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News Shorts


Defining Moments

by Sarah Cameron

I. Truthiness: (Noun)
1: “Truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” October 2005).
2: “The quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true” (American Dialect Society, January 2006).

Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society have released their official collections of the top words of 2006. The headlines for these two pages have been shamelessly culled from the Merriam Webster list.

The American Dialect Society (ADS), having voted “truthiness” as their word of 2005, gave their highest accolade to the verb “to Pluto.” The ADS described “plutoed” as being used to “demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.” Coming in a close second, and winning the “Most Useful” word honor, was the term “climate canary: [referring to] an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon.” More questionable runners up included “firecrotch: a person with red pubic hair,” “Lactard: a person who is lactose intolerant,” and “flog: a fake blog created by a corporation to promote a product or television show.” “YouTube,” in its verb form, was voted “most likely to succeed.”

Merriam-Webster’s top-ten is the result of votes cast by members of the public from a shortlist on their popular dictionary/thesaurus website. Their top words were heavy in political overtones. All of the words, aside from “Google” and “truthiness,” have appeared frequently in news headlines, often relating to the Bush Government and the war in Iraq. Speaking on the matter of the winner, “truthiness,” Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, stated to the AP, “We’re at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people’s minds, and truth has become up for grabs…‘Truthiness’ is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue.” Perhaps a little too playful, as “truthiness” has yet to make its way into any formal dictionary.

II. Google: (Transitive Verb)
1: Google, trademark for a search engine
2: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.

On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed in a manner that was decried by even his greatest opponents. The official footage from the Iraqi government had audio removed and was shown by television networks, yet the patchy, unclear cell phone footage offering the entirety of Hussein’s death and the ugly heckling surrounding it, was available on YouTube within hours.

The complete video spread rapidly across the Internet. Some television networks chose to broadcast sections of the unofficial footage, while others simply showed stills accompanied by translated dialogue.

Beyond the political implications of the hanging itself, the huge cultural implications that spring from the mere existence of the footage, and that it could be so widely disseminated so quickly, are sure to influence the way that Hussein’s death is remembered. An editorial on the execution in the Washington Post concluded, “The public will find exactly as much of the death of Hussein as it wants, and people will watch for as long as it holds any novelty or fascination. Taste is a collective worry, but in this new world of viral videos, you can construct your own war, personally tailored to your personal bloodlust. Saddam Hussein is dead; the video is out there. Enjoy.”

How such footage is interpreted by children, whose parents are more likely to be concerned about the risks of viewing online pornography, is a curious matter. Since December 30 there have been at least six cases of children, aged between 8 and 13, hanging themselves with improvised nooses after seeing footage of the execution. An 11-year-old Yemeni boy, named Saddam Hussein al-Jaki, in honor of the late dictator, hanged himself after seeing the footage. On January 3 a 10-year-old boy from Texas, curious about the execution he had seen on television, hanged himself from his bunk bed. Speaking to the AP, clinical psychologist Edward Bischof suggested “I would think maybe this kid is trying something he thinks is fun to act out without having the emotional and psychological maturity to think the thing out before he acts on it.”

III. Decider: (Verb)
1a: to make a final choice or judgment about
b: to select as a course of action – used with an infinitive
c: to infer on the basis of evidence
2: to bring to a definitive end
3: to induce to come to a choice

Nancy Pelosi, to the surprise of many, came through on her election promise to push six significant bills through Congress in her first 100 hours as the newly elected speaker of the House. More surprisingly, she managed it in 87 hours, and still had time a nice photo op with a very large number of small children.

Bush has already threatened to veto two of the six bills; one bill lowers prescription drug prices for those on Medicare, another promotes stem cell research. One of the bill’s George “the decider” Bush hasn’t—yet—threatened to veto would cut interest rates on Federally-funded student Stafford loans in half, down to 3.4% from 6.8%, a move Pelosi believes will “broaden student opportunity.” Campus Progress, now part of a coalition lobbying for college affordability, found that “total student debt in the United States is more than $438 billion—and that’s not including private loans,” and that “between 2001 and 2010, 2 million academically qualified students will not go to college because they can’t afford it.” The Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit, nonpartisan project, found that the average college student in Illinois in 2005 graduated $17,089 in debt. The same study found that the average SAIC student graduated $26,011 in debt. The Nation estimated that a cut in interest rates would “save the average student borrower $5,600.” While this certainly won’t solve the problem, it goes a certain way towards redressing the drastic cuts made by the Republican Party—last year they cut their budget for student loans by $12.6 billion.

IV. War: (Noun)
1a (1): a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations (2): a period of such armed conflict
b: the art or science of warfare
c: (1) obsolete: weapons and equipment for war (2) archaic: soldiers armed and equipped for war
(2)a: a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism
b: a struggle or competition between opposing forces or for a particular end

In April, Bush will hit a milestone; it will be four years since “mission accomplished.” This is highly unlikely to bolster support for his proposal, announced in a speech given on January 10, to deploy additional 21,500 troops to Baghdad. A Gallup poll, conducted in the days following Bush’s speech found that 59% oppose Bush’s plans for a “surge” in troop strength, and the Democrats have already begun to rally against the plans.

