1036 Comments
14 hrs ago·edited 11 hrs ago

If you haven't heard yet, there's been a (failed) attempted assassination attempt on Trump: https://apnews.com/article/trump-vp-vance-rubio-7c7ba6b99b5f38d2d840ed95b2fdc3e5 ("Trump rally shooting is being investigated as an assassination attempt, officials say"). They even have a photo of the bullet whizzing past his head: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2024/07/13/world/13trump-shooting-combo/13trump-shooting-combo-superJumbo.jpg?quality=75&auto=webp (it's the thin brown line to the right of his head in the 1st photo).

Not sure what to say about this beyond, uh... have you heard, I guess? And also, this probably isn't going to be good for the country... not good at all... got any thoughts of your own to share?

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11 hrs ago·edited 11 hrs ago

Assuming this is what it looks like at face value, seems like it probably cinches it for trump? That's just too good of a look, especially contrasting bidens already low energy (I will still be voting dem ticket, just being real)

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It's heartbreaking that someone died, but in the big picture I expect that, unless this event inspires copycats, it will have no more effect than that person killed in a car accident would have.

I wouldn't know about left-wingers, but conservatives will be fine. I have a link to a whole page of Trump assassination memes for you. Check out these reactions:

https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2024/07/13/you-missed-maga-memesters-immortalize-donald-trump-surviving-assassination-attempt/

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44 mins ago·edited 42 mins ago

Gotta hand it to the Babylon Bee for this one:

https://babylonbee.com/news/cnn-clumsy-trump-hits-head-on-bullet

After CNN apparently had this headline up for early coverage:

https://x.com/marcorubio/status/1812259108973912261

Gosh, that silly old Trump! Just falling over at his own rallies! Needing the Secret Service to clear things up after him!

But you have to hand it to him for his political instincts - immediately, as the Secret Service are trying to get him out of danger and he's bleeding from the ear, he stops them to do the fist-pumping for the crowd and give the amazing photo shot of 'strength and defiance' with the American flag in the background. Truly, he is cursed with luck!

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I think we should all take a deep breath, gather up this thing and put it on a shelf, and then go on with our evening and go to sleep. Tomorrow we'll know more, like maybe who the (attempted) assassin was, and who the bystanders who were killed and wounded were. And let's hope and pray that no one does anything stupid because of this.

In my imaginary ideal world, I hope Biden and Trump agree to have a golf match in a few days, and agree to announce in advance that they'll both lie about the outcome and claim that they each won by some ridiculous amount, so that only they and the Secret Service will know what actually happened. I wish that sort of shared joke would be enough to nudge the country toward a more healthy sort of politics.

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It seems like it's now trendy to write gender-inclusive plurals like "Zuschauer:innen" in German, but how do they actually pronounce the ":" when speaking?

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9 hrs ago·edited 9 hrs ago

In my experience people pronounce it by a slight pausing at the ":" and then continuing with "Innen", pronouncing it as if it was it's own word. People use the same for the "*" version "Zuschauer*innen".

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It is used for writing only, same as other variants such as

the internal I: ZuschauerInnen (as a software dev I'm personally rather partial to this one),

asterisk: Zuschauer*innen,

slash: Zuschauer/innen,

parentheses: Zuschauer(innen).

In speech, really the only solution is simply saying both variants ("Zuschauerinnen und Zuschauer"), as there is no pronounciation for special characters and pausing in the middle of saying a word would sound rather awkward. It also remains the default and most common usage in writing.

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Jul 13·edited Jul 13

TIL the Japanese plans to defend against the expected American invasion of the home islands in 1945 were organized around the motto, "The Glorious Death of the 100 Million."

Goodness. I would have preferred a more motivating slogan.

https://www.history.navy.mil/about-us/leadership/director/directors-corner/h-grams/h-gram-057/h-057-1.html

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founding

Obviously thinking big, insofar as Japan's population in 1945 was only 70 million. Perhaps they were anticipating 100 million dead Americans littering Japan's beaches?

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18 hrs ago·edited 18 hrs ago

Maybe the Blood God doesn't care whose bodies cover the battlefield, only that they do.

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https://x.com/trungtphan/status/1810821636016500902?s=46&t=aMnHr6c2FmZVSEcDiYHhNA

Am I getting it right: in NY, trash (before being taken away to landfills, presumably) has really just been stored on the sidewalks until *now*? Not in containers? Is this a common practice in American cities? What the hell?

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In Philadelphia, people still put their trash out in plastic trash bags. Recycling (collected on the same day) is put in bins, though the recycling guys will pick up piles of cardboard from the ground.

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22 hrs ago·edited 22 hrs ago

This is a unique quirk of New York City. Normal cities have trash cans and dumpsters.

It's not a matter of people being slobs though, as Bullseye speculated. It's due to NYC just not having dumpsters for weird historical reasons.

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I haven't been to New York, but the standard practice in the U.S. is to use containers. If New York does have trash just sitting on the sidewalk, I suspect that it's people being slobs, rather than what they're supposed to do.

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Nope. It's not all of NY, it's just NYC. But it's the actual official system. They literally just pile trash on the sidewalk for the garbage men to pick up. Like industrial amounts, there will be a pile of 20 black contractor trash bags outside a restaurant. And it's like every building on a street will do that at once. It smells horrible, and it's as crazy as it sounds the first time you see it.

I think it's only certain times of day, as in they know the garbage men come around at 6 and so you can't put your bags out before 4. But it's still a wildly bad system. They didn't build good infrastructure for it long ago, and the calculus until now has been that having enough dumpsters for the density of that city couldn't fit on the sidewalks.

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How on Earth could Pizza Rat (and his descendants keep fed if the trash wasn't in easy to access bags? *s*

I blame the Rodent Lobby.

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Estoy buscando un hablante de español que esté interesado en los temas cubiertos por Astral Codex Ten para chatear por video una o dos veces al mes.

Hablo español, pero me resulta difícil encontrar oportunidades para practicar el habla. Me encantaría conocer a un “amigo por correspondencia” que también pueda ser de EE. UU. o de un país de habla hispana en otro lugar del mundo. Estoy entusiasmada por aprender sobre lugares nuevos para mí y podría ayudarte a practicar inglés si lo deseas (aunque también me complace hablar solo español) y podría brindarte una idea de la cultura de los Estados Unidos.

Trabajo en salud pública y estoy interesada en la salud global, la visualización de datos, el cambio tecnológico, la escritura y lectura de poesía, la literatura, la racionalidad y el altruismo efectivo. Déjame saber si eres alguien que podría estar interesado en un intercambio multicultural como este.

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Hola. Me parece interesante la idea de conversar sobre racionalidad en español. Si no te molesta la pregunta, me parece un poco extraño que en Estados Unidos no encuentes muchas oportunidades de practicar el español. ¿Vives en una zona con una población hispana muy baja? ¿O es solo que preferirías tener conversaciones especificamente sobre racionalidad?

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I have some sympathy for Joe Biden as things go on; his every gaffe and slip is now being scrutinised with the same attention that Trump's appearances received, instead of being papered over, ignored, or written off as "Only Fox News reported that and we all know it's a far-right Trump-worshipping propaganda outlet!"

I can understand why he mixed up Kamala and Trump here, while he might be slipping, he's not stupid and he would have to be not alone blind but dead not to be aware that Kamala is being touted as his replacement for the nomination. So she's his internal rival and Trump is his external rival, little wonder he conflated them:

https://www.rte.ie/news/world/2024/0712/1459457-joe-biden/

"Since his poor performance against Mr Trump in a presidential debate two weeks ago, Mr Biden has faced growing doubts from donors, supporters and fellow Democrats about his ability to win the 5 November election and keep up with the demands of the job.

He probably did not help his case when he mixed up his vice president and his Republican rival at the outset of the news conference, which lasted nearly an hour.

"Look, I wouldn't have picked Vice President Trump to be vice president if she was not qualified to be president. So start there," Mr Biden said as he responded to a question from Reuters about his confidence in Ms Harris."

While it probably would be for the best if Biden stepped down or stepped back, the real scorn we should be showing is towards all the news outlets and others who covered for him these past few years. Something like this doesn't just happen all at once, but the constant "only the right wing outlets are reporting on this, so we know it's all cheap fakes disinformation propaganda lies" explaining away was only necessary *because* only the right-wing outlets reported on it, and they were the only ones who did because all the liberal, left, and self-proclaimed neutral just the facts outlets were in the hole for the Democrats.

I'm at the stage now where if a journalist says grass is green, I need to go look out the window to verify that for myself. And that's a disgrace for a profession which claims the moral high ground on being the ones to speak truth to power and tell the truth no matter where it leads, and where they do perform an important function for the public.

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21 hrs ago·edited 21 hrs ago

How strong is the case that the mainstream press covered up Biden's infirmities during the past few years? I thought it was mostly something done by the White House staff, doing a certain amount of stage management show the president at his best.

I think I would have noticed something in the Wall Street Journal, at least, if the more liberal side of the news industry had been telling fibs.

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Biden went from having, unfairly, every benefit of the doubt from the media. To now when he has, unfairly, no benefit of the doubt at all.

Jill Biden was also managing Joe to a level to protect him from everything. If you haven't heard of Operation Bubblewrap you can check it out. This may have led him to deteriorating faster (or so I assert with little evidence).

Flubbing names, especially realizing you just said the wrong one and correcting it, is normal but people are on the hunt like they constantly were with Dan Quayle who didn't even know how to spell potato.

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"Something like this doesn't just happen all at once"

I think you might be surprised just how rapidly old people can mentally decline once the decline starts. Per WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/what-to-know-about-cognitive-decline-in-older-adults

"Cognitive decline, also known as cognitive impairment, can come on **suddenly** or gradually"

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I saw it with my own father who went downhill very fast in the year leading up to his death in his early eighties. But even before then, he had gradually been getting frailer and less flexible and more forgetful. That's what I mean about Biden not suddenly switching in a matter of months from "just as good as when I was sixty" to "Trump is my vice president". There would have been small but noticeable instances of deterioration along the way.

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Yeah, from what I've heard, there's been a clear decline even since the spring (apparently the SOTU was actually decent). Still doesn't excuse Biden deciding to run again, but it's not like he's been this bad for years either.

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"This bad", probably not, but here he is in 2020 speaking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwBEcyI_qm0

He wasn't in good shape then either.

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"The real scorn we should be showing is towards all the news outlets and others who covered for him these past few years"

Yep. We should also be updating heavily away from any position these news outlets have collectively supported; if they lied about one thing, they certainly lied about others.

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Genuine question: is there evidence that lying about one thing increases the likelihood of lying about other things?

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founding

It seems mathematically unavoidable given that there is a distributed spectrum of unwillingness-to-lie among any human population. Any lie reduces the prior of the liar being on the highly-unwilling-to-lie segment of that distribution.

Some lies more than others, obviously, and in a broadly predictable way.

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Do you believe friend A lying to friend B about whether they look fat means that friend A can never be trusted in the future? Do you believe the allies should never be trusted after WW2 because of the various cover stories concocted to fool the enemy and their own people? Can the Jesuits never be trusted because they practised equivocation during the recusancy?

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> Do you believe friend A lying to friend B about whether they look fat means that friend A can never be trusted in the future?

I certainly believe that they'd lack an a priori reluctance to lie to Nazis about Jews hiding in their basement. So that's good?

"Never" is a big word. Everyone has a threshold, whether it's rationally consistent or not. Knowing they'll perform a social "white lie" about whether a friend looks fat, provides little information about whether they'd lie maliciously to harm someone. I think most humans draw the line somewhere in between.

I have no idea how the Jesuits have evolved in this respect since the days of the Gunpowder Plot, but I bet it would take less than 15 minutes of searching the Internet to find out.

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You really think I'm asking you like you're Google?

