[conspire] NYLXS Press Release on the OLPC Project

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu May 1 20:49:12 PDT 2008

Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):

> Stallman, of course, was purposely deceitful in the phrase "Free
> Software" and of course many have adapted a more precise phrase such
> as Free and Liberated ? Software (FLOSS).

So, being precise in English requires long, self-parodying
circumlocutions into willfully obscure acronyms that bring up
connotations of dental hygeine?  I think we need to switch sides in this
debate, because you're arguing against English being a precise
instrument much more ably than I was.

> Furthermore, English discards old usages which become outdated,

Except where cheerfully reinserted and revivified by pedants like yrs.

> Oye!

You must be from the _north_ of France, then.  (In the former Roman
province of Langue d'Oc, the word for "yes" was pronounced "oc".  
In the north, until relatively recent vowel drift, it was pronounced
"oye" -- and this regional distinction was until modern times the basis
of a sort of French equivalent of the Mason-Dixon line.)

> The term Free Software is actually an example of trying to adapt an
> 18th Cenutry usage onto what was late Twentith Century language.
> Stallman used this it awaken people to the Classical political ideals
> of post-Renasiance liberalism which can be summerized with "Free as in
> Freedom" a phrase which is actually impossible accomplish in French.
> It says that Software is not a commodity, but it is means of political
> expression.  

[Stallman and the phrase "free software":]

> You can disagree....

In current conversational context, only about its clarity.  And the
effectiveness of that scheme for marketing purposes to the non-hacker
world, which was abysmal and tolerated for lack of an alternative for a
sadly prolonged period.  Nothing to be done about that wasted
opportunity, of course, except to learn from the mistake, and thus
learn, e.g., to eschew related marketing disasters-in-the-making such as
"FLOSS" and "FOSS".  More at:

[English and its lack of a gendered third-person pronoun, without which
it would surely be a truly progressive language like, er, Turkish,
Chinese, Farsi, Bengali, and Tagalog:]

> Well, it did, but there were political objections.

I believe you might have misspelled "semantic".  Either that, or you
have in mind wannabe additions that never caught on because they were
too outlandish (sie/hir, xe/xem, ve, ze/mer, ze/hir, tey, zie, e, thon,

> No, it didn't because texts such as these generally don't make such
> pronouncements.

Sorry, doesn't work.  The usage doesn't come across in Koranic context
as a brand-new coinage.  The style and presentation are wrong.

> You'd be the first to show that.

Lend me a TARDIS.  Otherwise, we're shot in the foot by the lack of
manuscripts from the 7th century.  (Especially, let's face it, the
Arabian Peninsula not being either then or now exactly a hotbed of
literacy and scholarship, and even Mohammed, remarkable chap that he
was, and rather an enlightened fellow for that century, is known to have
been illiterate.[1])

> When translating specifically Hebrew text and prayer, this becomes a
> big problem because many terms in Hebrew when translated to a commonly
> believed English equivilent are either actually WRONG, or suffer
> exactly what you say.  In addition, a lot of Hebrew terms were
> intentionally propagandized when converted into English to support a
> theology of the salvation of mankind through the sacrifice of Christ.

Yes, quite.  This is why I keep the JPS 1985 translation handy for when
scholarship really matters, or when I just don't have time to be wary
about that particular sort of hermeneutical idiocy.  On rare occasions,
I'll instead attempt to fight my way through the Hebrew original,
e.g., to annoy various religious types about their belief concerning
"not suffering a witch to live", and their misconception that their God
somehow has something against lesbians.  (From another list:)

   The actual Hebrew word in Exodus 22:18 is "m'khashepah" (mem kaph shin peh
   heh), formed from the root word "kesof" (kaph shin peh) and given a
   feminine ending.  The question then is:  what would a practitioner of
   "kesof" have been in ancient days?  (No, the word does not mean
   "poisoner", as sometimes alleged by people over-interpreting the Greek
   word "pharmakeus" used in the Septuagint for this passage.)

