Sunday, April 25, 2004

Not quite as happy to see us as we thought? 

A The Memory Hole classic.

A memory hole in George Orwell's ("1984") is a pipe (imagine those air-pipes used in offices many years ago to transfer paper round the various departments) down which text disappears in the government's process of re-writing the past to control people's understanding of the present.

If you've been reading around this and getting the feeling you ought to re-visit Orwell, a good place to start could be The Complete Newspeak Dictionary. Whole text of 1984 from there, here, in handy word format. Then, like me you can use Find to get to references to memory hole.

New York Times discusses Memoryhole site author Kick & Pentagon policy on coffins images

I like a good laugh, like the next man or woman, but this is not really very funny despite raising an initial titter!

Any intelligent observer of events will be on his or her guard for media distortion or fabrication - it ought to be taught in schools from an early age in my view - and we also expect that only a part of what we are being told is the truth.

It is not difficult to see why the US and UK wanted (past tense) to create the image of a people (Iraqis) completely happy with Spin is a way of life nowadays. But there are things which are too important to lie about. If we are not in possession of the facts about Iraq or some other place or difficulty, how can we think and act freely, politically? A problem like Iraq, which effects the whole world, really does beg the big questions about whether democracy really works in the way we fondly imagined it does.

Paradoxically, the only thing we can trust is opinion. Anyone can have one. Memory Hole , as a whole, is well worth a shufti to get an idea of how governments and the media try to pull the wool over our eyes. It does the "bodybags/coffins" debate in the latest submission, by showing many of the pictures of coffins returning to the States, which the media is not covering as substantially. Somewhere, however, I read on the web that the main picture of rows of flag-draped coffins in the hold of an aircraft, was the dead crew of the shuttle Discovery (!). Help me someone....

This is obviously a very important thing to get our heads around, and discuss, as we wonder if the same sort of pressure of images that got the US to leave Vietnam - as if in defeat, when in reality it is fairly well attested by historians that the US had "won" - will apply in Iraq. Unlikely, but keep your eyes peeled for the shifts in thinking coming out of the Policy Units.

One piece, blog or newspaper, mentions how a U.S. government site to do with Iraq or Afghanistan has altered ""a fact" to make it come into line with current thinking..... Winston Smith chucking it down the memory hole. This is the danger of digital technology. Of course, this sort of thing has been going on since time immemorial: doctoring documents and photographs was de rigueur in the former USSR. Well, needs must. If you have just bumped someone off for being a "traitor", it is inconvenient to have him in a photograph standing next you smiling fondly in your direction. But we are powerless if we Don't know the facts. I can't tell Blair how to run Britain unless I know, roughly what he knows in the way of facts.


I frequently alter an "essay" I have written to try to make it represent more clearly and truthfully what I think, in a way that the newspapers and TV can't, except by retraction or the device of readers letters. Sometimes I admit to changes, sometimes I don't. As a principle I will try to show where something has been changed or altered. In the main the changes will because (a) on reflection I realised I had been stupid or inept, first time round, (b) there was a better way to express the opinion or idea.


To relieve the tension after getting wound up about Being Lied To By Government And Kidded By The Media (BLTBGAKBTM, for short), try this. If you do not raise a laugh in yourself at "memory holed" image 14 or any of the others, then you do not have any recognisable sense of humour socks to laugh off.

Hold the press ! 

Channel 4 News on British TV has just used the original or at least a photograph which appears to have actual rather than digitally inserted handwriting on it. This in not quite so funny. Ryano says at the bottom of his site that he stole the pic from, but that it may have come from somewhere else.

There is a better story about: Who is the soldier in the picture? What was on the board when he was standing there? Who took the photo? Who posted up? Who were the two boys? Do you know their names? And: Do you do a lot of this? What do you and your chums think of the Iraqis?

I have not checked every one of the fake pics created at for bad taste and decency. Perhaps this make your own placard thing is not such a good idea after all. But no doubt there will be hundreds of them in days as the word spreads through Blogdex and other similar sites.

I was rather interested, in a media studies sort of way, how CH4 used the photo in conjunction with the three torture pics out of Abu Ghraib prison. At first I thought they had used a "joke" one, too, since that is the only site I had come across at that stage. I was about to send a missive to CH4 tell them not to be manipulative by mixing a joke pic with real ones, when I thought it better to check first. Then I saw the mention of the source and found the "original".

