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Jan 28, 2007

Your Turn: Bush Through The Clouds








With a big hat tip to Chirag Mehta and his word clouds, I offer a "verbal snapshot" of George Bush's seven State of the Union addresses.  (Each of the images above is a thumbnail which you can open, full size, in a new window.  First though, you might try expanding your browser window.  Balancing legibility with scale, I thought this view was optimum to see the pics together, and to draw larger comparisons.)

I'm fascinated to see what things you read in this.  (Obviously, the opportunity is almost endless.)  A few things that stood out to me, for example:


FUNDING; funding; funding; funding; funding; funding; (no funding)

(  );  iraq; hussein/iraq/saddam; hussein/iraq/saddamhussein/iraq/saddam;  hussein/iraq/saddam;  baghdad/iraq/shia sunni

If you need a clearer view of these clouds, an explanation as to the meaning of word size and shading, or you would like to play with the original application (using the slider bar to compare the speeches, declarations and letters of every President, including a good number of SOTU addresses, going back to 1776!), click here.

(images: Chirag Mehta. h/t: jason griffey via boingboing )


"So what are your seeing?"

The foundations of the societal hangover we’ll be feeling in 2009 when Mr. Bush leaves the bully pulpit, and we all wonder: “Did we really drink that much?”.

Well, wasn't this a fun activity! I scrolled through all the speeches starting with George Washington. Something that leapt out at me was the word CONSTITUTION--it is one of most frequently used words right through the US Civil War. About 10 years after the Civil War, it more or less drops out of sight. The US, through WW1, seems to be floundering from crisis to crisis. Appropriations is a big concern. After WW1, Economy became popular. Taxes emerged as a key word with Ronald Reagan. Occasionally a national crisis--slavery, Indian, Spain, Vietnam, WW1, WW2--will pop out for a couple of speeches.

So over time, based on the word clouds, I see that the concept of US has shifted from that of a Republic, a form of government based on certain shared principles, to that of an economic engine. But something changes with GWB.

Post 9-11, GWB speeches are obsessed with Iraq, terrorists, and weapons. The Constitution, which was so important in the first 100 years, scarcely gets a mention. The economy appears as an afterthought. Even the concept of victory doesn't appear. It seems to me that the concept of the US, communicated through the word cloud of GWB, is that of the US, beleaguered, perpetually threatened, perpetually defending itself.

The web site from which this was taken is brilliant, and every journalist should check it out and apply it on a regular, routine basis. It would make an excellent spot on a newspaper website, or on an editorial page. Journalists are supposed to help the electorate find out the facts which help good government happen. It is the ..."of the People..." part of is us!
Of course, with "ownership" of media by huge corporations, we, the People, hardly own anything, do we?

I was struck by the recently reoccuring phrase "affordable Afghanistan".

These clouds make me think about a character a friend of mine created. He would hunch over, pick at his finger tips, look around as if followed by someone, and scratch himself incessantly. This was his his crazy person with an obsession... "...What was that!? well, I ah... I saw.. this guy who had stuff, BUGS, uh.... in his house, BUGS ... did you know I have a hangnail? BUGS!... SO, this guy walks toward me BUGS!!! and he asked me a !!!BUGS!!! question... he wanted to know BUGS the time..."

Look at the word immediately following "bless":

2001: "bless capitol"
2002, 2003: "bless bombing"
2004, 2005: "bless borders"
2005: "bless byron" (Byron?)
2007: "bless challenges"

All amusing coincidence of course.

And, tardigrade, I'm reminded of the scene from Hitchcock's early classic Blackmail where the woman who committed the crime is forced to overhear a silly woman's chatter about the murder over the breakfast-table: "A good clean whack over the head with a brick is one thing. Something British about that. But KNIVES! KNIVES is not right. I must say I could never use a KNIFE. Now mind you, a KNIFE is a difficult thing to handle...." and then the woman's voice becomes a blur with "KNIFE" the only word that comes through clearly.

Look at the incredible shrinking "weapons." The word "war" shrinks with it, but the change with weapons is more extreme and dramatic.

Somebody doesn't like talking about WMD anymore.

And as "weapons" recedes, "freedom" advances. It was big right after 9/11, but got big again in the 05 and 06 speeches.

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