Evacuee, Apocalypse & Hiroshima: Katrina Continues to Impact Language

Katrina Continues to Impact Language, Media and Politics

 

AUSTIN, Texas.   (August 30, 2010) – Katrina had a deep and lasting impact on how America looks at catastrophes and crises in the early 21st century.  And Katrina’s influence is becoming all the more pervasive as the effects of the crisis linger and the reality of the magnitude of the destruction continues to come to light.  An exclusive analysis by the Global Language Monitor (GLM) using it analytical resources, underscores how some five years after the event, Katrina continues to have an out-sized impact on our cultural landscape.  Last year, GLM ranked the Top Stories in the Global Media during the first decade of the 21st century.  Katrina ranked No. 8.

Background:  It is often said that the war in Viet Nam was the first war to be broadcast directly into American living rooms (back when people still gathered for dinner together and watched network news broadcasts).  We watched in horror at the mass destruction of the Towers falling a quarter of a century later, many of us on our computer screens.  But it was the unfolding of the inundation of New Orleans after the levees gave way that provided us with any number of up-close-and personal tragedies that would unfold (and float) before our disbelieving eyes.

Among the most prominent example of Katrina’s continuing cultural impact include:

  1. Refugee vs. Evacuee – At the time GLM’s analysis found that the term for the displaced, refugees, appeared 5 times more frequently in the global media than the more neutral, evacuees.  At the term, refugee was cited as racially insensitive.  Never endorsed by the AP Stylebook, currently the word refugee is used in the media some fifty times more than evacuee.
  2. “Heckova job, Brownie!” – GLM named this paraphrase of President Bush’s actual remark, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” as the most memorable phrase of 2005.  The phrase, according to a Reuter’s report at the time, “became a national punch line for countless jokes and pointed comments about the administration’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster”.  Even now variations of the phrase are used to criticize less-than-stellar efforts, such as when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Heck of a job, Barry” (her nickname for President Obama) in her Dec. 29th, 2009 column.
  3. Apocalyptic Imagery — The Southeast Asia Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people occurred nine months before Katrina, so audiences were somewhat familiar with horrific images of exotic locales as scenes of mass destruction.  However, the thought of the devastation unfolding in a major, revered US city, with the world watching the only remaining superpower, apparently unable to mobilize the necessary resources to stop the ongoing destruction and loss of life proved more than the press could handle.  Immediately, the global press echoed with apocalyptic imagery.  The Times in London led with: “Devastation that could send an area the size of England back to the Stone Age” and continued describing “a paranoid post-apocalyptic landscape … where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation, any semblance of modern society has gone.”
  4. The Hiroshima Analogy – Katrina hit landfall shortly after the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.   AP cited Mississippi governor Haley Barbour “Struggling with what he calls Hurricane Katrina’s nuclear destruction … [showing] the emotional strain of leading a state through a disaster of biblical proportions”.  However, the analogy continues to be used in light of the lingering effects of a drawn-out and, some would argue, less-than-successful recovery effort.  There are still 55,000 uninhabitable buildings half of which the new mayor has pledged to remove by 2014; many still lack essential services; the levees remain in questionable condition, and most importantly, some 20-to-25% of the population has failed to return.

5.  Storm and Scientific Terminology — The public has a much better understanding of the specific terminology surrounding hurricanes and tropical storms.  This would include:

  • Saffir-Simpson Scale, which predicts the destructive power of a hurricane,
  • Category or Hurricane Scale that measures the strength of a hurricane’s strength, from low to high (1 to 5).  Katrina peaked at Category 5 but at landfall fell to Category 3.
  • Storm Surge, the wall of water pushed in from of a hurricane.  Katrina’s was about 30 feet, the highest on record.
  • Levee, the massive, supposedly impermeable earthen walls, meant to hold back storm surges.  New Orleans has some 350 miles of levees.  An unfortunate fact about levees, once they let water in, they can actually prevent it from going out.
  • Naming System for Hurricanes, which has been in place for some fifty years.   They names are alphabetically sorted, alternating men’s and women’s names. The list was exclusively female until 1979. Names are recycled every 6 years. Influential hurricanes have their names retired.  Katrina was obviously retired.

6.  The name Katrina, according to the Social Security Administration, has fallen sharply in popularity.  In 2004 Katrina was the 274th most popular names for girls born in the US; in 2009 it ranked at 815.

For historical coverage of Hurricane Katrina from the Global Language Monitor, go here.

