Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Get them in the crosshairs and take them down"

As much as I sympathize with the American Government and the ever eminent War on Terror, I can't, however, help but enjoy the little leverage the media and informed citizens can exert on what seems at times an uncontrollable force. If the government 'foiled' a terrorist attack or foiled a terrorist attack I win either way. Criticism is one of the only ways Americans can prevent the government from morphing into an impenetrable monolithic institution. If the government's feelings are hurt, I'm sorry, but I am going to exercise what little sway I have in the form of constructive criticism.

Our duty as citizens is to be sure that our opinion and our criticism is informed and constructive. The government's duty is to listen to our criticism, reform, and better protect our interests. To adapt a biblical proverb, "man was not made for government, but government was made for man..." We should always be prudent with our words and actions, but in a democracy like the one we purport to enjoy in the U.S. we should never be silent, and we should always hold the government accountable. So, to quote Bill Murray, "get them in the crosshairs and take them down..."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The perception of government and security

A major headline today helped illustrate the fascinating double standards that citizens have regarding their government and aspects of national security. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that "Police 'foil' major terrorist attack", after the news that 17 men had been arrested with ties to a chemical-based bomb scheme within Australia's borders.

What got me thinking here (but not unique to this story) is the use of the single quotes around the word 'foil'. This means it must be taken from a quote, as in "Australian Police 'Foiled a Major Terrorist Attack'", or it's suggestive of a double entendre, as in "Americans Skeptical of Bush's 'Leadership' Skills". Either way, it implies that perhaps the Aussie police may not have actually foiled anything, because simply using the word "foil" without any quotes would be stating that this did, in fact, undoubtedly occur.

Journalism requires, by nature, a certain level of skepticism, especially when fact-checking and citing sources as credible. But what kind of coverage does the Aussie police merit if they truly have thwarted a possibly violent and deadly attack? Something possibly greater than 'foil'?

The concept of a potential terrorist attack creates a unique position for a government. If an attack is carried out successfully, the government will inevitably be found responsible for certain ineptitudes, and will largely lose national confidence in its ability to keep the country secure. However, if the government claims to 'foil' an attack, more often than not they will be labeled as doomsayers and charged with inciting the public to an unnecessary rationale - with the expectation of fear and calamity - which in turn helps keep the government firmly seated. Either way, it would appear that the government is held at fault for something. It seems few are able to clearly understand the challenges governments face in combating terrorism at its extremes: the uncertainty, the far-flung ideologies, the seemingly effortless communication across thousands of miles, the appeal of the martyr, and so on.

In this time of real terrorism and its subsequent threats to nations worldwide, do we need to celebrate each time a government is able to 'foil' a terrorist plot? Perhaps not. Should we give credit where it is deservedly due? Perhaps so.

Either way, maybe it's best if we lose the need to finger blame immediately, and work on mending the bonds that hold a government to its citizens and give them the implicit need and responsibility to protect. In doing so, national security will evolve out of a mutual respect and understanding, rather than a disintegrating marriage which neither party wishes to maintain.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is it really information?

I think it can hardly be disputed that we are, as a society, significantly more informed than we were in the past - and mostly within the last decade.

But it seems that with the plethora of information and its ready availability, the problems may be just as widespread as the benefits. In pre-internet, pre-TIVO times, our society relied strictly upon a few major television or radio network newscasts, newspapers and other publications for their information. The burden of information fell strongly upon the broadcaster, rather than the receiver. They would inform; we would listen and listen well, like eager little children waiting for a favorite cartoon.

But now, amidst our new-world over-media-saturated paradigm, the burden of information falls more upon the receiver than the broadcaster! The consumer must now be responsible for the accuracy and validity of their information, regardless of its source. Whereas once we held the nightly news as a indisputable source of current, correct information, modern information broadcasting is too far-flung to determine absolute accuracy, or anything remotely close to a lack of bias for that matter (take two of the behemoths: Fox, CNN, and the battle between them, for example).

I definitely agree that there are vast septic tanks of misinformation and hasty opinion being touted as truth. The receiver must now sort through a plethora of so-called 'information': the ubiquity of blogs and their coziness with the mainstream media, the uprising of supposedly underground opinions in the form of websites and publications, and the ease with which anyone may self-publish and self-distribute information (not to mention the fact that email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, and names are all available to purchase in quantity; you just find the niche you'd like to target, buy a list of prospectives, and fire away!). There is no simple 'let me tune it and see exactly what's going on in the world' mindset anymore. It does not exist.

The ramifications here are subjective. We must become far more active receivers of information than we have been in the past, lest we become parrots of talk-show radio blitzkrieg or quoters of the derivative political afterparties.

So. Positive, negative, or just merely progress? You tell me.

The Fruits of Mass Media

I thought that I would start a new tradition at City of ink (which is easy to do when there are no established traditions), and so I introduce to you my fellow bloggers a quote for your delight and debate.

"Bloggers claim I was their first pelt, and I believe that. I'll never read a blog." -Trent Lott, Mississippi Senator forced to resign as majority leader because of confidential comments he made about another Senator (from Time Nov. 7, 2005).

It is interesting to me that something so potentially inconsequential as a blog could ruin a politician's career. In this age of mass media--where blogs are a free commodity--is the information we receive watered down, less relevant, or somehow less powerful because of the quantity available to the consumer? Or, are we as a society better informed thanks to mass media?

I personally believe that society, now, is better informed than say twenty years ago, thanks to mass media (especially the internet). However, I do believe that there is a ton of crap out there too, mainly extremist diatribes, which the informed consumer has to wade through to get his information. What do you believe?