Terrorism and words: a reality-check on Isis

 

injuries-from-furniture-tip-over-accidentsIf truth is the first casualty of war, common sense is the first victim of terrorism.

There are no better examples than the hyper-ventilated assertions which followed the recent bombings in Brussels. France’s President Hollande declared that ‘all of Europe has been hit’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned that his country faced ‘a very real threat’. Here, Malcolm Turnbull ticked off the Europeans for their sloppy security. Prominent journalist Greg Sheridan, channelling Donald Trump’s absurdity that ‘Belgium and France are literally disintegrating’, wrote that the attacks represented a ‘damn [sic] burst’ which left the ‘structures of the world … trembling’.

If we didn’t know better we might easily mistake messrs Hollande, Cameron, Turnbull and Sheridan and regrettably many others as Isis recruiting agents. Their comments are a dream for the organisation’s propagandists. Worse, they paint a picture of the threat from Isis that is not borne out by the reality.

Isis terror threatens individual safety. Does it really threaten the security of European or Western states more broadly? There is a vital difference between the two ‘s’ words. Isis is a truly appalling outfit which commits heinous deeds. It has around 30,000 fighters and controls large tracts in Iraq and Syria. But without a navy, without an air force, how exactly does that translate into threat potent enough to make ‘the world’ tremble?

Fortunately, there is still wise counsel to be had. President Obama’s 2016 State-of-the-Union address should be required reading for all those prone to excitability:

… over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.

Some of the best commentary on Brussels came from The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins. The political and media over-reaction, he wrote, ‘converted a squalid psychopathological act into a warrior-evoking, population-terrifying, policy-changing event’. It also illuminated an appalling double-standard given that the ‘atrocities in Brussels happen almost daily on the streets of Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus’.

For Americans, and quite possibly many others in the ‘trembling’ West, household furniture poses at least as great a danger as terrorism. Micah Zenko  from the reputable Council on Foreign Relations has written that in the decade after 9/11 an average of 29 Americans were killed each year in terrorist attacks. Figures compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that about the same number were crushed to death each year by unstable television sets and furniture.

Unwelcome news for the hyper-ventilators; important perspective for everyone else.

A plea for a gutted-free New Year

GuttedWith 2016 soon upon us I challenge all sportsmen, sportswomen and especially sportswriters to promise that they won’t use the term ‘gutted’ for a whole year.

Australian families have enough stress to deal with already; the threat of terrorism and falling behind in the mortgage and having to use public transport all their life. They’re stuck with that. Why inflict the linguistic and anatomical laziness of gutted upon them?

The way we’re headed, four-year-olds will soon be arriving home from pre-school to announce they came second in the colouring in competition and ‘feel gutted’. If only they could just use a word like devastated, downcast, done-in, perhaps even defeated? But even at that tender age they’ve heard far too much sports commentary and their parents, also victims, don’t know better. Otherwise they’d reach for the castor oil.

And pity the medical profession. When Wallabies star David Pocock was injured in 2013 a breathless Canberra Times reported: ‘A gutted Pocock ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament … and needs a knee reconstruction.’ The surgeon wouldn’t know where to start.

Or take the case of English cricketer, Joe Root. He hurt his hand, couldn’t play in an international Twenty-20 competition and declared that he too was gutted. He was lucky he wasn’t taken to hospital for a finger stall and end up with a new liver. Come to think of it, though, that might have encouraged him to choose his words more carefully.

 

Your AAAAA needs you now!

MYP_AAAAA-imageI’m the proud owner of a T-shirt with large white letters – AAAAA – emblazoned on a black background: Australian Association Against Acronym Abuse.

The T-shirt raises eyebrows and gets a few laughs. But it conveys a terrible truth. Acronym abuse is the scourge of modern communication. Not as dangerous or insidious perhaps as other forms of misbehaviour. But acronyms in the wrong hands eat away at all that makes us civilised. Take SOCRATES, a word that once conjured up images of Greek philosophers earnestly debating the meaning of life. It’s now been drafted by the US military to denote Special Operations Command Research, Analysis and Threat Evaluation System!

Even those conscious of the dangers of ‘acronymitis’ make excuses. A 2011 report on Australia’s aid to Indonesia noted:

‘Every attempt has been made to reduce the use of acronyms in this report. Unfortunately the development industry suffers from a surfeit of acronyms, mostly unnecessary. The author apologises for any gratuitous acronym usage that has unwittingly crept into the report.’

Sorry. If ‘every attempt’ had in fact been made there’d be no ‘gratuitous acronym usage’.

