If there wasn’t so much news at the moment, especially surrounding the President-elect of the United States, then we would just be reading about the weather and precious little else. Either that, or trying to struggle through stories about dogs, cats, and miraculous twins. And there we have a problem: there is so much news, so many reports, it is hard to fight a way through them all to get to the facts. Quick responses, denials, fake news, conspiracies, they are all there and, as far as we can see, they have been specifically placed together so that some matters which should be of note or interest sink below the radar.
It used to be that any news a government or company didn’t want a reaction to – such as bad annual reports or unpopular legislation – would be pushed through right before a weekend or when most people are asleep. With the advent of the Internet much has changed: the news media never sleeps and print run times no longer exist. A news item no longer has to be written and edited in time for the printed version of a newspaper to be laid to bed, it can be worked on and published on the Internet at any time of the day or night. The result: some entities start bringing out their unpopular items along with a mass of other information, in the hope that popular stories will take the headlines, and what they don’t want to be seen will vanish under the load. Help is given here by so-called news media who have no connection to journalism whatsoever, but push out fake news, conspiracy theories, and plausible stories to a willing audience, shoving the real news into the background and, often, causing those who should be working on matters of the real world to concentrate on killing or diminishing the damage caused.
Photo Source: Theilr – Creative Commons
One of the big stories which hit the headlines today has been from Buzzfeed, an online news portal with a very broad range of interests. They published a dossier of so-called evidence alleging many infractions by the President-elect, Donald Trump, including what can only be called a perverted action of revenge against the current President: the hiring of prostitutes to foul a bed used by the President in a Russian hotel. For anyone who is unsure what a Golden Shower is, here is a brief SFW description.
This publication was immediately jumped upon by news media and politicians alike. Some reported the publication, without going into too much detail, simply referring back to the original. Others, especially the politicians, began attacking Buzzfeed for publication of the dossier and making various claims about its veracity and the standards of the news portal in publishing an unverified document as if it were factual.
Reading through the article on Buzzfeed, however, a completely different story emerges. The title of the piece sets the form for anyone reading further with the use of the word ‘allege’. The sub-header goes even further:
The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.
And then throughout the text are qualifications highlighting the fact that these claims have not been verified, and perhaps cannot be verified. The dossier has been published to allow the public – or at least readers of Buzzfeed – to make their own decisions. It also allows other news organizations the opportunity to use their resources to investigate and confirm or deny the allegations. From this point of view, Buzzfeed and its reporters has covered itself very carefully. They are making it clear that the allegations may be Fake News, that the allegations compiled by a former British intelligence officer are not confirmed and should be taken as a report on unsubstantiated information from several unnamed sources who may or may not have a different agenda. An attack on Buzzfeed is, therefore, unjustified, especially when looking through reports and news items by almost every other news portal worldwide, where similar instances of unsubstantiated information can be found.
It now only remains for these allegations to be investigated and either substantiated or dismissed as lies. Attacking Buzzfeed is not the way to go, neither is attacking Donald Trump, until the truth behind these allegations, this collection of snippets from unnamed sources can be brought to light.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
Another day, another clear-cut case of harassment. I could easily have written another hour, even another minute, and been correct. Harassment, in its many different forms, is all around us and it is all the time; not just sexual harassment but also harassment in the work place, because of political or religious beliefs, ethnic origins, the color of a person’s hair. For some harassment is having people watch them as they walk, looking a little too intense perhaps. It is a cat call in public, or an attempt to go beyond the cat call in semi-private. It is stalking, verbal abuse, denigration, sarcasm and all those other terms we have seen reported which, due to the number of times they are reported, are slowly becoming a normal part of our day. Harassment is also a high-ranking official publicly announcing that an increase in rape reports is not worrying.
If the police aren’t too worried about such things, what chance is there for the rest of us? And, in this particular case, is a rape within a family less serious than rape by a stranger? Can we say the same about other types of abuse? Sure, domestic abuse is not as bad as being beaten up – once – on the streets by a stranger. This, though, is the mindset, and this is why it is so hard to combat abuse and harassment. It is not something taken seriously. We’ll get over it. Until we don’t.
Photo Source: Steven Depolo – Creative Commons
You can be brave and shrug it off, or you can be resourceful. There are far too many people who turn a blind eye – oh, they didn’t mean it that way, it’s just a bit of harmless fun – even when harassment is directed at them or their family. There are those who over-react too, and that is just as bad: an over-reaction is as bad as the boy who cried wolf; eventually no one is going to believe.