   Elsewhere in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), e.g. Leviticus 20:27, Exodus 22:5,
   the word seems to refer to people whispering prayers to other gods to
   take specific actions, i.e., idolatry.  Thus the use in many English
   translations of "sorceress".

   If this seems a bit disproportionately hard on women, remember that
   females, by way of compensation can, still engage in homosexuality
   without offending the Big Guy:  Leviticus 18:22 ("Vet zachar lo tishkav
   mishkvey eeshah toeyvah hee", "And with a male you shall not lay lyings
   of a woman") lets the gals off scot-free.

> Aside from that, I think you're swiming against the tide.  While AD and
> BC are still around (we have our own calender anyway), AM and PM are
> still around, even these terms have lost any real religious meaning.

I don't think "meridiem" (mid-day) was ever a concept particular to any
one specific religion of any sort, let alone a Christian one.

[origin of "fundamentialism" in the Niagara conferences, as a halfway
respect-worthy academic attempt by Protestant theologians to come to 
grips with science:]

> This was recently covered in the NY Sun, I believe, or perhaps it was
> in scientific america or maybe it was on NPR.  I didn't really agree
> with his entire thesis.  And for one reason the term Fundamentalist
> could be derived from straight English grammar without the help of the
> religious wars of early North American and European Protestantism.

It could be -- but it wasn't.  The memes surrounding the term in
American English quite often resonate back to that origin -- even when
the speakers aren't aware of this.  The cluster of connotations tends to
thus affect the way one conceptualises other concepts to which it gets

[Lack of priests, more or less, in Judiasm:]

> Actually, we do.

Yeah, I know, but the Levi'yim and and Kohanim are pretty much priests
without portfolio, at the moment.  Let's just say they're, at minimum,
a few red heifers, some stone work near the Dome of the Rock, and a
_whole_ lot of arguing away from renewed employment.  Meantime, all they
have to show for it is that marrying-divorcees problem, being called
first to the Torah readings, and so on.  And I guess they're vaguely
grateful for not having to be "redeemed".[2]

> This is another thread, but I'll just say that there is fundementally
> almost no similarity between the core Islamic beliefs and Judiasm
> except for custume (beards).

Nor did I so state.  I merely pointed out that both make members of the
faith answerable directly to God, and that religious figures have no 
authority beyond respect and scholarship.

This differs from the general rule in (most) Christian denominations,
though there are naturally those who make an absolute fetish of being

> Both Christianity and even more so Islamic principles were constructed
> in direct opposition to Jewish thought, and purposely so, while
> adapting Jewish lexicon.

Well, not exactly.  Early Christian thought took an extreme left turn at
the hands of several Hellenistic schools (mystery religions, Gnostics,
late Platonists, the sorts of things that make me scratch my head and
say "What?").  That wasn't done to be in direct opposition; it just got
overlaid and basically smothered the original form of the pre-Paul of
Tarsus's cult, because as the Hasmoneans also noticed, there was just a
whole lot of Greek philosophical craziness going around, and it tended
to get into everything.

I suspect you might have a better case with Islam, because Mohammed was 
rather ticked off that the Jews of Medina was unimpressed and weren't 
going to change one jot of what they thought and did, no matter what he
said to them. 

> This does remind me when I was in France in 2002 I was surrounded by some
> French computer security experts for lunch who asked me, "Why are all you
> American's locking up all your Arabs in New York and putting them in
> your dungeons".

My parents used to get asked haughtily, while visiting the UK during the
1950s, if they'd been to any lynchings lately.  (Some people are just
determined to take a swipe at anyone with the wrong accent.)

[1] Harry Turtledove wrote a very engaging alternate-history fantasy in
which the Byzantine Empire survived the Middle Ages to remain the
dominant power, locked in a cold war with the Persian Empire.  In that
timeline, the forking point from our own universe was when young
Mohammed joined the Orthodox Church, and ended up as a famously austere
bishop known for saying "There is no God but God, and Jesus is his son."

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidyon_Haben  Bet you didn't know I
was aware of that one, huh?  ;->

More information about the conspire mailing list