Smart Quotes Are Actually Pretty Dumb

QuotesYou may have noticed a small change here in terms of text formatting. We’ve gone back to the old way of doing quotes. So instead of the text looking more like a typeset document, it looks like more like something from a typewriter. In the past, “A quoted section had these nice curly quotation marks!” But now, “A quoted section has these rather awkward straight quotation marks.” The same thing is true of of the single quote: ‘This is out’ and ‘this is in!’

Strangely, the smart quotes are the default in WordPress. And worse than that, they aren’t something you can just go into the admin and turn off. That doesn’t make much sense. This is something that a lot of people want. In fact, I’ve noticed a trend on websites away from the smart quotes. The biggest reason seems to be that people don’t like to deal with then when cutting and pasting. Because I had some notion that I might want go back, I’ve always changed smart quotes in text I’ve copied to straight quotes. Now I’m glad I was so rigid about that.

My reason for changing this is different than most others’ reason. The fact is that smart quotes just aren’t all that smart. Whoever designed the system did not bother to update it, because problems show up all the time. Here are some examples:

…”We are going to have…”
The system provides a right quote because it thinks a sentence is ending. I would never do this, but others do.
I put quotes in the middle of sentences—”Like this one!”—to spice things up.
This is much the same thing, although I used to do it all the time. As a result, I changed my style guide to put spaces around m-dashes, which I really didn’t want to do.
“He said, ‘Double and single quotes don’t work together well.’”
I’ll admit, this one is subtle, but it drives me crazy. The ending single quote is straight because the system can’t figure out what to do with it. That seems like an obvious one to me, but there you go.

There are other examples, but I can’t think of them right now. The point is clear enough. Smart quotes make errors all the time. If I’m going to have to worry about it, I might as well just go back to the old style, which everyone understands and works in all fonts.

There are other things that changed that I didn’t necessarily want. Before, the double hyphen (–) was converted into an m-dash. That’s gone now. I will kind of miss that. It also used to convert three periods (…) into an ellipsis (…). That one I’m kind of glad about. Of course, it makes no real difference. But it drives me crazy on other sites that do the conversion, where people have the bad habit of using four periods and ending up with this monstrosity, “And then he said…. boo!” Clearly, one of those periods is not like the others.

How to Fix This in WordPress

Interestingly, WordPress divides all of this up into three areas. You can’t just provide a single line of code to change it. You have to change the title, the content, and the comments. For a while, I had it turned off on the title and content, but not the comments. That looked bizarre. I can understand the title distinction: people might want that. But the comments?! I just don’t think so.

In order to change this, you have to edit your functions.php file. You do this by going into Appearance in the admin area and then selecting “Editor.” Then click on the Theme Functions link on the right. At the bottom of the file, add the following three lines:

remove_filter(‘the_title’, ‘wptexturize’);
remove_filter(‘the_content’, ‘wptexturize’);
remove_filter(‘comment_text’, ‘wptexturize’);

And then you too will have dumb but perfect quotes on your blog.

Signaling Behavior on eBay

eBay LogoThe authors analyze data from eBay’s bargaining platform using its collectibles category — coins, antiques, toys, memorabilia, and the like. The process is one of sequential offers not unlike haggling in an open-air market. A seller lists an initial price, to which buyers may make counteroffers, to which sellers may make counteroffers, and so on. If a price is agreed upon, the good sells. The authors analyze 10.5 million listed items, out of which 2.8 million received offers and 2.1 million ultimately sold. Their key finding is that items listed at multiples of $100 receive lower offers on average than items listed at nearby prices, ultimately selling for 5 to 8 percent less.

It is tempting to label such behavior a mistake. However, items listed at these round numbers receive offers 6 to 11 days sooner and are 3 to 5 percent more likely to sell than items listed at “precise” numbers. Furthermore, even experienced sellers frequently list items at round numbers, suggesting it is an equilibrium behavior best modeled by rationality rather than seller error. It appears that impatient sellers are able to signal their impatience and are happy to do it, even though it nets them a lower price.

