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25 posts categorized "Language "

July 01, 2008

American Family Association: "Tyson Homosexual" bound for Olympic games

The radical clerics at the American Family Association have software that automatically substitutes the word "homosexual" for the word "gay" in wire stories published on their website.

Hilarity ensues....

The American Family Association obviously didn't foresee the problems that might arise with its strict policy to always replace the word "gay" with "homosexual" on the Web site of its Christian news outlet, OneNewsNow. The group's automated system for changing the forbidden word wound up publishing a story about a world-class sprinter named "Tyson Homosexual" who qualified this week for the Beijing Olympics.

The problem: Tyson's real last name is Gay. Therefore, OneNewsNow's reliable software changed the Associated Press story about Tyson Gay's amazing Olympic qualifying trial to read this way:

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me." [WaPo]

October 10, 2007

Bush: It's not a genocide, it's a historic mass killing!

Congress defied President Bush today and passed a resolution acknowledging the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks in the early 20th Century.

Here's a statement from committee chair Tom Lantos on the passage of H. Res 106.

Eager to preserve relations with Turkey, Bush urged Congress to reject the resolution:

Congress rejected a plea by the Bush administration yesterday over a resolution officially recognising as genocide the deportation and massacre of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman empire.

George Bush warned of the negative repercussions should Congress use the word genocide to describe the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and their exile.

"This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in Nato and in the global war on terror," Mr Bush said. [BBC]

Earlier this week, Turkey's president, Abudullah Gul, wrote to Bush to warn that relations between Turkey and the USA would suffer if the bill passed.

If Turkey is going to abandon us over the symbolic recognition of a 92-year-old historical fact, I'm not sure it's such a valuable ally.

Update: In 2000, Bush used the word "genocidal" to describe the slaughter of the Armenians.

July 31, 2007

Language shifting in Ocean City stillbirth case

It's interesting to watch the focus of the Christy Freeman story shift without any significant changes in the known facts.

This morning's coverage emphasized the fact that a woman was being charged with murder after a late-term stillbirth after attempting a self-abortion. Of course, the papers didn't neglect to inform the public that three other fetuses were found on her property. For example the Washington Post's headline: Mother Charged in Stillborn Death Fetal and Placental Remains of 4 Are Discovered in Ocean City--disturbing, but accurate and dispassionate.

Everything changed as the day wore on, however:

"Search of Maryland Property Continues, Infant Remains Tested for Link to Accused Killer Mom", says the latest FOX headline.

CNN outdoes FOX: "Police: Remains of 4 babies found at scene of newborn's killing."

"Four Pre-Term Infants Found," says the Guardian atop a story that scarcely mentions abortion. The casual reader might easily conclude that four murdered premature babies were found in  Freeman's house, rather than four presumably aborted fetuses:

Prosecutors also would not say how old the other pre-term infants were when they died, although none was thought to be a full-term baby. [Guardian]

The word "abortion" has all but dropped out of this afternoon's coverage. It's all about the dramatic murder investigation with the FBI and earth-moving vehicles and cadaver sniffing dogs. 

A dispassionate discussion of facts and law has been replaced by standard-issue dispatches from the ongoing "grim search" for the "bodies" of "infants."

The press has stopped questioning why this is a murder investigation at all. It's only because of a gross misapplication a unworkable anti-choice law that there's a murder investigation underway in the first place. See Bean's post at LGM for more legal details. There is simply no legal basis to charge Freeman with first degree murder for delivering a dead fetus after trying to abort herself. Maryland law exempts women from criminal penalties for self-abortions.

Obviously, there should be an investigation if four fetuses are discovered in a private home after a bloody stillbirth.  I would suggest starting with social services and then maybe thinking about a criminal investigation after the medical examiner's report. Whereas, according to the Guardian, these prosecutors laid charges before the ME had drawn final conclusions about the recent stillbirth, let alone assessed the gestational age or cause of death of the other remains found.

Moving fast to press first degree murder charges was a smart PR move by prosecutors because it guaranteed that the press would shift to spectacular-murder mode.

Hey, it's Shark Week on Discovery and we haven't had a fresh Missing White Woman lately.

All this sensationalism is making reporters into dupes for the anti-choice movement. The coverage is acclimatizing the public to view abortion as indistinguishable from serial child murder. If you come out and say "I believe that abortion is murder" on television, most viewers peg you as a radical. Whereas, when the news takes that premise for granted, it's just the facts.