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founding

Shifting the goalposts, are we? The standard was "increases the likelihood of lying about other things", not "can never be trusted in the future".

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This was the original commentWe should also be updating heavily away from any position these news outlets have collectively supported; if they lied about one thing, they certainly lied about others.

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Just a random thought: I've heard sometimes of the term "cultural cringe" applied to Canadians or Australians who believe that their culture is considered inferior to US or UK culture, but taking a global perspective, this seems faintly ridiculous - when it comes to things like music, series, celebs, famous landmarks and so on your average person in the world will probably know vastly more about Canada and Australia than about any other nation of similar size (ie 25-40 million people), unless in their immediate vicinity.

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We have the Irish version of this vis-a-vis Britain. It's not just "thinking your culture is inferior" because to be blunt, USA culture is the behemoth everyone knows globally.

It's the adoption of the cringing attitude before the perceived 'betters', by those who wish they were or could be those same betters; that there is nothing good or valuable in the native culture, the other culture is simply superior in every way, and the values, attitudes, beliefs and themes of that culture should be adopted wholesale.

Resulting in the third-rate imitations of the Brits imitating the Americans, and the adoption of American culture war elements lock, stock and barrel even where they have no correspondence with the local context. It's not recognising "Hollywood will always be bigger than whatever we can produce", it's "Hollywood is the only way to go".

And it also involves being obsessed with what others think of us (even if they never think of us) and castigating the locals for thing X or belief Y which will make a show of us in front of the neighbours.

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It's particularly funny for Ireland. There are almost certainly no nations of 5 million people (counting only RoI) with the same cultural output, cachet and favorability outside itself.

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Wow, I had no idea Ireland was so small. Looks like it is comparable in population to New Zealand, and about 1/10th of South Korea.

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Jul 12·edited Jul 12

We've become more confident, but we've swung between trying to develop a very purely Irish Ireland culture that is self-referential (and often rightly skewered, see this satirical show from 1977, at the 34:50 mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlpgC7NLei8 ) and a cringing deference to our betters in England.

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People don't adjust for population size when it comes to their feelings and impressions.

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I think the main problem with us Canadians is that we tend to compare ourselves to the US, which is ten times our size, more than ten times wealthier than we are, and dominant in a score of industries, including popular culture. Of course we come out looking second-rate.

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On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim in all its incarnations is worth a full decade of American cultural output. ;-)

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Don’t sweat it. You have a great country. Okay I have trouble computing my mileage at first, kilometers per litre? But I figure it out. Plus you have those great loonies and twonies!

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On the bright side, you at least managed to get a lot of American TV to be produced in Canada.

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OC ACXLW Meetup - Exploring Sexuality: Fetishes, Tabooness, and Popularity

**OC ACXLW Meetup - Exploring Sexuality: Fetishes, Tabooness, and Popularity**

**Date:** Saturday, July 13, 2024

**Time:** 2 PM

**Location:** 1970 Port Laurent Place

**Host:** Michael Michalchik

**Email:** michaelmichalchik@gmail.com

Hello Enthusiasts,

Join us for our 69th OC ACXLW meetup where we'll delve into the intriguing world of sexual fetishes, exploring the interplay between tabooness and popularity. This week’s reading provides a deep dive into the complexities of how societal norms and personal experiences shape our understanding of fetishes.

**Discussion Topics:**

1. **Fetish Tabooness and Popularity by Aella**

**Overview:** This article explores the complexities of sexual fetishes, their perceived tabooness, and their popularity within different communities. Aella delves into how societal norms and personal experiences shape the way fetishes are viewed and practiced, examining the interplay between secrecy and acceptance.

**TLDR:** Aella's article investigates the societal and personal factors that influence the perception, secrecy, and popularity of fetishes, highlighting the role of media and subcultures in normalizing previously taboo practices.

**Summary:** Aella presents a comprehensive analysis of various fetishes, ranking them by their perceived tabooness and popularity. She discusses the methodology used to collect and analyze data from her Big Kink Survey, providing insights into the societal and cultural factors that influence how different fetishes are viewed and experienced. The accompanying chart visually represents the relationship between how taboo a fetish is perceived to be and its reported interest among participants.

**Text Article:** [Fetish Tabooness and Popularity](https://open.substack.com/pub/aella/p/fetish-tabooness-and-popularity-v3?r=fbgbc&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web) - https://open.substack.com/pub/aella/p/fetish-tabooness-and-popularity-v3?r=fbgbc&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

**Graph:** [Fetish Tabooness and Popularity Graph](https://substackcdn.com/image/fetch/f_auto,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fsubstack-post-media.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2F85a5b629-0865-4748-bbb8-2ca4a7d8f094_12336x10431.png) - https://substackcdn.com/image/fetch/f_auto,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fsubstack-post-media.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2F85a5b629-0865-4748-bbb8-2ca4a7d8f094_12336x10431.png

**Questions for Discussion:**

- **Graph Analysis:** Which fetishes on the graph do you find most surprising in terms of their desirability, tabooness, or the combination of both? What do these positions reveal about societal attitudes towards these fetishes?

- **Societal Influence:** How do societal norms and cultural narratives shape the perception and acceptance of various fetishes? To what extent do these norms vary across different societies and historical periods?

- **Secrecy and Stigma:** In what ways does secrecy around fetishes both protect and hinder individuals? How does the stigma associated with certain fetishes impact personal identity and community dynamics?

- **Preference Falsification:** How does preference falsification affect the way individuals report or engage in fetishes? What are the implications for understanding true sexual preferences within a society?

- **Evolutionary Forces:** What evolutionary forces might drive the development and expression of certain fetishes? How do these forces interact with contemporary social structures and norms around mate selection?

- **Politicization of Sex:** How has the politicization of sex and sexual behavior influenced public and private attitudes towards fetishes? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this politicization for individual freedom and societal norms?

- **Psychological Factors:** What are the underlying psychological motivations that drive individuals to explore fetishes? How do these motivations intersect with broader social and cultural factors?

We look forward to an engaging and thought-provoking discussion where your insights will contribute to a deeper understanding of these significant topics.

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Is there a write up anywhere of how the IRS expansion is doing? I keep seeing headlines of "1 billion dollars", which seems like a massive failure, given that it's taking 60 billion. How much are they getting, compared to what they expected?

I saw a chart claiming they expected 180 billion over ten years, but I don't know if that was before or after it got scaled down.

Also, this all seems like it's only minimally useful. Wouldn't an index fund go up by a similar amount over the same period?

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22 hrs ago·edited 22 hrs ago

The Republicans killed the IRS expansion. It was their number one demand in exchange for not forcing a debt default (which is a bit ironic, since it *increases* the deficit, but apparently Defund The Tax Police is really popular on the right for the same reasons that Defund The Local Police briefly captivated the left).

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I could be under informed, but Reason seems to believe that they still received 60 billion, which is less than the 80 billion originally planned.

https://reason.com/2024/07/11/irs-crackdown-nets-enough-revenue-to-fund-the-government-for-90-minutes/

Was the 60 billion hampered in some way, so it could not be spent effectively? Or is Reason mistaken or misleading about the additional budget?

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I decided to watch Monty Python, Flying Circus.

There are reasons, of course. I did something that somehow triggered YouTube into recommending me a couple of skits from the show, and they were generally all hilarious. I see it getting a lot of praise and homages on the internet (Spanish Inquisition, ...), allegedly the Python programming language was named after it because the (Dutch) designer was a fan. One skit is allegedly the reason why "Spam" (originally some sort of canned meat) is now the universal cross-language term for "Unwanted and repetitive offers".

It's... not that good? or at least Whither Canada, the only episode I have seen thus far, is. Perhaps the YouTube recommendations were cherry-picking the best parts and setting up an unrealistic standard. Why is the running joke with the pigs vs. humans funny? I mean, I know running jokes are funny by virtue of sheer repetition, but why pigs? Why is Picasso drawing while bicycling funny? Is there something about the comedy that is too British or too 1960s-1970s (or too Public-Broadcast-Television-era, or too European, etc...) that I as a 90s-born non-British person can't get? or is the comedy just entirely due to the surrealism and dream-like incoherency along with the laugh tracks in the background and the deadpan delivery?

Some skits were indeed funny, genuinely so. A musician upset that people are too preoccupied with a nickname his friends gave him they forget to ask about his actual music. A film producer being increasingly weirded out in an interview by the informal nicknames the interviewer keeps giving him. And Joke Warfare.

Joke Warfare is a brilliant anticipation of the concept of "Memetic Warfare", before Dawkins even coined the word "Meme" in the late 1970s. The skit was very Unsong-like. It's a play on the trope, probably first explored in the modern day by H.P. Lovecraft, that some things kill you just by knowing them:

A WW2-era British comedian discovers a joke too funny to stop laughing at, and he promptly dies from laughter after reading it in full. His mother finds him and dies too. A police officer trying to "remove The Joke" also dies. Eventually, the military gets wind of this, and translates it to German, the translators working one word at a time to avoid dying by The Joke. Allied soldiers read the German Joke out loud to German troops and they all fall like flies. The Germans develop a Counter-Joke, eventually translating it to English and attacking Britain with it using radio, but it's strongly implied the German sense of humor is inferior and ineffectual. Eventually, "Peace breaks out, and Joke Warfare is banned by a special clause in the Geneva Convention".

I really like this kind of cerebral and philosophical humor. If every episode of the show contained one skit like that I would be satisfied, but other skits seem... very ordinary? not outright unfunny or mediocre, just funny in a very normal and non-groundbreaking non-cult-status way, at least to my non-native-English ears. The next episodes could be hiding something.

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Like everyone's saying, it's uneven.

> There was a little girl, who had a little curl

> Right in the middle of her forehead,

> And when she was good, she was very, very good,

> But when she was bad she was horrid.

If you're looking for pre-90s British humour, my personal recommendations would be a short book and a different TV show. The book is "1066 and All That", a parody history of England that's a spoof of popular histories and school exams. The TV show is "Yes, Minister" (and its continuation "Yes, Prime Minister"), which is a brilliant explanation and send-up of modern politics.

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I agree that Monty Python is uneven.

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"Philosophy Football" is funny, but I agree: it's a particular sort of humour that either hits or misses.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfduUFF_i1A

What people remember and quote are the best sketches, but the show ran for four series and there were forty-five episodes, so not all the sketches are of equal quality (like any TV show).

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As a Brit I agree. It’s not that good. Nostalgia.

SNL’s greatest ever sketch “more cowbell” isn’t that great either.

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Youtube is definitely cherry-picking the best ones, they were a weird bunch and did a lot of weird things. The sketch where a man dances up to another man and slaps him with a small fish? Eh, probably can skip that one.

For one reason or another though I'm being routinely reminded of the Summarize Proust sketch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwAOc4g3K-g It's still the most I know about Proust, and that's after trying to read it.

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As a big fan of Monty Python, a lot of the skits aren't that funny. Back when it was still broadcast on TV, I would say maybe 30-50% of an episode were good and the rest were meh. Same with the movies; there are bits of Holy Grail and Life of Brian that are great and other parts that are slow or not really my style of humor. Overall it's rather hit and miss. I'll never forget the lego Camelot scene from the extended cut Holy Grail DVD though.

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It probably looks very dated now. It was funny when first broadcast.

The Parrot sketch has become legendary (Pet shop owner tries to break it customer that his parrot has died).

The Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook is also legendary.

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The problem you're likely having, watching Monty Python, is that a lot of the comedy is at the expense of the contemporary BBC, and a lot of what remains is at the expense of the contemporary culture. In a modern context, particularly a modern US context, most of the jokes simply won't land, or if they do land, will land as purely absurdist comedy rather than as the deliberate lampooning of cultural artifacts that are missing from the viewer's context.