—Andrew Whitten
Cheap Talk, Round Numbers, and Signaling Behavior

Global Warming and the Insanity of the GOP

ExxonA lot of times, I read something that I really want to write about. But it sits around in an open tab. It’s often because I think it is so important that I don’t get around to it, because I want to give it more time than I usually do. And I never find I have the amount of time that I need. And I don’t now. But you really should know about this series of articles from Inside Climate News, Exxon: The Road Not Taken. The first article is, Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago.

We are talking back as early as the 1970s. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. When I was in graduate school, I had interactions with real climate scientists who worked for Exxon. Some very good work came out of Exxon, but it was clear over the years that it became more and more just a matter of looking for uncertainties for marketing rather than looking for the truth. But certainly by the mid-1970s, people like Veerabhadran Ramanathan had demonstrated how radiative forcing worked, using simple models of the atmosphere. It ain’t complicated. Of course Exxon’s own people were saying that its primary commodity was effectively poisoning the the atmosphere.

And Exxon and the other oil companies responded in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies had responded…

And Exxon and the other oil companies responded in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies had responded to the research that showed it caused cancer: denial. And it used many of the same people, including my old friend Fred Singer. The the truth is that the oil companies had a worse problem than the tobacco companies. The tobacco companies have been able to push all the harder into other areas of the world where they can murder people who don’t have strong government protections. But there was nothing that the oil companies could do. It had to be a fight to the death.

I really think at this point that the Republican Party’s total denial of science — not just when it comes to global warming, but when it comes to everything — is due to this problem. The only way to continue to do nothing about global warming is to deny reality. It’s like some stereotype of a hippy, “What is truth anything?” So it isn’t just the atmosphere that Exxon and friends have managed to poison: it’s also the brains of the Republican Party — not that it wasn’t primed for this anyway with its supply side dogma and so on.

Jonathan Chait brought my attention to some interesting new research and brought up an important question, Why Are Republicans the Only Climate-Science-Denying Party in the World? I was only vaguely aware of this, but conservative parties in the other advanced democratic countries accept that global warming is happening and are committed to doing something about it. It is only the Republican Party that has turned into a hotbed of conspiracy theories about hoaxes — and at very least, people who are going to avoid the problem until drought and crop failures cause worldwide famine.

Unfortunately, Chait doesn’t have an answer to his own question. But I think it is all about money. In the US, the rich have always had a huge amount of power and they have only gotten more powerful. We can’t have climate regulations, because that would hurt some rich people. We must have supply side economics because that helps rich people. We can’t have universal healthcare because that would cost the rich a little money. At the same time, in order to hold its coalition together, the Republican Party has had to get out on the loony fringe of social issues like guns and reproductive rights.

I’ve long felt that eventually — in 50 to 100 years, there will be another World War. It will be between the US (with a couple of our puppet allies) and the rest of the world. And we will be the bad guys. Because I really don’t see us reforming from the inside. Our democracy has rotted. A putrid smell has only begun to suffocate the rest of the world. But it will get worse — much worse. Maybe we can stop it. But as I think I’ve made very clear: if the economy goes bad next year, we will have the Republicans in control of Washington. And that means more pollution, war with Iran, a worse and more unequal economy. And the American people will mostly sleep through it until they wake up in 2020 like Punxsutawney Phil to see if the economy is improving and vote just based upon that — even if our cities are on fire and there are regional water wars.

Carly Fiorina and the GOP’s Power Over Truth

Carly FiorinaYou may have heard about CJ Pearson. He’s the 13 year old African American who spouts right wing talking points on YouTube. Conservatives love that: kids who are able to parrot the arguments they hear on Rush Limbaugh. And the fact that this was coming from an African America, well, that was just too delicious to turn down. In fact, Ted Cruz made him his youth-outreach chairman. But the conservative movement has turned on the poor young man. It turns out that he’s been involved in a number of scams — and I’m not even referring to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

I suspect that he was outed by the conservative movement itself because he’s black. It’s not that conservative journalists don’t trust African Americans. It’s just that they were on the alert for being punked. It’s the same way that I was when I heard that long-time abortion rights opponent Claire Conner had changed her political orientation. As with Conner, usually when someone says that she has had a change of heart, she’s being honest. But you want to be sure. And when you are talking about a young man who comes from a group that the Republicans have treated so badly, you’d be extra cautious.

