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If you think acronyms and abbreviations are innocuous, you need to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis, a stark account of  the 2008 subprime mortgage wipeout– especially his analysis of language used by the Wall Street bond market where “terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders.” A CDO, or collateralized debt obligation, sounds a whole lot better than a bag of subprime mortgages given to people with no jobs and no intentions of getting jobs. A subprime mortgage bond was called ABS, or asset backed security. Who cares what the asset is, or whether it even is one? Everyone wants to have nice ABS, right? And there were a whole universe of such acronymic “products” available: RMBS, HELs (as in “going to HEL”), HELOCs, Alt-A (which meant an alternative to creditworthy) and they even changed the word to “subprime” to “midprime”. According to Lewis, “any acronym or abbreviation could more clearly be called a ‘subprime loan’, but the bond market didn’t want to be clear. ‘Midprime’ was kind of a triumph of language over truth.” It’s all a Semantic Hallucination Inducing Timebomb.

In reality, this use of language is the kind of re-branding you’d find in basic marketing 101, (if you built a subdivision on a former garbage dump, just call it “Renaissance Valley”) it just happened be used to help mask the greatest unregulated Ponzi scheme in world history. When your language is fraudulent, so is everything behind it. The fact that anyone outside Wall Street would invest in any bond Wall Street has to offer, in the form of an acronym or not, is a mystery to me. Until it is regulated and entirely transparent at the very least and maybe not until the financial sector can no longer buy Washington through lobbyists or direct payment.

If you’re an outsider like me and have an interest in the gory details of how the fraud came undone, read The Big Short. 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson gives a more thorough account of how powerful the Wall Street bankers are right now and some historical context for how it could be dealt with. Teddy Roosevelt once took on the richest Trusts in the nation and broke them up, recognizing that there is no free market when a handful of people own almost everything. Perhaps the same can be done with the banks that are “too big to fail” which really means, even according to Alan Greenspan, “too big to exist”. TBTE!

Here’s a link to an article from More Intelligent Life that does a nice job on surveying the modern usage of acronyms. I like, in particular, the author’s take on the diminution of God to the letter ‘G’ in OMG. It is reflective of the adolescent instinct to turn powerful words, like ‘awesome’ into ordinary expressions of mundane activity. “OMG the latest episode of ET is so awesome. It’s like about a world without awe and without God. So wicked.”

More Intelligent Life Acronym Article

Last night I watched an episode of Detroit 187 (which is exactly 137 better than Hawaii 5-0). One of the sub-characters, a shady club owner, called himself GOAT. In his one scene before he is killed, he tells the cops that GOAT is an acronym for Greatest of All Time. I’m not the hippest guy in the world, but it turns out that the original GOAT was LL Cool J, Ladies Love Cool James, who had a studio album and a song called “The GOAT”. In that song the Greatest of All Time seems to be defined as a guy who gets all the dough and all the hos. By that standard, I am certainly not a GOAT. I have some cash and one wife. I’m a SCOW. You can’t write a hip-hop song or a modern American crime drama about a scow, that just ain’t ll cool j….fer real

Forgive the rudeness in the title, a juvenile reference to The Great Outdoors with the Great John Candy. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the contents of a hot dog: lips and assholes. If you haven’t seen it, take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=001dtJ0srBI

Well, in the never-ending corporate quest for dumb buzz acronyms, Sears has come up with LPS (“our Lowest Prices of the Season”). The actual acronym accounts for only three of the six words in the phrase, which gives it a 50% letter accountability rate (percentage of letters in a phrase actually used for the acronym). If they had changed the phrase to Our Lowest Damned Prices Of The Season, they could have had OLD POTS as the acronym which would have a 100% letter accountability rate and about the same level of relevance.

I know this is an irrelevant question, but if you are having a sale, doesn’t the word “sale” indicate that the price you are getting is lower than usual? How often does a price fluctuate in a season anyway? Doesn’t a consumer get more information from a tag like “50% off” or a comparison between the sale price and the regular price (both of which Sears offers on their flyers, by the way)? LPS is a flagrant act of gratuitous acronym usage — the point of it seems solely to include a set of buzz letters in their marketing material regardless of their usefulness…..Never mind… When considering acronyms and hot dogs, its better not to ask what went into making them…

I was reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie after reading an article about the author, Muriel Spark, in The Atlantic. It is a very funny, though ultimately tragic, book and I will send the passage below to the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat for their consideration:

“I am summoned to see the headmistress at morning break on Monday,’ said Miss Brodie. ‘I have no doubt Miss Mackay wishes to question my methods of instruction. It has happened before. It will happen again. Meanwhile, I follow my principles of education and give of my best in my prime. The word ‘education’ comes from the root ‘e’ from ‘ex’, out, and ‘duco’, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, it is intrusion, from the Latin root prefix ‘in’ and the stem ‘trudo’, I thrust. Miss Mackay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning.”

