neonvincent: For posts about cats and activities involving uniforms. (Krosp)
[personal profile] neonvincent
I'm skipping the saved comments post for December 2016, as I used the entire saved comment from Greer's blog in For Winter Solstice 2016, the Archdruid and I discuss Discordianism and fake holidays. No need to post it here.

The blog passed 800,000 page views about 8 AM on 12/7/16. It published its 3000th post on 12/8/16. The month ended with 37 comments and 36,117 page views, the second most of any month behind only October 2016.

Most read, shared, and liked posts of December 2016 behind the cut. )

Who's your hero?

Jul. 20th, 2017 08:57 am
twistedchick: General Leia in The Force Awakens (Default)
[personal profile] twistedchick
I am reading The Geek Feminist Revolution, and it is making me think about heroes. Kameron Hurley, the author, has an essay about societally-based-in-the-1950s ideas of heroes (male, straight, white) and about how the only women who are killers and who could be considered heroes in movies are Thelma and Louise and Aileen Wuornos (in 'Monster'). She talks about Charlise Theron's Furiosa from the last Mad Max movie separately, and well, but Imperator Furiosa is not, overall, a killer. She may be one of the few women heroes who isn't propelled by rape -- once you look around, that trope is everywhere -- but her story starts with maintaining the status quo and ends with her having entirely overturned it.

(She isn't dealing with race here -- yes, of course, Luke Cage is a hero, how could he not be? And Falcon, and T'Challa. And many others whom I see on cable but whose names I don't know. But the field of combat/discussion is sexism here.)

So. Who are the women I see as heroes in movies, not as 'women heroes'? Not as sidekicks, or (forgive me, Rosalind Russell) as equal-to-men-but-in-a-men's-world, such as Hildy in 'My Girl Friday' (which was originally a man's role)? (I am exempting comedies from this, overall, because being a hero can be largely humorless. If someone has a hero who is female and in a comedy, I'd really like to know about it.) And what is a hero? For purposes of this post, I'm defining a hero as someone who goes up against impossible odds to achieve a goal that generally include keeping 'self and/or one or more other people alive, whether or not they are people the hero personally knows. (There are variations -- achieving an impossible goal can be heroic, but isn't always presented as such.) Another requirement is that the hero is someone with agency who chooses to use it to change the status quo for the better. By the end of the movie, something has to be different because of what the hero did. The stakes must be high, the difficulties many and the resources limited.

(Sexism example: Nobody complains about the Sundance Kid shooting people. They complain about Thelma and Louise blowing up the rude sexist trucker's truck. There's only one shooting in that movie, of a rapist, and I don't even want to hear about how he 'hadn't done anything yet' when he'd brutalized Louise in a way that made it clear that she's not his first victim.)

(Yes, Buffy and Faith are heroes -- but I'm thinking movies here, not tv, and the movie of Buffy was not so much about heroism as about overturning high-school and prom-night-movie tropes.)

Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, in Alien, Aliens, etc. My favorite is the second movie, because I went to see it with a really horrible boyfriend I was trying to break up with, and it gave me the courage to dump him. Ripley is a killer because of circumstances -- self defense and protecting the girl -- and her targets are the enormous aliens that are trying to kill them. Does it not count as being a killer if you use a spaceship to do it? Or if the victims are trying to kill you and are aliens?

(Ripley was originally a man's role -- it was written for Paul Newman, as was Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop. The name -- Axel Foley -- is a give-away, half Swedish and half Irish. I can come up with a few reasons why a black character would have that name -- but I seriously doubt that many black kids were named Axel until after the movie came out.)

Sally Field, in both Places in the Heart and Norma Rae. Neither of them has rape involved, present or past. This is steadfast, plugging, get-it-done heroism, not flashy. What changes is that through her hard work and steadfastness, and befriending outcasts (Danny Glover and John Malkovich), she keeps her home. It probably helps that Sally Field looks like a fluffy bunny in Places, and is sweaty and ungroomed in Norma Rae. I've worked in a factory without AC in the summer -- she looked like I felt on the assembly line. And that scene where she is dragged away to the police car, fighting for her life? She broke two ribs on one of the guys carrying her that day; she was dead serious in that fight.

