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Archive for the category “media”

Why I’ve stopped buying newspapers

Twenty years ago I used to buy newspapers quite a lot. Now I may buy a Sunday newspaper once a month or so. Sometimes the newspaper publishers run surveys to find out why people buy or don’t buy their newspapers, but they usually ask all the wrong questions.

I suppose the main reason I don’t buy as many newspapers as I used to is that since I retired I don’t get out much. Going out usually costs money. We do go out to church on Sundays, and on the way home stop at shops, and so for a while bought the Sunday newspapers most Sundays, but even that has dropped off, partly because of financial constraints, but also because of this — What is the Labour Party for? On the mystery of Jeremy Corbyn:

There is a preference in the media’s political coverage – and in political campaigning altogether – for symbol and personality over policy and fact. The media coverage of Corbyn, who despite being an MP and unusually active campaigner for over thirty years had not much figured in the press until the leadership contest, has been by any measure persistently negative.

Of course South African Sunday newspapers only rarely refer to Jeremy Corbyn, but in their coverage of South African politicians, the same general principle applies: The emphasis is on image rather than substance, personality rather than policy.

Almost every Sunday there will be a full-page article on some politician, and the article will usually be about some political rival threatening to take over their position. I rarely read beyond the first paragraph, because I know from experience that if there are no facts in the first paragraph there will be none on the rest of the page. The policies of the politician in question are not important. What’s important is that there is conflict, and that increases circulation, or so they say.

Jeremy Corbyn

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn is that he has no ambition, and it ambition that fuels the conflict that journalists like to write about. Corbyn talks too much about principles and policies, and not enough about his rivals or their voters. If he started calling Tory voters “a basket of deplorables” he’d probably get a better press, though whether it would get him more votes from Labour supporters is a moot point.

So where do we get our news nowadays?

A few days ago our TV was on all day on the channel showing the Constitutional Court hearings about the crisis in social grants payments. When it comes to the judges of the Constitutional Court, they are not interested in the fluff about personalities, they want the facts. And if they don’t get the facts, they ask. They don’t concern themselves with speculations about who might get Bathabile Dlamini’s job because she messed up, or how much sushi was consumed at her last birthday party. They want to know what she has done and what she hasn’t done about the payments of pensions and other social grants.

Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development

Even the Daily Maverick, which is usually better an more insightful than most, writes, Sassa grant crisis: In this game of thrones, can Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini survive? | Daily Maverick. The important question, you see, is not whether 17 million social grant recipients will get paid. The important question is the personality-cult one: the political survival of one celebrity politician, rather than 17 million people who might have no food on the table in April.

When it comes to the media and their predilection for personality cults, one wonders which came first, the chicken or the egg. The scramble for power of ambitious politicians makes great copy, at least in the opinion of journalists, and so if politicians want the publicity they crave, they must spend more time on polishing their images than on fine-tuning their policies. It’s a vicious cycle, the one feeds off the other.

And politicians like Jeremy Corbyn break that mould. That’s why the media hate him, and why I rather like him.

Technology addiction?

This morning at TGIF Dr Marlena Kruger spoke on the impact of our technology addiction.

I think she made some useful points, for example that young children learn more from playing with hands-on toys that from playing with simulations of them on a computer screen.

Shape sorting toy

Shape sorting toy

When our kids were small, they had one of these shape sorting toys. It would be possible to design a computer app to match the same shapes to spaces on the screen, but kids learn a lot more by handling the shapes, coordinating their sense of sight with the sense of touch by feeling it, and yes, putting it in their mouths.

So playing with computer apps is no substitute for playing with actual things in the real world.

But the problem with this kind of talk about “technology” is that people seem to get locked into a narrow two-dimensional world like a computer screen. What do we mean by words like “technology”?

Consider, for example, this article, which seems to be making a similar point to that made by Dr Kruger — 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 | The Huffington Post:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012).

