essentialsaltes: (muslin)
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This is an updated (2014) version of the 2004 original by Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley.

Basic idea: conservative leaders have been better at framing issues than liberal counterparts.

Frames are embedded deeply enough in people that rational argumentation and facts are useless.

Voters have had these frames imposed upon them so that their kneejerk reactions are predictable.

e.g. describing a bill to lower taxes as 'tax relief' builds up the concept that taxes are (always) a burden. And inherently bad.

If liberals fight against these frames by mentioning them, this only reinforces the frame. Liberals may talk about tax relief for the middle class, but this leans on the idea that taxes are inherently bad.

Liberals need to find their own frames to use. 'Taxes contribute to the many valuable services we all make use of. They are investments in our future happiness and the happiness of our children. They are the 'membership fees' of citizenship.'

And then I start to get an itchy feeling.

"These are accurate views of taxes, but they are not yet enshrined in our brains. They need to be repeated over and over again, and refined until they take their rightful place in our synapses. But that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Start now."

Lakoff would like us to please brainwash ourselves.

This is not an exaggeration of his position. One of the strange things about the book is his frequent discussion that these frames are physical 'structures' in our brains. I mean, I too believe that mental states supervene on physical states in the brain, and there is no soul making 'free' decisions. But, unlike Lakoff, I don't think that makes rational argument useless.

“You might think that the world exists independently of how we understand it. You would be mistaken. Our understanding of the world is part of the world--a physical part of the world. Our conceptual framings exist in physical neural circuitry in our brains, largely below the level of conscious awareness, and they define and limit how we understand the world, and so they affect our actions in the world."

Inasmuch as he promotes frames as a weapon, he literally wants us to circumvent thought and react unconsciously to stimuli. [We will set aside his apparent disregard for the existence of an external world independent of ourselves.]

In discussing climate change, he notes that scientists are terrible at framing:

"The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation..."

Those are not weasel words. Those are the correct ways to phrase these scientific results. If some treehugging granola-eater wants to wave a sign saying "Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy," that's fine, but it is not a scientific fact. Nor is it "the bald truth". It is irresponsible to ask scientists to say anything other than something like "it's unlikely for an event like Hurricane Sandy to have occurred without the influence of anthropogenic climate change." I know, it doesn't fit well on a placard. It's complicated. But it's what the science shows.

"The issue of "immigration" is about a new generation of such refugees. President Obama, in a speech ... beautifully states his moral understanding of the issue. His words showed that the current wave of refugees, referred to as 'undocumented immigrants' are in many ways already citizens --they contribute enormously to American society."

This has a couple things I want to mention. First, undocumented immigrants are not (in general) refugees. So Obama was right to so characterize them. Lakoff is indulging in spin, to put it most favorably. Second, Lakoff was hoping that by describing them as refugees, it would arouse feelings of compassion that would make us more likely to help rather than harm these people. Of course, Lakoff wrote his book in 2014. Right now, Americans are probably more afraid of 'refugees' than of 'illegal aliens'. I mean, that is perhaps a demonstration of the whole point of his book -- that there are different ways of framing the issue to cause kneejerk responses. But he has once again caused me some pause, since he starts his own framing exercise by lying, to put it less favorably.

In a FAQ at the end, he tries to distinguish between frames and euphemisms, spin, or propaganda. I wasn't really satisfied by his answer. Frames are not very different from euphemism, spin, or propaganda. These certainly have their place in politics.

His vision seems to be of two large masses of primates mindlessly shouting slogans at a small band of undecided primates in the middle, each hoping to inculcate the middle group with its slogan. While this is not an unfair description of American elections, I think we can do better. The way to fight propaganda is not (only) with propaganda of our own, but by exposing propaganda for what it is.

But possibly I'm wrong and brainwashing ourselves and others is the only route forward to victory.

Fortunately, it appears I'm not alone in being leery of Lakoff. I found a great point/counterpoint between Stephen Pinker and Lakoff. Skip to Pinker's Salvo to see his review of Lakoff's ideas from a different (but similar) book and a really good yo mama joke. This is apparently an outburst in a decades long intellectual war between the two, and I'm not qualified to judge the more technical aspects of their discussion of linguistics and cognitive science, but when it gets down to the political applications, I think Pinker is in the right:

But Lakoff’s advice doesn’t pass the giggle test. One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice tried to rebrand “taxes” as “membership fees.” Surely no one has to hear the metaphor tax relief to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around for as long as taxes have been around. ... And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? ... In defending his voters-are-idiots theory, Lakoff has written that people don’t realize that they are really better off with higher taxes, because any savings from a federal tax cut would be offset by increases in local taxes and private services. But if that is a fact, it would have to be demonstrated to a bureaucracy-jaded populace the old-fashioned way, as an argument backed with numbers–-the kind of wonkish analysis that Lakoff dismisses.
The problem with this burlesque is not that its targets don’t deserve criticism. It’s that it will backfire with all of its potential audiences. Any of Lakoff’s allies on the left who think that their opponents are such imbeciles will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. The book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals’ insularity and incomprehension.