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PQI

The Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI)

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The Global Language Monitor’s proprietary algorithm, the Predictive Quantities Indicator (PQI) is the basis of our analytical engine.

The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in the global print and electronic media, on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere, throughout Social Media as well as accessing proprietary databases (Factiva, Lexis-Nexis, etc.).

Once a keyword base index is created (including selected keywords, phrases, ‘excluders’ and ‘penumbra’ words), ‘timestamps’ and a ‘media universe’ are determined.

The PQI is a weighted Index, factoring in: Long-term trends, Short-term changes, Momentum, and Velocity.   As such it can create ’signals’ that can be used in a variety of applications.

Outputs include: the raw PQI, a Directional Signal, or a Relative Ranking with 100 as the base.

A more detail look is available upon the signing of a NDA (non-disclosure agreement).  We will then take you through the methodology in detail as we have done with numerous technology organizations, government agencies, and media organizations.  If you would like to pursue this option, please send email to info@languagemonitor.com or call +1512.815.8836.


Healthcare NarrativeTracker Detects Growing Concern about Containing Costs

Keeping Costs Low vs. Rising Costs

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DALLAS & AUSTIN, Texas, July 7, 2010The Healthcare NarrativeTracker™ has detected a growing wave of concern throughout the nation about containing rising Healthcare costs. The catalyst stems from the new regulations being now written to implement The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. At this point the affordability issue is coalescing around the President Obama’s oft-stated pledge that you can keep current Health Insurance plans if you so choose.  As M.I.T. health economist Jonathan Gruber recently stated, “It’s unclear that companies will want to have the same insurance plan in 2014 that they have in 2010.”

These facts have not gone unnoticed by the public and are considered by many to be a significant turnaround from earlier analyses, where people took at face value the President’s oft-stated words: “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period.” Obama declared in a speech to the American Medical Association last June, “No one will take it away, no matter what.” In fact, the New York Times recently reported that the government calculates that while 70 percent of small-business plans will remain grandfathered in 2011 that number will drop to 34 percent in 2013. Apparently, even the routine changes that occur every year as employers search for better products can be defined as changing the plan enough to obviate the provision that allows you to keep your current insurance, potentially leading to increasing costs for employer and employee alike.

Subsequent analysis of the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter) has shown that the public is aware of this shift. The results of the Healthcare NarrativeTracker Index™ (NTI™) were reported by OpenConnect, the leading company in event-driven intelligence solutions, and The Global Language Monitor, the media analytics company.

“Policies need to be evaluated by the effect they will have on the cost incurred with their implementation. The economics of healthcare reform need to be based on changes that help pay for themselves rather than make the problem worse. Only by realizing the type of efficiencies that have kept America in the forefront of world economic growth for the past century and a half will we be able to keep costs under current projections. All that is necessary is to summon the courage to make the tough choices ahead,” said Edward M.L. Peters, CEO of OpenConnect and author of The Paid-for Option, which details the methodology that has proven effective in the healthcare industry.

The Healthcare NarrativeTracker has detected rising concern about price increases perceived to be associated with the implementation of yet-to-be written regulations. The public is well-aware of the overall trillion dollar cost of the program, as well as associated costs, such as the so-called ‘Doc Fix’ not directly counted with the Healthcare Reform effort budget.

In the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping the price of insurance low were exceeded by conversations with those concerned about the rising costs of their healthcare by some 40%.

In the same manner, in the first three months of this year, conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 54%. For the first six months of this year, the conversations about keeping one’s insurance were surpassed by those about losing their insurance by some 43% but with volume of the conversations increasing over 11,200%.

In summation, the media discussion resonating throughout the Internet, blogosphere and social media is driving the online discussion and conversations. This is particularly true when such narratives are being driven by articles such as those written by Dr. Marc Siegel who concludes, “the regulations impose a major vise on private insurance, restricting a company’s ability to increase cost sharing (such as coinsurance, deductibles and out-of pocket limits) as well as copayments (“more than the sum of medical inflation plus 15 percentage points or $5 increased by medical inflation”). So it is unlikely that many insurers will be able to remain viable without raising premiums (not restricted by the regulations) or slashing services.”

The NarrativeTracker Index is the first product specifically designed to use social media-based monitoring to better understand the issues driving healthcare reform. Because the Healthcare NTI is based on the national discourse, it provides a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic related to healthcare, at any point in time. In addition to the NTI, the NarrativeTracker Arc™ follows the rise and fall of sub-stories within the main narrative to provide a comprehensive overview of the opinions surrounding a single issue.

