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November 08, 2002
Spin This! (Press)

Spin This!

There's an election and everyone claims victory.

A bill is passed and everyone wants the credit.

A speech is made and both sides jump in to use it as validation of their separate and opposing viewpoints.

Who's lying?

According to Bill Press, no one is. Not exactly. In fact, in Spin This! he claims, and amply proves, that it's all a matter of perspective.

Call it "slant" or call it "an angle" or, if you're a politician, call it "spin." According to Press, everyone "spins" the facts. Your employees, your teachers, the guy you went out with last week, the Pope, you name it, they spin it. Spin just a buzzword for what my mother called, "putting a good face on a bad job."

The book blurb calls spin, "intentional manipulation of the truth." Remove the PC-speak and it's "creative lying." Using just enough of the truth to make the lie believable. Lying enough to make an unpalatable truth palatable. Advertising with as little truth in it as they think they can get away with.

Press insists that spin isn't quite lying but to my mind it's very little different from. There's a degree of "spin" that equates to the, "little white lie" and does no harm. And then there's what this book describes, which goes far beyond that.

(Unless, of course, you've read the book and you're armored against their tactics.)

Bill Press paints a fascinating but scary picture.

Okay, it isn't as though most of us don't know that politicians are lying to us, but it's scary and irritating to realize how systematically both the politicians and the press have created a system whereby they can avoid offering us the plain facts.

Words have power and our leaders, and wannabe leaders are trying to use words to manipulate us, to recreate reality inside of our brains into a picture that favors their agendas. Sadly, against those people too disenchanted with the system, or too busy with their daily lives to put the time into untangling the complicated web of lies (spin! spin!) we're fed daily, this manipulation frequently works.

On the one hand I'm marginally encouraged that maybe They don't think of the voting (or, non-voting, as recent polling numbers have pointed out) public as complete morons. I mean, if They are bothering to lie to us (excuse, me, "spin" us), then They think we're capable of thinking, and thinking quite a lot more than They want us to, right?

On the other hand, when it comes time to wonder, as we all do, whyinthehell so few people vote any more, why people mistrust politicians, and why the popular press is falling out of favor, I wonder if these spinners have the intelligence to connect their own behavior to the cynicism it has engendered?

Press, quite rightly, recommends George Orwell's 1984 for the person looking for a case study in the effects of spin. Orwell calls it "newspeak" but it's the same animal in a different skin.

Once you're grounded with the concept by Orwell's book, go out and pick up Spin This!. (You can skip Orwell if you're pressed for time or money and can't find a library, but I highly recommend it.)

In fact, I think Spin This! should be required reading for everyone, not only because it sensitizes you to the spin all around you each day but because the examples of political spin that Press uses to illustrate his case are real eye-openers.

Some thoughts I had as I read, and the items in italics are lifted from Spin This!

As Press reminded me, Walter Lipmann (and if you don't know who he is, shame on you) reputedly believed in, "the manufacture of consent" as a way to "simplify" the process of democracy to a point where the public would be able to understand it.

The manufacture of consent.

Think about that. "Manufacture" means artificial, doesn't it, something "not natural"? The phrase itself implies creating "artificial" consent, thus leading inevitably to the idea that consent for whatever it is that's being spun would not be forthcoming if people were allowed to consider it in its "natural" state.

Keep thinking about it, because "the manufacture of consent" through spin is what politics is all about today.

Adlai Stevenson, "In America, anybody can be President. That's one of the risks you take." Heh. Heh.

George Bush's "leadership style" is largely explained by his previous experience in politics, as the governor of Texas. "The governor of Texas is a part-time job. Think about it. The legislature's only in session 165 days -- every two years! Cabinet members are elected, not appointed. The real executive power rests with the Lieutenant-Governor."

Which explains, to those who were wondering, why Bush thinks it's perfectly natural that 90% of the work of leading this country belongs on Cheney's desk. "Scary thought, isn't it? If anything happens to Cheney, George W. Bush is only a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Nixon, Clinton, Bush, they're all in here with examples of their own kind of spin. Ample examples from current events illustrate Bill Press's points. The book is an easy and absorbing read and I highly recommend it.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)
Strange Alliances

Iran's hardline judiciary has sentenced an outspoken activist for reform to death, eight years in jail, 74 lashes and a 10-year ban from teaching, the Iranian Student News Agency reports. (From the Sydney Morning Herald.)

That's IraN, not IraQ, okay? IraQ is our enemy. We're semi-allied with IraN right now. They're the good guys.

