Archive for the ‘comments on media’ Category

Lies, damn lies, Same Sex Marriage and press responsibility

September 25, 2017

Should there be some requirement for “letters to the editor” to be fact-checked? What is the editorial responsibility if letters misrepresent the law?

Re—–
Subject: Editorial irresponsibility
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 12:29:40 +0800

To: letters@sundaytimes.com.au

Dear Editor,

In “Your Say” 24 September, Leslie L Cummings suggested that same sex marriage imperils children, Andre Nel claimed that homophobic bullying is a “red herring,” and ID Smith claimed that legal marriage is required for access to IVF, artificial insemination, and adoption. As the “Indicative Survey” is being seen as a serious vote, and as anti-SSM speakers are verging on calls for children to be removed from same-sex couples, I feel it is irresponsible of your paper to print these letters without an associated factual article citing:

– the statistics which show greater psychological and physical
well-being in children raised by same-sex couples (the opponents of SSM generally cite stats from single-parent families to show ill-effects of lack of one gender in the house),

– recent reports of bullying at school of children of same-sex couples because their parents “shouldn’t have children” or are “unnatural,”

– statements of the legal situation in the various States of Australia, for example, lesbian couples can now start a family using IVF in every state and territory in Australia except the NT. 2014 Australian Census data indicate that 12% of same-sex couples have children (3 % of male couples.)

The amount of spreading of false statements about the welfare of
children and the rights to adoption and parenting is nearing
vilification. I hope someone whose children are bullied, or whose house is vandalised, brings a case under the protective legislation.

FYI, I am in an over-30-year hetero relationship, and have 4 admirable adult children. So no homophobic hatemail, thanks.

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When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

Pot, this is kettle… Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (3)

April 4, 2016

Sometimes I do tell the Sunday Times of the writing I have found annoying.  An example:

The Editor
The Sunday Times
C/- letters@pst.newsltd.com.au

In your B+S supplement (and, too often, the abbreviation letters are appropriate) of 03 April 2016 page 3, one of the suggestions for a healthier life is “Swap this… book for iPad.”

Reading on, one learns that sleep quality is likely to be better if one reads a paper text rather than reading on a tablet. In Standard Australian English, if I swap this for that, I dispose of this and receive that; if I substitute this for that I use this rather than that. Your paper often uses these incorrectly. In this case, the heading should have read “Swap this … iPad for book.”

This is one of a string of errors and malapropisms which have made your newspaper a valuable teaching resource. I believe that, in your efforts to cut costs, you have outsourced editing to people who are not truly familiar with English. My occasional telephone complaints have been brushed off with “You know what we meant,” and my written corrections have not changed your performance. This shows the general public that “You know what I mean!” is a valid response to criticism of one’s English usage. So why should students bother to learn correct usage?

Although I appreciate the chance to let primary school children correct adults’ published texts – ego-boosting editing practice – I think it is time you spent the money to employ literate editors. THEN you could complain about the quality of teaching in Australia.

Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (2)

February 28, 2016

Once again The Sunday Times has provided Western Australian teachers with real-life examples so their students can have the opportunity to criticize adults’ writing.  The best one this week is from the Editorial. (Responsibility for editorial comment is taken by the editor, Rod Savage, 34 Stirling St, Perth, Western Australia  6000 – do send him a letter of thanks!)

In the section headed “Keep Bullies at Bay” (Page 38, News, The Sunday Times, 28 February 2016) the Editor addresses controversy over the Safe Schools scheme, which – acknowledging that ignorance is often behind out-grouping – addresses the range of sexual orientations.  The editorial’s final two paragraphs provide several topics for criticism and discussion:

“Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying.  And that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate schools from that.  Critics say the scheme has highly sexual content which is more about ideology than helping children deal with bullying.

By all means, review the content, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”

Comment

  1.  “… we shouldn’t incubate schools from that …”
    In this case, the desired word is probably “insulate.”  Mrs Malaprop had the habit of using fancy words in order to try to appear admirably educated, and (like Kath and Kim) showed her actual class by her incompetence – thus the literate reader’s derision of malapropisms.  However, in the more Hemingway-driven style of the popular press,  a technical term is often used because there is no simpler alternative, so the journalist who is not certain must not rely on the spellchecker.  “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”  is a marvellous tag.
  2. The first paragraph sentence order and sentence division
    “Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying, and that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians:   we live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate (sic) schools from that. ”  Is that a better order?  Is it better to combine the first two sentences by using the comma before  “and” instead of a full stop?  Is the colon a better choice than a full-stop after “politicians”? Why, or why not?
  3. The paragraph break. 
    Would the final sentence of the second-last paragraph  be better as the first sentence of the final paragraph?  Why, or why not?
  4. Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”
    This is also  worth a class discussion:
    – Why does the author have “by extension” before “bullying”?  – Would “as a result” be better than “by extension”?  Do the answers to the following change if we use “as a result”?
    – Would it be better as “… prejudice, fear, and (by extension) bullying stem …” or as  “… prejudice, fear, and by extension bullying stem …”  or as “… prejudice and fear and, by extension, bullying stem …” or even as  “…prejudice and fear (and, by extension, bullying) stem …” ?
    –  Is the Oxford Comma the best choice here, and if not, why not?
    Why do the suggested alternatives remove the comma between “bullying” and “stem”?   Should the comma remain? Why?
    – Why do the suggested alternatives separate  “by extension” from the surrounding “and bullying”?  Is this necessary? Why?

