Category Archives: international

arabspring

Carvin out a niche

Maybe you’ve heard of Andy Carvin, maybe you’ve not. I’m going to tell you about him. Actually, I’m going to tell you what I think about him and the “job” he does, which is absolutely antithetical to what I think should happen, which is that he should be confined to the proverbial dustbin of history and promptly forgotten.

But I have some pretty words, some strong words, that I’m just dying to see in the stark black of computer print on white, so you’ll have to bear with me. Or just pass this little diatribe on by.

But whatever you do, don’t try to say I’m just jealous of the name Andy Carvin has had made for himself. I’m not the least bit jealous of him. Arwa Damon, maybe. Or Harry Fear even. But Andy Carvin? Hardly.

Why do I have so much vitriol for a man I’ve never met? It’s easy really. It’s because he’s a pretender, a fake. He’s Walter Mitty with a boring job at National Public Radio that has nothing to do with journalism. But he retreated to a life on Twitter and became a fake superhero.

arabspringHe even wrote a book, Distant Witness, and that’s as good a reason as any for my dislike. The title, not the writing of the book. He called it that because he believes he witnessed the Arab spring from his desk in Washington. He didn’t, any more than I did from my desk in Atlanta.

What he did was stay up till all hours retweeting all the tweets he could find out of the various Arab spring protests, adding his own indignation and outrage at what he “witnessed.” Of course, not all that much of what he retweeted was true, but Carvin thinks it best to throw it out there and let the “crowd” settle it.

Doesn’t work that way. Whenever somebody starts retweeting everything, then the real journalists have to work that much harder to find out what’s real and what’s not. As some of my relatives would say, “If you throw enough shit at the barn door, some of it’s gonna stick.” But most of it’s gonna leave a big pile of shit on the ground, and either way, somebody’s gonna have to clean the whole mess up.

That somebody will never be Andy Carvin, because that would get in the way of his being a hero to the poor downtrodden activists fighting for freedom in Arab countries and elsewhere. Honestly, I cannot understand why NPR, normally a bastion of decent journalism, allows it.

It’s why so many people have such a hard time trusting what’s found on the Interwebs. How could you blame em? If somebody who’s supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all of the Arab spring is tossing everything out there — even if he’s adding a cute little “is this true?” on the end — it’s just gonna confuse the matter. Especially when he adds his own unsupported speculation. Then he’s no better than any other “citizen journalist” out there with a viewpoint.

Ah, but what do I know. I haven’t even been a journalist for a quarter century (next year I will reach that milestone). And my current job is to separate the wheat from the chaff that pretenders like Andy Carvin throw out there. My colleagues and I painstakingly go through all those tweets, all those videos, all those Facebook posts to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, what is the truth and what might be even a well-intentioned lie.

Carvin finally got to go to Egypt, to Cairo. He went down to Tahrir, but when the tear gas came out, he retreated to the safety of his hotel room to check his Twitter stream, where, he said, he understood what was going on much better.

Maybe.

I’ve never been to Cairo, to Benghazi, to Aleppo, to Gaza. I’m pretty sure, though, if I ever were, I wouldn’t be there to meet my Twitter friends. I’d be there to report, because that’s what I do. And if that meant walking into a cloud of tear gas, then give me a wet rag and get out of my way.

Looking at videos from Syria is painful, but it’s necessary. It’s our job to verify them, to know that they were shot where the uploader says they were shot and that they show what the uploader says they show. That means seeing bodies, destroyed homes, lost children, everything, in detail, gory detail. We don’t watch them once and pass them on. We watch them trying to glean everything we can out of them so that we can say with authority if it’s real. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it is hard on every level imaginable.

I’m not a witness to the horrors in Syria, though. I’m a curator, a documentarian. A fact-checker. I’m not superhero, or even a not-so-superhero. I’m just doing a journalist doing a job with a slew of pretty nifty technological tools that help me do that job with more confidence than before. I don’t have to be there, but there’s a lot I miss by being here.

