Runny No(s)

Washington Post — “Meet the Bottomless Pinocchio, a new rating for a false claim repeated over and over again
[…]
Trump’s willingness to constantly repeat false claims has posed a unique challenge to fact checkers. Most politicians quickly drop a Four-Pinocchio claim, either out of a duty to be accurate or concern that spreading false information could be politically damaging.
Not Trump. The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category – the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

The bar for the Bottomless Pinocchio is high: the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker and they must have been repeated at least 20 times. Twenty is a sufficiently robust number that there can be no question the politician is aware his or her facts are wrong. The list of Bottomless Pinocchios will be maintained on its own landing page.
The Fact Checker has not identified statements from any other current elected official who meets the standard other than Trump. In fact, 14 statements made by the president immediately qualify for the list.”

InSight on Mars

By PatD, a Trail Mix Contributor

Today NASA will “…initiate a manoeuvre that is their least favourite activity in space: they will attempt to land a robot spaceship on Mars.

In this case they will attempt to set down their probe, InSight, gently on to an area known as Elysium Planitia where it is intended to analyse seismic activity on the red planet.

More probes have been sent to Mars than any other planet in the solar system but more than half of these missions have ended in failure, with the final stages, involving landing gently on the Martian surface, proving to be particularly dangerous and unsuccessful.” — The Guardian


Space.com managing Tariq Malik gives you some fast facts about NASA’s InSight lander that will study the Martian interior.

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Up is down and Lies are “rhetorical hyperbole”

By PatD, a Trail Mix Contributor

Our enemies are friends and our friends are our enemies. War is peace. What climate change?

Washington Post: A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit from adult-film actress Stormy Daniels that claimed President Trump defamed her when he suggested she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their alleged relationship.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles ruled that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment as the kind of “rhetorical hyperbole” normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.” He ordered Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, to pay Trump’s legal fees.
[…]
Otero, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, had indicated during a late-September hearing that he was skeptical of Daniels’s claim on free-speech grounds. He said Monday that Daniels has presented herself as Trump’s “political adversary” in public and in court filings and that Trump has the right to respond to her claims.

“If this Court were to prevent Mr. Trump from engaging in this type of ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ against a political adversary, it would significantly hamper the office of the President,” Otero wrote.

“Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation. This would deprive this country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process,” he wrote.

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Make It So?

By PatD, a Trail Mix Contributor

Hate to bring this up in case you haven’t noticed but it seems that almost every response nowadays from an interviewee starts with the word “so”? Like it’s become SO prevalent, SO awesomely annoying and SO bigly distracting that it’s like worse than the overuse of “like” and “awesome” and Trump tweets. Like.

Geoff Nunberg at NPR noticed it three years ago but had a different more tolerant take:

So, What’s The Big Deal With Starting A Sentence With ‘So’?

To listen to the media tell it, “so” is busting out all over — or at least at the beginning of a sentence. New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas calls “so” the new “um” and “like”; others call it a plague and a fad.

It’s like a lot of other grammatical fixations: Not everybody cares about it, but the ones who do care care a whole lot. When NPR’s Weekend Edition asked listeners last year to pick the most-misused word or phrase in the language, that sentence-initial “so” came in in second place, right behind “between you and I” and ahead of venerable bugbears like misusing “literally” and confusing “who” and “whom.” That’s a meteoric rise for a peeve that wasn’t even on the radar a decade ago.

NPR itself has been singled out for overuse of “so” by both interviewees and hosts. That prompted the NPR head of standards and practices to calculate how many times the hosts and reporters on the major NPR news programs had started sentences with “so” in a single week in August of 2014. When the total came to 237, he urged them to look for alternatives.

But not so fast. When you break that weekly figure down, it only comes to one sentence beginning with “so” every eight or 10 minutes. That isn’t actually very many, particularly when you’re running a lot of interviews. After all, “so” is a conversational workhorse. It announces a new topic, it connects causes to results, it sets up a joke. “So, what’s it like being Justin Bieber?” “So, do the low interest rates help farmers?” “So three gastroenterologists walk into a bar.”

Starting sentences with “so” isn’t a trend or a thing. However it may strike you, people aren’t doing it any more frequently than they were 50 or 100 years ago. The only difference is that back then nobody had much of a problem with it. When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor Maxwell Perkins sat down with him to go over the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, he didn’t say: “Scott — this last line. ‘So, we beat on, boats against the current’ etc. etc.? I think we need to go with ‘thus.’ ”

So, why the recent hue and cry about those sentences beginning with “so”? In part, you could blame the quirk of perception I think of as the Andy Rooney effect, where you suddenly become keenly aware of a common word that’s always been part of the conversational wallpaper. Somebody says, “Have you noticed how everybody’s saying ‘OK’ before they hang up the phone?” and all at once the word starts jumping out at you, even though people have been using it that way forever.

Many of the complaints about sentences beginning with “so” are triggered by a specific use of the word that’s genuinely new. It’s the “so” that you hear from people who can’t answer a question without first bringing you up to speed on the backstory. I go to the Apple Store and ask the guy at the Genius Bar why my laptop is running slow. He starts by saying, “So, Macs have two kinds of disk permissions …” If that “so” were a chapter title in a Victorian novel, it would read, “In which it is explained what the reader must know before his question can be given a proper answer.”

Scientists have been using that backstory “so” among themselves since the 1980s, but its recent spread is probably due to the tech boom. In his 2001 book The New New Thing, Michael Lewis noted that programmers always started their answers with “so.” That’s around the time when I first heard it, working at a Silicon Valley research center. Mark Zuckerberg answers questions with “so” all the time: “So, it comes down to the economics …” “So one of the services that the government wanted to include …” But by now that backstory “so” is endemic among members of the explaining classes — the analysts, scientists and policy wonks who populate the Rolodexes of CNBC and The PBS NewsHour.

To my ear, that backstory “so” is merely a little geeky, but it rouses some critics to keening indignation. A BBC host says speakers use it to sound important and intellectual. A columnist at Fast Company warns that it undermines your credibility. A psychologist writes that it’s a weasel word that people use to avoid giving a straight answer.

That’s a lot to lay on the back of a little blue-collar conjunction like “so.” But that backstory “so” can stand in for people’s impatience with the experts who use it. When you hear a labor economist or computer scientist begin an answer with “so,” they’re usually telling us that things are more complicated than we thought, and maybe more complicated than we really want to know. That may be why they were called in in the first place, but as Walter Lippmann once said, the facts exceed our curiosity.

That backstory “so” puts me on guard, too, even when I hear it coming out of my own mouth. Usually it just introduces some background qualification that the question calls out for, as in, “So … German isn’t actually a romance language.” But sometimes it announces some nugget of specialized linguistic knowledge that I feel the need to share. If that “so” were a chapter title in a Victorian novel, it would read, “In which the reader is asked, ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ “

So, Captain Picard, please…. make it a little less so.

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Are we there yet?

By PatD, a Trail Mix Contributor

With this scandal and that tweet talking heads declared each successive outrage a watershed event. The end of something innocent or civil or just was taken from us and surely comeuppance of the thief in chief is on the horizon. But no, there was another and then another. No one time upheaval, but several bumps, thumps and crashes. Tossed upside down one minute, yawing to the right, to the left and sometimes backward the next. It’s a terrifying ride on rapids on what may be a river of no return. Oars and paddles swept away. Rudder broken and the community boat is battered. What will be left of the magnificent vessel, this ship of state, as it washes ashore?

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