The bumper sticker

A couple hours ago I came across this bumper sticker, presumably owned by a disgruntled liberal:

I’ll treat your President with the same respect that you treated mine.

You hear this sort of thing fairly often. It always strikes me as dumb and kind of depressing.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m also a liberal, also dismayed by how Obama was treated, also unhappy that we’ve elected a man who is childish, self-centered, incompetent, ignorant, crude, petty, dangerous, and frequently vile. But here’s the thing. This bumper sticker is supposed to be anti-Trump, yet it’s embracing the very core of Trump’s philosophy: You hurt me, I hurt you back.

So you think your opponents acted childishly. Fine. But if you think the solution is to be childish right back, then I hope you’re not a kindergarten teacher. We’ve gotta have some adults in the room, because if we’re all children, well … we know how that one ends.

Even the language is silly. “Your President,” as opposed to my President. Every time I hear someone say “Not my President,” I want to bop them on the chin with a rolled-up copy of the Twelfth Amendment. He was elected legitimately — even if he didn’t get a majority, even if Russia interfered. (Collusion is a somewhat different matter, but we’ll wait and see what Mueller finds.) The point is, the biggest thing holding Trump’s chaos in check — apart from his own remarkable incompetence — is the counterbalance of the legislative and judicial branches (enshrined in Articles I and III), plus the voice of the American people, which is protected by the Bill of Rights. If Trump’s not your President, then you don’t respect the Constitution, and the Constitution is exactly what will carry us through this gargantuan quagmire. Even saying “Not my President” in a nonliteral way is, I think, somewhat harmful.

Besides — if he’s not your President, then what the hell are you so upset about?

One final thought. It occurred to me that the bumper sticker might just as easily be a few years old, owned by a conservative who was bitter about how W was treated, and angry about Obama. There’s no year on the sticker, nothing to indicate age. Which side of the aisle is this person really on? There’s no way to tell.

That, in itself, should say something about this cycle of political venom we’re in.


Various & sundry

  • Still reading that Superintelligence book. It’s still good, although he occasionally strays into some territory that seems oddly speculative, even by AI standards. Right now I think the biggest struggle is simply getting people to have this conversation. It’s like a bus with seven billion people is driving full-throttle toward a cliff and nobody knows it, and whenever you bring it up, everyone’s like “What are you talking about? We’ve never gone over a cliff before so I’m sure it won’t happen now.” (To be fair, there are like eighteen other cliffs on the horizon besides this one, parts of the bus are already on fire, and nobody’s quite sure where the steering wheel is.)
  • I’m collaborating with Esteemed Herr Author Benjamin Trube on a project he came up with, a Babylon 5 podcast. My prior podcast experience has been limited to, um, not listening to them, so this is something quite different for me. Basically, we watch a new B5 episode every two weeks or so, then record ourselves talking about it for an hour. We’ve recorded two episodes so far but haven’t inflicted anything on the interwebs yet. More as it develops.
  • I’ve started working on a Buffy webcomic. As with the B5 podcast, nothing is online yet, but I’ve created seven strips so far, and a “library” of files to make a bunch more. I need another project like I need a black hole in my head, so I’m not going to self-impose any deadlines right now. If and when I get a decent-sized backlog, I may start posting them once a week. If I lose interest, I’ll just post the ones I’ve created already. So far, though, it’s been a lot of fun to work on.
  • Evan is crawling, crawling, crawling everywhere. We babyproofed our kitchen so hard last weekend. Babies can be a pain sometimes, but man, that little guy is friggin’ amazing.
  • Betsy, if you’re reading this, I love you! 😀 (If you’re not reading this, I still love you, but you’ll have to hear about it some other way. That can probably be arranged.)
  • A lot of stuff in the news — hurricanes, the Las Vegas shooting, Trump’s assorted stupidities, twelve million other things. I follow it all pretty closely and I think about it a lot, but I typically don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said in twelve million other places already. If you’re interested in my take on a particular topic, though, you’re welcome to leave a comment. In the meantime, I support the ACLU, try to figure it all out, and hope for the best.
  • Haven’t seen Star Trek: Discovery yet. Kinda burned out on Trek, but who knows?
  • New movie called Annihilation coming out next year. Trailer looks pretty sweet. Even sweeter: It stars Natalie Portman (one my favorite actors), and is written and directed by Alex Garland, who also wrote and directed Ex Machina (one of my favorite movies).
  • I’m planning to return to Crane Girl once I finish a smaller, family project, which should be done by Christmas.
  • A bit of a lull in the editing at the moment. Freelance work tends to be feast-and-famine. Lately the famines have been shorter, which is nice. I’ve been using the break to get some other things done.
  • Betsy and I have been going to church more regularly over the past couple months. Although I’m agnostic, attending church is enlightening and useful in a number of ways. I tend to think that nonbelievers should spend at least a little time in church, for the same reason that believers should spend at least a little time listening to atheists.
  • We switched to a cheaper trash service, which allowed us to add the savings to our monthly Doctors Without Borders donation. Calling them to increase our auto-payment amount makes me a special kind of happy.
  • I have a ton of ideas for other blog posts floating around in my cerebrum, but time always seems to be tight. I’m not sure that time actually is tight, but it always seems that way. I do want to write at some point about what “logical thinking” really means, and why it’s so hard, and what its limits are. Although logic and science are two of humanity’s supreme achievements, I think we “rational” types often get an inflated idea of what logic is capable of, and we sometimes undervalue intuition. But more on that later (hopefully).
  • Happy Thursday!

