Archive for March, 2009

Sybil’s Word of the Day

31 March 2009


See Calculated Risk.


Slip Sliding Away

28 March 2009

Here’s a little something for anyone who thinks the current stock market uptrend means we are coming out of the woods.

This chart is from Calculated Risk, the financial blog the New York Times named the best on the web:

Mega-Bear Quartet -- updated to March 21, 2009

Using blue to track our current situation was probably a conscious choice, don’t cha think?


“The Big Takeover”

23 March 2009

For quite a while now, I’ve been avoiding commenting on the economy–world, country, family.

From my lack of email, I’m guessing I’m not alone in my quiet turmoil. When I do hear from someone, it’s usually bad news. For example, another friend lost her job today. Other suddenly silent friends are in various stages of despair, frantic life reorganization, or outright financial disaster.

So far, I’m just planning a larger garden and wondering if I’ll have a job next year.

So I’m still not up to saying much about what’s going on, except perhaps to note that today’s huge stock market up has been predicted in the financial blogs for many months. The usual term to describe this event: the March sucker rally.

“The Big Takeover,” a Rolling Stone article. pretty much captures what’s been happening.

This mess has been coming for a long time. In his 2006 book American Theocracy Kevin Phillips pretty much explained what was going to happen. I had just hoped the fan would remain unhit for a few more years.

Oh well.


Live for Today? No, Live for This Minute!

19 March 2009

At least a couple of polls have come out in the last few days that indicate the American public is not fretting about the climate. Here are some snippets from a Business Insider article titled “Americans Couldn’t Care Less About Global Warming.”

* 75% supported the expansion of off shore drilling for oil and natural gas off the U.S. coast.

Is this because most Americans still think of oil and gas “production” instead of “extraction”?

* 61% supported the building of more nuclear power plants.

How many of us know how long–minimum–it’d take to bring online new nuclear plants?

* 57% supported drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

How many of us know of the 1940s study that indicated that 60% of the American public is “ineducable”?

* Only 33%, however, supported increasing taxes on gasoline by 25 cents per gallon and returning the revenues to taxpayers by reducing the federal income tax.

See question above.

On the other hand, there was this:

80% said the government should regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant

That’s something, I suppose. Of course, how many of us know the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide?


Wait ‘Till the Sun Shines, Nellie

15 March 2009

The powers that be have decided to give a partial scholarship to the Sybling.

We are pleased. We are even more pleased that other scholarships may be waiting in the wings.

Even so, the C students running the world aren’t off the hook. Later this week I’ll give you a visual tour of a day in the life of a scholar and one of an athlete.


“Suburbia R.I.P.”

13 March 2009

That suburbia is dying probably isn’t news either. Anyone following the real estate collapse knows that the suburbs are suffering.

Here’s a paragraph from “Suburbia R.I.P.”:

The suburb has been a costly experiment. Thirty-five percent of the nation’s wealth has been invested in building a drivable suburban landscape, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere, has been saying for years that we can no longer afford suburbs. “If Americans think they’ve been grifted by Goldman Sachs and Bernie Madoff, wait until they find out what a swindle the so-called ‘American Dream’ of suburban life turns out to be,” he wrote on his blog this week.

Kunstler expected energy prices to play a bigger factor in the shift back to cities, but I’m sure the financial crises and the still looming energy problems will merge soon enough.

Just more good news as usual.


Old News–The Acid Bath

11 March 2009

To anyone who’s read Peter Ward’s Under a Green Sky this is not news:

“Carbon Emissions Creating Acidic Oceans Not Seen Since Dinosaurs: Chemical Change Placing ‘Unprecedented’ Pressure on Marine Life and Could Cause Widespread Extinctions, Warn Scientists”

Oh, I’m so glad the earth is actually cooling [citation missing] and the little climate change there is comes from sun spots [citation missing].

Hey, those of you out there, add your peerless citations. Please.

Once again, I’m going to go cheer myself up by reading financial news.


Handbasket Report–Notes from the Field

10 March 2009

I was going to post a series of recent news stories, but then I ran into an op-ed piece. It’s by Chris Hedges. Here’s his online bio:

Chris Hedges, the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, spent two decades as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.

He worked most of that time for the New York Times, where he was one of a team of reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for their coverage of global terrorism.

He received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lannan Literary Fellow.

And he obviously had enough time to do a lot of reading on other subjects.

Click the link for his 10 March 2009 Atlantic Free Press article “We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction.”

Hedges mentions some older work by Lovelock, who just came out with some new pronouncements. Do I even need to post Lovelock’s latest? Oh, but why not? “‘Gaia’ Scientist Says Life Doomed by Climate Woes.

