Why do Europeans say, “Where there are Italians, there is dirt”?

Because there was a perception 50 years ago that Italians were dirtier than Northern Europeans. They may not be saying that now, but there is still stereotyping between parts of Europe, and the claims that this saying is impossible ring hollow to me.

I don’t have a smoking gun of someone saying it; but I do have a smoking gun of someone expressing the sentiment. That someone was Greek, and in fact, he was expressing annoyance at how clean Austria was compared to Italy.

Nikos Tsiforos. Gulliver in the land of the Giants (humorous travelogue through Central Europe). 1967. p. 12.

Why does everything have to be so clean? A Southerner will never understand this. Over in Tarvisio, ten Italian paces from here [Arnoldstein], there’s waste paper, filth, dust, leftovers from horse and cow hindquarters. Tourism pleads: “keep the area clean!”, but noone pays any attention—except for the pine trees, who are law-abiding citizens when they’re up on the mountaintops. Here in Arnoldstein, it’s as if they’ve made 300,000 Austrians lick the road clean. There’s not one piece of rubbish. Austria should be ashamed of how clean it is.

He says pretty much the same crossing the Swiss border into Italy at Valpelline.

May you never see this

I’ve been recently forwarded one of these.

Even unto their bans, Quora Moderation is not specific.

May none of you, esteemed readers, ever see this in your mailboxes.

XXXXX (Quora)

[fill in date-time here] PDT

Hi [fill in user first name here],

Quora believes that all members of the community should make an effort to contribute helpful content to the community and, ultimately, make the site a better resource for all.

The following are some of the reasons for which we will ban an account:

After reviewing your activity on Quora, we’ve determined that you violated one or more of the reasons stated above. Unfortunately, the ban on your account will not be overturned. This decision is final, and you will no longer be able to use Quora.


User Operations

Why is there a yellow triangle to the left of one of my credentials?

The yellow triangle is because Quora’s Credential Bot thinks your credential is not serious or helpful or whatever else the Quora Credential Bot thinks. You should be getting a warning message on the Credential:

The Quora Credential Bot doesn’t notify you that it doesn’t like your credential; it just preemptively hides it, and users typically end up stumbling on this alert. Especially confusing, when it applies to bios that predated the introduction of Credentials (Show your expertise with credentials by Jackson Mohsenin on Quora Product Updates). The yellow triangle is only visible by you, since it is an indication that Quora is suppressing that credential, and picking some other credential out of your list.

See many related questions, such as

And then, for jollies, read the Quora design team’s post mortem on how the new Credentials rollout went:

Designing Your Own Metrics by Jackson Mohsenin on Quora Design

This metric represented our goal much more clearly than counting the total number of added bios did, and in fact, when we tested the entire Credentials package towards the end of the project, we got less total Bios but more helpful Bios compared to the previous system.

See? It worked! Success! Sure, a whole bunch of people opted out of using bios, and a whole bunch of people had their existing bios rejected by the Credential Bot, and a whole bunch of people kept editing their bios to placate the Credential Bot unsuccessfully. But the remaining credentials were much much more helpful than before!

What were you doing on September 11th, 2001?

I was living in Orange County, and I’d already decided to quit my job; I was leaving to come back to Australia in two months. It was a hermetic, unpleasant work environment, and I was already not on speaking terms with my colleagues—over some inconceivably unreal pique.

I tended to sleep in; I still do. I was roused at 7 am, rather earlier than usual, by a phone call from my mother.

—Nick! Turn on the TV! Some planes hit a building in New York!

—… Wha? What are you bothering me with that for? Go away.

I hung up, and blearily turned on the TV.

I stayed pinned to the TV for the next six hours. And while the fourth plane’s whereabouts were unknown, I was convinced that it was heading straight for my head.

I tried calling a friend in upstate New York; I didn’t even bother trying to call my friend in Manhattan. I didn’t get through to upstate New York. (I did get through to my friend in Manhattan some days later. He knew what was coming next, and he sang me peace songs on the phone, in a hushed voice.)

