Side By Side

Two interviews here side by side, for two people who will never be side by side in just about anything.

Every time I see them on TV together I can’t help thinking that Kirsty Wark has such a visceral hatred for Alex Salmond that when she is confronted with him she leaves the realm of the professional interviewer and enters that of the outraged teenager…


Italo Svevo (real name Aron Ettore Schmitz) is not one of the best-known Italian writers outside of Italy. In fact, were it not for the intervention of James Joyce, he probably wouldn’t be particularly well-known in Italy itself.

It is an interesting story. Joyce was tutoring Schmitz in English and read some of his work. He liked Zeno’s Conscience* so much that he sent it away to a publisher in France who translated it and published it. The French critics praised it highly.

Due to the success in France, his writing worked its way back into Italy where he began to become more famous.

A few months ago I read a short later work called A Perfect Hoax (Una Burla Riuscita) which I found quite amusing and insightful. I therefore thought it might be good to try the more famed work Zeno’s Conscience. It is funny but I have to say that something that caught my eye particularly was this quote which was in a much more serious tone…

You arrive at murder through love or hate; it is only through wickedness that you propagandise murder.

Cartoon from The Pleb

* In other translations it is called The Confessions of Zeno which is a bit of a copout of a name because it sidesteps the problem that in Italian the word used is “coscienza”, which can mean “conscience” or “consciousness”.


I am not one to defend the Scotsman (newspaper) but check out these two headlines for the same story in Scotland’s 2 biggest biggest broadsheets. The first is from the Herald and the second is from the Scotsman…

£5m centre at Bannockburn to cash in on Scots history


New centre aims to recapture experience of Bannockburn

Both of those give a markedly different impression about what is going on.

The content of the stories is basically similar but doesn’t the Herald one leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth?



Below is a talk given by Robert Fisk given by Robert Fisk at the Al-Jazeera Forum. It is well worth the read. I made a little video with something from another speech Fisk made if that would make you more interested.

Robert Fisk, The Independent newspaper’s Middle East correspondent, gave the following address to the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum on May 23.

Power and the media are not just about cosy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents. They are not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly honourable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House and state department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the foreign office and the ministry of defence. In the western context, power and the media is about words – and the use of words.

It is about semantics.

It is about the employment of phrases and clauses and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history; and about our ignorance of history.



Two subjects that I feel strongly about are internet freedom and the current extinction crisis.

So there was a bit of an internal clash when I saw the headline…

Internet threatens rare species, conservationists warn

Conservationists say the internet has emerged as one of the biggest threats to endangered species.

Campaigners say it is easier than ever before to buy and sell anything from live baby lions to polar bear pelts on online auction sites and chatrooms.

What the person (Paul Todd) is quoted as saying on the BBC report is that “The internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species”. However, the internet is becoming the dominant factor in most other things too. Also the Toronto Sun newspaper carried some rather different quotes from the same conference… such as …

John Sellar, CITES’ chief law enforcement officer, argued the impact of the Web was overblown and that many species that appear illegal may in fact may be legal. He also said many big traders were reluctant to use the Internet, since payments can be traced and they can be ensnared in undercover operations.

“There seems to be little evidence that there are commercial operations using the Internet,” Sellar said. “Although the risks may be small depending on which country you are living in, you can be identified when using the Internet. So there are clearly risks there.”


“The Internet itself isn’t the threat, but it’s another way to market the product,” said Ernie Cooper, who spearhead the investigation into the newt for TRAFFIC Canada. “Most people are not willing to pay $300 for a salamander. But through the power of the Internet, tapping into the global market, you can find buyers.”

Taking this into account, the problem does not seem to be simply the (semi) new-fangled internet (boo hiss boo hiss) but rather the age-old predilection among some people for boneheaded brutality. The internet has neither enhanced nor diminished this.

I obviously don’t deny that the internet may facilitate easier transactions for some things but the problem at root remains the same – us.

The BBC story however  read very like the old style articles from mainstream media 10 years ago denouncing the internet and hoping it was a passing fad. In that spirit then I would like to print an excerpt from an old article defending the internet.

I don’t think anybody would argue now that the Internet isn’t becoming a major factor in our lives. However, it’s very new to us. Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people ‘over the Internet.’ They don’t bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans ‘over a cup of tea,’ though each of these was new and controversial in their day.


The BBC today carried this story…

Fallujah doctors report rise in birth defects

Doctors in the Iraqi city of Fallujah are reporting a high level of birth defects, with some blaming weapons used by the US after the Iraq invasion.

They are reporting this only several years after independent journalists, medical organisations and several websites have been saying the same thing. Even other mainstream media sources reported it long ago. Nevertheless, I suppose we must conclude that only 4 or 5 years off the pace is an improvement for the BBC.

However, they managed to report the story without once saying “depleted uranium” or “white phosphorus”. They instead preferred to use more neutral phrases like “the highly sophisticated weapons the US troops used in Fallujah six years ago.”


Here is an abridged version of a story on BBC news about the situation in Yemen. Please pay attention to the parts I have highlighted…

Yemeni forces have arrested three suspected al-Qaeda militants who were wounded in a raid on Monday, security sources say.

They were captured at a hospital north of the capital, Sanaa. AFP news agency says they include Mohammed al-Hanq, a key local al-Qaeda leader.

AFP quoted an unnamed security official saying: “Mohammed al-Hanq and two others who were wounded were captured in a hospital in Amran.”

The agency said the local al-Qaeda leader was thought to be behind the security threats that had prompted the embassy closures.

The British embassy said its public services still remained closed, and that the security situation was being assessed on a daily basis.

The US had reopened its embassy on Tuesday, saying successful counter-terrorism operations by Yemeni forces had addressed a “specific area of concern”.

This was an apparent reference to Monday’s raid some 25 miles (40km) north of Sanaa, in which two other suspected members of al-Qaeda were killed.

The difficulties of travel within Yemen have prevented the BBC from independently verifying details of the reported raid.

But the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, in Sanaa, says he saw military jets flying over the capital on Monday afternoon and into the evening, suggesting some kind of operation was under way.

American intelligence officials say the failed plot to bomb a US-bound jet on 25 December originated in Yemen – where the suspect was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda.

Now, it is not a difficult thing to go through most stories in mainstream news and find exactly this style of reporting so I made and uploaded something from Robert Fisk which brilliantly highlights the problem (1m 34s). I went to a similar talk he gave in Glasgow and it was wonderful. You can find slightly different versions of the same talk all around the web.

Brilliantly put by Fisk I am sure you will agree.

It is however worth saying that in many cases this systemic problem is not the fault of the journalists themselves. As “the NEWS” morphed into the “the NEWS BUSINESS” the standard model was to cut money from the investigative side of reporting and if it was reinvested at all it was reinvested into the presentational side.

Furthermore, even when journalists do have stories despite their limited budgets, real stories are often squashed and never allowed to air – leaving the airwaves full of Michael Jackson type stories.

Nevertheless, what Fisk describes is where we are now.