B+ for showing how conservatives have used framing successfully.
F for suggesting that the liberal's only hope is to fight fire with fire, brainwash ourselves, and lay off the facts and rational thought.
F for not really exploring the liberal frames that already exist. The shortcuts to careful reasoning. Diagnosing police brutality, racism, sexism, without the full facts. Nazipunching. Reading the book, you get the impression that only wicked conservatives have frames to manipulate people, while the benevolent, wise, but prone-to-losing liberals are stuck with only useless tools like facts and rationality.
essentialsaltes: (laika)
I found Revelation Space tough going. It's a pretty big book, but even so, I found attention wandering, and it's taken me quite a while to get through. The prose is perfectly functional, but it plods rather than sparkles(*). Lots of big space opera-y action, and some interesting ideas, but the motivations of the characters grow increasingly obscure; seemingly they are wired to seek out the next idea Reynolds wants to reveal, no matter how obviously dangerous that would be. One character is basically on a relentless quest from page one to pick up Chekhov's gun.

* Actually, the most amusing phrase is (I assume) a happy mistake -- "It was like gazing into the moonlit depths of an arboreal forest." I mean, what other kind of forest can there be? And then I started pondering a tiny forest that lives in a tree. And cracked myself up.
* The second most amusing mistake is the misuse of etymology where entomology was meant.
essentialsaltes: (unleash the furry)
Subtitle: A History of Proper English

The book was not really what I expected, although I'm not sure what I expected. I guess I hoped for more war -- placing authorities against each other on the nitpicky rules of grammar we all love and/or hate. Instead, it was more of a history of how people have formalized the English language, from early grammars to modern linguistics. A strong undercurrent is the prescriptivist bent of 'grammarians' and the descriptivist bent of linguists.
I think I hoped for more amusing little tidbits, and although they are there, it is like one of those disappointing pours of breakfast cereal that you got as a kid, where you mourned that there weren't more dehydrated marshmallows among the cat kibble. Perhaps because it was a slower slog to get through the book, I've forgotten most of the tidbits already. One that did stick was the idea that, after the Civil War, where one side had been associated with 'the Union', the use of that phrase for the country as a whole fell out of fashion. The constitution speaks of forming a more perfect union, and a state of the union address. In the post-war period, we began to speak of the US as a nation. Perhaps related to this, around 1900 the government printing office (IIRC) made a declaration to standardize that "the United States" was a singular noun.
essentialsaltes: (arkham)
"I am taking a vacation tomorrow."

"I am vacating the premises tomorrow."
essentialsaltes: (no Wanking!)
The Search for the Origins of Language

Like my search for a book about the origins of music, it seems my search for one about the origin of language may be long and difficult. Because this one was not fully satisfying. It started well, but the last half was tedious and uninformative. But you will, no doubt, be delighted to know that I took copious Kindle notes (in the interesting first half).

For me, this part of the story began in an introductory linguistics lecture in the early 1990s at the University of Melbourne. I can clearly remember my frustration when, after asking the lecturer about the origin of language, I was told that linguists don’t explore this topic: we don’t ask the question, because there is no definitive way to answer it.
The explanation given to me in a lecture hall in late-twentieth-century Australia had been handed down from teacher to student for the most part unchallenged since 1866, when the Société de Linguistique of Paris declared a moratorium on the topic.

words, words, words )
essentialsaltes: (arkham)
On the Map offers a number of amusing diversions cartographic. I already mentioned a few of the interesting maps that are discussed, and there's a surprising amount of variety, with chapters on map thieves, and globes, and pirates, and the Tube map, and the cholera map, and star maps, and an unexpected but totally fitting chapter on maps in games, from 'Atlantic City' to Greyhawk to Liberty City.

One chapter discusses the possible obsolescence of the map, with our new reliance on turn-by-turn GPS instructions, but also notes a new crop of map-courses springing up. After taking such an orienteering course, and noting the enthusiasm, Garfield innocently wonders whether "we may one day return to the fold".

