Monday, June 25, 2012

The Joy of Priming

I’m going to reveal one of my secrets – one of the ways I irritate people. Sort of unintentional, but inarguably.

Who wants to believe that they can’t trust their own taste? Not most people, but it is to some degree true of all of us. We don’t want to believe it because we like to think that our choices, likes and dislikes, are rational. But, often, they are not rational at all, and we are influenced by our beliefs. In fact, the experimental psychological evidence for this is overwhelming.

My own biases make it easy for me to believe it about myself. Back when I only liked caffenated coffee in the 1980s I told people that if they only have decaf, lie to me, I wouldn’t know the difference. I know a lot of people who are sure they can tell, but I've always doubted it. I was also pretty sure that, especially if a soda was cold enough, I couldn’t tell the difference between various brands either. At some very early point, I realized it wasn’t just me. People often had no idea what specifically they were eating or drinking, but enjoyed it according to whether they believed it was a brand or type of food/drink they liked or not. That isn’t to say they wouldn’t know if the food was spoiled, or over/under cooked to their liking, extra salty or sweet, etc., but generally speaking, to a considerable degree, when it comes to the same general type of food/drink - we taste what we believe we are tasting. And, possibly, it doesn't even have to be the same type of food.

People don’t mind so much when I say this about myself, because they can just chalk it up to my lack of “good” taste or some personality defect (“you don’t care about taste”). But, when I suggest it applies to pretty much everyone, they really don’t like it so much, and sometimes vehemently disagree.  It really irritates people. And, if you want to learn a little about the following, you can irritate people too at your next cocktail party. I don’t recommend talking about this in a bar, but, otherwise, due to social norms of civility, you probably won’t be strangled either. But, you watch, people will not be very happy.

I know what you are thinking. Maybe most people can’t tell the difference between similar food, but not you. You always know the difference. In fact, just a few days ago I was discussing this very topic with a couple of friends and our waiter, and going through some of the research I’ll relate below (who wouldn't want to have dinner with me after that revelation?). All three of them completely disagreed that it would apply to them. But, the studies show, they are all very likely wrong.

Just as a non-scientific example, I have a friend who has a real problem with the taste of fish. I mean she really, really, really hates fish – won’t even eat at all if any fish or seafood is placed on her plate. But, one day, when I put out a cracker spread made out of fish, and forgot to mention it to her (I swear, that was an accident), she not only didn’t notice, but she liked it. She thought it was regular dip. In another unintentional and unscientific experiment, I made my daughter and her friend potatoes one night and died them blue with tasteless, harmless food coloring. They tried it and it made them sick (well, my kid says she was just showing her friend moral support, but it made her sick).

It doesn’t even really have to be food. To move to another type of taste, I did an experiment on a friend by giving him a classical cd and asking him what he thought. He listened to it and thought it was “okay.” I didn’t tell him who the composers/performers were. A few weeks later, I played the cd for him but told him it was by Yo Yo Ma and some other musicians he respected a great deal because of their reputation, but didn’t know a lot about. When he heard it after being “primed” with that knowledge, he liked it a lot more, and he had known he had already heard it. Frankly, I think I could have played a lot of things for him, and if he believed it was Yo Yo Ma, he would have liked that better too. And, not just him. Most people.

In a similar manner, I’ve done my own experiments with women who were sure they had extraordinary noses (don’t ask me why more women feel this way as opposed to men). And, I’ve found that the suggestion that a certain smell is present arouses the sense in them. I believe they really smell a bad smell, that is, their synapses are signalling ycch, just as a sight or sound from our past can bring back a taste or smell to us, even from long ago.

Those are only personal examples. There are many academic studies which show this to be the case. An experiment in 1981 (Nevid) showed that people preferred Perrier to Old Fashioned Selzer -- that is, so long as the drinks were labeled. Once the labels were off, no preference was shown at all.

An experiment in 1994 (Wardle) showed that people rated food as being tastier when they believed it was high in fat as opposed to low fat. Of course, it was the same preparation both times. When I read about this experiment, my first thought was that I knew people who I believe would find the opposite – that the supposedly healthier food tasted better, having convinced themselves that this was true. Sure enough, studies showed that different groups of people got different results exactly as expected, at least in part as a result of their demographic (like age, sex) – but, the overall effect was usually the same – their appreciation of taste was affected by what they were led to believe.

