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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Israeli Linguist A Bit Too Full Of Herself

An Israeli linguist seems to think she has turned the linguistic world upside down with her new meaning for the word "most."  A UPN article states
Professor Mira Ariel of Tel Aviv University says her research "is quite shocking for the linguistics world" and proves some of her fellow linguists are wrong in their definition of the word "most."
She claims that we linguists believe that
"most" generally means 51 percent to 99 percent of a group of people or objects.
but that in a survey she and her colleagues did, a number of persons
understood "most" to mean about 80 percent to 95 percent of a group and not the much larger range of 51 percent to 99 percent.
One very serious problem with her claims is that no self-respecting linguist would ever say that "most" means 51 percent to 99 percent of a group or means '80 percent to 95 percent of a group.'  This is just now how we use the word "mean."

Professor Ariel seems not to understand the distinction between "meaning" and "use".  It very well may be that people use "most" in a proposition like "Most Ps are Q" in circumstances in which 80-95% of the relevant Ps have the property Q.  But that is not what it means.  That is how we use it.  I am not sure how to characterize what it means but I am sure that that is not what it means.

If I say, that most Ps are Q and it turns out that 97% of the Ps are Q is what I said false?  Surely not. And if it turns out that 75% of the Ps are Q, is what I said false"?  Again, surely not.  This may not be how people generally use "most" but the meaning of "most," whatever it is, is consistent with these two claims being true and so long as that is true, then we can be sure that Professor Ariel is wrong about what "most" means.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Right Wing Propaganda Machine

After Obama was inaugurated, he made himself excessively visible.  Anyone in show business knows that you always leave them wanting more.  The problem is that Obama kept himself front and center, shoiwing up on TV virtually every day.  Before we had time to want to see him again, there he was announcing this or that new appointment, putting forth this or that new policy, or giving an interview.  As a result, Obama fatigue has set in and that has left him very vulnerable to the lies being told by the health industry about his and the Democratic Congressional health care bill, Fox News, and whoever else feels animus toward him, including especially those who harbor ill-feeling toward African Americans.

Naturally, the Antis will say they are pure of thought and that their objections to Obama are based on his actions as well as his apparent inaction.  The Rasmussen Reports don't bear them out.
Seventy-four percent (74%) of African-Americans Strongly Approve along with just 19% of white voters (see other recent demographic highlights from the tracking poll).
Among all voters, just 34% now give the President good or excellent marks on his handling of the economy while 47% say he is doing a poor job in that arena. On national security issues, 42% say good or excellent while 41% say poor.
Sixty-three percent (63%) of voters believe that political correctness kept the military from preventing the Fort Hood shootings
So, what we see is a striking division between Blacks and Whites as to how he is doing, which is a bit of a give away that racial attitudes are coloring perceptions.  That sort of thing didn't keep him from being elected but given the continued high unemployment and many other issues, he is guarnteed not to have a second term.  As James Carville famously said, "It's the economy, stupid."

The last of these three items is especially interesting.  It is clear that the military knew that Major Hasan was a Muslim and that he was disgruntled.  Naturally in a country Bush poisoned with his constant drumbeat of "9/11", "9/11", "9/11", "9/11", "9/11", "9/11", "9/11", etc, and given the disposition of people to posit conspiracies wherever they see something they don't understand, right-wingers and various and sundry other nutcases are sure this was part of a terrorist plot.

Conspiracy theories are the refuge of those who have agendas or are laboring in ignorance.  I recall the theories graduate students had about admissions policies in my university department.  Early on we used  a Master's exam to help determine who would be admitted to the Doctoral progrm.   A minority would not be admitted and the theory emerged that we had a quota, never mind that limiting the number of students we admitted actually hurt the department economically.

I first encountered the theory that Major Hasan's actions were the result of a terrorist plot on the Dennis Miller show and that political correctness, the bane of right wing, was in full flower in this case.  I was rather surprised.  Naturally, the military is reluctant to jump to the view that Hasan was acting out of an anti-American or anti-military political stance.  That would be beyond stupid, bordering on being imbecilic.

