do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 2

3 December, 2007

venezuelans yesterday went to vote on two constitutional reform packages. mass media furore was particularly evoked by the proposal to remove the presidential term limit. neither of the two packages made it through the referendum.

judging by the venom aimed at venezuelan president hugo chavez, such as doubting his democratic credentials and claiming dictatorial tendencies, the country is effectively an authoritarian dictatorship. bypassing the obvious question what role referendums play in a dictatorship, here is another thought exercise.

here is hugo chavez’s reaction to his referendum defeat according to the bbc:

“To those who voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them,” he said. “I ask all of you to go home, know how to handle your victory.”

cbs posted a ‘light’ version of this, reporting rather chavez’s reaction after voting instead of his official announcement as quoted earlier:

“I’m very sure that everything is going to go very well,” Chavez said after voting, holding his newborn grandson in his arms. “We’re going to accept the results, whatever they are.”

at the same time, cbs did not fail to underline what would have happened if the constitutional reform packages would have passed – a remarkable way to ignore the facts on the ground:

In addition to extending Chavez’ ability to repeatedly run for office, the proposed constitutional changes would have improved his odds, by allowing him to suspend civil liberties and handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map.

(bonus points to those who observed that the us president already enjoys these two benefits.)

would it not have been correct for cbs to note that their earlier accusations regarding chavez’s dictatorial tendencies have been proven wrong by his official reaction?

does it mean that they will continue this miss-characterisation of hugo chavez despite his actions, failing this opportunity to straighten their record? if it does, are they playing the corporate and government card in demonising a figure they are afraid of?

to summarise: having lost the referendum, chavez accepts the results. cbs insists on accusing him of being a closet dictator in the face of evidence to the contrary. are their opinions more important than facts on the ground?

clearly, i cannot look into the future (unlike cbs, who are even able to predict what would have happened if chavez had won the referendum), so i can only hope the situation in venezuela will remain as stable as it looks right now.

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do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 1

3 December, 2007

the administrators of medialens came up with an interesting thought experiment in one of their alerts in 2006 about how corporations do their best to keep the public ignorant about the contradictions between corporate profits and public environmental concerns. paraphrasing, this is the thought experiment, which i also posted on the helium forums:

some time ago, bbc radio advertised a phone-in discussion on iraq with the following line:

are 100 british soldiers’ lives too high a price to pay for democracy in iraq?

the stated intention of the us and uk administrations, ‘to bring democracy to iraq’, was now being presented as an actual goal. imagine if the same programme had suggested:

are 100 british soldiers’ lives too high a price to pay for us corporate control of iraqi oil resources and to maintain global us hegemony?

this would undoubtedly have drawn intense flak for being unbalanced and unfair. similarly, the financial times published an article last year which reported that warnings on the consequences of climate change

have prompted tony blair, the prime minister, to make tackling climate change a priority for world leaders in the coming year’

which is another instance of turning a stated intention into an assumed actual objective.if the mass media find it acceptable to present government communications as fact, are they not simply reporters of the official view? does that mean that they engage in government propaganda?


teaching your children how to deal with prejudice

4 November, 2007

You walk in the park and see a tall figure standing in the shadow of a tree. You cannot make out if it is a man or a woman, but since you are with your child, you decide not to find out and turn around.

Welcome to the world of prejudice. You may not have noticed, but your instinct just told you to act without sufficient knowledge. That is called prejudice: to make up your mind based on limited information. We are born with it, fortunately.

Prejudice has helped us survive over the millennia. It has served us well, because most of those years we lived in situations where quick decisions made the difference between life and death.

No more: by now, we have become highly social, deeply embedded beings with evolved networks of acquaintances, expectations and obligations. Quick decisions may have undesirable consequences. Rather, we’d prefer to suppress them in favour of more acceptable behaviour. How do we know what type of behaviour is more acceptable? Simple: years of experience have taught us the types of civil interaction that are most appropriate.