A 2008 experiment (Allen) set out to show that even when people’s personal values matched the symbolic value they put on certain food, they thought it tasted better (that sounds confusing, but trust me there was a way to find out the symbolic value of certain food). Conversely, when their personal value wasn’t compatible with the symbolic value, they didn’t like the food as much. The authors weren’t suggesting that actual taste played no role, just that it could be heavily influenced by something as abstract as values. And, they were apparently right.  

I especially find that people don’t want to know about this fact of life when they are dealing with alcohol, especially if they are proud of their supposed knowledge. But, it most definitely shows up there too. A 2009 study from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland showed that people’s appreciation of the taste of different types of wine was even strongly affected by what type of music was being played in the background while they drank it.

Two studies by a psychologist/wine grower, Frédéric Brochet, have become well known. In one, he found that 57 wine “experts” all thought that a white wine dyed red tasted different than the same white without the tasteless food coloring. In fact, some reported tasting a crushed red berry flavor in the phony red. Think about that the next time you say no thanks -- I only drink white or red (although he found the very few people who noticed the similarity were not experts).

In another study he did, he showed that so-called experts also apprised taste based upon their beliefs as to the price of the wine they were tasting (again, actually the same wine). No wonder I'm so cynical about experts.

It’s not just “experts” either. In another more informal, but heavily sampled study by Robin Goldstein, a food critic, he had both experts and ordinary wine drinkers taste 6000 glasses of wine without labels over the course of (I believe) a year. Turned out, particularly when it came to non experts, price meant nothing when it comes to a blind taste test. People liked what they liked. From the abstract from the Journal of Wine Economics, Spring, 2008: "Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. . . ." They did believe thought that there was "indications" that it might make a difference to experts, contrary to some other finding.

Just as I suggested that I believe some women I know actually smell what it suggested to them is present, there appears to be a physiological basis for people to believe that more expensive products taste better. For example, in another fascinating test conducted in 2008 (Shiv)  wine drinkers were hooked up to a fmri machine (which shows what parts of the brain are working during different experiences). Not surprisingly, not only did the subjects taste five different wines – as they were told there were - when there were really only three, but they also reported that the ones which they were told were more expensive tasted better. Not only that, but the pleasure center in the brain was shown by the fmri to be excited due to expectation of the more expensive wine, even though it wasn’t so.

The same, of course, goes for beer as wine. A 2006 study (Lee) showed that in a blind taste test, subjects preferred “MIT” beer to regular beer. What was called MIT beer was really the same beer with three drops of balsamic vinegar in it. But, also, two other variables were given to groups, where the “secret ingredient” was revealed to them either before or after the taste testing, but before they stated which they liked better. The results showed that the revelation had a substantially higher affect when it was revealed before the tasting, as opposed to afterwards. In other words, once they had tried it, and at least internally decided the MIT beer tasted better, they didn’t seem to want to change their minds (this might be, in common terms – pride).

These results are usually explained by what is nowadays called priming or cognitive priming – a fancy way of saying prepping the mind or prejudicing it one way or the other. Few people seem comfortable with believing that we – they – are so easily colored by priming. The truth is, we don’t really shouldn't need psychologists to tell us this. Not only do people in business, particularly advertising and marketing, know this, but most people learn as we are growing up different techniques to get people to “like” us or things by priming them. But, there is much of it that turns out to be unconscious and most people actually spend zero time really thinking about it – they just do it and react to it automatically.

Experimental psychologists do help us “prove” (really disprove the contrary) things like this, but, it doesn’t matter – just as my friends and the waiter at dinner, people are still sure their judgments are really all a product of their taste, reason and will.  

A few more, just because I so enjoy this stuff. A 1983 (Darley, Ross) study showed that Princeton University students apprised the academic level of the same child (shown on a video) differently depending on whether they were told she was wealthier or poorer.  Not so surprising. A study from a university in Wales last year showed that women judged a man’s looks based upon what kind of car he was driving. Men judging women apparently didn’t care.

Here’s another one that should give us pause. Way back in 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that by telling teachers that certain students were academically successful, the next year those same children actually had a noticeable improvement in testing. It seems pretty clear that this was due to different treatment by the teachers. The reverse is true as well. In 1979, Feldman and Prohaska showed that how students did on tests was considerably affected by whether they heard positive or negative things about the teacher beforehand.

I could go on for a long time about these tests, as they fascinate me. But, no one who reads this will let it affect their lives in any way, probably not for a minute. If they are wine drinkers, they are still going to go out and buy the wine they are sure they “like” best. They will still be sure they know what they are drinking and eating because they “know.” I buy the premise wholeheartedly, but always buy Diet Coke instead of Diet Pepsi, if given a choice. Actually, I prefer Diet Doctor Pepper, but am not sure I could tell the difference between it and Coke if I was misled. I do know I can't tell diet from regular if led astray.

Speaking of psychology, I don’t know why I am so interested in this subject or why I have made an effort to prove it to other people, when they so obviously don’t want to hear it or know it. What I do remember is that I became very cynical about why people liked or thought they liked certain things when I was very young. This was true as early as the 4th or 5th grade when I began testing it in my own way.

That’s about as far as I can get in analyzing it except I am pretty sure it is somehow related to an aversion I have to being “fooled.”  I have always preferred being cheated to fooled. It may be part of the reason I ended up a psych major in college, not that I therefore tried very hard at it. But, I did pay some attention in my cognitive and perception classes and, unlike many other classes I took in college, actually remember some of what I learned. Ironically, though I am abstractly fascinated by science and experimentation, and love reading studies and theories, the reality of lab work was so boring to me that the Psych Intro Lab might have been the worst grade I received in college – and that was with one of my favorite professors.

Wait a second – I just remembered I actually have my college transcript here (no, really) – yup, worst grade in college. Ah, Magoo, you've done it again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Who said it X?

The tenth anniversay Who Said It? is played by the usual rules. The quotes are all from my library (sometimes I cheat a little, but not tonight). I don't know about you, but I find it a lot of fun. Answers at the end. Write down your answers so you can't cheat.

1.         A certain author, being persuaded that idolatry did not take its rise
till after the deluge, gives a very singular account of its origin.
According to him, atheism had spread itself over the world. This
disposition of mind, says he, is the capital crime. Atheists are much
more odious to the Divinity than idolaters. Besides, this principle is
much more capable of leading men into that excessive corruption the
world fell into before the deluge. The knowledge of a God, of whatever
nature he is conceived, and the worship of a Deity, are apt, of
themselves, to be a restraint upon men. So that idolatry was of some
use to bear down the corruption of the world. It is therefore
probable, that the horrid vices men were fallen into before the
deluge, proceeded only from their not knowing nor serving a God. I am
even of opinion (continues he) that the idolatry and polytheism after
the deluge derived their origin from the atheism and impiety that
reigned before it. Such is the temper of men, when they have been
severely punished for any crime, they run into the opposite extreme. I
conjecture (concludes the same author) this was the case with men
after the deluge. As they reckoned that this terrible judgment, which
carried such indications of Divine wrath, was sent for the punishment
of atheism, they ran into the opposite extreme. They adored whatever
seemed to deserve their worship.

a) Martin Luther b) Cotton Mather c) James Madison d) Aaron Burr

2) At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

a) Marquis de Sade b) Aaron Burr c) Jesus Christ d) Woody Allen

3) The one person this publication may injure is myself. I shall have to listen to the most disagreement reproaches for my shallowness, narrowmindedness and lack of idealism or of understanding for the highest interests of mankind. But on the one hand, such remonstrances are not new to me; and on the other, if a man has already learnt in his youth to rise superior to the disapproval of his contemporaries, what can it matter to him in his old age when he is certain soon to be beyond the reach of all favour or disfavour? In former times it was different. Then utterances such mine brought with them a sure curtailment of one’s earthly existence and an effective speeding-up of the opportunity for gaining a personal experience of the after-life. . . .

a) Karl Marx b) Rudyard Kipling c) Sigmund Freud d) Alan Turing
4) Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? My friend suggest,--“But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “they do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the devil’s child, I will live then from the devil.” . . .

a) Ralph Waldo Emerson b) Ben Franklin c) Isaac Newton d) Voltaire

5) Still at Camp David. Lot of Romney flap in the papers this morning, P feels there’s no need to react to it. Talked to me on the phone, wanted to see fi I had heard anything from John Mitchell, and wants me to be sure to make the point to him that we’re relying on him for New York, New Jersey, and Reagan, and we have to know if he’s not going to be able to do it. Wanted to be sure that Agnew stays on an attack on McGovern, not on Shriver, that he should ignore Shriver totally. McGovern and Shriver were both on TV talk shows today, and Shriver did rather badly and McGovern did pretty well overall. . . .

a) Richard Nixon b) H. R. Haldeman c) Gordon Liddy d) Pat Buchanan

6) Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, of, say, in a waiting room, or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally, and there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted. Would they then debate the differences between their respective governments? Or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children and what each other did for a living? Before they parted company, they would probably have touched on ambitions and hobbies and what they wanted for their children and problems of making ends meet. And as they went their separate ways, maybe Anya would be saying to Ivan, “Wasn’t she nice? She also teaches music.” Or Jim would be telling Sally what Ivan did or didn’t like about his boss. They might even have decided they were all going to get together for dinner some evening soon. Above all, they would have proven that people don’t make wars. People want to raise their children in a world without fear and without war. . . .

a) Richard Nixon b) Jimmy Carter c) Ronald Reagan d) George H. W. Bush

7)  First, I deny his statement that every man’s heart tells him it is wrong to kill. I think every man’s heart desires killing. Personally, I never killed anybody that I know of. But I have had a great deal of satisfaction now and then reading obituary notices, and I used to delight, with the rest of my 100 percent patriotic friends, when I saw ten of fifteen thousand Germans being killed in a day.

a) Adolf Hitler b) Winston Churchill c) Teddy Roosevelt d) Clarence Darrow

8) The more masculine a man is, the more he is the undisputed in his sphere of influence from the very start and the more feminine a woman is, the more her own work and thus her own position is conversely uncontested and undisputed. And the mutual respect of the sexes for each other will ultimately not be achieved by the rules set up by two different communities, i.e., the community of men and the community of women; instead, it must be acquired day by day in real life. The more a man is faced with a woman who is truly female, the more his arrogance will be disarmed from the very beginning—indeed at times too much so; and conversely, the more a man is a whole man and carries out his work and his life-task in the highest sense of the word, the more the woman will find her natural and self-evident place beside him. In this constellation, the two can never cross each other on their life-paths; they will instead join one another in a wholly shared, great mission; and ultimately this mission is none other than preserving the community of mankind as it exists today, and ensuring that, in the future, it will be the way we desire it to be.

a) Winston Churchill b) Adolph Hitler c) Franklin Roosevelt d) Charles De Gaulle

9)  Now one comes to the perfumes--pure and concentrated; there is a smell of attar of roses. Here they sell musk-purses, frankincense and scented rats’ tails. We go into the next archway and see nothing but boots and shoes, all colors, all shapes, slippers shining with pearls and real embroidery. Another archway crosses close by here and in this are concentrated haberdashery, muslins, handkerchiefs embroidered with big gold flowers, beautiful materials. In the next arch there is the flash of weapons: damascene blades, daggers, knives, rifles and pistols.

a) Mark Twain b) Hans Christian Anderson c) Sir Captain Richard Burton d) David Livingstone

10) The March of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing ways, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.

a) Ulysses S. Grant b) Will Durant c) Robert E. Lee d) Henry Adams
1) A certain author, being persuaded that idolatry did not take its rise till after the deluge . . . .  d – This was not a theologian, but Aaron Burr, who I believe (not alone, but virtually) to be have had the most unfairly tarnished reputation after the Revolutionary War, no little thanks to Jefferson, but more so, Alexander Hamilton, who, of course, kind of got the worst of it. Burr came from a very religious family though, including his maternal grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, of Great Awakening fame. Like Hamilton and Madison, he was a progidy, and wrote this while at Princeton before the war which would propel him to a career as one of the country's premier lawyers, Senator and even Vice President, before it all went . . . to Hell. He did however, outlive all the greats from the war, even Madison by a few months. Enough, as I think I sense a Burr post coming on.

2) At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. . . . c - Jesus Christ. A parable from Matthew, ch. 25. He liked to tell stories, didn’t you know?

3) The one person this publication may injure is myself. . . . c – Sigmund Freud from his The Future of an Illusion. Alan Turing, in case you didn’t know, was a British scientist sometimes known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Brilliant scientist. Atheist. Gay. Forced to accept chemical castration in lieu of prison. Killed himself with cyanide.

4) Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. . . . a- Ralph Waldo Emerson. I can see how you’d by Franklin or Voltaire though.

5) Still at Camp David. . . .   b - That was from H. R. Haldeman’s diary entry for August 13, 1972. Talk about name dropping. P is the president, of course, and Romney is the current GOP putative nominee’s father, George. A Michigan governor, he had a shot as president in 1968, but being gaffe prone, he eventually gave way to Nixon and then went into his administration. The “flap” mentioned was about an argument he had in public while HUD secretary with the Governor of Pennsylvania over flood relief. He resigned a few months later.

6) Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves. . .   c – Ronald Reagan from a speech in Jan. 1984. The original “reset.” This was the year after his “evil empire” speech and quite a change in tactics.

7) First, I deny his statement that every man’s heart tells him it is wrong to kill. . . . d – Clarence Darrow.  Ironically, given the way he began, this was a speech in which he was actually objecting to capital punishment. Obviously, it couldn’t be Hitler, but Churchill and Roosevelt kind of work.

8) The more masculine a man is . . . .  B – This time it was Hitler. If you’ve done this game before you know I love to include some weird Hitler quote. This was in 1937 from an address to the Nazi’s women’s group.  

9) Now one comes to the perfumes--pure and concentrated; there is a smell of attar of roses. b – Hans Christian Anderson. After a long tour of Europe and Turkey, he wrote A Poet’s Bazaar. This was an 1841 entry from Istanbul. If I didn’t have the book, I would have guessed Burton.

10) The March of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient. . . . c – Robert E. Lee from a letter he wrote after the war. If I hadn’t known, I’d have guessed Henry Adams.

Done. Scores?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Political update for June, 2012

Last week, on C-Span, my fountain of knowledge, I watched a journalist, Michael J. Gross, speak about an article he had written for Vanity Fair magazine called World War 3.0. He was discussing the effort to control the internet, which, like everything else people are trying to control, is inevitable. The internet became, in lightning fast time, the greatest source of information in the world for virtually anyone who might want to have anything to say in this world beyond the sound of their own voice. In a fraction of my lifetime – actually, even a fraction of my adult life, it has become almost everything, driving other information sources or tools out of business, like print newspapers and the post office. Imagine being able to control it. Controlling it means being able to shape the way people think for the foreseeable future.
Essentially, Gross explains, there are three groups of people – or forces – each of which has a different perspective on the internet. There are those he calls the “forces of order people,” who are trying to latch their pre-Internet ideas of order onto the internet. Then there are the internet hacker activists who he calls the “forces of disorder” who just want to let it all “burn down to the ground,” if that is what is going to happen. Think anarchists.  And, there are those in the middle, which he refers to as the forces of “organized chaos,” a sexy, but I think bad title for those who want to preserve a general order in the internet “without strangling it.”  

Three paragraphs from his article on an international conference in Dubai:

“Diplomats from 193 countries will converge there to renegotiate a United Nations treaty called the International Telecommunications Regulations. The sprawling document, which governs telephone, television, and radio networks, may be extended to cover the Internet, raising questions about who should control it, and how. Arrayed on one side will be representatives from the United States and other major Western powers, advocating what many call ‘Internet freedom,’ a plastic concept that has been defined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the right to use the Internet to ‘express one’s views,’ to ‘peacefully assemble,’ and to ‘seek or share’ information. The U.S. and most of its allies basically want to keep Internet governance the way it is: run by a small group of technical nonprofit and volunteer organizations, most of them based in the United States.

On the other side will be representatives from countries where governments want to place restrictions on how people use the Internet. These include Russia, China, Brazil, India, Iran, and a host of others. All of them have implemented or experimented with more intrusive monitoring of online activities than the U.S. is publicly known to practice. A number of countries have openly called for the creation of a ‘new global body’ to oversee online policy. At the very least, they’d like to give the United Nations a great deal more control over the Internet.

The War for the Internet was inevitable—a time bomb built into its creation. The war grows out of tensions that came to a head as the Internet grew to serve populations far beyond those for which it was designed. Originally built to supplement the analog interactions among American soldiers and scientists who knew one another off­-line, the Internet was established on a bedrock of trust: trust that people were who they said they were, and trust that information would be handled according to existing social and legal norms. That foundation of trust crumbled as the Internet expanded. The system is now approaching a state of crisis on four main fronts.”

What does this tell me? It reinforces that people almost always gravitate to one of three three sides to political, social, even scientific and philosophic arguments – the tyrannical, the anarchical and the moderates, and that for me, the middle ground so often holds the best philosophy. I frequently quote Justice Robert Jackson  on this topic – “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either.” 

As with anything like this, the devil is in the details. For example, Justice Jackson’s own opinion in the case that quote comes from- his dissent in Terminiello v. Chicago, would be deemed grossly repressive nowadays. Moderation is also a relative thing. I would not normally call Hillary Clinton a moderate although it is difficult to say how her experiences as Secretary of State have changed her thinking over the past four years. But, with adversaries like Russia and Iran on one side and computer hackers on the other, she appears a veritable statue of Justice with blindfold and a well balanced scale – a moderate.

Like our economy, the internet needs conventions so that voices can be heard without interference or censorship, but otherwise let free to grow with civilization that includes all three groups. That’s what I think. I’m pretty sure that’s what most Americans think. Now we have to convince everyone else. We will too.


I also recently watched a hearing about government control of banks. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is not an office that rings in your ears.  Someone said at the hearing that it is the OCC’s job to prevent banks from putting taxpayers at risks. Well, that sounds sort of good I guess. Who would want to invest in a bank if there was risk. But, if you think about it, there’s some other stuff in there that’s not so easy to swallow.

For example, what do taxpayers have to do with banks? Probably they shouldn’t have anything to do with them, but we know what that means. It means that the government, in order to save certain banks they think are important, have given them our money and they want it back. The idea doesn’t bother a lot of people. They like the idea of the government giving the banks money and getting it back.

Of course, by banks, they don’t really mean what most of us mean when we think about banks. They mean what we used to call investment houses.

Of course, why should certain Americans – the taxpayers, have to fund banks for everyone?

Of course, why should only certain banks get this largesse?

Of course, if you have your money in another bank (an investor) that isn’t getting money, how is this possibly fair to you?

Of course, if the government can do this to prop up banks, and has given literally trillions to Wall Street or banks, why do we think we need them so much.

Of course, this only proves that there was a real moral hazard about guaranteeing banks against failure.

Of course, it also presumes that if certain banks failed, the sky would fall in, instead of other banks or groups of investors charging in and dismembering them the way it is supposed to happen when you aren’t careful about your business or you just have bad luck. Sen. Richard Shelby had it right - the lesson of TARP is that creditors of a failed bank must suffer the losses.

There are so many things wrong with this, that it could be an entire post here (but I spare you). And it doesn’t matter. Because the powerful pols decided they would lose their phony bologna jobs if everything failed, at least temporarily. It is no different under Obama than it was under Bush.

That may be so. But it’s because our system encourages the two parties/ideologies to savage each other and never encourages any patience at all. I often go back to one of my favorite John Adams’ quotes:

“As soon as one Man hints at an Improvement his rival opposes it. No sooner has one Party discovered or invented an Amerlioration of the Condition of Man or the order of Society, than the opposite Party, belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it . . . .”

I wonder if I will have nothing else to say about the problems of partisanship in America or if I will continue to be a broken record. If a broken record drones endlessly and there is no one listens, isn’t every time the first time?


What is the message of Governor Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin? One opponent of his in Wisconsin who had worked to have Walker recalled was literally crying to a v reporter because this was the day that democracy ended. Oh, boy.

Walker was victorious, not because Wisconsin was suddenly filled with conservatives - it is a Democratic state – but for two reasons. First, polls showed that most voters just didn’t like the whole idea of recalling a governor except for a really good reason. But, the second reason is more subtle. It’s because the question was not complex like it will be for the presidential election where you have all sorts of domestic and foreign policy issues. It was about the question of whether the state would be better off with weaker government unions. I think most people there agreed that it should be. They get the very basic premise that unlike a private union, there is no management on the other side saying, not so fast, that’s too much money. Instead, they are saying, if you guys vote for me I’ll give you a deal you’ll really like. I’m sure you won’t be greedy, because you are good people.

With all the hoopla over Wisconsin, you’d think that it is the only state that has taken action like this. But, not even close. It’s just that Wisconsin’s history of collective bargaining and strong Democratic Party made it quarrelsome about the issue.


Is it too late for conservatives to criticize Bush?  I hear so many of them criticizing him these days. Suddenly, he mishandled the wars. Suddenly, he usurped too much power for the presidency. Suddenly, he mishandled the economy after the crash.

Sorry, cons, but you have to put up a fuss about it while he’s in office to qualify with me as a legitimate complainer. So, you can gripe about his immigration bill, which you opposed, but which didn’t pass – so not too much, and you can gripe about TARP and other pre-Obama survival programs, because Bush did that with Democrats for the most part against your wishes. But, always with exceptions, you backed up torture, you backed up the idea of the unitary executive (which is a truism, but really meant that congress couldn’t have a say in almost anything unless it was controlled by his party), you called anyone who doubted WMD’s in Iraq or not going to war unpatriotic and so on. Of course, the left ridiculously savaged Bush about silly things all the time although now so many of you want out out out out of Afghanistan and Iraq completely, and you hated the filibuster in the senate, which you now love.  I guess you can complain, but you have to admit you went overboard sometimes when your team was in power. And this is what you get. A weaker hand when you are out of power.


If we are going to spend money on foreign affairs, we should spend it on finding ways to give more and more people in tyrannical societies unfettered access to the internet.  What people are not going to want more freedom when they see what we have?  And I don’t mean porn (even though, it continues to dominate the internet, supposedly being 1 out of every 8 sites). I believe the internet (and tv, but more the internet) is largely responsible for the Arab Spring, and though short term consequences of that may be terrible, I am sort of optimistic about long term improvements.


I can’t make up my mind about Attorney General Holder yet. I watched parts of hearings in which he was grilled on Operation Fast & Furious by Republican Senators and Congressmen. Yes, he dances around answers sometimes, but, he also is no where near as bad as Alberto Gonzales was under Bush.  He was a terrible liar and even laughed at inappropriate times. True, even some Democrats are pushing for more information from Holder and he may be held in contempt of the congress in the House. I don’t really have a handle on the facts yet so I’m not sure which way I leave (one of the down sides to being a moderate – you can’t just know).  Though an American agent did die from an American gun which was “walked” across the border as part of this operation, I don’t know at all that he wouldn’t have just had another gun to use and the poor agent would be just as dead. In the Valerie Plame matter it appeared that the first person to reveal information to columnist/reporter Bob Novak was not one of the neocons that liberals so hated, but Richard Armitage, a relatively moderate career diplomat who served under nice guy Secretary of State Colin Powell and who it appears did not act maliciously in revealing her CIA status. But the cover up there, like the cover up here may be far worse than the act complained about. Going after Holder will give Republicans an opportunity to get revenge for Scooter Libby’s prosecution (this is the McCoys and the Hatfields – both sides always think the other side started it), if possible. While I personally think that Plame was a covert operative under the law (and I actually suffered reading the presidential order and related statutes) and recall that Libby was convicted by the testimony of other Republicans, among others, I also believe that it was the war room hyper partisan attitude of VP Richard Cheney that was most responsible for Libby taking a bullet for him. Cheney I believe feels this intensely, and that is the reason he and Bush fell out in the last years of their administration. But, I’ve written at length on this before and, of course, hate to repeat myself endlessly.

Will this be Holder’s undoing? I don’t know, but I witnessed the power of administrations to hold out for years against these efforts, until they are no longer in power and don’t care so much. And, if Romney wins the election, some Republicans will remember that Obama and even the Democratic congress (until ’11) did not pursue anyone on the torture memos and enhanced interrogations, illegal wire tapping or Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and others regarding the Assistant Attorney General firings [another so called scandal where nothing was done wrong other than the almost brilliantly stupid cover up]). If Obama is out of office, in particular, it will end with a whimper, not a bang, because more than anything, that is really what this is about.


Senator Cornyn has already publicly called for Holder to resign. Even if Holder has deliberately lied at one of these hearings, or even to the public, and he knows eventually it will out, Obama would be politically crazy to have him leave. Why? Because there is no way that the president would get anyone through the Senate confirmation process. Although Democrats have the majority, the Republicans have the filibuster.

As the parties get more and more comfortable pulling the filibuster card and tougher and tougher on presidential nominees, it is time that the Senate gets rid of it for presidential nominations just like they do with the budget.  That means the president gets his nominees through pretty fast unless the minority party can convince at least some of the majority that the nominee is really not up to snuff. That’s the way it was supposed to work and I would even argue, as the president has the power of appointment in the constitution, he is entitled to the Senate’s advice and consent/non-consent. I could argue the opposite too because the constitution also provides that the Senate writes its own rules. Like many things in the constitution, it is hardly clear.

When should the Senate change their rules to allow this (constitutionally, they write their own rules)? Now. Why?  Because no one knows who the next president will be right now and that is the time to do it.


I know this is really petty, and no offense meant, but should some tell David Axelrod that his hair and mustache gives him sort of a Hitler wannabe look? Am I the only one who notices that? Oh, wait a minute – the internet. Yahoooing and nope, I am definitely not the only one who noticed. Wow. Memo to Obama. Talk to him. Be gentle. He probably doesn’t know.


