Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Eliot Spitzer Is Now A Columnist For Slate

This amuses me so much. Formerly disgraced Governor Spitzer wrote a column for Slate today. This is going to be the first of many, according to the City Room Blog at the New York Times via The New York Observer, because Jacob Weinsberg, the editor-in-chief of the Slate group, has been trying to get him to do it for months now. Spitzer will be writing a regular column titled The New Policy.

I think this is a great idea because this former attorney general will have a lot to say about what is currently happening in Wall Street during this economic crunch. His first column is about why he does not believe the government should continue to bail out giant financial institutions, especially since the tough times we are in now could be attributed to them. The column goes on in great detail, though frankly, I am not too interested in it– it's just not something I want to read about. But I do believe it is important that someone with great authority on legal and financial matters have insight on this issue, and Governor Spitzer seems to be the person.

(Image courtesy of Getty Images)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bombs Kill At Least 32 Iraqis in Baghdad and Mosul

I was greatly alarmed by this article in the New York Times today written by Katherine Zoepf. It reports that there have been suicide bombings in Baghdad and Mosul on Monday, robbing the lives of at least 32 Iraqis. Zoepf also writes that this degree of violence recalls the unstable times before the U.S. troop buildup in 2007, and has not been seen since the military surge had since reportedly stabilized this region.

Though Zoepf described how a suicide bomber, who looked to be about 16, detonated himself in a crowd at a police training academy in Baghdad, what really caught my attention was the image she painted of the after effects of the suicide attack. She wrote:

About an hour after the attack, pools of blood lay coagulating on the pavement among scattered sandals and combat boots, one of which contained a bloodstained black sock enveloping a piece of a foot.

I literally flinched when I read that because the horror didn't really strike me until I could see that incredibly vivid image in my head. Earlier, in the above paragraphs, "At least 15 people were killed in the explosions," was written and that did not even phase me. I really am ashamed to learn that I am numbed by the many reports of bombings and killings that happen in Iraq– it has all become simply numbers to me. It actually takes a literal description of a scene in order for me to fully comprehend the horror of this event. I hate that this happened, but I am glad I was able to recognize it so quickly instead of remaining unaware of my desensitized feelings towards all these atrocities.

The article moves on to Mosul, which has previously been cited as one of the most dangerous place to be in Iraq. A suicide car bomber had killed at least 17 people, most of whom where civilians, during an attack on a joint American-Iraqi convoy. This is such a discouraging event, especially since the Iraqi Parliament had recently approved last week a security agreement that promises the leave of American troops b the end of 2011. Zoepf also noted that these attacks might be in anticipation the provincial elections that are scheduled on January 31st.

The way she piled all these facts on top of each other gave me a sense of foreboding, like since we have agreed to pull out by 2011, these suicide bombers (who are suspected to be linked to insurgents of Al Qaeda or Sunni extremist groups, though there is no confirmation yet) are just bidding their time until the Americans vacate this bloodied land.

One thing that stuck out was how a man, who remained anonymous, said that all the suicide bombers are simply trying to target Americans, and have subsequently end up killing the Iraqi soldiers who are with them. "All of our troubles are because of the Americans," he said.

I honestly don't know what to make of this. Though the words on the page are emotionless, I could just sense so much anger, confusion, and hurt emulating from this entire article. Iraq, a country that has degenerated no thanks to us (but could we argue it is because of us? I really don't know enough about this), is in the middle of a finger-pointing blame game. Iran, United States; Al Qaeda insurgents, Sunni extremists– there is just too much hate to go around.

In order to find out more about this incident, I went on the Times' Baghdad Bureau's blog, and Abeer Mohammed, an Iraqi journalist who was on the scene of the Baghdad bombing to report it to Zoepf wrote an entry about the bloodied boot that so affected me.

At the end of entry, her words resonated with the thoughts I am left with this article:

At the scene one policeman said to me, with anger: "Maliki and his Iranian advisers are the reason for all this Iraqi blood."

