Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hit Music Word Cloud

Here's another experiment with Wordle. I took the lyrics from the Billboard Hot 100 top song for each year 1995-2005. Ten years of data should tell us what words people look for in a top song. One of the shortcomings is that certain songs will repeat a word ad nauseum that doesn't appear in any other song (I'm looking at you, Macarena.) So enjoy it for what it is worth.
(click for larger)

Soon-to-be-hit: Baby, cause you know, oh, living Macarena love strong.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Americans Want

The Senate Republicans Conference makes available many of the graphics they use in presentations. Here's one I found particularly amusing.

How to Harass the CIA

I live in a university town, so big corporations come through look for recruits. Recently, we were visited by none other than the CIA. That's the Central Intelligence Agency. So I was talking to my comrade, and we decided that the CIA would be here to project a very specific image of themselves. We have a duty to present a different image, so that potential recruits would have a broader perspective to make their decision from. So we got some dark suits and set up our own table outside the classroom the CIA was using to recruit folk. We got there before them and started handing out a brochure we made, laying out some of the CIA's checkered past. We also posted excerpts from CIA training manuals. We put up a map of government overthrows the CIA was involved in. And demonstrated rendition and interrogation. We didn't go as far as waterboarding, but we did do stress positions. One student saw the description of rendition we posted and said aloud "I'm not sure this is the kind of thing I want to be part of."

At one point, the building manager comes up and we have the following conversation.
"Are you guys with the CIA?"
"We are here to represent the CIA."
"What are your names?"
"That's classified."
"The other CIA guys could at least tell me their first names."
"We're in different departments."
"The other CIA guys are upstairs and they won't come down. They are very worried."
"What are they worried about?"
"This!" he said, showing us the brochure we were handing out.
"What do they find worrisome about it? Is any of it not true?"
"No, they don't know who made it or where it came from."
"Don't worry, it is based entirely on declassified documents. We aren't spreading any state secrets here." (This is a tactic of mine that rarely works. Act as if they are accusing you of something entirely different than what they are actually accusing you of.)

Thinking that was the end of that, we continued our show. Fifteen minutes behind schedule, the real CIA slunk by and into the classroom. They didn't even wave.

A few minutes later the police showed up.
"What are you guys doing here?"
"Presenting a different side to of the CIA to potential recruits."
"You know, impersonating federal agents is a serious offense."
"I don't think we are credibly impersonating. Besides, the First Amendment protects protest and satire."
"You have to leave. You're trespassing."
"I don't think so. This is a public space in a public university and we are students here."
"But you are creating a nuisance."
"Since when is saying true things in a university a nuisance?"
"You weren't invited."
"The CIA's invitation says 'all students are welcome.'"
Note to others: You can't argue law with the police. They are just the muscle the state uses to protect their interests. The Main Officer asks for my ID, while his sidekick asks for my partner's ID. I initially refuse, as Michigan is not a "stop and identify" state, but I guess when the police are called on you, that constitutes probable cause. He runs my name and finds no outstanding warrants, much to his displeasure. My partner, though, was having trouble. He didn't have his ID on him. Sidekick was giving him a really hard time.
"Do you know how close you are to getting arrested?" he asked.
"For what crime?" I asked.
"Failure to identify."
"He doesn't have his ID with him," I noted.
"That's a against the law," Sidekick explained.
"So it is against the law to leave your house without an ID?" I probed.
"Yes," he lied. Eventually he conceded to running the name without an ID.
The cops were acting really tough. When I put my hands in my pockets, he yelled "Hands out of the pockets!" and when I asked to get a drink from the drinking fountain behind him, he yelled "No drinks!" At this point, we were getting pretty nervous. They were acting all drunk on power, and we thought the next interrogation we were part of might not be a demonstration. Next, a guy shows up. Khaki trench coat and tweed scarf.
"Alright, get out of here," Khaki trench coat says.
"Right, now that someone authorized has told us." I said, rolling my eyes. The beat cops acted offended by this.
"Don't you know that's the Sargent?" They said. Because you should dress your high ranking people in khaki and tweed. It's a uniform that really commands respect. But considering they were threatening to arrest us, we took this as an opportunity to leave. Which, on reflection, was exactly what they wanted. Make us think we are in trouble, then give us an out. We take the out, and they get rid of their headache without having to do all the paperwork. Victory for the CIA and the local police.
So a day well spent, rattling the cage of government henchmen.
Here's a clip from the paper the next day. I'll post the brochure if I can figure out how to post a PDF. (click for larger.)

CIA Brochure PDF 2

Bicycle With Sleeping Trailer

Why not?

