Bloomberg Tweets Doctored Debate Video

Creepy misinformation? Or just lame?

Vox’ Alex Ward (“Mike Bloomberg tweeted a doctored debate video. Is it political spin or disinformation?“):

Following his lackluster performance in Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg tweeted out a doctored video that made it look like he had a hugely successful moment on the debate stage, even though he didn’t.

And while politicians putting out campaign ads that take their opponents’ words out of context or are selectively edited to misconstrue their opponents’ positions is a practice basically as old as time itself, some experts are calling the Bloomberg video dangerous and unethical in a digital age rife with disinformation.

The 25-second clip starts with the mayor asking a question he really did pose in the debate: “I’m the only one here that I think has ever started a business — is that fair?”

What follows is a series of close-ups on everyone from former Vice President Joe Biden to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) keeping quiet, looking confused and uncomfortable, all backed by background noise of crickets chirping.

Put together, it makes it look like Bloomberg had an epic mic-drop moment in which he thoroughly owned all of his opponents on the debate stage.

In reality, there was a brief awkward silence after Bloomberg asked the question, but then he proceeded to talk about his vision for mentorship programs for young entrepreneurs.

When he finished, one of his opponents — Sanders — actually went on the attack to complain about a “corrupt political system, bought by billionaires like Mr. Bloomberg” that help the richest people pay fewer taxes.

[…]

But at a time when foreign governments are actively trying to spread disinformation in US elections and President Donald Trump frequently shares manipulated video clips on Twitter to attack his political opponents, all candidates need to be wary of what gets released in their name.

“In this digital age, campaigns need to be more careful than ever before,” Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst and disinformation expert, told me. “There needs to be a higher standard.”

I’m not sold that this is some dastardly act of cyber disinformation. If I hadn’t watched the debates and were seeing this video for the first time as a television ad, I’m pretty sure that I would have immediately detected that it was a mash-up. The close-ups are too stretched out. The reactions are too exaggerated. And there are, after all, crickets chirping.

No, this is worse than a crime—it’s a blunder. It’s just a really lousy ad.

The line went over with a thud at the debate because it was poorly delivered. And, while the point might have been an effective one in a Republican primary, it’s almost a head-scratcher in a Democratic primary. When was the last Democratic nominee with substantial business experience? Jimmy Carter?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Mike Bloomberg, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Republicans have as an article of faith** that govt should be run like a business and that a successful business man will make for good governance.

    **like tax cuts raise revenue, that poverty is the result of bad character, and reproductive freedom is a man’s natural right to enslave women.

    (ok ok, i’m a little over the top with that last one, but only by a very very very small amount)

    8
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    If the Dems nominate Bloomie, the the rethugs should fall into line and Bloomie should be elected by acclamation. After all he is by far the more successful businessman.

    6
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I’m not sure he is racist or sexist enough for them. He’s been making sounds like he’s actually sorry for all the racist and misogynist things he’s done and said in the past. That will never fly in today’s GOP

    4
  4. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I have no idea why you thought that last example was over the top, it is quite literally true.

    I’m of the opinion no businessman should be allowed near the levers of the economy. They spend a career internalizing lower costs, increase revenue. They are incapable of dealing with a situation in which their supplier is also their customer. They see linear cash flow, they don’t understand the circular flow of money. Bloomberg understands finance, and thinks it’s economics. Herbert Hoover was a businessman. W. Bush was a businessman. Romney was a businessman. Trump was sort of a businessman.

    9
  5. de stijl says:

    It is Republican magical thinking that it takes a billionaire to beat a billionaire*.

    Plus, Bloomberg has to put the stop and frisk mishigas fully to rest definitively before he can be deemed electable. That is a huge albatross. Stop and frisk was the poster child for institutional racism.

    It wasn’t disavowable, “I didn’t know” wink and nod shh! policy, it was SOP written policy, measured and quantified and counted in your annual review policy.

    * is this even true? I might have more net worth than Trump. We don’t know.

