Battlepanda: March 2008


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, March 14, 2008

NPR puckers up for John McCain

I don't usually get angry while listening to NPR, unless it's Monday morning and they have the vapid Cokie Roberts giving her "analysis" of the campaigns.

But today's story on John McCain by Scott Horsely was as sycophantic as anything I've seen on Fox. It even featured the mother of a dead soldier, who gave McCain a bracelet to wear in her son's honor.

Expect to see more of this from the media in the coming months, as they try to put their favorite warmonger in the White House.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

TMI at the intersection

I find this oddly fascinating. This is an article in from a daily newspaper here in Taiwan. I have translated it (loosely). Link here, if you read Chinese.
It is increasingly common to find countdown displays attached to traffic lights to show motorists how much time they have left before the light changes. However, research by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) show that when countdown displays are attached to a green light, the rate of accidents at that intersection doubles. When countdown displays are attached to the red light, however, the accident rate halves. In the light of this research, the MOTC have come up with new regulations allowing only countdown displays to be attached to red lights. The new rules would go into effect as early as June.

As more cities and municipalities started mounting countdown displays, some have chosen to use only mount displays to the green lights, others only to red lights while still others attached the displays to both. The size and shapes of the displays are also lacking in uniformity across regions.

MOTC bureaucrat Chang Shun-ching said that current statutes governing traffic signals do not mention countdown displays and there are no national standards for such devices. The Transportation research institute at the MOTC completed the report days ago and concluded that the law needs to be amended.

The research utilized data from the National Police Agency. The researchers compared accident rates from the year before and the year after the 187 intersections all over the country adapted countdown displays of various types. They found that the intersections where only the green light was accompanied by a countdown display, the number of accidents doubled and the number of those wounded or killed in the accidents increased by one third. Where the intersection had a countdown display only for red lights, both the incidents of accidents and injuries were halved. Where the displays were attached to both red and green lights, the number of accidents increased by 19 percent while the numbers injured increased by 23 percent.

Seven Deadly Sins 2.0

Catholic church gets silly:
People who don't pick up their dogs' addition to the environment in the park may be risking more than a fine - they may be putting their souls at risk of damnation, according to a new Vatican list of seven deadly sins for the 21st century.

As the seven ancient wonders of the world were matched by seven modern wonders, the seven deadly sins have been given a modern version for a globalised world, announced by a Vatican official yesterday.

Polluting, genetic engineering, obscene riches, taking drugs, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice join the original seven deadly sins defined by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century: pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath and sloth.

I've always wondered about the original seven deadly sins. Gluttony? Sloth? Seems like pretty thin stuff to be putting a soul in hell for eternity over. Now I guess add 'not recycling' to the list.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thank you David Gelernter and Charlotte Allen

If it were not for David Gelernter's rabidly-argued screed against what he calls "feminist English," I would not have gotten to read these two excellent and entertaining rebuttals. One from Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log, which is a pretty comprehensive takedown of Gelernter's hilarious factual boo-boos. Having praised Jane Austen and Shakespeare to the heavens for the "purity" of their English, Gelernter decries the feminist barbarians who have imposed the singular they upon us for the sake of gender neutrality...
But his ignorance of the history of English literature on this point is breathtaking. It is quite clear that he has no idea Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents (I discussed a couple of examples here).

Gelernter also specifically singles out Austen for praise: "The young Jane Austen is praised by her descendants for having written "pure simple English." He obviously is not aware that Jane Austen is famous for her high frequency of use of of singular-anteceded they (Henry Churchyard has a list of examples here).

Gelernter thinks singular they was invented by post-1970 feminist "ideologues", rather than a use of pronouns having a continuous history going back as far as a thousand years. One might think it remarkable that someone this ignorant of the history and structure of English would nonetheless presume to pontificate, without having checked anything. But not if you read Language Log. We have noted many times the tendency to move straight to high dudgeon, skipping right over the stage where you check the reference books to make sure you have something to be in high dudgeon about.
This is most interesting to me because, as much as I detest the reactionary tone of Gelernter's piece and disagree with his assertion that "he" is simply read as neutral, I do agree that he or she is totally clunky. In the past I've mostly gone with "he" in my writing when in need of a singular pronoun, throwing a "she" in there once in a while when it's least expected to mix things up a little and keep people on their toes. However, I've not given the singular 'they' adequate consideration. Mostly because, even though I use it in conversation all the time, it's bad English, right? Enter second excellent and entertaining rebuttal of Gelernter, this time by Peter Seibel:
The last time the Academic-Industrial Complex unilaterally changed the rules of grammar was in the 18th century, when grammarians, taking a bit too much of a cue from Latin, made up a rule that pronouns had to agree in number with their antecedents, a “rule” which, in fact, had been regularly violated by such writers as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen to say nothing of thousands of less notable authors and, no doubt, hundreds of thousands of plain old native English speakers.
Nice. This means the natural-sounding singular they is kosher. And when you use it, you're not just writing in a smooth and non-sexist manner, you are also totally disrespecting stuffy 18th-century grammarians, which is always good times. I always find the time to boldly split an infinitive whenever I can just on principle, now that I know it's OK.

And thank you Charlotte Allen, for your brainless hit-piece on Womenkind. Without it, I would not have gotten to read Katha Pollitt's hilarious response.

For Allen, it's definitely the woman: her brain is just too puny. She cannot mentally rotate three-dimensional objects in space -- and that, as we all know, is the very definition of smarts. Funny how that definition keeps changing, as women conquer field after field that was supposed to be beyond them. In the 19th century, physicians insisted women couldn't cope with college: studying would send rushing to their brains the blood that was needed for the womb. Back then, nobody credited women with the superior verbal abilities and memories Allen says scientists now find women to possess.

True to form, she dismisses these as minor talents that only helped her "coast" through school and life. But back when the experts were explaining why women couldn't be lawyers or professors or poets (at least not very good poets), nobody said verbal skills and memory were trivial; they only became trivial when women were found to excel at them. Now the sexists diss women as inferior mental-object-rotators. I have no idea whether this is true, and whether if so it's unchangeable, but you have to admit this is a very narrow scrap of turf on which to plant the flag of manly superiority.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

blog/bartending synergy

I don't think that I had the occasion to mention before that in addition to my dayjob at the Taipei Times, I moonlight a couple of nights a week at a local Spanish restaurant as a bartender. I've never had cause to mention this because in general my bartending and my blogging worlds are very separate. However, they do come together in my most recent post at the Art of the Possible:

The Rats of El Toro

Admit it, you're curious.

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