Just because I agree with you doesn’t mean you get to spam me

By: | Post date: October 7, 2017 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

I write this with trepidation. I don’t wade into political matters, and I’m a conflict-averse kind of person. I am also discovering I’m more politically moderate than I used to fancy myself, and that is never a comfortable thing.

But, having the courage of my convictions is a novel experience; one that drove me off Quora. Now that I’m off Quora, the discourse I’m exposed to, on Facebook and on Medium—from my putative ideological stablemates—is much less considered, and less thought through: a sad consequence of the democratisation of social media, which unearths the poor arguments that used to whirl around the pub and the café, and elevates them into common, tub-thumping currency. On both sides.

(Yes, it was ever thus; and yes, the mobs used to run out of control and burn and lynch. But “my side” was supposed to be moving past that kind of thing.)

And I could let that pass, or I could try out saying, on occasion, no, that stance is not cool. That argument makes no sense, and discredits my side. And I will not assent to it.

Here’s an example.

Like many Australians, I voted on the Australian marriage equality plebiscite a couple of weeks ago. Like many Australians on the left, I had misgivings about putting human rights up for vote to the mob. Not that the party of Tony Abbott has earned my trust about administering human rights any more than the mob. (Nor for that matter the party of Joe de Bruyn, who blocked Labor from voting for marriage equality when it had the chance.) But once the vote was approved, after some rather specious attempts to block it on the basis of how it was funded, I felt obligated to vote my opinion as a citizen, and vote YES I did.

And if the mob turns out to have voted YES to marriage equality after all, as polls indicated, we now have the bizarre spectacle of Andrew Bolt’s latest editorial, after months of decrying the evils of the gay marriage, saluting the outcome as a blow for trusting the Wisdom of the People.

But the libertarian-cum-social conservative stylings of Andrew Bolt are not what I’m writing about here.

A week after I voted, I got an SMS from the YES campaign, urging me to vote.

A lot of people who’d voted YES got the SMS. Not a few people who’d voted NO got it too—notoriously including arch social conservative Cory Bernardi, who was busy organising his own robocalls for the NO campaign.

People broadly expressed confusion and annoyance at getting spammed with political SMSs, in offices (like mine did) and online. Some people went so far as to say they would reconsider their vote in light of their annoyance.

The following things were said in retort, including on The Project, Michelle Grattan’s editorial on The Conversation, and a few friends on Facebook:

  1. SMS spamming is a legitimate component of modern-day political campaigning, just as robocalls were.
  2. The SMS was sent to randomised numbers, so noone’s privacy was invaded.
  3. Any objections to the SMS are mischief-making by conservatives.
  4. You have no right to protest being spammed by the YES campaign, because YOU KNOW WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO BE ANNOYED? GAY PEOPLE WHOSE RELATIONSHIPS ARE BEING INVALIDATED!! THAT’S WHO!!
  5. If you’re prepared to change your vote based on annoyance about being spammed, then you are a very superficial person.

Well, no.