But blaming everyone in the world will not get back one drop of blood to one body of those victims.

I would like to finish with an old Daily Show interview of Lara Logan, who is the Chief Foreign Correspondent for CBS. Some of the facts said in this interview may be a little outdated, but I wanted to point out that at one point, Jon Stewart said, "It's as though we've become numb. I mean, there were 51 people killed today, in a Shi'ite neighborhood in Iraq — are we just numb? Have we lost our humanity with this entire situation?"

To which Logan replies that she feels very responsible for the fact that the American public are not aware of how bad the situation is in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said, "That's what I feel responsible for: that nobody really understands, and the soldiers do feel forgotten... we may be tired of hearing about this 5 years later, they still have to go out and do the same job."

Since this interview aired in June, Logan has met with a bit of a personal scandal. However, it still does not remove from the fact that she is a kickass journalist and a straight talker. I just absolutely admire her for putting it out there that Americans are just desensitized to the war coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the fact of the matter is we should be fully involved and aware of what's going on across the ocean.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

10 Arrested in Acid Attack on Afghan Girls

I am routinely horrified by the violent, random crimes that are done against women in the Middle East. Today's misogyny can be found in Kabul, Afghanistan, where 10 Taliban militants were arrested and confessed to dousing battery acid all over a group of Afghan schoolgirls and their teacher on November 12.

I found an article by CTV News in Canada that reported what happened two weeks ago. According to CTV News, two men on a motorcycle hurled acid at 8 school girls who were walking into a high school in Kandahar. The Afghanistan government had condemned it as an "un-Islamic" act and accused the Taliban of this incident. Of course, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi promptly denied that any insurgents were involved.

Today, Abdul Waheed Wafa of the New York Times is reporting that the Taliban militants have confessed to the attack because a high-ranking member of the Taliban had offered them a reward of a 100,000 Pakistani rupees (approximately $1,275) for each girl that they were able to burn. The article also said that the probable cause for such a show of violence is "because the girls had been attending high school."

This might be just a small sample of the horrors that are perpetrated by the Taliban against Afghanistan civilians everyday, but it rankled me that if the Taliban were trying to garner more supporters in Afghanistan, perhaps riding around flinging acid in women's faces is not the way to do it. If anything, it helps to strengthen the belief that anyone affiliated with the Taliban is "un-Islamic," a the government pronounced them, and militant. Whatever happened in the teachings of Islam that led a group of people to believe the awful, evil things that they believe? Islam, as I have studied in primary school in Singapore, is a religion about peace, and it angers me that a group of individuals have decided to take the religion into their hands and twist the teachings so that it comes out absolutely different from the origins.

But this is not something new I am saying– give me a penny for anyone who has ever written about militant Islam. Isalmofascism, anyone? No, this blog is about journalism, and in the newspaper, the editors (or whoever decides these things) decided that the pull quote for this story should be "An assault that drew anger from the American first lady." That sentence is what the Times have decided to highlight, out of all the choice-y content in that entire article?

Laura Bush was mentioned at the end of the article, almost like an afterthought, like it was the writer's effort to pad his word count. He wrote that First Lady Bush had said that the acts of the Taliban was "cowardly" and "shameful." She is also an advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan during President Bush's tenure.

Though it is kind of the First Lady to bring attention to this issue, it seemed to me that it was a cheap attempt by the paper to grab attention using a famous name. Like "Angelina Jolie is Visiting Children in the Congo" when really, the story is about how the reason she's visiting children in Congo is because that country has the highest rate of rape cases. It's like the media decides that we should care about Darfur because George Clooney is there.

It sounds like I am trying to discount the kindness and humanitarian acts of individuals– I'm not. I'm just wish that we didn't live in such an infotainment world that even news such as an acid attack on school girls (If you look at the headline, you can see the fabulous alliteration) has to be peppered by comments from a famous person in order for it to be more newsworthy.

