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Humpty Dumpty's Theory of Meaning + 1984 + Overton Window

Uploaded: Mar 17, 2018
Respect for language is essential for a meaningful, productive discussion. Developing a sensitivity to misuse and manipulation of language is a foundation of critical thinking. Additionally, understanding sloppy language can require intuitions and cultural knowledge that non-native speakers don't have. Doing a few exercises in school does not create the necessary reflexes. Consequently, learning occurs with small real-world examples with family and friends. And ridiculing such examples can even be a game. Warning: This is longer than my usual long blog entries. I decided to not break it up into parts so that readers who want to pass it along need share only a single link.

Before getting to the examples, I will first indulge myself by offering some context-setting that you might find interesting. However, you can also easily skip to the section with the examples.

Formatting Note: Although the text for links to other web pages is supposed to be blue, sometimes it is indistinguishable from normal text. Since these failures are unpredictable, I have added carets (^) around the links.

----Context-setting (optional)----

The excerpt below is from ^Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll^. Alternative sources: ^Wikipedia^ and ^from a college course web page^.
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument' ," Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."
This attitude has come to be known by a number of names of the form "The Humpty Dumpty ...", such as "Theory/Philosophy of Meaning/Language", "Principle in ...".

This was published in 1871 -- 147 years ago -- so these situations were already well-established and joke-worthy way back then. ^Lewis Carroll^ was the pen name for Charles Dodgson, a logician and mathematician. Presumably Humpty Dumpty was inspired by academics who abused language to obfuscate and otherwise confuse the listener -- if listeners can't understand a claim, how are they to question or challenge it. An additional advantage of serving up a word salad: If your claims can't be questioned, why bother with thinking very deeply, if at all.

But abuse of language can be used not just defensively, but offensively. Jump forward 50 years from Humpty Dumpty to the beginnings of ^totalitarianism^: the Soviet Communists and the Nazis. Both were the inspiration for George Orwell's novel ^1984^ (finished 1948). Its ^Newspeak^ went well beyond the distortions and deceptions used in commercial advertising and marketing.(foot#1)(foot#2) It was a language designed to steer and constrain what people thought. One practice was to incrementally reduce the richness of language and thereby impede the non-elite from having substantive discussions.

The ^Overton window^ -- the window of discourse -- is a relatively new term (1990s) for a very old observation: Ideas and topics have a gradation of acceptability for serious public discourse. Observing what ideas fall within the window of discourse leads to consideration of how to shift ideas into or out of the window. One common (unsophisticated) technique is to apply positive labels -- such as commonsense, forward looking, progressive -- or derogatory labels -- such as radical, un-American, cowardly -- and get them repeated often enough that people start to believe them. This was used extensively during the Cold War years by the Right against Liberals and the Left, and is now being used by "Progressives" and the Left against those that don't agree with their ideology. Aside: This tactic can backfire.(foot#3) Although I regard the term "Overton Window" to be jargon and not useful in most discussions of the phenomenon, it is useful for web search, both for you to find discussions by others and for you to make your discussions more easily found.

Late addition: Many media sites are currently pushing the story that "Globalist" is an anti-Semitic slur. One motivation for this claim was to use Trump's complimenting Gary Cohen--his economic advisor who resigned over the steel tariffs--to again label him anti-Semitic. The actual definition is "The operation or planning of economic and foreign policy on a global basis" (^Oxford^) or "the policy of treating the whole world as proper sphere for influence" (^Merriam-Webster^) ... If past patterns hold, the web and social media will be searched for people criticizing Globalism and those people will then be publicly and widely denounced as anti-Semites. It won't matter that those targets were talking about the actual definition. The goal would be to push criticism of Globalism far outside the Overton Window and label its critics as extremists.(foot#4)

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum...." - Noam Chomsky in ^The Common Good^ (1998).

As you come to listen more carefully to individual words, you will also come to spot some of the rhetorical tricks intended to gain your approval or disapproval.

----Related professional skills----

My professional background involved computer software development. When I talk to the current generation of project leaders and first level managers, a common complaint is that the computer programmers that they are hiring out of top schools may have been taught the need for precision in programming, but too many of them don't seem to have internalized it. As a software user, I routinely see this in documentation, or rather what passed these days for documentation.

Also, I have heard separately from multiple accountants that they have difficulty hiring people to work on tax returns. Too many of the applicants lack the appreciation for precision needed to follow the instructions and to make precise entries. They are forced to hire some of these applicants, but have them working on accounting tasks that don't require those aptitudes and skills. Similarly for multiple other professions.

----The examples (finally!)----

--Differences between words with overlapping meanings--

I am a member of the group that takes care of the Barron Park donkeys. One of them, Perry, provided the animation model for the character Donkey in the Shrek movies (and TV specials). Part of what I say to the children helping me feed the donkeys(foot#5) is that Perry is the star but not the title character, and ask "How could that be?" If this sparks any interest, I further torture the children with a few examples of the precision of language.

One favorite is to ask them "What is the world's highest mountain?". Most reply "Everest", but a few hesitate, prematurely sensing that the question could be a trap. I then ask "What is the world's tallest mountain?" Many again answer "Everest", but even among those who sense the trap, very few recognize that it has to be a difference between the words "highest" and "tallest" (otherwise, why would I be asking). I then explain.(foot#6) Some of the parents and grandparents who are non-native speakers of English find this explanation amusing and even interesting. As always, you can count on me to make the seemingly simple complicated.

