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.
STV, to be precise. Circa 1985. Pretty good.
“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). …
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)
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.
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…
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.
If you study sociology or history, yes. Education, praise the Lord!
As the article mentions in passing, the causality might run in the other direction. Or in parallel.
via Ars Technica
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.
Felix Salmon points us to an entertaining takedown of Steve Forbes.
… 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. …
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, 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.
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.
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.…
Matthew Yglesias. Worth keeping in mind.
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.
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.
Matthew Yglesias has a post on The Declining Demographics of Suburbanism, which by all means read, but what caught my eye was this graph:
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.
Via Arnold Zwicky at Language Log, an explanation for “NPR names”, which I’ve heard mentioned in passing, and for the explanation if which I’m grateful.
Here’s how it works: You take your middle initial and insert it somewhere into your first name. Then you add on the smallest foreign town you’ve ever visited.
Unfortunately, “Jonathan Ken” is an awkward starting point for this particular formula. And as for the “smallest foreign town”, well, how would I know? If we take “visit” to mean “stayed the night”, then perhaps Ölmstad (Sweden, near Gränna) may qualify; I spent a few days there with my father visiting my fourth cousin Sigvard Jarl and family. But the “K”, no, I’m sorry, I simply don’t find room for it in “Jonathan”. Perhaps if I discard a few letters? “Konath Ölmstad”? “Kathan Ölmstad”?
Digressing a bit, as a school child I truncated my first name to “Jon”, more out of laziness than any real purpose. I took back “Jonathan” later in life, when I worked in a company with several Johns. But … is it too late for “Jona”?
A further digression: “Jonathan Lundell” doesn’t scan, at least not in English, where we say “JONathan lunDELL”. The dactyl-iamb combination doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. In Sweden, it’d be “JONathan LUNdell” (well, “YOH-nah-tahn LUNdell”, LUN as in PUT), which is an improvement. (Update: but see comments for a corrected view.) “Jona”, on the other foot, is more versatile.
(Goodwife Jo, sadly, has no middle name. No NPR name for her, either.)
Geoff Pullum has for some time now led the charge against Strunk and White’s “horrid little book”. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style, Pullum pulls his criticisms together in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won’t be celebrating.
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
It’s sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write “however” or “than me” or “was” or “which,” but can’t tell you why. The land of the free in the grip of The Elements of Style.
So I won’t be spending the month of April toasting 50 years of the overopinionated and underinformed little book that put so many people in this unhappy state of grammatical angst. I’ve spent too much of my scholarly life studying English grammar in a serious way. English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.