The NTI is based on the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator™ (PQI™). The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere and other social media outlets as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity.

The Healthcare NTI is released monthly. The first analysis completed in May 2010 details the various narratives surrounding Massachusetts Healthcare reform, a healthcare model which has been adopted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as the national healthcare reform bill.


The Internet’s Fury Scorned

Obama Oval Office speech analysis provokes unprecedented response


Austin, Texas, July 2, 2010.  The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed a great many terrible, sad and historical events, with a few, unfortunately fleeting moments of great joy sprinkled between the dirges.  We have done our best to analyze the impact of these events on the global print and electronic media as well as on the Internet, throughout the blogosphere, and now the emerging social media.

After analyzing political speeches for a decade now, as well as all 55 Presidential Inaugural Addresses and transcripts of historical interest (including Washington’s Farewell Address, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, FDR’s ‘Live in Infamy’ radio address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech) you would think that we had seen and heard everything by now.

However, it wasn’t until our analysis of the President’s Gulf Spill Oval Office address, that we experienced the full force of the Internet’s fury scorned.

And this for an analysis that we considered basically non-newsworthy.

President Obama had given yet another address to the nation.  GLM used the same standardized, widely available, language tools that we used to name Obama’s Grant Park  “Yes, we can!” victory address as one that ranked with the greatest of presidential orations.  Now these same standardized, time-tested tools are being conveniently criticized as of questionable repute.

We were told that our analysis was either ‘bashing Obama’ or ‘excusing Obama’. At the same time, we were either ‘insulting the people’ or ‘insulting the President’. Finally, it was suggested that we were rather transparently calling for the President to ‘dumb down the rhetoric’ so that one and all might understand  the superior intelligence of ‘his highness’.  Whoa!

Apparently, many readers never got over the headline, missing the actual analysis and what the numbers told us about the speech. Our concern was that our initial headline, Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos might be considered demeaning to the President.  Wrong.  It was considered demeaning to everyone on the Left and the Right.

For general information on the readability tests used by GLM, click here.

For scientific literature about readability tests, enter Flesch or readability into the ERIC database.

We were surprised to learn that offense was, apparently,  taken in equal proportions by both the Right (Language Expert: If You Didn’t Like Obama’s Oil Spill Speech, It’s Probably Because You’re Stupid) and the Left (Obama Oil Spill Speech Criticized By CNN’s Language Analyst For Not Being Moronic Enough) of the political spectrum.   Nevertheless, we were quite amused by The ColbertReport’s send-up of our (and CNN’s) report, which somehow struck a middle chord.

It was also enlightening to see a significant proportion of this criticism to be ad hominem attacks, focusing on ourselves rather than our analysis.  (Read FAQ about GLM and Paul JJ Payack here.)

This past December, we encountered fierce criticism from the Chinese government dailies because  we named ‘The Rise of China” as the No. 1 news story of the decade.  (You can follow the narrative arc of this controversy here. )  But the criticism that accompanied the Obama Gulf Spill speech, was a good bit nastier, indeed.

Our analyses of the three preceding US Presidential elections were praised from many quarters from the New York Times to Nicholas Kristof to NPR to the worldwide media.  During the preceding ten years, few alleged political motivation, or denounced the standard language-measurement tools as inherently flawed. In fact, as long as readers basically agreed with the more predictable outcomes, there were few complaints.  Here were some of those results:  Ross Perot scored the lowest we’ve ever recorded, John F, Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were stars, both Bushes settled in the middle of the middle school years, and Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’ speech had nearly equivalent numbers to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream’ speech and Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’.   So far, so good.  We did have a few outliers, such as Sarah Palin achieving quite a high score during her debate with Joe Biden, which was duly noted by New York Magazine and quite easy to explain.

Here’s what we attempted to communicate:

1.  Obama’s speech, though deserving a ‘solid B’ did not live up to his past efforts.

2.  Obama’s most well-regarded speech came in a at 7.4 grade level.  This is not talking down to the American people.  This is communicating clear and concisely to his audience.  This is Obama at his best, communicating with a deft combination of vision, passion and rhetoric.

In fact, our headline for that effort read: Obama’s “Yes, We Can” Speech Ranked with “I have a Dream,” “Tear Down this Wall,” and JFK Inaugural. Rather high praise, indeed.