But it’s not all about despair and excuses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra now runs an annual Acronym Free Day during which staff try to go for 24 hours without uttering a single acronym. Those who are caught out (probably most staff) pay a small fine to charity.

It’s a good start but much more can be done. Government departments are the refuge of chronic acronyms abusers. Why not make acronym reduction an element in the performance targets for all agencies? Bonuses should be based not only on making Australia and the world a better place but on acronym reduction. Annual Reports should list those acronyms which have been decommissioned.

It’s a mammoth task. It will need commitment and resources. Perhaps also a new government hotline to comfort those suffering acronym withdrawal syndrome, and to distribute free T-shirts.

 

 

 

Tony and Kevin Lie Together

tony and kevin‘The people of Australia elected me as Prime Minister’ Tony Abbott declared as the knives were sharpened after the LNP disaster in Queensland. Sorry Tony, the people didn’t. It’s the very same falsehood Kevin Rudd used. Like him, you’ll go on repeating it. But a lie repeated is just that.

Given the inability of our recent prime ministers to perform even simple mathematical tasks it’s no wonder the economy has problems.

In the 2013 general election 14,988,486 Australians voted. Tony Abbott received 54,388 of those votes. That’s a mere 0.36 per cent. How that can translate into some sort of national personal mandate beggars belief.

Abbott leads the party that won office, nothing more. That party can change leader as it wishes without damage to the nation or to the Australian Constitution. The latter, incidentally, makes no mention of the office of Prime Minister. No assassination would be involved, just as it wasn’t in the Rudd/Gillard era. The parroting of that deceit is a travesty.

Now gone from politics, Rudd fared even worse than Abbott in his ‘national’ appeal. In 2013 he received 34,878 first preference votes. So only 0.23 per cent of the much vaunted ‘Australian people’ actually chose him.

The next time Tony Abbott refers to his mystical bond with the people drop him a line. Clearly he needs reminding he’s nothing more than Mr 0.36 per cent.

Image: Kevin Rudd n Tony Abbott by scorpy-roy

A new spirit of sledging

sledgingI’ve just been visiting a parallel universe called the ‘Spirit of Cricket’. It’s Cricket Australia’s good conduct guide for players and it’s hilarious. According to the CA the spirit involves respect for—wait for it—your opponents. What a hoot!

It’s against the spirit to ‘direct abusive language against an opponent or umpire.’ I guess that means when Michael Clarke warned Jimmie Anderson to ‘get ready for a broken fucking arm’ it was medical advice, nothing more (though given the sentence structure I’m left wondering if Anderson fucks with his right or left arm). More recently, when David Warner suggested that Rohit Sharma ‘speak English’ it can only have been a timely reminder to the Indian cricketer of the universality of the language.

When rules, laws or ‘spirits’ are not enforced they become a farce. That’s what we have now.

The solution is simple, update the spirit. Celebrate sledging for what it truly is: cricket’s unique contribution to international relations and intellectual suppleness. Here’s an example from the 1982-83 Ashes series worth thinking about: Rodney Marsh to Ian Botham: ‘How’s your wife and my two kids?’ Botham to Marsh: ‘The wife’s fine but the kids are retarded.’

It’s high time we lauded such repartee. From now on umpires should award sledging style points. Let’s replace the boring old best player award with sledger-of-the match honours. Let’s adorn cricketing venues and equipment with the musings of past sledge artists: ‘This ball’s headed for yours’; ‘You’d bowl better underarm’; ‘Lend me your brain, I’m building an idiot.’

Do that and once more Australia will lead the way. Finally, the spirit and the practice of cricket will be in sync.

 

Concerning concerning

WordItOut-word-cloud-657729 - CopyWhat is it about users of English? Haven’t we enough choices already when it comes to saying something is worrying, disturbing, disquieting, upsetting, troubling, irritating, disconcerting etc?

Apparently not, because poor old ‘concerning’ has had the word equivalent of gender reassignment. For years it’s happily chugged along as a preposition meaning ‘about’. Now, ‘common (mis)usage’ has deemed it an adjective as well. It’s been roped in to join the extensive list of fine words which has managed to convey unease for longer than anyone can remember.

So the next time the prime minister, or your boss, says ‘It’s deeply deeply concerning concerning the situation’ they don’t (necessarily) need to change their medication. They’re just showing what a limited vocabulary they have. Most of us are content to draw on 20,000 to 35,000 of the approximate 170,000 words available in English. But it seems that the more ‘modern’ we are the lazier we become.