Recessions fears 1, climate concerns 0

If you’re scoring at home, (and who’s not?) getting off the buying merry go round is proving to be incredibly difficult – even with ever-present reminders of plague, drought, and the cost of everything cross-referenced with the need to exercise and eat better, the joys of being outdoors and seeing people again. It’s all so confusing, especially when the answers are RIGHT there. You’re so close, Brigette:

As gas and food prices climb, Brigette Engler, an artist based in New York City, said she’s driving to her second home upstate less often and cutting back on eating out.

“Twenty dollars seems extravagant at this point for lunch,” she said.

And before you start, no one mentioned anything about anything being easy. But that doesn’t mean everything has to be intentionally more difficult to understand, i.e., predicated on a growing economy and not spooking ‘investor confidence.’ JFC… what does any of that even mean? Please subscribe to my newsletter, Which Word to Italicize:

How people spend their money is shifting as the economy slows and inflation pushes prices higher everywhere including gas stations, grocery stores and luxury retail shops. The housing market, for example, is already feeling the pinch. Other industries have long been considered recession proof and may even be enjoying a bump as people start going out again after hunkering down during the pandemic.

Still, shoppers everywhere are feeling pressured. In May, an inflation metric that tracks prices on a wide range of goods and services jumped 8.6% from a year ago, the biggest jump since 1981. Consumers’ optimism about their finances and the overall economy sentiment fell to 50.2% in June, its lowest recorded level, according to the University of Michigan’s monthly index.

That’s from the same article and I don’t mean to single out CNBC. Just listen Marketplace or any business/economic news and the dissonance is a cacophony (Ed. ?). Unemployment is bad, but a tight labor market rattles the Dow. Prices at the pump have drivers worried about filling up, but what’s the real price of fuel? Hint: Europeans already know. Sure there’s a macro-micro disconnect. But the larger disconnect is the one we keep shoring up: individual actions of millions, propped up and egged on by the corporate and government altars to the status quo, heating up the planet beyond what it can support.

Whether or not we need more reminders of the need to change how we live, more are on the way.

Image: Merry-Go-Round Photograph by Jurgen Lorenzen


File this under “cabbage truck,” “born” and “yesterday:”

Salish-language-signsArtificial intelligence sits at the extreme end of machine learning, which sees people create software that can learn about the world. Google has been one of the biggest corporate sponsors of AI, and has invested heavily in it for videos, speech, translation and, recently, search.

For the past few months, a “very large fraction” of the millions of queries a second that people type into the company’s search engine have been interpreted by an artificial intelligence system, nicknamed RankBrain, said Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist with the company, outlining for the first time the emerging role of AI in search.

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.

Key quotes from the Bloomberg article:

“Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing,” said Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai on the company’s earnings call last week.

Unironically, we’ll assume. And

“It’s very carefully monitored,” Corrado said, nothing that Google periodically updates the system by feeding it a load of new data to help it better reason with new concepts.

Here’s a guess: A new, highly valued skill set becomes communicating with language and word combinations that the computer cannot understand. Weird, constantly changing pigeon combinations develop that mimic and often include the use of dying and/or dead languages. But this development coincides with the mass extinction of any ability to communicate, “search,” think or anything else with any language other than what the computer can understand. The race is on to talk and write beyond the reach of the learning machines. Think of it as sort of a dystopian, 1984-esque, Escape from Jeopardy-Humanities-Terminator cauchemar (see what we did there?), that I am not going to write but on the film about which I would like to have points.

Choice of Words

We all make these choices constantly, but the terms and context of the way people describe certain things always bares some unpacking.

Example: Canada’s natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, in Washington, D.C., trying to drum up support for the Keystone XL pipeline and criticizing NASA’s James Hansen for the dramatic terms he uses to frame opposition to the project

In Oliver’s view, however, the scientist has had no business to keep speaking out as he has. “He was the one who said four years ago that if we go ahead with development of the oil sands it’s game over for the planet,” Oliver told the audience at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “Well, this is exaggerated rhetoric. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t know why he said it but he should be ashamed of having said it.”

It’s not clear why Oliver was so vehement. The minister launched his attack on Hansen just 48 hours after a report from the Environmental Protection Agency essentially reaffirmed the climate scientist’s concerns about the development of the tar sands.

Emphasis mine, and the words before the quote are the Guardian‘s, but this whole idea about whose business it is to do what is, um… interesting. People opposed to the further opening of yet another carbon spigot, one that could also accidentally poison the aquifer beneath the world’s breadbasket, have no business using vehement rhetoric to emphasize their opposition. But fossil oil interests are perfectly within their rights when they assure the public that this project will create jobs, is environmentally sound and will decrease gas prices.

All of these claims are demonstrably false. What’s really revealing and worth looking into is why the First Nations are opposed to the pipeline – after all, it would be much easier for TransCanada, and closer to China, if they just went west with tar sands crude to Vancouver.

As much as we are surrounded by euphemism and Orwellian doublespeak, people still reveal just what they mean by the words they use.

Qu’est-ce que ça veux dire, le vert?

As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the many tender mercies of walking to work everyday is that I don’t subject myself to NPR nearly as often as I once did. One of the painful reminders of this is when I take the green kids to school once in a while and find self so enthralled again, just like old crappy times.

So this morning, as it so happens and I only mention because it was such a softball non-story to get right that they whiffed on so badly that I must.

A discussion, and it’s probably online somewhere but I will not take the .000784 seconds required to find it, about new Secretary of State John Kerry and how he was forced during his presidential campaign to play down his foreign language proficiency but is now flaunting it. Fine. And they played a snip of him during a lunch in Paris saying something completely gracious to his hosts, and then another of him being so comfortable with a Turkish official that Kerry forgot to listen to the translation – insinuating that his elitist languagism was somehow at fault and it was a terrible low point. Or something.

