Results for 2018

Americans and their "ah-due"

24.4.2018 kl. 15:27 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

What is it with Americans and their butchery of basic English semantics and pronunciation?

It's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less." Think about it logically for a second or two and you'll find that the latter makes no sense at all.

Also, don't say "Without further a-due". It's "ado", people. Ah-doo, not a-due! Ever seen that Shakespeare play?

And while we're on the subject:

Coup de grâce is pronounced "Coo-duh-grass", not "Coo-duh-grah." French may sometimes be confusing in terms of pronunciation, but -ce endings are never silent. Vide e.g. fem. name Alice.

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Brilliant alliteration

20.4.2018 kl. 11:05 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Alliteration, such an important technique in Icelandic poetry, is strangely absent in most English verse. All the more respect to Nick Cave for his brilliant and beautiful alliteration in the final verse of the Song of Joy:

Outside the vultures wheel,
the wolves howl, the serpents hiss.
And to extend this small favour, friend,
would be the sum of earthly bliss.


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Horrible man, sublime music

18.4.2018 kl. 12:03 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Wagner may have been a horrible human being, but his music is truly sublime.

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A cloud of willful unknowing

16.4.2018 kl. 13:02 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Mark Lilla's great analysis of our current politico-philosophical malaise (from The Reckless Mind):

One of the less remarked consequences of the cold war's end has been the vacuum of understanding it left behind. If nothing else, the old ideologies focused the mind. With lineages that could be traced back two centuries, they presented clear, opposing portrayals of political reality, however distorted, and programs for acting within it. And they were not arbitrary constructs. They had roots in philosophical and religious traditions with radically different understandings of human nature and history that ran back much further. When the modern ideologies were jettisoned, so was a living connection with those traditions.

Now we are free of the old illusions. So one would expect to find our situation easier to understand and grapple with. In fact, just the opposite seems true. Never since the end of World War II, and perhaps since the Russian Revolution, has political thinking in the West seemed so shallow, so clueless. We all sense that ominous changes are taking place in Western societies, and in other societies whose destinies will very much shape our own. Yet we lack adequate concepts and even vocabulary for describing the world we now find ourselves in. More worrisome still, we lack awareness that we lack them. A cloud of willful unknowing seems to have settled on our intellectual life.

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Enlightenment and religion at the roots of tyranny

16.4.2018 kl. 12:56 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Which of these two stories will our historian choose to tell? If he is like most historians that may well depend on which intellectual and political aspects of modern tyranny he feels deserve our attention. If he is trying to understand exclusively the brutality of Soviet "planning," the Nazis' chillingly efficient program to exterminate the Jews, the methodical self-destruction of Cambodia, the programs of ideological indoctrination, the paranoid webs of informers and secret police--if he wants to explain how these tyrannical practices were conceived and defended, he might be tempted to blame a heartless intellectual rationalism that crushed all in its path. If, on the other hand, he is struck by the role in modern tyranny played by the idolization of blood and soil, the hysterical obsession with racial categories, the glorification of reviolutionary violence as a purifying force, the cults of personality, and the orgiastic mass rallies, he will be tempted to say that reason collapsed before irrational passions that had migrated from religion to politics. And if our historian is more ambitious still, and wants to explain both classes of phenomena? At that point he will have to abandon the history of ideas.

Mark Lilla, "The Reckless Mind"

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Heidegger the Fox

12.4.2018 kl. 13:22 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Hannah Arendt's scathing takedown of her erstwhile mentor and lover, Old Nazi Heidegger:

Once upon a time there was a fox who was so lacking in slyness that he not only kept getting caught in traps but couldn’t even tell the difference between a trap and a non-trap. … After he had spent his entire youth prowling around the traps of people … this fox decided to withdraw from the fox world altogether and to set about making himself a burrow. In his shocking ignorance of the difference between traps and non-traps, despite his incredibly extensive experience with traps, he hit on an idea completely new and unheard of among foxes: He built a trap as his burrow. He set himself inside it, passed it off as a normal burrow (not out of cunning, but because he had always thought others’ traps were their burrows). … Alas, no one would go into his trap, because he was sitting inside it himself. And so it occurred to our fox to decorate his trap beautifully and to hang up unequivocal signs everywhere on it that quite clearly said: “Come here, everyone; this is a trap, the most beautiful trap in the world.” From this point on … many came. Everyone except our fox could, of course, step out of it again. It was cut, literally, to his own measurement. But the fox who lived in the trap said proudly: “So many are visiting me in my trap that I have become the best of all foxes.” And there is some truth in that, too: Nobody knows the nature of traps better than one who sits in a trap his whole life long.

