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The Oxford Comma has never approached anyone in the middle of a sentence and created problems for them, unlike other punctuation marks I could mention. Hyphens in the street force you to stop; you are arrested unless you come to a halt and look both ways before crossing to the next clause . But Oxford commas just stand loyally on guard to prevent your yearbook from including such phrases as “I’m grateful to my girlfriends, Magneto and Professor X.”

Sam Harris has recorded a new video in which he answers questions from Reddit readers. It’s nearly an hour long, so you might want to watch it while having lunch or doing some other light task, as there’s nothing heavyweight here that requires extreme concentration. However, it’s still worth watching, for Sam takes up a number of good questions, and some of his answers are provocative. The questions include these (I’ve paraphrased them, and put asterisks and times for the ones that most interested me):

I heard it said recently that "Evolution" and "Origin of life" are two separate issues. I know that this is a falsehood, and I'll discuss in a moment how and why it is not true. But first, I checked around with a few people that I know and love, and found out that some of them assumed this was true. I think it is something that has been said enough times that if you are not personally engaged in the research or just don't think about it enough, you can easily assume that this is what the experts say. But they don't.

Patriotism is not a dirty word. It isn’t just unpopular acts and blind unthinking devotion to a geographical area, as some reductionists would suggest. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “My country, right or wrong, is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying ‘My mother, drunk or sober.”


 

Comments

while I'm sympathetic to the Ayn Rand bashing, the premise of the argument is flawed.

Moving part way to a goal can sometimes create worse outcomes.

While it is certainly true that moving part way to a goal can create worse outcomes, I don't see how that would apply. Can you provide some plausible argument that would support that view in this case.

I agree with Norm. The "premise of the argument" is to lay out the history, the result of Randian philosophy in practice, to demonstrate the disastrous results. With concetration of wealth has come a dishonest media, the growth of corruption, the undermining of safety standards (Massey Coal's recent revelations are just the latest manifestation). The Friedman/Rand philosophy is simply wrong because it basically posits that, even apart from the gross economic inequality that it leads to, the market will correct fraud and corruption because consumers will see purveyors of such and providing an "inferior product". It's bullshit.

I count myself among the tribe known as grammar nazis, and I will not miss the Oxford comma. Except in certain instances, the Oxford comma seems extraneous. It's like having two ands. Writing "the flag has three colors: red, white and blue" is the same as writing "the flag has three colors: red and white and blue." Using "white, and blue" is like saying "white and and blue," IMO. In other words, the comma in a series is an and substitute.

I guess I can tolerate the Oxford comma if the last item in your series is something like Smith & Wesson, but if clarity is your objective, you can solve that dilemma by reconstructing the sentence.

Good riddance, Oxford comma.

And yet one could be led to think that perhaps 'Red, white and blue' might mean that 'red' stands alone added to 'white + blue'.

Now as concerns certain people's aversion to words such as 'moist', I don't get it...

Well, I cannot recall ever thinking of white & blue as a single unit for lack of a comma.

If English followed grammar rules fully logically, then you'd not be putting those periods and commas inside the quotation marks.

You would in some instances.

I said "those", and I meant exactly that.

Maybe it would have been better to say "that period and that comma". I can see how it was ambiguous.

The viciousness of the voucher plan for Medicare is a wonderful glimpse into the disgusting psyche of modern conservatism. Oh yeah, as my mother got sicker as she got older, she just couldn't wait to wade into the "health care free market" to negotiate the best deal for treating her colorectal cancer, blindness, and congestive heart failure. My 83-year old colleague, a man who has worked amazingly hard for 65 years, collapsed on a trip to Chicago and had to have a pacemaker installed. For this first time since I've known him (24 years), he really looks the worse for wear. I bet he and his wife can't wait to wade in as consumers in the "health care free market".

Really, how the f**k do Americans continue to listen to these assholes?

I would consider myself a linguist and not a grammarian. The important thing is to convey meaning. Grammar certainly helps but it isn’t nearly as vital as vocabulary. With this said, I fall on the side of the Oxford comma (although I didn’t know what that was until reading the article). This is the way I learned to write and old habits die hard. My editor used to change what I wrote until I asked him to please stop. I feel that the final comma can add clarity to the sentence and makes it easier to read.

RE: Ayn Rand or RIP:

The Golden Age is Western Europe. Almost every country here has a better standard of living than the USA. And fuck all of the conservatives who say that everything is falling apart here. As bas off as Spain may be right now they still have it better than a lot of America. Ayn Rand and all she stood for is a fucking lie. Her side has lost. The job of a society is to care and protect ALL citizens (and non-citizens, more and more); it isn’t to insure that rich assholes are catered to at every step.

One might argue that our long history of government bailouts for businesses and investors (SL crisis, Chrysler, etc) has created a business culture that gambles expecting to be bailed out. Deregulation, while good in principle, when conducted in a government-coddled business culture predictably led to disaster.

I'm playing devils advocate. I think there are a lot of other very good arguments that demonstrate that the Friedman's and Rand's economic ideologies were not well founded, but this simple slider argument isn't one of them.

It's not even very fair minded given that government size and spending increased dramatically in un-Randian and un-Friedman like fashion during the years leading up to the financial crisis. Yes, we've seen deregulation, but we've also seen an increase in government money manipulating the economy.

It's not even very fair minded given that government size and spending increased dramatically in un-Randian and un-Friedman like fashion during the years leading up to the financial crisis.

Nope. From 1980 to 2007, Federal Government spending fluctuated within a percent or two of 20%. In fact, the biggest deviation from 20% came with the Reagan "defense" build-up. The recent spending uptick is largely the effect of increased unemployment payments and loss of Federal revenue.

On the other hand, what has changed is the percentage of GDP collected in Federal taxes, which are now at the lowest level they've been since 1950 and the percentage of income raked in by the top income households, especially the top 1%, who now pull in about a quarter of all income and therefore almost half of all disposable income.

damn numbers.

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