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Posted by Roger E. Olson

The Problem of Irrational, Unteachable Christians Years ago I attended a church and heard the pastor end his Sunday morning sermon with “The Christian’s attitude toward the secular world should be ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up’.” I grew up in a home and church where the song by [Read More...]

OTW Fannews: It's Tough Being a Fan

Sunday, 26 April 2015 05:11 pm
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Posted by Janita Burgess


OTWFannews banner depicting several blank trophies and medals, with the words It's Tough Being a Fan

  • Esquire said a few words about the influence of Twin Peaks on current fandom. "Of course, binge-viewing with a second screen handy for reviewing fan-generated metatextual analysis is pretty much how people watch puzzle shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, True Detective, and Orphan Black these days. What they show you is fascinating, but the creators know that it's what they cunningly refuse to show you that turns normal viewers into lunatics who'll spend hours reading differing theories about Jon Snow's parentage. They understand that as with Twin Peaks, some of the most pleasurable parts about following the series involve what happens off the screen and in the mind of the viewer."
  • An article in Do Savannah revealed how different those minds could be, however. Asked about their Bob Dylan fandom, various fans in the Georgia city disagreed as to what they found most difficult about it. Responses ranged from other fans, people who didn't like Dylan, to the performer's own behavior. However one summed up with a poignant observation. "No one really wants their heroes to die. You hope they never will. Forever linked familiar strangers on parallel railroad tracks. It’s hard watching him get older, because he’s always been with me spiritually. But then, I guess he always will be."
  • Various articles about the latest fights over the Hugo Award nominations would agree with the 'other fans' complaint. As stated by Rob Salkowitz at ICv2: "Of course, the backlash movement can’t legitimately embrace its actual objectives: the maintenance of in-group power and privilege. Instead it justifies itself according to broader principles such as the defense of traditional standards, ethics and "objective" considerations of quality divorced from the grubby political goals of opponents. Unfortunately for the high-minded ideological ring-leaders, plenty of the rank and file followers don’t get that particular memo and see the whole uprising as an opportunity to give voice to every manner of pent-up grievance, resentment and personal hang-up that they can lay at the feet of "social justice warriors" or whoever is the enemy du jour."
  • Meanwhile Wired explored the reimagining of problematic canon content in The Radicalization of Jar Jar Binks. "Granted, it’s a little jarring to insert a contemporary political allegory into the most reviled science-fiction prequel ever committed to film. In fact, Lucas came under fire for engaging in political criticism of George W. Bush...rather than tightening up the story. But Doescher has a Ph.D in ethics, and wrote his thesis on racial justice issues. And Shakespeare’s history plays—the best genre corollary for what’s going on in Phantom Of Menace—often feel intensely prescient. From that vantage point, it’s a bold but calculated risk to choose Jar Jar as the vessel for such an ideologically charged message."

What are the difficult parts of fandom for you? Write about those issues in Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or link you think we should know about, comment on the most recent OTW Fannews post. Links are welcome in all languages! Submitting a link doesn't guarantee that it will be included in a Fannews post, and inclusion of a link doesn't mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.

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Posted by Leah Libresco

This past week at FiveThirtyEight, I’ve been covering the grim calculus of migrant ships, the difficult data on drones, smoking laws, and cancer tests.  Read on below!   Migrants Trying To Cross The Mediterranean Are Leaving One Risk For Another When countries confront refugees that aren’t in mortal danger, they’ve found ways to avoid allowing [Read More...]

Foundation and jihad

Sunday, 26 April 2015 01:00 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Did Osamu bin Laden name Al Qaeda after Isaac Asimov's Foundation series?

Meeting Dmitri Gusev here at Text By The Bay ("Rising sun", 4/25/2015) reminded me that I'd seen his name before. The context was a 2002 article in the Guardian, "What is the origin of the name al-Qaida?"  (picked up on LLOG in "Copy-editing terrorism", 7/28/2005):

 In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov's 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.  

"This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now," wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article.

