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For our tenth anniversary, we asked some of the BhTV’s oldest friends to reflect on the past decade. In this montage: Heather Hurlburt, John Horgan, Michelle Goldberg, Sarah Posner, David Corn, Andrew Sullivan, Megan McArdle, John McWhorter, Bill Scher, Matt Lewis, David Frum, Glenn Loury, and Matthew Yglesias.

Sunday WTF?

Sunday, 29 November 2015 04:12 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Exodus 22:16-19

When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.

 You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.

 Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

"It didn't fail to disappoint"

Sunday, 29 November 2015 02:23 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

A lovely misnegation sent in by David Denison — Kevin Mitchell, "‘There was so much noise’ says Jamie Murray after Davis Cup doubles win", The Guardian 11/28/2015 [emphasis added]:

“There was so much noise,” Jamie said. “It was mental. There’s a low roof as well so everything’s packed in. We were shouting to each other at the baseline trying to tell each other where we were going to serve. But it was brilliant. It’s a Davis Cup final – we expected it to be noisy, a lot of passion and fans out here. It didn’t fail to disappoint.”

Geoff Pullum wrote about "fail to disappoint" a few years ago ("Never fails: semantic over-achievers", 12/1/2011), but I don't think we've noted just how common this particular usage is.

In the Google News index from the past few weeks, we find (among many others)

(link) With an interesting plot twist at the end, the reveal did not fail to disappoint one bit!
(link) Every episode of NXT usually gets a positive review and the TakeOver events never fail to disappoint.
(link) The college basketball season is fully underway and the Pac-12 Conference is back with new faces and fantastic freshmen talent. The conference shouldn’t fail to disappoint, and with plenty of time until the madness of March begins, there is a lot to talk about in the Pac-12.
(link) Locust Project never fails to disappoint, and this year for Basel the gallery is bringing Brooklyn-based artist Martha Friedman's first major show in Miami, Pore.
(link) Katie never fails to disappoint on the red carpet, and the Stylemakers event was no exception. Working with makeup artist Fabiola Arancibia, the Dawson’s Creek actress opted for fresh, dewy skin and rosy lip color.
(link) Nancy Ajram doesn't just hit the spot with her angelic voice, she never fails to disappoint her fans on the fashion front either.
(link) Toppers never fails to disappoint, and I loved its whole new range of denim styles, sportswear and Miu Miu inspired shoes.

But unlike some other common misnegations, this one is also often used with its compositional meaning, e.g.

(link) HAMBLETON District Council never fails to disappoint. Its November 12 planning committee meeting, which including Brompton Councillor Isobel Sanderson, unanimously approved the North Northallerton Development […] My conclusion is that Hambleton council, having created enormous congestion in Northallerton by allowing so much development over the last 50 years, is digging itself into deeper trouble by approving the North Northallerton development. Unacceptably disappointing.
(link) Dessert is provided gratis, but only a cannoli fails to disappoint. Competent service, and agreeable atmosphere cannot undo the bad food at Villa Armando.
(link) Intel's mobile group never fails to disappoint and it would seem that, once again, getting lapped by its competitors is par for the course for this division.
(link) That is meant as no disrespect to Djilobodji, an experienced international who was holding his own in the lower end of Ligue 1, but with expectations so highly raised the move couldn't fail to disappoint.

As Geoff wrote,

You know, one of the really weird things about us human beings […] is that we have somehow created for ourselves languages that are just a bit too flexible and expressive for our brains to handle. We have managed to build languages in which arbitrarily deep nesting of negation and quantification is possible, when we ourselves have major difficulties handling the semantics of anything beyond about depth 1 or 2. That is so weird. But that's how we are: semantic over-achievers, trying to use languages that are quite a bit beyond our intellectual powers.

If you think about it, this is a version of the "Peter Principle" applied to (biological and cultural) evolution. As Wikipedia explains,

The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence."

Similarly, language(s) will develop in complexity to the point where they often fail. If language never failed, it would develop further. If a linguistic  innovation almost always failed, it would never catch on. So as a result, language rises to the level of our collective incompetence.

New evidence for the development of hiragana?

Sunday, 29 November 2015 02:15 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

An article by Tomoyoshi Kubo in The Asahi Shimbun, "Poem on 9th-century wood could provide missing link between kanji, hiragana" (11/27/15), may provide evidence for the development of hiragana (cursive syllabary) from Chinese characters.

…The entire verse of famed tanka poem “Naniwazu” was inscribed in ink on Japanese cypress in an intermediary syllabary between manyogana, one of the earliest Japanese writing systems dating back to the fifth century, and hiragana, the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute said on Nov. 26….

