Saturday Printable: Mini Zine

Saturday, 1 October 2016 01:00 pm
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Posted by Allyssa Yohana

Good Saturday to ya, Rooks! For today’s printable, your pal Allyssa Yohana made this tiny gem of a zine/mini-comic. Here’s how it works: Print it out, fold it once long-ways, and then fold it accordion-style from left to right.

Download it here:


Now put it in your pocket! ♦

First Amendment in peril in Princeton?

Saturday, 1 October 2016 12:14 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Yesterday, Roger Lustig sent in a snapshot of the front page of the Princeton Packet, with the observation that

Maybe free speech, even the political kind, is in greater danger than we thought!

The online version of the headline is much longer, and not ambiguous in the same way: Philip Sean Curran, "PRINCETON: Police chief resists renewed calls to stop random license plate checks, focus more on speeding", The Princeton Packet 9/28/2016.


Pick a word, any word

Saturday, 1 October 2016 11:40 am
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

To access an article in the Financial Times yesterday I found myself confronted with a short market-research survey about laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Answer three our four layers of click-the-box questions, and I could get free access to the article I wanted to look at. A reasonable bargain: clearly some company was prepared to pay the FT for access to its online readers' opinions. And at the fourth layer down I faced a question which asked me to choose a single word that comes into my mind when I think of a certain Microsoft product.

My choice, from all the tens of thousands of words at my disposal, and the word I picked would go straight into the market research department of the one corporation, above all others, for whose products I have the greatest degree of contempt. Just choose that one evocative word and type it in, and I would be through to my article. A free choice. Which word to pick?

I must confess to you that complying with the request and completing my part in the survey lent my Friday afternoon a moment of what was perhaps the sweetest, purest pleasure of my week. Have a lovely weekend.

[Comments are closed. Please choose a word to describe how this makes you feel.]

The Infinity Diaries

Saturday, 1 October 2016 02:00 am
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Posted by Tavi Gevinson

Photo by Shriya Samavai.

Photo by Shriya Samavai.

This month’s theme is Infinity, about what cannot be articulated; the infinite feelings, colors, sounds, experiences that we do not have words for. We’re publishing a few entries from Tavi’s diary that show how, for her, “it’s gotten shockingly effortless to live in Infinity, and trust that I’ll retain what I need to later, and if not, accept the price of a life fully lived.” This is the sixth and final part in the series; read the first installment here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth here.

Petra took me to get my aura photographed sometime that fall. It was violet-y and indigo, which made me think of the groupie in Almost Famous yelling, “It’s purple! Your aura is purple!” to the young Cameron Crowe character when he has to take a call from his worried suburban mother while backstage at a rock club on an assignment for Rolling Stone. (Maybe the only character in a sort-of teen movie whose experience accounted for a kind of secret life that I’d had, too, though writing that out I’m also like, Hannah Montana, duh.) The woman at the shop told me I was “removed, observant, in [my] own castle.” She said, “There is something between you and the rest of the world,” and gestured as though to indicate a screen in front of her face.

The colors melded into “New Romantics,” my favorite track on the then-new 1989, the track that sounds more like New York than “Welcome to New York” does. The first few seconds pulsate like the kind of heartache that’s pleased with itself just for existing. Creepy little muted girl-robot “ahs” grow closer and closer, a brainwashing hymn with a Disney logo, “When You Wish Upon a Star”–type glow, but the glee it proceeds to celebrate is giddy with contradictions, like when Jenny said she couldn’t wait for me to move to New York and see this and do that and “argue with a boy on a street corner in the rain.” In the intro alone, I saw a girl moving to the front of a crowd with colored light shifting on her face. The city reflected in puddles on the sidewalk as talking above transcends nervous banter to honest conversation. The sky going from night to dawn over the roof of Dennis’s apartment—a lighting sequence I only ever witnessed once, during tech rehearsals, but which frequently made members of the audience gasp.

The lyrics make up a manifesto for getting your heart broken and/or breaking other people’s hearts, and forgetting to care a day or so later. Runny mascara is a badge of honor, smeared lipstick is a battle scar, and every dramatic episode is underscored with satisfaction. “New Romantics” feels like a more reckless version of “22,” from Red: “It’s miserable and magical.” In this song, she declares that “life is just a classroom,” and I am reminded of the rehearsal onstage when my view of the lights above the audience was warped by tears, because the night before, I saw for the first time that highest highs and lowest lows did not end in high school, but carried over to New York, multiplied in number and in scope, and I was both frightened and thrilled. I can’t deny that it resonated with me when Alia said, “At the same time, I couldn’t be too mad at him. I’m an actor. I live for this stuff.” Or when we swam drunk at the pool party where I’d just run into Man—awful—and she cheerleaded its comic value that I would one day see: “These things become your stories!” Or when Lesley and I spent the night painting and talking as her dog kept busy and the sun went down and she told me about the older guy who stood her up at Coney Island when she was my age. “My story is better than his, and always will be. He gave me a gift.” But the other thing I wrote down from our conversation that night was, “Connection is always more interesting than avoiding connection.” Maybe I just chose the wrong person to try that with. When I saw Toni Morrison speak at the New Yorker Festival, she defined what I had been looking for: “The greatest human action or endeavor we can do is get past ourselves to touch someone else in a real way.” Sometimes, if enough secret self-loathing is at work, this gets confused with Didion on Noel Parmentel, her own just-moved-to-New York asshole-boyfriend: “We are fatally drawn towards anyone who seems to offer a way out of ourselves.”

When Taylor performed this song at the 1989 tour, a park bench appeared onstage for her to lie across, as though she were fainting, singing:

Please take my hand and
Please take me dancing and
Please leave me stranded
It’s so romantic.

A streak of tragedy has defined her work’s concept of romance from the beginning. On her second album, “The Way I Love You” yearns for a past relationship comprised of passionate breakups and reunions. Red’s “Sad Beautiful Tragic” salutes an affair that couldn’t work with matter-of-fact sentimentality, and a little glamorization of the fall. She spoke in our interview of missing a relationship for its “addictive feeling of heartbreak”—not of love, or affection, or any of the other more positive feelings which constitute a partnership.