Leia Organa, whether princess, freedom fighter, or general, is a hero. She's also a killer, unless all those dudes in white plastic armor don't count when she shoots at them and they fall down. She's also the Hutt-slayer and a liberator of planets. Over the first three movies (they will always be the first three for me, not the prequels) her character grows and develops. What we have lost when Carrie died was the rest of the story for her -- at least we have Movie 8 coming, with more of General Leia. (I have no idea why The Geek Feminist Revolution didn't include her as a hero, unless she's in an essay I haven't gotten to yet. I mean, she's the one with the two male sidekicks who think it's all about them.)

Karen Silkwood, played by Meryl Streep, is a hero, killed for trying to tell people about workplace safety violations in a plutonium factory. Meryl Streep also plays more of an action hero in The River Wild, and there are no rapes there -- and she does kill Kevin Bacon's character, who richly deserves it. However, Meryl Streep can play anything except a doormat; the closest she came to that was in Sophie's Choice, early on, where she is powerless to save both of her children from murder by the Nazis and never completely recovers afterward. It's a powerful role and amazing acting -- but she is not a hero, she's a survivor, and the two aren't necessarily the same.

Arwen Undomiel, one of two named women characters in Lord of the Rings (seriously: Rosie Cotton is a walk-on so Sam will have someone conventionally female to come home to) is a hero, and a swordfighter, when she rides down to the ford to bring Frodo up to Rivendell. I have fantasized at times about a version of LOTR from her viewpoint -- being the witness, seeing what's happening but not able to change the war, then choosing mortality over immortality because with Aragorn she had found something she could not find with another elf. There are hints in the books of their marriage being considered miscegenation by Elrond and others, but it can't be said overly strongly because he is Elrond Half-Elven, after all. What would her story look like, from her viewpoint? She wasn't Eleanor of Aquitaine, riding bare-breasted toward Jerusalem with the Crusades -- "the troops were dazzled" -- because sexuality barely exists in Tolkien's writing other than bromance. If anything, she is stuck being more like Katherine in Henry V -- outside the "men's discussion" of war and tribute and appeasement, but she escapes being the property that must be exchanged for the treaty to take place. But to get back to Arwen, heroes are people who act, and Arwen does act, in the scenes we see -- that is her choice. The book and movie show us the aftereffect, the willing bride and queen -- they don't show the inner struggle she went through to get there. (FWIW, I have a hard time not reading Merry and Pippin as kid sisters to Frodo, but that's me. Tomboy kid sisters who get into scrapes and out of them.)

Speaking of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katharine Hepburn plays her as a hero in her own eyes who is stuck in a proscribed women's role and trying her best to get out of it at times by manipulation and scheming (traditionally considered women's weapons). But she also brings knives to her sons when her husband has imprisoned them, so they can fight their way out --"It's 1183, and we're all barbarians." Much as I love Kate's movies, it's hard for me to call her a hero. A strong woman, yes, but in that narrative (play or movie) not heroic. She does not change anything. At the end of the story she's going back to her own prison, and everyone who was alive when the movie started still is, though their relationships have shifted a bit. Hepburn played the roles that were available, and women-as-equals or women-as-partners were her forte. But not heroes. But Kate Hepburn's movies could be an entire other post or three.

I am not sure whether Celie, in The Color Purple, could be considered a hero. She does not overturn the status quo as much as go along with it for her own survival. Much of the time she doesn't have agency, and when she does it's fairly minor -- designing women's trousers is not quite like going over a waterfall in a raft with your son and two murderers (The River Wild).

Regardless of Hollywood's prejudices, Black Widow is a hero, as well as a survivor. I would like to see a movie in which we see both of those -- the agency she has is to change herself after Hawkeye refuses to kill her. And yes, she's a killer -- it's her job. I'm not sure she's written as well as she deserves. Fanfic does better by her than the movies do, at this point, much of the time.

What women are your movie heroes, and why?

An ode to Susan Duncan

Jul. 20th, 2017 03:29 pm
marina: (Default)
[personal profile] marina
I'm finally caught up on this week's Orphan Black!

everything goes under a spoiler cut )

daf bit: Sanhedrin 2

Jul. 20th, 2017 08:55 am
cellio: (talmud)
[personal profile] cellio

We begin a new tractate, Sanhedrin, which discusses court cases. Unlike in many secular court systems, the judges are active participants (they're the ones who question witnesses) and the ultimate decisors; there are no lawyers or juries.