The details--which have been exiled to the above footnote--raise the question: "How can we be expected to be precise in using words when those words have no precise usage?" And that is the first lesson. The second lesson is that people go through such a reasoning process only when precise word choice is crucial, and too often not even then. Most of the time, a well-developed intuition is good-enough: A non-adversarial audience will get the intended meaning from context. But you need to be careful when parts of that conversation may be quoted without the necessary context.

Another example that should appeal to students is the difference between "taught" and "learned": You learn only some of what is taught and much of what you do learn wasn't taught.

A different situation is the difference between "must" and "should". The former expresses a requirement whereas the latter is only advice or guidance.(foot#7) When you see "should" where "must" is expected, this should set off alarm bells. Unintuitively, "shall" is much closer to "must" than to "should". The word "will" has interesting overlaps.

Yet another situation is where one word has a more constrained meaning than a similar one. One common situation involves ascribing intent. For example, "X is not feeding Y" is a statement of fact, whereas "X is starving Y" has X intentionally withholding food from Y (this may be failing an obligation to provide food or blocking the delivery of food by others).

Important note: If a child seems unable to understand these kinds of distinctions, it may be that their brain hasn't yet developed enough to handle that level of complexity. A common example of this can be seen in the video "^A typical child on Piaget's Conservation Tasks^" (3:49). I don't know at what ages children typically acquire what abilities because I only had brushes with Development Psychology in my courses on Cognitive Psychology.

--Garden Path Sentences and Syntactic Ambiguity--

The classic example of a "Garden Path Sentence" is "^The horse raced past the barn fell.^". Before reading on, see if you can get a syntactically valid reading of this sentence. Most people have great difficulty doing so, and that is the intended lesson: People parse sentences as they read/hear it, and thus before they reach the end of the sentence they have already made decisions about where words and phrases fit into the structure of the sentence. People are capable of redoing decisions a few steps back. However, Garden Path Sentences mislead you into making too many wrong decisions that by the time you discover the problem, your brain is so committed to those decisions that it has problems undoing them and trying a different path.
The answer: The sentence is equivalent to "The horse that was raced past the barn fell."
Aside: A ^web search for this term^ will yield many lists of similar examples. Headlines are a common source of this type of sentence.

Terminology: Syntax -- also known as grammar -- is the structure of a sentence, whereas the meaning of a sentence is called semantics, and the additional information from the context is called pragmatics.

A classic example of the more common form of syntactic ambiguity is "Mary saw the man in the park with a telescope." Questions: Did Mary use a telescope to see the man? Or was that man in a park that has a telescope? The reading of "the man in the park" having a telescope typically needs to be primed with context, such as neither Mary nor the park having a telescope. The phrase "the man in the park" is being used to designate the unknown man, analogous to a name. Mary may have seen him with his telescope when he was in the park or earlier or later.

Headlines and captions on pictures and videos can be unnecessarily ambiguous because of the omission of a hyphen. For example, I interpreted the caption "Cat Licking Deer" to mean that it was the cat doing the licking, while the actual situation was the reverse: "Cat-licking Deer". Why does this matter? Because the headlines and captions may be separated from the context, for example, in an index where the body is downloaded on demand. Or because the picture or video has been stripped because it is unwanted (too much bandwidth) or not useful (a blind person).
Remember, looking for the everyday, inconsequential ambiguities are exercises to build the skills and reflexes for when it matters.

A ^1975 song^ had the refrain
"No, I don't like to sleep alone
It's sad to think some folks do
No I don't like to sleep alone
No one does
Do you?"

For the elided parts, how would you fill them in? I did a small experiment when the song came out. Almost everyone answered:

"No, I don't like to sleep alone
It's sad to think some folks do
(sleep alone)
No I don't like to sleep alone
No one does
(like to sleep alone)
Do you (sleep alone) ?"

Notice that line 4 follows the rule for ellipsis and lines 2 and 5 violate it (they should have expanded to "like to sleep alone"). Part of this rule is when you have "Person1 does X. Person2 does X." the second sentence can be reduced to "Person2 does (too)." or "Person2 doesn't." What you aren't suppose to do is reduce "Person1 does X. Person2 does Y." where Y is a component of X. None of the normal people were aware of the improper use of ellipsis, even after it was pointed out to them. Having the refrain make sense was far more important than the grammar rules. Note that a "proper" expansion of line 5 would be logically inconsistent with line 4: Line 4 asserts that "you don't" (as a subcase), but line 5 allows the possibility that "you do".

So who were the outliers who spotted the problem? People who were very sensitized to syntactic ambiguity: a professional copy editor, artificial language developers (such as for computer programming languages), linguists (syntax) and computational linguists (like me).

Why does this matter? I have repeatedly come across passages where a reading using the improper form seems more likely based on my limited knowledge of the topic, but the proper form is still a definite possibility. And vice versa. In non-interactive situations, such as written instructions, this ambiguity can cause significant problems.

--Which meaning?--

Above we had two words that had overlapping meanings, but important distinctions. The flipside is a word that has different meanings that are sharply distinct. A favorite cartoon from many years ago has a man with a dog that is so big that its head is at the man's shoulder level. Another man has just walked up to him and asked an easily inferred question. The caption is "Yes, he likes people, but mostly he gets dog food." I am surprised at how many people don't see the joke, which is a variation on Garden Path Sentences -- it indicates that those people have so committed to the predominant meaning of like the first part that they fail to reinterpret it when presented with contradictory context from the second part.

