Category Archives: politics

Islamophobia or mental illness?

islamophobia

OR

mental-illness-4

Mental illness is far more widespread than we often wish to admit. In fact, it is probably worth considering it a normal part of life – like the occasional cold or other ailments we all get.

But occasionally mental illness can be more debilitating – even embarrassing. Does any family not have a member who sometimes embarrasses them by behaving inappropriately?

I will be upfront and say this has been the case in my family. I can certainly understand why sometimes the law needs to take into account metal illness, or even turn a blind eye to behaviour which may be insulting or technically illegal.

That was my first response to the reported abuse of a Muslim woman in Huntly. Now that this has come to court I hope the person who was abusive gets some understanding from the court, and the help she may need, if mental illness is an issue.

Having reacted this way I now find myself in strange company – seeing a possibly similar reaction from people who I do not normally align with.

The NZ Herald reports that former Whanganui mayor and broadcaster Michael Laws has come out on Facebook expressing his sympathy for the woman charged over the attack in Huntly. Of course, he is now being attacked for this. But I find many of the comments inhumane – exhibiting a really backward attitude to the idea mental illness may be involved. Seeing it as an excuse! Just imagine treating someone with a physical disability as if they were using that as an excuse.

Something I hadn’t considered was the motivation of the complainant – although I did think it strange this woman thought to video the event and make it public. If it had been me I would have treated it as an unfortunate event, best forgotten and certainly not something to make political capital out of.

According to the Whale Oil blog the complainant is actually something of a political activist – advocating for Muslim causes (see Activist or ordinary Kiwi Muslim? What does her twitter feed reveal?)OK, I certainly don’t hold that against her but it seems to explain why the whole thing has become so public.

The way I see it this whole event seems to have been created by a mixture of mental illness and political activism (and, as alway, media exaggeration). On the one hand, this may have been unfortunate and embarrassing for the family of the women who was abusive. On the other hand, if this is a case of mental illness then perhaps the involvement of the court may bring her some help.

One thing I am sure of. Whatever the reason for the videod abusive behaviour – ethnic or religious hatred, drunkenness or mental health – this is not normal behaviour for New Zealanders and we shouldn’t let others think that it is.

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Madonna teaches us a lesson in critical thinking

Maybe just a small lesson – but an important one. We should always look at context and not cherry-pick that which confirms our bias. In particuilar, we shouldn’t simply repeat social media claims without doing a bit of fact-checking for ourselves.

It’s an important lesson at the moment because there is a lot of this going on in the social media hysteria surrounding the US presidential elections.

I was called out recently because I shared a Facebook meme questioning the moral authority of people like Madonna (who regularly makes lewd public performances) making moral judgments on the lewd language used by President Trump in a private conversation many years ago. The commenter suggested her lewd performances were irrelevant and that I should instead criticise her for making stupid and distasteful comments about blowing up the White House.

So, I decided to check out what she did say – and the video above is the section of her speech at one of the Women’s Marches where she referred to bombing the White House.

Putting Madonna’s famous comment in context

Now, I realise that the secret service is required to check out people who make comments like this – but it would be a perversion of justice for them to take any action against her. The context of the bombing comment makes clear she used the expression of personal thoughts as a rhetorical device to bring home her main message – which supported the direct opposite of such a terrorist act. In fact, she specifically said such an act would be pointless as it would change nothing (she is clearly wrong there as there would surely be huge changes  – but you get my point. She was not advocating anything like bombing).

Madonna has reacted to the news the secret service will investigate her with this comment:

“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in it’s entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context.

My speech began with ‘I want to start a revolution of love,” Madonna wrote. “I spoke in metaphor and I shared two ways of looking at things — one was to be hopeful, and one was to feel anger and outrage, which I have personally felt. However, I know that acting out of anger doesn’t solve anything. And the only way to change things for the better is to do it with love.”

I think that sums up what she did say in that section of her speech and her critics should take that lesson on board.

But, not only her critics – also her supporters and allies. It is telling that one of those commenting on her explanation wrote:

“You want people to listen to your speech in its entirety and not a phrase taken wildly out of context….hmmmmm isn’t that what you and your followers have been doing to President Trump all along.”

To my mind, the extreme partisanship of social media commenters, and the #fakenews promoted by mainstream media, has often relied on such cherry picking and removal of context. It started early on in the US election campaign and is still proceeding. The recent rather undignified spat over the numbers attending the inauguration in the Mall, and the numbers observing it internationally on TV is just one example. It reflects how childish – on both sides – this spat between President Trump and the mainstream media has become.