So, now, I am feeling guilty about putting the link up. Obviously the original intent was nasty because the kids probably can't read English - not, as I thought at first, a blank card, but a silly,sick, juvenile squaddie joke, of the type that soldiers all over the world from the beginning of soldiers have made. I must be stupid to think the card was blank to start with.....

Having mardled about objectification in a frightfully moralistic tone, elsewhere, I had two choices:

(1) to rub it all out and forget it

(2) explain what I had found out - with my new attitude

Choosing the latter might seem wrong to some people. I admit to not looking at all the joke versions posted up..the ones I did look at were pretty puerile and not that funny... though one that said " salman Rushdie" was. I put it up. I wanted to say, "If you are going to make a sick joke, make a good one." Making my own placard made me feel better at the time, but I'm ashamed now, because those poor boys didn't know what was happening to them.

Theoretically, a series of news and current affairs programmes, across the world, could use a mixture of real and fake photographs, many of which could be more distasteful than the "originals". So we end up with nobody knowing where the truth lies.

This pic looks authentic because the handwriting is different from the Ryano site.

I am sure the Abu Ghraib torture photos are genuine. Notice how the girl in one picture is pointing at the poor Iraqi man's genitals. But the set from AlBasrah include a few that might be bogus. One girl looks distinctly European, long dark hair, but pale face. Another pic of real or simulated sex, doggie style, hints that it is a mock up involving, ( I hope they are...and not real abuse) a male or female G.I. (The legs look very white). One woman being manhandled in close up view is of darker complexion and certainly looks Arabic, with paler coloured hair which might be dyed. She could be Hispanic. More long distance shots are too indistinct. I do not know which 60 minutes used, or whether they include the pics with these women being sexually abused.

I wonder if some of these are staged sex games between soldiers? Yes, a black woman's dress/cloak is used in several. They might possibly have been pre-war - or in a camp somewhere rather than in a detention centre - because of the sand banks in the background. Several have the women's hair tied back. Would this happen if the women were prisoners? Would they have the time or inclination to neatly tie their hair back? Who knows? The other ones look authentic.

Whether these latter are real or not, what came into my head is the long pieces that will come out of Al Ahram, etc, saying this is because the U.S. is awash with porn, and that the young American's minds have been perverted - which is probably true; that they are the wrong people to be putting Iraq on the straight and narrow.

Fundamentalists Muslims have been saying the West is rotten to the core all along, including erstwhile Caliph of the cyber-Caliphate, O(U)sama bin Laden. They will also probably use this as a good opportunity to repeat, endlessly, "he American soldier is uneducated and ignorant / do we want these people in our lands/ their minds are perverted / keep them away from our young girls". The everyday Muslim, even in Britain, says that anyway. They don't like our lax morals. Perhaps they are right.

We have only ourselves to blame - the U.S. is the biggest producer of porn in the world. A good export earner! But what will be the upshot. It reminds me of the shot of the, was she Albanian, woman hanging from a tree which was the thing that was said to have galvanised Clinton into action to curb the Serbs in Kosovo.

The news says the British have tortured, too - they are showing a photograph which purports to show a soldier pissing on a hooded man stripped to the waist. Is it real or has it been faked? Does it matter? The damage will have been done. No one will be able to get the image out of their minds. [2 May 04 > They are disputing authenticity now.]

We are caught : if we ask the media and web-folk to hold back for verification before they publish, (which they appear to have done in many cases anyway), it is argued we are being prevented from knowing the truth. But as Pontius Pilate might have asked," what is the truth (in the age of digital enhancement?" O.K., so pictures of this type will be used, true or not, for propaganda and/or entertainment. We just have to say it is very bad and must stop, but is only part of the big picture: admit error, promise quick remedies and show the good things that are going on to counteract this stuff.

But the media doesn't work like that! It likes a heart-warming story, but only after it has ground us down with the tragedy and misery. No sooner has it given us the heart-warmer than it gives us more tragedy and misery to grind us down a bit more.

This is why people don't watch TV. They read the editorials in the Sunday papers and listen to the radio. Perhaps we should do the same.

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memories of a childhood in Iraq in the 1950s * thoughts on events in the Middle East

Location: United Kingdom

expatriot in Middle East as child, retired teacher.

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