Thank you, Rod Savage.  Perhaps you could consider these questions before passing such items for publication?

Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers.

February 22, 2016

Australian newspaper editors seem to have decided to follow the advice to journalists “to write at a 7th-grade level” 

Unfortunately, they are printing works at the level of current 12-year-old average output, not at the level a 12-year-old might be expected to read.  This provides weekly items to help teachers develop their students’ editing skills, including reading the surrounding text to infer the probable meaning and then discussing the choice of improved wording.

For example, in a piece on education (I did appreciate the irony) regarding Civics and Citizenship, Claire Dickers wrote:

Education Minister Peter Collier conceded the approach to teaching history had been “ad hoc” for generations.

But, he would be “very surprised” if teachers using contemporary examples within the classroom politics.

(The Sunday Times 21.02.2016, News, page 35)

Comment:

I think it was supposed to mean “if teachers were not also using contemporary examples to teach the basics of Australian politics.”   It may have carried some implication that the use of past examples in teaching politics contributes to students’ awareness of Australian history.

I would prefer “However,” to “But,” as a sentence beginning, particularly as it is a new paragraph.  Had the author written “generations, but he …”  I would not have complained about the conjunction.

Then, on the very next page, a photograph caption  begins:

Fearless West Australian surfer Jarryd Foster has taken on, and defeated, a death-defying wave in Portugal.

(The Sunday Times 21.02.2016, News, page 36)

Comment

I do not think the wave had any inclination to defy death.  The photograph suggested that surfing it might possibly be deadly, and to most of us would be terrifying – and riding it was certainly a death-defying act.  The wave itself, however, seems to be (if one may attribute such things as attitude and awareness of its future to a hydrological event) merely going about its duties in an exemplary, even enthusiastic manner, with no attempt to evade the final cessation of the wave-form.  Surely, the wave was (again, providing one accepts that it can have attitude and awareness) accepting rather than defying its death?

The dissection of a gruesomely malformed creature may be educational, but I would prefer not to have to see such things on a Sunday morning.

Cruz Iowa “big victory”?

February 7, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/02/ted-cruzs-interminably-long-iowa-victory-speech-annotated/  said “Ted Cruz won a big victory Monday night at the Iowa caucuses.”   Most Australian media had American talking heads referring to a clear victory and Donald Trump coming second, with little talk of Rubio.

From http://www.iowacaucus.biz/, Marco Rubio took 23.1 per cent, Mr Trump 24.3 per cent and Mr Cruz 27.7 per cent of the vote.

Less than a 5% difference?  In polling terms, that’s experimental error.  In USA political terms, at the start of the long chain of preliminaries in  other – less farm-based – States, this is neck-and-neck.

I think the media have not done a good job of reporting here.  We have the right to feel insulted, and the responsibility to wonder about their hidden agendas.

 

I

August 14, 2015
There are differences between judging others based on their writings, making allowance for the perils of Murphy (Muphry’s Law when one criticises others’ writing) and wishing to be accurate oneself.

The Standard English forms of spelling and grammar were set up partly to facilitate accurate communication, and the standardisation has led us to be able to share the thoughts of people who spoke dialects we would struggle to understand and who lived hundreds of years ago.  We learn our individual forms of written English (as with all languages) through our lifetime’s experiences linking form with meaning.

Accurate (that is, adhering to the Standard form) spelling and grammar are a matter of peacock’s tail (display of energy beyond essentials for survival, thus good genetics) and also a matter of courtesy to the reader (we ought not have to guess what you meant to say.) I do not mind making allowances for those with a learning disorder, but would prefer to rewrite poorly constructed comments with standard spelling and grammar before putting them online. Why? Not mainly for personal display. Not just as courtesy to readers. Largely because online items are, for many students, the main form of reading and writing, and thus the main source of background awareness and practice of spelling and grammar.

Students who have the capacity to learn the more esoteric levels of Standard spelling and grammar are not doing so, and thus are unable to read with ease more complex texts containing very deep concepts and subtle humour. They therefore fail to develop their greater potential depth of understandings and ability to describe complexity as rapidly as was previously possible, when true speed reading (not skimming, but reading well beyond speaking speeds full text perception and comprehension) made access to thought much more rapid than is possible with TED-talk transmission.  They may not develop to their full potential for thinking at all, which is a loss for Humanity.  They also miss out on great ideas and great entertainment – wonderful things which they could translate for the many who have not the potential or the time to read the difficult texts, another loss for us all.
So, as a public service, if you can be correct – do so.