You can be brave. Block a mail address or a telephone number so that the person harassing doesn’t get through. Change your own number, hide away from the attacks. Of course, this doesn’t work on the street, in school, in the workplace. An abused woman (or man) in a domestic situation is not going to escape the abuse by calling themselves a different name. You can be brave and let them carry on: the abuser will soon get bored. Don’t rile them up, and they’ll go away. It’s no fun if the target doesn’t react, doesn’t show pain in one form or another.
You can be brave and they will go away, perhaps to start harassing and abusing someone else, someone who isn’t so brave. Perhaps they will be emboldened: the first one didn’t do anything, so we can go a step or two further with the next one. Gain experience, find out what hurts, how far we can go, and then step over the line. That line is the difference between harassment and murder.
Or you can be resourceful. There is good reason help lines are there, why care centers have been built up, why internet providers have abuse departments. They’re not there because a pizza delivery company sent the wrong topping or your grass isn’t as pure as it should be. They are there to help, either with good advice or with immediate assistance. And they are not there so that someone else can do something about it all, not just, they are there so that you can do something. So that you can call in, can report, can have an abuser stopped, blocked, arrested if need be. Because the first person who needs to react to a case of harassment is the person being harassed.
Here in Germany we have a very good law: if there is an accident or a person who clearly needs help, you are legally required to assist to the best of your ability. That assistance could be immediate first aid at the scene of a traffic accident, or it could be a simple call to the authorities so that an ambulance gets to the scene in time to help save someone. The same should go for cases of harassment: you see, you react. You see, you help.
Turn the tables against those harassing and support those in need. It could be you or your family next time. It could be someone you love raped and murdered because someone else didn’t bother reporting the sexual harassment of that nice, quiet boy down the street.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
The Internet and news media have been playing on a short video which surfaced today. In it twins are seen playing in their room around a chest of drawers. Two of the drawers are open and a clear challenge to climb upon, and so both do.
Any parent half within their wits will know exactly what happens next: the now unstable drawers tip forward, on top of the twins. The Swedish furniture concern IKEA can tell you a few things about this, since they’ve just been sued for exactly this type of accident, and their apparent failure either to prevent it, or to tell a bunch of clearly ignorant parents of the dangers. For IKEA it is one of those ‘I didn’t know coffee was hot’ law suits which merely goes to show how stupid some people are.
This video, however, is something else. It has been lauded as a good example of the intelligence of one of the twins, who miraculously saved his brother. Not that he really needed saving, he was well on his way to freeing himself, but this is news media, and it makes a good story when inconvenient truths are left out.
Such as the fact that both of the twins caused this piece of furniture to fall over. Such as the length of time which went by where it was clear that the ‘hero’ brother really didn’t care that his twin was trapped, crying and perhaps even hurt. Such as the small section of the video where the ‘hero’ twin climbed over the drawers, crushing his brother and endangering him even more.
There are heroes and there are news stories. The two are not necessarily the same.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
One of the things I am constantly hearing here, especially when interacting with the older generation whose memory goes back further than mine, is how fair the British were, back in the day. By this they mean following the second world war and, in some cases, during those years too. I can’t say that this is a feeling held by everyone, but practically everyone who I have had dealings with seems to hold this opinion, and a completely different one for the Americans. It is at such times that I tend to keep quiet – in my already very quiet manner – and not mention the fact that I am American. It is something they cannot tell by looking at me, but they also don’t take me for an Island Monkey either, which I most certainly appreciate.
The general opinion of Americans, on a scale of one to don’t like, tends away from the one sad to say, and especially since the election of our next president. Not that everyone is against him, but many simply do not understand how the American people, so interested in justice and democracy, could possibly… you get my drift.
There is another thing which increases my understanding of this level of fairness, and it is justice with and without the courts. This is not, I hasten to add, another post on white supremacy, gun control or Black Lives Matter, but does have to do with justice. In the United States, as many will already know, it is possible for the police in some States to confiscate cash, cars and other possessions from suspects without a warrant. These items then have to be demanded back, often through a court of law, regardless of whether the suspect is a criminal or not. I have read tales, and I am sure they are easy to find on our Internet, of innocent people out to buy a house, with cash for the house or a deposit, caught by the system and their lives being ruined as a result.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / West Midlands Police
The British, with all their fairness, have a similar set of laws. Similar, not the same. They are allowed to confiscate the wealth and possessions of criminals to a value set by the courts according to the crime committed and the value of loss incurred by other people or by the State. That is, the criminal, upon conviction, doesn’t just go to prison or get a fine, they also pay for their crime in the broadest sense of the idea. This, according to the West Midlands Police, is to ensure they know that crime does not pay, and that other criminals get to know it too.