Another example: In my previous blog, I wrote "It was good experience, but not a good experience" (emphasis added). The former applies to knowledge and the latter events. For example, in the ^Merriam-Webster entry^, the former is meanings 1b and 2a, and the latter is meanings 3 and 4a. Typically, dictionaries don't highlight the clues as to which meaning is intended. If you already know the distinctions, you often can tease out those clues by a careful reading from the dictionary entry. That depends on knowing fine distinctions of the meanings of the words used in the definitions. For example, in meaning 1b, the crucial word is "state" and signals that the absence of "a" or a similar article favors that meaning. From my experiences with dictionaries for foreign languages I recognize that such nuances may well be beyond the understanding of non-native speakers, as well as many native speakers. That is, to learn the basics of a language you need a sophisticated understanding of the language (bit from TV series Cheers: The instructions for setting up a VCR player came on a video cassette).

A famous example of how confusing this can be occurred in President John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech in West Berlin. He proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner"). Some pointed out that the generic rule about when to use "ein" favors the interpretation of "Berliner" as a "jelly donut" over "resident of Berlin". In response, others pointed out that Kennedy's usage was an established exception to that generic rule (^Wikipedia^). Any actual confusion was unlikely because of the context of the speech and because in Berlin that type of pastry was referred to by a different name.

There is a large category of jokes based upon unexpected meanings for words. My experience is that people who are good at such jokes are valuable copy readers because they spot potential misinterpretations that others miss. Punsters are also very good at this, but many seem unable to turn off the puns and thus can be disruptive when you are trying to get work done.

I was in a discussion at college about the interaction religion and culture and one friend said "In our religious instruction, we Jews are taught to carefully examine what is written and to argue about it. You Christians are taught to memorize." I told him he was wrong about the second part, but that the first part was interesting.(foot#8)

Non-native speakers and others: Most of my training on writing occurred before electronic documents. There was an emphasis on removing "unnecessary words" because of the limited space on a hardcopy page. It was also, in part, signaling of educational status. With electronic documents, part of my review process is to put back in these "unnecessary words" where they improve readability. This not only helps non-native speakers, but the many native speakers who, rather than reading the document, do a quick scan/reading. If you need additional convincing, Garden Path Sentences are examples of when removal has gone too far for even native/fluent speakers.

--Problem not recent, just worse--

Before you jump in a blame the current sloppiness of language on smart phones and text messaging, recognize that this situation predates current technology.

For example, I was teaching in the Computer Science Department at Oregon State University in the early 1980s. Many Oregon school districts had been hit hard by the major recession in local industries, and had severely cut back their offerings. It showed up at the college level. For example, I encountered native speakers of English who didn't distinguish between "enable" and "unable" and between "unable" and "disable". There were situations such as "right your name" and other uses of the wrong homophone (words pronounced the same). And in reading my teaching evaluations, I saw far too many students who had problems putting together three consecutive coherent sentences. It is not that these students weren't smart.

In the comments to my blogs, I see instances of people responding to their faulty impressions of what was said. For example, I criticized a group for "impeding progress" and one commenter treated that as me advocating going backwards (instead of going forward faster). I suspect that the commenter perceived any criticism of that group as being totally opposed to the goals of that group. Tribalism at its worse.

--Clickbait headlines and hyperbolic and emotional content--

With so much online content available, publishers believe that they are in a battle just to get noticed. Escalation of these efforts produced puffed up headlines and content, with emotionally loaded words and phrases, hyperbolic claims, ... Also, it is claimed that significant portions of the audiences want something to stoke their outrage.

One way to learn how to spot and strip out this manipulation is to compare accounts from different sources of the same events, using the differences to help you spot bias, distortions and spin. A new website, ^The Knife Media^, does this. It selects significant news event and performs such an analysis on the coverage from multiple major news media sites. An overview of what you will see is provided by the video ^Fox News Outranking CNN? Exposing Mainstream Media Bias (Part 2)^ (cued at 1:43). However, recognize that the analyses of different sets of articles focus on different aspects, for example, emotionally loaded words may not be significant enough to be featured in some analyses.
Recognize that the ranking of news sites is only for that one story, and tend to vary considerable between stories.

--The heirs of Humpty Dumpty go to college--

Now for a highly opinionated account of related events. One (off-line) exercise could be to modify or rewrite it to better appeal to a selected audience. This could be by toning down the advocacy, making it stronger, or shifting it.

Humpty Dumpty treated words as having meanings that they didn't. His (anti?) intellectual heirs have expanded this to insist that words don't have their long-established meanings. As part of the 2015-2016 college protests Harvard, followed by Yale (and Brown? and ?), eliminated the title "House Master" because protesters claimed that "^Master^" originated with US slavery.(foot#9)(foot#10) These universities acknowledged in their announcements that they knew that master had ancient origins (Latin though Old English ...) and therefore that the protestors' claims were false. However, they decided to bow down to their provincialism and ignorance, thereby signaling that those universities don't expect their students to be able to use a dictionary. If a purported university refuses to stand up for something so very basic, perhaps its designation should be downgraded to a "residential facility".

Cornell followed with a minor variant, accepting protesters' false claim that ^plantations^ necessarily involve slavery. Cornell's use was definition #1. Definition #3b is "agricultural estate usually worked by resident labor" (emphasis added). Slave labor is but a subcase of this.

Taking it to a higher level, students at a small Liberal Arts college in eastern Pennsylvania, ^Lebanon Valley College^, decided that people shouldn't be expected to distinguish a proper name from a verb, and demanded the renaming of a building honoring a former college president: The Lynch Memorial Hall.(foot#11) However, this was partially thwarted by an outpouring of public ridicule.