  1. Either spam is bad or it is good. If spam is bad, and this is spam, then this is bad.
    • Spam does not become non-spam just because it is sent out from people we agree with.
    • Spam does not become non-spam just because the content of the spam looks innocuous: “The Marriage Equality Survey forms have arrived! Help make history and vote YES for a fairer Australia. VoteYes.org.au.” The comparable spam sent out shortly afterwards at a grassroots level from the Christianists of Rise Up Australia looked innocuous too: “Vote NO for SSM. Please watch this brief video and pass it on to your contacts.”—until you clicked through to their fire and brimstone sermon on YouTube.
    • Spam does not become non-spam because the government SMSs bushfire warnings to residents who might be affected. (Yes, I actually saw that argument; mercifully it was advanced in a comments page, rather than by anyone with a clue.) I’m not aware of the Australian Marriage Equality campaign becoming an arm of local government.
    • Spam does not become non-spam just because it advertises a political party instead of detergent.
    • For that matter, spam does not become non-spam because currently legislation says it is not spam: “It is important to note that if these calls, emails or SMSs are not commercial — that is they do not have a commercial purpose — they are generally allowed and not required to comply with the obligations under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 and the Spam Act 2003”. Legislation can change, and the more SMSs of this kind you see, there more pressure there will be to change the legislation. And to me (and not just to me), this is spam.
  2. We have the lobby group’s assurance that the numbers were randomised, and that noone’s privacy was compromised.
    • And I should trust an unelected partisan lobby group, who tells me that the paperwork is in the mail, why?
    • Journalists (doing what Michelle Grattan used to do) have queried whether this is the case—although the own-goal of sending an SMS to Cory Bernardi does suggest the campaign was not targeted with laser-like precision.
    • “If a few highly confidential numbers were by chance reached, it’s hard to see what harm was done”, says Grattan. I used to respect Grattan. But this is exactly the line of thinking that has brought us the Victorian State Premier today calling civil liberties a “luxury” that a leader like him does not have, because terrorism. “Some people have the luxury of being able to have that notional debate. Those of us in positions of leadership do not have that luxury.” Well, no. Slippery slopes are real, whether they involve handing over all your drivers licence photos over to the feds for facial recognition, or giving lobbyists carte blanche to call unregistered phone numbers.
  3. I don’t always enjoy reading The Australian, Murdoch’s broadsheet. It has enough left-baiting and retrograde social conservatism to make me scowl of a Saturday morning.
    • Yet it also hosts ideological diversity (as long as it’s not left-wing); and I was gratified to see one commentator on its pages (Van Onselen? Kenny?) recently say that, just because you might not like the advocates of marriage equality, does not mean that the cause isn’t right.
    • Same goes in converse for the protests about the SMSs. Just because right wing bigots are among those protesting the SMSs, doesn’t mean the SMSs were a good thing. And to read every protest in this currency under a lens of who benefits politically is the kind of myopia that… well, that I would sadly expect from someone who has covered politics in Canberra for decades.
  4. The “you are not allowed to complain about SMSs” line is one that has done the rounds in Facebook, and one that I reserve especial contempt for. It’s the argument of the motorist pulled over for speeding, and telling the cop, “why aren’t you out there catching murderers.”
    • Felonies are more serious than misdemeanours; that does not excuse misdemeanours, or exempt them from being sanctioned.
    • I agree that it is ethically and socially wrong that the gay and lesbian friends I know in long-term relationships do not have them recognised by the State to the extent that my straight friends’ relationships are. I agree that this causes them more distress than being spammed by a lobby group causes me. That is not an argument in favour of spamming: it is a blatant attempt to shut down discussion through exercise of piety. And it astonishes me that anyone would think this a constructive contribution to the discussion.
    • Then again, it came from Facebook. Which is not the home base of constructive contributions to debates.
  5. As for the superficiality of the voter swayed by their annoyance over SMS—
    • If you’re in the battleground of civil rights not being a matter for the vote of the mob, then the stupidity and mercuriality of the mob is an argument for you to use.
    • Once you’re no longer in that battleground, and you’ve agreed to campaign for a vote, you’re in the business of winning votes. You win votes by persuading those voters who can be persuaded: not those already bolted on at your side of the argument, nor those who follow Cory Bernardi or Rise Up Australia and think you the devil, but those in between.
    • Maybe they’re undecided because they’re superficial; maybe their votes are up for grabs because they lack civil engagement.
    • But telling them so to their face is not how you win their vote. And winning their vote is your business now, not asserting your moral superiority over them. As Talleyrand said—and the more I read of culture war battles, the more relevant his dictum seems to me: it’s worse than a crime: it’s a mistake.

RFC 2739

By: | Post date: September 28, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Information Technology

I’ve been doing a fair bit of development work of late on Upwork, joining the gig economy in my spare time. Yes, that gig economy time eats into my blogging time, and yes, the pay is… well, it’s gig economy pay.

But I’ve missed programming, and I do enjoy it. Even if programming now, compared to programming in the 90s, seems to involve a lot more Googling and a lot less remembering how each language does things differently. Like Thoth groused once: this new tech will destroy people’s memory.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of work for Ribose, and their involvement in RFC standards. IT Standards have been something I’ve been involved with professionally for over a decade, though I’ve been working in areas more heavy-handedly run than RFC. It’s been good to put some coding support behind such efforts; and you can peek at my handiwork over at github.