The advantage here, quite aside from the fact that this money is then used for good causes, is that the criminal has been convicted and is clearly guilty of his or her crime. It is not just someone caught up in a roadside check who happened to have a large stash of cash in their care and the wrong skin color. Having been convicted, the criminal knows it is pointless trying to get their ill-gotten gains back again, since the confiscation has been ordered by a judge sitting in court too. In the United States, the victims of this fraud – and I can see it no other way when looking at the various stories of people who have found themselves on the wrong end of the law through no fault of their own – sometimes have to spend years fighting to get back what was and is legally theirs, and which was taken without due cause or justification.
I think we Americans still have a great deal to learn from the ways of the British – and Europeans – especially when it comes to what is right and good, what is fair and sensible.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
I decided to seek out one of those generic new year images – fireworks and 2017 emblazoned across the photograph, that sort of thing – but the selection was rather limited. Sifting through what was on offer on Flickr, I found school buses, images of a foggy day in Beijing and policemen doing their jobs around crowded streets in the USA, UK and elsewhere. Not the most festive of images, admittedly, but a clear indication of what we had in 2016, and what is likely to continue into 2017 and beyond. Most will already have heard of the gunman in Istanbul, or the mass pile-up on the A7 in Germany due to foggy conditions. The one with thirty-nine deaths, the other with six.
So what sort of image should one use to celebrate a new year, a new chance, a new beginning? Hiding behind the fairy tale Disney-like (no offense) images of peace and plenty isn’t going to work any more. In many ways I don’t think this image of peace and goodwill to all has worked for many years. It is also difficult to use humor, since there is always going to be someone who takes offense, objects, complains. You just need to take a short glance at the number of apologies, of Facebook and Twitter deletions private and public people have been forced to bring out, even when the majority of those reading understand, take no offense. Here a shout-out to Steve Martin: I understand what you meant about Carrie Fisher, a pity that others didn’t.
Image Source: Rika Oyen – Creative Commons
Will our intolerance – on all levels – change in the coming year? If anything I believe we will become even more intolerant of many minor things. I say minor on purpose, since it is increasingly clear that the major things which are wrong, which should not be allowed, which should be condemned and fought against are increasingly being side-lined by interest groups. The minor infractions, or things which aren’t an infraction at all, being instrumentalised and brought to the fore. The most obvious: a man is elected to high office despite his sexual activities, but a woman is not because of the sexual activities of her husband. Yes, I know, there is much more to it than that, but this ‘much more’ only makes it bigger and worse.
So my new year image is a ‘spot the mistake’ one because if we’re going to concentrate on the smaller things, then we can start here. Perhaps, by correcting the minor things, we can also correct the major in this coming year. Let us all hope so, and get to work!
- Viktoria Michaelis.
I’ve come across bureaucratic nonsense many times over the few years I have been in Europe, fortunately seldom in my own case although, well, it’s bound to happen eventually. I still recall reading of the (in)famous Welsh Dragon case: a sausage company in Wales was informed by the local council that they could no longer call their famous sausages Dragon Meat because there was no dragon meat in them (they ran tests!), and it might confuse vegetarians into thinking that the sausages were meat free. The company was forced to include the word ‘pork’ in the title, and I am sure all Welsh vegetarians let out a massive sigh of relief.
Not to be outdone, although a decade has gone by, the German agriculture minister is now seeking revenge on behalf of the Welsh population, who love their dragon-free dragon meat, by telling producers of vegetarian and vegan products that they should no longer name their products after similar ones where meat is used, such as wurst – the German word for sausage. It would seem that by using the generic term wurst many meat eaters could be confused into buying a non-meat product, with all the dangers this involves.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / FAZ
Now, I can understand Christian Schmidt’s problem: he clearly has to save these poor souls from their own inability to see what it is they are purchasing. After all, it clearly says on the packaging of all of these products that they are either vegetarian or vegan and they are normally sold in a separate section of supermarkets and smaller stores, so confusion is almost guaranteed. Added to which, meat-free generally have pretty little signs and symbols on the packaging to confirm they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, whereas meat products do not.
The word wurst however, like sausage, is a generic term: it refers to a type of product in a certain form and not to its contents. No one has demanded that pork sausages no longer be called sausages because beef sausages were there first, and customers could be confused. We, the general public, assume that the average person on the street, when making their daily or weekly purchases, has at least a minimal level of education and can see what they are buying, whether they can read the label or not. It is much the same as the example from Wales: pork is in the ingredients list, how can there be confusion? And what harm would it do a meat-eater to try a vegetarian sausage for once? Would they even be able to tell the difference (it’s all in the spices, I’m told) between animal and vegetable?
