Friday links

Thanks to the Trafford Senior Netball Club

Some funny stuff from Cracked: “14 Photographs That Shatter Your Image of Famous People“; “5 Dismissive Arguments You Only Use When You’re Wrong“; “6 Famous Things From History That Didn’t Actually Exist

Stan Carey tells an old joke.

Something that would be true if it were true that “empathy is the source of ethics” (SMBC.)

Thomas Nagel drives some people so crazy that they’re willing to endorse statements like this: “The view that all sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics must be true unless you’re religious.” (The Weekly Standard)  A hundred years ago, it seemed that only supernaturalists could doubt that arithmetic was in principle reducible to formal logic.  Then along came Gödel, and it became obvious, first, that arithmetic was not reducible to formal logic, and, second, that such irreducibility implied absolutely nothing about the supernatural.  In those same days, Free Will and Determinism was a big debate, with Determinists claiming that only in a perfectly predictable universe could rationality function.  Then physics demonstrated that the universe is far from perfectly predictable, and rationality didn’t seem any the worse for it.  Indeed, over the years so many reductionist theories that were once proposed as the only possible worldview for a rational person have been exploded that anyone saying “The view that x is in principle reducible to y must be true unless you’re religious” at once bears the burden of proving that s/he is not a dumbass.

How people talk about the secrecy that surrounded the Manhattan Project (Nuclear Secrecy)

Why do some politicians recover from scandal, while others are ruined?  Noah Millman has a theory: “We are willing to forgive our politicians for a multitude of private sins, because really what we care about is that we come first. They can treat their spouses and children abominably if we know that at the end of the day all they really care about is winning. Because to win they have to do what we want. Or at least convince us that they have.”

Why you shouldn’t earn a doctorate in the humanities (Slate.)

Incompleteness: “It turns out that much of this common law of contracts was specifically designed around a particular standard-form contract. When the economist junked the standard-form contract and wrote a whole new one, he also (perhaps inadvertently) junked the common law that went with it. The result was that the gaps became a lot larger, and litigation more probable. The very act that was meant to reduce contractual incompleteness ended up increasing it.” (Volokh)

Anglo-American rightists have been writing love letters to General Augusto Pinochet for almost forty years.  This article starts off like one of them, then runs into some actual Chileans who introduce the author to the ghastly realities of the general’s regime.  (Takimag)

The group of researchers who coined the acronym WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) (Pacific Standard)

Cartoon etymology

Thanks to Stan Carey, who introduced those of us who read his site to “Mysteries of Vernacular.”  “Mysteries of Vernacular” is a series of animated shorts exploring the etymology of a few English words.  Here’s the one for hearse.  I like the interactive graphic that they give you to browse the videos:


The other day, Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal featured an explanation of the origin of the phrase “vanilla sex.”  The explanation:

The VAN- part comes from the Spanish “Vaina” from the Latin “Vagina.”  The -ILLA part is diminutive.  So, etymologically, “Vanilla Sex” refers to a little vaginal sex.

Each of the etymological claims in the explanation is basically true,* but the conclusion they allegedly support is ludicrous.  Which I’m sure is the point, the etymological information represents a pun of an unusual and elaborate form.

*Basically.  So Spanish vaina does come from the Latin vagina, but so does Spanish vagina.  In Latin, vagina meant either “vagina” or “sheath”; in Spanish, vagina means “vagina” and vaina means “sheath.”  So, etymologically, “vanilla” means “little sheath,” not “little vagina.”  If the people who coined the phrase “vanilla sex” were thinking about the etymology behind the word “vanilla,” the etymological meaning of the phrase would be “little sheath sex.” In that case, we would expect the first appearances of the phrase to have some association with condoms.  Perhaps with little condoms.  Though perhaps not; sometimes the Romans used diminutive endings the way we use them in English, as terms of endearment or as ways of sounding cutesy (like the -sy on the end of “cutesy,” or the -y on the end of “thingy.”)  So maybe “condom-y sex,” or “condomish sex” might be a more accurate rendering than “little condom sex” if the original formation of “vanilla” were in fact part of the history of the expression.