Just a Little Common Sense

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Ethical Journalism: You’re Doing It Wrong

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CNN - Doing Breivik's bidding.

I’d like you to pay attention to the caption beneath the picture at the top of the screenshot. Here’s what it says:

Anders Breivik’s purported manifesto says he planned every detail of his rampage, down to this photo being released to media. [Emphasis added]

It appears that somebody waltzed into CNN.com’s editor’s office, said something along the lines of ‎”Hey look, there’s this guy who’s just murdered almost 100 people. And here’s some pictures he’d like us to publish. I’ve got a great idea: Let’s publish them, along with a deep, insightful and understanding story on what motivated him, telling the world exactly all those things he wants us to tell the world. Let’s regurgitate his propaganda, word by word. Let’s quote him a lot. Don’t you think that’d make a great story?” – and was applauded all around.

There’s a German word for this: Leichenfledderjournalismus. It’s a compound word that translates to corpse-stripper journalism, describing the kind of journalism that will report anything that sells, completely free of ethical considerations and without any concern or sense of responsibility for the consequences. It’s usually reserved for those selling stories by using unnecessary close-ups of starving children, mortal wounds or giant puddles of blood, but I think it’s quite fitting here.
It’s sickening beyond words to see the world’s big Media outlets being tossed a manifesto explaining in detail how the mass-murderer wants them to behave, just to follow his instructions word-by-word. They publish his pictures, they propagate his views. Anything the star of the hour wishes.

Breivik was to appear in a hearing this monday, the 25th, to “explain” his motives. The residing judge (who apparently has no name) ordered the proceeding “closed for security reasons”, disabling that sicko from propagating his views further. I applaud him. It’s merely a gesture as the mainstream media are doing a better job of spreading Breivik’s propaganda than he could possibly have hoped for, but it’s a gesture of common sense and decency.

PS: I’ve deliberately cut off the picture in question, and just as deliberately I’ve failed to provide a link to the source of both the screenshot and my anger. I do not doubt anybody willing to view the picture won’t have any trouble finding it, but at least they’ll have to do so without my help.

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Written by Phil

July 28, 2011 at 10:11

Things a Police Chief Shouldn’t Say

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CNN.com just published an article about the attacks in Norway in which they interviewed Norway’s National Police Chief, Sveinung Sponheim. It’s nothing extraordinary: He talks a bit about the suspect and the situation in general. What made it interesting to me is the phrasing. Here is what he said, regarding the uncertainty of the number of victims of the Oslo bomb attack and the ongoing search for survivors in the damaged structures:

it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle and a very difficult search. There are body parts in the buildings,” Sponheim said.

Now I’m not sure if I’m being squeamish saying this, but I think this is incredibly tactless. I think someone whose job consists mainly of making public statements ought to do better than comparing the search for body parts to a puzzle game.

Written by Phil

July 24, 2011 at 10:03

Memories – Of My Father

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Going through a box of old stuff, my brother recently unearthed some really interesting stuff: An A4-sized sheet of paper with photographs glued to the front, and a text written by our late father on the back. The photographs date from roughly 1930 to about 1990 and depict my father’s father at various stages of his life. All of them are pictures neither of us had seen before. The text on the backside is entitled “Memories – Of my father” and was written by our dad on the day our grandfather died.
Reading it, for the first time in my life I realized that I know next to nothing about my grandfather. We’ve always been a rather atomic family. Relatives tend to live rather far away and contact tends to be maintained loosely. We did visit my grandparents when we were kids, but not too often, and almost never for more than a single day at a time. My grandfather died when I was 7 years old, and until then I had mostly stayed out of his room, which he only left for meals.
To a seven-year-old, he was an intimidating figure – a grumpy old man sitting in a dark and dusty room, tied to strange and noisy machines that seemed to serve the purpose of doing his breathing for him. This is what he looked like then, and how I remember him:
Paul Schaub

I never spared this man much thought – he simply didn’t play any significant role at any point in my life. Still, reading my father’s recapitulation of his life had me choking down tears. I’m not sure whether that’s due to the depressing facts of my grandfather’s life, or a reaction to the sadness of my father’s voice speaking from the old text. One way or the other, the summary of my granddad’s life is a story worth reading, so here it is:

Memories – Of my father Left: My Grandfather

Born on October 4th, 1921 in a well-off family, he spent a childhood that, according to his own account, was “happy”. With his brother he noshed on raisins and marzipan in his uncle’s Bread-factory, and was allowed to ride along in his beloved grandpa’s (the 7th German to own a Penny Farthing bycicle) Ford “Model T”.

The beginning of his adolescence concurred with the beginning of the Nazi-reign in Germany. Convinced as well as indoctrinated by the new ideology, he volunteered to serve at the warfront at the age of eighteen.

Chaperoned throughout his teenage-years by the HJ (Hitler Youth), he spent his youth in the trenches of a horrible war, and returned “home” in 1946 as a young man from russian war captivity – One bullet in his stomach, the lung penetrated by another, leg injuries, Frostbite, “Russian Periodontitis”, Malaria – without teeth of his own and plexiglass-implants below his knees instead of real bones. A physical wreck at the tender age of 25.

An iron will to persist, cheerfulness and humor (later also alcohol), were the sanctuaries that allowed him to forget his lack of physical ability.

