December 16, 2003

Don't read this, it will creep you out

I am going to tell you two things that will creep you out. I mean they will creep you out. What is more, if you are unwise enough to read them both at one sitting you will realize that they are conceptually connected, and that will creep you out even more. So it would be best not to read any further. It really would. Don't read on. Just stop here and save yourself a sleepless night.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

All right, you did read on, fool. So here they are. I will just relate them in order, the first one (because it is the first) will be first, and then after that, second, in the number two spot, will come the second one.

1.  In the wild country south of Carmel on the Big Sur coast, the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California has a piece of land that was donated to it for use as a nature reserve. Various biologists have done scientific studies there. One studied the habits of the mountain lions (cougars) that live on the land. The scientists attached little radio transmitters to some of the animals so they could track their positions, and then they kept a log of where they went and what they did for a few months. What the scientists found was that there was a single thing that was clearly the absolute favorite thing for mountain lions to do with their time between April and October. There was just one place they all liked to hang out when the weather was good. Down where this piece of wild land meets the coast is a beach where families come to swim, bringing their little children. Overlooking the beach is a high and inaccessible ledge all covered in vegetation. The mountain lions turned out to be spending eighty percent of their free time just lying in hiding on that ledge, watching the children below. Not doing anything about it, like moving down to the bearch to try and sink their fangs into one of those perfect little butts and hall a tasty snack back in the forest with its little bare legs kicking and struggling or anything like that, but just watching from a place of concealment, thinking they were unobserved.

[Note added much later (1/15/04): It is somehow inexorably relevant here that (as noted on Agoraphilia) Michael Jackson's new rented Beverly Hills mansion, now that he has moved out of the Neverland Ranch forever, is described thus: "The hillside property, which also includes indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a huge tennis court, home theater, and ballroom, overlooks a kiddie park in Coldwater Canyon . . . Oh, no!]

2.  In the wild desert country east of Southern California lies the interesting speech community of Las Vegas. A few weeks ago I posted some notes on Language Log about some data that I gathered on a linguistic field trip to that community: a rare singular they example with proper name antecedent, and a nice clear case of an endocentric noun-noun compound with regularly inflected plural non-head. I commented in another post about how unfair it would be if anyone were to cast aspersions on the genuineness of my tax deduction claims for bona fide business travel devoted to field trips of this kind to places such as Nevada. Now, it happens that Mark Liberman does various kinds of scientific research on Language Log and its readership, and has installed software for tracking the people who view pages on Language Log. Not that we're snooping on you, of course: Mark just has an interest in what audience we are reaching with our ruminations, where they are in Internet land, and how and by what links they tend to find out about us. It's like having little radio transmitters attached to all of you so that we can track your positions, and keep track of where you go and where you came in from and what pages you like and so on.

Well, Mark told me something about what he found. Just after my Las Vegas posts he spotted in the log files unmistakable evidence that at least two people (we don't know their names, of course) had been reading my stuff from a machine in the domain, which is registered to the United Department of the Treasury. Not doing anything about it, like calling the Fresno IRS center here in California to see about sinking their fangs into my butt and hauling me off kicking and struggling for an audit or anything like that, but just watching from a place of concealment, thinking they were unobserved.

I mean... like... hello? Does the parallel here fucking creep you the fuck out or what.

Let me just add a word before I conclude about what a fine job our government servants do in ensuring uniform compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and what an honor it is to know that they may be reading my modest linguistic contributions (albeit apparently on government time), and what a pleasure it is to be paying into the treasury of this great country every penny of the Federal taxes that I owe. If only income taxes hadn't been so dramatically reduced recently, it would have been a delight to pay even more.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 16, 2003 01:47 PM