Subtle and devastating, but not nearly as much fun as Schopenhauer on Hegel.

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One-dimensional, superficial and schmaltzy

5.4.2018 kl. 15:32 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Although I must confess a certain nostalgic fondness for the Indiana Jones films, I generally hate Spielberg as a film-maker. One-dimensional, superficial, schmaltzy. This hilarious review tears apart his latest debacle.

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French rudeness

29.3.2018 kl. 11:59 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Well, in that case, it's a culture worth discriminating against.

After living in Paris, this could only bring a smile to my face.

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Breaking news!

29.3.2018 kl. 10:05 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Breaking news! Britain starts doing what the other Germanic countries have been doing for decades.

I, for one, would like to welcome poor, backward, miserable, right-wing Britain into the 1980s.

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Chopin in Rick and Morty

27.3.2018 kl. 19:30 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

I could have sworn I knew the theme at the end of the Rick and Morty episode "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind." You know, the one where Evil Morty makes his first appearance.

Credited as Blonde Readhead but, I'm telling you, they ripped off Chopin.

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Hinn brúni

19.3.2018 kl. 18:55 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

björn k. ‘bjarndýr, sérstök rándýrategund (ursus) ... Hið forna ie. bjarnarheiti (sbr. lat. ursus, gr. árktos, fi. ŕ̥kṣa-h) sýnist hafa týnst í germ., e.t.v. vegna bannhelgi, og nýyrðið beran- ‘hinn brúni’ tekið upp í staðinn. Svipað hefur gerst í slavn., sbr. rússn. medvedb ‘björn’, eiginl. ‘hunangsæta’.

Svo málum er þannig háttað að Dmitri Medvedev, forsætisráðherra Rússlands, er að hluta til nafni minn.

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Modernists don't eat their own dog food

13.3.2018 kl. 12:08 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Oh, the hypocrisy... Over 80% of Sweden's modernist architects choose to live in houses built before 1920. A spectacular case of not eating one's own dog food.

As the article puts it:

Modernism är något man gör mot andra och man kan absolut inte bo i den stilen själv.

Rough translation: "Modernism is something one does to other people. One definitely cannot live in [housing of] that style oneself."

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Herodotus

28.2.2018 kl. 13:59 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Herodotus is so hilariously Greek. From Tom Holland's translation of the Histories:

There followed next a massive escalation of what until then had essentially been nothing more serious than a bout of competitive princess-rustling - and the fault was all the Greeks'. Or so the Persians claim, at any rate - for they point out that long before they ever thought of invading Europe, it was the Greeks who invaded Asia. Granted, the Persians acknowledge, stealing women is never acceptable behaviour; but really, they ask, what is the point, once a woman has been stolen, in kicking up a great fuss about it, and pursuing some ridiculous vendetta, when every sensible man knows that the best policy is to affect an utter lack of concern? It is clear enough, after all, that women are never abducted unless they are open to the idea of it in the first place.

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Banks and his spring-boiled ptarmigan

14.2.2018 kl. 20:26 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Who in their right mind would want to boil meat of any kind in a hot spring? Must have been an unpleasant meal.

The Sir Lawrence voyage through the Western Isles brought the travellers to Staffa, where their descriptions of what they learnt to call Fingal’s Cave were soon lapped up by audiences eager to learn of volcanic marvels. Hebrideans impressed Banks less. Nor, initially, was Icelandic hospitality better, since the expedition was at first taken to be a raiding party of pirates. But soon Banks’ group met with a warmer welcome: his servants were so gorgeously uniformed that islanders found it hard to tell gentlemen from underlings. They visited the volcano Hekla, lava samples gathered and the astonishing geyser visited, where Banks arranged for a ptarmigan he had shot to be boiled in the hot spring [emphasis mine].