Whether office parties at the post-war-employer’s, rounds of Doppelkopf (a card game) or simply with friends at a bar – with his blunt or sharp remarks, superficial or subtle jokes, his flat crudities or his fiery esprit he always was at the center of any social gathering. Somebody who made people laugh – and made them forget the surrounding debris and its causes, push it to the back of their minds at least temporarily.

He, himself a master of suppression, was considered a humorist, a blithe spirit, the life of every party – and liked that role. Nobody could or wanted to see his suffering, which he wouldn’t allow to surface for even a moment.

A new job, marriage, the birth of his son – the highlights of the fifties.

He lived without regard for his infirmity – which he put out of his mind, but which still existed. Whenever he spoke of scars or injuries, it was like he wasn’t talking about himself, but about entirely abstract objects.

But the suppression of reality did not enable him to endure the permanent burden of a life in the workforce. In his early forties he was as often certified sick as present at the workplace, and was signed unfit for work (or, as he called it, “broken”) before the age of fifty.

1975 his physician predicted that he’d have perhaps two, maximally three years left to live. 1978 he moved to the countryside in good spirits, hoping to be able to catch his breath in the fresh air and for an improvement of his condition. But nothing did improve.

His ailments didn’t get worse, either, but the chronic presence of his condition and the continuing, for him always surprising experience of his physical limitations increasingly wore him down.

The continuous intake of drugs and the accompanying side effects lead to an increasing loss of physical balance, which in turn was medicated with even more drugs (with side effects of their own). Even though he made fun of that essentially ridiculous loop with unbroken (gallows-) humor; the captivity in this vicious circle too exhausted a large amount of his strength.

Today, on February 10th, 1995, his strength is finally drained.

Written by Phil

May 16, 2011 at 22:46

Posted in Germany, Life

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Letter To Faith-Head Jim

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Yesterday I received a comment on my latest post that is exemplary of the condescending attitude of believers who believe that, simply because they are a few years older than me, my views are not even worth listening to. They’ve got it all figured out, and they’re just trying to help a poor, young and obviously confused soul.
That comment is so exemplary in fact, that for a second I wondered if it was just some fellow atheist’s idea of humour. In the end I was convinced of the authentic nature of the comment by the author’s abuse of punctuation and generally faulty grammar. Here it is, in all its beauty:

I stumbled upon your website and will probably never be back. I have no agenda other than to leave you with some thoughts you might find helpful. I know a lot of young people in their mid-twentys…none of them blog. I wonder why you do? Are you happy…I mean deep down? Life is short, death is certain, eternity is forever…Faith comes BEFORE knowledge and understanding, it must…the Truth is a Person…that Person will be with you every step of your journey despite your rantings. You sound like a smart guy…you can figure this out. I wish you well…Regards from America.

As I said, this is a perfect example of an attitude I encounter all the time. My usual tactic is to smile and ignore. It’s an invite to a game that I have stopped playing some time ago, when its predictable patterns started to bore me. This comment being on my blog however, for anyone to see, I felt obliged to answer. Having just had a really great although exhausting day, and feeling relaxed and a tad bored, I was in just the right mood, too. So I blew the dust of my trolling-gloves and accepted the invite.

Dear Jim,
I appreciate your kind but entirely misplaced concern for my personal happiness. If you would actually wonder why I blog, you could of course simply have asked, but if you prefer to stick to your preconceived notion of the angry and frustrated young atheist who blogs because he has nobody in real life who will listen to him, that’s just as fine with me.
I can’t help wondering a little myself… those people you know, presumably my peers by age, do they watch a lot of quality TV like American Idol or Big Brother? Do they drink a lot of alcohol? Because I don’t. And I’d like you to consider which is the more fulfilling past-time: That, or blogging about the kind of political and ethical issues that I find interesting, in a foreign language?

I know you weren’t really interested in an actual answer to your rhetorical question in the first place, but here it is anyhow: I blog because I enjoy writing. I enjoy playing that weird but beautiful instrument that is the english language, enjoy to improve my grasp of it. I rant because it’s something I enjoy doing from time to time. It’s an intellectually engaging way to keep my english-skills alive, and it most certainly beats watching TV. Satisfied?
I am a smart guy, thank you, and I already figured this out. I know it makes you uncomfortable to even consider the possibility of a happy atheist, because that might mean you need to seriously reconsider your world-view, but YES, I actually am happy deep down.

You are right, faith does indeed come before knowledge. That is because it acts as a gap-filler in its absence. Those who choose to still stick with it once actual knowledge is available are cowards, too afraid of change to opt for improvement and a widening of their horizons. Terrified, they stick to the mundane and shrink away from exploring the realms of intellectual growth and sensual fulfillment in which true happiness can be found.

It’s kinda cute to see you try to patronize me, Jim, but your petty fairy-tales and empty promises of a better beyond fail to impress: With music, philosophy, art, literature and human relations I have a wealth of experience and beauty at my disposal right in the here and now that makes your promises of heaven look pale by comparison. My faith is in people, and it’s a faith stronger than yours will ever be.

——–
UPDATE: Despite his announcment not to be back, here he is. The discussion continues in the original comment thread.

Written by Phil

March 9, 2011 at 00:46

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