Perspectives on the Insurgency #1: The Salon and the Neighbourhood Gang

As I noted in Why do you really loathe Quora?, I have been challenged about my attitudes to Quora vented here, and as to how I express them. My exchange with Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax (Why do you really loathe Quora?) was one such challenge, although our disagreement was not so much about content but tone. I meant it and mean it when I say I welcome and solicit challenges, and I have already forwarded Achilleas Vortselas: Moderation is silly because Quora isn’t real – or is it? here.

I have had an extensive exchange over recent days with Jennifer Edeburn , based on a rather long PM she sent me. (If it isn’t long, it isn’t Edeburn! 🙂 It’s been an exchange, but it has not been a response. It was a long PM, so we are chopping it up into four or five sections and posting it here, for public view.

Jennifer has been doing her homework, and has brought a keen analysis to what she is seeing going on. And she doesn’t like it. No, not what Quora is doing, although she has concerns there too. What the Insurgency is doing.

The Insurgency is inchoate and has no agenda, although we’re not taking to wearing Guy Fawkes masks. So I can’t speak for all of you who share annoyance, and express it in various ways. I speak for myself, even if I fancy I speak on behalf of you. I welcome the criticisms on behalf of myself, and for you. Because they are fair, and they represent a good chunk of our community too, and because progress is made through exchange of ideas. Even if nothing comes out of this that changes Quora (an implacable corporate entity); in fact even if nothing comes out of this that changes you: I’m happy if it changes me to the better.

Where I need changing, of course. Sometimes, I’m right!

I welcome discussion in comments, and I expect it to be nice and respectful and constructive. Not just because Quora says so. Not just because I say so. Not just because Jennifer is one of us. But because this is the salon of all of us, and we are all in this together.


You wrote above [with regard to the removal of Rage Against Quora] about your feeling/fear that something is going down with all this. In some ways I’ve felt for the past few days like I had an answer with no question to give it to, and I couldn’t make up my mind what the proper audience was. Big? Small? Dunno. You’re it. I hope, though, that the outcome will be a conversation.

The Quora path always weaves in and out of topics and occasionally eddies in one for a while. It’s true that since the TW awards I have become much more educated and aware of the dissatisfaction felt by a number of Quorans, what you refer to as your cynicism that is actually shared by many.

I have become more aware of the dissatisfaction than I previously had been, but I had seen snatches of it before. What is important to note is that what I had seen previously appeared to be on an individual basis, whereas now I am aware of what I will refer to (for lack of a better term) as the movement.

Occasional individual complaints? Oddities, imperfections — no system is perfect — things to tuck away as random notes for the future, etc. The movement? The movement is ugly. I haven’t been here long enough to know whether it is growing, or whether the rate of growth has picked up, but if that is the case then you are right to say that something is going down, and that something will likely not be good for Quora, in my opinion.

You are worried about your cynicism detracting from my experience, but if the movement is growing bigger then the problem is that eventually it will become big enough that it will not be possible to miss it even for the casually unaware user that I was a month ago. It will detract from their experience. Quora-the-business will not be able to tolerate that, and they will move strongly to stamp it out.

Ugly is a strong word but also a general one; let me tell you what the movement feels like to me. It feels like the neighborhood gang that goes into a neighborhood coffee shop that is a popular social spot and takes over a table in the corner. The members catcall the waitstaff and treat them inappropriately. Despite the fact that they come every day, they insult the food, the menu pricing, and the decor loudly, and leave trash on the floor. They occasionally get into a brawl where the police get called, and then come back the next day and spend a lot of time talking about how crazy it was that anyone could object to their behavior.

I’m sure you can see easily from this analogy that if this gang comes during the doldrums of the afternoon when other customers aren’t present, the owner may value the business enough to ignore the behavior. However, if they start coming during the dinner rush, the owner will be forced to remove or ban them, lest they drive away the mainstay of the business.

My response:

One of the most effective ways to get me to sit up and take notice is when you take one of the analogies I’m so proud of, and use it to counter my argument.

I came up with the Salon analogy at I will not hit your Report button, which was the very start of me complaining publicly about Quora. In my view of things, I was having a civil discussion with intellectual friends, when rent-a-cops barged in and pulled some of my friends away, with no explanation. And that the good and moral thing for me to do was to educate myself on what has been happening, and join my voice in the protest against injustice. You can read my tortuous path on the rest of The Insurgency.

