Tear it down, Elias!

Contemplating the follies of Quora, as I am wont to do, is an often dispiriting exercise. An Existentialist Parable, as I have called it. An exercise that can made one go all nihilistic.

I’m already warning friends to intervene if they find me muttering “Tear it down, Elias!”

To help them do so, I need to recount what that phrase means.

I’ve just discovered it myself, thanks to Constantinos Kalampokis’ answer to Why do Greeks break plates when dancing? and, independently, Evangelos Lolos at https://www.quora.com/Why-do-Gre…

I could cite Constantinos’ answer, but I’d rather retell the story myself.

The phrase comes from a Greek movie triptych about loneliness, It’s a Long Road (1998). The first two parts of the movie are obscurantist and ruminative, in the way you’d expect of a European arthouse film: a game warden confronted by the shooting of the last midget goose in a national park; an archaeologist stumbling on an ancient tomb of Macedon.

The third part was not as popular with the critics, because its dabbling in Greek low culture makes it stylistically more uneven than the muted first two parts. The third part is nihilistically over the top, and was, quite plausibly, something of a hit with non-arthouse audiences; it even has a Facebook fan page. The YouTube commentariat, vulgar and sexist though they are, are quite unanimous that this film should be taught in school. And they draw parallels with the wasted finances of the 90s, that have brought Greece to where it is now.

But mostly, revelling in the macho nihilism.

The full 40 mins is online. It is a very good film:


This clip is abridged (10 mins); it doesn’t give enough of the protagonist’s despair, and it emphasises the over-the-topness over the lead up, but it works:

Times given from the 10 min abridgement.

Makis Tsetsenoglou runs a furniture factory in the small town of Kilkis. His wife leaves him and takes the kids. (“Two months ago, you came to my bed and stunk of Bulgarian women.”) The abridgement skips Makis’ shock and isolation, and picks up with Makis heading to the local bouzouki joint, Vietnam, to drown his sorrows. His sorrows won’t drown easy.

He orders rosepetals cast onto the chanteuse (2:30). His sorrows do not drown.

He orders all the plates in the establishment brought to the dancefloor for smashing (3:00). His sorrows do not drown.

He bids the reluctant establishment owner come out (“Why the hell didn’t you tell him I wasn’t in?”), and asks him to bring out whatever glassware can be smashed from the kitchen (4:50). His sorrows do not drown.

As bored Bulgarian hookers look on, the owner comes out to check whether Makis is having a good time (6:00). Why, no, my dear Mr Makis, there is nothing left to smash. All that’s left is the bathroom tiles. Makis turns to him with a smile. The toilet bowls are ceremonially dispatched on the dance floor; he is paying, after all. Yet his sorrows do not drown.

“Tell me. (7:15) How much do you reckon this joint is worth?” “Maybe 20–25 mill?” “Fine, I’ll give you 30 mill, to sell it to me this instant.” “What do you want to do, Makis? Run it?” “Run it? Don’t be stupid. I want to smash it.” His sorrows do not drown, but he does finally start dancing.

The musicians adjourn outside. He signs the check (8:00), and when the owner sycophantically says και το καινούργιο δικό σου, μεγάλε “You can own the rebuilt joint too, chief”, Makis issues one of those ceremonial phrases that Greeks and Turks are renowned for—though this particular ceremonial phrase is original with him: να ’χουμε να γκρεμίζουμε. “May we always have enough money to keep demolishing with.”

He then takes a bottle of whisky, and uses it to set his tie alight to the sound of the bouzouki. He sets his favourite trenchcoat alight, and dances with it.

And at last (9:20) he calls out to his mate: Ρίχ’ το Ηλία! Ηλία ρίχ’ το!

Tear it down, Elias!

A bulldozer comes into view. The bulldozer keeps going, and takes Vietnam nightclub with it. And Makis stumbles, dancing into the dawn.

The tribunal of the marshals

The tribunal of the marshals by Nick Nicholas on The Insurgency

These two paragraphs indicate that reports against Top Writers are scrutinised by Quora Staff, in order to determine their validity, before any sanction is applied. Reports against other writers, by implication, are not subject to the same scrutiny, if any.


(The tribunal des maréchaux was also called the tribunal du point d’honneur, because they were meant to replace duels, fought on points of honour. At least that much, we are being spared.)

(For now.)

Guest Post: Alfredo Perozo, Ultima Ratio Regum

In https://galleryofawesomery.quora…, Alfredo Perozo has portrayed everyone’s favourite bot in a little more detail than I have done:

the definition of ultima ratio regum

the final argument of kings (a resort to arms): motto engraved on the cannon of Louis XIV.