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Fair. Most sketch shows are hit-and-miss in my opinion (Mitchell & Webb even have a sketch about this), and Python is no exception as well as being 50 years old. I like the first series but it does peak in series 2 or 3. Do you like the Fast Show?

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I didn't know the Fast Show before I googled it just now, but if I finish Monty and find myself wanting more British humor, I might consider watching it.

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I'd like to think it's less dated than python but it is nearly 30 years old. Unlike Python there's a lot of iterations of the same character/situation. Highlights: Rowley Birkin, Jazz Club, Channel 9 News, The "Suits you" Tailors (Johnny Depp appeared with them once)

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The Fast Show is good, but towards the end it got a bit too high on its own importance and did a lot of fan-service that really didn't go anywhere, e.g. Ralph and Ted are funny characters but didn't need an entire backstory and a spin-off series; the hinted-at quiet tragedy of Ralph's relationship, or lack of one, with his father who was much more comfortable talking to the groundsman Ted is all we need to make the humour both poignant and hilarious.

And as an Irish person, well, I have to approve of the conclusion of this sketch 😁:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wivJ6FeXqdk

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Yeh that's a good one, this is my favourite: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=su8QmJyHeCM

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Back in January of this year, Rolling Stone published an article listing their choices for the 150 best science-fiction movies of all time.

https://www.rollingstone.com/tv-movies/tv-movie-lists/best-sci-fi-movies-1234893930/stalker-1979-2-1234931315/

I've seen more than half the movies on the list, and they are generally films I like or at least respect. (Number 1 is "2001: A Space Odyssey," for example.)

But they put a really odd duck in the number 2 slot, "Stalker," by Andrei Tarkovsky. I just watched it, and it is more than two hours of wandering through countryside and some sort of industrial ruin, plus chatter about philosophy, art, and the role of the intellectual in society. It's slow, it's drab, and it's tiresome. How anyone could consider it the second-best anything is beyond me.

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

Stalker is somewhat based on the novel Roadside Picnic, and also spawned a trilogy of video games by the same name from a Ukrainian studio. These are hugely popular in the Russosphere, although I've never seen the movie myself.

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I've heard good things about the novel. Maybe it's better than the film.

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The novel is decent. It's by far not the authors' best, but, unlike their best and their cult stuff, it seems to connect with non-Russian audience.

I never understood the movie. It has only a tenuous connection with the book. I'd guess the cinematography and all the philosophical stuff are the kinds of things that make movie critics happy.

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II get the distinct impression, going through the list, that the creators wanted to include more "arthouse" style films, and sprinkled them in the list so as to seem sophisticated. Also some older films that, while solid in their era, don't really survive the test of time. You can see the distinct influence of

I don't particularly recommend Under the Skin, for example, unless you want to see where Stranger Things ripped off some of its visuals from. Liquid Sky is mostly just boring, with, again, some pretty visuals (there isn't much of a plot to discuss). Fantastic Planet is EXTRAORDINARILY boring. It's just an allegory in which the mice are humans, and not particularly subtle about it; the animation style is interesting but doesn't salvage the movie. I hosted a movie night pairing this movie with Mad God, and - skip Fantastic Planet, watch Mad God, which is a beautiful gnostic nightmare.

Given the absence of films like Eraserhead and Naked Lunch, and given the inclusion of the movies which were included, I think this list is less "Here are some great science fiction films to watch" and more "You're a smart consumer who enjoys good movies, as evidenced by the fact that your favorite modern science fiction movie is in the same list as these arthouse films, so you must be sophisticated". You include Naked Lunch in the former kind of list - you definitely do NOT include it in the latter, because that would be off-putting to people who couldn't enjoy it.

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I would have thought "Naked Lunch" was exactly the kind of movie to put on "you're a sophisticated viewer" list and not "you're one of those grubby SF fans" list. Maybe views have changed since it came out?

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Ah, but if it's on the list and you didn't like it at all, that would make you feel less sophisticated.

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Jul 12·edited Jul 12

Maybe. But it still strikes me as a very sound list. Just looking at the top 20, there are 16 films I have seen, and I could recommend 15 of those 16 to others. That's an excellent ratio of good to bad.

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I know a lot has already been written about our current predicament in the presidential election, but I think I have something valuable to add, spurred on by Alex Berenson's breaking news on the Parkinson's specialist at the WH 8 times in the last few months. Parkinson's is a really weird disease - it doesn't kill you, but it turns your life upside down: https://falsechoices.substack.com/p/my-personal-experience-with-parkinsons

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I don't know if it's much better for Biden if the messaging is "Relax, it's not Alzheimer's, it's Parkinson's!"

I think the man has a reasonable few years of life left to enjoy, whatever the diagnosis really is. But to be president? No, too much of a burden for him and for the country.

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My wife always asks "why don't these people move on and spend some time with their family?" It's a good question.

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Did you all know that there's a model online calculating the odds of a bill in US Congress getting enacted? If not, check it out:

https://www.govtrack.us/about/analysis#prognosis

According to the model, the title of the bill starting with "To designate the facility of the United States Postal" is good for the bill's odds, and the title starting with "A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of" is really bad.

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I've been reading the wiki bio of one of the soon-to-be speakers at the Republican national convention, rapper Amber Rose:

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Amber_Rose&oldid=1231239062

She's 1/4 Cape Verdean and claims she worked as a stripper and drug dealer as a teenager. She dated a series of famous rappers with names like Machine Gun Kelly and 21 Savage. She married rapper Wiz Khalifa and divorced him a year later. She had a kid out of wedlock. She identifies as bisexual, though like most bisexual women it appears most of her partners have been men. In 2015, she led the Los Angeles Slut Walk. In 2016, she spoke out against Trump. And now she's suddenly a Trump supporter. Some have questioned the sincerity of her conversion; I think one could just as easily question the sincerity of her feminist beliefs circa 2015. Did she just want to help her career in the liberal-dominated entertainment industry?

I'm unsure if having her speak at the convention is a good idea. On the one hand, she's bound to alienate a lot of the suit-and-tie traditional Republicans who used to be the Republican party stereotype:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6pv0_eK960

On the other hand, she's a good representation of the "new" Republican Party that's more secular, downscale, and diverse than the old one. Dare I say she represents the Trumpian populist movement better than these college-educated paleolibertarian male converts to Eastern Orthodoxy who proclaim themselves as its leaders. Your "multiracial working class" includes a lot of women with arms covered in tattoos, scantily-clad Instagram photos and kids born out of wedlock. If they were all run out of the party, it would be electorally dead in the water. Trump, though no genius, is smart enough to understand this. Many Republicans are complaining about her inclusion in the RNC, but if they don't like it, they should start thinking seriously about how to win back the high-income, high-education whites Trump drove out of the party.

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After the assassination attempt, having a rapper speak at the RNC is going to be ideal because there are already lots of memes going around setting the video footage to 50 Cent's "Many Men" 😁

https://x.com/PGATUOR/status/1812260286839316676

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I just called my representative's office and left a comment asking him to publicly call on Biden to drop out. Hopefully every little bit helps.

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Which candidate - Trump, Biden, other Democrat - is likely to be best for AI safety?

My first impression is that a Democrat is likely to appoint sober professionals to formulate policy on the issue, while Trump is likely to appoint whichever culture warrior appears most macho or most willing to bribe. The first could produce good policies, the latter is likely to ignore the issue or do what's best in the short term for some particular insider.

Does anyone have a different take?

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Sounds like a good reason to vote Republican, as AI safety ideology is hysterical nonsense and the only consequence of establishing it as official federal policy is to hand technological leadership over to China.

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Consider that the recently released draft 2024 Republican platform said they'll repeal the recent White House Executive Order on AI.

> Artificial Intelligence (AI) We will repeal Joe Biden’s dangerous Executive Order that hinders AI Innovation, and imposes Radical Leftwing ideas on the development of this technology. In its place, Republicans support AI Development rooted in Free Speech and Human Flourishing.

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/2024-republican-party-platform

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That is a very useful piece of information.

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I'd say that a Democrat is more likely to listen to the "AI ethics" crowd rather than the "AI safety" crowd, since the "ethics" people are much more left-wing than the "safety" people, and they use all the right buzzwords. This will be bad for actual safety, but just might slow AI progress down to a crawl, which could be a silver lining.

I'd say that Trump would do partially what catches his interest, and partially what he thinks will score points against his opposition. If the Democrats push "ethics" over "safety", Trump might well embrace "safety" and play it up on a populist level. This could be bad for safety, since it could render the entire field toxic to anyone who wants to be accepted in left-wing society. On the other hand, he could do something else, which is likely to be bad too, or nothing at all, which is probably the most positive outcome on the table.

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We know what policy Democrats would put in place, because they've already put it in place. It's about "safety", not "ethics".

https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/biden-ai-executive-order-says-companies-will-have-to-report-large-compute-deployments-to-us-gov/

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And that's great, but I don't trust that to continue. It could be wiped out with a word.

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Is it better to vote for the party who promise to ignore "safety" altogether?

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Yes.

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The AI people are mostly left-wing, which means Trump is motivated to make things difficult for them out of spite. I think that's the closest we're getting to AI safety.

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We're fucked.

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When leftists talk about sober professionals, they mean people who went to the Ivy League and have the right connections. Which could just as easily result in a credentialed moron as a competent technocrat. And most willing to bribe, really? Your take mostly boils down to tribal bias. Of course, Trump was notoriously bad at staffing the administration in his first term so he probably wouldn't appoint someone competent either.

Politics is mostly downstream from society and culture. Most people don't know or understand anything about AI. Even the people who do are pretty bitterly divided between AI is the Best Thing Ever and AI is Going to Kill Us All. Typically the government response to new technologies is reactive rather than proactive. Maybe if there is an incident where a rogue AI kills a few thousand people we will see some effective legislation. Otherwise, it will be business as usual.

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

No, by "sober professionals" in this case, I mean something like "people who have heard of a FLOP, or who will listen to those who have".

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No one knows what is likely to be best for AI safety, let alone someone in government. Government people will use fears of AI (some of which are legitimate) to boost their own image to their constituents, enact some regulations which transfer resources from some people to others, and accomplish nothing noteworthy.

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"sober professionals to formulate policy on the issue"

Does this just mean "culture warriors on my side?" Seems to me like Democrats wage culture war just as often as Republicans.

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I think it takes a professional, not a culture warrior, to formulate a rule such as "report all AI runs over 10^26 FLOPs". The average culture warrior has never heard of a FLOP.

https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/biden-ai-executive-order-says-companies-will-have-to-report-large-compute-deployments-to-us-gov/

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A professional can be a culture warrior. Indeed -- sadly -- many are.

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Is there any serious movement in the UK to fix the First Past the Post election system? It seems to cause all kinds of weird chaos.

Unusually, the weird chaos doesn't seem to benefit the two major parties that would presumably need to agree in order to get it to change. A move to instant runoff would keep the two major parties in power just as often, but prevent the wild swings in the composition of the house which kick MPs out of their jobs so often. Though I guess it might also result in more frequent hung parliaments with the LibDems as the constant swing votes.

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Jul 10·edited Jul 10

First Past the Post is the worst system except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.

In particular, I think the strongest argument in favor of FPtP is that it is very simple and easy to understand. Even the dumbest voters can understand "the person who gets the most votes wins", which is not true of most alternatives. And that's a very important consideration at a time when a lot of distrust is being cast on the electoral process even as it is (at least in the US).

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Agreed.

(This is why approval voting is my preferred improvement: it's almost as simple, and better overall. And if you don't want to bother with it, then you only vote for one candidate, and it's back to simple FPtP.)

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The last time we had a referendum on voting reform (which lost) the Lib Dems had just destroyed their reputation by going into a coalition with the Conservatives.

Possible ....

a) "No" voters had just been exposed to a vivid example of the donside of coalition government, and had talken against votoing reforms that would probably make future coalitions more likely

b) The Lib Dems had just self destructed, so "No" voters might have been thinking that the main reason whyb you might need PR had just committed political suicide, so the reasons for voting yes had just gone away.