This behavior was not limited to college students. In January 2016, various TV comedians who cater to audiences that revel in accusations of racism, being a Nazi,...--targeted the upstate New York village of ^Whitesboro^, which was named after its founder Hugh White. They claimed discriminatory/racist intent by treating "White" as an adjective rather than a proper name. And a historic wrestling match depicted on the village seal was falsely presented as Hugh White strangling an Oneida (Iroquois) chief. (^example from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert^).

Back to the Harvard for a Kennedy School interview with Golden State Warrior's star Draymond Green.(foot#12) In yet another instance of "feelings preempt the dictionary" and false "originated in slavery", Green made the unchallenged claim that "The word 'owner' , 'master' -- it dates back to slavery."(foot#13) This was in response to a question about Green's criticism of Mark Cuban for saying that he owned the Dallas Mavericks (pro basketball) franchise (corporation). Green seemed to indicate that he understood that owning a corporation didn't entail ownership of the employees, but then flipped to claim that statements of the former should be eliminated because he felt they implied the later. Whether out of agreement or excessive politeness, the Harvard audience didn't seem to react.

----Motivation: Better Search----

Many years ago while reading one of my professional journals I encountered an article whose title make it seem relevant to my subfield but I recognized that it might be targeted at a very different major subfield. After reading the abstract and the introduction, I was still uncertain of which subfield was being addressed, thereby convincing me not to waste any more time on that article.

False positives are common in Internet search, sometimes pushing what you are seeking far down the list of results. Using more precise terminology can reduce this. For the searcher, it can not only reduce the false positives, but get better results among the true positives: Precise vs. sloppy terminology is a useful indicator of the overall quality of a web page. For the author of a web page, more precise terminology helps people find that page.
Aside: Many of my blogs include links to relevant Wikipedia pages because, in addition to links to some sources, they provide terminology and names that help create more effective web search terms.

Similarly for search within (larger) documents. And for emails--the primary document archive for many people is their email folder.

If you are one of my regular readers, you may have noticed that for names with acronyms, I typically supply both. This combination helps you readers make some sense of the acronym, helps you in your searches to find additional details, and helps people doing Internet searches find my blog.

People learning to do web search typically focus on improving the search terms they enter. If you are mentoring someone who will be producing web pages, you should encourage them to ask themselves why the various results ranked where they did, with an eye to how to write pages.(foot#14)

----Writing for Non-native Speakers----

If you are working with non-native speakers, I would encourage you to observe what gives them trouble as a means of improving your writing. You can facilitate this by telling them that you have (some) availability for questions.

I made changes to my writing style when non-native speakers became an important part of my audience. However, I couldn't get any advice on this from the company's professional editors. The advice I found elsewhere was unhelpful: It was mostly ideas that I had already guessed based upon my own experience learning and trying to use foreign languages. And it didn't have much credibility because there was no language-specific advice. From comparative linguistics I knew that there were significant differences between Germanic languages, Romance languages, Japanese and Chinese.

The first piece of conventional writing advice I chose to disregard was "Vary your word choice." This is partly to reduce the number of words that might need to be looked up, but more importantly it is to avoid confusion as to whether the difference is only stylistic variation or significant. I suspect that many of you have encountered this in reading instructions where the same part is referred to by multiple names. Decades ago in Computational Linguistics (Natural Language Understanding) a presentation featured a small (6-10) set of sentence where rearranging them produced dramatically different understandings of what happened, most prominently whether it involved one or two people.

Writing that depends upon cultural knowledge can be a substantial impediment. For example, a summary of an episode of the TV series Elementary was
"Holmes and Watson investigate a murder ... Meanwhile, Watson's mother learns that Joan's brother is cheating on his wife and puts her daughter in the awkward position of confronting him about it."
If you aren't familiar with this TV series, you may well wonder whether or not "Joan" and "Watson" are different people (they aren't).

Idioms and colloquialism are also cultural knowledge, but I continue to use them. Why? Because they are powerful for native and fluent speakers. And therein lies a balancing act. Go too far in accommodating non-native speakers and the writing becomes boring for the rest of the audience. My solution? For words and phrases that might cause trouble, I try to use them only if there is enough context to suggest what they mean. But where that is difficult, I favor the native and fluent speakers as being the larger part of my audience.

Example: Above I used the phrase "which have been exiled to the above footnote". I wanted a stronger statement than just "in the above footnote". Even though "exiled" has the merits of being more visual and energetic, it has the problem of being used metaphorically. A more accurate word was "^relegated^", but it has the disadvantages of being a bureaucratic-type word and being less likely to be in the vocabulary of various readers.

1. Newspeak: deceptive names:
In 1984, the government department for propaganda was named "The Ministry of Truth". In the defunct Soviet Union--an inspiration for 1984--the newspaper that was the Communist Party mouthpiece was named "Pravda"--which translated as "Truth" --and the other major newspaper was "Izvestia" --which translated to "News" or "Information". This led to the joke "There is no truth in Izvestia and there is no information in Pravda."

2. US examples of deceptive naming:
Potentially controversial legislation is often given a name that is the opposite of its intent. Current example: There is a bill before the US Congress entitled "Data Acquisition and Technology Accountability and Security Act" that is designed to reduce the requirements for reporting of computer break-ins to potentially affected consumers. It also would preempt states from passing stronger laws and nullify existing ones such as here in California. Reduced reporting reduces accountability and substantially weakens security.

