Did Watson Really Beat Humans on Jeopardy? We Think Not!

Analysis into the ‘natural language processing’ claim.

AUSTIN, TEXAS.  March 1, 2011 — An analysis by the Global Language Monitor has found that Watson, the IBM Computer specifically designed to compete on the Jeopardy television show was not the victory of a machine tackling ‘natural language processing’  that many had been led to believe but rather a “a massive marketing coup,” as described in the Boston Globe.

When Watson bested two live-wear, carbon-based lifeforms named Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, on the Jeopardy Television show a few days ago, it was widely viewed as a great advance in ‘natural language processing’.  Natural Language Processing is concerned with the interactions between computers and human (natural) languages.

As Ben Zimmer in the New York Times put it, Watson “came through with flying colors.”  And he was certainly not alone in his judgment.  There were many comparisons to the John Henry man vs. machine tale where the legendary ‘steel-driving’ railroad man challenges a steam hammer, and wins, only to collapse and die shortly thereafter.  It appeared as if the entire media went a little bit gaga (no pun intended) with stories on this great milestone in cyber (and possibly human) history.

Is this analysis true?  As Steve Colbert might put it, there is some ‘truthiness’ in the statement.  Watson did, in fact, best his human competitors, but if we are to “speaking truthiness to power,” we should ensure that we fully understand the nature of the competition.

“Comments like the above missed the mark for a very simple reason,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst at GLM.  “Watson did not prove adept at processing language in a manner similar to humans.  In fact, computers have dramatically failed at this task for four decades now.  What Watson has accomplished is a far cry from ‘natural language processing’.

Rather what Watson achieved was a very close approximation of appearing as if it had acquired an acuity at understanding of the English language. This, in itself, is an accomplishment to be acknowledged.  (But as in the old joke goes about a dog talking, it’s not that it was done well but rather that it was done at all.)  After all, Watson was designed from the ground up as a ‘question-answering machine,’ as IBM readily admits.  However this, in itself, is not quite accurate because Watson was specifically built as a ‘Jeopardy game-show answering machine’ “.

One problem is that few commentators understand what it means to actually program a computer at all, let alone the ‘machine coding’ which might be construed as the most basic unit of computer ‘thought’.  Even those who are familiar with today’s coding techniques are familiar with HTML or a variation of C++ or Linux, etc.  All of these ‘languages’ are as distant from machine coding technology as they are from understanding the mathematics of the Higgs boson and why it has been described as the ‘God particle’ at CERN.  Unfortunately, there will be  no friendly, Watson-like, avatar that will announce from the CERN lab that the God Particle has been identified, when and if ever.  We might also find out about that discovery when (as has been estimated by the CERN staff) the acceptable risk the 1 out of 50,000,000 chance hits and the whole enterprise results in the destruction of the entire planet though the creation of an, admittedly small, black hole.

The field of artificial intelligence has for decades been handicapped with the idea of emulating humans; whether their thinking, their speaking, their chess-playing ability or their ability to perambulate.  To make the advances we have seen recently, computer scientists had to literally re-think (and in many cases reverse) their earlier positions.

The key, as found in recent research, is not to emulate humans; rather the key is to define ‘machine logic’ or how would a machine do it, given its capabilities and limitations.  In other words do not attempt to  see like the human eye sees but attempt to see as a machine would see.  Rather than teach a machine everything there is to know about how a human gets around, the task becomes to teach a machine the few basic rules it needs to move forward, back up and to work around obstacles.  This is much different than a baby learning how to crawl which involves cognition, motor skills, sight, volition, and the sense of feel.

In the same way most would construe natural language processing would be the ability to understand basic sentences, concepts or instructions in a straight-forward manner.  Is this what Watson accomplished.  Consider the following:

Here’s what Watson needed to handle the ‘natural language’ of Jeopardy.

