Anno Del Pannolone per Adulti Depend

All I’m going to say about it is — well, we’ll see if this is all I’m going to say about it or not, but — in 2002 I bought the Italian translation of Infinite Jest, because I’d wanted to reread it since my first time in 1996. Despite the pleasure that IJ always gave me, even in small doses, the time investment of a full re-read always seemed like too much to commit to. So I bought it in Italian instead, thinking that I could kill several birds with one stone: read 1400 pages of Italian as practice and to familiarize myself with idiomatic constructions; reread the great book; and find out how anyone could translate this most English work into another language. No other writer mined the English lexicon like David Foster Wallace did; his use of the insane, particolored variety of English words was one of the crucial, right-place-right-time exposures that compelled me into lexicography. How could it possibly be Italianed, or Frenched or Russianed or anything else?

It’s hard for me to say. Whatever my precise level of Italian was or is, and whatever the quality of Edoardo Nesi’s translation — I’m inclined to say it is very good — the power of DFW’s voice was such that, after pages and pages of reading Italian, it was always the English version, remembered from 10 years previous (by the time I got around to starting it in 2006), that I was reading, even as the Italian words were what my eyes were scanning. All of the quirks, inventions and exploitations of DFW’s English had stamped themselves on my brain, permanently; the idioms were not Italian nor even English but just Wallacian. IJ may be translateable, I don’t know: but once it made its mark on me, it couldn’t be undone, and I’m glad I read it when I did. And I’m sad that I apparently won’t get to read his book about Parmenides, truly the awesomest and most mind-bending of the pre-Socratics.


All this week, people — my mother, my friends — have been asking me “what are we going to do about Sarah Palin? Aren’t you worried about Sarah Palin?” I’m not sure why they ask me in particular, except that they’re looking for comfort, and they’ve probably learned that I’m an old hand at comforting the afflicted.

I found myself afflicted this morning by this NYT article about Obama campaign donations coming in below expectations.

My comforting things about Palin usually focus on how she’s a distraction of exactly the sort that the Obama campaign has been warning us against for months. Presidential campaigns are about the presidential candidates, and no one ever said “What are we going to do about Cheney [in his capacity as a VP candidate]” or “Woohoo he picked Bentsen, now we’re home free!” Palin is a military-grade distraction bomb, detonated at just the right time to demoralize and instill doubt. But she is not the end of the story. She is a polarizing flashpoint, a crusader who is only effective at converting the already-faithful; she will surely help the evangelical turnout, but no one who supported Hillary Clinton’s because of her lifetime of public service and real support of women’s rights — sorry, make that “human rights” — will consider Palin to be a reasonable surrogate.

Remember that the Obama campaign is doing a huge, historic voter-registration drive in all 50 states, something no one has ever tried in my short, GOP-dominated lifetime; Republican operatives, on the other hand, are well known for dirty-trick campaigns to suppress voter turnout.

Obama needs our support, needs everyone who donated in the primary to donate again, and then some. I think I gave something like $20 in the primary, and money is tight for me right now. But I decided to meet McCain’s recklessness in an unvetted VP pick by being reckless with my personal finances, and maxed out a credit card with a donation today. I’ll gladly pay 17-30% interest for years if it means that Obama will be president.

I remember the endlessly unfolding horror of the 2000 election, when the inconceivable, idiot candidate got inaugurated for no compelling reason. I remember the glimmer of hope of the 2004 election, and the bitter sense of doom that we were in for another four years of the idiot, who was proving to be idiotic like a fox: a reckless, arrogant fox, one who has been unrelenting at reversing our country’s proud social progress in the 20th century. And I think the concern about Palin comes from that place, the specter of another night staying up late in November, another election-watching party that turns into a dejected walk home and another night of troubled sleep, worrying and dreaming about just how bad it could be under the new horrible candidate, or how much worse it could be if that maybe-still-a-little-bit-reasonable candidate were to die and leave his #2 in the office.