    3
  6. charon says:

    James;

    I’m not sold that this is some dastardly act of cyber disinformation. If I hadn’t watched the debates and were seeing this video for the first time as a television ad, I’m pretty sure that I would have immediately detected that it was a mash-up

    I think many people will fall for it, even with the widespread debunking it has generated (Vox, WashPo, etc. ). That’s the obvious reason it was put out, why else?

    I think it’s important to draw attention to the way the Bloomberg campaign is advertising itself.

    4
  7. Teve says:

    Trump and GWB and Rumsfeld and Cheney were businessmen.

    So…

    1
  8. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Herbert Hoover is a very interesting comparison.

    He had a successful and distinguished run up until he became President. Very good at process, he was trained as an engineer. Maybe he is the victim of an ill-timed ascension. Previously, he had been progressive by action, but he was ideologically sure that federal government should not influence or alter the national economy, so his anti-Depression efforts were essentially fruitless.

    Nevertheless, FDR came along and stomped him into the ground and instituted a new chapter in our nation’s story.

    4
  9. Teve says:

    @gVOR08:

    Bloomberg understands finance, and thinks it’s economics.

    That’s pretty much a perfect summary of the problem.

    The government is a macroeconomic entity, and they want to run it as a microeconomic entity, which sometimes has the exact opposite rules.

    7
  10. gVOR08 says:

    This edited video seems like bog standard campaign spin. And it will work. There was a record audience for this debate, about 20 million. Which means 300 million didn’t watch. They’re more likely to see this ad than to read media takes critical of Bloomberg. In a parallel post James points out that everyone except Bloomberg and Bernie is running out of money going into Super Tuesday.

    I commented above @gVOR08: on the economic ignorance of business people. But they do know that advertising works and how to make it work. We have excellent municipal water supplies and a 12 billion dollar bottled water industry. If advertising can sell bottled water, Bloomberg could very well buy the nomination. And hopefully have enough left to buy the general.

    2
  11. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    Imagine yourself as a horse.

    Someone leads you up to a trough*; gestures at the cool, refreshing water therein. You balk. You dither.

    * good word. ESL people must hate us: how does that get pronounced “troff”? What are we, Welsh?

    1
  12. Hal_10000 says:

    @de stijl:

    but he was ideologically sure that federal government should not influence or alter the national economy, so his anti-Depression efforts were essentially fruitless.

    I’m not sure that’s right. He raised spending dramatically (30% in 1932 alone) and raised tariffs to try to fight the Depression. He was undone by (1) these not being a really great solution; (2) a federal reserve that had its head up its backside. The idea that Hoover was some laissez faire non-interventionist seems misguided given his record.

    That having been said, the idea that a businessman would run the country particularly well seems misguided, but not because of Hoover or Trump particularly, although Trump illustrates why. Businessmen are used to just ordering things done. They’re not used to situations where they have co-equal powers with two other branches, are restricted by laws and the Constitution and need a complex functioning system to get anything done. They’re used to firing people who criticize them, doling out perks to relatives and friends and greasing wheels, none of which is particularly legal when you’re President.

    I do think business *experience* can be useful because a lot of the problems businesses face with regulations and so forth don’t seem to really be understood by those in power (although Trump doesn’t understand these either, always having been an publicity-hound executive). Our politicians are constantly being blind-sided by unintended consequences that are much more forseeable to those outside of government. But again, this particularly argue in favor of some feudal overlord like Bloomberg, let alone Trump.

    3
  13. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:
    @de stijl:

    Or perhaps a bottle of Evian?

    Sourced from someplace cooler than here.

    Glistening. Condensation dew trickling down the chic plastic bottle derived from oil. Mocking your *naive*, silly, unsophisticated tap water.

    1
  14. de stijl says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I likely came in with a bias and undersold Hoover’s efforts.

    That’s a totally fair cop.

    2
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    I live in California, which is Bloomberg’s #1 target, and I believe I’ve only seen one Bloomberg ad in the wild. 90% of my TV watching is via a streamer or an app. On relatively rare occasions when we watch live TV, ad breaks are time to run to the kitchen to make a cocktail. I really wonder how effective his ads are going to be. Maybe people who watch a lot of sports will see them. Or teetotalers.

