Quote of the Month
"We don't practice propaganda in this country..."
Maj. Joe LaMarca, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, speaking about Iraq. (Reuters 12/30/98)
Whitewashing the Language
For the past twenty years, Merriam-Webster's collegiate thesaurus has listed a large number of interesting synonyms for the word "homosexual". Included were such common terms as "faggot", "fruit", "uranist", "nancy"(?) and the ever popular "pederast". This "corporate mistake," as the New York Times describes it, will finally be corrected in a new edition soon to be released. To insure a more sensitive approach to gays, Merriam-Webster has resorted to a simple expedient. They simply eliminated "homosexual" from the thesaurus. The demotion of "homosexual" to an un-word (as we say in Newspeak) was defended by marketing director Deborah Burns, citing a sudden discovery that thesauruses, unlike dictionaries, need not be comprehensive (try that as an advertising slogan) and because entries for ethnic and racial minorities had already been removed. Hopefully this move will help remove prejudice against homosexuals because, of course, there won't be any. (NYT 1/20/99)
Criminal Conspiracies Dept.
Somewhere buried deep inside the U.S. Treasury Department sits the Office of Foreign Assets Control. This obscure department finally had its day in the sun when they discovered that members of the peace organization Voices in the Wilderness had violated the embargo against exporting goods to Iraq. (Apparently Voices had issued press releases announcing the fact, little suspecting the eagle-eyed OFAC agents would be on to them.) More specifically, Voices in the Wilderness was fined $120,000 for the "exportation of donated goods, including medical supplies and toys" to Iraq. Apparently these peace activists were unable to comprehend how our policy of banning toys for Iraqi children is bringing Saddam to his knees. Even more seriously, OFAC director R. Richard Newcomb cited the leaders for forming "a conspiracy formed for the purpose of engaging in transactions prohibited by the Regulations." That's "Regulations" with a capital "R". (www.nonviolence.org/vitw, Letter 12/3/98)
During Operation Desert Fox, the Associated Press ran a photo of a 2,000 pound laser guided bomb sitting on the deck of the USS Enterprise with a spray painted message on it saying "Here's a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg." Defense Department officials immediately caught this breach of etiquette and released an apology. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon expressed the "distress" of Defense officials over the "thoughtless graffiti" that appeared on "a piece of U.S. ordinance" (always try to get the native jargon correctly). Mr. Bacon went on to say that "Religious intolerance is as anathema to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and to all Americans who cherish the right to worship freely." Not listed as anathema to us was the dropping of the 2000 pound bomb. We can only hope the recipients of the bomb weren't able to read the graffiti before being hit. (WSJ 1/29/99)
Catch - 22 Revisited
Two lawsuits have been filed in U.S. federal courts on behalf of 50,000 garment workers in the U.S. protected Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The suits charge U.S. retailers with having a "racketeering conspiracy" to force workers largely from mainland China to accept intolerable sweatshop conditions. Named in the suits are firms such as The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Sears, Wal-Mart and Oshkosh B'gosh. But one corporation in this group stands above the rest because of the effort they have made to defend workers' rights. The Gap, reports the Washington Post, placed a poster in all the factories it subcontracted work to, with a clearly worded "code of conduct" itemizing the rights of employees. Unfortunately the posted document was written in English and could not be read by the Chinese workers. Let me just add, this was not The Gap's fault and those workers can just damn well learn to read English. (WP 1/14/99)
"Making the World Safer for Democracy"
Intel, producer of about 85% of all computer chips, announced its new Pentium III chip will automatically identify consumers' computers on the Internet. This feature is designed to allow companies to restrict the downloads of movies or songs to one computer. The chip will transmit a unique serial number to verify the identity of a user, unless it is turned off, although the feature automatically turns itself back on when the computer is restarted (thus saving consumers the trouble). Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy answered critics who fear an intrusion by Big Brother by saying, "We're enabling a more secure environment." I know I feel more secure knowing concerned corporations can track my identity. Mr. Mulloy adds that the Pentium III's identification number is just "a single piece in an overall security umbrella." Sometimes it helps to see the big picture. (AP 1/24/99, NYT 1/30/99)
Miss Manners Goes to Washington
There are an estimated 4 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S. Fortunately the American Gaming Association, representing more than 100 casino companies, has stepped forward to help Congress address this problem. When Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Paul Simon proposed creating a National Gambling Impact Study Commission to study the societal costs of compulsive gambling, the AGA used its years of experience, and several $ million in campaign donations to make improvements in the bill. The result; a commission that could gather documents but did not have the power to force casino executives to testify. Said AGA president Frank Fahrenkopf, "The last thing we wanted was to have someone embarrass our people." Its so good to see that Congress has finally come around on the embarrassment issue. (LAT 1/8/99)
Is Microsoft Slipping?
