Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

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?

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.

What I wrote and what they printed 09 Nov 14

November 9, 2014

Mind you, I didn’t mind all their changes.  A few were good.  Guess which ones I would accept …

What I wrote:

Is terrorism the right word?

In response to the abuse of Muslim people and vandalism of places seen as mosques:

In my time, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians have oppressed and killed people for having the wrong religion – or the wrong branch of a religion.  Israeli soldiers stood by while Christians came and slaughtered mostly Moslem refugees in a refugee camp. The USA will not accept a non-Christian president, and say that atheists cannot be trusted. Should they be abused and their holy places vandalised?

Every belief system has extremists who (often from deep belief) attempt to force their beliefs on others.  Most religion have aspects of the holy texts and related traditions which evil can use to lead others to horrible action. Catholics and Protestants burned each other at the stake, remember.  Every religion also has people who use only the parts of the creed which lead to tolerance and the best human actions.

I think we could adopt the word “daeshi” to mean “bigot who imposes their views on others.”  (It helps that the Islamic extremists hate the word.) I think that the current “anti-terrorism” actions should be reworded to be “anti-daeshi”, thus making the offence one of promoting the denial of freedom of belief for those one disagrees with, not one of planning violence.  (Yes, a limitation – with criminal penalty – on freedom of religion and cultural tradition.)

Similarly, I think that members of any sect which oppresses others when in power, or which state that they will do so, should be denied refugee status unless they abjure the part of their creed which denies others equal rights regardless of religious belief.

What they printed:

changes in red

Every religion has its oppressors and bigots.

In response to the abuse of Muslim people and vandalism of places seen as mosques, in my time Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians have oppressed and killed people for having the wrong religion – or the wrong branch of a particular religion.

NP Israeli soldiers stood by while Christians came and slaughtered mostly Moslem refugees in a refugee camp.

NP The USA will not accept a non-Christian president, and say that atheists cannot be trusted. Should they be abused and their holy places vandalised?

Every belief system has extremists who (deleted: often from deep belief) attempt to force their beliefs on others.

NP Most religions have aspects of the (was “their”) holy texts and related traditions that (was “which” ) evil can use to lead others to horrible actions.

NP Catholics and Protestants burned each other at the stake, remember.

NP Every religion also has people who use only the parts of the creed which lead to tolerance and the best human actions.

Deleted all of para: I think we could adopt the word “daeshi” to mean “bigot who imposes their views on others.”  (It helps that the Islamic extremists hate the word.) I think that the current “anti-terrorism” actions should be reworded to be “anti-daeshi”, thus making the offence one of promoting the denial of  freedom of belief for those one disagrees with, not one of planning violence.  (Yes, a limitation – with criminal penalty – on freedom of religion and cultural tradition.)

Deleted:  Similarly, I think that) members of any sect who oppress (was:  which oppresses) others when in power (deleted: , or which state that they will do so) ,  should be denied refugee status unless they abjure the part of their creed which denies others equal rights regardless of religious belief.

 

This example free for use in discussion of style, Newspaper editing,  and the politics of free speech.

Do the politicians think we have no memory? Part 3

March 23, 2014

After an Australian election, if  one party gets a majority of the whole population vote but another party wins the majority of seats the losing  politicians regularly grumble, throwing around words like “gerrymander.”

Politicians say they want schools to teach students to understand and value our way of government.  They say they want schools to emphasise teaching of history, and it is an important part of our history that a great deal of care was put into setting up our system, which started peacefully and by negotiation well after the hasty and violent starts of the main European countries and the USA.   They say they want these things in the curriculum,  but I wonder whether they want voters to remember their schooling when they come to vote.

