Sunday, September 03, 2006

From the Ministry of Truth

"Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "They report that only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence, while the overwhelming majority want peace and a normal life in a unified country."

The conflict in Iraq has all the makings of a civil war, which can nonetheless be avoided, according to a new US Defense Department report to Congress...In the past three months, "the average number of weekly attacks increased 15 percent over the previous reporting-period average, and Iraqi casualties increased by 51 percent compared to the previous quarter," it said, noting most of the violence occurred in Baghdad.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A new type of Fascism

When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective -- to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.

It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.
George Orwell
Politics and the English Language

Ever since Bush uttered the words "war on terrorism", the quality of political discourse in this country has plummeted. The administration denounces "enemies of liberty" and touts its strategy as the "freedom agenda". Unfavorable news reports are called "myths and distortions", while dissenters are accused of "moral or intellectual confusion". Healthy debate shrivels down into a choice between defeat or victory. You are either with us or with the terrorists.

This is the language of a child, or perhaps a fantasy novel. This rhetoric precludes discussion over anything perpetrated by the administration because everything the administration does is for the cause of freedom. If you oppose the policy in Iraq, then you obviously oppose liberty for the Iraqis. If electronic surveillance makes you nervous, then you must have something to hide. Discourse has collapsed like a neutron star, leaving fewer words to describe the political situation and thereby confusing the average person as to what must be done.

We must, as citizens, wipe away the rhetorical fog when it gathers and demand clear explanations of the choices before us. To once again rely on Orwell:
...[O]ne ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.
Otherwise we will condemn ourselves to further folly---in the name of freedom.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

War is Peace

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared critics of the Bush administration to those who sought to appease the Nazis before World War II, warning Tuesday that the United States is confronting "a new type of fascism."

President Bush said a plot to blow up multiple flights between Britain and the United States shows "this nation is at war with Islamic fascists."

When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases--bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder--one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.
George Orwell
Politics and the English Language

AP reports the recurring use of "fascism" among Republicans to describe Islamic terrorists, citing speeches made within the last month by Bush, Rumsfeld and Senator Rick Santorum.

Political rhetoric is rife with words that have been stripped of original meaning and enslaved for some sordid purpose--in this case, to rouse public support for the war. I'm not sure if this administration is the worst offender, but it certainly has abused the English language in alarming ways. "Dirty bombs", "hateful ideology", "weapons of mass destruction"--these are but a few of the vague phrases thrown about by Bush that serve no other function than to confuse or mislead, and which will inevitably damage political discourse in this country. We would do well to heed Orwell's warning:
Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists--is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Some people push back

As if the recently exposed 'liquid bomb' plot and subsequent airline scare hasn't done enough to frighten Americans back into compliance, this article by CNN will remind us to be constantly afraid:
The latest alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners en route from London to the United States is said to bear all the hallmarks of al Qaeda. Those who track these events point out the plot was similar to one that was disrupted back in the 1990s. The bottom line: al Qaeda will keep trying an array of lethal plots [emphasis mine].
Coincidentally, CNN released the results of a nationwide poll which showed that 74% of Americans believe bin Laden will strike again.

Why is this newsworthy? Of course al-Qaeda--or any number of offshoots--would attempt an attack on the United States. Regardless of how thickly layered our security regime has grown, or how many explosive residue-sniffing machines we install, the fact remains that the policies which encouraged the East African bombings, the USS Cole bombing, and the World Trade Center bombings have not been fundamentally changed. As demonstrated by our silent approval of the Israeli war on Lebanon, the United States remains indifferent to, even hostile towards, the plight of the Third World. A thousand Lebanese civilians die from American-made, Israeli-fired missiles, and we call Hizbollah the terrorist?

I've been rereading The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, the Algerian nationalist and revolutionary thinker, and this sentence stands out as particularly appropriate:
The very same people who had it constantly drummed into them that the only language they understood was that of force, now decide to express themselves with force.
When you treat a people as less than human, when you torture them and disgrace them and murder their families wholesale--all for some petty economic or political motive--then how can you expect them to not hate you? How can you expect them not to fight back?

And President Bush dares wonder why the Iraqi people are so ungrateful:
More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd.
Stop killing their children, President Bush, and maybe they'll stop killing ours.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

With firms like these, who needs Big Brother?