And on some executioners’ axes…

Why is computer called υπολογιστής instead of κομπιούτερ in modern Greek?

Everyone else has said the ‘what’. As to the ‘why’:

Formal Greek is resistant to Latin-based loans, and routinely translates them into Greek morphemes whenever it can. The resistance was always lesser in informal Greek, and in the last decade or so, the floodgates have opened up for technical terminology in English: Hellenic coinages often exist, but practitioners of IT rarely know them or use them.

That’s the overall trend. In the case of ‘computer’, the native calque hypologistēs has indeed prevailed over the loan kompiuter, and indeed so has logismiko over softgouer. As other answers have noted, the loanword is antiquated. But as Yiannis Tsiolis’ answer says, Greeks all know the word kompiuter (since they all know English by now anyway); and slang or jocular words are formed based on it.

What is the difference between Rum, Urum and Yunan, and Yunanistan?

  • Rum < Roman is the traditional Ottoman designation for Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire, inherited from the self-description of the Byzantine Empire, and it continues to be the Turkish designation for ethnic Greeks, living in Turkey and Cyprus.
  • Urum is a variant of Rum, and is used as the self-designation of several Turkic speakers who are traditionally Greek Orthodox, and who are believed to have been linguistically assimilated. Notable among them are the Urum who live in Mariupol’, in the Ukraine, and who moved there along with Greek-speaking Christians from the Crimea in 1778.
  • Yunan is the Turkish term derived from the Persian word for Greeks, which in turn derives from Ionian. In Ottoman times, it was used to refer to Ancient Greeks, just as Hellene was in Greek. After the independence of the Greek state, Yunan also came to be used for Greeks in the new state (just as Hellene was in Greece), while Rum continued to be used for Greeks in the Ottoman Empire (unlike Greece, which had an irredentist vision). The country of the Yunan in Turkey, Greece, is Yunanistan.

What dead or fictional famous person would be a great Quora contributor? Whether it be a president or character from film/literature, who could contribute great content? Why would that person be awesome on Quora?

A lot of the people named by other respondents would not last two days on Quora, because of BNBR; and a lot of people would not find Quora particularly rewarding.

A lot of the people named by other respondents would also get dragged on to Quora to do a celeb session, then leave. That does not count in my book as a great Quora contributor.

What kind of dead famous person would be a great Quora contributor? The type who spent their free time having the kinds of free-ranging discussion that might be comparable to Quora.

Stephen Punwasi’s answer points to one such equivalent:

Karl Marx. He basically spent all day discussing ideas in the early 20th Century version of Quora – Viennese Cafes.

Well, maybe not Karl Marx himself, but the literary salons of London and Paris, along with Vienna pre-War cafés, would indeed have been great recruiting grounds.

Another such recruiting ground is people whose free-ranging discussion, usually around the dinner table, was felt worthy of noting down. Yes, it was felt worthy because they were famous; but it usually was intrinsically interesting anyway.

Table talk (literature)

As examples, published table talks exist for:

For me, I’d like to see Constantine P. Cavafy. I’m not finding a googlable reference to it, but his Table Talk on both Greek and Byzantine history, and Greek linguistics, would have been right up my alley…

How would modern Greek language sound to an Ancient Greek?

— … By the twin gods, Autolycus!

—What then, O Charaxus?

—Hear you what a curious speech it is, that this strangely dressed individual utters?

—It is indeed passing curious.

—Some words sound like words of our common Hellenic tongue.

—Indeed so, O Charaxus.

—Yet there is a harsh deficit of diphthongs in his speech.

—Much like a Boeotian. Someone should indeed tell them, that there are more than seven vowels in the language.

—And some awkward sibilants, where a Grecian would use stops.

—You have learned quickly the terms of the sophists, O Charaxus! Like unto a Laconian, methinks. Nē tō θiō.

—Yes, yes, instead of Nē tō tʰeō. “By the twin gods.” But forsooth, with many more horrid sounds.

—And such monotony of speech, O Charaxus!

—Indeed. Much like unto the rattle of some dull bird. No poise of long and short vowels, no tunefulness of speech. A mere monotonous alternation of loud and soft noises.

—What make you of this then?

—Were it not for the lack of long vowels, my good Autolycus, I would think this some peculiar Aeolism, some corrupt dialect of our storied tongue. Like unto Nick Nicholas’ answer to During antiquity, did anyone in Greece or Rome recognize similarities between Greek and Latin languages and hypothesized relationships between them?

—A capital scholar, this Nicholas, grandson of Nicholas.