I cannot face that again. We cannot face that again. Money is tight for everyone right now, but I beg you to do whatever it takes to give whatever you can; my $20 would have been just as good in this round as in the last one, but I do feel a little more hopeful than I did yesterday, having given more this time. I could have spent the money (plus interest) on any number of other things that I really do need, like pants that don’t have holes in the crotch. I still don’t feel that I can say “I did my part” — I want to find other ways to fight to make sure I don’t have another sleepless November. I do rather wish, after reading that article, that Obama had gone with the public financing so that he could concentrate on campaigning and not spend so much human resource on fundraising right now. But as the template for this message said, “We’re transforming the political process by bringing together millions of ordinary Americans in a campaign that’s owned by no one but the people.” And that is, in the end, an exciting opportunity in its own right.

Please give what you can, then add a little bit more, until you feel at least as awful about giving up the money as you felt about losing the country in the last two elections. Think about how you felt in 2000 and 2004. Think about all the recklessness of the last 8 years of Bush, and the recklessness that McCain has shown in his only executive decision so far, the choice of Palin. Think about how great it would be to have a woman pumping her breast milk in the Oval Office — then think about all that this particular woman would do to take away rights and opportunities for women, men, gays, straights, polar bears, library books, climate science. Think about the Bush brand of “fiscal conservatism” that leads to skyrocketing deficits, and google up the Anne Kilkenny email about how Mayor Palin practiced exactly the same kind of insolvent, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends pseudoconservatism that Bush has given us, over and over again, and that McCain promises to continue.

Look at me, getting distracted by the Palin distraction-bomb. McCain is the candidate we need to beat; Palin is a flashpoint and is even more of a Bush clone than McCain is. We need to turn that to our advantage. Your vote will help Obama, but he’s had your vote since 2000, since 2004. There are people out there who are undecided, uncertain, or swayable, and may be even more distracted by Palin than you are. Your money will help Obama get to them. Your credit card interest will help Obama get to them, too.

Please do all you can to get Barack Hussein Obama into office, and consider taking on a little bit of debt to help him just that little bit more. And when you stay up all night this November, let it be in breathless, frenzied excitement that the movement that you funded will finally get the country back on track.



Misdefining misogyny

I looked up misogyny on onelook after seeing what I considered an inadequate definition somewhere. I found a glut of inadequate definitions. I think misogyny, and in fact all miso- and -phobia words, need more attentive corpus analysis in order to reflect the full spectrum of their use.


OED: Hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.

Encarta: hatred of women: a hatred of women, as a sexually defined group

COED: hatred of women.

M-W: a hatred of women

CALD:the hatred of women [misogynist: a man who hates women or believes that men are much better than women]

Wiktionary 1. The hatred of, or pathological aversion to women 2. Discrimination against women

Wordsmyth: intense dislike of women

AHD: Hatred of women: “Every organized patriarchal religion works overtime to contribute its own brand of misogyny” (Robin Morgan).

RH: hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. Cf. misandry.

CDAE: [-ist] someone, usually a man, who hates women or believes that men are much better than women. [-y example: There’s a disturbing misogyny in his films.]

1913 Webster: Hatred of women Johnson

I think the A++++ WOULD CONSULT AGAIN here has to go to AHD just for the illustrative quotation. Just to make sure I wasn’t confused about “hatred” I looked that up, too, but it hasn’t really evolved to mean anything about systematic societal oppression or ideologically enforced inequality. So take misogyny in the OEC: (the first column of numbers is a count of co-occurrences; the second is a measure of salience that I believe Sketch Engine bases on several measures.)
misogyny - oec - sketchengine

Some of the corpus collocations are clearly hate-based: vicious, extreme, violent, bigotry, antisemitism, rape. But many of them are clearly things on a larger scale: institutionalize, rampant, casual, usual; materialism. And some of them are more individual in nature, but not essentially hateful: objectification, machismo. It is these latter two categories that are largely unaddressed by the dictionaries that are easy to cut and paste.