3. Mislabeling people backfiring:
These are examples from current politics that I hope will be analogies to inspire readers to identify real-world instances appropriate for those they are mentoring. This general phenomenon is very common.
In the 2016 Presidential election, the Democrats' decided to brand those who disagreed with them as racists, misogynists, ..., deplorables. There are indications from the polling that this drove many to vote for Trump.
This tactic has continued with Progressives and their allied media branding Classic Liberals, Libertarians, Center Right and various others as being "racists", "White Supremacists", "White Nationalists" = "Alt-Right", ... The best headline I have seen in reaction to this is "I'm not alt-Right, but I soon will be." The author goes on to explain that he isn't changing his positions, but rather that the continuing expansion of the definition of "alt-Right" means that it will soon include him. Instead of the intended delegitimitizing those who are falsely branded as alt-Right, it is instead normalizing the real alt-Right. How? Instead of the alt-Right being a small group of extremists (White Nationalists) the label is now being applied to many with reasonable and conventional viewpoints. So if these are the people you are encountering or reading, the natural inclination is to infer that the label is simply a slur. A case of "The boy who cried wolf."
^We're All Fascists Now^ by Bari Weiss, Opinion, NY Times, 2018-03-07. This opinion piece was inspired by Progressives/Leftists disrupting a speech by ^Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers^ at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland OR, and the Dean for Diversity deciding to end the speech about halfway through. A collection of Progressive/Leftist groups falsely labeled Sommers as a fascist (and other things) and had asked the School to cancel her talk, claiming that "inviting a known fascist to our campus to encourage what we believe to be an act of aggression and violence toward members of our society who experience racial and gendered oppression."
"Violence" (and "harm") have been warped 1984-ish to try to suppress speech and legitimize violence against people disagreeing with the Progressive/Leftist dogma.
Note: I didn't find a good article describing the events--there were multiple articles and videos that covered fragments. Some of the articles minimized the disruption that can be seen in the multiple YouTube videos, most of these videos seem to be derived from one by Andy Ngo. I found nothing interesting about the disruption--it was simply yet another example of colleges and universities allowing protestors to shutdown other perspectives.
Prof. Steven Pinker (Harvard) used the analogy of the North Pole -- when you are there, everything is to the south -- to coin the term "the (political) Left Pole": all other positions are seen as Right wing (^In his own words (video)^).

4. Supposed Globalist slur:
An interesting instance of this is the article in The Atlantic entitled "^The Origins of the 'Globalist' Slur^" (2018-03-14). To support this assertion, the article goes through a number of examples where this term has been used over the years, with one of the earliest known instances being applied to Hitler. Try to wrap your head around that contradiction. In the final paragraph and contrary to what came before, the writer concludes the word is in fact an anti-Semitic slur.
The origins of these stories might be a 2018-03-09 ^tweet^ from the group ^Now This News^ featuring Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL has drifted far from its original purpose into being a cynically partisan operation. Watch the tweeted ADL video for cherrypicking and various logical fallacies.
The argument can be reduced to: Some (cherry-picked) of the people characterized as "Globalist"--including by themselves--are Jewish. Thus any criticism of Globalism must be anti-Semitic.
In the video clips of far-Right and alt-Right speakers, I saw no evidence of anti-Semitism in the use of that term. Those speakers are Nationalists and the basic beliefs of Nationalism and Globalism are conflicting, and thus their criticism of Globalism is to be expected.

5. Barron Park Donkey feeding:
I feed the donkeys Sunday evening at roughly 5 pm PDT (= 4 pm PST), weather and unusual events excepted. I bring the food to the gate so that children can hold the bowls and pet the donkeys. On the way there, I walk through the Play Area in Bol Park announcing myself. ^Location^. The website ^^ is temporarily down for an upgrade.

6. Highest vs tallest:
^Everest^ is the world's highest mountain at 29,029 feet, but it is only ^11,980-15,260 feet tall^. The former is measured from sea level and the latter (range) from its (sloping) base, which is the Tibetan Plateau. The tallest mountain is ^Mauna Kea^ on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is 13,803 feet high, but is 33,465 feet tall because its base is the sea floor. Interestingly, while Everest is higher than Mauna Kea, Mauna Kea is taller than Everest is high (boggle).
Should you disallow the underwater portion of mountains, then ^Denali^ (formerly McKinley) in Alaska is the tallest, at about 18,000 feet, but is only 20,310 feet high because it rises from a low plain. Aside: Mauna Kea's younger sister ^Mauna Loa^ is much larger, but it is about 120 feet shorter.
My experience is that few young children understand the distinction, so I ask them how tall they are and then ask would they be any taller if they stood on a chair (ladder...) or were in an airplane (flying overhead). Surprisingly, many of the younger children say "Yes". I then point out that they are higher up, and leave it to the parents to decided whether/when to pursue.
If you want to further educate/frustrate the child, point out that tall and high are commonly used interchangeable for objects where tallness is almost always the intended measure. For example, the height of an individual tree is not measured from sea level but from the ground it is growing in, and tallness is measured from the same point, thus "How high/tall is that tree?" are the same.
Except when it isn't. For example, when you are using a tree as a landmark because it rises noticeably above the canopy, you typically refer to it as the "tallest" or "highest" tree in the forest, even though it may well be neither of those. Because the forest obscures the contours of the ground from which it is growing, ground-level is not a useful reference point for determining tallness or height. The tree that has the greatest distance between the ground and top may be growing in a low area, such as a ravine, and may be invisible because it doesn't reach the top of the canopy. And a short tree growing on high ground may have a top that is at the highest elevation, but it is indistinguishably so from trees a little further down the slope. Consequently, the useful reference point become the sense of the top of the (uneven) canopy. and thus the canopy becomes that reference point. So the "tallest/highest" tree is a forest may neither be the "tallest" tree, nor the "highest" tree. Arggh.

