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Notorious Fugitive Killed
May 13, 2011 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - Comments Off on Notorious Fugitive Killed

Have you heard that they found Osama bin Laden? You know, the guy who blew up the Twin Towers back in 2001?

It used to be that people would remember what they were doing when they heard the big news about a President getting shot, or a space shuttle blowing up, or 9/11. I suppose from now on the answer will be “I was surfing the Web.”

I don’t know if the assassination of a terrorist is as epic a story as the assassination of a US president, but this is a big story. It’s everywhere on the web.  The Kaleidoscopic nature of the Web as an information source fractalizes a simple story into a zillion different stories, told by us instead of to us.

The story told to us by the guys responsible was pretty disjointed for a start. Seems as if it was designed to sow conspiracy theories rather than suppress them, as if it matters, since conspiracy theories grow on the Web like mushrooms in Pennsylvania caves full of horseshit. (Metaphor translation: Rumors spread fast on the Web.) And on this latest, we got black helicopters, Navy Seals, backstabbing spy services, and a harem for crying out loud. I guess we’ll have to wait for WikiLeaks to release the pics of Osama stroking a Persian cat.

This chart showing results of a poll taken by World Public Opinion asking who attacked the Twin Tower shows that 9/11 is alive and well. Osama’s end will no doubt fuel the fires of conspiratorial analysis.

So Obama’s end is certainly just the beginning of the conspiracy kaleidoscope just starting to pinwheel. Here are the six wackiest theories, according to Josh Dzieza.

Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath, the media is doing what the media does, providing shot-by-shot coverage of the dramatic attack. “In the mainstream press, coverage has focused on trying to parse out the details leading up to and during the dramatic raid, and on sorting through the national and international reaction to it. Those two themes together accounted for half the bin Laden coverage” in the immediate aftermath of the killing, according to

No such breaking news on Twitter or Facebook. Netizens are mostly laughing about it and conspiring to commit conspiracy theories. “The largest share of discussion there, 19%, has involved people sharing jokes. The second largest theme involved the question of whether bin Laden was really dead, and weighing the pros and cons of the proof offered. That discussion accounted for 17% of the conversation.” Many will no doubt rank this right up there with that Apollo Moon landing hoax.

In the blogosphere, conversation was divided pretty equally among news accounts, concerns over retaliation, conspiracy or hoax theories, praise for American armed forces, and economic impact, each accounting for 10% or more of posts and comments. “Bloggers, like Twitter and Facebook users and mainstream journalists, were using the first few days after the killing of bin Laden to process the enormity of what happened, rather than seize on the event as another proxy for our ongoing arguments about politics and policy.”

So I suppose this is only tangentially related to translation, but what we choose to say to one another is actually of far more importance than how we say it, a fact that translators may not have time to consider as they steadily push their translation plow along the lines of text, patiently turning each row into a different language. The ebb and flow of information on the Web is the tide on which translation boats float, to completely mix up the metaphor.


My favorite memes? So glad you asked.

1. Dick Cheney = Osama. Here’s one from a Canadian friend of mine I saw on Facebook. “When we capture Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, that’s when I’ll be dancing in the streets.”

2. The New Drink, called the “The Bin Laden…” two shots and a splash of water.

3. Osama watching himself on TV. “INSIDE BUM LADEN’S WRECK ROOM / DEAD MAN WATCHING / Hobo of terror liked seeing self on TV,” from the headline wizards at the New York Post.

“He wasn’t hiding in a cave—he was living in a man cave. The leader of the world’s most well-funded global terror network looks more like a Bowery bum in home movies that show him huddled in his rec room admiring images of himself on a clunky TV. The pasty-faced, shaggy sheikh clutches a ratty blanket and wears a scruffy wool cap in the blooper reel of life inside the Abbottabad compound where the 9/11 mastermind’s been hiding since 2005.”

(Tip o’ the hat to Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics for the link and post idea).

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