protected).

        A better basis for your worry would be the 30% of students who support their school being able to restrict political opinions “offensive to certain groups” – though again, it’s not clear how many of them would restrict what kind of speech. “Offensive to certain groups” covers everything from “end affirmative action” to “religion is dumb” to actual genocide advocacy.

      • Brad says:

        72% of Republicans think flag burning ought to be illegal. There are far more Republicans than college students. Are you worried about that?

        • Which would you regard as a greater violation of free speech:

          A law against flag burning.

          A law against public speeches expressing some set of ideas–say public discussions of evidence that average IQ differs by race.

          • Brad says:

            The first is viewpoint based discrimination while the latter, at least the way you wrote it, sounds like content based discrimination. So the former.

            Turn that around: do you think laws against flag burning are merely de minimis violations of free speech?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Brad, a ban on flag burning is a ban on one particular symbolic way of communicating some ideas. That’s bad.

            A ban on public presentations of Muggle Realism is a ban on just about every way of communicating some ideas. That’s worse.

          • Evan gave the same answer I would. “De minimis” may be an overstatement, but forbidding one symbolic act to express a view is a much less serious infringement than forbidding all acts that express that view.

          • Brad says:

            Frankly I’m quite disappointed in tepid at best defenses of an important First Amendment victory which is still very much a live issue and the subject of a somewhat seriously mooted constitutional amendment because it distracts from talking about an largely hypothetical threat.

            The President of the United States and more than half of Republicans think that people that burn the flag should be stripped of their citizenship and a forum allegedly with a plurality of libertarians shrugs its shoulders? And I’m supposed to believe that it doesn’t make any sense to situate self declared libertarians as part of the right wing in the US?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Brad, if I thought the ban had any real chance of becoming law, I’d be protesting a lot more. It’s got numbers behind it, and one very unpopular President – but just about no one in the Establishment, no judges voicing even vague sympathies, and AFAIK hardly any other politicians.

            What makes you say the flag burning amendment’s being “somewhat seriously mooted”? I haven’t heard anything about it in years.

          • Brad says:

            If I recall correctly it was in the R platform several times and was actually introduced in Congress more than once. That’s a heck of a lot more serious attention then a hate speech amendment has ever gotten.

            There seems to be a real double standard in play.

          • Brad says:

            It’s at a tangent, but it is probably worth pointing out that the Fighting words doctrine is largely considered a dead letter at this point. While it has never been overruled since Chaplinsky in 1942 the Supreme Court has never again ruled for the government on a fighting words argument. I’m not aware of any cases in the lower courts either, but I’m not nearly as sure of that.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think keranih is implying it should be okay to punch people who burn flags. Just that he pretty much wants to, and won’t shed a tear if a flag burner gets punched.

            I think it should be legal to stand in the middle of Harlem with an “I hate n*****s” sign like Bruce Willis in Die Hard 3. And anybody who punches him (or worse) for doing so should go to jail. But I’m also not going to be surprised when he gets punched (or worse) and nor will tears be shed. Same thing with flag burning.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Conrad Honcho, Huh. I have a black friend who told me of an experience she had in a chat room, where somebody messaged her to say he liked her handle (which was based on a band she liked). That other person’s handle was “Ihaten*****s”, without the stars, so the conversation was short and awkward, but she’s an amazingly nice and forgiving person, so she told me that she figured he probably didn’t really hate black people but was just being an edgelord. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might also have been a Bruce Willis fan (though still an edgelord, clearly).

          • Doctor Mist says:


            The President of the United States and more than half of Republicans think that people that burn the flag should be stripped of their citizenship

            Citation needed? The wikipedia article keranih pointed us to make no mention of such an extreme remedy.

            Like most of the others in this thread, I might be worried about it becoming illegal if it did not seem so very unlikely. I would be even more worried about the scenario you pose, but it goes beyond merely unlikely to completely preposterous. I can imagine someone saying it as rhetoric, but would bet large sums at enormous odds against it happening — unlike prior restraint on expression of certain right-wing viewpoints.

          • Brad says:


            A new poll from the Cato Institute throws some discouraging light on the overall state of public opinion regarding the First Amendment.

            According to the topline poll results (to which I received advance access), 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal for an American to burn or desecrate the flag. A little more than half of Republicans would punish the desecrators by stripping them of their U.S. citizenship, something Donald Trump suggested (to great and deserved indignation) a few weeks after he won the election last November.

            Despite constant declamations from the right on the importance of religious freedom, 67 percent of Republicans favor a law to “prohibit face coverings in public spaces.” Nearly half would ban the construction of mosques in their community. That is much higher than among all Americans (28 percent) and among Democrats only (14 percent).

            Yet the departures on the right may be even more noteworthy, particularly given how much pleasure conservatives take in decrying the behavior of their political adversaries. In fact, 72 percent of Republicans in the poll said that colleges and universities are not doing enough “to teach young Americans about the value of free speech,” and 90 percent think political correctness is “a big problem this country has.”

            But it’s hard to claim a position of moral authority on the First Amendment when, at the same time, you approve of government force to punish those who speak, dress, protest, or worship in a manner you don’t like.

            @Doctor Mist

            Like most of the others in this thread, I might be worried about it becoming illegal if it did not seem so very unlikely. I would be even more worried about the scenario you pose, but it goes beyond merely unlikely to completely preposterous. I can imagine someone saying it as rhetoric, but would bet large sums at enormous odds against it happening — unlike prior restraint on expression of certain right-wing viewpoints.

            With all due respect I see no evidence at all for your or others’ claims that a hate speech exception to the first amendment is more likely than a patriotic exception to the first amendment. I believe loathing is shading into paranoia and destroying calibration. And on the flip side rose collared glasses are blinding some to what’s really going on inside that big right wing tent.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            According to the topline poll results (to which I received advance access), 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal for an American to burn or desecrate the flag. A little more than half of Republicans would punish the desecrators by stripping them of their U.S. citizenship, something Donald Trump suggested (to great and deserved indignation) a few weeks after he won the election last November.

            now that all the other right-wing posters have valiantly tried to downplay this to avoid looking hypocritical, it’s on me to…downplay this, to avoid looking hypocritical

            luckily it’s not that hard to do: wanting to punish flag-burners is super annoying and a disquieting trend which definitely tarnishes the shine of the right-wings’ otherwise solid position on free speech in Current Year. That said, the act in and of itself isn’t necessary to convey a message and it’s not something you can do without realising, so the real threat is the sort of definition creep you see with hate speech currently; if “anti-patriotic” speech is suppressed, then that’s a big deal. However at present this doesn’t seem likely to occur, and basically only the worst anti-patriotic act is being targeted; it does expose that, essentially, most people are hypocrites, but only at the edge in this case.

          • Brad says:

            I think doubling down on a flag burning exception to the First Amendment is not big deal makes the situation far worse, not better.

            Like the ACLU people that go around calling themselves libertarians and/or spend a huge amount of time attacking others for being insufficiently pro-free-speech are rightly held to a higher standard.

            When a group of people like that give their ideological allies a pass, my first thought isn’t “wow, they must be really well calibrated and have a good sense of priorities”.

            I mean you seem more annoyed that the survey is making your team look bad than that more half of Republicans and the President of the United States wants to strip citizenship (!) from people because that have expressed themselves in ways they don’t care for.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I mean you seem more annoyed that the survey is making your team look bad than that more half of Republicans and the President of the United States wants to strip citizenship (!) from people because that have expressed themselves in ways they don’t care for.

            I think it’s more like a bravery debate issue. “Americans have become too unpatriotic! We’ve got pinkos and traitors running wild! We don’t just need more patriotism, we need to jail flag burners and strip of them of their citizenship!

            Do I believe Republicans will say those things to pollsters*, and Donald Trump will say them to anyone? Yes. Perhaps I’m simply in denial as to just how hypocritical my side is, but I think if you actually put Republicans in voting booths and said “pull this lever and the law of the land will be that flag burners are imprisoned and striped of their citizenship” I do not believe anywhere near 50%-72% of them would pull the lever.

            I also don’t think the majority of people who chant “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” would actually execute police officers. I don’t like what they say and I find it threatening, but I perhaps naively believe them to be slightly less bloodthirsty than a plain reading of their words might lead one to believe.

            * Republicans/right-wingers are also particularly contemptuous of pollsters. I propose a corollary to the Lizard Man Theory that when Republicans are polled, the Lizard Man Constant is doubled.

          • Matt M says:

            * Republicans/right-wingers are also particularly contemptuous of pollsters. I propose a corollary to the Lizard Man Theory that when Republicans are polled, the Lizard Man Constant is doubled.

            Wholly agree, and offer up myself as an example. Whenever I’m given any sort of poll, I almost always pick the most extreme right-wing option, even when it does not match my true beliefs.

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            That’s a fair enough position to take. But what about pink haired college students? Do you think that they not only *really* believe everything they say, but also are going to hold onto those beliefs for the next 20-30 years?

            I know we are on the same side of the culture war is overblown question, so here’s your opportunity to apply that.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            When a group of people like that give their ideological allies a pass, my first thought isn’t “wow, they must be really well calibrated and have a good sense of priorities”.

            So now that I’ve explained it to you, let it be your second thought. I don’t perceive a hatred of flag-burning to be anything but a general case of “hypocrisy at the margins”, and until it seems that this hypocrisy will escape the margin and move to more general cases, I don’t care. Nor would I care especially much if pink-haired college students wanted to ban only the worst of the worst; I wouldn’t like it, but I wouldn’t waste much time thinking about it either. But they also want to ban people who aren’t that bad, and especially they want to ban them to prevent their arguments from becoming known.

            I mean you seem more annoyed that the survey is making your team look bad than that more half of Republicans and the President of the United States wants to strip citizenship (!) from people because that have expressed themselves in ways they don’t care for.

            Again, it’s one very specific way (!) which is well-delineated and can be avoided if necessary with ease. In all honesty, it comes off as more like right-wing virtue signalling than anything truly serious. When it becomes more serious, I’ll be more worried.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But what about pink haired college students? Do you think that they not only *really* believe everything they say, but also are going to hold onto those beliefs for the next 20-30 years?

            I think they engage in hyperbole they may “believe” but do not alieve, and they will eventually mellow out. In this same thread I also talked about how every group of 20-year-olds throughout history has said their ideas will rule the world when all the old people die out…and then they just become the old people.

            Now, I also believe they will hold on to the less extreme versions of their ideology, and so if there are enough of these people or they gain enough power (perhaps spread out through HR departments across the land) the result will be a cultural shift in their direction. But Cthulu swims left. He doesn’t sprint.

          • Aapje says:

            In this same thread I also talked about how every group of 20-year-olds throughout history has said their ideas will rule the world when all the old people die out…and then they just become the old people.

            And you get new kids with a new counterculture and then the old people freak out.

          • rlms says:

            How concerning would a law against Koran burning be?

          • Both Koran burning and flag burning raise an interesting issue in intellectual property. Existing copyright law gives me no control over my book once it has been sold. On the other hand, “moral rights” rules in Europe give an artist some control over his work even after sale.

            I know one unpublished writer who doesn’t want to be published, in part because if she were someone else could write a story using her characters in ways she doesn’t want them used. I have at least some sympathy for the attitude.

            One could imagine a version of IP law in which the rights transferred to the buyer were limited in various ways, rather like the ways in which property rights in land are limited by easements and licenses–in this case held by the original creator of the work. That might include a restriction on the reuse of characters or setting, even in ways that don’t violate copyright law at present. It might include restrictions on symbolic actions that make use of the property–such as burning a Koran or a flag if we imagine somebody started out with ownership of the associated IP.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Yes. I argue against it whenever the topic comes up. Semi-regularly when I was in the Army (where I was sometimes though not always in the minority), much less often since then due to my social circles. I only have one friend who’s notably right of center and not distinctly libertarian, and we’ve argued about it once or twice.

