Category Archives: America

Writing the occasional article doesn’t make one a journalist

THE explosion of online publishing has seen a breed that knows little or nothing about journalism assume posts as editors, writers, and so on.

But when one comes to such positions without understanding the finer points of the craft – as those who have either worked for, or been trained in, full-time publishing ventures do – the danger of overstepping one’s bounds is very real.

Writing is a tricky business: English is a highly ambiguous language. That is just the beginning of the area where one can sink.

There is also the area of where one draws the line – there are very real laws against defaming and libelling people. Even veterans of journalism sometimes go a mite over the line and face problems.

There are some writers who make a habit of pushing the envelope – here, their editors have to serve as the sluice gates and reduce the chances of a legal issue arising.

In other cases, the editor should decide what is relevant to the story and not invade other areas which do not impact on the topic under consideration.

Caleb Hannan, a writer for Grantland, an online website that concerns itself with sport, and is affiliated with the ESPN sports network, appears to have made a habit of going too far, with disastrous results.

Recently, Hannan wrote a piece about the development of a golf club – and ventured into the background of the person behind the club, discovering that it was a transgender individual. A few days after publication, the transgender person committed suicide.

Hannan’s editor-in-chief (yeah, he’s that high up) Bill Simmons made a long explanation after the deed was done. And the site also ran a guest editorial detailing the problems with the piece.

The whole business is one that resembles a situation that would eventuate if a butcher was doing a tailor’s job: these people have little idea about journalism, they are just amateurs with great titles.

It’s a timely warning to all those who think they can publish and be damned.

As Australian Open winds down, where are the Americans?

THE Australian Open tennis tournament, the first of the four grand slams, is slowly coming to an end. The women’s finalists have been decided – Li Na of China will face Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia for the title.

Li went through with a victory over Canadian Eugenie Bouchard; Cibulkova thrashed Agnieska Radwanksa of Poland.

And on the men’s side, it will be Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) or Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) against Roger Federer (Switzerland) or Rafael Nadal (Spain).
Continue reading

TSA goons add to the US’ bad name

PUBLIC relations was born in the United States with its father being Edward Bernays, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. As a result the US is extremely good at projecting itself as this, that and the other.

But in recent years, no matter the excellence of the spin, the US is getting a bad name. And one of the agencies responsible for this is the Transport Security Administration.

The TSA was set up in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Its responsibilities are ostensibly to provide security for airlines and to screen passengers.

It does such a ham-handed job that it is universally hated. But it seems to revel in being disliked and, in fact, often tries to make itself more unpleasant than it needs to.
Continue reading

US must take responsibility for the mess in Egypt

SOME people say that the US is always blamed for what happens in the Middle East. And they argue that laying blame in such a manner is not really justified.

But in the case of Egypt, the US must take the blame. There are no ifs and buts about it. The 400-odd people who have died would still be alive if the Obama administration had indicated clearly that it did not approve of the people’s choice of leaders being ousted in a coup.

That never happened. From the time the military ousted Mohammed Mursi, Obama and his cohorts began to indulge in semantics. By not condemning the coup, and even refusing to class it as one, the US clearly gave the military its support. Aid was not cut off as would have been necessitated had the Obama administration labelled the toppling of Morsi as a coup.
Continue reading

Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
Continue reading

Pursuing Armstrong: a journo’s tale of triumph

WHEN journalists criticise something repeatedly, those who read their offerings tend to conclude that the journalist in question has a dislike of the person or people at the heart of that issue – and that is the reason for the criticism.

But that is often not the case.

Irish journalist David Walsh was probably the only one of his tribe to be critical of Lance Armstrong when the American, on his return to professional racing after recovering from testicular cancer, won the Tour de France in 1999.

Walsh took the stand he did because he loved the sport. And he hated the idea that it was being ruined by people ingesting this drug or that and winning without deserving it.

The 1999 event was dubbed the “tour of renewal” following the drugs scandal that hit the event in 1998, when the Festina team was caught with something akin to a drugstore in a van.

But Walsh, noting that Armstrong had recorded speeds even faster than those in 1998, and also gained an incredible advantage over the rest during the most difficult climb of the Tour, reasoned that there had to be more to the story. Armstrong was not known as a climber, but even if he had been proficient in this aspect of cycling, the time he recorded was incredible.

In his recent book, Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, Walsh tells the story of the problems he faced by taking what others saw to be a stance against Armstrong.

