Sometimes it is essential to stop an argument and clarify what a particular word means, if it is being used to mean different things without both parties realising. And sometimes it is essential not to allow an argument about what a word means to derail an argument. Because both of these things are true, many deduce from each truth that the other truth is false. But both are true.
I have tended (following Popper, and probably misunderstanding him) to think that arguments about meaning are pointless, even when they are not. Others err in favour of arguing about meaning, even when they ought not to be arguing about meaning.
Suppose both parties are using the same word in an argument (to describe an important part of what they are arguing about), but are, unknowingly, using this word to mean two different things. (An onlooker may help by pointing this out.) They need to pinpoint this disagreement, and see if, while agreeing to differ about what this word means (or ought to mean) they can agree about the substance of what they are saying. Or not agree. The point is: arguments about meaning can come disguised as something else, and seem more significant than they are. They can seem like arguments of substance. Then, the true nature of the disagreement needs to be identified. If there is no other disagreement, it helps to realise this. Even if there is, ditto.
But if two parties are having an argument, and one party introduces a new word into the argument, clearly meaning by it something that the other person thinks that this word doesn’t mean or shouldn’t mean. They disagree about the meaning of this new word, and they both know it. In those circumstances, getting sidetracked into a different and duller argument about what that word means or ought to mean can divert them from their original, more interesting and significant argument about something of substance.
Or to put it another way, my thanks to Antoine Clarke for his most diverting party yesterday afternoon and evening, where I found myself working all that out.
And a happy new year to all.
January 2nd, 2011 | 31 comments - (Comments are closed)
For the last few days I have been far out in the Virginia hinterlands at the farm of a fellow libertarian with Belfast ties. In fact, his daughter was born there and it made for rather interesting evenings, chatting about firearms, how to live independently… and talking about Belfast pubs, pub owners and musicians we knew in common.
It goes almost without saying that I, being a Samizdatista of the Inner Circle and this, being a good size farm, one thing led to another and I let off a few rounds at innocent metal cans with a classic rifle.
The can never stood a chance.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
In case you are wondering; this early 1932-34 era example of the Winchester .22 some of you remember from Boys Life, was lovely and in good shape except that the sight had serious issues. My first two shots at the can, about 25-30 yards out in the woods, missed. I thought I had lost the touch or perhaps my eyes needed work. I watched my friend try and saw the puff as his round impacted well above and behind the target. That told me what I needed to know. I aimed about six inches below the can and sent it spinning. A small thing, but I have not fired a rifle in a little over twenty years, so there was a bit of satisfaction in watching the can go flying.
I also had my opinion of chickens completely changed. Most chickens I have run across peck at the ground and pretty much do their dumb bird thing. But one of his hens was different. It was hand reared and as soon as we got to the coop it jumped up to ‘talk’ to us and be hand fed and get its feathers ruffled. This one had a real personality.
This personable young hen introduced herself to me while being fed by her personal nutritionist.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
November 25th, 2010 | 9 comments - (Comments are closed)
I am going to be in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau and thereabouts from Friday evening until October 26. If we have any readers there who feel like meeting up for a meal/drink, please let me know. I have been to these places on multiple occasions before and so do know my way round, but if anyone can think of anything particularly idiosyncratic (or even particularly new) that I may want to do or see, also please let me know.
October 15th, 2008 | 2 comments - (Comments are closed)
An Australian pub offering free drinks to women who remove their underwear and display it to patrons and staff will be investigated by alcohol licencing regulators, authorities said on Thursday.
The Saint Hotel in Melbourne has promised a “No Undie Sundie” event over the coming weekend, where woman who remove their underwear and hang it above the bar will receive A$50 ($39) worth of free drinks.
I wouldn’t like this. It’s not the female anatomy qua female anatomy. It’s more the other men who’d be there, yelling and drinking, and slapping me on my frail back. But me not liking something is not the same as me thinking something should be illegal. Sadly, it seems that “Liquor Licensing Victoria director Sue Maclellan” is not in the habit of making such subtle distinctions.