What’s the difference between … ? (round 3)

rock & stone

These refer to basically the same physical thing, but they have different connotations.

rock tends to be rough or unrefined, while a stone tends to be smooth or polished; you throw rocks but skip stones. Rock is in its natural state, while stone has been worked in some way; you visit rock cliffs and the Rocky Mountains, but stone temples and the Rosetta Stone. A cut and polished diamond is a (gem)stone, never a rock (except sometimes in slang). And if it’s really big, it tends to be a rock; think of the Rock of Gibraltar or Ayers Rock or the third rock from the sun. If it’s small, it tends to be a stone; think of kidney stones (or maybe don’t).

Side note: Be careful. “We will rock you” and “We will stone you” mean two very different things.

sermon & homily

These two are often used interchangeably. The Catholic Church and some other Christian churches do seem to make a distinction: A homily is a commentary on Scripture, typically short, while a sermon can be on any topic, and is typically longer, perhaps more formal. Protestants tend to just use sermon for everything.

blond & blonde

Sometimes subtle distinctions help us convey precise meaning. And sometimes, they just piss you off. Blond vs. blonde is firmly in the latter camp, for two reasons. First of all, there’s simply no reason to make a distinction (in spoken language they sound identical and nobody gets confused). And second, nobody can agree on what the distinction should be.

Some people say that, when used as an adjective (e.g., blond hair), it should be blond for men and blonde for women. Others say the adjective should be blond for both men and women. The situation is similar for use as a noun (he’s a blond, she’s a blonde) except that many readers interpret the noun as a woman regardless of spelling.

The upshot is that you’re screwed no matter what, so don’t worry about it too much. (Except for copyeditors, of course, who worry about everything; they should consult their style guides.)

ignite & combust & burn

Ignite means to set something on fire. Once it’s on fire, it’s burning. Typically burn and combust are used to mean the same thing. Some sources say that burning implies a flame, whereas combustion may or may not produce flame, but I’d say that burn is often used in non-fiery situations as well (e.g., chemical burns, radiation burns, burning calories). So I’d say that the biggest difference between combust and burn is that combust sounds more science-y. If anyone knows of a clearer distinction, you’re welcome to leave a comment.

erotica & pornography

Erotica is art that tries, among other aims, to excite sexual arousal. Pornography tries to excite sexual arousal as its sole aim, and it is rarely artistic.

film & movie

Pretty much the same, except that film is 30% fancier.