Our commentary read:

Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech delivered Tuesday night in Chicago’s Grant Park ranked favorably in tone, tenor and rhetorical flourishes with memorable political addresses of the recent past including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s   “I have a Dream” speech, “Tear Down this Wall,” by Ronald  Reagan and John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

“As is appropriate for a forward-looking message of hope and reconciliation, words of change and hope, as well as future-related constructions dominated the address,” said Paul JJ Payack President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.  “Evidently, Obama is at his best at connecting with people at the 7th to 8th grade range, communicating directly to his audience using simple yet powerful rhetorical devices, such as the repetition of the cadenced phrase ‘Yes, we can’, which built to a powerful conclusion.”

Well-regarded, indeed (and well-deserved).

3.   GLM and our predecessor site, yourDictionary.com have analyzed every presidential inaugural since that of George Washington.  The idea was, and continues to be, to look at the presidents’ words in the total historical context of the American presidency.

In 2001, we were quoted as saying,

Our goal was to spot trends that are all to easily overlooked in the political (and all too partisan) passions of the moment” [and continued that our] analysis included patterns of word usage choices, the use of such grammatical constructions as passive voice, the length of words and sentences, the number of paragraphs, and other parameters of language to gauge the content [including] the well-regarded Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale.

4.  The use of Industry-standard language analytics.  The Fogg Index, the Flesch Test, the Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Scale, and many others, are used in all forms of publishing from technical manuals to ensuring proper comprehension levels for textbooks used for various ages and classes.  This has been true for more than fifty years.

The reason we choose to use the standard tests and analytical tools was a simple one:  to enable the same set of measurements over any period of time.  And also that these analyses could be replicated by scholars and historians and journalists the world over.

5.  We use our proprietary tool, the Predictive Quantities Indicator or PQI to measure media analytics, narrative tracking, and TrendTopper Media Buzz, as such we do not use the PQI for this task.

By the Way, here are a few historical precedents;

  • Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 — 12.0.
  • Lincoln-Douglas debates, 1858 — Stephen Douglas’ seven speeches averaged a 12th-grade level 11.9; Lincoln’s averaged 11.2.
  • President Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war in December 1941 — 11.5.
  • Nixon-Kennedy Debates, 1960 — The first nationally televised debates:  Kennedy, 9.6 ; Nixon, 9.1.
  • Carter-Ford Debates, 1976 — Carter, 10.4; Ford, 11.0.
  • Carter-Reagan debate  – Carter, 12.0; Reagan, 10.7.
  • Reagan-Mondale debates — Reagan, 9.8;  Mondale, 8.7.
  • Dukakis-Bush debates of 1988 — Dukakis, 8.9; Bush, 6.7 grade.
  • Bush-Clinton-Perot debates of 1992 — Carter, 8.5, Bush, 6.5, Perot, 6.3.
  • Bush-Gore debate of 2000 — Bush, 7.1, Gore, 8.4.
  • Cheney-Lieberman, V.P. Debate — Lieberman, 9.9; Dick Cheney, 9.1.

And for good measure, Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy’, Shakespeare, c. 1600, comes in at 10.6.

Now Kathleen Parker has considerably upped the ante when applied readability statistics in her premise about Barack Obama as the first ‘feminine president’ ….

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New York Magazine: Textbook Obama

Flash from the Past (September 21, 2009) by Paul Bonanos

Which predecessor does his rhetoric most nearly echo? The data don’t lie: It’s Ronald Reagan.


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On Tuesday, President Obama spoke to schoolchildren; on Wednesday, to Congress. The easy punch line (same grade level, guys?) raises a real question: How does this president, whose comments on health care in particular had been criticized for lacking a clear take-home message, pitch his language? Does he strategically streamline his explanations for different audiences? To find out, we called upon science, in the form of Paul J. J. Payack, “president and chief word analyst” at an Austin, Texas, trend-watching outfit called the Global Language Monitor.

What Payack found when Obama’s speeches bubbled through his software was that the president didn’t treat Congress like a bunch of kids. His health-care speech clocks in at 9.0, indicating a ninth-grade reading level; the classroom speech, at 6.6. Those two figures more or less bookend the range for contemporary oration. Both Presidents Bush tended to fall around grade 7, as did Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” comes in at 8.8.

There’s plenty of room for sophisticated ideas at that level. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is sixth-grade material. So is The Hobbit. The Gettysburg Address rates a 9.1. That’s low for the nineteenth century, when florid oratory was in vogue—the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place at an eleventh-grade level, rarely heard today. “You can imagine how they’d talk—three, four hours long,” Payack says. “It really changed with the advent of radio.”