If it were up to me, my pull quote would be "Eight girls doused with acid by two men, apparently because they go to high school."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Election Day!

Can you believe it? It's finally here. After months and months of campaigning– after all the crazy stunts that each candidate has pulled, after all the speculating by the media, all the proselytizing by the blogs, and the hilarity on the Daily Show and SNL– this day has finally come, and in less than (hopefully) 24 hours, it will be over.

I find myself, today more than all the other days, rather choked up over the prospect of our nation being able to choose a new leader to take us in a new direction. I already voted two weeks ago via absentee ballot in California, and I am a little bit sorry that I won't be able to participate in the Election festivities/frustrations at having to wait for two hours.

Anyway, if you are planning not to vote, I would like to direct you to an editorial over at NYU Local by the National editor Ned Resnikoff, whom I think is really very talented and thoughtful.

Also, I have been trolling all my favorite websites to see what they, or the commenters, are saying. Over at Pajiba, there is an open thread going on, just about Election day in general, and one of the regular commenters, Sabrina, had said that she did not vote in her very liberal state of New York, for the reason that the state was going to turn out blue anyway. Most commenters immediately disagreed with her attitude, but I think TK , a fellow commenter, said it best:

"OK, I'll say this again for those who may have missed it the first time I went on this tirade.

Re: Voting.

I don't give a damn if your state is a lock. I don't care if you don't think your vote makes a difference. You should vote because you can. You should vote because people fought and struggled and DIED to give you the right to vote. You should vote because only a few decades ago, blacks couldn't vote. You should vote because women once weren't able to vote. You should vote because 25 years ago in South Africa, my parents couldn't vote.

You should vote because if you don't vote, you make a mockery of every single person in the world who has been denied their right to do the same.

Goddamn it people, you should vote because it's your right, your privilege. It's a motherfucking honor to be able to vote."

That's about right, I believe. So please, folks, go out and vote. It's may be a long, tedious process (6 hours if you are in Florida, but if you are in Florida, you should definitely be voting) but those hours will be important in shaping our next four years. Less than 24 hours, everyone, and we might be seeing America in a new light.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fury of Girl's Fists Lifts Up North Korean Refugee Family

The headline of this article was what caught my eye when I was scrolling through the New York Times Sunday's stories. Perhaps it was because it sounded so weird in my head, like I pictured a pair of fists literally lifting up a family; or maybe it was because of two words, "fury" and "fists" –they are not used often in headlines, but they are so emotive. A safer headline would have been (here's one off the top of my head): North Korean Female Boxer Inspires Her Family. Sure, there's the same message there, but it is definitely not as effective.

The writer, Choe Sang-Hun, delivers her hook in her very first paragraph when she described boxing as a hobby for the past, when the people of South Korea did not have the 13th largest economy in the world. Using a bit of artistic license, Choe Sang-Hun delivers to readers an image of a boxer who should be seen as scrappy, hard-working, and (in South Korea today) rare. She sets up the story of Choi Hyun-Mi, a 17-year-old female boxer, who has recently won the World Boxing Association's Women's featherweight championships. She and her family are also from North Korea, and have been refugees in South Korea for about four years.

Her father was quoted throughout the article, as he was the one who decided to move his family to the South, because he had a taste of what freedom was like through his business travels. However, once they gained asylum to South Korea, he realized that life in South, through free of restraints, was relatively harder since he was not able to find a job. The article said that the family lives mainly off the government handouts, or off of what Ms. Choi earns/wins with her boxing tournaments.

Maybe the writer should have gone into it more, but I kept wondering throughout the article why the father couldn't get a job. If he was a relatively successful business man in North Korea, couldn't he use those same skills to get another job in their new home?

What was also apparent throughout the article was the amount of fear and power that the government of North Korea have instilled in their people. Ms. Choi's father said that he was so worried about being caught by the government after moving to South Korea (note: After gaining legal asylum.) that he changed his family name.