    1
  16. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    People who never have to pee?

    I am thinking about getting a mini fridge in my media room. I like half and half and honey with my tea. Stick some beers in there, maybe.

    Btw, my “media room” is just a basic room with a decentish TV, laptop + monitor, and some cheap ass A/V gear. And a comfy chair. Thinking about a projector. I have a bare ass wall, sitting there, mocking my frugality. The Epson model I fancy is getting cheaper and better monthly.

    Blacked out windows so I can dance about dorkily and no one can see. Optimum.

    I was watching cable yesterday and there were so many Bloomberg ads. I saw maybe 15 or so. Dude is making a major push. And I live in a market where the caucuses already happened.

    1
  17. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Quick recco if you want to dorky dance today.

    The Style Council (my nym in a different language) Walls Come Tumbling Down.

    It is old school Philly style soul + pop rock. Written and performed by Paul Weller.

    It induces euphoria in me. Plus a damn good message in the lyrics.

    1
  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: I’ve seen Hoover’s actions described as being forced by circumstances to take successive emergency actions, declaring each as one step short of socialism, then being forced to take that next step. To be fair, he was flying blind, nobody understood what was going on. Keynes didn’t publish his General Theory until 1936 and it was some time before it was accepted. Roosevelt was also flying blind, but more willing to improvise. And far luckier on timing. Unlike Obama who was elected in the middle of the collapse, Roosevelt inherited a Depression that had been raging for three years, there was no question Hoover and the Republicans owned the Depression.

    3
  19. Kit says:

    What happened to the notion that the man in the street is an ignoramus who cares nothing for politics, somehow knows even less, and just votes the party line?

    1
  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Michael Reynolds: In Texas, we are seeing Bloomberg ads during evening prime time every weeknight.

  21. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    @Hal_10000 was correct. I undersold what Hoover attempted. He wasn’t fiddling while Rome burned.

    I do find Hoover interesting.

    He was very successful and influential and powerful and progressive (for that time) up until the point he was elected.

    1
  22. Matt says:

    @de stijl: Few years ago I had a history professor who argued that FDR made the great depression worse and if only he had embraced free market libertarian ideas the great depression would of just been a minor bump in the road.

    Quite a few people dropped out of that class but I stayed in because the dude was really quite knowledgeable outside of his hate boner for FDR and indirectly liberals. Passing that test was pretty easy as all I had to do was pick the choices that blamed FDR for everything…

    @Gromitt Gunn: I don’t have cable at home but I have seen several of bloomberg’s ads on random TVs during football and such.

    1
  23. DrDaveT says:

    No, this is worse than a crime—it’s a blunder. It’s just a really lousy ad.

    Bloomberg has invented “shallow fakes”. Awesome.

    2
  24. de stijl says:

    @Matt:

    “Hate boner” is now my new favorite phrase.

    Thank you, dearly.

    1
  25. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    For all that I dislike Bloomberg as a candidate, I kind of admire his operation. I’ve never been able to fathom why other D’s (and in fact the entire party operation) aren’t putting up billboards simply pointing out that Trump went bankrupt running a casino like Bloomberg just did. The sound bite/one liner ads against Trump are so bloody obvious (and true!, unlike most of Trump’s one liners), yet no one until Bloomberg came along is making them a defining feature of their campaign. It’s maddening. I know I’m verbose and over-explain everything, but I’m not a high profile politician or advisor. How can this crop of Democrats NOT understand that most voters (including Democratic ones) don’t pay much attention, have no interest in complexity and nuance, and need to have their information bubble sharply and simply pierced? These candidates have been just bad at campaigning.

