Thursday, October 11, 2001

Translating Government NonSpeak

I was surfing the news this morning. It all sounds so familiar: the Government emitting a non-stop torrent of lies and insinuations blended into a blather of non-speak, a form of appearing to say something articulate without saying anything cogent at all. Eventually, subjecting a nation to this kind of verbal abuse destroys language and hence thought.

Nevertheless, although misinformation destroys public discourses, it remains possible to, as a matter of private comprehension, not only to “pierce through” the propaganda but to use it to find out what the truth of any given matter is.

Provided one follows two basic rules, the US Government is a very accurate source of information, The firt is the Rule of Anti-Inference. Listen to what is actually said and do not infer anything. Once that is done, you will know what the government doesn’t know (but would like to imply that it does) or what it wants you to think by virtue of not having said it. The correlative, is the The Rule of 180 -- invert whatever the Government says to its opposite, and that is the truth. The past days have given several examples of how these rules work.

About 10 days I was talking to someone who mentioned that the Government had proof that Bin Laden "was responsible". In actual English there is no such thing as "being responsible" there can only be “responsibility for something” or “responsibility to someone”. To say that someone is or is not “responsible” without further attribution, is simply to make a general statement about character that means little more than saying he is a good kind of guy. Thus, when the Government says that Bin Ladin “is responsible” it does so in the expectation that we will fill in the necessary attribution. And so, we think we have heard a statement to the effect that “Bin Laden is responsible for the 9/11 attacks.” In that way, without ever explicitly lying, the Government lets us lie to ourselves.

I decided not to quibble with my interlocutor and, cutting to the chase, replied, “That means that he didn't have anything to do with it.” “Oh, you're so cynical," came the reply, “they’ve said he’s a potential suspect.” Now, there was no escaping a lesson in elementary English ....

I explained that the word “suspect” meant someone who might have done something, and so a “potential suspect” is someone who maybe might have done something. When the government “elevated” Bin Laden from a mere “suspect” to a prime “potential suspect”it was actually saying that it had less to implicate on Thursday than it had on Tuesday. My interlocutor looked at me suspiciously, as if he suspected I did not love our country sufficiently.

As it turns out, however, last night on CNN, some FBI expert pontificated that Bin Laden was “actually” more like “the pope of terrorism.” According to this intelligence expert “Bin Laden couldn't lead 8 ducks across the road.”

What I had always suspected from the start was that Bin Laden was more of a cheerleader than a ringleader. The reason I suspected this much was because the Government’s attempt to bamboozle me with talk about “prime suspect” and “potential prime suspect,” "links consistent with" and like whatnot indicated that they didn’t have the goods on him. The Government’s non-speak was banking on my drawing an inference of culpability from meaningless burbles.

So now, apart from confirming my cynicism, we have arrived in short order at the absurdity of attacking a country in order to capture a “pope-like” “responsible” who couldn't lead eight ducks across a road.

Is it surprising that the United States begins operation Hard Liberty (tough luv) by bombing the country in order, we are told, to “clear a path” to get food to “innocent civilians.”

To this end, we drop 35,000 MRE's ("Meals Ready to Eat”) on the country. But apart from the minor problem invovled with bombing recipients of charity, the reports out of Afghanistan are that there are an estimated 2 million people on the edge of starvation. So our magnanimous act, doesn’t count for much except to delude the average CheezO munching TV viewer that America is Good.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, follows up by assuring us that American attacks have gone “according to plan” The bombs have hit their "designated targets" and that they have proved "partially successful" in that we have forced the Taliban terrorists “out of their holes.” Yeehaw!!! Operation Smoke ‘Em Out is a success!

But what a difference a word makes! El Pais (Spain) reports that the terrorists are being “dispersed”. Excuse me for being so utterly stupid, but if you want to capture a group of people don't you want to corral them?

This "war" will be like smashing a bead of mercury with a hammer.

At any rate, the US is apparently now ready for the next phase: helicopters and troops. I have no idea know how good US special forces are but what I do know is that Afghan mountains have altitudes of 10k to 16k feet. Gee...who would you bet money on -- a shepherd boy or some hay seed from Iowa? Who knows... maybe the US will pull off something; but I'm not clear what. Apparently, the whole point is to capture a "pope" and to replace him with a nonagenarian "king of Afghanistan" who is certifiably senile enough to come out of a 70 year retirement in Paris in order to lead a "coalition" of elements who have nothing in common except intense mutual hatred. This makes Diem (remember ol' Diem?) looks a sure winner.

But never mind. The US has scored victories on other fronts as well. Last week, after a whirlwind tour of the sands, Rumsfeld returns and announces triumphantly that the US has consolidated its Arab coalition. According to The Rule of 180, this means no coalition exists.

Lo and behold, yesterday the League of Arab Nations unanimously denounced "any invasion of an Islamic country". According to the press this was a "compromise" resolution.... uh... comprised of 1% for and 99% against? Since Afghanistan is included within "any", it doesn't look like a compromise to me at all; but whether it is or not, with a coalition like this who needs enemies?

It is beyond me how it could be in any country's interests to join in this folly. Indeed Die Zeit opines that Europe should "disengage". My wager is that -- apart from the English cocker that tags along barking at its master's heel -- Europe will in fact find ways to distance itself

©WCG, 2001


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