Our children only possess their instincts. They may perceive danger where there is none or exclude peers based on differences that we consider inappropriate. Those very considerations are for them to learn and for us to teach. Clearly, our cultural heritage serves a purpose and we would be lousy parents if we did not imbue our children with a measure of what is desirable and what is not.

How? The only way that children learn: by example, rather than by telling and punishing them. Your child will learn most from your own approach to prejudice – in yourself, in your child, in others. Few children ever learned from the endless sermons of parents that know better. After all, how many parents actually follow their own admonishments? Walk the talk.

If you like your children not to have racist prejudices, how come you don’t have black friends? If you prefer them to show respect to the elderly, how come you don’t take care of your parents? Only by moving consistently beyond prejudices yourself can you convey what it means to recognise your own prejudices whilst choosing not to act on them.

This will eventually bring their attitude towards prejudice to a higher level: they will recognise prejudice when it arises. Only then will they have become human beings in the truest sense of the word.


Should the US pull out its troops regardless of whether Iraq is ready to defend its people?

30 September, 2007

Citizens of the United States of America,

Why would you want to leave Iraq? Were you not positively adamant to get in to start with? What with their involvement with 9/11, or was it weapons of mass destruction, sorry that should read Al Qaeda, hang on regime change I believe it finally was. The rest of the world smelled a rat from the onset (The total number of protesters worldwide ranges wildly from eight to thirty million. Turnouts tended to be highest in countries where governments supported the Bush administration Italy, Britain, Spain, and the US all had massive protests), but the people of the United States needed to be patriotic, one with our boys and with us, not against us.

So there you are. To stay, you understand. For after the regime change, in which you replaced an unrepresentative murderer with another unrepresentative chump of an as-yet unknown record (and shame on you for objecting that this whiter-than-white prime minister of Iraq was chosen democratically, when the people there had to risk their lives to make it to the voting booths), you built your largest embassy right in their capital.

It will consist of 21 buildings across 104 acres and provide space to 1000 regular employees and up to 3000 additional staff. Built, unsurprisingly, by a controversial subcontractor of Halliburton, this is not an investment you make when you are about to leave. The United States erect their biggest embassy when they intend to stay.

After over 3,800 US casualties (as of 27 September 2007) – more, incidentally, than the number of casualties after that disgraceful assault on the skyscrapers of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 – and more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens murdered since the invasion took place in 2003, [5] one objective has been reached beyond any doubt: the establishment of complete dependence of Iraqi society on US intervention when it comes to imposing a modicum of order.

The instrument used by the United States to achieve that order is the same as the one that keeps Iraq’s oil reserves under control, or the one that infiltrates neighbouring Syria and Iran. The latter goals are not publicly discussed by your administration, nor by extension, your mass media. You are, we are told and you believe, in Iraq because they need you.

And hence you provide your proud sons and daughters as cannon fodder to this doomsday machine that is being run for the benefit of your wealthy few. All the while, you parrot the ideological dogmas of a political and economic system that fuels your country’s addiction to foreign intervention.

By now, there is no excuse for your ignorance in the matter. The proof is there for all to see; you are spreading death and misery in numerous countries in the Middle East and Latin America, all the while proclaiming to be banner holders for freedom and democracy.

Given the real objectives of US military presence in Iraq, it is self-evident the US administration wants to stay. The suffering of the people there plays no role in your cost calculations when it comes to controlling the region and dominating the global energy power play. The United States answer in this cynical debate is a resounding No.

The Iraqis, though, deserve an uncompromising Yes.


Should smoking be allowed in public places?

28 September, 2007

Freedom goes as far as your next-door neighbour; the people around you expect to be free from your bad habits, and rightly so.

How do you define bad? You don’t – they do. That is the funny part of freedom: it is so maddeningly subjective that you would almost wish there were somebody to impose your definition upon others.

Except, that would be no freedom; and so I would like to be free from your bad smell, she would like to be free from my foul opinions, and non-smokers would want to be, well, healthy.

