Archive for politics

Escape

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , , , , on 12 February 2009 by Maggie

My days are long, and they are full of busy-ness and chaos.  I go to the gym, I then spend quiet time at home.  The past couple of days I haven’t turned on the television, I’ve not paid alot of attention to the computer after about 8 p.m. 

I need escape time, or – as Jim puts it – “down” time.

Some people just sit and stare at the television.  Some people listen to music.

Alot of people, like me, read.  Most read some form of fiction, because they are not only desperate to escape their day, they are desperate to escape the world.

I escape into various forms of nonfiction, and I learn.

This has been the case with Blind Spot:  When Journalists Don’t Get Religion.  I was going to do a review of it, but in reading it, I’ve tried to sort out how I could do a simple review about the size of that found in a newspaper.

For me, this is impossible.

Is it credible to write a white paper on a book full of others’ white papers?  The material covered has been superior to anything I have read anywhere on the subject of what happens when journalists are ignorant to the underlying factors of the stories they report.

I would love to teach this class and approach it from the direction in which this book was written.  I am acutely aware this is something that has never been taught at university level.  It should be, but it won’t be.  The impact of such an education would illuminate the world.

It’s not just that this book talks about the misinterpretation of the role religion plays in major global news stories about conflict, government and culture, but that it touches the heart of the real problem – that journalists, in their exhuberant gathering of pertinent details, don’t understand why the details are important or that the possibility exists that the details they gather are not where the real issue lies. 

This is why I want my sister in Los Angeles to write a book on the war right here in the United States.  Few understand it or are as close to it as she. 

This is why I want my brother to write a book on his experiences throughout the world with different cultures and personalities.

This is why I deeply regret my own ignorance and shyness when family members who were diplomats and amabassadors were recounting their own experiences throughout the world.  I should have started writing about it then, when I was aware at the age of 8 that the world is not all we have learned in history books.

This is why man, in its ignorance and intolerance of other civilisations, continues to see the world through its bias.

This is why it is impossible to get people to understand.

And this is why, if I could, I would insist that a class based on the general premise of Blind Spot be taught not just to journalists, but to everyone.

I am not as frustrated as I am disillusioned with the inability to educate, to understand, to make the light bulb go off.

I am going to write this “white paper”.  It will turn into a book of its own.

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The power of words

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , on 14 January 2009 by Maggie

In today’s Wall Street Journal, an article appeared in World News about a blogger in South Korea who was arrested for criticizing the government’s economic policy.  The blogger’s words, the government claims, led to the drop in South Korea’s currency – the won.

According to the article, Park Dae-sung, writing under the pseudonym Minerva, is a widely read blogger who apparently posted a blog on December 29th accusing South Korea’s bureaucrats of sending a letter to bankers encouraging them to refrain from buying U.S. dollars in order to raise the value of the won.  His opinion was that bureaucrats were trying to undercut the government’s measures to help banks obtain U.S. dollars. 

The government claims this one blog sent the value of the won through the floor, caused the government to intervene in trading, and thus the arrest.  What this really seems to speak to, though, is the mindset of the Korean government, which is trying to paint an “it’s-not-happening-to-us” picture in the midst of the global economic crisis.  Since last September, they have been striking out at economists and journalists for portraying South Korea in a less-than-stellar light, but this is the first arrest.

Mr. Dae-sung’s arrest, to quote the Wall Street article, seems to highlight “two facets of Seoul’s response to the economic crisis that worry analysts:  a currency policy that isn’t transparent enough for traders and an intolerance of criticism of public policy.”

The point is clear here, when looking at a graph showing the decline of the won against the dollar.  The steady decline started in August, well before Mr. Dae-sung wrote his blog, plummeted in September, and in fact appears to have risen after Mr. Dae-sung’s blog was picked up by news sources.

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I’m not even going to try to be unbiased about this.  Why?  I am a blogger.  I do not work for any news agency nor do I work for the government.  Neither does Mr. Dae-sung.  To the best of my knowledge, he is just a guy, like I am just a girl.  Granted, he’s a really smart guy, predicting the collapse of Lehman Brothers among other things, but he’s just a guy.

South Korea’s response doesn’t surprise me.  They have not quite grasped the lessons the U.S. government and other Western sovereign states would like to teach the world about how to handle insubordinate citizens.  It takes a little more finesse than an outright arrest.  You do things like, oh, say, take away their passports, instead.  There is less hue and cry from the world when you do something like that.  The arrest of an average citizen for having an opinion?  The world will get them for that.  They really should take a few lessons from the West and learn be more underhanded.

Words are powerful tools.  Hopefully, most of us in the blogging world use them wisely.  Still, even in using them wisely, we may find ourselves in trouble.  I’ve been there.  It certainly hasn’t stopped me.  I rather doubt it will stop Mr. Dae-sung.