The kanji were originally semantic but were read phonetically to suit the Japanese language.

The characters were later simplified and turned into hiragana, but the process of that transformation remains a mystery.

The writing on the latest discovery is neither manyogana nor hiragana, but something in between, the institute said. It is also the first finding of the entire poem written in the intermediary system….

Comments from Bob Ramsey:

I have to say that I found this article on a “missing link” strange and unprofessional. Sure, it was written by a reporter for a completely lay audience, but I’m having trouble figuring out just what it is that apparently has professional Japanese philologists excited. First of all, there’s no such thing as an “intermediary writing system between manyogana and hiragana”. Really, there’s no qualitative difference in any case between manyogana and (hira)gana; everything functional about kana was already present in the styles of manyogana used in at least three books of the Manyoshu, books where Chinese characters were used only as phonograms. As you well know, (hira)gana was nothing more than a further scriptification of the cǎoshū 草書 ("cursive") forms of Chinese characters being used as phonograms, and throughout the Heian (794-1185) period calligraphic practice varied almost at the whim of the writer; manyogana never switched clearly to (hira)gana at any one point.

What I remember from my textbooks is that Japanese philologists rather arbitrarily decided to draw a line along the continuum from manyogana to (hira)gana and call a particular 10th-century version of the Akihagi-jo 秋萩帖 the “first” (hira)gana document. But if you take a look at the text, you’ll see that there’s nothing really different about it from lots and lots of other calligraphic works being written around that same time in the Heian. Sure, the first character ān / an 安 is written in a cǎoshū 草書 ("cursive")  form that looks pretty much like a あ, but you don’t have to go very far down the line of characters to see that most of the characters are still just cǎoshū 草書 ("cursive") .

Boy. And then I see “The kanji were originally semantic but were read phonetically to suit the Japanese language.” How unprofessional can the writeup get?

The Japanese truly did something important by simply starting to use Chinese characters purely as phonograms. Of course, that step had already been taken, in part, elsewhere, including in China (and Korea). But using symbols solely as phonograms without any semantograms mixed in is something that was certainly important for the development of Japanese writing. That practice, however, was already in place in some circles in the Nara (710-794) period. It just became more common in the Heian.

What all of this boils down to is that stages in the evolution of writing systems typically do not occur at a certain moment in time, but rather that they occur over a period of time that may be quite long.  As such, the boundaries between the stages will almost inevitably be blurred.

[h.t. Petya Andreeva]

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Posted by Tony Jones


As I write this, the sun is rising on a new year, liturgically speaking. Yesterday was the last day in the liturgical calendar, and today is the first day of Advent, the first day of a new year.

This is Year C in the New Revised Common Lectionary, which means a year in the Gospel of Luke — that’s good news for those of us who love Luke most among the Gospels, especially its commitment to women and justice.

But for me, this is not just the flip of a page in a calendar or the reliance on a new commentary for sermon prep. Today marks the end of a very bad year, one in which I lost a lot of what I value in the world. I lost friends and I lost work, and it’s likely no secret to you who follow this blog why that happened.

And yet I’ve had a few true friends who, along with my family, stuck by my side and encouraged me to keep faith, to keep fighting, to keep hoping. So I did, at least most of the time — at times, I lost hope, but they kept hope for me.

Now, with the dawn of the new year, comes news that has buoyed my spirit and reminded me that, with time and hope, new life springs even from soil that looks barren. Our family begins a new season tomorrow — one that will surely be difficult, yet also holds great promise for healing and health.

As always, Advent begins with apocalyptic readings. Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 21:25-36.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I swear to God, I can see the fig tree sprouting leaves. I know that the Kingdom of God is near.

When I forget that in coming days, please remind me.

Don't miss a post! Enter your email address to receive Tony's blog posts in your inbox.

The post The End of a Very Bad Year and the Start of Something New appeared first on Tony Jones.

First Sunday of Advent

Sunday, 29 November 2015 05:00 am
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Posted by Richard Beck

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

--"Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot

Lesbian Duplex 43: An Open Thread

Sunday, 29 November 2015 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

It’s time for another Lesbian Duplex thread! If you have a link or article or interesting thought that’s not relevant to an ongoing thread, you can share it here. If a conversation on another post has turned entirely off topic, you can bring it here also. Every so often, as the number of comments on a given Lesbian Duplex post becomes unmanageable, I put up a fresh post. I’ve added a “chatter” tab under my blog banner that will direct readers to these discussion threads, so no one will have to worry about digging for one. In any case, my comment policy lays out the house rules.


