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Today in weaponised sociolinguistics: the US intelligence research agency IARPA is running a programme to collect and catalogue metaphors used in different cultures, hopefully revealing how the Other thinks. This follows on from the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who theorised that whoever controls the metaphors used in language can tilt the playing field extensively:
Conceptual metaphors have been big business over the last few years. During the last Bush administration, Lakoff – a Democrat – set up the Rockridge Institute, a foundation that sought to reclaim metaphor as a tool of political communication from the right. The Republicans, he argued, had successfully set the terms of the national conversation by the way they framed their metaphors, in talking about the danger of ‘surrendering’ to terrorism or to the ‘wave’ of ‘illegal immigrants’. Not every Democrat agreed with his diagnosis that the central problem with American politics was that it was governed by the frame of the family, that conservatives were proponents of ‘authoritarian strict-father families’ while progressives reflected a ‘nurturant parent model, which values freedom, opportunity and community building’ (‘psychobabble’ was one verdict, ‘hooey’ another).
But there’s precious little evidence that they tell you what people think. One Lakoff-inspired study that at first glance resembles the Metaphor Program was carried out in the mid-1990s by Richard D. Anderson, a political scientist and Sovietologist at UCLA, who compared Brezhnev-era speeches by Politburo members with ‘transitional’ speeches made in 1989 and with post-1991 texts by post-Soviet politicians. He found, conclusively, that in the three periods of his study the metaphors used had changed entirely: ‘metaphors of personal superiority’, ‘metaphors of distance’, ‘metaphors of subordination’ were out; ‘metaphors of equality’ and ‘metaphors of choice’ were in. There was a measurable change in the prevailing metaphors that reflected the changing political situation. He concluded that ‘the change in Russian political discourse has been such as to promote the emergence of democracy’, that – in essence – the metaphors both revealed and enabled a change in thinking. On the other hand, he could more sensibly have concluded that the political system had changed and therefore the metaphors had to change too, because if a politician isn’t aware of what metaphors he’s using who is?The article is vague on the actual IARPA research programme, but reveals that it involves extracting metaphors from large bodies of texts in four languages (Farsi, Mexican Spanish, Russian and English) and classifying them according to emotional affect.
The IARPA metaphor programme follows an earlier proposal to weaponise irony:
If we don’t know how irony works and we don’t know how it is used by the enemy, we cannot identify it. As a result, we cannot take appropriate steps to neutralize ironizing threat postures. This fundamental problem is compounded by the enormous diversity of ironic modes in different world cultures and languages. Without the ability to detect and localize irony consistently, intelligence agents and agencies are likely to lose valuable time and resources pursuing chimerical leads and to overlook actionable instances of insolence. The first step toward addressing this situation is a multilingual, collaborative, and collative initiative that will generate an encyclopedic global inventory of ironic modalities and strategies. More than a handbook or field guide, the work product of this effort will take the shape of a vast, searchable, networked database of all known ironies. Making use of a sophisticated analytic markup language, this “Ironic Cloud” will be navigable by means of specific ironic tropes (e.g., litotes, hyperbole, innuendo, etc.), by geographical region or language field (e.g., Iran, North Korea, Mandarin Chinese, Davos, etc.), as well as by specific keywords (e.g., nose, jet ski, liberal arts, Hermès, night soil, etc.) By means of constantly reweighted nodal linkages, the Ironic Cloud will be to some extent self-organizing in real time and thus capable of signaling large-scale realignments in the “weather” of global irony as well as providing early warnings concerning the irruption of idiosyncratic ironic microclimates in particular locations—potential indications of geopolitical, economic, or cultural hot spots.The proposal goes on to suggest possibilities of using irony as a weapon:
Superpower-level political entities (e.g., Roman Empire, George W. Bush, large corporations, etc.) have tended to look on irony as a “weapon of the weak” and thus adopted a primarily defensive posture in the face of ironic assault. But a historically sensitive consideration of major strategic realignments suggests that many critical inflection points in geopolitics (e.g., Second Punic War, American Revolution, etc.) have involved the tactical redeployment of “guerrilla” techniques and tools by regional hegemons. There is reason to think that irony, properly concentrated and effectively mobilized, might well become a very powerful armament on the “battlefield of the future,” serving as a nonlethal—or even lethal—sidearm in the hands of human fighters in an information-intensive projection of awesome force. Without further fundamental research into the neurological and psychological basis of irony, it is difficult to say for certain how such systems might work, but the general mechanism is clear enough: irony manifestly involves a sudden and profound “doubling” of the inner life of the human subject. The ironizer no longer maintains an integrated and holistic perspective on the topic at hand but rather experiences something like a small tear in the consciousness, whereby the overt and covert meanings of a given text or expression are sundered. We do not now know just how far this tear could be opened—and we do not understand what the possible vital consequences might be.