Background  to  the Australian Electoral System

(Skip this if you know it already)

It was a deliberate choice to have States’ federal Senate numbers equal regardless of population and representing proportional votes within each State, to prevent the tyranny of the majority.   They were certainly influenced by John Calhoun’s ideas on concurrent majority as an approach to the problem, ideas still discussed this century .   It was also a deliberate choice to have each voter  have as many preferential votes as there are candidates up for election in the State,¹ a change made in 1949, even though the mathematics and vote tracing were horribly curly in the days before computerised  counting.    A voter may vote for all one party first, or one Green, one Independent, one Labor, one Liberal, and one Euthanasia party candidate, then mix up the remaining candidates in any order as long as each candidate has ves preferred number on the paper.  If a candidate has more first preferences than ve needs (one-sixth-plus-one of the votes is the quota if there are 6 seats), ves surplus votes are distributed as first preferences in proportion to the preferences of the voters who gave ver the votes.  Candidates who get less than the fraction needed to get a seat are knocked out from least votes up, and at each step the loser’s votes next preferences are distributed and the scrutineers check whether someone has got the quota.    (Messy!  I’m not making this up – check with the Australian Electoral Commission)  No wonder they introduced “Or you can tick one party’s box and we will distribute all their preferences the way they have told the us to.”

It was also a deliberate choice to have each House of Representative seat linked to its own area (and electorates other than islands are single patches of land), and that the voters from that area  vote  for  individual candidates as individuals, though the candidates  could ally to parties.  That way, local interests could be well represented by someone known to the locals.   Also, in each area, the voter has preferential votes as in the Senate – so that if they like Alan but would rather have Jan than Ursula if they can’t have Alan, they can try for Alan but know that Jan will get their vote if he fails.  They just number the order of preference in the candidates’ boxes.  This means that you don’t get someone hated by 60% of the electorate into the seat just because the 60% have slightly different ideas about the best way to do things and vote for 3 other candidates first.  If they all prefer a 4th to the 40%er, they get their way.

Demographics

For philosophical reasons, State governments have been selling off State-owned housing in expensive areas, buying housing in less expensive locations,  and subsidising private rentals for those in need – who can seldom get private rentals in the prime locations.   In addition, those short of money sell out of high-value areas to free up the money, and the wealthy seek houses close to well-known exclusive schools and other valued social resources.  This has led to the service-providers (shop assistants, teachers, police, cleaners, etc) having to travel long distances to work, and tertiary students having to travel hours to their studies, with the associated travel costs – while the wealthy are within easy foot or  public transport access of resources.  This is fair in the  eyes of those benefiting from the user-pays  approach, and they see its good points:  after all, if the State provided enough low cost housing in the  upmarket areas, the dregs of society would lower property values.  An additional benefit is that the local State schools have a better class of student and parents and thus better outcomes than in the more difficult suburbs..

You got over half the total but not enough seats.  Problem?

True, there are many reasons people vote their different ways, but let’s pretend that wealth-aligned interests are usually enough to swing the vote.  Let us assume that the electoral boundaries are fair, with pretty similar numbers in each electorate, and thus there is no real gerrymander.  Our Electoral Commission does work at being fair that way.

Pretend there are 10 electorates.

Rich party has 90% of the votes in each of 4 electorates.

Poor party has 60% of the votes in each of 6 electorates.

% of total voters                   %  of total vote             seats / 10

R 36%        P 4%                                 40%                      4

R 24%        P 36 %                              60%                      6

total votes by  party                 R 60 %        P 40 %

Total seats by party                 R   4             P  6

Don’t complain.  This was part of the design of the Australian system, deliberately included to control concentrated power groups with regional agendas inimical to the wider society.   This is in the curriculum – the intersection of History with Society and Environment.   Why don’t the journalists call the politicians on this, rather than just quoting them?

I am so annoyed that I am going to shout.  

If  you want a greater proportion of the seats, have a better distribution of your supporters across electorates. 

A good start would be:  Get out of your enclaves of power, and make housing available for the “lower orders” closer to the places that they work.  If you can’t stop the worsening inequality, at least reduce home address’s value as a predictor of socioeconomic status.  

 

¹ I know, it is really “a preferential vote” but they used be allowed to number only a limited number of preferences and I wanted to make the distinction .

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?

When common usage leads to poor transmission of ideas

October 25, 2013

When I was learning English, “Substitute X for Y” meant that Y was the standard and X would be the substitute.   About ten years ago, newspaper cooking columns started to use it to mean the opposite – in a brandy cake you could “substitute brandy for your favourite liqueur.”   They ignored pedantic attempts to get them to change their ways.  (Hey, I teach small children: pedant by definition…)

Now a spokesman says that the National Heart Foundation guidelines recommend that we “substitute saturated for polyunsaturated…”  From context, I am sure that he meant the opposite.  (27.30 on  http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3876219.htm )

Thought:

Many dictionary-linguists have trained through Anthropology, and use its emphasis on cultural relativism – report what is done, do not make value judgements on others’ ways of being.  They  push for dictionary definitions and grammatical texts to reflect current usage (“…it means just what I choose it to mean,” said Humpty.) 