  • 90 IBM Power 750 servers
  • Each of the 90 IBM Power 750 servers is equipped with eight processors
  • A total 2,880 Central Processing Units (CPUs)
  • 1 network-attached storage (NAS) cluster
  • 21.6TB of data
  • 15 full-time technical professionals, as well any number of advisors and consultants
  • 5 years of development time
  • ’1,000s’ of computer algorithms to run simultaneously
  • 1 overlying algorithm to review the results of all the others
  • 1 power robotic finger

Incidentally, the effort required a minimum of $100,000,000 funding for personnel, some $25,000,000 in equipment, as well as all the costs associated with cooling, administration, transportation, and the like.

All of this reminds us of Gary Kasparov losing the famous chess match to IBM’s Deep Blue back in 1997.  IBM was allowed to modify its program between games.  In effect, this let IBM programmers compensate for any Deep Blue weaknesses Kasparov exposed during the game.  How, in any way, could this be considered a level playing field?  Once this was discovered, Kasparov requested a rematch, but IBM had already dismantled Deep Blue.

As for those comparisons with the legendary ‘iron-driving man’, we have one piece of advice:  John Henry, call your lawyer.

Note:  Each year GLM releases the Top High Tech Words Everyone Uses But Nobody Quite Understands.  This year’s edition will be released in conjunction with SXSWi on March 13, 2011.


Avoiding an American ‘Lost decade’

“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’.”

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Note:  This is the second in a series; you can see the first article directly below this one.
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November 30.  Where do we go from here?  We’ve already established that this is not a typical business cycle and this recession falls out of scope of previous recessions. Even the Great Depression was typical in the sense that it set off a worldwide fall in demand and productivity. It is now widely understood that while government intervention did stop the catastrophic collapse of the global economy, this intervention did little to revitalize global economic growth which did not resume until the onset of World War II.

This post first appeared on TheHill.com

Now, fast forward to September 2008 and months following shortly thereafter. There is wide agreement that the direct and dramatic Bush/Obama interventions did, indeed, prevent a global economic collapse. However, for many nations, including the U.S., the revitalization has yet to occur. While the stimulus spending saved many jobs in the public sector, few jobs were created in the private or wealth-creating sector. In retrospect it now appears that the stimulus was the equivalent to eating empty calories when hungry; a temporary rise in blood sugar without sustained nutrition.

This lack of wealth-building focus has led to a weak economic performance of 2.4 percent projected growth in GDP, hardly what one expects after such spending. (This growth rate has already been revised downward to 1.6 percent in the last quarter.) If this scenario does play out as expected, the eight million lost jobs will be replaced with new ones — by the 2020 time frame. By way of comparison, the “Reagan Recovery” created over 11,000,000 new jobs with four years.

While President Obama’s economic policies and overall execution of leadership is the current focus of many commentators, it remains a fact that this situation didn’t sneak up on us. The United States manufacturing sector has declined as a percentage of non-farm employment from about 30 percent in 1950 to just 9.27 percent in 2010, according to the October estimate of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also, an underlying statistic is that the U.S. has been losing not just manufacturing jobs, but entire factories, over 40,000 of them since 2000. The ramifications here go far beyond the manufacturing sector itself. Indeed, by some estimates, there is a 15-1 multiplier between other jobs (including manufacturing and service) and each manufacturing position. Therefore, this unprecedented loss of an industrial base and its concomitant plethora of supporting positions leave a greatly reduced platform upon which to launch a successful and timely recovery.

And so the question remains: Where do we go from here?

First, take a deep breath, look in the mirror and repeat; the world is different from what it was in 1982 and wishing and acting like it was the same will not bring those lost manufacturing jobs back. No matter what we do, trying to recapture global leadership in industries where the average U.S. salary (excluding benefits) is over $20/hr where the similar cost in China or Mexico is between $2-$6/hr is a losing proposition. This is not to say that the U.S. should not continue to innovate and look to manufacture world-class products, only that we will have to pick our battles in places where we have a strategic competence and a willingness to compete. Specifically, management must be willing to continually analyze each process for best in class behaviors and continually work to improve in order to maintain a leadership position.