    Trump went bankrupt…running a casino. More than once. A successful businessman?
    Trump paid off porn stars to hide affairs…a Family Values candidate?
    Trump mocks the disabled in public and gets crowds to jeer at them. A role model?
    17 out of 17 US Intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Trump.
    More jobs were created in the last 3 years of the Obama Presidency than the first 3 years of the Trump Presidency.
    Trump says he hires only “the best people.” Why has his cabinet seen more turnover and corruption than any other in modern history?
    Trump says he hires only “the best people.” Why does he now tweet and complain at rallies that over half of his original cabinet were terrible and overrated?
    The General who led the effort to kill Osama Bin Laden says of Trump: “You have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

    You can go on and on and on. Billboards, radio ads, 15 second TV spots, rally signs. Instead they push Medicare 4 all, get tarred as “open borders” advocates, and cede the public mass messaging (which HAS TO BE SIMPLE) to Fox News and Trump. Which (in my opinion) is why Trump’s approval numbers have been rising. The more people look at these candidates, the less impressed most of them are getting.

    I just wish Bloomberg would focus on spending his money on attacking Trump and not actually be a candidate himself.

    6
  26. de stijl says:

    @DrDaveT:

    No one wants to see a deep fake of Bloomberg.

    That would be super creepy.

    Sexy fun time and Michael Bloomberg are mutually exclusive.

    Kids, do not watch deep fake vids of Bella Thorne or whomever. The entire concept is profoundly creepy.

    If you have any notion of consent, deep fake vids negate that entirely. Just don’t. Bad move you will regret. Do not click.

  27. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    ESL people must hate us: how does that get pronounced “troff”? What are we, Welsh?

    “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”

    “ough” words generally weren’t an issue when I was dealing with ESL speakers. But those damned French words were: Resume, rapport, fiancee, fillet…

    2
  28. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    That was epic!

    I adore you.

  29. Mu Yixiao says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve seen Hoover’s actions described as being forced by circumstances to take successive emergency actions, declaring each as one step short of socialism, then being forced to take that next step.

    That’s interesting. My parents grew up during that time (they were born in ’22 and ’32), and I never heard them say anything about Hoover–though plenty about what they went through. FDR (and later, Ike) were always spoken of highly–because they got us through the war. And I’m sure the fact that Dad was the first generation born in the US (and served in WWII) played a big part in coloring his views.

    I’m always fascinated by how legacies change with time. I wonder how long it’ll take for views to change on the last 4 or 5 presidents.

    1
  30. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    Here’s the one that blew my mind:

    “The training he had had had had no effect on his success.”

    1
  31. DrDaveT says:

    No, this is worse than a crime—it’s a blunder.

    BTW, is that a Nero Wolfe quotation?

  32. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    It’s totally okay to goof on Welsh.

    People in Wales acknowledge how stupid the spelling is compared to the pronunciation.

    I respectfully asked. Repeatedly.

    Totally own and are down for the mocking.

    Cardiff is a great town, I had a great time there, and north Wales is absolutely stunning visually.

    Even for a casual, armchair linguist, dipping your toes into Welsh is mesmerizing.

  33. Moosebreath says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “BTW, is that a Nero Wolfe quotation?”

    It was originally said (in French) by Talleyrand.

    3
  34. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    That hurts to look at, but as a native English speaker, it makes perfect perceived sense.

    New immigrants must truly hate us.

    Language is so fascinating. We wallow in it daily. It is very complex. It is very simple.

  35. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Welsh is pretty much pure Celtic with no Roman or Greek influencers. I’m positive they picked up words from their neighbors, but it is pristine as Scottish Gaelic.

    Actually, Scottish Gaelic probably has more Nordic influences. Viking raiders are poorly named. They often settled, too.

    The settled term is skirt, not kilt.

  36. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    I’ve never tried to figure out Welsh (any more than I needed to to understand a Doctor Who or Torchwood episode). I’ve found, however, that Chinese is fascinating in that it’s 100% phonetic (once you understand pinyin–which is simple), and bafflingly complex. One “word”–jiao–has 77 different definitions in my translation app (with about a dozen characters). And that’s by itself. They have a lot of “compound words” where putting two words together gives a completely different meaning (e.g. of + ten = often).

  37. de stijl says:

    Most of what we call the northern east of England was ruled by Danes. The Danelaw was established well before Harald Hadrada who was from Norway not Denmark. York is a Danish town by roots.