A court is made up of some number of judges, depending on the type of case (at least 3, sometimes 23 or 71 or occasionally other numbers). Here are some of the cases listed in the first mishna of the tractate (this is not a complete list):

  • Various types of monetary damages are judged by three.

  • Rape, seduction, and libel require three according to R' Meir, but the sages say libel requires 23 because it could involve a capital charge. (A note suggests this comes up with adultery but doesn't connect the dots. Also, rape and seduction can involve capital charges too, so I don't know why they only call out libel. Perhaps it's addressed later in the g'mara.)

  • Capital cases, as implied in the previous bullet, require 23.

  • Cases for which the punishment is flogging require three, but according to R' Yishmael, 23.

  • Calendar decisions (witnessing the new moon, adding a leap month) are judged by three, though R' Shimon b. Gamaliel describes a more complicated scheme.

  • A tribe charged with idolatry, a false prophet, and a high priest can be tried only by a court of 71.

  • The following require 71: authorizing wars of free choice, adding to the temple courtyards, establishing small sanhedrins (of 23) for the tribes, condemning a city, condemning frontier towns.

Why is a great sanhedrin 71? Because Moshe was commanded to gather 70 (other) men. And why is a small sanhedrin 23? It's complicated. (I don't completely follow their math, sorry.)

This is all from 2a. The mishna continues onto 2b before the g'mara starts there.

(Today's daf is 4.)

Review: Kingdomino

Jul. 20th, 2017 01:46 pm
andrewducker: (Default)
[personal profile] andrewducker
When I saw that it had won the 2017 Spiel des Jahres I took a look at Kingdomino. On discovering that it was only £15, and that games could be played in about 15 minutes I decided to pick up a copy.

So far I've played games with both [personal profile] swampers and [personal profile] danieldwilliam and both of them picked it up quickly and enjoyed playing it.

It's based (surprisingly enough) on the idea behind dominoes - or, at least, the part of dominoes where you have tiles with two ends and need to match them against each other. In this case the different ends are different terrains (grass, mountain, etc), and you score by forming areas of the same terrain*. Each turn you have to make a judgement between going for the tiles that score the highest, versus going for lower-scoring tiles which allow you make the first move the next turn.

I enjoyed it, and I'm definitely taking it on holiday. If you're looking for a filler game then it'll do a great job of that.



*It's a bit more complex than that, but not a lot.

Confusing What Is Real.

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:21 am
rionaleonhart: the mentalist: lisbon, afraid but brave, makes an important call. (it's been an honour)
[personal profile] rionaleonhart
Hmm, I thought. As I love the music video for 'Heavy' so much, maybe I should check out some other Linkin Park videos and see whether they spark any writing inspiration.

(Did I forget for a moment that I'm supposed to be trying not to write Linkin Park fanfiction? Er, possibly. I maintain that music video fanfiction doesn't count.)

I'm now deeply conflicted over the video for 'Leave Out All the Rest', which depicts the band on a spaceship that ends up drifting into a star. On the one hand, hey, an interesting AU setting! On the other, it's an interesting AU setting that I never want to write about, because it sets off my fear of space very badly.

I'm also intrigued by the 'In the End' video, with its charmingly turn-of-the-millennium graphics and young Chester being an attractive little shit (his smirk in the bridge!), in which they sing a desiccated wasteland back to life and for some reason there are flying whales. It's a strangely hopeful video for a song with hopeless lyrics. You tried so hard and got so far, in the end it doesn't even matter, but the video is telling you that you can move past this. Your life still has the capacity for beauty and flying whales.


THE BOOKENING TITLE #14: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

A real book! An actual, proper book that non-fannish people have read!

This is not my usual reading fare, but I enjoyed it! I was interested, but not invested, if that makes sense. Most of the time, when I was actually reading it, I was gripped. When I wasn't reading it, though, I didn't think about it at all. So I'd tear through a hundred pages in a sitting, and then I wouldn't touch it for days; there was never any point where I thought 'wow, I can't wait to get back to that book' or found myself speculating on the solution to the central mystery. This was a book that only existed when it was in my hands.