Second, focus strategic investment in industries where the U.S. has a substantial lead or could develop one in future. Good examples here are in the area of information technology, where private investment continues to create new enterprises and wealth and “green technology” whose future is yet to unfold. We need to remind ourselves of the effectiveness of the U.S. Space Program, not only in accomplishing its primary mission, but creating entire industries and market that are still returning value to this day.

Third, fully accept that the old manufacturing jobs will not be repatriated and implement a program that will both create true value for the economy while putting people back to work. In past recessions, workers were typically called back to their jobs as the economy improved. This time however, with the loss of so many factories, the jobs platform is significantly smaller and is unable to support the type of recovery we have seen in the past. Now, we must both create jobs in new markets and industries as well as find employment for those whose skill base will not readily transfer to the new jobs platform(s).

A good example of this is the proposal by the Center for American Progress that outlines a plan to develop an energy efficiency industry to retrofit approximately 40 percent of the country’s buildings (approximately 50 million structures) within the next decade. This would require more than $500 billion in public and private investment and create over 600,000 “sustainable” jobs. Under the plan, energy use in those buildings would be reduced up to 40 percent and generate between $32 billion and $64 billion in annual consumer savings. Those savings would be used to re-pay the construction loans that would support the program.

This type of program would both create private sector jobs and help re-build U.S. infrastructure for the next five decades, all the while creating a buffer between the current economic environment and the one that will emerge.

One word of caution: we need a dozen or more initiatives of this kind to even come close to replacing the 8,000,000 lost jobs.

Paul JJ Payack is president of Austin-based Global Language Monitor. Edward ML Peters is CEO of Dallas-based OpenConnect Systems. Their most recent book is “The Paid-for Option”, which describes how healthcare reform can actually pay for itself through the application of process intelligence and its attendant gains in productivity.

A Recession Neither Great Nor Small

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’.”

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Note:  This is the First in a series; you can see the second article directly above this one.


This post first appeared on TheHill.com

November 3, 2010.  It is about time that we admit that 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”.

Originally alluded to as a “Financial Tsunami” or “Financial Meltdown,” the major global media seem to have gained a consensus on “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”.
Our recent analysis has shown that while the major print and electronic media have settled upon “Great Recession”, the rest of the Internet, blogosphere and social media world have largely eschewed the term. We believe the difficulty here stems from the fact that this economic crisis is difficult to express in words because it does not resemble any economic crisis in recent memory — but rather a crisis of another sort.

“On War” is one of the most influential books on military strategy of all time. Written by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831), it recorded 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’.

We believe that the reason the “Great Recession” label does not now fit 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”.

This fact has entrapped two U.S. presidents, from radically diverging political viewpoints, in the same dilemma: describing an economic phenomenon, that doesn’t play by the old rules. Hence, the difficulty experienced by President Bush as he struggled to describe how the U.S. 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 U.S. economy has emerged 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 one carefully disassembles the events of the last decade or two, you 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 goods 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 explain, or even understand, 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 events 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 appears to be both 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, too, watch helplessly as the new global reality and re-alignments unfold.

In conclusion, it can be argued that the reason the “Great Recession” label doesn’t seem to fit now is because what we are experiencing is not a recession, neither great nor small, but rather an on-going transformational event involving the global transfer of wealth, power and influence on an unprecedented level, carried out “by other means”.

Paul JJ Payack is president of Austin-based Global Language Monitor. Edward ML Peters is CEO of Dallas-based OpenConnect Systems. Their most recent book is “The Paid-for Option”, which describes how healthcare reform can actually pay for itself through the application of process intelligence and its attendant gains in productivity.