Listen. How hard is it? How difficult is it to highlight Kerry’s ability to communicate with his DIPLOMATIC counterparts in French, Italian or German as an example of an unadulterated good? Why not point out how relieved we all might be for the moment that his international colleagues might feel the least bit respected by being addressed in their language by an American in their country? Further, maybe go on to ask other intriguing questions: What does language do? What is it for? How do you learn other languages? What possibilities for friendship, cooperation, romance or just understanding might it unlock?

Instead I explain the idiocy of man-bites-dog to green boy. I’ll stop raging on NPR when they stop reporting the news like dopes.

The Language Problem

InteRESTin’, as the boy says:

VandeHei and Allen are careful to avoid attributing any kind of ideological substance to their proposed candidates. Instead, they describe them with empty signifiers like “authentic outsider”, “a combination of money, accomplishment and celebrity”, “a strong leader [voters] can truly believe in”, and “someone who breaks free from the tired right-versus-left constraint on modern politics”. But that doesn’t mean there’s no ideological agenda here. There is, and it leaks through in their profile of erstwhile Deficit Commissioner Erskine Bowles: “The most depressing reality of modern governance is this: The current system seems incapable of dealing with our debt addiction before it becomes a crippling crisis.”

It’s hardly worth pointing out anymore that there is, in fact, no debt crisis; on the contrary, sensible observers are wondering why the government is bothering to collect revenues at all, when the cost of borrowing is hitting zero. By now, everyone who cares has realized that fear-mongering about the debt and the deficit is a trick used opportunistically by those who want to reorient government around their particular priorities. And the priorities of the deficit scolds, judging by the work of creatures like Pete Peterson, are to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state and transfer even more money to the already wealthy. Ranting about the deficit is merely a means to this end, if it facilitates goals such as the elimination of Social Security and Medicare.

Isn’t it now? Read the rest of this for a good run-down on why, and for as long as they can, OWS should hold out on saying exactly what it is they want. Hint: words fail. At least the ones we’re used to using.

(Linguistic) facts are linguistic (facts)

Sorry, it’s late for a friday, unless it isn’t.

From Chomsky’s Revolution in Lingusitics by John Searle in the NYRB, 1972.

Throughout the history of the study of man there has been a fundamental opposition between those who believe that progress is to be made by a rigorous observation of man’s actual behavior and those who believe that such observations are interesting only in so far as they reveal to us hidden and possibly fairly mysterious underlying laws that only partially and in distorted form reveal themselves to us in behavior. Freud, for example, is in the latter class, most of American social science in the former.

Noam Chomsky is unashamedly with the searchers after hidden laws. Actual speech behavior, speech performance, for him is only the top of a large iceberg of linguistic competence distorted in its shape by many factors irrelevant to linguistics. Indeed he once remarked that the very expression “behavioral sciences” suggests a fundamental confusion between evidence and subject matter. Psychology, for example, he claims is the science of mind; to call psychology a behavioral science is like calling physics a science of meter readings. One uses human behavior as evidence for the laws of the operation of the mind, but to suppose that the laws must be laws of behavior is to suppose that the evidence must be the subject matter.

In this opposition between the methodology of confining research to observable facts and that of using the observable facts as clues to hidden and underlying laws, Chomsky’s revolution is doubly interesting: first, within the field of linguistics, it has precipitated a conflict which is an example of the wider conflict; and secondly, Chomsky has used his results about language to try to develop general anti-behaviorist and anti-empiricist conclusions about the nature of the human mind that go beyond the scope of linguistics.

His revolution followed fairly closely the general pattern described in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: the accepted model or “paradigm” of linguistics was confronted, largely by Chomsky’s work, with increasing numbers of nagging counterexamples and recalcitrant data which the paradigm could not deal with. Eventually the counter-examples led Chomsky to break the old model altogether and to create a completely new one. Prior to the publication of his Syntactic Structures in 1957, many, probably most, American linguists regarded the aim of their discipline as being the classification of the elements of human languages. Linguistics was to be a sort of verbal botany. As Hockett wrote in 1942, “Linguistics is a classificatory science.”

Suppose, for example, that such a linguist is giving a description of a language, whether an exotic language like Cherokee or a familiar one like English. He proceeds by first collecting his “data,” he gathers a large number of utterances of the language, which he records on his tape recorder or in a phonetic script. This “corpus” of the language constitutes his subject matter. He then classifies the elements of the corpus at their different linguistic levels: first he classifies the smallest significant functioning units of sound, the phonemes, then at the next level the phonemes unite into the minimally significant bearers of meaning, themorphemes (in English, for example, the word “cat” is a single morpheme made up of three phonemes; the word “uninteresting” is made up of three morphemes: “un,” “interest,” and “ing”), at the next higher level the morphemes join together to form words and word classes such as noun phrases and verb phrases, and at the highest level of all come sequences of word classes, the possible sentences andsentence types.

The aim of linguistic theory was to provide the linguist with a set of rigorous methods, a set of discovery procedures which he would use to extract from the “corpus” the phonemes, the morphemes, and so on. The study of the meanings of sentences or of the uses to which speakers of the language put the sentences had little place in this enterprise. Meanings, scientifically construed, were thought to be patterns of behavior determined by stimulus and response; they were properly speaking the subject matter of psychologists. Alternatively they might be some mysterious mental entities altogether outside the scope of a sober science or, worse yet, they might involve the speaker’s whole knowledge of the world around him and thus fall beyond the scope of a study restricted only to linguistic facts.

Mysterious mental entities… For a fun game at home, pick out your own favorite, random three words.