misogyny - oec - collocations

I don’t mean to argue that misogyny is not hatred, nor that most people who speak of misogyny don’t believe that it’s hatred. But “misogyny” spends time in the company of words that are not really covered by weirdness like “pathological aversion” and “intense dislike”. The connection with “objectification” shows it fairly well, as does “inequity”. Xenophobia, homophobia, — these words are not really suggestive of “intense dislike” or “irrational fear”, but with learned behaviors, nation-scale phenomena, What’s Wrong With This Country. “Materialism” is not intense or irrational; “misanthropic” is closely associated with “genius”, “intelligent”, “comic”, “muse” — not really qualities of a “person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society”. It looks like a good many of these miso-/-phobia words are often defined very skimpily, every dictionary’s essential ‘evidence’ being nothing more than the etymology.

I’m not saying it’s necessarily appropriate for every dictionary to define misogyny as an epidemic, sometimes unconscious ideology that oppresses or subordinates women to men; but compare with the nuanced definition of “slavery” in NOAD:

the state of being a slave [sc. a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them].
• the practice or system of owning slaves. • a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of labor or restricted freedom. • excessive dependence on or devotion to something.

This is a reasonable starting point for better definitions of “misogyny”, “homophobia”, etc.: in the language there are all sorts of ways to be a slave or a misogynist beyond being the legal property of someone, or having any explicit/conscious hatred, aversion or dislike. Simplistic definitions lead only to oversimplistic misunderstanding.

Lazyweb Greenlight

I’ve been wanting to make two short films of my favorite parts of the Lord of the Rings, both sadly omitted from the Peter Jackson adaptation:

Tom Bombadil in a black-and-white, silent-Buñuel style;

The Scouring of the Shire in a contemporary setting. It opens just before dawn as the four hobbits come home at last from a long, horrible trip; they are too shellshocked to speak to each other, dozing on a decrepit city bus.

The causes of causes

I went to the Aston Corpus Symposium last week and it was exciting and even moving; at every talk I jotted down notes that didn’t relate to the talk but to tangential ideas that the talk was unearthing and catalyzing.

One of them was from a talk by Bill Dodd, ‘Semantic prosody’ in FL teaching and learning’. He took the now-near-chestnut of the verb ’cause’ from English, and looked at three different ’cause’ verbs in German, finding them to have the same semantic bias.

[In a corpus of English, you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of occurrences of ’cause’ as a verb have collocations that are bad things: viruses, negligence, vandals, infections, assaults, and deficiencies cause devastation, delay, injury, nuisance, consternation, havoc, death, ruckus and loss; not a lot of kittens causing giggles.]

Dodd looked at verursachen, bewirken, and hervorrufen in the corpus of the Digitale Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache and found (as you may see yourself, either in deutsch or in google’s translation) that all three had exclusively nasty neighbors: Schade, Kosten, Brand, Störung, Verlust, Geräusch, Tod, Kopfschmerz.

I haven’t looked at evidence from other languages, but posit for a moment that all languages’ verbs of causality are associated with negative things. What does it tell us about causality, and the circumstances in which people think about causality?

Maybe people simply don’t often stop to ask why good things happen. Good things are exactly what are supposed to happen all the goddamn time; good things are what I deserve and there’s no “cause” for them: they are the natural order of things. So maybe a person looks for a cause only when they’re disappointed by an effect.

NNS * NNS = 144

Abstract: The present dictionary interface is the same kind of information display as a multiplication table; current online dictionaries are putting big, searchable lexical multiplication tables on the web. But today’s dictionary data allows much more. Who/what will spark the dictionary-display revolution?