Obama’s final narrative: A negative mélange of historic proportions

Read it Where Lawmakers go to Express Their Opinions


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AUSTIN, Texas, November 1, 2010.  The final narrative for President Obama, twenty-four hours before the Mid-term Elections has evolved into a negative mélange of historic proportions.  This was reported by the Global Language Monitor (GLM), which has been tracking the narratives that have dominated the perception of the administration and its handling of both its achievements and crises.

In July, the President’s five most prominent narrative arcs included being out-of-touch or aloof; being responsible for the ever-increasing deficit; not responding with enough vigor or authority to the Gulf Oil Spill; the victory of pushing through Healthcare Reform; and gaining a reputation as a Chicago-style pol.  The President’s Oval Office Address on the Gulf Oil Spill seems to have been the temporal demarcation point between a positive or negative narrative carrying over into the 2010 Mid-term Election.  Since that time there are many who contend that Obama’s narrative has been shaped by forces largely out of his control. And indeed, this may be true.

In the following months no single narrative has risen above the others; on the contrary the five Obama Narratives have largely blended into a largely negative, yet muddled, story line.  The result has been an admixture of these five narratives, resulting in an unfortunate amalgam for the president and his party to overcome.

GLM has also been tracking political buzzwords for the last three election cycles. An analysis of the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-Term Elections completed yesterday, and published in a separate release, lend support to these conclusions.

Below is a list of the Obama narratives that have evolved through the last year.

1.     Obama as out-of-touch or aloof

This has only grown stronger over time.  Professorial has now been added to the mix, which is often considered condescending by certain academic communities.

2.     Obama and the deficit

Words linking Obama to deficit have steadily increased as those linking Bush to the deficit have declined.

3.     Obama and the Oil Spill

The completion of the relief well apparently did not provide the president with relief from the issue.  In fact, the President now has more negative ties to the Katrina inundation of New Orleans than George W. Bush.

4.     Obama as HealthCare Reformer

The president’s signature achievement has been largely avoided by members of his party for fear of the overall negative reception to the program adversely affecting their personal chances of (re-)election.  The mistake is explain away the frustration with how the bill was passed, where many had a first-hand look at congressional (and presidential) wheeling dealing as it best (or worst).

5.     Obama as the Chicago-style pol

This usually conveys the ability to make things happen — though in a stealthy, force-your-hand manner reminiscent of the days of cigar-filled back rooms.  Even this has been undone by the ongoing public perception of Obama’s seeming inability to get things done (in spite of the things he actually did).

GLM has been tracking political language for the last three election cycles   As we have detailed over the last two years, while in the midst of the positive media frenzy of the election and inauguration, we were already finding the elements of anger and outrage as one of the highest on record.    At that time, GLM examined the global print and electronic media for the seven days after the following events:  the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the start of the Iraq War, and the week after the Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, and the awarding of the AIG bonuses.

The ranking of ‘outrage’ found in the media was surprising, even startling.

  1. The AIG Bonuses, 2009
  2. The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
  3. Hurricane Katrina and the Inundation of New Orleans, 2005
  4. The start of the Iraq War, 2003

During the last several months our analysis shows that anger and rage largely have been replaced by frustration and disillusionment.In fact, our continuing NarrativeTracker analysis has found what appears to be a major disconnection between what is reported in the media and what is being discussed in Social Media and the rest of Cyberspace.  This includes a number of Media Memes that resonant among the media.

These Media Memes include:

1.     Outrage in the Electorate

To a large extent, the rise of Outrage in the electorate (accompanying the AIG bonuses) was overlooked while the focus was on the ebullience accompanying the Obama election and Inauguration.  Only this year have ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ become a focus — while the citations show that the electorate has moved beyond this Media Meme to ‘disappointment’ and ‘frustration’.

2.     The Great Recession

The electorate makes no distinction between Recession and Great Recession.  In fact, the Great Recession Media Meme is found to be used only in the elite media, while the electorate seems to believe that something far larger is taking (or has taken) place.  The analysis shows the underlying belief to be that that economy has undergone a structural change that will take years to mend, if ever. (They knew this when Bush tried to explain why the US, according to traditional definitions, was not yet in a recession, and again know this as today’s economists try to explain how the Great Recession is now over because we grew 2% in the last fiscal quarter).

