Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 3rd, 2007

Divvying up the Middle East

Posted by metaphorical on 3 February 2007

In November 1915, diplomats François Georges-Picot (for France) and Mark Sykes (for Britain) negotiated an ‘understanding’ about how to divide the Middle East into spheres of influence for their respective countries. At the time, the area was still under control of the Ottoman Empire, linked to the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) and therefore an opponent of the British, French and other Allies in World War I.

The Sykes-Picot Plan was secretly agreed to by the British and French governments on May 16, 1916. The outlines of the combined zones of influence have partially determined the borders of Syria, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as they still stand today. Internally, the zones do not correspond to the present border situation.

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To this day, Arabs and Westerners alike are paying the price for British and French hubris in the Middle East. (Not that they did a bang-up job in India or Indochina.) Strange Maps shows the Sykes-Picot map and describes the zones here.

Of course, the days of hubris in the Middle East are not over.

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Advertising paraphernalia: threat or menace?

Posted by metaphorical on 3 February 2007

For those who responded to it, professionals, it had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it and wires. — Massachussetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

The winner this week of the award for Best Hyperbole In An Orwellian Language is Massachussetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. In calling the advertising paraphernalia that was hung around Boston “hoax devices” she presumes most of the case she needs to make before a jury. Because let’s be clear about this: if the fellows in question did anything illegal, it was on the order of hanging up signs on lampposts asking if anyone had seen their missing cat.

If you somehow missed the sight this week of the Boston police department doing a citywide imitation of the Keystone Kops, as they frantically looked for terrifying ad-campaign devices even after they were known to be harmless, the basic facts can be found in any wire service version of the story.

Boston — Several illuminated electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a publicity campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. Most if not all of the devices depict a character giving the finger. 

Peter Berdovsky, 29, of Arlington, was arrested on one felony charge of placing a hoax device and one charge of disorderly conduct, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said later Wednesday. He had been hired to place the devices, she said.

A second man has since been charged as well.

Others can debate the level of irresponsibility on the part of Turner Broadcasting, the advertising firm, and the freelance contractors who actually placed the signs. What’s important to watch is the way language is being twisted to suit the aims of the mayor, the police, and the attorney general, who themselves have quite a bit to answer for, as it was their overreaction, not the placing of the devices, that virtually shut down a major city this week.

By using the phrase “placing a hoax device,” Coakley imports to the case the idea that those involved intended to place devices that would look like bombs, and, presumably, therefore intended to create the chaos that ensued.

That’s in fact exactly what they didn’t do. They hung the same device in a number of locations in 10 cities around the U.S. “Only Beantown went berserk,” to quote a blog in the online Cape Cod Today.

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Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | 2 Comments »