Body: Consider the multiplication table: a mute, ignorant record of calculations someone has done somewhere else. If it only goes up to 9*9 it can give you no indication of what 9*10 is. You can use your own mind to add or extrapolate, of course, but the paper can’t: WYSIAYG. A pocket calculator supersedes the multiplication table and offers at least the arithmetic operations. The pocket calculator meets a user who is in the same state as a dictionary user: “I know my question; this will tell me the answer”. But instead of simply showing all the answers all at once and letting the user grep optically for the right answer, the pocket calculator asks the user to enter exactly what she is calculating, and in return she gets only the result that she requested: YAFIYGI.

Any computer that can get on the web obviously supersedes even the pocket calculator. People don’t put multiplication tables on the web to help you find the answer to simple multiplication problem. You do find multiplication tables on the web (some of them are very cool), but they’re a tool to help you learn mathematical concepts, not to help you find out 6*7.

Both multiplication tables and lexical lists were inscribed on clay tablets in ancient Sumer 5000 years ago, and both have been made fairly continuously since. The sophistication of quantitative display has progressed at a pace matching general technological/scientific developments; but dictionaries, in their own transition from clay to screen, haven’t even reached the pocket calculator stage. A dictionary is great for what it’s been doing for centuries, but the surrounding science has progressed far beyond what you will see in any existing form.

A paper dictionary is the same sort of thing as a multiplication table: the output of a ton of research and thinking, fixed immutably for linear consultation. Web dictionaries, in turn, have put the paper layout on the screen and made only slight improvements on the paper version. You may jump quickly to a headword, maybe search for a word within definitions, and maybe even search for a word in the definition of a lemma in a particular part of speech. But still, however sophisticated your search, the output is the same: an entry as it would appear on the page. Garbage in, entry out; pearls in, entry out.

Yet a mature, modern dictionary, in its native electrons, has all kinds of information that doesn’t fit on the page or into any current ideas of what a dictionary can tell you. Somehow, sometime soon, someone will present dictionary data not simply as multiplication, but as the full range of arithmetic and other mathematical functions: +-*/^!% -> lexical, semantic, historical, phonetic, syntactic, collocational, sociolinguistic, geographical, etc. etc.; and all-importantly, it will be context-sensitive. Yes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; but there’s nothing broke about the multiplication table: it’s just not functional enough for daily use as an essential mathematical reference. Current dictionaries work fine for what they do, but a more sophisticated lexical interface will allow people to ask more sophisticated lexical questions.
I want my computer’s dictionary to be a lexical Bloomberg terminal that reads my mind. With the industry’s most advanced dataset at my fingertips, I can wrap my mind around the contextual part, but I haven’t figured out how the new ink-liberated display will look. But I’m thinking about it, and folks like these are rich guano for my brain. So much of the computational lexicographical work I do is quantitative at every stage except the final output: where and how could, or should, the numbers come in to the final data? Numbers are part of a lexicographer’s decision-making process, and part of the amateur Google corpus ad-hoc definer’s process; but not part of dictionaries as we see them today. But tomorrow is coming, and soon.

Are you stalking me?

I was walking home from work the other day and happened to notice (for the first time) the Lamb & Flag Passage and, not having any urgent need to get back to my turret, decided to walk along it to see what it held. Backstreets are always enjoyable, and in Oxford I always feel I’m going to turn down one and myself in Diagon Alley or Jordan College or some Lovecraftian street that I’ll never find again.

I walked through (uneventfully) and then along Museum Road and noticed one of the great, outlandishly-named buildings I love to see in Oxford: the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre. I thought about the kinds of things that a center for Ancient Biomolecules might investigate, and they all seemed incredibly interesting.

No visibly welcoming public entrance (apparently with good reason), nothing visible through the ground-floor windows. Today a mention of neuroeconomics brought up my mental note to look up the biomolecules center, but all I could remember was the “ancient” part. Well, let’s try Google.

