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The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine


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2 days ago
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An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts.


  • Functional programmers, realizing that their entire discipline is rendered inconsistent and useless the instant it is faced with herculean tasks such as "I/O" and "users", finally admit for the record that it's better to do literally anything else when these tasks arise. Satisfying termninology like 'free monad' and 'applicative functors' are bandied about as Hackernews tries to decide if you want imperative nougat with functional candy shell, or functional fruit filling with a flaky imperative pastry surrounding it. Nobody stops to wonder if the functional wizardry compiles to imperative code, or whether the processor gives a shit if your source code looks good in LaTeX. One Hackernews admits he doesn't know what these people are jabbering about; all users in agreement are ritually downvoted. In accordance with federal law, someone asks how this compares with Rust.

  • A spammer posts his bullshit, the 21st-century equivalent of motivational speaking, only with fewer ticket sales and more ebook download links. A Hackernews shark attack ensues as everyone realizes it is finally on-topic to desperately plead for any possible scrap of advice on how to actually make money. Not discussed: how to start a startup without ruining anyone else's life.

  • A webshit, based on his hobby project, decides that the entire web advertising market is a lie. He's right, but for the wrong reasons. Hackernews trades tips on convincing themselves their entire industry isn't a sack of bullshit.

  • People hired to look at terrible shit forty hours a week tend to go crazy. Hackernews decides this must be why cops are all assholes and that the solution is more cops. One Hackernews suggests just hiring perverts.

  • The New York Times -- world's leading authority on San Francisco -- tells us that San Francisco is a microcosm of America. Hackernews spends equal time telling each other how to donate money toward fixing problems and telling each other that donating money will not fix any problems. Nobody realizes Hackernews users are the problem, including the New York Times.

  • A leisure studies major vomits a couple thousand words of dime-store evolutionary psychology. Hackernews seizes on the opportunity to delude themselves into believing that their crippling anxiety and ever-increasing depression are what makes them better than you.

  • Hackernews is concerned that stupid poor people might not realize they are less alive if they choose to entertain themselves instead of working ceaselessly unto death. The behavior of children is held up by the childless as an example for us all. Some dipshit thinks running his website is akin to preagricultural survival. Dimly, a few Hackernews users experiment with the idea that money and public acclaim are not the only route to happiness, but this heresy is drowned out by the relentless insistance that being rich is the only way to experience joy.

  • An idiot posts to Medium a rambling narrative regarding the importance of his phone app. Hackernews maintains the only way to be sure your shit is right is to host all of your own communications tools. Google Analytics silently notes which citizens have been contaminated with toxins inimical to surveillance capitalism. The machine sleeps.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

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22 days ago
"Google Analytics silently notes which citizens have been contaminated with toxins inimical to surveillance capitalism. The machine sleeps."
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2 public comments
21 days ago
23 days ago
God this is so spot-on

The Flightosome

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I got this diagram from Arjun Raj‘s Twitter feed, and I think I enjoy it a bit more every time I see it. Some of that is because it’s a big part of what I was trying to get across in this column, but I think that the sketch does a more thorough job of it in a shorter time.

It’s a painfully accurate depiction of how much we understand about a lot of important things in biology (I especially like the “flightosome”, which is exactly as descriptive as many names in the field, and gets across just as much useful information – that is, not much. The gel lanes are a nice touch, too.

This should recall the famous “Can A Biologist Fix a Radio” paper, as well as the attempts to both simulate the workings of the brain and to reverse engineer a computer chip using the molecular biology approach. I can come down two ways on this stuff. To engineers who impatiently ask how come we’re wasting all our time with this descriptive crap instead of understanding the principles involved, I invite them to come on down and show us how it’s done. The principles, it should be noted, are rather more complex and well-hidden than those found in aeronautics or electrical engineering. Those fields both have subtleties, for sure, but not like this. And from the other direction, when someone tries to tell me that this sort of descriptive bean-tallying is all we need, just a whole lot more of it and a lot faster, I find I’m not so receptive to that, either. Both “You fools need to think systematically” and “Systematic thinking is for fools” leave me cold. We need piles of facts, and we need insight. Unfortunately, gathering the first is not so easy, and the second is even harder.

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39 days ago
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Trump's vulgarities rendered into Chinese

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Judging from these recent Language Log posts and the comments thereto, it is not always easy for native speakers of English to understand what Donald Trump says, especially when he is making lewd remarks:

"A non-apology for the ages" (10/7/16)

"'Like a bitch'?" (10/8/16)

"Trump translated" (9/31/16)

"Trump's aphasia" (9/5/15)

There have been many other attempts on Language Log to clarify Trumpian rhetoric.

If those who are born to English have difficulty comprehending the Donald's utterances, you can well imagine how hard it must be to grasp their nuances in another language.  Let's take a look at some of the Chinese translations of Trump's latest crudities.

[N.B.:  To preserve the "feel" of the Chinese, the translations given are necessarily on the literal side.]


