Archive for Language and politics

Foundation and jihad

Did Osama bin Laden name Al Qaeda after Isaac Asimov's Foundation series?

Meeting Dmitri Gusev here at Text By The Bay ("Rising sun", 4/25/2015) reminded me that I'd seen his name before. The context was a 2002 article in the Guardian, "What is the origin of the name al-Qaida?"  (picked up on LLOG in "Copy-editing terrorism", 7/28/2005):

 In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov's 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.  

"This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now," wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article.

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Political pitch ranges

I don't have time for much this morning, but here's a plot of the f0 quantiles of the first minute or so of each of six speeches from the 2015 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum:

["F0", pronounced "eff zero", is a conventional designation for the fundamental frequency of the voice, which represents the rate of oscillation of the vocal folds in voiced speech, and is a physical proxy for the psychological dimension of "pitch". "Hz" is the standard abbreviation for "Hertz", the international unit of frequency (cycles per second) named after Heinrich Hertz.]

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Macaroni politics

Charlie Spiering, "Hillary Clinton touts 'macaroni and cheese' issues at Emily's List gala", Breitbart 2/4/2015:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the importance of “macaroni and cheese” issues in the federal government, as she teased a presidential run in a speech last night.  

During her appearance at the EMILY’s List 30th anniversary gala, Clinton recognized Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who recently announced she’ll retire after 2016.  

Mikulski, she explained, helped her when she was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.  

“She knew the ropes, but she also knew how to cut through all the hot air,” Clinton said. “She understands that, yes, we have to work on macro issues and also macaroni and cheese issues, too.”

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From Bushisms to la langue François

Remember the Bushisms industry? Something similar, mutatis mutandis, seems to be springing up in France.

Stéphane Ratti, "De la langue française à la langue François", Le Figaro 2/14/2015:

Pourquoi François Hollande s'acharne-t-il à massacrer ainsi la langue française dans toutes ses interventions? Plusieurs analystes se sont à juste titre posé la question après avoir, avec précision, analysé quelques-unes des monstruosités syntaxiques présidentielles à l'occasion de sa dernière conférence de presse.

Why does François Hollande insist on butchering the French language in all of his comments? Several analysts have understandably asked the question, after having analyzed carefully several of the president's syntactic monstrosities on the occasion of his last press conference.

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Official standard

I received the following message from a young Chinese scholar who is studying in America:

Improving my English and understanding Western culture, as well as dealing with racial and gender issues as an Asian female and also a first-generation immigrant in this country, is much easier than being part of the 官本位 culture in China, though I was born and grew up there. I feel that my intelligence is treated with more respect in the States.

This is not the first time that I had heard this young scholar and other young scholars inveigh against 官本位, but in this instance she put it so succinctly and clearly that I felt galvanized to come to grips with a concept that I had heretofore only grasped in a hazy manner.

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Tintin in [China's] Tibet

A couple of weeks ago, in "China's" (2/1/15) and the comments thereto, we were discussing the political aspects and implications of prefacing names in publications pertaining to places in the People's Republic of China (PRC) with the possessive "China's".

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"Faux-cul" and "vraie vulve"

Outsiders to American politics are probably somewhat puzzled by the narrative background of the Chris Christie PAC acronym story. I mean, LMFAO, fine, but what's a PAC? and who's Chris Christie? And why did American Bridge think it was funny to turn "Party Rock Anthem" into "Traffic Block Anthem"?

All obvious to us here in the U.S., but probably mystifying to most people elsewhere in the world.

Since I'm planning to spend some time in France this summer, I've been dusting off my high-school French by reading French-language news media, and I've been similarly puzzled by some of the stories,  like "'Faux-cul', 'vraie vulve': Jean-Marie Le Pen insulte Claude Bartolone", Paris Match 1/31/2015, and "Jean-Marie Le Pen s'en prend violemment à Claude Bartolone, qu'il insulte de 'faux-cul' et de 'vraie vulve'", Le Huffington Post 1/31/2015.

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The URL for Chris Christie's new political action committee has occasioned a certain amount of innocent merriment, because naturally suggests the acronym LMFAO, normally interpreted as "laughing my fucking ass off":

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The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously.

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Presidential pronouns: This time it's Ron Fournier

Ron Fournier, "Is Obama More Interested in Progress or Politics?", National Journal, 1/20/2015:

Count how many times Obama uses the words "I," "me," and "my." Compare that number to how often he says, "You," "we," "our." If the first number is greater than the second, Obama has failed.

This leads naturally to a different question: "Is Ron Fournier More Interested in Analysis or in Bullshit?" (where I mean "bullshit" in the technical philosophical sense, of course).

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Metaphoric mash-up of the month

Dave Davies, "Clarke out of Philly mayor's race — Butkovitz in?", newsworks 1/13/2015:

Butkovitz made it clear months ago he wanted to run for mayor. He engaged an experienced campaign team, but found it hard to raise money, particularly from unions, as long as there was a chance Clarke might run.

In November, Butkovitz called the whole thing off, said he wasn't running. But he said yesterday Clarke's announcement might change his thinking.

"The phone is ringing off the hook today," he said. "There's a large number of people, contributors, activists, calling up and asking me to get into the race. We're going to have to put a barometer into the water here and figure out what the lay of the land is."

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It's hard being loved by jerks

The most tasteful and relevant of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons:

The title "Mahomet débordé par les intégristes" means "Muhammad overwhelmed by the fundamentalists"; and the speech balloon "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons" means "It's hard being loved by jerks", a thought that must also occasionally have occurred to Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and others.

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