Nor does it impress me that some otherwise rational social media commenters have taken the unfortunate “alternative facts” statement completely out of context to use as a political whip. Although, I suppose it does not surprise me. Even the most self-declared rational of us can be very irrational at times. It is part of being human.

Partisanship and a biased media is counterproductive

I wish we would all calm down and attempt to be more rational and critical in approaching news media reports of the current election hysteria. On the one hand, things do run a lot better when we avoid confirmation bias, partisanship and cherry-picking. (And we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of being ‘unfriended” on facebook for questioning things).

On the other hand, I think this opinion piece today from Frank Bruni in the New York Time makes a point that opponents of President Trump have seemingly been oblivious to (see The Wrong Way to Take On Trump). This lack of critical thinking, the cherry-picking, partisanship , confirmation bias and #fakenews from a biased media, actually helped Trump win the election – and is currently probably helping to cement support from those who voted for him. He writes:

“There’s so much substantive ground on which to confront Trump. There are acres upon acres. Why swerve into the gutter? Why help him dismiss his detractors as people in thrall to the theater of their outrage and no better than he is?”

And why risk that disaffected Americans, tuning in only occasionally, hear one big mash of insults and insulters, and tune out, when there’s a contest — over what this country stands for, over where it will go — that couldn’t be more serious.”

I am sure that last point happened with people who may have supported or considered supporting Trump during the campaign. Once you have heard or seen a few reports full of what you know is #fakenews, personal attacks, partisan commentary, insults and swearing you do tend to turn off. You do tend not to trust future news reports, especially those ridiculing your possible electoral choice. And in the more committed cases, this experience of news you know to be fake means that from then on you will whole-heartedly accept the #fakenews from your own side. “The other side lied so what your side says must be true!”

In my own case, I know the experience of the partisanship and media bias during the US election campaign has made me very untrustful of the mainstream media – in fact, all the media. I now refuse to accept claims made in the news as factual until I can check them out for myself. I have sort of done this with Madonna’s speech here.

That means more work and a resignation that there are many things I will not form an opinion on (because I don’t have time to fact-check). But I feel better about myself – even if some of my associates may be upset that I don’t go along with their current thinking.

Note: The video above is also out of context – being just the part of Madonna’s speech relevant to her bombing comment. If you are really interested you can find her full speech here. I watched it and found myself becoming less and less sympathetic to her so won’t post the video here as it would sort of distract from my point.

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Sources our mainstream media uses to promote their narrative about Syria

No, I haven’t gone to the dark side.

But I do find this video interesting. The interviewer is Bilal Abdul Kareem who claims to be from On the Ground News. He is one of the sources used extensively by the western Mainstream media in their reporting of the battle for Aleppo, and of Syrian war in general. He allies himself with the “terrorists”/”rebels” and obviously has strong ideological commitments to them.

The guy he is interviewing is the “rebel”/”terrorist” leader of the jihadists in east Aleppo before it was liberated – Abu Abd.

Of course, one must take with many grains of salt talk about “liberation”, “freedom” and sympathy for “human rights” from such people. But they certainly make no secret of the funding and other support they were getting from external patron countries – and their bitterness they didn’t get more – or more foreign mercenary fighters. The interview also makes clear what a shambles these groups were in, which gives credence to frequent reports of “rebel”/terrorist” groups in Syria regularly getting into internal armed conflicts.

Incidentally,  the western mainstream media did often use Bilal Abdul Kareem as a source in their reporting of the Aleppo battle (recall how they are always attributing their information to “activists”) and they still use him.  That media used his “last” video message from east Aleppo as the jihadists there surrendered. But they did not use all his material.

This is one video the mainstream media refused – showing how the jihadists in east Aleppo refused humanitarian and prevented it getting into their area. Just didn’t  fit with their narrative of blaming Syria and the Russian Federation for the inability of aid organisations to get humanitarian aid into the area.

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Critical thinking, not censorship, is the solution to fake news

All this talk about fake news brings to my mind a picture of people in glass houses frantically throwing stones. The fact is that many of those complaining about fake news, especially those dominating our mainstream media, are guilty of promoting fake news – and have done it for years.

I can’t help thinking what really upsets them, is that their readership may be becoming a bit more critical and looking for other sources of news. They are trying to poison the water.

Edward Snowden’s interview from last December 13 is very relevant here. The above video is just a clip from the full video where he talks about fake news – why it’s happening and what to do about it. I really like his conclusions:

“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other. The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular.”