A slight bias toward England in the topics, but still a fun read.
essentialsaltes: (islam)
Some weeks back, I think [ profile] therrin started a thread about SF/noir detective fiction, and I recalled George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails and its sequels. The Wiki page mentioned a detail of which I was unaware: "Effinger started work on a fourth Audran novel, Word of Night, but died before that work was completed. The existing chapters of Word of Night are now available in the posthumously published Budayeen Nights, along with some other Budayeen and non-Budayeen short stories."

And so, a little ebaying, and here I am with an ex-library copy of the Golden Gryphon edition of Budayeen Nights. The foreword and story introductions are provided by Barbara Hambly, and they are (in addition to being useful and insightful) occasionally uncomfortably frank about his problems with alcohol and drugs, which he used to combat the physical and mental pain in his life. In volume 2 of things I didn't know, Hambly and Effinger were briefly married near the end of his life.

Despite that depressing lead-in, it's still delightful to hang out with Marîd again in his usual haunts, in and around the events of the existing novels, and also in one story set long after those events. Other stories don't feature Marîd, but are clearly in the same world, including the Nebula and Hugo winning "Schrödinger's Kitten" (which struck me as being merely great, rather than award-sweeping) and "King of the Cyber Rifles," which has more to offer than just the cleverness of the title.

"The City on the Sand" from 1973 is less interesting as a story than as a look into the proto-Budayeen, inhabited by proto-Budayeen characters and Effinger's stand-in, Sandor Courane. It helps to draw the line from what Effinger was up to in the 70s to When Gravity Fails. And the other bookend is a peek into the unfinished fourth novel, with what counts as a short story to set things in motion.

I had the great fortune to meet Effinger briefly, and express my admiration for his work, when I was a lowly gofer, helping out at the 1996 Nebula Awards, which were held at the Queen Mary. And while we're name dropping, Barbara Hambly was kind enough to come to the very first EnigmaCon back in 1987.
essentialsaltes: (space invader)
So I mentioned the Poe 'anthology' that included other anthologies with a single Poe story and a mass of others. Here are some other notes...

A VISIT TO THE ASYLUM FOR AGED AND DECAYED PUNSTERS By Oliver Wendell Holmes: The only way this could be better is if it was OWH Junior, the Supreme Court Justice. It's really a terrible thing, with terrible puns. And yet, here are the gems I have unearthed so that you need not slog away in the mines yourself:

"Do you know"—he broke out all at once—"why they don't take steppes [get it? take steppes? -es] in Tartary for establishing Insane Hospitals?" We both confessed ignorance. "Because there are nomad people to be found there," he said, with a dignified smile.
"Why is Douglas like the earth?" We tried, but couldn't guess. "Because he was flattened out at the polls!" said Mr. Riggles.
"Followed the sea," he replied to the question put by one of us. "Went as mate in a fishing-schooner." "Why did you give it up?" "Because I didn't like working for two mast-ers," he replied.

Just some etymological studies here...

"The gable-end of the cottage was stained with wet, and the eavesdroppings flapped against the wall."

(Wiki notes: "The verb eavesdrop was originally a back-formation of the noun eavesdropper ("a person who eavesdrops") which was formed from the unrelated noun eavesdrop ("the dripping of water from the eaves of a house; the ground on which such water falls"). An eavesdropper was one who stood at the eavesdrop")

""I have a pencil," I answered; "but I have no paper. Would my cuff do, do you think?"   "Oh, yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that."   I wrote on my cuff:"

Aha, the origin (most probably) of off-the-cuff remarks.

"and a rugged tarpaulin[1] dictating from his elbow chair, hectoring the patriarchs"

The gloss identifies it as a sailor. I always thought a tar for a sailor came from using tar to make nautical gear waterproof. In a sense, it does, since tarpaulin "originated as a compound of the words tar and palling, referring to a tarred canvas pall used to cover objects on ships. Sailors often tarred their own overclothes in the same manner as the sheets or palls. By association, sailors became known as Jack Tars." So whether it went straight from tar to sailor, or via tarpaulin (or both), there was some tar in there somewhere.
essentialsaltes: (islam)
So a Vegas wedding chapel where you get married by an Elvis impersonator refuses to perform same sex marriages.

Less sensationally, a couple of ministers in Idaho who run a wedding chapel have filed a lawsuit calling for a temporary restraining order. For some reason, many religious media have incorrectly characterized the situation as the city suing the couple.

