Taking a break from my own pictures, I have a confession to make. I am a news junkie. I am not sure if there is a 12 step group for that, but I have a hard time staying away from the news feeds. I did listen to the TV a week ago to hear the president, stayed with NBC for about an hour, and then I was back to the online sources. I don’t mind TV, but it is so BC. (Before Cable)
I know just a little about Pakistan. I have spent some time learning about the wild west areas in the north-i.e. Waziristan, and about Quetta, on the way to Afghanistan. And I guess I knew the name Islamabad. Some friends of mine used to spend time in Pakistan providing medical care. And I had a growing suspicion that the Pakistani leaders had very mixed feelings about what we wanted and what they wanted. I know that the Army runs things. And that they worry about India a lot more than they worry about the USA. And that the country has a lot of people who could do better in life if given some freedom and help. Not necessarily from the West.
But now, there was a new town to learn about. Abbottabad. Took me a while to even figure out how it was spelled, but I found it. Google is nice for stuff like that. But herein lies the rub.
I use Google maps a lot. And I went to my browser and found Abbottabad. I thought I wonder what we, the mere users of Google, might find. Like maybe that there would some clue as to what we could find looking at the aerial photos tied to the maps. I mean, the Feds had offered 25 million dollars reward for this particular most wanted person. For a long time, I had a fleeting fantasy- call it a story idea, sounds better- that if someone could get some funding, that person might go wandering Pakistan to see if UBL would show up somewhere. Very American approach. Maybe investing a couple of million in research, hardware, and body guards would bring a reward of ten fold. Not a typical startup, but who knew?
I listened to the description coming through the media to where the event happened. Something about Bilal Town, something about being close to a Military Academy. I looked over the map and started to scoot around with my mouse. Never really felt sure, but I did finally pick out one compound that looked like a candidate. Here it is.
So, I thought that the building near the top looked promising. I double checked through Google Earth. I thought maybe I could change the angle and see the building structure a bit more. Three story building was the description. And then I saw it. The date of the data. Really handy feature. “Imagery date 3/22/2001″ A Big Oops. That aerial mapping pre-dated the attack on America. Time to go to bed. I did.
Next morning, I was interested in the story (of course). And the Department of Defense (DOD) had released a fairly low resolution picture as part of their powerpoint presentation of the raid. I got it on a news feed, but it was really just DOD pictures. But I saw something funny about the Reuter’s version of the picture. It was larger. And it had a different angle. But the same monochrome style and the same type of outline on it. But in the corner, a Reuter’s Copyright notice. Hah! So I went back to Google Earth to check the image. Found it. So was the house there in 2001? No. Google had updated the image overnight to one with a Imagery Date of 6/14/2005. Somebody was burning the midnight oil. But there was something odd. I opened both images in photoshop and rotated them to make North at the top and to match, but the arrow on the Reuter’s was off by 90 degrees. Have a look.
So the pictures were coming in, first from GEO Television and then from Aljazeera and others. And the next day, still just the 3rd of May in Los Angeles, we were treated by Google to another update on Google Earth. Have a look. Imagery Date 5/8/2010.
But that same day, we got the DOD version, actually done this year and showing the lot pre-construction. Here it is.
Now, what is the hook? If we depend on Google, we might not get the facts unless they are driven by money interests to update them. And can we look back to see when the house was not there? Well, no, not easily. Does it matter? We say that we want an independent media. But what they show us here is either straight from the DOD or doctored badly or out of date or who knows? The house that I had picked out the first night was identified by a major British news source as Bin Laden’s lair on 5/2. Guess they forgot to look.
But what does it matter?