But it’s a good job and I’m proud of it, proud of my colleagues, one of whom once used Google maps to plot where in a particular Syrian city a video of an explosion might have been shot based on the speed of sound and line of site. It was a thing to behold. That’s verification.

It’s easy to fake things on the internet. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube — they can all be gamed. It takes hard, precise work to make sense of it all, to get at the real story. Any less is a disservice to readers, viewers, other journalists and especially the story.

Nightmare in Norway

A bomb explodes in Oslo. A half hour later, there’s a massacre on an island camp. What’s the first thing my colleagues say?

Al aeda. Looking through my reader, I see things like “all the hallmarks of al Qaeda.” “Why does al Qaeda hate Norway?” And that’s just from the progressives.

Really? A terrorist attack in Norway, and the first thing we do is start talking about al Qaeda? Are we that conditioned?

And in Norway, Muslims on the streets are harassed.

Turns out, it wasn’t Islamic extremists. It was a Christian extremist. That would have been, and in fact was, my guess the moment I understood that Norway has a liberal government, and the attacks took place at government buildings and a camp run by the ruling Labor Party.

But not in America. And now that it’s known who perpetrated this vile attack, what are we saying? “Lone wolf.” “Isolated incident.” “Whacko.” The same things we say here when right wing extremists perpetrate terrorist attacks. Because, apparently, we’ve all bought into the myth that only Muslims are terrorists.

A post on Facebook talked about the “terror attack” in Norway. A response to that post suggested reconsidering use of the word “terror” because “it appears to be the work of one lone sicko.” Fortunately, a response to that said it was “one lone sicko terrorist.”

What the hell is our problem? Let’s look at this. Definition of the word “terrorism”:

  1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
  2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
  3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
Sounds pretty accurate to me. This guy bombed a building, killing seven people, and then went to the camp and started shooting, killing dozens. And creating fear. Terror. Ipso ergo facto, the dude’s a terrorist, and he perpetrated a terrorist attack. Period.
But we don’t want to say that. Easier to attribute the attack to a sicko, a whacko, a lone wolf than to accept that some Christians are just as extreme as any Islamic terrorist you can find. And just as deadly.
That’s just wrong. Anders Behring Breivik is a terrorist. So are Jim David Atkisson, Paul Hill, Scott Roeder, James von Brunn, Timothy McVeigh and a host of other right wing — and Christian — extremists.
And I’ll tell you something else. The same goes for a bunch of fear-mongering cretins in Congress and former members of administrations that used terror to get what they want from the American people. Falls under that third definition up there.
It’s damn time we started calling them what they are.
Fortunately, in Norway, the government doesn’t plan on spreading more terror in response to this act of terror. In fact, Jens Stoltenberg said just the opposite. The answer, he said, is more democracy.

Disturbance in the blogosphere

I am disturbed. Very disturbed. First, my day lilies did not give me the explosion of color they had promised. They’re now nothing but dried sticks. Harumph, as they say. Second, I’m reading Jeff Sharlet’s “The Family.” Actually, I’ve been reading it for a while now, and it’s so disturbing that I can only read a few pages at a time before closing the book and worrying about our future for the next 6-10 hours.

If you’d really like to know how we got into the mess we’re in, read that book. And when you think that conservatives want us to return so some idealized vision of the 1950s, know this: It’s not a fairy tale. They do want to return the 1950s, when The Family was completely in charge of American foreign policy in its drive to spread Christian dictatorships around the world. Want to know why the United States props up certain dictators and not others? Read The Family. Then you’ll be as disturbed as I am and I won’t be alone.

But that’s not the worst of my disturbance. I’m really disturbed about Tom MacMaster and Bill Graber, two straight white guys who, we now know, spent considerable time and energy pretending to be lesbians.

