Archive for September, 2012

Plebgate: morphing into mendacity

As always, the cover-up is worse than the crime. In the Andrew Mitchell story, the protagonist is still refusing to admit that he said plebs (the fucking stuff seems to have been conceded days ago: foul-mouthedness is not the issue, apparently; plebs and morons are the issue). He asserts, vaguely, that he did not use the words attributed to him. [Added September 25: As Polly Toynbee notes, his refusal to actually claim that he did not say plebs leads us to believe that he did say it: he daren't risk a perjury charge, which is why his apologies and denials are phrased with such extreme generality.] But that means the story is morphing from one about a bad-tempered upper-class put-down into a case of a cabinet member telling lies about a law-enforcement matter, and slandering armed police officers who work for his government and may have to put their lives on the line protecting it from terrorist attack (for that is why the police outside number 10 Downing Street, unusually for Britain, carry firearms).

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The rhetoric of anti-Japanese invective

A commenter on this post, "'All Japanese must be killed'", stated that he thought that the sentiments expressed were "a little extreme".

How seriously should we take what appear to be calls for genocide against the Japanese people?

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Flew v. Flied

RK sent in a link to a recent NYT sports story containing the sentence "Three batters later, the bases were loaded for Derek Jeter, but he flew out harmlessly to right field", and commented:

I watched the game on tv and I can tell you that Derek's feet stayed firmly rooted on the ground.  I thought Steve Pinker said this didn't happen.

Indeed, Steve has asserted in several refereed publications, and at least one book, that "verbs intuitively perceived as derived from nouns or adjectives are always regular, even if similar or identical to, an irregular verb. Thus one says […] flied out in baseball [from a fly (ball)], not flew out […]". And he famously co-authored a 1991 paper in Cognitive Science with the audacious title  "Why no mere mortal has ever flown out to center field".

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Porn star calls for peace between China and Japan

The online Wall Street Journal's Real Time Report has this story:

Ex-Porn Star’s Viral Call for Sino-Japanese Peace [SFW]

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Crowdsourcing the lexicon

A recent piece by Eric Mack on CNET News begs everyone — and in particular the dictionary publishers at Collins — to "stop crowdsourcing the English language." What he's grousing about is that Collins has now included entries for a few (by no means all) of the 5,000 newly current words that readers have pointed out to them.

What do people like Eric Mack think is the source of the information in dictionaries if it does not in effect come from crowdsourcing?

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Don't say plebs!

The Right Honorable Andrew John Bower Mitchell M.P. was recently appointed Chief Whip for the Conservative Party in the House of Commons (responsible for party discipline with respect to voting). A few days ago he was leaving the area of the Prime Minister's residence in Downing Street on his bike. The police on security duty there open the main gates to Downing Street as seldom as possible for obvious reasons, and on this occasion they declined to open the main gates just to let him ride through. An armed police officer pointed him to a smaller pedestrian gate. Mitchell then proceeded to create the UK's political scandal of the week. He started swearing at the police officer, and got yet more abusive when a second officer advised him to calm down and warned him that he could be arrested. What's more, Mitchell used not just an obscene expletive adjectival modifier but also a blunt monosyllabic noun often employed as a put-down for the non-gentry. Just what the Conservative Party, whose popularity has been plummeting, really didn't need.

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Zero-day lexicography

It was reported yesterday that Microsoft has released a patch for a recently uncovered flaw in Internet Explorer. Thus Fahmida Rashid, "Microsoft Releases Emergency IE Patch", Security Watch 9/21/2012:

Microsoft has released an out-of-band update fixing at least five vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, including the recently disclosed zero-day vulnerability already being exploited in the wild. [emphasis added]

If you don't know what a "zero-day vulnerability" is, Wikipedia will explain it to you:

A zero-day (or zero-hour or day zero) attack or threat is an attack that exploits a previously unknown vulnerability in a computer application, meaning that the attack occurs on "day zero" of awareness of the vulnerability. This means that the developers have had zero days to address and patch the vulnerability. Zero-day exploits (actual software that uses a security hole to carry out an attack) are used or shared by attackers before the developer of the target software knows about the vulnerability.

It's worth noting in this case that the vulnerability in question was still called "zero day" after being in the news for almost a week: it seems that zero day has come to mean something like "known to bad guys before a defense is available".

In any case, I'm curious about where this whole "zero day" business came from, and how widely it's spread.

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Anti-Japanese mooncakes

Now even innocent mooncakes are enlisted in the campaign against Japan:

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Hasty renaming of Japanese restaurants in China

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More anti-Japanese slogans, but with a twist

Two days ago, in "'All Japanese must be killed'", I wrote about violently anti-Japanese sloganeering over the Senkakus that has been going on in China. But now, inspired by the government-sponsored "kill all the Japanese" slogans, the same types of slogans are being directed against the government. This is a development that many China-watchers have predicted, since the government has been engaging in various types of agitation to cover up for its own weaknesses, including a sharply factionalized Chinese Communist Party on the eve of its 18th Congress and rising public discontent.

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"I splork for infinite splorks"

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Why most (science) news is false

François Gonon et al., "Why Most Biomedical Findings Echoed by Newspapers Turn Out to be False: The Case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder", PLoS ONE 9/12/2012:

Methods: We focused on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Using Factiva and PubMed databases, we identified 47 scientific publications on ADHD published in the 1990s and soon echoed by 347 newspapers articles. We selected the ten most echoed publications and collected all their relevant subsequent studies until 2011. We checked whether findings reported in each “top 10” publication were consistent with previous and subsequent observations. We also compared the newspaper coverage of the “top 10” publications to that of their related scientific studies.

Results: Seven of the “top 10” publications were initial studies and the conclusions in six of them were either refuted or strongly attenuated subsequently. The seventh was not confirmed or refuted, but its main conclusion appears unlikely. Among the three “top 10” that were not initial studies, two were confirmed subsequently and the third was attenuated. The newspaper coverage of the “top 10” publications (223 articles) was much larger than that of the 67 related studies (57 articles). Moreover, only one of the latter newspaper articles reported that the corresponding “top 10” finding had been attenuated. The average impact factor of the scientific journals publishing studies echoed by newspapers (17.1 n = 56) was higher (p<0.0001) than that corresponding to related publications that were not echoed (6.4 n = 56).

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Drawl from all over

On Lingua Franca today, Allan Metcalf of the American Dialect Society has a cute piece on dialect description citing numerous examples of different regional dialects being characterized by the same layperson's description: the utterly undefined but oh-so-popular phrase "nasal drawl." They come from from all over: Missouri, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, California, Massachusetts, the Deep South, Texas, Chicago, anywhere. There's no phonetic reality to this imaginary sound quality: Metcalf says "If you want to say something specific about a person's pronunciation but aren't too comfortable with phonetic terminology, you can say 'nasal drawl' and people will understand. It means—well, it's hard to say what it means…" It's only language you're talking about; just make stuff up.

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