I ended up at work in the afternoon, but not a lot of work got done that day. Or the next. And of course, noone bothered with not being on speaking terms any more.

People walked around in shock that day, and the next few weeks. People were walking on egg shells. People were extra polite and solicitous. There was an upsurge of American flags on cars, but it did not feel tubthumping and jingoist at the time.

What is the most British thing ever?

This is obscure. But Quora is a stamping ground for me to pass on anecdotes.

This anecdote involves one of the doyens of Mediaeval and Modern Greek Studies in Fair Albion, Professor Geoff Horrocks.

Author of the most authoritative English-language summary of the history of Greek there is:

That’s the second edition cover. The first edition cover is to my mind more accurate, and I loved the look on classicists’ faces when they saw it:

Anyway, the anecdote takes place a couple of years before he published the first edition. The Second International Conference on Greek Linguistics was being held in Salzburg, in 1995. The conference had a couple of Russians, a few Anglos, two Dutch-speakers (one of them Flemish), and a gajillion voluble Greeks. And your humble correspondent was present, too; in fact, I got a paper published in the proceedings.

Towards the end of the conference, Khorox (as the Greeks present all pronounced him) thought it might be a good idea to moot the formation of a professional association of Greek Linguistics.

Oh, Khorox, that was not a good idea. Not a good idea at all. The lecture theatre instantly got consumed by polemics of Athens Uni vs Salonica Uni. (There is a longstanding ideological dispute between the two departments—but of course there is an even longer standing dispute between the two cities.) Me and Helma the Dutch speaker just sat at the back of the lecture theatre, chuckling at the rich cavalcade of histrionics.

After maybe a half hour of this, Khorox stands up and says, “can we please try and arrive at some consensus before Doomsday!”

The Grecian ears ignored him, and kept on duking out Athens vs Salonica: The Grudgefest. My antipodean ears were more finely attuned, and so were Helma’s: we just looked at each other and blinked. That was pretty much the British equivalent of Khorox grabbing a baseball bat and going postal.

In a roomful of Athens vs Salonica: The Grudgefest, though, it was hardly noticed…

What do letters and numbers “St. II, p. 70” in editions of Plato denote?

The first print edition of Plato in Greek was done by Henri Estienne (in Latin, Henricus Stephanus). Accordingly, all of Plato is cited according to the page number a passage had in the original Stephanus edition, with a letter between a and e to indicate how far down the page the passage is: Stephanus pagination – Wikipedia

So in your example, St. II p. 70 means page 70 of Vol II of the Plato edition by Stephanus starts at that point. The usual citation would drop the volume number, and just give the Plato work, the page number, and a letter. For example, Alc II 140c, meaning halfway down Vol. II p. 140 in Stephanus’ edition of Alcibiades. You just cite Meno as Meno 70a, 70b, 70c, 70d, or 70e, depending on how far down the page you are; we already know Meno is in Vol. II. The letters A-E should appear in the sidebar.

What are the most “moving” and “emotional” Greek songs of all time?

… No, I don’t think I’ve posted enough about Greek songs, actually.

Other than Nick Nicholas’ answer to What’s the most recent song you’ve cried to?, here’s three more torch songs. Yes, all sung by George Dalaras, and I make no apologies for that.

1. My favourite song ever is Don’t Be Angry At Me, My Dear Eyes. Music & Lyrics: Stavros Kouyioumtzis, 1965. stixoi.info: Μη μου θυμώνεις μάτια μου

The saddest song of a composer who wrote consistently sad songs. It’s the lyrics, but much more it’s the music, which belies the lyrics.

Don’t be angry at me, my dear eyes,
for going abroad
I’ll turn into a bird and I’ll come
back to you once more

Open your window,
my blond basil,
and with a sweet smile
bid me goodnight

Don’t be angry at me, my dear eyes,
now that I’ll leave you
Come out for a while so I can see you
and farewell you

Apart from the idiosyncrasies of Greek terms of endearment (Eyes, Basil), pretty much what every man ever had said farewelling his sweetheart. But the music is pessimistic: it’s all descending lines, it knows that he’s never coming back—sometimes in a low resigned register, sometimes in a high anguished register. What cements it is, it has brief moments of major key respite: two beats in the verse, a more convincing 2–5–1 cadence in the chorus—that immediately gets quashed by the minor key V: there is hope, and that hope is brushed aside.