What’s not been as good has been to look up close at how some of those RFC standards have actually been specified. Heavy-handed process has its advantages, and in at least some instances, those advantages have been foregone. As a result, there are some RFC standards… with holes in them.

I know this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I also know that vCard 3.0, one of those RFC standards I’ve been grappling with writing a grammar for to validate, is a standard that people look at sneeringly with good reason. It’s old, it’s texty, it’s clunky. And it’s way too lax compared to vCard 4.0: people did learn over time that a thousand flowers blooming in IT standards is not a good thing, and v4.0 is miles more tractable. (But of course, it’s the bad old lax version that still has market share.)

But I haven’t had occasion to look that closely at an RFC spec before. And vCard 3.0 was quite a baptism of fire.

I won’t go into the full detail of all the inconsistencies and vaguenesses of the vCard 3.0 spec in RFC 2426. At least, not yet. I will however point to the rather large list of errata associated with RFC 2426, and the even larger list associated with vCard 4.0, RFC 6350.  (Of course RFC 6350 has more errata: it has a more rigorous grammar.) Errata don’t come up when you google RFCs and take the text file as your first hit; and I feel greatly disappointed that errata are not promoted more aggressively in the publication of RFCs: that’s just negligence. It’s also a mechanism that can’t keep up if the initial specification did a really poor job: there are several errata which have been acknowledged as valid, but are not being actioned (Held for Document Update), because to address them would require a brand new version of the spec. RFC 6350 dates from 2011: still waiting for those Held for Document Update fixes…

I reserve special ire, though, for RFC 2739.

vCard 2.1 was a much dumber version of the spec than v3.0. It also was conjured up outside the RFC process, and good luck finding a spec for it online now. One of the vCard 2.1 misfeatures that v3.0 addressed was its mystery meat parameters. In v3.0, all parameters of properties are key/value pairs:

ADR;TYPE=WORK,PREF:;;100 Waters Edge;Baytown;LA;30314;United States of America

The key is TYPE, and its values are WORK and PREF.

In vCard 2.1, the TYPE key was implicit in parameters: you could leave it out:

ADR;WORK;PREF:;;100 Waters Edge;Baytown;LA;30314;United States of America

If you’re parsing this, of course, that’s a gratuitous headache: why should I have to store a bunch of exceptions, and have values stand in for keys?

So. That went away in v3.0. Good.

RFC 2739 is an update to vCard. Since it is an RFC spec, it can only be an update to an RFC spec, and the only RFC version of vCard at the time was v3.0. In fact, that’s the version of vCard they cite: “[3] Dawson, F. and T. Howes, “vCard MIME Directory Profile”, RFC 2426, September 1998.”

Let’s go to §2.3 of RFC 2739, shall we?

Since the vCard [3] specification doesn’t specify how to encode
calendaring URIs in a vCard, this section is provided as an extension
to vCard which specifies how to encode calendaring URIs within a

Inside a vCard object, four new properties are defined: “CALURI”,
“CAPURI”, “CALADRURI”, and “FBURL”, as defined above.

Any vCard can have one or more of these properties, each representing
a calendar or free/busy time that is associated with the user.

One of these properties can be designated as the “default” by adding
the “PREF” parameter.

Here is a simple example of a vCard containing a “FBURL” and a

 FN:Alec Dun
 ORG:Microsoft Corporation
 ADR;WORK;POSTAL;PARCEL:;;One Microsoft Way;

Do you see what they’ve done?


Look again:

One of these properties can be designated as the “default” by adding the “PREF” parameter.

The… which parameter?

the “PREF” parameter.

v3.0 doesn’t have a PREF parameter. We got rid of it as v2.1 mystery meat, remember? What it has instead is TYPE:PREF.

Don’t tell me…


You’re seeing that, right? My eyes are not playing tricks on me, right?


And what does their vCard 3.0 example look like, in an RFC publishing an official update to the vCard 3.0 spec, and illustrating how their new properties look?


Which is of course vCard 2.1 mystery meat parameter for CALADRURI;TYPE:PREF:mailto:user@host1.com. In the official illustration of a new vCard 3.0 property.