But the writer uses this little detail to end her article, when she had Ms. Choi describing her dreams and aspirations. She said, at the the end, that she wanted to sweep all the world titles in her weight division, and then find some way to break into the entertainment industry. "I'm going to make everyone recognize my name," she said, which I thought was a poetic ending, since it showed that she (and I guess, metaphorically) her family no longer live in fear of the North Korea government.

All in all, I thought it was a good article, and really really interesting. I especially liked the nice gender role switch, since boxing is usually considered such a masculine sport.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hindu Threat To Christians: Convert or Flee

Today, the New York Times front page brought the horrifying story of a religious clash happening in the Orissa state of India. Hindus in that region are forcing the Christian minority to convert to their religion with threats of destruction and violence. The reporter, Somini Sengupta, reports that the result is that more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed.

Sengupta says early in the article that most people know India as– the sticker label that this country has, if you will– "the world's most populous democracy and officially a secular nation." She then contrasts that label by painting the actions of the angry villagers to their Christian neighbors. However, not much later in the piece, Ms. Sengupta says, "India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians... But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years."

The missing link in this very beautifully-written article is contained within that sentence. Ms. Sengupta is very thoughtful in explaining the catalyst that set off the religious turmoil six weeks ago. She not only paints the religious aspects of it, but also the social and economic factors that fueled the unrest. However, she does not tell the readers if there were any previous notable skirmishes between the Hindus and Christians. I felt that it was necessary because it would certainly add as a foundation of the present conflict as well.

Also, another problem is that we, as international readers, do not know about this contentious clash between Hindus and Christians. In fact, the most common thought is that the nation of India is made entirely of Hindus, and Christians probably reside peacefully as the minority because we think of India as a successful democracy. But Ms. Sengupta reported it like the previous conflicts are not news to readers, when it would just really enrich our overall picture if she would just give a couple sentences as examples in the past.

That aside, I thought that this article was quite good, in terms of story/plot. It really read like a drama. However, it was also heavy with the writer's opinions. For some reason, reporters who write about religion tend to show people in a very one-dimensional light. And with this article, there was indeed a danger of that, especially with this bully-victim, he-said-she-said narrative.

At one point, Subash Chauhan, the state's highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, was shown as thoughtless regarding the actions of the Hindus. According to Ms. Sengupta: "Who am I to give assurance?" he snapped. "Those who have exploited the Khandas say they want to live together?' Besides, he said, 'they are Hindus by birth.'"

I don't deny that Mr. Chauhan said such things, nor am I convinced that he is completely blame-free when it comes to the violence. My little problem is with the fact that Ms. Sengupta used the word "snapped" with his delivery. As writers, we are supposed to stick to neutral terms (even if the comment/statement/question was not intoned neutrally) like "said" or "replied" or "responded." By using the word "snapped," Ms. Sengupta has already judged Mr. Chauhan and has rendered useless his claims before that he is in support of Christians being free to worship their religion. Not only that, she follows Mr. Chauhan's remarks with a very detailed description of a Christian man, Daud Nayak, being compromised for his beliefs.

Or perhaps what she did there was right? Perhaps there really is not neutral his point of view/her point of view to this?

Despite what I said, I really like this article. I thought it was informative and incredibly moving. Ms. Sengupta, though very vocal in her opinions, is gifted in showing human plight in a format that is both affecting, and also appropriate for newspaper.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scientists Find Trigger For Northern Lights

I have always wondered how to write a science article. I feel like for a lot of reporters and writers, they can say that they are versatile in the various different topics that they are willing to cover, but if we were to approach them with a science issue (or even a heavy business article- think Bloomberg news) they would think it is out of their area of expertise.