Just the same, what is it that Pearson has done wrong? He pulled a hoax trying to show that the Obama Twitter account blocked him. He staged a Twitter argument between himself and someone who was supposedly a racist Obama supporter, but was, in fact, Pearson himself. These are all totally in the tradition of James O’Keefe, who is not only still a hero in the conservative movement, but taken seriously by the mainstream media. I suspect the only difference is that Pearson’s scams were too easy to figure out. It took a little time to unmask O’Keefe’s tricks, and by that time, they had been hugely successful.

Brian BeutlerBrian Beutler noted another uncomfortable comparison, Carly Fiorina Abuses the Truth Just Like a Teenage Conservative Hoaxer. Fiorina either lied or was spectacularly misinformed at the last Republican debate when she claimed to have seen a particularly gruesome video where Planned Parenthood was keeping a fetus outside the womb alive so they could harvest its brain. As Beutler said, “In fact, basically every factual claim… is untrue.” Yet far from abandoning her, the conservative movement has circled the wagons for her. Why would that be?

Beutler’s answer is just that the stakes are high for Fiorina and they aren’t for Pearson. But I have a feeling, they wouldn’t go to the mat for Ben Carson. But don’t get the wrong idea: I don’t think that has anything at all to do with race. Rather, I think a lot of conservatives have it in mind that Fiorina is going to be the vice-presidential candidate. They think of her as their secret anti-Hillary weapon, because everyone knows that women just want to vote for another woman, and they don’t care who the woman is or what the position is. Nominating a clearly unqualified anti-feminist woman for vice-president will be just as good as nominating an extremely qualified feminist woman for president.

Ultimately, like all things with Republicans these days, it is all about power. Truth doesn’t matter; power does. If Carly Fiorina says “2 + 2 = 5,” well, it does — as long as she is part of the Republican strategy to take control of the White House. And the fact that the Republican Party has gotten to this point is very troubling. I no longer think that having responsibility will actually make them responsible. And they know from experience that as badly as they may screw up, it will only cost them one election cycle — if that.

Morning Music: Hi-Standard

Growing Up - Hi-StandardToday, we listen to Hi-Standard — a Japanese band formed in 1991, whose members clearly listened to a lot of American punk rock from the 1980s. They mostly sing in English, which doubtless makes them sound more American. But they just have the sound down. And they are great players. And they have a sense of humor with covers of Saturday Night and The Kids Are Alright and a great version of California Dreamin’. (Really. Listen to it. Click it. I’ll wait… Great, right?)

We are going to listen to “Maximum Overdrive” off their first album, Growing Up. Special attention should be paid to Akira Tsuneoka on the drums. He’s just amazing. I mean, they all are, but especially him. I love this band. They are the find of the week.

Anniversary Post: CD Player

Sony CDP-101On this day in 1982, the first commercial CD player, Sony CDP-101, went on sale. It cost roughly $730 (equivalent to $1,800 today). As I recall, when they first came out, what most people were interested in was the fact that they didn’t skip. And then radio stations started using them, and they skipped all the time. They finally got that under control. It seems to me that it was due to a major misconception about the discs: they couldn’t be scratched.

To this day I’m amazed at the way people treat their CDs. Everyone treated albums very carefully, because they understood how easily they could be damaged. But CDs are treated the way cassettes were: people just throw them on the floor on the passenger side of the car. I suppose that’s really why people are so cruel to CDs: they play them in their cars. That would explain why people aren’t quite so bad to DVDs.

Another early myth about CDs was that they sounded better than albums. That certainly wasn’t true. What people meant was that there was no scratching sound. But the truth is that most people are not audiophiles. I’m certainly not. I think audiophiles often miss the music for the sound. And ultimately, CDs were useful to people because they were convenient. If you treated them with the smallest amount of respect, they did last and didn’t scratch. You could easily find a particular song and skip one that really annoyed you. It was nice.