Think about it for a while, especially the heading, because it is an example of tunnel vision — like limiting yourself to the number of pixels on a computer screen, and seeing nothing outside that.

What is a “handheld device”? A pen, a pencil, a crayon, a pair of scissors — all these are handheld devices. All these are technology. Specialists in early childhood education have been saying that children should learn to handle such things long before they start school.

Ah, you say, but those are mechanical devices, and we are talking about electronic devices.

But experts in early childhood education say that listening to music is important for the development of young children. Does that mean you are going to take your toddlers to symphony concerts? No recordings, because playing recordings nowadays usually requires electronic devices — when last did you hear a wind-up gramophone played? No discos, because there they use electronic devices to amplify the music.

I’m not simply being pedantic here. Before making huge generalisations about “technology” and “hand-held devices” we need to see the three-dimensio0nal world beyond the computer screen. When you dig in a garden you are using a hand-held device and a spade is technology. Technology is part of what makes us human. Saying that children under 2 should have no exposure to technology is insane. No cooked food, because cooking uses technology.

huntgathEven hunter-gatherer societies use technology, at least for the “hunter” part. Without technology we would just be gatherers.

So when we talk about being “addicted” to technology, we need to think about the wider meaning of technology, and the extent to which technology has made us human.

And when we speak of a remedy for addiction to technology, we need to think about whether the addiction is to technology, or to something else that the technology is used for.

When television was invented, people learnt how to send images to a cathode-ray screen (later LCD) in a remote location. At first, in television, the image was controlled by the sender. The receivers were passive. They could perhaps choose between images sent by different senders, but they had no control over the content of the images received.

Technophobes lamented the bad influence on children — “the flickering blue parent” was one phrase bandied about.

But it was not the TV that was generating the images. They were being sent by people who decided on what was sent, to serve their own purposes. It was one-way communication, yes, but it was one-communication from one group of people to another. The technology facilitated the communication, and to some extent determined it (yes, I’m old enough to have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, and maybe I’ll say more about him some other time) but it was still communication from people to people.

For me it was a huge liberation when personal computers came along.

Yes, there I was looking at images on a cathode ray tube (CRT), but they were images that I put there. They were things I could control. For a while the rest of the family thought I was opting out of family life. I was “playing with the computer” instead of being sociable and watching TV with the family. That was tantamount to being accused of being addicted to technology. But it wasn’t. If I wrote a letter on the computer, I was no more addicted to the computer as technology than I was addicted to the typewriter before I had a computer, or addicted to a fountain pen before I had a typewriter.

In every case I was “using technology” to communicate with other people, and what I was doing was not “playing with the computer” any more than a handwritten letter is “playing with a pen”. Yes, I do sometimes play with a pen. I twiddle it, I idly click a ballpoint pen so the tip comes in and out.  But using it for a task is not “playing with it”. Is doodling “playing with” a pen? Idly and absentmindedly drawing little pictures? Is sketching fellow participants at a meeting playing with a pen? Perhaps great art exists because some people were addicted to playing with the technology of paint and paintbrushes.

One of the things Marlena Kruger said was coming home and putting your cell phone down and not touching it. Abstain from using the cellphone, because people are more important than the device.

But on Wednesday night we went to church in Brixton, Johannesburg. On the way home at 9:30 pm, on a badly lit road, with cars with bright lights coming the other way, we hit a pothole which dented the wheel rim so the tyre went flat. It was the first time in 11 years and 250000 km that we had had a flat tyre. Where is the jack? We’ve never had to use it before.

So I phone my son, who is a Toyota mechanic and knows these things. And ask where is the jack (it’s dark, you see). It’s under a plastic cover under the front passenger seat. You’d never find it by feeling for it. And how do you remove the cover, and how do you get it out?

But if he switches off his phone, because he’s not going to be addicted to it, it’s not a mere device. There is a person at the other end of the device. So by switching off the phone, you are switching off the person.