Nǐ shènzhì kěyǐ wánr tāmen de xiàtǐ, shénme dōu xíng.
"You can even play with their nether parts; anything goes."


Wǒ xiàng zhuī biǎozi yīyàng zhuī tā, dàn méi néng chénggōng.
"I pursued her like a whore / prostitute / harlot / strumpet, but I couldn't succeed."
Note:  English "bitch" is often translated as biǎozi 婊子 (for examples, see here)


Nǐ xiǎng zěnme zuò dōu xíng, bāokuò mō tāmen de yǐnsī bùwèi.
"You can do whatever you want, including touching / feeling / stroking / groping their private parts."


Wǒ kěyǐ zhuā zhù tāmen de [bì——], wǒ kěyǐ zuò rènhé shì.
"I can grab their [beep]; I can do anything."

Wǒ kěyǐ shàng tā xiàng shàng bitch yīyàng, dàn wǒ méiyǒu chénggōng.
"I could get on her like a bitch, but I didn't succeed."


Wǒ duì tā cǎiqǔle qiángliè de jìngōng
"I made a strong attack on her"

Yòng p-y zhuāzhù tāmen
"use pussy to grab them"

Wǒ xiàng duìdài dàngfù yīyàng kàojìn tā
"I treated her like a slut to get close to her"

Comment by David Moser:

By the way, I don't think there is any obvious way to say "pussy" in Chinese.  It doesn't mean the same thing as "vagina", so "bi1 屄" doesn't really express the meaning.  I've seen some articles translate the Trump rant with si1chu4 私处 ("private place"), which is pretty good, but not a translation because it's not vulgar.  Yin1bu4 阴部 ("private parts; pudendum") is also descriptive but not at all lewd.  It's a bit like the French word "fesses",  which is usually translated "buttocks", but it refers to the area of the thighs, buttocks AND loins, as seen from behind.  We don't really have a word specifying that bodily region in English.  (Another example may be "lap", that seems to be a peculiarly English word.)

[Thanks to Jichang Lulu, Melvin Lee, Fangyi Cheng, and Randy Alexander]

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39 days ago
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Ask Language Log: -ism exceptionalism

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Jonah Goldberg, "The Trouble with Nationalism", National Review 2/7/20

But I firmly believe that when we call the sacrifices of American patriots no different from the sacrifices of Spartans — ancient or modern — we are giving short shrift to the glory, majesty, and uniqueness of American patriotism and the American experiment. I’m reminded of Martin Diamond’s point that the concepts of “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no parallel in any other country or language.

Fred Vultee sent in the link, and asked:

My immediate guess is Eskimo snow myth, but that also seems to be the sort of assertion that's addressed with specific examples. Does anything spring to mind, or do you have any suggestions on a chunk of literature that addresses discourses of nationalism?

I'm no expert in "discourses of nationalism". But I'll note that this claim of lexicological uniqueness, sourced to Martin Diamond, has been widely repeated. Walter Berns, Making Patriots, 2002:

The late Martin Diamond had this in mind when, in an American government textbook, he points out that the terms “Americanism,” “Americanization,” and “un-American” have no counterparts in any other country or language. This is not by chance, or a matter of phonetics—Swissism? Englishization?—or mere habit. (What would a Frenchman have to do or believe in order to justify being labeled un-French?) The fact is, and it was first noted by the Englishman, G.K. Chesterton, the term “Americanism” reflects a unique phenomenon; as Diamond puts it, “It expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles.”

David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense, 2004:

It is often declared that America is not only a plot of land but also an idea and a cause. As the political theorist Martin Diamond has observed, words like "Americanization," "Americanism," and "un-American" have no counterparts in any other language. Nobody says that a country or culture is being Italianized or Japanized or Chinese-ized, yet the Americanization of the world has been a topic of debate for a century. This doesn't mean just that there are McDonald's and Tom Cruise movies sweeping the landscape; it means some distinctive creed, mentality, and way of life is felt to be overrunning earlier patterns and cultures.

[Brooks has a unique talent for encapsulating plausible generalizations in baldly false particulars, revealed in this case by a quick web search for Italianization, Italianized, etc.]

Joe Carter ("The Patriot's Asterisk", First Things 7/5/2010) quotes Walter Berns quoting Martin Diamond, and concludes that

Most Americans have so internalized this concept of America as both a geographic place and an abstract ideal that we sometime forget how radical it must appear to the rest of the world.

And so on.

Here's the source — Martin Diamond, The Founding of the Democratic Republic, 1981 (reprinted from The Democratic Republic: An Introduction to American National Government, 1970)

The creedal character imparted to American life by the Declaration is revealed in several uniquely American terms and usages. Consider the term Americanism: no other country has an expression quite like it. How can America be an ism?

