Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Age-old questions, answered at last

Q:  Is it the heat?
A:  No!  It’s the humidity !!

Q: When is a door … not … a door ???
A: When it’s a-roving / (athwart) (agley) …

Q: Où sont les neiges  d’antan ??
A:  Dans les égouts  d’aujourd’hui.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

“Arrival and Departure” monostich

The cicadas in the garden  kept on rasping  their thin, silvery
praise of the heat

[-- Arthur Koestler, 1943]

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Prolegomenon to any adequate pataphysics

Satirists have joined the breadlines, ever since actual reality became too wacky to satirize.

Unemployed satirists.
Send in your aluminum pull-tabs to help!

Surfing the Net, you can always find some silliness somewhere -- to notice it, would be shooting fish in a barrel.   But the editorial board of the NYTimes  is not quite a straw-man (though perhaps it should).   So here goes.

This morning they served up an editorial entitled, stirringly, “French Women Fight Back”.   For anyone familiar with the social relations in current-day, multi-culti Western Europe, or with the already misandric slant of legislation in those countries (see Looking at Someone Up and Down), will smile at this, or sigh.   To polemicize would be pointless.  But as part of our series on European political gestural semiotics,  we reproduce the photograph -- the only one illustrating the editorial -- which the editors saw fit to stand for this righteous uprising:

Or maybe they're doing "I'm a Little Teapot"

To all appearances, they are flashing a yoni-symbol!
(Can you imagine if a group of men had thus, publically and polemically, reduced women to their anatomy like that?)

American readers might here deny the senses of their eyes, or try to explain it away.  But actually, in France, the way feminists protest being noticed for their physiques, is to march naked in public:

What are *you* looking at, you dirty old man!

(They have done far more egregious things in public, than that;  which we decline to link to.  This is, after all, a family magazine.)

AirBNB has come out with its own corporate version of the yoni-symbol, cleverly tweaked so as to accommodate Rorschach projections of lingam, mamillae, or podex as well:


There is a “Société du spectacle” aspect to the androphobic fanfare in Germany and France.   Cf. this extended essay, from yesterday:

   Vergewaltigung: Spiel mit den Zahlen


Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Echo Chamber

It has been well remarked, that in pre-packaging the selection of articles they show you, based on your personal browsing history and what their metrics predict you’ll want to see, news outlets and news aggregators are swaddling their readers in solipsism, so that what you ever get to see is a foregone conclusion.  That, superadded to the bias problems of outlets with an agenda to push.

I try to fight this, in part by sampling a wide variety of outlets in various languages and countries (the taboos in America differ from those in Europe, for example, so that a story suppressed in one venue  might be reported in another).   But access to these (apart from those I regularly check into as a matter of course, like and and and, usw.) is generally, again, via aggregators --*….  Naturally, the Google staff may have their own slant, but hopefully that differs from country to country.

Recently, however, something quite disturbing happened, on the British version [not a typo:  .co, not .com]:  They suddenly started adding entire sections grouped by special-interest material. (This happened only on this Mac, not on our tablet running Android.)
The only previous one, “Suggested for You”, is unobjectionable, being clearly so labeled, and moreover they offer a “Still interested? Yes/No” opt-out option.  For example, they flag articles about the TV show Blindspot, a holdover from when I nursed hopes (since dashed) that it might proved any good.
But now additionally, all of a sudden, from nowhere, there are sections, titled with the same font as the standard ones that everybody sees (unless you specifically opt out), like “World” or “Business”, clearly culled (though very spottily) from my search history:

“Physics” [this, in addition to the “Sci/Tech” section that is standard]
“Computer Security”  [ditto]
“topological” [sic, this one lower-case; the relic of once search on the math topic; but results are flooded with engineering senses like “topological insulators”]
“yemen” [again lower-case -- bizarre]

That is marginally more concerning, since I didn’t ask for it, and since the selection is odd (I haven't searched on "topological" for well over a year).  But what is really hair-raising is that, here on, the section that I mostly log in for, namely “U.K.”,  has been entirely suppressed, and replaced by the same “U.S.” section (today’s top story on this supposedly U.K.-focussed site: “Headless body found in Texas Pick-up”).
Why they did that is baffling.  Certainly it bears no relation to my own clicking history (since that is the one and only section I ever click on at that site), let alone to common sense (suppress the U.K. section for someone specifically asking for
So now there are two counties whose press I cannot access via -- the other being Spain, which Google stopped indexing a while back, in (justified, IMO) protest against an overreaching law passed by the Spanish parliament.