          That said, I agree that it’s -less- concerning for three reasons:

          1) flag burning tends to have a nice partisan divide. I generally feel that I can trust various left/liberal types to oppose efforts to criminalize it, and courts to back them up (I look at Texas v. Johnson and I note a split among the conservative faction, which I find significant). On the other hand, I worry more about the possibility of a new left-right alliance on “hate speech” much like the one that existed briefly on obscenity/pornography. So I guess you’d say I worry about those republicans to the extent that they’re likely to sit down and compromise with liberals and draft a law that amounts to “We’ll let you outlaw reprinting The Bell Curve if you let us outlaw burning Old Glory.”.

          2) I think that a flag burning law, while it sets a bad precedent, does not set AS bad a precedent as creating an entire category like “hate speech” would. Note that this is one of the reasons I object to the existence of our current “obscenity” exception in the first place.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t see how a smaller percentage college students wanting to add an exception to the First Amendment can reasonably be more concerning than a larger percentage of Republicans wanting to do the same.

            The Republicans currently control both houses of Congress, the White House, and the nearly enough states governments to force through a constitutional amendment. Also, 5 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Republican Presidents.

            Meanwhile, the preferred candidate of college kids barely vote and their preferred candidate for President didn’t even make it out of the primaries.

            I’m not a big fan of the “yeah but control of the culture” argument in the best of circumstances, but we are talking about actual formal government actions here. This is where soft power is the least relevant.

            Sorry but a lot of the posts in this thread look very much like like teamball to me.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            You don’t seem to actually be engaging with what is being said. Most of the people here have said “Yes, it DOES both me” and you’re treating that as “meh” without any justification. Let me be more clear:

            -I am modestly (~60-65%) confident that no such amendment or law will be proposed over the next four years.

            -I am very (80%) confident that any such proposal will fail to secure enough votes to pass because I predict that enough libertarian-leaning republicans will defect.

            -I am supremely (>90%) confident that any legislative victory would be overturned based on the Texas V. Johnson precedent, and I am equally confident that the current SCOTUS would not in turn reverse that precedent. You apparently missed the part where Texas v. Johnson was not decided cleanly along “conservative vs. liberal bloc” lines.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t see how a smaller percentage college students wanting to add an exception to the First Amendment can reasonably be more concerning than a larger percentage of Republicans wanting to do the same.

            Does the size of the exception matter?

            Also, how worried are you about democrats who want lots and lots of large exceptions tot he 2nd amendment?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see how a smaller percentage college students wanting to add an exception to the First Amendment can reasonably be more concerning than a larger percentage of Republicans wanting to do the same.

            You’re palming a pretty big card when you compare “college students” with “Republicans”. It would be more honest to use, e.g., “voters” as your point of comparison.

            Republican voters who mostly want anti-flag-burning laws are matched against roughly equal numbers of Democratic voters who very much don’t, on a battlefield designed to require supermajority support for substantial victories and supervised by a Supreme Court that has proven resistant to anti-flag-burning laws even when most of the justices were appointed by Republicans

            College students, by comparison, represent an overwhelming majority of the collegiate population, and college administrators have proven to be an unreliable safeguard of first-amendment rights.

            It is not unreasonable to believe that the college students have more potential to cause actual harm.

            I’m not a big fan of the “yeah but control of the culture” argument in the best of circumstances, but we are talking about actual formal government actions here.

            No, you are talking about implausible hypothetical government actions here.

          • Brad says:

            @John Schilling

            Republican voters who mostly want anti-flag-burning laws are matched against roughly equal numbers of Democratic voters who very much don’t, on a battlefield designed to require supermajority support for substantial victories and supervised by a Supreme Court that has proven resistant to anti-flag-burning laws even when most of the justices were appointed by Republicans

            College students, by comparison, represent an overwhelming majority of the collegiate population, and college administrators have proven to be an unreliable safeguard of first-amendment rights.

            Talk about palming a big card. For many college campuses the First Amendment is utterly irrelevant, a fact that somehow seems to get omitted an awful lot.

            Even in the case of public universities, university administrators, like every other organ of government are subject to state and federal law overseen by the courts, including the Supreme Court. Yet somehow “university administrators” are the unit of analysis in one case while legislatures and the Supreme Court are in the other. Not, say, rogue police officers who have been known to arrest flag burners in spite of Texas v. Johnson.

            No, you are talking about implausible hypothetical government actions here.

            Mark V Anderson and others are talking about far more implausible hypothetical government actions yet somehow you didn’t see fit to make that response to him.

            My teamball hypothesis is looking stronger by the minute.


            -I am modestly (~60-65%) confident that no such amendment or law will be proposed over the next four years.

            -I am very (80%) confident that any such proposal will fail to secure enough votes to pass because I predict that enough libertarian-leaning republicans will defect.

            -I am supremely (>90%) confident that any legislative victory would be overturned based on the Texas V. Johnson precedent, and I am equally confident that the current SCOTUS would not in turn reverse that precedent. You apparently missed the part where Texas v. Johnson was not decided cleanly along “conservative vs. liberal bloc” lines.

            What are you predictions over the same period of time for hate speech laws being passed and upheld?

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Does the size of the exception matter?

            Perhaps, but you still need to multiply by the probability. I’m sure there’s one guy out there that wants to repeal the First Amendment entirely, are you terrified of him?

            Also, how worried are you about democrats who want lots and lots of large exceptions tot he 2nd amendment?

            I don’t care. I think the speech, press and assembly clauses of the first amendment, as interpreted since WWI, are good and important on the object level. My support doesn’t come from a meta level belief that the Constitution was handed down from heaven and every word of it is sacred.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Perhaps, but you still need to multiply by the probability.

            Well, probability of an anti-flag burning amendment I put at about 2%.

            Probability of the de facto illegalization of hate speech is…pretty much 100%. It’s already happened with the campus Codes of Conduct

            Probability of de jure illegalization of hate speech in the next 20 years…I’d give it 20%. Politics is downstream from culture and the Kids These Days value “no hate speech” more than they value “free speech.” However, every group of 20-year-olds since the beginning of time has said “our generation is the future! The things we value will be the law when all the old people die!” and then they get a job and a mortgage and a family and suddenly Glorious Revolution doesn’t seem so glorious.

            That said, you also need to multiply by harm. Banning flag burning bans…flag burning. It doesn’t ban any of the other million ways people express their contempt for America. Banning “hate speech,” though, bans essentially an unlimited amount of speech.

          • Brad says:


            Probability of the de facto illegalization of hate speech is…pretty much 100%. It’s already happened with the campus Codes of Conduct

            This is just plain wrong. FIRE brings and wins lawsuits every year. I don’t know what Fox News is telling you, but public universities aren’t some constitution free zone.

            Well, probability of an anti-flag burning amendment I put at about 2%.

            Probability of de jure illegalization of hate speech in the next 20 years…I’d give it 20%.

            You are of course entitle to your own predictions, but given the data linked in the OP, the relative size of the two groups, and the success the Republican party has had at gerrymandering and Republican Presidents have had in putting relatively young justices on the Supreme Court, even most recently when the vacancy arose under a Democratic President, these predictions seem way off to me.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            What are you predictions over the same period of time for hate speech laws being passed and upheld?

            At the federal level:

            ~60% confidence none will be attempted over the next four years.

            ~90% confidence any attempt will fail. This is due to the inability to overcome presidential Veto, not inability to get it past House and Senate votes. Without the veto, confidence level drops to about 70% confidence of failure. It’s slightly lower than the flag burning one due to the fact that Republicans are not particularly heartfelt on this issue, and a bill that looks like it could ALSO be used to go after flag burners and/or people attacking Christianity stands a good chance of peeling off enough Republican supporters to overcome partisan opposition.

            Same ~90% confidence it would be shot down by the judiciary in the same timeframe.

            Where the threat profile diverges is in the 10-20 year period. I think that much like abortion, women’s rights, and GLBT rights, the more time passes and as older cohorts age out and die out, the less risk there is of any big reverse on flag burning. I believe we’ve disagreed on the stability and security of those issues before, but you asked for my analysis.

            Whereas in the same timeframe, I’m concerned about those same college students’ attitudes, when combined with the conservatives who as noted in the original comments above are also not terribly fond of hardcore freedom of speech protections either, will be enough to shove the Overton window in the direction of the sorts of laws present in Canada and the EU.

      • Mark V Anderson says:


        It’s pretty much asking “do you think the first amendment should protect speech you find to be worthless and mean?” – which is probably not going to be a big winner except among political nerds and people who’ve recently had their ideas called worthless and mean a lot (and here, before making the obvious rejoinder, note that >50% of republican students thought hate speech shouldn’t be protected).

        Yes, this is exactly what banning hate speech means. You don’t find this concerning? It basically means that these students don’t really believe in the First Amendment, because supporting free speech only when you agree is not supporting free speech. And the fact the Republicans seem to agree is even more concerning. I probably should not have expressed this as a tribal thing — it isn’t really that leftist students don’t agree with free speech; it’s that students don’t agree with free speech. That in combination with the speech laws in Canada and Europe where they don’t have the sacred First Amendment as an obstacle makes me think that only a minority of folks in general believe in free speech. I wonder how long the First Amendment will last, or if at some point the Supremes will kill it judicially.

        72% of Republicans think flag burning ought to be illegal. There are far more Republicans than college students. Are you worried about that?

        Yes, as I said to Montfort, that makes is more concerning, not less. Although burning a flag is barely speech — what are you saying when you burn a flag? It is mostly a problem of creating a precedent, as Trofim says.

        • Montfort says:

          The question is being interpreted by each respondent as referring to a specific set of speech which they happen to find to be worthless. Respondent A answers as though asked “Should the first amendment protect shouting ethnic/religious slurs at a person” and answers “no.” Respondent B answers as though asked “Should the first amendment protect people calling for the genocide of certain kinds of people” and answers “no.” And so on. None of them are saying, “yes, hate speech, however defined, should be banned.” They’re saying “hate speech, the way I define it, should not be protected by the first amendment,” which can become pretty circular. Point out some kind of hate speech that they want protected and they won’t change their mind, they’ll just say it’s not real hate speech.

          That’s why I think the other question is better, and also why it gets a lower figure for potential censors – because it gives an actual (though vague) definition.

          It’s still bad that ~70% of college students think there’s some category of speech the first amendment shouldn’t protect even if they’re not all thinking of the same one. But it’s not like I expect that to turn into 70% support for any specific speech-restricting measure.

          • Evan Þ says:

            You’re right. I find this somewhat reassuring, but only somewhat, because any actual speech code will probably come cloaked in such vague language that a large number of people will think it will line up with their beliefs about what should be banned. Look, for instance, at existing college speech codes.

            (Hey, if I wanted to, I could probably tell myself that the best meaning for “hate speech” is “incitement to imminent lawless action,” and of course that should be banned!)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          That in combination with the speech laws in Canada and Europe where they don’t have the sacred First Amendment as an obstacle makes me think that only a minority of folks in general believe in free speech.

          Yes, I’ve said this before, that support for American-style free speech is extremely small among humanity. They do not have such free speech ideas in the UK or Europe or the rest of the Islamic world, where you’ll go to jail for being critical of Islam. They do not have such protections in China. You cannot spread homosexual propaganda in Russia. “Free speech” only exists in America, and only a minority of Americans care about it. It will not last.

          • The Nybbler says:

            They do not have such free speech ideas in the UK or Europe or the rest of the Islamic world, where you’ll go to jail for being critical of Islam.

            I see what you did there.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ll go even farther. There is a non-insignificant number of people (mostly, but not exclusively on the left) who already believe that “hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.

            Not “shouldn’t be protected.” IS NOT protected. Currently. Under existing law.

            Within a decade, hate speech laws will exist, and will have survived a court challenge, in at least one US state. Book it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Within a decade, hate speech laws will exist, and will have survived a court challenge, in at least one US state. Book it.

            Sign me up for some of that action, please. Matal v. Tam was unanimous. Even with the fig leaf of it being corporate rather than personal speech, and with there being no question of whether the corporation was allowed to speak offensively but only whether the federal government had to actively append trademark protection, every justice concurred with the constitution’s protection of the right to use blatant racial epithets in public for purely mercenary purposes. I’m pretty sure adding Gorsuch to the court isn’t going to change that.

          • Matt M says:

            every justice concurred with the constitution’s protection of the right to use blatant racial epithets in public for purely mercenary purposes

            I followed the popular press on this case, but don’t know much about the legal opinion.