Nor is ninth-grade language too tough for a mainstream audience. Payack says that Ronald Reagan, the master of folksy explanation, is Obama’s closest match among recent presidents, with speeches that usually come in around 9 or 10. “The word was that he spoke in sound bites, but they’re very well-crafted sound bites.” The two presidents may differ in affect, content, and approach—Obama sometimes seems to develop his ideas through the very process of turning them into oratory, whereas Reagan more or less only had one idea—but not in linguistic complexity. Indeed, Obama has often expressed admiration for the Gipper’s ability to frame issues.

Payack explains that his proprietary algorithm is a variant of the standard Flesch Reading Ease Test, which is performed on many textbooks and educational materials: “It analyzes words per sentence, syllables per word, things of that nature. The theory is that the more complex the structure, the more syllables per word, the more difficult it is to understand.” Polysyllabicism and subclauses add complexity, and skew the score toward older readers. “To reach the greatest number of people, to communicate most crisply, to make sure your idea moves from your mind to someone else’s, you should speak in short sentences.” (Representative Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” achieves a prekindergarten rating.) For comparison, a Maureen Dowd column from last week was a 10.8, a Paul Krugman piece was a 12.5, and the story you’re reading now has a Flesch score of ninth grade.

Read More

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Obama Oil Spill Speech Echoes Elite, Aloof Ethos

When Obama is at his best (such as the Grant Park ‘Yes, We Can speech), the President has a direct and emotional connection with the American people.  This speech, simply, did not live up to that high standard — and the numbers reflect it.

Comparisons with previous addresses and those of other presidents

Passive Voice highest for any major presidential address this century

Surprisingly high tenth-grade reading (and hearing) level


 

Austin, TX, June 17, 2010 – According to an exclusive analysis by The Global Language Monitor, President Obama’s Oil Spill speech echoed his elite ethos, with a broad plan for an alternative-energy future and few specifics.  The only specifics of the address were the continuation of the off-shore drilling ban, effectively putting tens of thousands of Gulf Coast jobs in jeopardy.  The President’s first Oval Office address came in at a surprising high tenth-grade reading level, with some 13% passive constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address in this century.  In political speaking, the passive voice is generally used to either deflect responsibility, or to have no particular ‘doer’ of an action

GLM on Obama’s ‘Yes, We Can!’ victory speech: Ranked Among the Greatest


See “The Colbert Report’s”  Send-up of GLM’s Oval Office Analysis

A previous analysis using GLM’s NarrativeTracker™, found the president’s primary narrative arc to be that of ‘Obama as an Oil Spill Enabler’.  Nothing in the address would appear to change that narrative, though formal analysis will be forthcoming in the next week.

Kathleen Parker’s ‘Empiracally Vacuous Meme-replication’

Alternet’s Dumbing Down of Obama’s speech to the seventh-grade level.

The Readability Analysis of the Oval Office address appears below:

  • Passive Voice — With some 13% passive constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century.  In political speaking, the passive voice is generally used to either deflect responsibility, or to have no particular ‘doer’ of an action, at least when speaking about himself or his Administration.  Otherwise, BP was the clear ‘doer’.
  • Sentence Length — Obama’s spoke in long, though well-crafted, sentences about 20 words in length.
  • Sentences per Paragraphs – Just below four sentences per paragraph.  Usually four sentences in a paragraph would be quite easy to understand, but the 19.8 words per sentence, added some difficulty for his target audience.
  • Characters per words – Obama’s words had an average of 4.5 letters in them, a bit longer than typical for him.
  • Flesch Reading Ease – Reading Ease came in at 59.1. The Closer to 100, the easier to read.  This is well within the normal range for Oval Office Addresses.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level – 9.8 Grade Level.  This is the highest of any major Obama speech.  Obama’s closest match among recent presidents is Ronald Reagan, whose speeches generally ranged from the 9th to 10th grade levels.  (President George W. Bush usually spoke at a seventh grade level.)

Grade-Level comparisons with other speeches of note include:

Kennedy Inaugural Address       10.8

Reagan ‘Tear Down This Wall”   9.8

Lincoln “Gettysburg Address”     9.1

Martin Luther King: ”I have a dream”   8.8

Obama 2004 Democrat Convention      8.3

Obama Victory Speech “Yes, we can”   7.4

“The scores indicate that this was not Obama at his best, especially when attempting make an emotional connection to the American people,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM.  “For example, the numbers are significantly different than the ‘Yes, I can” speech, which many consider his best effort.”

