Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Words vs. Pictures

Do you feel it?

You are probably aware of the “Arab Spring” taking place in the Middle East. People in Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, and Libya are fighting for freedom, and at tremendous personal cost. There is bloodshed and death, with the despotic regimes of the region exacting their due.

But there is also an awakening that is happening in America. Maybe you have seen the signs…

--Atlas Shrugged Part I, the new cinematic version of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, is now in theaters and people are interested in what it has to say. The box office receipts have not been great, but there is definite “buzz” associated with the film.

--Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, lets us know that Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, is a “reformer.”

These are both instances where words are powerful, but pictures (even fifty years after the words) are more so.

What’s that? You don’t see the image associated with Mrs. Clinton’s viewpoint? Here is a link to a Pajamas Media post that completes the picture. The videos portray the “humanity” of the government forces of President Assad of Syria, and they stand in stark contrast to the words used to characterize President Assad and his wife, the former Asma Akhras of London.

That contrast comes to us because of the Internet. It doesn’t exist in the traditional media. NBC News did provide some coverage of the “Syrian unrest” last night (4/26/2011) using a few frames from a YouTube video, but they did so to give the false impression that NBC cameras were on the scene. The video was actually taken by a Syrian citizen with a cell phone camera.

While the “Arab Spring” is enabled by the existence of the public Internet and its related technologies, Americans are experiencing their own awakening, courtesy of that same Internet. Here are some examples:

--Our President tells us that America can tax its way out of the current economic problems. We simply need to get tax revenue up to 23% of GDP. However, because of the Internet (and Hauser’s Law), we know that will not happen. The picture of Mr. Hauser’s graph is stronger than the President’s words.

--Our President also tells us “[his budgeting approach] will lower our interest payments on the [national] debt by $1 trillion.” Because we can visualize the simple equation, interest = principal x rate, we know that with principal (national debt) increasing, and the rate (of inflation) going up, this will not happen either.

The Internet helps us see contrasts by accentuating the difference between words and pictures. Here’s another instance that caught my attention:

Over the Easter Weekend, PJTV released a video of Dr. Helen Smith interviewing Dr. Barbara Oakley and Amy Alkon (The Advice Goddess). Dr. Oakley is a university professor and is the author of the recently-published Cold-Blooded Kindness. (Thanks for the kind mention of this blog in the interview, Dr. Oakley.) Amy Alkon is the author of I See Rude People.

The interview turned to the subject of political correctness, and Amy advised the viewers what to do if they were terrified of being called a racist: "You must be willing to take on the people who are going to attack you if you say stuff that’s not the approved speech." She also emphasized, “You have to be prepared for this to come your way.”

By way of example, Amy referenced a personal smear attack she had experienced last year. She characterizes herself as an Atheist and an Independent, but the attack came because she appeared to be acting like a Republican!

Stacy McCain rose to her defense, and suddenly the Internet became an arena for a case study on political correctness run amok. More importantly, the Internet stripped away the anonymity of the smear merchant. The alleged perpetrator has a face.

Amy Alkon, Dr. Oakley and Dr. Smith are ready for the rough-and-tumble of ideological combat and have the scars to prove it. They are “armed and dangerous.”

(Note to “new civility” police: That terminology is metaphorical.)

If Americans are “getting ready to rumble,” it may be that our ladies will lead the way. They come equipped with blogs, cell phone cameras, Facebook posts, Tweets, and online interviews.

Is their impact creating an “American Awakening?” The 2012 elections will be our first indicator.

In the meantime, here is a question to think about:

If you wished to better understand the world in which we live, would you be better served by listening to Hillary Clinton and Asma Assad, or Barb Oakley and Amy Alkon?
“Golden Goose” photograph posted on WunderPhotos by Bill Meier.

UPDATE 5/8/2011:
James Taranto, editor of Best of the Web Today, interviews Paul Wolfowitz on the "Arab Spring."  Mr. Wolfowitz gives context to President Bush's efforts to create a center of Western influence in the Middle East.

UPDATE 5/24/2011:
Martin Peretz, writing at The New Republic characterizes Syria in this way...
Syria is where the new paradigms of Arab history will be made. The brutality of the Assad dictatorship is legendary, and it has gone over 40 years from father to son. No one is willing to predict whether the family will survive or be taken out. If it survives, it will be more dictatorial than anyone imagined possible. If it is overthrown, it will be replaced by a regime equally cruel but more pious, much more pious. It is not easy for outsiders to decide what they want.

But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have already more than indicated that they prefer the continued dominion of Bashar Assad. You have to be pretty cold-blooded to make a choice like that. There are other consequences to this decision. Syrian dominion over Lebanon will continue. The Syrian alliance with Iran will continue. Syrian influence over Turkey will continue, perhaps intensify. Syrian intrusion in Iraq will continue. Syria might even get its chance to be on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
UPDATE 5/31/2011:
John Hinderaker at Power Line posts this story to emphasize the human costs of our Syrian foreign policy.

UPDATE 7/20/2012:
Roger L. Simon lets us know it is just a matter of style.
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