            A whole lot of their case seemed to be based around “But we’re Asian so it’s okay.” Which gives the courts a lot of cover here. Yeah, it’s still precedent all the same. But I still suspect some state will construct a speech code carefully crafted such that it will only be applied to evil hetero white males, who are unsympathetic plaintiffs. I’m not entirely convinced that just because the court ruled Asians could “reclaim an offensive slur” that they would also rule that white people can use the n-word.

            Also the whole trademark thing was based on administrative rule, not legislation. Overturning an agency is one thing, they’re far more reluctant to overturn an actual law.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            While I tend to agree that the courts will soon find some way of distinguishing anti-Asian slurs (protected, along with anti-white, anti-male, and anti-any-non-marginalized-group) from anti-black ones (verboten), Matal v. Tam was based on legislation. They did not decide that “The Slants” wasn’t forbidden by the “Disparaging Provision” of the Lanham Act; they struck down that provision entirely.

          • Montfort says:

            Not “shouldn’t be protected.” IS NOT protected. Currently. Under existing law.

            That’s not “going further,” on the question of support, that’s them making a factual error* because no one pays attention in civics class or reads law journals or opinions for fun (okay, some people do, but there’s very few of us). You can mistakenly believe that, e.g., the constitution does not protect you from being forced to quarter soldiers in your home without having a strong opinion on the matter.

            But you can bet those people who don’t know free speech doctrine are not the same as the bigshot lawyers and judges handling free speech cases.

            *modulo your definition of hate speech. “Fighting words,” for example, are not protected, though I think that would be construed extremely narrowly today. Probably no one thinks of hate speech as just “fighting words,” but I can’t be sure.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s not “going further,” on the question of support, that’s them making a factual error* because no one pays attention in civics class

            Perception becomes reality. They’re not mad about it. If someone points out that it doesn’t really, then that must be an oversight to be corrected.

            It’s the same thing with people who think the 2nd Amendment only covers the National Guard. They’re wrong, but if that’s pointed out to them, they’re more likely to think the 2nd Amendment should be “clarified” so that those idiots who don’t understand the Founding Fathers only intended the state to have weapons will stop pretending they have individual rights.

          • Iain says:

            Popehat has a good summary of the legal status of free speech. From a strictly legal standpoint, he concludes:

            In short, the First Amendment is enjoying extremely strong support from the Supreme Court — arguably stronger and more consistent than any other constitutional right, and arguably as strong as the Court has ever been in favor of free speech. It’s a golden age.

            We can argue about the cultural side, but as far as the legal system is concerned, the overblown rhetoric in this thread is unjustified.

  5. rahien.din says:

    Inspired by today’s Wondermark : is creativity just a form of unfaithful remembrance? IE, do we just remember things with low fidelity (with respect to their content and/or their borders) and react to them as novel?

    In which case there are two sources of creativity : having more things to remember, or, having a greater potential for low-fidelity remembrance.

    • AG says:

      I’m not sure I follow the link from remembering to creativity. To be creative is context-dependent: what is novel in a small pond in reinventing the wheel in a larger one.

      Consider the development of music: the largest differences in genres come from isolation, of cultures not knowing what their neighbors are doing. But this means that within the one culture, traditional ways are more reintrenched. Rock splits from R&B because of rockists, but in the modern day, artists who operate off of experimental fusions of the two sound like each other, and it feels like no new distinct genres are being created. Hamilton blows the minds of those who stick to Broadway, but non-musical enthusiasts disdainfully compare its rhymes to Macklemore.
      Artist A releases one album where all tracks are in a single genre, and then their next album contains tracks from new genres. Artist B releases albums where each track is a wildly different genre from the previous one begins to sound samey across albums. Which one is more creative?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Coworkers say I am very creative. I think I’m just applying a wide repertoire of old incidents to the current challenge. (I see no need to tell them my version out loud.)

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good.” – Nietzsche.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So Angela Merkel just ran unopposed for a fourth term as Chancellor, winning 346-315.
    What’s the deal there? I pattern match “running unopposed” to the old Communist bloc and other sham democracies.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The chancellor is elected by the Bundestag. It’s not like a candidate or a party running unopposed in a general election.

      • Randy M says:

        Was it basically a no-confidence vote, or an actual election that her opponents, despite amounting to 47% of the voters, were unable to find a candidate to run?

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m not an expert on German politics, but it sounds an awful lot like a non-confidence vote. This has been the longest gap between the parliamentary elections and election of a chancellor since WWII, and the amount of time it took to form a coalition was also quite unusual.

          • Björn says:

            The story is more or less like this: Before the election, there was a so called grand coalition between the social democrat SPD and the conservative CDU/CSU. As the CDU/CSU had far more votes, the chancellor was Angela Merkel. Her leading style is very bureaucratic, and when the opposition is able to put an issue on the public mind, Angela Merkel “steals” that issue and implements her own solution. When the opposition made it clear that gay marriage would be a topic in the election, Angela Merkel introduced it herself immediately before the election (There was a majority for it for a long time, but the CDU/CSU did not act on it because they were afraid it would piss of their more conservative voters.)

            This is very problematic for her coalition partner, the SPD, because they can not build up an own profile, and while Merkel steals their voters from the middle, there are also parties in the parliament that are more leftist or more green. So after the election, which did not go well for the SPD, they declared that they would not enter another grand coalition.

            Angela Merkel then tried to form a coalition with the FDP (market liberal) and the Greens, but the FDP endet the coalition talks. The reason seems to have been that the FDP was afraid that they would not be able to keep their profile against Merkel (the last CDU-FDP coalition under Merkel went really bad for the FDP).

            So the SPD grudgingly went into another coalition with Merkel, as they are afraid they would lose even more votes in a reelection. As Merkel had now collected a possibel majority in the parliament, her chancellor election took place. You can see from the fact that she got 32 less votes that the coalition has seats that not everyone from her coalition is happy with her.

        • Protagoras says:

          The right had more seats in the Bundestag than the left, and the biggest left party went for the grand coalition, so it would have been pretty pointless for either of the remaining left parties to put up a candidate, as in addition to having only a small number of seats between them, they would not work with one another (The Left, the ex-communists, seem to have trouble both with reluctance to work with others and with others being reluctant to work with them; the Greens, while not nearly as bad, also have a little bit of trouble playing well with others). Merkel leads the largest right party; again no point in the lesser right parties proposing candidates. Though one could imagine the Alternative for Germany doing so; they’re the new right-wing troublemaker party. But apparently they were also satisfied to vote not-Merkel without trying to advance their own candidate.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, I guess this is just one of those things that happens when the legislature elects the executive. The contested, democratic part all happens when votes are cast for the Bundestag (very different from the American Congress! 😀 )

    • Anonymous says:

      AFAIK the German system has some pretty strong and intentional status quo bias.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      That election is basically a formality, I guess like the electoral votes. The real thing happens earlier when the Bundestag is elected. The Chancellor is elected after somebody managed to form a coalition that has the required number of votes.

      The fact that it was somewhat close is indeed a no-confidence vote. A couple of dozen people of her coalition apparently didn’t vote for her.

  7. JohnBuridan says:

    Last night had a dream that I was in a large pavilion during a rainstorm. Tyler Cowen, whom I never met, was there, and when a horse in the pavilion bit someone I know, I leaned over to Tyler and said “I bet you think that while we might view horsebites as a bad thing, in fact they generally are good for society, allowing people to demonstrate care for each other and work with horses.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Horsebites allow people to demonstrate care for each other, yes. I personally take a Shetland pony around to bite my loved ones.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Sounds like your subconscious understand Tyler Cowen pretty well.

    • Nick says:

      Tyler Cowen was in one of my dreams too, except in this one he was buying up the local housing market. This makes much less economic sense than yours does.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      I want to dream as intelligently as you when I grow up.

  8. christhenottopher says:

    So there’s a new JAMA study on the relative costs and outcomes of major developed countries that suggests in many ways the US is not an outlier on many measures. Here’s one notable thing I noticed, the US was close to the median for “out of pocket costs as a percentage of household consumption (2.6% of household consumption, same level as Denmark and less than Australia, Sweden, or Switzerland, Canada by contrast was 2.3%). Looking through the causes of the cost difference, a huge driver was health care salaries, with the United States being higher on every position including just the nurses. This doesn’t seem to be driven primarily by too many restrictions on physician numbers since again, the US while somewhat low on the list, still wasn’t that far off the average (the US having 2.3 physicians per 100,000 vs the average 3.3 and the lowest ratio being the UK with 2.1 per 100,000).

    My interpretation of this data is that A) Baumol’s cost disease strikes again and the Random Critical Analysis position that health care costs are mostly driven by being wealthier with higher living standards rather than the eccentricities of US health care is supported, B) The US does not look that bad on almost everything except life expectancy/mortality during child birth which may be driven by non-healthcare factors, C) The narrative of “the US healthcare system is a disaster that must be torn up by it’s roots” seems overblown. But I’m curious what other SSCers think of this study?

  9. Well... says:

    I’m getting into podcasts, looking for suggestions. I like long-form conversation-style podcasts such as Joe Rogan’s and Sam Harris’s, as well as Intelligence Squared debates.

    Topics I’m interested in listening to people talk about: philosophy of technology, evolutionary biology, astronomy, geology, some contemporary politics (e.g. I find Michael Malice’s stuff about North Korea fascinating), history, first-hand accounts of people who’ve had unique extreme experiences, etc.

    Based on these preferences, what other podcasts (or particular episodes of podcasts) do y’all recommend for me? Please include descriptions along with recommendations.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Hardcore History is generally considered the good standard of history podcasts. It’s long but deeply engaging. Highly recommend the Blueprints for Armageddon series.

      Any “History of X” series is generally comprehensive and informative. Many like “History of Rome”. I’ve been listening to “History of China”.

      Vox has a series called “the weeds” that’s more about getting deeper in to policy issues rather than the outrage of the day. It’s still Vox though and if you can’t get over that, you may not enjoy it.

    • DavidS says:

      I think one important thing for podcasts is if you like a continuous story or jumping around. For history, if you like continuous stories I’d recommend Mike Duncan (History of Rome, ‘Revolutions’ which covers English Civil War, American War of Independence, French Revolution, Haitian revolution, Latin American revolutions, now on revolutions of 1848 and will at some point cover Russia).

      I enjoyed Hardcore History but less than Mike Duncan: they’re very different styles. Dan Carlin is much more dramatic and hammering home certain themes he wants to make a point about. Mike Duncan feels like more of a dispassionate historical study (which doesn’t mean it’s just a list: Mike clearly sets out his own theories and conclusions. But Dan wants to emphasise ‘imagine what it would be really like living in a trench’ whereas Mike is more ‘this is why I think the evidence suggests that the French Revolution’s persecution of the Church was a key factor in resistance to it and ultimately the overthrow of the revolutionary government’.

      If for episodic jumps into individual topic (and covering a huge variety of topics over science, history, philosophy, literature etc.) would recommend In Our Time. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘conversation style’ but In Our Time is literally the host talking to 3-4 academics on a given topic.

    • lvlln says:

      I’m a fan of Julia Galef’s Rationally Speaking podcast. In each episode, she interviews one person kinda like Joe Rogan or Sam Harris does, though her episodes are a lot shorter than theirs, at under an hour long, I think. The general theme she follows is rationality, so stuff like cognitive biases, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology. I think the only sponsor she’s had is GiveWell, and she’s had people on from the effective altruism movement.

    • rahien.din says:

      Another vote for Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History.”

      I like “Very Bad Wizards” for informal (and foul-mouthed) conversations on philosophy and ethics.

      I have enjoyed “Reuters War College,” which is a series of interviews between two war-oriented journalists and various guests. They have an obvious lefty bent (and sometimes they interview people who seem hacked off) but it’s entertaining and usually informative.

      “Hard Pass” was an interesting look at marketing and business (at least, for a relative newby such as myself). The hosts are a little left-y, and kind of snotty, but they had perspectives I didn’t expect, and they frequently disagreed with one another. I learned some stuff. There have been no new episodes in about a year, though.

