Bloggers on the plan to track anti-American rhetoric in the foreign media.

Bloggers on the plan to track anti-American rhetoric in the foreign media.

Bloggers on the plan to track anti-American rhetoric in the foreign media.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Oct. 6 2006 5:01 PM

Rhetorical Question

Bloggers aren't fans of new software that will allow the government to monitor anti-American rhetoric. They're also wondering why evangelicals fear that the kids aren't all right, and they go to work analyzing David Lynch's late digital period.

Rhetorical question: The Department of Homeland Security and a group of universities are set to create software that would let the government track anti-American opinions and rhetoric in foreign newspapers and media outlets. Some bloggers see shades of Big Brother, while others ask what the big deal is.

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Lefty "Bushmeistero" at Non Sum Dignus is not much comforted by the claim that the software won't be used to monitor the chatter of American citizens: "W. & Co. told us they didn't spy on domestic phone calls or emails inside the US before and we all believed them. Of course, then it turned out that 'yes,' in fact, they had been spying on domestic communications through switching boxes at all the major communications companies. But, that's not going to happen this time, right? Right?"

At the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog Buzzworthy, senior online producer Brian Chin is more intrigued by the technical ingenuity of the program: "Orwellian implications notwithstanding, it sounds like a fascinating potential breakthrough in natural language processing. I'm already curious about what such an AI might contribute to debates about media bias."

But in the comments section of Information Technology Blog, "Watcher" doesn't find anything startlingly new in the program: "This is a method for gathering intelligence, and the CIA has probably been analyzing newspapers, magazines, radio and TV of foreign nations for years to know what is reported and not reported in those countries. When combined with other intelligence, it can give the CIA a better perspective on internal developments, both good and bad, that are occurring in other countries. While I would not know if it was effective in preempting terrorist attacks, I think it is a method that should continue to be employed."

David Weigel at libertarian magazine Reason's Hit and Run isn't sweating it either: "The Times' article is stuffed with negative opinions on the program, like one lawyer's charactization of the tracking as 'creepy and Orwellian.' I bow to no one in my cut-and-run wimpery about the war on terror, but... I don't see it. No one's proposing shutting down anti-US newspapers or even funding pro-US ones. No one's spying on average citizens."

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Read more about the new software.

The forgettable fire: Some American evangelicals are worried about a claim that only 4 percent of today's teenagers will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults. Campaigns such as Teen Mania and events such as Acquire the Fire are seen as counteractive measures to lure adolescents back into the fold. Born-agains might try changing their mission, argue a few former adherents in cyberspace.

Hollywood-based blog The Plastic Mile has a theory as to why evangelicals are losing traction: "If you don't believe what they believe, the way that they believe it, they have to save you. They might do it with an in your face approach, or they might hang back and pretend to accept you, when really what they are doing is trying to find the right approach to 'reach you.'… I've been inside the beast. I've seen all the tricks."

San Antonio native Brendan McBride of Off The Beaten Path is also an ex-evangelical: "In my opinion, and based on my personal experience, evangelical fundamentalism is a reactionary political movement rather than a genuine spirtitual revival or awakening. … The movement focuses almost myopically on matters of sex as the end-all and be-all of moral and ethical behavior, often to the exclusion of genuine concern for the suffering and distress of the people of the world. It tends to encourage intolerance, religious division and xenophobia among its adherents."

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The Times piece notes that Teen Mania youth-ministry founder Ron Luce encourages a kind of bonfire of the vanities for the 21st century, where born-again kids toss away scraps of paper with "negative cultural influences" scribbled on them. To this, liberal Shakespeare's Sister responds: "It occurs to me how futile (and hypocritical) it is for religious leaders to ask teenagers to throw away 'cultural garbage' at an event which is just so much cultural garbage of its own. The root of the problem isn't so much the specific brand of culture that teens are buying, but the nature of consumption itself. Packaging Jesus Rock the same way MTV packages hot artists is always going to leave teens with a choice between two products, rather than a choice between two philosophies."

Read more about the New York Times article.

Digital dreamscape: "Film is like a dinosaur in a tar pit," says auteur David Lynch, a recent convert to digital video. His new three-hour movie, Inland Empire—shot in the new mediumhas gotten rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival.

Jürgen Fauth at jürgen fauth's muckworld saw the film the other night: "Inland Empire is so Lynchian that it often appears to veer into self-parody, but somehow this works for the film: like the bizarre sitcom where everybody wears a rabbit mask, the laugh track at the Walter Reade was disconcertingly out of whack."

Ted Waitt at Peachpit Commons thinks that Lynch's move into digital video was inevitable: "When compared with film, Lynch says, DV allows you to 'see different things. It talks to you differently.' That difference is all he seems to need; for the man who has given us Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway, the drive to see things differently—and then present them to us—shouldn't come as much of a surprise."

Read more about Lynch.