The Economist's Johnson column last week (which I just got around to reading tonight) took on verb conjugations in journalism:
On May 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.
English and most other European languages have both an active voice (Steve kicked John) and a passive (John was kicked by Steve). Style manuals, including The Economist’s, generally deprecate the passive voice. It is longer, for one thing. For another, it is often found in heavy academic and bureaucratic prose. Inexperienced writers tend to over-use it.
But critics of the passive often confuse two different things: syntax and semantics. Syntax has to do with the mechanics of putting a sentence together. In Steve kicked John, Steve is the subject and John is the direct object. But in John was kicked by Steve, John is now the subject, even though he is still the kickee, and Steve is still the kicker.
So what the critics really meant is that the Times erred in using an intransitive verb.
I analyzed this not as an argument for a particular kind of prose, but as an argument for learning the vocabulary of the thing you want to criticize. Critics of the Times' headline aren't wrong; they're just arguing the wrong point. One can understand viscerally why the Times' headline got under the skin. But as in so much of life, people on one side argued feelings and people on the other argued correctness.
Until people hear what the opposition really wants to say—until people make an effort to hear it, I mean—we're going to keep talking past each other. That said, I want everyone to read Orwell right now.
Alexis Madrigal, closer to an X-er than a Millennial, rhapsodizes on how the telephone ring, once imperative, now repulses:
Before ubiquitous caller ID or even *69 (which allowed you to call back the last person who’d called you), if you didn’t get to the phone in time, that was that. You’d have to wait until they called back. And what if the person calling had something really important to tell you or ask you? Missing a phone call was awful. Hurry!
Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?
There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously.
But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone’s ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. Now, if I hear my phone buzzing from across the room, at first I’m excited if I think it’s a text, but when it keeps going, and I realize it’s a call, I won’t even bother to walk over. My phone only rings one or two times a day, which means that I can go a whole week without a single phone call coming in that I (or Apple’s software) can even identify, let alone want to pick up.
Meanwhile, robocalling continues to surge, with a record 3.4 billion of them sent in April—approximately 40% of all calls placed that month by some reckonings.
Welcome to the 21st century, where your 19th-century technologies do more harm than good.
I've had a lot of things going on at work the past couple of weeks, and not many free evenings, leading to these link round-up posts that add nothing to the conversation.
But there should be a conversation, and here are some topics:
- President Trump and Jeff Sessions have shifted US immigration enforcement policy such that cruel, unfair, and harmful treatment of immigrants is no longer an unintended consequence—it's now the point.
- Let's not forget that Dinesh D'Souza, who Trump just pardoned, didn't just mess up some campaign finance paperwork. No, this guy funneled tens of thousands through his mistress and his assistant. Trump's pardon seems to be all about rewarding his racist trolling.
- Sears will close another 100 stores in the next couple of months, continuing Eddie Lampert's slow strangulation of the company.
- Roseanne Barr's sacking from ABC could be a learning moment for the right, but it probably won't be.
- Meanwhile, bluish-purple Illinois yesterday became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1977. If one more state ratifies it, then it could become law—though there is enough ambiguity in Article V of the U.S. Constitution to stop us counting chickens just yet.
Finally, on Monday Parker will have his final check-out by his surgeon, which should clear him to go back to day camp on Tuesday. The poor fuzzy dude has spent way too much time home alone since his injury. I'm looking forward to him getting back into his pack.
Not all of this is as depressing as yesterday's batch:
I'm sure there will be more later.
Aaron Blake explains how President Trump's legal team have seized on the ambiguous term "collusion" to set up their ultimate strategy for getting him off the hook for criminal activity:
Rudolph W. Giuliani went on TV and blurted out the Trump team's Russia investigation strategy this weekend.
“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said on CNN, “because, eventually, the decision here is going to be impeach/not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American — as it should be — is the American people.”
Basically, the word “collusion” isn't in the applicable criminal code; that's technically true. But the Justice Department has used the term in its own filings in Robert S. Mueller III's probe, and it's something of a blanket term that encompasses several potential crimes such as conspiracy, public corruption and coercion. Assisting a foreign power in influencing a U.S. election may not typically be called “collusion,” but it's almost certainly illegal. The media have used a somewhat generic, umbrella term in the absence of a specific, known and provable offense, and Trump and Co. have (rather smartly, I would argue) seized upon its vagueness to set the goal posts at “collusion.”
If Mueller does use the term “collusion” in his report, the argument will be: “But it's not even a crime!” Conversely, if he doesn't charge people with “collusion” but instead one of those other crimes, the argument will be: “They couldn't prove collusion, so they picked another crime!”
However it turns out, the defense will be built-in, and there will be plenty for GOP voters and lawmakers who use it to argue that the whole thing is a “witch hunt” — regardless of whether real crimes are involved.
Blake also cites a report that Trump supporters already believe the investigation is bogus, notwithstanding (a) actual convictions for actual crimes, and (b) that finding out whether the President of the United States shared information with a hostile foreign power is in everyone's interest.
We really, really need to take back the House in November, even if all we can do with the majority is get all this administration's malfeasance out into the open.
I've queued up a few articles to read while eating lunch. I just hope I don't lose said lunch after reading them:
Every so often I like to revisit old photos to see if I can improve them. Here's one of my favorites, which I took by the River Arun in Amberley, West Sussex, on 11 June 1992:
The photo above is one of the first direct-slide scans I have, which I originally published here in 2009, right after I took this photo at nearly the same location:
(I'm still kicking myself for not getting the angle right. I'll have to try again next time I'm in the UK.)
Those are the photos as they looked in 2009. Yesterday, during an extended internet outage at my house, I revisited them in Lightroom. Here's the 1992 shot, slightly edited:
And the 2009 shot, with slightly different treatment:
A side note: I did revisit Amberley in 2015, but I took the path up from Arundel instead of going around the northern path back into Amberley as in 2009, so I didn't re-shoot the bridge. Next time.
This past weekend's performances went better than I expected, even with last night's temperature hovering around 32°C on the Pritzker stage.
Our entire Memorial Day weekend has been hot. Yesterday's official temperature at O'Hare (36°C) hit an all-time record for May 27th and was the warmest day in Chicago since 23 July 2012, almost 6 years ago.
So let me tell you how great it felt to be outside, wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans, singing, for an hour.
The forecast calls for record heat today (35°C) and then some modest cooling by Wednesday.
For the record, that means spring lasted about 24 hours last week.
The Apollo Chorus is joining Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music this weekend in two performances of Rachmaninov's The Bells. Thus, no real blog post today.
But if you're in Chicago, swing by the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park at 6:30pm for our free concert.
Via Bruce Schneier, interesting research into how to use mouse movements to detect lying:
Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have long noted a big "tell" in human behavior: Crafting a lie takes more mental work than telling the truth. So one way to spot lies is to check someone's reaction time.
If they're telling a lie, they'll respond fractionally more slowly than if they're telling the truth. Similarly, if you're asked to elaborate on your lie, you have to think for a second to generate new, additional lies. "You're from Texas, eh? What city? What neighborhood in that city?" You can craft those lies on the fly, but it takes a bit more mental effort, resulting in micro hesitations.
In essence, the scientists wanted to see whether they could detect -- in the mouse movements -- the hesitation of someone concocting a lie.
Turns out ... they could. The truth-tellers moved the mouse quickly and precisely to the true answer. The folks who were lying jiggered around the screen for a bit, in a sort of hemming-and-hawing adaptation of Fitts' Law.
That's kind of cool. And kind of scary.