      I used to listen to Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” more frequently. He interviews some fascinating people, and hasn’t been afraid to post interviews during which he had genuine confusion or strong disagreement. His interview with Scott Adams and Rjndao Erpentos were particularly interesting. Lately, it seems like he bends every interview back towards one of his pet issues, no matter the starting point, so, that one has fallen off for me.

      Topics I’m interested in listening to people talk about: … geology …

      I honestly did not believe that there were geology podcasts, and I was totally wrong. Rule 34 strikes again. I found one that seems to meet your criteria. I haven’t listened to it but I feel compelled to prove it exists!

    • aNeopuritan says:

      History Extra, IIRC, is similar to In Our Time in being episodes about varied subjects, with a pro-Britain oldwhiteprivilegeddude host (not necessarily the guests).

      AskHistorians is a(n excellent) subreddit with its own podcast. The main contributors are often but not only titled historians, in either case Left-Liberal (I’d say *not* crazy SJW, as history isn’t that screwed yet), which may predict subject choices. Do make sure you listen to the 2 episodes about the Tarascan Empire, at least; those, if nothing else, should please anyone.

      Research on Religion is what the title suggests, which includes history, with a USian Christian oldwhiteprivilegeddude host (again, not necessarily guests – and no, it’s not just Christianity, though it *is* overrepresented).

      Radio War Nerd has both military history and current foreign policy, with what I’d call the sanest politics out there: Leftist without being dogmatic or retarded*. They just, not only interviewed a former Rojava volunteer, but stared down a few of their own listeners who complained about a guest who dared disagree with them (voicing some opinions usually found as fairly mild Rightism). Like Clash! below, its episodes are partly paywalled – some episodes are free, and there may be free samples of those that aren’t.

      Clash! with Carl Zha and Nathan Hale is a child of RWN: Carl was invited into RWN to talk about Uyghur history, and they encouraged him to get his own podcast, which he and Nathan did. Among other things including current politics, they’ve talked about the formations of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Iranian societies. Yasha Levine has talked about the Internet’s history in both Clash! and RWN – listen to those.

      History of Latin America, History of Southeast Asia, and Iroquois History and Legends are sequential histories of the peoples in question (plus separate “legend” episodes in the case the title suggests). For Latin America the pre-Columbian part is short but a good summary, and it’s finished; it’s just gotten to the first Castillian settlements. For Southeast Asia, episodes start short and grow longer as there’s more information known about a time and place, and it’s at WWII now; dates for the first 1 or 2 episodes may be suspect because the author is … a YECist (but otherwise both his person and the history presented seem extremely decent). For the Iroquois: they just had a legend episode after the end of the US War of Independence, and they make a point of emphasizing that people on both sides of all the conflicts were *people*, good, bad, and both.

      Ottoman History Podcast and Samurai Archives Podcast aren’t sequential, and have invited academics to talk about different aspects of those countries. The first has a huge archive, with the subjects you’d expect by (competent, sane) Left-Liberals: much cultural, economic, environmental, gender, and minority history (among others) … and no military history – otherwise, it’s *excellent* stuff. As you might expect, Samurai Archives is *heavy* on the military history (at least one participant has been an (US) officer, even – so *this* bunch of academics isn’t obviously Liberal), but other subjects do appear; I’ve an impression that some episodes are too short to go into as much detail as I’d like.

      My strongest recommendations would be Ottoman History Podcast and Iroquois History and Legends for history-only, and Radio War Nerd, and Clash! if you don’t mind getting both history and current affairs.

      *: the few places where I’d say you’d get equally sane politics in a different format would be and .

      [Not history] I downloaded, but haven’t listened to yet, Voices of DARPA episodes.

  10. BBA says:

    The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US just blocked a proposed acquisition of Qualcomm by Broadcom. I’d like to discuss it, because it’s weird on multiple levels.

    First off, CFIUS itself is odd. Formed in the 1970s as an advisory body, it’s basically a committee of the Cabinet, which in itself is unusually parliamentary for our presidential system. A law dating to the 1980s panic over Japan buying America out from under us empowers CFIUS to block a foreign acquisition of an American company on “national security” grounds. It’s only been invoked a handful of times, while in another handful of cases CFIUS scrutiny induced foreign buyers to back out of their bids. Lately it’s been more controversial for some deals it approved – Dubai Ports buying P&O in 2006 (and immediately selling P&O’s American assets in the face of public outcry) and Rosatom buying Uranium One in 2010.

    But this is also an odd deal for CFIUS to be getting involved it. Broadcom is basically an American company: it’s listed on Nasdaq and its main offices are in California, but a predecessor’s tax dodge put its nominal headquarters in Singapore. If Broadcom were to move its nominal headquarters to Delaware like the rest of the S&P 500 (and they’re planning to), CFIUS would have no power to block the deal. It could still be challenged on antitrust grounds – and given that Broadcom and Qualcomm are both major designers of wireless communication chipsets, I think it probably should be. But rather than go that route, which would require judicial approval, the administration is using “national security” to just shut the merger down without giving Broadcom a chance to challenge it. Ooookay.

    But the kicker is the reasoning. This isn’t like “the Arabs are gonna own our seaports” or “the Russians are gonna own our uranium”, we’re not concerned about the Singaporeans owning our microchips (setting aside that Broadcom isn’t even particularly Singaporean). Instead, the thinking is that Qualcomm has a massive R&D operation that’s working on 5G cellular technology, while Broadcom is a relentless cost-cutter focused solely on current chip sales. If Broadcom buys Qualcomm for its chip design and guts R&D to save money, the patents on 5G will be almost entirely in the hands of Qualcomm’s Chinese competitor Huawei. This is, to say the least, an unorthodox argument, but the weirdest thing is it actually makes sense. If you accept that “national security” is grounds for blocking a takeover, “the Chinese are gonna own our cell phones” is entirely in line with previous cases. It’s just, using it against a company that isn’t Chinese? That was once, and will soon again be, American? Ooooookay.

    What do you think, sirs?

    • Matt M says:

      If you accept that “national security” is grounds for blocking a takeover, “the Chinese are gonna own our cell phones” is entirely in line with previous cases. It’s just, using it against a company that isn’t Chinese?

      File this one in the “Life continues to look more and more like an Ayn Rand novel every day” category for me.

      • BBA says:

        Well… were you expecting Trump to heighten the contradictions like this? Because this isn’t the deep state of Obama holdovers. These are high-ranking Trump appointees signing off on this, and the man himself.

        (My guess is that if it were the deep state in control, or Hillary in office, this would be challenged on antitrust grounds like a normal merger.)

        • Matt M says:

          Not really. I think “this kind of nonsense continues/gets worse regardless of who wins elections” is pretty in-keeping with the Randian vision!

    • The Nybbler says:

      Maybe it’s a feint. The Trump administration doesn’t want to block the merger, but they’ll face a lot of pressure to do so because of the antitrust issues. So they block it with this other method, Broadcom moves back to the US, the merger goes through, and Trump tells merger opponents (falsely) “Sorry, nothing we can do”, while claiming credit for bringing Broadcom back to the US.

    • Deiseach says:

      If that is the reasoning, I think they’re just using “nominally headquartered overseas so a foreign company” as the handle (like getting Al Capone on tax charges). An appeal to patriotism (“it’s good for the country if we have our own 5G patents so please don’t asset-strip the company”) probably wouldn’t work against the short-term market interests of Broadcom, so “if they won’t be good of their own accord, we will make them be good” is at work here. I don’t think forcing persons or companies to be virtuous is necessarily good or effective, but if you’re trying to balance genuine national interest versus globalist open borders profit motive, then the stick is more likely to work than the carrot.

      I wonder, though, if there isn’t also some element of “make foreign-headquartered US companies move back home” at work too? If Broadcom is planning to move back to Delaware, this might be a way of signalling to other companies “hurry up, don’t drag your feet, get back to being US-headquartered companies and things will go easier for you”, if Trump is going to wage protectionist trade war?

    • BBA says:

      One thing I may not have made clear above is this is a hostile takeover. Qualcomm doesn’t want to be bought and has also been opposing Broadcom’s bid in all the conventional ways. Their lawyers, seeing that Broadcom is technically foreign and the new administration is more xenophobic nationalistic than its predecessors, raised this off-the-wall argument with CFIUS, and (surprisingly to me) it worked.

      This from Matt Levine a few days ago, whose latest on the story is that, since Broadcom is likely to try again once they’ve moved their domicile back, Qualcomm’s management is lining up a competing bid to take the company private, with financing coming from Japanese megaconglomerate SoftBank. This could potentially be challenged on exactly the same statutory grounds as Broadcom’s bid, but avoids the Huawei/5G issue, so what does CFIUS do then?

      (For what it’s worth, I basically support Qualcomm management on this, partly for reasons discussed above but mostly for the irrational sentimental reason that a Broadcom takeover would be bad for San Diego, where I have family and which I like a lot better than most cities.)

  11. johan_larson says:

    Summer blockbuster season is just around the corner. What are we looking forward to?

    For me:

    Star Wars: Solo
    The Incredibles 2
    Sicario 2: Soldado

    All sequels. Welcome to modern Hollywood, I guess.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Infinity War and X-Men: Dark Phoenix

      I am….scared for Solo.

      • johan_larson says:

        Dark Phoenix is coming out November 2. Maybe a little late for summer blockbuster season.

    • cassander says:

      Star Wars: Solo

      Why? I mean this question sincerely, can’t see any possible way that this will end up being good.

      • johan_larson says:

        The trailer looks good — not great, but good. And “Rogue One”, the last A Star Wars Story, was well worth watching.

        Obviously Alden Ehrenreich won’t play Han as well as Harrison Ford did. But that’s ok; we’ll see Han as the brash kid he was rather than the smooth criminal he became.

        • cassander says:

          The last half hour of Rogue One was quite good, I thought the first hour was execrable. As for the trailer, I saw exactly what I expected to see, a which was a fan service-heavy origin story that I don’t think will work well in practice because it’s trying to string together a bunch of throw away lines into a coherent story. I hope they pull it off, I originally had high hopes for the star wars stories, but I’m expecting the worst, especially given the substantial production issues.

          • John Schilling says:

            Rogue One showed that Disney is willing to take risks with the spin-off stories that they aren’t willing to take with the core movies. That, plus the well-established character of Han Solo, is I think reason for hope and the trailer at least doesn’t destroy that hope.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I hope it’ll be a fun movie with Han Solo and Lando and the Millennium Falcon. Donald Glover’s outfits look amazing, and that alone may be worth the price of admission. (Also, in episode IX, can we please get Rey dressed in something other than rags?)

        I fear Kathleen Kennedy with her “Force is Female” gender politics will not allow masculine archetype Han Solo to remain unemasculated (what’s the opposite of “emasculated?” “Masculated?”). Lando gets to keep his masculinity because he’s black. Remember, Han described the Falcon as “the ship that made the Kessel run.” He never said he was flying it. My prediction is Emilia Clarke’s character actually piloted the Falcon (with maybe Lando copiloting) during the record Kessel run and Han is lying by omission to take credit for accomplishments by strong independent wymynz and POC, because Kathleen Kennedy must character assassinate all your white male heroes.

        • CthulhuChild says:

          … I thought ep VII Luke was a pretty big step up in terms of masculine badassery, as compared to whiny adolescent Ep IV-VI Luke (who just barely became an adult by series end). Also, if blackness is what allows a character to be traditionally masculine, please explain Finn’s continuous histrionics.

          I’m not saying your prediction is necessarily wrong. I just think that viewing the new movies as gender-warfare in space lacks explanatory power. Seeing them in terms of generational politics makes a lot more sense to me (the struggle of inheriting legacies, the struggle to stay relevant, etc). So I can totally see your prediction coming true, but not because grrrl power, but because it continue the theme of questioning the narrative of luke/han/leia’s generation (IE, what exactly are the kids trying to live up to).

        • mdet says:

          Other than the treatment of Poe in Last Jedi, what makes you think that Han Solo would be emasculated? As Cthulhu pointed out, Luke wasn’t emasculated, I wouldn’t call Kylo, Force Awakens’ Han, or any of the men in Rogue One emasculated, most other action blockbusters still have manly men in my opinion (The Rock, Liam Neeson, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, etc all still have careers).