The author of the Guardian piece, Giles Foden, describes the parallels this way:

The Empire portrayed in Asimov's novels is in turmoil – he cited Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as an influence. Beset by overconsumption, corruption and inefficiency, "it had been falling for centuries before one man really became aware of that fall. That man was Hari Seldon, the man who represented the one spark of creative effort left among the gathering decay. He developed and brought to its highest pitch the science of psycho-history."  

Seldon is a scientist and prophet who predicts the Empire's fall. He sets up his Foundation in a remote corner of the galaxy, hoping to build a new civilisation from the ruins of the old. The Empire attacks the Foundation with all its military arsenal and tries to crush it. Seldon uses a religion (based on scientific illusionism) to further his aims.

So I asked Marc Sageman about this, and he responded that "it is the US media and US government that gave AQ its name around 1998", noting that "At the time, the group around bin Laden was simply known Al Jamaat al Sheikh, or the Sheikh’s group", and that "Originally, al-Qaeda referred to the military base that people sponsored by bin Laden trained at. It was not the name of an organization."

If Asimov's Foundation had been translated into Arabic, its title would plausibly have been al Qaeda, but apparently no such translation was ever published or even written. And there's no evidence that bin Laden or his followers ever read or were influenced by the English version.

Not the first time that a cute theory was killed by homely fact.

But apparently there are other world-historical figures for whom Asimov's Foundation was indeed a major influence — see Ray Smock, "Newt Gingrich the Galactic Historian",  History News Network, 12/8/2011.

Sunday WTF?

Sunday, 26 April 2015 12:05 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Judges 19:22-30

While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.”

And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold.

“Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer.

Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.’”

A proliferation of hyphens

Sunday, 26 April 2015 10:54 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

In comments to "Suffer the consequences " (4/19/15), Jongseong Park and Bob Ramsey bemoaned what they considered to be the overuse of hyphens in the transliteration of Hangeul.  In a later comment, I explained that the hyphens between virtually all syllables in the transliterations were due to the Hangeul converter we've been using, which automatically inserts them.  In the future, we'll try to remove most of the hyphens.

The question of unnecessary hyphens in the transliteration of Hangeul came up before in a comment by Bob Ramsey to another post, "Is Korean diverging into two languages? " (11/6/14).

Here's what Bob said on that occasion:

Some romanized transcriptions of Korean use unnecessary hyphens; e.g.: 기름 사탕 (gi-reum-sa-tang, RR, ki-rŭm-sa-t'ang, MR); 캐러멜 (kae-reo-mel, RR, k'ae-rŏ-mel, MR). Hyphens used like that just take up space and clutter the page. Notice how the original Korean writing in Hangul has word spacing–and no hyphens! Oh, and neither RR nor MR call for them.

Yes, yes, I know: transcribers put them in to reflect the fact that the Korean writing system has syllabic features. But syllable boundaries are, for the most part, obvious without the hyphens. And besides, strictly speaking, modern Korean orthography doesn’t always reflect the phonological boundaries of the syllable anyway.

But there’s also something more important that often escapes notice: As a well-known but annoyed Koreanist once told me, too many hyphens make Korean look exotic and primitive—much the same way American Indian names and words did to Westerners who thought of them as savage or primitive—and wrote them with hyphens. Such orthographic stretching is totally unnecessary and confusing. And culturally patronizing.

The argument over whether or not to separate syllables of Chinese and Korean with hyphens is long and vexed.  For some reason, this doesn't come up with Japanese Romanization (I wonder why?).  Vietnamese, in contrast, separates almost all syllables, though occasionally one sees a hyphen in running text and rarely syllables will be joined together to form a word, though I don't know the principles for when this is done.  I've often thought that it would be much easier for readers and for computers if the syllables of Vietnamese were joined together into words with spaces between them.

