Re: Are The Kids All Right?

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WTF? LOL!


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:23 AM
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Many kids are wrong.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:35 AM
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I really think that it's time we just admitted "alright" into the lexicon.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:35 AM
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You're living in a fantasy world.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:35 AM
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You're killing me.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:40 AM
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You think? What I notice is that I wrote very very little but school assignments until email/blogging became a big part of my life. Kids today, on the other hand, correspond constantly -- it's little short things, but they're still putting thoughts in written form. It seems hard to believe that it wouldn't have some effect on fluency.

Is there anyone around here who was teaching writing in the eighties, and is still?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:40 AM
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I'm also on both sides of the fence on this one. On the one hand, there's got to be some payoff for all this e-mailing and texting. On the other hand, holy crap, how incoherent would the 80s slobs must have been?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:42 AM
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I have no comparison. But I don't believe that email, texting or any other form of electronic communication has encouraged good writing habits in kids. I often get formal academic papers with text speak or written almost entirely in sentence fragments.

And if you could see the emails they send....


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:43 AM
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This trend may be true for assignments that are one paragraph long or less.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:44 AM
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I'm going to sound like a snob here, but I remember being shocked by reading other students' written work in U of C core classes in 1990. Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, completely random paragraphing... they were ugly. And that was the U of C, not North Eastern State University. Maybe I'm wondering if it's improved at the top end? If a bright, academically successful kid is now likely to turn out a lot of text on their own time now, where they wouldn't have in the eighties, and so they'll come into college writing better?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:47 AM
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how incoherent would the 80s slobs must have been?

??


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:47 AM
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Despite all my complaints, a fairly large majority are perfectly adequate writers. I don't despair that the culture is going to fall apart the second they end up in charge; I often see them early in their college career and what is college for if not to train them to be better communicators, written and otherwise?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:47 AM
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I have not noticed any improvement. Just a vastly increased volume of terrible writing.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:48 AM
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10: Take your first two sentences, replace '1990' with '2000', and they would describe my experience. And that was about a decade ago now. Though it's hard to know from anecdotal evidence like this whether it was true of the same fraction of students in 1990 and in 2000.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:51 AM
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Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, completely random paragraphing... they were ugly.

I'm not at a "top" institution, but this is common, run of the mill writing. And where individual sentences are ok, there is often a lack of understanding about paragraphs, how they work, and how to bend them to their needs.

I believe that for many of my students, they are turning in substandard papers because they fail to edit. Editing is a crucial skill, and not one that internet forms of communication tend to cultivate. (Just look at my blog comments.)


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:51 AM
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I don't have any direct experience, but you might think there's something to the axiom that people will "play the way they practice." In other words it's possible that there is no good substitute for reading and attempting to write well formed paragraphs.

That said, I definitely feel like my writing improved during the period when I was most actively commenting on unfogged. I would also expect that trying to keep any sort of blog (even a live journal) would help writing in a way that e-mail/text might not, since it forces you to re-read your own writing.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:52 AM
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Childer today may write more than their peers in past decades did, but is not the pendant consideration this, that their peers in past decades spoke more than do die heutigen Kinder? It would be hasty to conclude on this basis (especially a priori, that is to say, in advance of considering the actual literal productions of today's and yesterday's youth) that we could without prejudice to the chances of contemporary younglings raise the standards with which we evaluate their prose, confident that their skills have undergone a concomitant increase. For what could possibly be the effect of this immersion in the practice of writing from early on but unnecessarily scholastic, recherche works, full of the sort of structural density and mise en abysmal self-swallowing that only the technical intervention of (at minimum) pen and paper make possible—just as we would never have reached dodecophany but for the ancient innovation of the staff? Far better, I do not refrain from hypothesizing, must have been the prose of the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, even the eighties, which, I am certain, was as easy and conversational as any Hazlitt.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:52 AM
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Hypothesis: It has helped stave off writer's block and get kids flowing with typing. They still need to learn to edit and harness that mess.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:53 AM
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I'm not a perfesser, but a lot of my IRL friends are grad students, and they take the dimmest possible view of their students' writing abilities. Exceedingly dim. Ever so dim. Summa cum dim.

Also, I hear that undergraduates today simply don't think.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:54 AM
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Yeah, if fluency just means the ability to put thoughts into words without gritting one's teeth and concentrating hard, regardless of the complexity of those thoughts or how well they're expressed, then kids today would be more fluent.

It sounds, though, as though LB wants more from "fluency" than that: rather, the writing is hypothesized to be better. I think the farthest I'd be willing to go would be to say that kids may be better positioned, after a lifetime to date of texting and blogging, to learn how to write well.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:55 AM
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17: but for the ancient innovation of the staff, vicar


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:56 AM
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20: That sounds reasonable -- that at least kids these days would have an easier time turning out a decent volume of text, and so might be able to learn faster.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:57 AM
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I don't think short, hastily written, unedited messages will help with more sophisticated forms of writing any more than speaking helps with more sophisticated forms of writing. The problem isn't lack of familiarity with the medium; it is not being in the habit of thinking about how your sentence will be understood and editing it to make it better.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:59 AM
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I grew up sort of in this age of information you speak of, and the only thing that made me better at churning out text was timed writes in high school. And that also made me a much worse writer, because at the end of it, I was simply done. No need to edit that!

I think that you are overlooking the importance of editing to good writing. And that is a skill that's very hard to teach, and as I stated above, is undermined by fast communication.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:00 PM
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Take your first two sentences, replace '1990' with '2000', and they would describe my experience. And that was about a decade ago now.

I love this, though I fear it will lead to a conversation on levels of fluency in arithmetic then 'n' now.

I do wonder if there will be a fluency gap across the digital divide, if the low-income kids from subpar public schools I'm tutoring would write better if they had access to computers, though at least the older ones tend to text. The only anecdote I have is that the teen who's a dedicated rapper (for Jeeeeeezus!) is more dedicated to school and a better writer than the other teens, only one of whom has a computer at home. In cases like this, the extra writing they'd get from being online would probably help more than being hampered by writing like a kid on the internet would hurt.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:00 PM
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Hypothesis: It has helped stave off writer's block and get kids flowing with typing.

John Annett ("On Knowing How to Do Things", in H. Heuer and C. Fromm (eds.), Generation and Modulation of Action Patterns, Springer, Berlin, 1986, pp 187–200) found that subjects asked to describe, with immobilized hands, how they tie a bow, both took longer and spoke more than subjects asked to describe the same task when they were free to move their hands. He suggests (IIRC) that they took longer because they spoke more, which, duh, but the interesting question is then why they were speaking more in the first place; the obvious hypothesis is that they kept speaking to, as it were, keep up the process of thinking and visualizing what they were doing—something like the claim that the latter needs the former to be sustained, or is at least helped to be sustained by the former. If this is so we have at the same stroke an explanation for the disorganized logorrhea of the under-outlined student: typing is thinking.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:01 PM
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Maybe I'm wondering if it's improved at the top end?

No, it hasn't.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:04 PM
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The explosion of texting and social networking among very young adults has really only happened in the last 10 years--the period of time I have been teaching. I have noticed no change whatsoever.

This is a big topic of conversation in seminars about "how teach to writing skills to the kids of today." I go to a lot of these things, and they generally work the same. The presenter is generally someone encouraging teachers to get hip and connect with the students through social media. The teachers, on the other hand, complain that the short form encouraged by most social media is the death of thoughtful long form writing. (I'm not really in either camp.)


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:05 PM
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Well, drat. I would have been happier if I'd kept that one as a vaguely unexamined belief.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:07 PM
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In other words it's possible that there is no good substitute for reading and attempting to write well formed paragraphs.

We have a winner here! Moreover, the more fatigued they get, the more likely they r 2 slip in2 txt. (Which, I must admit, is better than the research proposal I received last week which lapsed into Korean.)


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:09 PM
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"how teach to writing skills to the kids of today."

Wouldn't you have to un-teach quite a bit first?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:09 PM
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(Which, I must admit, is better than the research proposal I received last week which lapsed into Korean.)

That's awesome.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:10 PM
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31: Yes, yes you do.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:10 PM
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My teachers always said there was virtue in concision; I started tweeting because I craved virtue. char[140] later, I am righteous yet dull.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:11 PM
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The distinction between teaching and un-teaching is spurious.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:11 PM
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33: I'd have to struggle to control my annoyance, practice my blank-faced pedagogical stance: No, kids, text short-speak [like that SEK mentions] is not acceptable English. No, emoticons are not English. No, don't use multiple exclamation points.

Why? Because I said so.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:13 PM
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But parsimon, they are "acceptable English", just not in academic contexts. Rhetorical effects achievable through multiple exclamation points and emoticons aren't achievable otherwise, precisely because the wise is other. Those may not be effects appropriate to academic writing, but that doesn't make them proper subjects of a wholesale ban!!!!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:15 PM
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The "in academic contexts" was implied, nosflow.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:16 PM
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"how teach to writing skills to the kids of today"

It seems that the question of audience is perhaps more important than it has ever been for writing, given the new audiences kids can reach on twitter and facebook. The idea that you have to tailor not only what you say, but also how you say it, is one that cannot be hammered home hard enough.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:17 PM
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:(


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:17 PM
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Why? Because I said so.

This is going to be super effective.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:18 PM
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Some children/young adults, such as my very own Kid A, may write more because of the internet. She hangs out in bookish places, and fanfic-cy places, and reads and critiques lots of other people's writing, and writes a surprising amount of her own. (Surprising to me as she's so lazy generally.) She might write anyway - people do, I hear - but the level of support that surrounds her must encourage her to write more, I'd expect. So LB is probably at least partially right.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:21 PM
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Following () in 24, the alpha and omega of good writing are understanding the purpose of communication and editing. Nothing about technology introduced in the last 10-15 years would move the ball down either field.

Word processing makes editing a whole lot easier, of course. But only if you want to use it.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:24 PM
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have some effect on fluency

Fluency demands that you consider your audience. Writing to people just like yourself usually encourages jargon, in-jokes, and a reliance on shared assumptions. Just look at the number of new commenters here every month.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:27 PM
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But parsimon, they are "acceptable English", just not in academic contexts.

I have to stress this daily: formal writing should look and sound like the material you read in this class; informal writing is what you do in order to be rhetorically effective in your daily life. Basically, you talk about audience, audience, audience.

(Or, on preview, what Blume said.)


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:28 PM
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41: Oh, I'm fooling around, of course.

I haven't taught for a long time, since before the advent of texting (!), and never taught composition. It occurs to me that one way to approach the matter these days would be to present academic writing as another style of writing, distinct from texting and/or blogging style, and one which has its own rules and guidelines, etc. etc., just as does texting-style writing.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:30 PM
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Or what SEK (and nosflow) said.

The task would be to avoid suggesting that there's anything particularly wrong with other styles of writing, to present academic writing as a species unto itself, one which we now endeavor to learn! (It's pretty obvious that I haven't had to teach comp. to the kids these days, as I'm crawling my way to thinking through an approach to it.)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:33 PM
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Well, drat. I would have been happier if I'd kept that one as a vaguely unexamined belief.

Same thing happened to me the first time I took a look around the showers at the gym.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:34 PM
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(1) Graduate students complain about their students most intensely because they tend to be assigned the most remedial and basic writing classes, often with way too many students in them, and for too little pay. With 10-12 students in a comp class and decent health insurance, I guarantee those complaints would quiet down. If it weren't for the lack of dignity and pay, teaching composition would be the most rewarding job in the world.

(2) There are ways to tap into the fluency our students have with short-form comments and immediate opinions of things, but one has to create a middle ground between those comments and the rhetorical and methodological structures of the discipline.

(3) When students are stressed and uncomfortable, they revert to txtspk and weird spelling. I write my worst when I'm trying to perform intellectual tasks I've never done before, for an audience I assume hates me, as well. It's embarrassing for all of us, and a good reason to work together on the process of pre-writing and revision.

(4) I adore reading student writing. I've only been teaching for 10 years, but I do feel there is more willingness to try and revise than I saw at the beginning of my career, when some students just threw up their hands and said "I don't write" and failed. Maybe it's internet fluency; maybe my assignments make more sense now. I don't know.

(5) If students write a lot in a lot of different internet/phone genres, they have to learn a lot of different styles and become more flexible. I'd rather have a student who Twitters and posts to Facebook than a student who has only written in one stupid, badly-taught high-school essay formula.

(6) While students are writing a lot more outside of school, they're writing a lot less in school. As class sizes go up and standardized testing fills the curriculum, students get shittier writing instruction because teachers don't have time to grade essays that aren't required on the syllabus. I'm not going to blame "these kids today" for the effects of an educational institution that systematically devalues critical thinking and original thought.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:38 PM
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It would probably be useful on several levels for a comp teacher to begin by discussing code-switching in its various forms.

I have a related inquiry: how was it that, as late as 1962, ordinary workmen used lovely cursive handwriting to make marks on rough lumber for carpentry? I've encountered this elsewhere in my old house work, but a really striking example was revealed by some demolition this weekend: smooth, flowing, attractive script (written, I suspect, with a brush, if that's possible) used to label a bit of wood. Doesn't it seem like a carpenter in mid-century would have been using all-caps draftsman-like lettering?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:41 PM
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Do kids even learn cursive writing in grammar school these days? I don't know.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:44 PM
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begin by discussing code-switching in its various forms

Yup. As with anything, analyzing the nature of the "problem" is a lot more effective than moralizing about it. I say this all the time--"Listen, it's not a moral failure. The point is for you to work on it, not feel bad." They seem surprised that unacademic prose is not a moral failure, and I wonder who's telling them it is.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:45 PM
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I'm in complete agreement with 49, but the use of "try and" by someone who teaches writing makes me wonder if perhaps I am wrong that it's sloppy usage. I generally assume it's in the same vein as using "begs the question" to mean inspires or suggests the question, but I'd be interested to hear other opinions.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:47 PM
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I wonder who's telling them it is.

Parsimon, apparently.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:47 PM
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"Try and" is deprecated.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:47 PM
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They seem surprised that unacademic prose is not a moral failure, and I wonder who's telling them it is.

Oh, that's easy -- if they'd worked harder and paid attention in high school, they'd know how to write academic prose already. This is wrong, but it's a very easy way to think.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:47 PM
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(Except obviously in such contexts as "I'm going to try and I'm going to succeed, by Georgia's spongy bogs!".)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:48 PM
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53: I wouldn't use "try and" formally. OTOH, I wouldn't use abbreviations like OTOH other than in blog comments, but I use them freely here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:49 PM
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Sorry, I did actually mean "try as well as revise." I thought about changing it so no one would give me shit, but them's the breaks.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:52 PM
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54: Grr. I was joking.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 12:56 PM
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59: What a relief! I do not intend to give shit, merely to learn.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:00 PM
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To be clear, I intend to give shit. If I must learn as well, so be it.

Hey tog, I was able to use your discussion of the ivory ban as part of a discussion at dinner last night.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:05 PM
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Perhaps students who are used to writing one-paragraph exposition could try writing slightly-persuasive dialogs? Either both sides, or paired up with each other, although I think the former would work better.

How long is the longest single speech in one of Plato's dialogues?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:07 PM
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"Try and" is interesting, though. Fluent speakers of standard English produce it spontaneously (or at least I do). And I can't think of an origin for it in a straightforward misapprehension -- it's not like 'would of' for 'would have' by way of 'would've'. I wonder why it's 'wrong'. Is it a regionalism ?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:08 PM
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They seem surprised that unacademic prose is not a moral failure, and I wonder who's telling them it is.

I!


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:08 PM
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"try and" appears at least as far back as whatever 19th century writing I read it in that I don't remember. I try and try not to use it, but it's been around for quite some time.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:10 PM
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Perhaps students who are used to writing one-paragraph exposition could try writing slightly-persuasive dialogs? Either both sides, or paired up with each other, although I think the former would work better.

I think I've mentioned that one of my most frustrating assignments in college was to imagine a dialogue between a couple of the authors we had read in class.

I started working on it, was surprised by how much fun it was, and was really happy with the final result. I turned it in, and the prof didn't like it because he said that there were too many digressions that the characters didn't directly respond to each other. I said that was the point -- I wan entirely aware, as the author, that the characters were making rhetorical flourishes that concealed arguments, but it matched my sense of how they wrote.

He didn't buy it, I ended up annoyed because I didn't think he had explained the assignment clearly. I could understand what he had wanted -- something in which the dialogue form was used purely as an act, but that wasn't what I wanted to write.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:13 PM
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I wonder if it's one of those victims of 18th century hypercorrection, like ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:14 PM
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One of the ways I'm trying to bridge the gap between FB-literacy and essay writing is by having my students take collaborative notes about the reading on a wiki. They contribute short comments about the reading, propose speculative readings, ask each other questions, post ideas for papers, etc. I don't grade it or anything. It just gives me an idea of where their interests and strengths lie so when we're developing formal essays, I can say, "Hey, you had an interesting idea about this passage on the wiki; if you pursue it, it could make a great paper."