America & the United States

America comes from Amerigo Vespucci, an early European explorer who wrote about his travels in the “New World.” In its broadest sense, the term refers to the Americas, that is, the continents of North and South America. Anyone living anywhere from Argentina to Canada can rightfully call themselves American.

The United States of America is just that: a nation comprising many states, all of which are in the Americas (specifically, North America). But “the United States of America” is a mouthful, so it gets shortened in a number of ways: the United States, the US, the USA, or simply America.

It’s that last one that’s problematic, because now we have some ambiguity. A bigger problem arises when we ask what to call the residents of the United States of America. Nobody’s going to say we’re “United States of Americans,” and “United Statesians” just sounds dumb. Other alternatives exist, but they all seem odd because nobody uses them, and nobody uses them because they seem odd. Americans we remain.

web & internet

The internet is the global network of computers that’s been around since about the 1970s. The web (short for World Wide Web, which is what “www” stands for) is the subset of the internet that comprises websites and web pages like this one. The web has been around since 1991, when it was created by Tim Berners-Lee.

What else does the internet do besides host websites? Email, filesharing, VoIP, Usenet newsgroups, and a zillion other things.

dentist & orthodontist

An orthodontist is a special type of dentist who has done additional intensive study in, well, orthodontics. Orthodontics deals with problems of alignment in the teeth and jaw. One example of orthodontics would be getting braces. General dentists can do some orthodontic work as well, but it’s not their specialty.


Life without baby: Uggh I have to do laundry again.

Life with baby: Oh thank goodness, he’s asleep, I can finally do some laundry in peace.

What’s the difference between … ? (round 2)

moth & butterfly

In general, butterflies have slender antennae that are club-shaped at the ends, while moths have shorter, more feathery antennae. That’s the biggest difference. Also, butterflies tend to be more brightly colored and more active during the day, whereas moths are more likely to be dull-colored and nocturnal, although those distinctions aren’t universal. Both belong to the order Lepidoptera.

theorem & theory & law

Theorem is a mathematical term. It is a statement, such as the Pythagorean Theorem (a² + b² = c²), that has been proven, derived from other statements and/or axioms.

Theory is a scientific term. It is a framework, such as the theory of evolution, for explaining and understanding a vast quantity of observed data. Any good scientific theory will make consistent, objectively verifiable predictions.

Scientific laws are distinct from scientific theories. A law merely describes how the universe works, and makes predictions; a theory explains why things are the way they are. Newton’s laws of gravity tell us what gravity does, what we can expect to see in our experiments. Einstein’s theory of relativity not only makes more precise predictions, it also gives us a clearer framework for understanding how gravity operates in a broader sense: It is a warping of spacetime caused by mass. (Of course, much more explanation is still needed.)

In common (i.e., nonscientific) usage, a theory is sort of a hunch, an idea that might or might not be true, while a law is much more certain. This can lead to confusion when non-scientists talk about science. People may wrongly believe that the big bang theory or the theory of evolution are less certain than the laws of gravity. In fact, scientific laws and theories are both about as ironclad as we can get in this imperfect world. What a non-scientist might call a “theory,” a scientist would more likely call a hypothesis.

judge & justice

I’ll stick to the US legal system here.

We’ve all heard about Supreme Court justices, as opposed to judges on other courts. But what’s the distinction? Is it only the Supreme Court that has justices? Is it about federal- vs. state-level courts? Or maybe it’s about trial vs. appellate courts? It was surprisingly hard to find a clear, authoritative answer to this question. But I think I’ve got it figured out.

judge presides over a court — any court. A justice is a judge who presides over any supreme court, whether it’s the US Supreme Court or a state supreme court. So, as near as I can tell, the distinction is solely based on supreme courts vs. other (non-final) courts.

