Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hoffman/Bernstein or Redford/Woodward?
Rick, Mark or Roland at Doonesbury?
A pash for
C.J.Cregg/Allison Janney?

Just what fantasy motives the best, brightest and most-paid of British political journalism to need to "star" at the PM's regular news "briefings"? To turn the occasion into some bizarre melodrama of despair and antinomial good versus evil conflicts? In which these fine upstanding moralists, and they alone,
wield the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play... ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it.
Because it sure ain't a pursuit of all the news that's fit to print.

One exception: Jon Snow: but only because he's been doing it four-nights-a-week on Channel 4 for time out of mind.

Quite where the term "goat fuck" came from is lost in the sands of time. Seymour Hersh may have borrowed the term from the US military, where it represents a disaster worse than a FUBAR or a SNAFU (and, to the etymology of that last term, Malcolm will return). Whenever Malcolm has heard journalists using "goat fuck", it seems to have meant a frenzy of excitement among their profession, resulting in a blind, obsessive interest in some particular story, which can only be resolved by the blood-sacrifice of an eminent public figure. In that case, we are coming decidedly close to a herd-goat-fuck, necessitating a hecatomb of politicos to be dispatched summarily.

The scalp-hunting always starts with the Top. Now, one suspects that, out of group loyalty, a number of journos are there to revenge themselves for poor sad and hard-done-by Rod Liddle and Andrew Gilligan. Others just want a hairpiece for their belts and a line on the CV. Then, because the trivialisers have reduced realpolitik to a soap-opera, it's merely a plot-device to change the cast list, and bring on fresh meat: today's hero is, inevitably, tomorrow's carrion.

And, in this case, wherefore? Well, because members of the Cabinet seem to have had more important things to be concerned with than filthy lucre. Has there been a Labour PM since Attlee who did not regard attendance at the National Executive, at best, as a chore? And Malcolm seriously doubts that Ramsay Mac got much out of it either towards the end. So why was he not astounded by Mr Brown admitting he gave his Leader's report and scarpered?

Then, clearly, it has to be Harriet next for the tumbril. Sigh...

A SNAFU originated before Pearl Harbor, apparently in the Spring of 1941. In that moment of increased tension, two members of the California National Guard in Los Angeles, Don Taylor and John Paup, had been conscripted to active duty. Training at Camp San Luis Obispo involved spending time out in the hills, sending practice radio messages to each other. Long distance communication was by morse code. Encryption was achieved by an M-209 converter, which reduced a message to five-character coded blocks. Out of boredom, they started to imagine these meaningless five-letter blocks as acronyms ....

If that is, indeed, the history of the term , it achieved amazingly rapid currency. Time magazine used it as header for an article on 15th June, 1942:
The Army has a laconic term for chronic befuddlement: snafu.* Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu. For months the people and their leaders had pussyfooted around the twin horrors. There were orders and counter-orders. All were different. The people, numb with bewilderment, choked with wrath, gave up.
Being a respectable publication, the * adds, as a footnote, "Situation normal; all fouled up".

The early computer phreaks could leave nothing linguistic alone, and adopted SNAFU as a credo. This was celebrated in a well-known parable of the early 1960s:
In the beginning was the plan, and then the specification;
And the plan was without form, and the specification was void.
And darkness was on the faces of the implementors thereof; and they spake unto their leader, saying: "It is a crock of shit, and smells as of a sewer."
And the leader took pity on them, and spoke to the project leader: "It is a crock of excrement, and none may abide the odor thereof."
And the project leader spake unto his section head, saying: "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."
The section head then hurried to his department manager, and informed him thus: "It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."
The department manager carried these words to his general manager, and spoke unto him saying: "It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants, and it is very strong."
And so it was that the general manager rejoiced and delivered the good news unto the Vice President. "It promoteth growth, and it is very powerful."
The Vice President rushed to the President's side, and joyously exclaimed: "This powerful new software product will promote the growth of the company!"
And the President looked upon the product, and saw that it was very good.
Thus the dangers of mealy-mouthed meiosis are as great as those of the political journalist's hypertonic hyperbole.

Hypertonic? Well, OK, just this once, Malcolm relaxes his rule on "look it up yourself" (and adds his own highlight):
A hypertonic solution contains a higher concentration of electrolytes than that found in body cells. If such a solution is allowed to enter the blood stream, the osmotic pressure difference between the blood and the cells will cause water to flow out of the cells, which will then shrink. This may cause serious harm, or even be fatal. Consequently, it is essential when blood transfusions are given, or blood replacement products are used, that the electrolyte concentration in the material to be given to a patient matches that of the body.
Hail Eris!
All hail, Discordia!

The sheer and unremitting negativism of the UK political press leads Malcolm back to one last thought, again derived from those early computerfolk.

Another of the metaphysical gems of the period was the discordianism evolved at great length by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in the Illuminatus! trilogy:
This work of alleged fiction is an incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed JFK, sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and the Cosmic Giggle Factor. First published in three volumes, but there is now a one-volume trade paperback, carried by most chain bookstores under SF.
Illuminatus! seems almost to explain much of the paranoia and the theatrical rhodomontade exhibited by British political journalists, those devout followers of Eris, the Greek goddess of Chaos, Discord, Confusion, and Things You Know Not Of.

Or, in another acronym, FUD: the deliberate propagation of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. The only devices that keep such snake-oil salesmen in jobs. Sphere: Related Content


yourcousin said...

I'm just amazed that the Times used the word "Pussyfooted". Now there would be a word to do a linguistic history of.

Anonymous said...

It was always pig f*($...I've no idea how goats got involved.

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