Change of gear

Society appreciates health in the same way it appreciates economic growth, patriotism, and freedom. It is taken for granted that these values be pursued. In that vain, government will go against corporate interests to the extent voters will force it and lobbyists allow it.

In the nineties, evidently, public pressure on the US federal government became so vehement that crossing it would have meant losing the elections. Clinton, ever the political animal, sensed this and allowed the judicial branch to persecute the tobacco industry for as long as the public maintained an active interest.

And now, my (foul) opinion

Politics is not my game; I like transparent reasoning, so that you may disagree with me based on my arguments rather than on rhetorics. So let me posit that as far as health is considered, I am selfish. I will try and maximise my health, even to the detriment of the enjoyment of others.

When I go to a restaurant, I want to be confident that the probability of me getting cancer is influenced by my choice of food and drink only, rather than by someone else’s decision to light up a cigarette. (As always, there is more than one reason to want something – such as not wanting to smell like a chimney after a nice dinner, or preferring to taste my food free from cigarette smoke, but that would only serve to amplify my tendency to write long articles.) Only slightly less selfish is my wish to extend this confidence to my loved ones.

Society is good for you

Fortunately, society seems to share my preoccupation with health and so I can leverage its influence on government to limit other people’s freedom to impose health risks on me.

Considerations such as the societal costs of smoking don’t hurt, either. After all, if a smoker only increased the probability of lung cancer for himself, that would be one thing. In reality, though, indirect smoking is just as bad, meaning the incidences of smoking-related diseases increase exponentially when smoking is allowed in public spaces. Which is undesirable in both health and economic terms.

It is with great pleasure that I say: thank you for not smoking.


this is not an article

7 September, 2007

In fact, this is just to write down my amazement about the lack of responsiveness people show in regard to governments lying to us. Clearly, something is wrong here: on the one hand, we take the effort to vote for our representatives in parliament, but on the other, when those voted in start representing lobbyists rather than voters, we stay silent or claim that anyone demanding true representation is naif.

So: why vote if you know your parliamentarian is going to represent lobbyists rather than you?


How to prepare your best resume

6 September, 2007

Introduction

Many resources on the web will explain how to write a CV by listing its types: chronological, functional, professional and what have you. They will not fail to mention how to lay out each one of them, nor what action verbs to fill in the dots.

This article does not aim to discuss those matters. If you are indeed looking for that, kindly move on and refer to

http://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+write+a+CV

The rest of this article will focus on a much more fundamental, much less standardisable issue:

How do I want to portray myself to potential employers?

As we shall see, potentially existential questions such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” will not be dodged but taken head on. Not, mind you, for the faint of heart.

Point of view

First, a quick change of perspective. Imagine yourself looking for an employee. Your business has been doing very well, thank you, but you are forced to leave too many opportunities untouched; all your time is spent on existing business, with no spare moments to develop your markets. You need to hire somebody new.

Your first instinct? Easy; hire people you know – they may not be perfectly suited to the type of work you require from them, but at least you are aware of their limitations. You will redefine their work to suit their talents and take care of the rest yourself.

Key words: suitability, type of work

Suitability

Companies are made of people. Most of the time, those people are reasonably good at what they do and reasonably integrated with their closest colleagues – at least to the extent that essential communication about reciprocal expectations exists.

Suitability basically refers to the professional and relational aspects of work: are you good enough at what we demand from you and do you fit in with us? If either of these two questions is answered with a negative, you are not a suitable candidate.

Type of work

Companies exist because they fill a need. Take away the need and the company is doomed. Take away the ability to fill the need, and it is doomed just the same.

The type of work is, in one way or another, related to a company’s ability to fill a need. Hence, even with similarly sounding job titles, actual work may differ substantially between companies; depending on the niche they are active in or the customer they serve, the work is optimised to fill that particular need. All a company needs is a person with the talents to perform that work.

Who am I?

If you are still with me, congratulations! We are going to fill in the dots, one by one. Let us assume you are actively looking for a job. Here is a conscience question for you: have you asked yourself recently what it is that you like to do? What sparks your passion? Not necessarily work-wise, even.