Jennifer likes my Salon analogy, as she will note in the next excerpt; she is taking my Salon and moving it to a Cafe, which is cool. But that’s not what she sees. She sees a bunch of hooligans taking over several tables in the cafe, and being general nuisances if not assholes. In the cartoon above, I’ve taken her Cafe and moved it on to Doc’s Drugstore in West Side Story.

Jennifer makes three points, which make me respond in different ways.

The first is that the relentless complaining is increasingly spilling over, from nooks and crannies like this or the Late Great Rage Against Quora, into the general reader experience, and that’s not what the general readership came here for. For that matter, I don’t believe it’s what any of us came here for. Like I said to Abd Ul-Rahman. I didn’t join Quora so that I could protest administrative policies. There are real problems, but the complaining about problems can easily end up being more annoying to the casual user than the problems themselves. And they certainly aren’t effective recruitment.

This is fair, and I’ve been guilty of “can’t find a link, because Quora Search” on more than one occasion. There are places that are more appropriate than others for venting, and appending a Carthage Must Be Destroyed to every answer on historical linguistics is not a constructive or moral thing to be doing. (Not that I do it, but I take Jennifer’s point.)

Jennifer and I are both business/systems analysts, so we like to have takeaway actions from meetings. So, my ACTION: continue to criticise, but don’t do it in places where it does not add value. Like answers on historical linguistics, say.

The second is that Quora will clamp down hard (or, as far as many of you are concerned, harder) on complainers, because their complaints drive away business. And that the complainers should make sure that what they say does not get them booted.

That people should abide with BNBR, I agree with, though I may have a narrower take on BNBR than you, as we discuss in the next section. That Quora will clamp down, I see as inevitable, because Quora is not our buddy and friend, D’Angelo doesn’t tuck us in bed at night, and Wacker does not draw up policy guidelines with a glitter pen on My Little Pony paper. Quora is a business, and a business has to ensure its profitability. Notwithstanding how questionable their path to profitability has been to date, having a bunch of people whine about how awful they are, and do so loudly, is not in their corporate interest.

You can retort (and many have) that antagonising your customers isn’t in their corporate interest either. My horrified realisation, which spurred me on to criticism, is that we’re not customers, we’re just users; so we’re not owed that accountability.

So for myself, as I said in my response to Abd Ul-Rahman, I’m not doing or saying anything in any hope that it will change things. What I do and say, I do and say so I can look myself in the mirror, as having done the right thing by my friends.

That’s already an ACTION, and it’s an action which Jennifer has an excellent retort to. (Achilleas has a related retort in his post.) We’ll come to that in the next post.

The third is that the tone of the sniping and negativity is thuggish.

Some of it isn’t. Some of it decidedly is. Some of it is well thought out and informed (whatever its tone). Some of it is just users complaining that they got caught.

Ironically, I have felt that I can’t call it out because *I* want to do BNBR, and because I want to show loyalty to the Insurgency, and because I’m a host of The Insurgents, and I can’t be challenging my guests. But as Jennifer points out, that’s not good enough: that makes me complicit. And the discussion on that is coming up in the next post.

More soon.

Why was Emir al-Shishani’s account banned?

Emir al-Shishani

This question won’t last long.

No justification given in the edit log.

Browsing comments, I can see he got into arguments with people around the Chechen wars, but given the subject matter, the tone was not as acrid as it could have been.

I will draw attention to his name, though. Cf. Abu Omar al-Shishani, nom de guerre of Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, ISIS commander. Al-Shishani is Arabic for “the Chechen”. The user formerly went by “Chechen al-Shishani”, and changed it recently to “Emir al-Shishani”; Emir is a Muslim first name, but it is of course also an honorific.

Why does reconstructed Proto-Indo-European seem so cumbersome to pronounce?

As ever, Daniel Ross’s answer is so thorough and well thought out (Vote #1 Daniel Ross’ answer to Why does reconstructed Proto-Indo-European seem so cumbersome to pronounce?), that it is embarrassing for me to attempt a better answer. In fact, I won’t: I’ll offer a worse answer, but one that is actually hinted at in his “PIE might be, in minor ways, a little bit over-reconstructed”.

And that is that the reconstructions of PIE are not for the purposes of being spoken at all. They are for the purposes of expressing correspondences between cognate languages in a shorthand.

We observe a systematic correspondence between k and w and p, and we put them in the blender, and we call it *gʷ. We could have called it *ʛ. Or *%. Or *Jimmy. We called it *gʷ because that’s an economical articulatory hypothesis for how a single sound can end up as k or w or p. But we don’t know for sure; we weren’t there.