In case you’re unfamiliar with the backstory of this feature, the lesbian duplex has become a running joke on this blog since two of my posts on Debi’s book, Created To Be His Help Meet. For the backstory, you can take a look at these posts—Simper, Smile, and Giggle and Single Moms Turned Lesbian. The name suits these threads, because if Debi were right, we would all be lesbians living in duplexes!

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Posted by Fred Clark

I’m just going to post these tweets here as a reference point so we can pick this conversation up later after I get back from the Big Box.

Every once in a while, some disturbed person absorbs the language and logic of white evangelicalism’s Satanic baby-killer fantasies and, not realizing it’s all a disingenuous game, acts on it. “Pro-life” evangelicals are then forced to condemn that person’s actions in an awkward dance that forces them to admit, at least implicitly, that they do not take their own words and arguments seriously — and thus that no one else should take them seriously either.






I link, therefore I spam

Saturday, 28 November 2015 06:00 pm
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Posted by spam-spam

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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Posted by Roger E. Olson

Does Love Ever Coerce? My Response to The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord The book’s whole title and publication information is: The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord (InterVarsity Press, 2015). I title this post “My Response” because in the book Oord specifically [Read More...]

Freedom and flexibility

Saturday, 28 November 2015 03:50 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Muriel Spark's memoir Curriculum Vitae antedates discourse-particle like to the early 1920s. And J.L. Austin, in his posthumous work Sense and Sensibilia, defends like as "the great adjuster-word, or, alternatively put, the main flexibility-device by whose aid, in spite of the limited scope of our vocabulary, we can always avoid being left completely speechless."

Muriel Spark describes her reactions, in her "pre-school infancy", to The Doorbell:

That ring at the door that I loved so much would bring, in the afternoon, my mother’s friends or, on rare occasions, my married aunts. In the evening a much more exciting variety of family friends rang the bell, many of them fairly eccentric, in whom I took a deep interest. […]

A pulley on the landing, or doorlifter as we called it, would open the street door for visitors who pulled that wonderful doorbell. In those days before I went to school, people were far more important to me than toys or nature. The beauty of walks over the hills and by the sea was beginning to seep into my consciousness by way of the sensations of smell and of sheer liberty and the lyrical suggestiveness of nature-verse, but it had not yet formed a positive delight in my mind such as people presented.

The magic pulley on the landing would often admit a voice first of all, calling up the stairs, for there was a curve in the staircase and one could not see immediately who the visitor was. Then on stage to us, as it seemed, came one of the following:

One of the regular visitors that she goes on to list was "a Miss Macdonald,"

. . . whose name was Margaret, as I gathered from a piece of conversation she reported. Miss Macdonald was dressed in navy blue with a white blouse. She was finer-bred than Miss Pride, but it was said she was not all there. I think my parents were sorry for her. All the time she spoke tears coursed down her cheek. They trickled down into her cup of tea. She couldn’t ever stop crying. She was bound up in a court case against someone who had wrongly accused her. Her brother, a lawyer, couldn’t do much more than he had already done. The word ‘like’ peppered her conversation. ‘My brother, like, wouldn’t go, like, any further with it, like . . .'

Wikipedia says that Muriel Spark, born in 1918, "was educated at James Gillespie's School for Girls (1923–35)", so Miss Macdonald's visits must have taken place in the early 1920s.

Miss Macdonald is presented as "not all there", and her excessive use of like is a symptom of eccentricity, like her constant crying. But both for her crying and for her use of like, what Muriel Spark considers worthy of note is the frequency and not the function.

And in Sense and Sensibilia, J.L. Austin offers a strong defense of like's function. He describes the

… large and important family of words that we may call adjuster-words — words, that is, by the use of which other words are adjusted to meet the innumerable and unforeseeable demands of the world upon language. The position, considerably oversimplified no doubt, is that at a given time our language contains words that enable us (more or less) to say what we want to say in most situations that (we think) are liable to turn up. But vocabularies are finite; and the variety of possible situations that may confront us is neither finite nor precisely foreseeable. So situations are practically bound to crop up sometimes with which our vocabulary is not already fitted to cope in any tidy, straightforward style.