The main character struggled with self-loathing, made terrible decisions and couldn't trust her own perception of reality, which are all qualities I enjoy in fictional characters (I repeat: the music video for 'Heavy' is so good). I also liked the way she made her own personal fandom out of the people she saw from the train, and then basically self-inserted. Everyone in this book is very difficult to like (poor Cathy is the only half-decent person in a sea of arseholes), but I did end up with a touch of fondness for Rachel, and I really liked the scenes between her and Anna towards the end.

Interesting Links for 20-07-2017

Jul. 20th, 2017 12:00 pm
andrewducker: (Default)
[personal profile] andrewducker
andrewducker: (Default)
[personal profile] andrewducker
I posted yesterday about the media using "X defends against accusations" as a way of making you think that there are widespread attacks on them.

47 people clicked through to that post from Facebook. 5 from Twitter.

The 5 from Twitter all did so within an hour of the post going up.

The 47 from Facebook did so over the course of the following 12 hours (19 of them within an hour, but then an ongoing curve downwards).

Which indicates to me that Facebook does a pretty good job of knowing when something is interesting to my friends, and keeping it "active" for a while, whereas Twitter sweeps it away near-instantly, and unless it really grabs people it's gone.

And looking at my overall referrer stats, Facebook gets between three and six times the number of clicks that Twitter does.

(Just had a look at my actual LJ statistics too - yesterday I had 145 readers, of which 100-ish were reading via their friends-page and 45 were going direct to my posts/journal. Sadly I don't get the same info from DW, but Google Analytics tells me that 78 people visited that post on DW.)

Miscellaneous

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:01 am
highlyeccentric: Me (portrait by Scarlet Bennet) (Not impressed)
[personal profile] highlyeccentric
1. I deserve points, because I just made a doctor's appointment for a non-urgent matter.

2. Midnight Oil concert was totally worth it. The anxiety I worked myself up into in advance of going to Paléo was not, really. There *were* big crowds coming in by 8, 9 pm - but not at 5pm for the opening gigs! It was super chill when I got there. I ended up leaving at about 8.15 - I'd moved on to a smaller stage featuring tiny british boys known as Temples, but the mix of cigarette smoke and pot in the air was making my eyes stream and my head hurt. I feel a bit... a bit useless because I went to a thing and LEFT as everyone else was arriving. But actually, who cares? I saw what I wanted.
2.i. I have to say though, some of the tracks off Diesel and Dust which if you think about them too hard are Not Cool, well. They are really uncomfortable when you're all standing on European soil. the Dead Heart, particularly: it's pretty close to musical blackface to begin with, and the cultural dislocation just makes it more obvious.
2.ii. Garrett chose to do his contextualising around 'imagine if the French government had got their act together and had made it to the east coast of Aus before the British, I'd be singing all this in French'. Which. Okay. He didn't try to suggest this would be better, or worse, colonialism-wise, but I was still not happy with the way it felt. And at some point he referenced 'our dear first peoples, the indigenous australians', and just. Nope. How patronising can you GET?
3.iii Rob Hirst remains crazy talented oh my goodness. I somehow forget to notice the complexity of the percussion if I'm just listening, but as soon as you see him in action: wow. Also, the percussion kit included an honest-to-goodness rusty corrugated iron water tank, which I can only assume they physically transported from Aus for use during 'Power and the Passion'. Hell yes.

3. I started making a weekly habit tracker thing. Like a sticker chart for kids - you set a number of chores or self-care activities and colour in when they're done. I think I've set 49 possible things over a week, but not all of them are daily so I have targets. If i met every target I'd be at 41 things; so far I'm rewarding myself if I get to 25. And it's... working? The first few weeks I had days with only one or two squares; now normal is 3 or 4.

And on that note I'd better go and address today's tasks, starting with 'walk to work' (i missed 'get up by 8')

Just One Thing (20 July 2017)

Jul. 20th, 2017 09:04 am
nanila: YAY (me: abby)
[personal profile] nanila posting in [community profile] awesomeers
It's challenge time!

Comment with Just One Thing you've accomplished in the last 24 hours or so. It doesn't have to be a hard thing, or even a thing that you think is particularly awesome. Just a thing that you did.

Feel free to share more than one thing if you're feeling particularly accomplished!

Extra credit: find someone in the comments and give them props for what they achieved!

Nothing is too big, too small, too strange or too cryptic. And in case you'd rather do this in private, anonymous comments are screened. I will only unscreen if you ask me to.