This really is a time when we have to oppose attempts to limit our access to information. We must not allow the political and media elite to tell us what we can and cannot read and view. We must not allow them to tell us that some news sources ar “out of bounds.” We must not allow them to put blinkers on us.

Alternative media only part of the answer

Sure, accessing alternative new sources is not the full answer – it is only part of the answer. All news sources have a bias, an agenda. For the unthinking person, the solution might be to choose the news source which confirms their own bias or agenda. But that is really unthinking – and it certainly is not a defense against fake news. Quite the opposite. The unthinking acceptance of fake news only encourages it.

No, the answer is to resort to critical thinking. By recognising that all sources may be guilty of fake news – and all news sources have a bias and agenda – we can start thinking for ourselves. We develop the skills of listening and viewing these sources critically. Balancing the information from one source against another. Thinking about the credibility of news stories and the sources they rely on. Recognising bias and false news when we come across it.

Moving towards censorship?

Unfortunately, the political and media elite are working hard to discredit alternative news sources. And their attempts are determined, serious and occurring at a high level. It is hard to envisage truly democratic countries accepting the sort of censorship this seems to be promoting. But have a read of Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Left, Right and Russia.” Produced by the right-wing Henry Jackson Society this report actually advocates a range of extreme measures, including legislation, controlling the media appearances of politicians and the deliberate intensive undermining of the credibility of “non-approve” news media.

I have seen local journalists actually advocating measures as if they are lifted unchanged from this document – so much for a professional approach to their occupation. And this approach is inherent in the recently adopted resolution of the European parliament on the media and “anti EU-propaganda.”

It is hard to see how such censorship could even be effective in the age of the internet. But the incessant propaganda about false news and attempts to discredit alternative news sources – not for the news they carry but just because they are alternative – is encouraging forms of self-censoring for many individuals. People are being encouraged to reject information because it is from an alternative new source, and not because of the information itself. They are being encouraged into wearing blinkers.

Avoiding self-censorship

A simple exercise. How many time do you see a comment or piece of information on social media rejected out of hand because it was reported on RT, or another alternative news source? Then compare that with the number of times you have seen similar rejections because the report was carried by CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, etc. Yet all those news media are just as capable of carrying false news as each other. One has only to have followed the US Presidential elections or the Syrian war to recognise that.

Full video

The full interview of Edwards Snowden by Twitter’s  Jack Dorsey and Snowden’s answers to Twitter questions is well worth watching. He is a very intelligent man and should not be ignored.

Here is the full video.

Conclusion

Again it is very much a matter of “reader beware.” We have to stop trusting news sources just because they are “mainstream”.”official,” or “approved.” We have to resist the pressure for self-censorship and the wearing of blinkers that the current political and media elite are promoting.

We should be unafraid and should take advantage of all the sources available to us in this age of the internet.

And, above all, we have to develop and protect our critical thinking skills so that we can use this media – mainstream and alternative – wisely.

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Fake news and the new fact-free reporting paradigm

Is it just me, or were the standards of evidence demanded of politicians better in the “old days?”

Yes, I am showing my age – but we have all heard of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, haven’t we? The world almost went to war. I was a student a the time and we did seriously discuss if there was any point in continuing our exam preparation. I do no recall anyone asking to be excused exams because of the real stress – how things have changed.

Whatever one thought of the USSR or the USA, or of the stationing of missiles in Cuba (a parallel to the stationing of US missiles near Soviet borders) we all knew that missile sites were being established. We knew that because the politicians produced the evidence – photographs from spy planes.

hith-cuban-missile-crisis

Cuban missile crisis – 1962. President Kennedy produced evidence from spy planes of the building of missile facilities in Cuba. He didn’t ask us to take out word for it – to rely simply on assurances. Yet that is what politicians do today.

We weren’t asked to take anyone’s word for that. We weren’t denied the evidence on security grounds and simply ordered to take political assurances.

Yes, how things have changed. We are no longer presented with evidence. We are simply asked to accept the words of politicians, to accept assurances from politicians. People are now even claiming that these assurances are in themselves evidence!Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

MH17

Think about it. The US secretary of State assured us that US intelligence agencies had satellite evidence “proving” that the Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down over east Ukraine by rebel militia (or was it by Russians?). But at no time was this evidence presented – all we got were assurances that it existed. This has got as far as the Joint Investigation Team handling possible criminal prosecutions resulting from this tragedy making similar assurances, based on behind the scenes assurances from the US. And still excusing themselves from presenting the actual evidence on “security grounds.”

This seems to political acceptable in the midst of today geopolitical information war – but I certainly hope no one thinks it would stand up in court (see But will it stand up in court?).

