Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page

reasons to live in New York…#34

In PETA, reasons to live in NYC on 02/23/2007 at 10:06 pm

Rats run wild in KFC-Taco Bell in N.Y.
Friday, February 23, 2007 12:27:49 PM

A dozen rats were caught on video scurrying around the floor of a New York City KFC/Taco Bell restaurant early Friday, running between counters and tables and climbing on children’s high chairs.

CBS cameras were rolling as rats invaded the popular eatery. Watch the amazing video of rats running, playing and eating leftovers off the floor of the KFC at Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street. Rat infestations are not a new problem for this KFC. Just last December, the city’s Health Department cited this KFC for evidence of “live rats present in the facility’s food and non food areas.”

The franchise was also cited rats on at least three previous occasions by the Department of Health since 2004. But according to the Health Dept. Web site, the rat problems had been addressed. This was clearly not the case from what CBS 2 cameras caught Friday morning.

Rick Maynard of KFC/Taco Bell issued a statement Friday, saying: “This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards. This restaurant has been closed and we are addressing the issue with the franchise owner. We will not allow this store to re-open until it is completely re-sanitized and given a clean bill of health. We want to reassure customers that this is an isolated incident at the Greenwich TB/KFC at 331 6th Avenue.”

Cameras were rolling as rats invaded the popular eatery. Watch the amazing video as rats can be seen running, playing and eating leftovers off the floor of the restaurant at Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street.

These brazen rodents were seen scurrying across the floor right where diners would be sitting. They were foraging for food under the garbage cans and in the remains of dinner left on the floor.

Some frisky fellows even jumped up on the food trays, leaping from table to table like they were on an obstacle course and trying, but having trouble, climbing back down the chairs.

One was even perched on the ATM right by the front door:

“I’ve seen a lot of disgusting rats in the KFC. I love to eat at KFC but this is disgusting,” said Tameeka St. Jean. According to people at the scene, the popular restaurant was open until 11 p.m. Thursday night. Others told CBS 2 that the problem has been going on for weeks.

Neighbor Susan Quimbyn said, “It’s disgusting, and I am so glad you all are here to do something about it. Obviously things fall through the cracks. I’d like to interview the employees to see if they are aware of the situation.”

And so would we. But so far, no employees have shown up for work, and no owner or manager has responded to our phone calls and e-mails. Only a man claiming to be a former employee spoke with CBS 2. He said he quit after one month because of what he called “filthy conditions.”

“I quit because it was nasty. They don’t use gloves to make the food. They use the same grease day after day after day. At night, the manager told me to put the chairs up. We don’t sweep; we don’t mop. So that’s what the rats are eating off, the stuff that’s left on the floors,” said Marcus Bonner, who claimed to be a former employee.

click above photo or here to view video: Warning, Very Graphic NOT for the Squeamish

when bad is good…

In lisapicks, love on 02/22/2007 at 1:37 am

Why We Love Bad News

The bias of negative news over positive. Negative news has a stronger impact on our minds than positive news. Here’s the lowdown on how this “brain bias” impacts our daily emotions, and why it exists in the first place.

Why do insults once hurled at us stick inside our skull, sometimes for decades? Why do political smear campaigns outpull positive ones?

The answer is, nastiness makes a bigger impact on your brain.
And that, says Ohio State University psychologist John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., is due to the brain’s “negativity bias”: your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing. In studies he has done, Cacioppo showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (such as a Ferrari or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (like a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity of the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.

The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. That is, there is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news. Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it.

All well and good. Having the built-in brain apparatus supersensitive to negativity means that the same bias also is at work in every sphere of our lives at all times.

So it should come as no surprise to learn that it plays an especially powerful role in our most intimate relationships. Numerous researchers have found that there is “an ecology of marriage,” an ideal balance between negativity and positivity in the atmosphere between partners.

Psychologist John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington is one. He finds that there seems to be some kind of thermostat operating in healthy marriages that regulates the balance between positive and negative. For example, when partners get contemptuous—that is, when they fight by hurling criticism with the intent to insult the partner, which the partner rightly perceives as especially hurtful—they correct it with lots of positivity—touching, smiling, paying compliments, laughing, and other such acts. They don’t correct necessarily right away, but they definitely do it sometime soon.

What really separates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other. Even couples who are volatile and argue a lot stick together by balancing their frequent arguments with a lot of demonstrations of love and passion.