          It seems to me like you’re extrapolating based off one piece of evidence (Poe in Last Jedi), but tell me if I’m missing something.

          Edit: I even scrolled Kathleen Kennedy’s filmography as a producer on Wikipedia and couldn’t find any trend of weak or unmanly male protagonists

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Mdet, to be fair, Han wasn’t emasculated but he was executed (spoilers). That doesn’t bode well for traditional masculine values. And while Kylo isn’t emasculated, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to read him as embodying toxic masculinity, and therefore can be seen as part of the feminist narrative that Conrad Honcho finds so objectionable.

            I don’t agree with Conrad’s perspective (like I said, I basically see Kylo and Rei as typifying two ways Millennials deal with the Boomers legacy), but reading it in terms of gender is not unreasonable. The fact that female characters seem to be incapable of making mistakes is also a bit odd (all conflicts originate with the actions and decisions of male characters).

          • mdet says:

            I agree that Kylo definitely embodies the “toxic masculinity” trope, especially given that he’s opposite a humble and level-headed female protagonist. But the Anakin of the prequels was exactly the same. So I don’t see “feminists are inserting gender-politics into my Star Wars!”, I see Kylo as taking an existing theme in the canon and attempting to explore it more thoroughly than the terribly-written prequels did. I agree that the female characters flawlessness, Rey in particular, is a problem because it makes her character incapable of growing or developing in any meaningful way.

            But personally I feel that traditional masculinity is more threatened by movies like the Transformers franchise, where nearly every male character is a rambling, incompetent, insecure mess, than anything I’ve seen so far in Star Wars. And Michael Bay is hardly the radical feminist. But that’s me.

            Edit: Thinking more, might “toxic masculinity” be built into the franchise? The Light side of the Force is characterized by a stoic sense of detachment, duty, and pacifism. The Dark Side is its mirror — entitled, self-aggrandizing, and violently unstable. Pretty much epitome of TM, no? Of the Sith presented in the films, only Anakin & Kylo fully act like this though, so maybe I’m reaching. Either way, I think Kylo’s character is a good attempt to explore how Darth Vader was depicted in the originals vs how Anakin was depicted in the prequels (sort of like how you frame it as a generational legacy)

            Edit 2: Then again, I’ve also heard some say that the scenes when Yoda and the Jedi Council tell Anakin that doing his job as a Jedi requires repressing his anxieties and his love for his mother are TM epitomized. So maybe emotional repression and lack of empathy aren’t Force aligned traits

        • Fahundo says:

          Luke died after a fight he didn’t even go to. He’s the laughingstock of the galaxy now.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Looking forward to watching Incredibles 2 and Deadpool 2 in theaters, and looking forward to the RedLetterMedia reviews of Infinity War and Solo (and Ocean’s 8 if they do that).

      • Mwncsc says:

        While I think all the franchises (along with film in general) are in steady decline, the rise of long-form reviewer-analyst-entertainers has made the situation a lot more bearable. In particular, I’m thinking of RLM for film and Shamus Young for video games.

        If not for their reviews, I likely would have disengaged from popular films and games altogether. Now at least I can take some enjoyment from media that I otherwise find depressing.

  12. says:

    I didn’t have the patience to wait for the next classified thread, so here goes:

    Do you enjoy working on the puzzles that get posted here? Are you good with figures?

    I am looking to hire someone part time to do data analysis. The advantage to this job is that you can work from home and set your own hours. The job requires you to be smart, diligent, and also somewhat creative — because you won’t necessarily know what you are looking for until you find it. Also, if you are the sort of person who has lots of unfinished projects, this is not the job for you.

    Above all, you should be able to maintain confidentiality.

    If interested, please email me — dnabrams at gmail

  13. Tarhalindur says:

    For the other Practical Guide to Evil readers in the commentariat, one of the more unintentionally amusing signs I’ve seen lately: “Triumphant for Christ”. (May she never return.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Needs some context.

      • beleester says:

        A Practical Guide to Evil is an ongoing web novel. There’s a character in the backstory known as “Dread Empress Triumphant, may she never return.” Every time they mention Triumphant’s name, they follow it up with “may she never return,” because she was apparently just that scary.

        So if you’ve been reading that series, “Triumphant for Christ” can be interpreted a bit differently, in an amusing way.

  14. powerfuller says:

    Poetry buffs of SSC, how would you scan the following lines?

    To a green thought in a green shade

    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time

    That our word may be established shall we gather up the sea?

    Yurtle the Turtle was king of the pond

    I was planning on writing an effort post on some controversies in English prosody, but I’ve held off because the more I thought about it, the less faith I had in arriving at any coherent conclusion, and because I wasn’t sure it’d be of general interest to SSC. I can go ahead and put down my initial thoughts, but I’m curious to get other people’s scansions before coloring responses with my own.

    • quaelegit says:

      I’d be interested in reading your thoughts! Scansion was my favorite part of translating the Aeneid in high school (and that’s Latin not English, but a lot of same concepts apply…)

      I would say the last one is straight dactyls with an interrupted/short foot at the end (is that enjambment? I’m rusty on this, going from the Wikipedia page on meter).

      I would say the first one is a unstressed foot (maybe a Pyrrhic from this list) followed by a Spondee. Unstressed, Spondee, Unstressed, Spondee.

      The second one I’m not sure how to scan.

      The third one I have an idea for but I’m not sure how to describe it. (u u – u u u – u u u – u u u -) Is how I would scan it in — well I’m cheating and using stressed/unstressed instead of long/short. I realize this probably isn’t very clear and I’ll keep reading and try to come up with a better way.

      • Nornagest says:

        Interesting, the second one scans much more easily than the first to me (mostly as iambs, but I’d also stress “slow”).

        • quaelegit says:

          With both #1 and #2 it wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I tried a couple things, and as soon as I came up with the above scansion for #1 I felt strongly that it was correct. (I think rahien.din’s scansion of #1 more or less agrees with mine, except I’m not sure about primary/secondary stress, and that gives me more confidence). With 2, I’m not happy with anything I’ve come up with yet, and I don’t agree with your or rahien.din’s scans. Let’s just say I’m no good at Keats 😛

    • rahien.din says:

      To a green thought in a green shade : little crescendos, like a waltz
      x x \ / x x \ /

      Thou foster-child of silence and slow time : iambs with an evocative reversal near the end
      x /x / x /x x \ /

      That our word may be established shall we gather up the sea? : driving and locomotive
      x x / x \ x/x \ x /x \ x /

      Yurtle the Turtle was king of the pond : Seussian dactyls
      /x x /x x / x x /

      / Primary stress
      \ Secondary stress
      x Unstressed

      • Iain says:

        This is a more precise version of what I came up with. I rounded secondary stress up to primary stress in the first two and down to unstressed in the third, but otherwise had the same scansion.

        (Also: am I the only one who initially interpreted this as four lines of a single poem, and got really confused on the last one?)

        • Randy M says:

          (Also: am I the only one who initially interpreted this as four lines of a single poem, and got really confused on the last one?)

          It’s not? I just took for granted that I don’t really get poetry, but kind of liked it as an ironic encapsulation of the Dr Seuss book.

          • quaelegit says:

            Heh, for me at least the different meters made it clear that they were not from the same poem!

            It probably also helped that I recognized the 2nd and 4th line (although I thought the #2 was Shakespeare but it’s actually from Ode on a Grecian Urn).

          • I recognized three of the four but not the first.

        • rahien.din says:

          (Also: am I the only one who initially interpreted this as four lines of a single poem, and got really confused on the last one?)

          Heh, you’re not the only one.

        • yodelyak says:

          Yep, not the only one. I really hate a lot of recent poetry, because it reads like this–it’s blind to how it *sounds*. Although I don’t have any useful ability to talk about what’s different in these four lines, not really. At an earlier point in my life I just pointed people at Frost’s Fire and Ice and said “See? See?” a bunch of times before I realized most people (most Americans?) don’t get poetry, and don’t like spending time with the fact, or in the presence of people talking about poetry. Life is so short–I wish I had time to learn all this!

    • dark orchid says:

      Making up my own notation here, x = short, o = long, capitalised = stressed:

      1. oO oO oO oO

      2. oO oO oO oO oO

      3. xxO oO oO oO oO oO oO

      4. Xxx Xxx Xxx O

      Actually, 3. would also scan ok as “xxO oO oO o* xxO oO oO” with the * a pause.

      The spaces are an attempt to divide it into bars musically, in 3. this would make the short syllables half as long as the long ones; in 4 the first 3 bars are triplets and the second bar presumably has a pause at the end.

    • powerfuller says:

      Hey everybody, thanks for the responses! I’m glad to see the variety of scansions, including paying attention to different aspects of the lines than I was thinking of myself (namely, length and pauses, as quaelegit and dark orchid do).

      I’m going to restrict myself, for now at least, to discussing accentual-syllabic meter, where you pay attention to combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables, as opposed to long and short. Quantitative verse in English is interesting, but I’ll save that for another time.

      The controversy I’d like to discuss is whether spondees (two stressed syllables in a row) exist in English poetry. This has generated a surprising amount of heat, with both sides seemingly convinced the other is composed of idiots with tin ears. I don’t really have time to do a decent job of it tonight, but I’ll be able to post something more substantial tomorrow. Until then, once again, thanks for responding.

      Also, apologies for the unintentional cento.

      • Nornagest says:

        They seem to show up in Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” (written by Shel Silverstein). Stresses italicized, two stressed syllables bolded:

        Well, my daddy left home when I was three, and he didn’t leave much to Ma and me:
        just this old guitar and an empty bottle’a booze.

        Now I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid, but the meanest thing that he ever did —
        was before he left he went and named me Sue.

        More Shel Silverstein would be a good place to start looking.

      • rahien.din says:

        Can I contribute? Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog.

        More seriously, some lines from Heaney’s “Blackberry-Picking” :

        Late August, given heavy rain and sun

        Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

        Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

        With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned*

        We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

        A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

        The consecutive stresses create a childish sort of cadence, and this evokes not only the physical sensation of tramping through wet grass and briars while carrying buckets, but also the childishness of picking too many berries to eat before they rot in the cowshed. When in the final couple of lines Heaney launches into iambs, these seem swifter (and more mature) for having emerged from the clunkier rhythms that preceded them.

        * Anytime someone tries to tell you that English contains no spondees, you can reply “on top big dark blobs burned” and be done with it.

        • powerfuller says:

          That poem is a great example. I’m of the opinion too that, c’mon, they clearly exist, but as I wrote below, a few of those spondees could be explained away as demoted stresses (“more” and “grey” particularly), and “fresh berries” could be considered as belonging to different feet (iamb, anapest, trochee, anapest), so two heavy stresses together, but not a spondee. “Top big dark blobs burned” is harder to finagle, haha. Though I think when critics can’t shoe-horn a line into the meter they want, they’re tempted to write it off as just breaking the meter outright.

      • Telminha says:

        +1. I enjoyed reading this thread. I rarely see people interested in poetry nowadays.

    • powerfuller says:

      Veteran of the Spondee Wars

      As I said above, when I talk about metrical feet, I’m referring to combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables, not long and short.

      A lot of the arguments here are discussed in length in the essays collected in “Meter in English”, though I think my take on the two sides adds some new thoughts. The debate has a longer history than that, but I’d need a little more time to track it, and it’s not that interesting (Fussell disagreed with Saintsburg, who disagreed with Guest…). People more or less agree that spondees (can) exist in prose, but not in poetry. “It was fun, fun, fun, fun!” is a silly sentence, but it seems obvious it contains 4 heavy stresses in a row. So why not in poetry?

      The difference in opinion depends a lot on one’s basic understanding of what meter, rhythm, scansion, and a metrical foot mean. The most significant difference is whether one understands a foot to be a descriptive name given to a set of syllables, or whether it is a unit of internal comparison. I’ll call these two camps the “inter-foot” scanners and the “intra-foot” scanners. The inter-foot camp understands the spondee to be a set of two heavily stressed syllables, but the intra-foot camp understands it as two equally heavily stressed syllables. Or, put another way, whether you consider the syllables heavy relative to the line, or relative to each other. I should note it’s assumed by both camps two stressed syllables can be side-by-side when belonging to different feet.