Syria

Recently we had the edifying spectacle of the Press spokesman for the US State Department claiming that Russia and Syria deliberately targets and bombs hospitals in east Aleppo – but refusing to provide the names or locations of the hospitals – on security grounds! The media was simply asked to accept political assurances, and to accept the assurances as somehow comprising “evidence.”

The main stream media did accept that – reporters who didn’t are considered a nuisance.

Now our media is telling us that there have been (or is that there will be) massacres of civilians in Aleppo because the “rebels”/”terrorists” have finally been defeated. Women and girls will be raped, men will “disappear,” civilians (women and children) are being shot by soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army. Yes, politicians at the UN may repeat these claims as “unverified reports” (to right they are unverified – they have come from the defeated jihadis themselves). So now our media headlines these reports as real claims being made by the UN.

For example, this headline “Syrian regime killed at least 82 Aleppo civilians in recent days: UN.” It’s from a Saudi news source but we get the same messages here. The only substance (or evidence) in this report is:

“The United Nations human rights office said it had received reports of “pro-regime forces killing at least 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children in four different neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo.” The spokespeople usually described these reports as unverified

And yet these unverified “reports” get converted into facts for us so that we read

” Syrian pro-regime forces have carried out at least 82 execution-style killings of civilians in recent days, including women and children, the UN said Tuesday, citing credible reports from the ground.”

Or, even worse, ThinkProgress reports this in the words:

“Pro-Syrian government forces moved into east Aleppo and started wiping out the remains of the besieged city’s opposition Monday. The United Nations reported that the Syrian army and allied Iraqi militiamen entered homes and summarily executed 82 civilians, including women and children, in what it labelled a “complete meltdown of humanity.”

All this at a time Syrian and other news media in the region are presenting video evidence of the 100,000 civilians who have been evacuated. And these refugees are reporting how they were badly treated by the jihadis, shot if they attempted to escape, preventing access to food and medicines hoarded by the “rebels”/”terrorists and members of their families often beaten, imprisoned or killed.

Yet our media avoids such evidence, such videos, and gives us, instead, their own assurances that atrocities are occurring  or may be in the future based on “unverified reports” (from the defeated jihadis).

Or you get an incredible situation like this report showing an interview with a well-known jihadist supporter in east Aleppo while videos of citizens fleeing the jihadist-controlled areas, and being helped by Syrian Arab Army soldiers, runs in the background!

Moon of Alabama made these same points, in more detail, yesterday in the article MSM Create #Fakenews Storm as rebel Aleppo Vanishes. It is worth a read.

The US elections

Which brings me to the current fiasco which is the US presidential elections. Apparently, some people are unhappy about the result so they are promoting stories that the election was stolen. And what do you know – the country/person responsible is Russia/Putin.

We (or more correctly the US people) are being assured that there is “convincing” intelligence that the Russians are responsible for the leak of emails which put the democrats in a bad light. Apparently, some people actually believe this (especially if their electoral noses are still out of joint) and the Germans are now deciding to use the same excuse (see Russian hackers ‘threaten Germany 2017 election’, MPs warn).

But all this is just assurances. No physical evidence anywhere near comparable with president Kennedy’s photography of missile bases being prepared in Cuba. No. Just assurances – assurances that intelligence bodies have “convincing” information. (Although, some intelligence bodies find the information far from convincing.)

OK, that seems to be the new paradigm for our news media – accept assurances and don’t worry about the facts – don’t even bother asking for them. Worse, we seem to have a paradigm that treats such assurances as facts!

But it doesn’t stop there – it gets worse. At least as long as the long-suffering US voters are concerned. Those with their electoral noses out of joint are now pinning their hopes on the electoral college – which is the actual body which decides who is to be president. They are arguing that members of the electoral college should throw away their traditional reliance on the actual votes of the people and decide for themselves who should be president. Bugger the voters!

But, wait there is more. Those with the crooked electoral noses are now arguing that the electoral college should be given a special intelligence briefing before making up their minds. The Independent reports (see Electoral college members demand information on Russian relations before voting to make Donald Trump president):”

“Ten members of the electoral college have requested more information from intelligence officials on the relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russia. The electoral college addressed an open letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper prior to their 19 December vote that would finalise the election results.”

Apparently, that number has now swelled to more than 50 – see Over 50 Dem electors now demanding intelligence briefing.

I suppose the fact they are asking for a special secret briefing is a huge acknowledgment that the unverified reports from the media about Russian hacking are in themselves of no value. They really aren’t “convincing.”