The Romanization of Cantonese is similar to that of Vietnamese in that all syllables are normally separated.  To me that looks rather ungainly, and I'm always tempted to join the syllables into words, but am stymied by the tone number which follows the syllable.  It would look ungainly to have words with numbers scattered about in them.  Vietnamese, on the other hand, has a plethora of diacritical marks, so I suppose it would be easier to link up syllables into words, if the Vietnamese were so inclined, but I gather that they are not.

When I edited the massive Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (over 1,300 pages), I was still using Wade-Giles (W-G) Romanization, but I wanted to make it look less jumbled and more natural to non-specialists, so I got rid of all the hyphens in the Chinese transcriptions in that huge book.  But Bill Nienhauser, who is a friend of mine and was a reader of the manuscript for Columbia University Press, said that it was too daring to dispense with the hyphens from a transcription system that called for them.  So I spent a month reinserting all those thousands upon thousands of hyphens.  Arggggghhhhhh!!!!!!

Linguistically, my focus is always primarily on the word as the basic unit of grammar and lexicon, indeed of language in general, and only secondarily on syllables and morphemes as constituents of words.

I like W-G for Mandarin because phonetically it is close to IPA, a very intelligent system in terms of phonology.  But, from the beginning when I first learned it, I always hated the hyphens for all of the reasons Bob Ramsey mentioned in his comments, plus it just doesn't look like real language, to have all those jarring hyphens inserted between the syllables.  That's one of the reasons why I switched to Gwoyeu Romatzyh for a number of years, because it looks like real language, and the notion of tonal spelling appealed to me, but I later had to stop because editors wouldn't accept it in my publications, and the numerous spelling rules were too hard except for an elite few who were able to master them without undue vexation and suffering.

When Pinyin first came out, I was opposed to it because of the X's, the C's, the Q's (Cao Xueqin! — cf. W-G Ts'ao Hsüeh-ch'in) and other seemingly inelegant aspects of this Romanization, and I was joined in my dislike of the system by many colleagues, including the late Daniel Bryant of the University of Victoria.  Subsequently, after I developed a close working relationship with the Wénzì gǎigé wěiyuánhuì 文字改革委员会 (Commission for Script Reform) starting in the early 80s and I realized that the PRC was serious about Hanyu Pinyin as an alternative orthography (or perhaps I should say auxiliary orthography) for Mandarin, I accepted it as the official Romanization and became an enthusiastic supporter.  I now believe that Hanyu Pinyin is part of an "emerging digraphia".  As such, I am pleased that it has a complete set of orthographical rules for how to deal with word division, grammatical constructions, and punctuation.

The thing I liked most about Pinyin from the very beginning is that it didn't have a lot of unnecessary, obtrusive hyphens strewn through passages transcribed in it.  Still, I have met a few Chinese, even scholars, who insert hyphens in the Romanized transcription of their names, the titles of their works, and so forth.  And I know several Western Sinologists who insert hyphens in Hanyu Pinyin.  For instance, Geoff Wade:

I have  no knowledge of Korean, but I find the hyphens useful and instructive when rendering Chinese….  Not patronising at all.

Ornery, I know.

The words of English and French and German and many other languages have syllables too, but nobody thinks of putting hyphens in the words to mark each of their syllables.  For most languages written with an alphabet, the syllables of words are joined together, while hyphens are reserved for special purposes, such as to link up words that are normally separate into a single unit.  We are fortunate also to have a variety of dashes, which permit even greater flexibility with punctuation.

In general, in my own usage, and I perceive this also in the writing of many others, I find myself forming fewer compound nouns with hyphens than I did decades ago.  Instead, I have a tendency now either to write the words together without a hyphen, or simply to separate them without a hyphen.  For example, "hyperlink" instead of "hyper-link" and "pot belly" instead of "pot-belly", cf. also "bookcase" and "handmade" instead of "book-case" and "hand-made", "powder room" instead of "powder-room", and so forth.  As for Romanization of Chinese languages, I avoid hyphens as much as possible.  The phonology of these languages generally makes it clear where the syllable boundaries fall.  If there is any possible confusion, the official orthographic rules specify an apostrophe, e.g., Xi'an (two syllables) for the name of the city to distinguish it from xian (a single syllable) and jin'gan ("kumquat") to differentiate it from Jing'an (name of one of the central districts in Shanghai).