US troops in Iraq now have an iPhone app for tracking insurgents; well, for displaying tactical maps in real time. Meanwhile, the insurgents have found a Russian-designed program which can be bought for $26 and which allows them to watch the video feeds of Predator drones, which happen to be unencrypted. (Oops!) The military is planning to fix this, though it's harder to do than it sounds due to the expensive proprietary design of the aging drones.
A new study from the University of North Carolina suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish — emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners:
Iraqis have often been observed weeping and wailing in apparent anguish, but the study offers evidence indicating this may not be exclusively an outward expression of anger or a desire for revenge. It also provocatively suggests that this grief can possess an American-like personal quality, and is not simply a tribal lamentation ritual.
Psychologists and anthropologists have thus far largely discounted the study, claiming it has the same bias as a 1971 Stanford University study that concluded that many Vietnamese showed signs of psychological trauma from nearly a quarter century of continuous war in southeast Asia.
"We are, in truth, still a long way from determining if Iraqis are exhibiting actual, U.S.-grade sadness," Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist Norman Blum said. "At present, we see no reason for the popular press to report on Iraqi emotions as if they are real."
(via Mind Hacks)
Hezbollah militants abduct Israeli soldiers and fire missiles at Israeli cities. Israel bombs the hell out of Lebanon. Lebanese musician/artist Mazen Kerbaj records an minimalistic trumpet improvisation over the sound of exploding bombs.
(via Boing Boing)
It now emerges that many buildings in Moscow have large quantities of explosives hidden under them. The explosives were buried by officers of the NKVD (which became the KGB) during World War 2, in case the Nazis captured Moscow:
"At night, they descended into the hotel's basement, designated a man to watch, and dug. They dug through the brick foundation and made a cache beneath the basement. Then, on another night, other NKVD officers secretly delivered a truck full of TNT right into the hotel's inner yard. The officers quartered on the first floor helped unload the explosives and carry the packages one by one into the cache beneath the basement. When they were through, they covered up the cache."
"My father said that the plan went like this: the Germans weren't supposed to suspect anything when they examined the premises. They say that the propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wanted to be housed in the Moskva Hotel and turn it into his personal propaganda office with a view of the Kremlin."It is presently not known where exactly there still are explosives.
British foreign secretary Jack Straw has stated that a war on Iran is "inconceivable". Well, that's me reassured.
Asked if he thought that the world would back a strike on Iran, either by US or Israeli forces, Mr Straw said: "Not only is that inconceivable, but I think the prospect of it happening is inconceivable."
That's very convenient phrasing; note that Straw does not state opposition to invading or bombing Iran, as, after all, it's not his decision to make. After all, if something unconceivable does happen, then the rules go out the window, and Britain would immediately get in line, just as it did on Iraq and the abandonment of the Oslo accord.
Welcome to the Bush Era: In the U.S., Plastic figurines of soldiers replace chocolate rabbits in Easter baskets.
At the Astor Place Kmart, the encampment is on display just inside the main entrance. A camouflaged sandy-haired soldier with an American-flag arm patch stands alert in a teal, pink, and yellow basket beneath a pretty green-and-purple bow. Within a doll-arm's reach are a machine gun, rifle, hand grenade, large knife, pistol, and round of ammunition. In the next basket a buzz-cut blond with a snazzy dress uniform hawks over homeland security, an American eagle shield on his arm, and a machine gun, pistol, Bowie knife, two grenades, truncheon, and handcuffs at the ready.