Oh, that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is:

ADR;WORK;POSTAL;PARCEL:;;One Microsoft Way; Redmond;WA;98052-6399;USA

;WORK? ;POSTAL? ;PARCEL? This is not vCard 3.0. That’s vCard 2.1. And an RFC spec has put this stuff, in an example illustrating its proposal, under a VERSION:3.0 header.

Which means that I’ve had to introduce PREF as a vCard 2.1 style mystery meat parameter into my vCard 3.0 grammar, because after all, that’s in what’s in the spec.

Who do I excoriate for this, then?

      T. Small
      D. Hennessy
      F. Dawson

Yeah, they’re the authors of RFC 2739, and they deserve a whole lot of opprobrium. You only had one job, guys. To write an update of an RFC spec. An update of an RFC spec that is not supposed to undermine the spec itself, and send it through a wormhole back in time, back to a land of mystery meat and Word Documents publishing technical standards.

But you know, that’s not my main annoyance here.

Go to https://www.rfc-editor.org/errata_search.php?rfc=2739

Yup. No errata reported. Since January 2000. On a version of vCard that remained the latest version for the next 11 years, and still has most of the market share.

I did just stumble on this issue, and I have no idea how prevalent this kind of thing is with RFCs. But technical standards trade in reputation: that’s what gives them their authority. If you can’t trust an authority to keep their technical standards error free (over 17 years), it’s going to be hard to trust any spec that authority comes out with.

On Facebook Groups about Quora that I cannot stay in

By: | Post date: September 27, 2017 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Quora

My detoxification from Quora is progressing well. I am managing to stay away from checking on comments there are maybe a week at a time. I no longer daydream about slapping Jonathan Brill in the face. I am actually reading websites other than Quora, although I am dismayed to discover how stupid they have become while I was away. (Slate.com in particular has succumbed to crowd pleasing superficiality about Trump, at a time when superficiality is the last thing you need from an American masthead.)

My ego is gratified to find that I have not yet been forgotten back at Quora; people are on occasion saying that they miss me, and people on occasion invite me to private Facebook groups about Quora. Those groups fill a valuable function, since the dead hand of BNBR policy quashes much meaningful meta-discussion about Quora; and Quora is hardly optimised for group discussion to begin with.

I have just unjoined my second such group, and I think I owe people an explanation. Or at least a forewarning.

I am happy that people are continuing their Quora communities off-Quora. I am offended and repulsed that Quora Inc uses a closed off-Quora community to cultivate its Elect (its Top Writers), and give them preferential access to staff and information. But then again, I’m offended by the institution of Top Writers to begin with; and I’ve been repeatedly assured that they’re not getting that much more information or influence than the sans-culottes outside.

(The real inner sanctum of users with direct access to staff and influence on Quora is far, far smaller; and if you stick around long enough you can work it out. Anecdotally—as I’ve been told from a former insider—it’s who Brill huddles with in Top Writer meetups. From my own observation, Chris Van Lang is definitely in there, and I suspect David Rose is as well.)

I have been mostly courteous on Quora, mostly willing to listen to others’ perspectives, and mostly willing to change my mind about things. But there are two classes of people on Quora that I will not break bread with. Not many people are in those classes, but a few are.

The first class are reflexive defenders of Quora Inc. That’s reflexive defenders, not defenders in general: I’ve had good exchanges with people who defend Quora Inc, because they have been courteous to me, and because they have conceded that I was not merely hallucinating in my critiques.

But if you are a long-term beneficiary of the Top Writer Quill, and the selective enforcement of moderation that comes with it, I expect some acknowledgement that other writers are still part of the same community as you, and have legitimate grievances. I expect some humility towards those who have not been as lucky as you. (And do not tell me it isn’t luck. Do not tell me that you are ten times the writer I am, and it is my lack of merit that has stopped me from getting the Quill, or any number of brilliant writers who haven’t.)

And if you say to critics of moderation, say, “Pretty Please with sugar on top, shut the fuck up. You don’t get a say”, then I want no fellowship with you. Especially when you are not held to the same standard as those critics of moderation, because you’ve made Top Writer five times in a row. (In other words, because you happened to get in early.)