Go!
fairestcat: naked woman reading. vintage (Reading)
[personal profile] fairestcat
As promised, some books I've read:

Point of Hopes (Astreiant, #1) - Melissa Scott & Lisa A. Barnett -
★★★★

Complicated mystery plot in a fascinating, intricately-crafted fantasy universe.

I really appreciated the casually mainstreamed queerness in the worldbuilding. read more )

The Ruin of a Rake - Cat Sebastian - ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This book has everything I loved about Sebastian's previous books. Complicated, flawed and messily human characters, a clear-eyed and intelligent class analysis and a refreshingly unapologetic queerness. read more )

Point of Knives (Astreiant #1.5) - Melissa Scott - ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A satisfying mystery with an even-more-satisfying beginning of a romance between the main characters as they transition from people who sleep with each other occasionally to people who'd like to have a romantic relationship with each other. read more )

Peter Darling - Austin Chant ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

An amazing queer, trans reimagining of the Peter Pan story. read more )

The Horse Mistress: Book 1 - R.A Steffan - ★ ★ ★

Enjoyable poly fantasy with a genderqueer protagonist. read more )

A Boy Called Cin - Cecil Wilde - ★ ★ ★ ★

I'd describe this book as an aspirational romance. It's a delightful, cozy fairytale of an idealized relationship. And that's not a bad thing. I think there's value particularly in queer aspirational romances. read more )

There Will Be Phlogiston (Prosperity, #5) - Alexis Hall ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I picked this up because it was free and I'd heard good things about the author, but honestly I was mostly expecting a smutty, poly diversion.

What I got was so much more. read more )

Chasing Cameron: the complete series - Hanna Dare - ★ ★ ★ ★

A series of m/m novellas with a lot of sex, not all of it between, or only between, the two protagonists.

I was really pleasingly surprised by how non-mononormative this series is. read more )
fairestcat: Dreadful the cat (Default)
[personal profile] fairestcat
One of the benefits of the new mood-stabilizer is that I'm reading again. After reading my way through a shit-ton of fanfic, I'm now switching between fanfic and pro novels.

I'm mostly only interested in reading queer stories at the moment, which has meant a lot of queer romances and also SF/F with queer characters and relationships.

I started with everything ever written by KJ Charles and OMG was that a good choice. Her stuff is AMAZING. Highly, highly recommended. She writes m/m historical romances, some straight historicals, some fantasy. One of the things I love historical queer romances because I love reading about queer people in history being happy, and Charles' books totally fill that desire.

A lot of queer historicals, or at least a lot of the ones I've read, are really interested in class and the intersection of class and sexuality and how that impacts relationships. Class differences are at the heart of almost all of Charles' books and it makes for a great lens through which to look at the various historical periods she writes in. The other thing that makes me happy about her books is that very few of her protagonists are uncomfortable with or tortured about their sexuality, which is again really refreshing to read about.

Then I moved on to Cat Sebastian's regency romances which I also highly recommend. Again with the queers being happy and not angsting about their sexualities and again with the class and anxiety about class differences being a significant factor in all the relationships.

I also highly recommend Joanna Chambers' Enlightenment series, in which one of the characters is quite guilty about his sexuality, which is possibly more realistic, but doesn't appeal to my id in quite the same way.

It was at about this point in my dive into books again that I got myself a Goodreads account, which is here, and started actually reviewing stuff as I read it.

Several people I read here regularly post reviews of the books they've read on their journals, and I think I'm going to start being one of them, I'm not going to commit to any specific schedule, but expect semi-regular book posts (the first going up directly after I finish writing this post).

The other thing I'm loving about Goodreads is having a place a list of books I've been recced that look interesting. I'm almost entirely reading digitally these days, mostly on Kobo. So, when I want to read something new I can go to my Goodreads to-read shelf and see what strikes my fancy. There are a lot of books with poly relationships in there right now, because I specifically solicited recs for queer, poly stories on twitter.

If you're curious my to-read shelf is here, and I'm always taking recs. Nothing too serious or dense right now, I'm still easing my way back into this reading gig.

Holding space, and finding rest

Jul. 19th, 2017 09:10 pm
sonia: Quilted wall-hanging (Default)
[personal profile] sonia
I've gotten feedback from several directions lately that the way I hold space for people, having been in hard places myself, is healing. "Life-changing," one person said. "A blessing," someone said today.