Speaking of bad guys, how about that Swaziland?

"Once upon a time, a handsome African king spotted a beautiful young maiden at a traditional reed dance. His Majesty King Mswati III, known as The Lion to his subjects, knew right away that he would make 18-year-old Zena Mahlangu his wife.

His 10th wife, to be precise. So the king abducted her. Then her mother sued. And the king's judges agreed to hear the case. So the king's henchmen threatened to get rid of the judges. And the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland, a landlocked dot between South Africa and Mozambique that is Africa's last absolute monarchy, faced its most dire political crisis since independence from British rule in 1968.

Things, they are a'changing in old Swaziland. Revolution, or at least severe reform might be sweeping over the country.

We can only hope.

Unfortunately, the postponement of her mother's lawsuit on Zena Zoraya Mahlangu's behalf means that both the girl and the mother have little or no hope of her release. She told her mother, over the phone, that she "accepts" her situation. (Her mother has still been denied the right to talk with Zena face-to-face.)

I'm still wondering about the other two recently abducted girls, by the way. Prospective wives #11 and #12. Has anyone thought about what they want? Or, in a country so poor, is the prospect of sharing the wealth of the king just too tempting?

Posted by AnneZook at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)
Check the box

Me, I believe in paper ballots for very good reasons.

#1 Having worked with computers of all kinds for the past twenty years, I know problems happen. If an electronic machine loses its electronic data, it's all over. No recounts. With paper, if the scanning system goes down, you can always go back and find out what really happened.

#2 Not everyone is honest. There's the potential for tampering, right? Do you know who owns the company that makes the electronic voting machines you use?

#3 I think if someone is threatening the folks who are trying to bring our attention to potential problems, then that might be a sign they have something to hide.

#4 Understand me clearly. I would be no happier to discover that the companies who make the voting machines are actually controlled by the left edge of the Democratic party, okay? But I don't like stories of faulty electronic counts, even during the testing period and exposed by sometimes dubious sources such as The Drudge Report.

It should be pointed out that Drudge isn't always on shaky factual ground and that there are a lot of people who can't quite believe the numbers from that particular race.

I'm just saying.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)
November 04, 2002
Fill the little cup

Watch for Fraud - For any problems on election day, call 1-866-VOTE-411.


Fill the little plastic cup

Personally, I don't think people should be able to show up at your house unannounced at 10:30 at night, and tell you you have to pee on demand. I completely support random and unannounced drug testing but someone went way too far here.

The USFSA said it regretted the "unfortunate circumstances and irregularities[sic] surrounding her case" which does darned little for Kyoko Ina, now facing a four-years suspension.

Good grief.


Kidnapped

In a late-breaking update on the teenage girl kidnapped by security forces in her country (Swaziland) and now "betrothed" to the king, the mother has filed a lawsuit, which has apparently "infuriated" the royal family who are traditionally above the law, which the king's behavior amply proves:

Many Swazis have been annoyed with Mswati since last year, when the king banned girls under 18 from having sex--a decree he said was intended to halt the spread of HIV.

A few weeks after declaring the ban, Mswati took a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife. Eventually, he paid a fine of one cow.

Amnesty International has the story too, but I wonder if anyone can move fast enough to save this girl?

Note that this girl is one of three kidnapped at about the same time and that the royal house apparently uses this method of "wooing" for most of the enforced marriages the up to 100 spouses of a king endure.

Of course, those not lucky enough to take the king's fancy once he gets a closer look at them aren't sent away without a consolation prize. No, they might have the pleasure of being handed over to anyone standing around looking in need of a new spouse at the moment.

I don't know what they said or did to her (two weeks is plenty of time to brainwash someone), but I sincerely doubt that Zena Mahlangu is happy about what's happened to her, whether or not she was persuaded to make a smiling public appearance. If she were cooperative, there would have been no reason to bar her mother and the lawyers appointed to defend her from talking to her.

Anyhow, my quick scan through recent headlines suggests there's a lot wrong with Swaziland.

It's a scary place, okay? ""Once you have your husband you are always regarded as one of the man's children," [Gogo Kunene, a female Swazi elder] said proudly."

But.

You know what's encouraging? In this benighted country full of backward prejudices with a sick population (estimated 1/3 suffering from HIV) and an autocratic, tyrannical monarchy, one woman has filed a lawsuit to demand that her daughter be granted the rights of a human being. And the judiciary of her country is listening, along with the rest of the world.

It ain't much, if you're Zena, but it's progress.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:13 PM | Comments (0)