The Week’s Tweets (2010-06-27)

  • Sitting on my parents' lawn in West Virginia, listening to a widespread outbreak of honking car horns-guessing, soccer related? #
  • My latest Went West column thinks you're an idiot if you think you could never forget a baby in a hot car. #wtcomm #
  • "Punditry is a whole industry built on confirmation bias." (I.e., we don't read pundits for information.) #
  • I agree with Jonathan Chait that the GOP probably isn't "deliberately" trying to sabotage the economy. #
  • Drones-now patrolling our southern border-have an "accident rate 100 percent higher than manned aircraft." #
  • Britishism of the day: describing value of having one manager for a complex project, my source says he liked "having one throat to choke." #
  • Well, I guess we just rebooted the Afghan War. But maybe it will turn out better after another ten years! #
  • Republican recipient of $1 million in farm subsidies erects billboard calling Dems the "party of parasites." #
  • My latest Went West column is a personal report from the fringes of the mortgage crisis. (Corrected link.) #
  • My latest Went West column is a personal report from the fringes of the mortgage crisis. #

How Can I Make Sure I Won’t Leave My Baby in my Car?

That’s the question we parents need to ask ourselves upon reading this:

“A researcher says 18 children have died of hyperthermia since the beginning of the year, with eight deaths reported since June 13. That’s the largest number of fatalities through the first half of a year since Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University, began tracking the data in the late 1990s.”

Not all of these deaths resulted from forgetfulness. Some were the result of unsupervised children accidentally locking themselves inside cars that had been left unlocked, then dying before anyone discovered them there. This is a good argument for not leaving your car unlocked, no matter how “safe” you like to pretend your cute little town is.

But most of these deaths are the result of people accidentally leaving babies in the car. The usual scenario is that the baby has fallen asleep, and-because of a change in routine or preoccupation with something else (like, say, the performance review someone has to discuss with a boss later that day)-the distracted parent or other caregiver goes into a store, a house, or a workplace.

And unfortunately, it doesn’t take much heat or time for the worst to happen.

Babies and young children are terrible at dealing with heat, compared to adults. It’s because they have so much less surface area through which to shed it.

Mix that with the fact that the temperature inside a closed-up car can rise as much as 29 degrees in as few as 20 minutes (according to this study), and you can see the recipe for disaster even on what might feel like a cool breezy day.

I guess this is why the fireman didn’t hesitate very long before breaking the window. I still remember watching this scene, as a small child myself, in the parking lot of the local post office, where I’d gone on an errand with my father.

A young mother had locked her baby in her car and all the windows were up. Fortunately, she hadn’t forgotten about her baby, but she’d locked her keys inside the car and didn’t have a spare. (Hey, why not make sure you have one in your wallet right now?)

One of the firefighters was trying to slim-jim the door but wasn’t getting anywhere. Another firefighter, who clearly understood the stakes a little better, walked back to the fire truck and came back with a hammer.

The natural tendency, when we learn of terrible mistakes made by other people, is to look for reasons why those people are idiots and, therefore, we would never make the same mistakes.

You’ll notice this tendency anytime you are present for a discussion of someone who has gotten lost in the woods, swept away by a flood, eaten by a bear, bitten by a shark, and on and on. Faced with a terrifying, unpredictable world, we like to believe we’re more in control than we really are, so-by implication-when terrible things happen to other people, we like to believe that anyone in that situation would have had the power to avoid it. Therefore, it’s the victim’s fault when he or she couldn’t. (What else explains the pleasure of watching horror movies whose main characters seem too stupid to even dress themselves?)

This victim-blaming tendency is immediately visible in the comments responding to the article I quoted at the beginning of this column:

  • “My kid is always in my mind, so I don’t understand forgetting.”
  • “How in the hell does some one forget that a child is in the car with them, if your mind is that far gone you need not be driving with a child in the car.”
  • “These are total f*ing idiots!!! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS???!!!!”
  • “How the F#&$^ can it be harder to remember your CHILD than your stupid phone?”
  • Having reassured themselves that they are not the kind of idiot that could leave a kid in a car, these commenters will now go about their business.

    Think it couldn’t happen to you, either?

    Enjoy thinking that. Meanwhile, I’m going to think about something a little more useful: how to decrease the chances that it could. Because I’m of the opinion that any human who puts a baby in a car is at risk of forgetting it there.

    So, how do we do it? How can we make sure we don’t leave our babies in a hot car?