“That Dress” : Not neuroscience, if you saw brownish and blueish … camera effect, I think.

August 13, 2015

If you remember the chatter about what colour “that dress” was, many talked of “personal perceptions” and “Brightness of environment.” None of the commentators asked the first question that I had:  What are the colours on the image on my screen?  Or the second question: What factors other than the incoming light may affect colour perceptions?  They assumed the screen image was the same as the dress, and that different perceptions were physically based and in some sense equally valid – they didn’t ask “Why do some misperceive?”

Being a bit scientific, however, I used paintshop to sample and make swatches of the colours on the web images in question and the web image of “the original.”

http://www.buzzfeed.com/catesish/help-am-i-going-insane-its-definitely-blue

and http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/02/26/the_great_blue_and_black_versus_white_and_gold_dress_debate.html

And got these 3 sets of colours.

that dress colours   Can you guess which is the question post and which was the “original dress” image?

Note that the neuroscience effect is noticable – the swatches may seem darker than the perceved colours on the question posts’ dress image.  But it takes talent to see the top left swatch as black.

In different parts of the images, I found different specific shades, but all in the same groupings : for example, for ” black” locations  the web image in question had hue about 30, saturation 50 to 100, and light  about 50 to 90 with  slightly higher R (110 – 140) than G and half to two thirds the B as R ; while the “the original dress” web image on the Slate for  black had saturation and light about 20 to 50 and hue about 160 to 180, with R and G  about 30 to 40 but with B slightly higher.

I think the question posts’ image had been changed by the limited capabilities of a digital camera (probably in a mobile phone.)  I wonder why none of the news reports on academics’ explanations mentioned that?  And why they didn’t mention the confounding problem of social effects on perception, well known since the 1950s (search on Asch and Conformity)  – which  adds to up to “we see what we expect to see, and we expect to see what other people say we can see.”

I think it would be interesting to do a study correlating the responses to such a colour question with personality, including personal response to social pressure.  Do those who want to be different “see” less likely suggestions?  Do conformists “see” what they are told most people see?  Do those who see purple cats (when the cats are purple) resist incorrect suggestions?

In other words, the differences may be more social science than neuroscience.

 

PS: good commend on fb:

Ceri Vergeltungswaffe I do disagree on one point – it does not take talent to view the top left swatch as black. It takes a poor colour display on a digital device. Or it take growing up with digital devices where “black” is really just super-low saturation and one has become used to adjusting. The subconscious process of “it’s black in context” is the same as the checkerboad “are these two squares the same” illusion.

What is normal?

January 27, 2015

This was left in a caravan park in the 1950’s, earlier provenance unknown, but the hairstyles date it.

My, how culture changes: we are no longer allowed to see the range of shapes as normal, let alone have images of them or names for them except on unsavoury internet sites. Some may object to the descriptive lables, but I think they are rather poetic.

In these days of Barbies, airbrushing, and boob-jobs it could be a valuable health-ed and art resource.  Imagine comic-books with the full range depicted…

 

A Newspaper’s exam hints – (sigh.)

March 9, 2014

In “10 writing tips when sitting a written exam”  I read – yes, I read on despite the probable quality  given  the title’s poor construction – :

“Affect / Effect – Effect is a noun.  For example – Cyclone Connor had a great effect on the town.  Affect is a verb(doing word).  For example, – The virus affected Libby so much that she had two days off school.”

(Sunday Times “Chillout” NAPLAN liftout, 09.03.14)

This explanation is, to be polite, sub-optimal.  The explanation given means that the students are not prepared for real world uses of the words. Both words ARE  used as noun and verb.  The REAL difference lies in the prefix.

The root is the Latin facere, “to do or to make” – the same root as “factory”.  The prefixes are ex– (outward or out of) and ad-  (towards or onto)  which assimilate to the “f” of facere to make the words effect and affect.

The noun is the outcome of the verb.  Thus, when you effect a change in something, you have an effect on it – the change goes out from the one who is the centre of our attention.

Affect is the change from the point of view of the one changed: If you affect an accent or a style of dress, you put it on your self; the virus affects you when it has an effect on you.  It is usually used as a verb, but is also a noun.  The noun “affect” means feeling or visible emotional response: “The depressed man showed flat affect.”

This leads to different understandings of other words.  For example, consider “Affection”: feelings making one want to go towards a thing, a different play on the same root and prefix;   “Affectation”: a style or behaviour  affected for effect.

Explaining it this way leads to improved comprehension and spelling, as more words are analysed in terms of their prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  Seeing our words as Lego-like constructions is a powerful literacy approach – and a great tip to help with written exams.

How hard is it to get it right? If newspaper conglomerates can’t afford an academic’s consulting fee, how much does a literate journalist cost?  Remember, the ones most likely to read them are the ones who have few other sources to check.  Do newspapers have a social responsibility here?