So speaking of “technology addiction” can be a bit simplistic. Your addiction can be to the device, like a cell phone, but more often it is addiction to what you do with the device. A cell phone is mainly used to communicate with other people. And you have the stereotype of a group of people all sitting together, all using their cell phones. Are they addicted to their phones? Not necessarily. What it means is that they prefer to communicate with people elsewhere than communicate with the people they are close to at that moment. The problem is not so much with the device used to communicate, but with human relations, that you would rather communicate with someone other than the people you happen to be with.

I said personal computers were a liberation, and its true. I can store information on my computer and find it much more quickly than if I had written it down on bits of paper. I’m writing an essay or an academic paper or even a blog post, and I need to verify the date of a historical event. Google leads me to that information much more quickly than trying to see if I have a reference book that has it.

E-mail was a liberation too.

I used to hate phoning people, and still do. I don’t know if I will be interrupting them when they are doing something important. If I send them e-mail, then they can read it and reply to it at their convenience.

But the people who liked the one-way, one-to-many model of broadcasting did not like this liberation. They wanted their captive audience. And Microsoft developed Windows 98 which was the first version of Windows to be integrated with the Internet, and the developed “push” technology for it. It was an attempt to re-enslave people that personal computers had liberated — by networking those computers and then pushing stuff at them.

And now cell phones use “push” technology too. My smartphone had “push” notifications for Facebook and Twitter, which drove me mad until I found how to switch them off (they don’t give you a manual, so it’s not easy to find out how to do that). So yes, cell phones are useful, but they can drive you mad. And there’s even a cell phone advertising itself with the slogan “Never miss a moment” — you’ll be so busy not missing moments that you’ll never have a moment to do anything.

But even though this is labelled “push technology”, it is not the technology that is doing the pushing. It is people doing the pushing. Yesterday I downloaded 90 emails and 85 of them were spam, sent to my “junk and suspicious mail” folder and deleted in bulk. They may have been sent by bots, but it was people who programmed the bots to send them.

Then back to TGIF, where technology, even electronic technology, was not absent.

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

I’m not against using educational technology. At one time I used some quite complicated gadgets to improve students’ reading skills, or at least show them how they could improve their won reading skills. But there is also this: Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring – Business Insider:

Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable.

Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.

I’m not sure I agree with that article either. A lot depends on the content of what is being taught. Some topics can be enhanced by the use of slides, and others not. I must say that in this morning’s presentation I paid very little attention to the slides, and can remember little of what was on them

SABC: Sport and Faith

A few months ago there was an intense public debate about the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and its former head, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I don’t know if the SABC has a new head yet, or if it is still drifting along flapping its wings like a headless chicken, but yesterday we were made acutely aware of two things that the new head, who ever that many be, should look into.

Sport

Yesterday there was a cricket match where the South African national team was playing against New Zealand. But only the rich could watch it on TV, and it wasn’t broadcast on steam radio at all.

Now this might not matter if you think that sport is a luxury, especially for spectators. No one actually needs to watch other people playing, and there’s nothing to stop them getting out and playing themselves — they could probably do with the exercise.

But the government also keeps banging on about “transformation” in sport, by which they mean that the demographic groups represented in national sports teams should reflect the demographic make-up of the country. But if only the rich can watch those sports on TV or radio, then only the rich will tend to play those sports. Those who can afford to pay to watch those sports on TV will also be the ones who can afford to send their children to the fee-paying schools where those sports are played and effectively coached. If you want to level the playing fields (pun intended) then you must make it possible for the widest range of people see our national teams play. And the government, which controls the SABC, needs to make sure that the SABC encourages this transformation by broadcasting matches where the national teams are playing, both home and away.

Faith

For the last few months, on Sundays when we go to church in Atteridgeville, we’ve caught the second part of a radio programme on SAfm called Facts of Faith. The first few times we heard it, it sounded like a paid denominational broadcast. There was a group of people drawn from various religious traditions who were asked to challenge the views of a very fundamentalist speaker, who then demolished their objections to his point of view in a rather condescending manner.

