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Hyperbole

There is no hyperbole in a Guillotine
Guillotine at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam

May 24, 2016 — I spent Christmas 1990 in Ho Chi Minh City. One of the trip’s highlights was an afternoon at what was then known as The Museum of Imperialist Aggressive American War Crimes, which also cataloged the Vietnamese experience under the French. It’s now known as the War Remnants Museum

The museum was, by turns, fascinating and gruesome. It featured captured American tanks and aircraft, a working guillotine, Agent Orange fetuses in formaldehyde and graphic details of American torture techniques. The museum was also an object lesson in applied propaganda because, while it was obvious that the Vietnamese people had suffered horribly, the tone of the museum’s propaganda (starting with its name) was so strident that you couldn’t help but discount much of what you saw.

I was reminded of the while reading this report in yesterday’s Australian, (via /.), about a confidential briefing for the Attorney-General’s Department by the Australian Institute of Criminology that called piracy statistics provided by Australia’s music and software industry as “self-serving hyperbole,” noting that the copyright owners failed to explain how they arrived at claimed piracy losses of A$361 million for 2005.

Don’t misunderstand: I believe that piracy is a genuine (if you’ll pardon the word) problem. But like the Museum of Imperialist Aggressive American War Crimes, it’s easy to undermine an important issue by engaging in blatant propaganda that—like the software and music industry’s claimed losses—will not stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.

It seems obvious, but a well-documented, rational case is far more persuasive than blatant hyperbole.

That’s especially true in a media interview.

Update: In 2015, Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde poked holes in the music industry’s statistics by building a computer that will duplicate a single MP3 forever, as long as it’s plugged in. The device creates a $10-million “loss” for the music industry every day.

Note: This post was originally published on November 8, 2006, and updated on May 24, 2016.