He chooses pigs and pig-like animals as a case in point:

We have the word 'pig', for instance, and a pretty clear idea which animals, among those that we fairly commonly encounter, are and are not to be so called. But one day we come across a new kind of animal, which looks and behaves very much as pigs do, but not quite as pigs do; it is somehow different. Well, we might just keep silent, not knowing what to say; we don't want to say positively that it is a pig, or that it is not. Or we might, if for instance we expected to want to refer to these new creatures pretty often, invent a quite new word for them. But what we could do, and probably would do first of all, is to say, 'It's like a pig.' ('Like' is the great adjuster-word, or, alternatively put, the main flexibility-device by whose aid, in spite of the limited scope of our vocabulary, we can always avoid being left completely speechless.) And then, having said of this animal that it's like a pig, we may proceed with the remark, 'But it isn't a real pig'—or more specifically, and using a term that naturalists favour, 'not a true pig'. 

He suggests that like has special value in this respect:

But, one might ask, do we have to have 'like' to serve this purpose ? We have, after all, other flexibility-devices. For instance, I might say that animals of this new species are 'piggish'; I might perhaps call them 'quasi-pigs', or describe them (in the style of vendors of peculiar wines) as 'pig-type' creatures. But these devices, excellent no doubt in their way, can't be regarded as substitutes for 'like', for this reason: they equip us simply with new expressions on the same level as, functioning in the same way as, the word 'pig' itself; and thus, though they may perhaps help us out of our immediate difficulty, they themselves may land us in exactly the same kind of difficulty at any time. We have this kind of wine, not real port, but a tolerably close approximation to port, and we call it 'port type'. But then someone produces a new kind of wine, not port exactly, but also not quite the same as what we now call 'port type'. So what are we to say? Is it port-type type ? It would be tedious to have to say so, and besides there would clearly be no future in it. But as it is we can say that it is like porttype wine (and for that matter rather like port, too); and in saying this we don't saddle ourselves with a new word, whose application may itself prove problematic if the vintners spring yet another surprise on us. The word 'like' equips us generally to handle the unforeseen, in a way in which new words invented ad hoc don't, and can't.

All of Austin's examples involve adjusting the reference of noun phrases. But Miss Macdonald used like in a syntactically much freer (and thus more useful) way, which Austin would no doubt have applauded, since this freedom equips us to handle an even wider range of referential surprises. For the same reason, like-users during the past century have increasingly followed her lead.

Muffy Siegel ("Like: The Discourse Particle and Semantics", J. of Semantics 2002) notes that

. . . like can, like other discourse particles, appear […] pretty much before any constituent and have scope over that constituent, indicating the lack of a fixed grammatical role.

As I observed in "Divine ambiguity" (1/4/2004), it's easy to see how more syntactically constrained uses of like could morph into more syntactically protean uses — and I suspect that we'll be able to find examples back into the 19th century and beyond of this process.

As for the modern meaning, Muffy Siegel quotes the definition from Lawrence Schourup's 1982 dissertation "Common discourse particles in English conversation":

like is used to express a possible unspecified minor nonequivalence of what is said and what is meant.

This is very much like what Austin wrote:

If we think of words as being shot like arrows at the world, the function of these adjuster-words is to free us from the disability of being able to shoot only straight ahead; by their use on occasion, such words as 'pig' can be, so to speak, brought into connexion with targets lying slightly off the simple, straightforward line on which they are ordinarily aimed. And in this way we gain, besides flexibility, precision; for if I can say, 'Not a real pig, but like a pig', I don't have to tamper with the meaning of 'pig' itself.

Among the few of you still reading, some are probably thinking "But surely it's a problem that the Miss Macdonalds of the world sprinkle like so vigorously into their speech — literally every third word, in Muriel Spark's example".  And some may recall the example from Muffy Siegel's paper that I cited in a long-ago post, where 4 likes are added to 22 non-like words:

She isn’t, like, really crazy or anything, but her and her, like, five buddies did, like, paint their hair a really fake-looking, like, purple color.

In response, let me suggest Muriel Spark was indulging in memoiristic hyperbole, and Muffy chose to lead with an especially striking example, in which her informant was trying to transmit some ambiguous information in a scrupulous way.

If we look at extended conversation, even Lena Dunham only uses like about once in 81 words:

But what about the clear rate change over time? Are Americans getting less and less willing to shoot their referential arrows straight ahead? It's possible. But rather, I suspect, the adjusting force of like has just been getting gradually bleached out, as commonly happens to such words, so that the threshold of target-deviation for using it has gradually shrunk.

[h/t to Barton Swain, "Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language", WSJ 4/19/2015 ("Interdiction has failed. The grammatical version of legalizing marijuana may be in order.") ]

Saturday Printable: Greeting Cards

Saturday, 28 November 2015 02:30 pm
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Posted by Paloma Link

Slip these greeting cards, hand-doodled by Paloma Link, into lockers, under doors, inside math books, or anywhere you want to surprise a friend by telling them they’re the best, basically.