But just think about it. The US people went to the polls and elected a president. (Yes, I know their electoral system stinks – but that is not the issue in the middle of an election. You use the existing rules). The voters had all the worthless assurances and political stories before they voted. The electoral college also had, has, the same stories, rumours and lies.

Just imagine the stink if the electoral outcome is overturned, that the electors choice is not chosen. All because of a “behind the scenes,” non-public “intelligence briefing.”

Just imagine if the electorate is going to be told that their vote actually counts for nothing – because “we have credible evidence” they were led astray. And the electorate is going to be asked to accept this story without any evidence – just assurances!

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Fluoridation: members of parliament call from submissions from scientific and health experts

The new community water fluoridation legislation is now on the way in the New Zealand parliament. The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill was introduced on Tuesday and the parliamentary health committee has invited submissions.

It’s worth watching the videos of the twelve speakers in the first reading. These give an idea of how the legislation will be received by the different political parties. They also give an impression that members of our parliament are well aware of the tactics of the anti-fluoride pressure groups – they fully expect to be inundated with irrelevant and pseudoscientific submissions. But they are also aware that the science currently finds community water fluoridation to be both effective and safe.

After watching the debate these are my initial conclusions:

  1. The bill has almost unanimous support. Only New Zealand First voted against it.
  2. Many of the speakers see the legislation as only a little better than the current situation. The describe it as a half-way house – kicking the can down the road. District Health Boards (DHBs) will be subjected to the same uninformed or misleading pressure that the councils are at present. The government should have gone the whole hog and handed over responsibility for fluoridation decision to the Ministry of Health.
  3. All the speakers declared their support for the science that shows community water fluoridation effective and safe. Most showed they are aware of, and accept, the New Zealand Fluoridation review commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.
  4. None of the speakers showed any support for the arguments or activities of anti-fluoridation campaigners. In fact, there were many derogatory comments made about tin foil hats, etc.
  5. New Zealand First is opposed because they prefer that communities make fluoridation decisions by referenda and are calling for these referenda to be binding. They criticised those councils like Whakatane and Hamilton that had ignored the wishes of the community.

Health Committee calling for submissions

The Parliamentary health select committee has called for submissions on the bill. Written submission will be accepted until February 2, 2017.

Information on making a submission is available on the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill website. And you can make your submissions online.

You can also give notice that you wish to make an oral submission to the Health Committee.

Possible issues of contention

From what speakers in the debate had to say I do not think the anti-fluoride lobby will get much sympathy. MPs are expecting the usual deluge of submissions from them but know from experience how worthless they will be.

However, several MPs stressed they did welcome submissions and particularly encouraged submissions from scientific and health experts. The Royal Society of NZ and the Prime Minster’s Chief Scientific advisor may be specifically invited to make submissions.

The bill is not really about the science, however, and MPs expect that the real content – the processes for making fluoridation decisions and the body responsible for these, should be thoroughly discussed.

I expect there will be a strong push to strengthen the bill by moving responsibility to central government, the Ministry of Health, as MPs still see problems with DHB responsibility.

The issue of community consultation should also come up – particularly as New Zealand First is promoting the idea of binding referenda in communities. As it stands the bill does not define how consultation should occur so this may well be made more specific.

The Green Party seems keen to introduce mechanisms for better informing of the public about the science behind fluoridation. They are conscious that the anti-fluoride groups are fear-mongering on this issue and feel that this can be countered by better information. If this is discussed in depth in the hearings there may well be some interest in defining more specifically how government updates its understanding of the research on fluoridation and how they disseminate new research results to the public.

A role for you, the reader

Well, the process is underway. If you have views or concerns on the bill or on the decision processes involved with fluoridation now is the time to put pen to paper, punch away on your computer keyboard, or prepare for making an oral submission to the health committee. If you want advice on how to do this have a read of Making a Submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee and the linked documents.

Remember, written submissions are accepted until February 2, 2017, and we would expect the Health committee hearings to start soon after that.

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Fake news, human suffering and the fight against terrorism

defeat

Some news sources are reporting the final defeat of ‘rebels”/Terrorists” in east Aleppo. Source: Qassioun News (see  Beleaguered opposition factions in Aleppo decided to get out of the city).

Our news media convinces me more and more each day that we really do live in a “post-truth” world, or at least in parallel universes where “truths” differ widely.

OK, perhaps the problem is this “new” phenomenon of “Fake News.” But that “fake news” is coming from the sources I am told I must trust. And what turns out to be the “unfake” news, or more realistic news, is coming from sources I am told I should not trust – that I should wear blinkers to avoid exposure to!

