Archive for writing

Removing the Kosovo blogs

Posted in Kosovo with tags , , , , on 2 March 2009 by Maggie

I once told myself that if something occurs that becomes stressful to people close to me, I would not talk about it. It is for this reason I have chosen to remove the blogs I’ve written about Kosovo.

It took a long time for me to stop internalising what happened there, which is what I finally did 9 years after the fact…and talked about it openly for two years.

However, because of some things that were said to me privately today, and the hurt that appeared to come because of it, I will not leave up what I’ve written. It is not fair to those I love.

I am still passionate about many things, but I now need to choose carefully what I say and how I say it. My family, those to whom I am close, come first. I will take them before my ideals any day of the week.

It is time, as was pointed out to me, to leave the past behind, to look to my own future, and value my life as it is now – away from what I remember.

Does it matter? Perhaps. At the risk of losing loved ones (which may have already happened), it just cannot matter to me anymore. It is time to move on with my life.

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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.

Mr. Grist, the OSCE, and South Ossetia

Posted in global conflict with tags , , , , , , , , , on 18 January 2009 by Maggie

I read an interesting news piece in the Wall Street Journal December 19th, 2008 about Ryan Grist, former Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) operative.  Mr. Grist’s CV includes military and diplomatic missions in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as other places I’ve not personally been.  The man knows his stuff.  He is also known for speaking his mind.  He’s been chastised by the Politically Correct frequently over this.  From all I know of the man, he calls ’em like he sees ’em.

Mr. Grist was OSCE second in command on the mission in Georgia prior to the conflict in South Ossetia, August 2008. 

A very short primer on South Ossetia and the real issue at hand. 

South Ossetia speaks Russian and Ossetian.  They are ethnically, culturally, and religiously tied to Russia and to North Ossetia.  They want independence from Georgia.  Be reminded that the line drawn in the dirt between North Ossetia and South Ossetia that gave South Ossetia to Georgia was arbitrarily created without any regard to the people.  As a point of reference, this is essentially how Kosovo acquired its three northern provinces, which are tied in a similar fashion to Serbia. 

“Here, let’s draw the line between this and that.  What do you mean there’s a house in the middle?  Tear it down.  There are people involved in this?  They’ll adjust.  People always do.  This is our decision, and we’ll draw the line wherever we want it.” 

Thus the West has said in its infinite wisdom many, many times. 

Some have said South Ossetia didn’t provoke the attacks from Georgia.  In a sense they are right – not war waged on them by Georgia.  As Mr. Grist said, “…the response from Georgian authorities was disproportionate.  To react with indiscriminate shelling – there just had to be a Russian response.”  He pointed out that he warned of an escalation in South Ossetia and that monitors in certain locations were ignored.  He was angry when Ms. Hakala ordered, from the safety and comfort of her Finnish homeland, the evacuation of monitors from the OSCE building in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia after it was shelled by the Georgians.  He had been organising a wider evacuation, and she stopped it.

I want to interject here that Ms. Hakala stated that what three monitors heard near their locations (in South Ossetia) was “a bit irrelevant”.  Tell me, Ms. Hakala, what is relevant?  Only those bits that were politically acceptable to the West?

While in charge of the OSCE in Georgia, Mr. Grist questioned the viability of Georgia’s attacks on South Ossetia.  As he made known his desire to understand the truth, it became clear that his query was unwelcome – by Georgia and by his superior with the OSCE, Ms. Terhi Hakala.  She ordered him to take a vacation and leave Georgia.

Mr. Grist is like me.  If something is bothering me, I am going to investigate it.  I go with my instincts until and unless I find out for myself that my instincts are wrong.  Most of the time, they’re not.  I’m convinced Mr. Grist has operated this way always.  It is what has given him integrity over the years.  It is also what compelled him to go, without permission while he was on “vacation”, back into South Ossetia to find out what was really going on.

From the moment he tried to get fair and equitable information all the way to his permanent removal from Georgia back to the UK and his forced resignation from the OSCE, Mr. Grist’s treatment has been deplorable.  Unfortunately, this is what can be expected from an organisation steeped in Western culture and tradition.  The West is no more fair and equitable, and often less so, than other cultures.

I know.

I’ve been there.

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.

Confirming my place in the world

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

Have you ever felt like you were just tired of learning, tired of teaching, tired of…well, just tired?  I am tired.  I’m not looking forward to going to the university tomorrow, and it’s not because the weather is going to be crap.  It’s because I want to finish what I am doing here.  I cram 80 hours of work and writing – or try to – into the time span from 6 p.m. Friday night to 5 a.m. Monday morning.  Weeknights after I get home are lost, and my best hours are daylight hours, anyway.

I did a little thinking about the blog I wrote today and came to the realisation that we all need to take the initiative to learn about other places, even if we never plan to go there.  You have to “get” the culture, “get” the religion, “get” what’s going on behind what you read, or you won’t “get” what you read.   The journalists are certainly not going to help you understand.  They rarely understand, themselves.

The world perpetuates “the news”, which perpetuates the need to learn and understand what you’re not going to catch just by watching and/or reading “the news”.  And the people about whom “the news” no longer seems worthy to report still deserve the time.  Maybe they aren’t the hottest story out there, but the issues themselves don’t die out.

Despite our best efforts, we are not alone in the world.  Non-Western civilisations deserve to be understood, even if we don’t necessarily agree with all the positions they may take, or the philosophies they have. 

As long as there are Westerners in the world whose minds have yet to be opened, I will continue to write…and thus my place in the world is confirmed.

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.

Why go home again?

Posted in General with tags , , , on 12 May 2008 by Maggie

I do not have fond memories of my childhood that are related to the community in which I was raised. We could have lived in Timbuktu, and as long as I had my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandfather, and my father, the good memories would have continued to exist.

This is not a complaint about the community. This is just to say I didn’t need them, and as time has gone by, it is very clear to see they didn’t need me.

I’ve been reclusive in nature all of my life. I did only what I was forced to do in associating with people, and a few things that I felt were expected of me. I didn’t make any lasting friendships, except with people that my grandmother knew outwith that area – people like Eugenie Anderson, who was ambassador to Denmark…and Ethel Guenther, who was with the UN and spent most of her time in the Middle East…and Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists the universe has ever known.

When I say I come from a family of ambassadors and diplomats, I wasn’t kidding. Beyond the ones you already know, one grandfather was a missionary in Japan before and during World War I. One of my great-aunts was a diplomat in Europe between World Wars I and II. At least three great uncles were involved in places in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the former U.S.S.R.

My view of everything has been coloured by the sense of logic and fair play these people instilled in me, as well as an understanding of variance in culture that I really value. Perhaps this is why I find no reason to “go home” again.

In order to need the community in which I was raised, I would have to think the way they do, and I do not. This community thrives on the word “assume”. It is a word that comes out of their mouths more times in one conversation than with any group of people with whom I’ve associated over the years. From what I have determined from the use of that word in most groups over the past few decades, it is a mark of willful ignorance.

I would have to be attached to material things that had to do with the community, too, but you know…I am not. When I was there taking care of my father’s will last week, I drove around, saw what I needed to see, found out one of my sisters has photos of my grandmother’s house and the house in which I spent most of my childhood, and understood there was nothing more there that could possibly draw me back to the area.

It is time to get back to writing about things that are important. This small town in the U.S. and its attached behaviours do not fit into that scheme. It never has.