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Posted by Maria Giese

shutterstock_95329591Back in 1986 Newsweek made a point of suggesting that for all practical purposes, women are dead at age 40.  Women over 40, they wrote, are “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than get married. And Newsweek had statistics to back it up: Women over 40, they claimed “have a minuscule 2.6 percent probability of tying the knot.”

What is it about women and age 40?

Well, this month, Meryl Streep is taking a stand against this extraordinary, sweeping discrimination against perhaps America’s most powerful demographic. Streep, who is over 40, fully represents the striking contradiction of female stereotypes. Having worked all her life in Hollywood, she remains always ethereal, always brilliant, always beautiful.

During a panel discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival last Sunday, it was announced that Streep is funding a screenwriters lab for female writers over 40 to begin this year. The lab will be run by New York Women in Film and Television and a collective of women filmmakers know as IRIS.  This screenplay development program will be known as “The Writers Lab,” and will accept submissions May 1-June 1. Eight winners will be named August 1.

This announcement demostrates once again the Streep is a not just a shape-shifting goddess, but a national treasure that keeps on giving—to women, to our country, and to our world. Today, when the issue of female exclusion from U.S. media is hotter than ever, she simultaneously ennobled Hollywood and struck a blow at the industry, famous for ageism and sexism.

While almost 90 percent of Hollywood’s produced screenplays are written by men, when we look back at some of our world’s greatest films, we see that some of the very best were written by women over 40:

Frances Marion was 42 when Anna Christie came out in 1930. Ruth Gordon was 53 for the premiere of Adam’s Rib. Jay Presson Allen wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in her late 40’s. Lina Wertmuller was 44 when she was nominated for the Oscar for The Seduction of Mimi. Alice Arlen was 43 and Nora Ephron was 41 when Silkwood was nominated in 1983.

Other Academy Award-nominated women writers? Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was 66 (The Remains of the Day); Lisa Cholodenko was 46 (The Kids Are All Right); Bridget O’Connor was 50 (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy); Anna Thomas was 52 (Frida); and Nancy Meyers was 57 (The Holiday).  It goes on and on…

This list may create the illusion that a lot of women over 40 are writing feature screenplays—don’t be fooled. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ statistics paint a more accurate picture:  77 percent of it’s members are male, and 94 percent are white. While the Academy claims its only criterion for judgment is excellence, with gender disparity like this, what chance is there for other versions of “excellence” to be appreciated?

This concept of excellence sounds a little like fascist art. If you have only one distinct group writing, directing, producing, promoting and judging cinematic works, then there is very little chance of discovering new visions, new perspectives we rarely see—like those of women over 40. America deserves greater democracy in its cinematic arts.

Hollywood, for all its outspoken liberalism, is an industry that has consistently kept women shut out—especially older women. Today, in 2015, fewer women directors are working in American media than two decades ago. On a global basis, this means that nearly 100 percent of U.S. media content—America’s most influential export—reflects a mostly male point of view.

The movies written and produced in Hollywood and glorified at the Oscars are a powerful tool capable of affecting the way people in every part of the world act and treat one another. If women over 40 are excluded it means their voices are censored and silenced.  With discrimination like this in America’s media capital, the astounding potential our nation has to share our passion for equality and free speech is lost to people everywhere around the world.

Seen in this light, we understand why Meryl Streep’s new effort to advance women writers over 40 is revolutionary.  Every time a female screenwriter over 40 gets a feature film produced, she becomes an American hero because she is trailblazing in a landscape where she is a virtual stranger.  Streep’s new writer’s lab arms women writers with something better than road-building bulldozers—she provides them with opportunity and hope.

