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?