Archive for November, 2012

We all need someone who relies on

Chris Moody, "New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: Comments like Romney’s set ‘us back as a party’", Yahoo News 11/15/2012:

Martinez criticized Romney's comments when they were reported in September, and on Wednesday reiterated that she found them "ridiculous."

"It's a ridiculous statement to make. You want to earn the vote of every single person you can earn, whether they be someone who relies on," she said. "Why would you ever write off 47 percent?"

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It's hard to deny he doesn't

So Pete Wells (who is the NYT's restaurant critic) wrote an epically bad review of Guy Fieri's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square (sample line: "Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold?").

And Guy Fieri, who has a regular show on the Food Network ("Guy's Big Bite"), struck back with an interview on the Today Show (""I just thought it was ridiculous," Fieri, 44, said Thursday. "I've read reviews. There's good and there's bad in the restaurant business. But that, to me, went so overboard. It really seemed like there was another agenda.")

So does Pete Wells indeed have another agenda?

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition

As soon as I heard that the 5th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) had come out, I rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore (yes, they still exist — that was Borders that closed) and plunked down two Bens (hundred dollar bills) to buy three copies at $60 each:  one for my office at Penn, one for my study at home, and one for a friend.  The 5th ed. was actually published in November, 2011, but I was in China then, and didn't get a chance to buy my own copies until the day I arrived back on American soil.

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In favor of the microlex

Bruce Schneier quotes Stubborn Mule citing R.A. Howard:

Shopping for coffee you would not ask for 0.00025 tons  (unless you were naturally irritating), you would ask for 250 grams. In the same way, talking about a 1/125,000 or 0.000008 risk of death associated with a hang-gliding flight is rather awkward. With that in mind. Howard coined the term “microprobability” (μp) to refer to an event with a chance of 1 in 1 million and a 1 in 1 million chance of death he calls a “micromort” (μmt). We can now describe the risk of hang-gliding as 8 micromorts and you would have to drive around 3,000km in a car before accumulating a risk of 8μmt, which helps compare these two remote risks.

This reminds me of the Google Ngram Viewer's habit of citing word frequencies as percentages, with uninterpretably large numbers of leading zeros after the decimal point:

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More Dutton

Uptake by Andrew Sullivan, "Psychopaths All Around Us", 11/13/2012. This stuff sells.

If you're thinking about buying it, you should read "Psycho kids today" and "Is self-involvement really increasing in American youth?".

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For the "Word for X" (or "No Word for X") file, from Sidsel Overgaard, "Danes May Bring Back Butter As Government Rolls Back Fat Tax", NPR News 11/13/2012:

Toothbutter: noun. Butter spread so thickly as to reveal teeth marks upon biting.

The fact that this word exists in the Danish language should help to explain what politicians were up against when they introduced the so-called "fat tax" just over a year ago. This is a country that loves it some butter (and meat, and all things dreadful to the arteries).

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Is self-involvement really increasing in American youth?

Following up on "Psycho kids today", here's a passage from Kali Trzesniewski and M. Brent Donellan, "Rethinking 'Generation Me': A Study of Cohort Effects From 1976-2006", Perspectives on Psychological Science 5(1) 2010:

Social commentators have argued that changes over the last decades have coalesced to create a relatively unique generation of young people. However, using large samples of U.S. high-school seniors from 1976 to 2006 (Total N = 477,380), we found little evidence of meaningful change in egotism, self-enhancement, individualism, self-esteem, locus of control, hopelessness, happiness, life satisfaction, loneliness, antisocial behavior, time spent working or watching television, political activity, the importance of religion, and the importance of social status over the last 30 years.

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"I don't see how not to believe that they were [not?] working on the basis of internal polls that were just totally wrong"

A striking misnegation from Josh Marshall, poetically reflecting his confusion about levels of belief, deception, and presentation in the recent presidential campaign — "Disturbing", TPM 11/12/2012:

As you know, the great question that faces the nation today is this: were Republicans, particularly Mitt Romney, really “shell shocked” by the results of Tuesday’s election or is this just some elaborate con-job for reasons as yet unknown. […]

I think at this point, I give up. I give in. I can’t maintain my skepticism. I don’t know quite how shell shocked Mitt and his crew were. But I don’t see how not to believe that Republicans as a group were not working on the basis of internal polls that were just totally wrong. Cui Bono? Why lie this much? I simply don’t see any purpose being served. I’ve heard many suggest that they need to keep up this pretense because these are the bogus numbers they were serving up to Adelson and the other multi-billionaires to keep the money coming in. But this doesn’t really make sense. Are these guys going to react worse because they were lied to than they are if they think the guys they gave their money to are a bunch of incompetents and morons? [emphasis added]

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Psycho kids today

Kevin Dutton, "Psychopathy's Double Edge", Chronicle of Higher Education 10/22/2012:

[I]n a survey that has so far tested 14,000 volunteers, Sara Konrath and her team at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has found that college students' self-reported empathy levels (as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a standardized questionnaire containing such items as "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me" and "I try to look at everybody's side of a disagreement before I make a decision") have been in steady decline over the past three decades—since the inauguration of the scale, in fact, back in 1979. A particularly pronounced slump has been observed over the past 10 years. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago," Konrath reports.

As is all too often true for stories about results in social psychology — and especially stories about the Problems with Kids Today — this one is misleading in almost every particular.

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On letting one's guard (and pants) down

Mark Liberman noted (as did Neal Whitman on his Literal-Minded blog) a case of syllepsis in an Atlantic piece by Conor Friedersdorf: "What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for [Jennifer] Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election." But Weigel offered up a nice syllepsis of his own on Twitter today:

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A brood of sturdy men

Several times a week, I walk past the "All Wars Memorial to Penn Alumni", on the east side of 33rd Street in front of the Palestra, which features a group of statues surrounding a flagpole:

Behind these impressive figures there's a curved wall bearing the inscription:

The University of Pennsylvania

1740    To her sons who died in the service of their country    1950

A brood of sturdy men who stood for freedom and for truth

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Syllepsis of the month

Conor Friedersdorf, "How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File", The Atlantic 11/7/2012:

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses. What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election.

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Byron York, "What Sank McCain", NRO 11/5/2008:

In January, a few days before the South Carolina Democratic primary, I went to a Barack Obama rally in Columbia with a Republican friend who had never before seen Obama in action. This friend’s reaction: “Oh, s**t.” The super-enthusiastic crowd was about 3,000 strong — no big deal compared to the audiences Obama would later draw in the general election, but several times what John McCain was attracting in South Carolina at the time. My friend said the scene reminded him of the old clip from Jaws, in which the small-town sheriff, seeing how big the shark really is, says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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