7. "Must" and overly precise language (Humor):
"^Revisions to Hand-Washing Sign Made Necessary Thanks to a Certain Smart-Aleck Employee^" by Nate Dern - The New Yorker, 2017-07-31.

8. Religious instruction comment:
I pointed out that in my childhood in upstate New York, I couldn't remember anyone citing passages from the Bible, except as a literary work, similar to famous phrases from Shakespeare. And I asked if he had heard any such citations at college -- he hadn't. Christian religious instruction varied between the many denominations. Mine focused on interpreting the stories: What the ambiguities were, what was missing, what could or should be inferred, ...
Total aside: There was an interesting debate about the role of Protestantism in the rise of northern Europe over southern Europe. A core Protestantism belief was that people should read the Bible for themselves, and this provided a foundation of literacy, and it is argued that this is a significant factor in that rise. Others argue that Protestantism was merely an expression (consequence) of increasing cultural differences and it was those differences that were responsible for the rise.

9. Origins of "Master" :
"^Harvard House Masters Now Called 'Faculty Deans' ^ ", The Harvard Crimson, 2016-02-25.
"^Q&A on changing House master title^", Harvard Gazette, 2015-12.
"^Decisions on Residential College Names and 'Master' Title^", Statement from the Office of the President, Yale University, 2016-04-27.

10. Sarcasm: There is no news about whether Harvard, Yale et al. plan to rename their Masters programs out of fear that graduates might believe that their degrees entitle them to own slaves.

11. Lynch Memorial Hall
^Naming of Lebanon Valley College's Lynch building questioned amid equality push^, PennLive, 2015-12-08.

12. Draymond Green at Harvard
"^Draymond Green of Golden State Warriors talks race relations while serving as keynote speaker at Harvard University^" by Chris Haynes - ESPN, 2017-11-17.

13. Origins of "owner" :
"Owner" dates back to Old English, with dating of first-known-use before ^1200 AD^ or before ^1300-1350 AD^, and potentially before ^900 AD^.

14. Search Engine Optimization (SEO):
This is an industry whose primary focus is on exploiting the current quirks and other manipulations of various search engines to get their clients' pages ranked higher than justified. The search engine companies fight back by modifying their systems to negate these tactics, and the SEO groups find new tactics, and ...
However, some of the public advice about SEO involves legitimate improvements for web pages.

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 11:51 am

Related commentary on real-world, unconscious Newspeak (from a source I mentioned in a 2014 comment to this blog):

"If anything is characteristic of ideologies and ideological thinkers, it is the destruction of language, sometimes on the level of intellectual jargon of a high level of complication, sometimes on a vulgarian level. . ."

"Because of this attitude I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. I have in my files documents labeling me a Communist, a Fascist, a National Socialist, an old Liberal, a new Liberal, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Platonist, a neo-Augustinian, a Thomist, and of course a Hegelian -- not to forget that I was supposedly strongly infliuenced by Huey Long. This list I consider of some importance, because the various characterizations of course always name the pet bete noir of the respective critic" [and therefore give a picture of the ideologies that guide them and constrain their thinking].

-- Eric Voegelin (1901-1985), "Autobiographical Reflections" (1989, ISBN 0807115150). Voegelin refers to ideologies in the formal sense: man-made simplified reality models that purport to explain Big Questions here on earth (e.g., racism, positivism, behaviorism, Marxism, Fascism), whose adherents buy into them emotionally as real, thereafter accepting the ideology's premises as part of reality and therefore beyond examination.

Posted by Michael O., a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Globalist is an anti-Semitic slur when used as such, such as in Trump's closing campaign ad. Web Link I would argue that calling Cohn a "globalist" refers back to this ad, not to the definition of globalist that you chose it to be. Your comment, "The ADL has drifted far from its original purpose into being a cynically partisan operation," is an opinion that belies bias on your part since it is entirely based on opinion rather the facts that you so profess to love. And no, I don't take your review of videos of far-right and alt-right that concludes that their use of the term "globalist" is not anti-Semitic seriously. You know what their intentions are by watching a few videos?

Could you explain your use of the "Overton Window" more? I thought the concept was that unless an idea was acceptable to the electorate that it wouldn't be supported by a politician, and that unacceptable ideas can be made acceptable if the public believes that they are. You seem to be using it to suggest that groups (who you call "Progressives") are trying to make acceptable ideas unacceptable by labeling them certain ways. Is that how Overton or the Mackinac Center use the concept?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: Michael O. on Overton Window

Much of the discussion of the Overton Window is about moving it, with a focus on bringing previously unacceptable ideas into it. Recent examples are Gay Marriage and Marijuana. But "moving" also implies that ideas can be moved outside the Window.

> "who you call 'Progressives' "
I am using the name that they use to identify themselves.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: Michael O. on "Globalist"

> "such as in Trump's closing campaign ad."

I rewatched the ad and where Trump talked about Globalism, there were many pictures of Hillary Clinton and Xi Jinping, the President of the People's Republic of China, and pictures of various other world leaders. The only thing I saw that could be misconstrued as anti-Semitic was a "Wall Street" sign. Is criticizing the behavior of the big banks anti-Semitic?