Let’s not ignore the fact that it is incredible that such a lab has to be set up in the first place, and that this is even a newsworthy event.  But for now, let’s be grateful that Streep has made it happen. The new Writers Lab offered to women over 40 shines a light on those who are otherwise denied access to writing cinema—the cultural voice of our whole civilization.  Let’s look forward to hearing the voices of women who are otherwise all but excluded, whose gifts are perennially ignored.

I, for one, am standing by with immense excitement to see what may emerge from these exciting new opportunities.  Thank you, Meryl!

Photo via Shutterstock

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Maria Giese directed the feature films When Saturday Comes and Hunger, based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winner, Knut Hamsun. Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is a member of the Alliance of Women Directors, the Directors Guild of America and currently serves as the Women’s DGA Director Category Rep. Check out her activist/agitator web forum,

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Posted by Leah Libresco

You can listen to “Fights in Good Faith,” my weekly radio program, streaming today at 5pm ET and tomorrow (Sun) at 1pm.  I’ll update this post when the episode is available to download and stream. Every week, I put up a “Radio Readings” post, so you can track down the books, articles, and (this week) failed Lenten penances [Read More...]

Saturday Links: Nature Feels Edition

Saturday, 25 April 2015 04:16 pm
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Posted by Dylan


Left, photo of Hyalinobatrachium dianae by Brian Kubicki. Right, photo of Kermit the Frog by Lloyd Bishop, via ABC News.

Left, photo of Hyalinobatrachium dianae by Brian Kubicki. Right, photo of Kermit the Frog by Lloyd Bishop, via ABC News.

A new frog has been discovered by researchers in Costa Rica, and it looks a little bit familiar. The Hyalinobatrachium dianae species is a glass frog with nuclear skin and big ol’ googly eyes, making this discovery one small step for biology, ONE LARGE STEP FOR KERMIT THE FROG FANS. As someone who self-identifies as a Muppet in human form, I feel vindicated! Muppets are real! They liiiiiive!

Photo of Mad Men set, via AMC.

Photo of Mad Men set, via AMC.

If you’re a fan of Mad Men, perhaps you’ve been interested in reading all of the oral histories and behind-the-scenes reports from the making of the show. This “oral history” of Mad Men parodies the reverence with which the show is discussed, and it is a goddamned spit-take factory. DO NOT READ with a beverage in your mouth. DO READ for sure.

A photo posted by CRB (@carrie_rachel) on

In an Instagram post, Carrie Brownstein’s wrote about meeting ​one of her heroes, ​Cindy Wilson from the B-52s​​. In ​the post, Carrie ​writes: “This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness. To this day I still am a fan, of many, many things. Fandom keeps me hopeful and engaged, a participant.”​ ​Reading this, I felt part of the whole ecosystem of fandom and stardom; it reaffirmed the importance of creative influence and exposure. It was kumbaya A.F. Circle of life. Fandom is life. ​Thanks, Carrie.​

I’m awed by this video from i-D magazine‘s “Obsessed” series. The video features Liz West whose deep and true love for the Spice Girls has made her a Guinness World Record holder—she has the largest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia in the known universe. The video includes some pretty dope overhead shots of her surrounded by platform shoes, Mel B cutouts, a Victoria Beckham mask (NEED), and other miscellaneous items. She explains her fandom, “When you fall in love with something so passionately, it’s hard to fall out. They’ve taught me a lot.”

Photo of Kalief Browder who spent more than a thousand days confined on Rikers Island as a teenager. By Zach Gross.

Photo of Kalief Browder who spent more than a thousand days confined on Rikers Island as a teenager. By Zach Gross.

A video released in the New Yorker gives a glimpse of the extreme violence faced by teenagers in prison. The video, taken from surveillance camera footage, shows the formerly imprisoned teenager, Kalief Browder, being slammed to the ground and beaten by a prison guard, while he’s wearing handcuffs and therefore unable to defend himself. It’s so rare that footage documenting the abuse people face in prison surfaces—even though these kinds of abuses are widely reported by incarcerated people. Just in case you’re don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, Democracy Now also has the video footage, plus an interview with Jennifer Gonnerman, the writer who broke Kalief’s story.

