Theorists of post-modern politics

Saturday, 3 December 2016 04:06 am
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Posted by Mark Liberman

I was surprised to learn that Scottie Nell Hughes has a broadcast communications/political science degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, rather than a degree in literary theory from Florida International University. This makes her ideas about the relationship of texts to states of affairs all the more remarkable, since she has apparently developed them independently of Stanley Fish, rather than under his guidance.

Here's the most recent evidence of her theoretical sophistication:

The segment that has everyone talking is transcribed below. The program's host asks about the claim that Donald Trump's tweets about millions of fraudulent votes were lies:

Host: I know you've been listening since the top of the program
and I'm sure you've heard James Fallows talk about
that Donald Trump has
put out there in tweets in things he's said
what do you make of that?

and Ms. Hughes responds:

SNH: well I think it's also an idea of- of- of an opinion and- and that's- on one hand I hear half the media saying
that these are lies
but on the other half there're many people who go no it's true
and so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch
is that people that say facts are facts
they're not really facts
everybody has a way- it's kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half full water
everybody has a way of interpreting them
to be the truth
or not truth there's- there's no such thing unfortunately more of facts
and so mister Trump's tweet amongst a certain crowd a large
uh a large m- a large part of the population
are truth
when he says that millions of people illegally voted
he has some ((fa- and see-)) in his- amongst him and his supporters
and people believe
they have facts to back that up
those that do not like mister Trump
they say that those are lies and there's no facts to back it up

For a more hifalutin version of the same perspective, see my post "Formality and interpretation", 2/8/2009:

I've been reading Stanley Fish's 1989 collection of essays, Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies. It's not yet clear to me what he's for, exactly — I'm reminded of the old joke about the post-modern gang leader who makes you an offer that you can't understand — but it's clear what he's against, namely the idea that texts have meanings:

The objective facts and rules of calculation that are to ground interpretation and render it principled are themselves interpretive products: they are, therefore, always and already contaminated by the interested judgments they claim to transcend. [Consequences]

This is not a small point, in his view:

It might seem that the thesis that there is no such thing as literal meaning is a limited one, of interest mainly to linguists and philosophers of language; but in fact it is thesis whose implications are almost boundless, for they extend to the very underpinnings of the universe as it is understood by persons of a certain cast of mind. [Introduction: Going Down The Anti-Formalist Road]

The "cast of mind" in question is, roughly, science and the idea that rational inquiry can lead towards truth — the whole Enlightenment project.

So we seem to be entering the era of post-Modern politics — but at this point, Scottie Nell Hughes is its theorist, while Stanley Fish is busy explaining to us how not to win arguments. Same ideas, smaller audience.

Update — I'm not sure that Mr. Trump is fully up to date with the theory — he uses the term "euphemism" in a way that suggests he still believes in the pre-post-truth idea of literal meaning:

Actually, if we're going to pretend to be accurate in that tiresome old-fashioned way, he said "euphenism" rather than "euphemism":

It's not clear whether in his interpretive community euphenism means the specific rhetorical device of "metonymy" described in that clip, or the more general practice of what he's called "truthful hyperbole".

Dear Diary: December 2, 2016

Saturday, 3 December 2016 02:00 am
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Posted by Lola N.

It's been very painful having to shut down the idea of being myself in high school. But I guess it's for some sense of self-protection. —Lola

It’s been very painful having to shut down the idea of being myself in high school. But I guess it’s for some sense of self-protection. —Lola


I found a copy of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. I remember unearthing this book from a box left behind by a guest in our house when I was in third grade, and reading it secretly. Read More »


I hate feeling this way, and I don’t want to be a girl who says they don’t have female friends. Read More »

Friday Playlist: Letters to Myself

Friday, 2 December 2016 11:00 pm
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Posted by Lauren Tepfer

Illustrations by Lucia S.

Illustrations by Lucia S.

When the world seems like it’s moving too quickly or too slowly, it’s easy to feel restless and out of control. These stimulating tunes will help ground you with just one listen. They’re kind of like encouraging letters to yourself.


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Posted by Annette Semerdjian

Mozn Hassan—a leading Egyptian feminist, human rights defender and founder of Nazra for Feminist Studies—was held in the nation this week as part of a travel ban.