For a while we wondered which denomination was sponsoring the show. Was it Seventh-Day Adventists? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or some new fundamentalist sect from the USA trying to gain a foothold in South Africa?

We listened to the end of the programme, but they never said which denomination was sponsoring it. It was followed, at 11:00 am by the Sunday morning church service, where one was told which church the service was in, so at least one knew what one was getting.

Eventually we looked up Facts of Faith on the web, and found that it apparently was not intended to be a paid denominational broadcast, however much it sounded like it. Instead it was

Facts of Faith is a platform for religious and faith communities to have a say in social, political, cultural, sexual and general issues. Facts of Faith affords the country and the general SAfm audience’s the benefit of hearing what faith communities have to say about the issues of the day.

Now that sounded as though it could be interesting, except that one wonders why they would broadcast it at a time when most Christians in the country would be in church, and so would not be able to hear it. That too seems a very sectarian thing to do. Nevertheless we continued to listen to the second half on the way home just because we found the main speaker so overbearing and annoying.

But yesterday’s one took the cake.

They were talking about women’s leadership in church, and there was a Muslim, and a bishop of something or other, and someone from the ACDP. We didn’t catch the names because we only started hearing it halfway through.

solascripAt one point they took phone callers from outside, and one caller said he could offer an interesting instance of something in African history that could illustrate women’s leadership from the point of view of Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion. He was quickly ruled out of order by the boss of the show (he was the boss, not a chairman or moderator or anything impartial like that). The name of the show, he said, was Facts of Faith, and that meant that they did not accept anything from history, or culture or tradition. It had to be from Scripture and Scripture only. Well that certainly confirmed the fundamentalist bias of the programme, and I was sad, because I would like to hear what the caller had to say.

And I wonder which “scriptures” are used by African traditional religions.

 

 

The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Trial by media trumps truth and justice

The warmongering mendacity of the Western “mainstream” media just became a whole lot more obvious. They lied about the Iraq War, and several other wars, but at least they did report on the Chilcot report, which exposed many of their lies as just that.

But they are still covering up the lies they told about the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession, which they assiduously promoted. They lied about Slobodan Milosevic, the former President of Serbia, calling him “The Butcher of the Balkans”, a “mass murderer” and saying he was responsible for the deaths of 250 000 people. They brainwashed a lot of people, especially in the West, into believing these lies, which is presumably why none of them have said a word about this — ICTY Exonerates Slobodan Milosevic for War Crimes | InSerbia News:

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has determined that the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

In a stunning ruling, the trial chamber that convicted former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic of war crimes and sentenced him to 40 years in prison, unanimously concluded that Slobodan Milosevic was not part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to victimize Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian war.

Why should we worry about this?

Slobodan Milosevic

Slobodan Milosevic

Slobodan Milosevic died more than 10 years ago, the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession ended nearly 15 years ago — why not let the past stay in the past? What purpose can be served by dragging all this stuff out of the past?

It is almost a cliche to say that those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it, but what the Western media did to Slobodan Milosevic 15-20 years ago helped to promote a regional war, and what they did to Milosevic back then they are now doing to Vladimir Putin, where the stakes are higher. It is not just a regional war they are trying to promote, but global thermonuclear war.

Here is one example of an obituary in the Western “mainstream” media — Slobodan Milosevic, 64, Former Yugoslav Leader Accused of War Crimes, Dies – The New York Times:

As he rose and then clung to power by resurrecting old nationalist grudges and inciting dreams of a Greater Serbia, Mr. Milosevic became the prime engineer of wars that pitted his fellow Serbs against the Slovenes, the Croats, the Bosnians, the Albanians of Kosovo and ultimately the combined forces of the entire NATO alliance.

By stirring a dormant but incendiary nationalism, he succeeded in rallying support for himself in the late 1980’s, at a time when Communism in the rest of Eastern Europe was in its death throes.