Go right this way to download the first page of cards:


And here to get the second:


A hint for the dotted lines on each page: Cut through the vertical one, then fold on the ones that are left over. ♦

Ways to say "China" that can circumvent the censors

Saturday, 28 November 2015 12:21 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

China's netizens are endlessly resourceful in coming up with clever terms to refer to almost anything that can evade the omnipresent censors — at least for awhile.  We're all familiar with the "Grass Mud Horse" and the "Franco-Croatian Squid".

Strange as it may seem (!), they sometimes feel the need to say something critical about China, but to do so they have to evade the censors who will catch them, invoking the wrath of the almighty government.  So now they have figured out various ways to refer to China without using the name of their country, Zhōngguó 中国 ("Central Kingdom, i.e., China") or Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó 中华人民共和国 ("People's Republic of China").

Here are some clever ways to refer to "China" on the Chinese internet that can still circumvent the censors:

Xī Cháoxiǎn 西朝鲜 ("West Korea")

Cíguó 瓷国 ("porcelain / china country")

Dà cíguó 大瓷国 (" great porcelain / china country")

See here for an article using the latter term.

Just today I learned another circumlocution that is widely used by netizens to avoid the internet police:  tiāncháo 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court").  Since this expression can be used in a number of different ways, I'll spell some of them out.

1. to satirize the government

2. to mock themselves (the netizens) as citizens of such a place

3. just for the sake of levity

4. in a patriotic spirit

5. to criticize bureaucratic corruption

6. to make fun of the hapless people who are oppressed by such venal officials

When the netizens use this expression, 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court"), they are likely to refer to the citizens of such a government as:

a. cǎomín 草民 ("grass people" — as insignificant as blades of grass; "the rabble")

b. yǐmín 蚁民 ("ant people")

c. Pmín P民 ("P people", i.e., pìmín 屁民 ["fart people; shitizens"])

To make the loathing even more vicious, tiāncháo 天朝 ("celestial / heavenly court") can also be given the graphic form 兲朝, which has the same sound and superficially conveys the same meaning, has the added implication that a "king" ( 王) is at the top of the government.  Even worse, 兲 conveys the notion of "bastard", since it is made up of wáng 王 ("king") + bā 八 ("eight"), a standard pun for wàngbà(dàn) 忘爸蛋 ("bastard; son of a bitch")

See all the swear words related to eggs here and here.

[h.t. Sanping Chen; thanks to Fangyi Cheng]

Saturday Link Love

Saturday, 28 November 2015 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

Each week, I collect a variety of links I find interesting or helpful, some to blog about and some to save and share. At the end of each week, I always have a handful of links sitting on my computer that I haven’t done anything with. I’m going to institute a new feature—each Saturday, I’ll share these links here on my blog and ask my readers to share any interesting articles you have found in the last week as well.

And so here you go—your first installment!


The Science of Spanking, from Upworthy

The Secret of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child, from Aha Parenting

Parents: Reject Technology Shame, from The Atlantic


Conservative Wants to “Bomb Mecca Off the Face of the Earth” to Show Christian Love, from Friendly Atheist

Bible School Primer for Governors, from Exploring Our Matrix

Judge Bus: Fighting the Shakespearean-Evolutionary Conspiracy To Warehouse Iowa’s Children, from Right Wing Watch


Young Black Men Share Heartbreaking Stories About Growing Up in the US, from Everyday Feminism 

That time when your research is used to justify ripping a baby from the arms of its loving adoptive parents, from Family Inequality

Ben Carson

It’s not rocket science: Why at first I thought Ben Carson was like ‘Good Jackie’, from The Slacktivist

Ben Carson is ‘Bad Jackie’, from The Slacktivist

Dear Diary: November 27, 2015

Saturday, 28 November 2015 02:00 am
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Posted by Ella Carlander

My sister and I leading a conservation project, while trying to conserve our dignity amidst the awkwardness. —Ella Carlander

My sister and I leading a conservation project, while trying to conserve our dignity amidst the awkwardness. —Ella Carlander


I feel stuck in a state of a OK-ness, of fine—but fine isn’t enough. Read More »


Some of the discussions were heated, some even ended with me having to say goodbye to people I’ve known for years. Read More »

Life Soundtrack: Hilton Als

Saturday, 28 November 2015 12:00 am
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Posted by Hilton Als

Illustrations by Elly Cactei.

Illustrations by Elly.