It's good to know that standing with people, saying, "Yes, that's hard. I see how hard you're working. No, you didn't deserve that," helps them. Because really, that's all I can do. I'd love to reach in and magically make them feel better, but that's not how this works. Sometimes people have done all the hard work, tried all the different solutions, and it still hurts. "You get to feel how you feel," I tell them.

I wish I could find that for myself. Someone who's been in the hard places, done the hard work, and can hold space for me to be exactly how I am right then. I tried a therapist the other day, and she seemed knowledgeable, skilled, compassionate - and distant. I don't think she's been there. I think she's helping from the outside, and that's not what it feels like I need.

The thing she said that resonated the most was wanting tending and care. Wanting to learn how to rest. I'm not sure what kind of practitioner helps with that. I picked "solace" for my word of the year, and I think this is what I was trying to get at. I forgot all about it for a while, but I'm starting to keep it in mind again.

I've been tired all the time for months. I stopped reading Twitter. I started taking my vitamin D & iron regularly again. I'm going to try not eating any rice (the only grain I eat) for a week. I do get sleep and eat well and exercise regularly. I want to enjoy my days rather than toughing them out.

(Not looking for advice, but your own experiences are welcome if you feel like talking about them.)

liseuse will lasso the wild novella

Jul. 20th, 2017 12:30 pm
lilysea: Mischievous (Mischievous)
[personal profile] lilysea posting in [community profile] metaquotes
I think my bookshelves mostly convey the message "you need more shelves" and "apparently will read anything that stays still long enough."

Context
is "is this a case for - the ponceyness police?"




sonia: Quilted wall-hanging (Default)
[personal profile] sonia
America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People by Lynn Parramore.
In a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, draws a portrait of the new reality in a way that is frighteningly, indelibly clear: America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.


20% of US folks are thriving, if they're in FTE (Finance, Technology, Electronics). 80% are not. We kinda knew that, but it's good to see it laid out clearly. Having a tech job part of the time lets me see both sides.

Bonus link: Finding love that doesn’t hurt: Keeping yourself safe in the aftermath of abuse by Artemisia Solstice. Makes the excellent point that we can find a way out of repeated abusive relationships by committing to self-care. As we treat ourselves well, we will require that others also treat ourselves well.

When Is a Proper Name a Proper Noun?

Jul. 20th, 2017 01:31 am
[syndicated profile] linguafranca_feed

Posted by Rose Jacobs

From “Baby Listens” by Esther Wilkin, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (1960)

“Tum, tum, tum dee dum, Baby’s beating on his drum.” That’s a line I repeat at least three times a day at the moment — from Page 6 of the Little Golden Books classic Baby Listens. And usually, charmed as I am by the earworm chant, the glorious Eloise Wilkin illustration, and my daughter’s intense engagement with the material, when I read it, I think about work.

Specifically, about my job at the Technische Universität München. Otherwise known as the TUM (get it? Tum dee TUM? Although the rhyme’s slightly off. … ). Otherwise known — by some colleagues — incorrectly as TUM (no “the”), grating on me and thus creeping, stream-of-consciousness, into that vast space in one’s head created by the seemingly endless repetition of bedtime stories.

But why are my colleagues wrong? Why is the TUM treated as an elaboration of the university at the core of its name — a common noun, university, which needs a determiner, the — when the school it considers its closest U.S. equivalent, MIT, goes determiner-free? And why do we sometimes talk about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but never the MIT?

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, co-authored by my Lingua Franca colleague Geoffrey Pullum, puts some labels to what’s going on: The Technical University of Munich (my employer’s name in English) is a weak proper name composed of a noun phrase with a common head noun. It is a proper name because it refers to a particular institution and “weak” because it calls for a definite article (rather redundantly, the CGEL authors point out). The name’s head noun, “university,” is common — that is, it labels a class of objects, not a particular place, person, or organization.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the other hand, can be a strong proper name — no definite article, at least according to some style guides. Michigan State University, where I grew up, is always strong despite having the exact same (common) head noun as the TUM’s. Geoff’s LF post from 2015, “The Structure of University Names,” gives a more thorough analysis of university names.

