The National Rhetoric Association

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The most recent Tom The Dancing Bug:


  1. Nathan said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 10:50 am

    And comments are open? Seriously? Talk about free speech!

  2. Henning Makholm said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    I'm fairly certain that the "counter-Earth in a diametrically opposed orbit" would be clearly detectable by its gravitational influence on the other inner planets. Also, I doubt that such a three-body configuration would be dynamically stable.

  3. richardelguru said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    Henning Makholm, that's presumably why Mr Bolling works as a cartoonist rather than an astrophysicist.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    Bolling was in the right generation of American teenage boys to have grown up reading John Norman's Chronicles of Counter-Earth books,, back before they got semi-blacklisted.

    I must admit I don't at first glance see anything of linguistic interest in this particular comic, unless it's the choice of "Verne" as the first name for the Designated Bad Guy. "Verne" seems like the sort of name a leftwing Coastal Elitist(tm) like Bolling (Tufts, Harvard Law) might stereotypically associate (or assume his audience would stereotypically associate) with low-class rednecks from scary gun-owning parts of the country, and there might actually be some data out there about the geographical/ethnic/class/etc. distribution of given names that could confirm or disconfirm that. Although it could be as simple as the fact that the name "Vern" achieved some cultural recognition a few decades back as the unseen interlocutor of the comical-low-class-red-state-yokel character

    [(myl) From a big-tent perspective, "rhetoric" counts as part of the field of linguistics. For that matter, so does "speech", free or otherwise. And there's the whole interpretation of the 2nd amendment business.]

  5. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    Putting aside the implausibility of the counter-Earth scenario, it should be noted that Ruben Bolling is not the first comic strip to use this concept:

  6. John Lawler said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    @Henning Makholm:

    Actually, "counter-Earth" would be in the L3 LaGrange point for the Earth-Sun system. Though it would, of course, have been visible from Earth via libration or spacecraft.

  7. MattF said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    @Henning Malcolm: An expert in KAM theory (not me!):–Arnold–Moser_theorem

    would know whether the counter-earth system is stable. I -suspect- it is.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    As a working lawyer who thinks his profession could definitely use more people who know something about the sort of understanding of language that it's hard to find taught outside big-L Linguistics classes in modern American universities, I kind of like the idea of making legal interpretation an academic subfield of Linguistics (and thus requiring would-be law professors to get through hiring committees full of people whose own scholarly work focuses on Altaic phonology or Bantu noun classes or what have you). Unfortunately, I believe the only universities with that sort of administrative structure are on Counter-Earth.

  9. Robert said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    MattF, the only fully stable Lagrange points are L4 and L5, and then only if the object there is sufficiently small – Counter Earth wouldn't qualify.

    The analogy between the first and second amendments used in this cartoon is pretty common on pro-gun sites, and not entirely baseless. The legal interpretations of the two amendments and their implications (which is partly a linguistic matter) don't appear to be entirely parallel. Any theory of legal interpretation needs to be able to explain this; it can't just take it for granted that different standards apply.

    Doubtless people have written papers on this but, considering its political significance, the majority of them probably reach the conclusions their writers wanted to.. A purely linguistic analysis by someone with no political axe to grind could be interesting.

  10. V. Wagner said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 3:36 pm


    Regarding your final call for a linguistic analysis, see

    The link is to a brief filed with SCOTUS during the Washington D.C. v. Heller litigation of 2008 on behalf of three language/linguistics professors.

    Caveat: I have neither read the brief nor am I familiar with these professors; therefore, I can't vouch for their lack of an axe to grind. Also, I wonder about the ability of a legal brief to put forth a "purely linguistic" argument.

  11. Brett said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

    Counter-Earth is a pretty common trope in older soft science fiction (and it doesn't get much softer than Gor). It appears to be based on the fact that there's obviously a solution of the three-body problem with two planets of equal mass on either side of a central sun. However, by the time this method started to show up in science fiction as a way to hide another planet (necessarily almost identical to Earth, with the same mass and distance from the sun) from our telescopes, it was well known among physicists that the arrangement of of bodies is unstable.

  12. Theophylact said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

    The "Verne Peters" is of course a riff on "Wayne LaPierre".

  13. Rubrick said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    I, for one, am proud to read a linguistics blog in which an intelligent and well-informed discussion of the stability of Lagrange points can spontaneously break out in the comments.

  14. Jon Weinberg said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

    @JW Brewer: "Vern" is likely associated with stereotypical rednecks, as you suggest, because of the pop-cultural impact of the fictional Ernest P. Worrell. (The wikipedia entry for "Vern" redirects to the Worrell entry.) But "Verne"? Not so much, I think. I'd describe that name as most closely associated with Jules Verne; the only first-name Verne I've encountered in pop culture is Verne Brown, who was named after Jules Verne by his inventor dad.

  15. Steven said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

    There was at least one movie about a "counter-earth":

  16. Frank said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 12:35 am

    The cartoon should have one more panel: A politician declares fact-checking ludicrous and instead proposes legislation to outlaw the word "fire".

  17. Adam said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 4:46 am

    Is the Counter-Earth where Dr Edward Counter-Teller lives?

  18. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 8:36 am

    In the land of free speech, shouldn't the people in the theater respond by shouting "water"?

  19. Mark Mandel said,

    January 4, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

    Wasn't it Dr. Edward Anti-Teller? And whose anecdote was that anyway?

  20. Richard Hershberger said,

    January 5, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    Counter-Earth serves the function previously filled by Utopia or Lilliput: a fictional distant place whose purpose is to comment on our society, either by showing the evident superior qualities of the fictional society or by its satirically exaggerated qualities shared with our own. John Norman meant Gor to do the former, since he thought women being eager sex slaves to manly men just what we need.

  21. Trev said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    I loved this. The championing of the 2nd Amendment over the 1st is as arbitrary as people citing anti-gay bible verses over those that tell us to stone unruly sons to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

  22. parse said,

    January 6, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

    The cartoon suggests that on this earth, it's settled law that falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater is an accepted limit to the Constitution's guarantee of free speech, but I don't think that is actually an accurate representation of U.S. jurisprudence. The case in which the quote was originally presented was later overturned.

  23. ajay said,

    January 9, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    Wasn't it Dr. Edward Anti-Teller? And whose anecdote was that anyway?
    Harold Furth. Director of the Particle Physics Lab at Princeton.

    Well up above the tropostrata
    There is a region stark and stellar
    Where, on a streak of anti-matter
    Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller.

    Remote from Fusion's origin,
    He lived unguessed and unawares
    With all his antikith and kin,
    And kept macassars on his chairs.

    One morning, idling by the sea,
    He spied a tin of monstrous girth
    That bore three letters: A. E. C.
    Out stepped a visitor from Earth.

    Then, shouting gladly o'er the sands,
    Met two who in their alien ways
    Were like as lentils. Their right hands
    Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.

  24. Swimmy said,

    January 10, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    Another movie that has a counter-earth, though more in the sense that it circles the sun opposite our earth than that it is like our world but opposite in some ways:

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