The challenges facing Egyptian citizens looking to travel aren’t new. As Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Nadim Houry said, Egypt is “turning the country’s own borders into de facto prison walls.” Egyptian law now prevents progressive NGO and nonprofit leaders from leaving the country, which is creating chaos in the country.

Nazra, the group Hassan founded, pushes for feminist values in the Middle East and North Africa. Aside from mainstreaming progressive values, Nazra’s priority is fighting sexual violence against women in the region.

For her work as an activist and with Nazra, she was recently bestowed a Laureate of the 2016 Right Livelihood Award—regarded as the ‘”Alternative Nobel Prize”—but wasn’t allowed to leave the country to accept it in person. She had to view the ceremony through a video link because of the travel ban. This isn’t the first time Hassan has been restricted from leaving Egypt—she was summoned to court this summer during the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Hassan was selected for the award for “asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination.”

“I feel that receiving the Right Livelihood Award is not only a recognition of my work or Nazra’s work,” Hassan said. “It is for every woman who has fought for her basic rights, who has combatted and survived sexual violence, for all the women who fight daily to exist. We continue to believe in a better future for women in Egypt, in the region, and all around the world.”

imag0144-1-1Annette Semerdjian is a young writer and Ms. Editorial Intern. When she’s not writing or blogging, she likes to hang out with her dog.

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The post NEWSFLASH: Feminist Leader Held as Part of Egypt’s Travel Ban appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

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Posted by Ben Zimmer

The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist as the heroic protagonist, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean for linguistics as a discipline and its perception by the public at large? Below is a guest post by Luke Lindemann, a PhD student in linguistics at Yale University who is working on the semantics of ergativity in Indo-Aryan. He is also a member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, and I had the pleasure of attending a press screening of "Arrival" with Luke and a few of his colleagues from the YGDP team. The film led to some intense discussions afterwards, as I'm sure it has for linguists everywhere. (In a separate post, I'll round up reactions from linguists since my last "Arrival" post.)

What is the most powerful tool that humanity has in its arsenal? This is a question posed towards the beginning of “Arrival” in a conversation between Ian Donnelly, a physicist, and Louise Banks, a linguist, as they travel to a military installation to participate in humanity’s first contact with a mysterious newly-arrived alien species. Donnelly decides that science is the most powerful tool, while Banks, naturally, argues for language.

Language and science are front and center in this film. Banks works with the aliens to interpret their language and decipher their purpose amidst the worldwide turmoil caused by their arrival. Academic linguists like myself should be overjoyed for this confirmation of what I’ve long suspected: we are absolutely crucial to the survival of humanity.

I’m kidding (mostly). Linguistics is a discipline that is seldom represented in popular media, and this is the first science fiction film I have seen that puts a great effort into representing a detailed scientific approach to an alien encounter. With a few caveats, linguists and linguistics were portrayed in a very true to life manner.

The way that linguistic fieldwork is represented struck me as particularly faithful. Banks and Donnelly systematically elicit more and more complex grammatical structures by building up from simple concepts. They are forced to revise their elicitation techniques and technologies over time. They begin with elaborate pantomime and a dry erase chalkboard and ultimately interface with the aliens’ complex writing system through computer displays. Much of this is familiar to me from my own fieldwork in Nepal and India. Human languages can have surprising structures, and fieldwork requires both a systematic approach and a capacity to improvise. The short story upon which the film was based, Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life,” goes into greater detail with the process by which the alien language is systematically deciphered.

At one point Donnelly remarks to Banks that she approaches language like a mathematician. The statement will resonate positively for many linguists. Modern linguistics borrows heavily from developments in mathematics and computer science, throughout but particularly in the branches of syntax and semantics. On the other hand, there is a line in the film that will make your average linguist cringe: Banks’ daughter asks her about the name of a particular scientific term, to which Banks replies “If you want science, call your father.” Most linguists would unequivocally describe themselves as scientists.

I argued with my linguist friends about the decision for the scientists to ignore the aliens’ spoken language and focus entirely on the alien writing system. Linguists draw a sharp division between spoken and signed languages on the one hand, and writing on the other hand. Spoken language is primary, and written language is at best an imperfect representation of spoken language. For any human language, the decision to focus on writing to the exclusion of a spoken language makes no sense (in Chiang’s story the scientists learn both). But I would defend the decision by the filmmakers to focus on the alien script. It is established in both the film and the short story that the alien writing is much more elementary to their psychology than our writing is to ours. Besides, film is a visual medium, and the visual impact of the language is central to the conceit of the film. Like many of the visuals in this movie, the alien writing is starkly inhuman but hauntingly beautiful, a creation of the artist Martine Bertrand.