Easter provides a way for makers of generic troops to capitalize on the trend. Unlike superhero dolls, war toys don't come with costly trademarks attached. That lowers the bar to entry for small manufacturers, today typically Chinese. That industry has followed confectioners to transform Easter into the second-largest selling season, Rice says.
(via bOING bOING)
"Quit hogging the victory blanket": During World War 1, America renamed sauerkraut and hamburgers to "liberty cabbage" and "liberty steak". Now, one US restaurant has renamed its french fries to "freedom fries".I wonder if it'll catch on.
Rowland said his intent is not to slight the French people, but to take a patriotic stance to show his support for the United States and the actions of President Bush. "It's our way of showing our patriotic pride," he said, noting that his business has a lot of local military troops as customers.
I wonder if he's taking the piss; why not just adopt the nomenclature of the old country (and America's most loyal
lapdogs allies) and call the dish "chips"?
(Actually, didn't the Americans coin the term "french fries" to distance themselves from their former colonial oppressors' language, instead aligning themselves with fellow post-Enlightenment revolutionary nation France?)
UN covers up Guernica, Picasso's painting of maimed and dying civilians in a shelled village during the Spanish civil war, for a photo opportunity. Or perhaps because the message would be politically inappropriate given current events?
The drapes were installed last Monday and Wednesday -- the days the council discussed Iraq -- and came down Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, when the subjects included Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and Western Sahara.
(via bOING bOING)
Alternative points of view: Pro-war activism is not just for hairy-backed bloggers and talk-show callers: pranksters and conceptual artists can do it too.
Partridge calls the protesters "TV babies" who are spoon-fed reactions and for whom war exists only conceptually. "These folks are not thinkers; they are only a crowd that operates with a unit mind," he says.
Partridge says he happens to actually believe war is groovy, but he especially likes to upset people with his revolutionary ideas. Before this protest, Partridge visited a group of hard-core Christians who were condemning the "sinners" downtown. He started handing out pamphlets that said, "Christ is for sissies."
He seems somewhat more lucid than the Ayn Rand zealots who hold pro-Starbucks demonstration to piss off the Nu Marxists; or indeed the My Country Right Or Wrong crowd, for that matter. (via rotten.com)
The US military has developed what could be the ultimate Viridian weapon: fuel-eating bacteria, which devour oil and petroleum supplies, leaving humans unharmed. And to further realise the dream of a kinder, gentler, fluffier form of warfare, they're also experimenting with bombing enemy troops with Valium. Come to think of it, why not just bomb them with MDMA, and make everybody feel all loved-up and not at all in the mood for fighting?
Life imitates Douglas Adams: A NY Times piece arguing that global communication has sown conflict and enmity, rather than the new era of understanding it was supposed to usher in.
But at this halfway point between mutual ignorance and true understanding, the ''global village'' actually resembles a real one -- in my experience, not the utopian community promised by the boosters of globalization but a parochial place of manifold suspicions, rumors, resentments and half-truths.
Looks like we're off to war with Iraq, Iran and North Korea next.
"For too long our culture has said `if it feels good, do it'," Mr Bush said. "Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: Let's roll."
Actually, "if it feels good, do it" sounds a lot like waging war, finding your approval ratings soaring, and then declaring war on three more states, don't you think?
Topical comic of the day: Get Your War On. (via Plastic)
What do spelling checkers say about modern culture? The spelling checker in Microsoft Word 97 has some telltale gaps in its lexicon:
Your computer knows baddies Lenin and Trotsky, but not peace lovers Lennon, McCartney, and Starr. It remembers Auschwitz but not Woodstock. Your spell-check will gleefully accept Ku Klux Klan (try typing it in lower kase, your komputer will gently suggest that you kapitalize your k's). Ominously, Word 97 acknowledges German politicians Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder - we may not know exactly what these men are up to but we can assume, from the company they keep in our spell check, that they are bad, bad men.
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