WE might get a more fortuitous combination of circumstances next time. Now, we need to deal with Reform, the Greens, and sundry independents that Starmer had kicked out of Labour and successfully won against the official Labour candidate. Lots more potential for three way contests.

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

The thing about AV was it wouldn't have led to a genuinely proportional result. I voted for it anyway, mind.

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More bluntly: the Conservatives now have a motive to support PR to reduce the extent to which Reform is splitting their voter, and Labour a (smaller) motive to reduce the extent to which the Greens and Jeremy Corbyn are splitting their vote.

George Galloway won in a by-election, but lost in the general election a short while later, We might take that as a fluke event that is unlikely to be repeated (Labout kicking out their own candidate too late in the process to select a new one). We might take this as a sign that Corbyn actually has support, but Galloway doesnt.

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With PR, Reform would be here for good.

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I'm not desperate for PR but the Irish & German systems seem to work okay.

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Not really. There was a referendum on changing the system a few years ago but it didn't pass. Since then everyone has quoted that result as justification not to try again.

"Weird chaos" seems overstated, the FPTP system normally results in strong majorities and means a government can be formed quickly, without the kind of chaos seen in countries with other systems (e.g. France, Belgium, Italy...)

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The Lib Dems have always supported changing the system, but landslides make the current system too attractive to Labour and the Tories. 400+ seats with 35% of the vote is a good deal. Sometimes the boot is on the other foot, but winning an election is like falling in love again - you forget about the heartbreak from last time. But if enough people vote Green, Reform or Lib Dem so that hung parliaments become the new normal, you will get Proportional Representation eventually, even so it might take some time - there was an Alternative Vote referendum during the Cameron/Clegg era and the Yes side were slaughtered. AV not pure PR but voters seemed very nervous about changing the voting system.

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Have been following the reaction to the Alice Munroe revelations on Twitter. Generally like the reactions to it by Joyce Carol Oates because she has no interest in playing judge or executioner, but what she says here has me thinking:

"None of this is exactly new to women writers & academics since 70% (low estimate) of literature is saturated with sexism & its more pathological expression, misogyny. But we learn to read/appreciate what is there to be appreciated. Otherwise—what’s left for us?"

70% of literature is saturated with misogyny? As a writer herself, I assume she isn't saying literature is saturated with descriptions of misogyny but that the literature itself is saturated with misogyny! Unless I'm mistaken, Joyce Carol Oates is not known as some outspoken feminist.

I get that there are of course misogynistic writers. But I wonder where the line gets drawn. For instance, I often hear that Hemingway is misogynistic but I don't see it. Where is it? What are the central examples of misogyny in 20th century literature? Where does Hemingway cross the line?

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I went and researched the Alice Munro allegations, and I am a little mystified at the focus on misogyny. [1]

The story appears to be that Alice had a marriage which resulted in several children, one of which is Andrea. At some point, Alice ended that relationship, and later married Gerald Fremlin. Andrea accused Gerald of engaging in sexual abuse of herself, and possibly other children. Alice apparently reacted as if Andrea was trying to seduce Gerald.

Siblings of Andrea agreed with her that abuse was happening. Other parents involved (including Andrea's father and his new spouse, Andrea's step-mother) tried to bring attention to the abuse. Eventually, Gerald was faced with the possibility of a criminal trial and pled guilty.

This plays out against a background of Alice's fame in the literary world of her home country, Canada.

This looks like one woman ignoring the possibility that her new husband was being abusive towards her children from an earlier marriage. It also looks like the kind of ugly family dynamics that are generated by such allegations.

Were the personality traits that made Alice a capable, successful author in some way related to her disastrous choices in her personal relationships?

The misogyny of the wider world seems to have little to do with these things.[2] However, people who talk about Alice Munro seem to be talking about misogyny in literature already. So they seem to be approaching this scenario as another point of discussion about misogyny.

Where is the misogyny in this story? Was it in Gerald's behavior towards Alice, or Gerald's behavior towards Andrea? Was it in Alice's disbelief of Andrea's testimony? Or was it somewhere else?

[1] Unless 'Alice Munroe' is a different person than the Canadian short-story author Alice Munro, as detailed in this post

https://meghandaum.substack.com/p/alice-munro-andrea-skinner-stepfather-sexual-abu

[2] Food for thought: in some cultures which are much more restrictive towards women, Alice would have been severely criticized, and possibly separated from her children, for leaving her first husband and taking up with her second husband. Would have have kept daughter Andrea out of the reach of Alice's second partner, with his tendencies towards abuse? Would Andrea think of that as misogynistic, or not? Would Alice think of that as misogynistic?

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My post had nothing to do with Alice Munro, rather it was a reaction to a comment from novelist Joyce Carol Oates about the subject, during one of those "Can we separate the art from the artist?" debates. Oates opined there wasn't much literature left to read if she couldn't, considering 70% of what has been written is drenched in misogyny.

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What with one thing and another, I don't think there's literally anything written that I could whole-heartedly endorse (present company excepted), and so I have to live in Oates' compromise.

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Wodehouse - I love Aunt Agatha, truly great character. But...also a sexist trope. Bossy women stopping us having fun.

Waugh - magdelenes get a pretty raw deal in the poetic justice department.

Lewis - even Peter Hitchens thinks Susan gets a raw deal in the Narnia books.

These are all writers I love, I'm just saying.

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Has Oates written elsewhere about what she means by sexism and misogyny?

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Misogyny is open to interpretation, and if one is looking for it, one can always find it.

Lord of the Rings (the novels, chiefly) is (not intentionally) misogynistic: https://xkcd.com/2609/

The further back in time one goes, the fewer female authors there were. They say to write what you know. It is only natural, if one is a man, to write the protagonist (and antagonist, and mooks, and background characters) as a man. It doesn't mean the author meant to be sexist.

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Jul 12·edited Jul 12

Gosh, that XKCD is so perceptive! A war story where there are armies is not 50:50 equal representation of women in the Fellowship! Imagine, a guy writing in the 1940s didn't realise that seventy years later "modern audiences" would expect Strong Women, minorities in both ethnicity and sexual orientation, and differently abled persons on the team! Why is there no wheelchair user?

https://diaryofadisabledperson.blog/2022/03/06/wheelchairs-dragons/

My reaction to this is "why do you think women are only important if they are emulating men, that is, riding around on horseback waving swords and fighting trolls?" I think turning Boromir into the princess, not prince, of Gondor would be a fascinating change to the tale, but she wouldn't be in the Fellowship. Neither is Eowyn, but neither is Eomer, either.

From the Selected Letters:

"The sequel, The Lord of the Rings, much the largest, and I hope also in proportion the best, of the entire cycle, concludes the whole business – an attempt is made to include in it, and wind up, all the elements and motives of what has preceded: elves, dwarves, the Kings of Men, heroic 'Homeric' horsemen, orcs and demons, the terrors of the Ring-servants and Necromancy, and the vast horror of the Dark Throne, even in style it is to include the colloquialism and vulgarity of Hobbits, poetry and the highest style of prose. We are to see the overthrow of the last incarnation of Evil, the unmaking of the Ring, the final departure of the Elves, and the return in majesty of the true King, to take over the Dominion of Men, inheriting all that can be transmitted of Elfdom in his high marriage with Arwen daughter of Elrond, as well as the lineal royalty of Númenor. But as the earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact anthropocentric. But through Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most clearly a recurrent theme: the place in 'world polities' of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole (after the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also inevitably by lies) is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless."

But of course, none of that any good without Strong Girlboss as leaderette of the Fellowship!

When I was younger, I too went "where are the women in these stories?" but when I got a little older, it occurred to me "why do I think women are only important when they are doing the same things as the men in the same way as the men? why don't I think that the traditional roles and concerns of women are themselves important?"

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I did not mean that I think The Lord of the Rings is misogynistic; quite the contrary, I think it had nothing whatsoever to say on the subject. I thought the XKCD was funny, though. It IS seen through a modern lens, and as I said, misogyny is open to interpretation. In the paraphrased words of Tom Lehrer, misogyny is in the eyes of the beholder. When correctly viewed, everything is crude.

Arguably the most "powerful" character in The Lord of the Rings, barring Ainur and above, is Galadriel, who demonstrated her great goodness, power, and strength of will by refusing the Ring, even as a freely offered gift. That's like having access to a tool or technology which could be used to rule the world, and refusing to rule the world with it.

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LOTR has something to say about women, or at least about Eowyn's point of view about the bad treatment she was getting.

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Not having a woman as a main character isn't the same as misogyny.

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

Never mind main character, in the Hobbit there are no women at all. Now okay it's about war and stuff but IRL women were spying, codebreaking. Erasure is a legitimate feminist concern. Again: I love Tolkien.

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Jul 12·edited Jul 12

Nobody, including the men, in the Shire are spying and codebreaking. Bilbo is dragged out of his comfortable life by Gandalf for mysterious reasons. Nobody else in the Shire, or hardly anyone else, would both want to go off on An Adventure or be suitable for one.

We hear about Hobbit women in the text, such as Bilbo's mother, and we get a lot more family background in the selected letters:

"As I was saying, the mother of this hobbit—of Bilbo Baggins, that is—was the famous Belladonna Took, one of the three remarkable daughters of the Old Took, head of the hobbits who lived across The Water, the small river that ran at the foot of The Hill. It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife. That was, of course, absurd, but certainly there was still something not entirely hobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the Took-clan would go and have adventures. They discreetly disappeared, and the family hushed it up; but the fact remained that the Tooks were not as respectable as the Bagginses, though they were undoubtedly richer."

Gandalf refers to Bilbo by his mother's, not his father's, heritage:

"To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!”

"...Indeed for your old grandfather Took’s sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for.”

And Gandalf was blamed for Hobbit lasses, as well as Hobbit lads, going off on adventures:

“Dear me!” he went on. “Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves—or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter—I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.”

From the letters:

"It could, therefore, happen in various circumstances that a long-lived woman of forceful character remained 'head of the family', until she had full-grown grandchildren. Laura Baggins (née Grubb) remained 'head' of the family of 'Baggins of Hobbiton', until she was 102. As she was 7 years younger than her husband (who died at the age of 93 in SY 1300), she held this position for 16 years, until SY 1316; and her son Bungo did not become 'head', until he was 70, ten years before he died at the early age of 80. Bilbo did not succeed, until the death of his Took mother Belladonna, in 1334, when he was 44.

Customs differed in cases where the 'head' died leaving no son. In the Took-family, since the headship was also connected with the title and (originally military) office of Thain, descent was strictly through the male line. ...In other great families the headship might pass through a daughter of the deceased to his eldest grandson (irrespective of the daughter's age). This latter custom was usual in families of more recent origin, without ancient records or ancestral mansions. In such cases the heir (if he accepted the courtesy title) took the name of his mother's family – though he often retained that of his father's family also (placed second). This was the case with Otho Sackville-Baggins. For the nominal headship of the Sackvilles had come to him through his mother Camellia. It was his rather absurd ambition to achieve the rare distinction of being 'head' of two families (he would probably then have called himself Baggins-Sackville-Baggins) : a situation which will explain his exasperation with the adventures and disappearances of Bilbo, quite apart from any loss of property involved in the adoption of Frodo."

But mainly I think we can't expect the attitudes and expectations of today to hold for works written eighty years and more ago.

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I recently re-read the first bit of "The Hobbit", and was struck by Gandalf's references to Belladonna Took. Not to mention, her name itself.

I only wish Amazon had had a similar inspiration. Why exactly was Gandalf so familiar with her? Why was she "famous" and "remarkable"? What would lead him to expect more from her descendants? There's a story there!