The liberation of east Aleppo

On the one hand, we have the (apparently) acknowledged fact that the “rebels”/”terrorists” in the major Syrian city of Aleppo are on the run. Neighbourhood after neighbourhood have been liberated in the last week. At the time I am writing this I am seeing reports on social media of the complete liberation of the eastern part of Aleppo which has been held by “rebels”/”terrorists” since 2012.

If we follow the “unapproved,” “non-official” news sources we see videos showing tens of thousands escaping from their hostage situation where they were used as human shields by terrorists. Welcoming and kissing the Syrian soldiers who liberated them – and receiving humanitarian aid – food, medicines, shelter, blankets, from the international Red Cross and Red Crescent, Syrian aid agencies (including Christian ones), the Russian Army and the Russian Emergencies Ministry. Already some liberated neighbourhoods have been demined and former residents are starting to return home.

So – in practice we are seeing a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian aid, provision of medicines and medical services, and the beginning of the restoration of homes. All achieved by forces “on the ground,” and by negotiation between the various military and political groups. Negotiations between the Russians and the Turks, and between the Syrians and the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups. The UN and its agencies seem to be nowhere in sight around Aleppo. To me that is shocking.

The alternative universe

But the “approved” “official” news sources are still reporting the battle for Aleppo as a great tragedy instead of a great victory. Whose side are they on?  They continue to talk about the suffering of the citizens, the need for a ceasefire and for the delivery of humanitarian aid. They keep finding a “last hospital,” or “last school” claimed to have been bombed by Russian or Syrian forces. They condemn those unsupported events while ignoring or hardly commenting on the missile attacks on schools and hospitals in west Aleppo. They concentrate on  now meaningless UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid.

All crocodile tears and political posturing. What use are such resolutions when the forces on the ground are actually achieving cessation of hostilities over and ever larger proportion of the city and that the liberated civilians are (finally) getting humanitarian aid which the “rebels”/”terrorists” in charge had prevented (or hoarded for themselves) in the past?

If those vocal politicians and aid agencies were genuine now is the time for them to get stuck in – on the ground. Aid convoys can get through to the liberated areas and the camps or buildings housing escapees. The people are no longer being held as  human shields. In most areas there are no longer “rebels”/”terrorists” preventing access to humanitarian and medical aid personal and equipment.

Now is not the time for political posturing, childish walkouts and vindictive resolutions of the sort that seem to be common in the UN Security Council. Surely these just expose these countries, or their leaders, as inhumane political hypocrites. Their interests are the ongoing geopolitical struggle and its resulting information war – not suffering innocents.

blinkers

We are encouraged to wear blinkers – refuse to use alternative news sources, restrict our reading to only “approved” or “official” news media which are blatantly disseminating fake news. Image credit: Wearable Wedding Invitations.

And it is these hypocrites who have been pontificating about “false news,” attempting to close down access to alternative news sources or imposing blinkers on the public.

Surely, and hopefully,  the liberation of Aleppo is just another nail in the coffins of these hypocrites.?

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Sometimes I think the world has gone mad

fake-newsWell, at least that part of the world I live in. Or more specifically, the news media my part of the world is exposed to.

There have been big events in Syria in the last few days – specifically the liberation of parts of the city of Aleppo that has been held by “rebels”/”terrorists” for 4 years. In that time the civilians have been held captive and used as human shields by the militia. Those attempting to leave via the humanitarian corridors set up during the ceasefires this year have been shot at. Ambulances and buses waiting at the humanitarian corridors have remained largely empty with only a few families able to escape. People demonstrating about this, and the way the militia forces have hoarded food and medical supplies, have been shot at and the demonstration organisers killed. The “rebel”/”terrorist” groups have denied entry to humanitarian aid convoys.

Now, at last, video reports from Syrian reporters on the ground are showing thousands of civilians finally leaving. They are being helped by Syrian soldiers and they are clearly happy to be liberated. People are chanting, kissing the soldiers and reporters. and describing their suffering during the occupation.

The video below is an example.

Unfortunately, this good news does not seem to be getting into our mainstream media which is hardly covering the liberated citizens and their relief.

Al Jazeera still interviews its tame “activists” (polite term for the spokesperson of a militia group) to describe how bad things are and that the world must do something to save the people of Aleppo. It twists the obvious movement of civilians away from the arms of the “rebels”/”terrorists” with headlines like Fleeing Aleppo civilians forced back by gunfire and claim

“Dozens of civilians tried to flee rebel-held east Aleppo but were forced to retreat by gunfire, as the Syrian army and its allied militias on Wednesday pressed on with an offensive to recapture the whole city.”