I think the hardest part for a lot of the ones who are struggling is recognizing that some of their own ideas might actually be interesting, or suggest interesting lines of inquiry. When they don't think what they have to say might be interesting, they write boring, stupid papers that are no fun to read or grade.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:16 PM
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I often get formal academic papers with text speak or written almost entirely in sentence fragments.

I didn't see this in formal papers, but there were definitely a few text-speak abbreviations in a few handwritten midterms. I can't remember exactly what they were, but they were not "normal" or "standard" abbreviations. Nothing like an entire sentence like that, but this was in the early 2000s and it was an "elite" school.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:16 PM
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OED sez, regarding "try": "b. Followed by and and a co-ordinated verb (instead of to with inf.) expressing the action attempted. colloq. Cf. AND B. 10."; the earliest citation is from 1686: "They try and express their love to God by their thankfulness to him".

The "and" entry: "10. Connecting two verbs, the second of which is logically dependent on the first, esp. where the first verb is come, go, send, or try. Cf. COME v. 3d, GO v. 32c, SEND v.1 8b, TRY v. 16b. Cf also SURE adj. 14. Now colloq. and regional." First citation undated, from the West Saxon Gospels; second earliest 1325: "Welcome, louerd, mote {th}ou be, {th}at {th}ou wolt vs come & se".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:16 PM
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I wonder why it's 'wrong'.

It seems to me that it just is wrong, isn't it? It doesn't say what it means to say. In the example upthread, "willingness to try and revise" says "willingness to try" and "willingness [to] revise", but that's not what it means to say. It means to say "try to revise." No?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:17 PM
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It seems to me that it just is wrong, isn't it?

That is never the answer.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:18 PM
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that's not what it means to say

See 59 please.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:19 PM
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No?

Actually, as AWB explained, what she meant was "willingness to try and additionally to revise", so, no.

I guess saying that "try" takes an infinitive complement isn't much of an improvement over "it's just wrong", but it's a start, anyway.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:19 PM
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Huh.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:20 PM
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Yeah, how about that.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:21 PM
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62.last: Glad to have contributed something. I should warn that I assume the standard of proof required for asserting something in comments is "I heard it from this guy I met once." Did you know that the Rothschilds fomented the Afghan war in order to control the global opium supply?


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:21 PM
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76 to 71 and following. I'd been skimming the thread a little too quickly.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:22 PM
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How long is the longest single speech in one of Plato's dialogues?

The wise-ass answer is "the whole Republic", 'cause it's all Socrates describing the conversation he had yesterday.


Posted by: Merganser | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:26 PM
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What happened to those days when times were bad, children never obeyed their parents, and everyone was writing a book? Now "everyone" is writing texts and messages. Such a fallen world.

I never used IM until a few years ago, and have only used it in workplaces, and have felt that it's had a detrimental effect on my writing. I feel the same way about twitter, which I continue to use infrequently for some reason.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:27 PM
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71: So it's got a long history. I wonder who first identified it as an 'error'.

(I'm not planning to start using 'try and' in formal writing, of course. But I do find that process, where ordinary usage gets defined as wrong, interesting.)

(This has nothing to do with 'hone in on', which is WRONG WRONG WRONG and I will cut anyone who says different.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:27 PM
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69.last was the cause of many horrible papers I wrote my freshman year. The idea that I might have an original or interesting thought on topics that had been plowed through for two fucking millenia was (and to a certain extent still is) just plain absurd. Being asked to write something original about the Iliad seems to me like a cruel joke. It was only towards the end of the semester that I really grokked that I wasn't being graded against the entire body of commentary on the ancients, and that by "original" they merely meant "not trite."


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:29 PM
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42:and writes a surprising amount of her own. (Surprising to me as she's so lazy generally.)
You know who else's mum probably thought that? Balzac's.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:29 PM
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Where are the verdant lawns of yesteryear? For ours have all been trodden into dust.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:34 PM
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82: You should read this book! I've recommended it before, but it's really super-delightful to read, carefully researched, and directly addresses that question in interesting ways. Whee! (Also, the author is an acquaintance of mine--a super-smart, funny, kind fellow.)


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:34 PM
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If I could go back and time and rewrite any academic essay, I think it would be the one I did in 3rd grade, for the state Benchmark test. The question was simply a picture of a little dog in the snow, holding a mitten, with a directive to write about it. It was so stupid I was stupefied, and just sat there wondering who the idiots were that came up with these things for so long that I wasn't even able to finish a throwaway story for it. It still rankles to this day.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:34 PM
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1. Introduction
The introduction about syntax sentences has certain facts that set rules is used to produce and set of sentences. Using syntax can identify grammatical and ungrammatical sentences. It is important to recognize the syntactic structure developing and evolving. There are two articles
that my team partner and I found that can include for support details and clarification for further information that can define a better understanding what needed to do for the presentation. For the Syntax Presentation, we had to gather information and arrange the PowerPoint to use the
information that is required for the presentation. The following information that is needed for this project are: identify the "sentences" in the clip, identify the type of each sentence, identify the grammatical function of each sign and provide a full class for each sentence.


Posted by: E. Messily's student | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:40 PM
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83: I dunno. The changing nature of disciplinarity, reading practices, methodologies, and so forth allows for some pretty interesting student readings of canonical texts. I get annoyed when my students do research papers in which they pick a literary critic to "support," as if some blowhard from the 50's needs a 19-year-old's verification. They're at their best when they bring together their own interests and perspective to do an idiosyncratic reading. I can think of at least five or six undergraduate papers I've read that permanently changed the way I think about a book. Even if it's really hard to do, I don't know how anyone could write an undergraduate essay unless they had a thesis they thought might be worth defending.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:40 PM
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I'm sure that was grossly unethical. Whatever.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:41 PM
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86: I just recently heard about that book and am anxious to read it.

And allow me to be the first to say that 73 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:46 PM
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86: See, that's a Kindle edition I'd balk at buying, because it's only $2.86 less than Amazon's price for the hardcover. I really like that I can get books instantly via Kindle, and that I'd be paying less, and that it'll be stored in my highly-portable universal library device. But I just don't know if I could bring myself to give up the permanence of the hardcover for only $2.86 in additional savings—even though both prices are well below the $26 list price.

So instead the hardcover gets wish listed, and the book will thus probably be less likely to be bought by me. I sure am rational, aren't I?


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:47 PM
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91: It's more likely, Myotch, that you're eager to read it. Not that I'm saying that you made an error or anything like that.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:54 PM
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M/tch took a longer time to learn to read than the other kids in his class, so the thought of reading to this day makes him anxious. Don't make fun, Jesus.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 1:56 PM
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89: My problem was that I was coming at it from a very science oriented perspective, where things have right answers or at least a modest set of defensible hypotheses regarding what the right answer might be. The notion that some 19 year old is going to have an original defensible hypothesis about e.g. nucleosynthesis is remote. It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that the mindset of classical and literary studies is just not oriented along that axis. It took longer still for me to realize that abandoning that axis of interpretation is more or less forced by the nature of the disciplines, and yet longer still to realize that that's actually quite cool in its way.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:00 PM
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I recently edited a very bad manuscript for a graduate student I work with. Very much to his credit, the student embraced the editing process, but the shocking thing was that it was totally new to him. He had, he said, never before received comments on his written work. Moreover, he had never thought about the possibility that word choice might affect the reader's understanding. Never even thought about it! It was both terrifying--how can so many years of education fail so badly?--and so exciting to see him emerge, blinking, into this new land where writing can be made better. C'mon, kiddo, we're rooting for you.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:03 PM
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82: the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated "homes in on" the technique* for chewy, box-style brownies.

* formula, really.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:03 PM
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If I take deep breaths, I can get through 88 ok.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:05 PM
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I agree with 95. My approach to every paper I wrote for humanities classes was "Figure out what the author of one of the readings is saying, and then show that I understand by paraphrasing it".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:05 PM
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I adore reading student writing.

Can I send you my grading?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:07 PM
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My problem was that I was coming at it from a very science oriented perspective

So did I. It might have just been the lab I was working in, but they emphasized creative approaches to thinking about what projects were worthwhile and which weren't. We followed all the correct methodological protocols and stuff, but the origin of a lot of the experiments came from group meetings where someone said, "Wouldn't it be cool if it turned out that...?" I see the difference, in that research science seeks to find out something that is repeatable and verifiable about the world, but I never really bought the "right answers vs. no wrong answers" division between the sciences and the humanities.

That also carries over into my assessment of student writing, too. Some of them get a bit weirded out when I say that their methodology is unsound and the results are flawed. "But I thought literature was, like, about whatever we think about when we're reading it!!!"


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:10 PM
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88 is difficult. Is it written by a non-native English speaker? I'm not sure what's going on with the dropping and/or random insertion of words.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:10 PM
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102- Native english speaker, yes. I'm pretty sure he was cutting and pasting parts of sentences from various places. It gets much worse after that- the conclusion is all about his emotional state during the various stages of writing it.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:16 PM
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I mean, native English speaker.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:17 PM
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the conclusion is all about his emotional state during the various stages of writing it.

Ha. One of the most bizarrely bad papers I ever received was supposed to be an analysis of a single poem (in terms of meter, rhyme, form, imagery, etc.) in which the author narrated what she was doing and thinking about while reading the poem.

"When I first started reading this poem, it started off pretty boring I thought so I decided to go to the kitchen and get a snack. But then he got my attention when he started talking about having sex with the girl, even though I didn't really get what he was talking about. I managed to stay awake the whole time I was reading."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:21 PM
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Yeah, if a native English speaker, then it's got to be cutting and pasting.

Well, he's trying, pretty hard, it seems, and the emotional flailing at the end might be an indication of that. The kid has promise, Cecily!


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:23 PM
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if he had just DONE the project, it would have required much less work for him to write it up as a paper (than the writing up of nothing was). It would have been nice to see him try harder at that.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:29 PM
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Multiple issues may be being conflated here: Being able to write copiously, being able to write with technical proficiency, being able to write with some awareness of your audience, and being able to write coherently because your underlying thinking is coherent.

IME, lots of people can write copiously. A subset of them manage to also acquire basic technical proficiency. A much smaller number develop the ability to be aware of and distinguish between audiences. And frustratingly few ever good at the last (probably unsurprising given how thoroughly our society rewards purposely-muddled thinking).

N.b. I may be biased because of the most recent high-stakes document I read violated #3 and #4 so egregiously that I wanted to shake the author.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:30 PM
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I managed to stay awake the whole time I was reading.

See, that's the difference between sciences and humanities. Nobody stays awake reading science.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:30 PM
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I had an assignment in my second semester reading and composition class (comp lit, actually, because the English classes never fit my interests) where we were supposed to find an expert (that is, published academic) critic who'd written an article about one of the texts we read and then evaluate it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:32 PM
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Frustratingly few ever get good at the last.

I speak one and a half languages, I do. Unfortunately English is the "one."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:32 PM
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SCIENCE! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?


Posted by: e a poe | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:35 PM
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Nobody stays awake reading science.

I basically never* fall asleep to TV or while reading; if something's trying to engage my brain, my brain generally responds. One of the only exceptions I can remember is passing out, face first and drooling, into my open Physics 101 textbook when I was at the tail end of an all-nighter.

I actually don't blame Science: it's simply that, while I could stay awake forever doing architect stuff (iirc 68 hours was my max - I gave blood during it!), traditional studying was too staid.

* this is less true as I age and need sleep more


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:40 PM
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WHEN I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.


Posted by: W. Whitman | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:40 PM
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THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


Posted by: W. Wordsworth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:41 PM
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Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.


Posted by: Edna St. Vincent Millay | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:43 PM
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TOO MUCH POETRY MAKES SLEEPY ZZZZZZZ


Posted by: OPINIONATED SCIENTIEST | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 2:49 PM
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People probably are getting more literate these days tho', on the basis of things like the Flynn Effect.

I'm not sure if people at the top are getting more literate, but I wouldn't be surprised if the averages were moving up. I don't know enough about the very bottom end to even make pointless comment thread guesses.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:03 PM
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So we got spammed by a poetry bot and that broke the blog?


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:17 PM
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People probably are getting more literate these days tho', on the basis of things like the Flynn Effect.

For that to be true, the Flynn Effect needs to be caused by some real deep change in the way people think, rather than just being some fluke of IQ testing. I don't think that issue has been settled.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:33 PM
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While I agree with everyone else, I will also note that the number of truly elite students--those doing complicated and original research/writing at college age--also seems to have grown on a percentage basis over the last ten years. It's irrelevant to larger social trends since it's such a small percentage to begin with, but it's interesting and maybe related to the permeation of info-tech in UMC life.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:35 PM
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, I will also note that the number of truly elite students--those doing complicated and original research/writing at college age

This is because of a hellbent determination to foster undergraduate research, or bust. I guess it's a good thing but the tunnel-vision about how undergraduate research is the best fucking thing ever gets on my nerves.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:41 PM
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Indeed; some kids have a really great experience doing undergraduate research and it fools them into thinking they should go to grad school.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:55 PM
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This is because of a hellbent determination to foster undergraduate research

Wow, this is interesting. Can you say more about what that means at your institution?

Just today I was excitedly trying to promote the results of an actually-useful undergraduate project, only to be told (mercifully; I'm glad to be warned in advance) that it was fruitless to talk to the university's PR department because they're only interested in promoting faculty research.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 3:58 PM
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The gadabout age began in 1993
(which was a bit soon for me)
After AOL and before OMFHG
Up to then there'd only been
A gutteral intonating,
A miserable speechifying,
A sound that warbled from your strings
Just like a baboon sings.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:01 PM
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This is because of a hellbent determination to foster undergraduate research, or bust. I guess it's a good thing but the tunnel-vision about how undergraduate research is the best fucking thing ever gets on my nerves.

I'm sure this is part of it, along with the associated mentoring programs and undergraduate fellowships. I was thinking more, however, of kids who already arrive at college way more plugged-in into high-level information and debates about various academic-ish things. Whereas, previously, a talented high school kid was basically limited to what his teachers and his own instincts for finding books could impart to him, they now have all sorts of online communities and tools that they can use to become neurotically achievement-oriented at younger ages.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:09 PM
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What's wrong with undergraduate research? Research experience is pretty much the only part of my undergrad education that I couldn't have obtained more easily and cheaply from a book.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:14 PM
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That was poorly phrased and inaccurate in several ways, but you see my point. Over there, cowering in the bushes.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:15 PM
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come on, out of there with you.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:23 PM
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Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?


Posted by: Jehovah | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:25 PM
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For that to be true, the Flynn Effect needs to be caused by some real deep change in the way people think, rather than just being some fluke of IQ testing. I don't think that issue has been settled.

Couldn't it be the case that there are flukes of writing too, tho'?

I don't think that the Flynn Effect is causing improvement in writing, but I think it's probable there are similar effects occurring in reading and writing.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:29 PM
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I'm also not entirely persuaded on the "truly elite students" bit. There have been high school students doing serious research and involving themselves in academic debates for ages -- the Westinghouse search got started in the early 40s -- not to mention the weirdo prodigies like Stephen Wolfram who get real degrees by that sort of age. The internet might lower some barriers, but in the old days there was always the "go to a library" approach. Which, arguably, might be a better way to learn about a subject if you don't have guidance; it's slightly less full of crazy but plausible-looking-to-an-outsider ideas than the intertubes are.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:31 PM
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Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, completely random paragraphing... they were ugly

Sounds like me at the start of my college career at exactly the same time, though partly due to my habit of writing papers the night before they were due and not bothering to proof at all. This was at a prestigious NE university. God bless the SAT and the value admissions offices place on it.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:33 PM
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I certainly never got any kind of substantive writing instruction until I started taking MA classes in rhetoric and pedagogy. I first-drafted well enough to get a 5 on the AP, so I skipped composition and never took any non-elective courses in my majors, except for one basic intro-to-lit thing taught by a prof uninterested in teaching writing or methods. The first time I ever proofread anything was when I rushed to deliver a Spanish paper and my prof's door was locked. It was going to be late anyway, so I read it over and realized it was a mess.

It's not that I was such a good writer that I deserved A's and needed no help; it was that I wasn't one of the "problem" kids and I showed potential, so no one ever taught me how to write academic prose. None of my profs seemed to know anything about teaching writing and research methods, or maybe they didn't care to do so. It was a big surprise when I got to grad school and realized that I didn't know anything about writing. My MA profs (same school) were more helpful, but I suddenly felt like a remedial grammar student.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:43 PM
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How can I avoid writing like the person referred to in 96?