There are some vegetarian products which could well do with a name change – vegetarian chicken nuggets comes to mind – but sausages? I think the minister should settle down into his Christmas pudding and concentrate on other things where there is a need, rather than ending up with a bad stain on his name similar to that of Martin Bangemann twenty-five years ago.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
I have nothing against people who wish to believe, no matter what their chosen path is and so long as it is for them. I’m not a fan of those who insist on going from door to door, selling their religion, their religious wares or, worse still, insisting that they know the only way and everyone else is going to hell in a bird basket, to say nothing of those who insist on pressing the benefits of their religion upon other people by acts of terrorism.
What I really cannot understand is how a person can claim to be an independent spirit, in control of his or her own life, refusing to buckle under the unfair demands of a partner, and then come out with something like this:
Screenshot Source: Twitter / Jamielyn
It is wrong, we are told, to subject ourselves exclusively to the will of another person, to the extent that we are oppressed, lose our free will and many of our rights. This is what many fight against – against arranged marriages as an example – and yet…
And yet they allow themselves to be dictated to, to blindly obey an entity which has a set of rules so loose they can be adapted to mean absolutely anything, according to the mind and desires of the interpreter. An entity which has no form and, to be honest, little meaning. The follow this idea blindly, and try to justify their actions with a ‘God’s Will’ defense.
Reminds me of the French Cistercian monk Arnaud Amalric who is purported to have said: “Kill them all, God will recognize his own”, where I ask myself: what did this god reveal later, and what are we doing following such advice?
- Viktoria Michaelis.
A British newspaper recently claimed that one Tweet from Donald J Trump has been mocked by other Twitter users. If they had been keeping up with the news, and with Twitter, they’d have seen that every Tweet is mocked, and not just by other Twitter users; also by the news media, internationally on social and political levels and in private conversations. This is probably not the kind of publicity a press relations officer would want for their candidate, but all news is good news, and Trump’s words on Twitter, and seldom elsewhere as this seems to be his press conference medium of choice, are certainly bringing him plenty of attention.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / Donald J Trump
The Internet is, however, a place where hardly anything goes unchallenged. There is always someone who claims to know better – whether it is Trump or anyone else – and they’re prepared to type in their two cents worth, and defend their standpoint – mostly. So it is with the claim by Trump that he’d have beaten Barack Obama, had he been able to stand for a third term. Someone has challenged this assumption, and put a poll out on Twitter.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / Tony Posnanski
Of course, this is the popular vote, and probably not representative, but it is there. I doubt that Trump has seen this poll, possibly none of the news media have either – yet (but some do read here and stories seem to follow on from things I have written!) – but it could happen. Trump tends to Tweet and then move on, never a reply or a justification. Clearly he believes that once he has had his say, there will be no naysayers out there, so why bother reading the replies and comments?
Even so, if these ratings, on the poll, were in a real election, it would be a landslide. A real landslide.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
You could be forgiven for thinking, taking only the Tweet from the BBC as your reference, that Doctor Who has been reinvented as an American super hero in tight underpants and a mask. Perhaps they are trying to jump on the bandwagon which is Marvel Comics and the success of their super hero films, well, mostly. Not that they need to; Doctor Who has been a success with its television audience for several decades, and will likely remain so for several more. But why, then, a Tweet over Doctor Who with just a superhero in front of a US city nightscape?
Screenshot Source: Twitter / BBC
Of course we don’t want spoilers before watching such a masterpiece, but suggesting that the Doctor has made such a massive change in his appearance, in one of his many rejuvenations or reincarnation could bring many Whovians – as they are apparently called – to the barricades.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / Independent
Luckily The Independent is there to rescue the day for the BBC, and bring those rather shy characters – the Doctor and his assistants – back into the light and their well-earned place alongside the superhero of our youthful dreams.
Whichever world it is this time has been saved, again.
- Viktoria Michaelis.
One of the jokes about searching for criminals of recent years has been the screenshot of a news announcer next to a phantom image which had a surprising similarity to him. It highlighted to problems police have with creating an image of assailants through the artistry of a victim’s description and the skills of a sketcher. Some images are good, some are surprisingly bad.
Screenshot Source: Twitter / Metropolitan Police
And some are so good you can almost feel the anger and fear when looking into their eyes. Let’s hope the assailant is captured, and that the Metropolitan Police offer this artist a job.
- Viktoria Michaelis.