At the time of Milosevic’s death most of the obituaries accused Milosevic of “engineering” or “orchestrating” these wars. I wrote more on this at the time of his death here Will the real “Butcher of the Balkans” please stand up? – Methodius Hayes’s journal. The stories treated these accusations not as allegations, but as established facts, though the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has now shown that most of these accusations were groundless.

As for the “orchestrating”, a contemporary American policy analyst, Samuel Huntington, describes the orchestration as follows (in his book The Clash of Civilizations):

The breakup of Yugoslavia began in 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia moved toward independence and pleaded with Western European powers for support. The response of the West was defined by Germany, and the response of Germany was in large part defined by the Catholic connection. The Bonn government came under pressure to act from the German Catholic hierarchy, its coalition partner the Christian Social Union Party in Bavaria, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other media. The Bavarian media, in particular, played a crucial role in developing German public sentiment for recognition. ‘Bavarian TV’, Flora Lewis noted, ‘much weighed upon by the very conservative Bavarian government and the strong, assertive Bavarian Catholic Church which had close connections with the church in Croatia, provided the television reports for all of Germany when the war began in earnest. The coverage was very one-sided’…

Germany pressured the European Union to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and then, having secured that, pushed forward on its own to recognize them before the Union did in December 1991.

And the first violent act in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession was the seizure of customs posts along the Austrian border by Slovenian nationalists — did Milosevic really “engineer” that? One of the better obituaries of Milosevic in the Western media is to be found here — Scapegoat, R.I.P.:

Slobodan Milosevic’s obituaries are damning. In death, as in the last years of his life, the former Serbian president is being blamed for all of the death and destruction that accompanied the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation in the early 1990s. He has been described as the “Butcher of the Balkans.” He is accused of masterminding four wars, of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing. These charges have been repeated so many times that they have become part of received wisdom. Yet the facts tell a different story.

And among the facts that the author, James Bisset, adduces are:

But it was not the Serbians and “Slobo” who started the wars in Yugoslavia. The fighting started because Slovenia, then a Yugoslav republic, declared unilateral independence and used force to seize customs posts along the Austrian border.

The federal prime minister of Yugoslavia, Ante Markovic, who happened to be a Croatian, ordered the army into Slovenia to restore order. The army was met by armed resistance and retired to barracks in Croatia to avoid further bloodshed. The Croatian security and paramilitary forces then surrounded the federal barracks and fighting broke out in Croatia. At this time, Milosevic, as president of Serbia, had no control over the federal army. (Incidentally, the federal minister of defence at the time was also a Croatian, as was the foreign minister.)

Later, when the army lost all of its non-Serbian soldiers, it did become a Serb-dominated force. But when the federal government collapsed, it was none other than Milosevic who ordered all Serbian soldiers out of Bosnia.

Bisset goes on to point out that Milosevic was not a very nice man. He was an unreconstructed communist leader, but so were Tudjman and Izetbegovic, who were backed by the West. But he was not a war criminal, the accusation used by the leaders of Nato at the time as a casus belli.

The Western media are not just spinning, they are spinning out of control, and I urge anyone with any concern for truth and justice to tweet and retweet and share this until the Western media acknowledge that they lied, and start publishing the truth for a change.

Mass killings by lone gunmen

Everyone and their auntie seem to have been discussing the latest mass murder in Orlando in the USA, apparently the biggest yet, and speculating about the motives of the killer.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, as it seemed that everything that could be said had been said, except that three days later it seems that two obvious questions still weren’t being asked, or at least I hadn’t heard them being asked.

Most of the questions seem to have been on the lines of: Was he a member of a terrorist group? What radicalised him? Did he hate gay people? Was he gay?

Some have asked whether he had received terrorist training because he shot so many people in such a short time. But the fact that he had been a security guard should answer that. Most security guards are trained in the use of firearms, and anyone with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle in a crowded nightclub would have no difficulty in hitting someone.