OK, but how come? (One of those great instances when whiny kids sound like Elizabethans.) The CGEL admits that whether a proper name is strong or weak is “a rather arbitrary matter.” You can usually count on city names being strong (although there are exceptions, e.g., the Hague). Country names, too, though again with exceptions. Desert, ocean, and newspaper names tend to be weak. Universities? It’s a real mix. As soon as you think you’ve found a rule, it gets broken: think the Ohio State University or King’s College London.

And once you consider abbreviations (an initialism with each letter pronounced, e.g., MIT) and acronyms (an initialism read as a word, e.g., TUM), the mix becomes a mess. MIT is both a proper name and a proper noun (Massachusetts Institute of Technology is not a noun, proper or not, because only single words qualify as nouns), meaning you can drop the determiner; the TUM, for whatever reason, has not become a proper noun. To most of us, the CIA is not a proper noun, but apparently to insiders it is: They say they work at CIA (to the extent they tell anyone at all).

It starts to feel not that we’re beating on a drum, but rather our heads against a wall. Still, there are reasons to care. Geoff gave one good one back in 2015: Native speakers’ ability to dexterously juggle all the variations of institution names and their initialisms might suggest that people learn syntax by example — as opposed to through an innate personal grammar.

I’ve got another. English as a Second Language learners, and particularly those from China and Russia, struggle with articles (thea, and an). Teachers often provide a few quick rules (countable nouns need an a or an, uncountable nouns don’t), even if we’re aware the rules don’t always work (“I’d like a coffee, please”). If forced, we reason our way through the exceptions (“a coffee” is just a stand-in for a countable cup of coffee) — but we hope we won’t be forced.

But it is worth remembering that none of us — experts included — are quite sure why people visit the MoMA but not the NASA, and why stocks plummet on the DAX but rise on Nasdaq. Keeping this in mind is humbling, and reminds us to emphasize to our students the madness of searching for hard-and-fast rules in English. Not to mention enforcing arbitrary language patterns among colleagues. Tum dee dum.

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Jul. 19th, 2017 10:04 pm
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Amatka

4/5. My vacation* book. A woman goes to a neighboring colony for work, gets involved with her (lady) housemate, and discovers that there is something very, very wrong with their world. Oh, and by the way, this is on a planet(?) where objects only hold their shape/meaning if they are properly and repeatedly labeled with the right word. Trust me, it makes more sense in context. Well . . . it makes more thematic sense.

This is weird and wonderful and requires a lot of work. It's in translation (from Swedish), but it's a very skillful one, as far as I can tell. Which is necessary for a slim, intense, calculated book like this, where words really count. I keep thinking about this book – about how it intersects language and oppression, and about its explicable-if-you-work-hard ending. And the worldbuilding – it's spare but sharp as a knife, as the contours of this authoritarian democracy come into relief. For example, there's a wonderful detail that seemed to open up the whole book for me, about how poetry serves an entirely different function in this world than it does in ours.

And I really like the protagonist's slide into disobedience. Her inability to play along anymore is part old personal history, part recent stress and it makes sense. But not in a paint-by-numbers tragedy-happens-to-a-plucky-person way. More like . . . yes. That is how you slide a tiny bit out of step with your community, then a tiny bit more, and a tiny bit more, and suddenly, bam. You're in a different world.

Content notes: Discussion of reproductive coercion, some forced medical stuff by the authorities, etc.

*Vacation: in which we went to see my dying father and I don't know if I'll ever see him again, and also I retired my dog and settled her with her puppyraisers and I don't know if we'll ever see her again, and then we did some hiking. Do I know how to decompress from work or what?

Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner

Jul. 19th, 2017 09:35 pm
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Carpe Demon

3/5. Demon-fighting soccer mom.

There is a running joke in my household about my TBR pile. I was trying to find something to read towards the end of June [N.B.: I billed more hours in June 2017 than in any other month of my career] and my TBR was . . . dire. I was scrolling, and it was, "apocalypse . . . apocalypse with zombies . . . reproductive dystopia . . . ooh I think teenagers burn to death in that one." Yeah.

So I read this instead! Which is an extremely fluffy, comfy book about a suburban SAHM dealing with demons. She has a great best friend and a cute teenager and a dark past demon hunting for the church. Like you do. This goes the expected places – it's subliminally about the ways homemaking and running a family are like preventing the apocalypse – but it's also breezy and fun. And would make a great TV show, actually. Would watch. While collapsed half-dead with a glass of wine at the end of the week.
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