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November 16, 2003 Other Mail

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  • Kangaroos near Paris?
  • More on "Words, words, words" - are these terrorists or resistance fighters?  Is the press pre-loading public opinion or not?



Kangaroos near Paris?  I asked my friend in Paris about something I came across in the RFI press review on Tuesday, the 11th -  in the free paper there in Paris.  I thought "this just cannot be so."

Metro warns that if you go down to the Rambouillet woods near Paris today you're sure of a big surprise... in the form of signs warning motorists of the danger of kangaroos.  You might think that's preposterous - a practical joke by an Australian.  In fact, says Metro, about 50 of the marsupials escaped from an animal park in the area about 30 years ago.... they still live in Rambouillet Forest and survive on a diet of nuts and leaves.

My friend in Paris didn't reply, but another friend, an Australian woman I know who has worked in Paris for years, replied from deep in France.

"Strewth Mate" - That's "Fair Dinkum" !

And Rick in Atlanta asked the obvious: "Okay, Emma, not everyone here speaks Ozzie! So what's it mean in American?"


And here in Hollywood the comment was:

Wouldn't that be "Aussie" not "Ozzie" - as in Ozzie, Harriet, Rickie and David?


And even out here in benighted California it is obvious that what Emma gives us, phonetically, would be something like, "That is the truth, friend."   As for "fair dinkum" well, we have our equivalent San Fernando Valley "For sure" - pronounced "fur shure" by the Moon Zappa and the girls of the seventies.  In Atlanta?   I don't know. 


Here in Hollywood we're a bit closer to Australia, of course, than you are in Georgia - so there was no problem.  Twenty years ago we got used to Olivia Newton John, and her store, Koala Blue, down on Melrose, and now we have Russell Crowe in town plugging his new film.  Aussies everywhere.  One hears Aussie spoken all over.  Not so in Decatur?


Both Georgia and Australia were founded by exiled Brit criminals so one would think the dialects might have gone through parallel development.  Guess not.


As for Russell Crowe's new film, it seems to be about a lot of hot, sweaty men, and a few young boys, stuck all alone for months on end with no women on a sailing ship in the tropics.  And the bad guys are the French.  Curious.  "Master and Commander."  Great title.  Kinky. 


Be that as it may, although Georgia and Australia being former British as penal colonies, no slur is intended.  Jimmy Carter was a good guy and more than made up for Lester Maddox.  This Howard fellow in Australia?  Well, I'm not so sure.

Well, the Australian woman in France had something to say about that!

Howard is a drongo (that's aussie-speak for a f__ idiot except when he turned the boat people away from Oz when they decided to throw their own kids overboard in an attempt to blackmail the Aussie navy into saving them all and giving their bloody families a free ride off the back of the Aussies for the rest of their lives....  Australia doesn't need low-life like that!).

Anyway, Howard makes Bush look like a competent sheep-shagger and I imagine that is pretty high talk for your dear and beloved President, n'est-ce pas?

In international chat one thing lead to another, of course.



Last week in November 9, 2003 Other Mail we had a discussion of the terms used for those fighting the Americans in Iraq right now - are these terrorists or resistance fighters?  Is the press pre-loading public opinion or not?  That started out with a story in Reuters - actually reported in a lot of places that the local newspaper here, the Los Angeles Times, had ordered its reporters to stop describing anti-American forces in Iraq as "resistance fighters," saying the term romanticizes them and evokes World War II-era heroism.  Bush calls the folks killing our soldiers all terrorists.  Some of them may see themselves as "resistance fighters" who do not attack civilians, only an occupying military force.  That's not terrorism as it us usually defined  - attacking and killing helpless civilians for political ends.  It's a war of resistance.

Since then some interesting tactics are now actually coming into play.

Well, we decided to get tough.  I guess it will work.  Anyway, it is what we're now doing.  But the Los Angeles Times - bless 'em -will not use the term "resistance fighters."

Bully for them.  But Monday the 10th I came across an Associated Press item - U.S. Gen. to Iraq: Stop Attacks - and I see in the last paragraph the AP writer puts "terrorists" in quotes - as he must be wary of that term in these circumstances.

The article reviews the warnings of General John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, to tribal sheiks and mayors in the "Sunni Triangle" city of Ramadi west of Baghdad, according to Fallujah Mayor Taha Bedawi.

The warning was part of our "get tough" campaign against insurgents, who accelerated attacks against us in recent weeks.  Our forces had eased off on raids during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began in late October.  A few hours after Abizaid's warning, our jets dropped three 500-pound bombs in the Fallujah area after three paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded in an ambush.  There was no report of casualties from the bombing.

According to the AP story, one resident of the area, Najih Latif Abbas said - "Neither America, nor the father of America, scares us.  Iraqi men are striking at Americans and they retaliate by terrifying our children."

Is that the voice of a terrorist or a resistance fighter?

Then there was this in the same story:

Tensions between U.S. forces and Iraqis in the Shiite Muslim enclave, Sadr City, rose Monday after the head of the U.S.-appointed municipal council, Muhanad al-Kaadi, was shot and killed by an American soldier guarding municipal headquarters.

The U.S. military said the shooting occurred Sunday when al-Kaadi got into an argument with a soldier guarding the council headquarters. The statement blamed the altercation on "his refusal to follow instructions of the onsite security officer who was enforcing" regulations "in accordance with the rules of engagement." 

