About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

On the Same Page

Round_Table_Discussion.svg.medTo be on the same page is to be thinking or understanding an issue similarly, or in agreement, though not necessarily on every detail. It is usually said about efforts to solve a problem.

Knowyourphrase.com says the origin is may refer to students opening their textbooks to the same page, or choral singers opening their music. That sounds plausible but sometimes people simply make up good stories to explain a phrase.

If the phrase seems to be recent, so Know Your Phrase may have found the origin in 1974, in the Corona Daily Independent:

“I think we can beat Washington and whichever [football] team we play next to get into the Super Bowl. If 47 players and our coaches are all on the same page, we can do it.”

Wherever it came from, tweakyourbiz.com calls this a business cliché, “a handy crutch when you’re groping for a word in a pressurized situation.” Perhaps some original thinking would lead to fresh language.

Facts and Truth – Will Your Brain Let You See the Difference?

Facts are not as important as the truth that defines who you are, and every idea you have is a physical thing in your brain. The circuits become fixed and new information is modified to fit, because some things simply must be true.

That’s my summary of a recent interview I heard with academician George Lakoff, but what really caught my attention is that he implies you can’t change this. Even if you know your brain is filtering facts, you can’t help it. Not all facts may challenge your sense of self, and you can deal with those. But when the topic is part of your identity, you’re trapped.

That defies my sense of free will, which, of course, would only prove Lakoff’s point.

Lakoff says he can explain why certain positions that seem independent go together – for example, pro-life and flat-tax. I’ve often thought about this – if I know you’re a vegetarian I bet I can guess your politics. Why should that be so?

As it relates to politics, Lakoff says we see our nation through the metaphor of a family, and there are two kinds of families: the strict father and the nurturing family. Most people use a mix of these two approaches (so maybe there’s hope for a fact to get through!) but the basis of the strict father is that authority and morality go together – right and wrong are clear, tough love creates a disciplined person who will succeed, and if someone doesn’t succeed it’s their own fault and they deserve what they get. Continue reading

Preaching to the Choir – a much safer audience

This phrase refers to attempts to convert someone who is already a believer – that is, a waste of time. According to Phrase Finder, this is a fairly recent phrasing, originating in the United States, based on an older version.

The first reference is from The Lima News, Ohio, January 1973:
“He said he felt like the minister who was preaching to the choir. That is, to the people who always come to church, but not the ones who need it most.”

An earlier English version dates back around a century further and is first cited in a letter to The Times in November 1857:
It is an old saying that to preach to the converted is a useless office, and I may add that to preach to the unconvertible is a thankless office.

It was subsequently made popular by John Stuart Mill.

Something Very Few of Us Literally Do

When recommending someone avoid rushing into an activity, we still say “Hold your horses.” This is a modern spelling of the idiom. As Wikipedia says

“Hold your hosses” (‘hoss’ being a US slang term for horse) appears in print that way many times from 1843 onwards… The first attested usage in the idiomatic meaning [came] from Picayune (New Orleans) in September 1844, “Oh, hold your hosses, Squire.”

The literal meaning is older:

In Book 23 of the Iliad, Homer writes “Hold your horses!” when referring to Antilochus driving like a maniac in a chariot race.

It seems strange that the idiom has survived the arrival of motorized vehicles, but there is a modern variation: cool your jets, which Stackexchange says originated in the US and was first quoted in a newspaper:

1973 Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids) 29 Jan. 1/1 If you want to cool your jets, just step outside, where it will be about 10 degrees under cloudy skies.

Frugal Future Happy or Horrifying?

Our economy is built on consumerism – an expanding population buying more stuff every year. If that changes, what would the future look like? If consumer demand declines production would decline with it, and as jobs dry up wages and consumer demand would fall further. There’d be no place to invest capital since businesses would not need to expand. Low wages, bubbles wiping out savings from time to time. We’d see empty housing and shrinking bankrupt towns as people consolidate into major cities.

This isn’t as crazy a concern as you might think. The recent Great Recession offered a taste of life in a failing economy. It made people angry and fearful as well as poorer. And population decline is happening today with the aging of Japan. Fertility rates are dropping while the percentage of old and elderly increase.

A range of economic and cultural factors contribute to Japan’s decline in childbirth: later and fewer marriages, poor work–life balance, increased participation of women in the workforce, a decline in wages and secure employment, small living spaces, and the high cost of raising a child.