I like how this is put, especially in an age of ‘backward design’ and teaching to the standardized test and curriculum, where we seem to be setting up artificial boundaries for what can and should be learned. A safe, fenced in playground instead of a voyage into uncharted seas. Unfortunately, in the novel, Jean Brodie turns out to be a manipulative egomaniac and a fascist sympathizer, who celebrates Mussolini’s “organizational skills” (would she give them an E, for excellent, in the skills section of an Ontario report card?). She also refers to her select students as ‘la creme de la creme’ which is more annoying for it’s French pretension and redundant phrasing than as an expression of country club superiority complex. Still, Miss Brodie, like her namesake novel, leads us out into uncomfortable and dark territories that stir and terrify the soul — and it is on these adventures that real education happens.

Glad to see that the new school year has brought new acronymic initiatives from the Ministry of Education (MoE, the smartest of the three stooges). It is the all-encompassing K-12 School Effectiveness Framework, which in my initial read is an encyclopedic synthesis of a decade’s worth of educational jargon. You want “accountability”, “evidence-based direction”, “building capacity”, “systems thinking” or “job-embedded and inquiry based professional learning”. It’s all there in the de-motivational tool of the new millennium. It ensures that the last drop of poetry or magic has been wrung out of the language we use to describe education and lays us down in a desert where management theory words blow about us like properly annotated and categorized tumbleweeds. I dare you to find one inspirational word in it anywhere. Here is the link:

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/framework.html

Personally, I will be using this document to talk dirty to my wife. “Hey baby, are my  timely and tiered interventions responding to your individual student learning needs? Because I’ve gathered a variety of valid and reliable assessment data that is informing my instruction and assessment and determining my next steps. Or would you prefer to be supported by a collaborative team approach. Oh baby!”

in France. AR. Au revoir.

In an early post, I bemoaned the KFC-ification of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am happy to say, that while vacationing on the shores of Lake Huron, I stumbled upon one of the last remaining holdouts of non KFC’ed Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. Please see photographic evidence below.

LOOK AT THE BUCKET SIGN! This location, which has avoided the marketing language death of so many other Colonel Sanders’ franchises, is in Port Elgin, Ontario. I’ve heard rumours of another in Owen Sound. Small town Ontarians are fighting a quiet guerrilla war against the death of words in their local mass market fast food operations. LOOK AT THE BUCKET! One of the servers in Port Elgin assured me that when the KFC makeover people come, the first thing they do is REMOVE THE BUCKET. But not in Port Elgin! And not in Owen Sound (….maybe)! And who knows where else the dignity of the word is being upheld…LOOK AT THE BUCKET! Look at Colonel Sanders. It is as if the great Colonel himself, rediscovered his military balls and said, “Forget my secret recipe. Here is where I make my stand! You will not reduce my Kentucky Fried Chicken to 3 letters that sound like a shady Wall Street office trading derivatives! Each word has 11 herbs and spices! Read each one! Linger over the greasy, salty taste of each one!” DON”T FORGET THE BUCKET!!!

By the way, I ordered two 15 piece buckets for the family and it was SENSATIONAL. North America’s Hospitality Dish indeed….

Continuing on with yesterday’s theme of spy agency acronyms, let’s take a look at Canada’s: CSIS, pronounced See-Sis, and standing for Canadian Security Intelligence Services. Is there a single spy agency in the world with a less intimidating acronym than CSIS? It’s strange, because it really is the amalgamation of the letters in two pretty cool acronyms: CSI and SIS. But you jam them together and you get CSIS. You no longer pronounce the individual letters, so you get See Sis, the name of a sissy. “Hey, Csis, it’s time to come in for dinner. And hey, didn’t I tell you to to stop taking pictures of the neighbourhood cougars on your mini spy camera?” “Aw, mom!”

And if a spy agency like MI6 has someone like James Bond working for it, then who does CSIS have? CC My Playmate?

By the way, the current head of CSIS, Richard Fadden, doesn’t have much respect for the first “S” (Secret) in CSIS. He pretty much let’s everybody know what’s going on about how Canadian politicians are influenced by foreign governments (Who would have guessed?). Perhaps it should be the Canadian Divulged Intelligence Department. CanDID?…  sorry….

No one is really surprised that Pakistan’s I.S.I. (Inter-Services Intelligence) was playing on both the American and the Taliban sides. Just look at that acronym. There’s one “I” on one side of the “S” and one “I” on the other. Talk about building double agency and split personality directly into the organization. And what does “Inter-Services” mean anyway? How can you trust an intelligence agency with the prefix “inter” — like INTERstate, and INTERnational, and coitus INTERruptus. You have to know any secrets you share with the ISI are going to be INTERcommunicated with the other “Services” which probably include the Taliban’s Sadistic Human INTERment Teams (SHITs). Anyway, ISI is the least trustworthy spy agency acronym in history.

Look at ISI’s  opposite palindrome acronym, S.I.S., the intelligence service for the United Kingdom. Only one “I”: the Intelligence safely tucked between the Secret and the Service. You never see double agents coming out of England. Just ask Kim Philby.