The afternoon stories don't seem especially concerned about the fact that a woman has been charged with first degree murder for delivering a fetus that everyone agrees was born dead.

Hoarding self-aborted fetuses is creepy as all hell, but it's not a crime in Maryland. I'm not dismissing the possibility that other crimes will be discovered in the course of the investigation, but the authorities haven't got nearly the evidence they need to support a charge of first degree murder.

June 22, 2007

From "insurgent" to "Al Qaeda in Iraq" to "Al Qaeda"

Talking Points Memo reader SM wrote to Josh Marshall to succinctly describe a linguistic shift that has been bugging me for a while:

It's a curious thing that, over the past 10 - 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as "al-Qaida" fighters. When did that happen?

Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were "insurgents" or they were referred to as "Sunni" or "Shia'a" fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as "al-Qaida".

Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.

Exactly, SM. I'm glad that I'm not the only one to notice.

A few months ago, it was routine for news accounts to use phrases like "an insurgent group that calls itself 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' to refer to the atrocities perpetrated by one of the many factions in Iraq's civil war.

It wasn't uncommon for these reports to include a caveat that this group had no concrete ties to the Al Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden that attacked the US on 9/11. In fact, sometimes there would be press conferences where government officials and terrorism "experts" would stress that Al Qaeda was more of an idea than an organization these days.

These days, news accounts just describe the opponents of U.S. troops in the latest onslaught as "Al Qaeda." Check Google News for dozens more examples.

Does anyone know whether the group known as "Al Qaeda in Iraq (TM)" is the primary target of the latest big push? I have a hard time believing that it's the only insurgent group operating in and around Baghdad these days. It's not as if the Shia Mahdi Army has begged off.

May 03, 2007

Alicia Colon, ignorant bigot

Edwize informs me that New York Sun columnist Alicia Colon is freaking out over plans to open a bilingual English/Arabic public school in Brooklyn.

Colon writes:

When I first heard of this proposed school, I thought it was a joke. But then I read Daniel Pipes's column about this disguised "madrassa" and discovered who the major principals were. Now I can't dispel this feeling of disbelief and outrage. This proposal is utter madness, considering that five years after September 11, ground zero is still a hole in the ground and we're bending over backwards to appease those sympathetic to individuals who would destroy us again. Smart, really smart. [NY Sun]

This is a public school that will follow the same curriculum the other public schools in New York. The difference is that students will be instructed in both English and Arabic.

Where does Colon think tomorrow's intelligence analysts are going to come from if we put off foreign language education until kids' brains have already fossilized into monolingualism?

It's not even worth addressing her implication that any place where Arabic is spoken is a breeding ground for terrorism, even a New York City public school.

Bilingual education is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their kids children. I'm fluent in French because I went to French immersion for my first seven years of school.

More from Colon:

Daniel Pipes was too conservative in asking his readers to send e-mails to the Chancellor at [email protected]. I say break out the torches and surround City Hall to stop this monstrosity. [NY Sun]

So, I'm writing to that address to congratulate the Chancellor on the Arabic language program. I hope my fellow New Yorkers will do the same.

May 02, 2007

Edwards rejects "War on Terror" phrase

Good for John Edwards for rejecting "Global War on Terror" as a Republican buzzword.

"This political language has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do," Edwards said in a phone interview from Everett, Wash. "It's been used to justify a whole series of things that are not justifiable, ranging from the war in Iraq, to torture, to violation of the civil liberties of Americans, to illegal spying on Americans. Anyone who speaks out against these things is treated as unpatriotic. I also think it suggests that there's a fixed enemy that we can defeat with just a military campaign. I just don't think that's true." [TIME]

I've been arguing against the meaningless "war on terror" catchphrase for years. Maybe it's ot too late to reverse the reflexive substitution of "terror" for "terrorism".


April 29, 2007

Sunday Sermonette: Rejecting the "moderate Muslim" label

Asma Khalid has a thought-provoking essay in AlterNet entitled "Why I am Not A Moderate Muslim."