Because of the disproportionate weight of the negative, balance does not mean a 50-50 equilibrium. Gottman, for example, as part of his research carefully charted the amount of time couples spent fighting versus interacting positively. Across the board he found that a very specific ratio exists between the amount of positivity and negativity required to make a marriage satisfying.

That magic ratio is 5 to 1. As long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, the marriage was likely to be stable over time. In contrast, those couples who were heading for divorce were doing far too little on the positive side to compensate for the growing negativity between them.

Other researcher have found the same thing. It is the frequency of small positive acts that matters most, in a ratio of about 5 to 1. Interestingly, occasional large positive experiences—say, a big birthday bash—are nice, but they don’t make the necessary impact on our brain to override the tilt to negativity. It takes frequent small positive experiences to tip the scales toward happiness

By:Hara Estroff Marano
Psychology Today

when winning is losing…

In Uncategorized on 02/16/2007 at 3:32 pm

Apprentice winner explains why she quit after finding love and misery.

As the other contestants for The Apprentice filed into the room on the first day of filming, you could feel the tension. No one spoke and everyone looked straight ahead. I was thinking how tough some of them looked and wondering how I would cope. And then Syed entered. He literally strutted in. I just thought: ‘Hmmm.’

He was wearing a blue suit, blue shirt and brown leather shoes. Whereas everybody else had come in and stood still, Syed was pacing around, wandering over to the water fountain, back and forth. I remember thinking: ‘I’m not sure we’re going to get on.’

We were driven to the house where we would all be staying. It was on The Bishops Avenue in Hampstead, one of the richest streets in London, and was ultra-luxurious: two lounges, masses of bedrooms and a pool. We had a champagne reception to get to know each other. When it came to my turn to introduce myself, I said I was in telecoms offshoring, and several people wanted to know what that was.

I was about to explain when Syed jumped in and gave his version of what an offshore consultant was. I thought: ‘Who is this guy?’ I was really hacked off. When he’d finished, I said: ‘Are you done? Do you want to say anything else about what I do for a living? Because everything you’ve just said is wrong.’ It was a tricky start, but generally the atmosphere in the house was great – just like being part of a family. We tried to leave work at the door. We used to cook for each other, drinks lots of wine and enjoy ourselves.

Naturally, personalities came into play. I was the untidiest in the house by far, and I used to get in trouble with the other girls. I was always borrowing other people’s things, sometimes without asking. I’d have a bath, then wander downstairs in someone else’s dressing-gown and slippers. I guess I was quite annoying.

Ruth Badger – who became both my friend and my closest rival – was larger than life and popular from the start; while Paul, the cheeky headhunter from Yorkshire, was hilarious, although I later noticed he was skilled at winding people up. I got close to the bubbly, exuberant Jo – she had so much energy, she bounced around like Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout. But I never overcame my reservations about Karen, the former RAF officer. I felt she thought she was above me.

My initial impression of Syed hadn’t been very favourable. At first I thought he was arrogant. But as time went on, things changed. Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t understand the intensity of being in a TV show like that. We were together 24 hours a day, having little contact with our friends and family. That meant much of my support network was gone, as I often ring my mates to ask what they think of this or that decision or problem in my life. I like to bounce opinions off people.

Syed started to fill that role for me. I saw a different side to him. Yes, there was the confident, arrogant exterior but I was discovering there was also a kind, caring person behind it. As the weeks progressed, the others would go to bed and Syed and I would stay up talking until two, three or four in the morning, even though we had to be up by six or seven. Despite being very different, we got along well. Every morning, he’d make me porridge for breakfast and hot water with lemon. The others in the house started teasing him about it, and he got shy, so he used to leave it in the kitchen where nobody would see. I thought it was the sweetest thing.

I started to bond with him. I’d miss him if we were off on our tasks and I’d really look forward to getting home and seeing him again. At the outset, it was more of an emotional attraction than a physical one, but there was a real connection between us. One of our tasks was working on the sales floor at Topshop; it was a battle to sell the most clothes. Syed was on the opposing team, but we decided to help each other out. If someone came in for a winter coat and I didn’t have any, I’d pass them to him, and if someone went to him for a spangly dress he’d pass them to me.

Syed was a great salesman and he was always very competitive. I have a hilarious memory of him challenging Ansell – who is built like an ox and used to play football for Millwall – to an arm-wrestling contest. He gave Ansell a real run for his money but in the end he lost. I’m a fighter, too, and I’m proud of the way I performed during the show. To start with, I spent a lot of time thinking the other people in the house were all better than me. But they weren’t. They just liked the sound of their own voices and banging on about how good they were.