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6 hrs ago·edited 6 hrs ago

To celebrate one other strong-minded Hobbit matriarch, from a draft of an unsent letter 1958/59:

"But the government of a 'family', as of the real unit: the 'household', was not a monarchy (except by accident). It was a 'dyarchy', in which master and mistress had equal status, if different functions. Either was held to be the proper representative of the other in the case of absence (including death). There were no 'dowagers'. If the master died first, his place was taken by his wife, and this included (if he had held that position) the titular headship of a large family or clan. This title thus did not descend to the son, or other heir, while she lived, unless she voluntarily resigned. [We are here dealing only with titular 'headship' not with ownership of property, and its management. These were distinct matters; though in the case of the surviving 'great households', such as Great Smials or Brandy Hall, they might overlap. In other cases, headship, being a mere title, and a matter of courtesy, was naturally seldom relinquished by the living.]

…A well-known case, also, was that of Lalia the Great (or less courteously the Fat). Fortinbras II, one time head of the Tooks and Thain, married Lalia of the Clayhangers in 1314, when he was 36 and she was 31. He died in 1380 at the age of 102, but she long outlived him, coming to an unfortunate end in 1402 at the age of 119. So she ruled the Tooks and the Great Smials for 22 years, a great and memorable, if not universally beloved, 'matriarch'. She was not at the famous Party (SY 1401), but was prevented from attending rather by her great size and immobility than by her age. Her son, Ferumbras, had no wife, being unable (it was alleged) to find anyone willing to occupy apartments in the Great Smials, under the rule of Lalia. Lalia, in her last and fattest years, had the custom of being wheeled to the Great Door, to take the air on a fine morning. In the spring of SY 1402 her clumsy attendant let the heavy chair run over the threshold and tipped Lalia down the flight of steps into the garden. So ended a reign and life that might well have rivalled that of the Great Took.

It was widely rumoured that the attendant was Pearl (Pippin's sister), though the Tooks tried to keep the matter within the family. At the celebration of Ferumbras' accession […But Ferumbras, though he became Thain Ferumbras III in 1380, still occupied no more than a small bachelor-son's apartment in the Great Smials, until 1402] the displeasure and regret of the family was formally expressed by the exclusion of Pearl from the ceremony and feast; but it did not escape notice that later (after a decent interval) she appeared in a splendid necklace of her name-jewels that had long lain in the hoard of the Thains."

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6 hrs ago·edited 6 hrs ago

There's a lot in the background we never get to know about! The Tooks are, as mentioned, considered a lot more adventurous than the Hobbit norm and thus much less respectable (even though richer - and that's a subtle point Tolkien is making that wealth alone doesn't buy status) than the Bagginses.

There's a hint that Belladonna and her sisters are the reasons why Bilbo, and later on Frodo, Merry and Pippin, all have that streak of daring in their makeup since they get it from the maternal side of the family. Strong-minded and capable Hobbit women are there - see Lobelia, for instance. Just because we don't see them running around doing men's adventures alongside the men in the men's style does not mean Tolkien perceives the role of women as to sit meekly at home by the fire being obedient to their husbands (often in Hobbit society it's the husbands and sons who are obedient to them).

That's what annoys me about "your faves are problematic" here; yes, there's a legitimate criticism to be made about the lack of female visibility, but if the criticism is that "the women in this story are not pseudo-men", then that devalues and looks down upon traditional roles and duties and activities of women. It's every bit as misogynistic to ignore running a household as not being something worth talking about, as it is to say "women in the kitchen and kitchen only, please".

The women in Tolkien's stories are on the Home Front, like his own wife after they married.

From a letter to his son Michael, 1941:

"I fell in love with your mother at the approximate age of 18. Quite genuinely, as has been shown – though of course defects of character and temperament have caused me often to fall below the ideal with which I started. Your mother was older than I, and not a Catholic. Altogether unfortunate, as viewed by a guardian. And it was in a sense very unfortunate; and in a way very bad for me. These things are absorbing and nervously exhausting. I was a clever boy in the throes of work for (a very necessary) Oxford scholarship. The combined tensions nearly produced a bad breakdown. I muffed my exams and though (as years afterwards my H[ead] M[aster] told me) I ought to have got a good scholarship, I only landed by the skin of my teeth an exhibition of £60 at Exeter: just enough with a school leaving scholarship of the same amount to come up on (assisted by my dear old guardian). Of course there was a credit side, not so easily seen by the guardian. I was clever, but not industrious or single-minded; a large part of my failure was due simply to not working (at least not at classics) not because I was in love, but because I was studying something else: Gothic and what not. Having the romantic upbringing I made a boy-and-girl affair serious, and made it the source of effort. Naturally rather a physical coward, I passed from a despised rabbit on a house second-team to school colours in two seasons. All that sort of thing. However, trouble arose: and I had to choose between disobeying and grieving (or deceiving) a guardian who had been a father to me, more than most real fathers, but without any obligation, and 'dropping' the love-affair until I was 21. I don't regret my decision, though it was very hard on my lover. But that was not my fault. She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else. For very nearly three years I did not see or write to my lover. It was extremely hard, painful and bitter, especially at first. The effects were not wholly good: I fell back into folly and slackness and misspent a good deal of my first year at College. But I don't think anything else would have justified marriage on the basis of a boy's affair; and probably nothing else would have hardened the will enough to give such an affair (however genuine a case of true love) permanence. On the night of my 21st birthday I wrote again to your mother – Jan. 3, 1913. On Jan. 8th I went back to her, and became engaged, and informed an astonished family. I picked up my socks and did a spot of work (too late to save Hon. Mods. from disaster) – and then war broke out the next year, while I still had a year to go at college. In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in, especially for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage. No degree: no money: fiancée. I endured the obloquy, and hints becoming outspoken from relatives, stayed up, and produced a First in Finals in 1915. Bolted into the army: July 1915. I found the situation intolerable and married on March 22, 1916. May found me crossing the Channel (I still have the verse I wrote on the occasion!) for the carnage of the Somme.

Think of your mother! Yet I do not now for a moment feel that she was doing more than she should have been asked to do – not that that detracts from the credit of it. I was a young fellow, with a moderate degree, and apt to write verse, a few dwindling pounds p. a. (£20 – 40), and no prospects, a Second Lieut. on 7/6 a day in the infantry where the chances of survival were against you heavily (as a subaltern). She married me in 1916 and John was born in 1917 (conceived and carried during the starvation-year of 1917 and the great U-Boat campaign) round about the battle of Cambrai, when the end of the war seemed as far-off as it does now. I sold out, and spent to pay the nursing-home, the last of my few South African shares, 'my patrimony'."

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Fairly or not it's an example that I have seen used - “there are no women in the Hobbit”. I do think there's a difference between writing a living character who can speak for themselves and characters who are spoken of in the backstory, like Mainwaring's wife. I simply disagree that those are the values of 80 years ago, period. Perhaps Tolkien and the Inklings represent the best of western civilization more than, say, Virginia Woolfe, but that doesn't put them in the majority in their own time. There's more potential for espionage/codebreaking in LOTR (any sufficiently advanced technology…)

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The only codebreaking I can think of is Elrond reading the moon-runes.

Where is your putative female Hobbit spy going to be doing all this spying and codebreaking? For whom? Gandalf is not running a network of Hobbit spies. There is no king in Arnor any more. Gondor is miles and miles to the South. Halflings are pretty much considered a legend or fairy story outside of the Shire, where only the Dwarves really have any contact with them, due to the roads to the Blue Mountains passing through the Shire.

In Bree? Bree may have a mixed population of Big Folk and Little Folk, but it's just as insular in its own way.

Maybe you could swap out Merry and/or Pippin for their girl cousins to go off with Frodo, but in the general run of things, no Hobbits - male *or* female - want to go off adventuring and mixing with strange folk in foreign lands.

Tolkien was writing what he knew as much as Virginia Wolfe was writing what she knew. With "The Hobbit", it was a children's bed time story for his children, and it seems mostly to be Christopher that interacted with it. He didn't put in "and here are all the Strong Girlbosses" because that wasn't in his mind, shaped as it was by Norse epics.

I'm not saying he's the best of the best, I'm saying "putting modern attitudes into the past doesn't work". Virginia Wolfe is not writing about Anglo-Saxon societies, and the closest she comes to fantasy is the novel "Orlando" which is decidedly not the same kind of thing as "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings".

If I look at another famous (adult) novel from 1937 (the year "The Hobbit" was published), it's "The Citadel" by A.J. Cronin, which could also be criticised for "where's the women?" The main female character is the wife of the hero and ends up killed by being hit by a bus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Citadel_(novel)

Is XKCD drawing cute cartoons about "where all the lady doctors?"

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I agree, but I think the issue is more closely related to what kinds of female characters a male writer invents.

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I think that's totally fair, and I think that there are some writers who are genuine misogynists or misandrists and that this will come out in their writing.

I once read a terrible novel in which the main character was a man who went around being a jerk to everybody for two hundred pages and then in the end he rapes his teenage daughter because he catches her masturbating and is so personally offended that she is enjoying her own body despite its obesity that he decides to rape her because, like, reasons. You could tell _that_ novel was written by someone who just plain hates men. I'm sure there's equally misogynist examples too, but none immediately spring to mind.

I don't think there's many *good* novels written by misogynists or misandrists though. If you hate a whole sex then you're probably working from a very flawed mental model of how they actually think and behave, so you're not going to be able to write these characters convincingly.

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> I don't think there's many good novels written by misogynists or misandrists though.

One way to get away with it is to only write about the sex you like. That's been easier for misogynists than misandrists, given the male-dominated nature of literate civilization. And personally, I hate it when authors go off on lengthy rants about groups they despise, so I'm just as happy if misogynists write books with only men in them, because I think those books stand a much better chance of being actually *good*, that way.

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I don't know whether I would say Hemingway is "misogynistic" necessarily, and I haven't read that much Hemingway, but the reason people say that is because Hemingway is primarily concerned with men attaining what he sees as masculine virtue by doing masculine things like hunting or bull fighting or soldiering. In that world, women are kind of second rate beings who are either sex objects or harpies or distractions, or in the worst case seek to destroy men, like Francis Macomber's wife.

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You're a writer yourself? What sort of thing do you write? I am now in the horrifying middle of writing a novel about future people in a world with a superintelligent AI.

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If you count sexism by omission, that is no female main characters, no female characters with agency and so on, there's a lot. Also if you include old books there's a lot.

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Yep, if you define words however you want, then you can say anything you like, and have it be true.

I don't begrudge anyone the right to define words however they want, the appropriate thing to do is to recognise they're speaking a language that is similar to but not equivalent to English, and block it out as noise.

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>I don't begrudge anyone the right to define words however they want..

That's good, because everyone does.

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In the 19th century, classic characters like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina have plenty of agency.

Molly Bloom has plenty of agency as do Proust's Albertine and his other female characters. Kafka's, Hemingway's, and Fitzgerald's distaff characters all have agency. Yes, there are few female main characters by male authors, but I don't see how that amounts to misogyny. Few writers, whatever their gender, write main characters of the opposite gender.

Perhaps 20th century publishers and the writing culture in NYC was sexist. I can believe that.

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All I remember Molly doing is spending twice with Blazes Boylon and menstruating.

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and saying "yes yes I will yes." I think you have to read the closing monologue of hers to decide whether Joyce is mind reading a woman accurately, or just projecting.

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I think there's no doubt that women think and feel and say that more often than men. Did you know that marriage protects men well from depression?Married men are much less likely to be depressed than single ones. But the same does not hold true for women. Tis better to be the receiver of the Yes than the giver.

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Absolutely true, and yes, I did know that. So I would say that Joyce was sensitive to this in his depiction of Molly.

I think one of the most important parts of saying yes, is the spirit in which it is said. There is a lot of her own pain in that monologue of Molly's and it makes her saying "yes yes I will yes" kind of profound I think. At least that's how I remember it.