Read More:

How Obama lost control of the oil-spill narrative (Colleen Ross, CBC)

Keep Presidential Speeches Smart (Trevor Butterworth, Forbes)

Textbook Obama (New York Magazine by Chris Bonanos)

Obama Narrative 2.0 (GLM)

The President, the Spill and the Narrative that got away (Simon Mann, The Age)

FAQs about GLM, Paul JJ Payack, and the Million Word March


Obama Narrative 2.0

FFive Narratives Compete for the Title Tuesday Night


Austin, TX, June 15, 2010 – There are now five main narrative ‘arcs’ competing for the Obama Narrative 2.0 title, the underlying storyline that will largely define the president in the run-up to the Mid-term elections and, possibly, for time remaining in his term.

The ‘narrative’ refers to the stream of public opinion captured by blogs and other social media outlets on the Internet, as well as the leading print and electronic databases.

The Global Language Monitor’s NarrativeTracker™, found the primary narrative arcs in descending order of importance to be:

1.    Obama as Oil Spill Enabler – OK, he didn’t cause it, but in today’s parlance, he appears to be enabling the perpetrators (BP or British Petroleum).  It’s score was some fifteen times higher than that of No. 5, Healthcare Reform.

2.    Obama as the Big Spender – This is a good story line if your goal is to play to the left.  Independents and the right see it as far less favorable.  Spending is have ten times the impact as that of Healthcare Reform.

3.    Obama as the Chicago-style pol – Since the beginning of the year, this narrative is up 640%.  Good for Chicagoland, not so favorable for the rest of the nation.

4.    Obama as out-of-touch or aloof – Taking time to ascertain whose ‘ass to kick’ and calling in an ever growing number of academics to resolve problems usually left to Red Adair (or Bruce Willis) has resulted in a thirteen hundred percent rise in this narrative arc.

5.    Obama as HealthCare Reformer – The bloom is off this rose far more quickly than such a triumph would typically entail. It has fallen from the No. 1 position just a few months ago.

“As of this moment, Obama Narrative 2.0 will emerge far less favorable than that of 1.0:  the  Washington outsider, who will stare-down both Beltway denizens and Politics as usual,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM.  “The Narratives emerging from this inexorably slowly unfolding ecological disaster are running roughshod over those earlier, far-more positive narratives the president is attempting to revive.

The rise of the narrative can render positions on the issues almost meaningless, since positions now matter less than how they fit into a particular narrative. The NarrativeTracker is more effective in capturing the true opinion of the public because it tracks unfiltered keywords in Social Media and other sources, rather than how that opinion is interpreted by the news media or by pollsters.

The NarrativeTracker is based on the GLM’s Predictive Quantities Indicator™ (PQI™). The PQI tracks the frequency of words and phrases in global print and electronic media on the Internet, throughout the Blogosphere and other social media outlets as well as accessing proprietary databases. The PQI is a weighted index that factors in long-term trends, short-term changes, momentum, and velocity.

About the Global Language Monitor

Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English. For more information, call +1.512.815.8836, send email to pjjp@post@harvard.edu, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.


Making ‘One Whole’ After the Gulf Oil Spill

The Associated Press

By Cristina Silva, Saint Petersburg Times

Lambasted by charges that his response to the gulf oil spill comes across as emotionally flat, President Barack Obama has made repeated vows to stand by the victims “until they are made whole.” His ambitious promise now stands as the rhetoric of choice among political leaders looking to sympathize with those affected by the environmental and financial crisis. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry and Gov. Charlie Crist have made near identical pledges and a trio of Democratic congressmen demanded oil giant BP postpone $10 billion in dividend payments to stockholders until “the people of the gulf (are) made whole.” Problem is, what does it mean? ”That is the one question I have been asking for five weeks,” said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, who fears the sheets of oil sliding toward the shores of his Alabama tourist haven will bring new financial hardships after weeks of canceled hotel reservations and half-empty seafood shacks. “That is the one question we need to know before we can move forward.”

Politicians are well aware of the power of words. Obama, a legal scholar with a penchant for headline-grabbing speeches, hasn’t elaborated on his definition of “made whole,” but his repetition suggests he thinks it is a good message. It means he wants to help. It means he cares. But, as with many political messages, “made whole” has more than one layer. In legal jargon, “made whole” implies full restitution. A stolen laptop is replaced. Hospital bills are paid. A cracked windshield is repaired. But the Gulf of Mexico crisis likely won’t be so easily resolved.