The second class are instablockers. Again, blocking is a useful resource, and I don’t begrudge people using it where appropriately. But putting your hands over your ears and shouting “Quora is not a debate site” may make your stay on Quora more pleasant—but it also makes you a poor citizen. If you block me for merely disagreeing with you about something, then I block you right back, and I want nothing to do with you.

And if my tone was not consistently at the level I aspire it to be, then maybe you blocking me was a fair call. But I still want nothing to do with you.

Like Andrew Baird, who told me to fuck off and stop trolling him and blocked me, when I poked fun at his obsession with saying there was no such thing as a Byzantine Empire, and answering all questions about the Roman Empire so as to include the Byzantine Empire. That’s Humpty-Dumptyism, and it was doing querents a disservice, when they clearly meant the political entity extinguished in 476. I may have poked a little fun, but his reaction was so over the top, I concluded Quora was not the right forum for him. (And indeed, he ended up banned a year later.) If he chose to block my content, that was his loss: it’s not like there were a lot of people writing on Byzantine matters to begin with.

Like Ward Chanley, who gave an answer about common law marriages that was US-centric, and I commented as much. (“That’s a US-centric answer to a US-centric question.”) If that’s grounds for blocking me, well, I don’t think I have that much to learn from you anyway.

I got added to a Facebook group by a user concerned that the Top Writers Lounge group was excluding other writers, and generating disgruntlement among non-Top Writers.  A laudable initiative, given how much resentment the group had aroused, and I passed on the invitation.

The group welcomed Top Writers as well as non-Top Writers. Again, laudable, and I do not want to be part of artificially dividing the community, the way Quora Inc already has by setting up Top Writers in the first place.

But of course, the premise of the group was that it was open to non-Top Writers, and that non-Top Writers have concerns that they haven’t been able to discuss off-Quora.

There was one discussion thread about what the criteria for awarding the Quill were. Which showed some of the disgruntlement at play within the community. Then there was one discussion thread (launched by me) about what the criteria were for posting death notices on users’ profiles (see How does Quora decide which deceased members to add the “Remembering” tagline to their profile?) Which showed some more of the disgruntlement at play, because it was divulged  that not all users are seen as equally deserving. A Top Writer retorted “But user X was the boyfriend of Top Writer Y and the business partner of Top Writer Z”. Sure. That doesn’t make their death inherently more worth commemorating than non-Top Writer W; and to intimate that it does is pretty damn low.

And after those two discussions, the same Top Writer said that this was not the forum for such negativity, and it should be a place where we celebrate the community we have made with each other. Before an extensive to-and-fro of that Top Writer with another couple of Top Writers, about what good friends they were.

I’m sorry. I thought I was joining a forum where non-Top Writers were going to be made to feel welcome. And said Top Writer was not even the owner of the group. If I wanted to be talked down to by reflexively defensive Top Writers, I’d already be following them on Quora.

I wished the group founder well in his endeavours, and I unjoined. So did La Gigi.

I got added to a Facebook group by a user where people could discuss trolls.

Not my cup of tea, and in fact I’ve been quite fortunate to have had a troll-free existence on Quora; but I accepted. If they put that trust in me as a user, well, I didn’t want to repudiate the gesture.

… Until I saw a post by Ward Chanley.

So what, now I’m going to be on a Facebook group dedicated to deriding trolls—with at least one member who has decided, on the basis of a single anodyne comment, that I’m a troll; and whose name I did not wish to see again?

I wished the group founder well in her endeavours, and I unjoined.

I’ve made friends on Quora, and I wish to stay in touch with them, on Medium or here, or on Facebook. I’ll even join Facebook groups on invitation, though I won’t be seeking those out.

And if I sign out of those groups, because there are people on them I was well contented never to see again, well, please don’t take it amiss.

I’m back

By: | Post date: September 12, 2017 | Comments: 8 Comments
Posted in categories: Admin

I’m back.

This is going to all sorts of audiences, so I now need to spell out where I’m back to, and where I’m back from.

I maintained two blogs up until 2011. hellenisteukontos.blogspot.com was a blog about Greek linguistics, and opuculuk.blogspot.com was a blog about everything else. Hellenisteukontos in particular developed quite a following, and was even cited in print a few times.