    Gingers in England are there because of Viking settlements.

  38. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    Gingers in England are there because of Viking settlements.

    That much I knew. All I know about the Danes is that Sandi Toksvig is one. So… points in their favor.

  39. Mu Yixiao says:

    Regarding the video:

    Based on the description, it sounds like a bazillion other political ads I’ve seen over the decades.

    I enjoy ranting about “kids these days” as much as the next curmudgeon, but… are people really lacking in basic critical thinking skills? Or is this just a few idiots spouting off to get attention?

    Hmm…. I think I need to watch “Wag the Dog” tonight.

    1
  40. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Both tonal and ideogramatic. Complexly contextual. Chinese languages are baffling. I leaned hard into linguistics, but ended up in computer science. Which is just another language. (Languages, actually)

    Don’t even try to understand Dr. Who until the David Tennant era. They just made shit up to entertain. Cybermen, Daleks, whatever was needed to juice it up. Until recent, better written arcs, it was basically monster of the week.

    From that era on, they are trying to produce a coherent, understandable universe which includes Torchwood as backstory.

    Chinese languages are way outside of my wheelbox.

    I have a theory that language profoundly influences worldview.

  41. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: @Moosebreath: Definitely French and usually attributed to Tallyrand although most now dispute that it was actually him and attribute it to a random French diplomat whose name was lost to time.

  42. de stijl says:

    My main linguistics prof was a German lady.

    I used to ask her to say Jazz. Her choice. She could say “yatz” or she could say “Jazz” in her super weird approximation of an American English pronunciation.

    Both cracked me up. Her approximation of Jazz was incredible! Can hear it to this day. She sounded like a Boer South African who moved to West Virginia when she was 14. Indescribably awesome. Jaazz. It amused me, and annoyed her. She was gracious.

    She was cool.

    1
  43. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    I have a theory that language profoundly influences worldview.

    I would definitely agree with you there. I have no expertise in the area of language (except English), but my observations when I was in China back up your theory.

    Chinese are great at learning a process and repeating it. They’re getting better at learning a process and improving on it. They’re not very good at creating the process in the first place, however.

    My theory is because they have an ideogram-based written language. There is no way to “figure out” how to pronounce a new word*, so everything must be learned by memorization. Thus, their education system is all about memorization. Chinese** consistently do well on standardized testing for math and science–subjects that can be memorized. That doesn’t hold up for subjects that are… ummm… subjective (sorry about that).

    This follows through into their business and technology sectors. They really not good at coming up with new ideas. They don’t “tinker”. Nor do they ask “What happens if I do this?” and wander down the rabbit hole–and that’s where some of the world’s great inventions lie.

    Americans used to be taught phonics. We had to “sound out the word”–and run into all the roadblocks and idiocy of English. But along the way we start to figure out the “language vectors”; Oh… that word looks French, it’s probably pronounced this way; This word looks Greek, it’s probably pronounced this way. So a big part of our way of learning is “figure it out”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (I was in HS before I first had to say the word “epitome”. I’d read it hundreds of times and knew what it meant, but had never heard it. I said it wrong.)

    Strictly-gendered languages (Spanish, Italian) seem to have strictly-gendered cultures where they’re used.

    Or… I could be completely wrong. 🙂


    * This is not entirely true. Parts of the ideogram often suggest how it should be pronounced, but it’s far from sure-fire.

    ** If you pay attention to the lists, it’s actually “Shanghai”, not “China”.

    2
  44. de stijl says:

    I mispronounced anathema once at work, and I was conversing with the striving MBA guy from a third tier school. Like you, read it and wrote it dozens of times, but had never heard it

    He could have ignored it, he could have politely corrected me. He chose to be a weenie dick about it and used it as a mocking cudgel. I hate that guy to this day and I don’t even recall his stupid name.

    There is nothing wrong with an MBA or the people who pursue it, but there is a type; the stereotypical MBA striver who thinks he knows every aspect of every business. Dude was that dude to a tee.

  45. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    My close friend, gf maybe? is from Shanghai.