Rosa the Anarchtopus

Sometimes you have awesome room mates. My room mate knit me a red and black octopus. I named her "Rosa Luxembourg the Anarchtopus." Instead of being beaten and thrown into a river, this Rosa was beaten and thrown onto dry land. The fascist octopuses* are rough.

*Why not octopi? Because were not speaking Latin. And octopus isn't a second-declension neuter noun. It isn't even Latin. It's Greek. So if you wanted to pluralize it pretentiously, it would be octopodes. Me? I'm sticking with octopuses. Don't get me started on "mongoose."

Views from the World Social Forum

Over in Britain, they apparently have a free press, as this article on the World Social forum comes from the BBC. They let four speakers from the forum write short articles and it is awesome. Seriously, read it.

If you need a little encouragement, consider this passage from Walden Bello:

With investment in industry and agriculture yielding low profits as a result of over-capacity, large amounts of surplus funds have been circulating in or invested and reinvested in the financial sector - that is, the financial sector began turning on itself.

The result has been a divergence between a hyperactive financial economy and a stagnant real economy.

This was not accidental - the financial economy exploded precisely to make up for the stagnation owing to overproduction of the real economy.

he continues:

One indicator of the super-profitability of the financial sector is the fact that 40% of the total profits of US financial and nonfinancial corporations is accounted for by the financial sector although it is responsible for only 5% of US gross domestic product (and even that is likely to be an overestimate).

The problem with investing in financial sector operations is that it is tantamount to squeezing value out of already created value. It may create profit, yes, but it does not create new value - only industry, agriculture, trade, and services create new value.

So go read it.

How to Downsize

Having a blog means you can post links to articles that interest you.

Here's a guy that built a house out of sticks and hay:

I find this far cooler than the latest skyscraper in Dubai.

Economics Makes Sense

The team over at EPI have come up with this analysis of how effective different measures are at stimulating the economy. Not surprisingly, consumption subsidies (food stamps, extending unemployment benefits) have more effect than making the rich richer (dividend tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, etc.) This is because the less money you have, the larger percentage of your income turns into consumption. Those who qualify for food stamps spend just about everything. So by giving them a subsidy, it gets turned into economy, whereas people who get more money from a dividend tax cut will probably not spend as much of it. Thanks, marginal propensity to consume!

Wordle Word Clouds

There is a cool site called Wordle. Wordle makes word clouds out of text. The more often a word appears in the text, the larger it is in the cloud. I've made some interesting ones with large source texts.

The first exercise was to compare word use by various presidents. I input collections of speeches from George Washington (11 speeches), Thomas Jefferson (12 speeches), Abraham Lincoln (9 speeches), Richard Nixon (10 speeches), George W. Bush (12 speeches), and Barack Obama (10 speeches). They are mostly state of the union addresses, inauguration speeches, and nomination acceptance speeches. For Obama, I used a lot of campaign speeches, so keep that in mind when you look at the word cloud. (This explains, for instance, why "McCain" is one of the larger words.)

I would be interested to hear your observations. Here are some of mine. Presidents in the past called it "United States," while more recent presidents call it "America." Jefferson used neither. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln were fond of the word "may," whereas Nixon used "let," and Bush and Obama use "must." The word "government" appears more in pre-Bush speeches as well. Here are the word clouds (click for larger):

Next, I wanted to see how large of a text the system could handle. I tried the entire Bible, and couldn't get it to work. After I broke it down into the Old and New Testaments, it found those chunks digestible. The program is supposed to ignore common words, such as "the," "a," "but," and so on, but the common words in King James-style English (an old-fashioned style of speech even when written, by the way) are different, so we see a lot of "thy," and "hast." (click for larger)

I tried a novel next, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn." I picked Finn because it is noted for being written in a vernacular style, the opposite of the Bible. What words was Twain fond of? (What word were Twain fond of?) (click for larger)

I next did Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species," in honor of his 200th birthday. (click for larger)

I showed my results to some friends, and one of them replied that he'd imagine a word cloud of Noam Chomsky talks would consist mainly of

"East Timor"
hand motions
"I hate America"

To test this hypothesis, I input 28 Chomsky talks, totaling over 200 pages (found at, and got this result (click for larger):

So word clouds are a neat way to display information.

All You Need To Know About Crawford v. Nashville

The latest Wikipedia article I've contributed to is Crawford v. Nashville. Go there to learn about an exciting Supreme Court case. Isn't employment law fun?

Abandoned Blog Syndrome

I haven't updated this in a while because I haven't felt like it. This is called abandoned blog syndrome. Perhaps I shall post more shortly.