In this passage, she puts her finger on what has always bothered me about using the term "moderate Muslim" to describe followers of Islam who embrace values such as democracy, gender equality, and peace:

In the aftermath of September 11, much has been said about the need for "moderate Muslims." But to be a "moderate" Muslim also implies that Osama bin Laden and Co. must represent the pinnacle of orthodoxy; that a criterion of orthodox Islam somehow inherently entails violence; and, consequently, that if I espouse peace, I am not adhering to my full religious duties.

I refuse to live as a "moderate" Muslim if its side effect is an unintentional admission that suicide bombing is a religious obligation for the orthodox faithful. True orthodoxy is simply the attempt to adhere piously to a religion's tenets. [AlterNet]

Khalid's insight applies to other groups as well. It would be insulting to describe members of the United Church as "moderate Christians" compared to Southern Baptists--because the implication would be that industrial-strength Christianity is conservative and that more liberal faiths represent a watering down of the old time religion.

When I first moved to New York, I nearly got into a shouting match with an Orthodox real estate broker who was showing me an apartment in Crown Heights. As I was checking the tile in the bathroom, the guy made some off-the-cuff remark about how Reform Jews weren't really very Jewish.

"No, we just don't agree with you," I snapped.

The thing to remember is that claims of fundamentalism or orthodoxy are positioning statements for brands. We often treat claims of religious orthodoxy as if they were statements of fact rather than rhetorical devices.

Positioning your doctrine as the orthodoxy is a way to marginalize your competition. If we uncritically allow the most reactionary sects to claim the mantle of orthodoxy, we do the work of fundamentalists for them.

April 21, 2007

Guest Blogging: Bug bites and the corruption of language

As most of you by now know, Lindsay and I work together, mucking it up even. As a result, we have forced one another to visit each other's blogs - demanding that the other guest post of all things. So here I am blathering on because frankly, I have spent the last week on assignment in a third world country, and am now sadly nursing my many and various bug bites.

I am sure I will find something of interest to blog about, but at the moment I am entirely lost in the drama of itch and scratch. I did, however, want to mention that while awaiting my flight back to the United States, I learned from an airport TV that our supreme court basically told the women of this nation to sod off, using a fabricated concept called the "partial birth abortion" (a Luntz verbal product sold and apparently bought for political use). I firmly believe and as history has demonstrated that the easiest way to destroy the nation is to corrupt the language by which people can freely exchange ideas, creating some sort of oral-gami in which facts can be submerged under the veneer of opinion or byte sized slogans. The corruption of language has taken away our ability to have any real and honest debate, because the language we are forced to use is artificially created in order to manipulate our emotions.

So a "partial birth abortion" cannot be addressed as is, because such a concept is a fallacy. How then do we move forward on this issue and discuss it meaningfully? Thoughts? In the meantime, I am going back to bed from where my epic itching and scratching marathon will no doubt continue.


March 04, 2007

Michelle Malkin calls Nation writers "chickenshits", "assholes"

Max Blumenthal of the Nation approached Michelle Malkin and asked her to sign a picture of Japanese Americans in the Manzanar internment camp. Malkin is the author of a In Defense of Internment, a book about why it's okay for the U.S. to put its own citizens in camps during wars. So, you'd think she'd love to sign a picture of the Manzanar internment camp. Evidently, not...

Mike Stark caught up with Malkin a little later on...

Stark: “What happened, Michelle?

Malkin: “Some punks from the Nation came, and they ambushed me at my book signing.”

Stark: “Heh, that’s real professional.”

Malkin: “Yeah. Such chickenshits.”

Stark: “What did they do?”

Malkin: “Uh, they had a video camera, and they, uh, started, uh, lambasting my book. Assholes. I’m sorry, I’m just like, cursing. It’s made me [unintelligible]. ”

Sadly, No has the audio of Malkin cursing out the Nation reporters to Stark.

Video here.

February 18, 2007

Don Young's fake Lincoln quote fails to fool all of the people all of the time

You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.--Probably not Abraham Lincoln.

I'd like to make a quote: "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."--Abraham Lincoln.--Don Young (R-AK), February 15, 2007.

Video. Young didn't "make" that quote, and neither did Abraham Lincoln. The manufacturer was conservative operative J. Michael Waller.

Fact Check exposed the phony Lincoln quote in August 2006, after catching Republican candidate Diane Irey deploying it against John Murtha on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania. Fact Check traced the essay to right wing "scholar"  J. Michael Waller who admitted that he had written the words attributed to Lincoln and published them in INSIGHT Magazine in December 2003.