    If things become more serious, I will want to learn her language. At least Hanyu pinyin. Ideograms scare me because I will forget and struggle hopessly. I am decades past the neuroplasticity required to absorb it. Plus, tonality. Crikey, I am so boned.

    One of the big things I love about her is that she has a basic difference in how she views the world compared to me. I really like that. Hopefully, I challenge her as much as she challenges me.

  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao: That reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s proposed phonetic spelling of the word “fish”: ghoti
    gh as in “enough”
    o as in “women”
    ti as in “nation”

    2
  47. DrDaveT says:

    @de stijl:

    I have a theory that language profoundly influences worldview.

    That is well-trodden ground. Indeed, it went from serious linguistics to pop linguistics to discredited pseudo-science never to be mentioned by Serious Linguists… and has now come full circle.

    The discredited version is the Whorf Hypothesis, sometimes (inaccurately) called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is a slander against Edward Sapir. That one is usually phrased something like “The language you speak constrains what concepts you can think”.

    The recent, empirically sound version can be found in Guy Deutscher’s excellent book Through the Language Glass. That one goes more like “The language you speak affects how you perceive the world”. Highly recommended.

    The silly fun sci-fi version is Jack Vance’s classic novel The Languages of Pao.

    1
  48. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    My first few years in China I was teaching high-end ESL to business professionals. They knew how to speak English, but not how to do business in English (including basic stuff like how to shake hands, and using “Mr. Smith” instead of “John” until given permission).

    I’d frequently use the ghoti example as a fun way of saying “It’s okay; English spelling sucks ass.” 🙂

    I would also use “antidisestablishmentarianism” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to help them get past “long words are scary!” (all words in Chinese are one syllable (some may technically be two, but in common usage, they get slurred together)).

    Humor is a great way to get past dealing with “face” and their desire to be perfect.

    Then I’d let them know that I can’t–and probably never will be able to–pronouce 日 (ri). It apparently involves bending the tongue into a mobius strip, reaching into an eldritch dimension, and calling forth a demure moan from Cthulhu.

    2
  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Then I’d let them know that I can’t–and probably never will be able to–pronouce 日 (ri).

    I had a similar experience with Dutch. I’m generally good at pronouncing foreign languages, even ones I don’t understand, from years of singing in many languages. But Dutch utterly defeated me. The diphthong vowel in the words “muis” and “huis” (which mean “mouse” and “house”) is a sound I cannot reproduce reliably.

    I will admit that I haven’t tried Mandarin, other than to have a native Mandarin speaker correctly guess once that I was trying to say “Long time no see”…

  50. Mu Yixiao says:

    @de stijl:

    My close friend, gf maybe? is from Shanghai.

    If things become more serious, I will want to learn her language

    Which one (spoken)? Putong hua (standard Mandarin) or Shanghai hua (Shanghai dialect)? It’s a serious question with serious serious repercussions for your relationship no matter which one you choose. Shanghai people are notoriously snobbish about their dialect. It might not matter much to your friend, but it almost certainly will with her family. Learn Shanghai hua and you’ll earn points with the older people in her family–but you’ll be limiting yourself to a regional dialect that won’t do you any good anywhere else.

    Ideograms scare me because I will forget and struggle hopessly. I am decades past the neuroplasticity required to absorb it. Plus, tonality. Crikey, I am so boned.

    Ideograms aren’t (quite) as scary as they first appear. Don’t get me wrong–they’re still scary. Just… “Stephen King scary”, not “HP Lovecraft scary”. Written Chinese includes a set of “radicals”, which are basically like our prefixes and suffixes. Learn those, and you can get the general idea (from an ideogram?!) of what the character means. It works maybe… 75% of the time.

    My go-to example is the water radical (氵).

    Work = 工 add water and it becomes 江 (river; water that works)
    Air = 气 add water and it becomes 汽 (steam; air-water)
    Sheep = 羊 add water and it becomes 洋 (ocean…… WTF?!)

    And… as a 50+ tone-deaf Wisconsin boy, I am 100% with you on neuroplasticity and tones.