Some losses could be hard to prove in court or even single out, creating a complicated web of cause and effect that might not immediately produce a culprit, said economic and legal scholars. ”What (Obama) said is true. They (BP) are going to be responsible for the damage they did,” said Fred Levin, a trial lawyer in Pensacola. “The question is, what is the damage they did?” In other words, will those indirectly hurt by the oil spill be “made whole,” too? Or does the promise only apply to the victims who can successfully make their case in court? Consider some potential ramifications. If affected business owners can no longer afford to send their children to private schools, should the schools file a claim? If the private schools hire fewer teachers because of declining enrollment, do the unemployed teachers get help? And if those teachers then can no longer afford to buy quality meat from the local supermarket, how does the supermarket prove its losses are tied to the oil spill? It’s simply not clear, said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Wayne State University in Detroit. ”To the extent you are talking about just the cleanup, yes, BP is on the hook, but to the extent that you are saying we are going to return these communities to what they were, the law does not appear to extend that far,” he said. “While it is couched in legal terms, this is really more of a political promise than a legal assertion.”

Wordsmiths countered “made whole” is not an abstract concept. ”To ‘make whole’ means exactly what it says, meaning not to kind of prop you up, not to give you some aid, but to put you back precisely where you were,” said Paul JJ Payack , president of the Global Language Monitor based in Austin, Texas, which analyzes speech. “It is a very precise choice of words and they know it.”

BP so far has paid $49 million to individuals or small businesses through its claims process and sent out roughly 18,000 checks, spokesman Max McGahan said. ”We have said we will compensate individuals and businesses in full for whatever damages or loss of income has resulted from the oil spill. We have made that commitment very clearly,” McGahan said. He declined to address the “made whole” pledge. Read More in the St Petersburg Times


Quantifying the Gulf Oil Spill

A Technical Communications Perspective


How about 50,000 Cars on the Pacific Coast Highway?

Or a 747 with 500 on board flying for 57 minutes?

Austin, Texas, May 20, 2010 — What does 5,000 (or 50,000) barrels of oil a day mean to you?  We’ve been hearing that number for almost a month now.  And there is some debate whether or not those are accurate numbers.  But what does it mean other than ‘a whole lotta oil’?  This is the question that Global Language Monitor President, Paul JJ Payack examined over the last few days in the following analysis.

Metric Conversion:  1 gallon = 3.79 liters; 1 barrel = 158.98 liters; 1 mile = 1.61 kilometers


Listen or Read: KUHF – Analyst Puts BP Gulf Oil Spill Into Perspectiveto Quantify the Oil Spill at 50,000 Barrels Per Day?

Back when I taught technical and scientific communications at the University of Massachusetts, a key function was to make physical dimensions meaningful to the audience, so we would describe a mainframe computer as the size of a washing machine (used to be an 18 wheeler), a server might be the size of a breadbox (though few have actually seen a breadbox nowadays but we all know it’s about ‘yeah big’).  In the same manner Jupiter is about the size of 80,000 Earths, the Moon’s diameter is about equal to the width of the continental US (or the distance from New York to LA), and you could stuff approximately one million Earths into the Sun.

When you describe the volume of a liquid, such as water, you make comparisons like ‘if you emptied Lake Tahoe – which is nearly 1000 feet deep – and spread about 14 inches over the entire state’.

In terms of energy usage, a common description is to equate a megawatt to the number of homes for which it supplies power.  So a one megawatt nuclear reactor, or wind farm, can power about a thousand American homes, or 10,000 homes in less-developed parts of the world.

So what does the 5,000 to 50,000 barrels a day mean?   First question is ‘what’s a barrel’?’  A barrel is filled with forty-two gallons of oil.  So 5,000 to 50,000 barrels equates to some 210,000 to 2.1 million gallons (or 16.8 million half-pints if you’re thinking in terms small milk cartons distributed in schools).

It does not help, of course, when the CEO of BP likens the spill to a drop in the bucket in relation to the capacity of the oceans.  This strikes most people as condescending but it is actually NOT true.  It is far less than a drop in the bucket when compared to the size of the seas, which contain about 321 million cubic miles of water, so even if the spill is now 1 mile deep by 1 mile wide, by 1 mile in height (USGS numbers) that would be far less than a drop (1 part oil to 321,000,000 parts water).  (Though I am definitely not using this explanation to support BP’s argument here.)

