The Secret of the New College Seal

Back in the spring of 2016, Nimb.e (“The e-magazine of New College of Florida”) published Professor David Rohrbacher’s account of how the official New College seal came to be corrected. Since the article (and indeed Nimb.e) has disappeared from the web, I’m making it available again here for those who are interested in the full story.

Update: The Catalyst has published “History of the Four Winds seal” by Maya Rish, recounting the history of the seal as (extensively) researched by art history professor Malena Carrasco.

The Secret of the Seal

Professional Latinist sets right a decades-old mistake
by David Rohrbacher, Associate Professor of Classics, Humanities

When an alum happens upon the distinctive image of the New College seal, with the four winds symbol, the central sun, and the College’s name and founding date in Latin, I expect it provokes a number of positive emotions — a warm nostalgia for friends and teachers, a joyful celebration of the distinctive mission and atmosphere of New College, a sense of pride for the accomplishments involved in earning a degree.

While I am not immune from those emotions, as a professor of Classics since 2000, and the primary teacher of Latin at New College since that time, they have been mixed with embarrassment, and even pain.

You see, the Latin of the seal of New College of Florida, “Novum Collegium Floridae”, is ungrammatical.

OK, here’s the Latin part. You can skip ahead if you don’t want to think about grammar too much. The ending “ae” on the word Floridae represents a way that Latin expresses the preposition “of”. But “of” can have a variety of meanings — compare the use of “of” in “a friend of the family”, “a piece of pizza”, and “hatred of war”, which in Latin are called possessive, partitive, and objective, respectively. But Latin wouldn’t use the “ae” ending to translate “of” in the phrase “New College of Florida”, which doesn’t fit into any of the above categories. Instead, Latin would properly use an adjectival form of the noun, saying, literally, “Floridian New College”, “Novum Collegium Floridense”. (Compare the language on the seal of New College, Oxford: “Novum Collegium Oxoniense”.)

The Old and the New

My predecessors in classics at New College, John Moore and Lyndon Clough, were widely respected for their brilliance. It seemed impossible that they could be responsible for this error. Working with librarians Sarah Norris and Ana McGrath ’09, I found the answer in the digital repository, an online collection of documents and publications relating to New College and accessible to researchers around the world. The architectural firm of I.M. Pei, who designed the seal, put a lot of effort into exploring and explaining the symbolism of the winds and sun, but, apparently, shockingly little effort into correctly translating the name of the college into Latin.

An ungrammatical seal

I kept this shameful secret mostly to myself until last fall, when President Don O’Shea asked me to form a committee to explore possible changes to the language of the New College diploma. I seized the opportunity to expand the reach of the committee, which was dubbed the “ad hoc committee on the New College diploma and seal”, and included among its mandates the mission to “raise consciousness about the ungrammatical nature of the New College seal”. Nine faculty members, a librarian, and four students comprised this committee. Classics professor Carl Shaw initiated the consciousness-raising process through his introduction of the committee’s mascot, “ungrammatical seal”, pictured here.

As a next step, I proceeded to raise the consciousness of Jessica Rood, director of communications, who recognized that the tone of academic tradition and excellence provided by the use of Latin in the seal was potentially undermined by its ungrammatical nature. She coordinated with the New College Alumnae/i Association and the office of the president to explore what this change would entail, and designed a beautiful seal with retains the balanced form of the original while having the additional merit of being grammatical.

In an emotional PowerPoint presentation at a faculty meeting in March, I made the case for officially changing the seal to the new language, “Novum Collegium Floridense”. The motion found strong faculty support and the new seal will be gradually introduced as opportunities arise. Save your belongings emblazoned with the old seal! Soon they will be valuable collector’s items!

There have been dark times in recent years that I have even wished that I had never learned Latin, to spare myself the pain of seeing our ungrammatical seal. But being at New College has taught me the importance of facing problems head on, and this success has left me hopeful about the future. After all, it only took 40 years, a committee of 14 people, and careful coordination between several administrative units at the College to accomplish this minor grammatical change.

With a similar, societywide effort, perhaps we could all work together to do something about the confusion between “its” and “it’s”, or people using the word “impactful”.

And listen, if you or someone you love is considering a tattoo in Latin — please, send me an email first so I can check your grammar. Even a faculty committee can’t do anything about an ungrammatical tattoo.

macOS and Audiobook CDs

Some time back (OK, it’s been a while) I documented a method for ripping audiobook CDs with iTunes and “reading” them via a Smart Playlist. Times have changed; not only is there no more iTunes, but the native audiobook player is now in Books. Time for an update.