Anyway, the point really comes down to the fact that a wedding chapel is not a church. It is a for-profit business.

“The difference between a church and a place of worship and a wedding chapel, is that a wedding chapel is a business so that is covered under the Public Accommodations Law of Nevada,” said Tod Story of the ACLU.

Obviously, it's complicated by the fact that the employees of this business are ministers, but I can't help the fact that they decided not to carry out their religious activities in their church, but rather have prostituted them by opening a storefront where they do their mumbo jumbo (possibly Elvis-clad) for strangers who walk in off the street and give them money.

An analogy occurred to me, strengthened by a coincidental rhyme.

A few years back, there was a flap when Muslim cabbies in Minnesota were refusing to take fares if the people had alcohol with them. They lost their legal fight.

And in both cases, it seems like they are the victims of their own choice of employment.

If these people didn't want to carry people who had alcohol, they shouldn't have gotten into the business of carrying people.
If those people didn't want to marry people of the same sex, they shouldn't have gotten into the business of marrying people.
essentialsaltes: (spockmonkey)
Via Improbable Research, a peculiar look at bad language in science publications (translated from the italiano):

"Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. Yet, in 1987, professor Bestiale, supposedly a physicist in Palermo, Sicily, authored major papers in prestigious scientific peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of Statistical Physics, the Journal of Chemical Physics and the proceedings of a meeting of American Physical Society in Monterey."
essentialsaltes: (muslin)
WASHINGTON — With just 3 years of his presidency remaining, Barack Obama will bank on executive orders and judicial action to implement social policies that he cannot persuade Congress to enact, Mary L. Hauer, the President's chief domestic policy adviser, declared Thursday.

Hauer, the feisty attorney Obama named to push his social issue agenda, said the President may accomplish some of his goals through a series of executive orders and by his appointment of liberal judges to the federal judiciary.

"With a hostile Congress that doesn't show much sign of coming toward us on some of these issues, it behooves us to take the initiative when we can take it," Hauer said.

There are a number of things "the President can unilaterally do," Hauer said; her staff is studying a proposed executive order that would ban the sale of homophobic material on post exchanges at military bases.

"I guess the analogy I would use (is): Does anybody think it would be acceptable if a PX sold material that was racially bigoted? Let's say we found that a PX had material in it by the klan calling certain races various things. I don't think anybody would bat an eye if the President issued an executive order saying that we will not exploit racial differences in government bookstores on Army bases. It seems to me that it's not that far a step to say nor will we sell material that is offensive to homosexuals," he said.

Hauer, a short and round-faced woman, is a self-described "Obama true believer," who served as undersecretary of education before being appointed assistant to the President for policy development last Jan. 30.

[original article]

Thx to David Gerrold for linking to that.
essentialsaltes: (Haha)
A difficult inmate plaintiff.

Plaintiff began filing frivolous motions on a weekly basis and, in that relatively simple civil rights lawsuit, he ended up filing more than seventy-five pleadings, all of which required the considered attention of this Court and Judge Bowen. These motions included "Motion to Behoove an Inquisition" and "Motion for Judex Delegatus" and "Motion for Restoration of Sanity" and "Motion for Deinstitutionalization".
The motions ranged from the mundane, such as "Motion for Change of Venue", to the arcane, such as "Motion for Cesset pro Cessus" and "Motion for Judex Delegatus", to the curious, such as "Motion for Nunc pro Tunc" and "Motion for Psychoanalysis", to the outlandish, such as "Motion to Impeach Judge Alaimo" and "Motion to Renounce Citizenship" and "Motion to Exhume Body of Alex Hodgson".
In the instant case, Plaintiff has sued all of the judges and one magistrate judge from this District as well as one judge and one magistrate judge from the Middle District of Georgia. Plaintiff also unsuccessfully tried to join Judge Michael Karpf of the Superior Court of Chatham County and United States Senator Sam Nunn. His five motions to amend are overshadowed by the "Motion to Kiss My Ass" which Plaintiff filed [in which he moved "all Americans at large and one corrupt Judge Smith [to] kiss my got [sic] damn ass sorry mother fucker you."]
essentialsaltes: (That's not funny!)
Speaking of Nazis... I was surprised to find that the English phrase "master race" first appears in a long, long poem from 1855: "The Hireling and the Slave" by South Carolina Representative (as a member of the SC-based Nullifier Party) William John Grayson.