He was reported as having visited the nightclub several times before, and that, to me, raises the first question that no one seemed to be asking: Had he quarrelled with anyone there? Had he quarrelled with the management? Did he bear a grudge against someone, perhaps because of something that had happened on a previous visit?

What radicalised him?

Could it have been reading something like this?

Afghanistan 2015 onwards

Most recent strike: June 8 2016

Total strikes: 324-329
Total killed: 1,546-2,044
Civilians killed: 75-103
Children killed: 4-18
Injured: 163-169

We are told that his parents came from Afghanistan, so an obvious question to ask would be whether any of his relatives had been killed or wounded since the American invasion in 2002, as a result of American military action. But if anyone has been asking it, I haven’t seen it in any of the media reports. Either it has not occurred to the media to ask it, or else they are keeping very quiet about it.

I know that it is very politically incorrect in America right now to say that “All lives matter”. American lives matter, yes. But Afghan lives? Not so much.

Yet people do get worked up about such things even when they are not directly involved, and I’ve seen 2nd generation children of Cypriot immigrants marching to the Turkish embassy chanting “Turkish troops out of Cyprus” even though the Turkish troops went into Cyprus before many of them were born.

I’ve sometimes marched with them myself, because I think the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was a bad idea, just as I think the US invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea.

In most countries that’s as far as it goes, an annual protest march, like the French commemorating Bastille Day, or South Africans commemorating Youth Day.

But only in America can someone who is worked up about such things just walk into a shop and buy a military semi-automatic weapon with a high rate of fire and act out his fantasies of revenge.

sig_sauer_mcx

The answer to these questions may be no.

No, he didn’t have relatives killed in Afghanistan.

No, he hadn’t quarrelled with anyone at the nightclub.

But it’s strange that nobody seems to be asking them.

 

 

Protests about local government elections

Some strange things are happening with people protesting about the local government elections, and apparently, according to news reports, threatening to boycott them.

More than 30 cars torched during Durban riots:

eThekwini Metro Police spokesman Superintendent Sbonelo Mchunu had said on Monday that the protests had been sparked by “disgruntled people who were not elected”.

Many of the protesters were wearing yellow African National Congress T-shirts emblazoned with the face of President Jacob Zuma.

The area is ward 34 and it is understood that those protesting are unhappy with the selection of candidates for the upcoming local government elections on 3 August 2016.

Protests of that kind made sense in the apartheid era, when most people didn’t have a vote. They make little sense now, when people do have a vote. It seems that we need a lot of political education in democracy.

If you are not happy with people who have been nominated, don’t block roads with burning tyres and cars and threaten to boycott elections. Nominate the people you do want. That’s how democracy works. Don’t protest, organise! Where are the civic organisations of the 1980s now that we need them?

The news reports have been confusing and less than informative.

On one hand, it sounds as though people are disgruntled because one party (in this case the ANC) has parachuted in candidates for local ward elections from elsewhere.

If that is so, the remedy is for local people to nominate their own candidates and campaign for them, reviving civic organisations if necessary.

torchcarOn the other hand, there is a possibility of a more sinister scenario that cannot be excluded — that people with vested business interests in being elected have sought nomination and lost. Unfortunately there are such people. In the USA this is called pork-barrel politics, and it is quite possible that some businessmen, unhappy that the candidates they could influence were not nominated, stirred up mobs to protest. That happened quite a lot in the xenophobic riots of a few years ago, where local businessmen, thinking that foreigners were undercutting them, incited mobs to attack foreigners. People like that, of course, will have no interest in forming civic organisations or nominating “people’s” candidates — they want candidates they can buy and control.

The headline of the article may have been more alarming than what actually happened: More than 30 cars torched during Durban riots: Zwane said that five people were arrested on Monday after protests that had seen the torching of more than 30 cars, most of which had been dragged from scrap yards, and a number of lorries.