It surprised lots of people when I won – not least my mum. After the result was announced, she was asked: ‘Did you always know that Michelle would do it?’

She looked bewildered and said: ‘No, no. I always thought it was going to be Ruth Badger.’ I nearly died. I thought: ‘Mum, you’re not supposed to say that.’ After we finished filming, I took a few weeks off. I needed to get away from everybody. It had been a weird, unreal time and I wanted to get my head straight before beginning my new job with Alan Sugar. My brief was to set up a company called Xenon Green, finding a way to recycle computers that would not only benefit the environment but make a profit.

It was a lot of pressure: I was aware that if it turned out to be a flop I would be publicly judged by the nation as a failure. Meanwhile, there had been developments in my personal life. Syed and I had met for coffee and it was just like it had been in the house. The bond was still there, even though the show was over. Because of the delay between the programme being filmed and shown on TV, we were initially able to go to restaurants, hold hands, and do all the things normal couples do. But as soon as the series hit the screens, we were famous. We couldn’t go out without attracting attention.

We knew that if we were spotted together it would be all over the papers. Whenever we saw each other, we stayed in, watched DVDs and ate takeaways. This was great at first but it then began to strain our relationship. Trying to sort out our feelings with the eyes of the country on us was hard. At the same time, people who were or had been close to me started selling stories about me. That really hurt. People thought they had the right, without asking me, to sell pictures of me and letters I had written. It was a valuable lesson in being careful whom you trust, but I learned it the hard way. I normally tell everyone everything and now realised how foolish I had been.

Around the time that the final was on air, speculation about me and my background was rife. I got a phone call from a Sunday newspaper telling me that my uncle had sold his story exposing my troubled family life. I decided that since it was about to become public, I wanted to have my say. I signed a deal with a national newspaper, but immediately had doubts. I should have considered the proposition more carefully. The headline on the piece was ‘My killer dad’. I was appalled.

My beloved sister, Fiona, had fallen to her death from her flat ten years before, in unexplained circumstances. Dad had made her leave home and subjected us to years of violence, but he wasn’t a killer. An ex-boyfriend, Lee, who had also been violent towards me, sold every detail about our relationship to another paper. The headline read ‘My sex apprentice’. Seeing episodes from my life in cold print was a real shock. On the work front, my instincts began to tell me that Xenon Green was not going to succeed. I presented my findings to Sir Alan, who accepted them.

Unfortunately, there were no similar opportunities to develop a new business within his organisation and the rest of my contract was going to be filled with internal projects. While I understood the rationale for this, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I couldn’t see how my career was going to develop.

Things became more complicated when I discovered I was pregnant with Syed’s baby. Because I suffer from endometriosis, where uterine tissue grows outside your womb, I’d always believed I couldn’t have children, so it came right out of the blue. One day I had incredible tooth pain, which was so bad that I went to the local hospital. It turned out to be an abscess. While I was there, I mentioned that I had been suffering from tummy pains. The doctors examined me and said I was expecting a baby.

I was in total shock. I was overwhelmed by the miracle of being pregnant when I didn’t think it was possible. But I also felt that my world was crashing down.

Since winning The Apprentice I had received thousands of e-mails from people saying I was their role model. Now I felt I’d let everyone down and did not have a clue what to do next.

I also had the most horrendous morning sickness. I remember throwing up all day at work, getting in the car to go home and having to stop about six times on the way.

It was horrible and my hormones were all over the place. The stress just built and built. I told my friends what had happened so I could have their support, but quickly realised it was a mistake as one of them sold the story to a tabloid newspaper, which increased the pressure tenfold.

I still don’t know who it was, but it destroyed me. I hadn’t come to terms with my pregnancy and hadn’t even passed the three-month safety zone, and now the whole nation knew about it and was judging me.

Syed then had to tell his family, who are practising Muslims and didn’t know he’d been having a relationship with me. Both he and I are responsible people, and both of us wanted to do the right thing. We had so many options, and it was an overwhelming, all-consuming blur.

If we wanted to make a go of things, there was pressure on me to convert to Islam. For the sake of my baby, I gave it some serious thought and started reading up on it. Meanwhile, there were all these rumours flying around me, including one that Sir Alan was furious about the baby and had put me on gardening leave. That simply wasn’t true. But there was no escaping the fact that I was public property.