I resumed writing online in 2015 at Quora (see my profile there), and I continued doing so until it became untenable for me to (see my statement). I dare say I developed a following there too.

One thing I did relearn during my stay on Quora was that I can write both about stuff I do know about, and stuff I actually don’t know about—but with enough insight that I can make a reasoned argument. That’s something I enjoyed doing greatly, and I hope to keep doing it. Just as I hope to keep sharing the expertise I have on things I am an expert in.

When I decamped from Quora, I followed an exodus of users to Medium (see my profile there), and I may have provoked a few others to join me. For all Quora’s grotesqueries (and they are legion), Quora was a more congenial place to me than Medium: compared to my Quora feed (admittedly after two years of curation), Medium was a lot more clickbait, a lot more superficial, and a lot more full of sterile political posturing. I will continue to check in there with the Quora Diaspora, but I won’t be making it my home.

So I’m coming home to the blogs I had left six years ago, but I am relocating them to WordPress instances: http://hellenisteukontos.opoudjis.net and http://opuculuk.opoudjis.net. I encourage you to update any links you have to the prior blogs; I will not be updating them. I have migrated both my blogspot and my relevant Quora content to those two new instances on my website. Quora makes it very difficult to get your content out of its honeytrap, and none of the topics or comments export. I’ve spent a couple of days categorising the Quora posts; you’ll pardon me if I don’t manually retag them as well.

I have also broadened the scope of Hellenisteukontos: moving forward it will cover not the Set Intersection of Greek and Linguistics, but the Set Union. Greek culture, music, literature and history are in scope of it now; so is general linguistics and linguistics of other languages.

I won’t be posting with the same level of frequency I did on Quora, a frequency that was clearly unsustainable. I aim to be doing larger essays, although I did plenty of essay writing on Quora anyway. But I will welcome people suggesting Quora questions for me to answer here. I will not be posting anything to Quora; my friends from Quora are free to do with my content what they will on Quora (so long as they link back here.)

I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and new, and I look forward to thinking out loud and posting what strikes my fancy, in a forum that I find more congenial.

I’m back.

Brag about yourself. What are you really good at doing?

By: | Post date: August 16, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Personal

“Let us now praise famous Nicks.”

I hope I’m good at popularising obscure topics in the set union of Greek and linguistics. It’s what I’m ostensibly supposed to be doing here, instead of complaining about the site’s misdeeds.

When I’m firing on all cylinders, my intellectual labour is quick. Fearsomely quick. I’m quick to pick up knowledge about a new domain, quick to do wide-ranging discovery, quick to synthesise it, and quick to formulate an informed opinion about it. Quick sometimes means Hasty; Quick almost always means Impatient. But if I have missed something in my final product, it certainly won’t be staring you in the face.

What are some sentences that make perfect sense to you but sound like gibberish to most people?

By: | Post date: August 15, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Personal

Opening up my Master’s thesis randomly, this para makes all the sense in the world to me, and I’m sure it makes somewhat less sense to most.

Unlike volitionality or temporality, these principles underlying these relations cannot be captured by a referential, truth-conditional semantics. The relationships described by these relations are not real-world relations; they involve the organisation and presentation of text. In Hallidayan terms, they involve not ideational, but textual semantics. For that reason, they can only be expressed in terms of discourse analysis. This makes these relational distinctions decidedly relevant to a rhetorical theory, which purports to analyse discourse structure functionally.

Or maybe some phonetics from a recent-ish paper I coauthored?

The alternative explanation involves the impact of analogical change on verb paradigms in Italiot, but not in Cargese. As seen previously, in Cargese Greek the third person plural of a verb (ekoɣwane ‘they were cutting’ < ekovɣane) is subject to metathesis, but the third person singular, involving a front vowel after , is not (ekovʒe ‘he was cutting’ < ekovɣe). In Italiot, analogical change has taken place, shifting [j] to [ɣ] before front vowels, and thereby regularizing verb paradigms (Rohlfs 1977: 27: troɣise rather than the expected trojise ‘you eat’, modeled on troɣo ‘I eat’). It is likely then that analogical leveling in Italiot led to the replacement of palatalized [vj] with unpalatalized [vɣ] even in palatalizing contexts. Once this occurred, it fed into secondary metathesis to [ɣv] and subsequent shift in the direction of [ɡw]. If this hypothesis is correct, the main locus of analogy would also have been verb endings, given how widespread ɣ-epenthesis was in Italiot verb inflections, and how infrequent it is in stems: thus, xorevɣo, xorevji > xorevɣo, xorevɣi > xoreɡwo, xoreɡwi ‘I dance, he dances’ (Vuni Italiot, Calabria: Karanastasis 1984–92).

