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April 24th, 2006 (Permalink)

Check 'Em Out

April 21st, 2006 (Permalink)

Blurb Watch: "Scary Movie 4"

According to a newspaper ad for the new "Scary Movie" sequel, one critic pronounced it:

-Chris Kaltenbach, THE BALTIMORE SUN

However, if you check Kaltenbach's review, the only place that the word "hilarious" occurs is here (emphasis added):

If you're Airplane!, of course, it doesn't matter that no one realizes you're parodying an old Dana Andrews flick, Zero Hour! The jokes are so consistently hilarious, and so relentless, that the source material doesn't really matter. Scary Movie 4 doesn't enjoy that luxury―something director David Zucker, who 26 years ago was one-third of the writer-director team on Airplane!, should have realized.

This is the worst contextomy that I've ever seen in a movie ad blurb, which is saying something. The word "hilarious" isn't describing "Scary Movie 4" at all, but the earlier movie "Airplane!", to which the current movie is being unfavorably compared.

However, while there is only the one occurrence of the word "hilarious", the adverb "hilariously" also occurs in the following passage (emphasis added):

Anna Faris, her deadpan comic timing still a joy to watch, returns as Cindy Campbell, one of two main holdovers from the first three movies…. Still a naive, ever-trusting island of cluelessness in a sea of utter insanity, she blithely, hilariously goes about her business while the jokes fly willy-nilly around her.

I suppose that the ad writer might claim to have been quoting this while dropping the suffix. If this is the source of the blurb, then it isn't quite as bad a contextomy as quoting a favorable word that describes a different movie. Instead, it quotes a favorable word that describes only part of the movie, which is one of the oldest tricks in the ad writer's bag.


April 20th, 2006 (Permalink)
Oil Through the Ages

Close Enough for CNN

Here's the first paragraph of a recent CNN report:

Oil prices jumped above $72 a barrel to yet another record Wednesday after a government report said supplies of crude made a surprise decline and gasoline stocks fell far more than expected.

And here's the seventh paragraph (emphasis added):

Oil has been hitting record highs in recent sessions, unadjusted for inflation, on supply worries fed by fears of a confrontation with Iran, the world's fourth-biggest producer. But it's also within sight of inflation-adjusted highs of around $80 a barrel set in the late 1970s and early 1980s following the gas crisis and the Iranian revolution.

This is why you should always read a news story all the way to the end, because sometimes the later paragraphs take back what was said in the headline or first paragraph. But it gets better―or worse, depending on how you look at it: look at the Reuters chart included as a sidebar. There you will see that the inflation-adjusted price of oil in 1980 was actually closer to $90 a barrel than to $80, which the article claims. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Reuters is correct, though the record appears to have been set in 1981. So, the current nominal "record" high price is in fact over $15 less per barrel than the real record. I guess that's "within sight", though, if you're a CNN reporter.

Source: Steve Hargreaves, "Oil Jumps Above $72 to New High", CNN Money, 4/19/2006

Resource: "Real Petroleum Prices", Energy Information Agency, 4/2006

April 19th, 2006 (Permalink)

A Time Travel Puzzle

A traveller left Rotterdam on September 9th. After a two day voyage, he arrived in London on August 31st. After staying for a week, he left London on September 18th. After a three day voyage, he arrived in Stockholm on September 10th. Four days later, he left for home. After another two day voyage, he arrived in Rotterdam on September 27th. What year was it?

If you think that you can answer the puzzle, send your solution to Doctor Who? by April 1st, 2006. The Grand Prize is your very own TARDIS. All correct entries received after the deadline but before the end of the month will win an all-new, 100% natural, official Fallacy Files Boobyprize™, worth up to $195.99.


Acknowledgment: Thanks to John Congdon for the puzzle.

April 18th, 2006 (Permalink)

Check it Out

"The Numbers Guy"'s latest column is, as usual, worth reading as a whole, but here are a couple of specific points of interest:

Source: Carl Bialik, "Measuring the Child-Porn Trade", The Numbers Guy, 4/18/2006

April 9th, 2006 (Permalink)


Colon a Little Hesitant

April 6th, 2006 (Permalink)

About Us

We specialize in strategic visionary innovative transformational solutions that leverage users, processes and information to enable change and attain best practice service and productivity. We easily comprehend, and advise on, vision and strategy. We possess the ability to quickly conceive strategic applications and process changes that enable attainment of strategy. We have delivered several solutions targeting user experience. We have extensive experience developing strategies, conceiving end-to-end solutions, and driving delivery to exceed intended results. Solutions are innovative, strategic, and typically improve delivery or internal productivity to best practice levels. We leverage our extensive experience to create, expand or revise strategies as needed to compete. Areas of expertise include the following:
  • User-centered solutions that maximize user experience, drive revenue and reduce cost.
  • Solutions that seamlessly integrate enterprises.
  • Our own next-generation approach to systems delivery that delivers order-of-magnitude improvements in time to market and ability to exceed expectations.