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Read an old post about navigating crappy phone trees, negotiating with insurances and such in the medical system, I think I have a vague idea that might improve things - but it needs to ultimate be enforced by the government to have bite.

First, legislation - make it explicit that if a business fails to provide a service it is contracted to provide because their service is delivered in such a way to defeat most good-faith attempts to navigate it, this is legally a breach of contract and if this is something a customer is paying for, this basically cancels the bill. Release a set of standards for what good faith provisioning of services looks like (without being too prescriptive, so they can't just follow the letter and not the spirit).

Perhaps set up a hotline to send evidence and report such instances. Really egregious offenders face severe penalties.

If this law is written right, a whole bunch of lawyers will immediately go out of their way to find people who are struggling with getting medical treatment or medications covered. They will sit in the room and observe the customer interactions and note down all the obvious infractions, time the hold time, etc. They might charge a percentage of the insurance bill that they're saving the customer.

If they're ambitious, they'll figure out how to scale this and create a class action case.

On the flipside, now that offering shitty phone CS has a high chance of voiding contracts, owing refunds, and losing money, a lot of companies may find themselves under pressure to actively improve the situation.

I think it's important to keep the infraction in line with the intent of the legislation (force companies you have a contract with to actually honour the damn contract - so the infraction is "it's impossible to get my contract fulfilled").

It's a bit harder for a shop that you just go and buy things from, because you don't have contracts with them, but there's far more competition in retail so it's not as big a problem (i.e unlike with insurers which aren't easily switched you can just try a different pharmacy).

Surely someone is already doing something like this to try to improve things?

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There are two phone Oses in general use and while neither is perfect, they aren’t hard to navigate.

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This is not a navigation problem - it's a Getting Your Problem Solved problem. It's about not being sent on wild goose chases where phone operators endlessly transfer you between departments.

If it takes an unreasonable amount of time, or is unreasonably difficult to access a service I've paid for (eg: make my health insurance pay a bill the contract obliges them to pay), I should be able to simply cancel the contract and get all my premiums back because they've failed at providing me the service.

Things that this could cause: someone might be finally motivated to produce a simple webpage or pdf or something that tells you how much they're going to pay for a service, so you can plan for it, and make it easy to access.

This is why I'm adamant that the wording of the law is performance based.

(To be fair, the refund mechanism in the US gets more complicated because a lot of people don't directly pay for their own insurance)

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They're not hard to navigate, but I've found that generally the options don't match my issue at hand. So it's usually 0,0,0,0,0,0,0 or "customer service, customer service, _customer service!" for me.

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Last week I posted how I think I agree with Spinoza that The Universe Is God, and some of the questions I got about it has me wondering how much of my thinking is merely semantic. For instance, if I say I believe that the same being who experiences being Taylor Swift is the same being who experiences being Joe Biden is the same being who experiences being a lizard on the fence, does that mean anything or is it just words?

To put it another way, let's say one believes in reincarnation and souls are distinct entities, but nobody is able to remember their past lives. Does that mean anything?

Assuming no further theology is in place, do the words "being" and "soul" mean anything if we stipulate that a being or soul may be multiple people but none of those people will ever know that they are the same being or soul as others?

Is this the kind of stuff of which Wittgenstein said we must remain silent?

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Jul 10·edited Jul 10

Some of us remember our past lives. I don't know if they're real memories or false memories, but they're there in my brain. Likewise, I don't remember or I misrember a significant portion of my current life. I'd say I only retain memories of the highlights — say 1%? — and of those, I misremember significant details. Yet we talk as if our lives are a continuous uninterrupted thread of experience (being) that's completely accessible from our present state of consciousness.

I don't know about souls. I could posit other reasons for my other-life memories — if they're "real" — but then again none of my regular memories are "real" either — rather they're highly edited abstractions of the states of my qualia and thoughts at a given moment in the past.

I don't know what Spinoza said about being, but it seems to me that the whole project of empiricism is that the universe exists (has being) without us necessarily being there to enjoy it.

But with the proper definitions and examples, I think we can discuss the ideas of being and souls without having to remain silent on those subjects.

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Yes. Quite simply if you think that Biden and Taylor Swift are the same person or substance, and there’s no way either of them can know this not only is the idea unfalsifiable, it’s merit less.

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I agree that it's unfalsifiable, but I don't think it's meritless. It seems to me that if there were a group of people that believed that the universe is god, and had some rituals and some music saturated with that idea, and gatherings where they celebrated it, those people would feel more thrilled and happy about life than others, and more interested in things beyond themselves, and more connected with other people.

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Not necessarily meritless, since merit is a matter of opinion. It is, however, a matter of philosophy, and not a scientific question.

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No, I'd say it's the kind of stuff that AJ Ayer said was meaningless, according to his Princiciple of Verification: The meaning of a statement is its method of verification. There's no conceivable way of verifying statements like the ones you made, hence (acc/to Ayer) they are meaningless. I think Wittgenstein was talking about only being able to say so much about the way language has meaning -- yet there's a way that it's all arbitrary and made up. He could say *some*stuff about words and statements and how they come to mean something, but after all he's using words to do it, and there comes a point where it's impossible to use words to describe the arbitrariness of language, the way it's fake -- because the statements he's making are made of the same arbitrary fake stuff.

I don't think your statements are meaningless, though. They pass the shiver test for me. Here's my own non-rational formulation: The universe understands itself. We know it does because it made a model of itself. What model? The universe.

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Interesting. This subject makes me shiver too, but I'm not sure that is evidence of meaning.

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Also I like this Buddhist bit: form is emptiness, emptiness is form

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And what is _being_ if "things" are temporary configurations of sub-atomic particles that rearrange themselves over time? The names we give things are arbitrary assignments which have little meaning below a certain level of reality. And subatomic particles may n

And what is the soul in such a universe? If we think about it, souls (if they exist), must be containers for (or consist of) information. What is information? Patterns in randomness? But if we encrypt information, we have no way to distinguish it from randomness. Yet randomness can contain the information...

My brain hurts!

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Nothing is random. Computer programmers know they can only generate pseudo-random numbers. Rolling dice generates numbers that can, in principle, be calculated from initial conditions and following physical laws with enough precision; even quantum mechanics is deterministic until the wave function is collapsed.

We only have unpredictability, not randomness.

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Jul 10·edited Jul 10

As for quantum mechanics being deterministic, John Stewart Bell's theorem stated that there were no hidden variables in quantum mechanics. Subsequent experiments have proved his theorem, at least as far as local variables go.

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Jul 10·edited Jul 10

So you're claiming that we could predict the entire evolutionary history of the universe if we knew all the details of the initial conditions from when the universe was the size of a casaba melon? Are you claiming we could predict the evolution of actual casaba melons on a small planet around a G-type star around a small spiral galaxy among trillions of galaxies 13.6 billion years after Inflation and the Big Bang? I find that hard to swallow. But if you want to believe that, go right ahead.

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Wouldn't it be awful to have to write a book called The False Randomness of the Encrypted? Or we could let you off with just a poem.

I was the shadow of the waxwing crypted

By the false random of the thought encrypted

I was the smudge of s9env&,smNE#ch2 stuff-- and I

Lived on, flew on, in the cryptic sky.

(That's from Pale Fire, corrupted by me of course)

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C. S. Lewis wrote a little about this in "Mere Christianity", in the chapter where he defined Pantheism and Theism (he would know, having once been a pantheist similar to the Spinoza bent himself):

"The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority—lines up with ancient Greeks and Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc., against the modern Western European materialist.

"Now I go on to the next big division. People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more dearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether.

"We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely “good” or “righteous.” a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hegel and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.

"And with this big difference between Pantheism and the Christian idea of God, there usually goes another. Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The Christian idea is quite different. They think God invented and made the universe—like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, “He’s put a lot of himself into it,” but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head. His skill is not in the picture in the same way that it is in his head, or even in his hands. expect you see how this difference between Pantheists and Christians hangs together with the other one. If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that.

"You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.” For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God “made up out of His head” as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again"

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I would sum up this distinction as being between (1) true wisdom of the nature of things as they are and (2) something that is designed in order to achieve social coherence, which is also necessary and another part of the universe that is god, embodied.

I used to admire Lewis but as I get older not so much. At the end, his entire argument boils down to "Dammit, we are Englishman!"

It also seems to be very odd that any God that has clout in these discussions (the monotheistic religions)didn't show up until we human beings had been on the planet for at least 500,000 years. This only makes sense to me if my conception of god is "God is the ultimate video game designer." I don't find that satisfactory. I also understand that rules of conduct are necessary, and enforcing them is much easier if you can appeal to a higher power. It's a conundrum.

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"At the end, his entire argument boils down to "Dammit, we are Englishman!""

Boy, have you got the wrong vampire!

From "Surprised by Joy":

"My father belonged to the first generation of his family that reached professional station. His grandfather had been a Welsh farmer; his father, a self-made man, had begun life as a workman, emigrated to Ireland, and ended as a partner in the firm of Macilwaine and Lewis, "Boiler-makers, Engineers, and Iron Ship Builders". My mother was a Hamilton with many generations of clergymen, lawyers, sailors, and the like behind her; on her mother's side, through the Warrens, the blood went back to a Norman knight whose bones lie at Battle Abbey. The two families from which I spring were as different in temperament as in origin. My father's people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness. The Hamiltons were a cooler race. Their minds were critical and ironic and they had the talent for happiness in a high degree--went straight for it as experienced travellers go for the best seat in a train. From my earliest years I was aware of the vivid contrast between my mother's cheerful and tranquil affection and the ups and downs of my father's emotional life, and this bred in me long before I was old enough to give it a name a certain distrust or dislike of emotion as something uncomfortable and embarrassing and even dangerous.'"

"It was decided that I should go as a boarder, but I could get an exeat to come home every Sunday. I was enchanted. I did not believe that anything Irish, even a school, could be bad; certainly not so bad as all I yet knew of England. To "Campbell" I accordingly went."

"No Englishman will be able to understand my first impressions of England. When we disembarked, I suppose at about six next morning (but it seemed to be midnight), I found myself in a world to which I reacted with immediate hatred. The flats of Lancashire in the early morning are in reality a dismal sight; to me they were like the banks of Styx. The strange English accents with which I was surrounded seemed like the voices of demons. But what was worst was the English landscape from Fleetwood to Euston. Even to my adult eye that main line still appears to run through the dullest and most unfriendly strip in the island. But to a child who had always lived near the sea and in sight of high ridges it appeared as I suppose Russia might appear to an English boy. The flatness! The interminableness! The miles and miles of featureless land, shutting one in from the sea, imprisoning, suffocating! Everything was wrong; wooden fences instead of stone walls and hedges, red brick farmhouses instead of white cottages, the fields too big, haystacks the wrong shape. Well does the Kalevala say that in the stranger's house the floor is full of knots. I have made up the quarrel since; but at that moment I conceived a hatred for England which took many years to heal.

Our destination was the little town of--let us call it Belsen--in Hertfordshire. "Green Hertfordshire", Lamb calls it; but it was not green to a boy bred in County Down. It was flat Hertfordshire, flinty Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire of the yellow soil. There is the same difference between the climate of Ireland and of England as between that of England and the Continent. There was far more weather at Belsen than I had ever met before; there I first knew bitter frost and stinging fog, sweltering heat and thunderstorms on the great scale."

" I had been told that Surrey was "suburban", and the landscape that actually flitted past the windows astonished me. I saw steep little hills, watered valleys, and wooded commons which ranked by my Wyvernian and Irish standards as forests"

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That’s very amusing. Thank you for that. Later on in the same memoir he says this though.

“ ... I have made up the quarrel since; but at that moment I conceived a hatred for England which took many years to heal."

I think they finally got to him in some way.