The scary thing is, I don’t think these are far off from how I express myself about linguistics on Quora…

Poe once wrote: “Oh! That my young life were a lasting dream! /My spirit not awakening, till the beam/Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.” What do you make of that sentiment, as someone who writes so poignantly of illness?

By: | Post date: August 15, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
’Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.

I make of it something different than you make of it, Magister. I make of it the bitter refrain of the middle-aged, in song and in lyric: that the vigour and felicity of youth are not cherished when we’re in the midst of them, and are lamented by us when they’re gone. The wish that the grudging disappointments of middle age, and the aches of senectitude, could be effaced; that we could transition directly from youth to the hereafter, without the gift of youth being tarnished within our very frames.

“Hope I die before I get old”—How old’s the guy who sang that now? 72?

And clicking through to the question details that the shmucks here in Quora Product Design still permit us—Dreams: yes. The imagined, the fleed-to, the dreamed, the recollection with rose-coloured glasses, is always better than what we live in cold reality. In fact—and you and I both know this, mi senex—the youth that was once cold reality was no match for the youth of middle-aged dreams. I didn’t enjoy being young. I didn’t get to have much fun, and I thought my long dream was of hopeless sorrow at the time—because I knew no true sorrow. I didn’t enjoy my vigour, because I knew no decrepitude. I didn’t think things lovely, because I knew no ugliness.

We Greeks, we have a saying for that too. Κάθε πέρσι και καλύτερα. Each “last year” is better than the next.

I recognise the sentiment, mi senex. I recognise that sentiment which colours all of what I do. My last year was better than this too, for having had your voice in it.

(And for having had question details.)

And yet, that’s easy. It’s easy to regret what’s gone; it’s hard to rejoice in what follows. It’s easy to regret vigour; it’s hard to rejoice in wisdom. It’s easy to lament in friends gone; it’s hard to rejoice in friends gained.

It’s easy to have missed your voice. It’s hard to know that mine, too, is a voice that will one day be missed.

Zhou Enlai was old too, in 1972. Alice Goodman, on the other hand, was just 29 when she put these words in his mouth. But she knew what words she did put in his mouth:

I am old and I cannot sleep
forever, like the young, nor hope
that death will be a novelty
but endless wakefulness when I
put down my work and go to bed.
How much of what we did was good?
Everything seems to move beyond
our remedy. Come, heal this wound.
At this hour nothing can be done.
Just before dawn the birds begin,
the warblers who prefer the dark,
the cage-birds answering. To work!
Outside this room the chill of grace
lies heavy on the morning grass.

How important are gender presentation and gender pronouns to you as a cis person?

By: | Post date: August 15, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

I gather the question is about how I receive them rather than how I give them, given that this question is related to How important are gender presentation and different pronouns to you as a transgender person?

I’m a bloke. I don’t want to be told I’m not a bloke, and I’ll be rather surprised if someone thinks I’m not a bloke.

I present as a bloke. I’m quite happy to present as a bloke, and despite the occasional “no, I’m secure in my sexuality” joke, I haven’t particularly delved into gender ambiguity.

I have identities that are more pressing and conscious to me than masculinity; then again, masculinity is the kind of identity that fades into the all-encompassing background readily.

Like Kimberly Alexander’s answer says, cis people don’t particularly reflect on gender the way trans people are forced to. Ditto any privileged identity group: the privilege is in not being Othered.

(That’s why I call you Westerners beef-eaters on Quora all the time.)

Is klezmer music a dying tradition?

By: | Post date: August 14, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Music

One of its prominent proponents is on record as saying so:


Andy Statman, one of the foremost Klezmer musicians in the world, knows that the time of Klezmer has passed.