At the Microsoft antitrust trial, a rather interesting memo from His Highness was read. "It would help me immensely," Gates wrote to his staff, "to have a survey showing that 90% of developers believe that putting a browser into (Windows) makes sense." A second memo from executive Nathan Myrvold even explained how to manipulate the phrasing so the survey results would "reach Gates objectives." The result: a survey that found a measly 83% (not the 90% Bill wanted) who felt it would benefit consumers. Despite missing the target, Gates went on to use the figure in testimony before the Senate as did a dean from MIT, Richard Schmalense at the antitrust trial. In fact, when informed of the memos, the MIT dean said he still would have cited the figures anyway, but with "an explanatory phrase." Now that's a true scholar. (WSJ 1/15/99, NYT 1/15/99)
Digging Deeper Holes Dept.
In England, the government's Family Planning Association came up with a very forward looking solution for disabled and house bound citizens who are unable to go out and get...(dramatic pause) sex toys. To overcome this inequity, the FPA has a plan to allow such people to mail-order vibrators and skimpy lingerie directly from the government. This, of course, has produced criticism from those who oppose the state promoting promiscuous lifestyles. In response, an FPA spokeswoman is quoted as saying, ``We want to de-stigmatize sex aids for people. We would be very much at the boring end of the market. We're not talking about blow-up dolls or handcuffs.'' Which leaves open the question of why the disabled should be left in the ghetto of boring sex aides. Sure sounds like discrimination to me. (Reuters 1/27/99)
Microsoft Strikes Again
Microsoft has now entered the fold of those trying to improve the clarity of our language. Recently they discovered that the term "browser" was unclear in people's minds. At the recent trial over whether Windows and the Internet Explorer are separate products, executive Paul Maritz admitted that "In preparation for this trial," Microsoft had replaced the word "browser in all its literature and replaced it with the phrase "Internet technologies." Now that is much clearer. And why drop the term "browser?" "We were concerned," said Maritz, "that 'browser' might be misconstrued and taken out of context." I know those big words always mixed me up. But not only is the word "browser" confusing, so is the word "market." When the government prosecutor asked whether he tracked browser market share, Maritz gave a now classic answer: "We did. But that doesn't imply there was what we considered a market there." Seventeen philosophers reportedly had heart attacks upon hearing this. (WSJ 1/27/99)
Have you ever struggled to find just the right words to describe how U.S. corporate executives are paid? Fortunately there are great newspapers like the New York Times, ready to come to our aid. They simply refer to it as "the American way of compensating executives" (how can you improve on that?). In an article explaining the difficulties involved in the recent wave of mergers between U.S. and foreign companies, the Times points out the difficulties posed by the enormous bonuses and stock incentives given to U.S. executives, dwarfing anything received by their counterparts in Europe or Japan. The Times goes on to note that "inequities in the pay of top executives quickly become apparent." A concern we all share. But what inexplicably does not become apparent are far greater inequities between U.S. executives and ordinary U.S. employees. Maybe in another article...? (NYT 1/16/99)