Put another way, in light sweet crude you get about 19.5 gallons of gasoline from the 42 gallons of oil.  Now if a typical car gets about 20 mpg on the highway, that would be equivalent to about 390 miles per barrel.

This is the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco (actually 383 miles). So if the spill has been spewing 5,000 to 50,000 barrels per day since April 20; that is enough to power 5,000 to 50,000 cars a day along the Pacific Coast highway (or the I-5) from San Francisco to LA.

One more equivalency.  747 aircraft in flight with about 500 people on board are estimated to use about use about a gallon of kerosene a second. About 4.1 gallons are distilled from each barrel of oil.  So 5,000 barrels of crude oil produce 20,500 gallons of kerosene, while 50,000 barrels of oil produce 205,000 gallons of kerosene.

This means 5,000 barrels enables a 747 with 500 passengers to fly 5.7 minutes, while the amount of kerosene from 50,000 barrels of crude oil will allow the same plane to fly almost an hour (56.9 minutes).


A recession neither great nor small …


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Summary:  What we are experiencing is not a recession, neither great nor small, but rather a global transference of wealth, power and prestige on an unprecedented level, carried out, in von Clausewitz’s words ‘by other means’.

Austin, Texas, April 16, 2010 — Originally alluded to as a ‘Financial Tsunami’ or ‘Financial Meltdown,’ the major global media seem to have gained a consensus as ‘The Great Recession’.  In the beginning, most comparisons were being made to the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s, more familiarly known, simply, as ‘The Depression’ in the same way that many still refer to World War II as ‘The War’.  But even these comparisons frequently ended up referring to the recession of 1982, yet another so-called ‘Great Recession’.

“We believe the difficulty here stems from the fact that this economic crisis is difficult to express in words,” said Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, “because it does not resemble any economic crisis of the past — but rather a crisis of another sort”.

In On War, one of the most influential books on military strategy of all time, the Prussian career soldier Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) stated one of his most respected tenets, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means,” which is frequently abbreviated to “War is diplomacy carried out by other means’ and by other rules than those of the political and financial norm of the recent past.

We believe that the reason the “Great Recession” label doesn’t fit now is because what we are experiencing is not a recession, neither great nor small, but rather a global transference of wealth, power and prestige on an unprecedented level, carried out ‘by other means’ and by other rules than those of the political and financial norm of the recent past.

This fact is entrapping two US presidents, from radically diverging political viewpoints, in the same dilemma:  describing an economic phenomenon, that doesn’t play by the old rules.  Therefore the difficulty experienced by President Bush as he struggled to describe how the US economy was not in a recession since the GDP had not declined for two consecutive quarters, the traditional definition of a recession, even though jobs were being shed by the millions and the global banking system teetered on the brink of collapse.  Now we have President Obama, attempting to describe how the US economy is emerging out of a recession, though the collateral damage in terms of the evaporation of wealth, mortgages, and jobs remains apparently undaunted and unabated.

The regional or global transfer of wealth, power and influence, the destruction of entire industries and the so-called collateral (or human) damage are all hallmarks of what is now being experienced in the West.

If you carefully disassemble the events of the last decade or two, one can see them as the almost inevitable conclusion of a nameless war that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the embrace of a form of the free-market system by China, India and the other rising states, an almost unprecedented transfer of wealth from the Western Economies to the Middle East (Energy) and South and East Asia (manufactured good and services), and the substantial transfer of political power and influence that  inevitably follows.

It currently appears that the Western Powers most affected by these transfers cannot adequately understand, or even explain, their present circumstances in a way that makes sense to the citizenry, let alone actually reverse (or even impede) the course of history.  In fact the larger realities are playing out while the affected societies seemingly default to the hope that they ultimately can exert some sort of control over a reality that is out of their grasp and control.

The good news here is that the transfers of wealth, power and influence has proven relatively bloodless but nonetheless destructive for the hundreds of millions of those on the front lines of the economic dislocations.

And it is in this context that the perceived resentment of the Islamic and Arab states should be more clearly viewed.  This is especially so as they watch helplessly as the new global reality and re-alignments unfold.

In conclusion, it can be argued that the difficulty in naming the current economic crisis is the fact that is not an economic crisis at all but rather a transformational event involving the global transfer of wealth, power and influence, the destruction of entire industries along with the associated collateral (or human) damage.

By Paul JJ Payack and Edward ML Peters


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