“Each music has its point,” He explained over the phone while working at a Mandolin camp in California. “[Klezmer] is still alive, but in many ways it doesn’t really represent a living community. While it’s still alive and it’s great music and people enjoy it… It’s not a reflection of the time.”


About the future of Klezmer, Statman said it wasn’t bittersweet.

“Like bluegrass [music], it’s from a time and place,” he said. “It changed and the music was moving on to become something else. That’s the way it is. Styles come and go. They reflect the lives and the people who are involved in them… Each day is new.”

Klezmer is dead, or alive, in the same way I guess that Rebetiko is dead, or alive. The social circumstances that gave rise to it aren’t there any more. Any performance of it is a revival, a repurposing of the genre to current concerns—all tangled up with anxiety about authenticity, which guarantees that it won’t respond fully to current concerns. At its worse, it’s an artificial museum-like exercise. At its best, it gets the crowds dancing in the aisles one last time.

Rebetiko was revived in the 70s in Greece, because something in it spoke to Greeks, as they were at the threshold of becoming Europeans. Klezmer was revived in the 80s in America, because something in it spoke to Jews, as they were at the threshold of becoming either fully assimilated, or (as was the case with Statman) rediscovering Orthodox Judaism.

Rebetiko and Klezmer had, in fact, already died:

Klezmer is the Eastern European musical tradition passed down from one generation to the next. (“It’s basically Chasidic music,” Statman said.) The exact history of the music was unknown to him, save for the fact that when Statman began playing Klezmer, it had almost been gone.

“A lot of where the music was played didn’t make it out,” he said. “Russia, Galicia, a lot of Chasidim. I think not only the Holocaust but there was more of an interest in preserving Judaism and the community. Music was not such a pressing concern.”

Vamvakaris at least kept playing in the 50s and 60s, but he was no longer the main show.

A revival is never as vibrant as the original; it’s always qualified and unspontaneous. There’s always something artificial about it.

Still. It’s better than utter oblivion. And damn, but there’s some good toe-tapping to be had in that museum…

I have a 10 minute meeting with the Australian Prime Minister. What should I ask him?

By: | Post date: August 14, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Australia

Question details indicate that the original OP is “in my final year of high school in rural Western Australia.”

This humbled me out of the smart-aleck answer I was going to give; Ben Kelley’s answer is excellent for this serious aim.

Without that context?

“Mal. Mal, Mal, Mal. Come on, mate. Just between you and me. What’ll it take for you to form a centrist party with Nick Xenophon? You know you want to.”

… Am I throwing away my chance to get a serious answer to a pressing question? Yes, I am. Mal is not the master of his own party, any more than the Australian PM is the master of his own country. Geopolitics doesn’t work like that any more.

I hate The West Wing. I hate The West Wing for many reasons, most of them involving Josh. I liked Season #5 most, the season everyone else hated, because it was the season that bitch-slapped the cast, and especially Josh. (That’s also why I liked Ryan the intern, the character everyone else hated.)

Remember those IT workers in #519 Talking Points who did a sit-in in Josh’s office, because they’d been shafted out of Bartlett’s election pledge that their jobs in IT were safe? And Josh went pleading to Bartlett to no effect? That’s Bartlett, who embraced Creative destruction—the notion that, in real life, made Trump possible. Josh, campaigning two years later for that pointless cipher Santos, was making the same undertakings on the campaign trail. You weren’t meant to notice that, but I did. God, did I want Josh fricking Lyman eviscerated on the spot.

Anyway, what did Bartlett say when Josh said “we promised these guys jobs?”

There was a man named Canute, one of the great Viking kings of the 11th Century. Wanted his people to be aware of his limitations, so he led them down to the sea and he commanded that the tide roll out. It didn’t. Who gave us the notion that Presidents can move the economy like a play-toy?

The candidates for the presidency did while campaigning, actually. And for economy, read also geopolitics, and climate change, and whatever other great challenges facing humanity that we’re going to flub.

And that’s why I wouldn’t ask a serious question of Turnbull. Or whoever else is residing in The Lodge this month.

And I hope my cynicism doesn’t rub off on OP…

  • January 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov    
  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Join 291 other subscribers