Archive for the 'gay' Category

Marriage in Dictionaries

The definition of marriage is the hottest topic in US news lately.

My favorite place for looking up definitions of English words is, unsurprisingly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

And indeed, the editors of M-W’s website noticed the public interest in the definition of marriage, and here’s what they had to write about it:

The word became the subject of renewed scrutiny as the Supreme Court heard arguments in cases seeking to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage and the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act.

Marriage has become a controversial definition, although its original sense – “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex” – has not changed.

However, because the word is used in phrases such as “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” (by proponents and opponents alike), a second definition – “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage” – was added to the dictionary to provide an accurate picture of the word’s current use.

I recently read Herbert Morton’s excellent book The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics. It’s excellent because it’s very well written and because it could be a handbook in how to make dictionaries in general: how to balance scientific linguistic precision with usefulness to the general public.

Sadly, this remark about the definition of marriage is a departure from the principles of excellence that guided the editors of Webster’s Third. If the sentence says “same-sex marriage”, then “same-sex” means, literally, “same-sex”; there’s no need to say “the state of being united to a person of the same sex“.

Why not just say that “marriage” is “the state of being united to a person”? Maybe “legally united”, or “religiously united”. Or “united in a family”. It neatly avoids the political problems around sex and gender and all that, and is correct linguistically.

The official dictionary of the Catalan language already did it:

Comparison of two versions of a dictionary definition.

Comparison of two versions of a dictionary definition in the Catalan language.

The Institute of Catalan Studies, which publishes the dictionary, also publishes a list of updates in each edition. In this image you can see how the definition of marriage changed from “a legal union of a man and a woman” to “a legitimate union of two people who promise each other a common life, established through certain rituals or legal formalities”. The last usage example also says: “In some countries the legislation provides for marriage between two persons of the same sex”.

And well, yes, before you ask: of course there is a political background. Catalonia was one of the first jurisdictions that made same-sex marriage equal to different-sex marriage. But from the purely linguistic point of view the newer definition, which doesn’t mention a man and a woman, is perfectly correct. And saying that the definition of “marriage” is different in “marriage” and in “same-sex marriage” is not correct. Simple, really.

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Mongol Bichig, or why Microsoft Internet Explorer is better than Firefox, Chrome and Opera

After writing this post I found out that Google Chrome, in fact, does support vertical Mongolian text.

The title of this post is designed to catch the eye. Microsoft Internet Explorer is not better than Firefox, Chrome and Opera – it’s worse than them in every imaginable regard.

Except one: the support for Mongol Bichig, the vertical Mongolian script.

Text in vertical Mongolian

Text in vertical Mongolian

Mongolian script is unique: its letters are connected, similarly to Arabic and its lines are written vertically. About three million Mongols in the independent republic of Mongolia use this script mostly for historical purposes, and use the Cyrillic script in their daily life, but the classical vertical script is the regular script for nearly six million Mongols in China – that’s about twice as much people.

The only browser that is able to display the vertical Mongolian script is Microsoft Internet Explorer. I don’t really know why Microsoft bothered to do it; maybe because the government of the People’s Republic of China demanded it. If that is true, then i salute the government of the People’s Republic of China. And i definitely salute Microsoft. I don’t like Microsoft’s insistence on keeping their code proprietary, but pioneering the support for this script, or any other, is praiseworthy.

I am very sad that at this time i cannot recommend my Mongolian friends to use my favorite browser, Firefox, or other modern browsers such as Google Chrome and Opera. For all their modernity, speed, feature richness and standards compliance, they are useless to over six million people who want to read and write in the vertical Mongolian script. At most, these browsers can display the script horizontally and with some letters incorrectly rendered. This also means that the only useful operating system for these people is Microsoft Windows.

One explanation that i heard for not supporting the vertical Mongolian script is that the CSS writing modes standard is not completely defined. This is actually a good and even noble reason, but when the most basic ability to read a language is in question, experimental support is better than no support.

So, which modern free browser will be the first to support the Mongolian script? I guess that it will be Firefox, given its excellent track record in supporting Unicode, and that Google Chrome will follow it after three years or so. But if Chrome developers surprise me and get there first, i’ll be just as happy. In any case, i am waiting impatiently, along with more than six million Mongols.

* * *


A completely unrelated postscript, intentionally hidden here, feel free to stop reading now: This morning i woke up to find that my Planet Mozilla feed was filled with reactions to a post by Gervaise Markham a.k.a. Gerv, in which he advocated keeping marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman, essentially opposing gay marriage. A lot of people were angry that anti-gay comments appear in a Mozilla-related feed and a lot of people were angry that anything off-topic appears there. Some people supported Gerv in different ways.

Gerv is a very well-known and very talented Mozilla programmer, and also a devout Christian. His blog is called “Hacking for Christ”. There’s nothing weird or wrong about it – there are many other excellent Christian hackers, like Perl’s Larry Wall and Jonathan Worthington and Mozilla’s Jonathan Kew. Gerv’s comment wasn’t particularly hateful; as it often goes, it focused on the legal side of things. Gerv is also an unusually charming person; i had the pleasure to meet him in Berlin.

All that said, i support gay marriage, i don’t support Gerv’s comment and i think that he shouldn’t have post it that way. But once he did, hey – water under the bridge. I care much more about his contributions to Mozilla’s code than about his social, legal and religious opinions.

And the loveliest part of it all is that in one the many comments to his post, i found a link to the play “8”, about the fight for recognizing gay marriage in California. On one hand, it’s a very well played PR stunt, with the highest league stars such as like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Yeardley Smith, John C. Reilly and George Takei. On the other hand, it’s actually worth watching. If this is what came out of that poorly placed blog post, then i’m not complaining.