Hilton Als is the author of the books The Women and White Girls and is a theater critic and writer for The New Yorker. The way he recounts experiences such as love, art, grief, and friendship can make a person feel like they are understanding, for the first time, subjects they already know painfully, blissfully well. Here, he introduces us to some of the songs that have shaped his life, much of which has been lived in New York City.

1. “Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick

This song is so important to me on so many levels. I must have first heard it hanging out with my four older sisters who are much older than me; they’d play 45s while they got dressed to go out. Dionne was a perennial favorite, in part because she was so witty about longing—in the songs she sang written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach everyone was a fool for love. “Trains” made an indelible impression on me; the rhythm of the words influenced how I saw and felt words.

2. “Got to Be There” by the Jackson 5

Growing up we lived in a number of different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but this song always brings to mind my adolescence, which happened in Crown Heights. I was in love with a guy named Arnold; he had black curly hair, and he lived near us. It was summer; I must have been 12 or 13 (the song came out in 1972), and I used to go to Arnold’s house and watch him sleep. I was intoxicated by his smell. “Got to Be There” played on the radio and it was every moment that I spent watching Arnold nap and waiting for him to wake up and see me and hopefully love me.

3. “Do the Du” by A Certain Ratio

I loved my friend Valda who died of cancer almost 10 years ago now. She was one of the people who introduced me to New York nightlife. The city was very dangerous and exciting in the 1980s, and Valda was well known at the Mudd Club and Save the Robots. Save the Robots was an after-hours place, it had a basement and there, in the dark, you’d dance to wonderful English-based bands like A Certain Ratio that combined elements of ska with disco and disco with reggae. The beat carried you along, and before you knew it was almost six o’clock in the morning and time to eat pea soup at Veselka before you had to get dressed for work.

4. “Dig a Pony” by the Beatles

A surrealist masterpiece that means many things and nothing, too. It feels like the weirdest kind of ballad, but it’s faster than that. I can’t describe it musically but I think I first heard it when I was in my twenties (I was late coming around to the Beatles). I think what got my attention was how visual their words were, and the visual—that was so interesting to me. I was 22 and an art history major at Columbia University and the world was opening up culturally in many ways, and even though the Beatles were “old” they made me see how very new they always would be.

5. “He Was a Big Freak” by Betty Davis

For a time Betty Davis was married to the great jazz artist, Miles Davis. I didn’t really know her music until the early 1990s, when I was a DJ at a club called Bar d’O on Bedford and Downing Streets in the West Village. It was a great experience, a great small lounge where I played records; my payment was some scotch and amazing company. My friend, the artist Darryl Turner, lent me some of his records for those Friday night gigs—I was afraid of growing stale—and one of the records he gave me was this Betty David gem, which was, I learned, about one of her lovers: Jimi Hendrix.

6. “Human Behavior” by Björk

I was working as an Editor-at-Large at Vibe magazine then; Björk’s first solo album, Debut, was released in 1993 and it was like hearing a voice you recognized and didn’t recognize all at once—something you remembered hearing from the womb, really. She hit hard in part because she was that rare thing: a singer who talked about her optimism, and desire for more: more love, more fun. We tried to have that energy in the pages at Vibe, and I look back at that time as extraordinary and beautiful and filled with hope: we reported on a multicultural world that was just beginning to make itself known, really.

7. “Simple Twist of Fate” by Bob Dylan

As with the Beatles, it took me many years to understand Bob Dylan (I am not partial to guitars) and it was his shattering ability with words that finally got to me. Also how much narrative sense he makes. My best friend and greatest love, Kevin (he died in 1992; AIDS), loved Dylan and so many artists I had not been exposed to previously. I can’t remember when I first heard this song, but I relate it to Kevin, and my love for him. I think of him every day. This song feels like my yearning for him.

8. “Love Has Fallen on Me” by Chaka Khan

When Kevin died, I played this song every day for him for years. Because everything the incomparable Chaka sings here we lived. I think we still live it.

9. “I’m Hip” by Blossom Dearie

I live in New York still and I never miss an opportunity to imagine that everything Blossom embraces/makes fun of is still possible. ♦

A final week of ’70s music at the Big Box

Friday, 27 November 2015 10:25 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

I’ve started noticing other stores going with a 1970s soundtrack for shoppers. I think maybe it’s a way of getting around worries about otherwise needing to pick a particular target demographic for the piped-in music. By the late 1980s, pop radio had begun splintering into dozens of categories and sub-categories, but in the ’70s, Top-40 still ruled, with radio offering rock and disco and Manilow in a single block of music. One minute it sounds like you’re riding along in the car with Dean Winchester, and then suddenly you’re docking at Puerto Vallarta with the passengers from The Love Boat.