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"Hitherto my feelings for nature had been too narrowly romantic. I attended almost entirely to what I thought awe-inspiring, or wild, or eerie, and above all to distance. Hence mountains and clouds were my especial delight; the sky was, and still is, to me one of the principal elements in any landscape, and long before I had seen them all named and sorted out in Modern Painters I was very attentive to the different qualities, and different heights, of the cirrus, the cumulus, and the rain-cloud. As for the Earth, the country I grew up in had everything to encourage a romantic bent, had indeed done so ever since I first looked at the unattainable Green Hills through the nursery window. For the reader who knows those parts it will be enough to say that my main haunt was the Holywood Hills-the irregular polygon you would have described if you drew a line from Stormont to Comber, from Comber to Newtownards, from Newtownards to Scrabo, from Scrabo to Craigantlet, from Craigantlet to Holywood, and thence through Knocknagonney back to Stormont. How to suggest it all to a foreigner I hardly know.

First of all, it is by Southern English standards bleak. The woods, for we have a few, are of small trees, rowan and birch and small fir. The fields are small, divided by ditches with ragged sea-nipped hedges on top of them. There is a good deal of gorse and many outcroppings of rock. Small abandoned quarries, filled with cold-looking water, are surprisingly numerous. There is nearly always a wind whistling through the grass. Where you see a man ploughing there will be gulls following him and pecking at the furrow. There are no field-paths or rights of way, but that does not matter for everyone knows you--or if they do not know you, they know your kind and understand that you will shut gates and not walk over crops. Mushrooms are still felt to be common property, like the air. The soil has none of the rich chocolate or ochre you find in parts of England: it is pale--what Dyson calls "the ancient, bitter earth". But the grass is soft, rich, and sweet, and the cottages, always whitewashed and single storeyed and roofed with blue slate, light up the whole landscape.

Although these hills are not very high, the expanse seen from them is huge and various. Stand at the north-eastern extremity where the slopes go steeply down to Holywood. Beneath you is the whole expanse of the Lough. The Antrim coast twists sharply to the north and out of sight; green, and humble in comparison, Down curves away southward. Between the two the Lough merges into the sea, and if you look carefully on a good day you can even see Scotland, phantom-like on the horizon. Now come further to the south and west. Take your stand at the isolated cottage which is visible from my father's house and overlooks our whole suburb, and which everyone calls The Shepherd's Hut, though we are not really a shepherd country. You are still looking down on the Lough, but its mouth and the sea are now hidden by the shoulder you have just come from, and it might (for all you see) be a landlocked lake. And here we come to one of those great contrasts which have bitten deeply into my mind--Niflheim and Asgard, Britain and Logres, Handramit and Harandra, air and ether, the low world and the high. Your horizon from here is the Antrim Mountains, probably a uniform mass of greyish blue, though if it is a sunny day you may just trace on the Cave Hill the distinction between the green slopes that climb two-thirds of the way to the summit and the cliff wall that perpendicularly accomplishes the rest. That is one beauty; and here where you stand is another, quite different and even more dearly loved--sunlight and grass and dew, crowing cocks and gaggling ducks. In between them, on the flat floor of the Valley at your feet, a forest of factory chimneys, gantries, and giant cranes rising out of a welter of mist, lies Belfast. Noises come up from it continually, whining and screeching of trams, clatter of horse traffic on uneven sets, and, dominating all else, the continual throb and stammer of the great shipyards. And because we have heard this all our lives it does not, for us, violate the peace of the hill-top; rather, it emphasises it, enriches the contrast, sharpens the dualism. Down in that "smoke and stir" is the hated office to which Arthur, less fortunate than I, must return to-morrow: for it is only one of his rare holidays that allows us to stand here together on a weekday morning. And down there too are the barefoot old women, the drunken men stumbling in and out of the "spirit grocers" (Ireland's horrible substitute for the kindly English "pub"), the straining, overdriven horses, the hard-faced rich women--all the world which Alberich created when he cursed love and twisted the gold into a ring.

Now step a little way--only two fields and across a lane and up to the top of the bank on the far side--and you will see, looking south with a little east in it, a different world. And having seen it, blame me if you can for being a romantic. For here is the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the world's end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts. You are looking across what may be called, in a certain sense, the plain of Down, and seeing beyond it the Mourne Mountains.

It was K.--that is, Cousin Quartus' second daughter, the Valkyrie--who first expounded to me what this plain of Down is really like. Here is the recipe for imagining it. Take a number of medium-sized potatoes and lay them down (one layer of them only) in a flat-bottomed tin basin. Now shake loose earth over them till the potatoes themselves, but not the shape of them, is hidden; and of course the crevices between them will now be depressions of earth. Now magnify the whole thing till those crevices are large enough to conceal each its stream and its huddle of trees. And then, for colouring, change your brown earth into the chequered pattern of fields, always small fields (a couple of acres each), with all their normal variety of crop, grass, and plough. You have now got a picture of the "plain" of Down, which is a plain only in this sense that if you were a very large giant you would regard it as level but very ill to walk on--like cobbles. And now remember that every cottage is white. The whole expanse laughs with these little white dots; it is like nothing so much as the assembly of white foam-caps when a fresh breeze is on a summer sea. And the roads are white too; there is no tarmac yet. And because the whole country is a turbulent democracy of little hills, these roads shoot in every direction, disappearing and reappearing. But you must not spread over this landscape your hard English sunlight; make it paler, make it softer, blur the edges of the white cumuli, cover it with watery gleams, deepening it, making all unsubstantial. And beyond all this, so remote that they seem fantastically abrupt, at the very limit of your vision, imagine the mountains. They are no stragglers. They are steep and compact and pointed and toothed and jagged. They seem to have nothing to do with the little hills and cottages that divide you from them. And sometimes they are blue, sometimes violet; but quite often they look transparent--as if huge sheets of gauze had been cut out into mountainous shapes and hung up there, so that you could see through them the light of the invisible sea at their backs."

"Meanwhile, on the continent, the unskilled butchery of the first German War went on. As it did so and as I began to foresee that it would probably last till I reached military age, I was compelled to make a decision which the law had taken out of the hands of English boys of my own age; for in Ireland we had no conscription. I did not much plume myself even then for deciding to serve, but I did feel that the decision absolved me from taking any further notice of the war. ...Accordingly I put the war on one side to a degree which some people will think shameful and some incredible. Others will call it a flight from reality. I maintain that it was rather a treaty with reality, the fixing of a frontier. I said to my country, in effect, "You shall have me on a certain date, not before. I will die in your wars if need be, but till then I shall live my own life. You may have my body, but not my mind. I will take part in battles but not read about them." If this attitude needs excusing I must say that a boy who is unhappy at school inevitably learns the habit of keeping the future in its place; if once he began to allow infiltrations from the coming term into the present holidays he would despair. Also, the Hamilton in me was always on guard against the Lewis; I had seen enough of the self-torturing temperament."

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From Tolkien's letters:

"I noticed a strange tall gaunt man half in khaki half in mufti with a large wide-awake hat, bright eyes and a hooked nose sitting in the comer. The others had their backs to him, but I could see in his eye that he was taking an interest in the conversation quite unlike the ordinary pained astonishment of the British (and American) public at me presence of the Lewises (and myself) in a pub. It was rather like Trotter at the Prancing Pony, in fact v. like. All of a sudden he butted in, in a strange unplaceable accent, taking up some point about Wordsworth. In a few seconds he was revealed as Roy Campbell (of Flowering Rifle and Flaming Terrapin'). Tableau! Especially as C.S.L. had not long ago violently lampooned him in the Oxford Magazine, and his press-cutters miss nothing. There is a good deal of Ulster still left in C.S.L. if hidden from himself. "

"C.S.L. of course had some oddities and could sometimes be irritating. He was after all and remained an Irishman of Ulster. But he did nothing for effect; he was not a professional clown, but a natural one, when a clown at all. He was generous-minded, on guard against all prejudices, though a few were too deep-rooted in his native background to be observed by him. That his literary opinions were ever dictated by envy (as in the case of T. S. Eliot) is a grotesque calumny. After all it is possible to dislike Eliot with some intensity even if one has no aspirations to poetic laurels oneself.

Well of course I could say more, but I must draw the line. Still I wish it could be forbidden that after a great man is dead, little men should scribble over him, who have not and must know they have not sufficient knowledge of his life and character to give them any key to the truth. Lewis was not 'cut to the quick' by his defeat in the election to the professorship of poetry: he knew quite well the cause. I remember that we had assembled soon after in our accustomed tavern and found C.S.L. sitting there, looking (and since he was no actor at all probably feeling) much at ease. 'Fill up!' he said, 'and stop looking so glum. The only distressing thing about this affair is that my friends seem to be upset.' And he did not 'readily accept' the chair in Cambridge. It was advertised, and he did not apply. Cambridge of course wanted him, but it took a lot of diplomacy before they got him. His friends thought it would be good for him: he was mortally tired, after nearly 30 years, of the Baileys of this world and even of the Duttons.1It proved a good move, and until his health began too soon to fail it gave him a great deal of happiness."

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

> It also seems to be very odd that any God that has clout in these discussions (the monotheistic religions)didn't show up until we human beings had been on the planet for at least 500,000 years.

Are you asking the question of why — if there were a monotheistic god — why it didn't make itself known to humanity sooner? If so, that assumes that any monotheistic god would take an interest in humans. Or maybe god was waiting until we had reached a certain level of literacy and civilization before it revealed itself. OTOH, we can't know if there were monotheistic religions in pre-history. I suspect there weren't, and that monotheism was a unique god mutation that happened to Jewish theology during their Babylonian exile. Before that Yahweh was a henotheistic deity ("My thunder god is bigger than your thunder god!").

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It's not God showing up, it's us finally getting to a level where communication of some sort is possible.

It's like waiting until ants have achieved some way of being able to understand a human interacting with them; a sceptical ant historian might of course say "isn't it very coincidental that the Big Person only showed up after so many aeons of glorious ant empire?" with the implication that the ants had invented the very notion of the Big Person.

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Well, if we are ants to the big person, then I seriously question this conception of God. This God is far too bound up in the ways of human beings, it seems to me to be considered the alpha and omega; a schoolboy running an ant farm and looking forward to hear them, squealing in terror when he steps on them. Mind you if I could see God tramping around every day and having no way to communicate with him at least I wouldn’t doubt his presence.

All forms of God are a leap of faith, but this particular form does not encourage me to make the leap.

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> If so, that assumes that any monotheistic god would take an interest in humans.

Monotheistic gods seem to take an enormous interest in humans from what I can gather.

> Or maybe god was waiting until we had reached a certain level of literacy and civilization before it revealed itself.

Or maybe we had to reach a certain level of literacy and civilization in order to need him… We needed him in order to have laws. I am not mocking this, it is not trivial, but in the larger understanding of “god” I think Spinoza is closer to the truth.

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How did you conclude that we need a monotheistic god to have laws? And...

> Monotheistic gods seem to take an enormous interest in humans from what I can gather.

Well, I'd rephrase that statement as monotheistic worshippers believe (hope) that monotheistic gods take an interest in them...

...right down to hearing their prayers for their team to win the football game.

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> How did you conclude that we need a monotheistic god to have laws?

Essentially a supreme arbitrator, beholden to principles and not to men.

Kind of like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

> monotheistic worshippers believe (hope) that monotheistic gods take an interest in them...

To believe is necessary. It comes down to a question of what you are willing to believe.

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> I used to admire Lewis but as I get older not so much. At the end, his entire argument boils down to "Dammit, we are Englishman!"

Ouch.

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Lewis isn’t making any argument in this passage; he’s simply giving a 101 breakdown in the difference between Pantheists and Theists.

Also, who in the world said that God only showed up when humans did? I can’t think of a mainstream monotheistic religion that doesn’t claim that God predates the beginning of the natural universe.