If anyone has more expertise with US law than I do (and it doesn’t take much), feel free to chime in.

lawyer & attorney

Again, I’ll stick to American English here. In the US, there is essentially no difference between a lawyer and an attorney.

A lawyer is someone who practices (or has studied) law. Broadly speaking, an attorney is someone who acts as an agent for another; but in modern usage, attorney is nearly always short for attorney at law, that is, someone who represents another in legal matters.

So you could make the case that one must actually represent a client to be an attorney, whereas a lawyer need only understand the law. Other, contradictory distinctions have been proposed as well (e.g., lawyers are those who have graduated law school, while attorneys are those who have passed the bar exam). In practice, however, such distinctions are rarely observed, even by lawyers (or attorneys) themselves. It’s safe to treat these two words as synonyms.

genie & djinn

We’ve all heard about genies: They live in lamps and they grant three wishes each, at least according to Disney’s Aladdin. But you may also have heard of djinn: Powerful beings in Middle Eastern mythology (and in Islamic belief). The names and meanings are vaguely similar. Are they the same thing? What’s the deal?

We’ll start with genie. Originally, a genie was a sort of guardian spirit who kept watch over a person or a place. The name derives from the Latin genius, which meant something similar (before it came to mean “a really smart person”). Genie was a Western European concept that had little to do with lamps, wish-granting, or Arabian deserts.

Meanwhile, djinn (or jinn, depending on your preferred transliteration) is an Arabic term. In Islam, the djinn are specifically mentioned in the Quran as one of the three classes of intelligent beings created by God, the other two being humans and angels. Whereas angels were created from light and have no free will, doing only the will of God, the djinn were created from “smokeless fire” and, like humans, do have free will. Thus, they are powerful beings that can act for good or for evil.

Two separate concepts. So what’s the connection?

Well, djinn also show up in Middle Eastern folklore, and in particular, in various places in the Arabian Nights. When the West grew interested in the Nights, one early translator decided to translate djinn as genie, due to the similar-sounding name and vaguely similar meaning. Ever since, the Middle Eastern meaning (or at least our Westernized version of it) has displaced the original meaning of genie, which has been largely forgotten.

Burma & Myanmar

These are two different names for the same country in Southeast Asia. Burma is the traditional name. Myanmar is the “official” name preferred by the government (which is largely military-run and not overly enamored with human rights). The US and many others — both inside and outside the nation itself — are not overly enamored with the military-run government, and still prefer Burma.

I have a whole list of these “What’s the difference between … ?” pairs and triplets, and I’m researching them as I go. Sometimes I know the answers in advance, but often I don’t, and sometimes (as with theory vs. law) it turns out that I was wrong about what I thought I knew.

In other words, I’m having fun.

What say you, readers? Up for round 3?

What’s the difference between … ?

Celsius & centigrade

They mean the same thing: The temperature scale from water’s freezing point (0°) to boiling point (100°), a.k.a., the one that’s not Fahrenheit. Celsius honors the man who invented the scale, Anders Celsius, while centigrade (lowercase) is a more descriptive term (centi = hundred, grade = degree).

In general, just use Celsius. It seems that centigrade is on its way out.

gray & grey

Likewise, these both refer to the same color. Grey is the British spelling (hence Gandalf the Grey), whereas gray is more common in American English.

As a surname, it can go either way. Thomas Gray — an English poet — is best known for his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” while Earl Grey is known for the tea. When it comes to titles, you have Gray’s Anatomy (the medical reference) but Grey’s Anatomy (the medical drama), as well as Fifty Shades of Grey, all of which refer to surnames.

confidant & confidante

Both of these are a person you confide in. The only real difference is that confidant can be either gender, whereas confidante is specifically female. A bit like actor and actress.

Also, apparently a confidante can be a type of sofa. Weird.

Speaking of which …

sofa & couch

The words have very different linguistic origins. Sofa comes from the Arabic suffah, a long bench for reclining, while couch derives from the Old French coucher, to lie down.

That said, there’s almost zero difference between the two in modern American English, except that sofa perhaps suggests something a bit more formal.

ultimate & penultimate

Ultimate means last — and, by extension, the highest, the most extreme, the greatest.

Penultimate simply means second-to-last. Hence the Monty Python sketch with Michelangelo telling the Pope he’ll paint the Penultimate Supper: the Last-but-one Supper.

Speaking of which …

dinner & supper

For me, dinner and supper are basically the same thing, but a distinction exists. Supper refers to the evening meal, whereas dinner is the main (or biggest) meal of the day, whenever that happens to be. So dinner could be lunch, or dinner could be supper — or theoretically, I suppose, it could be neither one.

selfish & self-centered

Selfish is when you refuse to go visit a friend in crisis because you think your own stuff is more important.

Self-centered is when you don’t know your friend is in crisis.

In my experience, the second one is a lot more dangerous.

monkey & ape & primate

The taxonomy is a bit complicated, and the first two terms are often imprecise in everyday usage, but here’s the gist. Primate is the broadest category, corresponding to an entire biological order within class Mammalia. Primates can be broadly divided into three subgroups: apes, monkeys, and others (such as lemurs and tarsiers). Monkeys are generally smaller than apes, and (unlike apes) generally have tails. Apes are further subdivided into the lesser apes (gibbons) and the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans, among others).

If all that’s too complicated for you, here’s the upshot: When someone refers to a chimp or gorilla as a monkey, you can yell at them like the ape you are.

frog & toad

This one gets surprisingly complicated. We have to distinguish between scientific usage and common usage.

In scientific terms, the order Anura comprises all the hopping, ribbiting animals we would normally call “frogs” or “toads.” To a biologist, everything in this order is a frog. There is no precise scientific meaning to the term toad.

In common usage, though, frogs tend to live in wet habitats and have smooth, moist skin and long legs, for leaping; whereas toads tend to live in dry habitats and have dry, bumpy skin and shorter legs, for hopping. And there is some scientific basis for such a distinction. The animals we typically call frogs often belong to the family Ranidae (within the order Anura mentioned above), whereas the animals we call toads often belong to the family Bufonidae. These families, however, are only two of the thirty-three families that make up Anura in all.

Short answer: Frogs are wet and toads are dry, but to a biologist, they’re all frogs.

autumn & fall

Americans use these two terms interchangeably to refer to the season after summer and before winter. Autumn is a bit more precise and sounds a bit more formal, and fall is a bit more descriptive, but otherwise there’s no real difference.

I am told, however, that those Brits across the ocean — while recognizing and occasionally using fall — heavily favor autumn.

speed & velocity

Technically, speed is how fast something is going, whereas velocity encompasses both speed and direction. To get even more precise, velocity is a vector, and speed is the vector’s magnitude. It’s possible to change velocity without changing speed (by changing direction), but a change in speed necessarily means a change in velocity.

In common usage, this distinction is often ignored.

Armageddon & apocalypse

Both words are often used to mean a final battle to determine the fate of mankind, or — even more broadly — any final cataclysm that destroys all or most of civilization. Both have a Christian connotation, though this seems to be fading.

Originally, though, these two terms had separate meanings.

Armageddon comes to us today from a single usage in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16, and it referred not to the final battle per se, but to the place where that battle would occur. (I’ve written about this in more detail elsewhere.)

Apocalypse, by contrast, was a Greek word meaning unveiling or revealing or revelation. Yes, the name of the final book of the Bible simply means apocalypse — a divine revelation, a vision of the future. In fact, the apocalypse is an entire genre of religious writing. Most Christian apocalypses, such as the Apocalypse of Peter, did not make it into the biblical canon.

cantaloupe & honeydew melon

This topic has surfaced before.

There. Glad all that’s finally settled.

Evan’s first twelve months (in binary)

Because I’m that kind of dad.

Poor kid.