In English class we learned that a tragedy only qualifies as such if the victim of the tragedy is partially at fault, and so I wonder how much I should blame myself for playing it cool, for not asking that wimpy “what are we” sooner, for perhaps choosing to live in a state of longing. It has occurred to me lately that everyone I admire for expressing themselves honestly in art might only be able to do so at the expense of interpersonal connection. Songs or essays I’ve admired for their candor I now realize were written years after the real-life event, and without any communication with the subject themselves. But what if that really is the only way you know how to express yourself? What if it’s the only way in which your subject could possibly receive the message? What if the negative space between me and him is where I thrive? I’m reminded of climbing the widow’s walk at Taylor’s house overlooking the ocean when she told me even a pop song is just for one person, “like a message in a bottle.” At dinner with Stevie, she lamented a tumultuous love affair, but shrugged it off before getting too bogged down: “Welp, got some good songs out of it.” Cat Power sings, “The moon is not only beautiful / it’s so far away,” but is the second one supposed to enhance the first, or complicate it? If I’d run into Man at the pool party and asked if he was indeed the moonface from that night with Jeff, would he have remembered? Confirmed? Given me this much? I think I feel more awake in the space of not knowing, writing about it. Maggie Nelson writes in Bluets that for Joseph Cornell, “desire was a sharpness, a tear in the static of everyday life—in his diaries he calls it ‘the spark,’ ‘the lift,’ or ‘the zest.’ It delivers not an ache, but a sudden state of grace.” I have no answers for how silly it is to want to experience pain or hang out with shitty people, nor to expect anyone to want something healthy just because they want to want something healthy. Like when Grace and I were little, she was like, “You’re so lucky that you like milk. I wish I liked milk, because I know it’s good for you, but I don’t.” I was like, “That’s so stupid. You’re talking about something fully in your control. If you want to like milk, why can’t you just like milk?” I get it now!

Had a friend described to me a relationship like mine with Man, I would wonder why she didn’t feel she deserved better. But because I think of myself as having a basic sense of self-respect, I dismissed any concern over why I was OK with it all: surely I would never get myself into a relationship like that; look at my feminist credentials! As it turns out, frequently being told that you are a prodigy does not translate to feelings of desirability or attractiveness; if anything, it detracts from them.

I thought I was just really lucky to be with him, this ingenue, this silent film star. Together we created a Kuleshov Effect, that trick of filmmaking in which the same shot of an actor is re-used between shots of whatever they’re looking at. Their expression remains the same, so the audience is free to project their own feelings about the looked at, and call it the character’s reaction. Depending on how I felt about myself on a certain day, in a certain outfit, or having said certain things, his unchanging face confirmed my greatest desires, or fears. The less he said, the more judgments he must’ve been passing; the more for me to prove wrong; the more shit he must’ve known about what makes someone cool/pretty/sexy, which I had yet to learn; the more substance he must’ve had; the more of a secret genius he was inside, if only I wasn’t such a failure at bringing it out. Or maybe he just didn’t have much to say. Maybe there wasn’t much to say. Eventually he said he felt like his job was just to watch me enjoy my new life. That he was shocked that I cared in the end as much as I did. That I was fronting, too. That he didn’t want to impose. “I thought, this person is smarter than me, more mature than me, and probably won’t want me around too much.”

I’m not playing her as confident because I’m confident. I’m playing her as confident because I’m anxious. If I were confident, I would be able to play her anxiety, to look like a mess. But I am a mess.

It is a tragedy because I should’ve known better. I don’t regret it because it was right, in the moment, which is where I was trying to live. “You worked together for a time,” his college friend offered up to me at a recent party, perhaps to validate what we’d had among all her other shit-talking. It stopped me in my tracks, though. How sad. That things work until they don’t; that all the stars aligned until it was time again for the earth to shift; that perfection cannot be sustained. But our conversation didn’t start with that.

HER: Have you talked to Man’s Friend lately?

ME: Not really.

HER: It’s hard with him in L.A.

ME: Yeah. I also just…I think I had to do some trial and error when I first moved here, in terms of figuring out who my friends are, and he totally means well, but I just don’t really think we connect.

HER: I understand.

ME: And because it’s not like I don’t know anyone else here, or we’re really old friends, I just figured there’s no reason to stay entwined and have to manage it all; I could just kind of stop dealing with it.

HER: Well I know you dated Man. That must’ve been hard.

ME: Oh. Kind of. Yeah, actually. Thank you for saying that.

HER: Not at all. It was strange. Like I had just met you, and I found out you were seeing each other, and I just remember thinking—I thought about it a lot, actually.

ME: Really?

HER: Because Man is not…I remember meeting him at freshman orientation, and from day one, there’s been this…

She gestured as though to indicate a screen in front of her face.

ME: Really. Wow. Because a lot of people had sort of warned me, but none of them seemed to know him that well, and then I wondered if I’m just crazy…

HER: You’re not crazy. This has been, like, a thing. We all…

ME: Really? Then who’s like…his people? I feel like I was always meeting acquaintances or professional allies. I didn’t understand who he was keeping as friends.

HER: No. He’s someone who can have only fans.

And so I was perfect.

Dear Diary: September 30, 2016

Saturday, 1 October 2016 01:00 am
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Posted by Amil Barlow

Positivity is important. —Amil

Positivity is important. —Amil


I still struggle with not seeing myself as anything more than a problem, but I’ve gotten much better at it. Read More »


I have so many emotions, going in different directions, at full speed. I’ll have to make a traffic light system for my feelings so that I don’t mentally crash and burn. Read More »

Life Soundtrack: Robert Glasper

Friday, 30 September 2016 10:30 pm
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Posted by Robert Glasper

Illustrations by Esme Blegvad.

Illustrations by Esme Blegvad.

Maybe you already know and love Grammy-winning jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper’s music. But if you think you haven’t heard his graceful compositions—which seamlessly combine jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and other genres, and often feature vocals from icons such as Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, and Solange Knowles—we bet you have heard them. You just didn’t know it. (Proof: Glasper played on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Kanye’s Late Registration.)

We highly recommend checking out ArtScience, the album Glasper released this month with his band, the Robert Glasper Experiment. In the meantime, listen to 11 of his favorite songs. He’ll tell you why he loves them so much.

1. “For the World” by the Internet

I like this song because how chill the vibe is and how chill it makes me. The chord changes remind me of something I would play, lol.

2. “Resolution” by John Coltrane

One of the most intense, swingin’ recordings, EVER! This song is on the very first Coltrane CD I ever bought, Love Supreme.

3. “Lyrics to Go” by A Tribe Called Quest

This might be the very first song that made me a fan of hip-hop. I was in junior high school when I heard it. [Pianist] Joe Sample is one of my Houston heroes, and he’s on keys on this track.

4. “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel

The lyrics to this song are so touching. I used to take the lyrics and turn them into poems for girls I liked, and tell them I wrote them! I’m pretty sure I made three different girls cry with these lyrics. Billy Joel would be my other favorite pop pianist!

5. “Dienda” by Branford Marsalis

Dienda was written and played by one of my favorite pianists of all time, Mr. Kenny Kirkland. One of the most beautiful modern ballads ever written. Also one of my favorite songs with the soprano saxophone.

6. “Flow” by Bilal

This song is how I like to start my day. It’s a get up and go kinda track…Doesn’t hurt that I’m on piano :) Bilal is my favorite singer!

7. “Message of Hope” by Derrick Hodge

I feel this song has one of the great modern-day inspirational melodies. Makes you want to go out and change something for the good, including yourself.

8. “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead

This song puts me in a trance, and I love to listen to it with the lights out. Transports me to many different vibes and moods.

9. “Trust Me” by Herbie Hancock

Love the lyrics of this song, love the spacing of his solos, love Herbie.

10. “I Can’t Help It” by Michael Jackson

I used to listen to this when I was in third grade on my aunt’s record player over and over and over again. One of the best-written songs ever—love the Fender Rhodes and love Stevie Wonder! Love Michael!!!!