One man approached me in the street and demanded: ‘Why aren’t you at work? You’ve been sacked!’ I asked him what business he thought it was of his, but he replied: ‘I think you’ll find, young lady, that it’s the nation’s business.’ Syed and I were so miserable and confused that we felt we had to consider terminating the pregnancy. Part of me didn’t want to: what if this was my only chance of pregnancy?

I was so unhappy that I booked an appointment at the abortion clinic but I was growing to love my baby. It felt so good knowing I had a child inside me – I’d always wanted my own family.
I was in turmoil. I cancelled the appointment, then rang up and booked another. Week after week, the pattern was repeated – I’d book myself in for a termination, then couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. The hospital staff were very kind and never complained.

I didn’t want to end the pregnancy, but I couldn’t see my way ahead. After much deliberation, Syed suggested that we should get married, with the expectation that I became a Muslim at some point in the future. Everything seemed so overwhelming. I wanted nothing more than to be married with children and I really cared about him. But we had already encountered commitment problems, and I couldn’t see beyond them. I could have stayed as I was and become a single mum, but I began to panic. Deep down, I wanted my baby more than anything, but I wanted it as part of a happy, united family. For the first time, I visited a counsellor at the hospital to discuss my feelings.

While I was there I suffered agonising tummy pains and I started to lose blood. I was kept in, and later that day lost my baby. I was devastated. I felt such a sense of loss, that my little one was gone. Doctors had told me once that I was unlikely to conceive because of the endometriosis, but I had. What if my only chance of having a family was now gone? It was a terrible, terrible time. I had to stay in hospital. Syed looked after me and was really good. After everything I had been through, I felt so pleased to see him but we were both distraught. When I went home, I went into a state of virtual collapse; I was severely depressed.

Friends encouraged me to get up and go out, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t face people looking at me and judging everything I did. I wouldn’t get up, wouldn’t shower, wouldn’t even answer the phone. Once again, just like after my sister’s death when I was 17, I felt as if I had lost control and was heading towards rock bottom at 100 miles per hour.

In such bleak times, you turn to your family and friends. I’d tried to isolate myself from everyone, but thankfully, they refused to listen. ‘Come home,’ one of my closest friends said. ‘Come back to Hull. We’ll look after you.’ So I went. It was a turning point. I was back to normality – there was no pressure, no religious quandary, no on-off boyfriend. I wasn’t Michelle from The Apprentice. I was just plain Michelle.

We had a Mexican dinner party, danced, drank tequila, and had a great, uncomplicated time. I laughed, and realised I hadn’t been like that for many months. Syed and I had been through some intense times together, and because I carried his child he’s always going to be special to me. We’ll have lasting memories. Ultimately, though, I recognised that he was not the right partner for me, and trying to maintain a relationship with him was going to be destructive.

Circumstances had brought us together and circumstances forced us apart. Returning to Hull for a few days helped me burst out of the bubble I had been trapped in. I’ve always been quite spiritual, and on the way back to London I went to see a fortune-teller. The visit really helped me. She said that she knew I was worried I wouldn’t have children again, but reassured me that I would. She also told me that my baby’s being looked after in heaven by my sister. That gave me great comfort.

By the time I returned to the capital I’d made some decisions. I told Sir Alan I wanted to leave his organisation and branch out on my own again. He understood and wished me well. We parted on good terms. All my friends thought I was silly walking away from my six-figure salary, but life isn’t always about living within the comfort zone. I set up my own consultancy company, Michelle Dewberry Ltd, and started mentoring people whose careers have become stuck in a rut.

Right now, I couldn’t be happier. I can honestly say that I am grateful for most of the experiences in my life because they have taught me so much about myself and made me a more rounded person. And whatever the future holds, I’m ready for the challenge


end of world part I…

In cleavage, waste on 02/11/2007 at 10:18 pm

Who knew? This is the way the world ends — neither with a bang nor a whimper but with cleavage.

THIS column is either part of the problem or a thought on its solution. We comment; you decide. The late Murray Kempton once described editorial writers as “the people who come down from the hill after the battle to shoot the wounded.” Nowadays, media analysts are the guys who follow behind them, going through the pockets of the dead looking for loose change.

So, yes, this column is about Anna Nicole Smith.

