Reach Out

April 23, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

An article about a bread recipe in the Times today (here) has this sentence:
This recipe runs 38 pages in the cookbook “Tartine Bread”; when I began to I began to streamline it into the version you see here, I reached out to Mr. Robertson.
What struck me wasn’t the 38 pages.  (“Making the dough is also a two-day process. Resist the temptation to rush any of the steps” – assured me that I would definitely not be making this bread.) It was “reached out.”

We don’t call people, we don’t write to them, we don’t try to get in touch with them.  We reach out.  I get memos from the university urging me to reach out to students who are not doing well.  In response to a question about hiring, the dean tells me to reach out to someone in HR. New Jersey has a Reach Out and Read program.

To find other examples I reached out to Lexis-Nexis, limiting my search to today.  The Washington Times says the DoD “has come a long way to reach out to suffering soldiers.” This Times story  has the subhead “New York Police Reach Out on Twitter but Receive a Slap in the Face.” WaPo, writing about the choice of people to throw out the first ball at yesterday’s RedSox - Yankees game says, “we hope they didn't reach out to fellow Cabinet member John Kerry,” who threw one in the dirt back in  2004. 

Newsday has a picture from the same game

The caption" “David Ortiz reaches out and extends Fenway greeting to former Red Sox teammate Jacoby Ellsbury.”  Big Papi is literally reaching out, but the phrase implies something more. 

Others might not notice, but to my aged ears, all this reaching out sounds strange.  And in fact,  “reach out” is fairly recent.

(Click on a chart for a larger view.)

What did people do up until the mid-sixties, before they could reach out to others? Yes, they “contacted” them, but that too goes back only fifty years. 

How did speakers of English try to communicate with others for those centuries before 1960? “Reach out” does not appear at all in Shakespeare (1564-1616, Happy Birthday, Will). Nor, I would guess, in Nabokov (1899-1977, Happy Birthday, Volodya)

What happened in the sixties that started us reaching out so much? Was it the general touchy-feely sensibility?  (AT&T urged us to “Reach out and touch someone” by running up our long-distance charges,* but that ad campaign didn’t begin till 1979.) I look at that curve with its turning point in 1966, and until a better explanation comes along, I go with the Four Tops. 

* Long distance is now a dim artifact now considered immoral. In this “Kids React to Technlogy” video , when the unseen adult explains about long distance charges, one kid says, “They shouldn’t do that.” Only one of the kids guesses what long distance was. On the other hand, the dial tone and busy signal are a complete mystery.

** At Seder last week, a ninth grade girl received as a gift a YA book with the title, “I’ll Be There.” The sederians of an older generation on seeing this were moved to a brief unison rendition of what we could remember of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).”  (We didn’t do very well on “Dayenu” either.)  Even at that, we got it wrong. It turns out that the book title referred to a different Motown song, the one by Michael Jackson.

Know Your Sample

April 22, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tim Huelskamp is a Congressman representing the Kansas first district. He’s a conservative Republican, and a pugnacious one (or is that a redundancy). Civility, at least in his tweets, is not his long suit. He refers to “King Obama” and invariably refers to the Affordable Care Act as “ObamaScare.” Pretty clever, huh?

He’s also not a very careful reader.  Either that or he does not understand the first thing about sampling. Tonight he tweeted.

(Click on a graphic for a larger view.)

Since polls also show that Americans support gay marriage, I clicked on the link.  The report is brief in the extreme. It gives data on only two questions and has this introduction.

The outrage might come from liberals. More likely it will come from people who think that members of the US Congress ought to be able to read.

Or maybe in Huelskamp’s view, only Republicans count as Americans.

Never Apologize, Never Explain

April 19, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

In their research on celebrity apologies, Karen Cerulo and Janet Ruane found that the most effective apologies are simple admissions of fault. “I did it. It was wrong. I won’t do it again.”  Forget about excuses, explanations, and denials.  Yesterday’s post gave two recent examples – an effective apology (James Franco), and a less effective denial (Jenny McCarthy). 

Unfortunately, Cerulo and Ruane did not include those celebrities who simply ignored the reported misdeeds, celebrities who followed the advice of John Wayne in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” – “Never apologize and never explain – it's a sign of weakness.”

That was almost the strategy adopted by Zygmunt Bauman, distinguished sociologist, author of several dozen books. 


A graduate student at Cambridge, Peter Walsh, was reading a recent one of Bauman’s books, Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? and wondered why Bauman was not using more recent data. So he started checking out some of Bauman’s sources, only to discover not only that the distinguished sociologist had plagiarized but that he hadn’t been very careful about the validity of his sources.

He appears to have found [online] evidence to support his claims and stopped there. . . .  He hasn’t shown any desire to check the facts, statistics and quotes in his sources, and that is fairly elementary.

Rather than apologize or explain, Bauman went first for the denial – a carefully limited denial:
 [I] never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined.
 The accusation was not that he plagiarized ideas and concepts but passages from Wikipedia and other sources.

Then he pulled rank.  He got all huffy and supercilious, suggesting that his accusers were pitiful pedants and that the rules of plagiarism were, at least as concerned him, wrongheaded.
All the same, while admiring the pedantry of the authors of the Harvard Guide to Using Sources, and acknowledging their gallant defence of the private ownership of knowledge, I failed in those 60-odd years to spot the influence of the obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations on the quality (reliability, effectiveness and above all social importance) of scholarship: the two issues that Mr Walsh obviously confuses.
As his co-worker in the service of knowledge, I can only pity him.
We can’t know the general reaction to Bauman’s statements. The Times Higher Education article (here) has only five comments, but all of them are negative. One characterizes Bauman’s response as “really despicable.”

Sorry ’Bout That

April 18, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Were celebrity apologies much in the news this past week or so? Or is it just that Karen Cerulo’s talk at our AKD evening turned my antennae to pick up more of them?

The morning after Karen’s talk, James Franco was on “Kelly and Michael” talking about his too-well publicized Instagram exchange with a 17-year old girl he was trying to pick up.

 Franco got it right:
I’m embarrassed.  guess I’m just a model about how social media’s tricky. It’s a way people meet each other today, but what I’ve learned is you don’t know who’s on the other end. I used bad judgment and I learned my lesson.
Almost no excuses. Mostly: I was wrong, and it won’t happen again. Gossip sites didn’t buy the media-naivete excuse, but they approved of the apology.

You have to give James some credit for going on TV and completely owning up to his mistakes. He got tripped up for sure, but he wasn’t afraid to admit it and we think he’s extremely brave for doing that. (
Then there was Jenny McCarthy. McCarthy has been outspoken in questioning vaccines, suggesting that they are dangerous and can cause autism. 
If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f*cking measles.
In other words, better to refuse vaccination and get measles than to get the vaccination and risk autism. Same thing for the polio vaccine.

But lately the news has been carrying stories about outbreaks of measles, mumps, and other diseases because of the increased numbers of parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated.

This is a tough one for McCarthy. Can she apologize and say that her activism is partly responsible for the return of these childhood diseases?  “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again” would mean giving up her position that vaccines can cause serious harm.  Instead, she claims (here)  that she never suggested that parents refuse vaccination.
I am not “anti-vaccine.” . . .  I’ve never told anyone to not vaccinate.
This might be technically true (though several of her statements have recently disappeared from Websites that used to display them). Saying, “If you vaccinate, you are risking autism,” is not exactly the same as “Don’t vaccinate.” But I suspect that this distinction will be lost on most people.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any poll data on public reaction to McCarthy, but I suspect that like other denials of what everyone knows (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), it will not win many followers to her side.