Cropped photo of Laverne Cox by Norman Jean Roy, via Playboy magazine.

Cropped photo of Laverne Cox by Norman Jean Roy, via Playboy magazine.

The actress Laverne Cox posed for a beautiful nude portrait for Allure magazine, which met with some super ugly backlash from the writer Meghan Murphy. In response to Murphy’s cruel piece, Playboy magazine published an article titled “Laverne Cox Gets Naked, Exposes Radical Feminist Exclusionism.” In the piece, the writer Noah Berlatsky quotes Shaadi Devereaux and Zoe Samudzi to analyze why black trans women are so often subject to abuse and vilification by a certain strand of feminism.


Photo by Tom Spray, via Pitchfork.

Photo by Tom Spray, via Pitchfork.

Last week, the writer Laura Snapes attended Tekla, a tech conference for girls in Stockholm, Sweden. As if a girls-only tech gathering weren’t cool enough, the singer Robyn—who helped organize the festival—was also there, participating in icebreaker activities. Her motivation for making Tekla a girls-only event was to see “what happens when there are no boys in the room,” giving girls the opportunity to be creative and productive in a supportive environment. I love Robyn, and I loved reading this report, which features lots of great quotes from attendees!

Book cover image via Amazon.

Book cover image via Amazon.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the U.S., and Book Riot brought together the YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers to discuss their respective novels, Speak and All the Rage, which both deal with sexual violence. The two writers talk about the challenges they’ve faced in writing about this difficult but important topic, including having their books labelled “rape books” and comments that there are already enough books featuring sexual assault survivors. Sexual violence is a traumatic fact of life for too many, and I’m grateful that these women are writing stories about these real struggles. As Courtney says, “Girls’ stories matter because girls matter.”

Top: Sophie Thomas (front row) wears a t-shirt that reads "Feminist." Bottom: The airbrushed school photograph. Via New York Daily News.

Top: Sophie Thomas (front row) wears a black t-shirt printed with the word “feminist.” Bottom: The word “feminist” has been airbrushed out. Via New York Daily News.

In “What the Heck????” news, I was bummed to hear that Ohio middle-schooler Sophie Thomas’s t-shirt was censored in her class photo. Why? Because it had the word “feminist” printed across it. The principal of Sophie’s school, Clermont Northeastern Middle School, decided that the word was “offensive,” and blacked it out in the class shot—even though it didn’t violate any school policies or dress codes. Sophie posted messages of protest on her social media accounts using the hashtags #IDeserveFreedomOfExpression and #KeepFeminismInSchools. Her school has since promised to hold “larger discussions with students” about feminism. Go, Sophie!

Photo of Alice Dreger and screengrab of her tweets, via CBC Radio.

Photo of Alice Dreger and screengrab of her tweets, via CBC Radio.

Usually I wouldn’t be thrilled by the idea of my mother attending sex-ed class with me (HOW EMBARRASSING), but in the case of mom and author Alice Dreger, I think I can handle it. Alice Dreger sat in on her son’s sex-ed class and live-tweeted it, sharing the messages that the educators—from a Christian pro-life group called SMART—conveyed to the students. Alice was horrified at the educators’ use of disputed research, slyly illogical examples, and scare tactics (one example: “Safe sex is kind of a misnomer.”) I think Alice did a great job of drawing attention to the biased sex education some students receive.

In this SUPER heartwarming video, 102-year-old Alice Barker watches footage of herself performing in dance clubs in the 1930s. Alice had never seen the footage before—possibly because it had been filed under the wrong name in a film archive. It is so sweet to watch Alice revisit memories of her incredible youth!

Photo by Amanda, via.

Photo by Amanda Curtis, via Accuweather.