Banks delves more and more into the alien language, and develops the ability to think in the unique way that the aliens do. As mentioned in the film itself, the linguistic theory that language influences thought is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This trope is common in works of dystopian science fiction like George Orwell’s 1984 and Ayn Rand’s Anthem, in which a powerful authority employs language as a tool of coercion. By restricting the words available in a language, the government is able to constrain thought itself. “Arrival” turns this conceit on its head by questioning whether language can be used not as a tool to restrict thought, but to enhance it. Linguists today are divided on whether they accept the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and even those that do accept a vastly more modest form than that which was presented in Denis Villeneuve’s film. But the possibility of subtle connections between language and thought is an ongoing research question in the field of linguistics. I hope that this film will help to bring some of this fascinating research into the popular consciousness.

Overall I am extremely pleased with the portrayal of linguistics in “Arrival.” It is gratifying to see my chosen field front in center in such a beautiful, sad, and thought-provoking meditation on humanity’s greatest tools: language and science.

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Posted by Fred Clark

A president doesn't need a deep, personal understanding of every nuance of every complex international issue. He just needs to have people around him who do have such an understanding. And then -- and this seems to be the vital, missing piece for Donald Trump -- he needs to listen to those people and pay attention when they tell him what he needs to know.

The post ‘Fantastic,’ ‘terrific’ ways to tell when Trump is bluffing appeared first on slacktivist.

Nancy Pelosi Re-Elected House Minority Leader

Friday, 2 December 2016 07:32 pm
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Posted by Michele Sleighel

Nancy Pelosi has secured another term as House minority leader, this time defeating Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in the closest race she’s seen to date. Although her victory was no surprise to Democrats, some called it her toughest challenge yet.

Nancy Pelosi / Creative Commons

Nancy Pelosi / Creative Commons

Pelosi, however, is no stranger to adversity. As the House leader, she has championed women’s rights, recruited diversity to the caucus and worked to advance women in the House, largely under a Republican majority. She’s also had to overcome unfair media coverage typical of patriarchy.

Ms. is the only national magazine to put Pelosi on the cover. She was featured in its winter 2011 issue that called out Newsweek and TIME for ignoring Pelosi’s election, despite her groundbreaking, ceiling shattering success. The two media outlets featured John Boehner’s election as Speaker of the House on their covers that year.


While structural challenges like media bias, the tightened concentration of liberals in urban areas and Republican’s ability to redistrict in multiple states made Democratic gains difficult, Pelosi’s backers can still expect to see her continue bringing women’s issues to the forefront. In her acceptance speech on Wednesday, the septuagenarian talked about upcoming challenges brought in by the new administration.

“Every single day that goes by Republicans are making more inroads into undermining Medicare,” she said. “Our call to action to the American people is to tell the Republicans and Congress and the White House, keep your hands off our Medicare.”

Pelosi was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House and has held the top House Democratic leadership position since 2003.

20160909_121504Michele Sleighel is working on her thesis for a MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and has an undergrad degree in PR from the University of Texas in Austin. She’s an editorial intern at Ms. When she’s not researching and writing, she drinks coffee and thinks about researching and writing. She’s very proud of her El Paso roots. 

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The post Nancy Pelosi Re-Elected House Minority Leader appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.

LBCF, No. 110: ‘Sexiest Man Alive’

Friday, 2 December 2016 06:43 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

Wherein Buck and Steve watch TV, a couple of comic bits fall flat, and Nicolae tells the Beave, in detail, about his plans to bring the U.N. into accord with premillennial dispensationalist numerology.

The post LBCF, No. 110: ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ appeared first on slacktivist.

Mini Mall: Memorabilia

Friday, 2 December 2016 06:15 pm
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Posted by Micha Frazer-Carroll

Collage by Beth Hoeckel.

Collage by Beth Hoeckel.

