The Big Squirm:
A long time ago, the Rude Pundit worked at Sears, when Sears actually meant something to people and was not the mall's Wal-Mart. He worked in the Credit/Customer Service department where his duties consisted of taking people's applications for credit cards to buy major appliances, dealing with complaints, and taking in small appliances for repairs. His supervisor, an older woman who had clawed her way to a managerial position during the bad old days of pure sexism, taught him the ways of equivocation. One never, it seems, actually promises anything. One can provide conditional language, which, more often than not is comforting to those who hear it.

So, to whit, when a customer brought in a lawnmower to be repaired, we would say, "I expect it to be ready on Thursday," which, in good faith, was a true statement, although often it wasn't ready until next Tuesday. When someone applied for credit to buy a washer/dryer, the salesperson would look over the application and tell the customer, "This should be no problem," and then when the credit was declined, the salesperson could blame someone else because, to him/her, it wasn't a problem. It was a scarring experience, this life at Sears. To this day, the Rude Pundit finds himself in situations where he uses the squirm words: "I think I love you," "I expect I'll call you tomorrow," and "You shouldn't get pregnant from that position." At Sears, it was our mantra; we all intoned "probably," "ought," "should," "expect," and many other positive sounding conditional words, words that would provide comfort to people and, God and the ghost of Roebuck willing, would come true.

That is the way of the business world. You never really say anything in a definite way. Take a look at this from Business Week online. It's an analysis of Cisco Systems as a potential stock buy. Notice that the whole thing is predicated on things that aren't really promised, but only sound so: "We project revenue growth . . . We expect revenue momentum to accelerate . . .We think that enterprise revenues have already shown signs of an emerging recovery." And then the writer recommends purchase of said stock, offering a few late-in-the-game caveats and, of course, fine print: "This report is for information purposes and should not be considered a solicitation to buy or sell any security." The world of investment is, as we all know, a kind of gamble, a wish, and those who advise are aware of this fact. But language is everything: if you buy Cisco and all the expectations come true, you will have faith. If you buy and it tanks, well, damn that Cisco, it didn't meet expectations, and, well, shit, we did imply it might not. And, you know, this specialized kind of flim-flam is all well and good when you are dealing with money (even when taken to its egregious ends at Enron).

But it's something else entirely when you take the ways of business and apply them to the life and death decisions of government. And that's what's going on now. See, the Bush administration believes that the whole Abu Ghraib torture scandal is about words: when Bush said yesterday, "We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture," he was simply talking about the words surrounding torture, not the actual action of torture. And when he issued a letter saying that he had "the authority" to ignore law and treaty for interrogations and he "decline[d] to use that authority," he added, "at this time," a wonderful conditional, since "at this time" means "in this moment" or "right now." Language, you see, can abbrogate your complicity in the actions of others.

So it is with this administration of business men, CEOs, and the like. They understand the unique hucksterism of deceptive language, the room to squirm. Like the al-Qaeda/Iraq connection: the squirm is that "we never said." And, of course, legalistically, it is true. And when Cheney adds about Mohammed Atta in Prague, "We've never been able to confirm or to knock it down," well, one guesses that the absence of presence doesn't mean the presence of absence or something Rumsfeldian like that. Damn, one bets that Cheney could get John Muir to dig an oil well in the redwoods.

But that's all about language, again and again and again. It is not about the nude innocent prisoner waiting to be sodomized. It is not about the mounting U.S. dead, deaths which are pushed further and further from the front pages as they become so much background noise to the proliferation of meaningless words. We believe what comforts us - that is the achievement of deception.

Oh, and fuck Sears.