What they don’t say is that the gunfire is coming from the “rebel”/”terrorists’ who are attempting to prevent the exodus.

France 24 attempts to create a picture of Syrians fleeing the Syrian army instead of the “rebels”/”terrorists.” It presents the headline  – Nearly 10,000 civilians flee east Aleppo amid regime offensive and claims

“Government forces retook six rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo over the weekend, forcing nearly 10,000 civilians to flee as they pressed their offensive Sunday to retake Syria’s second city.”

And The Independent  produces similar coverage with their headline Russia claims Aleppo is being ‘liberated’ as more than 16,000 people flee city’s ‘slow descent into hell’, claiming:

“After four months of siege and a bombing campaign which has brought rebel-held east Aleppo to its knees, civilians are fleeing across the frontline in their thousands to escape President Bashar al-Assad’s attempts to crush the city’s rebels for good.”

Yet, strangely, these Syrian citizens are escaping from the “rebels”/”terrorists” – not the Syrian Army. In fact they are welcoming the army, blessing and kissing the soldiers.

The liberation of this part of Aleppo should be something to be happy about, not sad. The people now have access to the buses and ambulances denied them by the militia controlling the occupied areas. They now have access to humanitarian aid which has been waiting for them – and denied to them by the “rebel”/”terrorist” militia.

The “concern” and crocodile tears of the politicians

Contrast the relief and happiness on the faces of the Syrians who have been liberated in Aleppo with the “concern,” crocodile tears and indignation of politicians in France, the UK and the USA. Apparently, this liberation was the last thing they wanted. They are now calling for UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions to retaliate against the Syrian and Russian forces responsible for the liberation.

After months of hand-wringing over the problems of getting humanitarian aid to suffering civilians, they are condemning the very people bringing that aid to them. And after all the concern about the “last hospital in Aleppo” that the Russians or Syrians have bombed over twenty times this year they are confronted with the fact that it is the Russians, not the French, the UK or the USA which will provide mobile hospitals to the Syrians in the Aleppo region (see Putin orders mobile hospitals to be sent to residents of Aleppo, Syria).

Fake news

Even the mainstream media is talking about fake news these days – which is ironic considering they seem to be the main purveyors of fake news. This current example from Syria just reinforces the need for people to be more critical with the media. And to be prepared to look for themselves, find other news sources and check out what is being claimed.

As for Syria, and the liberation of the parts of that city held by terrorists, the news is out there – you just have to look for it yourself – our mainstream media probably won’t help you.

Here is another example showing how Syrians are fleeing from the terrorists, escaping with the help of Syrian soldiers – while being shot at by the very people our media seems to trust as news sources.

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White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video

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The acted White Helmets “rescue” video, the crew involved and the professional actor who was the “victim”

It really is a case of “reader beware” these days.  There is so much misinformation about – in the mainstream media as well as in alternative and social media – that the reader really has to avoid accepting things at face value.

I am strongly aware of this when I attempt to follow-up a lead from social media that looks interesting. The video I posted yesterday is an example (see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria). I believe things like this get faked all the time. Searching through social media I even found suggestions the video was a “false flag” – prepared by supporters of Syria to discredit the White Helmets.

What convinced me the video was genuine was that my original source for the video was the web site of RFS – the antigovernment Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office – website. I was also convinced by the fact that on visiting that site several hours later the video had been removed, suggesting that it had been uploaded by mistake

I think I was right to conclude this was an enacted video that had been uploaded by mistake and had been removed to remove the evidence once the internet uproar about it had spread. Trouble was, though, the video had by then been saved to other servers.

Further confirmation

Today the RFS Media Office issued a statement that confirming this was a genuine – enacted – video produced by the White Helmets (see RFS Statement of Clarification and the image below).

They attempt to explain it, and its enactment, away by saying it had been prepared more or less as a publicity video for entry on the International Mannequin Challenge!

OK, any person or group is welcome to join in the latest social media craze. But a respectable “first responders” group? Where would such a group find time for this playing around in the midst of a brutal war?

How many similar first responder groups have entered this competition? I am sure the genuine Syrian Civil Defence Force  didn’t – they were too busy dealing with real emergencies and saving people endangered by the war. (The Syrian Civil Defence Force is the legitimate “first responder” force in Syria and is recognised by  the International Civil Defence Association. The White Helmets, who have usurped this name, are not).