Jumbo Instant Collage Kit
One of my favorite things to do is make collages, but it can be difficult to find that perfect picture/pattern/texture to use without digging through a billion old magazines. But BEHOLD! This collage kit is the solution to such crafting conundrums. It comes in a big (JUMBO!) package and contains a smorgasbord of magical collage elements like vintage clippings, photographs, and playing cards. The best part is that what you’ll receive is a total surprise. Think of all of the glorious new art supplies you’ll have! On top of all of that, it’s also a great gift for a crafty pal whose collage box needs a little refresh. ($6.50, Etsy) —Savana Ogburn

18_06a3bfb7-5121-4dac-add9-2cf3bc8872be_1024x1024Liquid Space Adventure Case
This magical sci-fi phone case gives me all the time-and-space-travel feels, with its combination of galaxy vibes and kitsch sequins. Entertain yourself with your own personal cosmos by tipping your phone and watching the sequins cascade across the case’s inky backdrop. Bonus: It provides vital protection for the chronic phone-droppers among us. ($7, Dog Dog) —Micha Frazer-Carroll

mini-cassette-bookmark-string-setMini Cassette Bookmark String Set
In middle school my friends and I were major bookworms. We’d trade bookmarks with each other and coo together over how cute they were. If you love to read, check out this bookmark string set. It comes in seven colors, and combines two nostalgic objects—the bookmark and cassette—into one. The cassette drapes over your book, and the string makes it easy to see where you left off with your reading. It’s all about the memories. ($9, Mochi Things) —Upasna Barath ♦

My Favorite Books of 2016

Friday, 2 December 2016 05:39 pm
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Posted by Leah Libresco

These are my favorite books I read for the first time in 2016 (here’s last year’s list). Well, technically, my favorite books I read from December 2015-November 2016, since I always put this list together in time for people to grab Christmas gift ideas. And, if you’re looking for other book recommendations from me, you [Read More...]

The post My Favorite Books of 2016 appeared first on Unequally Yoked.

Left-Wing Publications Quoting Bible Verses

Friday, 2 December 2016 03:11 pm
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Posted by Libby Anne

I always find it fascinating when liberal or progressive individuals or organizations quote Bible verses to support causes or candidates or issues evangelical Christians oppose, or to make points evangelical Christians disagree with. The Bible has a lot of very different types of material in it, and it can be read in many different ways. This one, though? This one takes the cake.

Click through to read more!

The post Left-Wing Publications Quoting Bible Verses appeared first on Love, Joy, Feminism.

(no subject)

Friday, 2 December 2016 03:25 pm
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Posted by Andrea Horbinski

The most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures is a special issue

Found scrubblet one for the cialisotc-norxcialis power $18 grew wig type fall the stars). The smaller made individual or cialis 5mg online like try thing this perfect I now order viagra tablets from boxes style the the try. I directions canadian pharmacy cipa a no have cleanser time IS it.

focused on a topic that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago, namely, Transnational Boys’ Love Studies.

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Daily Links: Critics’ Choices Edition

Friday, 2 December 2016 02:20 pm
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Posted by Alyssa Etoile

Happy Friday! This edition of Daily Links will skate with you into the weekend…

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using a photo via Indiewire.

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using a photo via Indiewire.

The New York Film Critics Circle included Moonlight and La La Land on their list of the best films of 2016.

Photo via Saint Heron.

Photo via Saint Heron.

Rapper J. Cole surprised fans by announcing that his new album, 4 Your Eyez Only, will be released on December 9. —Alyssa Etoile

Photo via the Huffington Post.

Photo via the Huffington Post.

Bresha Meadows, the 15-year-old girl accused of killing her allegedly abusive father, will no longer face the possibility of life imprisonment. —Diamond Sharp ♦

Syntactic tunneling

Friday, 2 December 2016 11:42 am
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Posted by Mark Liberman

From Harry Asche:

I am a tunnel engineer, and the patron saint of tunnelling is St Barbara.  Her saint's day is the 4th of December.  I am a bit of a tunnel nut, so on a visit to a church in Europe, I bought a St Barbara card, printed on a handy credit-card sized piece of plastic.  

Here is the Prayer to St Barbara, transcribed exactly:

"O God, who among the other miracles of Your power, have given even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom, grant, we beseech You, that we, who are celebrating the heavenly birthday of Blessed Barbara, Your Virgin and Martyr, may, by her example, draw nearer to you.  Amen."  