Hang in there, Mr. Dae-sung.  You have lots of support.

Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , on 12 January 2009 by Maggie

Vincent Carroll reviewed a new book in the Wall Street Journal last month entitled Blind Spot.  What a fascinating book, and it made me think of just how blind we all are, in one respect or another.

The headline for Mr. Carroll’s review was “God Is A Problem, Sources Say”, and launches with a statement made in an article in the New York Times in November regarding the attacks on Mumbai.  The statement was excerpted in this way:  “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen or if it was an accidental hostage scene.”  The Times also speculated that it was an “unlikely target” ………for Islam extremists? 

Blind Spot discusses various conflicts throughout the world and the religious “blind spot” that seems to afflict most Western journalists.  Editor Paul Marshall, as quoted by Mr. Carroll, said journalists reluctant to accept the “fundamentalist motives” of jihadist motives concentrate on “terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom and progress.”

I read that statement, and I was reminded immediately of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s attempt to destroy non-Muslim communities in the northern provinces when I was there in 1998, just as Israel today is using the issue with Hamas as a reason to destroy Palestine, Hamas is killing Israelis, the U.S. – as a sovereign nation that used to be religiously tolerant – pushes to use the fundamentalist Christian God as a reason to inflitrate other conflicts, and so on.

Even in Africa, religion plays a part in conflict.  Take, for instance, the Lord’s Resistance Army who hacked and killed hundreds in a church and the surrounding area in DR Congo not more than a couple of weeks ago.  Not only was this not a top story in the U.S., the Lord’s Resistance Army – terrorists by all measures – was downgraded to the simple acronyn LRA, and reported benignly as yet another hostile terrorist group.  Take a look at all the predominant ruling parties in Africa and their adversaries.  You will see that every single one of them is divisive not just ethnically, but religiously within that ethnicism.

Journalists ignore the religion factor, but the religion factor is everpresent – in conflict, in economics, in progress, in oppression.  No one religious faction is more evil than another, either.  They are all contributing factors to conflict, and yet journalists either bury their heads in the sand or are utterly ignorant of the factor religion plays in everything…or they wouldn’t plant a story in a news source as reputable as the New York Times that stupidly thinks that a Jewish center in Mumbai was not a calculated target for Islamist extremists.

Bias is everywhere in Western media – predominantly U.S. media – and most importantly bias against an understanding of fact-based reporting.

Terry Mattingly, one of the contributors to Blind Spot, has this recommendation for quality reporting:  “Editors do not need to try to hire more reporters who are religious believers,” but reporters “who take religion seriously, reporters who know, or are willing to learn to hear the music.”

At a bookstore near you:  Blind Spot:  When Journalists Don’t Get Religion; Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, Roberta Green Ahmanson, ed.  Oxford, 220 pages, $19.95.

I’m a registered member of the “No Party” party.

Posted in General with tags , , , on 31 May 2008 by Maggie

I renewed my drivers license last summer here in Iowa.  The woman at the counter asked if I wanted to make sure my voter registration was current.  I said yes – which was folllowed with “Republican or Democrat?” 

“Neither.  I’m Libertarian.”

She wrote down “NP” which means “No Party”.  Not Independent, mind you.  Definitely No Party. 

I asked her why she registered me as “No Party”  Her response was that I didn’t have a “real” party affiliation.

I told her I didn’t like being railroaded like that.  She gave me a blank stare, batted her eyes, and said sweetly, “We just don’t have a place here for your Libertarian Party.”

I eyed the collar of her Department of Motor Vehicles uniform, looking for a Swastika pin. 

When the government, even on a loca or state level, refuses to acknowledge the existence of third party thinking, you have this:  a choice of two candidates or a real fight on your hands.  I live in an area steeped in political tradition.  As far as they are concerned here, there really are only two parties, and the jury is still out on “them liberal radical Democrats.”  

People in the rural Midwest won’t get behind a third party like the Libertarian Party.  It’s not because they think it wouldn’t have enough power.  It’s not because they don’t already believe in its platform, because they do, whether or not they’ve actually read anything about the Libertarian party.  They discount their own thought processes in favour of the traditional two-party system.  Their party right or wrong.  That’s the crux of it.  They won’t change because their daddies and granddaddies for more than 100 years all voted the same way.  They may dress as if they’re part of at least the late 20th Century, but their mindset is definitely Civil War.  Of course, we all know you can’t continue to play out the Civil War unless you have just two sides.  It just won’t work with three or four.

We can’t blame the media for this entirely.  Yes, American media is slanted, but when it comes to people like the ones in my community, it’s all about the Civil War.  The Great Divide will continue to exist unless future generations not only think for themselves, but talk about it out loud, in front of their families, in front of their communities, and in front of the nation.