Anyway, restocking the shelves at the Big Box doesn’t fully occupy one’s mind, giving me plenty of time to meditate on the meaning of the songs being piped in on the store’s music service. Maybe too much time.

• Tavares’ “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” starts off as an unmistakable artifact of the 1970s with the strains of Disco behind a hook based on the cheesiest of cheesy pick-up lines. But after the first minute or so the song morphs into something more like old-school 1950s Doo-wop. Maybe “heavenly” Disco songs just become untethered in time because something similar — but even more surprising — happens in the final minutes of Brenda Pointer’s “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” which ends with a burst of brassy scat a la Louis or Ella. It’s completely unexpected, but it fits perfectly, which is a delightful trick.

• The BeeGees’ “More Than a Woman” would be a period piece even without its ultra-’70s arrangement. If you covered this song today, giving it the most contemporary, cutting-edge musical interpretation possible, it would still come across as a relic of its time. No matter the musical setting, the lyric expresses something that could only be said by blow-dryed, bare-chested men in gold jackets with gold chains tangled in their copious chest-hair.

The Bee Gees

The chorus seems intended to praise a woman by suggesting that she is better than “a woman.” It posits womanhood as a category and approves of its object due to her transcendence of that category. If she were merely “a woman,” she would apparently be unworthy of the singer’s love and admiration. Her worthiness is contingent on her being “more than a woman.”

I’ve given this a great deal of thought, but haven’t yet managed to find any way of interpreting that phrase — “More Than a Woman” — that doesn’t require some appallingly misogynistic underlying assumptions.

The best I can do is to read this as a kind of repentance of some earlier attitude. Perhaps the singer intends to say that he used to regard all women as objects — interchangeable, disposable, impersonal and sub-personal inferior creatures. But now, he may be saying, this new love has taught him to view her as something more than that. This might have been a teachable moment, leading him to understand that his previous dismissive generalizations about the category “woman” were a distorted lie. But the singer/narrator/protagonist can’t quite come to grasp this. He persists in characterizing the object of his affection as an exception to the general view in which he seems to still regard all other women. By repeatedly hailing her for what he regards as her exceptional quality, he also repeatedly reaffirms his enduring misogynistic ideology, repeatedly reassuring himself and the listener that “a woman” is an inferior category unworthy of respect or love.

And that’s my most charitable interpretation. Am I missing something here? Is there a more positive way of interpreting this song?

• “Have You Heard About the Lonesome Loser?” confuses me. (Beyond my initial confusion of being sure this was Kansas and not the Little River Band.) The song repeatedly shifts between the second and third person in ways that invite competing interpretations. The titular loser is alternately referred to as “you” and as “he,” with both seeming to be ways of referring to the singer himself. When the singer says, in the chorus, “He’s a loser, but he still keeps on tryin’,” it seems that he’s referring to himself. It seems that way in the verses, too, when he switches to the second person — “You have to face up, you can’t run and hide.” This sounds like an affirmation — like he’s addressing those words to himself.

But this gets trickier due to song’s use of the second person in it’s title question and refrain: “Have you heard about the lonesome loser?” That “you” cannot be an indirect reference to the song’s narrator — that has to be addressed to the song’s listener (it seems to be a singular you). Is this the same “you,” with the same antecedent, as the “you” in those verses who’s being urged to face up and not be such a loser?

Later in the song, it becomes harder to tell if these murky, undefined antecedents should be heard as interchangeable or as opposed to one another — “He don’t know what goes on in his head / But if you watch very close you’ll see it all.”

So is this confessional or accusational? Is the Little River Band urging themselves not to be such losers, or is it telling us, the listeners, that we’re all a bunch of losers? It’s hard to tell, so I can’t quite tell if my emotional response to this song should be, “Hey, buck up there, buddy,” or “Yeah? Same to you and the horse you rode in on, you Kerry Livgren wanna-be.”

• The ’70s channel served up this block of songs, in this order, the other night: Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All,” Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It,” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time.”

Whether you like those artists and those songs is not the point here. You don’t need to like those songs to acknowledge that each of them is, in its own way, effective. And the cumulative effect of three such effective songs, back-to-back-to-back, created a palpable sense of melancholy that settled on the Big Box like a fog, clouding our eyes and thoughts until it was, mercifully, dispelled a few songs later by “Killer Queen.”