[The Label for this piece La société du spectacle, a notion popularized by the situationistes half a century ago, and in the U.S. by Boorstin’s The Image and subsequent works..  All that has changed since then is that, increasingly, the spectacle we watched is an individualized peep-show booth.]


The decline in quality -- in sheer competence -- at the news outlets (television especially, but newspapers as well) over the past couple of decades, is noticeable.
An interesting perspective from the White House messaging guy:

“40 percent of newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs over the past decade … The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”


Facebook (which I never go near -- or anyhow, not knowingly) likewise pushes certain news stories over others, and has lately been embroiled in controversy over their slant.  To be fair, though, the company has been under intense pressure from the Rot-Grün-Merkel faction  to censor  not only news recommendations, but individual Facebook pages, cleansing them of opinions that dissent from Willkommenseuphorie route to the destruction of Germany.  (We here at WDJ suffer, as you see, from no such bias.)

At another level -- more fundamental -- than that of issue-specific bias, is the general self-generated self-reflecting echo-of(echo-of(echo-of…)) incestuous nature of “trending” stories -- trending because they’re trending, like celebrities  famous for being famous.

-- Well, so long as we’re beating up on Facebook, we hereby huffily object to their far-from-adequate plugging of this blogspot, the “World of Dr Justice”, pourtant the most respected source of worldly and otherworldly insight apart from The Onion  (en revanche, we’re much funnier than they are).


In an interview the other day, an economist called the market position of entities like Amazon and Google, monopolies on a scale not seen since the days of the robber barons -- of Standard Oil and the railroads.   But while those behemoths primarily impacted our pocketbooks, the current cyber-masters are in a position to mess with our minds.
The comparison is obvious enough, once made;  but it is hard to wrap your heads around it, since monopolists (we are brought up knowing) are men in suits, with smokestack hats and villain whiskers -- not cheeky dudes in chinos.
All the economist could come up with, by way of remedy, was to somehow nationalize all that stuff, “Like the Post Office” -- a comparison less than reassuring.

The segment struck me, since just the day before, none other than Donald Trump had brought up much the same point, in the process  pointing out that the agenda-drenched billionaire Bezos, the king of the Amazon, bought up (the bedraggled remains of) the Washington Post -- his new toy.  
For this Trump was sniffily dismissed by the knowing, as naïve and ill-informed.  (Much as Hillary and her minions dismissed candidate Obama as “naïve”.)

(Hey, just sayin';  credit where credit is due.)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Math Madness in the Skies

Much of the world is sadly shaking their heads over the incident in which a economics professor, spotting doing equations by a “blonde woman in flip-flops” and deemed a terrorist on that account, was forcibly removed from the plane and sent to Security.

What no one has bothered to reveal, in all this brouhaha, is the statement by the woman herself.   Contacted by the crack WDJ news team, the woman (a physics professor at a named U.S. university) commented:

“Look, the guy was setting the integral of the limit as equal to the limit of the integrals -- without insuring uniform convergence!  And the domain of functional definition wasn’t even compact, for Pete’s sake !!  That’s plain loony!  I didn’t say he was a terrorist, I said he was an errorist.”

We see.  But did that pose a danger to the plane?

“Definitely!  The integral threatened to -- as the saying goes -- ‘blow up’.”

A reader commenting in the German newspaper Die Welt  concurs:

Wenn es sich um nichtlineare Gl gehandelt hat, könnte die Frau Recht gehabt haben!

Diverging to infinity,   at 33,000 feet

Happy Mother’s Day.