At the very least this fiasco indicates the White Helmets has more to do with propaganda and publicity – with producing high-quality videos – than saving people. It helps explain why none of their videos show credible paramedic equipment or genuine recovery procedures – usually only kids who are miraculously saved injury-free (except for being covered in dust) from bombed buildings. Sometimes these children seem to be recovered multiple times as they occur in different videos, carried by different White Helmets men, being recovered from different buildings.

The other thing that rings alarm bells is that their Mannequin Challenge video (they have titled it “On the Edge of Death”) looks exactly the same (except for the stationary introduction) as all their other videos. Well lit, well produced, frantic rescuers – but no credible recovery or treatment equipment in sight. And I can’t help asking – what genuine first responders group only goes into action attended by a professional camera crew and lighting? Surely they are too busy doing their job – saving people.

The White Helmets and their “rebel”/”terrorist” friends in the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office have obviously screwed up big time. Uploading this video only reinforced all the suspicions that this group is a propaganda arm for the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not  a genuine recovery group. It was too late to deny what had happened so they try to make the best of it in their statement (see below) and blame their fiasco on the Syrian Government:

“the regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions. As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime, that has been killing Syrians for nearly six years, accusing RFS media office of creating fabricated videos of rescue operations by civil defense teams.”

Wider concerns

It is one thing for groups to be involved in publicity and propaganda for participants in a brutal war and to pretend to be something they aren’t. But it is another thing, and this is what really concerns me, when people in authority and power take such groups and their propaganda seriously.

For example, Al Jazeera relies heavily on the White Helmets as a source for their news coverage of Syria – particularly Aleppo. White Helmets videos or often used and members of the group quoted for information. Beyond that I think Al Jazeera’s other most common source for new sin Syria are simply “activists.’ To me, that means participants in the war – “rebels”/”terrorists.”

My second example is closer to home – the New Zealand government (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) The New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs are coughing up about $100,000 to provide training for White Helmet’s members. Not much money – but it gives respectability to a publicity and propaganda organisation while ignoring the real Syrian Civil Defense Forces.

Let’s hope this fiasco, which can longer be blamed as a “false flag” operation or misinformation promoted by the Syrian government and their allies, is another relatively large step towards the final discrediting of the White Helmets.
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Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria

I originally posted this video from the RFS (Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office) Channel – but after realising that they were a “rebel”/”terrorist” group and had probably posted it by mistake I instead used a version saved by Moon of Alabama. Sure enough, when I checked a few hours later RFS had removed the video. (* See Footnote below).

For a while now I have felt our mainstream media has presented a very biased picture of the war in Syria.

I have been particularly concerned about the way the  media relies on “activists” from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” – surely that is just an admission that the media is using propaganda provided by these very “rebels”/”terrorists” who are fighting this war.

Then there are non-governmental groups often cited as sources – as if the fact they are NGOs is somehow an indication they are reliable. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Aleppo Medical Centre,   the Aleppo Media Centre and the White Helmets are some examples.

A phoney White Helmets rescue?

All these NGOs are suspect – and especially the White Helmets which produced the above video. I have written about this group in White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?, Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsVoluntary media censorship is ethically wrong and Dissecting pseudoscientific and political propaganda.

In the video above they appear to be doing what is called a Mannequin Challenge where people remain frozen in action like mannequins while a video is recorded. It’s the sort of thing one could do while recording a fictional enactment – but certainly not while recording an emergency rescue situation.

In the past, I have found the White Helmet rescues presented on our mainstream media very unconvincing. Almost always a child was being rescued, often from very deep in a pile of rubble, and the White Helmet rescuer would run with the child toward or way from the camera. The videos played on our sympathy for children – but the lack of real injuries (a little bit of blood – or tomato sauce – and dust) were not consistent with a real situation. The lack of proper rescue equipment and provision of aid to the “victims” was also suspicious.

So what we have here is apparently an enactment. The two White Helmets rescuers and the “victim” were set in place and remained still and silent while the mannequin challenge was filmed. Then “action!” The victim screams, the White Helmets leap up and what appears to be recorded background noise starts.

The White Helmets propaganda videos have been very effective. Full of action, playing on natural sympathy for children. But the organisation operates only in the “rebel”/”terrorist” areas. And our media very rarely shows any coverage of the children and other civilians killed, injured or rescued in the government areas. There are plenty of these incidents and they are being filmed. (The little girl below is a survivor of terrorist shelling of two primary schools in west Aleppo where at least 8 children were killed). It’s just that our media very rarely shows them.

Footnote

This photo from the filming session for the White Helmets video above has also appeared online. Furtherer evidence the video is fake?
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