We teach literacy with concern for the transmission and reception of ideas.  How do we balance the push to Humpty with the need to transmit thought clearly across age groups, nations, and centuries?

Picket fences, Miranda Devine, Federal Cabinet’s one woman, and Team Sports.

September 24, 2013

I was fascinated (as I often am) by the weekend newspaper, which has, to quote Ogden Nash, “all the gruesome fascination of something that fell or jumped from the thirtieth floor and lit on a picket fence.

In this case, particularly by  “Sorry Ita, but Bishop’s no token woman.”  From The Sunday Times (Western Australia)  (“Insight” P.63 22.09.2013) – Miranda Devine’s blog, online at the (Australian) Telegraph:

http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/mirandadevine/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/women_should_learn_from_julie/

If it were voiced by “First Dog on the Moon”     I would know it was satire.  Unfortunately, it is printed in a Western Australian newspaper and, from the comments permitted to remain on her blog, I think she is serious.  Please read it before continuing (should it disappear, let me know and I will post a jpeg of the newspaper page.)

If you are too busy – in essence, she suggests that there is only one woman “ready” for a Federal Cabinet Ministry because too few of the women in politics have been  involved in team sports, so they are not “Team Players.”

For non-Australian readers, you might need to know that:

1. The generation of men in power here come from a background where “Team Sports” means foot-egg and cricket.  This generation tends to like strong women as long as they are in a subservient position (daughter, deputy, etc.) BUT tends not to hear if they voice some new idea –  however, it will often be said again ten minutes later by a man, and then is greeted as a good idea (Personal observation, echoed by others involved in committees.)

2.  The Prime Minister’s team sports background is rugby – a variety of foot-egg where male players are noted for macho behaviour and objectification of women.

3. The status of female team sports is clearly demonstrated by their usual absence from the nightly TV news  “sport” section.  Most young women here have played some team sport – hockey, netball (the home of “here if you need”), basketball, lacrosse …   giving up part of the weekend for their team.   Generally, not foot-egg or cricket, though.  Why? Well, just ten years ago a girl in a State primary coeducational school was  told that she couldn’t sign on to do cricket in the Sports period.  When her family supported her complaint of unfair access to the sport, she was allowed to sign on – on the same basis as late-signing boys.  So, as she had not done the sport the previous year, she joined the “waiting list.” And took up hockey.  Women’s rugby and cricket are seldom reported, even if the teams are winning internationally.

4.  High – level business mentors find that women often subsume their ambitions to the leader’s claimed needs of their teams (personal communications.)  The social conditioning of female children in Australia strongly encourages the compliant/supportive behaviours over individualistic drives, and discourages challenging dominant males.  For example, I heard one older woman tell a teenager “Don’t show how clever you are – men don’t like women who are more clever than them.”

5.  The reality of politics is closer to Mungo MacCallum’s “How to be a Megalomaniac”  – this book is written by a senior and satirical journalist, and rings true to long-term Canberra watchers.

So: few women fit for Cabinet? Sure, it’s because they aren’t on the Women Pollies’ Hockey Team.

Yeah.  Nothing to do with the tendency of selection panels to choose “People like us” as the most capable, and the selection panel here being really not representative of the national demographic profile (i.e. being mostly older white male politicians.)  The link I give is to Mikki Hebl’s  “Subtle Biases in Job Selection,” from Rice University website, and includes the truths that

…there are other Biases we have:   Job/Gender Congruency.
1) In masculine-stereotyped occupations (i.e, sciences and engineering), men’s performance is evaluated more positively than is women’s, even after controlling for the performance itself. This bias shows up in scores of studies and is consistent (i.e., Glick, Zion, & Nelson, 1988; Top, 1991).
2) When women act in noncommunal ways, they are penalized by evaluators; however, when they act in communal ways, they don’t get the job (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 2001).

And many people read Miranda Devine for a “sensible” view of things.

Lit on a picket fence, indeed.