Banks and the Icelanders impressed each other. There were honorific odes, feasts of cod and shark and collections of Icelandic literature and flora shipped home to London. Banks had Hekla and a map of Iceland on his visiting card and ‘Baron Banks’ became a favoured toast when Icelanders and British visitors met. During the Napoleonic Wars, which involved conflict between Denmark and Britain, Banks often recommended either the annexation of the island or its occupation. Ever since, romanticised appreciation of Iceland’s marvels has been tangled up with similarly challenging political and environmental issues.

Source

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Cannibalism in the Congo

1.2.2018 kl. 12:50 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Twenty-three-year-old Chantal Tsesi woke to the sound of pre-dawn gunfire. Soldiers marched into her home carrying machetes and told her exactly what they were going to do. "Today we are going to cut off your arm," one of them said. She feared for her six-year-old son, the only other person with her in the house. "They cut off my arm," Tsesi told The UK Independent's Eliza Griswold in 2004. "They cooked it, while they were drinking our mandro [traditional beer], and ate it with the rest of the beans and rice." She added, "They told me they were going to find my husband and eat his heart."

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Value of the Lecture

19.1.2018 kl. 22:07 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Great article on the enduring value of the lecture.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen. Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity ... No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate.

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Double negatives in prose

19.1.2018 kl. 21:17 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Hilarious letter from a reader to The Economist (cited in the paper's style guide):

Sir
At times just one sentence in The Economist can give us hours of enjoyment, such as "Yet German diplomats in Belgrade failed to persuade their government that it was wrong to think that the threat of international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia would itself deter Serbia."

During my many years as a reader of your newspaper, I have distilled two lessons about the use of our language. Firstly, it is usually easier to write a double negative than it is to interpret it. Secondly, unless the description of an event which is considered to be not without consequence includes a double or higher-order negative, then it cannot be disproven that the writer has neglected to eliminate other interpretations of the event which are not satisfactory in light of other possibly not unrelated events which might not have occurred at all.

For these reasons, I have not neglected your timely reminder that I ought not to let my subscription lapse. It certainly cannot be said that I am an unhappy reader.

Willard Dunning

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Edward Gibbon on his time at Oxford

17.1.2018 kl. 18:51 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

To the university of Oxford I acknowledge no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College; they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life...

In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have for these many years given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.

As a gentleman commoner, I was admitted to the society of the fellows, and fondly expected that some questions of literature would be the amusing and instructive topics of their discourse. Their conversation stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal...The names of Wenman and Dashwood were more frequently pronounced, than those of Cicero and Chrysostom.

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UI fail

15.1.2018 kl. 17:01 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

As John Gruber of Daring Fireball puts it, "this is just terrible, terrible user interface design."

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Allt passíft í íslenskri fréttamennsku

12.1.2018 kl. 22:19 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Vel skrifaðar fréttar segja lesendum hver gerði hvað, hvernig, hvar og hvers vegna.

Þessi skynsömu prinsíp virðast því miður ekki vera í hávegum höfð hjá íslenskum fréttamönnum. Í íslenskum fréttum er t.d. oft ekki skýrt hver gerandinn er. Heilu fréttirnar eru jafnvel skrifaðar í passive mode. Tökum sem dæmi eftirfarandi setningu úr nýlegri frétt á RÚV:

Greint hefur verið frá því að til standi að endurskoða innheimtu veiðigjalda.

Hver greindi frá því? Hvenær stendur það til? Hvers eðlis er endurskoðunin? Af hverju er verið að gera þetta? Hver ber ábyrgð?

Það er allt saman óljóst. Það eina sem lesandinn lærir er að eitthvað standi til, og að einhver (hver?) hafi greint frá því. Skelfilega slappur fréttamannastíll.

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