[Update]  The American Mathematical Association has awarded its prestigious  Exceptional Civilian Service medal to “the Blonde Bimbo in Flip-flops” (as she prefers to be known; like Andrew Wiles and Grigori Perelman, she shuns the limelight),  for forestalling a potentially catastrophic non-convergent integration,  with effects on cabin pressure that can only be imagined.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Salutes and Semiotics

We earlier offered semiotic analyses of politically-tinged postures and gestures, in Europe

     La quenelle

and in the Middle East

     The Rabi`ah

And now such a controversy has flared up in the United States, specifically at West Point.   In a highly interesting and well-illustrated article in this morning’s New York Times,

we are invited to consider this graduation photo:

Now, as a non-veteran civilian, I shall have nothing at all to say about this Army-internal controversy, leaving that to the warfighters themselves.   But a word about the ambiguities of the symbolism.

The raised-fist gesture has been around a long time, appearing in a wide variety of contexts, though  in general  with a common theme of militancy.   I first encountered it personally in the late 1960’s, as part of the movement against the Vietnam War.  At the time, there were actually two raised-hand antiwar gestures.  The one more familiar to outsiders was that of a raised hand with two lifted fingers, the index and the medius (Pointer” and “Tall-man” as we called them in kindergarten -- O happy days!);  and that, to be sure, with the palm towards the onlooker; the same gesture with the onlooker facing the back of the hand, is not used in America, but is used in England, and means something quite different, and very very bad.  This gesture was often called the “Peace sign”;  it was the badge of the peacenik.  Although most of us who flashed the thing didn’t know it at the time, it was an odd choice for an antiwar symbol, since the same sign during the second World War was the “V for Victory” sign, universally known.   Well, autre temps, autre sémiotique.
The raised fist, in its beginnings, was subtley different:  it was the signature gesture, not of peaceniks, but of activists, militants, and had roots in the Communist movement (a fact probably unknown to most who came to use the gesture, simply for its jaunty sexiness).  In their purist form, the gestures meant respectively  “Bring the Boys Home” (a moderate slogan, suitable for patriots) and “Bring the War Home” (in the startling formulation of the Weathermen).

Back to the posed photograph.   Its evaluation, and the actions to be taken as a consequence, hinge crucially on the fact that these soldiers are in uniform;  that is the essential context, sine qua non. I know of people who have been stripped of their security clearances and even drummed out of the service, for having done something publically in uniform  which they would be perfectly at liberty to do in civvies. As such, it is a matter for the Army in general and West Point in particular;  for the rest of us, it is none of our affair.
But as semioticians, we may consider a bit.

The pose itself is striking -- and, to this observer, strikingly handsome, considered only as a tableau.   It calls to mind  such sculptural compositions as  this (from the Arc de Triomphe):

But more pertinently, we are dealing here, not with such stray, subjective associations, but with a context within a context, the larger context (as the article illustrates) being specifically a long-standing West Point tradition, exemplified by this, from 1884:

Thus, while the raised-fist motif (of ambiguous interpretation, now that the gesture has been so watered-down as to be exploited by pop stars) might or might not seem defiant or truculent (eye of the beholder),  it occurs in a framing that is in fact ultra-Army and ultra-traditionalist.  And quite possibly,  what was in the minds of these young women at the time  was not really that of insurrection (let alone Communist), but more along the lines of another Army tradition:  esprit de corps.

[Footnote]  As a complete outsider to all this, what first struck me (and somewhat shocked me) about the picture, was not the fists, any minatory interpretation of which was at least partly neutralized by the merry grin on the woman stage-left, and the cocked-head dreamy half-smile of the woman at the opposite bannister (who resembles a -- white -- woman I work with).  Rather, it was the grey old-fashioned uniforms.  Had they dressed up as Confederates?  Surely not;  the article identifies the kit as “traditional gray dress uniforms”.   To contextualize adequately would require expert testimony;  you can’t just go by the sight of your eyes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The “National Enquirer”, Space Aliens, and the JFK Assassination

I once wrote occasional items for the National Enquirer.  Whether there was a by-line, I don’t recall;  they would ask me occasionally for an assessment of matters related to language.   I had never read that periodical, but knew its reputation among the aesthetically-correct elite, and was bemused that this much-maligned tabloid would go to the trouble of getting input from an actual expert in a certain field, completely unknown outside of that field and thus with no commercial pizzazz.  That simply didn’t gibe with The Narrative that was assumed by right-thinking illuminati.  So I looked at a few issues, and found it as alien to my tastes as can well be imagined: a relentless focus on celebrities, including such truly eyelid-deadening matters as celebrity diets.   Still, you can’t really fault them for that -- de gustibus;  the American Mathematical Monthly is rather obsessively focused on math.