11. “Water Falls” by Anderson .Paak

His voice has the sound of such an old soul. The song is super sexy, and it doesn’t hurt that I wrote it—maybe that’s why I’m so attached! ♦

First Drafts: Solange Knowles

Friday, 30 September 2016 07:05 pm
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Posted by Tavi Gevinson

Illustration by Caitlin Hazell.

Illustration by Caitlin Hazell.

Last night, Solange Knowles released A Seat at the Table, her fourth studio album. The LP is a luminous exploration of the love, grief, anger, weariness, healing, elation, and pride that comprise blackness. A Seat at the Table feels deeply personal, but it is also a blending of voices—evident in the complex harmonies on each track, and appearances from Lil Wayne, Kelela, Sampha, Solange’s parents, and Master P’s narration. If you haven’t heard it yet, please doooo thaaaaat. And then poke your head out of that sonic cocoon to listen to one of Solange’s first songs—which she sings right here as part of First Drafts, our series dedicated to creative people facing their “mistakes” and early versions of their work, and talking us through the insights they’ve gleaned from that process:

Solange spoke to Tavi about Rastafarianism, creative complacency, and her journey through pop and country music toward ever more honest songwriting.

Photo via Twitter.

Photo via Twitter.

TAVI GEVINSON: What is the first thing you ever wrote?

SOLANGE KNOWLES: The first thing that I ever wrote was a United Way jingle.


[Laughs] Basically, there was some school contest in Houston where thousands of kids got to enter a contest to write the United Way’s new jingle, and I think I got second place out of five thousand kids. I remember the song very vividly. It was really simple. I was trying to have connectivity with United Way’s mission. It was: [Singing] “Sharing is caring! Caring is sharing! Caring is helpful! Caring is simply the […]. Helping is…” I don’t remember that part, but I do remember the last line was, ”So fix it the United Way!” I was in third grade. It was a life highlight, if you can’t notice how giggly I am. [Laughs]

You wrote so much as a teenager, obviously. When you look back on that work now, what do you see? What quality or detail do you look back on and think, I still have that? That was where that started?

What’s really hard is that I actually feel like that there’s a sense of honesty that I have chased since I wrote those songs at 14 and 15 that I have not been able to capture in that same way. There was a sense of bravery in my lyrics in a way that I would be self-aware of now—borderlining too poetic where it’s cheesy or it sounds too predictable. During those early days of writing, I never, ever thought that, and I honestly feel that my lyrics were so much better.

It’s hard!

Do you feel like that about stuff that you wrote?

I find that, yes. Sometimes I go back and edit something, even if it’s from a few days ago. In the editing I get so picky, and then I end up going back to the original: I was saying what I meant already. Why did I need to perfect it? I definitely look back on some stuff from years ago, and I’m very embarrassed. Do you have that?

No, I’m so not embarrassed. I am so proud. I obviously did some mega, mega, mega embarrassing things outside of writing, that I wish I could take back ten times over. But I remember being 13 and going to Kingston. I used to dance for Destiny’s Child when I was 13, which is insane. [Laughs] I essentially would tour with them as a backup dancer. They had a show in Kingston. My mom was the perfect balance of giving me the allowance to explore and experiment, but also knowing when it was time for me to come home and be supervised or chaperoned. But she let me kind of explore. I remember walking around, and I ran into some Rasta guys who were having a drum circle ceremony. They were reading and talking and praying. Like most of society, I didn’t really understand that Rastafarianism was a religion, and I didn’t really understand the culture outside of what pop culture had taught me about Rastafarianism. I actually started to speak to them, and they told me that it was the premise of the religion, but also the culture—the idea that your body is a temple and how much clarity you gain when you take care of yourself in that way, spiritually and physically. I was really moved by that.

When I went home, I was constantly writing, whether it was songs or melody or poetry or essays. I wanted to be a writer. I remember going home and studying and reading so much about Rastafarianism and having an awakening creatively. I actually went full throttle and became vegetarian and cut off all of my hair and, you know, went through the whole experience, which I don’t think was true to myself at that time. Obviously, now that I’m grown, I look back and see that’s not who I was, that was something I thought I had to obtain in order to showcase my depth, or what I thought was my depth at that time. But, I will say that throughout that process, my writing became so, so strong and so, so crisp, without a sense of consciousness.

Once I got older, and I got my first love and I was a teenager who wanted to party and have fun and do what teenagers do, I wasn’t practicing as much. I wasn’t as focused. I started to see that there was something that was really easy for me, in terms of writing, a certain writing style that I could do without much challenge. I honestly became very complacent for a very long time. It probably lasted for about three or four years. I’m super proud of that time, too, because I love, love pop music, and I love writing pop music, and I love experiencing that part of myself and how it makes me feel and not having to think and just having fun. But I did fall into a place where I had a formula as a writer, and it was just second nature. I kind of lost my craft. I let that happen for quite some time.

Then, one day—I lived in Idaho, which is a whole other story—I started listening to the storytelling of country music. It blew me away. I grew up in Texas, but I never really had that connection with country music, sonically. For the first time, I was listening to the songwriting and lyrics, and I was blown away. Like, “You need to get it together. These people are writing the hell out of these songs, and you have really fallen off.” Even though I knew there was nothing I was going to do with the songs, I started to write country music, exclusively, for probably about four months. That was the way that I broke the rut that I was having for years. Even though I knew it had no benefit in terms of me actually putting these songs out. I tried to sell a few of them, but that world is very political, and I didn’t really try that hard. I always tell that story to young writers, because sometimes you have to literally step completely out of your comfort zone, even if it feels absolutely that it’s not gonna progress you in your journey as a writer, even if it’s just for yourself. Those songs have never heard the light of day, but they really, really, really renewed my writing. Really interesting, how that works.

Who were the country artists who you were listening to?

I was actually listening to a lot of Garth Brooks. That was a classic. There was this song called “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts. That one was really, it really fucked me up to be honest! I was like, “Damn!” The words were so simple: “What hurts the most is being so close.” The way the whole song was orchestrated. There was another song called “Live Like You Were Dying” [by Tim McGraw]. You didn’t get to the hook until the very end, but it said all of these things that he wanted to do. At the very end, it’s actually really sad, you realize that he was dying and talking about all of the things that he wished he had done. It was the most pop of the genre, for sure. It really, really shook me up: Whoa. I’ve been really lazy. So, that’s that.

What advice would you give to someone with writer’s block who is scared to even get started?

I suffer from writer’s block, and the best thing that works for me, that I could ever do is not give up if there’s any glimmer, hope, or magic there. Even if it’s just one line, revisit it. If it doesn’t work the next day, come back, come back. Some of the best songs that I’ve written, when I started off writing them, I had no hope. I had nothing, but maybe one line that I really loved. Some people feel very differently about that. They feel that it’s a rhythm, if the momentum isn’t there, that doesn’t equate magic. I feel very differently. I feel, sometimes, magic has to be worked at and you have to work hard for it and conjure it up yourself. I would say don’t give up easily. Take some space. I wouldn’t say what I had was writer’s block, but I certainly had a writer’s rut. Going for something that was completely outside of my comfort zone—sometimes, you put the pressure on yourself: “OK, I have to write this great thing.” And the way that I approached writing those country songs was like, “I just want to see if I can write something good!” You’d be surprised when you alleviate the pressure, and you really make it about challenging yourself and going to that next level, what can happen. ♦

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Posted by Leah Libresco

When I worked as an instructor at the Center for Applied Rationality, a lot of our curriculum on cognitive biases felt secretly virtue ethics-y: Here’s how small choices you make (including ones about what environments you exist in) shape your big choices and who you grow up to be. I really enjoyed reading James K. [Read More...]


Friday, 30 September 2016 06:00 pm
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Posted by Amelia Quint

Illustrations by Esme Blegvad.

Illustrations by Esme Blegvad.

Happy new moon in Libra! New moons tend to feel refreshing, but today’s could be even more so thanks to a little help from your celestial friends. Along with the generally lovely vibes of Libra, sign of beauty and harmony, this new moon is accompanied by Jupiter fresh into the same sign. Jupiter is the zodiac’s good luck charm, bringing success, fame, and growth wherever he goes. He takes around a year to transit each zodiac sign, so every time he moves, you get an opportunity to broaden your horizons in a brand new area. Before, Jupiter in Virgo pushed you to refine the details of your life. In Libra, Jupiter becomes creative director, making sure every part of your new self has a consistently gorgeous aesthetic that’s true to you.

If there was to be a tricky part of this situation, it would be that Lady Luna’s getting some major side-eye from Mars and Pluto in Capricorn. The moon, especially in gentle Libra, wants to keep the peace—but Mars and Pluto are fighters. In Capricorn, they’ll stop at nothing to make sure they get their way. You may be torn between wanting to maintain your soft exterior and letting your inner ambition take over. The good news is that, as with all things, there’s a balance to be found here. A helping hand from Saturn in Sagittarius smooths things over while pushing you toward the goals you’ve been coveting. Score!

By the way: Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that, due to NASA findings, the signs of the zodiac are shifting dates. NASA’s new calculations include a mysterious 13th sign in the zodiac called Ophiuchus. But most Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac, which has the 12 signs you’re used to. Long story short: Based on our position in relation to those stars, your sign is still the same. Nothing’s changed!

So enjoy this month’s horoscopes, business as usual…

Aries (March 21–April 19)

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Libra (September 23–October 22)

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

A singular need for their

Friday, 30 September 2016 04:52 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Tim Leonard points out that today's Questionable Content has a piece of dialogue in which their (in "their ship"), though referring to a male individual, could not felicitously be exchanged for his:

The whole strip, reproduced here in case of long-term bit rot:

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Posted by Eric Reitan

(Note to readers: I ran out of time on this before being able to track down and embed links to all the discussions I reference--but I thought it would be better to get this up while it is still timely than to wait. I may embed links later when I have more time.)

As most readers of this blog know, I'm in the midst of writing (actually revising) a book on same-sex marriage and the Christian love ethic.

What readers might not know is that I was part of an effort to bring Richard Swinburne, the eminent Christian philosopher of religion, to the Oklahoma State University campus--a visit that took place this past week. On Monday I met Swinburne, had lunch with him, and tried to help him figure out how to answer calls on his new cell phone (I wasn't much help). That evening I moderated his talk on arguments for the existence of God, which had an audience of 600 people not counting those watching on the live-feed from home. The following day, I introduced his lecture on "Humans have two parts--body and soul." I had him sign my copy of his book from which that lecture drew.

All things told, it was a delightful visit, and I was honored to have the chance to meet and interact with such an eminent and important leader in my field.

None of this would be fodder for a blog post were it not for what happened in the days just before Swinburne came to OSU. On the Friday before his visit, he gave a keynote talk at a divisional meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His topic was a departure for him: Christian sexual ethics. As part of that talk, he offered an argument in defense of the traditional, conservative Christian stance on homosexuality--a stance that I unrelentingly challenge in the book I'm now revising.

A member of the audience--J. Edward Hackett--got very upset, and not only objected to Swinburne's remarks during the Q&A but published a blog post about it, calling Swinburne's remarks "toxic." The post was widely disseminated on social media. The President of the Society for Christian Philosophers, Michael Rea, wrote a Facebook post expressing regret for hurt feelings, indicating that Swinburne's views do not necessarily represent the views of the society, and affirming the society's commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

This triggered its own wave of outrage: A philosopher apologizing because another philosopher gave an argument for a controversial conclusion at a philosophy conference? A Christian philosopher apologizing for another Christian philosopher for defending a traditional Christian view?

All of this in the days leading up to Swinburne's visit to OSU, a day I'd been looking forward to for some time.

Of course the topic came up when I had lunch with him. After all, I was working on a book on the very topic that had just embroiled his name in a social media firestorm. He'd apparently read at least one of my articles on homosexuality, but was more interested in talking about an article I'd written with the provocative title "Swinburne's Lapse."

He knew my position on homosexuality, and I knew his. We disagreed--but since the topic was both peripheral to his career focus and unrelated to what he would be talking about at OSU, we didn't devote a lot of time to it. We ate pizza and tried to figure out his phone.

Of course, philosophers disagree about things all the time. In a sense, it's what we do for a living. And we disagree about things that impact human lives for good or ill. Some of the ideas that my fellow philosophers espouse are ones I think damage real human beings. They probably think the same about my ideas. And we have a beer together anyway. Or a pizza. Anyone unable to do that couldn't be philosophers--not and have any friends within the field.

That said, the topic of homosexuality is more than just an "issue." It's about people I love. It's about my gay best friend and my cousin. I can get very emotional about it. When I am engaging those who espouse the traditional view, my emotions give me energy to remain engaged. But I try not to be controlled by them. It is much more helpful to get opponents of LGBT equality to articulate their reasons clearly, and then examine their merits. When they are fellow philosophers who don't need to be prodded to clearly lay out their arguments, it can be downright refreshing.

There are important questions here about how we should live out the love ethic in relation to those who disagree with us. Swinburne is one of the greats in my field, a highly accomplished scholar who has earned my respect with his body of work. He is also a neighbor in the Christian sense, and I believe I am called to love my neighbors as myself. I am also called to love my gay and lesbian neighbors as myself--and Swinburne is endorsing a view that I think is harming them.

What is the best way to live out the love ethic in this situation? I can't answer that question in a blog post, but there are several things I want to say that are relevant to it.

1. Paying compassionate attention

I think Swinburne's view on homosexuality is mistaken. I think that the promulgation of that view, as a teaching of the church, has done immeasurable harm to my gay and lesbian neighbors over the centuries. I won't defend that view in this post, but I think it is important to state it.

From what I've gathered of his argument, Swinburne thinks that while not "intrinsically wrong" (which I assume means something like "wrong in itself") same-sex sex is "extrinsically wrong" (which I assume means something like "wrong because of some sort of external relation, such a violating an authorized and justified command or contributing for contingent reasons to some undesirable state of affairs").

This makes his condemnation of same-sex sex softer than what is common among conservative Christians. For him, it's not wrong in the way that lying or abusing people is wrong, but in the way that driving on the left-hand side of the road in the US is wrong. I can't tell you what I think of his case for this conclusion, since I haven't been able to study it. But I've looked at a lot of arguments, and I have yet to find any that can meet what I take to be an extremely powerful burden of proof created by the fact that immersion in communities that teach the categorical condemnation of homosexuality is harmful to gays and lesbians who belong to those communities. Depending on native dispositional qualities, some can be driven to the brink of suicide.

An abstract argument that doesn't get down and dirty and wrestle with the actual life stories of gays and lesbians whose lives have been broken on the wheel of condemnation is unlikely to be very compelling to me or anyone else who cares deeply about their gay and lesbian neighbors. Unlike abstract questions in philosophy of religion or epistemology--which have been the focus of Swinburne's career--ethics, especially applied ethics, often demands serious engagement with human stories. This is even more true for Christian ethics, which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Such love demands compassionate attention to the experiences and life stories of our neighbors. Unless and until Swinburne offers an argument that is deeply informed and shaped by sustained attention to the lived experiences of gays and lesbians, I doubt his argument will convince me--and nothing I have heard suggests that Swinburne's argument at the SCP was informed by such attention.

(Note: there is a big difference between saying an argument of a certain kind is unlikely to convince me and saying that it won't enlighten me, deepen my thinking, or in other ways be useful in shaping my intellectual development. Swinburne's argument may well be very useful--offering distinctions and qualifications that may have bearing on my thought--even if it is of a kind that's unlikely to convince.)

One way I can show love in this case is to stress the importance of not exploring the ethics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage without paying compassionate attention to our gay and lesbian neighbors. There is nothing unloving about offering such advice to my conservative Christians brothers and sisters--some of whom I greatly admire as eminent scholars in my field who have shaped me in many ways. I suspect that advice will do more good that calling them "f***ing a**holes," as one Yale philosopher has done.

But if I offer such advice, I cannot then refuse to pay compassionate attention to Swinburne and others who espouse the traditional teaching. And such compassionate attention requires honest and fair assessments of their convictions and motives. This leads me to my next point.

2. Recognizing motives 

I am certain that Swinburne does not think the traditional teaching on homosexuality causes harm. He is not defending it in order to harm our gay and lesbian neighbors, even if I believe that is the actual effect. Or, more precisely, that is what I take to be the effect on gays and lesbians who belong to a community in which this view is treated as normative and significant. It's belonging to a community that teaches this which is harmful, not the arguments of a single philosopher, no matter how eminent. But I'm sure Swinburne does not agree with that, and in trying to preserve such a community he is not doing it in order to cause harm.

To put the point another way, if Swinburne believed that the teaching were a source of harm, he wouldn't be publicly defending it. Swinburne believes that this teaching is good and helpful as sincerely as I believe that it causes harm.

It may be worth pointing out that he didn't decide on this keynote topic on his own. He didn't set out to beat up on gays. I don't think I'm breaking any confidentiality when I say that during our lunch conversation, Swinburne told me how this came to be his topic. He'd offered some advice to philosophers of religion, to the effect that they should apply their distinctive training and expertise to contemporary social questions such as sexual ethics. And that advice prompted an invitation to follow the advice himself in his SCP address. Since he'd given the advice, he didn't feel as if he could refuse. And so he put something together.

This is not an issue that he has focused his career on or written a book about (I think it comes up briefly in his book on revelation). Rather, he was treading into largely new territory at the request of the conference organizers. If he did not display the kind of awareness of LGBT issues that others do, the most helpful response is to educate him, not denounce him.

Swinburne was asked to talk on a topic that was new to him, and he thought that resources from his own discipline might be useful in clarifying some of the moral issues. Were they? I wasn't at the talk, but I have learned lots from people I disagree with. Philosophers whose views I find misguided often provide ways of thinking about those very issues that deepen my insight even while I reject their arguments and conclusions. Is that true of Swinburne's thinking in this case?

I don't know. But I do know that Christian love calls for grace. And this leads to my next point.

3. Choosing our words with care and showing grace for failures

Given everything I know about Swinburne through reading his work, given what he told me about the argument he delivered at the SCP meeting, given the little I have gleaned about his argument form third parties, and given the talks I have now seen him deliver, I am convinced of the following: Swinburne offered a thoroughly dispassionate, analytically careful, abstractly intellectual argument for a conclusion he wanted to defend--with plenty of distinctions and deductive arguments and no deliberate personal attacks. I am pretty confident that he approached this as an issue of intellectual interest, as opposed to thinking of the faces of gay and lesbian loved ones (as I do every time I approach this topic).

That said, he reportedly used language that, when I read it in Hackett's post, immediately made me cringe. One premise of his argument was that gays and lesbians suffer from a "disability" insofar as their romantic sexual unions can't produce children. Another was that this is an "incurable condition." This language choice displays the kind of lack of familiarity with the LGBT community that is unsurprising in an elderly Christian philosopher who has spent his career focused primarily on traditional questions in the philosophy of religion, travels in circles where most gays and lesbians probably remain in the closet, and has not spent a long time considering these issues.

But here's the thing. These claims on Swinburne's part are claims I make in my book--but in different terms.

I do not call homosexuality a disability or an incurable condition, because I know that this language invokes the idea of "sickness"--and I know how that language has been used to abuse sexual minorities. But in my book and elsewhere, I argue that same-sex couples are like infertile heterosexual couples in that they can pursue the "unitive" end of sexual intimacy but not the procreative end. Of course, my aim is to argue the following: It would be unloving to bar infertile couples from marrying and pursuing loving union just because the union won't be reproductive; and it is likewise wrong to prohibit same-sex marriages for this reason.

But here's the thing: infertility is usually considered a disability. By comparing gay couples to infertile ones as part of my argument for their right to marry, I am likening them to a class of people who are often called disabled without anyone blinking an eye. But I know that many gays and lesbians have been kicked out of their parents' homes with the word "sick" ringing in their ears. I've held the hands of gay friends who were still scarred by abuse that was couched in the language of "sickness." And so I try to steer clear of such language.

Similar remarks apply to the other claim of Swinburne's that evokes the language of sickness--the claim that homosexuality is an "incurable condition." I have argued time and again that gays and lesbians cannot be expected to change their sexuality, that so-called conversion therapies and ex-gay ministries don't work. My gay and lesbian friends agree with me on this. If one were oblivious to the experiences of LGBT persons and the way the sickness label has been used to abuse them, one might make this point using the words "incurable condition"--and have no idea how that will stir up all sorts of painful crud among gay and lesbian listeners.

The thing about analytic philosophers of religion is this: Many if not most of them spend more time in their heads thinking about things like modal logic and probability theory than they do reflecting on how word choices are related to human feelings. While this is perhaps a human failing, all of us have failings and we need to treat each other with grace.

This means we shouldn't react as if an elder scholar whose career has focused on completely different issues, for whom all of this is mostly new, should know better. Oblivious use of terms that hurt is an opportunity to share stories about why they hurt, not to repudiate and shame.

The issue in these cases is not with the claims Swinburne is making but with his choice of words. I'm not saying that the words we use to express an idea don't matter. What I'm suggesting is that we need to engage one another in a spirit of grace, understanding where other people come from and not going on the offensive every time their word choice offends.

Let me offer an analogy from grading. Sometimes, I assign an essay on a topic and student after student makes the same oversight. The first time it happens, I calmly explain the oversight in the margins. The twentieth time it happens, I'm feeling exasperated. I want to scream, "How many times do I have to tell you this?!" I have to remind myself that I haven't told the same person this twenty times. For each of them, it is the first time they are hearing it. And for each of them, that first time may open their eyes, give them an "a ha!" moment, and lead their thinking in a new direction. But not if I make the point in a tone of outraged indignation as if I've been telling them this over and over and they haven't been listening. That'll just inspire defensiveness.

I remember, years ago, being at a discussion on homosexuality and the church where I used the phrase "gay lifestyle." A gay man in the discussion calmly explained the associations that term had for him, and the reasons it grated on him. I don't how many times he'd made that point. Probably many, many times. But for me it was the first time. His sharing was personal. It didn't make me defensive. And I stopped using the term. I doubt things would've gone so smoothly if he'd said, instead, "How many times do I have to tell you people that there is no *#$@! gay lifestyle!"

4. Embracing (rather than shutting down) discussion opportunities

Finally, if I'm right about the negative impact the traditional Christian teaching has on gays and lesbians who belong to communities that teach it, there is good reason to have serious discussion and debate within communities--such as conservative Christian ones--that still teach it. Such discussion and debate is not facilitated by efforts to shame and silence people who lay out, with admirable analytical clarity, their reasons for supporting this teaching. Especially in philosophy, every such effort to lay out arguments is intended as an invitation to raise objections, level criticism, and engage in discussion. That's what philosophers do.

When philosophers who are conservative on this issue try to spell out arguments for their view at a philosophical conference, this is the perfect opportunity to have a discussion. That's what a philosophy conference is for. When it's a conference for Christian philosophers, what that means for me is the discussion is happening where it needs to happen: in a community whose members still widely teach that all homosexual acts are sinful. Swinburne did not merely offer an argument for the conservative Christian position. He did so in a venue whose norms and standards invite vigorous critical discussion. As such, he created an opportunity to critically discuss the ethics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage exactly where I think that critical discussion most urgently needs to happen.

The question is what we should do with such opportunities. What did Hackett do with it? What did the rest of us do in the aftermath? Will these choices make it more or less likely that such opportunities will arise again?

To respond to opportunities for meaningful dialogue with repudiation and attack probably isn't the most productive strategy, and it certainly isn't the most loving.

That said, I know that many people carry deep hurt and anger over the ways in which the church has perpetuated and magnified anguish for gays and lesbians. It is too easy to dismiss someone like Hackett, who rises up to offer an angry rebuke to an elder statesman in the discipline, as offering nothing but a"semi-coherent rant." But behind such anger there is human pain, and pain cries out for compassion.

Philosophers are used to engaging with issues on a purely intellectual level. But when the topic is something like homosexuality, what is at stake are the lives and loves of real human beings, with histories and emotional lives. This fact may have actual bearing on what conclusions we should reach; but it also has bearing on which approaches to argument and debate are likely to be most productive. Patience and grace and compassion may, on this level, prove to be important philosophical virtues.


I want to say something about Michael Rea's "apology," which many have denounced.

On the one hand, I don't think it is wrong for a philosopher at a philosophy conference to give a talk defending a view that the philosopher accepts, with the understanding that others are encouraged to ask critical questions and raise objections. Hence, it isn't wrong for Swinburne to give such a talk, whatever we might think of the view being defended.

So, in that sense, there wasn't anything to apologize for. But strictly speaking, Rea did not apologize for what Swinburne said. He expressed regret for any hurt caused at the meeting, clarified that Swinburne's view was not that of the society, and affirmed a commitment to welcoming diverse people and perspectives (while affirming the shared foundation of Christian faith of the society's members).

Can anything be said for issuing such a "disclaimer"? I'm still not sure what I think of his decision to explicitly distance Swinburne's views from those of the SCP. Ordinarily, this distance is taken for granted at philosophy conferences, which may lead some readers to suppose that the real message is that those with Swinburne's views are not welcome to express them at the SCP. But much hinges here on the history of the SCP on this issue and the broader perceptions of the philosophical community. And this distancing is related to something I am sure about, which I turn to now.

Gays and lesbians have a long history of not feeling welcome in Christian communities. And the SCP is a Christian community. Absent any statement by SCP officials to the contrary, it is quite possible, even likely, that at least some gays and lesbians upon hearing second-hand about Swinburne's keynote address would get the impression that the SCP does not welcome their perspectives, their ideas, or their presence. Even if this impression is inaccurate, it could stifle the diversity that Rea talks about nurturing.

Furthermore, gays and lesbians have lived what for me and other straight Christians can only be an hypothesis--that immersion in communities that teach the categorical condemnation of homosexuality causes harm to gays and lesbians. Other straight Christians may doubt its truth, but many gay and lesbian Christians experience it not as an hypothesis to which they might give intellectual assent but at a painfully inescapable feature of their personal histories. As such, an assurance of welcome that does not include something about the views of the society might be experienced as disingenuous.

But this is tricky. Some are afraid of any community where the categorical condemnation of homosexuality is granted hegemony and significance, because they have experienced the harms that such a community does to its LGBT members. Out of such fear, they fear any community that allows this condemnation to be expressed without rebuke. But there is an enormous difference between a community that preaches this condemnation and a community which cultivates an environment where people who believe in this condemnation feel welcome to make their case for it, knowing that there will be challenges and critical discussion (but not efforts to shame and silence). A philosophical society surely should be the latter--and there is need for the latter. And for reasons already mentioned, the SCP would be a particularly valuable place for the latter.

Screen Time

Friday, 30 September 2016 03:00 pm
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Posted by Micha Frazer-Carroll

Illustration by Isha Khanzode.

Illustration by Isha Khanzode.