The book is written well and shows the depth of love that Walsh has for cycling, and sport in general. He was fortunate to have a highly supportive sports editor who backed him to the hilt and prevented him from going overboard when the Armstrong issue became an obsession.

Armstrong used every tactic in the book to discredit those whom he perceived to be against him; he would threaten, blackball and use lawsuits when he could. He did what he could to tarnish Walsh’s reputation and blacken his name.

Walsh traces the whole affair from its inception, tells of those who stood against Armstrong – people like US cyclist Greg LeMond and Betsy Andreu, the wife of another pro cyclist, Frankie Andreu. Then there was Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse with Armstrong’s team, who was made out to be little more than a whore by Armstrong when she lifted the curtain about his use of drugs.

Walsh is an old-school journalist, a man with principles. Chasing the story took a toll on him and his family, yet he did not give up. As LeMond put it, he knew that Armstrong’s win in 1999 had either to be the comeback of the century or else the fraud of the century.

As we all know, it turned out to be the latter. Earlier this year, some months after he had been stripped of his titles following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, a stony-faced Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated all through his seven wins.

He lied in that he did not confess to using drugs on his comeback in 2009 – when evidence clearly indicates he did. The statute of limits for legal action is five years – and that’s why Armstrong continues to lie about this.

Walsh’s story serves as encouragement to journalists in a world where telling the truth in print, the web or on TV is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is also an uplifting tale for anyone else, a story that reminds us that there are still people of integrity left in a world increasingly filled with frauds.

Giving women false hope

ONE of the characteristics of the internet age is the lack of thought that is evident in peoples’ reaction to events.

Somehow everyone feels the need to react quickly. This may well be due to the fact that we have grown used to instantaneous gratification.

So many things that once took a long time to obtain or see, are now available at the click of a mouse. It creates a false sense of expectation and also a sense that life can always be lived at that pace.

Thus it is not surprising to see the reactions to the article by actress Angelina Jolie in the The New York Times, announcing that she had undergone a double mastectomy so that she could reduce the chance that she would die of breast cancer.

Nobody has a thoughtful word, everybody has become part of a cheer squad.

Jolie writes that she has the BRCA1 gene and her doctors had estimated that she had a 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Her mother, she writes, died of breast cancer at the age of 56 and she says she can now tell her children that they don’t need to fear they will lose to her to this form of cancer.

Inherent in this statement is the claim, though not overtly, that Jolie has increased her lifespan. But is that really true? Can a human being cheat death? Can we put off the day of reckoning, the day when the grim reaper arrives?

I fear very much that this false impression is being given to whoever reads Jolie’s article. And it is wrong. We all have a time appointed to die. And even if we encase ourselves in concrete, to protect ourselves from any kind of injury, death will come, right on time.

One may even be able to cheat taxes. But not death.

There are a few other disturbing things in Jolie’s essay. She writes that breast cancer kills 458,000 women every year, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Can women from these countries ever entertain the thought of having a gene scan to find out their chances of dying of breast cancer?

The breast cancer genes are patented by a company known as Myriad Genetics and it controls the test for the genes. The test can be done only in the US – a doctor in Australia told a close relative this recently – and it costs a good amount, in excess of $US3000. Certainly, no woman in a poor or developing country would be able to even dream about having the test done.

Not only can Jolie afford to have the test done, she can also get the best possible silicone job after the mastectomy to ensure that, outwardly, everything looks as it was before. Her career will not suffer. Her essay tends to give false hope to many women.

Was there really a need to publicise this in the way it has been done? If it was a matter of reassuring her children would it not have been better kept within the confines or her own family? One wonders.

Given the politically correct era we live in, most people do not dare to contradict anything a woman says or does. Apparently, there can never be a case when a woman says or does something that is wrong, immoral, deceitful or illogical. The response is always that the person who is critical is being so because the speaker/writer is a woman.

Another view of Jolie’s act is here.

Is this where Fox News got its slogan?

FOX News is now the most widely watched television channel in the US. One cannot call it a news channel because most of what it dispenses is right-ring propaganda.

It is doubtful whether it would spread to the extent it has in any other country. But in the US, lots of people are poorly educated and unable to tell fact from fiction.