Rip the CDs

  1. Insert the first CD into your reader. Music will open it and look up its metadata. Most audiobooks have metadata available, and some have more than one version. Choose the most likely-looking one if there’s more than one. We’ll clean it up later.
    Do ensure that each ripped CD has its disk number somewhere in its metadata (add it if necessary), so that the disk order remains clear.
    Library CDs are prone to mishandling, and sometimes don’t get read correctly. If that happens, try washing them. Warm water, a little dish detergent, rinse well, dry well, and try again
  2. Select all the tracks, and use the gear menu (above right) to Join CD Tracks. (This was broken/unavailable in macOS Monterey until v12.3, when it was fixed.)
  3. Click the Import CD button (next to the gear). You’ll be offered a choice of import settings. I generally settle for AAC/Spoken Podcast, though MP3 is fine, and I might choose higher quality for a fully produced audiobook (with music and sound effects, say). Click OK, wait for the CD to be imported, and click the eject button.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3 for the remaining CDs.

Fix up metadata

  1. If you view your library as Songs and sort by Date Added, you should find all your disks grouped at the top of the list. Select them all and enter (as necessary) the album (book title), artist (author), genre (I use Audiobook here; suit yourself), total disk count, and anything else that’s common to all the disks.
  2. One disk at a time, set each Song field to indicate which disk it is; these will become something like chapter names. For example, I just ripped Circe, which goes in the Album field, and put “Circe 1″, Circe 2” etc in the Song fields.
    Using either the track or disk-number fields, number the disks, and clear the fields you’re not using. I do mine as track numbers, and clear the disk numbers.
  3. Select all the disks again, and in the Artwork tab drag in a suitable image. You can usually find something appropriate online, often the cover image of the commercial CDs themselves.
    While you’re at it, in the Options tab, check both “Remember playback position” and “Skip when shuffling”. These aren’t actually used by audiobook readers, but if you leave the book in Music, you’ll want these checked.
  4. Finally, make sure that Music is recognizing all the tracks as belonging to a single album (assuming you’ve used track numbers for your sequencing). If it doesn’t, double-check that all the metadata (except for Song and Track number) is identical for all disks. (I’ve noticed that Music can be confused about this. If everything checks out and Music still sees more than one album, don’t worry about it.

Copy to Books

  1. Select one of the disks, right- or control-click it, and select Show in Finder. You should see all your disks in a single folder whose name is the book’s title (which in turn is in an author folder). If this is not what you see, go back to Step 8 and check your metadata.
  2. Select all the book’s files in the Finder and drag them to the Books icon in your Dock (launch Books if necessary to force it to appear).
    (Alternatively, you could add these files to another audiobook reader, using its instructions for doing so. I’ve used the Bookmobile on my iPhone in the past, though these days I mostly use Books.)
  3. Assuming you’re set to to sync Books across your devices, you should eventually find the new book on your iPhone (or iPad) in Books. If you’re not using iCloud sync, you can directly your device to your Mac via cable or Wi-Fi (you might need to enable audiobook sync first).

If the TSA Were Running New York

James Fallows.

If the TSA Were Running New York

How would it respond to this weekend’s Times Square bomb threat? Well, by extrapolation from its response to the 9/11 attacks and subsequent threats, the policy would be:

  • All vans or SUVs headed into midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown Manhattan in its entirety would be evacuated;
  • A whole new uniformed force — the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA – would be formed for this purpose;
  • The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life, because the political incentives here work only one way. A politician who supports more permanent, more thorough, more expensive inspections can never be proven “wrong.” The absence of attacks shows that his measures have “worked”; and a new attack shows that inspections must go further still. A politician who wants to limit the inspections can never be proven “right.” An absence of attacks means that nothing has gone wrong — yet. Any future attack would always and forever be that politician’s “fault.” Given that asymmetry of risks, what public figure will ever be able to talk about paring back the TSA

Sold your soul lately?

Via Danny Yee.

7,500 Online Shoppers Unknowingly Sold Their Souls

A computer game retailer revealed that it legally owns the souls of thousands of online shoppers, thanks to a clause in the terms and conditions agreed to by online shoppers.