Remember the Apple Computer 1984 advert? (Ridley Scott directed it. He also directed Blade Runner. Signature film, imho. I shot downtown Los Angeles to make real translites for this one. That is the black and white develop-in-a-bathtub film. Back to 1984, sorry.) Actually more than a great concept, it is a book by George Orwell, as you know. He was the British author who had a colorful life of fighting in Spain before World War 2. Funny thing about Spain. I know little about Spain as well. But I met a man from Spain a couple of decades ago when I was visiting my alma mater, who opened my mind just a crack. He opened the door of my mind to Catalonia, his homeland. I had learned Castillian Spanish in Miss Freeman’s class in fourth grade. I had no idea that Catalan was a different language. This stranger explained to me that Castilla had conquered Catalan. And that they had burned the books in Catalan. I knew that the winners of wars write history, but I forgot about the books. Words are in books. Not just in dictionaries, but in books. Get it? Of course, we speak words too. And we write them on keyboards and on paper once in a while and sometimes we print out the text from our screens. But we are moving away from paper. Where are we going?
I heard another great story on NPR this last week about the Google project to digitize all the books and put them on line. I could be wrong, but I think that the story said that they had done some millions in the teens, like 14 million, and that they had found about 120 million to do. I have made use of some online resources when I need to read authors like John Eadie or the Desert Fathers. And they are searchable and allow me to read far more than I could ever imagine being able to own. And they were explaining that after they use a book from a library to scan it, they return it. And that lots of digital copies are distributed to lots of hard drives, so that they will not be lost. A pretty practical application of the DARPA concept, by the way. We have the internet because the DOD wanted to have some way of communicating with its forces even if the headquarters got destroyed, as you may remember.
So, back to Google. We are hearing a lot about clouds. I use a couple, you may also as well, even if you don’t know what they are. Basically big server farms with lots of redundancy. Physically connected but found in many places so that if Los Angeles has a big earthquake, Denver can replace the data. Something like that.
But what about if things really go to pieces someday?
And the other thing that Orwell’s 1984 brings to mind is the meaning of words. How will we remember what they mean? Remember my joke, BC, Before Cable. It used to mean Before Christ. The time that preceded the birth of Jesus. And AD meant Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. Baby Jesus was the hinge of history. Now, polite scholarly types are aware of CE (Current Era) and BCE (Before Current Era) as the proper methods of noting the year. Lincoln used to date letters by AD and the year of our Republic. And things do change.
But some words change nefariously. Here is where Orwell comes in. (His real name was Eric Arthur Blair) He introduced the term Newspeak in 1984. The idea of Newspeak was that the ideas of the time could be shaped by the words that were allowed to be used. And sometimes also by changing the meaning of the words. Now, a spirited young person might have thought that he was being particularly independent by using the F word or by saying that a song was “bad” when he liked it. Hey, I am sure that parents will always be kept in the dark. Not what I am talking about.
What I do mean to say is that as we enter into a new form of recorded thought and word storage and word usage, it is good to beware of what has gone before in the name of Truth.
I read that there was a book published after World War 2 that detailed how the Nazi regime had used words to shape public opinion. The book was called Lingua Tertii Imperii by Victor Klemperer. He was a professor who lost his job because of being Jewish. The linked article gives examples, like saying “special treatment” and meaning murder. “Increasing hearing” for torture.
We know now that “enhanced interrogation techniques” mean what any normal person would call torture. James Watson says in a video interview online that when he heard the name “Special Projects” in reference to a building on a military base, it meant that they had an assassination section.
Now, all political discussion uses words to the benefit of one side or the other. One can say he is pro-choice, or be called pro-abortion by his opponents. One can be said to be for health care reform or be called a socialist. You get the idea. We hear a lot about extremists and fanatics. Properly used in the world of baseball, we love fans. But in government, no fanatics allowed, please. Or extremists. But back in Extreme Sports…you get the meaning.
Anyway, have a look at 1984 when you can break away from the news cycles. Remember history and languages teach us important things. Buy an English major a coffee. Listen to NPR on the car radio when you don’t need to sing along. Sing loud when you do need to sing along. Don’t be afraid to buy a book and just stick it on the shelf for a couple of years. It will still be there, unchanged by Google, or the DOD, or Social Networks, or Big Brother, or the Next Big Thing. Be even scarier and memorize something. Learn it by heart, as we used to say.