Maybe I’m so disturbed about this because once upon a time I engaged in some online pretending-to-be-someone-I’m-not myself, much to my chagrin. I’m not proud of it. I hurt several people I cared deeply about. And that was between me and them. Bill and Tom’s excellent adventures were between them and the rest of the known world

Well, there’s Nunzia Rider. That’s me, yes, but it’s not my real name. I started blogging as Newswriter several years ago and changed to Nunzia when I wanted a real name, like a real person. The nom de bloggue was necessary because I worked for a giant media outlet that frowned on people thinking for themselves and sharing it with the world. Think for ourselves, yes, just keep it quiet. That’s no longer necessary. I’ll even tell you my real name — KC Wildmoon — but I’m going to keep Nunzia Rider here just so I don’t confuse myself any more than I already am.

But I am an honest-to-god white lesbian. Unlike Bill and Tom, who both pretended to be “gay girls,” in Tom’s case, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” and in Bill’s, the publisher of “Lez Get Real, a gay girl’s view on the world.” Interesting that they both called themselves “gay girls” rather than lesbians, but that doesn’t disturb me half as much as the rest.

I’ve known a couple of men who pretended to be lesbians online to get their rocks off. That’s one thing, related to this thing but not the same. Tom, who must have an incredible need for attention, went so far as to concoct “her” kidnapping by Syrian thugs. He was just trying to get the word out about how awful it is there, and some of my friends have even sort of defended him on that ground. But jeez Louise, you don’t have to pretend to be someone diametrically opposed to who you really are to get the word out about what a wicked dictator is doing to his own people.

OK, so we don’t hear very often about what life is like for LGBT folks in Syria, but good god, do we really have to? What life is like for everyday people, including LGBT folk, is bad enough — anybody and everybody who even slightly opposes the Assad regime is at risk. Sexual orientation is the least of their worries, I’d say. Assad is killing everybody, just to hang onto power. He’s a first class asshole, ranking up there with Adolf Hitler, except Hitler’s regime at least tried to hide their wickedness. Not Assad. His goons are out there in the open killing people randomly. Unarmed people. People who really want to be free, not like these moronic Tea Partiers here who imagine themselves oppressed by democracy.

Want to know what it’s like in Syria? Get on Twitter and follow @Razaniyat or @Monajed or @SeekerSK or @RevolutionSyria or @SyrianWoman. Yemen? Try @NoonArabia or @RajaAlthaibani or @alguneid or @Nefermaat or @iomathanYemen or @ichamza or @womanfromyemen. Egypt? @3arabwy or @norashalaby or @monaeltahawy. Libya? @septimus_sever or @Tripolotanian or @dovenews. And these are just a few. There’s also the journalists reporting from inside these countries. It’s not rocket science.

But Tom MacMaster couldn’t do that. He couldn’t even get his sorry ass into Syria to report on what he actually saw. He took other people’s experiences and observations and put them on a blog as his own. It doesn’t matter that what he wrote was accurate. There are hundreds of people writing accurately about that region of the world, and they are there. They are not some white guy pretending to be a Syrian lesbian to attract attention to himself. Two words, Tom. James Frey. What he wrote was accurate too. Just none of it happened to him.

And Bill Graber. There must be a special level of hell for people like Bill Graber. He was exposed after some reporters thought he might actually be the gay girl in Damascus. Or rather, that “Paula Brooks” might be. That’s who Bill said he was. And to keep the lie going, he told reporters that “Paula” was deaf and could only speak to them on the phone through her “father,” who was, in fact, Bill himself.

I never read “Lez Get Real.” But hundreds, if not thousands did, and dozens of other lesbians (hopefully all actual lesbians) contributed and commented. Bill Graber isn’t a lesbian. He’s a straight, white, married, former construction worker. He may even fall into the category of straight guys pretending to be lesbians to get their rocks off for all I know. But he cannot, ever, write from an authentic lesbian experience. Maybe he should try fiction, since that’s what Lez Get Real is, at least his part of it.

This is disturbing, and, again, maybe more so because of my own shameful history. But it is disturbing nonetheless. Straight white guys have no business pretending to be lesbians, or anything else other than what they are. Privileged is what they are. They can have or do anything they want, for the most part.

