Wednesday, May 27, 2015

You've got to ask yourself one question

Two questions, actually. The first is "compared to what?" Am I 45% more likely to be murdered in de Blasio's Manhattan than in de Blasio's Brooklyn, or than in Bloomberg's Manhattan, or Duggan's Detroit, or La Guardia's Manhattan, or in the casbah by Colonel al-Mustard with a candlestick?

Murders are way up so far this year in Manhattan, The Post has learned.

Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11. That’s an increase of about 45 percent.

So given that we're comparing de Blasio's second year with his first, you're more likely to be murdered in de Blasio's Manhattan than in ... de Blasio's Manhattan. Your next question should be something like"No, not 'which borough.' Compared to what risk?" That takes a little more work.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Calm down, everybody

Would someone mind injecting a few drops of sweet reason into the water coolers downtown?

Short version: Technically, no. Memorial Day is not the "battle for the playoffs." It's barely even the battle for spring. The season is less than 30% complete. Back in the days before the World Series overlapped with the War on Christmas, it was known as the Fall Classic. (And you guys should remember that; the Tigers represented the AL in the last Series before the curse of the playoffs began.)

You don't have to get off the lawn, and you can wear your baseball cap backward* if you want to. This isn't really a securitization rant, but it does raise some parallel questions. If you're at panic stations for the postseason already, how are we going to know when to start taking you seriously?

* Baseball caps are sort of like the Arabic alphabet; they're only "backward" if there's a fixed value of "frontward." Your music, on the other hand, is STILL JUST NOISE.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Four legs good, two legs better

Hey, kids! See if you can spot the subtle differences in the Fair 'n' Balanced treatment of these two stories of race, new media and the academy!

The tale above reached the No. 4 spot on the homepage today, though it broke out over the weekend in the local press. In a fit of pique somewhere on the continuum between GET OFF MY LAWN!!! and actually cutting eyeholes in the old pillowcases, a very senior political science professor left a comment on a New York Times editorial, complaining (among other things) that:

Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration.

If that seems like the sort of attitude that makes white men seem like a "problem population" for universities, meet our next case, which accounted for four frontpage stories at Fox over 10 days, starting thus:

Critics say a newly-hired Boston University professor has crossed the line with recent tweets bashing whites, but the school says it’s simply free speech.

You make the call: "White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.”

Starting to form a picture of the differences here? She's junior (PhD 2014, about to take up her appointment at BU), and she's attacking the most persecuted minority in America, and ... OK, the rest is going to be on the final. (Hint: Why are his comments "racial" while hers are "racist"?) By comparison, here's Fox's lede on the Duke story:

A Duke University professor was defiant after the school last week condemned his "noxious" and "offensive" words in a letter published in The New York Times in which he compared African-Americans unfavorably to Asian-Americans.

Notice something else? Here's a clue from the N&O story:
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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Volcano gods angry!

My favorite potential band name from the recent ACES conference came when one of the dictionary editors was defending the standards of the trade: "We're not free-love descriptivists." Few word people are. Some innovations work, and some don't, and it's probably a good idea to hold off on the champagne until you have an idea of where stuff is going and how likely it is to get there. Apparently, that isn't happening downtown (online hed shown above, bullet item from the print edition at right).

Sorry. "Offer" doesn't do that -- or, worse, that's exactly what "offer" does in the OED's first definition:

To present (something) to God, a god, a saint, etc., as an act of devotion; to sacrifice; to give in worship

Yes, there follows a definition ("now chiefly archaic or regional") meaning "to make an offer," mostly of marriage, but it takes the preposition, as in "Lord Lansdowne offered to Miss Molesworth." A similar one, to offer on a house, crops in British, Canadian and US usage. But "offer" meaning "to make an offer to" is a new one on me. Still,  rimrats as well as writers seem to recognize it, it gets passive the way verbs do, and story subjects themselves use it elsewhere in the Saturday paper. It's clearly a verb for some people who write about college football recruiting.

I'd be less annoyed -- well, not much less annoyed -- if I hadn't seen this at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network around the same time:
Sure, you can upgrade to first class, but tropical cyclones don't invent weather scales and probably don't even use them. Somebody has to upgrade the poor things; they can't upgrade themselves. You can't make "Ana upgraded" better by making it active; you only make it sillier.

Descriptivism is sort of the grammar equivalent of realism. You don't have to like a regime or what it does or the people who run it, but if it's been in power for six decades, you should probably go ahead and treat it like it's in power. As a corollary: If you don't like seeing jargon slip into news coverage, the time to stop it is now. Tell people to write for their audience, not for their sources. Tell cops writers to stop sounding like cop reports; tell sports writers to stop sounding like the sort of dirtbags who recruit junior-high kids to play Division I revenue sports. Don't be a Free Love Descriptivist -- though if you do, rehearsals are in my basement.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

You're just toying with us now

Were we trying to use up all our Great Cliches before the fiscal year ends, or what?

Bed bugs and lady bugs and lice, oh my!

All three insects are included in new bills introduced in the state Legislature last week.

Apparently someone missed the front page last Sunday, or the lede by the same writer two days before that. Or else we're getting in shape for that balloon race in which the top prize is a painting by a mustachioed surrealist/

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Theoretical Thursdays: Symbolic convergence

So, how many times do you figure the dusky harridan is mentioned in the 513-word EAGnews epic that Drudge links to here? If your first guess was "none," take the rest of the day off!

The usurper himself, of course, appears in the lede:

Meat dating to the year of President Obama’s first inauguration was served to students in some Hawkins County, Tennessee schools last week.

... but nowhere else in the text -- not that a few minor evidentiary details ought to get in the way. How do EAGnews readers talk about this story?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coincidence, or what?

Now that it's too late to go back and change your answers on the content analysis exam, here's a way of getting at that question about whether and when you should recommend some slightly more outre flavor -- like discourse analysis -- over old-fashioned quantitative bean-counting: How interested are you in rare cases?

Quantitative analysis isn't always hospitable to outliers; indeed, because outliers can do the same thing to your data set that Bill Gates can do to a salary distribution, we have ways of hunting them down and dispatching them. That makes for smoother, and  more reliable, patterns of aggregate data. If you want to catch year-on-year changes in how the War On Terror® looks to most people, you can't put too much weight on something that shows up every few months. The point of content analysis is to catch it when it moves from every few months to, oh, once a month or so.

If you're watching Jon Stewart interview Judith Miller even as we speak, you probably agree that that's a good and valuable trend to monitor. But smoothing out the occasional glitch in the Times, or ignoring the odd foil-helmeted rant, also means overlooking rare cases that do mean something. Hence, when Drudge reported Wednesday that the "Clinton Cash" author had brought some fresh security on board, it's nice to have just moved a pile of stuff into the "random paranoia" folder -- including the February suggestion that CEOs were likely to start disappearing if they crossed the wrong Kenyan. 

You have to admit it's hard to set up a quantitative sampling frame to capture media discourse about state dinners. But -- spelling aside -- you also have to admit it's good to have a way to account for the every-now-and-then "Obamas feast" story.


To ... get to the other side?

After a question lede like this:
Why did the victim of a burglary grab the crook a can of Coke?

... you'd like to think there's no place to go but up. Instead:

A suspect on the loose had burst through the home of Your Name Here, 70, around 2 a.m., demanding a phone call, a can of Coke and a cigar.

All at once?

Anyway, as our Iowa correspondent points out, once you get started on all the writering, it's hard to stop. I'm especially fond of this one:

... Here grabbed an eight-inch letter opener to defend himself. But the suspect, likely in his 30s, twisted the older man's fingers and pushed him into Here's new lamp, breaking it. As Here retold the story from his living room chair, he pointed out two forefingers that were taped together and still hurt from the incident.

What's he pointing at his forefingers with if they're already taped together?

And there's another lovely case of "another woman":

... According to another police report, minutes before the suspect arrived at Here's door, he and another woman were stopped in the 3500 block of South Union Street. The two were "very nervous," the report states.

You'll want to enjoy the whole thing yourself. But you might wonder, along with the Iowa bureau: Did a "content coach" sign off on this one?