I read a lot, so I can recognize really atrocious writing when I see it, and my writing is really atrocious. That doesn't seem to help me, though. In the days before spell check, when I didn't have a dictionary on hand, I'd often misspell a word, and not be able to fix it. I could see that it wasn't spelled correctly, but no matter what permutations I'd try, it just wouldn't look right. My writing is like that. It's clunky. Sentences don't flow. Ideas are disconnected, making it impossible for a reader who isn't already familiar with the topic to follow what I'm saying. And yet, no matter how I change things around, things still don't work, and I just don't have the tools to figure out how to fix things.

I could write a lot to practice writing, but as my coach would always say: practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes consistent. Only perfect practice makes perfect. I'm pretty sure I'm just building up bad habits, but I don't know how to change that.

Most of my techie friends have the same problem. We read a lot, so it was easy to ace the SAT and GRE verbal, letting us skip required English courses; those of us who went to schools where we had to take a courses aced the rhetoric courses we had to take because the professors were so busy helping people who could only write in sentence fragments that they didn't have time to help people who could write poorly (but correctly), or even incorrectly (but at least understandably).


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:48 PM
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I'm also not entirely persuaded on the "truly elite students" bit.[. . .]

To be clear, I'm not saying the internet has invented this type of student. My anecdotal experience is just that there are more of them out there. And by "truly elite" I'm also not talking about super-geniuses; just more kids who know a lot. Professors who have been doing grad admissions for a long time, for example, generally tell me that the number of genuinely qualified/desirable applicants always seems to be increasing.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:48 PM
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Now that I'm working on the diss, I really have to draft, plan, outline, prewrite, etc., which is great and really helpful. But sometimes I look at my old papers and I miss the wild playfulness they had.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:53 PM
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To merge two sub threads, part of the reason my senior thesis experience was so valuable was because it was the first time a prof sought to teach me about writing, plus the process itself meant that I was forced to deal with rewriting. I still have very vivid memories of picking up the first draft of my first chapter, seeing page after page covered in red ink, up to the middle of the chapter, then nothing. At the end: 'This is shit! see me in my office ASAP'. I curled up in bed and sobbe.

When I saw him the next day he carefully began explaining what was wrong and how I could fix it, paragraph by paragraph, and occasionally sentence by sentence, while reassuring me that it had the potential to be very good if I put the work in. He would do that with each chapter, in the last week or so with an overnight turnaround. That plus learning how to systematically go through secondary sources and then go to the primary texts, and build up my own narrative was invaluable.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:56 PM
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I endorse 86. If you like the topics on Language Log, you'll probably like this book.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 4:59 PM
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Much of the growth in information consumption in my lifetime consists of text. We're living in a golden age of literate culture. What do you *think* the circulation of Addison and Steele's Spectator, or the seating at the Algonquin round table, was?

Interestingly, I'm convinced that the US press - at least the David Brooks level - started whining about "txtspk" before there was intercarrier SMS in the US.

Poor old Winston Churchill, by the way - he cd never hv known abbreviating ws the sign of an illiterate. Victorian and Edwardian letters are full of abbrvs.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 5:05 PM
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I love Whitman, but I'm pretty sure that writing "When I heard the learn'd astronomer" dooms to all of eternity burning in the fiery furnace of hell.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 5:06 PM
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Interestingly, I'm convinced that the US press - at least the David Brooks level - started whining about "txtspk" before there was intercarrier SMS in the US.

It was IM-speak at that time.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 5:18 PM
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And text pagers, carried by druggies and BOFHs, neither of whom Brooks is likely to approve of.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 5:39 PM
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From the link in 140:

Reading, which was in decline due to the growth of television, tripled from 1980 to 2008, because it is the overwhelmingly preferred way to receive words on the Internet.

Might one speculate that an increasingly preferred way to receive words (? information?) on the Internet will be via video? Certainly, people will continue to read online, but I can't help but notice how increasingly often people link to a video of a lecture, or interview, rather than to a transcription or description of it.

Used to be that you had to read online because internet connection speeds were too slow to do anything else.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 5:40 PM
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Used to be that you had to read online because internet connection speeds were too slow to do anything else.

Are you hinting to us that you got a new modem?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:10 PM
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within 5 years unfogged will be reduced to constant video stream images of penises.

the future will be breathtaking.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:11 PM
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Just breath through your nose, text.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:20 PM
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Just breath through your nose, text.

Isn't this the thread about how we're literate nowadays?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:23 PM
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Might one speculate that an increasingly preferred way to receive words (? information?) on the Internet will be via video? Certainly, people will continue to read online, but I can't help but notice how increasingly often people link to a video of a lecture, or interview, rather than to a transcription or description of it.

You can pick up information faster by reading text than by watching a video. Text isn't going to go away.


Posted by: Lemmy Caution | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:28 PM
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149: That's why I've always preferred text. Also, it looks like work (or at least less like not-work) than a video when somebody comes into your office.


Posted by: Opinionated Trotsky | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:30 PM
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150 was me. Apparently I need to clear my browser from time to time.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:31 PM
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I wonder when the moment will come when I see a link to something that sounds like a really interesting article, click on it, find out that it's a video of someone talking, and actually watch it instead of instantly going back. There will be a day when that happens.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:32 PM
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144.hypothesis: I hate that. I can read faster, with the abilty to track back more quickly, skip around, etc, with text.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:35 PM
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I've heard that some composition classes are now assigning powerpoint presentations (or their non-Microsoft equivalent) in addition to the usual essay fare. Is that true? I suppose I'd find that useful now, as I'm supposed to give a presentation on Thursday, have never used powerpoint, and seem to be expected to use it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:43 PM
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154: Use the feature where your title comes spinning onto the slide. Everybody loves that one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:45 PM
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Breadthfirst: I don't mean to be dismissive of your concerns, but based on your blog comment, you can write just fine. At least in the "string together coherent sentences that basically make sense to other people" level, which is what has been called for in most of my professional writing over the last umpty-umph years.

So either you're asking:

- How do I do a specific kind of technical writing which other people tell me is currently unclear?

- How do I get other people to perceive the clarity of my writing?

(I'm actually only 80% kidding about that last one. I have certainly run into people whose thinking was so muddled that they would look at some perfectly clear, direct prose and tell the author that it was a mess. It wasn't, but the author sometimes believed them.)

But in all seriousness, I suspect you're asking a version of question #1. One of the more effective techniques for me in getting technically dense material down is to literally dictate to myself, and then later go back and make it sound like formal writing.

This takes A FIERCE amount of effort for the first ten minutes, because you have to silence the internal editor long enough to let yourself write sentences like: "What I'm trying to say here is that scared people write bad laws, and bad laws cost money." Or: "It's really sucky and scary to get diagnosed with cancer. People make up a lot of just-so stories to reassure themselves that they know why they got sick and can avoid doing so in the future. Sometimes these stories get in the way of their doctor's treatment plans for them."

Because I'm paranoid, I often find it easier to do this part on paper, in longhand. But you certainly don't have to. And writing the short, simple bits can make the denser, technical stuff more digestible to your audience later, even when you dress it up in formal vocabulary.

*N.b. I am aware there are times when it pays to be able to write in circles and say nothing. If you have a job which regularly requires this, my advice is to get out.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:49 PM
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It's not required to use any visual aids. But only one person so far out of about 12 hasn't used any, so the peer pressure is on. I was tempted to use the overhead projector that has been sitting forlornly against the wall all year, but that would be silly.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:51 PM
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how increasingly often people link to a video of a lecture, or interview, rather than to a transcription or description of it.

In my experience, that only happens when there is no transcript available. I am sufficiently far into ned's and TJ's camp that I often make my own transcripts (a la the Elizabeth Warren thing from recently).


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:54 PM
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157: Sure, if you want to be like everybody else you could use PowerPoint for visual aids. But where PP really shines is when you take each paragraph of your presentation, paste it to a slide, and turn it into bullet points. Legally, putting something after a bullet point means that you've done all you can from a pedagogical stand point and any misunderstanding is the fault of the audience.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 6:57 PM
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I should say that I've never seen much powerpoint until I got here and now I see why so many hate it. I plan to hate my own presentation too.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:01 PM
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If you're good at speaking, there's sometimes mileage in taking a very pared back minimalist approach and relying purely on talking. It can be very effective if the visual aids other people have been using aren't brilliant, or are starting to get repetitive.

If it fucks up tho' you're standing there naked. And some topics don't react well to that treatment.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:03 PM
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Instead of PowerPoint or a projector, you have considered getting one of those foam-paper boards like for school science fairs?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:05 PM
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I feel confident in saying that if this is the first time you've ever used Powerpoint, your presentation will not be enhanced in the least by its presence.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:05 PM
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163: Yeah, well, it's only going to get worse. Or, I guess better, in the sense of more practiced. This is the kind of thing we appear to be expected to produce every now and then each term until the end. And apparently also the kind of thing that goes on commonly in potential hiring organizations.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:09 PM
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What frustrates me the most about PowerPoint is not that you can't get a good presentation out of it -- you can. It's that the learning curve is so long, and my personal version of it seems not to be very steep at all.

I find it so laborious that it feels like learning a whole new keyboard (not QWERTY) every time I sit down to create a presentation. Of course, I only do this every three or four months.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:11 PM
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How many of the people saying "Powerpoint" mean Powerpoint? I'm pretty sure that among talks I've seen in the last few years, actual-Powerpoint presentations have been vastly outnumbered by Keynote presentations. Probably LaTeX as well, but I wouldn't expect that to generalize.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:11 PM
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Just as a general tip, if you are a man in a conservative area, don't let anyone paint your fingernails a noticable color before doing your public speaking. I still can't believe that woman docked me points for that.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:12 PM
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I mean PPT. But I don't work in an academic field.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:12 PM
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I wonder when the moment will come when I see a link to something that sounds like a really interesting article, click on it, find out that it's a video of someone talking, and actually watch it instead of instantly going back. There will be a day when that happens.

Indeed. Not yet for me.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:12 PM
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What I do expect to generalize across fields is that a good blackboard talk is infinitely better than a good Powerpoint/Keynote/whatever talk.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:13 PM
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Depends on the field. In art history that certainly isn't the case.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:14 PM
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In this comment I will begin by starting the comment, and then move to the middle part of the comment, after which I will conclude. As you see I just started the comment, which suffices to motivate the middle of the comment, which is this part here. Next I will conclude. I am concluding. I have concluded.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:14 PM
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164: Yes, sorry, that wasn't very helpful. My real advice would be to skip it this time around and in between now and the next presentation you have to give, play with the program that you're using, look at some good presentations if you can find them, and work on trying to find your visual presentation style. Then, you can do your first presentation with slides that you're more confident about because you've had time to figure out what you want and learn the program.

166: I call everything PowerPoint even though I use Keynote.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:15 PM
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I've done a couple of lectures with visual aids. Once with maps in transparency form; once with handouts because there were no visuals for the first 20-30 minutes (all concepts, better described densely) and I didn't want anything running with a blank or unchanging screen for so long. This is supposed to be only 10 minutes, so it there's less risk of that, at least.

To tie this back into the thread instead of me just complaining, I think I used to not believe so much in the idea of there being a particular sort of visual literacy for giving presentations (as opposed to in the visual arts, where it seems obviously to exist). But now I think there is and most people don't have it - which isn't to say most people can't learn, just that it's not taught. Partly, I think, because people tend to tune these things out anyway, so there's less incentive to teach it or teach it well.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:15 PM
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171: But everybody said the Mona Lisa I sketched in chalk was pretty much dead-on.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:15 PM
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Ditto 168, though I used to work in an academic field. a physicsy one, even. Only the one in three or so mac users used anything else.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:16 PM
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I think we have this discussion on about a weekly basis, with the humanities people finding visual aids (beyond *maybe* a black-/whiteboard) unbearable, and sciences people finding it impossible to believe we could expect anyone to listen to us talk and look at us the whole time without breaking Geneva Conventions.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:16 PM
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I'd be surprised if less than 95% of PowerPoint presentations I've seen in my discipline are made on something other than PowerPoint. I know one person who uses Corel Presentations. Have never heard of KeyNote or LaTex outside the intenet.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:16 PM
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In art history that certainly isn't the case.

Well, sometimes when you have to show a picture you have to show a picture. But even then -- and it's true in my field too, sometimes someone just has to show a plot of an experimental result and sketching it by hand isn't good enough -- the talks that are mostly blackboard, with a projector to show specific images when necessary, are better than the all-Powerpoint talks.

I do talks in LaTeX or Keynote out of laziness. The times when I've prepared a careful blackboard talk, though, I've been proud of the result in a way I never was with a talk that was entirely slides. Writing on a blackboard forces you to go slowly enough to really explain everything. It's nice.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:17 PM
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What I do expect to generalize across fields is that a good blackboard talk is infinitely better than a good Powerpoint/Keynote/whatever talk.

I'm trying to imagine this in history. I'd say not generalizable, no. The very best history powerpoint presentations manage to illustrate (and I do mean, actually illustrate) a lecture in a way that I don't think would be possible on a black board. There is a good example on The Edge of the West.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:18 PM
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178: That fits with what I've seen.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:18 PM
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166: It's almost all literally powerpoint here. One keynote so far, and one person who did slides in something else and turned them into a pdf (which was the best visually of all of them, I think). Last term I think it was all powerpoint, not counting people who put up only an individual illustration or two.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:18 PM
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Mind you art hist. is also odd because people have used prepared projective visual aids way longer and way more centrally than in most disciplines, I think, so there's a strong culture of how to do things based on slide technology, which carries over into ppt/keynote/whatever.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:19 PM
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Then again, I don't think I've ever seen this thing called a blackboard talk.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:20 PM
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sciences people finding it impossible to believe we could expect anyone to listen to us talk and look at us the whole time without breaking Geneva Conventions.

No no no no. Listening to people talk is just fine. The thing we find hard to believe is that you write out the specific sentences you're going to say, and then say them, rather than improvising on the fly with only some skeleton of the talk planned out in advance.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:20 PM
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I don't like talking if I can't see people's faces. It's part of why I dislike talking on the phone. If the lights are off and there's a beam in my eyes, I can't concentrate. If everyone's staring at their laps or over my shoulder, I can't concentrate. It's weird, because I prefer listening to people when I can't see their faces.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:20 PM
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172!


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:22 PM
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185: And that you apparently turn-on the lights before picking your clothes for a talk.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:22 PM
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184: they are particularly common in mathematically intense disciplines.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:22 PM
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185: For class lectures, I don't use notes, but bringing crafted sentences to a conference is standard. I make a lot of improvised asides, but if you do that too much, it looks like you forgot to write your talk.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:23 PM
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I don't think I've ever seen this thing called a blackboard talk.

Somewhere on the web, there is video of me doing one. Well, extremely choppy video, like one frame every 30 seconds that seems to always catch me in awkward poses. And my voice sounds so weird.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:23 PM
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177: I dunno if it's that simple. Even on a social science-y topic, I'd divide it between whether you want the audience to respond to you intellectually or emotionally. If you want to engage intellectually, both slides and handouts of the slides help, because then you can assume that everyone has the same backdrop of information and you can get down to debating the interesting questions. Otherwise you just get people scribbling madly about HIV infection rates or something, when you really want to say "How do we get Washington D.C. to look more like Toronto?"

But if you want to engage emotionally, slides only help if you have unusually well-developed skills in selecting and framing visual images to evoke the feelings you want. And if you have a particularly rich set of non-stock images and intriguing data. Otherwise, a human presentation (which most presenters tend to be make conversational and eye-contact-y than they do when the screen is lit up) is going to be more effective.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:23 PM
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185 has it right. That just isn't our culture.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:24 PM
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I still shake a bit when I do presentations so I can't hold note cards and read them and can't use the blackboard (my handwriting is terrible on the board too). Last term I held something that looked like notes but weren't, just so my hands wouldn't be completely empty because that doesn't look good either. I pretended to check it once, when I briefly forgot my third point in a middle section. I hate public speaking.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:25 PM
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I can see that there might not be strict analogues of the blackboard talk in all disciplines. But then the thing that I would expect to generalize is that talks are better when they avoid putting too much onto slides, and just put it all in words, reserving the slides for necessary illustrations and no more than that.

As I said, though, I'm lazy, so I usually do the boring standard Keynote talk. (The other advantage of putting too much onto slides is that people can look at them later and get most of the content of the talk. I'm not sure that outweighs the actual talk itself being worse, though.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:25 PM
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192: Emotionally?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:26 PM
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I admit to a certain fondness for the really badly hand-drawn maps on chalkboards that I used to get in some of my history courses. But I'm guessing that's not a well-done blackboard talk.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:26 PM
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put it all in words

spoken words, I meant.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:27 PM
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I can see that there might not be strict analogues of the blackboard talk in all disciplines. But then the thing that I would expect to generalize is that talks are better when they avoid putting too much onto slides, and just put it all in words, reserving the slides for necessary illustrations and no more than that.