Side note: Is there really an area of expertise for a reporter? Sure, s/he might constantly be hearing and talking to many different people about a specific topic, and it could be their beat, but I feel like because most reporters get so many points of views, it is difficult to become an expert in any one topic. Instead of knowing a lot about one thing, I think reporters tend to know a little about a lot. Which could be either very helpful because of the variety of voices that are out there; or just rather superficial because s/he might barely scratch the surface of a point of view of an issue.

Anyway, in this article written by Kenneth Chang, it is revealed that scientists have finally found out what causes the beautiful auroras in the skies. I read that article about four times, but I am still not too sure what is going on. That is the main problem with science writing- a writer must be able to take very technical words/events/happenings and whittle them down to laymen terms while translating the impact of the research to an audience who is not exposed to these findings every single day. After all, a person who knows all there is to know about magnetic fields and substorms on the Sun will likely be excited when they read this. But the rest of us are thinking, "Okay... but how does this affect me? I don't get it."

Or if you are like me, you are probably thinking, "Perhaps we are one step closer to meeting our daemons in the other world."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Recognition For A People Who Faded As Japan Grew

Race is always a tough subject to write about. It's difficult to illustrate a race/culture's differences because reporters have to highlight it without making the people look like they are weird.

But this article by Norimitsu Onishi by that appeared on the New York Times website (I stopped receiving the newspaper, but shall hopefully resume my service soon– i miss having the paper to hold in my hands) did neither. It didn't single out the Ainu people by fetishising a "inherently unique characteristic," but it also didn't quite fully explain how they were different from the Japanese.

Onishi led the article by describing the Ainu as a people who hunted and fished and worshipped nature for centuries before the Japanese pushed into the northernmost island that was the home of Ainu and killed the people. I mean, that's a fair and well description, until you realize that the Japanese themselves live on a big island too, which would also make them hunters and fishers too (maybe? Who knows? We certainly don't since there is no clarification of any sort). Also, how vague can "worshipping nature" be? A lot of Asian cultures do that, and I am just not sure how this would distinguish the Ainu from the Japanese.

How the author shows the differences between these two cultures (or races? I can't really tell) is very important because the point of this article is about the Japanese government finally recognizing Ainu as an indigenous people. Because if we, as foreign readers, don't understand what sets these people apart, we just leave the article thinking, "Oh, so is it like how we say black people are black?" And then (especially as Americans) we get confused as to how this isn't an acknowledgment that came sooner.

The author did put in physical descriptions, like how the Ainu people were typically of fairer skin than the Japanese and they have hirsute features (I had to look up "hirsute"– it means for a women to be as hairy as a man) He also said that the Ainu's way of life no longer exists. (If this is true, then why would an acknowledgment be a big deal– or even necessary, for that matter?)

Onishi did not say how the Ainu cuisine is different from the Japanese, how their customs and habits may vary. But they must exist, right? Or else this whole "indigenous people" announcement wouldn't have happened. Anyway, by the end of it, it just seemed like an American man saying that he is Irish, and another American man saying that he's British– the history of their heritage might be different, but they are still just white, American men.

If we look past these discrepancies, and just the politics of it, then I suppose it's pretty interesting. However, it will be hard because the whole gravitas and importance of this announcement lies on the fact that the Japanese and Ainu have had such a troubled past, and that the Japanese are finally acknowledging that they are not an ethnically homogenous nation. So without the differences, readers would just think, "Whatever, they're still basically Japanese."

And what if that wasn't true? What if these people really were as different as how Koreans and Chinese people are?

Monday, April 7, 2008

2008 Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism

I love it whenever the Pulitzer prizes for journalism is announced. This year, Washington Post leads the journalism honors, winning six awards, including in the category for International Reporting. New York Times won two awards, one of them for investigative journalism. And though the New York Times is my favorite newspaper (we all know why), I am so happy that the Chicago Tribune also received the same award, sharing it in the category of investigative journalism, for a series of articles exposing faulty governmental regulations of children's products. I absolutely adore the Chicago Tribune, for no rational reason other than that it was the newspaper that first sparked my interest in journalism. I was thirteen and living in Illinois, and I started to realize that there might be more to current events other than mandatory newspaper clippings for Social Studies.