At one point -- since I had a family to support and was being paid a pittance at my day-job, despite its being a Ph.D. position (or rather two positions, each requiring a Ph.D.) -- I actually considered becoming more involved with them, and sent away for their application materials.  It was a daunting packet:  a relentless emphasis  upon the absolute need for research, accuracy, documentation … tape-record everything, assume you’ll have to stand up to legal challenge from public figures with a fan-base and high-powered lawyers,  leave nothing to chance … they really didn’t make it seem like a free ride at all.  True, methodological exactitude in the service of often trivial stories (Which Hollywood Starlet Has Been Secretly Cheating on her ... Diet?);  but within their sphere of activity, their striving for journalistic integrity was impressive.

Now, I haven’t glanced at the Enquirer for roughly thirty years, and maybe it has changed;  but apparently not:  the even-handed summary in Wikipedia supports this:
In fact, the Enquirer appears to have an impressive record of journalistic scoops -- many of them initially denied or decried by the rest of the world.

So!  While we are on the subject of journalistic integrity, consider this, from the Washington Post, a prominent daily newspaper with a mostly undeserved reputation for excellence:

Trump was widely criticized Tuesday for claiming that Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, was spotted with Lee Harvey Oswald around the time of Kennedy's assassination. The business mogul seems to have been referring to a National Enquirer story from last month alleging that the elder Cruz appeared in a 1963 photo with Oswald, a claim the now-defunct Cruz campaign has called "garbage."
After ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos questioned the tabloid's credibility -- it is perhaps best known for its alien sightings -- Trump defended the Enquirer's coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and John Edwards's sex scandal in 2008.

There are formulations one could criticize:  Trump didn’t just come out and “claim” that Rafael Cruz was “spotted” with Lee Harvey Oswald;  rather, the Enquirer published a quite explicit photograph, showing Oswald a few feet away from a gentleman whom the Enquirer identified as Cruz Sr.; Trump merely alluded to this, as might anyone.   But what really grabbed my eye was that phrase “best known for its alien sightings”.   If it is best known for that, rather than for (in the words of the Enquirer’s own site) “the most up-to-the-second celebrity gossip, news and Hollywood happenings”, it is because of misleading -- you might say, lying -- characterizations such as the one above in the Washington Post.   There are indeed tabloids that deal in that;  at the time I wrote for the Enquirer, there was the Weekly World News (I think it was called), which had a great deal of purely imaginary Elvis sightings and anal probes.   The Enquirer was not like that at all.  (Again, don’t take my word for it, check out their site;  and see whom you believe, the Enquirer or WaPo.)

So the legitimate questions -- which neither the Post article nor those in the rest of the  media of decorum address -- are:

(1)  Is the photograph genuine, or a hoax?  In the latter case, the Enquirer is either
   (a) civilly and perhaps criminally liable for a grave misdeed, or
   (b) the victim of hoaxsters (as it was in the case when the paper was hoodwinked by some reporters from the Salt LakeTribune), and thus arguably negligent.

And if the photograph is genuine, then the question is:

(2)  Is the figure circled by the Enquirer  in fact Rafael Cruz?

(On all those questions, I am myself completely agnostic;  simply making a logical point.)
The disinclination of the MSM, or the Cruz campaign, to address this obvious and simple fact, is noteworthy.  In particular, calling the Enquirer account “garbage” is a mere evasion:  what about (1), and (2)?  If the Enquirer has (excuse the verb) simply trumped up a slander, or lazily propagated the fabrication of others without due diligence, or otherwise been journalistically remiss, then it deserves anything from legal sanctions to a very public shaming, as happened to Rolling Stone in the mendacious campus-rape affair (although the goodthink media that gleefully ran with the story until it exploded, once again got a pass).  But merely rattling the Park Avenue tea-cups at it, and spreading innuendo and even falsehoods in the process, as the Washington Post appears to have done, is not a valid argument.


For another case of a story that, if true (and we ourselves hold no brief  one way or the other), was well worth investigating, but which died, as the publication that first uncovered it is sniffed-at by its betters: