October 03, 2004

Kramer on Meeting Criticism Targets; Lincoln on Condescension

Jay Nordlinger's "The Joy of Tokenism" has three good separate bits, on Kramer's attitude on meeting people who's work he'd criticized, the Chicago Times on Lincoln, and Lincoln on being condescended to. ...

... Hilton Kramer, the eminent art critic and co-founder of The New Criterion. At a dinner once, he and Woody Allen were seated next to each other. The actor said, "So, Mr. Kramer, do you find it embarrassing when you encounter people whose work you have slammed?" "No," replied Hilton: "I think they should be embarrassed for having made such lousy art." Later on, Hilton realized that he had once criticized a movie that Allen was in (The Front).


It so happened that, during this weekend, I was reading a biography of Lincoln, and noted that many of the denunciations of the 16th president sounded familiar. After a Lincoln speech, the editor of the (Democratic) Chicago Times wrote, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

The speech to which the editor was referring was the Gettysburg Address.


And a good many liberals were awfully warm to this conservative. Most of the compliments were sincere, I'd say. Others were of the "For a fat girl, you don't sweat much" variety. I noted something else in that Lincoln biography. He said, "I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice, and have received a great deal of kindness not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it." I'm no Lincoln, believe me, but I know what he is saying.

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October 01, 2004

Wordorigins.org; Rope a Dope

I came across Wordorigins.org, a good site about terms like the ones below. I was looking up "Rope a Dope", so the three excerpts below are from the "R" section:

Ring Around the Rosie...

The common folkloric explanation is that this is a rhyme about the bubonic plague. "Ring around the rosie" refers to buboes on the skin. "A pocket full of posies" refers to flowers kept in the pocket to ward off the disease. "Ashes, ashes" is a reference to death, as in "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." The common variant of the third line, "Atishoo, atishoo," is a reference to sneezing and sickness. Finally, falling down is a representation of death.

A neat tale. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support it...


The term dates to the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman. Ali spent the early rounds against the ropes in a defensive posture, taking a series of blows from Foreman. After Foreman had tired himself out, Ali went on the offensive and beat the exhausted Foreman. It wasn't a pretty victory or a fan-pleasing strategy, but it was effective. So to employ the "rope-a-dope" strategy is to feign being weak and on the defensive, like a dopey boxer who is on the ropes, in hopes your opponent will exhaust himself in the early going. The term was coined by Ali.

Rule of Thumb

The phrase is almost certainly an allusion to the fact that the first joint an adult thumb measures roughly one inch, literally a rule (or ruler) of thumb. Since human dimensions vary, any measurement so taken would be only a rough approximation and not to be trusted where precision was required.

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September 30, 2004

Overhead Projectors and 20-Minute Technical Presentations

I listened to three 20-minute student presentations of economic research recently, and noticed something all three had in common: Each would have been better if the overhead projector had been destroyed and the student had just written on the blackboard instead.

The problem was that the speakers threw up numerous detailed slides that were too complicated to have any meaning to the audience. and without putting the notation on the board. Having to write things down would have slowed them down enough that the audience could have followed them. Also, the mathematical notation could have been up on the board for the audience to see, and they could have studied equations for more than the few seconds they are up on a screen.

It's interesting that for a short talk overhead slides are such a trap for the novice speaker. For the experienced speaker, overheads are all the more important if a talk is short, because he can save time otherwise spent writing on the board. The experienced speaker does not need the discipline of being limited to just a few equations by his writing speed.

I should note, too, that this problem is not limited to theory papers. Empirical papers are subject to it too, because the student is tempted to post too many numbers, showing too many of his different specifications. In twenty minutes, one regression equation is plenty! (combined, of course, with detailed discussion of its meaning)

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September 29, 2004

Two words: Aporia and Facticity

Here are two new words I've come across. Both of these look like they might be useful, if I could remember them and if anybody else knew what they meant.

APORIA A*po"ri*a [L., doubt, Gr. , fr. without passage, at a loss; priv. + passage.] A figure in which the speaker professes to be at a loss what course to pursue, where to begin to end, what to say, etc.

FACTICITY fac∑tic∑i∑ty
Pronunciation: fak-'ti-s&-tE
Etymology: French or German; French facticitť, from German Faktizitšt, from
Factum fact, from Latin factum
: the quality or state of being a fact

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September 25, 2004

"An institution is the lengthened shadow of a man."

I was at a dinner Thursday night where IU President Emerson gave a good speech. In particular, he quoted Emerson as saying something like

(1) "An institution is the lengthened shadow of a man."

Looking this up on the web, some unreliable sources such as Brainyquote say

(2)" Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man."

while others such as
Bartleby have

(3) "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man."

Bartleby, which uses Bartlett's 10th edition, at least cites Emerson's
"Self-Reliance," First Series (1841). I wish there were a quotation book that did a tolerably good job of giving citations.

At any rate, I much like version (1) the best. It is both the punchiest and the most true. Institutions are usually *not* the shadows of one man alone, and great institutions, especially, are not.

I'll have to remember to tell my students in G492 not to indiscriminately trust web sources for quotations.

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September 14, 2004

"mind-meld with such an alien psyche"

I've found a wonderful passage from Jonah Goldberg that I hope to imitate one of these days:

I have no desire to go trolling around inside Dan Rather's brain. We all know from Star Trek that a mind-meld with such an alien psyche could leave me permanently damaged. But it's clear that Dan Rather doesn't understand what's going on any more than those poor last dinosaurs understood why the tasty green fronds became so hard to find when it got cloudy.

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September 02, 2004

Girly Men, Pumpitude, and Flabulence from Hanz and Franz on Saturday Night Live

Here are excerpts from the best "Pumping up With Hans & Franz" skit I have seen, one from 1988 in which Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger also appear....


Hans: Alright. But before we can pump you up tonight, we have to answer a piece of viewer mail.

Franz: Ya. Ya. This is a letter we received from a Bill Tompkins. I'll only read an excerpt, so I don't go into his loser details. "Dear Hans & Franz: I have recently seen your.. mo-.. mo-"

Hans: Moronic.

Franz: "..Your moronic show, and have wondered why you don't open your own gym. Maybe you are too stupid." [ crumples letter ] You know, maybe you thought this letter would make us angry; but it only makes us sad.

Hans: Really, ya. We are sad, you know, because anyone who calls us "stupid" is really just jealous. Because their girlfriend looks at us, then looks at him, and realzies she's cuddling up with a little girly-man!

Franz: Ya. Ya, girly-man. Hear me now and believe me later - but don't think about it ever, because, if you try to think, you might cause a flabulance!


Hans: Oh, Arnold, I can't believe how properly pumped up you really are!

Franz: Ya! You are the embodiment of perfect pumpitude!

See also: this skit.

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August 01, 2004

Words: Baditude and Downer

My wife came up with a good new word tonight: BADITUDE, which is short for "bad attitude". If you go to something with baditude, you are not going to enjoy it. Children often have baditude, as do students, and how to eliminate baditude is an interesting problem. "Gooditude" does not work so well as a word, perhaps because it is too similar to "gratitude". I now see, however, that even BADATTITUDE would be rather useful as a word, and it has a nice look and sound.

My daughter Elizabeth came out with another new word of possible utility: DOWNER, meaning "further down". I forget the sentence in which she used it, but an example would be "The name 'Rasmusen' is downer on the list than 'Anderson', since it starts with an R instead of an A." The word has a number of good features:

1. It is Anglo-Saxon in its entirety-- both root and modifier.

2. It is short and easy to say and spell.

3. Its meaning is immediately apparent, even to someone who has never heard the word before.

"Baditude" has some Latin in it, which is unfortunate, but its meaning would be clear from context and despite its three syllables, it is short and flowing enough to be useful, and the Latin is in the modifier, which is less obtrusive than it would be in the root.

How, though, would we get these two new words into the language? A problem with a new word is that it stands out and really ought to be footnoted or otherwise explained to the reader. That is okay if it can be done at the start of a long discourse on the subject of the word, but it is self-defeating if the word is introduce merely to save a few syllables. I don't know how to solve that problem, which is akin to the problem of simplifying spelling.

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