TV Show: Easy (Netflix Originals)

Neatly packaged as a series of eight half-hour episodes, Netflix original Easy is a portrait of sex, love, and romance in 2016. Each installment focuses on different characters, ultimately creating a spectrum of the joys and struggles we navigate in everyday relationships. The show whirlwinds through all-too-relatable stories: an impressionable girl negotiates with the fluidity of identity within relationships, a long-term couple gets FOMO about Tinder, and an artist pushes the boundaries of privacy surrounding sex. Episodes sometimes begin slowly and can meander, but by the time each half-hour wraps up, a message emerges—sometimes leaving me with something quite heavy to ponder long after. The series does a great job with representation of LGBTQ+ folks and people of color; however, it does feel middle class–centric at times. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to hear words like “heteronormative,” “selfie,” and “vegan” in a TV show without it seeming too try-hard. While brutally honest and not always uplifting, Easy made me reflect on how beautiful, complex, and moving love stories are all around us, every day. —Micha Frazer-Carroll

Podcast: Mystery Show (Gimlet Media)

Mystery Show is a podcast that is so refreshing and so original that I consumed every episode in its first season within 24 hours. Listeners call in about small and strange questions that can’t be solved through a Google search, and host Starlee Kine attempts to unravel the mystery. They are often complex, odd queries that aren’t quite worthy of major attention (for example: How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal really?) but have significance to the people bringing them forward. In one episode, a writer whose work doesn’t sell well discovers a paparazzi picture of Britney Spears holding her second book and wonders, “HOW?” In another, a woman rents a movie from a video store only to discover the store is no longer there when she goes back the next day to return the movie. Listening, I find myself trying to grapple with all the tiny bits and pieces of fate and probability that lead to things ending up exactly as they are. Season Two is reportedly “in the works.” I hope we know more about it soon, too! —Emily Wood

TV Show: Atlanta (FX)

Atlanta is the brainchild of actor Donald Glover. Set in Glover’s hometown, the show follows a motley crew of friends. Earn, played by Glover, is a Princeton dropout living with his on-again/off-again girlfriend and their daughter. At the beginning of the series, Earn talks himself into a job managing his rapper cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. Rounding out their entourage is Paper Boi’s eccentric righthand man, Darius. The series is just five episodes in and thus far has received praise for its soundtrack and witty, incisive writing. Its latest episodes features a black Justin Bieber and makes important points about perception and race. What I enjoy most about Atlanta is that the show is overwhelmingly black, with characters unconcerned with outside gazes. It’s a show that has black characters just living their lives, which seems so simple, but has not been the norm. Atlanta is funny, smart, and refreshing. —Diamond Sharp ♦

Trump Is Now Slut-Shaming Alicia Machado on Twitter

Friday, 30 September 2016 02:41 pm
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Posted by Libby Anne

I'll tell you what it's about. It's about a man who has been married three times and has had sex with countless other women, a man who has appeared on the cover of Playboy and is accused of ordering waitresses fired for not being pretty enough, slut-shaming a woman and calling her "disgusting" for having a sex tape.Click through to read more!

Disfluencies and smiles

Friday, 30 September 2016 01:28 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

A couple of days ago, in a café in Paris,  someone noticed a young woman intently watching the Clinton/Trump debate, and commented "Isn't watching the debate so much better than working?" But the debate watcher was Ye Tian, a postdoc at the Laboratoire de linguistique formelle, Université Paris Diderot (Paris 7), part of a project whose acronym is DUEL — "Disfluencies, Exclamations and Laughter in Dialogue". And so her interest in the video was a professional one, with preliminary results that she published as a blog post here. Ye Tian's analysis is reproduced below, with her permission, as a guest post.

The Monday night presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was apparently the most watched debate in American history. When I woke up today, my facebook was “刷屏” (screen-painted) by everyone’s opinion on this, so I sat down, opened youtube and started watching. OK I didn’t just watch. I thought, why don’t I check out their disfluency patterns, and whether there were any smiles and laughter in this presumably hostile interaction? This took me a whole day. Someone in the cafe saw me watching the video and said, “isn’t watching the debate so much better than working?”. I thought, “this is working!”

So here are some of my initial observations. People have the impression that Donald Trump is way more disfluent than Hilary Clinton, that he has a lot of incomplete sentences and that he repeats himself a lot. This is partly true. Trump and Clinton have very different types of disfluency. However, in terms of occurrences of disfluencies, they are not so different.

First, a few words of types of disfluencies. First there are silent and filled pauses. Pauses can be filled by things like “um” and “uh”, but also by “discourse markers” such as “you know”, “I mean”, “like” etc. Second, there are repetitions. We sometimes repeat parts of what we said – can be as small as a syllable, or as large as a clause. Third, there are repairs. We may say something, stop, and trace back to change what we said. We may repair “small things” like a morpheme, such as a plural marker. Here is an example from Trump: “(the thing + the things) that business as in people like the most is the fact that I’m cutting regulation”. Note that I have annotated the repair in the form of (to-be-repaired + repair). Here Trump repaired “the thing” by adding a plural ending. We may also repair big chunks. Here is another example from Trump: “We have endorsements from, I think, almost every police group, very — I mean, a large percentage of them in the United States”. Here Trump first said “almost every police group”, and then changed it into “a large percentage of them”. Lastly, there are abandoned (incomplete) utterances. For example, Trump said “we have made so many bad deals during the last — so she’s got experience, that I agree.”. The first sentence was incomplete (“the last…”).

So I counted all filled pauses, repetitions, repairs and abandoned utterances. Note that I didn’t analyse interruptions, or disfluencies during cross talk (obviously there were a lot of repetitions and abandoned utterances from both of them during cross talk). Trump had a fair number of repetitions, repairs and abandoned utterances, and relatively few filled pauses. He often stops mid-sentence to insert extra information, called asides or parentheticals. Often they are anecdotes or comments about himself (“he called me the other day” or “I’m not going to get credit for it”), and he may or may not come back to his original sentence afterwards. Clinton, on the other hand, had almost no repairs or abandoned utterances, a few repetitions, and many more filled pauses. Overall, Trump had 67 disfluencies while Clinton had 53. Mind you, I haven’t counted the total number of words (and I suspect Trump said more). So their overall rates of disfluencies may be the same.

So here is your impression confirmed. Trump tends to repeat himself, he often stops mid-sentence to add something, and may or may not come back to his original partial sentence. He also often changes his mind about what he said (repairs). This is why he doesn’t come across as a well-prepared and eloquent speaker. Below are some examples:


TRUMP: New York — New York has done an excellent job. And I give credit — I give credit across the board going back two mayors.

Repetition with inserted asides:

TRUMP: And Sean Hannity said — and he called me the other day — and I spoke to him about it — he said you were totally against the war, because he was for the war.


TRUMP: They (left + fired ) 1,400 people.

TRUMP: I could name + { I mean} there are thousands of them.

Abandoned utterance:

TRUMP: The African-American community — because — look, the community within the inner cities has been so badly treated.

TRUMP: whether it’s — I mean, I can just keep naming them all day long — we need law and order in our country.


Clinton, on the other hand, speaks more slowly, and she uses more filled pauses than Trump. The filled pauses, however, are not evenly distributed. There are long stretches of speech without a single filled pause, but there are pockets of utterances where filled pauses are frequent. One example was her discussion about cyber crime. Here is one paragraph from her, fillers are annotated like { F uh}.

CLINTON: Well, I think we need to do much more {F uh} with our tech companies to {F uh} prevent ISIS and their operatives {F uh} from being able to use the Internet to radicalize, even direct {F uh} people in our country and Europe and elsewhere. But we also have to intensify our air strikes against ISIS {F uh} and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish {F uh} partners to be able to actually take out ISIS {F uh} in Raqqa. {F uh} And we’re hoping that {F uh} within the year we’ll be able to push ISIS out of Iraq and then, you know, really squeeze them in Syria.