    Here are the suggestions from the article:

    “Safety groups such as Kids and Cars and Safe Kids USA urge parents to check the back seat every time they exit the vehicle and to create a reminder system for themselves. Some parents leave their cell phone or purse on the floor near the car seat to ensure they retrieve it along with the child. Others remind themselves by placing a stuffed animal in the car seat when the child isn’t using the seat and putting the toy in the front seat when the child is tucked in the car seat.”

    I’ve also heard of keeping a clothespin or something similar attached to the kid’s car seat. When the kid goes in, the clothespin goes somewhere that will help you remember the kid, such as on your visor, on the door handle, or maybe on your nipple.

    Whatever you do, the most important thing is to pay attention: to how your mind works; to how your spouse’s mind works; and to situations that increase the chances of something like this happening (e.g., when a different person than usual drives the baby to day care).

    Probably the most important thing is not to decide that it could never happen to you.

    I’m betting that none of those 18 parents mentioned at the beginning of this column ever thought it could happen to them, either.

The Week’s Tweets (2010-06-20)

  • Wow marathons are annoying. #
  • "He has that knife in his pocket just in case he has to cut someone else an emergency set of jean shorts." #
  • GOP: responsibility/accountability great for poor people/schools. But for corporations, it's "Chicago-style shakedown." #
  • "Don't push me, because I'm close to the edge." #
  • When I eat un- or lightly-salted peanuts, I am reminded that I don't really like peanuts, I like salt. #
  • Oenophiles aren't so smart. #
  • "When you learn something new, you quickly redact your past so you can feel the comfort of always being right." #
  • Surprised to hear Christian radio host claim that atheists believe humans are "naturally good." What?! #
  • "If we could make money selling human body parts for food, we would, but the law does not allow it." #
  • Impossible to "shame" corporations. Want better behavior? Only choice: change laws to increase financial penalties. #
  • "Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart." #
  • "The people who did this are not clowns," one professional clown said. #
  • "Hi, we’re here from immigration. Do you mind if we come in to look and see if two towels are wet?" #
  • Ladies: letting me be chivalrous just might be an act of kindess and generosity. #feminism #gender #
  • My latest Went West column: Always make the dump run, and other lessons on How To Be A Man. #

The Week’s Tweets (2010-06-13)

  • Apparently it would be a bad idea to wear Calvin Klein's "Obsession for Men" on safari. (Cue "cougar" jokes.) #
  • Just because teen sailor Abby Sunderland was found safe doesn't mean it's too late for you to judge her parents for letting her go at all. #
  • BP has 13 more chances to figure out how to do deepwater drilling in the Gulf. #
  • "Learnings"? #
  • RT @OnSafety: 41 people (13 kids) died in ATV incidents between May 25 and June 7. #
  • "[T]his so-called … 'worm-ball head cat’ was not the easiest thing in the world to handle." #
  • GOP Rep. Boehner wants a taxpayer-funded bailout for BP: #
  • Teen circumnavigator "rolled," lost her mast-but seems to be okay! #
  • carol #
  • Would-be youngest circumnavigator has gone missing after sending out distress signals in the Indian Ocean. #
  • Kool hwip. #
  • Shorter Caitlin Flanagan: "made-up trend toward [teen] hookups explained by a made-up trend toward binge drinking!" #
  • Ex-professor talks to only student he ever busted for plagiarism. #
  • Congrats to Rush Limbaugh on his fourth-but no less "traditional"-marriage! #
  • Sorry Orly Taitz lost in CA, but looking forward to campaign of anti-flouridationist Sharron Angle in Nevada. #
  • The "energy" the Tea Party brought to NV primary will probably ensure Harry Reid keeps his seat this fall. #
  • Why so many doubt global warming? "The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total." #
  • Could the "Just-World Fallacy" be at the heart of the resentment politics practiced by, e.g., the Tea Party? #
  • "U.S. soldiers approach Omaha Beach, their weapons wrapped in plastic to keep them dry, June 1944." #
  • Universities: to dist. yrselves frm used car dealers and credit card cos., put "total cost of degree" next to "cost per credit hour." #
  • Quoting Marvin Gaye in re: U. S. Grant. "I come up hard, but that's OK\Cause trouble man, don't get in my way." #

It’s all I can do to resist beginning this post with “so”

I’d been noticing for some time that more and more people are starting sentences with “so,” formerly known only as a conjunction, so I’m tickled to see that the New York Times printed an article on the subject a few weeks back.

However, I think the article sabotages itself by trying to lump too many different new uses of “so” together, as if these are all related just because they involve (mis)use of the same word. Trying to dissuade journalists from grasping for grand unifying theories is a vain task, of course. But still I don’t know quite what to make of claims like the one in the following quote, or maybe it’s just that I can’t quite picture what it sounds like when someone is going after this particular effect:

“But in the algorithmic times that have come, ‘so’ conveys an algorithmic certitude. It suggests that there is a right answer, which the evidence dictates and which must not be contradicted. Among its synonyms, after all, are ‘consequently,’ ‘thus’ and ‘therefore.'”