Yeah, there's a clear `crap powerpoint' thing in art history different from the slide projector talk.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:27 PM
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but then the thing that I would expect to generalize is that talks are better when they avoid putting too much onto slides,

This, yes. Definitely.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:28 PM
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Actually what I did was an hybrid. I made my slides from an outline, then wrote what I was going to say, paying particular attention to how to communicate the story and provide the logical thread and segues. I copied that down longhand, and the then delivered noteless.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:29 PM
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It always amazes me when I go to a talk and see a really bad PowerPoint presentation. I sort of assumed that the Tufte-love (and backlash) had gotten to everyone and we all thought far too much about presentations.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:30 PM
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I like the talks on the 'white board' better than the black board because of the mishaps. Like the doctor who used a Sharpie and was stunned when he couldn't erase or the professor who thought he was writing on the dry-erase board but was really writing on the identically colored bulletin board next to it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:30 PM
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By the way, what's wrong with empty hands when public speaking?

I always thought that was thought way kewl, the off the top of the head speech thing. (Maybe coming from commons/debating etiquette?)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:31 PM
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||

Does anyone know whether there are downloads for reading on your ipod touch? I know that there was supposed to be a book store for the new iPad. I want to read some public domain plays on my ipod touch during my commute. Any thoughts for how I can do this?

|>


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:31 PM
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By the way, what's wrong with empty hands when public speaking?

Nothing, if they move occasionally and don't shake. But I have troubles with both.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:33 PM
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I was gonna ask why all the hating on PPT, but Witt's 192 does sort of render my point moot. I like PPT because I need the visual to process -- but that's intellectual presentations. As long as you keep it simple, it's hard to go wrong.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:34 PM
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205: There's an app called Eucalyptus that gives a really pretty interface for books obtained from Project Gutenberg.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:34 PM
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Eucalyptus.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:35 PM
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Unfortunately, I'm a good public speaker in informal classroom or non-classroom discussions, so people expect me to be good at things like teaching or giving talks.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:35 PM
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206: Every time I conquer one weird tic during lecturing, a new one pops back up. Now it's rocking back and forth as I talk, ever so slightly, from one foot to the other.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:36 PM
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Give in to the music, ().


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:40 PM
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205: I use and enjoy Stanza, despite being illiterate. Nice interface, and it makes it easy to download Gutenberg and other free texts as well as, I believe, some paid ones. The other night I downloaded Wieland at a bar as AWB and I talked about weird books.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:40 PM
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Nothing, if they move occasionally and don't shake. But I have troubles with both.

Ah. Have you thought of wearing a hat, like a very old fashioned platform orator, and then holding that in your hands?

Sorry. That probably wasn't very helpful, was it? I just want to do more to bring back hats when speaking; they seem a perfect aide to all sorts of expression.

Pseudo-notes probably are a better idea.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:40 PM
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211: Ha! Mine used to be making circular symmetrical hand gestures. Then it was earlobe-tugging. I think it's something new this semester.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:41 PM
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Me, I just say "so" at the beginning of every single sentence.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:42 PM
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212: I think it's fairly imperceptible from the audience's view (or at least I'm assured of such by a friend who sat in on the class) but it is odd. I think I preferred the earlier habit of pacing every once in awhile.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:43 PM
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A friend who seems to know a lot of factoids once told me that Abraham Lincoln liked to hold a sleeping baby before giving speeches. It calmed him.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:44 PM
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Ah, I feel less odd now. I also tend to over-use archaic or extremely dorky colloquialisms - "Now, without further adieu" - as I transition from one part of class to another. When I catch myself using one, I try to stamp it out but then something else, usually even worse, takes it place.

By the time I'm 60 I'm going to be giving my lectures entirely in 16th-century English while standing on my head.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:46 PM
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218: I find it has a soporiphic effect.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:46 PM
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218 would guarantee I would do the rocking thing. I still slip into the mom-rock if I hear a baby cry.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:46 PM
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"Now, without further adieu"

Is this even how you spell the phrase?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:47 PM
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No


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:50 PM
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222: You could also spell it "so long", "farewell", "auf wiedersehen", or "goodbye".


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:50 PM
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Au revoir, however, has a slightly different meaning.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:53 PM
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Ado.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:53 PM
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Aha. Ado. I just assumed it was one of those phrases that didn't make any sense if you thought about it too long.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:53 PM
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I feel so smart right now.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:55 PM
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Saying 228 before a speech is a good way to convey confidence.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:57 PM
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S-M-R-T - smart!


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:58 PM
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BG: Kindle? Or just get some PDFs on there?

I see we've moved on to Powerpoint and the many ways in which spoken presentations can suck, but I'm discovering new levels of annoyingly bad writing, and annoying (wrong) conventions: in my office, we Capitalize Phrases For Emphasis.

"I like to capitalize this everywhere it appears in the document so it really jumps out at you," says my boss.

"Hungngrrh," says I.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:59 PM
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227: do you want to share any others?


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 7:59 PM
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I think that might actually be the first example of me being unable to spell something I've only heard, as opposed to the far more common problem - being unable to pronounce something I've only read.

232: Um, you know. Those ones. That I can't think of right now.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:02 PM
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I got an e-mail today where my correspondent put her reply in with my original message and separated the two by using a different font color and by typing in ALL CAPS. I'm trying to figure out if she is just unaware of internet conventions or if she is more pissed at me than everybody else.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:07 PM
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Or less pissed at me than everybody else, but less willing to restrain her emotions.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:07 PM
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Any answer to 232 is guaranteed to generate a thread where some people are convinced that it makes perfect sense when you think about it, others are convinced that it makes perfect sense when you change a single letter and then you think about it, and people who don't think any of it makes sense and are looking for another active thread.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:08 PM
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I have had that problem so many times (pronouncing words I only ever read).


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:10 PM
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I am aware of all Internet conventions.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:11 PM
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238: Yes, but I'm guessing you don't have much involvement with medical research in Southwestern PA. Sure, you probably have the trading cards, but who doesn't?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:13 PM
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I do all my classroom stuff on the chalkboard, only. I feel strongly about it, too. It's the right pacing, it's nice and responsive and improvisational, the lights are bright and on and everything works just right.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:18 PM
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236 to 232, directly.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:19 PM
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231: that's painfully Stupid.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:20 PM
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I have a difficult time imagining math classes done well without the chalkboard. Or transparencies you can write on, I guess.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:23 PM
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Catching up, PowerPoint and complaining about the kids these days with the textspeak and the [insert cliched thing what with the kids] are also Stupid.

I know this because I am Opinionated.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:24 PM
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In the post vt100 era, an ability to copy and paste makes writing profligate.


Posted by: Econolicious, M-x yanked | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:24 PM
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Emotionally?

The difference between whether you want your audience to go home nodding sagely and saying, "Yes, there are really some interesting Canadian best practices on guardianship agreements that we should adopt," or whether you want them to go home saying, "Wow, how terrifying and awful it must be a single parent with HIV and not know who is going to take care of your kids when you die."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:24 PM
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236: I'm giving a best man toast and am not sure which of those two takeaways to aim for.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:27 PM
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247: Right now?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:29 PM
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247: Let me tell you, avoid mentioning your internet start-up, especially if neither of the couple is involved. People still complain about that one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:31 PM
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248: yes, and I need to wrap it up so they can cut the Star Wars cake. Best practices, or the solitary horror of HIV?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:31 PM
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Just make sure your toast hones their critical thinging sgills.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:31 PM
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247 to 246?


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:32 PM
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That depends on the speech, doesn't it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:33 PM
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Ah, indeed.


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:33 PM
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Would you like me to change the "236" to a "246" in 247 so that people get your joke?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:34 PM
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I suppose, but none of those speeches sound very entertaining. Maybe if you shared some anecdata?


Posted by: Turgid jacobian | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:35 PM
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I'm convinced 247 makes sense when you change a single digit and you think about it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:35 PM
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255 to 252


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:36 PM
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I have a thing but I can't do it! It's frustrating!


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:37 PM
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258 = 16^2, more or less.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:38 PM
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259: Just relax and maybe get a magazine. Or go to Stanley's basement, like the cats.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:39 PM
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when you change a single digit and you think about it.

Dude, I'm not even willing to click a link on a front page post. What are the odds I'm willing to submit to your labyrinthine scheme for comment-reading?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:39 PM
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362: excellent, I think.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:41 PM
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Why is Taylor Swift suddenly on my television screen almost everytime I turn the damn thing on?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:42 PM
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Don't know, but if you ever have the same issue but with Andy Taylor, it's because you are in an assisted living facility.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:46 PM
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264: Phosphor burn-in?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:47 PM
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Back on the writing part of the thread, I do think that it sometimes can be unfair to complain about writing skills with respect to drafts, at least at the professional level. At least in the academic context, finished professional writing has gone through an editorial process and while not everyone looks like a good writer at the end of the process, I suspect few would look like good writers based on their early drafts. But I had a professor who thought it very important for students to see professional work in progress just so that they'd have a better idea of what good writing (or I guess, not so good) can look like while it's still going through the editorial process.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 8:55 PM
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At least in the academic context, finished professional writing has gone through an editorial process

Wait, seriously? Is this another of those shocking field-dependent cultural differences? In my experience it goes like this: referees address inaccuracies and bad arguments, not bad syntax or style. Then there's some minimal copyediting that does things like change capitalization and rearrange citations according to bizarre journal-dependent conventions, but doesn't even attempt to address the writing itself.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:05 PM
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Maybe it's just in history, where it's hard to separate writing from, uh, writing. And I'm probably thinking of things that go into books more than articles.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:08 PM
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The idea that finished professional writing has gone through an editorial process in the business world is also laughable, obvs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:11 PM
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Oh, right, you people write books. Wacky.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:14 PM
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I pretty much just make tables. Somebody else writes the 'word' part of the articles.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:17 PM
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270: Probably that's why I didn't include the business world in my comment.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:18 PM
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Or at least didn't mean to. Whatever, it was a first draft. And now I have to go to campus just to return a book that I forgot was on reserve before they shoot me for keeping it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:20 PM
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273: who can know, really.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:23 PM
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Who can? No, really.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:25 PM
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I still slip into the mom-rock

Like Dave Matthews Band and Barenaked Ladies?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 9:28 PM
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At least in the academic context, finished professional writing has gone through an editorial process and while not everyone looks like a good writer at the end of the process, I suspect few would look like good writers based on their early drafts.

In my experience of this in the humanities (journal articles only), this completely depends on the editors of the journal. Special topic issues, guest edited by someone, tend to be way better edited than the regular ones.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 10:57 PM
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OT for British eyes only:

According to the episode of Top Gear that I'm watching, you can get a decent used car in the UK for almost nothing ($2000 or so) but it costs more than that to insure. WTF? Can car prices be that low, and insurance cost that high?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:13 PM
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That's the "buying a car for a 17-year old" episode, right? For some reason, 17 year old drivers (especially male ones) are quite expensive to insure. One wonders why.

And a casual search on autotrader.co.uk does show you can get a lot of car for


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 02- 1-10 11:59 PM
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re: 279

Sure, but it depends on the car, in terms of insurance costs. A small car with a big engine, e.g. a hot-hatch of some kind or other, then yeah, I could imagine that a 12 year old hot-hatch might be cheaper to buy than insure if the named driver was a 17 year old male.

Second hand cars can be cheap. The current one we have cost around $4000, but the one before that was about $1500, and you can buy working cars in reasonable condition for a lot less than that if you don't mind a high mileage, or an older car.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:13 AM
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Yeah, but the expensive insurance for a 17 yr old here might be, say $2000/yr, for a pretty expensive car. The prices on that show were like $10-12,000/yr for a cheap ass Hyundai.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:16 AM
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Further to 281,

That $4000 car cost about $800 to insure but that's higher than normal, because I had a claim on our last insurance policy, and wasn't the cheapest insurance I could have bought, even with the recent-ish claim. I could probably have insured it for $400 if I only wanted 3rd Party, Fire and Theft and went with the cheapest provider.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:18 AM
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I can't believe that, for a cheap hyundai. In fact, I just checked. If I insured our car in my name, but put a (real) 17 year old male relative of mine who hasn't passed his driving test yet as the main named driver, the insurance would be close to the price of the car (!). And from some insurance providers, more.

But it wouldn't be $10,000 a year. It'd be more like $3500 - $3750 depending on the terms and conditions I chose. I could get the price down from that by choosing a minimal form of cover.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:28 AM
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Further revising 267, I am including in "editorial process" the practice of making successive drafts, even if there hasn't been specific writing style feedback.

But I freely admit that this could be specific to history, and even more specific to the professors who made sure to point out the difference between in progress work (presented at talks or workshops, for example) and finished work.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:28 AM
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It's weird. It's pretty hard here to get a $1500 car that doesn't have parts falling off. And $800 for a $4000 car is high, though more reasonable. I would have thought exactly the opposite -- car prices would be higher, but with less litigation insurance would be lower.

Oh well. Great show, though. Your vaguely right wing middle aged frat boys are much funnier than ours.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:38 AM
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I don't particularly understand the economics of the car insurance market, but yeah, insurance and road tax can be a substantial part of the cost of car ownership here. If you don't mind older high-mileage cars you can get decent [and often quite reliable] cars for very small sums of money.

The first car I had in Oxford cost me £50 quid. It was in very poor cosmetic condition, but went through two annual MOTs [the compulsory annual car check] with only minor maintenance issues. It ran reliably for the whole time I had it until someone stole it [it was recovered but the central locking and ignition barrel were wrecked, and because of the cost I replaced them myself before getting rid of the car].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:50 AM
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Actually , come to think of it, Top Gear has been a bit ...off... in its consumer advice before, so I can well imagine the 10,000 pounds quoted is a slight exagerration. Though that's almost unheard of with Clarkson.

If you like Top Gear, James May has done a great series of programmes last year about classic toys and how to make them interesting to modern children, by e.g. building a 1:1 scale model of a Spitfire, or a toy racetrack the length of a proper one.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:40 AM
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We loved James May's toy series. My kids all asked for Airfix for Christmas.

"Vaguely" right wing made me laugh.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:21 AM
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Maybe ttaM and his relatives are in cities where insurance is cheaper? I don't know how it works in the U.K., but the U.S. prices for the same car can vary highly by where you live, even in the same state.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:48 AM
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re: 290

It'd be massively more likely that Clarkson et al were bullshitting for comic hyperbolic effect. My quote would have been on the high side, as I've had one car theft and one instance of (self-inflicted) car damage in the past 3 years, so my premiums will be higher than average. That said, I'd imagine insurance for a new driver on an expensive/fast car could get very very pricey.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:56 AM
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291: I was assuming there was some bullshitting. But it would probably cost me 50% more to insure a car if I lived in an area with high theft rates.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:58 AM
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The groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter. He stuck his head out of the burrow and looked at a calendar and said, "It's February 2nd, there's always six more weeks of winter."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:01 AM
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(self-inflicted) car damage

A car growing depressed enough to engage in self-harm is rare, but very dangerous to the passengers. Maybe if you washed it occasionally its self esteem would improve and it wouldn't be suicidal any more?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:50 AM
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St. John's Wort in the gas tank?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:53 AM
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Yes, there are variations, but I can't imagine anyone being quoted 5 to 8 grand for insurance! My parents' foster son got an old Corsa when he was 18 - the car cost less than £1000 and (as there was no fucking way my mum was putting him on her insurance) he was paying about £1400 for his insurance. Since then (he's about to turn 20) he's bought a new Audi (I think) and had two accidents. I should find out what his insurance is now.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:55 AM
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The first car I owned was a 1980 Audi. It was a good car for a couple of years, then the reverse gear stopped working as was too expensive to fix. I spent a year only parking in spaces where I wouldn't have to back out.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:10 AM
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I spent a year only parking in spaces where I wouldn't have to back out.

Pretty sure that'd be illegal here. At least I assume the existence of a reverse gear is an MOT condition.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:33 AM
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It was illegal where I was. However, not all states require cars to be inspected. I also learned how to start a car by having it pushed (or rolling down a hill) and popping the clutch, but I did eventually put on a starter.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:36 AM
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135: See? I'm not clear! What I'm really looking for is how to get beyond the "string together coherent sentences that basically make sense to other people" level. I'm not worried about my technical writing, because my papers tend to be pure math, but when I read essays in Harper's, or even just comments on unfogged, the writing seems "good" (literate?) in some way that I can't describe.