Looking at disfluency patterns over time, it shows that Trump’s disfluency increases steadily over time, while Clinton’s disfluency fluctuates, peaking at 60 to 75 minutes window, when they were discussing cyber crime and fighting ISIS.

What does this disfluency difference between Trump and Clinton mean? Do repetitions /repairs /abandoned utterances suggest a less clear mind? a freer mind?, a mind that gets distracted by its own thoughts? Do fluctuations in rates of filled pauses indicate fluctuations in confidence? I don’t know. The viewers were clearly annoyed by Trump’s disfluency much more than by Clinton’s. Trump style disfluency – repetitions, inserted asides, repairs and abandoned utterances – affects discourse coherence. It doesn’t necessarily mean his mind is incoherent, but it IS a style that is more egocentric and less considerate. It indicates less initial planning and preparation. Clinton’s disfluency, namely filled pauses, indicates the opposite: planning. She pauses in order to make the upcoming utterance clear. So Trump was just externalizing his inner (rather free and unique) trail of thoughts, but Clinton was aiming for getting the exact ideas across to us: she cared about how OUR trail of thoughts changes as a result of her speech.

Now, what about smile and laughter? Were there any? Of course. One widely held impression was that Clinton had to smile a lot while waiting for Trump’s nonsense. And again, the impression was confirmed! She did smile a lot, and very often for looonnnggg stretches of time!

I found a total of 42 smiles and laughs of Trump and Clinton (there were also 8 audience laughs). And yes, most of them came from Clinton (74%)! The total duration of Clinton’s smile/laugh was 124 seconds, compared to Trump’s total of 14 seconds (nearly 10:1). Compare to friendly conversations, while laughter happens between 10 – 50 times per 10 min, this debate was a smile/ laughter desert (at 0.5 times per 10min including smiles). In friendly conversations, there a lot of “dyadic” laugh, meaning when one person laughs, the other often joins in. In this debate there was only one occasion where both joined the smile/laugh. Trump had just said a lot of bad things about Clinton’s temperament. Clinton responded “Whew, OK”, followed by a laugh (and some shoulder wiggling). At that moment, the audience laughed and Mr Trump smiled at her. Here is a screen shot.

Very sweet huh? This was the only not-so-hostile laughter sharing moment between the two. All the other smiles and laughs communicates something hostile, or at least, non-cooperative. And of course when one does it, the other wouldn’t join. The most frequent “meaning” of smiles and laughs in this debate can be paragraphed as “ridiculous”. It is often when one person had said something about the other (often Trump was the speaker), and the other smiles to say “RIDICULOUS”.

Both Trump and Clinton used smiles and laughs in this way, but they look very different. Trump never showed his teeth. Very often he just lifted the corners of his mouth, and there was nothing around his eyes, which makes his smiles look “disingenuous”. Sometimes his smiles were accompanied with eye rolling or head shaking. Compared to Clinton, Trump’s smiles were much short (on average 1.5 seconds). Here are some of his signature smiles:

  1. Trump smiling to Clinton’s “he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks”:

  1. Trump smiles to Clinton’s “I was so shocked that Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans”:

  1. Clinton said “I have put forth a plan to defeat uh ISIS”, and Trump reacted…

In comparison, Clinton smiled a lot, and each time for a long time. Her average smile/laugh duration was 4.5 seconds (compared to 1.5 seconds of Trump), and the longest smile was 15 seconds long, 15 seconds long!!! That’s much longer than a usual natural smile! Also, though the function of her smiles and laughs were the same as Trumps – to dismiss what Trump just said, to communicate “that’s ridiculous” – her smiles look much more friendly. If I didn’t give you a context, you may well think she was hosting a party, or was talking to a friendly neighbour. Look:

  1. Trump said “And you’re going to stop them [ISIS]? I don’t think so.”, and Clinton smiled, for 10 seconds:
  2. Trump said “All of the things that she’s talking about could have been taken care of during the last 10 years, let’s say, while she had great power. But they weren’t taken care of. And if she ever wins this race, they won’t be taken care of”. Clinton smiled (at least 3 seconds, as the camera moved to the host).

6. Trump said “$200 million is spent [by Clinton], and I’m either winning or tied, and I’ve spent practically nothing”. Clinton smiled for 3 seconds.


So these were my initial observations. Trump and Clinton were disfluent in different ways. Trump tended to repeat, repair and abandon his sentences mid-air. Clinton used more filled pauses, but these filled pauses clustered in some stretches and were absent in others.

Trump didn’t show a great smile: no teeth, no eyes, and not so many. Clinton, on the other hand, smiled often and she kept them long. Her smiles were so friendly-looking, one might forget that linguistically they served the same functions as Trump’s bitter smirks.

I understand Trump’s bitter smiles. Clinton’s remarks were not friendly, why should Trump’s smiles be sweet? But why did Clinton have so many sweet and long smiles, after so many harsh attacks from Trump? Ahhh maybe her smiles were for the audience. She was strategically saying to us “look at how stupid Trump is, we (inclusive) are much better than him”. So Trump’s smiles stayed within their interaction, but Clinton’s smiles reached out. Did it work? What do you think😉

Above is a guest post by Ye Tian.

Daily Links: A Seat at the Table Edition

Friday, 30 September 2016 01:00 pm
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Posted by June Eric Udorie

Happy Friday! Get ready for the weekend with these Daily Links

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using the cover of Solange's A Seat at the Table.

Collage by Ruby Aitken, using the cover of Solange’s A Seat at the Table.

Solange Knowles releases her new album, A Seat at the Table, today. I can’t wait to take a listen!

Photo via Fusion.

Photo via Fusion.

In a powerful Facebook post this week, tennis star Serena Williams said she won’t be silent about the killings of unarmed black men by police.

Photo via The Root.

Photo via The Root.

On Tuesday, Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by police in El Cajon, California after his sister called 911, then the police, to help him because he was in mental distress. Protests in response to Alfred Olango’s death have been organized in the San Diego, California, area. ♦

[syndicated profile] roger_olson_feed

Posted by Roger E. Olson

Recommended Reading: Washington Post Essay by Christian Conservative Erick Erickson Re: Donald Trump The essay appeared in my local newspaper Friday, September 30 and was given the headline “Why One Celebrated Conservative Christian Won’t Vote for Trump: Victory Would Imperil Christianity in US.” I’m sure you can find the essay and read it if you [Read More...]

LBCF, No. 101: ‘Domestic agenda’

Friday, 30 September 2016 11:55 am
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

You see this again and again in Left Behind wherever the authors are forced to describe in particular the things they obsessively fear and oppose -- whether it's feminism, the United Nations or "the media." For all of their preoccupation with these things, they have no idea what they actually look like. "As long as you don't expect me to cook or something sexist and domestic like that." Feminists don't talk like that. Humans don't talk like that.
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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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