Perhaps you love gardening, or dig video games. Whatever it is that makes your heart beat faster, keep that thought. See if you can describe the state you are in when performing your favourite pastime. Are you focused? Relaxed? Out of this world? Pen it down, explain it as meticulously as possible; aim for at least five to seven key sentences. This is how you would like to feel most of the time.

When you are satisfied by the answers you’ve written down, turn the tables and ask yourself: what is it about that activity that makes me feel that way? Perhaps it is the contact with people, the opportunity to make a difference, or the challenge to find solutions quickly before time is up. Write all the reasons – again, don’t be satisfied with less than five or seven. Make the connection between these reasons and the states of mind they get you in visible by drawing lines between the two.

Why am I here?

You just managed to describe your passions as well as what rocks your boat – compliments, no mean feat. You are one step closer to the one ideal of ages: know yourself. We are not there yet, but you made a major effort. Give yourself a pat on the back; not many people have gotten this far.

The next step is to think back and list the accomplishments during your lifetime that made you proud, no matter how futile they may have looked to others. They could be a drawing you made when you were three years old, or a discovery you made when you were eleven. Perhaps even a report you devised at work seven months ago, no matter. What counts is the feeling of accomplishment and pride they filled you with at the time. Five or seven is the minimum, but the more, the better.

Make sure your list is as complete as possible; it should disclose your full potential, in all its facets. You don’t want to limit yourself at this stage; we are all about opening opportunities. Pruning will come at a later stage, one that is beyond the scope of this article.

The meat of the story

By now, you must be thinking: Man, this article was supposed to tell me How To Write A CV, and all I get is this wishy-washy Know Yourself stuff. Get real already! Fair enough, I’ll get to the point soon. Just hang on for one more distraction: Your Goal.

See, what you’ve done up to now is no less than a thorough self examination of What You Are Passionate About and What You Are Good At. Combine the two, and tada!, you have the building blocks for the centre piece of any CV you can think of: your professional objective.

Admittedly, you are not going to write “Professional objective: drawing pictures of gnomes in trees”, even if you did write that when you were four years old you felt a great sense of accomplishment when you finished that work of art. Rather, your next step is to figure out what concrete talents are at the base of your accomplishments: creativity, endurance, analysis, empathy, etcetera.

For your entertainment, here is the professional objective from my latest CV:

“IT project management in an environment that encourages risk taking through assignment of responsibilities in accordance with authority.”

How did I get there? I figured I have a knack of getting people around a shared goal and making sure I get out of the way when they get to accomplish that goal in the ways they choose, while being there for them to reduce any friction they might encounter on the way. That is my combination of talents and passions, formulated in a suitably business oriented way.

Make sure, though, that you don’t lose sight of all your other key phrases; they will be useful in tracking that other important part of your CV: the Personal Profile, where you will list those characteristics of you that you imagine are most relevant to your potential employer. Map each of them back to your list of talents and passions and make sure they are relevant to the position you aspire to.

Conclusion

Talents, passion, Professional Objective and Personal Profile: four elements that together provide the foundation for a solid, inspiring and authentic CV that will convey to your potential employers an image of you that is both truthful and relevant. A CV that will enable you to meet those employers in person and take the next step: show them by your actual performance that you are in fact the one they are looking for.

Good luck!


Why the US supports Israel

6 September, 2007

Introduction

The United States has allies all over the world. Some of them democratic, some of them less so. Sympathy tends to go to democracies, because of their institutional representation of the will of the majority as well as protection of minorities.

Democracy

Let us dismiss once and for all the myth of Israeli democracy. Israel is a country for the Jewish, by the Jewish. Other groups are present within their borders, but are treated as second-class entities with limited rights. Israeli laws favouring Jewish over non-Jewish inhabitants have no place in a democratic society. Changes in context permitting, they would have fit well in South-Africa’s former apartheid policy. In reality, Israel is a racist oligarchy where members of the ruling caste participate in the perpetuation of their own regime.