3.     The Idea of Insurgency

The consensus is that there are now about one hundred, or fewer, congressional seats in play, which means that some 77% of the seats are basically locked in.  The idea of insurgency makes great headlines (and ensures a plethora of more great headlines as the future unfolds).  But the fact remains that a minimal number of congressional seats are now in play.

4.     The Tea Party

Tea Party ‘members’ have turned out to be older, better educated, and far more influential than their originally portrayal.  If the war in Afghanistan is fighting the last wars (the Surge in Iraq and the Vietnam ‘quagmire’ then viewing the Tea Party as anything other than a grass roots movement, was a mis-reading of the Obama ‘insurgency’ of ’07 and ’08.

5.      The 24-hour News Cycle

The 24-hour news cycle is true only insofar as the headlines constantly shift.  But the deeper currents are a much more prevailing force that apparently actually drive and shape events.  Focusing on the swirling froth of the ever-changing headlines, allows many to miss the structural changes that are occurring below – much like a tsunami is only apparently when the submerged wave finally hits the shoreline.GLM’s Top Political Buzzwords are based on the Narrative Tracker Index. Narrative Tracker is based on the national discourse, providing a real-time, accurate picture of what the public is saying about any topic, at any point in time. Narrative Tracker analyzes the Internet, blogosphere, the print and electronic media, as well as new social media sources (such as Twitter). 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 narratives being tracked.

The next report will discuss the list of the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-term elections.

To read what the Top Buzzwords Tell Us about the Vote, Part I (The Vetting of the President), go here.

To read about the Top Political Buzzwords of the 2010 Mid-term Elections, go here.

Media:  For more information, please call 1.512.815.8836.

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, email editor@LanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com

The Vetting of the President

What the Top Political Buzzwords Tell Us About the Vote, Part I

AUSTIN, Texas,  October 4, 2010 — Recently, the Global Language Monitor (GLM) announced that the Top Buzzwords of the Mid-term Election.   GLM found that the buzzwords portrayed a strongly negative narrative that has increasingly entangled the president and his party.   The Top Ten Buzzwords included Narrative, Lower Taxes, Obama as a Muslim, Conservative, Climate Change, Liberal, Recession (linked to Obama), Hillary Clinton related to Obama, Tea Partiers, and Obama as Aloof, Detached, or Professorial.  In the interim GLM has found that Obama as a Smoker will break into the Top Ten when the list is updated two week hence.

This is the first of a number of reports that will analyze what the top political buzzwords seemingly tells us about the upcoming vote.

The first thing you notice about the Top Political Buzzwords of the Midterm Elections is that many concern President Obama as a person.  Two years into his presidency, this tells us something about the president’s relationship to the American people:   a good number of citizens are only now beginning to understand the president as a person.  And it is interesting to see that many news organizations, apart from the blogs and talk radio shows, are also following these citizens’ lead.  Only now is President Obama being ‘vetted’.

According to yourDictionary.com,  ‘to vet’ is the process ‘to examine, investigate, or evaluate in a thorough or expert way’.    In the throes of Obama-mania, many were apparently willing to take a chance on the engaging, handsome, thoughtful newcomer, especially after many eventful and exhausting years under his predecessor.   We read the autobiographies, we joined the explosive rallies, and we watched as the entire world seemed to yearn for a ‘regime change’ in the US.   We were, after all, the people we had been waiting for.   But in the ‘rush to victory’ we never really got to know the president.  not in the same way we knew, say, Hillary.

We’ve known Hillary, her husband, her daughter, her history, her religion, her schooling, her scandals, alleged or otherwise, the rumors, for better or for ill — we know Hillary.