      So, the inter-foot method of scanning a line would be to get a feel of the general rhythm, then find any groupings of heavy and light stresses according to their natural, prose-like values. They would scan the first two lines above as:

      to a GREEN THOUGH | in a GREEN SHADE, or xx // xx // (pyrrhic spondee, pyrrhic spondee)

      thou FOS | ter CHILD | of SIL | ence and | SLOW TIME, x/ x/ x/ xx // (iambs with pyrrhic spondee)

      The intra-foot scanners would start at the beginning of the line and compare the first two syllables against each other, determine the foot, then move on to the next pair. Thus:

      TO a | green WORLD | IN a | green SHADE, /x x/ /x x/ (trochee iamb pairs)

      Thou FOS | ter CHILD | of SI | lence AND | slow TIME (straight iambs)

      I think the inter-foot method does a far better job of describing the rhythm than intra-foot; it just ruins the line to my ears to overemphasize the “and” and deemphasize “slow,” though “and” is heavier than “lence” and “time” heavier than “slow.” That gives it too much of a shoe-horned rhythm.

      But the intra-foot camp would reply that scansion only talks about meter, not rhythm. Rhythm is the extra quality you discuss after scanning. In which case, why bother scanning? It seems to give very little new information beyond the general meter of a poem (iambic pentameter, dactylic tetrameter, etc.), which is pretty easy to establish without scanning at all. The debate raises the question of what the role of scanning is.

      Though I have my biases, I’ll try to list out the pros and cons of each method.

      First, the intra-foot method: one big advantage is that you can scan a line as you read it for the first time, since you don’t need to know the feet ahead to determine the one you’re on. This leads to its second advantage, that it encourages greater consistency among scanners. Taking the third line above, “That our word may be established shall we gather up the sea?”, “be,” “shall,” and “up” would be stressed, whereas the inter-foot scanners may disagree, depending on how they personally read the line.

      This line also demonstrates a third advantage, that intra-foot scanning better captures the phenomenon of promotion and demotion, where secondary stresses become lighter or heavier in order to fit the meter. This was discussed a little up-thread; rahien.din scanned a few secondary stresses, whereas Iain rounded them up or down. Though secondary stresses certainly exist in nature, I’m not sure you could add them to a theory of prosody: you couldn’t retain much agreement among scanners, and the number of different feet needed would become unwieldy. Without promotion/demotion, a lot of iambic poetry would become unrecognizable as such. For example, taking a random line from The Faerie Queene:

      “Were housed there within, whom he enlargen might.”

      I would read “there” and “he” as promoted stresses; otherwise the iambic feel become tenuous with 2 pyrrhics. But that’s in part because the poem is so regular; I might consider them unstressed in a different context. The smoothing effect of intra-foot scanning can help one appreciate the underlying meter in many cases.


      • powerfuller says:

        Spondees continued

        As for the downsides of intra-foot scanning, as aforesaid it makes scansion less useful as a tool to describe rhythm, and it does violence to many lines by forcing a more sing-song reading. In addition, though the intra-foot method seems to simpifly prosody by making spondees and pyrrhics unnecessary, it ends up adding other entities to compensate: since “him at,” “a friend,” and “fast friend” are all called “iambs,” the intra-foot scanners inevitably start talking about “light iambs” and “heavy iambs.” At that point, why not just use the other terms, understanding that “pyrrhic” means “light iamb” and “spondee” means “heavy iamb”?

        Finally, a big disadvantage of intra-foot scanning is that it can’t account for triple meter (dactyls, anapests) without a sleight of hand. Intra-foot scanners tend to acknowledge they exist, but I’ve yet to read a good account of how to identify them according to the syllable comparison method, without resorting to the overall feel of the poem. The Suess line is clearly dactylic or anapestic, but if you went through the line comparing syllables side-by-side, you’d get:

        “YUR tle | the TUR | tle WAS | KING of | the POND”, /x x/ x/ /x x/, neither clearly iambic or trochaic.

        To read it as the more natural triple meter, you have to acknowledge that 2 syllables in each foot are “equally” unstressed, which undermines the whole “two syllables or equal stress never exist next to each other” idea. I would agree that two perfectly equal values are extremely rare, but it seems more useful to go with “in the same range.”

        Also, the promotion/demotion thing can backfire with 3 syllable feet. Above, rahien.din gave the example:

        “We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.”

        Which I would scan as x/ xx/ /x xx/. The trochee followed by an anapest means there’s 3 unstressed syllables in a row, which would tempt one to promote “in.” So it would 3 trochees with a short last foot? Seems more convoluted than helpful, here. But I think part of the intra-foot theory is the doubt that you could have 3 unstressed syllables in a row without one of them getting a little more weight.

        The pros and cons of the inter-foot method are mostly the opposite: it reflects a more natural reading of lines, but it can obscure the meter; it makes scansion a more robust tool to describe rhythm, but it leads to less consistency among scanners; it doesn’t account for promotion/demotion very well, but it easily accounts for triple meter.

        It seems to me that intra-foot scanning reflects the experience of reading a poem for the first time, whereas inter-foot scanning reflects that of rereading a poem. Indeed, I think a lot of what counts as rhythm is this clash of experiences, the sudden realization that a line of poetry is actually quite different than what you thought it was, so rhythm has a sort of temporal dimension dependent on the reader that’s not captured well when talking about the poem as a static product, as scanning more or less requires us to do.

        Also, it’s an open question of how important it is that the theory of prosody we use to analyze a poem reflects the theory the poet used to write it. Did Keats have iambs or pyrrhic-spondee in mind when he wrote “silence and slow time”? Does it matter? I’ll try writing about that later.

        Finally, Robert Wallace in the book linked above suggests that if we added the 4 syllable foot xx//, the “minor ionic,” or as he calls it, the “double iamb,” to standard prosody (along with the iamb, trochee, anapest, and dactyl), we could probably account for almost all pyrrhics and spondees in English, obviating their use, since that’s by far the most common combination. I’m on the fence about it. Whether we need any of those more exotic Greek and Latin feet, like the amphibrach – x/x – or the choriamb — /xx/ — is another question I’ll take a crack at later.

        • Tarpitz says:

          It seems to me that two of the better known verse passages in the English language at least plausibly contain feet which are unstressed-stressed-stressed (no idea if there’s a name for that).

          And by opposing end them. To die – to sleep,

          The old lie: dulce et decorum est
          Pro patria mori.

          • powerfuller says:

            *Looking it up* Ah, the bacchius! I think those examples could both be scanned as belonging to different feet. The strong caesura in each line makes it seem proper to group them together, but whether caesuras should change scansion is an open question. Also, I don’t hear as strong a stress on “them,” but different ears and all that:

            and BY | op POS | ing END | them to DIE | to SLEEP

            you could probably eliding the “th” or “to” to keep it feeling like a 10 syllable line.

            the OLD | LIE DUL | ce ET | de COR | um EST

            Spondee in the 2nd foot, but otherwise iambs. Scanning it with the caesura would give:

            the OLD LIE | DUL ce | et de COR | um EST

            which now has 2 interesting feet, and is a foot short. Ought the rule of parsimony favor the first reading? Also, the 1st foot here could be considered a spondee with anacrusis (an extra syllable beginning the line not belonging to the meter), but I’m loathe to do that in a 10 syllable line. I think the strongest examples of the bacchius are when they’re at the end of the line, where it’s hardest to scan them differently. Can’t think of an examples, but something like:

            this “DUL | ce ET | de COR | um EST,” | an OLD LIE…

            but then maybe you could call it hypercatalexis (extra syllable at the end), and ignore it. I don’t think people scan feminine endings as amphibrachs, they just scan them as iambs with a feminine ending. But it’s debatable how many terms ought we use to describe these things. I’ll try to keep these examples in mind when I do a write up on the subject!

        • dark orchid says:

          It was a long while ago when I learnt to read hexameters in Latin, but – correct me if I’m wrong – there it was always six feet, either a dactyl (long-short-short) or a spondee (long-long) with the stress always on a first syllable. Our Latin teacher taught us to read the lines rhythmically, that is a spondee is a bar |♩♩| and a dactyl |♩♫|.

          I also vaguely remember that feet 5 and 6 were almost always dactyl-spondee, in that order.

          Which makes me wonder, surely some poets have written hexameters in English too as it was such a well-known classic verse form? I can’t think of a famous one off the top of my head though.

          • powerfuller says:

            Evangeline by Henry Longfellow is one of the most famous English poems in dactylic hexameter, though in English that usually means mostly dactyls with a few trochees throughout. I don’t know any poems that cleave more closely to the Latin form.

            For other classical forms, Thomas Hardy’s The Temporary of All is a poem written in Sapphic stanzas. I do know some English poets have tried writing in quantitative verse, but I’m not familiar with any examples. There’s no agreed upon way to measure the length of English syllables, so what counts as long or short can vary a lot from poet to poet.

      • rahien.din says:

        You could consider how the meter performatively encodes or evokes meaning. For instance, with the Keats line :

        silence and slow time

        In this scansion, there is no distinction between [silence] and [slow time] in terms of parentage. To my reading, “slow time” serves as an epithet, leaving little ambiguity as to whether time could proceed quickly or slowly.

        However, the silence is evoked by the sudden intrinsic pyrhhic (“-lence and”), and the slowness of time is evoked both by the natural slowness of the spondee, and by how the reader must pause upon the reversal of metrical feet (or, the violation of the expected iambic pentameter). It is a sort of metrical onomatopoeia.

        silence and slow time

        In this scansion, “and” has special emphasis, while “slow” is deemphasized. This creates a distinction between [silence] and [slow time], as it strongly implies that it is unexpected that they would share in the urn’s parentage (which leads us to question why that is). And, to my reading, if “slow” is thus deemphasized, it suggests that “slow time” is less an epithet and more a subset of “time.” Thus, the line is a compression of “Thou child not only of silence, but, unexpectedly, also of the kind of time that creeps slowly.”

        However, this occurs at the expense of any onomatopoeically evocative potential.

        • powerfuller says:

          That’s a great observation! I hadn’t thought much about how the scansion changes the meaning in that line. I suppose the next step is to ask what it means if the scansion is intentionally ambiguous? Like is there a suggestion that silence and time first appear different or distinct, but then later they appear the same, as the metrical reading slides into natural one, or vice versa? Could we have it both ways? Maybe that’s why these academic debates get so heated; the entire meaning of a poem could be at stake.

          These kinds of effects are part of what I love about poetry, but make me suspect that discussing them is discussing what constitutes a better reading of the poem, rather than a more accurate reading per se, which may just be a way of talking about taste. I don’t think developing or defining good taste versus bad is an unacceptable objective. But sometimes talking about aural effects in poetry feels like rationalization or soothsaying; you can read something like “driving” or “obstructive” into a spondee with equal ease. Still, I’d rather grope around in the dark after that than judge a poem (solely) by its moral worth or value to society or whatever.

          • powerfuller says:

            Another thought I had about the two readings of the line: I realized I probably would not read meaning into the strictly iambic version because iambic meter is the norm, and meaning via meter is achieved by difference from it. I am used to reading iambic meter as a blank canvas with variations and substitutions as the coloring. Otherwise, I’d be thinking too much about how the meter affects the meaning of “thou foster-child,” when I don’t think it does. Paul Fussell has an interesting discussion in Poetic Form about this subject (though to the conclusion that free verse has no meaning attached to its meter/rhythm). Meaning can definitely be encoded in other rhythmical aspects of the line. Maybe “Oh wait, it actually is iambic,” is meaningful, but I’m not used to reading that way, and I can’t think of other examples.

    • rahien.din says:

      By the way : cool question and fascinating post!

      • Iain says:


        One other observation: having looked up the original context for each line, I stand by my scansion for the second, third, and fourth lines, but don’t think the first scansion works in context. The Garden beats you about the head with iambic tetrameter, and while that’s an awkward fit for “To a green thought, in a green shade”, changing the meter in a single line feels worse.

        • powerfuller says:

          Thanks, both of you!