If you say so. But considering that we’re talking about new uses of “so,” I’m not sure if making recourse to words that are only its synonyms when it is being used correctly really helps get us anywhere useful.

The particular use of “so” that began catching my ear at least a few years back usually occurs in a specific context. A person with a lot of technical knowledge, such as a scientist, is speaking to a lay person when it becomes clear that the lay person will need some backgrounding before they can understand the answer to a question or some other point that the first person wants to make. (I’m not surprised to read in the article that “Microsoft employees have long argued that the ‘so’ boom began with them,” although, if I may express a peeve about newspaper web sites, this would be a perfect place for a link to some examples.)

Here’s the kind of usage I’m talking about, from an interview for one of the technology case studies I write.

Me: “A lot of industries are affected by fluctuating supply costs and things like that. Why is it so important in your industry in particular that you be able to respond so quickly to those kinds of changes?”

Interviewee: “So we’re really a data company. We sell food, but our products are commodities, so all we can compete on is price. Anything that helps us analyze price and supply data better than or just sooner than our competitor helps us stay on top.”

The knowledge being imparted need not be technical, of course; the same usage could arise when one person is telling another person a story from a context the second person isn’t familiar with.

Person 1: “There I was, in my graduation gown, covered in mud-”

Person 2: “Wait, what?”

Person 1: “So, in my town there was this old disused quarry, and the tradition was, every graduating class of seniors would….” Etc.

There is, for me, a suggestion that the “knowledgeable” person is sort of having to pause the incredible rush of facts and ideas through his head and pick out the pieces that the “ignorant” person needs. (This is most pronounced with usages in more technical conversations.) “So” functions here as a sort of verbal finger hovering over the page, looking for the best place back up to so you can start over and get everyone up to speed.

To my ear, the usage also implies the existence of-or at least the “knowledgeable” person’s belief in the existence of-a power gradient favoring the speaker, if only because it seems clear to the speaker that the other person “needs” the information that will follow. “I know things you don’t know,” it seems to say. “But wait, don’t worry, I’ll share some of them with you.”

Maybe I’m wrong, though, because the idea of using “so” to emphasize or at least point out a power gradient seems kind of the opposite of what Galina Bolden argues that it is used for:

To begin a sentence with “oh,” she said in an e-mail message, is to focus on what you have just remembered and your own concerns. To begin with “so,” she said, is to signal that one’s coming words are chosen for their relevance to the listener.

The ascendancy of “so,” Dr. Bolden said, “suggests that we are concerned with displaying interest for others and downplaying our interest in our own affairs.”

Maybe so, maybe so. Dr. Bolden is a linguist who has apparently written several academic papers about the use of the word in question, so she should know.

Still, for my money, the best description of the usage I’ve been observing comes in the letter to the editor from which I learned about the original article in the first place. Though I don’t quite agree with the writer, a Mr. Ernest Priestley of Seattle, Washington, that the usage is “annoying,” I do agree that:

“Beginning an answer with “so” implies that the answerer is drawing a conclusion from a body of knowledge to which she is privy and the listener is not. She is not just answering; she is explaining. The tone is professorial and slightly condescending.

‘So’ implies expertise and special knowledge, enhancing the weight of the answer and the status of the answerer. Hence, I suppose, the quick spread of this usage into venues other than the college lecture hall and the high-tech community.”

Sounds about right to me.

The less you know, the less you think there is to know

I’m enjoying the heck out of a new blog called You Are Not So Smart, which-according to its About page-is “devoted to self delusion and irrational thinking.”

Perhaps you are wondering which blog isn’t, but of course this one is actually devoted to exploring and explaining the reasons for self delusion and irrational thinking, which puts it in rather more rarefied company.

For example, this post on the Dunning-Kruger effect helps explain why it is such a headache-inducing waste of time to argue about global warming with people who’ve gotten their entire education on the subject from insecure weathermen and furious right-wing screeds about the University of East Anglia’s email leak.

“The more skilled you are, the more practice you’ve put in, the more experience you have, the better you can compare yourself to others. As you strive to improve, you begin to better understand where you need work. You start to see the complexity and nuance; you discover masters of your craft and compare yourself to them and see where you are lacking.

On the other hand, the less skilled you are, the less practice you’ve put in and the fewer experiences you have, the worse you are at comparing yourself to others on certain tasks. Your peers don’t call you out because they know as much as you do, or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Your narrow advantage over novices leads you to think you are the shit.”