And we knew John McCain’s life since Vietnam, Albert Gore’s roommate at Harvard, GBW’s stint as a cheerleader at Andover, John Kerry testifying before congress in ’69,  Bush pere , and Bush pere’s pere, Ronald Reagan since Bedtime for Bonzo, and so on. All of the above have decades of public service and have (or had) been vetted every which way possible, and then some.

An exception, of course, was Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia (and nuclear engineer) — as he first introduced himself to the nation.  Carter was elected to office at least partly as an antidote to what had transpired before him (Watergate), and was thought to be part of a national cleansing, a fresh start, a break with a troubled past.  And, like Obama, was relatively new to the political scene, and lightly vetted, when elected to the presidency.

In Barack Obama’s case he is more than a self-made man; Obama is a self-defined man.   In this he is not unlike John F. Kennedy with the legend of PT-109 and his Pulitzer-prize best-seller, Profiles in Courage, which was, perhaps, ghost-written.  Though JFK was a relative newcomer to the national scene, the stories of Joe Kennedy as a ‘rum-runner’ during Prohibition and his maternal grandfather ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald, the storied Boston politician, were circulating for decades before JFK stood for the presidency.

As a self-defined man, much of the traditional vetting provided by the media was compressed into a number of months, and much of that was taken directly from his autobiographies, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. And so we are back to the self-defined man, to a large extent, vetting himself.

And so it is none too surprising that many of the buzzwords surrounding the Midterms are about Obama as a man, a person, a personality.

Comparing data from just before the 2008 general election, we see much the same patterns as today.  Citations about Obama’s religion, his supposed ‘aloofness,’ and even his smoking were much higher than what we had seen for other candidates (Bush, Kerry, Gore, etc.) in the previous two election cycles.

What we are seeing in the data appears to be a continuation of the process that ordinarily would have been ongoing  for a decade or more.  So the public vetting of the president continues on the Internet, in the Blogs, throughout Social Media, and in the print and electronic media, itself.

- Paul JJ Payack


Obama Turns Page on His Winning Rhetorical Style — and the Iraq War

Analysis of Obama’s ‘Turn the Page’ Oval Office address

AUSTIN, TX, September 7, 2010 – President Barack Obama, in his second Oval Office address announced the “American combat mission in Iraq has ended [and] Operation Iraqi Freedom is over”.    The seventeen-minute long speech, Obama acknowledged President George W. Bush, but neither thanked him for his role as former Commander-in-Chief nor credited him with the ‘Surge,’ other than as a reference to the current operations in Afghanistan.  The Surge, the change in military tactics during the height of the conflict, is widely credited with changing the course of the war.  The analysis was performed by the Global Language Monitor.  GLM has been analyzing presidential speeches since the turn of the century.

Not surprisingly, the President’s tone was sober, direct, and matter of fact, even workmanlike.  There were small rhetorical flourishes, such as referring to “our troops are the steel in our ship of state”.  He clearly proclaimed his devotion and admiration for the troops at the same time distancing himself from the war, its causes and execution. His emphasis was on ‘Turning the page’.

His address contained about half the number of passive constructions (7% vs. 13%) as his previous Oval Office address in June.  His sentences were some 5% shorter while the length of his paragraphs increased some 20%, which allowed him to more fully express his thinking.

When compared to other presidents’ addresses over the last several decades, this speech compared most closely from a ‘hearability’ or ‘readability’ point of view to President Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech;  however, rhetorically this was not the case.

As for grade-level (using the standard Flesch-Kincaid metrics), this speech was on with Obama’s more recent efforts (between ninth and tenth grades).  As noted previously, Obama has moved away from the rhetorical style of his most widely praised oratorical efforts, the ‘Yes We Can’ victory speech in Grant Park and his 2004 Democratic Convention effort in Boston).  (The actual numbers are 9.5 and 7.4 and 8.3 respectively.)  In doing so, he seems to have abandoned his earlier formula that resulted in the direct emotional impact of his campaign oratory.

