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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Saturday, July 22, 2006
Greek Accents

Long time ago, I was blessed with an academic year studying classical Greek with a Franciscan despot. From that year, I have four things firmly in mind: (1) I can recite and write in lower case the Greek alphabet, (2) I know how to say “be seated”, and (3) “I have a headache.” Fourthly, I remember the rules of pronunciation of Greek words of three or more syllables: the accent is placed on the third-to-last syllable, e.g., SOC-ra-tes, Hip-POC-ra-tes, De-MOS-the-nes. With this rule firmly in mind, I find myself mentally correcting everyone I hear who does not follow the rule. For example, the most common pronunciation of the physicist’s name is Arch-i-ME-des yet my remembered rule clearly indicates it should be Ar-CHI-me-des.

A possible explanation is that translation from Greek to English made the rule go away and so folk are content to accent the second-to-last syllable as a matter of routine. But, then, I would expect them to say Her-CU-les and not HER-cu-les. Since we do not follow any particular rule, I suspect it is pure laziness on the part of we English speakers. As a curiosity, consider what would happen if we all followed the ancient rule. We’d say:

EU-re-ka not eu-RE-ka

ME-de-a not Me-DE-a

A-the-na not A-THE-na

A-RIS-to-tle not A-ris-TO-tle

TRO-i-lus not TROI-lus

CRES-sid-a not Cres-SID-a

AE-schy-lus not Ae-SCHY-lus

A-GA-mem-non not A-ga-MEM-non

E-lec-tra not E-LEC-tra

A-chil-les not A-CHIL-les

Em-PE-do-cles not Em-pe-DOC-les

A-LEX-an-der not A-lex-AN-der

U-lys-ses not U-LYS-ses

It’s a little thing not worth most people’s notice, but that poor old Franciscan must be roiling in his grave.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-07-22 08:08:37


Monday, July 17, 2006
Recruiting for the Old Man's War

Been thinking about the premise of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Being a little bit old myself, my thinking took me down the path of how I think people would react to the circumstance Scaldi places his protagonist. Seems to me there ought to be two possibilities:

(1) A person who has few or only minimal attachments to other people. This kind of person could make the transition fairly easily. In fact, Scalzi’s protagonist is such a person, attached only to the love of his life who had died before he made the transition.

(2) A person who has particularly deep attachments to other people in the world. This type person ought to devote most of their energy to overcoming the circumstances, finding a way back to their loved ones.

Can appreciate why Scalzi did not address this second type in his book . I hereby offer him theplot for a third book – if he didn’t use it in his second; I have his second on order so not yet read it. – an underground rebellion in the ranks consisting of folk who want to get back to their families.

Mythinking is that authors will fall into type (1). Authors live in other worlds all the time, separated from their friends and families, making do with odd circumstances, working solutions to relationship problems in their heads rather than in the world. Authors should react pretty much like Scalzi has John Perry act.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-07-17 08:23:46


Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Words I Wish I'd Written

Of all existing things, some are in our power and others are not in our power. In our power are thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid and, in a word, everything which is our own doing. Things not in our power include the body, property, reputation, office, and – in a word – everything which is not our own doing.

What disturbs men’s minds are not events but their judgment on events.

To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education; to accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun; to accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.

Ask not that events should happen as you will but let your will be that events should happen as they do.

Epictetus

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-07-12 09:48:52


Sunday, July 9, 2006
State of Our Condition

Lauren Slater put together a good book about great psychological experiments of the 20th Century, titling the book Opening Skinner’s Box. In order of appearance, she presents:

Positive Reinforcement – B.F. Skinner

Obedience to Authority – Stanley Milgren

On Being Sane in Insane Places – David Rosenhan

Ignoring Other People’s Cry for Help – John Darley, Bibb Latane

Cognitive Dissonance – Leon Festinger

Psychology of Attachment – Harry Harlow

Radical Addiction Experiment – Bruce Alexander, Robert Coambs, Patricia Hadaway

Slippery Memory – Elizabeth Loftus

Sea Slug Experiment – Eric Kandel

Lobotomy – Antonio Egas Moniz

Skinner showed the power of positive reinforcement; Milgren demonstrated that context has much to do with how we decide to act; Rosenham demonstrated why psychiatry is referred to as a “practice,” Darley and Latane reinforced context as a major contributor to behavior; Festinger demonstrated how we lie to ourselves and Loftus demonstrated how others can influence the lies we use thougb Kandel gives us a nice counterargument. Harlow, for me, had the most thought provoking experiment of all undermining our most cherished beliefs about the nature of addiction. Naturally, Harlow is not talked about a lot. And Moniz demonstrated how far we go to make people normal.

My conclusionnestles neatly in a quote from the book: “thud.” Paraphrasing another lyricist, I recommend you “just drop in to see what condition our condition is in.”

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-07-09 09:52:58


Saturday, July 8, 2006
Asimov Knew Better

Thinking about a story of illegal immigration to a planet, how it could be accomplished, I reminisced on the Good Doctor’s capital planet, Trantor. It came to me at 20:30 hrs, that the Good Doctor, biologist that he was, neglected a niggling detail that planners of future capital planets had best take into consideration:

From Wikipedia’s entry on Isaac Asimov’s Trantor: Trantor is depicted as the capital of the first Galactic Empire. Its land surface of 194,000,000 km² (75,000,000 miles², 130% of Earth land area) was, with the exception of the Imperial Palace, entirely enclosed in artificial domes. It consisted of an enormous metropolis (an ecumenopolis) that stretched deep underground and was home to a population of 45,000,000,000 (45 billion) human inhabitants at its height, a population density of 232 per km² (600 per mile²)....To support the needs and whims of the population, food from twenty agricultural worlds brought by ships in the tens of thousands, fleets greater than any navy ever constructed by the Empire. "Its dependence upon the outer worlds for food and, indeed, for all necessities of life, made Trantor increasingly vulnerable to conquest by siege. In the last millennium of the Empire, the monotonously numerous revolts made Emperor after Emperor conscious of this, and Imperial policy became little more than the protection of Trantor's delicate jugular vein..." (Encyclopedia Galactica)

Thinking about a story of illegal immigration to a planet, how it could be accomplished, I reminisced on the Good Doctor’s capital planet, Trantor. It came to me at 20:30 hrs last night, that the Good Doctor, biologist that he was, neglected a niggling detail that planners of future capital planets had best take into consideration. If you have a population of 45B people being fed by food from tens of thouusands of ships; then you need to provide tens of thousands of ships to remove the resulting waste. Worse: you need the mechanism and the energy to lift that waste from the planet’s surface. Makes you understand why the Good Doctor postponed describing the details.

On the other hand, think of the value of the waste management contract!

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-07-08 10:44:35


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