Friday morning, less than 24 hours after she died in a Florida hotel room, the Drudge Report — our media culture’s digital arbiter of all things tacky and prurient — had 12 items posted on the onetime topless dancer. That would account for some of the media frenzy surrounding her death. It’s a little-known fact, but certain sectors of the broadcast media have long believed that if a dozen items on Anna Nicole Smith ever were posted on Drudge simultaneously, it would herald the onset of the apocalypse.

Who knew? This is the way the world ends — neither with a bang nor a whimper but with cleavage.

Of course, one of the cheapest journalistic tricks going is to get a piece of a mindless, tawdry media frenzy by denouncing it. The writer gets to wallow profitably in whatever gutter has everybody’s attention while still being wry and high-minded. The readers get to join the fun without losing their self-respect. It’s a win-win sort of arrangement for a certain knowing-wink-and-sly-nod wing of the media culture.

And yet…. When a story takes on the sheer scope and intensity of the Anna Nicole Smith frenzy there’s something willful in the unexamined impulse to look away. Plain curiosity is an essential ingredient of the journalistic enterprise, and those who deny its operation in the interest of some higher value usually are not entirely to be trusted.

In the case of the unfortunate Smith, there was something almost touchingly retro about her wretched train wreck of a life. She wasn’t, in fact, celebrated just for being a celebrity, as is the current mode. She’d earned her notoriety the old-fashioned way: She took her clothes off for it, then married rich — though like so much else in her ambit, that apparently didn’t turn out very well. Americans have a hard time abiding a tale of struggle without reward, or a story without a happy ending, which is why we so often confer a disproportionate posthumous attention on the plucky but dubious dead. Depending on how you look at it, it’s a reflection of either our collective good-heartedness or our common sappiness. Maybe the ultimate guarantor of the former is our unwillingness to worry too much about the latter.

Those slightly melancholic reflections aside, the broad media response to Smith’s end bears some separate consideration. Clearly, public interest in her death was intense. Several celebrity-oriented websites crashed because so many people attempted to read about her. Mainstream news organizations, like this one, had page after page of reader comments about her posted to their online sites. Thursday night, the cable news and entertainment channels were, as we’ve come to expect, wall-to-wall Anna Nicole Smith.

What was different here was the way in which she made the leap from tabloid covers to the front pages of ostensibly serious newspapers.

The mainstream journalistic coverage of Smith’s death is among the first such stories driven, in large part, by an editorial perception of public interest derived mainly from Internet traffic. Throughout the afternoon Thursday, editors across the country watched the number of “hits” recorded for online items about Smith’s death. These days, it’s the rare newspaper whose meeting to discuss the content of the next day’s edition doesn’t include a recitation of the most popular stories on the paper’s website. It’s a safe bet that those numbers helped shove Anna Nicole Smith onto a lot of front pages.

What makes this of more than passing interest is that serious American journalism is in the process of transforming itself into a new, hybrid news medium that combines traditional print and broadcast with a more purposefully articulated online presence. One of the latter’s most seductive attributes is its ability to gauge readers’ appetites for a particular story on a minute-to-minute basis. What you get is something like the familiar television ratings — though constantly updated, if you choose to treat them that way.

There’s no point belaboring what the ratings preoccupation has done to broadcast news, particularly the once-promising 24-hour cable news channels. Today, their prime-time slots all are dominated by clones of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly because his show draws the medium’s biggest nightly audience. Even MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann simply is an anti-O’Reilly. Nothing more complicated about his shtick, whatever his bosses make of it. Life is short, so let’s not talk about CNN Headline’s Nancy Grace or Glenn Beck.

The point is that the transformation of cable television news into a snarling verbal food fight with a scant informational component happened because the people running it decided to let the numbers run them.

Television ratings or aggregated “hits” on newspaper websites constitute useful marketing information. When they’re transmuted into editorial tools, what you get is a kind of faux-empiricism that can create a false but nearly irresistible authority. It’s that most misleading of commodities, information without context. It is data, but not necessarily information, that you can use because you understand the data. In the case of these accumulations of online hits, it is hard to know what you’re measuring beyond a 24-hour fad or the inclinations of obsessive people with too much time on their hands.

Standing on the cusp of this inevitable transformation, it’s a good moment for American newspapers to take a reflective breath to consider just how they want to play this numbers game — or, more important, whether they want to play it at all.

If that were to occur, then Anna Nicole Smith would not have died in vain.

Timothy Rutten
LA Times 2/10/07


In Uncategorized on 02/07/2007 at 4:34 am

Locked in an eternal embrace

Their loving embrace has lasted an eternity – well 5000 years to be precise. It is the city where the exiled Romeo dreamed he died and Juliet’s kisses breathed life back into his body. Tragically, the lifeless bodies of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers would soon lie side by side.

Yesterday at Mantua, in an amazing echo of that heartrending story, archaeologists revealed the discovery of a couple locked in a tender embrace, one that has endured for more than 5,000 years. The find was unearthed by experts digging at a neolithic site at a less than romantic industrial estate. Scientists are to examine the skeletons to try to establish how old they were when they died and how long they have been buried.

One theory being examined is that the man was killed and the woman then sacrificed so that his soul would be accompanied in the after life. Elena Menotti, who is leading the dig at Valdaro near Mantua in northern Italy, said: ‘I am so excited about this discovery. “We have never found a man and a woman embraced before and this is a unique find.
“We have found plenty of women embracing children but never a couple. Much less a couple hugging — and they really are hugging. It’s possible that the man died first and then the woman was killed in sacrifice to accompany his soul. “From an initial examination they appear young as their teeth are not worn down but we have sent the remains to a laboratory to establish their age at the time of death. “They are face to face and their arms and legs are entwined and they are really hugging.

“I am so thrilled at this find. I have been involved in lots of digs all over Italy but nothing has excited me as much as this.” “I’ve been doing this job for 25 years. I’ve done digs at Pompeii, all the famous sites. “But I’ve never been so moved because this is the discovery of something special.” An initial examination of the couple – dubbed the Lovers of Valdaro – revealed that the man (on the left in the picture) has an arrow in his spinal column while the woman has an arrow head in her side. The area has already given up a spectacular Roman villa.

Five thousand years ago the area around Mantua was marshland and criss-crossed by rivers and the environment has helped preserve the skeletons in their near perfect state. The tribes of the area thrived through hunting and fishing and travelled along the waterways in boats but even then the simple hunter gatherer lifestyle was being replaced by livestock rearing, weaving and pottery. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is sent to Mantua for killing Tybalt Capulet in a swordfight.

Romeo subsequently leaves the city and returns to Verona when he hears his love, Juliet, has died.

good logic vs bad logistics

In lisapicks, logic on 02/01/2007 at 10:09 pm

Deconstructing Mr. Spock: “It’s illogical to call Mr.Spock logical.”

This is another great basics topic, and it’s also one of my pet peeves. In general, I’m a big science fiction fan, and I grew up in a house where every saturday at 6pm, we all gathered in front of the TV to watch Star Trek. But one thing which Star Trek contributed to our vocabulary, for which I will never forgive Gene Rodenberry, is “Logic”. As in, Mr. Spock saying “But that would not be logical.”.

The reason that this bugs me so much is because it’s taught a huge number of people that “logical” means the same thing as “reasonable”. Almost every time I hear anyone say that something is logical, they don’t mean that it’s logical – in fact, they mean something almost exactly opposite – that it seems correct based on intuition and common sense.

If you’re being strict about the definition, then saying that something is logical by itself is an almost meaningless statement. Because what it means for some statement to be “logical” is really that that statement is inferable from a set of axioms in some formal reasoning system. If you don’t know what formal system, and you don’t know what axioms, then the statement that something is logical is absolutely meaningless. And even if you do know what system and what axioms you’re talking about, the things that people often call “logical” are not things that are actually inferable from the axioms.

Logic, in the sense that we generally talk about it, isn’t really one thing. Logic is a name for the general family of formal proof systems with inference rules. There are many logics, and a statement that is a valid inference (is logical) in one system may not be valid in another. To give you a very simple example, most people are familiar with the fact that in logic, if you have a statement “A”, then either the statement “A or not A” must be true. In the most common simple logic, called propositional logic, that’s a tautology – that is, a statement which is always true by definition. But in another common and useful logic – intuitionistic logic – “A or not A” is not necessarily true. You cannot infer anything about whether it’s true or false without proving whether A is true or false.

To give another example: the most common logic that we use in arguments is called first order predicate logic (FOPL). FOPL is a very useful logic for things like geometric proofs. But it’s absolutely awful at talking about time. In FOPL, there’s no good way to say something like “I won’t be hungry until 6pm tonight.” that really captures the temporal meaning of that statement. But there are several kinds of logic that are very good at that kind of statement – but they’re not particularly useful for the kinds of things that FOPL is good at.