Instead, they engaged in intellectual slumming. Insidious, but not the least bit surprising. When you live a privileged life, sometimes it leaks into your little pea brain that other people are actually living while you are plainly not.

A Rude comparison

The Rude Pundit is the very apt pseudonym of one Lee Papa, a professor of drama studies and writer of some fine bloggery. He’s funny, and very, very rude. Way more rude than I am.

Like all of us, RP’s been watching Egypt this week. And he made a connection that I wish I’d made — and maybe would’ve if my real life job didn’t involve living and breathing Egypt for the last two and half weeks.

So the Rude Pundit was watching the (now celebratory) Egyptian uprising on CNN when he noticed that every single random protester interviewed by the news network’s reporters was incredibly articulate and thoughtful in their comments on Mubarak and democracy. In English, which, one can presume, is not their first language. And then he thought about recent American “protests,” the Tea Party rallies and teabag fests, and how not a single one of the “average” people interviewed there made a goddamned lick of sense. In English, which, one can presume, is the native language of the teabaggers.

Whereas an Egyptian in Tahrir Square generally says things about how Mubarak has demonstrably repressed the masses of citizens, a teabagger makes sputtering, guttural noises that amount to “Blurgh. Obama. Blurgh,” which has about as much of a basis in reality as it does in English syntax and grammar. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, one that should probably be studied by linguists, sociologists, and stand-up comedians.

Oh yeah. “Blurgh. Obama. Blurgh.” Ain’t that just so right?

Now, I had gotten as far as thinking, “Man, these Egyptians sure speak terrific English,” and I was really annoyed by the Republican/Tea Party mantra of “Obama fucked this up,” “Muslim Brotherhood! Ack!” and some crazy shit about a Caliphate, but I hadn’t gotten around to a comparison.

Oh, and then there’s all the crap about how come Obama didn’t pressure Iran into going democratic back when the Green Revolution was going on. Well, duh, morons. Iran isn’t our friend. Neither the Ayatollah nor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives a shit if we think they should treat their people better. But that’s another post. This one is about how fucking stupid Americans really are.

Indeed, one of the things the events in Egypt have shown Americans is what a serious effort to overthrow a government looks like. It’s enormous, it’s sustained, and it’s angry. If one calls one’s movement a “tea party,” even if it’s named after the night a bunch of drunken thugs in costume hired by greedy merchants vandalized British ships, then one shouldn’t be surprised if one’s movement behaves like a bunch of little girls pouring water into tiny cups for their stuffed bears.

RP shares a couple of photographs of Egyptian anti-government protesters and Tea Bagger anti-government … somethings. Big diff.

But since reading Rude’s post, all I can do is be embarassed for these lesser humans, the ones who think they’re being oppressed by a government that doesn’t lock them up and torture them (that’s reserved for … well, Egyptians, and other people with darker skin tones).

In Egypt, they have been revolting against a government that has stripped away their rights, with the arrest and random torture of citizens, with a three-decade state of emergency in existence, with corruption wrecking the standard of life for the populace. The Egyptians have been intense and unrelenting, sacrificing their time, their bodies, their jobs, and, in some cases, their lives in order to guarantee democracy in their country, doing so with comparatively little violence. In the United States, a few cranks didn’t like the way an election went. And they wandered aimlessly for a little while, listening to their incoherent speakers, fondling their guns that most of them will never really use, but, oh, they can fantasize, and then they went home until it was time to vote again, probably stopping at the Taco Bell drive-thru on the way to watch Beck on the Tivo.

Now, which method worked? So, dear, pseudo-active teabaggers, put up or shut up. But mostly, shut up. And enjoy the sight of an actual revolution instead of your fake one. Watch history being made instead of pretending that you are part of anything other than a minor blip on a dim radar.

Sadly, Rude’s words won’t penetrate the thick skulls of a backwards, unevolved people, in the extremely off-chance that what he wrote actually passes in front of their eyes and they can get past where he says he was watching the uprising on CNN.

But for you, my fine friends, it’s worth reading.