An American medic administered first aid and rushed him to a military clinic where he was pronounced dead, a U.S. statement said.  

Al-Kaadi, who spoke fluent English, had been trying to improve relations between the Americans and residents of the impoverished community.

In Mosul, an oil official was wounded and his son killed when assailants opened fire at their car in the northern city Monday, his family said.

Mohammed Ahmed Zibari, the Northern Oil Company's distribution manager, was headed to work when gunmen riddled his car, his brother Nawzat Zibari said.  The brother speculated that Zibari was killed by "terrorists" because they believed he was cooperating with the Americans.

Oops.  Where is this all leading?

Well, as Rick in Atlanta pointed out, The reason the writer puts the word in quotes is one of journalistic principle; (s)hes quoting the dead guys brother: "Mohammed Ahmed Zibari, the Northern Oil Companys distribution manager, was headed to work when gunmen riddled his car, his brother Nawzat Zibari said.  The brother speculated that Zibari was killed by terrorists because they believed he was cooperating with the Americans."

On the general topic he added:

Take it from me, an ex-AP employee, thats precisely why the word is in quotes. That partisan-charged word wouldn't have been there had not someone other than the reporter been there to say it (unless, of course, that reporter were Jayson Blair).  I knew this even before I scrolled down.

But AP stylebook aside, it should be noted that, unlike so many who hyperbolate that term, it seems the guy's brother used "terrorist" accurately, in that it seems highly likely the shooting was meant to scare the hell out of Iraqis who cooperated with the Americans.

PS: Speaking of messing around with words, "hyperbolate" is a made-up word, created by verbalizing "hyperbole".  Creating verbs out of nouns that don't have verb counterparts is much looked down upon these days, but I'm a great believer in it.  I imagine Shakespeare, were he alive today, would approve.  (Although, were Shakespeare alive today, I also imagine he would look pretty awful.)

And in another post Rick added:

I think it's important to make a distinction between "the language we use" and "the language the media uses." 

Those with public axes to grind are expected to speak one language, while objective reporters are expected to speak another.  Example: Although I think I do remember the U.S. government labeling Mandella a "terrorist," I don't remember hearing him referred to by that in news reporting.  Then again, nor was he called a "freedom fighter".  I seem to remember them calling him a "jailed dissident".

Another example of what I'm talking about: Although news reports a while back referred to Rush Limbaugh as a "conservative talk-radio host," Al Franken refers to Limbaugh as "A Big Fat Idiot".  (Which apparently is no longer literally true. If you saw the recent pictures, you probably noticed that Limbaugh has lost a lot of weight.)

I agree with Rick - but I see, however, three things here.

There is  1.) The language we use... 2.) The language the media uses... and 3.) The language the administration and its opposition try to force the media and the public to use...

It's constant battle of use-this-term-not-that-term.  Each side has its media consultants suggesting reframing.  What's a body to do?

Nico in Montreal added, "At least they're not called 'terrorists' much anymore, and I see fewer references to Saddam loyalists.  I suppose it wouldn't do to call the insurgents children.  An Nico sent along some disturbing photos from al Jazeera showing US troops tying up little children as if they were dangerous terrorists.  Not nice.

Rick added:

I was going to mention the same thing about use of the word "terrorists," which might give comfort to those on the other side of the journalistic "neutrality zone".  Even then, the term "terrorism" doesn't work as well when the targets are soldiers and other non-civilian targets, such as it seems to be now.

I think there was a time when the assumption was that these events had to be perpetrated by "Saddam loyalists," but at some point, they in the media seem to have figured out that this is not necessarily true.

I've not heard evidence to indicate that these are children. 

In fact, what I find odd in the news coverage is lack of information about the attackers. For example, except in the case of the suicide bombings, I rarely hear how many die or are wounded or captured during the attacks, and who they turn out to be. To listen to the reports, it sounds like "two American soldiers and three Iraqi policemen were killed today," leaving us to infer that the attackers disappeared into the crowd, never to be found.

Well, Rick raises an interesting concept here, the journalistic "neutrality zone."  I suppose that would be a zone where one uses neutral language.  Nico forwards pictures of American troops treating little kids as if they were terrorists.  Angry Iraqi folks whose houses were leveled so we "can show out strength" are all bent out of shape and vow they will kill Americans - acting as terrorists or resistance fighters? 

Who are these guys who are fighting us - not saying their actions are either "terrorism" or (noble and outraged) "resistance"? 

If they are civilians who lose their houses by sheer bad luck (the fortunes of war) and who getting pushed around and otherwise abused, but hated Saddam Hussein so they can't be "Saddam loyalists" ... well, what do we report?  What are we to think?  How are we to plan to deal with the attacks?

It seems to me that until we know who is opposing us, we don't know what we're doing.  There are, of course, "Saddam loyalists" - the "dead enders" as Rumsfeld calls them.  And also the original folks from the first wave of terror on September 11th two years ago.  And their allies coming across the borders into Iraq.  And local religious fanatics who have a thing about our mostly Christian army, which may be a theological issue not related to any of the above.  And then there are a lot of pissed-off non-aligned locals caught in the middle. 

Who are we fighting?  All of them?  And what "non-loaded" words does the press use to describe them?