So what is a logic? A typical formulation would be that a logic is a formal symbolic system which consists of:

A way of writing a set of statements (the syntax of the logic); and
A system of rules for performing mechanical inferences over those statements.
The easiest way to get a sense of this is to look at one familiar logic: the first order predicate logic (FOPL). The first order predicate logic is the most common logic that we really use; it’s the one that we’re generally using implicitly when we write things like proofs in geometry.

Logicians tend to use a very strange method of describing the syntax of logical statements. I’m going to ignore that, and just walk through the syntax informally. FOPL has five kinds of basic things that are put together to form statements. As I go through the syntax, I’ll give some examples based on reasoning about my family.

A constant is a particular object, number, or value which can be reasoned about using the logic. In reasoning about my family, the constants will be the names of members of my family, the places we live, and so on. I’ll write constants as either numbers, or quoted words.
A variable is a symbol which represents a value. Variables can be used in the logic to reason about things like universal properties – if every object has a property (like, for example, every person has a father), there’s a way of using a variable to say that in the logic.
A predicate is something which allows you to make statements about objects and variables. A predicate is written as an uppercase identifier, with the objects it’s talking about following inside parens. For example, I can say that my father is Irving using a predicate named “Father”: Father(“Irving”, “Mark”).
Quantifiers are things that introduce new variables. For a statement to be valid every variable in that statement must have been introduced by a quantifier. There are two quantifiers in FOPL: ∀ (for all, the universal quantifier, which is used to make statements about all possible constants); and ∃ (there exists, the existential quantifier, which is used to make statements that there is some constant for which a statement is true).
An operator is something that modifies or connects sentence(s). There are five operators in FOPL. Four of them connect pairs of statements: (A ∧ B (and), A ∨ B (or), A ⇒ B (implies), A ⇔ B (if and only of). The fifth one negates a statement: ¬ A.
The meanings of the statements are:

Predicate Statement
A predicate with its parameters filled in with either constants or variables.
And statement
Two sentences joined by ∧. A ∧ B is true if/f both A and B are true.
Or statement
Two sentences joined by ∨. A ∨ B is true if/f either A or B is true.
Implication statement
Two sentences joined by ⇒. A ⇒ B is true if/f when A is true, B is also true, and when B is false, A is also false.
If/f statement
Two sentences joined by ⇔.A ⇔ B is true if/f (A ⇒ B) ∧ B ⇒ A) is true.
Universal Statement
A sentence preceeded by the universal quantifier and a variable: ∀x:A(x). A universal statement is true if any constant substituted for the variable will result in a true statement.
Existential Statement
A sentence preceeded by the existential quantifier and a variable: ∃x:A(x). An existential statement is true if there is at least one constant that can be substituted for the variable that will result in a true statement
Parenthesized Statement
Any statement surrounded by parens. The only meaning of parens is grouping.
The meanings of the different statements can be briefly described as follows:

Each constant represents some specific entity or object which the logic is going to be reasoned about. So, for example, if I wanted to do reasoning about my family, the atoms would be me, my wife, my children, etc.
A predicate statement expresses a property of the atoms that are its parameters. Continuing with the example of my family, I could write statements like Father(“Mark”,”Aaron”), Father(“Mark”,”Rebecca”), Spouse(“Mark”,”Jennifer”).
∧ statements combine two statements; they’re true when both of the member statements are true. Spouse(“Mark”,”Jennifer”) ∧ Father(“Mark”,”Aaron”) ∧ Mother(“Jennifer”,”Aaron”).
The ∨ connector works in basically the same way as ∧, except that it’s true when either of its component statements are true. Father(“Mark”,”Aaron”) ∨ Father(“Jennifer”,”Aaron”)
¬ is logical negation: ¬X is true when X is false. ¬Father(“Jennifer”,”Aaron”).
⇒ is an implication statement: A ⇒ B means that if A is true, then B must be true; if B is false, then A must also be false. (Note the reversal there – if A is false, it says nothing about whether or not B is true, and if B is true, it says nothing about whether or not A is true.) For example, Spouse(“Mark”,”Jennifer”) ⇒ Spouse(“Jennifer”,”Mark”) (If Mark is Jennifer’s spouse, then Jennifer is Mark’s spouse.)
∀ and ∃ statements are where it gets interesting. ∀ is read “For all”, and ∃ is read “there exists”. For example, ∀c : (∃p : Father(p,c)) (For every person, there is a person who is their father.); ∃f: Father(“Mark”,f) (There is someone whose father is Mark.)
What I’ve gone through so far is not yet a logic. It’s just a language for writing statements. What makes it into a logic is the addition of inference rules, which give you a way of using statements that are known to be true, and using them to infer other true statements. I’m not going to go through the entire set of inference rules allowed in FOPL in detail, but I’ll give you a couple of examples, followed by the full list of rules.