Hence there seems to be a logical reason for Fox’s financial success.clean_and_balanced

One of the hallmarks of the channel is its slogan – “fair and balanced”. Of course, it is anything but fair and balanced – it is biased and skewed to extreme right-wing views.

Fox is not the only organisation, however, to test out this slogan. The maker of a shampoo, Head and Shoulders, came up with something similar (right) a long, long time ago.

Did Fox use this bottle as inspiration for its slogan? One wonders.

Christie will be there in 2016

CHRIS Christie’s appearance on the Late Show on Monday night (February 4) is a clear indication that he is going to be among the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination in 2016.

Christie was the butt of numerous jokes on the show during the 2012 campaign, some of them pretty vicious ones, and all directed at his weight.

He showed that he could take it very well and even came armed with two doughnuts in his pockets, which he pulled out and ate at the right moments, putting the laugh back on his host, David Letterman.

US politicians are aware of the power that Letterman has; during the 2008 race, John McCain was mercilessly torn to pieces by Letterman when he suddenly broke an appointment to appear on the Late Show. Despite this, McCain came back on the show when he had the time and took all the ribbing that Letterman dished out. He knew that he was gaining votes by doing so.

As Letterman himself put it, “the road to the White House runs through here,” meaning his show.

That’s why Christie showed up, despite being an object of derision time and time again in 2012. Bridges were mended pretty fast and Letterman more or less endorsed him to recontest the post of governor of New Jersey. And there is no doubt that when Christie runs in 2016, he will have access to the Late Show.

In 2012, Mitt Romney kept away from the show which tends to poke fun at Republican candidates. That was a mistake. Letterman, though now in his 60s and nearing the end of an illustrious career, can still make or break politicians. Barack Obama appeared on the show a few times during the campaign and his wife did likewise. It did him no disfavours.

Christie will need to do something about his weight before he runs for the presidency; it tends to get in the way of conversation. But that can be done easily and given his personality he looks to be a good bet for the Republicans, who at the moment are looking like a party without a base.

Zero Dark Thirty is a work of fiction

FOR Americans, September 11, 2001, is a date that tends to awake their sense of patriotism. There are few in that country who can regard this day with even a shred of objectivity and realise that the attack was the result of the US of A’s actions in the Middle East.

Thus, the reaction to the third-rate Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden, is not surprising.

To briefly summarise the plot, it shows the activities of a CIA officer, who is credited with being the one to analyse information and come to the conclusion that Bin Laden was hiding in Abottabad in Pakistan. Seal teams then went in without informing the Pakistan government and killed the man in cold blood.

Most objections to the film have been that it shows torture as being used as a means to obtain information that led to the killing of Bin Laden. In other words, people like Dick Cheney, not the most popular American around, were justified in the approach they took.

And, after all, Americans are good people. They don’t torture or do anything illegal. How could director Kathryn Bigelow portray the people from the land of the brave and free in this manner?

For an individual like me, that matters little. But it is surprising to me that people cannot see the film for what it is: a cheap travesty from Hollywood, one that is just looking to make people feel good and also rake in the moolah.

For starters, the myth that a woman was responsible for analysing the information is just that: a myth. But it plays well to the gallery; after all, a woman operating in a man’s world and showing up the rest will always make for a better story.

This is contradicted by an account of the killing by Peter Bergen, surely the most credible writer on matters concerning Bin Laden. Bergen says the CIA agent who was researching information about Bin Laden for the eight years before his death and was convinced he was hiding in Abottabad was a man.

But Hollywood has had great success in portraying women in such roles; remember the film Saving Jessica Lynch which was totally fiction, yet was passed off as being a true tale of valour that happened after the invasion of Iraq? Zero Dark Thirty has had a good basis on which to cast a woman.

The acting is poor, wooden at times, and over-stated at others. And who would believe that you could converse with militants in Americanese? That’s what happens for most of the film. The militants whom the Americans captured right from late 2001 when they invaded Afghanistan seem well up in American slang. I thought they spoke Pushtu, Farsi or Urdu.

And then the actual raid itself is boring as batshit in the film. It’s meant to convey reality, yet one can’t conceive of such a bunch of bunglers executing a raid of this nature. Why is this part of the film so geared towards reality (or so Bigelow would have us believe) when the director adds on the fiction wherever she wishes in the rest of the film?

Films like this are meant to be part of the historical record. This one is not, it is wildly inaccurate and silly. It caters to jingoism and is meant to make money. That it will.