This week, we were treated to the most delightful of memes—not a rainbow, or a double rainbow, but a quadruple rainbow, which painted the sky after a quiet storm. Stare at this picture for a while and feel all of your worries dissolve. This super-rare natural phenomenon is—according to an Accuweather meteorologist—technically impossible. But because nature is wild and untamed, a double rainbow was projected off a body of water to create two more beautiful rainbow arcs. Ahhh, I love Gaia so much.​ ♦

In the weeds

Saturday, 25 April 2015 03:51 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

J.K. Trotter, "Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti: The Gawker Interview", 4/22/2015 (From Ben Zimmer, who picked it up from Sebastian Stockman on Twitter — emphasis added):

Keenan: They’re running the Pepsi Twitter account?
Ben (to Jonah): Yes. Is that exactly accurate? I’m not in the weeds in this, but they had been—
Jonah: They had been making content for Pepsi.
Ben: Because they were running the account.
Jonah: And it was—I’m not in the weeds on this, either, but I know the creative team was doing real-time marketing with Pepsi and posting stuff—

Sebastian asks "doesn't 'in the weeds' usually mean 'out of depth/in trouble'?"

Ben notes that this "seems to be the 'involved with details' meaning you discerned in your 2006 post" ("Deep in the Hookergate weeds", 5/8/2006). Ben is right, as usual, but this is a particular extension of that usage, where "in the weeds" means not just "involved with details" but "knowledgeable about details". Here's another example, from Kyle Smith, "De Blasio’s chronic lateness shows he doesn’t respect NYers", NY Post 4/15/2015

A former colleague who worked with de Blasio when he was managing Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign in 2000 told The Observer, “He’s a surface guy, total surface. He’s not in the weeds. He’s more about the politics, not policy.”

To other staffers, according to The Observer, “De Blasio seemed less interested in policy details than big-picture ideas, delegating those tasks out to staffers who would then brief him verbally or in short ‘pro’- and ‘con’-filled memos. In at least one case, Mr. de Blasio appeared to be unaware of points raised in his own report, released with great fanfare to the press.”

See my 2006 post for a discussion of the "overwhelmed by circumstances" meaning, which comes from the restaurant world, as well as the basic "(over-)involved with details" meaning, which has been common for some time in journalism and politics.

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Posted by Libby Anne

As my regular readers will know, I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t think there is a god, or gods, or supernatural forces out there. As an atheist, I have heard the arguments for religion many times. There is one argument I find particularly annoying, because it is so completely nonsensical that I can’t believe it’s even used. I heard it articulated like this the other day:

A Christian man whom we’ll call Peter had an atheist friend named Dave who was very interested in astronomy and outer space. So the Peter created a detailed globe of the heavens, showing each star and galaxy. When Dave came to visit, he wanted to know where Peter had gotten the globe. Peter told him it had just appeared there, like that, and had no maker. Dave told Peter he must be joking, and Peter pointed out to Dave that, as an atheist, Dave himself believes all of the heavens and stars and galaxies came into existence on their own, with no creator, which is far more improbable. Dave went home with much to think about, and soon converted to Christianity.


If I’m walking along a beach and I find a watch, yes, I assume that a person made it. I know that there are watch factories. I can look up pictures, or even go visit one. The same is true for globes, or books, or lamps, and so forth. I have not, however, ever seen a supernatural entity create a universe.

Let me put it like this. If you’re walking through a field and you look down and see a clump of dirt, would you assume a person made it? No, you would assume that it formed naturally. What if you came upon a small clay pot, with handles and swirling designs on its sides? You would assume that a person made it and left it there, or lost it. You would assume that because you know that people make pots, but you have never seen a person make a dirt clod.

In other words, if you point to a globe and claim that the fact that I know a person made that globe is some sort of “gotcha” that proves that there is a supernatural entity that created our universe, you’re going to lose me, because that makes no sense at all.

Look, if you want to argue that the universe looks like it was designed, be my guest! That argument actually has some sense to it. I am, however, going to have to disagree, because I don’t actually think the universe looks like it was designed. In fact, I think it very much looks like it wasn’t designed.