          Oh man, Iain we may just have to agree to disagree on the Marvel line. There are enough trochees in the initial feet of lines throughout the poem that I can understand arguing for the trochee-iamb reading, but reading that line as straight iambs just feels wrong to me, haha. I think going by “What would Marvel do?” trochees makes more sense, but that kind of thinking can prevent one from seeing when an author is doing something bold or trying something different. To me, the reading the pyrrhic-spondee combos matches the stanza’s idea of the mind rushing to create its own perfect, enclosed space. But like I said in response to rahein.din, that’s just me arguing for a preferred reading of the poem. I’m beholden to my reading because that’s what makes it one of the highlights of the poem.

        • quaelegit says:


          Darn, you’re right about the garden. It forces unatural (IMO) stressing in other places too: “Meanwhile”, at the beginning of the same stanza, ought to be a trochee.

          Edit: didn’t read powerfuller’s response before writing the first part of this comment. There’s definitely some trochees sprinkled around (“Little, alas, they know or heed” is one trochee + 3 iambs), and sometimes he’s willing to mess around with word order to keep things iambic (“No name shall but your own be found.”) so I think the fact that he didn’t do so with “to a green thought in a green shade” says something.

          On the other hand, maybe he does mean for the “a”‘s to be stressed and it doesn’t sound as forced to him.

          [Edit the third: I also agree this was a fun and interesting post, and thanks for writing it up powerfuller!]

    • (Not a poetry buff and don’t know much about scansion but I can tell you where I read a stressed syllable)

      da da DA DA da da DA DA
      da DA da DA da DA da da DA DA
      da da DA da da da DA da da da DA da da da DA
      DA da da DA da da DA da da DA

  15. Rusty says:

    Another excellent choice would be the Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. He is a terrific writer. Again not what some would call fantasy but when your main characters include Merlin . . .

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Cornwell writes the best battle scenes of any writer I’ve read. I ate up his Sharpe series mostly for the Peninsular battles, cheerfully accepting that I was reading essentially the same book 20 times.

      • DavidS says:

        Yep: and the main character in the Warlord Trilogy is the same guy as Uhtred from the Saxon books (to the point that Uhtred is Saxon but partially raised by Vikings and IIRC correctly the guy in the Warlord books is a Saxon raised by Britons. Admittedly the more direct parallel would be if he was a Briton raised by Saxons, as the dynamic in Arthurian times has Saxons play the roles Vikings did later. But it has the whole ‘between two worlds’ thing.

        Plus both of them are basically common as muck, lack book smarts but are brave and resourceful and so valued by the people right at the top while attacked by sneering middlings. Which is of course also Sharpe.

        Basically, Cornwell always writes the same story but it’s a really good story so I’ll happily read it. Presumably there are equivalents on the side of historical fiction which focuses on corsets rather than shieldwalls…

        • Rusty says:

          I think that is underselling the Warlord Trilogy a bit. What he makes of the Arthur myths is really ingenious and the story itself was extremely moving (at least for me). I agree that he does so one basic battle scene and very well at that but I think in this trilogy he showed something more.

  16. quaelegit says:

    Hey guys, I’ve got a mostly silly question that I’ve been thinking of asking here for a while:

    In a friend’s “Bible as Literature” class, his professor claimed that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was intended to be an orange, because that was the common fruit of the time and place. This seems like a wildly improbable claim to me (citrons & lemons were a rare delicacy in the Roman Empire, oranges didn’t make it to Europe until the 10th century AD and I think they got to Iran a few centuries earlier but still well after most or all of the Bible was written) — but this is my friend’s recollection of a small point from a class he didn’t like several years ago.

    So, SSC historians, exegesists, kabbalists, forensic botanists… any idea what the explanation might have been? Am I totally wrong and oranges actually were common in the middle east/eastern Mediterranean in the the first few centuries BC/AD? Is my friend mis-remembering the fruit? Was the professor being deliberately edgy to get the class’ attention?

    (I’m mostly asking to see if anyone has a guess to reconstruct the professor’s point– less interested in the general arguments of what the fruit was, if that’s a thing, more interested in the meta-question of “why would someone guess an orange”?)

    • Jaskologist says:

      It’s a weird guess on a lot of levels. They wouldn’t have had the sweet oranges we know, but they did have some less appetizing members of the citrus family. Even accepting the idea that there’s a specific kind of fruit being referenced, oranges seem an especially bad guess.

      I’m aware of (much later, probably Medieval) rabbinic stories which try to identify the fruit. One said it was grapes, with the implication that wine is problematic. Another said it was the pomegranate, which didn’t seem to have any particular implication. At least both of those would have been common and important fruits then.

      • AG says:

        Pomegranate probably chosen for the connection for Persephone.

      • quaelegit says:

        Heh, that’s one of the articles I read when it first came up. I think I explicitly asked my friend if the professor meant lemon or citron, and friend clarified that the professor meant an orange (but then Idk if my friend knows what a citron is, and this was a pretty offhand comment about a class he took years ago and didn’t care about much).

        I saw those suggestions on the (a?) Wikipedia page, and also wheat(?!), I think? But nothing related to citrus, and google didn’t turn up anything either, so I thought I’d ask here in case anyone happened to know something or have and interesting guess. I think friend mis-remembering or professor being edgy are pretty likely (though boring) explanations.

    • rlms says:

      My guess is that the professor meant citron rather than orange — that does seem to be a plausible candidate.

      • quaelegit says:

        That’s what Jaskologist and I seem to have defaulted to, but my friend claims he meant orange rather than lemon or citron (although I don’t know if my friend knows what a citron is — I didn’t before googling citrus in the Roman Empire).

        Man, the fingered citron is quite creepy looking.

    • S_J says:

      I don’t know the availability of citrus fruit in that time frame, nor whether it was more or less available in earlier time frames.

      My first thought is that the Roman Empire times are too late to affect the Forbidden Fruit mentioned in Genesis. But that’s a pedantic detail.
      (Wiki gives a range of dates from 500 BC to 1000 BC for the final version of Genesis. The oldest Hebrew copy of the complete Torah is part of the Masoretic Text, circa AD 900. But there are fragments dating back to 100 BC in the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. And there are parts of the Septuagint/Greek version of Genesis which date to ~ 200 BC.)

      It’s been common for a long time, among European artists who draw images of Bible scenes, to draw the Tree as an Apple tree, and the Forbidden Fruit as Apples. I’m not aware of any translation that gives the Forbidden Fruit any name other than…Forbidden Fruit.

      I’ve known a few people to get pedantic about whether the Fruit was an Apple, but I’ve never heard the argument that it was intended to be an Orange.

      • quaelegit says:

        > My first thought is that the Roman Empire times are too late to affect the Forbidden Fruit mentioned in Genesis. But that’s a pedantic detail.

        Agreed, but that’s the time period the internet talks about, and if they didn’t have a given fruit in the 1st century BC they probably didn’t have a couple centuries before that either 😛

        Re: apples, translation, pedantry

        I got the sense that artists settled on apples somewhat later — possibly during or even after the Renaissance. I’m not sure on that though, and I’m no expert in art history. It does seem (from Wikipedia) that the original words used did map better to a general term like “fruit” than a more specific one like “apple”. “Orange” is just such an out there guess that I’m kind of hoping there’s a story behind it. Maybe not though.

      • jeqofire says:

        The period where the English word apple was more generic seems relevant, but it also coincides with the period I’d expect most of this artwork to originate, and that tends to be more from continental Europe. Was the apple / generic fruit conflation just an early Middle English thing? Germanic? Something tells me that the Romance languages and Latin didn’t have this feature, but I have not done that research. However, that the French word for potato is literally “apple from the Earth”, leaves me not especially confident either way.

        • Nick says:

          I’ve always wondered about the coincidence of malus “bad, evil” and malum “apple” in Latin, whether maybe some author deliberately equated the two on account of being homonyms. But I’ve never seen any evidence of it.

        • quaelegit says:

          Latin does have the conflation (malum = apple/fruit). A lot of specific kinds of fruit get called “malum “, e.g. “malum Persicum” (Persian “apple”) = peach; “malum Punicum” (Punic, as in Carthage, “apple”) = pomegranate. I think Greek did too (but I’m not sure if that’s a common term, or one that was used in any versions of the Bible).

          (Also @Nick — looks like Latin “malum” came from Greek “melon”. EDIT: and I’ve wondered the same thing, but don’t have anything to add on that front either. Wiktionary etymology on “malus” meaning evil is inconclusive.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, totally amateur half-assing off vague memories here:

      (1) The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge could have been anything; there is one theory that it was translated “apple” because of the pun about “apple/evil” in Latin. My understanding is that the original text just says “fruit” (unspecified)

      (2) Some people like to think it was pomegranate because of other mythical/symbolic associations, I think someone else proposed it was a melon (don’t quote me on this) and it’s possible someone could have said “lemon”. EDIT: I see quaelegit got in there about “melon” from the Greek, and yeah, I’ve read that “melon” basically means “round (fruit)” and can be applied to other round things, so melons, apples, oranges, peaches – pick your favourite round fruit! 🙂

      (3) There isn’t any definitive “the fruit was…” declaration that I know of, so thinking it could have been an orange/citrus of some variety is not impossible, but it’s not Gospel (so to speak) either

    • Tamar says:

      Orthodox Jew here, I’ve heard lots of things in that context, including: Orange (or other citrus, but usually described as orange), citron specifically, grape (but not to imply wine is a problem – the idea was that the fruit was only temporarily forbidden and would have been permitted to them that evening on the first Shabbat for Kiddush/the blessing over wine had they had the self-control to not break the commandment to abstain from it at the proper time), pomegranate (I think I’ve heard this one, anyway), wheat (yes), I think also bread (can’t be sure whether I’m misremembering or if this is just a variant on the ‘wheat’ answer). Orange/other citrus because the argument is that the word for apple would have referred at the time and in that place to citrus and not to apple. Sounds from the other comments like it referring to the orange as we know it not so plausible.

      • quaelegit says:

        Aha! A lead! Do you remember where you heard the orange claim?

        • YehoshuaK says:

          Talmud, Berachot 40a.
          “A Beraita taught: What was the identity of the ree from which Adam ate?

          “Rabbi Meir says it was the grapevine, for wine brings much suffering to people, as it says (Gen 9:21) “And he drank the wine and became drunk…”

          “Rabbi Nechemiah says it was the fig, and the same thing which they used badly they later used well, as it says (Gen 3:7) “And they sewed together fig leaves…”

          “Rabbi Yehuda says it was wheat, for a child does not learn to identify his father and mother until he consumes grains.”

          These rabbis lived in the early imperial period, around the 2nd century C.E.

          The midrash (Bereshis Rabbah) adds a fourth view.

          “Rabbi Abba of Acco said it was the citron, for it says (Gen 3:10) “And the woman saw that the tree was edible…” The only tree with edible wood is the citron.”

          Interpretation is left as an exercise for the reader.

  17. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I hate science reporters.

    Can someone here tell me what it actually means that “7% of Scott Kelly’s DNA has changed”?

    • John Schilling says:

      It means that you have good cause to hate science reporters.

      An unspecified fraction of Scott Kelly’s DNA “changed”, which I expect mostly refers to epigenetic expression of genes rather than literal resequencing of DNA base pairs. Unfortunately, the relevant paper hasn’t been released yet. Of the DNA whose expression changed, 93% returned to normal within a few days of return to Earth and the remaining 7% retained the observed changes.

    • outis says:

      They are really no worse than any other sort of reporter.

  18. Odovacer says:

    At what age do children stop being cute/adorable?

    Ozy had mentioned bringing her child to a SSC-meetup and some of the responses mentioned she should arrive early because small children/infants/toddlers can suck up all the attention in an area. I agree with that assessment. I’ve also noticed that even though small children/infants do very little, people tend to talk about them more than older children, unless there’s something special going on in the older child’s life.

    Personally, I’d say around age 7 or so, children stop being adorable. They can do a lot more things, including sass back. And they are quite a bit bigger than toddler size. I’m think that has something to do with it too.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Personally, I never stopped being adorable. But I do think you are right. Most kids probably peak at age 3 and when they turn 7 they tend to become much more independent and at the same time much more self-conscious. I also think that when they stop being totally transparent, all those not so nice traits that everybody has are taken much more seriously.