Anyway, I do remember the series of articles written by Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker of the New York Times about medical supplies from China having counterfeit ingredients, resulting in a global poisoning. I did not follow it religiously (if you click on the Times Topics, you will see that the two have written extensively on this topic) but I do remember their articles reading like an episode of "House, M.D." That, to me, is how journalism should be: taking a subject that would be otherwise dense and boring, and turning it into a dramatic, tension-driven story. And really, isn't that how things often are? A lot of times, we dismiss the idea of reading topics like economics (rise and fall of the Czech krown, for example) or medicine (in this case, diethylene glycol) because we think that it is either over our heads or just plain boring. But once the facts are presented in a compelling manner that is, at the same time, explanatory, we learn and enjoy reading about them.

Another worthy mention is Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post who won the Pulitzer for feature writing. I remember this article making its rounds in Facebook and in forwarded emails. To be honest, I had originally thought that it might be a trite read (please look at the title)– plus, I hated the format of the Washington Post website. But once I started reading it, I absolutely could not stop. Weingarten splices a single event– which is violinist virtuoso Joshua Bell playing in the main metro station of Washington D.C. for passerbys, a la subway-performer– with anecdotes and facts that basically explore how the majority of people aren't able to recognize genius when it is in their presence. In fact, according to the experiment performed by Bell, they mostly ignore him. This article could have just been point-blank, what-I-just-said, and therefore rather superficial. However, Weingarten kept adding layers and layers of perspective to that single event, even going so far to quote Kant– which for me, personally, could have worked as either a hit or a miss. As a philosophy student, I loved it; as a journalism major, I thought it was a little hoity-toity. Anyway, I read through that article very quickly, and it just all flowed together so easily. By the end of it, I marveled at how Weingarten was able to write so extensively about a single event, and yet make it so thought-provoking.

And finally, one of my personal favorite categories is the winning photo for breaking news. Pictured above, this image was taken by Adrees Latif of Reuters. It is of a Japanese videographer wounded during a street demonstration in Myanmar, and it so perfectly captures the adrenaline. There is just so much motion in this photo. I also wonder, since no one is looking at the photographer, where Latif is in regards to the demonstrations and the chaos.

If you want to look at the previous winners of the Pulitzer, you can go to this site and click on whatever year you wish to see.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo Declares Its Independence From Serbia

Last night, while we were studying in the student lounge, someone said, "Dude, we should go to Kosovo this weekend." Why, we asked. "They have a sick flag, parties on the streets, and they love Americans."

Ten minutes later, I looked at the NYTimes website, and I realized why he had said that. The flag was indeed sick– and his words basically summed up how little mainstream American attention the Kosovo issue has received. I have only started following it recently because of a panel discussion I had attended about two weeks ago about Russia's foreign policy. One of the topics discussed (Read: argued) was about how Russia refuses to support Kosovo in its endeavors to become an independent nation from Serbia. There was a rather fiesty Russian politician present, and three other Czech government officials.

Anyway, with the article, the majority of it is background and the bloody history of the Serbs and Kosovars. I wonder how this looks from an American point of view– to pick up the paper one morning, and see on the front page that a random region in Eastern Europe has declared independence from a random country. Meanwhile, over on Europe's end, there has been endless coverage on this, with many years and months of build-up, and the United States is actually pretty involved in this play of international affairs. I feel like if I hadn't known about this before, this news would have come as a surprise, my first reaction being, "Why is this on the front page? How could this possibly be important if the Times has not reported this more aggressively before?"

I guess that says something about our international news coverage in American newspapers. But that's really another story.

Kosovo's independence has been a long time coming, and most of the Western countries (France, Britain, United States) support its secession. However, the Serbs are furious and have been terribly against this since day one, saying that Kosovo's declaration should not be recognized and that it is a "blatant breach of international law."