Honestly, I lurk here because I'm intimated by the level of writing I see; I feel like I'm just not as articulate as the commenters here.


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:38 AM
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That car even paid for my graduate school application fees. Somebody crashed into me during my senior year. They just turned out of a parking lot and into my door. Even though the door still worked, their insurance company cut me a $300 check for 'depreciation' of a $600 car.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:40 AM
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I feel like I'm just not as articulate as the commenters here.

Sure, I can bend in the middle, but I'm not a contortionist or anything. Anyway, plenty of us are really stupid.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:42 AM
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300: First, what Witt said -- don't be intimidated by writing here. Based on your last two comments, you certainly write well enough to fit in. (That doesn't necessarily mean you're interesting, of course -- I reserve the right to be hostile and abusive on that basis. But you sound perfectly reasonably literate.)

Second, there's nothing to do but write more, rewrite more, and get feedback on it. Commenting here is certainly not longform writing, but it's something -- I think Heebie's talked about feeling like a better writer since she's been here, and if you've been lurking long enough to remember read, her writing went from difficult-to-comprehend ESL to just a little quirky remarkably quickly.

On longer stuff, have you tried faking the tone you're looking for? Harper's essays sound 'more literate' than you do. So write something that sounds like a Harper's essay on a purely fake, superficial level. And then re-read it and figure out what you did, and if it worked.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:48 AM
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The first paragraph is 302 was supposed to be in italics, but somebody made me forget.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:50 AM
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If you were more articulate, you wouldn't forget that kind of thing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:51 AM
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305: Because I keep my html reference guide taped to the underside of my desk.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:52 AM
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305: Racist.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:58 AM
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I lurk here because I'm intimated by the level of writing I see; I feel like I'm just not as articulate as the commenters here.

I've seen All About Eve. I know how this story ends.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:00 AM
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308: You mean with a giant marshmallow man attacking a skyscraper, or I am thinking of a different movie?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:01 AM
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Different movie -- The Crying Game, if I'm not mistaken.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:02 AM
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303.2: Everything I write looks like it doesn't work (if I try to write 'smoothly') but I can never figure out why.

303.1: I would love to get feedback on my writing, but I don't know where to go for that. Maybe I should take a course on rhetoric?


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:09 AM
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when I read essays in Harper's, or even just comments on unfogged, the writing seems "good" (literate?) in some way that I can't describe.

OK, this is interesting. It sounds like it's more about the style than the content, then. Or maybe about an underlying set of cultural references that you can draw from to make your style more interesting than merely technically describing step 1-step 2-step 3 etc.?

There are a number of different writing styles here, of course. Verbose (::raises hand::), quippy (not so much), salacious, literary, trollish, polemical....although there is a consistent tone over all, it's not quite so narrow that there's only one way to write that you can fit in. Plus, it changes over time. If you haven't already, check out some of Tia's and Alameida's posts in the archives. They don't read like LB's or Stanley's.

If you have a voice of your own that lives vividly in your head but somehow comes out flat when you see it on paper, well, welcome to the club. If you feel like your "inside" voice is the same as your outside voice, and you consciously want to change them both, I'd be asking myself what I wanted to sound like and why, and then practicing (a la LB's 303.last).

It can be kind of fun to practice writing in different voices. I once worked my way through a bunch of essays in The Art of the Essay, mimicking each voice in turn. So I'm a terrible Seneca, a mediocre Montaigne, a moderately OK Orwell, an inept M.F.K. Fisher...and those attempts will never see the light of day. But it stretches your writing and vocabulary muscles in different ways, and when you go back to your own voice you may have a few more tools in your repertoire.

(I'm probing at this because it's a lot more fun than what I'm currently writing, so just smack me -- figuratively -- if I get annoying.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:13 AM
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A rhetoric course sounds like a good idea -- you must be affiliated with a university somehow if you're writing math papers, so there should be some upper level "Writing the Persuasive Essay" class you can take.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:16 AM
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There are a number of different writing styles here, of course.

True. Some people haven't made a penis joke in the entire time I've been reading.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:17 AM
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Is The Persuasive Essay like The Great American Novel? Often attempted, rarely achieved, and suffused with male sexual anxiety?


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:20 AM
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Mine are just really subtle, MH.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:21 AM
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Darn you, SB.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:21 AM
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Darn you, too, Witt. Darn the both of us, for ever and ever, until rocks melt with the sun.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:24 AM
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I think I learned more about actual writing - word choice, sentence structure, clarity of expression, etc. - from three years on the college newspaper than from an English major in college and several English classes in high school, including one that was specifically writing-oriented. I don't know whether that's a mistaken impression on my part, and, even if it's true, whether it's due to a personal quirk, a problem with the classes at my school or a problem with teaching writing in general.

But there it is: lots of short, straightforward pieces on a variety of topics. Feedback on egregious problems like open hostility by the writer with the bluntness of a cattle prod, but on minor problems only if the writer cared enough to come in and see where the red ink was; no time to waste on more-or-less competent people who had made errors that had been fixed in five minutes. No scrounging for themes or undercurrents to nitpick, just writing and editing the basics. And editing to exactly specific lengths. (When I editing on the college newspaper, we rarely if ever played around with letter-spacing. Sometimes we could play around with graphics other articles for more space, but not always. So to make articles fit the space, I would delete words and clauses and find shorter or longer synonyms and break up or combine paragraphs until the article was exactly the right length for the space. When I got to a real newspaper, I was amazed by the concept of not doing that at all, relying entirely on other methods.)

Re: 135 and 300, it's almost baffling. Partly because you have a blog and you say you write for publication and you seem to be doing fine here and yet you're intimidated. Well, there's always a bigger fish. Or orca. Can't you just enjoy stuff like

I'm not too shy to comment, I'm a stalker not a lurker
Don't ask if I can haz it I just take the damn cheezburger
Determined like a lawyer with a squamate mouth smell
and unlike Zack I don't need any saving by the bell

without feeling obligated to beat it? I mean, if this place was actually a competition, only three people would still be here after that thread.

But also baffling partly because you start out asking "How can I avoid writing like the person referred to in 96?", and yet we never see how the person in 96 writes. We're only told that it's bad, and that the person had never even thought about how word choice affects understanding or whatever.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:24 AM
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re: 314

Yes. I try hard to live up to the dour national stereotype. Every comment typed while holding a salty spurtle in my hand.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:27 AM
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Can't you just enjoy stuff like [...] without feeling obligated to beat it?

On the other hand.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:29 AM
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A salty spurting what?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:29 AM
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The maddening thing is that I can't even tell if that's a penis joke.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:30 AM
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re: 323

Did you click on the spurtle link?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:31 AM
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If there had been such a link, would it have been safe for work?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:32 AM
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Gah. Looks like the link didn't work.

I linked on the word "spurtle". Yes, work safe.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:34 AM
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Joke dies flat on face...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:35 AM
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Spurtle dies flat in hand :-(


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:35 AM
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Cross-cultural cock jokes, ffs...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:36 AM
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Do men or women stir traditional porridge in Scotland?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:36 AM
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327: That's what happens when you're dour.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:37 AM
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without feeling obligated to beat it?

Cyrus, on the other hand....

The point about writing to length is a good one. I hated it at the time, chafed unbearably, but it may be one of the top five most useful skills I have. Astonishing how often it comes in handy.

I'd say I learned a lot about writing from one formal teacher, a ton from one informal teacher, and the rest from daily experience. There's nothing like instant feedback with actual consequences to make you improve. (Why no, I am not obsessed with checking the web-based bulk e-mail application to see which of my newsletter articles get the most clicks; why do you ask?)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:37 AM
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re: 330

I'm sure probably women, in the old days. These days the traditional male porridge role is to boast about eating it with salt, rather than any kind of effete sugar/syrup/honey type additions.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:39 AM
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312: Please, probe away. I don't have the tools to imitate a style, e.g., I have no idea when I should use metaphors; when I try, they just don't seem to fit, and I don't know how to articulate the problem better than that.

Analogy ban violation: I feel like I'm a little leaguer who strikes out every at-bat. My coach tells me "try different styles: imitate Bonds, Sheffields, or Rickey, and see how that works for you", but before I can do that, I need to learn to snap my hips. Is there a good book on this stuff I can read before I try signing up for a class this fall? Everyone recommends Strunk & White, but I can already write in their dry and boring style. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I want to learn how to make my writing really sing.

319: you have a blog and you say you write for publication
I write papers for conferences, where the median paper is written (and reviewed) by non-native English speakers. And the papers are mostly proofs and not prose.


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:40 AM
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I think ya write just fine, Mr. Not Depth First. In fact, I have conducted a blind taste test, and 8 out of 10 regular commenters found your prose indistinguishable from standard Unfoggedese.

And I think my brief on-topicity clears me to post this:

I see a lot of nice hats being worn by douchebags these days. I would like to wear a spiffy hat, but would hate to be confused with a douchebag. Is is possible for a young-ish man (I'm 27) to wear a fedora without looking like a douchebag?

Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:44 AM
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re: 335.2

Hasn't the douche-hat debate been done here at least twice?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:45 AM
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Is there a good book on this stuff I can read before I try signing up for a class this fall? Everyone recommends Strunk & White, but I can already write in their dry and boring style.

You're managing to be both unduly self-deprecating and unduly vain here.

While the cool people (to the extent Language Log is cool) all make fun of Strunk and White these days, the style S&W aims at, call it transparently unpretentious, is really useful and a good place to start. You can call it dry and boring, but if you can reliably turn out clear, comprehensible, and coherent prose that says what you meant to say, you're way far out ahead of the pack and you should be preening yourself about your skills, rather than looking for a beginner's book on writing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:02 AM
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336: Yes, most notably on behalf of an historian from California who is not named "ari." Really, I think the Achewood cartoon Sifu posted at the time settles the matter.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:03 AM
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Did he ever get a hat, or post hatted pictures anyplace?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:05 AM
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339: Yes, over there chez lui, I believe.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:09 AM
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332
Cyrus, on the other hand....

What?

334: Well, sorry to probe an analogy, but this one ("I feel like I'm a little leaguer who strikes out every at-bat.") seems to fall down in light of how you put it later on ("I guess what I'm trying to say is, I want to learn how to make my writing really sing.")

You're worried about not striking out in little league - about basic competency, meeting the minimal standards, simply being coherent? Great news, you can stop worrying, you're already there. Congratulations! Welcome aboard! (And no, even if your analogy is less than perfect, it doesn't prove you've struck out; that's why they're banned.)

On the other hand, if you want your writing to "really sing", that's another matter entirely. I'm not sure you should even aim for that at all, in math proofs for mostly non-English speakers. But if I'm misjudging your audience or if you're interested in improving your skill for a general sense of self-improvement, then a lot of the advice in this thread looks good to me. Practice, experiment with different styles for yourself, etc. Re: your specific question of metaphors, for example, they're for illustration. If you want to be extra-florid and show off, then throw one in wherever you can, but analogies and similes work fine. If you can't recall spontaneously using any metaphors and wonder if you should start, the answer is probably no.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:10 AM
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337 looks harsh in retrospect. What I meant is, if you're doing that well (and your comments here look pretty good), you're in pretty good shape writing-wise. At that point your problem isn't a matter of learning the basics, it's just a matter of writing a lot. One metaphor falls flat and sounds stupid? Do it again next week, slightly differently. Eventually you'll learn something.

Write stuff and put it on your blog, and nag your friends to read it and comment. Or strangers on the Internet with too much time on their hands.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:11 AM
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I raised the douche-hat issue myself last summer. I ended up getting a straw cowboy hat, and [this winter] one of those tweedy 'Redford in the 'Sting'' type hats. Both of which, I'm sure, are the acme of douche.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:13 AM
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You're managing to be both unduly self-deprecating and unduly vain here.

These are, in fact, the same thing. (I should know.)


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:13 AM
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Rather the first implies the other. It's certainly possible to consider yourself a prize without denying it extravagantly.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:15 AM
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first implies the other

Oops.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:16 AM
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343: If you're wearing them for practical reasons, they probably look fine. Buck, who is very bald, wears a variety of slightly insane hats all year depending on whether he's avoiding frostbite or sunburn, and while they make him look like a bit of a lunatic, they don't make him look like a douche. Although I'm prejudiced.

344: Yeah, I'm harsh on that one because I'm that way inclined myself.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:17 AM
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339: He bought some black Reeboks instead.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:18 AM
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He wears them on his head.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:20 AM
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In the traditional style of his people.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:20 AM
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There was a time when new commenters were tested and toughened up, but now it's all sharing and support and shit. That's why Ogged and Emerson left, you know.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:22 AM
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350: I see.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:23 AM
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I want to do that too!

But, usually, it's enough of a struggle to make my writing talk. Coherently.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:25 AM
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352: I love her so.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:25 AM
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344: True! Humility is mostly alloyed with pride. A character in Almodovar's crazy nun movie put it better, but I can't find the quote.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:25 AM
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352: I wasn't going to mention the breast augmentation. But since you've crossed that line, I won't deny that I think he looks just great. And his self-esteem is through the roof!


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:26 AM
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353: WTF? I swear I had cut and paste I want to learn how to make my writing really sing
above what it is written in 353.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:28 AM
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351: Like LB said, this guy seems to be deprecating himself enough that we don't need to.

335: No hats here (an olive-green baseball cap when I specifically need to keep the sun or rain out of my eyes, and a hood or ear warmer at times, but that's it), but that Web site looks like it should have interesting and useful stuff on it. A lot of the time, though, I don't even recognize the terminology.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:29 AM
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The first hat thread has more useful terminology and links.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:34 AM
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337/342: Point taken. I should have said, I don't want to learn how to do that -- I want to learn how to write with an interesting style.


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:38 AM
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This seems misguided to me -- your style isn't going to be more interesting than your thoughts are. If you work on what you have to say, the style will mostly take care of itself.

What sort of thing do you want to write? Letters, essays, op-eds, blog posts, poetry, short stories, novels?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:43 AM
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Style is what you can't help doing.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:46 AM
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360: You also said you feel intimidated by the level of writing you see here. Is there anyone whose style you find particularly impressive, or who demonstrates equal ability with multiple styles? If it's neb, you know, they call him a little bitch for a reason.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:46 AM
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I was reading "breadthfirst" as "breadfirst", which was I thinking was an obscure Brecht reference, which ironically would not have been out of place in something like Harper's house style.

A diet of vermouth and Spanish queen olives is often a good step towards writerly sophistication.

Having overcome lurker anxiety, I think the most important step is not taking it personally when one's comments are ignored.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:53 AM
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Style is what you can't help doing.

"Style is based on limitations."


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:56 AM
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Did someone say something? No, I guess not.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:56 AM
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Self-deprecating narcissism.

"A narcissist rarely engages in self-directed, self-deprecating humour. If he does, he expects to be contradicted, rebuked and rebuffed by his listeners ('Come on, you are actually quite handsome!'), or to be commended or admired for his courage or for his wit and intellectual acerbity ('I envy your ability to laugh at yourself!'). As everything else in a narcissist's life, his sense of humour is deployed in the interminable pursuit of Narcissistic Supply."

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:57 AM
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Like LB said, this guy seems to be deprecating himself enough that we don't need to.

A transparent gambit for self-protection. You know what happens when you lose your killer instinct? This, that's what.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:03 AM
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One recurring piece of advice -- in Henley's words, "Start by slavishly imitating [writers] you admire" -- would be easier to put into practice if there were a Pandora-like service for books and essays.

To start things off, you'll read a novel that exemplifies the writing style of Dan Brown, which features breathless pacing, a plot-centered aesthetic, stereotyped opening lines, laughably inept metaphors, and improbable coincidence.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:03 AM
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361: Essays, blog posts, and emails, I suppose. It takes me forever to write non-technical material, even short emails, because I'll read what I wrote, find something I don't like, make some tweaks, re-read, make more tweaks, and so on, until I realize I've spent an hour on a twenty line email and force myself to hit 'send' without re-reading what I wrote.


Posted by: breadthfirst | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:04 AM
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In light of 370, may I suggest a therapist in lieu of a writing tutor? I say this with due sympathy and goodwill.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:08 AM
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What Standpipe said. You sound fine at the level of writing emails -- let them go.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:11 AM
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LET MY E-MAILS GO!


Posted by: GOD | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:13 AM
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How long did you spend writing comment 370?


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:13 AM
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Worth mentioning -- LB has said that she takes forever to write anything that is supposed to be formal. She is just able to maintain a prodigious commenting pave by bypassing the metal filters.

It sounds like you can't write an e-mail without engaging your mental editor.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:14 AM
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commenting pave by bypassing the metal filters.

NickS's metal filters on the other hand, are all gunked up.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:17 AM
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351: I've been really unhelpful. Doesn't that count for something?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:20 AM
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375: True. I'm horrifically slow and blocked writing anything formal at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:21 AM
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"Start by slavishly imitating [writers] you admire"

But the peer-reviewers really don't seem to understand why I put in six paragraphs about stabbing orcs in a submission to a medical journal.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:23 AM
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379: Sounds like another instance of bad reviewers blocking good research.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:29 AM
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I have quite a different problem. My favorite author is Jesus, and he didn't write anything.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:29 AM
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367 really flips me out. If you're afraid of being a narcissist, does that make you more or less likely of being one?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:38 AM
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382: Yes.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:43 AM
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380: Interesting. Were it a case of stem cell research being suppressed for no apparently reason, or for overt political reasons, I'd suspect the worst. However, the link doesn't even hint at that; instead, it just implies that reviewers are doing it to "allow their friends to publish first". So, this isn't asshole theocrats suppressing good science because it shows that they aren't the center of the universe, this is petty politics and jockeying for position within academia? Well, it's still unfortunate, but it seems a lot more harmless and even quaint or funny. But then on the other hand, why this issue? What are the odds that politics and jockeying would just happen to settle on a topic which also is politically controversial?

Of course, "a cabal of the establishment is oppressing me" is exactly the excuse crackpots and frauds always make, so who knows.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:44 AM
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367 is apparently excerpted from a book entitled Malignant Self-Love, which sounds like a clinical term for cancer of the masturbation.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:46 AM
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384: "Peer-review" is anonymous, except that in most fields it is impossible to stay anonymous to the extent that you cannot write a paper without giving very clear clues as to who you work for. Even if you strip out the names, people can often tell.

It isn't harmless in all cases and the likelihood of harm is probably far greater in more fluid fields. There are real consequences in that a delay in publication can hurt your chances at getting the next grant. In a young career, that can be near fatal for somebody who is trying something that is really new.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:49 AM
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386: It is also frequently impossible to tell when you are being dicked-over and when you are doing research that isn't important.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:51 AM
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My favorite author is Jesus, and he didn't write anything.

Note to self: Start working on that Apocryphal Gospel project ASAP. There is a market.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:53 AM
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388: Bury it in Wayne County, New York.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 11:56 AM
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389: I was thinking something more like Ossian II: The Jesusing.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:01 PM
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NickS's metal filters on the other hand, are all gunked up.

True enough.

I have a bunch of things I should get done, and I don't want to do any of them. So I'm procrastinating, but also distracted.

Alternately, take that as proof that credible English is not required in blog comments.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:01 PM
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But then on the other hand, why this issue? What are the odds that politics and jockeying would just happen to settle on a topic which also is politically controversial?

It's a field that is supposed to have a lot of promise—surely you've read about the dreams of being able to grow your own replacement liver or dopaminergic neurons. Fields of inquiry that are deemed promising get lots of grant money thrown at them and top billing in the prestige journals. Scientists, like everyone else, seek excitement, prestige, and money, so they rush into the hot field. Oversubscription ensues, and scientists are forced to compete for these prizes. Sometimes competition leads to unethical behavior, like trying to keep the group that is doing the same experiments out of the journals until you publish first.

On the other hand, yes, there are probably far more conspiracy theories about peer reviewing than there are actual peer review conspiracies.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:08 PM
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It's all about the Benjamins. And the Nature papers.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:09 PM
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"Narcissistic Supply" sounds like a great place to pick up a few new entitlements.

#369. Readers stereotyped by favorite authors.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:13 PM
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I am having trouble sympathizing with the people who complain that they aren't able to get published in Nature for political reasons. Fine then, publish somewhere else. The very top journals are all about the eye-catching experiments that went absolutely perfectly to an unexpected degree.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:15 PM
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On the other hand, yes, there are probably far more conspiracy theories about peer reviewing than there are actual peer review conspiracies.

Certainly. Peer review is hard work and unpaid. You'll get all kinds of avoidance or rush-jobs.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:15 PM
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394: I never took care of my grandparents.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:15 PM
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Clarification: Since no one is getting rich off grant money, I should say that the Benjamins are chiefly useful in that they allow you to get the Nature papers. And quit stressing about money for a bit. Although, if a field has genuine therapeutic promise, the possibility of getting stinkin' rich may be more of a factor. I don't see that as playing much of a role in keeping the other group's papers down, though, as I think if you really have a good idea to get rich, you go straight to the VC rather than to Nature.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:16 PM
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My undergrad adviser and I concocted a theory about who was suppressing the publication of one of our papers, and my adviser then confronted the supposed villain about his supposed villainy, only to be told that no, he actually hadn't been reviewing that paper. Oops.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:21 PM
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399: Which is exactly what you'd expect someone to say if they were a villain.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:28 PM
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394: My name is neither Earl nor Cliff, and my paternal grandfather was distant and uncommunicative, and died before I was ten.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:35 PM
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394: She wants to sleep with me! Or at least she wanted to sleep with an earlier version of me.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:39 PM
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394, 402: I use words like 'dubious' and 'tenacity'. Though I must have been close to taking care of my dying grandparents.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:45 PM
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Tanizaki: people who wonder why Tanizaki isn't on this list.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:46 PM
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To bridge the two threads, I dismiss otherwise interesting people on OkCupid who proclaim their love of Haruki Murakami or Kurt Vonnegut a little bit too earnestly.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:47 PM
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403: Those That From a Long Way Off Look Like They Might Have Been Close to Taking Care of Their Dying Grandparents.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 12:49 PM
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405: Murakami does seem to be the new middlebrow-fiction-du jour, doesn't he? Seems to have happened recently.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:26 PM
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405: Murakami does seem to be the new middlebrow-fiction-du jour, doesn't he? Seems to have happened recently.

This genuinely led me to check the date stamp to see if I had stumbled into a thread from the past.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:38 PM
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407 - I totally agree, DS-of-2002. Also, you shouln't fall in love with John Edwards -- he turns out to be kind of a dick. And buy stock in Google!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:38 PM
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Check out 408 and 409. Those two should meet sometime.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:40 PM
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Ha -- the Snarkfoxes beat me to it.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:41 PM
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The list in 394 is alternately pretty good and outrageously stupid.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:42 PM
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I wonder what writer would be the worst possible choice to note as one's particular favorite in an online dating profile. Yukio Mishima? Bill Simmons? Arianna Huffington?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:44 PM
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413 - Knut Hamsun.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:47 PM
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Dr. Seuss.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:49 PM
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breadthfirst: What helps me with that kind of nit-picky "I know somethings wrong, but I don't know what" is to just put it aside for a week. That wouldn't work for an email, obviously, but it would be effective for something like an essay.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:50 PM
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You think? Hunger is legitimately great (and Mysteries is swell too) and if the author of the list in 394 has a boner for people with boners for Dostoevsky, how much more would she like the indigent of Christiana? Plus, there was an article about him in The New Yorker recently, so he's certified ok.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:50 PM
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I've only read Hunger (which is brilliant); I'm trying to think of someone who someone would actually claim as a favorite author on a dating profile (because, honestly, if you can find someone who claims Tucker Max, I'd like to shake his -- carefully disinfected -- hand) that nonetheless serves as some sort of anti-particle for sexxons. Maybe Piers Anthony would work better.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:54 PM
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418: Harry Turtledove


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 1:58 PM
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415 would push a potential victim partner waaaay up my list. Whimsical and goofy makes my pants fall off.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:00 PM
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420: When you see Chris Hansen, you may as well eat the cookies. The cops are already outside the door.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:01 PM
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Not to get you too excited, togolosh, but I have a Dr. Seuss tattoo.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:02 PM
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Terry Goodkind, JK Rowling, Michel Houllebecq.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:03 PM
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John Norman. Especially if you like both the Gor series and his works of Randian academic philosophy.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:05 PM
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Piers Anthony is a great suggestion.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:05 PM
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418, 419, 423: Houellebecq is a little more what I had in mind than the various horsemen (and -women) of the nerdpocalypse.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:06 PM
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I would find someone who listed Houllebecq intriguing.

Dr. Laura.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:09 PM
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I should disclose that I actually like Elementary Particles. And I like Mishima and Tanizaki too. At one point in my younger years both of the latter might have found themselves on a 'ten favorite writers' list and I'm not sure why they would be a warning sign.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:11 PM
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427: And I would be horrifiedly fascinated to meet a woman whose favorite writer was Yukio Mishima.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:11 PM
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Breadthfirst -- I picked up a book called "Spunk and Bite" that has some useful thoughts on ways to make your writing more interesting by strategically violating that other book. I didn't finish it because I'm a crappy reader, but it seems good.

The idea that substance rather than style is what makes writing interesting... Well, I loudly disagree.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:11 PM
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421: Man did that show make me feel uncomfortable. Yeah, they're creeps, but you're watching these mostly cretinous guys realize they've ruined their lives.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:11 PM
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Hunger was Lenin's favourite novel. He used to rant about it to his girlfriend by her account. I'm never quite sure what to make of this.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:13 PM
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408, 409: Anything that happened after 2000 is "new" for these purposes. Bulk of the decade pretty much just blurs together.



Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:14 PM
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422: Too late!

I knew a woman in college who had The Cat in The Hat tattooed on her calf. Had to wear suspenders when she was around.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:14 PM
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And I would be horrifiedly fascinated to meet a woman whose favorite writer was Yukio Mishima.

I know a woman with poster of Mishima next to her bed.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:16 PM
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435: Was it the St. Sebastian one or the holding-a-sword-beaded-in-sweat one? Because they're both pretty funny when you remember how short he was but cease to be funny when you watch Patriotism on Youtube.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:19 PM
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435: I would propose to such a woman.

John Norman also wrote books of Randian academic philosophy? God, why must you make your creation so very, very funny?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:20 PM
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It's all about the Benjamins.

The work of science in the age of reproducible experiments?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:22 PM
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Holding a sword. It might be this—it's been a while.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:22 PM
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439: The very one. The David Levine caricature of Mishima alludes to that image. I also remember seeing it, on television, blown up to cover the entire wall of a Manhattan apartment.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:26 PM
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Mishima was a weirdo.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:26 PM
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And I like Mishima and Tanizaki too. At one point in my younger years both of the latter might have found themselves on a 'ten favorite writers' list and I'm not sure why they would be a warning sign.

They're both excellent writers, after all. In Praise of Shadows has had a perhaps excessive influence on me.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:29 PM
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441: Let's not be judgmental. Who among us has not organized a private paramilitary force or acted in the occasional yakuza B-movie?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:29 PM
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Plus, there was an article about him in The New Yorker recently, so he's certified ok.

Back in 2005, when I read that, I thought, here's someone I should read something by. I still think that.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:32 PM
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Slightly more recently, the New Yorker has certified Daniil Kharms, probably because they read the comments here.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:33 PM
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I can remember when the New Yorker's endorsement of a writer might have meant something to me, but I was a sheltered and impressionable child during the Reagan Administration.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:35 PM
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John Norman also wrote books of Randian academic philosophy? God, why must you make your creation so very, very funny?

Well, I haven't read any of his academic works, but he is a professor of philosophy at Queen's College of CUNY.

A relevant piece of his correspondence


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:40 PM
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From the link in 447:

I have a Ph.D. from a major Ivy League University in philosophy, and have appeared on panels having to do with Verne, Stapledon, Wells, Asimov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Cordwainer Smith, Murray Leinster, Ayn Rand, and others.


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:46 PM
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And others!


Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:48 PM
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450

447: That's an overstuffed shirt, but if he isn't lying about what happened then it is not beyond the pale to complain about it. Although SF has always seemed to me a pretty right-wing genre (?!).


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:49 PM
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a major Ivy League University

I'm curious as to which are the minor ones.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:52 PM
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but he is a professor of philosophy at Queen's College of CUNY.

Damn. Imagine having him as a prof, especially if you're a woman.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:53 PM
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Brown.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:53 PM
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451: Penn, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Brown and Yale.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:53 PM
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454: That's right! All the Ivy League schools are minor!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:56 PM
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450 A right wing one? Other than the mil SF sub genre I'd say it tilts pretty strongly left and has for quite some time now.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 2:59 PM
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Randian academic philosophy

If this is not an oxymoron, it should be.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:06 PM
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458

There's a Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:07 PM
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A lot of the stuff I grew up on slants more right wing than I realized at the time -- as a teenager, I didn't notice the politics of, e.g., Larry Niven, which are pretty unpleasant.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:07 PM
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458: And they don't allow libraries to subscribe.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:08 PM
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There's a Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

That really JARS!


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:09 PM
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456: I defer to the better-read, but the SF section of my local Barnes & Noble seems to have an awful lot of volumes in the Justin T. Square, Extremely Violent Spaceship Engineer series.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:10 PM
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459: Terry Goodkind was the most recent thing I've read where you really notice the politics, though I suppose that is more F than SF.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:10 PM
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459. Agreed. I didn't really understand Niven's politics until he started collaborating with Pournelle, who is more or less overtly fascist. Thing is, I grew up on the British new wave (Aldiss, Moorcock, Ballard) and then people like Sladek and Tom Disch (who was very left wing in the 70s, whatever became of him later), so I recognised Heinlein as The Enemy and got on with it.

But there are actually a lot of very right wing SF authors, mainly in the space opera field.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:15 PM
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the worst possible choice to note as one's particular favorite in an online dating profile

Kenneth Eng.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:17 PM
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462: Yes, but in volume 10 of the series, Justin loses his penchant for violence in the feminist socialist utopia planet of Rosa Luxemburgiana.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:17 PM
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OT bleg:

I need some pain management advice. I have a bad wisdom tooth that's causing me a lot of pain. Been to the dentist today, have an appointment for oral surgery a week from today. In the interim, I've been given 800 mg Motrin to take once every 6-8 hours. So far, this isn't really cutting it and I'm in a lot of pain. (Hard to concentrate, hard to think, hard to do anything but notice that my mouth fucking hurts.)

If doesn't start to get a little better I'm thinking about calling the dentist and seeing if I can get something stronger because I can't sleep like this and a week is a long time. Any other advice?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:19 PM
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467: Ask for an earlier surgery. If you're going to call the dentist about the pain, you may as well try.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:20 PM
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They are separate, unfortunately, and when I talked to the oral surgeon about pain he said, just take 400 mg of Advil frequently. I'm not sure how to make it clear how bad it hurts and that I'm not just drug-seeking.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:23 PM
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You can take acetaminophen along with ibuprofen safely. You should call the dentist now for real painkillers. If you end up not needing them, you don't have to take them.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:23 PM
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464: Sadly, my tastes as a teenager, and even still, run toward the sort of space opera that's fairly often right wing. Whenever I could ignore the women, and the express political stuff, and so on, I really liked Heinlein, and if there were more of his stuff I hadn't read I'd probably still like it. What Niven's been writing for the last couple of decades has sucked from my point of view, so that makes that easier.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:26 PM
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467, 468: I second the earlier surgery request and the idea of asking the dentist for a few tablets of something stronger. Waking in the small hours every night with throbbing, torturous pain is miserable.*

* Says the man who stupidly tore up a prescription for Percocet after a bone-breaking mishap.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:26 PM
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473

I'm not sure how to make it clear how bad it hurts and that I'm not just drug-seeking.

Oh, god, I hate being in this position. I had a miserable toothache in a wisdom tooth back in law school -- I'd had a cavity that had been filled, and about two weeks after the filling it started being really incredibly painful on a Friday afternoon. I couldn't get an appointment to have it pulled until Monday, and I called the dentist saying I had to get the pain dealt with that weekend. So rather than offering painkillers, he referred me to a dentist who was open on Saturday who wouldn't pull it, but would do a root canal. On a goddamn wisdom tooth. Because he wouldn't write a freaking prescription for codeine.

So I curled up in a ball all weekend and cried until Monday when I could get it pulled.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:34 PM
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This reminds me of the time I didn't know my leg was broken for a couple of months. So many good memories.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:35 PM
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Have you tried anything topical (eg. Anbesol)? Also, I'm told staying ahead of the pain is important. It's harder to kill pain once it gets going than to hold it at bay.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:37 PM
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467. In Britain you can buy acetominophen/codeine mix and aspirin/codeine mix over the counter. They kill pain, believe you me (they might kill you as well, but them's the breaks). If your surgery date was any longer I'd try sending you some.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:42 PM
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Further to 473: To be clear, I didn't explicitly ask for prescription painkillers, because I didn't want to be seen as drug-seeking. I told the dentist I was in serious pain and couldn't wait until Monday for the extraction. When he told me to get a root canal rather than offering painkillers, I understood that to mean that he wasn't going to prescribe painkillers, and I gave up. In retrospect, this was stupid of me. You should explicitly ask for painkillers.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:43 PM
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Thanks, guys. (I think I just wanted to whine). I'm told that this is about as early as I can possibly get in for the surgery, so I think I'm stuck with the date. I'll try adding in the acetaminophen and perhaps the topical stuff.

And I've been really vigilant with the painkillers every 4 hours until I got the prescription-strength stuff, and unfortunately it's just not been doing much good (I also badly let there be a lag between doses because I was at the dentists and at the pharmacy and had to find something to eat too). I have an abscess too (woo, this is what happens when you don't go to the dentist for years) that I'm taking antibiotics for, so I foolishly hope that once the antibiotics get a chance to dig in that maybe it'll start to feel better.

For now, LB's method of curling up in a ball sounds perfect.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:44 PM
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479

If you end up not needing them, you don't have to take them. can drop them by my office.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:44 PM
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480

Call and ask for opiates. Seriously. A week is a long time.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:45 PM
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(Oh, and I should note, if tomorrow is as bad as today I will call and explicitly ask for stronger stuff. The worse they can do is say no.)


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:45 PM
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473: That sort of thing is just crazy. You're getting a procedure in three days that you'd only get if you were in pain, and that you can only get once (per wisdom tooth anyhow). Write somebody a no-refill prescription for three days worth of painkillers already.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:46 PM
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483

Also, you could go to the Urgent Care, if they have such a thing where you live. Sometimes they are freer with the scrips.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:47 PM
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I'm just glad I don't have to teach this quarter. Or grade. Those poor, poor students.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:47 PM
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And, of course, always fill your opiate prescriptions!!!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:47 PM
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477: Yes. When I had shingles and called the doc to complain that ibuprofen wasn't cutting it, her response was "Yeah, shingles can really be extremely painful. That's normal." Long silence. "Um... So, you're saying I should just stay in pain...?" Further long silence. "Well, I could prescribe a pain killer... " "Great idea. Yes. Do that."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:48 PM
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Good to see everyone's doing their best to uphold my point...

Surely the answer to 441 is OH NO JOHN RINGO, though.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:48 PM
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482: The suggested root canal made me so angry -- you want me to spend $1500 on pointless dental work because you won't give me a couple of bucks worth of painkillers.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:48 PM
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485: Pain is weakness leaving the body!

(Not your body, Parenthetical. The body.)


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:48 PM
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And, of course, always fill your opiate prescriptions!!!

Seriously. And pills are good way past their expire dates, so don't toss them either. When you hit an emergency, you'll be really, really glad to have something to hold you until you can get to a doctor and then to a pharmacy.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:52 PM
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489: Were you in the military?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:53 PM
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oh yes, examples in my "odd American attitudes to medicine" sub-sub-series...demanding opiates by brand name (knowing their brand names without working in the trade! that's like random Brits being able to identify different backhaul optimisers by sight - I only know what some of these are from literature)...denying that one is doing so...worrying that your dentist thinks you're a junkie...


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:54 PM
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491: I come from a long line of cowards and draft-dodgers.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:54 PM
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In lieu of anbesol, a Scotch-soaked cottonball applied directly to the painful area helps. Yes, seriously. Also, I probably need to make a dental appointment...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:55 PM
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Have you tried anything topical

This thread went off topic by about comment 100, which pisses me off mildly, because nobody seems to have made the point that people have written in SMS-speak forever. Have you ever looked at a Roman tombstone inscription?


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:55 PM
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worrying that your dentist thinks you're a junkie

I think you've stated this wrong; the odd American attitude to medicine is that the dentist is taught to think their patients are junkies.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:56 PM
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493: Just curious. The only people that I know that regularly use that phrase were in the Army.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:57 PM
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492: I don't know that the last is so much an odd American attitude to medicine, as the result of an odd American medical practitioner's attitude about prescribing painkillers when appropriate.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:57 PM
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498: (pwned)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:57 PM
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496: Or weird Victorian abbreviations -- "I remain your most humble and obt. svt."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:59 PM
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497: New England summer camps and Ivy League colleges retain many military vestiges (uniforms, calling people by their family names, maxims preserved in amber since the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne: I have heard with my own ears my father say "Measure twice, cut once").


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:59 PM
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502

as a teenager, I didn't notice the politics of, e.g., Larry Niven, which are pretty unpleasant.

I still feel like Niven's work from the 70s isn't as right wing as it is made out to be; and isn't anywhere close to as right wing as his current work.

Perhaps this is just because I haven't re-read any of them recently. But, darn it, one of Niven's laws is, "The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently." (though, re-reading the rest of the laws, I am struck by the fact that we definitely do not have the same political perspective).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 3:59 PM
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494: I am totally going to try this with bourbon, as there is no Scotch in the house.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:03 PM
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500. Exactly. I would have added, e.g. etc. or viz. i.e. Whoever invented your example probably osp., so we'll never know who it was. And then there are the wartime envelope inscriptions, from SWALK to BURMA.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:04 PM
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502: Well, there's stuff that doesn't look so bad by itself, but against the background of all the other stuff starts looking sketchy. Several alien species with 'non-sentient females'? I overlooked it at the time, but someone who mind just naturally drifts in that direction is probably not the feminist poster boy. The book about the arcology, Oath of Fealty? Well, sure, people who own stuff have to be able to defend it with deadly force, even if that means killing the occasional teenager pulling a prank, because otherwise ecological terrorists will kill thousands. Lucifer's Hammer is pretty old, and has the plot about how when civilization falls, the cannibal black gang-bangers are coming to get you.

I haven't reread these in a while either, but they've got issues.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:05 PM
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503. Good move. I'd advise you do that even when you have got scotch in the house.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:06 PM
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495: There's a Charles Addams cartoon, which I can't seem to find online, that shows a giant tortoise, in the shell of which have been carved a giant heart and the words "Cleopat a Marc Anton."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:07 PM
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508

I don't know BURMA?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:07 PM
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509

I have heard with my own ears my father say "Measure twice, cut once"

Does this come from the military? I learned it as a woodworking maxim.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:08 PM
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510

508: Never mind, figured out how to google.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:08 PM
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511

"Be Upstairs/Undressed Ready My Angel"


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:09 PM
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512

Golly, OFE, I didn't even know you were interested.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:09 PM
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505: You'll note that the really dodgy stuff tends to show up in the books he co-authored with Pournelle. Niven had his issues before they started writing together, but he got markedly worse after.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:09 PM
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514

EGYPT: Eager To Grab Your Pretty (Bristols)
NORWICH: (k)Nickers Off, Ready When I Come Home


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:11 PM
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515

489: Flatulence is embarrassment, leaving the body.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:12 PM
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Lucifer's Hammer is pretty old, and has the plot about how when civilization falls, the cannibal black gang-bangers are coming to get you.

At the time I was willing to attribute that to Pournelle, along with the "rehabilitation" of Mussolini and the rant against Kurt Vonnegut in Inferno. But retrospectively, if you put your name on it, it's yours. Large parts of Ringworld Engineers were nasty enough to start me wondering.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:13 PM
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The right-wing bits of sf seem to come far more from men's actiony novels, rather than sf. Arthur Hailey, Richard Martin Stern (the other rms).


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:14 PM
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492: Actually, I tend to confuse the doctors, nurses and pharmacists by referring to medications by their generic names. You hear so many horror stories of people getting the wrong medicine -- Anusol instead of Anbesol for instance.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:15 PM
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513: Yeah, come to think of it I don't have much of an impression of Pournelle separate from Niven&Pournelle -- I think I tended to pick his books up and put them down. Funny thing is that I'd say that barring the politics, the Niven&Pournelle books tend to be better books than the Niven solo numbers -- The Mote In God's Eye, for example, is really excellent space opera if you try not to think about the gender politics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:15 PM
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520

Further to 514:
SWALCAKWS: Sealed With A Lick 'Cause A Kiss Won't Stick


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:18 PM
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Large parts of Ringworld Engineers were nasty enough to start me wondering.

Odd, looking it up, it appears that Ringworld Engineers was published the same year as Convergent Series. I would have assumed it was later.

I always liked his short stories better than his novels, so that is almost certainly coloring my recollection (though, yes, looking over a list I am struck by how many of them have some element of poor gender politics stuck in an otherwise good story.).

But, again, darn it "Grammar Lesson" was a short story specifically about the insanity of people getting into lethal physical confrontations to defend their possession.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:23 PM
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522

+s


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:25 PM
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523

Per Wikipedia: Pournelle is a member of commentator Steve Sailer's "Human Biodiversity Institute."

And there you have it.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:25 PM
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519. Yes, Jerry Pournelle is without doubt an excellent writer. But extremely right wing, racist, sexist and anything else you want to bring to the party.

"Time that with this strange excuse"?


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:27 PM
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(though, yes, looking over a list I am struck by how many of them have some element of poor gender politics stuck in an otherwise good story.)

I do admit that most of the 'right wing' stuff I'm coming up with in Niven's solo stuff is creepy gender politics, rather than other right-wing issues. And while that's political, it's a set of issues that doesn't necessarily track with other political issues -- I can imagine someone otherwise liberalish with gender politics that creepy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:31 PM
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A respected academic at my university cited Steve Sailer in a book. Worse than that, it was his prominent demonstration of the citation format.

I have never been able to take the academic seriously again.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:32 PM
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I can imagine someone otherwise liberalish with gender politics that creepy.

Sure. Pretty much any writer born before 1940. Mailer? Albee? (in SF, Aldiss, Ballard, at least in his younger days, Silverberg, Pohl, Kornbluth likewise, etc. ad naus. I love them all, but not Niven).


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:39 PM
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527: Niven strikes me as worse than just old on the gender issues. There's plenty of stuff that I'll just read past and dismiss as generational background sexism, but Niven's a notch weirder than that for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:44 PM
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Kornbluth

Oh noes! Not Cyril!! (Next you'll be breaking my heart and telling me that C.L. Moore was a McCarthyite.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:45 PM
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509: That's where I heard it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:48 PM
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531

snark, the worst I know of Kornbluth was that he was a bit mad. But his assumptions, though extremely progressive in his time, were of his time. No blame.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:49 PM
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532

I was wondering about Kornbluth -- trying to riffle through the stories I remember for glaring sexism. There's the usual not-a-lot-of-women on stage problem, but I'm not getting much more than that. On the other hand, I haven't read any Kornbluth literally since high school -- I had a couple of novels and collections of stories but I haven't run across copies since then.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:49 PM
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533

Randomly, from the Niven bibliography that I'm looking at, I wonder if Lion's Blood is the book to have jacket blurbs from Larry Niven and Octavia Butler.

I love them all, but not Niven

This conversation has convinced me that he started being problematic earlier than I had thought but I had to admit, I love his short stories. Looking at the list of titles, there are so many good ones.

Niven strikes me as worse than just old on the gender issues.

See, for example, the review linked in 502.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:52 PM
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534

533.1 +only


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:52 PM
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531, 532: Obviously Kornbluth was a raging snob, but I don't find that sort of omnidirectional misanthropy particularly offputting. Maggie Frome in "Critical Mass" strikes me as a pretty competent and non male-fantasy-ish character for a s.f. story from 1959 or whenever it was written. (Also, I have reminded myself what a fantastic writer C.L. Moore was, and now I want to read "Vintage Season" again.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:53 PM
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I'm not saying there aren't any right wing or right leaning SF writers, just that the field as a whole tilts left if you bracket out the mil SF field. On Niven specifically, I think he is the definitive answer to the question of whether genre fiction can be good even if written poorly. Lots of the Known Space stuff is excellent SF, but very poorly written. And a lot less right wing than the Pournelle collabs. Then there's Gene Wolfe, a diehard Catholic reactionary, but a wonderful writer.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:53 PM
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I want to read "Vintage Season" again

That is an amazing story. She never wrote any novels, or did she?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:57 PM
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538

I've never read any Wolfe -- I'm not sure why. I should probably pick some up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 4:59 PM
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536 - That's interesting, because I think the general critical belief (one which I share) is that science fiction is an essentially reactionary genre, despite the presence of a number of left-leaning authors. I'll handwave here in the direction of John Clute and Michael Moorcock, as well as Spinrad's The Iron Dream, which is the most explicit treatment of the subject that I can think of. I mean, the Futurians were basically an outgrowth of Jewish left politics in NYC, but the focus on "great man" style historical narratives and "fans are Slans" creepy revenge fantasies seems like something that speaks to a deeply authoritarian impulse.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:00 PM
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LB - I'm looking at one on my bookshelf right now, Earth's Last Citadel, with her husband Henry Kuttner (it's only so-so). Also I believe some of her work with Kuttner under the name "Lewis Padgett"* got turned into a fix-up novel, but I'm not positive about that.

* Author of "The Proud Robot", "Mimsy Were the Borogroves", etc.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:03 PM
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528. Which is why i don't love him, as I do love the ex-Stalinist Pohl, the ex-pornographer Silverberg, the disconcertingly mad Kornbluth, or indeed (tangentially) the disconcertingly sane "I click as-I-move".

Yet Niven wrote his tribute to "As a shade of purple gray". Discuss, but not at excessive length, with reference to the question of whether the name of Susan Calvin was supposed to be a joke at the expense of people who take the Puritan tradition seriously.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:03 PM
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542

Mostly, I'm stuck on the concept of 'the field as a whole'. There are certainly plenty of left-leaning authors, and plenty who are the reverse, and plenty where their politics are obscure or confusing -- I don't know how to begin calculating the center of gravity of the whole field.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:06 PM
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538. I read a couple of Wolfe's books, and I agree that he's technically as good a writer as you could hope to find. This didn't stop me becoming seriously bored before I finished the second one though. ymmv.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:09 PM
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544

Terry Goodkind was the most recent thing I've read where you really notice the politics

I had some hope for that series in the first book or two, but holy shit what a trainwreck. Hey, it's Atlas Shrugged with crappy magic!


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:13 PM
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545

543, I'm glad to hear that I am not the only person to have that reaction.

I did like this short story collection by him.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:13 PM
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542: Multiply each author's books sales by the number of panel discussions held on their work at major conventions. Then assign each author a political vector from -5 (on the left) to 5 (on the right). The sum them all, et voila, that is the center of gravity of the whole field.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:15 PM
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538 Pick up his recent 'Best of' an amazing collection of his short fiction, a much more accessible intro than BotS which most people suggest, and imo better as well. It's also one of the very rare SF books I'd recommend to litfic reading non-SF fans.

535, 537 If you have even the slightest soft spot for old school pulp SF/fantasy/planetary romance find yourself some of the Northwest Smith stories. And the gender treatment is ummh, interesting.

536 I think that viewpoint stems from an appraisal of the pre New Wave form of SF by its very sixties New Wave critics. Specifically we're conflating a very traditionalist set of family and gender structure, simplistic boy's wish fulfillment, John Campbell deformations with right wing politics overall. That plus an in hindsight bizarre belief that FDR/Adlai Stevenson/LBJ style liberalism was actually right wing. But I didn't want to revisit that debate. I was simply arguing that SF in the post New Wave period has leaned left, again with the exception noted in earlier comments.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:16 PM
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SF is, to a first approximation, the literature of the British socialist left.

To a second approximation, it is the literature of the European left.

The idea that sf is essentially reactionary arises out of a rather daft view of the field, where you reduce it to American engineer lit. You somehow have to deal with Wells, Clarke & Verne who are pretty difficult to thing of as reactionary.

(I shall get off my soapbox eventually.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:17 PM
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Also, add a point to each authors rating for each book which features favorable depictions of incest or child molestation.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:18 PM
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BotS should of course be BotNS aka Book of the New Sun, an amazing accomplishment marred by a lack of self discipline, making it increasingly tedious as it goes on.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:19 PM
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547.3 You appear to be arguing with yourself here, from the reference given. Can the rest of us just get a beer and watch.

Keir, your point is a good one, but I think Americans regard SF as the bastard progeny of Campbell by Asimov (E.E.Smith is in there somehow, but I'm not sure where).


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:24 PM
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Yeah, and that idea is an abomination to God and Man.

I also want to talk about Dr. Who, Hitch-hiker's, Dawkins, and atheism/free-thinking here I think.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:27 PM
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547. 3 was meant to reference 539


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:27 PM
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Ooh ooh, and Darwin/Huxley/Albertopolis.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:28 PM
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547, 548 - I think that it's fair to separate out pre-Campbellian science fiction of the Verne/Welles/Looking Backwards variety from post-Gernsbackian (and particuarly post-Campbellian) science fiction; I'd agree that those books don't match the argument I'm making, and if you want to view that as the main vector of the arc, I'll concede the point. (Which is to say I concede 551.2.) But I'm not sure that I buy that the New Wave changes much; it introduces a number of better writers and it introduces a number of authors who are aware of the political implications of the Boys Own Wog-Thrashing Engineer tradition*, but I'm not sure that it moves the needle on the genre as a whole. The A-number-one genre story is and always has been The Story of the Picked-On Nerd Who Showed Them All. Tolkien and Rowling** are the most read genre fiction of all time, counteracting dozens if not hundreds of LeGuins or Ken MacLeods.