Don't worry about the government rummaging the internet for your personal info--companies like Microsoft and Google simply give it away. Weeks after the AOL data spill that leaked the search entries of 650,000 subscribers onto the web, the San Jose Mercury News reports that the privacy policies of the top four internet firms aren't as private as you think:
The massive amounts of data these companies collect -- which can include records of the searches you make, the health problems you research and the investments you monitor -- can be requested by government investigators and subpoenaed by your legal adversaries.

But this same information is generally not available to you.

The risk is that personal information that can be traced to you will at some point be provided to someone else...
Though stripped of names and social security numbers, the search entries can still be cross-referenced with other data to pinpoint an exact person, as the New York Times did to unveil Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old woman in Georgia. But even more disconcerting is how the data can virtually reveal the contents of a person's mind. After scrolling through a random user's search entries, I was able to make some general assumptions about the person's age, sex, geographic location, hobbies, religion, and even personality.

Check it out for yourself here.

And then terrify yourself with this article on the worst privacy leaks of all time.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


The way forward will be difficult, and it will require sacrifice and resolve. But America's security depends on liberty's advance in this troubled region, and we can be confident of the outcome because we know the unstoppable power of freedom.

"American people, you are partners in these massacres, you are partners in this war," said Nabil Kaouk, the leading Hizbullah official in southern Lebanon. "After this no Lebanese can trust an American. You are all murderers and criminals."
The Guardian
Stand alongside Hizbullah, Lebanon's army tells troops

The unstoppable power of freedom:

An Israeli soldier covers his ears as a mobile artillery piece fires into Lebanon.
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hysteria on a Plane

Terrorists are "rolling around the caves of Pakistan, laughing" at Britain's response to the terror threat, an airline boss said last night as he gave the government a seven-day deadline to relax restrictions or face legal action.

Predictably, the 'liquid bomb plot' of August 10 has sown paranoia hither and yon.

Yesterday, a plane bound for Egypt was diverted to Italy after a sickbag was found inscribed with a warning that there was a bomb onboard.

On Thursday, passengers were evacuated from a plane in Sydney after the crew received reports of a 'suspicious device' on the aircraft. In the States, a West Virginian terminal was cleared out when two bottles of facial cream tested positive for 'explosive residue'.

And then on Wednesday, there was the United Airlines flight that was diverted from Washington D.C. to Boston because of the erratic behavior of Catherine Mayo, who was apparently armed with a screwdriver, hand cream, several matches and poor bladder control:
During a conversation with the plane's captain, she apparently made reference to "six steps to building some unspecified thing".

Later on, when trying to use a toilet, Ms Mayo allegedly pulled down her pants and urinated on the floor.

The flight's captain then had her restrained...

And what is the cumulative effect of these 'scares', which have threatened to bring commercial aviation to a standstill? One always hopes that an event which causes a massive disruption of 'normal' life would subsequently compell civil society to engage in deep introspection as to the meaning behind said disruption--a wake-up call, of sorts. But just as it was after 9/11, the punditry and politicos seems content with superficial critiques:
What is an appropriate response? Already some in the airlines and airline-security industry say that better methods and technology must be used to make international air travel convenient and secure.

The solution, as put forth by many security officials, is "profiling," which is a dirty word in our PC world. But, sooner or later we're going to have to face the fact that 99.9 percent of the world's travelers are not terrorists and should not have to suffer.

Likewise, there is a lot of talk here these days that the Muslim community is going to have to step forward and help us all address the growing problem of terrorist "cells" where these plots are hatched.
But what is worse than treating the symptom is ignoring the disease altogether, as Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary suggests:
Mr O'Leary said the people being subjected to intense security were "not terrorists and not fanatics ... they are actually called holidaymakers".

He went on: "The best way to defeat terrorists and extremists is for ordinary people to continue to live their lives as normal."
To proceed with 'business as usual' is folly. To think that by going about our day as usual we will somehow render the legitimate greivances of the 'terrorists and extremists' void and thereby 'defeat' them is to delude oneself. It is because we have been living our lives as normal that terrorist attacks have continued to occur. Terrorism is not an act of war; it is a message. And it's a message we've consistently failed to accept. Maybe it's time we listened.