If we know that P(x) ∧ Q(x) is true, then we can infer that P(x) must be true.
If we know that P(x) ⇒ Q(x) is true, and we also know P(x) is true, then we can infer that Q(x) is also true.
If we know that ∀x: P(x) is true, and “a” is a constant, then we can infer that P(“a”) is true.
If x is a constant, and we know that P(“a”) is true, then we can infer that &exists;x:P(x) is true.
The rules are divided into two groups. One is a set of equivalences – if you know something on one side of the ≡ sign, then you can infer whatever is on the other side. The second set of rules is implications: if know you know the left side, then you can infer the right.

The equivalence rules are:

¬∀x:P(x) ≡ ∃x:¬P(x)
¬∃x:P(x) ≡ ∀x:¬P(x)
∀x:(∀y: P(x,y)) ≡ ∀y:(∀x:P(x,y))
∃x:(∃y: P(x,y)) ≡ ∃y:(∃x:P(x,y))
∀x:P(x) ∧ ∀x:Q(x) ≡ ∀x:P(x)∧Q(x)
∃x:P(x) ∨ ∃x:Q(x) ≡ ∃x:P(x)∨Q(x)
And the implication rules are:

∃x : ∀y: P(x,y) → ∀y : ∃x: P(x,y)
∀x: P(x) ∨ ∀x: Q(x) → ∀x: P(x) ∨ Q(x)
∃x:(P(x) ∧ Q(x)) → ∃x:P(x) ∧ ∃x:Q(x)
∃x:P(x) ∧ ∀x:Q(x) → ∃x:(P(x) ∧ Q(x))
∀x:P(x) → P(c) (where c is a constant)
P(c) → ∃x:P(x) (where c is a constant, and x is not an unquantified variable in P(c))
To reason with a logic, you start with a set of axioms – that is, a set of statements that you know are true even though you don’t have a proof. Given those axioms, we say that a statement can be proven if there is some way of applying the inference rules to generate the statement.

So, once again with an example from my family. Here’s a set of axioms about my family.

1: Father(“Mark”,”Rebecca”)
2: Mother(“Jennifer”,”Rebecca”)
3: Father(“Irving”,”Mark”)
4: Mother(“Gail”,”Mark”)
5: Father(“Robert”, “Irving”)
6: Mother(“Anna”, “Irving”)
7: ∀a, ∀b:(Father(a,b) ∨ Mother(a,b)) ⇒ Parent(a,b)
8: ∀g,∀c : (∃p : Parent(g,p) ∧ Parent(p,c)) ⇒ Grandparent(g, c)

Now, suppose we want to prove that Irving is Rebecca’s grandparent.

Since we know by statement 1 that Father(“Mark”,”Rebecca”), we can infer Parent(“Mark”,”Rebecca”). We’ll call this inference I1.
Since we know by statement 3 that Father(“Irving”,”Mark”), we can infer Parent(“Irving”,”Mark”). We’ll call this inference I2.
Since we know by I1 and I2 that Parent(Irving,Mark) and Parent(Mark,Rebecca), we can infer Parent(Irving,Mark)∧Parent(Mark,Rebecca). We’ll call this inference I3.
Since by I3, we know Parent(Irving,Mark)∧Parent(Mark,Rebecca), using statement 8, we can infer Grandparent(Irving,Rebecca)
That chain of inferences is a proof in the first order predicate logic. A very important thing to notice is that the proof is entirely symbolic: we don’t need to know what the atoms represent, or what the predicates mean! The inference process in logic is purely symbolic, and can be done with absolutely no clue at all about what the statements that you’re proving mean. It’s all a mechanical process of working from the premises using the inference rules. Given the right set of premises, you can prove almost any statement; given a choice of both logics and premises, you can prove absolutely any statement.

So when someone says, a la Mr. Spock, that something is logical, the correct thing to do is to whack them in the head with a logic textbook for saying something nonsensical.

thanks mark 🙂