* These are not the same group; Wolfe's dreadful Wizard Knight stuff is a work of self-consciously authoritarian/right-ist genre fiction by a very good post-New Wave writer.
** Who is a good example, actually; the politics of Harry Potter are a horrible mess, but I think they obviously lean right, despite Rowling being a good Blair-hating Labourite.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:29 PM
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Harry Potter is very Cameronian I think.

I disagree about your ideal genre story; I also think Tolkein is a good example of Victorian progress, for all he himself hates it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:31 PM
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(My thoughts on Tolkien are partly inspired by David Eddings, which is a bit eek when I think about it.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:32 PM
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Every time snarkout starts talking about S.F. short stories I go half crazy trying to remember them from when I was a kid and devouring everything science fictional that I could find. "Vintage Season" was great!

Hey snarkout, who wrote "The Great Nebraska Sea"? You're better than google!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:37 PM
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Under the extenuating circumstances that it's midnight and I'm drunk, can I just say, "Fuck Tolkien".

Tolkien studied early narrative for a living, it would have been a pity if he hadn't been able to pastiche it and draw out the main themes. He probably lectured on them to 25 bored undergraduates every Hilary term. As rehashes of Beowulf and Snorri go, his central themes are reasonably lucidly done, but the whole underlying mythology, insofar as it's original, strikes me as the sort of stuff that a million teenage nerds in every generation come up with, but they don't go to Oxford.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:44 PM
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If we're going to include fantasy and go on sales, then what are the political implications of urban fantasy other than the contemporary female counterpart to the male wish fulfillment that so much SF has traditionally been? I was going on a broad spectrum of at least somewhat respected SF authors since the seventies. Going on what I read, plus what I read online by and about them, contemporary SF writers mostly run the gamut from radical left to centrist.

Wolfe for me is an all around exception - very ambitious, erudite, talented, not at all traditionalist in his writing, and oh so reactionary - more that than right wing in the contemporary sense; when I read him I think some prewar Jesuit trained right wing Catholic intellectual. I also appreciated, Wizard Knight as an interesting failure, even if I didn't like it, so I wouldn't call it dreadful. I can take bad politics if the writer is good enough.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:47 PM
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But you see, OFE, now a million teenage nerds don't have to come up with that mythology and can instead occupy themselves making the costumes and playing the RPGs. Tolkein was the great geek labor-saver.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:47 PM
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Then I blame Tolkien for dumbing down teenage nerdery. Which is, I suppose, an achievement of sorts.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:50 PM
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I've been getting the impression that the contemporary female counterpart to the male wish fulfillment was more or less the defining quality of urban fantasy. I don't really know anything about the subgenre or its politics except that it tends to be full of the female gaze instead of the male gaze (so says my friend who devours them).


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 5:56 PM
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the contemporary female counterpart to the male wish fulfillment

I thought this was the 450 series of goth vampire novels that make up most of the Young Adult section at Borders.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:03 PM
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While the relevant people are here, is there a shorthand term for the SF gimmicky-short-story practice of extrapolating a current trend into ridiculousness? Like Thousand-Foot-Puppy or something?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:19 PM
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``If this goes on'' maybe?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:22 PM
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OFE, I'm fine with assailing Tolkien for his works, but are you really claiming that the average teenage nerd dabbled in fantasy world-building in the 50's or before? I guess there's things like Well at the World's End, but I honestly thought Tolkien was culture-catalyzing in that regard.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:23 PM
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The audience for goth vampire novels has substantial overlap with the audience for urban fantasy's prevailing subgenre, chick paranormal detective with angsty demon lover(s).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVy8Dr_SxWg


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:33 PM
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Yet Niven wrote his tribute to "As a shade of purple gray".

I thought >Flying Sorcerers was a hoot and a giggle, but I'm not sensitive to gender issues.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:34 PM
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An unrelated thought in the general category of nerdishness:

1) Is it wrong that, when I saw Saiselgy say that he preferred GRUPS to AD&D, my first reaction, as a GURPS fan, was excitement, and my second was a fear that he would just perpetuate a certain stereotype of GURPS players? Unfortunate geek snobbery?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:35 PM
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567. Maybe I'm not typical, but I was world building after a fashion from the age of 5 (1956), and I had put together ideas as derivative and superficially sophisticated as the Sellamillion before I got my hands on LoTR (probably some time in the mid 60s, can't exactly remember). I don't think I was special in either respect.

As a teenager I liked LoTR because it was written in agreeable cadences which disguised both the derivativeness and the underlying ideology (which is not wicked and fascistic, but is rather suburban and apologetic). As an adult, if I want heroic fantasy, give me Dunsany, even give me bits of Poe.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:35 PM
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570: I firmly refuse to consider who else might have the same favorite RPG as I once did. It's far too depressing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:40 PM
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is not wicked and fascistic, but is rather suburban and apologetic

Mouseover?


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:44 PM
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570: I firmly refuse to consider who else might have the same favorite RPG as I once did. It's far too depressing.

I think you're being too negative.

I went from being GURPS-aligned (more or less) to being a genuine fan after reading GURPSNet for a couple of years in college*. There were a surprising number of intelligent, well read, thoughtful people there (not least of whom was Bill Stoddard who subsequently went on to write the very good GURPS Fantasy 4e).

* Frustratingly, I wasn't able to find any interesting games in college so GURPSNet and r.g.f.advocacy had to substitute for any actual gaming. I have very fond memories of both, though I was strictly a lurker.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:45 PM
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I think you're being too negative.

I think you don't know what game it was.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 6:49 PM
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574, 575: Nerds! [Chugs beer. Belches.]


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:03 PM
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Are you sure you're in the right thread?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:07 PM
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||

So what's with this skirts and long johns look that seems to be everywhere?

|>


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:21 PM
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578: Dinna be joojin' me!


Posted by: Old Prospector Willie | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:27 PM
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So what's with this skirts and long johns look that seems to be everywhere?

Too cold for the sheer blouses and no bra look, apparently.

Alas, if Punxsutawney Phil can be believed, I'll have to remain patient for minimum six more weeks.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:42 PM
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578: Wait a minute: don't you work in M---a? That Radcliffe shit has no business cropping up in your corner of paradise!


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:44 PM
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Yes, for certain values of ---, and yes, it looks pretty much ridiculous on anyone who isn't in preschool.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:49 PM
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NPH works for the Mafia?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:53 PM
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583: Pretty much.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 7:57 PM
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582: Could it be that it's parents' weekend, and the mainland chicks are covering up their newly acquired body art?


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:03 PM
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585: uh, I'm realizing my comment might call for redaction if NPH says so...


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:05 PM
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Sellamillion

I don't think it's fair to bash Tolkein for things that were published, not by him, but by his son and heir.

Plus, I liked a lot of the stories in the Silmarillion, meanie.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:05 PM
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Eh, borderline but probably harmless. I don't think the Godfather lurks here.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:11 PM
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540:From memory, one mashup by Kuttner & Moore is called Mutant Psi-powers stuff, very influential at the time.

After Vintage Season, which most consider as mostly Moore, I remember her, by herself, as part of the Weird Tales stable during the 30s, along with Howard & Clark Ashton Smith.

VS is deduced to be Moore's, partly on the basis of the lyricism, but partly because it appears Kuttner had most of the humor & whimsy shared by the couple. Moore tended toward horror.

But it was a collaboration, and difficult to dissemble.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:15 PM
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I don't think the Godfather Balrog lurks here.

Fixed for thread appropriateness.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:17 PM
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||

BREAKING NEWS! OBAMA'S BUDGET TAXES EVERYONE! AND HATES EVERYONE TOO

|>


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 8:48 PM
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Reading around, the discussion of the Kuttner Moore collaboration is interesting, and has been for a long time.

There are stories of Kuttner typing for four hours, going to sleep, and then Moore taking over in mid-paragraph.

In one place I read that all stories by "Lawrence O'Donnell" are solo Moore. That is partly why VS is attributed to her. On another biography, they say Fury by Lawrence O'Donnell is 80% Kuttner.

Recent politics and social changes have led to many people saying Moore was by far the greater artist, and responsible for the best stuff. And the lyric pessimism of VS meets the preferences of our own time more that the competent optimism of the Kuttner dominated work like Fury


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:01 PM
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Living down to the cliche:

There seems to be no better time to declare that the term "science fiction" used to describe a certain kind of literature is no longer viable than with the release of "The Best of Gene Wolfe." Gene Wolfe has long been recognized as one of the finest living science fiction writers, none of his many novels or short stories really can accurately be labeled that. Wolfe himself has suggested the term Science Fantasy for his work, but there is still something oddly contrived about trying to fit an author of such magnitude into any genre box.

Found while flitting around on google.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:30 PM
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Found while flitting around on google.

I'm now picturing teraz as Tinkerbell.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:39 PM
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571: And the polio vaccine. If that fucker Salk hadn't nosed in we'd have stopped that disease cold ourselves.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 9:52 PM
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Maybe I'm not typical, but I was world building after a fashion from the age of 5 (1956)

I too, am maybe not typical (2010): from the age of 7 I was dunking basketballs, after a fashion, on my nerf hoop. That Elgin Baylor fellow had nothing on me.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:12 PM
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For the hoopster game, give me George Mikan only -- maybe also Jim Thorpe, if he ever played -- the rest of those slim jims have been trading off the moves I originated in my socks those many years ago.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02- 2-10 10:18 PM
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I had a friend who was a high school basketball player. He could dunk tennis balls, but not basketballs. Somehow coming that close to dunking was sadder than not coming at all close (like me).

I normally defend Heinlein's juveniles, but it just occurred to me that reading them created my early-teen ambition to join the Army.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 3:00 AM
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I normally defend Heinlein's juveniles, but it just occurred to me that reading them created my early-teen ambition to join the Army.

Whereas reading Bill the Galactic Hero created my early teen ambition not to.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 3:37 AM
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re: 599

Another of the same ilk that I enjoyed was Alan Sillitoe's "Travels in Nihilon".


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 3:44 AM
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There's a bunch of stuff I wanted to comment on or at least think twice about, but I have a meeting in five minutes, so this is the only one I'm getting to, I guess.

555
the politics of Harry Potter are a horrible mess, but I think they obviously lean right, despite Rowling being a good Blair-hating Labourite.

What the hell?

The bad guys are wizard Nazis and bigoted Muggles are portrayed disfavorably as well. Related to what you say, the economics of the wizarding world are a horrible mess, but to the extent that we're told anything coherent about it the Weasleys are poor and saintly, not that there's anything wrong with the twins' entrepreneurial spirit, while almost all rich wizards are depraved bastards. I'm no exper on any kind of politics, but I can't possibly see how this is right-wing socially or economically. Populist, maybe, but even that isn't totally clear.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 7:58 AM
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More, since I apparently got the time of the meeting wrong: Harry's dream in life is to be an Auror, a cop. I would read less into that in this story than in real life, both because of his personal history and because he lives in a world with larger-than-life, good-vs.-evil conflicts, but fair enough, that's at least a bit authoritarian. And looking at Hogwarts from an economic perspective, I'd imagine that the English boarding school experience is normally an upper-class, traditionalist thing. But first of all, Hogwarts or similar places apparently educates all young wizards and witches, so even though its real-world equivalent is exclusive it apparently isn't. And related to that, it seems like a genre convention, so shouldn't be interpreted as a political statement.

But then, maybe I dismiss too much as irrelevant to politics just because it's a genre convention or arbitrary invention. Like in 505 - I can totally see why someone would find an alien race with non-sentient females unappealing to read about, but I wouldn't take it as a political statement by the author, nor even as reflective of the author's beliefs by itself. It's just an alien, and in real life there is quite a bit of sexual dimorphism here and there, right? Instead, how is the human race or culture shown? How do human characters act? What do they think of the aliens? etc. Being so explicit about the gender difference almost seems more likely to be a deconstruction of sexist thought rather than adoption of it. But my approach might not be the best. I admit that intentional or not, this stuff matters.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 8:30 AM
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re: 601

Yes, but in the British context, there's an explicit appeal to a paternalistic class ridden past; and a lot of consciously invoked nostalgia for a particular genre of public-school fiction, aimed at children, that used to exist [in Boy's Own annuals, and the like]. That's not politically neutral.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 8:42 AM
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(though, yes, looking over a list I am struck by how many of them have some element of poor gender politics stuck in an otherwise good story.)

I couldn't sleep last night, and I was thinking about this. I want to go back to my original contention that they aren't as bad as the conventional wisdom would have.

There are some important caveats, (1) I'm only going to try to defend the short stories here, (2) I haven't read them in a while and the essay linked in 502 makes a convincing case that they are probably more objectionable that I remember and (3) none of the short stories, that I can recall, have a female protagonist and about half of them don't have a single female character. Which is not a promising sign.

All of that said, here is what I remember about the gender politics, using this bibliography.

There is the story that involves the dune buggy chase on Mars (is it "How the Heroes Die"?) in which the thing that finally caused the villain to snap and kill somebody was being the recipient of a homosexual come-on. On the other hand, the story clearly doesn't approve of his homophobia.

"Dry Run" is about a man plotting to kill his ex-wife, but he fails and is kind of an idiot.

In "Death by Ecstasy" Gil Hamilton picks up a woman named Taffy(!) at a bar. But she turns out to be intelligent, competent, and a nurse -- not the most progressive choice of occupation but she's clearly independent.

"What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers?" presents the male and female characters as equally clever, but it also presents a fantasy of people being selected to be a new group of Adams and Eves.

I was actually thinking of "The Fourth Profession" when I wrote the quoted parenthetical, which has oddly rigid gender roles.

"Cloak of Anarchy" has a character make the argument, "in an anarchy women will walk around constantly afraid of sexual assault." But, early in the story on of the characters is also gently chided for being, essentially, a Nice Guy and, while the woman with the cape is attacked and scared, she doesn't actually suffer any injury, which is clearly good.

"The Defenseless Dead" has the sister who was kidnapped and then rendered mostly catatonic.

"The Borderland of Sol" is the one story in which he seems to talk approvingly about the BirthRight system. But, it's important to note that in the ARM stories it was clear that everybody hated enforcing those laws and, IIRC, the person with unlimited Birthrights ends up being the equivalent of a Bond villain.

I'm sure I'm forgetting things (and I'm not sure what to say about "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" (1969)); I only recognize about 2/3 of the stories by title. But, overall, I don't think that's a particularly awful set. I know that the novels are what most people criticize, but I wanted to reassure myself that I'm not completely crazy to remember the short stories fondly.



Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 9:20 AM
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I think you can't treat "Are the gender politics creepy" as particularly tightly related to "Am I crazy to remember this stuff fondly." I both think Niven's gender politics are all fucked up and remember his short stories and novels fondly -- I loved them when I read them, and I'd re-read them if I came across copies.

But there's still a bunch of creepy stuff - coming up with examples beyond what's been mentioned above would be work. But I swear it's there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 3-10 10:13 AM
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207: Visual-spatial processing is not a strength of mine. I pretty much need to say things (at least in my head) to figure it out. (This goes up at this rate, and you can see that this is on the vertical axis and this is on the horizontal one.) When people do very visually based presentations, they go too fast for me to process it.

I retain a lot of info that I've processed, but I can't acquire information as quickly as LB can, when I read---though text is much faster than pictures.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 8:16 AM
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Parenthetical, where are you getting your surgery done? I've heard that the oral surgeon in Davis is not so good. The one who is in Vacaville did a really good job removing my wisdom teeth. He was kind of old school, having worked as a surgeon in the military in his youth.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 8:37 AM
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I hadn't been to the dentist for about 6 and a half years. Newly insured, I went yesterday, only to find that I have a couple of pockets which are at a 5. They're making me go back for scaling today and next week. And I have to go for cleanings every 3 months until it clears up. $160 plus the cost of an extra cleaning. (I'm going to get out my hydrofloss--like a waterpik only it has magnets--and use it religiously, so that I won't have to go again in 9 months.) I am tempted to buy a new waterpik, since the design is more compact, and it has a place to store the tips. But the $9 bottles of BreathRx (non-alcoholic mouthwash) and Closys that I'm going to have to buy are already frightening my BF.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 8:47 AM
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I haven't been to the dentist since 2002. I should really go. I even have dental insurance.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 8:48 AM
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609: What's up with that, Moby? Do you have a phobia, or do you just not have any dental issues? Do we have to plan an Unfogged Intervention?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 9:02 AM
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610: My teeth don't hurt. If they did, I'd go in a second.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02- 4-10 9:09 AM
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