I typed in my Firefox search box:

oxford ancient

and paused to try to remember ‘biomolecules’, which was not coming to mind. Obviously ‘oxford ancient’ alone wouldn’t do it, because there are so many Oxfordy Ancienty things. So let’s think: bio cellulo radio hmm.

And then Google’s suggestion popped down:

oxford ancient biomolecules

(Oh my god, what the fuck, barbecue, bang bang bang one bang).

sappy vinegar

On my subway ride to work [recently a year ago when I drafted this post] I was reading a cookbook: Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli. And I had the novel experience of having a cookbook bring tears to my eyes. (Without the involvement of onions.)
Of course, now, googling around for other mentions of the passage in question, I see that the consensus is that the passage in question is overly sentimental, sappy, excessive. And, I grant, my weeping was of the nature that I occasionally get from commercials for Hallmark or AT&T Long Distance, viz., sappy, sentimental, reaction-to-shameless-heartstringpulling tears: not enough even to wet my cheek. But the tears were unembarrassed, at least, because they indicate that I’m not yet a zombie. I found the passage affecting and inspiring because I read it not as what it really is — a device for introducing a section on balsamic vinegar — but took it as it declared itself: a Letter to my Newborn Son.

Bertolli is telling his son about the six balsamic vinegar casks that a friend gave to the boy on his birth; that the friend had made such casks for all of his own children, and that the friend’s father and grandfather had been endowed with such casks themselves. Some rhapsodizing about tradition.

By the time you are old enough to read this, the vinegar that I will soon start for you will have aged enough to draw. In it you will taste the years that it has marked since you were born. It will grow sappy as you move into your teens, then deepen and thicken as you become a man. In your twenties its dark obscurity will mirror the complexities of life that dawn on you; in middle age balsamico may help you remember who you are and with whom you have belonged. When you grow old, it will be the nectar that you have waited all your life to sip, by then a kind of magic elixir. Like you, it will have become everything it has ever been for better or worse, an embrace of the “sweet and sour” that is life…

Reading, before, and typing, now, I struggled with the urge to bowdlerize “become a man” to “become an adult” because all the father’s-father-son-man-boy-grandfather stuff was bothering me already, innocent as I am of any consciously cherished patrimony. Perhaps that lack, only occasionally perceptible to me, is what gave me a flash of bitterness that I could never have such a battery of casks for myself. But this struck me only after the initial flash, a tangible and practical consideration of the best way to procure such a thing for my own children: still picturing a son, but knowing that I would have to give the same to a daughter or she’d scratch my eyes out.

Sure, I want these casks for myself, but I feel the experience could never be the same as the one I could give to my children. Any means I used to procure six casks of 27-year-old vinegar would ultimately be pastiche, a macaronic affectation that would make me feel fraudulent and “aspirational”, however much I enjoyed the product. I rather like the idea of starting such a thing for my own children, fully aware that I will not live long enough to experience the magic elixir stage: for the love and thoughtfulness evident in my creating something whose fruition I will not be able to fully enjoy.

Considering my adolescent reactions to my own father’s foodways (which were not handed down to him, but adopted in a fairly reactionary American Hippie way), it seems to me entirely plausible that my child may not be very interested in the vinegar for the first 15-20 years of its life in the cask. And the amount of maintenance involved probably sounds obscene to people who aren’t food freaks. But I’ve been pricing balsamic since I read that passage, and it appears that six casks of great, > 20 year old artisanal vinegar also has a street value approaching the price of a year of college.

Posting this a year after drafting just to get it out of here. If you ever see a long post here where I whine about not growing up with ancient food traditions, it came out of this.

turning prunes into beans

Insight from a thread on the yazlist:

if III is to blame, what options does one have to extract XML from III”s systems using yaz tools?

In the general case, it can’t be done. This server is equivalent to shop that has a sign outside saying “We sell baked beans”. You go inside and buy a tin of beans, but when you get home and open it, you find it’s full of stewed prunes. No amount of post-processing will reliably turn prunes into beans.