Words and Towers: One Year After

(Originally published Sept. 9, 2002)

One immediate effect was the unleashing of a semantic extravaganza. The anti-terrorism effort’s first moniker, Operation Infinite Justice, drew objections of sacrilege and was dropped, replaced by Operation Enduring Freedom. Then there’s Operation Noble Eagle, homeland defense, and Operation Noble Shield, the surveillance arm. The military has these names all made up ahead of time, entire handbooks full of inspiring sobriquets in readiness for any number of conflicts. Yeah! A war! Finally we get to use those cool names we thought up!

If the Defense Department were a company it would be the country’s largest, with a couple million employees and a yearly budget of $300 billion to play with. Unlike other companies, it produces nothing, and its customers have no choice but to buy its non-product. On the plus side, it does inspire some nifty gadgets.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a program called the Babylon Project, whose goal is to develop a hand-held language translator for military use. Naturally, Afghanistan-related tongues are the first priority. The program’s insignia depicts two towers struck by lightning, some Chinese ideograms, and a pissed-off looking black cat accessorized by what appears to be an AIDS ribbon.

Where else have we seen a tower in conjunction with a lightning bolt? In the Tarot deck, where its meaning has to do with ambition built on false premises, and its destruction points to the fall of Satan’s kingdom. The crown of materialistic preoccupation falls from the tower, struck by the divine fire that destroys evil and refines good.

There’s a tower in the Quran, built by Pharaoh, who thought Moses was putting him on about God, so he had it constructed in order to climb up and take a peek for himself.

In the book of Genesis, the tower story sounds like a good argument against Esperanto and the European Union. Back in the day, everyone on earth spoke the same language. A bunch of people got together and decided to make a name for themselves by building a structure that would touch the heavens. In other words, the humans were getting uppity. So God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do, and nothing that they now propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The Lord comes out in favor of cultural diversity – take note, fundamentalists. Anyhow, to prevent future conspiracies of lese majeste, God scattered the people to different places and made them speak different languages. It doesn’t say anything about knocking down the tower, though.

In Proverbs 12:12, “the strong tower of the wicked comes to ruin, but the root of the righteous stands firm.”

If God used bin Laden and company to send America some kind of wake-up call, the message is ambiguous at best. She does, after all, move in mysterious ways. The country may have gotten on the wrong track, but I doubt if either homosexuality or feminism are involved. Maybe we’re supposed to build more bilingual schools.

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About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website VirtualVenice.info and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for Earthblog.net
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