    For me, the worst of it was that I was living in a city that’s 60% migrant. The Chinese couldn’t understand each other. They’d “write” characters on their palms with their fingers to make themselves clear.

    When people asked me why–being immersed in it–I couldn’t just “pick up” Chinese*. My reply was: Imagine you’re trying to learn English from scratch, and your teachers are a Cajun, a Scotsman, an Indian, an Australian, a Nigerian, and a dock worker from the Bronx.

    I lived in Kunshan. I was in a class with a dozen people and asked them how to pronounce it. I got 5 different answers. Everyone said one pronunciation was wrong. I asked him where he was from. His answer? Kunshan. 🙂

    * I spent a week in Mexico City for a trade show, and was able to recall more of my HS Spanish (and learn much more) than I could learn Chinese after 4 years.

  51. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I had a friend who got her masters degree in linguistics and she told me a little bit about Whorf-Sapir (mostly because she’d named her hamsters “Whorf” and “Sapir” and had to explain why). I didn’t know the details, or that the theory had been discredited (though, based on your quick summary, I can see why).

    The recent, empirically sound version can be found in Guy Deutscher’s excellent book Through the Language Glass. That one goes more like “The language you speak affects how you perceive the world”. Highly recommended.

    Hopefully it’s written for the (reasonably intelligent) layman, because that sounds quite interesting. I’ll have to look it up.

    Thanks.

    The silly fun sci-fi version is Jack Vance’s classic novel The Languages of Pao.

    Haven’t heard of it, but I’m down for silly fun sci-fi (the Stainless Steel Rat is my hero).

  52. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I will admit that I haven’t tried Mandarin, other than to have a native Mandarin speaker correctly guess once that I was trying to say “Long time no see”…

    Hao jiu bu jian 🙂

    I think it’s very different when you’re actually in China. Even in cities with “significant” numbers of foreign people, the average Chinese doesn’t interact with “laowai” (non-Chinese). If you can say “hello” and “thank you”, they get a big smile and complement you on how good your Chinese is. If you can say “I want noodles” at a restaurant, they’re amazed.

    On the few occasions I’ve had the opportunity to speak some Chinese in the US (e.g., at the Chinese supermarket), the responses range from mildly pleased to mildly condescending.

    The worst response I got was when I asked an employee (in Chinese) if they had long jin tea… and getting the response “No speak English”. Ouch. 🙂

    2
  53. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Hao jiu bu jian

    Yeah, but apparently I got the tones sort of right, which made me smug for a week. (OK, it still makes me smug.)

    Hopefully it’s written for the (reasonably intelligent) layman, because that sounds quite interesting.

    Absolutely — his academic writing is very different.

  54. de stijl says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I have okay Swedish from when I was wee, so Dutch vowels are understandable. It helps to form a picture in your mind of the mouth shape required. A lot require a much “emptier” mouth shape than English does.

    It is very close to the same as what you would do whistle but with a different lip shape.

    Also, be okay with aspirating vowels. Native English speakers are bonkers good at saying “hat”. You can do it. It is way easier than learning how to trill your r’s.

    The stereotypical “Fargo” northern Minnesotan accent is a relic of longer vowels and a more open mouth.

    Okay. Ya, sure.

    The little one was funny lookin’.

    How so?

  55. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Whatever makes the grandparents happy.

    I am a 50+ Minnesotan. My grandparents were all from NW Wisconsin, hence the Swedish.

    My great grandfather was a fiend for televised wrestling. Old school AWA. Verne Gagne with Wally Karbo as the hype man.

    My parents did not have a great grasp at what constitutes basic level of parenting, so I got shipped out to Barron County a lot. Every summer I had to help out on the farm until I was 14 or 15. In the middle of nowhere, possibly the boringest place God ever invented.

    It was a multi-generational household mostly speaking Swedish.

  56. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You must watch completely different stuff than I stream then. I almost never see anything that isn’t a Bloomberg commercial. But I live in the Portland, OR media market.

    Maybe you’re wrong about Cali being target #1?

  57. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    If autodidact means self taught, what is self parented?

    Surprised I didn’t turn feral.

  58. Just nutha says:

    @DrDaveT:

    In 1804 when the Duke of Enghien was executed by Napoleon, the Bonapartist minister of police Joseph Fouché said of the incident, “It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder”.

    Also attributed to Tallyrand about the same incident, so one attribution is wrong.

    Edit: Moosebreath beat me on Talleyrand, and no, I’m not as good at spelling as I used to be. (One of many things I’m not as good at, I would add.)

  59. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    The Whorf hypothesis makes me think of Klingons.

    A postcard on on how language and culture interact.

    I am now watching the worst MMA fight ever televised. Both dudes are fat, and incapable of standing upright for more than ten seconds. With sound muted, it’s basically a gay porno.

  60. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha:

    We are a learned bunch. Well done.

    Google helps.

  61. wr says:

    @de stijl: Actually, the good writing starts in the Christopher Eccleston year — he was the first Doctor under Russell T. Davies and that season set the template for everything that’s come since.

    1
  62. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Strictly-gendered languages (Spanish, Italian) seem to have strictly-gendered cultures where they’re used.”

    I guess German would be the exception that proves the rule…

  63. wr says:

    @de stijl: “My close friend, gf maybe? is from Shanghai.”

    Are you asking us if your close friend is actually your girlfriend? If so, I vote yes.

    1
  64. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: You are all making me feel a lot better about my total failure to learn Mandarin!!!

  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: Most of the time I use Cortana down at the left of my taskbar on my computer. That way, I don’t have to open a window unless I want to copy something. The data opens on a quarter screen. (Have a smartphone but use it for exactly one website because I have extremely low fine motor control. Don’t carry it with me; it’s my “home” phone number. So far this month (starting 2/12), I’ve used 650 kb. Last month was a high usage month–3.26 MB. I normally use about 2.6. Highest usage so far has been a little over 6. And no, I’m not confusing megs with gigs.)

  66. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I lived in Kunshan. I was in a class with a dozen people and asked them how to pronounce it. I got 5 different answers. Everyone said one pronunciation was wrong. I asked him where he was from. His answer? Kunshan.

    Early in the time I was in Korea, I went to Korean Language school (no, I don’t recommend it–long story). One day we were practicing something and the teacher stopped to interact with my on my practice (only time in 10 weeks) because I was confused about a pronunciation issue. I noted that where I had been living we live in a “bang” (room) and go to the bakery to buy “pang” (bread), which was the opposite of what was being addressed in the lesson. She was quite shocked until I noted that I had been living in Daegu (which she pronounced as Taegu) at which point she laughed and said “yes, that is a problem.” We were laughing about it and she noticed that the other students were wondering. So she explained that I had been living in Gyeongsang Province where people have a speech impediment that prevents them from saying certain words correctly.

  67. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    LOL! I can so hear so many of the people I know saying something similar.

    On a (somewhat related) tangent:

    I was talking with a young Chinese woman I’d become friends with and the conversation drifted to bicycles. She said she wanted to buy a “fee shee ay” bike because they were “cool” (my word, not hers). She kept talking about “fee shee ay” bikes, and I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about. I assumed this was yet another bizarre Chinese thing (like green tea Twix)…

    …Until I realized she was reading an English word in pinyin: Fixie

    1
  68. de stijl says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    The misapprehension of newly created “fixie” is both fascinating and adorable.

    My friend has relatable instances where things go amusingly awry.

    Her understanding of lyrics is questionable at best. Sometimes way better than the original. We see patterns in noise as humans by default, and her interpretations are highly original. Many times better than the original. Surely more surprising and interesting. If by a rando then odd, but I like her so therefore adorable.

  69. de stijl says:

    @wr:

    In retrospect, I can see it.

    The Eccleston season was weird. You sorta knew it would be a one off because dude was a rising star. The writing was getting more interesting, yes.

    Don’t know if it holds all the way, but the effort was emerging. I can see where you’re coming from.

  70. Matt says:

    @de stijl: You’re welcome 😛