> "Your comment, 'The ADL has drifted far from its original purpose into being a cynically partisan operation,' is an opinion..."

It has a very elastic position on what constitutes "civil rights" and "injustice". For example, it takes positions on many issues, such as US immigration policy, and uses its name to defame other perspectives as being hate groups.

The ADL has long been a major lobbying group for the nation of Israel and its government, and has a pattern of seeking to suppress criticism of Israel as being, by definition, anti-Semitic. It has been criticized for this by numerous prominent Jewish-Americans.

> "I don't take your review of videos of far-right and alt-right that concludes that their use of the term 'globalist' is not anti-Semitic seriously. You know what their intentions are by watching a few videos?"

It is not for me to know their intentions. It was the ADL that offered these clips as evidence of those speakers' intent in using the word (and they failed). Also, a word does not become an anti-Semitic slur if a few of the many people using it are anti-Semitic.

Posted by Quacks like a duck, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm

[[Blogger: removed as an ad hominem attack. At time of removal, it had zero "Likes" on my display. However, the commenter claims that it had his and one other. There can be delays in counters being updated.]]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 6:05 pm

You make some good points. But what you fail to include is that the language spoken as English in America can be very different from the language spoken as English elsewhere.

For example, a sign saying "no parking on pavement" may mean one thing in America whereby it seems to say that parking on a grass verge may be the place to park. The same sign in the UK would mean that parking on the road and not on the sidewalk is required and the grass verge would be in question. Likewise a common sign stating that "park is closed for league games" in American English seems to imply that only league games can use the park, whereas in other English speaking countries it could be understood that league games are unable to use the park and other uses are permitted.

Another thing is that some words have very subtle differences which can be confusing. Momentarily is one of those words. In America the word means in a moment whereas elsewhere it means for a moment. If you don't think that makes a difference think if someone tells you they will be home momentarily. To an American ear it means they will be home very soon. To a non-American ear it means they will be home at some stage but only for a very short time.

Language is indeed not a simple thing.

Posted by Quacks like a duck, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 7:44 pm

[[section removed by blogger for violating policy]].
Not sure why bill Johnson has given you a forum to spew your venom
But let me make it clear. You have a problem with the ADL and it has to do with the fact that it supports Jewish causes. Does that make you an anti-Semite. In my opinion it does, but feel free to consult with some “prominent American Jews" that you know for their opinion.

[[Blogger: This is an example of what I criticized the ADL for what they did with the word "Globalist" - defame people who disagree as being anti-Semites. And just how is a position on immigration a "Jewish cause"??]]

Posted by Quacks like a duck, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Doug- you clearly have no clue as to what the ADL does.
Here is a link to their page on immigrant and refugees rights

Web Link

You can also go Tom their website and click on the “what we do" button

[[Blogger: Example: From the ADL website, their press release on DACA (2018-02-16, Web Link characterizes those who don't support immediate passage of the current bill with phrases such as "nativist Senators" and "to try to force through RACIST and EXTREME initiatives that would rip families apart and undermine the very essence of our nation's core values" (emphasis added). My judgment is on demonization, not what position they are supporting.]]

Posted by Hank Niskanen, a resident of Southgate,
on Mar 17, 2018 at 10:49 pm

Sometimes even a precise word choice muddles. Take the puzzler: "How do you cut a cake into eight equal pieces with only three cuts?" The official answer is, you make two vertical cuts perpendicular to each another that divide the cake into quarters, then slice the cake in half with a horizontal cut midway down its thickness.

That works beautifully for a generic rectangular parallelepiped, but nobody in their right mind would ever do it to a frosted cake at a birthday party with eight eager kids.

The word cake is the precise muddler. Few people solve this puzzle as stated; almost everyone gets it quickly when asked to divide a cube with three cuts.

Don't mix culture and geometry.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Mar 18, 2018 at 6:14 pm

"No, I don't like to sleep alone
It's sad to think some folks do ([like to] sleep alone)
No I don't like to sleep alone
No one does (like to sleep alone)
Do you (sleep alone) ?"

The ambiguities in the original lyrics are a key element of the song's charm. Resolving them using strictly logical, linear grammar rules diminishes that charm. I propose that the ability to manage and appreciate such ambiguities is an essential feature of human intelligence; thus an AI system must demonstrate a corresponding capability to be considered intelligent in the spirit of the Turing test.

Posted by Michael O., a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 18, 2018 at 7:04 pm


The idea that a global conspiracy that controls finances and governments is run by Jews is an old antisemitic trope. Because you are unaware of it or don't see evidence of it in a video that (other than the Clintons) shows three prominent Jews -- George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein -- while describing a global conspiracy against "Americans" doesn't mean that it isn't there. You only saw Chinese and a Wall St. sign, but not the three Jews around which the ad is centered? Watch it again. But your may not want to see what is demonstrably there.

That the ADL "takes positions on issues" does not translate into it's being "a cynically partisan operation." That's your opinion and bias.

Since you don't know the intentions of how some on the alt-right use the term "globalism", then don't be so sure that you can be certain that they do not intend it as an antisemitic trope. You might consider using a Bayesian approach when you examine these things, taking into account prior probability.

You seem to put forward the idea that if you use precise and unambiguous language your meaning can be known. I have developed my own "sensitivity to misuse and manipulation of language" since I also believe that it "is a foundation of critical thinking." I wish you would be more aware of it yourself.



Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 18, 2018 at 9:49 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

It is really annoying when certain opinionated media personalities conjure up notions of "racism" whenever it is politically expedient. As a Hispanic woman, I feel like those in the media who tend to allege racism are most often extremely liberal white pundits. They somehow connect anything said by politicians that they disagree with as being motivated by race, bigotry of [insert any group]+phobia.

I also find it interesting that many liberal pundits and politicians -- including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- complained about the rapid "outsourcing" of jobs during the Bush presidency. Yet, those same people changed their rhetoric to describe what they called a "new normal" for "the global economy."

You rarely heard a word about "outsourcing" starting in 2009. I guess that such pundits and politicians were too busy heralding a forthcoming "summer of recovery" amidst all of those jobs that were supposedly "saved or created" while the unemployment rate continued to rise for a couple of years into the Obama presidency.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 18, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

I believe that many consequences of globalism are harmful to the American economy (particularly for working class Americans). This has nothing to do with any crazy anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Now, I've heard conspiracy theories about Jews before. These were primarily in foreign countries. I studied abroad for some time during graduate school. It was strange to hear such things -- primarily about American and European Jews -- by, for instance, Spaniards who were engaged in small talk while people sat at spots around town.

During grad school, my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) had many classmates and friends from around the world. Some of them would subtly imply these sort of wild conspiracies involving Jews (and they were unaware that my husband's grandmother was Jewish). He would gently (and, on a few occasions, bluntly) offer rebuttals to such notions.

One of my husband's acquaintances during grad school was a fellow grad student from Bangladesh who worked as a resident adviser. That young man's parents worked for the United Nations. During a random conversation, that young man implied that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were meant to strike fear, as he said, "into the heart of Jewish control on the international banking and financial sector." He even said that he expected that the next attack would strike "Jewish control of the media."

My husband immediately challenged this young man's conspiracy theories. However, he never really had a friendly conversation with him ever again.

So, yes, those conspiracies about "Jews controlling banking" or "Jews controlling Hollywood" or "Jewish nepotism" are widespread. However, I think that is an incredibly poor stretch to imply that "globalist" is an anti-Semitic slur or that arguing against certain aspects of globalism implies Antisemitism. That is a lot like looking at the clouds and seeing monsters.

Posted by Decoder, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

"Some (cherry-picked) of the people characterized as "Globalist"--including by themselves--are Jewish. Thus any criticism of Globalism must be anti-Semitic. In the video clips of far-Right and alt-Right speakers, I saw no evidence of anti-Semitism in the use of that term. Those speakers are Nationalists and the basic beliefs of Nationalism and Globalism are conflicting, and thus their criticism of Globalism is to be expected."

The dog whistle goes like this: Jews are bad. Jews are Globalists. Therefore Globalism is bad. We are good. Therefore we are not Globalists, we are Nationalists.

Apparently hard core Nationalists do not fully trust their man Trump to protect them from liberals, hence the dog whistle.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 19, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Globalist"

I am calling an end to discussion about this term.

From the blog and comments above, you should be able to see a major divide about what is sufficient evidence. Compare and contrast for yourself what is treated as contrary evidence and whether there is "backwards reasoning" (starting with a conclusion and finding evidence to support it).

Summarizing mine: I cited dictionary entries and 70+ years of widespread and on-going use corresponding to those definitions. Note that when a word is a slur, dictionaries include that in the definitions, and that "Globalist" doesn't have that. I dismissed the video clips as not being evidence because I saw no evidence in them that what was said was anything other than the Globalist-Nationalist dichotomy that is part of many dictionary definitions. I found it suspicious that the claim of being a slur was motivated by Trump's use of the word in a compliment.

I won't attempt to summarize the opposing comments because they represent they are too different from how I approach an issues that I wouldn't be able to do so fairly.

Posted by Grammar Guy, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Mar 19, 2018 at 2:59 pm

[[Blogger: deleted.
1). Was about "Globalism".
2). Its single argument directly contradicted the position it was supporting.

Posted by Grammar Guy, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Mar 19, 2018 at 5:20 pm

"[[Blogger: deleted.
1). Was about "Globalism".
2). Its single argument directly contradicted the position it was supporting.

Nonsense. About dictionaries, not globalism. Deleted because it made the blogger look like a fool. Spoke truth to ego. Put it back if you dare, Doug.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 19, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Grammar Guy

His posting was "Note that when a word is a slur, dictionaries include that in the definitions, and that "Globalist" doesn't have that." Dictionaries are by their nature lagging arbiters of the language. Usage leads definition. Always."

Those claiming it was a slur identified it as going back many decades. Surely many decades is enough time for dictionaries to catch up. Yet Grammar Guy argues that this is too new to be in the dictionary.

Troll. This was (2) in my deletion decision.

Posted by Mary B., a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 21, 2018 at 2:54 pm

"In our religious instruction, we Jews are taught to carefully examine what is written and to argue about it. You Christians are taught to memorize." I told him he was wrong about the second part, ... "

Your friend was not wrong. In my Catholic school our entire religious instruction, hours per day, consisted of memorizing questions and answers from our approved ("nihil obstat, imprimatur") Catechism book. We never cracked open a Bible or other original text. No doubting or questioning was allowed. They also taught us that the Catholic Church was the sole Christian church, so it seems your friend had it exactly right, per a dozen centuries of fraught coexistence.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 21, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Mary B. is correct in that some Christian education consisted mostly or entirely of memorization. This might be the policy of a denomination, such as Roman Catholic, or of individual congregations within a denomination.

But there were Protestant denominations where inquiry was central to the instruction: "What do you think is meant by this story or passage." My instruction included asking questions even about the credibility and consistency of various section.

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