What’s the statute of limitations on calling someone macaca? When George Allen was running for Senate in Va. in 2006 he called a tracker from his opponent’s campaign “macaca” while making reference to his foreign looks (he was of Indian heritage). Allen said that he made the word up, but it was apparently an insult in Africa used by the French derived from words meaning a type of monkey. Some think that Allen learned the word from his French Tunisian mother, but that is speculation. Anyway, it really hurt him. His name had been batted around for a shot at the presidency and he lost the Senate race he was expected to win.

He’s running for Senator again, now that his conqueror, Jim Webb is leaving. He started off his campaign last year by apologizing for it, which was politically wise, and pointed out that it turns out he is part Jewish – so a minority, but I haven’t heard people really  bothering about it (you can always find dome on the internet). I’m sure no one has forgotten. Is there some amount of time that a racist statement - I believe it was, but I don’t really think that makes him a racist - loses its importance?  Apparently. Good. I’m just not used to good when it comes to politics.


What is wrong with Allen West? He’s a good looking, relatively young congressman from Florida with a military career, haircut and bearing who Republicans would love some day to get behind for Senator or even better, President, mostly because he’s black, in my opinion. Having their own black candidate would once and for all end the argument by liberals that they are racist

West is, of course, very conservative. And they keep saying he’s a great guy. So, why does he keep saying dumb things? A few month ago he lost a verbal joust with another Florida Representative, Deborah Wasserman Schultz. I would have thought it nearly impossible to lose a popularity contest to Schultz (also DNC chairwoman), who has to be one of the most charmless women in politics since Mary Matalin was George H. W. Bush’s campaign director (and whose apparently happy marriage to her opponent, Clinton’s strategist, James Carville, is one of the great mysteries of politics). She took a shot at him on the floor of the house and he radically over-reacted. He emailed her calling her vile, unprofessional, despicable, a coward and told her to “shut up.”  Do you want that on an ad when you run for office?

Then, to make matters worse, last week he said in a speech that there were up to 80 communists in Congress. Supposedly he was talking about the Socialist, I mean, Progressive Caucus. Communist is a load word which evokes Stalin and, even at its best, Brezhnev and the cold war.  You can argue to me that progressives are socialists, and socialism leads, eventually, to the same economic results as communism, but that is a logical argument, not provocative name calling that just irritates people who might have otherwise voted for you. More, it is just foolish to go down that route, particularly in an election year (do I need to say this again?– yes) where independents will be deciding who is president.

Of course, a few months ago he told Obama, Reid and Pelosi to “get the hell out of America,” so . . . .


Friday, June 01, 2012

The New Miss Malaprop II

Way back in 2007 I wrote a post called the new Miss Malaprop, enshrining the verbal gems of the lady also known as my "insignificant other" (our pet name for each other, in case you were wondering), or below as "P" (and I am "D").  She's still active in the field, but I haven't gotten any better since the last post in recording her work. I'm always sure I will remember one of them later, but if I don't write it down instantly - poof - it's gone.  You can look back at the earlier post (4/26/07) to introduce yourself to her or refresh your recollection. Like a man slipping on a banana, they don't get old.

This is a much shorter list than the last one, as it covers fewer years, but some of them are just as funny. Like the last time, I use the term “malapropism” very loosely to cover all types of language mangling or just funny stuff, like this first one: 

The curious conversation

P: "You don’t even know Jesus."
D: "I know more about him than you."
P: "No you don’t."
D: "Okay, name the four gospels."
P: "Old or New Testament?"
D: (chuckling)
P: "I don’t know. 1, 2, 3 and 4?"


D: "Don’t be so intransigent."
P: "I'm not in transit!"


D: "I really don’t need more than three plates in my house."
P: "What if you have a big shin ding?"

The substituted word:

"I refuse to answer upon the grounds I may be discriminated."


"It’s not worthwild."


"I told him to charm right in if he had something to say."

The mixed or fractured metaphor:

(Shaking her head) "How little they forget."


"She finally saw the dawn at the end of the tunnel." (This one is so very subtle. She actually mixes three metaphors here - "It dawned on her," "She finally saw the light," and, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel," yet, somehow, when she blends them, for a moment it seems right. Genius.) 


 “Don’t you know the expression, 'let sleeping babies lie?'”


And perhaps my recent favorite -

"You would think that after 30 years he would speak well English."

Well, Good night, Gracie.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .