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Time to connect the dots

中国日报网 2013-03-26 11:19

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Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: It’s time to connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change.

My comments:

Extreme weather, such as super storms, seems to occur more frequently now than they used to. Climate change, characterized mostly by global warming as a result of the so-called green house effect, is also accelerating. These two are connected. It’s time to recognize that connection.

You’ll recognize the connection if, that is, you know how to connect the dots.

Connecting the dots is a phrase inspired from the children’s game of the same name. In the connect-the-dots game, black dots (tiny spots) are seen littered on the piece of paper. These dots are numbered, say, 1 to 100. If you line the dots up one after another by their number, you’ll reach an end result of a picture drawn from the lines linking all the dots.

Hence, by extension, when used as a metaphor, to be able to connect the dots refers to the ability to piece together individual items of information in order to form a full view of a situation. In other words, you’ll be able to, like a detective, reach a conclusion by analyzing isolated, individual events and incidents.

Since you have to connect all the dots in order to have a full picture, therefore the important point to remember about connecting the dots is this wholesomeness – a complete view. If you are able to connect the dots, you’ll be able to, for instance, see the woods instead of just individual trees.

In our example, the speaker asks people to recognize the link between extreme weather we see locally and global warming that’s happening to the Earth as a whole.

Not all people agree that there is a link between the two of course. Heavy carbon-emitting polluters, for example, such as big oil companies, refuse to acknowledge any connection between the two, and understandably so. They want to keep polluting the earth while letting everyone else share its consequences. That’s why they are in denial of climate change as caused by human activities.

Let’s remain focused, though, on connecting the dots the term itself. Let’s read a few media examples:

1. After emerging from a nearly two hour meeting in the Situation Room with his national security team, President Obama today said that while the information was there to disrupt the attempted Christmas Day attack, the intelligence community failed to connect the dots in a “potentially disastrous way.”

“The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list,” Obama said from the Grand Foyer this afternoon, “In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had. The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.”

The president used a version of the word “fail” 9 times in as many minutes – and he was talking about his government failing to adequately protect the American people.

Mr. Obama said that while he accepts intelligence “by its nature is imperfect” that it is clear that the intelligence was “not fully analyzed or fully leveraged,” which the President said is “not acceptable.”

“I will not tolerate it,” he added, “when a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way. And it’s my responsibility to find out why and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.”

- Obama: Intelligence Community Failed to “Connect the Dots” in a “Potentially Disastrous Way”, ABCNews.go.com, January 5, 2010.

2. The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College [Portland, Oregon] after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned Coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later.

- Steve Jobs: Stanford commencement address, June 2005, The Observer, October 9, 2011.

3. In the mid-1970s, a man approached singer Kenny Rogers after a performance in the lounge at the Las Vegas Hilton. The mysterious stranger simply said, “Hey, man, I really like your music.” Rogers learned later that the fan at the dressing-room door had been Elvis Presley.

It’s the type of story Rogers shares in his new memoir, which comes out this week. It’s titled Luck or Something Like It – a play on his 1978 hit “Love or Something Like It.” In the book, he connects the dots from his youth in Houston, Texas, public housing to his stints as a jazz musician and folksinger – and, eventually, his emergence as a solo star. He recently spoke with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about his enduring career, his early days fronting the country-rock band The First Edition and what fans expect of him after all this time.

On what makes a Kenny Rogers song

“All the songs I record fall into one of two categories, as a rule. One is ballads that say what every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear. The other is story-songs that have social significance. ‘Reuben James’ was about a black man who raised a white child. ‘Coward of the County’ was about a rape. ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town’ was about a guy who came home from war. That’s really what I love to do: songs that you love before you realize what they’re about, but you get the message vicariously.”

On choosing to be a vocalist, rather than a songwriter

“I take great pride in not writing hits. I write from time to time, but I think great writers have a need to write, and I don’t really have that need. I can write if someone sits me down and says, ‘Hey let’s write a song about this.’ I can contribute, and I can carry my weight.”

- Kenny Rogers: ‘I Take Great Pride In Not Writing Hits’, NPR.org, October 08, 2012.

 

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

 

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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

 

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