2. The letter. Lyrics: Giorgos Mitsakis. Music: Giorgos Zambetas, 1956.

If Markos Vamvakaris was the Bach of the bouzouki tradition, and Vassilis Tsitsanis the Beethoven, then Giorgos Zampetas was the Offenbach: his music was fun, frothy, and not usually that memorable. This song is an exception, and I’m not surprised that it only became popular in a revival 20 years after it was released. It has that solemn, stern dignity of the best of laiko, even if it’s just that bit too European.

And ah, that last stanza: who hasn’t been there.

When you receive this letter,
I’ll be long gone
And you’ll believe it that two loves
cannot fit in one heart.

When you receive this letter
then will you cry with black tears.

You always spoke behind a mask
and wished to have two embraces
But where did you get the right
to toy with two hearts?

And so ends a story
with this sad letter.
I don’t regret that I once loved you.
But I am sorry that I still do.

3. I want it to be a Sunday. Music & Lyrics: Vasilis Tsitsanis, 1961.

This is not Rebetiko, of course; Tsitsanis the Beethoven was very far from the stern jauntiness of Vamvakaris, even if he got his professional start soloing on Vamvakaris’ album. (And his virtuoso playing sounds utterly out of place in 1938.)

In this song, he’s unabashedly wearing his heart on his sleeve, and wailing in a way that hadn’t been heard since the Anatolian antecedents of Rebetiko: the whole song is a study in the hanging leading tone, which never resolves up, but always collapses down.

There is extramusical context to the song, which I didn’t know beforehand: it was written four years after the death of Marika Ninou—a singer who Tsitsanis had worked with extensively, and who the movie Rembetiko (film) was based on.

I met you on a Sunday
I lose you on a Sunday
I want it to be a Sunday
on the day I die

You set like a star
and vanished, my joy.
My sorrow was so heavy
that it blackened Sunday
and broke my heart.

The hour of parting
is heavy and unbearable
In my dark life
I have the black heavens
as my companion now.

I would die on a Sunday
to give Death joy
to end a life
that is nothing but a prison for me
that is nothing but dead weight for me

EDIT: One more Dalaras song. (Yes, Evangelos Lolos, you’re on to me.)

4. Hammer and anvil. Music: Apostolos Kaldaras. Lyrics: Lefteris Papadopoulos. 1973.

The reference to gypsies at the start of the song simply reflects the distribution of labour in traditional Greek society: gypsies on the mainland got to be blacksmiths—or musicians.

I actually don’t know what Western ears will make of the verse’s scale, with its blue IV note squirming around its own misery, or the relative major ending up a relative minor. (D minor with a G♭ note, modulating to B♭ minor.) I do think they’ll get the chorus, at least, with its IV–V–I soaring on a despairing F major, before it sinks back to the blue notes of the verse.

The song is a study in depression—although I’ve been avoiding it the more serious my depression has gotten.

Come, gypsy, gather
hammer and anvil,
and sit and make a prison
to fit the black pains
which won’t fit within a soul.

This is no nighttime which will be over.
This is no daytime which will be past.
This is my lifetime, in this creation,
and it’s just like Good Friday mass.

Come, gypsy, gather
hammer and anvil,
and sit and make a golden cage
to capture that nightingale
which might just console my Sunday.

If you had to pray to any saint right now, to which would you pray?

Normally I wouldn’t wade in to such a question, but there are eight answers here, and none of them are by people who accept the premiss of the question, the Intercession of saints. Thank you for volunteering the opinion that all Catholic and Orthodox Christians are idolaters, Protestant and Muslim respondents, but clearly that’s not much of a answer.