Waller's essay is available on his blog under the title "When Does Politics Become Treason?." (INSIGHT ran the piece under a different title: "Democrats Usher In an Age of Treason.")

Here are the opening paragraphs:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged. That's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States.

While none have suggested such extreme measures in the midst of the war on terrorism, Lincoln's approach illustrates the deadly seriousness of political responsibility in wartime and draws a fine line between legitimate political dissent and aiding the enemy.

The Supreme Court eventually stopped Lincoln's policy of having treasonous lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals, but for decades after the war, the late president's Republican Party successfully tagged the Democrats as the "party of treason."

Waller denies that he fabricated the quote or deliberately attributed it to Lincoln. Instead, he blames an unnamed rogue copy editor at INSIGHT who put quotation marks around the first sentence without his permission:

I'm sure the editor thought he was trying to correct what he thought was poor punctuation. The fact is, President Lincoln never said it, and I never claimed the words were his.

When I saw the quotation marks in print, I asked a senior editor to insert a clarification in the next issue of the magazine and on the website. He never did. I unwisely failed to push the matter and went on, thinking that the magazine wasn't widely read anyway.

That was a bad move, and I should have pressed for a correction. I didn't receive any feedback at all until just over a week ago while on vacation, when Brooks Jackson at contacted me about it. A candidate running against Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) had used the quote thinking it was real, Jackson said. So did thousands of others. Jackson told me that he found 18,000 references to the so-called quote on the Internet.

My sentence, I thought at the time, was a vivid way of summarizing what President Lincoln had said about congressmen who sabotaged the Union during the Civil War. (One of my editors, a southerner in spirit, changed my "Civil War" reference to "War Between the States." I'm from New England and have always called it the "Civil War.")

That's right, Waller says never pressed for a correction because he figured nobody read INSIGHT anyway. And that creepy "War Between the States" lingo? Also the work of overzealous underlings, allegedly.

Even if Waller is telling the truth about the phantom copy editor, the spiritual southerner, and/or the lazy senior editor, the fact remains that his essay misrepresents Lincoln.

Waller claims that his gloss of Lincoln is based on this June 1863 letter in which Lincoln defends his constitutional power to suspend habeas corpus in the case of Clement Vallandigham, who was arrested for inciting troops to desert at a public meeting in Ohio during the Civil War.

"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged. That's what President Abraham Lincoln said during the War Between the States," Waller insists.

Clearly, Waller wants you to infer that Lincoln was denouncing legislators who criticized his policies. The original article is a screed about how the Democrats were committing treason by investigating the pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Waller claims that the Supreme Court eventually stopped "Lincoln's policy of having treasonous lawmakers arrested and tried before military tribunals." Lincoln didn't have as policy of arresting lawmakers who criticized him for political reasons. Lincoln had no such policy. When Vallandigham was arrested, he wasn't even a congressman!

In the letter that Waller cites, Lincoln explicitly says that he doesn't support the president's right to arrest his political opponents just because they are critical of his policies or the military during wartime:

Take the particular case mentioned by the meeting. They assert [It is asserted] in substance that Mr. Vallandigham was by a military commander, seized and tried "for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting, in criticism of the course of the administration, and in condemnation of the military orders of that general" Now, if there be no mistake about this—if this assertion is the truth and the whole truth—if there was no other reason for the arrest, then I concede that the arrest was wrong. But the arrest, as I understand, was made for a very different reason. Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union; and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it. He was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general; but because he was damaging the army, upon the existence, and vigor of which, the life of the nation depends. He was warring upon the military; and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him. If Mr. Vallandigham was not damaging the military power of the country, then his arrest was made on mistake of fact, which I would be glad to correct, on reasonably satisfactory evidence.

Lincoln claimed that Vallandigham's arrest was a matter of public safety. You don't have to believe Lincoln's excuse in order to follow his argument about the difference between suspending habeas during rebellion or invasion for  safety reasons vs. the president's right to jail his political enemies without trial. (Lincoln's gambit should remind us that even the best leaders will grab power if you let them. Thankfully the Supreme Court was there to put Lincoln in his place.)

The fact that Waller's shoddy essay garnered over 18,000 mentions on the internet, and several citations by major politicians is very disturbing. Clearly, many right wingers are desperate to believe that one of our most esteemed presidents was a tyrant.


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