That quote is in almost every single article that has reported the event. But for some odd reason, no one seems to have reported on the reason as to why it is a "gross" or a "reckless" breach of international law (Seriously, google "Kosovo" and "breach of international law." Apparently, these writers were on a deadline.)

I found out from one of my professors that following the Kosovo War in 1999, the UN formally placed Kosovo under the territory of Serbia. In order to become independent, according to the treaty, Kosovo must seek a vote from the UN Security Council. However, it just circumvented the UN, and declared its independence unilaterally, which indeed makes it a violation of international law.

Why didn't any one of these articles say that in their background? That was necessary and important information.

Well, one of the reasons I figure is because many of these reports of been on the side of the Albanians in Kosovo. The majority of most sovereign EU nations support the secession of Kosovo. The only countries that don't approve of it probably have some sort of separatist issues in their own countries (like Russia with Georgia, or China with Taiwan)

However, Kosovo is considered a unique situation because ever since the treaty in 1999, after the ugly, bloodstained Kosovo War, the Serbian government has more or less ignored that region. I recently saw a film in which a politician in it declared, "We may have follow the action of the law, but we violated the spirit of the law." I guess that is indeed one way of looking at how Serbia has treated Kosovo. The previous president, Slobodan Milosevic, was a manic who has been charged with being behind the massacres of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo War.

The news reports are also not saying why exactly is Serbia so pissed about losing that region. Sure, there is a definite reduction of power, and it is a pride issue as well, but a lot of Serbians feel that by losing Kosovo, they are paying for the crimes of Milosevic. Kosovo is also a cultural hotspot, in the sense that it is the cradle of the Serbian Orthodox Church since the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century. So Kosovo is a part of Serbia's historical identity.

Last year, when Kosovo was in negotiations with the UN to become its own country, the United States had said that in the event that it should happen, the United States will indeed recognize its sovereignty. The Russia panelist at the panel discussion had said that it was unfair of the U.S. to say that before anything was resolved. Here you have some officials in a room trying to draft out an agreement and a compromise, and then a super power like the U.S. comes along and just pushes whatever plans that a party might have, and says, "I will indeed side with this party." In that way, negotiations are over- there is basically nothing else that can be said, because how could the other side be taken seriously now?

In the following hours since the declaration, there have been reports on which countries support the secession, and which countries refuse to recognize it.

One of the reasons that the U.S. will back Kosovo is in this article, but Dan Bilefsky, the writer, did a very crafty job of putting it in neutral terms. He wrote in one paragraph, "Kosovo, a desperately poor, predominantly Muslim landlocked territory of two million, has been a United Nations protectorate since 1999..." and then in another paragraph, "...revelers unfurled giant American flags, carried posters of former President Bill Clinton and chanted, “Thank you, U.S.A.” and “God bless America.'"

Kosovo is a predominantly Muslim state, and on TV and in the newspapers, there are pictures of American flags waving triumphantly! It not only shows the U.S. as being a big brother to a country that seeks independence and freedom, it also shows that the U.S. supports a Muslim community, thus building credibility for its affairs in the Middle East. And last, but not least, the U.S. has a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

No wonder Russia is pissed.

During the panel discussion, one of the Czech government officials had said that one of the reasons to be wary of Kosovo's declaration of independence is for the precedent that it will set for other dissatisfied ethnic minorities in other countries. He is also worried about the tension between the Balkan neighbors and for the violence spilling over the borders.

"There are plenty of conflicts in the world, and Kosovo is the only one that is being rushed forward," he said.

In response, another panelist said, "Everybody is trying to solve the problem the easiest possible way, when we only have bad solutions."

It seems like our Eastern European counterparts are not as optimistic for this news. After all, they are the ones living in the region– the U.S. is safely across an ocean, away from any potential violent repercussions.