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> But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again"

If that’s not an argument I don’t know what is.

I think you have misunderstood my comment about god and human history.

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>If that’s not an argument I don’t know what is.

It's a description. Lewis is saying that Christians believe X. Nowhere is there are argument for why you should believe what Christians believe in that passage.

>I think you have misunderstood my comment about god and human history.

Can you elucidate?

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OK. Fair enough. But in the context of CS Lewis’ writings, I think it’s not an unfair inference that there is an argument there. I will let it go.

I was not trying to make a point about how long God has been around, but how long it took the human race to stumble upon him in three related but different forms.

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I understand the dichotomy -- and stand with the Beyond Good and Evil crowd -- but it doesn't address my question which is about semantics.

Let's say Johan describes the universe as "cold and indifferent, where life is a cosmic coincidence" and Tess describes it as "miraculous, beautiful beyond description".

These two people are describing the same universe. Although their tone differs radically, they don't contradict each other logically because their descriptions are subjective. My question is whether saying one shares a soul or doesn't share a soul is meaningful logically or merely another distinction without a difference.

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Well, I guess the distinction is the one between cold and indifferent and beautiful beyond description.

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My take here is that the real stuff doesn't happen at the level of propositional affirmations or negations. "Sharing a soul" is just a bunch of words meant to point those of us "here" towards a state of consciousness that we aren't currently experiencing, but that many people have experienced and are experiencing, and of which we may have more glimpses than we usually care to remember or appreciate. It's like trying to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who doesn't know it.

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The more you love yourself the more you’ll be willing to share a soul with someone else. It stands to reason.

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The view that what they're describing isn't contradictory fails to account for the fact that you experience the world exclusively via interpretation. You don't have access to objective information. And humans don't simply acknowledge objects. We interact with them and view them through the lens of our ability to interact with them.

Johan and Tess will live different lives based on their belief in the nature of the universe. The interpretation of the information has material consequences. Not just for the interpreter, but for anybody who is in the wake of the interpreter's actions. "Jews are humans" and "Jews are vermin" is a classic example of this. "Jews", "Humans", and "Vermin" are all abstractions referring to the same material entities in this case, but it certainly changed how they were interacted with.

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I would disagree that Johan and Tess don't contradict it other, assuming they were being sincere in their statements. Though it may be possible for a cold, indifferent, and purposeless universe to be beautiful and a miracle, it would be a very odd kind of beauty and a very strange kind of miracle. Things can be subjective, but also have logical implications or be true or false.

As to your "shared soul" problem, I would say that is is certainly meaningful as well. If we are all sharing one soul, then that describes an aspect of reality. A very important one, for now I would be aware that if I harm my neighbor, or my cat, I harm myself for we all share one soul. On the other hand, if we do not share one soul and each have our own soul than that also has strong implications. For one thing, it means that I am not the only person in existence. This is strange, as I did not create myself. Was my soul then created for a purpose? Could I either succeed or fail at accomplishing this purpose?

So I don't think it's semantics, unless you don't actually mean the things you are saying. It is either true that we all share one soul, or false. To say that it is true is to say something, not nothing.

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I think you are approaching the cosmology of the Upanishads here. For a very good treatment of this topic I recommend the Epilogue of “What is Life” by Erwin Schrödinger.

“Within a cultural milieu (Kulturkreis) where certain conceptions (which once had or still have a wider meaning amongst other peoples) have been limited and specialized, it is daring to give to this conclusion the simple wording that it requires. In Christian terminology to say: ‘Hence I am God Almighty’ sounds both blasphemous and lunatic. But please disregard these connotations for the moment and consider whether the above inference is not the closest a biologist can get to proving God and immortality at one stroke.

In itself, the insight is not new. The earliest records to my knowledge date back some 2,500 years or more. From the early great Upanishads the recognition ATHMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was, after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.

Again, the mystics of many centuries, independently, yet in perfect harmony with each other (somewhat like the particles in an ideal gas) have described, each of them, the unique experience of his or her life in terms that can be condensed in the phrase: DEUS FACTUS SUM (I have become God).

To Western ideology the thought has remained a stranger, in spite of Schopenhauer and others who stood for it and in spite of those true lovers who, as they look into each other’s eyes, become aware that their thought and their joy are numerically one – not merely similar or identical; but they, as a rule, are emotionally too busy to indulge in clear thinking, in which respect they very much resemble the mystic.”

Schrödinger goes on to further describe the Vedantic concept of each of us being an aspect of a universal “One”.

I believe the book is now in the public domain and available as a PDF

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Life%3F

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What I found most useful in grappling these questions is to read the lives and direct writings of those who didn't just wonder about it, but who (by their own admission) experienced reality in the way Hank above has described. There have been examples in all sorts of cultures and traditions, but Nisargadatta's _I Am That_ is the best example I know of someone stating it powerfully in 1st person.

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I came across this Theory of Everything video of Curt Jaimungal's interview with idealist Bernardo Kastrup. I think it's pertinent to our discussion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAB21FAXCDE

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

I never studied Nisargadatta's teachings, but his consciousness hierarchy seems similar to (some) Sufi teachings. It jibes with the commonly experienced (at least among mystics) of the dissolution of selfhood. There may be distinctions between his and other mystical praxes that I'd see if I dug deeper, tough.

My only problem with Nisargadatta's analysis — as well as Spinoza's — is the continual reference to being.

Nagarjuna seems to have been the first philosopher to have gotten beyond the idea (obsession?) with beingness. But once he posits there is no being and no non-being the the whole mystical enterprise of obtaining oneness with the universe seems to be illusionary. Of course, I may be misunderstanding his logical tetralemas. Even though I find his analysis to be convincing with my limited understanding, perversely, I'm still in the mystical camp.

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What I like about Nisargadatta is that he mostly talks (his writings are transcripts of his dialogues with people) experientially, with no attempt to do formal philosophy. He had his awakening, he remember what mind was like before, he feels what it's like after, and seeks to convey the difference in as many thoughtful words. Because there is little philosophical baggage, it's easy to read and get some sense of the depth he wants to convey, and of how it's not really a question of beliefs. So whenever there are words like "self" or "being", they're meant as pointers, not as philosophical assertions.

Nagarjuna of course is the granddaddy of it all, from just over 2000 years ago. And as you say, he goes even deeper, not even the concepts of "being" or "self" are left standing. He's also a proper philosopher, writing in the form of formal arguments aimed at specific philosophical opponents; and since his main form of argumentation is to take the theories of existing schools and push them to the utter absurd limits of their consequences, if you really want to grapple intellectually with Nagarjuna, you probably need to get acquainted with worldview of the long-extinct Sarvastivadin Buddhist school among others. Not to mention that he's such a totem pole, that hardly anyone reads Nagarjuna as Nagarjuna, but rather through the lens of the founders of sub(sub)schools like Bhavya, Chandrakirti, Shantarakshita, and (on the other side of the Himalayas) Tsongkhapa and Gorampa, all the way to Gendun Choepel. So it's quite a journey if you want to go into all that — personally I quite enjoyed it!

Then again, however careful Nagarjuna's followers want to be with language, at the end of the day they're also Buddhists, and so remain committed to an account of awakening as something that can be experienced by a living, human being. It's just that instead of using common words like "Self" or "beingness", they tend to use highly technical words like "suchness" or "dharmadhatu", to emphasize the discontinuity with common concepts. The mystical component is very much there, by design.

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Thanks. Great quote. I'm not unaware that my thoughts on the matter are Eastern influenced, although my intuition on it started as a child.

I'm still not sure if "I am God almighty" means anything. What is God almighty? If He is me, then I am unimpressed...

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Alan Watts did a “here’s how I would explain it to a 8 year old” thing in one of his books:

Paraphrasing:

“God plays a trick on himself when he is born in each of us and makes himself forget he’s God so he can experience his creation anew.”

Thomas Mann riffs on the all the ‘small souls’ being a part of a larger soul in ‘The Magic Mountain’

In the chapter titled ‘Snow’, Hans Castorp is lost alone skiing and his brush with death is described as the small soul reuniting with the whole. Hans does live through that experience though.

If you’ve yet to pick up ‘The Magic Mountain’, it’s set in an early 20th century tuberculosis sanitarium in Davos. It’s really a pretty good read.

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Your "God plays a trick on himself" quote reminded me of a passage from Chesterton on this subject:

"Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say 'little children love one another' rather than to tell one large person to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him. "

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Jul 11·edited Jul 11

I can only speak from the Buddhist perspective, but Buddhist practice and philosophy is all about the alleviation of suffering. Love and hate are emotions that may give us temporary pleasure, but they all lead back to suffering. You may think you're in a wonderful relationship, but your lover leaves you, and you suffer the loss and separation. Your separation from others may make you misunderstand their motives. The person who won your lover's love may be the object of your hatred. But if you put yourself in their shoes, they were seeking some release from their suffering. If you understand that we're all suffering together, that allows you have compassion (karuna) for others.

We're all grasping at things to make us feel better, but those only temporarily alleviate the itch. No outside force or godlike being is responsible for our inner states. Recognizing that suffering is an innate part of existence, we offer karuna to others to help relieve their suffering and we seek to develop equanimity within ourselves to get past our own suffering. Implied in this equation is you get back what you put out — karma. Although the Buddha didn't touch on questions of god or what happens us after we die, Buddhism developed in culture where a belief in reincarnation was common (although not universal). So Buddhists came to believe that karma follows us between our lives. But strictly speaking, a good Buddhist does not have to believe in the existence of a higher being or higher beings, nor does a Buddhist have to believe in an afterlife. This makes Buddhism (especially Zen) attractive to American atheists and materialists.

Anyway, a Buddhist wouldn't say "love your fellow human" nor "love yourself", because love is a grasping emotion. Instead of love, a Buddhist would say "have compassion for others" (because they're suffering, too), and while you're at it, analyze the nature of your own suffering (prajna, aka wisdom), so you can develop equanimity and understand the root of other people's suffering to offer them the proper type of karuna.

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Yes; and this difference in understanding of love, and what the purpose of existence is, is part of that "intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity". To a Buddhist, existence is an evil to escape through the extinguishing of the self. For a Christian our existence is purposeful, and that purpose is not to escape suffering but to live in relationship with the Good. To love something, you must have a self and the thing you love must be separate from you: of course pursuing love would be folly to a Buddhist. To a Christian love is a virtue to be perfected within ourselves; and the proper object of love is God, who is eternal and whose very essence is Good. As Paul wrote:

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Note the language is steeped in this idea of purpose: that we exist for a reason, and a Good reason, and that love is central to the purpose of our existence, so much so that if we do not have it then everything else we have amounts to nothing.

So I agree, a Buddhist would not say "love your fellow human". That is a Christian idea.

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I thought this was a fantastic article exploring the difference between LGB and TQIA+. What I found really interesting was the division between what's a preference and what requires (or makes use of) medical interventions. https://juliebindel.substack.com/p/the-problem-with-lgbtqia

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To any extent that it's worthwhile to decompose the full set into two subsets, I'd think LGBA & TQI+ would be more useful; the former are about other people & the latter are about oneself.

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I think LGB belong together, "T" is a different thing, and "A" is a very different thing.

Then "Q" and "+" aren't meaningful categories at all.

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How is "neither" a very different thing from "same" & "either"? Is it just the comparatively mild social implications thereof?

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I think it's mostly about the comparatively mild social implications. Asexuals might occasionally get awkward questions from their parents and friends, but nobody tries to throw them off buildings.

Also, being asexual isn't a behaviour, it's an internal state that leads to a behaviour. The behaviour is celibacy, and celibacy can have all sorts of reasons (asexuality, religious belief, just haven't found the right person, etc). You can classify people as hetero/homo/bisexual by their behaviour, but you can't classify them as asexual just by seeing them _not_ have sex.

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