Meanwhile, the military has been left humbled after a malfunction in mailing databases caused letters urging soldiers to return to active duty to be sent to 200 former soldiers who had been wounded in action, along with 75 of those who had died. The Army’s vice chief of staff apologized publicly, stating, “I can’t imagine how these soldiers and family members felt upon receiving those letters… Army senior leaders also plan on personally contacting them in writing to apologize and let them know that the Army is still a family made strong by caring leadership and strong Army families.”

V. Insurgent: (Noun)
1: a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially: a rebel not recognized as a belligerent
2: one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one’s own political party

Hillary Clinton formally announced on January 20 that she is to run for the Democratic presidential candidacy.

VI. Terrorism: (Noun)
The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion

January 11 saw the 5th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo detention camp for terror suspects. Nearly 400 “terror” suspects are still being held without charge.

VII. Vendetta: (Noun)
2: an often prolonged series of retaliatory, vengeful, or hostile acts or exchange of such acts.

“Big Brother,” the painful UK reality TV series, akin to “The Real World,” which features people sitting in a house doing nothing, still survives in its “Celebrity” incarnation, with b- and c-lists celebrities opting to claim a few more weeks in the tabloids; usually, it isn’t especially newsworthy. However, the latest series has prompted viewers to make tens of thousands of complaints to the independent broadcast regulation committee, Ofcom, accusing the show’s contestants of racism. A major sponsor of the show has suspended its support, and protests have taken place in India, where the show is not aired.

The complaints have arisen from the treatment of one of the contestants, Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. Her fellow housemates have been seen “bullying” her with derogatory comments, calling her a “dog,” and suggesting, “she can’t even speak English properly.” The worst offender has been a woman named Jade Goody, whose fame arose when she appeared as a contestant on the regular-people “Big Brother.”

Demonstrating the most charming elements of British culture, contestant Goody explained why she had referred to Shetty as “Shilpa Poppadom,” “Her name is not Shilpa Harry or Shilpa Tweed or Shilpa Mackintosh, she is Indian, so will have an Indian name. No racial anything. She is Indian; thinking of an Indian name and only thing I could think of was Indian food. Wasn’t racial at all. It was not to offend any Indian out there.” A poppadom is a wafer-like bread, typically eaten with curry.

British and Indian politicians have expressed their outrage; the BBC quoted India’s junior minister for external and cultural affairs, “The [Indian] government will take appropriate measures once it gets to know the full details. Racism has no place in civilized society.” Tony Blair’s reaction, as reported by, was a similarly cautious and general statement, “that Britons ‘must oppose racism in all its forms.’”

The series is still, staggeringly, on the air. However, as a gesture of kindness, the producers, Endemol, have given some of their profits to charity.

VIII. Sectarian: (Adjective)
1: of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect or sectarian
2: limited in character or scope: PAROCHIAL

Sunni Muslims located far away from the sectarian violence of Iraq have devoted their village to honoring Saddam Hussein’s memory. The village of Lakhanow, in Northern India, has vowed to name all sons born after December 30 “Saddam Hussein.” The BBC reported local leader Ayub Khan as saying, “George Bush can hang one Saddam Hussein but we will create an army of Saddam Husseins. Let him come to our village and see how Saddam Hussein can never be executed.”

IX. Quagmire: (Noun)
1: soft miry land that shakes or yields under the foot
2: a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position: PREDICAMENT

Around one in ten rams are exclusively gay, according to research conducted by a partnership of Oregon State University (OSU) and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). While this wouldn’t immediately appear to be one of the greatest dilemmas facing the farming industry, a Federally funded research program at the Universities is seeking to find a way to increase the productivity of flocks of sheep, by, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “surgically install[ing] an estrogen device in the bodies of ‘gay sheep’” to try and reduce their proclivity towards other rams.

The trials have angered both animal rights and gay rights activists. PETA had already declared OHSU to be one of the ten worst laboratories in the country for “Animal Welfare Act violations, [having some of] the largest numbers of animals killed, and [conducting] the most painful and invasive experiments.” stated the OSU and OHSU “have received thousands of letters and e-mails protesting their unethical hormone-altering experiments on ‘gay sheep.’ In response to this public outcry, the universities are now scrambling to come up with excuses to justify the experiments, but they don’t have a leg to stand on.” Meanwhile former tennis star and gay rights activist, Martina Navratilova, has condemned the research. A letter faxed by Navratilova to the academic institutions asked, “How can it be that, in the year 2006, a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments? … For the sake of the animals who will die unnecessarily in these experiments and for the many gays and lesbians who stand to be deeply offended by the social implications of these tests, I ask that you please end these studies at once.”

The London Times came forward with the future dilemmas this study might raise: “It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the “straightening” procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.”

The sector of society we are yet to hear from is the religious right. Do humans have the right to interfere with the integral ‘being’ of a sheep? Would that mean admitting it was God’s will to make the sheep gay? Or were said sheep simply damned from conception?

X. Corruption: (Noun)
1 a: an impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle: DEPRAVITY
c: inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)
d: a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct
2: archaic: an agency or influence that corrupts
3: chiefly dialect: PUS

Condoleeza Rice: “My Fox guys, I love every single one of them.”

The US Secretary of State makes her television viewing preferences clear.
Overheard on an open microphone by Reuters, between interviews, January 11.

dictionary definitions from Merriam-Webster
illustration by Russell Gottwaldt, photograph by Trevor Wills

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