News Flash: Study Proves Most People Don’t Read Beyond News Headlines

News Story Text Doesn’t Matter Anymore, Researchers Say

Researchers at the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Media Research and Mythological Studies have published a new study suggesting that most consumers of online written content have stopped reading whole articles and are absorbing only the headlines before moving on to something else.

“It’s easy to blame it on intellectual laziness,” said Professor Aldous Palimpsest, the lead author of the study, “but it may be a coping mechanism to help deal with the sheer quantity of news articles–and opinion pieces pretending to be news articles–that people are likely to be exposed to online.”

The desire to avoid relentlessly intrusive advertising was also cited as a contributor to the trend.

The study suggests that relatively few people read past the headline or the first sentence or two.  “The space occupied by the actual article is just there to give credibility to the headline,” Professor Palimpsest explained.  “It could be filler text, and most people wouldn’t even notice.”

Asked about the potential for this research to undermine journalistic integrity further, Professor Palimpsest replied, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Lorem sed risus ultricies tristique nulla aliquet enim tortor. Faucibus scelerisque eleifend donec pretium vulputate sapien nec sagittis. Faucibus in ornare quam viverra orci. Pretium viverra suspendisse potenti nullam ac. Viverra aliquet eget sit amet tellus cras adipiscing enim. Nulla facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus vitae. Posuere sollicitudin aliquam ultrices sagittis orci a scelerisque purus. Lacus sed viverra tellus in. Quisque sagittis purus sit amet. Posuere lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit duis. Vulputate dignissim suspendisse in est ante in nibh. Eget egestas purus viverra accumsan. Laoreet suspendisse interdum consectetur libero id faucibus nisl. Amet consectetur adipiscing elit ut aliquam purus sit amet luctus. Neque laoreet suspendisse interdum consectetur libero id. Ridiculus mus mauris vitae ultricies. Purus ut faucibus pulvinar elementum integer enim neque. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames. Neque convallis a cras semper auctor.

Sit amet porttitor eget dolor morbi non arcu. Arcu non sodales neque sodales ut. Ut morbi tincidunt augue interdum velit euismod. Ac placerat vestibulum lectus mauris. Turpis egestas integer eget aliquet nibh. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi. Maecenas ultricies mi eget mauris pharetra. Sapien et ligula ullamcorper malesuada proin libero nunc consequat interdum. Condimentum vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus. Neque viverra justo nec ultrices dui sapien eget mi.

Pretium vulputate sapien nec sagittis aliquam malesuada. Vulputate dignissim suspendisse in est ante in nibh mauris. Magna eget est lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. Lacus sed viverra tellus in. Felis bibendum ut tristique et egestas quis ipsum. Et tortor consequat id porta nibh venenatis cras sed. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi. Tortor posuere ac ut consequat semper viverra nam libero. Cursus metus aliquam eleifend mi in nulla posuere sollicitudin aliquam. Sed pulvinar proin gravida hendrerit. Pharetra diam sit amet nisl suscipit. Vitae semper quis lectus nulla.

Filler text by Loremipsum.io.  The rest of it is Copyright 2020.

News Flash: Debate Committee Adds Bursting Into Tears as Legitimate Line of Reasoning

Debaters needing to add that extra little oomph to their presentations now have an additional tool at their disposal, thanks to a decision by the International Committee on Rhetorical Standards.  They can always burst into tears.

The prolapsis ad lacrimas maneuver permits debaters to have a deeply emotional outburst near the end of the debating period, augmenting their argument by portraying their opponents as cruel and unreasoning monsters.

Long considered as a questionable if highly effective rhetorical device rather than a line of serious philosophical inquiry, the maneuver was approved in the proceedings of the Committee’s 82nd quadrennial conference as a legitimate method of reaching truth and general understanding.

“This is genuinely exciting,” said Professor Ernst Heltvildt of the College of Experimental Epistemology, who sponsored the resolution.  “It’s the first new logical approach we’ve endorsed in decades.  It’s vital for debaters to have this important tool in the new age of Emotional Intelligence.”

In the final debate on the resolution, opponents pointed out that prolapsis ad lacrimas is a close cousin (and frequent associate) of the ad hominem fallacy, which transforms debate about an issue into a debate about the debaters.  “Surely this is just legitimizing the playing of the ‘victim’ card,” said Dr. Dee Vernunft of the University of Pomme de Terre’s Advanced Philosophy faculty in closing arguments on the matter.  “Making your opponent look bad may change the flavor of the debate, but it doesn’t change the facts presented.  Endorsing the prolapsis ad lacrimas will reduce the search for truth to a question of who can throw the biggest hissy fit.”

The record of the debate then indicates that Prof. Heltvildt, who was arguing in support of the resolution, then burst into tears, explained how close to his heart the resolution was, and accused his opponent of “heartlessly perpetuating a strictly rational outlook with an irrational hatred of emotional influences.”

The resolution then passed by a 10-to-1 margin.

The move to adopt an emotional outburst as a legitimate tool of logical analysis has attracted some comment in epistemological circles.  “The relationship between emotion and logic has always been rather tenuous,” said Professor Mitt Kopfschmerzen of the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Applied Philosophy.  “While emotion can sometimes provide important insights on issues, it has certain limits as an analytical tool.  These days we seem to be observing a growing distrust of logic as such, and a growing emphasis on ’emotional truth,’ which seems to be interpreted in different ways.  Do they mean a) facts about one’s emotional state at a particular time or b) things that one believes to be true because one feels strongly about them?

“There’s a vast difference between the statements ‘It is true that I feel very strongly about this’ and ‘This must be true because I feel it to be’–or, for that matter, ‘You should be convinced of my opinion simply because I feel so strongly about it.’  I fear adopting the prolapsis ad lacrimas will only confuse the matter further.”

In other news, shares of companies that manufacture facial tissues and eye drops surged in late trading for no obvious reason.

Copyright 2018

News Flash: Mobs Riot to Celebrate Richard III Debate Contest Result

Oxford, England–Jubilant mobs streamed out of the Sheldonian Theatre this evening following an upset victory by the Buckingham debate team over the York team in this year’s annual debate finals.

Thames Valley Police forces were called out to help quell rioting in Broad Street and looting in the historic Covered Market as supporters of Team Buckingham celebrated this important win.

“This hooliganism is absolutely unwarranted,” police spokesman Inspector Robert Fuzz told the local newspaper.  “I don’t care if their team proved conclusively that the Princes in the Tower were murdered by the Duke of Buckingham; that doesn’t give them the right to go around smashing property.”

Team York, which in past years has often successfully argued for the guilt of Richard III in connection with the disappearance of the Princes, was widely considered the favorite in this contest, having easily knocked out Team Tyrrell in the semi-finals.   The Buckingham team only reached the finals after narrowly defeating Team Tudor in double overtime.

The finals match included a number of  tense moments.  At one point a member of Team Buckingham was ejected over a vicious ad hominem argument against the leader of Team York.  Then, in the final moments of the game, Team York failed to intercept a desperate reductio ad absurdum argument lobbed by Team Buckingham, allowing the latter to score and win the match.

Inspector Fuzz cited the dramatic finale as a contributing factor to the rioting.  “While the spectacular ending to the game certainly left the fans in an excited state,” he said, “it is in fact possible to be excited without wreaking havoc on your host city.”

According to Inspector Fuzz, the police are deploying standard crowd-control measures, such as tear gas, water cannons, and a series of public-address systems broadcasting lengthy lectures on modern macroeconomic theory.

Estimates of the damage have yet to be compiled, pending review by insurance adjusters.

Representatives of Team Buckingham issued a statement expressing dismay over the rioting as well as a ten-minute argument for why it wasn’t their fault.

Organizers of the annual debate over the fate of the princes say that they will investigate ways of reducing potential violence ahead of next year’s contest, possibly including a moratorium on dramatic finishes.