People Speaking – Check

A gay Wikipedia editor is filling a survey:

“‘My sexual orientation is different from the majority of editors who edit Wikipedia’ – I was about to check this, but then I decided that I’m not sure that that’s really the situation.”

People Speaking – Woman

— “Is it a man or a woman?” (My ten year old niece Dasha seeing the opening sequence of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.)

Enhorabona

I’ve been doing homework in Catalan. The exercise is very simple: match between the sentences and the pictures.

  • a. Good! Now I have an apartment. It is not very big, but for me it is good now.
  • b. How amazing!
  • c. Damn! No hot water again!
  • d. What a success! It’s the second time that I win (the lottery).
  • e. Greetings! (literally: In good hour!)
  • f. Congratulations! He’s very beautiful and looks like the father.
  • g. Such a shame! Just two minutes!

The exercise sheet was lying on my table. I solved some other exercises, and the picture was in front of my eyes for many minutes. Then suddenly i noticed that something is not so usual there. Click to enlarge:

Enhorabona

This must be one of the cutest and most touching things i have ever seen.

I thought about writing a philosophical social commentary on it, but i won’t.


Ús raonable. Dibuix de “Veus – Curs de català – Llibre d’exercisis i gramàtica”. Autors: Marta Mas Parts i Albert Villagrosa Grandia. Il·lustraciò: Linhart i Javier Olivares. Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, juny de 2007.

Thinking About the Spammer

Once i used to read most of the spam that i received. Then it became too much and i started reading only spam in Hebrew, which is quite different from the English and Chinese varieties. But now even that is too much. Lately i ignore most of it. It’s a bit unfortunate, because it is a curious bit of human culture.

Today i received a message with this subject: “Gay Sex Tanned guy bangs a friends ass”. The content was auto-generated near-gibberish of weird words, such as “blackstrap ghostless shikargah , spermatocidal sahara dewormed”. I’s probably supposed to trick spam filters. But there was nothing except it: No dirty images, no link to a porno site, no advertising.

Most people don’t give a damn, but i wonder: Is it just totally pointless waste of bandwidth? Is it supposed to trick me into trying to reply to this email and verify that my email address is right? Did the spammer send the message with a link to a porno site, but it was deleted by some filter? Was the spammer supposed to send it with a link but made a mistake? Did he program the spamming robot incorrectly?

A spammer is human, too.

Made Me Cry – Nikita

My nephew Nikita came to Israel to spend the summer with his grandparents – my parents. It was all fun, until two days before his flight back to Moscow he was hospitalized in Rambam with a bad case of peritonitis.

So his flight is postponed, of course. A week after the operation he can still hardly eat and walk. My parents sit at his bed in the hospital twenty-four seven and they are terribly tired, so i came to help them.

Today i sat with him for a few hours. He mostly slept. The TV was on with a low volume and i watched Music 24 (nonstandard1), the Israeli music channel.

The golden age of the music video has ended in about 1996. Back then MTV was the undisputed Master of the Universe and local videos, although very low-budget, aspired to the international big brother and had a lot of character. These days, however, nearly all Israeli music videos can be grouped into three sets:

  1. The singer is walking around the streets of Tel Aviv. And it’s the same couple of streets in all of them.
  2. The singer is walking around his rented apartment in Tel Aviv, makes coffee, watches TV, talks on the phone or goes down to the street to buy cigarettes.
  3. A huge close-up on the singer’s face. Obviously, this group is the most disgusting. I guess that too many video directors fell in love with Sinéad or – worse – with Alanis (Flash2).

By a rough count, nine out of ten videos falls into one of these, which is quite astonishing and depressing. It can ruin even good songs. But there are exceptions.

Eviatar Banai‘s video for “Yesh li sikuy” (Flash) is a quiet little masterpiece of music video making. The song itself is one of the all-time masterpieces of Israeli music; It is from Banai’s debut album. It’s black and white and it shows people in a bar lip synching to the song, subtly conveying the mood of the line they are singing. (Can you spot Banai himself there?)

Somewhere in the middle of the song there are those lines:

אמא שרה לבן בלילה,
אמא כאן לידך כל הזמן.

Mummy sings to the son in the night,
Mummy’s here near you all the time.

In the video a pregnant woman is singing the last line. You can hardly notice that she’s pregnant until she touches her belly. This subtlety is pure beauty.

I guess that it would make me cry even without the unfortunate circumstances, but sitting there in the hospital near sleeping Nikita while his mother was far away in Moscow did put things into a perspective.


I started writing this entry a few days ago. It was a pretty crazy bunch of days since then.

Nikita’s mother – my sister – Olga finally came to Israel today after fighting with travel agencies for a few days. His health became better.

Yesterday i bought him Gossip’s Standing in the Way of Control, a CD for which he was looking for months, in Moscow and in Israel. Finding it wasn’t easy. He was particularly happy to receive it, which may have contributed to his slowly improving health, too. Despite his current condition, i envy him; i don’t think that i shall ever be as touched by music as i used to be when i was his age.

Anyway, for the night he put it in a drawer next to his hospital bed and in the morning it wasn’t there. There is a slight chance that with all the fuss around him the CD was just misplaced and will be found, but everybody is sure that it was stolen.

I’m amazed. What a terrible scumbag someone must be to steal a rare CD from a sick child. I mean, i would at least understand the motivation if it was something famous, but even i hardly know this band, so what kind of a low life would want to steal it? He can get – what? – 20 NIS for it in a used CD store? Fukker.


1 Actually, the site seems to be mostly functional, but the videos use CastUp technology, which is IE-only. I never managed to install the Firefox plugin they offer, and even if it would work, it would only work on Windows. By the way, i (still) work for the company that recently announced the acquisition of CastUp. What do you know…

2 Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” is not on YouTube. Alanis’ Head over Feet video is still there…


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