And OK, I don’t personally accept the premiss of the question either, because I am an atheist. But being culturally Orthodox: I could do worse than appeal to my namesake, Saint Nicholas of Myra. Your namesake saint is supposed to have a special stake in your wellbeing. I’m not necessarily down with the fact that he supposedly slapped Arius in the face in the First Council of Nicaea; but at least he showed up to Nicaea. And at least we can be sure he existed, unlike some Orthodox saints (I’m looking at you, St Phanourios.)

And he’s not Santa Claus to me. That’s a Western, beef-eater notion. The gift guy to the Greeks is St Basil; Nicholas is the mariner guy:

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

This is the statue the Russian Government paid for to be put up at his church in Demre (ancient Myra):

Μεγάλη η χάρη του “Great be his grace”. You can see this guy slapping a theological opponent.

This is the Noel Baba sculpture that the local mayor replaced St Nicholas’ statue with:

OK, no pot belly, no Coke ads, and definitely no Ho Ho Ho; but that still ain’t my St Nicholas (Great be his grace).

Has Jackson Mohsenin been receiving much criticism for designing the new “Improve Your Feed” feature?

Jackson Mohsenin’s answer to Who designed the new Quora “Improve Your Feed” feature?

I did, along with feedback from the rest of the team.

Well the early reviews sure weren’t positive:

What does Quora expect to accomplish with the new “Improve Your Feed” feature?

Has any Quora feature ever inspired more Rage Against Quora than the “Improve Your Feed” feature?

This was something rolled out in 2014, and I suspect from the descriptions that people just got used to it, as a way of making Quora a little more like other Social Media.

The work of the Quora Design Team is much lampooned by its long-suffering users, formerly at Rage Against Quora, nowadays at Bug? or Feature? The lesson from this feature, formerly loathed and now taken for granted, could be that Quora Design should ignore all the brickbats, plough on with its clear mission for how to mould the UX to Quora’s purposes, and like Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Of course, the problem with that is, sometimes you don’t win, and sometimes they’re right to laugh at you. But it’s a walled garden, and the Quora Design Team will contort it and A/B test it and put up urine-coloured notification windows (Why are my Quora notifications yellow?, So, it’s turned to yellow now – the notification background. by Kathleen Grace on Bug? or Feature?) as often as it sees fit.

So why am I, noted Quora critic and all-round complainer, going back to this ancient history from 2014?

Because I randomly saw this question, and wanted to say the following.

If you think work from an organisation is faulty, you don’t blame the worker. And if you think work is praiseworthy, you don’t praise the worker. It’s work for hire. The corporate responsibility lies with the organisation. And with whoever authorised it. That’s where the buck stops.

Improve Your Feed may have been as stupid as pee-coloured notifications, or it may have been as genius as the hashtag. But there’s no point singling out Jackson for it. Jackson does not own Quora. Jackson did work for hire, that someone else authorised, and someone else approved.

Keen observers of Quora may recall at this point that Quora prides itself on putting nothing in the way of the designer deploying to production, apart from unit tests: no marketer, no integration analyst, no BA, no PM, no nothing stops the designer from deploying pee-coloured notifications to the whole site in 8 minutes.

True. You still don’t get to single out Jackson. Because the whole “nothing gets in the way of deployment” wasn’t Jackson’s idea either.

You don’t even get to go up the food chain, and look quizzically at Mills Baker, or Rebekah Cox, or David Cole, or whoever else was running Quora Design.

Whether genius or idiocy, the whole instadeploy thing, and the structures set up to enable it, were signed off by D’Angelo. The changes in direction of UX, inasmuch as we can discern direction, is signed off by D’Angelo. If we are having difficulty discerning direction in UX, that too is signed off by D’Angelo.

And whether criticisms of Improve Your Feed from users were being directed to Jackson, Rebekah, David, Adam, the New York Times, or /dev/null—that decision too is signed off by D’Angelo.

Whatever comes in to an organisation, whatever comes out of an organisation: at the end of the day, the organisation’s leadership is responsible for it.