Not so, the right wing in America tells us.  At Right Pundits we find
Why are we able to so easily label Malik Nadal Hasan a terrorist? The fact speaks for itself. He is just as much a domestic terrorist as Timothy McVeigh was labeled so for his heinous act in Oklahoma City. And while McVeigh perpetuated his act from afar in silence, Malik Nadal Hasan shouted anti-American political views at his victims as he mowed them down with automatic weapons.
 The first thing I learned about Major Hasan is that he really, really, really didn't want to go to Iraq.  The military is not disposed to worry overmuch about where soldiers do and do not want to be posted, but they probably should in some cases.  This would have been one.

The title of this article is "Malik Nadal Hasan: Muslim Terrorist Challenges Obama‚Äôs Timidity."  I suppose this could be more misleading but I don't know how.  I seriously doubt that Obama told the military how it should go about its investigation or how it should present the facts to the public.  Nevertheless, Obama is vulnerable to any attack on anything American by any Muslim.  Its a right wing freebie.

Obama neeeds to do the following by next year at this time.
1. Get the health care bill in place.
2.  Somehow get unemployment to turn around.  I can think of some ways -- how about using unemployment benefits as subsidies to businesses who hire the uneployed for a year, say.
3.  Get the hell out of Iraq.
4.  Render Al Queda and the Talliban totally impotent.
If he does 1 and 2, it is possible that he will get a second term.  If he does 1-3, he will get one.  If he gets all four he will be elected President for Life.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Be Look Professional

Many years ago (1967 or so), I bought a wonderful Yamaha 250 cc motorcycle, the manual for which had this instruction for shifting gears:
Tachometer tells the moment to do.
Unfortunately, the RPMs given for gear shiftng kept this very fast motorcycle operating a little slower than a motor scooter. One evening, I told a friend who had ridden behind the original owner that the instructions couldn't be right and he offered to ride behind me and tell me when to shift. He did not look at the tachometer. He used his ears. I suppose the manual could have said.
Ears tell the moment to do.
Once I got the pitch right, I was golden. I suspect that some junior executive at Yahama persuaded his bosses that his English was excellent and he could ably translate the manual. On balance he didn't do badly.

Today, I happend across a web site while hunting for information as to what might be down the line for Blackberry phones given the buzz surrounding the iPhone and the new Androd phones. I came across this paragraph.
The Blackberry mobile phones are looking professionals and stylish mobile phone with can peoples are attract to this phone. Blackberry is the smart phones which is the most popular in the world with its charming features. It offers accessibility to an extensive variety of applications many wireless instruments across the world. It provides accessibility to an extensive variety of applications on several wireless instruments across the globe. by data and other services.
This piece of prose shocked me even more than that Yamaha manual.

This articale comes from Weblineindia, a link to which is associated with the blog title. That's what's shocking. If I have prejudices in regard to India, they are (1) Indians are very smart and very well-educated; (2) Many if not most Indians know English either natively or fluently; and (3) India has a bunch of great cuisines.

I clicked on the link and the first paragraph that popped up was this one:
Now a day ecommerce is a very popular among the internet users, so what is Ecommerce? People are habituated to sell and purchase their products or any types of items on the internet, its called ecommerce, and to online sell products you need ecommerce web...
So, it only gets worse. It is possible that these articles were written in some regional Indian language and run through some bad translating program. More likely, we are dealing with people who have big brains (see prejudice 1 above) but smal English language centers (see apparently false prejudice 2).

These articles are represented as "free content for your website or blog," which further confirms the axiom that you get what you pay for. I know that what I am writing is rather snobish, possibly even mean-spirited, for I would seem to be making fun of people who are, after all, doing their best. To that, I say, "bullshit." If I planned to publish something in German or Spanish I sure as hell wouldn't translate it myself.

Surely, if you are actually trying to inform people, to say nothing of sell things to them, you will want to do better than this:
The Blackberry Solution is used to access mobile email and personal information. Also other of the self applications are also used. But the development Blackberr software for the solution of Blackberry. Also Blackberry application, for assistance if issues arise.

This reads as if they are offering some sort of spyware ("access personal information"). If that isn't true, then they are very engaging in linguistic self-abuse.

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