I hope that the media fully report the trial of those five people, so that we can get a better i8dea of what was really happening and who was behind it. In the same way, I hope they fully report the trial of the people arrested in connection with the recent burning of schools in Limpopo. I find it hard to believe that a community would deliberately try to damage their children’s future in such a way. Tenderpreneurs, on the other hand, faced with the possibility of having to deal with municipal councillors who were not in their pockets, might well incite people to do so.

 

 

 

Manufacturing news

We’ve known for a long time that the media don’t like reporting news, but prefer to manufacture it, but I don’t think it’s ever been as blatant as this: Louis van Gaal says ‘it’s over’ with Jose Mourinho tipped to take over at Manchester United | Football News | Sky Sports:

United have no plans for a victory parade in Manchester, and the club are believed to be angry that news of Mourinho’s potential appointment has overshadowed the club’s first FA Cup win since 2004 and first piece of silverware since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And they’re right to be angry.

  • Manchester United winning the cup is news
  • Media speculation that Mourinho will take over from van Gaal is not news

I very much hope that Manchester United will resist the intense media pressure to replace Louis van Gaal as manager with Jose Mourinho.

MUFCThe media have had their collective knives into Louis van Gaal since before Christmas, just as they have had their knives into Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But are they so narcissistic as to believe that their speculation is news, and more important than the news of Manchester United willing the English (or is it the Emirates?) FA Cup?

Journalism and journalistic standards surely can’t sink any lower.

 

 

 

 

Grumpy old git recommends The Guardian

When I look at what I have posted on this blog recently, I realise what a grumpy old git I have become.

grumpyHalf the posts seem to  complaining about things that used to work, but don’t (or soon won’t, like Dropbox). Or things that you used to be able to buy in the shops, like peanut butter and gooseberry jam, and apple and quince jelly, but no longer can.

But today I want to say kudos to The Guardian for their web site.

I visited the site today because someone posted a link to a review on Facebook. I thought the review was worth reading so I’ll post the link here too: You Could Look It Up by Jack Lynch review – search engines can’t do everything | Books | The Guardian.

And while I was there they asked me to complete their survey on the “user experience”.

Normally the term “user experience” drives me up the wall.

There’s an example right here on the page as I type this in WordPress. It says “There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.”

I tried it for about two sentences and switched back immediately, because the “improved posting experience” translated into English as “increased frustration”, I couldn’t read what I typed. I couldn’t read the menu options. I couldn’t read a damn thing. That, they told me, was an “improved posting experience”.

Nevertheless, after reading the article in The Guardian, I completed the survey, which meant I had to actually look at The Guardian‘s pages, and I realised just how good they are.

For a start, it was legible.

It was in a readable font, and there was enough contrast between text and background to read without holding a magnifying glass up to the screen to find out that that “ll” was actually a “bb” (yes, that happens quite often). Sometimes I just mark/define/select the text as if I’m going to copy it — you know, Ctrl-C + Down Arrow. That usually gives light-coloured text on a dark background, which is much more legible. But why should one have to resort to such things just because some idiot declared that light grey text on a white background was fashionable?

But The Guardian‘s web site isn’t like that. It’s legible right off the screen.

And another thing, the text doesn’t jump around for a minute before you can read it.

That happens a lot on other news sites that I get to by following links from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Someone posts a link to an article that looks as though it might be interesting reading. You read half a sentence, and it jumps up or down off the screen. You try to scroll to find the bit where you were reading, and nothing happens. Firefox is “not responding”. Eventually you try to close the page and Firefox bombs out, and then Windows advises you that plugincontainer.exe had a problem and had to close, and invites you to tell Microsoft about this problem. That’s my “user experience” most of the time these days. I suspect it would be more use telling Mozilla about the problem, but the best thing would be to tell the web page designer who tried to fit 10 litres into a plug-in container that was only designed to hold one litre.

I noticed that The Guardian site didn’t seem to have these problems, or it had them to a much lesser extent than a lot of other news sites.

OK, this post is also a bunch of complaints about a lot of websites from a grumpy old git.