The retailer, British firm GameStation, added the “immortal soul clause” to the contract signed before making any online purchases earlier this month. It states that customers grant the company the right to claim their soul.

“By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorised minions.” …

We are not going to be second to none

This morning on NPR we heard from a fellow name of Rob Atkinson, president of something called the “Information Technology and Innovation Foundation” (where do these think tanks come from, anyway?). He was riffing on Obama’s SOTU line, “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”

Mr Atkinson helpfully points out that “the Japanese, Mexicans or Indians … can do the things that are easy to do; they have low-wage labor; they can’t do the things that are harder and more complex and require more knowledge, more skills, more technology, more brainpower—that’s what we can and should be good at, and if we don’t do that then we are in real trouble.”

Any pushback from the interviewer (Liane Hansen)? Naw.

“We are not going to be second to none,” says Atkinson. If he has anything to say about it, we are in real trouble.

Civil unions and straight marriage

“But even if we take matrimony at its lowest, even if we regard it as no more than a sort of friendship recognised by the police…” —Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque.

Civil unions and straight marriage

Arthur Goldhammer’s excellent blog on French politics and society points to this article on the French pact civil de solidarité – a kind of civil union introduced in 1999/2000, largely as an alternative to gay marriage. But the pacs has had very interesting consequences for straight couples (95% of couples with pacs are straight), as this chart shows.


The growth of the pacs’ popularity over its first decade is striking. There are now two pacs for every three marriages. Interestingly, this is because of both a significant decline in marriage, and a significant increase in the overall number of people willing to engage in some kind of state-sanctioned relationship. While you would obviously need more finely grained data to establish this properly, the obviously intuitive interpretation of this (at least to me) is that the pacs have grown both by providing an option for people who would probably not have gotten married in the first place, and attracted a number of people who otherwise would have gotten married, but who prefer the pacs’ lower level of formality (it is much easier to cancel a pacs relationship than to get divorced). …

They have a name for it

Semantic satiation

Semantic satiation (also semantic saturation) is a cognitive neuroscience phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who can only process the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.

Actually, a whole lot of terms. Who knew?

“Many other names have been used for what appears to be essentially the same process: inhibition (Herbert, 1824, in Boring, 1950), refractory phase and mental fatigue (Dodge, 1917; 1926a), lapse of meaning (Bassett and Warne, 1919), work decrement (Robinson and Bills, 1926), cortical inhibition (Pavlov, 192?), adaptation (Gibson, 1937), extinction (Hilgard and Marquis, 1940), satiation (Kohler and Wallach, 1940), reactive inhibition (Hull, 19113 [sic]), stimulus satiation (Glanzer, 1953), reminiscence (Eysenck, 1956), verbal satiation (Smith and Raygor, 1956), and verbal transformation (Warren, 1961b).” (From Leon Jakobovits James, 1962)

Too many clocks

Some future civilization is going to look back and find our obsession with time and clocks mighty peculiar.

It’s time to reset the clocks again, now that we’re no longer saving daylight. I lost count this morning, but I can reconstruct some of it.

  • Three setback thermostats. OK, these are justified; they need to know the time, and in return I save a surprising amount of energy.
  • Various computers. They’re considerate enough to change time on their own, and to pass it on to an iPod and printer/fax. The printer wants to timestamp faxes. I’m not sure why the iPod wants to know what time it is; I guess it assumes that it might be my only timepiece. Ha.
  • I’m happy that answering machines timestamp messages, so I can’t complain.
  • Car clocks. Traditional, I guess, but…
  • Cameras. I like having my photos timestamped, so I’m not complaining.
  • Our kitchen radio is a recycled bedroom alarm clock. I don’t need the time from it, but if I don’t set it, it blinks at me.
  • Water softener. This one uses its clock to do its regeneration cycles in the wee hours of the morning. OK.
  • Cellphones do themselves.
  • A small collection of wristwatches, alarm clocks and one wall clock. Dedicated to telling time, so you can’t blame them, but why do I bother to wear a watch?
  • Kitchen oven and microwave. They seem to have a fantasy that I’m going to prepare some elaborate dinner ahead, put it in the cold oven, and program it to cook it later. No chance.

That’s not all of them, but I’m tired of making the list. I long ago got rid of a coffee maker with a clock in it. I will say this: electronic clocks have gotten considerably easier to set over the years. None of the clocks I set this morning presented more than a few seconds puzzlement over how to accomplish the required task.