This was on a music service specifically designed and marketed to retailers and intended to create an atmosphere conducive to shopping. How is that supposed to work? Some customer grabs a cart and heads over to Aisle 35, thinking about maybe upgrading the lighting fixtures in their living room. Halfway there, they hear Ronstadt’s voice breaking along with her heart as she sings, “I’ve done everything I know to try to change your mind …” I’m not sure how that’s supposed to help sales.

• Whatever complaints I may have about the ’70s channel for our in-store music, I will miss all of this — the Disco, the Manilow, even the Starland Vocal Band — in the weeks to come. Today is Black Friday, the darkest day in retail world, when the soundtrack switches to Christmas music, endlessly and relentlessly, from now until New Years.

I love Christmas music, generally, but not the kind they insist on playing at the Big Box, which features endless versions of “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” recorded by artists who seemed to think Bing Crosby and Gene Autry were too edgy and musically daring. The War on Advent has begun.


The Rookie Gift Guide: DIY Presents

Friday, 27 November 2015 10:05 pm
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Posted by Esme Blegvad

DIY gifts for days!

DIY gifts for days!

When it comes to holiday gift giving, nothing spells l-o-v-e like a DIY present. In this latest installment of Rookie’s gift guides, Emma Dajska will show you how to make a teeny-tiny chest of drawers to fill with teeny-tinier treasures, Savana Ogburn has instructions on how to make a day-brightening pom-pom keychain, and Esme Blegvad demonstrates how to make a party cracker that is festive as heck. Each is an ideal gift for a sibling or best pal—you might also decide to keep these crafterpieces for Y-O-U.

Emma’s miniature chest of drawers


The idea for this DIY comes from one of my favorite childhood books, Pippi Longstocking. In the book’s first chapter, Pippi befriends two neighborhood kids, Tommy and Annika, and invites them over for pancakes. After dinner, Pippi has one more surprise:

“Pippi invited them to step into the parlor. There was only one piece of furniture in there. It was a huge chest with many tiny drawers. Pippi opened the drawers and showed Tommy and Annika all the treasures she kept there. There were wonderful birds’ eggs, strange shells and stones, pretty little boxes, lovely silver mirrors, pearl necklaces, and many other things that Pippi and her father had bought on their journeys around the world. Pippi gave each of her new playmates a little gift to remember her by. Tommy got a dagger with a shimmering mother-of-pearl handle and Annika, a little box with a cover decorated with pink shells. In the box there was a ring with a green stone.”

To celebrate your best buds, new and old, you can create a micro-version of Pippi’s chest of drawers by glueing matchboxes together and filling them with the tiniest of gifts.

What you’ll need:


  • Empty matchboxes (As few as three will be enough; I used eight.)
  • Multipurpose glue
  • Decorative papers
  • Ink or paint in whatever colors you like
  • Paintbrushes (one for glue, and one for paint)
  • A ruler
  • A pencil
  • Scissors
  • Small beads and/or buttons (I used googly eyes because my bead collection disappeared mysteriously)
  • Ribbon, stickers, markers, glitter, and other decorations galore (optional)

How to make the chest:

Refer to this photo for Step One and Step Two.

Refer to the left side of this photo for Step One, and the right side for Step Two.

Step One

Stack the matchboxes in a one- or two-column cube, so that the short, “drawer” sides of the matchboxes face you.

Step Two

Glue the boxes together. The easiest way to do this is to go column by column. For each column, glue the top side of a matchbox to the bottom side of the matchbox above it. Once all of the matchboxes in a column are glued together, tightly secure the whole column with a rubber band and wait until the glue is completely dry. When all of the columns are finished, glue them together on their broad sides (each column’s short/drawer sides should still be facing you).

Step Three


Measure enough paper to wrap around the four non-drawer sides of the chest, then cut the paper to that size. (The diagram above is a guide for cutting the paper, if that helps.) Glue the paper to the box, one side at a time, starting with what will be the bottom side and going all the way around:


Step Four


Now, decorate! I added some stickers and tied a ribbon around the chest to give it that holiday-present look.

How to make the drawers:

Step One


Coat the outsides of the sliding boxes in whatever colors of paint or ink that you like! If you want to get fancy, you can also paint the insides.

Step Two

Once the paint/ink dries, place all of the drawers back into their slots. Now, decorate again! I cut a tiny piece of paper to glue to the front each drawer:


And then added googly eyes where handles would normally go:


If this thing had cheeks, you’d want to pinch ’em!

Fill the drawers with tiny treasures like candy, stickers, notes, novelty erasers, and whatever else your heart desires to bestow upon a friend, whose socks will be charmed all the way off by this gift!

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My Prayer

"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

All entries copyrighted © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Cole J. Banning

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