And if you multiply that by a few dozen other hypotheses, and add in the strange algebra of Saussure’s laryngeals, you get a proto-language that internally makes sense, has a consistent root structure and explains the daughter languages—but was never meant to be spoken. It’s a theoretical construct. In practice, we may have missed some smoothing out of the sounds. We may be conflating different stages of the proto-language. We may be reconstructing an abstract phonology of the language, and be completely in the dark about its far more pronouncable allophony.

And maybe Proto-Indo-European did actually sound just like that. But remember: its sound is not what it was reconstructed for. It’s an explanatory tool for linguistic diversity, not a time machine.

Why do people compare a woman’s body shape to fruit?

… Do we, Kat? I mean, pear-shaped we do say, yes, and the body shape is old (1815); the “things went wrong” meaning is much later, and may (may) be unrelated: Pear-shaped.

But banana-shaped? I haven’t heard that. I have heard “flat as a pancake” instead, and pancakes aren’t fruit. Apple shaped? I haven’t heard that either. I have heard hourglass-figure, but hourglasses are also not a fruit.

And of course there’s real cultural difference at play here. Korea has the whole peculiar trend of using letters of the Latin alphabet to classify body shapes: S-Line, V-Line, and 19 More Korean Body Lines

Two things going on here. The impetus to classify female body types is tied up with the… dare I say objectification? of women. Commodification, certainly. Women are evaluated for desirability according to specific ideals of body shape, and are therefore classified according to how they meet or fail to meet those ideals of body shape.

Why fruit? Well, why letters of the alphabet? Accessible, recognisable shapes, preferably like Kathleen Grace said with connotations of sensuality (which fruit have)—although that is not mandatory, as Korea shows (and so do hourglasses).

What would be a good translation of this sentence in Koine Greek?

You know, this will certainly be wrong, and too Modern Greek. But this question has been sitting here for a week, so:

Ὑψίστη ἡ τῆς σταθερότητος διαφορά. Τούτου νοουμένου, ἡ Κοινὴ τῆς ἑλληνικῆς γλώσσης διάλεκτος θέσμιος ποιεῖται. Πᾶσαι ἑτέραι γλῶσσαι οὐ στηρίξονται, ἰδίᾳ δὲ πρὸς λογίαν γραμματείαν.

Backup requested. Please do not get this tattooed without a second opinion. 🙂

What is “liar, liar pants on fire” in latin?

What we’re actually looking for is a Latin proverbial expression that means what the English means. And the English has nothing to do with inflammable pants at all: it just says “Hah! caught you lying!”

I noodled around latin Via Proverbs. The closest I get are:

Mendacem memorem esse oportet.
A liar should have a good memory.
(Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 4.2.91)

Because if you don’t remember what you lied about, you won’t be able to keep your story straight. And when you get found out, then it’s Liar Liar Pants On Fire.

Or maybe:

Mendacia curta semper habent crura.
Lies always have short legs.
(Mediaeval proverb)

Meaning, lies can’t run far: they’ll get found out eventually.

Do you speak Klingon, and why did you choose to learn it?

Federation Standard, eh, English translation follows:

HIja’, tlhIngan Hol vijatlhlaH. qaStaHvIS wa’maH DIS, jIQummeH Hol vIlo’, ’ej SeQpIr lutmey vImughta’.

qatlh vIghojmeH vIwIv ’e’ choyu’, tlheybura qatlhaw qaH. reH jIHvaD Daj Holmey ’oghlu’bogh. ghojmeH ngeD chaH, ghojchu’lu’meH DuH tu’lu’, ’ej Hol mIwmey waHlaH.

maSterS vIHaDtaHvIS, HolQeD qaD lIngpu’ ghojwI’, tlhIngan Hol lo’taHvIS. jIHvaD chu’ Hol. muvuQ, ’ej vIghojchoH. pItlh.

Dajmo’ vIghoj, ’ej jIqeqmeH vIghoj; latlhvaD jIQum ’e’ vIqImbe’. ’ach ’InternetDaq ghojwI’ tu’meH ngeD Qu’: lojban Holmo’ ’e’ vISov.

Yes, I can speak Klingon. For ten years I used it communicatively, and I have translated Shakespeare.

You ask me, Mr K’leybura Katzau, why I chose to learn it. I always found artificial languages interesting. They are easy to learn, it is possible to learn them to completeness, and they can test out the possibilities of language.

When I was doing my Masters, a lecturer wrote a linguistics assignment using Klingon. The language was new to me. It fascinated me, and I started learning it. That was it.

I learned it because it was interesting, and to practice at it; I wasn’t concentrating on communicating with others. But I knew from Lojban that it would be easy to find learners online.