I am greatly impressed by the complexity of the first sentence.  The core is "O God grant that we may draw nearer to you."  But this is interrupted by no less than six additional clauses.  "That we" and "may" live in little islands on their own.  

Is this a result of translation from the Latin?  I did five years of Latin at school and it had a lasting negative affect on my ability to write English.

Harry's exposure to Latin is something that he shares with several hundred years of others writing in English and other European languages, and a few of them managed to become decent prose stylists.

But the waning of that influence is probably a large part of the reason for the secular decline in sentence length and syntactic complexity over the past couple of centuries. (See e.g.  "The evolution of disornamentation", 2/11/2005; "Complexity", 9/7/2005; "Inaugural embedding", 9/9/2005; "Presidential parataxis?", 9/24/2009; "Real trends in word and sentence length", 10/31/2011.)

And the quoted prayer is certainly an extreme example of syntaxis rather than parataxis. Not all Latin-derived (or Greek-derived) prayers are so involuted — the vulgate Pater Noster  and its familiar 1662 translation are syntactically straightforward. But the quoted prayer is certainly not the only example of its type.

I've never seen a theory about why (most) classical Latin (and Greek) writing was prone to syntaxis rather than parataxis, transcending the arguments about Attic vs. Asiatic style.

Anyhow, you can read about Saint Barbara here — she's "the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives" — and here's an image of the prayer card:

Personal Days: The Beck Christmas Trees

Friday, 2 December 2016 05:00 am
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Posted by Richard Beck

I love the way our house looks during Christmas.

Our family tradition has always been to go get a live Christmas tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We usually go at night before or after dinner. The four of us drive to Lowe's and pick out a six-foot Noble fir. I pull the trees out of the stalls and then spin them around for Jana, Brenden and Aidan to inspect.

We then get a few inches cut off the stump so the tree can drink. We buy some tree food. Then we head on home. Once at home I get out the stand and we all work to get the tree standing upright and vertical. And then we let the tree rest for a day so the branches can relax.

Then on Saturday we put the lights and decorations on. All in time for the first Sunday of Advent.

We actually have two trees. The natural tree goes in our living room and it's Jana's tree to decorate. She's sort of a Christmas tree artist in this regard. All through the day on Saturday she'll look at the tree, like a painter staring at a blank canvas. She's pondering color schemes and ornament themes. Inspiration hits and then she starts to decorate once I put on the lights.

So our tree looks different every year, which is one of the things I love, how each year and each tree is unique. This year Jana said, "I want to make a fun tree." So a big red bow went on top, accented by a peppermint candy striped ribbon.

Our second tree is an artificial tree and it's in the family room. Brenden and Aidan are in charge of decorating this tree. This is the tree that has all their special ornaments. Ornaments we've given them--a fish ornament for Brenden because he likes to fish, a Dr. Who ornament for Aidan when he was really into the show--along with the ornaments they made as children over the years.

Ornaments special to family and marital trips go on the natural tree. There we have ornaments from England and Jersey--Hello, friends! An ornament from the White House when we toured it in 2008 after Obama won his historic election. An Elvis ornament from a trip to Graceland. An ornament from Hawaii.

And a very special ornament: a ribbon flower from our wedding.

Both trees are filled with memories.

Anonymous Tip: The Conservative Episcopalian

Friday, 2 December 2016 09:00 am
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Posted by Libby Anne

That's . . . weird. It's as though Farris wants Charlie at a mainline church, because he wants to make it clear that Charlie is older and established and well respected in his field and in the world, but he also wants Charlie to be a born-again Christian, because he's one of the good guys, so he has to be. So we get something strange---an Episcopalian speaking evangelicalese. That's weird.

Click through to read more!

The post Anonymous Tip: The Conservative Episcopalian appeared first on Love, Joy, Feminism.

Dear Diary: December 1, 2016

Friday, 2 December 2016 02:15 am
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Posted by Isabella Acosta

I'm pretty psyched for my first college trip on Tuesday. —Isabella

I’m pretty psyched for my first college trip. —Isabella


I went to an eye appointment a few days ago and the lady who served me described the glasses I chose as “hideous.” I was too sad to say anything, so I just sat there looking at the floor. Read More »


I’m just ready to kickstart what I’ve long envisioned for myself: A fire academic record, an even better internship, and some coin in my pocket! ’Cause Lord knows a bitch is broke. Read More »

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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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