Having established that, one common meme in this thread can be rejected immediately – namely that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. As mentioned briefly in the introduction of this article, democracy is not a precondition to become an ally of the United States. It helps public support, undoubtedly, which is why Israel will do all it can to keep up appearances. Dictators and other government leaders the US public generally disagree with but nonetheless part of the Alliance of the West, are affectionately known as “Our sons of bitches”. Those on the other side – democratically chosen officials included (Venezuela’s democratically elected president Hugo Chavez is not an ally of the West for several valid reasons which go beyond the scope of the article. The name calling and subversive activities by the United States government towards Venezuela is educational in understanding the irrelevance of democracy to being part of the Alliance of the West) – are often referred to as “monsters” or “comparable to Hitler”.

As an aside: one such figure, having switched allegiance to his great detriment, is Saddam Hussein. Our Favourite Middle Eastern Dictator from the Eighties (Saddam Hussein ascended to power in 1968 thanks a CIA supported coup in Irak to overthrow the ruling dictator in 1963.) became The Most Dangerous Genocidal WMD Juggler one decade onward – the only substantial change having occurred being his fall out of grace with the United States.

Sanity

Like health, the most noticeable thing about sanity is its lack. Things just don’t feel right without it.

In a world focused on combatting terrorism, Israel has a tradition of electing former terrorists as prime ministers. Begin, Shamir and Sharon come to mind – Sharon, moreover, a certified war criminal even by Isreal’s standards; he was found personally responsible for the massacres and torture practices in 1982 in Southern Lebanon amongst unarmed civilians.

Any country harboring, supporting or providing infrastructure in any way to terrorists is the legitimate target of the US – Bush docet. Nevertheless, Israel remains a close ally. Something else must be the matter; Israel is clearly an international basket case when it comes to moral conduct and rule of law. Sanity is elsewhere.

Support

In fact, Israel’s support by the United States puts it in the company of other oligarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. This company is not coincidental. The crux of the argument for the US remains – to paraphrase, partially, Bill Clinton in his race for the presidency against papa Bush in 1992 – the petrol, stupid.

It remains true that whoever controls the Middle East and its petrol, has a hold over the world economy. The United States are not about to give that up out of the goodness of their Democratic or Republican hearts. So they need a trusted ally. They need Israel to keep the unruly tribes that happen to sit on the Black Gold under control.

These tribes, unfortunately, don’t take kindly to this intrusion of their sovereignty. Imagine: these thankless nomads sit on the most precious resource in the world and cannot fathom that the US would be wiser in its management than they. Hence, they need to be kept permanently under control. Israel is the tangible expression of that control.

Kind

Never forgetting to bite the hand that feeds it, Israel kindly reminds the US every once in a while of the essential role it plays in securing the prize of the Middle East. So essential is the US realisation of its dependance on Israel in exercising control in that most strategic region, that conceivably the world’s largest lobby is being maintained to achieve that aim by steering the US Congress and Senate in drafting policies that may affect Israel.

Israeli fears become those of the US, with US aims mimicking more and more those of Israel. The need for support and the need to be supported thus relentlessly reinforce each other to the extent that one of the world’s strongest armies is located on this humble little strip of beach on the Mediterranean – ready to roll over formidable foes such as Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, on the wrong end of Israeli kindness.

Conclusion

US support of Israel has preciously little to do with democracy or Israel’s sanity in an insane part of the world. It has, however, everything to do with self interest on both ends. Strategic control is the aim both of them have in common. Keep that in mind when the next attack by demonic (read: Palestinian or Muslim) civilians move Israel to punish their state collectively (Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions collective punishments are a war crime. Article 33 states: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed”) with the largest army in the Middle East.


How you can help your children deal with jealousy towards younger siblings

6 September, 2007

Introduction

It is not easy being an elder brother or sister; you show the way, but don’t know where you are going. And when you take a wrong turn, you get the blame and the younger ones the cuddles.

At that age, jealousy is not a behavioral problem in need of a fix. Let me be clear here: jealousy is not nice, but towards younger siblings, the problem lies squarely with the parents, not with the child. In that respect, parents lack flexibility and sense of perspective.