For these great ends hath Heaven’s supreme command
Brought the black savage from his native land,
Trains for each purpose his barbarian mind,
By slavery tamed, enlightened, and refined;
Instructs him, from a master-race, to draw
Wise modes of polity and forms of law,
Imbues his soul with faith, his heart with love,
Shapes all his life by dictates from above,
And, to a grateful world, resolves at last
The puzzling question of all ages past,
Revealing to the Christian’s gladdened eyes
How Gospel light may dawn from Libya’s skies,
Disperse the mists that darken and deprave,
And shine with power to civilize and save.
essentialsaltes: (Danger)
In German, a glove is a Handschuh ('hand-shoe')

So I guess a foot glove would have to be a Fusshandschuh ('foot-hand-shoe')

essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Got a little packet of thank-you notes from a Donorschoose classroom that I gave some maps and globes. Quoth one kid, "I am internally [sic] greatful [sic]."

He goes on to say, "Now I no longer get a headache, because I'm having fun while learning."
essentialsaltes: (cartouche)
The name S.R. Hadden of Contact is clearly (?) based on Esarhaddon, King of Assyria. See also, the Black Stone of Esarhaddon (and also, from 1925).
essentialsaltes: (cartouche)
Factoid of the day: there are Hebrew acrostics in the Bible, where the first letter of successive lines form the alphabet.
essentialsaltes: (wingedlionbook)
The Secret Life of Words is part history of the English language, part history of the English people (and Empire and post-Empire). Lots of interesting details about how the winds of fortune and history have affected our lexicon. Many times, it reads a bit too much as trivia... long lists of words that derive from one language or another, but sometimes those little bits of trivia are amusing or surprising.

I feel slightly idiotic, but I had no idea that honcho (as in head honcho) derives from Japanese. I guess I implicitly assumed (it's not like I ever thought about it before) it came from the same place we got rancho and poncho.

Here are some of the other tasty trivia nuggets I picked out:

Picnic was first used by the Earl of Chesterfield, the modish eighteenth-century politico and arbiter of public taste, whose letters were considered by Dr. Johnson to ‘teach the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master’.

The Swahili madigadi is a version of the English ‘mudguards’, and the same language takes the delightful word kiplefti, meaning ‘traffic island’, from the English ‘keep left’.

The nineteenth-century clergyman William Barnes preferred wheelsaddle to bicycle and folkwain to omnibus. By the same token forceps would be nipperlings, and pathology would be painlore. Some of his new words recalled the language of Old English poetry: he proposed glee-mote in place of concert, and the wonderful cellar-thane instead of butler.

In German folklore, cobalt’s reputation for enfeebling the miners who brought it up from the ground was linked to the presence in the mines of a malign spirit known as a Kobold. The association between digging underground and coming across wicked sprites was popular: the English nickel comes from Swedish, but can be traced back to the German Kupfernickel – the half of this word that the English preserves is another German term for a mischievous, mine-dwelling imp. [It had not occurred to us, dude, that kobolds are cobalt. Or that the 'Old Nick' that bedeviled copper mining is nickel. Who knew the periodic table was full of mischievous imps?]

'Of pseudo-Latin plurals one need not speak at length,’ he adds. ‘It is enough to remark that men have been heard to talk of “the throngs of omnibi that ply the London streets.”'
essentialsaltes: (jasmine)
The faithless Cherokee obeys;
Rich Senegal her Tribute pays;
And Ganges' Tyrant shakes with Fear,
For Vengeance whispers, 'Clive is near.'

From an Ode in honor of George III, by J. Duncombe (in imitation of Horace)
(spotted in The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English)

Do what we say, give us what we want, or we will thump you.
essentialsaltes: (You're a Kitty)
One of those 3 AM thoughts...

Sure, there are lots of girl names that are flowers. Too many to list.

But Olive seems fairly unique as a vegetable (ok, fruit if you wanna get all botanical up in here).

There really aren't that many fruit-names, either. There aren't too many Apples, or Pears, or Oranges, or Kumquats. I mean... Cherry is probably more of a professional name for those who use it, if you know what I mean. Actually, now that I've fired up the Name Voyager, it looks like Cherry had a hey-day in the 1940s.

Maybe Olive is more named after the tree, but... there aren't that many tree names, either. Myrtle died out in the 1960s, and Willow has only just emerged.

Olive seems to stand nearly alone as a fruit-vegetable name.

Why do we name our girl-children after the sexual organs of plants, but not after their seedy little fetuses (except for Olive)?

Olive is even making a little bit of a comeback.

Also, I disregard any baby-name list that suggests a possible girls' name is Banana.


essentialsaltes: (Default)

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