    • quaelegit says:

      I think it depends on other factors more than age. You can have an adorable, outgoing 10 year old suck up all the love and attention in a room (heck even older, although at some point I guess this starts mapping more to “popular/charismatic conversation participant”). You can also have sullen or upset three year old that is does not trigger “cute” reactions (or younger — does anyone think the screaming baby on an airplane is cute?*).

      Also I don’t see why you think “cute” corresponds to “gets talked about a lot”. Small children probably get talked about more because they aren’t participants in the conversation. Older kids are more likely to be following along and participating (e.g. by sassing back) and then it becomes awkward to talk about someone like they aren’t there.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      1/4 of your age all the way up to 15, where they stop being adorable for everyone.

    • Brad says:

      I’m a fake uncle to an extremely sweet tempered five year old and somewhat bratty three year old sister. I don’t know if adorableness is quite the right word but their respective personalities definitely color how I view them.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Well behaved 10 year olds can be adorable, eventually they hit puberty and ‘adorable’ becomes not the correct term.

        Perhaps the better question is how long can a kid without a good temperament be adorable? 18 months? 3 years?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      When they stop lying because of their short-sightedness/immediate anxiety at having lept at a bad decision, and start lying in cold blood. Varies by age/temperament

    • CthulhuChild says:

      The only cute child is mine, everyone else has and stupid children. Age not relevant.

    • For what it’s worth, our meetups generally have some small kids, including my granddaughter who is terminally cute. It doesn’t cause any distraction, aside from parents occasionally having to change a diaper or something.

      The girls, three of whom are pretty much regulars, generally end up in the play structure in the back yard, otherwise unused since our children were kids.

  19. fion says:

    Something I’ve been thinking about with the passing of Stephen Hawking: do we over-estimate how great a scientist is when they’re also a very good science communicator or are the great scientists also more likely to be good science communicators? (Or is it just coincidence?)

    Hawking and Penrose jump to mind as possibly the greatest theoretical physicists of our time. But they also wrote very popular books about their work aimed at general audiences. Are there equally great physicists who we don’t tend to think about because they don’t write pop science books?

    On the other side, there are certainly other great communicators who aren’t great scientists, such as Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox.

    To what extent do Hawking and Penrose deserve their reputation? What other examples are there of great physicists who aren’t great communicators, great communicators who aren’t great physicists, and people who are both?

    • Brad says:

      I wouldn’t assume that those two are the greatest theoretical physicists of our time. I have no idea who that might be because I know very little about the field. If forced to guess I’d go based on the Nobel Prize and named appointments at top universities. Hawkins and Penrose have/had the appointments but not the Prize, so I wouldn’t guess that they are/were at the very top.

      The last theoretical physicist I’d feel very confident in calling a giant without any research is Richard Feynman (d: 1988). Someone like NdGT who is doing interviews and other random things all the time, I assume is not a particularly successful scientist qua scientist.

      • fion says:

        Richard Feynman was, of course, also a great communicator.

        I’m not sure the Nobel Prize is a very good indicator. I feel it’s more a measure of the most groundbreaking discoveries rather than the most competent physicists (although obviously the two are related). There’s also a bit of an element of “in the right place at the right time”. Many physicists regard Hawking radiation as groundbreaking enough to be worthy of the Nobel Prize, but because it hasn’t been experimentally measured he didn’t get it.

        • Brad says:

          I realize it isn’t a perfect measure but I think it is probably better than fame with the general public.

          • fion says:

            Yes, I definitely agree with that.

          • fr8train_ssc says:

            It might be worth considering winners of either the Copley Medal (Royal Society’s Science Award) or Nation Medal of Science Laureates (US NSF) in addition to Nobel winners (Which Penrose, Hawking are included in) but also includes other highly competent sciences on the fringes (Claude Shannon is included under the NSF award for engineering, while the Huxleys are included in the Royal Society’s Award)

            Building off previous proposals for scientists that were influential but not necessarily great communicators, I would include Gerard T’Hooft, if only because of his work with Feynman, and Peter Higgs, and even working/arguing with Hawking on Black Holes

        • AG says:

          How does one know if a discovery is groundbreaking, unless its ground-breaking-ness can be clearly explained to others?

          There is a baseline level communication required for repeatability and reproducibility.

          This doesn’t mean that the least science-literate person has to get it. Success is success even if the proliferation is only to the person who creates the society-changing application. But it still has to get that far.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve heard that the Nobel committee (with the exception of whoever gives out the Peace Prize) is now so leery of awarding it to low-quality research that a major factor is living long enough to claim one.

          • BBA says:

            The Nobel Peace Prize committee is appointed by the Norwegian parliament, which kinda explains some of their recent questionable choices. (The others are chosen by various learned societies in Sweden.)

          • Protagoras says:

            @BBA, Recent questionable choices? As opposed to the kind of stellar selections they were making a century ago?

          • Nornagest says:

            Woodrow Wilson’s not bad, but my favorite Peace Prize selection is still Henry Kissinger.

          • hyperboloid says:

            Didn’t Tom Lehrer say that he was quiting comedy because the Kissinger award had rendered satire obsolete?

          • A1987dM says:

            living long enough to claim one

            Yes, that’s literally the only reason why Robert Brout didn’t get one when François Englert did.

            I seriously think that not allowing Nobel prizes to be awarded posthumously makes no sense.

    • bean says:

      There’s definitely a set of skills involved in breaking complex things down for the general public that is separate from understanding the complex things in the first place. I won’t say that they’re totally orthogonal, though. To do a good job of communicating, you need to understand what you’re trying to communicate in the first place, and understanding it better improves your ability to communicate it. But there’s limits to how much knowledge helps. I’d suspect that if we ranked the top 20% of theoretical physicists at how good they were at science popularization, it would correlate a lot better with their instructor rankings in an “intro to theoretical physics” class than it would with their ranking as physicists.

      And then there’s the occasional Sagan, who’s really good at communication, and a terrible scientist…

      • Jaskologist says:

        I knew Sagan was a bad historian, but in what ways was he a bad scientist?

        • bean says:

          He was one of the leaders behind the whole “nuclear winter” thing, and his handling of the issue borders on gross misconduct. All of the analytical choices inflated the magnitude of the effect, which just so happened to correspond with his political views. And I mean doing things like choosing outdated models what were more sensitive to soot than the more recent and sophisticated ones.

      • Well... says:

        And then there’s the occasional Sagan, who’s really good at communication, and a terrible scientist…

        I’ve heard the same thing said about Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

        • bean says:

          Tyson hasn’t been outrageously wrong like Sagan was, but he’s definitely not a working scientist in the same way. He’s been pretty much exclusively a science communicator and administrator for the past couple decades. There’s a tradeoff between doing research and doing communications. Research is complicated and messy, and particularly in a field like physics isn’t going to boil down quickly into something you can feed the general public. And it’s a matter of time and energy, too.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’ve heard the same thing said about Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

          Funny, I’d have said deGrasse Tyson was a worse communicator; at least, I’ve never wanted to punch Sagan in the face!

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Yes, but from my (very infrequent) visits to my university’s Astronomy club your reaction is decidedly atypical…not that I disagree with you, particularly when Tyson decides that his expertise in Science! renders him qualified to offer judgment on virtually any public issue of the day.

          • Well... says:

            I find his treatment of religion condescending and dismissive at its most charitable. Not the dispassion and humility I’d expect of a true scientist.

            For his part, Sagan only attacked astrology.

          • Deiseach says:

            For his part, Sagan only attacked astrology.

            Pleasantly surprised when I read the novel Contact, going in I expected when we got to the religious character and the treatment of religion in general that it would be the usual “scientist bashes the dumb ignorant believers with the imprimatur of REAL SCIENCE! behind them” and it wasn’t at all like that.

            By contrast, de Grasse Tyson (though I’ve read it was really Seth MacFarlane’s baby) kicking off the new Cosmos with that cartoon about Bruno and evil wicked heretic-burning St Robert Bellarmine had me rolling on the floor laughing (the stylised art-style made St Robert look like he’d slathered on the Maybelline mascara for the heretic trial).

            Contrast Our Hero (“I just want to read books! And frolic through the meadows looking at the stars! What’s so wrong with that?”) and Our Villain (“Hellfire/Dark fire/Now gypsy, it’s your turn” – oh sorry, wrong cartoon”).

    • Randy M says:

      How do you judge the worth of a theoretical physicist? Presumably by how many theories later accumulate more evidence.

      • fion says:

        That’s definitely one important factor, but it’s not the only one. I definitely sometimes get a sense, when reading a paper that “wow, this is some really good work” and sometimes get a sense that “they’ve not considered such-and-such, this assumption is probably wrong etc.”

        Another factor might be… insight? Not quite the right word. More capable theorists seem to be able to ‘guess’ what sort of avenues might be worth pursuing, or what sort of questions might be worth asking. Less capable theorists are perfectly able to work through some calculations analysing the consequences of different theories, but they don’t have that… sense of direction? that more competent theorists have.

    • smocc says:

      Hawking doesn’t deserve the popular reputation as a scientist that he has, but he does deserve a good reputation as a scientist. The measure I’m using is something like “when he says something new how many other scientists pay attention and how seriously do they take it?”

      My impression is that whenever Hawking says something new about science the general public pays a lot of attention and takes it very seriously, whereas only scientists in his subfield of general relativity and cosmology pay much attention and they don’t take it much more seriously that if it came from anyone else. I get the same impression about Penrose. I can’t say how accurate this is because I am not in their subfield, but that also says something about the limits of their influence. I also get the impression that scientists roll their eyes a bit at both of them, especially Penrose.

      So while both of them deserve to be on the list of influential 20th century physicists, neither are close contenders for the top of the list. Physicists who I imagine are, in no particular order: Einstein, Feynman, Landau, Weinberg, t’Hooft, Dirac

      My list is obviously biased to my subfield of particle physics, of course.

      • rlms says:

        I interpreted the timeframe being people of Hawking and Penrose’s generation. If you exclude Einstein, Feynman, Landau and Dirac from your list, do Hawking and Penrose win spots?

        • smocc says:

          Good question. Maybe. What time frame are we talking about? Physicists who did their most important work from 1960-1980? Anything after 1960?

          I guess this is also where my bias as a particle theorist comes in. I take t’Hooft much more seriously than Hawking, but in checking Wikipedia I realized Hawking was responsible for more important ideas from that period than I had remembered.

          I’d like to see a survey of working physicists that asks for ratings of something like “how seriously would you take a new idea from [insert famous physicist]”

          • rlms says:

            I was just going by age: I’m not a physicist so I don’t know when different physicists worked (I hadn’t heard of t’Hooft or Landau before your comment).

      • fion says:

        I probably do count as in the same subfield as Hawking, although I’m a mere PhD student so my impressions may be off.

        But my impression is that if a paper came out on, say, black hole thermodynamics and it had Hawking’s name on it, then people in my field would pay much more attention than if it had somebody else’s name on it. I’ve never had any impression of eye-rolling.

        Penrose I’m not so sure about. Certainly nobody takes twistor theory seriously, but I think most of his work is very well-regarded. (Well-regarded is, of course, not the same thing as great.) Now I think about it, I think Penrose has strayed from his field more, making very unconventional arguments about consciousness and its relation to quantum gravity. That sort of thing probably causes rolled eyes.

        I would argue that Einstein is head and shoulders above the rest. His work was paradigm-shifting in several different fields. He was visited by aliens or some shit.

        Of course, these things are easier to judge in retrospect. I think this is related to @rlms’s point that your examples are mostly somewhat older. Limiting yourself to (to pick an arbitrary point that includes Penrose :P) people born after 1930, do you think there are any “greats” other than Weinberg?

        [EDIT: no need to reply to the last bit. I see your conversation with @rlms has continued along these lines.]

      • hyperboloid says:

        I realize that asking people about their favored interpretation of quantum mechanics is kind of an easy way to get very smart people to say very strange things, but didn’t ‘t Hooft go off on something about a Superdeterministic hidden variable theory awhile back?