—I vouchsafe you, sir. Yet even those blockheads of Latium speak more tunefully than this.

—What then, O Charaxus?

—Mark you not, my good Autolycus, the lip hair on many of his number? That which we call mystax?

—Indeed I do, O Charaxus.

—And his breeches, worn in the stead of a decent chlamys?

—Very much so.

—This, and the corrupt Aeolisms that pass from his lips, the which remind one of Grecian words, yet are not truly Grecian. It is decided, Autolycus.

—Very much so, O Charaxus.

—This man is a Celt. A Gaul, I believe.

—May he to the crows! Es kórakas!

EDIT: https://www.quora.com/How-would-…

Steve Theodore

On the one hand, brilliantly thou speakest; on the other meseems thine Hellenes abstain from balancing clauses. οἴμοι!

—Good morrow, O Charaxus; what news bear you then from the fora?

—Hooray, mén, my good Autolycus; alas, !

—Wherefore then this contradiction, O Charaxus? I would fain learn that.

—Our discourse on the peculiar Gaul , which we conducted the other day, was acclaimed for its brilliance, mén. It was castigated for its inelegance, .

—In what wise though was it found to be inelegant?

—Our discourse used many of the elegant particles of our storied Grecian tongue, mén. It neglected, so it would seem, to use mén and , .

—And know our readers at the fora, O Charaxus, that mén in Greek means ‘on the one hand’, and ‘on the other hand’?

—They way well not have before now, mén. I will vouchsafe you they know it now, .

Could the Quora bots pass the Turing Test by being mistaken for stupid uneducated humans?

Some might query whether this question is insincere, and a pretext for complaining about Moderation by Bot.

I am not of that number. Our interaction with Quora Moderation is a preview of our interaction with Artificial Intelligence in general, as it becomes more and more widespread. We’re getting more of it here on the Quoras, because Quora has drunk the Bot/Machine Learning Kool-Aid, and thinks it the solution to all their scalability problems (modulo The tribunal of the marshals). But where Quora staggers, others are following, and I hear Messenger chatbots are all the rage now in small business.

A decade or so ago, I remember seeing a documentary on what our interaction with AI was likely to be. The talking head pointed out that a generalised AI, like Sci-Fi expects, was not going to happen in a hurry; what would happen soon would be AI trained in very specific niches, and ignorant of anything outside that niche. That you would walk away from the bank, muttering “That ATM was pretty dumb, wasn’t it.”

That Moderation bot was pretty dumb, wasn’t it.

So the bots you encounter in the near future, in the general case, are going to pass the Turing Test and fail the Turing test in the same way ELIZA did way back when: they’ll be fine as long as you’re talking within their domain of expertise, and they fall apart as soon as you try to hold a general conversation with them. Though the domain of expertise has broadened massively since the 60s.

So much for the general case. Specifically for Quora, there’s a couple of catches:

Our moderation process emphasizes rule-based decisions that are fair and consistent. Every moderation decision on the site must be based on an existing policy. All we care about are policies; we don’t make decisions based on the substantive nature of the content that a user has published.

(It’s possible that I’ve extrapolated more in that statement than Marc meant; but that interpretation suits me.)

Stupid uneducated humans, as OP describes them, would lack the ability to apply context, equity, discretion and judgement. Many moderation judgements seem to their recipients to do so, as is routinely protested for BNBR judgements—especially when the recipients can’t divine what their supposed infraction was. So you can in fact see where the Turing test comes into it.

(See e.g. discussion in comments of Habib Fanny: Yet another violation. Can’t use a historical quotation that features the word “nigger,” apparently. by Nick Nicholas on The Insurgency. Was it because Habib was citing Lee Atwater? That would indeed be stupid. Was it, rather, because he was taunting Republicans? Possibly likelier, and a better judgement—but not what most readers assumed, including myself.)

The irony is, that bots, if anything, might, might just do a better job of at least some of context, equity, discretion and judgement. Consistency, at least, they would nail. But the existence of The tribunal of the marshals still tells me that Quora aren’t trusting the bots (and subcontractors) to moderate everyone.

  • We have in fact had a reverse Turing test with Quora Moderation recently. We have assumed that the abysmal job done of moderating content in the new Anonymous system was because we weren’t getting the promised individual vetting of content, and it was being left to bots. In fact, as revealed in Anonymous Screening by Jack Fraser on The Insurgency, we have been getting vetting of content, by spectacularly incompetent subcontractors.
    • As Jennifer Edeburn pointed out in comments, a bot would have done a far more consistent job of vetting content than the subcontractors did.