But not The Guardian.

Kudos to The Guardian for creating a site where the web pages are legible, hold still while you are trying to read them, and scroll when you want to read more.

That sort of behaviour is quite exceptional in news web sites these days, and deserves an honourable mention.

 

Privilege and prejudice: the dangers of binary opposition

Someone posted this graphic on Facebook this morning, and like many such things it paints a simplistic picture of the world in terms of binary opposition. It portrays a binary opposition between privilege and oppression, and presents them as mutually exclusive.

privilegeIt’s a lie, and a dangerous one.

Believing such a lie can lead to stereotyping, and stereotyping can lead to prejudice, and prejudice can lead to bigotry, and in some cases it can lead to genocide.

Consider, for example, a child born to rich parents.

Such a child is privileged in enjoying adequate food, housing and clothing, and probably gets a better education than most children.

I don’t think one could deny that the child is privileged.

But the child is living in Germany in 1938, and its parents are Jewish. As a result, the child is bullied at school. Can one say that bullying is not a form of oppression, because the child is privileged, and its problems therefore cannot arise from oppression? I find that a difficult concept, a very difficult concept.

Or look at an example closer to home, for South Africans anyway.

Consider Bram Fischer.

In South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s he was a white Afrikaner male, the most privileged class of all in  that period. He was the son of a judge and the grandson of a prime minister, and his wife was the niece of another prime minister. He was a lawyer, one of the most privileged occupations. So there can be no doubt that he was privileged.

He was also a communist, and after the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950 communists were oppressed in South Africa. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for promoting the aims of communism, and though he escaped he was recaptured and was only released a fortnight before his death, because he was dying.

Bram Fischer was both privileged and oppressed.

Perhaps one reason that such binary opposition concepts are not difficult is media spin. The media love to promote stereotypes, and to put metaphorical black hats and white hats on people.

Perhaps in my old age I’m getting a bee in my bonnet about media spin. Is it actually getting worse, or is it just that I am getting more and more aware of it, and more obsessed by it?

Another example, now that it is an election year in the US, is the stereotyping of “Evangelicals”. We are told that US Evangelicals are divided — they don’t know whether to vote for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. It seems inconceivable, to the media at least, that US Evangelicals might just possibly vote for someone else. You’ve heard of Islamophobia, but now there seems to be a growing Evangelicalophobia.

If you’ve been conned into believing the media stereotype of Evangelicals, please read this: So What, Then, Is “American Evangelicalism?”

If the media spin has led you to become prejudiced, or even bigoted about Evangelicals, print it out and read it daily until you are cured.

Another example of the binary opposition mentality surfacing is the recent South African debate about racism. There is no doubt that there has been a lot of racism in South Africa — the system of apartheid could not have lasted as long as it did if there hadn’t been racism, at least among white voters.

But I also believe that there is less racism now than there was. I found this article quite interesting, as it seems to indicate that we are less racist than some of our neighbours, as shown in the accompanying map:

racism10

Racism, though diminishing, has been around since before the end of apartheid, and some of the racists are quite vociferous. The white ones have mainly surfaced in the comments sections of online newspapers, where you see them in all their ugliness. The black ones mainly seem to surface on radio talk shows. At least that is where I have mainly encountered them, though if you look and listen carefully you can see that is usually the same people phoning in to the radio station, and the same people commenting on the article today as were commenting last week. They also appear sometimes on social media like Twitter, where I generally become aware of them though the chorus of disapproval of something that one of them has said.

Sometimes reaction against racism tends to promote stereotyping of the “All Xs are racist” or “They’re playing the race card again” kind, and that can lead to more binary opposition thinking. But we don’t have to go down that road. You can find a simple test for your own level or racism here: How racist are you?

Boolean algebra and logic with their simple opposition of True and False can be useful in many fields, such as electronics and computing, but in the field of human behaviour and human characteristics and human relationships, they can lead to some very distorted thinking.

 

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