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The New York Times issued this news alert this afternoon:

President Obama on Friday sought to get his administration ahead of the roiling debate over National Security Agency surveillance, releasing new information about spying activities and calling for changes aimed at bolstering public confidence that the programs do not intrude too far into Americans’ privacy.

At a time when leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden have ripped the veil from the agency’s expansive spying both inside the United States and abroad, Mr. Obama held a news conference at which he conceded a need for greater openness and safeguards over vast American surveillance efforts.


If this weren't such serious business, it would be funny, in a sardonic sort of way. An administration that has cynically and systematically engaged in snooping, spying and secrecy is going to "release new information" in the hopes of "bolstering public confidence that the programs do not intrude too far into Americans' privacy"? Everything the president says is going to be so vague and leave so much wiggle room that nothing will change.

"Openness"? Spare me. All that means is that before, the administration slammed shut the solid door that prevents from knowing exactly how much spying and snooping was going on. Now, at best, the government will let us peer through the keyhole.

This all called to mind an essay by George Orwell—"Politics and the English Language." To be more precise, I was reminded of this passage:

In our time, political speech and writing [ ... ]consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Openness? Transparency? Safeguards? These words mean nothing when the people using them are writing their own dictionary.

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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