Still. Two people. Well over 30 clocks. Crazy.

The South is Another Country, Part I-forget

Steve Benen has made a graph of part of the results of a Research 2000 poll:


Now sure, it’s a DKos-sponsored poll, but R2K is a respectable outfit and the sample size is big enough to push the margin of error down to 2%. So even if the absolute numbers are off, the region-to-region comparison ought to be pretty close.

Voters, of course, vote for (and against) candidates, not parties. But still…

It’s time to embrace American royalty

I’ve had this bit from Glenn Greenwald hanging around for the last week or so. I really need to add Glenn to my blogroll.

It’s time to embrace American royalty

We’re obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it:

Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes ‘Today’ reporter NBC’s “Today” show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent — former first daughter Jenna Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush. . . . She “just sort of popped to us as a natural presence, comfortable” on the air, [Executive Producer Jim] Bell said.  Hager will work out of NBC’s Washington bureau.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it.  They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. 

God Bless the Yankees

We live in a strange country.

On Yankee Stadium Restroom Dispute, the City Settles

New York City will pay $10,001 to settle a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Queens man who was ejected from the old Yankee Stadium last August after trying to use the bathroom during the playing of “God Bless America.” In addition, the team has publicly declared that it has no policy prohibiting fans from moving about during the playing of the patriotic song, which the team began playing during games after 9/11.

The New York Civil Liberties Union had filed a federal lawsuit in April on behalf of the man, Bradford Campeau-Laurion, of Astoria, Queens, saying he was the victim of religious and political discrimination. The suit said he was forcibly restrained and ejected from the stadium in the Bronx on Aug. 26, after trying to walk past a police officer as the song was played.

“God Bless America” is played during Yankees games after the visiting team’s at-bats in the seventh inning, which in baseball parlance is known as the seventh-inning stretch. Most of the time at Yankee Stadium, the rendition is a recording by the singer Kate Smith, though the tenor Ronan Tynan has also been there to sing the song in person.

Power! Ambition! Glory!

Felix Salmon points us to an entertaining takedown of Steve Forbes.

33B72E25-5524-40A0-9786-C7250AC31B8C.jpg… And how does Caesar figure into the Finkelstein saga, exactly? Well, there was that whole flap over the inhouse Macy’s clothing brand, just for starters. Under Finkelstein’s power-mad reign, you see, Macy’s “began pushing its own private labels despite the fact that customers still wanted traditional brands…. Private labels in department stores often connote ‘cheap.’ But Finkelstein kept the prices on Macy’s private labels so high that even customers who, to save some money, might have overlooked the stigma of in-house brands chose not to buy them.” The launch of a dubious clothing line and a plot among senators to do in a dictator-in-perpetuity: This, indeed, is a stunning parallel.

But that’s nothing next to the principle adduced from the whole affair: “Once you decide on your plan and take action, don’t look back or second-guess yourself”—i.e., precisely the behavior that got both Caesar killed and Finkelstein shitcanned. …

No to boldly mayor

The Washington Post quotes SCOTUS nominee Sonia Sotomayor: “each time I see a split infinitive, an inconsistent tense structure or the unnecessary use of the passive voice, I blister.”

Have we established that split infinities are perfectly grammatical only to have them declared unconstitutional?

I’m looking forward to the ruling on distinguishing necessary from unnecessary uses of the passive voice. Something like this, perhaps, channeling Potter Stewart?

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within the shorthand description “unnecessary”; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the sentence involved in this case is not that.

The law’s majestic equality

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

—Anatole France

I added this to my quote collection today, and in looking it up had a look at its context, from The Red Lily, 1894.

Nowadays it is a duty for a poor peasant to be a soldier. He is exiled from his house, the roof of which smokes in the silence of night; from the fat prairies where the oxen graze; from the fields and the paternal woods. He is taught how to kill men; he is threatened, insulted, put in prison and told that it is an honor; and, if he does not care for that sort of honor, he is fusilladed. He obeys because he is terrorized, and is of all domestic animals the gentlest and most docile. We are warlike in France, and we are citizens. Another reason to be proud, this being a citizen! For the poor it consists in sustaining and preserving the wealthy in their power and their laziness. The poor must work for this, in presence of the majestic quality of the law which prohibits the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread.

This comes from the Project Gutenberg version of the text; I don’t know who the translator is.