Although most married couples have two or more children, a growing number of young people postpone or entirely reject marriage and parenthood. [wikipedia]

Wags have even calculated when the last Japanese baby will be born: the year 3011 (which allows a lot of time to ponder the issue) and offer more causes: men called “herbivores” who are not interested in sex, young women who prefer being single and child-free, and a preference for “virtual” friends among younger people.

Japan leads the way, but other countries are on the same path – including America (where immigration hides the trend.)

I think of America’s shrinking rural towns (like my own) and the Rust Belt. Those areas are responding to a loss of jobs, but what will happen when there’s a nationwide loss of people who need to buy stuff and services?

If automation and robotics keeps production high, maybe stuff will get cheaper and those people who are left will live like kings. But Japan’s economy has been stagnate for decades and the cost of living remains high.

Of course, human beings are complex. Germany has one of Europe’s lowest fertility rates and seems to have a robust economy. Both low fertility rates and emigration affects Eastern Europe, so they may look more like America’s Rust Belt than like Japan.

Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, in contrast, have population booms. As their people spread across the world – as they no doubt will – cultures will change everywhere. It’s historically appropriate to expect the next great tide of human migration to come Out Of Africa.

I’m sure the Great Depression, which forced so many families off their subsistence farms, was a disaster for those who lived through it – but how many of us would go back? From the other side of whatever shift is coming, I optimistically assume that you and I will be an unlamented barbaric past.

I recently heard a TV interview with Emrys Westacott, author of The Wisdom of Frugality-Why Less is More.

For more than two millennia, so many philosophers and people with a reputation for wisdom have been advocating frugality and simple living as the key to the good life… [but] most people have ignored them.

Perhaps people in the future will take those philosophers up on their advice. But it’s scary. As Scott Adams’ cartoon character Dilbert once said, “Change is good. You go first.”

Disease and Rumors Spread Like Wildfire for Centuries

Sources agree on the definition: something that quickly affects or becomes known by more and more people. Rumors, diseases, and memes can spread like wildfire. But only dictionary.com offered anything on the origin.

In the twelfth century the term “wildfire” referred to a skin disease (if it was highly contagious,  the modern usage for disease sounds like it has a very old origin) and the “figurative sense is recorded from c.1300.” includes several historical examples, but all modern – for example, from The Messenger by Elizabeth Robins, 1920. News can fly and flee, as well as spread, like wildfire.

21st Century’s Biggest Challenge Found in a Casserole

Ah, the holiday season! We gather with friends and family, and wonder if the pot-luck meals are going to kill us – if not by design, then by carelessness or ignorance. Does Aunt Alpha dismiss your worries over chemicals? Does Uncle Beta laugh as he shovels in another helping of some comfort-casserole first baked during the Great Depression?

I ran across an interesting article at slate.com about BPA, a chemical commonly added to plastics in contact with food to prevent corrosion or suppress bacteria. In high enough doses it can “cause adverse health effects by interfering with how our normal hormone systems work.” The author, Michael Holsapple, is a professor at Michigan State who studies food safety. He’s written an interesting article and I hope you’ll read it for yourself.

Holsapple reminds us of an important detail:

When considering the safety of any substance, it is important to understand what is known as a ‘dose-response relationship.’

As the dose of a potentially harmful chemical we are exposed to increases, so, too, does the severity of the harmful response. This means the relative safety of almost every substance—even water or oxygen—is a function of the dose to which we are exposed. Importantly, this also means that the mere presence of a chemical does not mean it will be harmful.

Consumer fears about BPA have led some food companies to replace it with other chemicals that are not well understood, just so they can boast “BPA-free” on their products. Their replacements could turn out to be more dangerous than BPA since

A 70 kg person, or about 154 pounds, would have to consume over 14 cans of cream of mushroom soup, or over 64 cans of green beans per day to be vulnerable to adverse health effects associated with exposure to BPA.

We live in a world flooded with misinformation, but it’s impossible for any individual to research everything that pops up on their favorite news site or – even more questionable – blog. There was a time when we looked to experts in academia or government to sort through it all for us, but public faith in such sources is low. RF_Alum has grappled with this issue at Rocky Flats, and his first-hand, personal knowledge doesn’t seem to comfort people once their fears are aroused – just check out the book reviews he mentioned here.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.” A statement we can all endorse. But finding those facts and getting us all to share them may be the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.

BTW – it’s pretty well established that daily overeating and a couch-potato lifestyle will hurt you, so keep that green bean and mushroom soup casserole as only an annual treat.