The above quote comes from a line of reasoning about why, say, so many obvious incompetents seem so surprised to be told that’s what they are when auditioning for American Idol, but it also seems to neatly sum up the mindset of someone who has spent about five minutes actually considering the body of knowledge known as climate science (as opposed to the time they’ve spent considering the body of “knowledge” informing the industry that has been created to defeat the findings of climate scientists).

And a quote from Charles Darwin thrown in by the post’s author seems to neatly encapsulate the desperate feeling of frustration that so often comes over me in discussions with opponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), or opponents of vaccines, or opponents of Keynesian economic interventions, and on and on.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

At any rate, I am reminded of the form response I recently prepared in the course of the last on-line argument I’ll ever have about global warming. As it happened, I got the last word in that argument without having to deploy this, but I offer it here for your own reuse and modification in similar circumstances. You don’t have to credit me:

[Name redacted], I would really encourage you to check out a book, like the one I linked or any other similar one you like, that drinks the Kool-Aid and talks about (1) what the AGW conspiracists would at least like you to believe, and (2) the evidence they claim to have that supports that belief. You might also want to double-check critics’ claims about whether the IPCC “ignores” something, which you can easily do here.

Then you will have a better idea of the types of objections and arguments that would be necessary to really confront the theory as a whole. The ones you offer are simply insufficient. You can quickly prove this to yourself on line, if you’re really interested-if you’re arguing in good faith. Let me know if you want some help devising search terms, but I’m not going to get into a link battle. I’ve had lots of these discussions, and I decided recently that-even if I could convince every self-styled “skeptic” (most of them not skeptical enough by half) of what I think are the error of their ways-it’s too big a job to do for free.

This is because, in my experience, the skeptic tends to set an impossibly high standard for pro-AGW evidence but has virtually no lower limit on the quality of the anti-AGW evidence they will accept.

More specifically, before they will be convinced, they demand to see it proved that-unlike any other scientific discipline (or, indeed, any other complex human enterprise in general)-the field of climate science does not include at least some charlatans or incompetents, or that there is not a single weakness (if only intuitively apparent to non-specialists) in any component of the theories proposed or data used. I can’t prove these things, of course, but even if I could, I’d still have to respond to criticisms like “but Al Gore lives in a big house” or “but Obama burns fossil fuels when he flies around in Air Force One” or “but bankers have figured out a way to get rich from global warming just like they have from everything else.”

In fact, I have often looked into objections raised by skeptics, and have never needed more than a few minutes of searching to understand what they have overlooked, or how little effect their claims would have on the validity of the overarching theory even if true. This is because the edifice that is the theory of AGW is very large and complex, and it is built on a broad, deep foundation consisting of hundreds of years of data from dozens of fields. The building will not fall down, in other words, just because someone pulls out a few bricks.

I know my saying that won’t necessarily be enough to convince you-it’s not meant to be-but I hope you’re enough of a critical thinker to avoid concluding that my unwillingness to rehearse the entire theory of AGW before your eyes means that I’m not credible, and that you will continue to ask challenging questions of any sources you consult on this topic. Good luck in your ongoing studies!

By the way, in case you were wondering if I would like to debate you on any of the non-AGW topics I mentioned, I’ll have to beg off there, too. But thanks for reading!

Did you know you can subscribe to Margin Notes by email? No more than one email per day (and then only if there is anything new to report). What’s not to like?

The Week’s Tweets (2010-06-06)

  • Assembling the bikes. #
  • Relieved to hear it: "there's never been evidence of secret Facebook rituals". #
  • I know real estate has changed recently, but is it normal for buyers to require you to bark like a dog before the sale can go through? #
  • Hey Word, how about just keeping the "large amount of text on the clipboard"? If I need it, I need it. If not, we can forget it on shutdown. #
  • Pedantic copywriters: there's a difference between errors and ignorance. Besides, if you "educate" everyone successfully, you have no job. #
  • Hint #215 your news source may be lying to you: Keeps saying Fannie/Freddie + Barney Frank caused housing bubble. #
  • Accused adulterer Nikki Haley is in good GOP company (Gingrich, McCain, etc.), so here's hoping they forgive her. #
  • It's the birthday of Dr. Ruth, who among other things trained with the Israeli army to be a sniper. #
  • Woman have "spring lines" and "what everyone's wearing this fall," men have "new shaving systems." #
  • Thanks for the RT and the compliment! RT @angelahopp: More great writing from @stokes. #
  • Current Israeli government = sleeper force with goal of destroying Israel? #
  • Over at Went West: I drove cross-country and didn't learn a thing about the national character. #