Church and torture

This is from a CNN pointer to a Pew Research Center poll.

Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

The differences aren’t exactly huge, though. And notice the largest and smallest groups believing that torture “can never be justified”. I’d be curious to see the same poll for murder, rape, infanticide.…


Normal Flu

Matthew Yglesias. Worth keeping in mind.

Normal Flu

If I were to say that this year 30,000 Americans would die from the flu, you’d probably think I was offering an alarmist take on the current swine flu outbreak. In fact, I would be offering an extremely optimistic take on influenza in 2009. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the country sees about 36,000 flu-related deaths in a normal year and around 200,000 hospitalizations. It’s standard for between five and twenty percent of the population to contract the flu in any given year.

Given all that, not only do we face the risk of an unusually bad pandemic of “swine flu” we also face a risk of panic. Apparently, very high levels of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are actually pretty normal. But the media doesn’t normally cover them as national news stories. The heightened awareness of swine flu risks, however, means that anything flu-related is going to get dramatically inflated attention.

Standardizing Chinese names

From the NY Times:

Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says

BEIJING — “Ma,” a Chinese character for horse, is the 13th most common family name in China, shared by nearly 17 million people. That can cause no end of confusion when Mas get together, especially if those Mas also share the same given name, as many Chinese do.

Ma Cheng’s book-loving grandfather came up with an elegant solution to this common problem. Twenty-six years ago, when his granddaughter was born, he combed through his library of Chinese dictionaries and lighted upon a character pronounced “cheng.” Cheng, which means galloping steeds, looks just like the character for horse, except that it is condensed and written three times in a row.

The character is so rare that once people see it, Miss Ma said, they tend to remember both her and her name. That is one reason she likes it so much.

That is also why the government wants her to change it.

For Ma Cheng and millions of others, Chinese parents’ desire to give their children a spark of individuality is colliding head-on with the Chinese bureaucracy’s desire for order. Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one, complete with color photos and embedded microchips. The new cards are harder to forge and can be scanned at places like airports where security is a priority.

The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that Miss Ma and at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.

… By some estimates, 100 surnames cover 85 percent of China’s citizens. Laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” is a colloquial term for the masses. By contrast, 70,000 surnames cover 90 percent of Americans. …

There are several sub-stories here, but I’d like to focus on the problem of not being able to represent some names on government ID cards (or phone books, though who really cares?). How very exotic. Until you consider the problem of naming your American son after his great-grandfather Søren. Or Simón. Or José.

Update: Victor Mair at Language Log proposes a solution to Ms Ma’s problem:

As a matter of fact, Ms. Ma really doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on (no jokes about the twelve legs of the three horses in the character for her given name!). The reason for this is that the 馬馬馬 character is listed in unabridged lexicons as simply an old form of 騁, which means exactly the same thing (“gallop; indulge in”) and sounds exactly the same (CHENG3). This 騁 is a fairly common character and is found in all modern dictionaries and computer fonts, so the government should kindly but firmly tell Ms. Ma to use 騁 instead of 馬馬馬 for her given name. No harm done (she still even has one of the three horses to race along with). I’m actually surprised that they haven’t already made this suggestion to Ms. Ma, though perhaps they were unaware of the connection between 馬馬馬 and 騁.

Households without children

Matthew Yglesias has a post on The Declining Demographics of Suburbanism, which by all means read, but what caught my eye was this graph:

Households with children

The change isn’t quite so dramatic as it appears at first glance (it’s based at 40%), but it’s dramatic enough. There are two relevant trends, say the Census Bureau.

Increases in longevity — The average numbers of years of life remaining at age 30 increased about three years, comparing those age 30 in 1960 with baby boomers who turned 30 in 1980 (Table 11 [PDF], U.S. Life Tables, National Center for Health Statistics). As adults live longer, a larger proportion of married couple households will be those who are older and either childless, or whose adult children live elsewhere. In 1968, 29 percent of married men were age 55 and over, as were 22 percent of married women. In 2008, 38 percent of married men were 55 and over, as were 33 percent of married women.

Increases in childlessness — The percentage of women age 40 to 44 who were childless increased from 10 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2006. (Supplemental Table 1 [Excel], U.S. Census Bureau).

Our local school district’s enrollment has declined steadily since 1996; I figure there must be some relation. Of course, the percentages shown are of an increasing population, so again the absolute numbers are less dramatic as well. Still.