Good that Guido, to whom thanks, and who currently has this report in his Seen Elsewhere section, doesn’t just babble on about party politics, but from time to time at least notices more fundamental issues.
September 21st, 2008 | 8 comments - (Comments are closed)
Last night I attended a flat warming party, given by fellow Samizdatista and newly certified Brit, Michael Jennings, and very enjoyable it was. Just the right mixture of nice people I know well (such as Johnathan Pearce and his Missis, and I rather think I may have met the legend that is Thaddeus Tremayne), nice people I know a bit, and nice people I didn’t know at all. And while there I found myself trying to think of good party questions, to replace the often excruciating “And what do you do?” that can cause such tedium and such embarrassment. And rather to my surprise, I overheard myself asking a rather good party question, namely: Have you ever been near to death? The good thing about this question is that brushes with the Angel of Death are fairly random, and that quiet little bod in the corner is almost as likely as the grand and confident ones stage centre to have a good yarn to tell. Granted, if you have a very grand job which involves clearing up minefields in war zones, you’ll probably trump anyone who is merely talking about being missed by speeding bus by half an inch, but despite that tendency, this question, together with the answers it elicits, does take us all out of our everyday preoccupations and make us see the world, and the people in it (e.g. the strangers you meet at parties), a bit differently, just as nearly being dead itself does. Which is what parties are partly for, aren’t they?
Someone asked, by way of clarification, whether I meant that thing where you feel you are moving towards a very bright light. No, not necessarily. That’s a great story, of course, if you have one like that. But any terrifying or dramatic circumstance that could have killed you, and preferably which you knew at the time could have killed you, is a good answer. Having to tightrope-walk across a burning beam a hundred feet above the ground, being violently attacked or robbed, missing a plane flight when the plane you missed subsequently crashed, getting your toe stuck at the bottom of a swimming pool and thinking that this was about to be your last swim and your last anything, that kind of thing. Bright lights are strictly optional.
The best answer I heard last night was from a guy (one of the ones I’d never met before) who was doing some sketching or painting or whatever in Jordan, and was accused by some knife-wielding locals of being a spy. They held the knife to his throat. Luckily a third party convinced them that he was harmless, but for a few moments there … you get the picture.
My best near death experience was when I was a very small boy and I fell out of a second story window at my grandmother’s house. I landed on a small strip of lawn, right next to some very spikey railings. All I remember was waking up afterwards, so it missed that element of pure terror (“I really thought this was It” etc. etc.) that the best near death stories have, but like I say, that’s my best shot. An A&E doctor recently started choking me, while looking down by throat with a small, flat little wooden poker like you used to get with icecream, and I briefly experienced what death by asphyxiation must feel like. But I howled at her to stop which she did, and I never really thought I would die, so that hardly counts at all. My point being that this is not an excuse to tell my own personal right-out-of-the-stadium story along these lines, because I have no such story.
But maybe you do have such a story. This evening it occurred to me that this question would also be a good way of starting a Samizdata comment thread, and in a way that might take us away from our usual stamping grounds, of politics (appallingness of), space rockets and flashy airplanes and cars (splendidness of), and such like.
I have eased up a bit on “serious” blogging the last few days – I almost felt I had reached the point of mid-summer blog burnout – and have been too busy with other stuff, not least work. But I cannot resist linking to these fine folk who have set up a blog dedicated to the ferociously competitive world of barbecue food. God, I feel hungry already. No doubt those citizens of Jefferson’s Republic are gearing up for 4th of July. In a moment of transatlantic solidarity, may I ask commenters what sort of BBQ’s they will be doing on that day to give me some ideas?
I’ll be back to bashing Gordon Brown and the rest of them later, I promise.
Real ale and champagne will be in full flow next week on Wednesday 16 April when bloggers Guido Fawkes, Tim Worstall and Samizdata’s Perry de Havilland give short speeches at an event on “Curbing the crap artists”. Guido will be speaking – from a blogger’s perspective – on “curbing the bad politicians”, Tim on “curbing the crap journalists” (Polly?), and Perry on “curbing the crap businesses”. Beg an invite from here.
April 9th, 2008 | 2 comments - (Comments are closed)
My life has been fairly busy for the last couple of months, and as a consequence, I have not managed to report on this blog the results of my “Anyone in Singapore want to meet up?” request, from December. This is a shame, because thanks have been order to a Samizdata reader and commenter whose response ensured that things turned out very well. However, better late than never.
What happened was that long time Samizdata commenter The Wobbly Guy offered to take me out for crab at Mellben seafood restaurant in Ang Mo Kio, which, as he put it, “is noted for its crab”. Australians such as myself are also fond of crab, but we tend to eat it more simply than the Singaporeans. Australians tend to eat crab boiled with relatively few embelishments. Singaporeans tend to eat it with more spices and chilis. However, when we talk about past visits to one another’s countries, people of both nationalities will tend to say things like “Mmmmmm. Great seafood”.
As it happened though, on my last day in Singapore I made something close to a terrible mistake. Wandering along Geylang road at about 2pm I discovered that I was hungry, and I therefore walked into one of many street restaurants in that area that offer an “unlimited Steamboat buffet” for about $S15. (About £5 or US$10). The restaurant was full of local people having long lunches, and in such a restaurant (in which you cook meat, seafood, vegetables, and goodness knows what else in a bowl of boiling soup in the middle of your table) it is possible to have a very long lunch.
When I walked through the door, the very kind lady running the restaurant thoughtfully enquired as to just how spicy I like my soup, got me a large bottle of Tiger beer, gave me one of those “Go for it” expressions and gestured towards the buffet. I got myself a modest selection of seafood and meats, and sat down to cook and eat it. It was good. Repeat until fade.
On about my third trip to the buffet, the kind lady saw me tentatively placing a modest portion of crab on my plate, and decided it was time to put me to rights. She gave me one of those “You poor, pathetic westerner. You truly have no idea, do you?” looks, and proceeded to pile my plate high with crab for me. Chastened by this, I took the seafood back to my table and my soup, and got myself another bottle of beer. I was slowly getting there, but the guys at the next table clearly were not having any such problems.
Thus, after intending to have a quick lunch, I stumbled back out onto the street two and a half hours later after engorging vast amounts of food.
So thus, when The Wobbly Guy very kindly picked me up from my hotel after I had rushed off to the centre of town topick up the custom suits I had ordered a couple of days earlier, I was perhaps not ideally prepared. It wasn’t quite as bad as attempting a six star day in Donostia, but it was perhaps heading that way.
Somewhat to my relief I had a further opportunity to digest my lunch before moving onto dinner, as the combination of a public holiday and a very popular restaurant meant that we had to queue. Several restaurants nearby lacked such queues – presumably they cater to the “people who are willing to eat less good food but are in a hurry” crowd. In addition, this gave us a chance both to chat and to watch another of these kind but formidable Singaporean restaurant women removing the alive and active crabs from the large styrofoam boxes marked “Singapore Airlines” in which the crabs had apparently just been flown in from Sri Lanka.
As she did this, she watched by some cute as a button children, some of who were probably determined to grow up to be kind but formidable Singaporean restaurant women themselves.
As we waited, The Wobbly Guy and I were able to compare our national culinary cultures. I am still not sure if either the “sand crabs” and “mud crabs” we get in Australia are the same species to those eaten in Singapore. Clearly more research is in order. → Continue reading: A belated but sincere thank you
February 12th, 2008 | 16 comments - (Comments are closed)
Tomorrow evening we are doing a blogger bash and one of the Samizdatistas, Michael Jennings in a bout of generosity is bringing a whole leg of Serrano ham to share. Another blogging groupie is kindly bringing a ham stand and a knife. So the video below is particularly relevant and wonderfully silly:
The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling.
We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.