When we examine the meaning of Americanism, we discover that Americanism is to the American not a tradition or a territory, not what France is to a Frenchman or England to an Englishman, but a doctrine — what socialism is to a socialist . . . a highly attenuated, conceptualized . . . assent to a handful of final notions — democracy, liberty, opportunity. [(myl) from Leon Samson, Towards a United Front, 1933]

The term Americanism thus reflects a unique phenomenon. Other countries have no single political doctrine, adherence to which is a kind of national obligation or heritage. Frenchmen, for example, are no less French in being clericalists, or monarchists, or republicans, or Gaullists, or communists, or fascists. But to be an American has meant somehow to accept the fundamental credo; deviation from it causes one to be regarded as un-American (another expression which has no analogue elsewhere). The term Americanism expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles, superior to those of the rival modern ideologies. And this American ism consists in certain "final notions" regarding the relationship of "democracy, liberty, opportunity."

The term Americanization — widely used during the mass immigration period — point similarly to the creedal framework of American politics. Americanization meant more than the mere adoption by immigrants of American clothes, speech, and social habits; to become Americanized meant to acquire the political ideas peculiarly appropriate to America. Other countries that have had substantial immigration did not develop a concept or term like Americanization. The French did not Gallicize immigrant Algerians, nor do the English Anglicize their Commonwealth immigrants in the political sense of Americanization. French and English immigrants had, so to speak, to become acculturated; in America, immigrants had to be politicized.

So in Diamond's original, at least, this is quite a bit deeper than the standard "no word for X" trope, which is often transparently false as a matter of lexicography as well as a matter of culture. Diamond's idea is more like Anna Wierzbicka's argument that the concept of "fair play" and the associated senses of the words fair and unfair are recent innovations exclusive to Anglo (-American?) culture. This might be false, but it's not transparently false.

It's worth noting that this meme, currently circulating among right-wing intellectuals like Berns, Goldberg, Brooks, and Carter, started in 1933 with the socialist Leon Samson. A somewhat longer sample of the original:

When we examine the meaning of Americanism, we discover that Americanism is to the American not a tradition or a territory, not what France is to a Frenchman or England to an Englishman, but a doctrine — what socialism is to a socialist. Like socialism, Americanism is looked upon … as a highly attenuated, conceptualized, platonic, impersonal attraction toward a system of ideas, a solemn assent to a handful of final notions — democracy, liberty, opportunity, to all of which the American adheres rationalistically much as a socialist adheres to his socialism — because it does him good, because it gives him work, because, so he thinks, it guarantees him happiness. Americanism has thus served as a substitute for socialism. Every concept in socialism has its substitutive counter-concept in Americanism, and that is why the socialist argument falls so fruitlessly on the American ear. … The American does not want to listen to socialism, since he thinks he already has it.

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39 days ago
"America used to be a mindset, now it's a birth right."
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"Ni hao" for foreigners

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A video titled "The Chinese tourists accused of bad behaviour in Thailand | Channel 4 News" was posted to YouTube on 2/22/15, but it has been recirculated in this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about Chinese travel abroad during the recent National Day holiday:  "With Its Tourists Behaving Badly, China Embarks on Some Soul-Searching" (NYT, 10/10/16).

I do not wish to analyze the behavior of Chinese tourists at home and overseas.  What struck me powerfully about this video is the peculiar pronunciation of what is arguably the most widely known Mandarin expression in the world, viz., Nǐ hǎo 你好 ("hello; hi!").  You can hear it at 0:23 and 0:37 of this 4:04 video.

Instead of two low, dipping third tones, with the first one becoming a rising second tone through sandhi, as native speakers say it to each other, what I hear over and over again when Chinese speak to foreigners is a first syllable of indeterminate tone and a mid-level rising to high tone second syllable.  It sounds horrible to my ear, and I have no idea where it comes from.  Do foreigners trying to speak a little bit of Mandarin actually pronounce "Ni hao" that way?  Do the Chinese who say "Ni hao" in that strange way think that they're mimicking the way foreigners pronounce that Mandarin greeting?

There is also a variant foreigner's "Ni hao" that I often hear.  For this one, we have the same first syllable of indeterminate tone, but then we get a dramatic falling tone second syllable, like this:  "Ni hào!".  This one grates on me even more than the "Ni háo!" described in the previous paragraph.

These special pronunciations of "Ni hao" for foreigners seem so deeply ingrained that they sometimes come out that way even when Chinese are speaking to individuals whom they know to be completely fluent in Mandarin.  I can't offhand think of other Mandarin expressions that are reflexively spoken this way with a special intonation for foreigners.

While the foreigner's "Ni hao" is undoubtedly sometimes uttered mockingly, in most cases it does not carry any particular derogatory implication.  Indeed, in the video shown above, the fellow who says it seems in a good mood and well-intentioned.

Does a similar transformation of common expressions spoken to foreigners occur in other languages?

Kon'nichi wa / こんにちは Zdravstvuyte / Здравствуйте.  Guten Tag!

Whether or not something comparable happens in other languages, this foreigner's "Ni hao" invariably strikes me as a curious phenomenon.

[h.t. Geoff Wade]

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39 days ago
Worse, it's so easy to accidentally imitate the imitation.
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