Hedges isn’t an environmental scientist, and Lovelock’s Gaia theory gained him crackpot status when he introduced it. That this theory is now widely accepted doesn’t mean he’s not still a crackpot. By all means fact-check both Hedges and Lovelock.

I, meanwhile, am going to go read financial news to cheer myself up. Today, we saw a bit of a sucker’s rally. S & P up 6.37 %. Yippee.

All is well. Sleep tight.


How to Argue — Tone

7 March 2009

Given the supposed anonymity on the Internet, TONE, the attitude the writer shows towards both subject matter and readers, becomes a significant factor. As I’m sure everyone knows, insulting yelling matches, Flame Wars, are everywhere. They are also antithetical to solid argument–and possibly even dangerous since many techies can track down even “anonymous” posters quite easily.

Passion in argument, on the other hand, is good as long as it’s backed up with logic and fact, but unrestrained anger–INVECTIVE–often diminishes both accuracy and word choice. I’ve seen good writers start fumbling when thoroughly infuriated. They often end up tossing out accusations and denunciations that are on a par with the ones that started their rage.

Anger happens. When thoroughly ticked off, I usually type a response, save it on my desktop and then walk away from my computer. When I come back, I find I can usually laugh and delete it. In some cases, I save it and rework it into something more productive.

I will admit though that when something gets me, I often resort to SARCASM and/or IRONY. These differ in degree. Usually sarcasm is more bitter and derisive. Irony, often an inversion of what is actually meant, as in “Nice tie!” to the person wearing some blinking purple and green monstrosity, is not usually mistaken for an actual compliment.

The tone problem that most likely provokes me to sarcasm and irony is POMPOSITY. Some are intimidated or impressed by people who continually use multi-syllabic words when other words would serve. I am neither impressed nor intimidated. I have to watch myself when I encounter inflated language and a condescending attitude. They set me off because pomposity suggests that writer floats above us monosyllabic dolts.

While tone problems stemming from anger and arrogance are most common, tone problems based in the NICE and the CUTE also arise from faulty use of emotion. The CUTE tends to arise from flippancy or a desire to attract attention. Usually the CUTE is merely boring or extraneous. Worse than the CUTE is the SENTIMENTAL. This sort of emotional appeal attempts to draw out cheap emotions. Warning signs are the use of cliches and standard scenarios. For example, consider the use of polar bears in discussions of climate change. Whether or not these bears are endangered is no longer the point. The bears have become objects of sentiment, not reason.

One of the best works on use of language is in George Orwell’s 1946 essay“Politics and the English Language.”

In it, he gives the best short set of rules I’ve found:

i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Plain, direct language makes points clearly and concisely. On the other hand, following Orwell’s sixth rule, I’m never afraid to use a little known word if it saves time and space. I assume my readers can quickly call up or any of many other sites to find meaning.

Right now I have something cooling on my desktop. When it reaches a reasonable temperature, I’ll use it to illustrate some more common problems in online argument.


How to Argue–A Few Useful Sites

5 March 2009

Lots of people like to argue. Few people argue well–as I’m finding out from venturing onto some other blog sites.

If you want to argue well, here are a few sites that will help you develop reasoned opinions and state them with credence and authority:

From Cornell University:

“Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals”

Critically Analyzing Information Sources

“Five Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages”

*Please read my remark under Comments for an important update on this info.

From elsewhere:

Propaganda Critic

Stephen’s Guide to the Logical Fallacies

Armed with some methodology, then venture onto the Web or, as one blogger recently suggested to me, “The Library.”

Since I don’t know the location of “The Library,” I suggest the largest library nearest you. Most colleges offer access to those who are not students, and many resources available there are not to be found in smaller libraries.

If you aren’t near an academic library and can’t find an article or book, then use inter-library loan at your local library. Just go to the main desk or the reference desk of your library and ask them to get you a copy of the book/periodical they don’t own. They’ll either borrow it from another library or, in the case of articles, have another library photocopy it for you. Typically, this service is inexpensive, often free.

Most colleges now subscribe to academic databases too. While these are intended for students, non-students are often allowed to use them on campus. If you are lucky enough to have one of these services available to you, jump on it.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help in using the computerized catalogs or databases. Many of these monsters frustrate the best of us. Don’t worry about seeming stupid. I always carry an ego-saving line just in case: “Well, your software isn’t ANYTHING like the software at [fill in the name of a more prestigious university].”

Warning: Knowing scholarly methods does NOT assure one of finding the truth, but it can help one avoid obvious errors.

Also, be aware that arguing well–especially on the Web–does not mean you will be successful.

Good luck!