[Note:  this article clocked in at a 12.3 grade reading level.]

In May 2003, President Bush gave his now infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech declaring an ‘End To Major Combat In Iraq’.  However, during the speech, he never actually uttered ‘Mission Accomplished’.  Those words were on the ship returning to the San Diego Naval Base, as is the tradition, from overseas duty.   Fortunately for President Obama, his backdrop was the Oval Office and pictures of his wife and family.


Not a Recession but a Global Economic Restructuring …

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.  (This article, which appeared in a slightly differing form earlier this year, is written by Paul JJ Payack and Edward ML Peters.)

Austin, Texas, September 7, 2010 — Originally alluded to as a ‘Financial Tsunami’ or ‘Financial Meltdown,’ the major global media continue to call our current economic condition  ‘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’.

The difficulty here stems from the fact that this economic crisis is difficult to express in words 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.

[Read More.]


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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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.


Keep Presidential Speeches Smart

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Medialand

Trevor Butterworth, 06.22.10

Trevor Butterworth is the editor of stats.org, an affiliate of George Mason University that looks at how numbers are used in public policy and the media. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.

If the Gulf oil spill is a national tragedy, the arguments over President Obama’s response to it have descended into a national farce. When former law professors go looking for “ass to kick,” they end up looking like the eponymous hero of Kickass, a nerdy kid copying moves he’s seen in comic books. The difference is that the fictional Kickass was ennobled by failure, which, sadly, is not the kind of outcome open to the President of the United States in matters of national importance.

Obama’s mistake was to respond to the Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots of punditry. The country didn’t want Spock at the helm during environmental armageddon, they protested; the situation demanded a theatrically-appropriate response–as if the presidency was the background music to the movie of our lives, rousing in adversity, compassionate in suffering, a boom box of linguistic effects.

If style is the image of character, you cannot go from the calmest, most judicious intellectual in the room to a Schwarzenegger character in leather trousers and expect to be perceived as authentic. This is why responding to his critics was the wrong thing to do. By following their lame advice, by trying to be someone he isn’t, Obama sounded bathetic.

All of this is an object lesson in how democracy isn’t helped by the media. Just as an analysis of the Katrina response shows that it was a complex systematic failure of government and not a simple fumble by George W. Bush and “heck of a job” Brownie, the Gulf oil spill is not really in the league of a car wreck caused by distracted texting. The very intractability of the problem demands openness, an admission of complexity and a detailed description of solutions that are being pursued. And yet, according to one manufacturer of conventional wisdom, the problem was not that Obama’s White House address on the spill was too simple or vague, it was that it wasn’t simple enough. As CNN reported:

“Obama’s speech may have gone over the heads of many in his audience, according to an analysis of the 18-minute talk released Wednesday by Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor. Tuesday night’s speech from the Oval Office of the White House was written to a 9.8 grade level, said Payack, who gave Obama a ‘solid B.’ His Austin, Texas-based company analyzes and catalogues trends in word usage and word choice and their impact on culture.”

The president’s 19.8 words per sentence apparently “added some difficulty for his target audience.” But 19.8 words is well within the breath of television’s cutthroat culture of political sound bites, which now stands at seven seconds. Indeed, as Elvin T. Lim notes in his brilliant historical and linguistic analysis of presidential rhetoric, The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, the average presidential sentence in recent years (as defined by speeches) has ranged from 15 to 20 words, well within the assumed attention span of the presumptive television viewer.

But now, even this is apparently too difficult for most Americans to follow. It gets worse. Take the following sentence from the President’s speech, “That is why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge–a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy.” According to Payack, this is the kind of phrasing that makes the President seem “aloof and out of touch.” It’s too professorial, too academic and not “ordinary enough.” Perhaps the President should just have tweeted “I got smart folks fixin’ to fix the oil spill” and let everyone go back to their regular broadcast fare or communicating with each other in grunts and clicks.

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