If you want to argue that nothing just “is,” and that everything has an origin or cause, and that therefore there must be an uncaused entity (i.e. god) that created all matter, you are more than welcome! I am going to have to note, though, that it seems much more likely to me that matter is the thing that just is than that there is a supernatural entity out there that just is.

Make all of the arguments against atheism you like! Seriously, I have no problem with that whatsoever. Just please, please, please don’t point to a globe, or a watch, or a lamp, and tell me that because I know a person created that, it is of necessity just as obvious that a divine being created the universe. Not only is this not convincing, it makes you look ridiculous.

Crimes against English

Saturday, 25 April 2015 12:31 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

Sign on the front door at the Taitung County District Prosecutors Office in Taiwan (via Kerim Friedman):

This is from an article in Want China Times (4/21/15):

"Taitung prosecutors indicted for crimes against English"

qǐng xiǎoxīn tiānyǔ lùhuá 請小心天雨路滑
("please be careful on rainy days [since] the road becomes slippery" > "slippery when wet")

The article correctly points out that English is the lingua franca of Taiwan. The overall level of English in Taiwan is indeed impressively high, so much so that it is often mixed in with Mandarin or Taiwanese when people are speaking. Consequently, this sort of thing doesn't happen very often (in comparison to other places where mangled English is rampant). And, when it does, people usually (but not always!) catch the blunder quickly and make a fuss over it, as in this case.

Adam Hamilton and Me

Saturday, 25 April 2015 12:34 pm
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Posted by Roger E. Olson

Adam Hamilton is founding pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in the U.S. Church of the Resurrection (Leawood, KS) has twenty-one thousand members and is growing. Yesterday (Friday, April 24, 2015) I spent much of the day with Adam at his church (in suburban Kansas City). He graciously agreed to interview me for a [Read More...]

Rising sun

Saturday, 25 April 2015 07:30 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

James Madison, "Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention", Tuesday September 17, 1787:

Whilst the last members [of the Constitutional Convention] were signing [the final document], Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun.

I have, said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.

I used this quote and picture in a talk today, as a way to ask whether the current flowering of text analysis applications is the start of an era of ever-greater accomplishment, or rather is a process that paradoxically destroys its own engine of progress, so that a brief "golden age" is followed inevitably by silver, bronze, and iron.

In my talk I echoed, tentatively, Franklin's optimism. But in the question period, Dmitri Gusev observed that there was a simple answer to Franklin's uncertainty — was the chair's sun image in the east, in which case it would clearly be rising? or in the west, where it would have to be setting.

Since the building and room where the convention took place are still intact, and amply documented, this answer is easy to find.

Here's a floor plan of Independence Hall:

[A version at the original resolution (3,355 × 2,272 pixels) is available here.]

North is down in this drawing (as shown by the arrow in the lower left hand corner), so the Assembly Room, on the left-hand side, is at the east end of the building. And as the floor plan suggests, and the photo below confirms, the president's desk was at the east end of the Assembly Room:

So metaphorical vicissitudes aside, the sun does rise in the east, and Franklin's optimism was cosmologically justified.

Friday Playlist: Dueling Duets

Saturday, 25 April 2015 03:00 am
[syndicated profile] rookie_feed

Posted by Estelle

A duet = two people singing in harmony, right? This is a playlist of songs by duos who might be in tune musically, but aren’t exactly on the same page emotionally.

Album cover and playlist illustrations by Emma D.

Album cover and playlist illustrations by Emma D.

Our Dream Feminist Coachella Lineup

Friday, 24 April 2015 11:08 pm
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Posted by Jenevieve Ting

With this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—and its rampant cultural appropriation (ahem festival garb)—behind us for now, we’ve put together our dream feminist Coachella lineup featuring a handful of artists who have either claimed their feminism, sung about it, proudly rallied for it or unapologetically lived it. Here’s hoping a fem-fest of this size might one day be a (less than $375) reality.

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Jenevieve Ting


Jenevieve Ting is a student at the University of Southern California and an editorial intern at Ms. She has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Next Magazine and Thought Catalog. Find out about.me/jenevieve.ting

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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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