Flexibility

What loftier goal than treating all of your children consistently? Give them the same set of rules and the same opportunities. They will know what to expect straight from the get-go and have no opportunity for arbitraging.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work that way. For one, the eldest has the simple advantage of age in that he has had the pleasure of living with the parents the longest time.

Moreover, regardless of rules and opportunities, parents are bound to communicate differently to each child because of their levels of comprehension; a three-years old toddler understands more than a one-year old baby. This biological fact alone undermines any well-intentioned equality of rules and opportunities. And it is not the only one; what about different sensitivities, moods, times of day (reasoning with a sleep-deprived toddler, anyone?), even just patience of the parent?

To paraphrase a presidential candidate-turned-president, “It’s the parent, stupid!” Allow for differences in treatment between siblings, taking into account age, sensitivities and character. That is no easy feat; despite all these differences, you need to maintain a perception of balance and fairness. Normally, this means erring on the side of love towards the elder; its the sensitivities of this sibling that are being tested in particular.

Sense of perspective

When you learn to drive a car, an oft-encountered tendency is to focus on the front end of the car rather than on infinity. The resulting driving style is one where every slight deviation from a straight line is compensated by an equal yank on the steering wheel to the other side. Not pleasant.

Children are learning to live. Life is new to them and they look at their parents for guidance and structure (besides love and care). Every perceived act of injustice to them is something that needs to be corrected. They have no way of attenuating their perceptions. In fact, that is the role of the parent.

Learn to drive, learn to live – let us investigate the analogy a little more in depth. Deviations from a straight line, or perceived acts of injustice, need to be corrected: loss of exclusivity (parents’ attention, access to toys, use of room), asymmetry of privileges (peeing in pants, screaming, politeness), or lack of rewards (excitement about baby’s first steps, indifference to elder sibling’s achievements). What these need are a sense of perspective: something the parent, above all, shall provide.

Just like the instructor points out to the aspiring driver that by raising your focus, you get a calmer driving style and experience, the parent needs to take the elder sibling apart and instill perspective using concepts appropriate to the sibling. Tirelessly, with love and patience. If nothing else (and often, there is no apparent way to explain these perceived unjust situations), this mere act will convey the importance of your relationship, as well as your love, respect and appreciation.

Conclusion

Jealousy is to be expected. Its excesses can be avoided by intervening pro-actively and providing learning experiences to the elder sibling at each opportunity. It would be ill-advised to stress how wrong these feelings of jealousy are. Instead, be flexible in your understanding and provide a sense of perspective that young children simply cannot create on their own.

As always with children, love them, show them you love them and give them the opportunity to make mistakes. There is no way for them later to explore life to the fullest. Jealousy is part of this exploration.


Is globalization good or bad?

6 September, 2007

Say, you are relatively well to do: you’ve got a computer, untethered internet access and do not need to worry where to get your children’s next meal. You realise that you’ve got globalisation to thank for your wealth, so you sit behind your computer, surf to Helium.com and argue with all your good reasons in favour of globalisation.

Change of key: you are on the wrong side of the divide and never heard of nor needed a computer. Mainly because your worries are existential: your livelihood has been compromised by development aid to Western corporations, so that your grain has been priced out of the local market by subsidised produce from far away.

Your counterparts in this exercise – the people that wrote in to sing the praise of globalisation – are told this helps the poor survive, but you know better than that. Except, you are in no position to write about this.

In reality, to globalise is a transitive verb. _We_ globalise _you_, because we have the money, means and military. If you are with us, you may reap the benefits. Otherwise, your existence is doomed.

What kind of debate can you expect if the losers of globalisation are not there to tell the story?

Post Scriptum

Globalisation is no new development. In essence, it entails the forceful pursuit of the interests of the powerful at the expense of the rest. Technology has raised the stakes by putting essentially all societies worldwide at risk. Call it feudalism, colonialism, globalisation or empire – the message is the same:

you belong to us.