Copyright 2018

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News Flash: Researchers Bring Alda Quaintans to Mind

Mathematician’s Work Rediscovered in Remote Scottish Ruins

La Satira News Service

Researchers with the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Mathematical Archaeology announced the discovery of a site that sheds new insight into a lost golden age of Scottish mathematical studies.

Professors Abner “Ab” Bacchus and Adam McAdam announced the new findings on New Year’s Eve, the anniversary of the site’s discovery.

The discovery was initially made by accident after a fishing expedition encountered a storm and was forced ashore at the mouth of the Syne River, on the western coast of Scotland.  There, members of the expedition discovered the ruins of a village that had been buried under water and sand for more than three hundred years.

Initial investigations proved to be inconclusive, with speculation ranging from an ancient settlement by the Beaker people to the secret post-Culloden hideout of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  The only distinctive clues were unusual quantities of pens, parchment, and abacuses, as well as a primitive calculating instrument called Napier’s bones.

“Clearly this wasn’t your typical fishing village,” said Professor Bacchus in his presentation on the discovery.

The investigation had a breakthrough when archaeologists discovered a wall safe containing a small number of written records that miraculously survived the inundation.  The records pointed to the activity of Alda Quaintans, a mathematical professor of the medieval University of Mull, who envisioned Scotland as becoming a scientific powerhouse.  Professor Quaintans proposed a colony of researchers to promote the  practical application of science and math, as well as to compete with the work of Sir Isaac Newton in England.  (The emphasis on practical application seems to have been to differentiate the new institution from his own university, which was mainly dedicated–as one might perhaps expect–to purely philosophical research.)

Permission for the colony was ultimately granted, and a location was selected at the mouth of the Syne River.  The site was developed by diverting the Syne River through a shorter course to the sea.  This move was controversial among the existing population, who continued to reminisce about the longer course, referred to since as the Auld Lang Syne.

Meanwhile, the best scientific minds in Scotland were carefully recruited for the project, with scholars representing a variety of disciplines.  Dr. Quaintans also hired a small army of support staff to look after his scientists and ensure they would not be distracted by mundane matters.

The colony was only half-way through its first research project–an actuarial analysis of the risk of investment in the Darien scheme–when a prolonged rain upstream caused the site to become inundated by raging floodwaters, resulting in the loss of the colony and all its inhabitants, including Dr. Quaintans.  It seems the designers had under-designed the capacity of the new river channel, owing to a mathematical error regarding the quantity of water that the channel would conceivably be required to accommodate.

The full impact of the disaster naturally reverberated through the country, but was missed by most historians.  For example, decades after the event, Scottish poet Robert Burns famously asked the question:

Should Alda Quaintans be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should Alda Quantans be forgot
And Auld Lang Syne?

These lyrics were subsequently misunderstood by historians, linguists, and English audiences and taken completely out of context.

According to Professors Bacchus and McAdam, further research remains to be done to identify other, previously-undetected effects of the disaster on the national literature.

Copyright 2018

News Flash: Count of Monte Cristo Hospitalized; Sandwich Blamed

Marseilles, France–Sources close to the household of the Count of Monte Cristo report that the Count was taken to the Marseilles hospital late last night with symptoms resembling either severe gastric distress or a heart attack.

The Count, whose opulent lifestyle caused a splash in Paris society six years ago, recently returned to his native Marseilles for an extended visit following a world tour, ostensibly to pursue his researches into haute cuisine, specifically the croque-monsieur sandwich.

Authorities are exploring the possibility that the Count’s research into the sandwich, a deep-fried ham-and-cheese sandwich with jam and powdered sugar, may have been the cause of this week’s hospital visit.  The Count is said to have been on a regular diet of the confection since before his return to France.

“The Count once spoke of having fulfilled his lifelong mission when he left Paris six years ago,” said Dr. Avrigny (retired), a friend of the Morrel family, who are said to be close associates of the Count.  “It’s not unusual that a person in such conditions would experience a bit of ennui before finding a new interest in life.  And while culinary pursuits can certainly be worthwhile, we seem to have reached the point of obsession–consuming three of these sandwiches a day seems excessive.”

Rumors of the Count’s illness elicited a variety of responses.

Health Minister Lucien Dubray issued a statement warning against over-indulgence in rich foods.  “It’s all very well to try to achieve the perfect croque-monsieur,” the statement said, “but one should try to ensure that Monsieur doesn’t croak in the process.”

“To me a heart attack seems unlikely,” said Mme. Danglars, a nurse at the Marseilles hospital and the former wife of one of the Count’s business associates. “You have to have a heart first.  Still, it’s hardly a surprise that he’s in ill health; when you eat that kind of food, it’s bound to wreak some kind of vengeance; it’s just a question of when.  It would serve him right if he died of it and ended up getting the sandwich named after him.”

Neither the hospital nor the Countess of Monte Cristo has released an official statement on the Count’s prognosis.

Copyright 2017

The Time-Value of Tom Bombadil

Of all the second-tier characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy–and there are many–few perhaps raise as much discussion or garner as much criticism as Tom Bombadil, the mysterious figure whom the hobbits encounter in their first adventures outside the Shire.  Here is a short synopsis of his role in the book, hopefully without too many spoilers:

  • The hobbits leave the Shire and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out.
  • The hobbits leave Tom Bombadil and get into trouble.
  • Tom Bombadil bails them out and escorts them to the next town.

Bombadil then disappears entirely from the story, having dragged the reader through two and a half chapters punctuated by childish poetry and nonsense words, in which nothing particularly momentous happens and the menace of the Black Riders is completely absent.  At least that’s the criticism.

Some might even go so far as to refer to Bombadil as the Jar Jar Binks of Middle-Earth:  annoying, hard to understand, and mostly pointless (though at least no one would label Bombadil as incompetent).

It is true that there are faster-moving portions of the story, and indeed for those very sensitive to time this episode may seem like a needless extravagance:  witness that the incidents are completely glossed over in the 1981 radio series, as well as the Peter Jackson movies.  (Interestingly, Bombadil was included in the now-lost 1955-6 radio series; but as that production was thoroughly panned by no less a critic than Prof. Tolkien himself, perhaps among producers Bombadil suffers from guilt by association.)  But to say that Bombadil contributes nothing positive to the story is unfair.  At any rate, one could make the argument that, if the Bombadil segment is redundant, so too is the interlude in Lothlorien… in which, again, nothing happens (nothing action-y, anyway) and the inhabitants don’t appear again until after the climax.

At the highest level, of course, one could suggest that the entire epic is unnecessary.  Countless lives were lived before the publication of The Lord of the Rings, and countless lives continue to be lived with little or no exposure to the books, or even the movies.  So perhaps necessity isn’t the best measure to use in this debate.

So what does the Bombadil section contribute to the story?

Even from the narrative perspective, there are contributions.  First, Bombadil fills the narrative space between the Shire and Bree.  While in the Peter Jackson movies it is apparently possible to make the trip from the Shire to Bree is a single evening marathon, the distance in the book is a little longer.  Gandalf is absent and they have yet to meet Strider, so Bombadil acts as a sort of temporary chaperone through the hobbits’ first foray into the wild.  Not wholly unrelated to that point, the adventure allows the hobbits to grow.  There is a distinct difference between the blind panic in their first Bombadil-bailout compared to Frodo’s more hands-on role (so to speak) in the Barrow-wight adventure.  He still needs rescuing, but at least he’s able to grapple with the problem and hold the fort until help arrives.  The hobbits’ growth is perhaps symbolized by the fact that, when they leave Bombadil, they are for the first time armed.  Third, the pause in the action allows time for introspection and a bit of foreshadowing (another similarity to the Lothlorien visit).

But perhaps the most significant contribution–and maybe the one that Bombadil’s critics fail to see as a contribution–is to what we might call “local color.”  Bombadil gives us a look at the sorts of characters that inhabit Tolkien’s world.  True, we’ve already met hobbits, elves, and a wizard; and other creatures are hinted at (did you notice the (presumed) Ent in the Shire in chapter 2 of Book I?).  But here’s a couple of people who are completely different.  In fact Bombadil is never completely explained, even by his (also-enigmatic) spouse Goldberry.  (Readers of The Silmarillion may reasonably peg them as Maiar, but that’s never explicitly stated).  We do learn that Bombadil is a great storyteller; unfortunately we aren’t given the stories themselves, which is a shame:  new material concerning what’s hinted at in the book might do better in the shops than trotting out the The Silmarillion’s grimmer bits in new packaging.

To be fair, I’m not a great fan of Tom Bombadil.  There are other characters who contribute more to the story, but it seems unfair to make him out as pure dead-weight.  After all, if nutrition were the only measure by which we judged our food supply, there are a lot of people in the spice-and-flavorings industry who might suddenly find themselves out of work.

News Flash: Hacker Killed by Self-Driving Car

La Satira News Service

Police in Manhattan have identified the victim of an accident involving a self-driving car as Lars Gynt, 34, of Oslo, Norway.  Mr. Gynt, a computer systems integration consultant, was attempting to cross a street outside a crosswalk when he was struck by the vehicle, which apparently failed to register the presence of a pedestrian.

The human occupant of the vehicle, Nadia Driver of Lower Muttering, Vt., was not injured.  Ms. Driver reported that Mr. Gynt had stepped out in front of the car without looking.  The car, an electric-powered model, would have been inaudible in the busy street.

Some witnesses have suggested that the car, rather than braking, accelerated slightly as it hurtled toward Mr. Gynt.

The company responsible for developing the car, GGM, has declined to comment pending an investigation into the car’s control software, sensors, and telemetry.

The accident highlights continued concerns over the safety and reliability of self-driving cars in the chaotic road environment.  While proponents continue to point out the advantages of computer drivers–faster reaction time, the ability to “see” in multiple directions simultaneously–skeptics often counter with doubts about the computer’s ability to distinguish what it sees or make moral judgments about how to react, as well as the potential for the computer to fall under the malicious control of computer hackers.

In an ironic twist, the hacker category is one that includes Mr. Gynt himself.  Records indicate Mr. Gynt, operating under the handle 1G0Tch@10101010, had worked with a number of hacker organizations over the past decade.  He was also under investigation by the FBI for his suspected involvement in a previous cyber-attack on control systems developed by GGM.

Rumors that the police are considering the case as one of justifiable homicide by the computer on grounds of self-defense have been flatly denied by police spokespersons.

Copyright 2016

News Flash: Aegean Maritime Board to Reverse Course, Allow Sirens

ITHACA–In a startling change of course, the Aegean Maritime Safety Board has voted not to pursue efforts to close down operations on the Island of the Sirens.

The island had been under investigation in the course of a larger study of potential hazards to navigation conducted by Odysseus Transport, Inc., along with other features such as the whirlpool Charybdis and Cyclops Island.  Previous studies had highlighted the Sirens as an attractive nuisance, potentially luring sailors to the island and causing them to wreck on the shallow reefs in the area.

“The island has produced a startling number of shipwrecks over the years,” said Lyabilites, the chief author of the report.  “However, we have demonstrated that the idea of the Sirens drawing all sailors to their doom is pure myth.

“Our research shows that the Sirens are only attractive to accident and personal injury attorneys.  Everyone else seems to find the Sirens to have a repelling effect; thus, they instinctively avoid the reefs and stay out of trouble.”

The report goes on to suggest that, while accident and personal injury attorneys play an important role in society, the Sirens provide a net service by weeding out the more aggressive and annoying ones.

The Board’s decision goes against the recommendations of the Aegean Association of Accident Attorneys (AAAA), who have threatened to sue the Board for negligence if the Sirens are permitted to continue operating.

In other action, the Board endorsed a recommendation to establish a coffee plantation on the Island of the Lotus-Eaters and approved the establishment of a meteorological forecasting office on the floating island of Aeolia.

Copyright 2016