Speaking of doublespeak―or double speaking of it―the above blather is a Reader's Digest version of an egregious example of inflated business language that I recently came across. It's so full of hot air that it doesn't really mean much, but it might translate into English as: "We can help you to make much more money than you thought you could." So, if you need your enterprises seamlessly integrated, your user experiences maximized, and your strategies leveraged, we're the ones for you!

April 5th, 2006 (Permalink)

Doublespeak Watch

Slate has an interesting article on a popular mistake about military doublespeak:

Countless news articles and blog entries over the past two and a half years have claimed that "transfer tube" is the new Pentagon-speak for "body bag." … But the U.S. military does not refer to body bags as either "transfer tubes" or "transport tubes." Mortuary suppliers have been using the designation "pouch, human remains" since at least 1965, and the Pentagon has recognized "human remains pouch" (or HRP for short) as the official term since the first Gulf War.

"HRP" is actually better military doublespeak than "transfer tube". For one thing, the military loves initials, as in "MRE", which stands for "Meal, Ready-to-Eat". Moreover, both "body bag" and "human remains pouch" are uncomfortably explicit about what they're for, but "HRP" calls up no images of dead bodies, unless you happen to know and think about what the letters mean.

Source: Benjamin Zimmer, "How Does the Pentagon Say 'Body Bag'?", Slate, 4/4/2006

April 4th, 2006 (Permalink)

Sentence First―Verdict Afterwards

Rebecca Goldin of STATS has an excellent analysis of a recent Associated Press article on anti-pornography efforts. Goldin's analysis is worth reading as a whole, but I have a few passing comments on the AP article:



April 1st, 2006 (Permalink)

Reader Response

"I've tried to keep quiet, but I just can't hold it in any longer. I have to tell everyone that the Fallacy Files has graduated from occasionally exempting itself from the few principles it has to betraying them altogether. Here's a quick review: To make sure you understand, I'll spell it out for you. For starters, the Fallacy Files is not interested in what is true and what is false or in what is good and what is evil. In fact, those distinctions have no meaning to it whatsoever. Why? We must obviously ask ourselves questions like that before it's too late, before the Fallacy Files gets the opportunity to mold your mind and have you see the world not as it is, but as it wants you to see it. I am making a pretty serious accusation here. I am accusing the Fallacy Files of planning to abandon the idea of universal principles and focus illegitimately on the particular. And I don't want anyone to think that I am basing my accusation only on the fact that its arguments would be a lot more effective if they were at least accurate or intelligent, not just a load of bull for the sake of being controversial. The next time the Fallacy Files decides to divert us from proclaiming what in our innermost conviction is absolutely necessary, it should think to itself, cui bono?―who benefits? As a parenthetical note, I want to give people more information about the Fallacy Files, help them digest and assimilate and understand that information, and help them draw responsible conclusions from it. Here's one conclusion I certainly hope people draw: The Fallacy Files can't attack my ideas, so it attacks me. It could be worse, I suppose. It could blow the whole situation way out of proportion. Finally, this has been a good deal of reading, and undeniably difficult reading at that. Still, I hope you walk away from it with the new knowledge that the Fallacy Files is consistently inconsistent."

Source: "My Complaint about the Fallacy Files", 4/1/2006

Solution to Time Travel Puzzle (5/2/2006): 1752. Here is John Congdon's explanation of the answer:

The key to the puzzle is the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. All the Netherlands had adopted the Gregorian calendar by the end of 1700, so our traveler left Rotterdam on September 9, 1752 (Gregorian). Great Britain was still on the Julian calendar when he arrived on September 11 (Gregorian), so the official date was still August 31 (Julian). However, Great Britain changed from Julian to Gregorian three days later, so September 2 (Julian) was followed by September 14 (Gregorian). Therefore, when our traveler left London, the date was September 18 (Gregorian). When our traveller arrived in Stockholm, the date in London was September 21 (Gregorian). However, since Sweden did not change to the Gregorian calendar until the following spring, September 21 (Gregorian) was still September 10 (Julian) in Stockholm. When he left Stockholm and returned to Rotterdam, he also returned to the Gregorian calendar, arriving on September 27 (Gregorian), having been away 18 days.

In other words, our traveler did not travel forwards and backwards in time. He only travelled forward in time, at the same rate as the rest of us, but into and out of places that did not reckon the date the same way as each other.

Thanks again to John, and congratulations to the following winners who determined the correct year: Paul Farrington, Steven Haddock, Kranthi Marupaka, Przemysław Płaskowicki, and Vamshi. An honorable mention goes to John Lavett. The boobyprizes have been shipped and should have arrived sometime last year.

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