Links: A Slideshow from the NYTimes
Independence Daze written by Gary J. Bass. (Who deserves to be free? This article is a great way to acquaint yourself with the criterion that allows a region a secede from a nation.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Deus Ex Malcontent

For the past two years, I have been following Deus Ex Malcontent. Not religiously, but enough to know that the blogger, Chez, is an astute and opinionated writer who happens to work at a major news network. Many of his blogs are commentary/criticism on the news and its absurdity (Think Jon Stewart after taking a pill of vitriolic hatred), though some are music-related or about his personal life.

Sometimes, his writing allude to his work, but I have never guessed to which news organization he belonged, nor did I try very hard. Does it matter what this man's day job is as long as he keeps publishing these incredibly insightful/humorous/sardonic posts? Not to me– but I guess CNN cared because they fired him from his position as a Senior Producer for having the blog.

CNN has reportedly said that "he did not get permission to publish personal writings."

Oh, the crippling irony.

I understand that companies are worried about their dirty laundry being aired, which explains why a couple years back, an air stewardess was fired for blogging about her job. However, isn't there a tinge of hypocrisy in this particular case? A major news organization that reports its information and criticism under the protection of the First Amendment (and their role as the Third Estate) fires one of its capable employees for writing his own personal feelings on the media and current events in a public forum, without ever revealing his affiliation with said news network. Firing him has positively done more harm than benefit for CNN's image.

There is probably a "180, not 360" joke in here, but I'm too disappointed with CNN right now to make it.

Link: NYTimes among many others.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Lives They Lived

As we approach the first weekend of 2008, I would like to take a look at last week's New York Times Magazine. As usual, they had chosen to write short profiles on the people who had died in 2007. In the first page, the magazine introduced this year's series with a very succinct sentence: "In putting together this issue, we shy away from any attempt at being definitive; instead we embrace idiosyncrasy, storytelling and the interests and passions of our editors and writers."

These pieces do not sum up the whole of each individual's lives. Instead, the narratives are almost like sprints, short bursts of energy that seem to epitomize each character's career. Reading these made me squirm a little, because these people have what we call, "fire." They did what they loved, and they threw their entire beings into it. And some of them were so young, like the two soldiers who died in Iraq, Omar Mora and Yance Tell Grey in a piece titled "The Guardians" by Dexter Filkins.

I have many favorites, and each for very different reasons. There was the painful recount of Kate Webb by Maggie Jones, a Vietnam war correspondent, who went missing for 23 days, and was believed to be dead. After she was released by her captors, instead of going into hiding, she devoted the rest of her career to reporting every inch of South East Asia and the Middle East, immersing herself into the different languages and avoiding the usual expatriate neighborhoods. She saw a different face to her Viet Cong captors, one that was unlike what the United States gleaned from second-hand accounts of war generals.

I also really like the one by Elizabeth McCracken about Joybubbles, the father (or granddaddy, however you wish to see it) of phone hacking. This one was great because I have never heard of phone hacking or about telephone phreaks, so it was a real eye-opener. His life was quirky and a little surreal (he decided that he wanted to five years old for the rest of his life), but the end of the piece honestly made me choke back tears.

And of course, on the final page, there was a very short one about David Halberstam by Neil Sheehan. Really, a fmust-read for any future journalist. About their stint in Vietnam together, Sheehan wrote, "We were politically suspect. We ought to be fired. Many of our editors doubted us. David was just 28 when we teamed up, and I was 26. How could these kids be right when a four-star general and a senior diplomat said they were absolutely wrong?" I think that made me foam at the mouth a little.

What these pieces do for me, more than anything else, is remind me about the endless possibilities of each individual's lives. It also makes me feel incredibly lazy and unaccomplished, but this is exactly what I needed to get me to sit up and take notice of the world around me.

On a sidenote, you can see that I have finally figured out how to do the links. Well, Happy New Year, everyone!