Who Watches The Watchmen

Control Room is not (as I have read here) the movie that Fahrenheit 9/11 should have been. Hijacking Catastrophe is. Control Room is an excellent behind the scenes look at an international news organization under threat politically and under fire. It is focused on the role of Al Jazeera in the Iraq invasion. See an excellent complement to the documentary here, at CBC.

The cleverly titled documentary takes a look at the news factory that was CENTCOM, Central Command for the Department of Defense's Office of Public Affairs, a barracks for the world's news organizations 700 miles from Baghdad. This was the control room, the clearing house for the images and spin spewing out of Iraq during the conflict.

The hypocrisy of Rumsfeld, decrying Al Jazeera as liars while rattling off strings of his own lies, is at once comic and chilling. The engineering of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue photo-op was something I had not been aware of. This iconic image suggesting a jubilant and liberated Iraq was a sham.

By constructing simulacra of truth, the US breeds skepticism about any other assertion it makes. And that's in the West. Imagine how they feel about the US in the Middle East.

Back to Al Jazeera. I wholeheartedly support the availability of an Arab news network beyond the jurisdiction of the region's dictators, and beyond the reach of American advertisers. Al Jazeera will be made available to Canadians, with some modifications. It is interesting that Control Room appeared on the season premiere of The Passionate Eye, on the eve of the news network's rollout to the Canadian market. Al Jazeera senior producer Samir Khader offered up some feel good platitudes about Al Jazeera's noble cause, all the while chain-smoking like Nathan Thurm. More power to AJ, but I've been duped enough times to be skeptical of any news organization, a sad truth.

Just so we get this straight: lies, damned lies, statistics, and press releases of the US Department of Defense. Just kidding. I'm sure some of these statements are true. I just can't tell which ones, and therein lies the problem.


Denounce the Peacemakers

“Naturally the common people don’t want war… But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along....the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

-- Nazi Reich Marshall Herman Goering at his Nuremberg War Crimes Trial

Thanks, apple head, for suggesting I watch Hijacking Catastrophe.


CanWest 'Terrorist' Tangle

CanWest has modified Reuters news wire stories, inserting the word 'terrorist' for 'militant', 'insurgent' or 'extremist'. CanWest states it is striving to strip the news wire stories of "misleading gloss" as a duty to its readership. Here's an example of their helpfulness:

[A National Post] article, filed from Jerusalem and carrying the byline "Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, with files from Agence France-Presse," described the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades of the West Bank as "a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel." The Reuters original story referred to "the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, which has
been involved in a four-year revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

Don't get me wrong: I do not support Al-Aqsa's tactics, and they certainly appear to be responsible for numerous civilian casualties. However, while the alteration is substantial, the article is attributed to Reuters without qualification.

CanWest's policy is to apply the term 'terrorist' to "someone who deliberately targets civilians." Hmmm. Would they paint the US with this brush? After all, the US is responsible for the deliberate attacks on civilian populations in Japan, at Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The Allies were also responsible for attacks on civilians notoriously in Dresden. Israel routinely targets civilians with its violence. So is CanWest merely calling a spade a spade? Is their readership too unsophisticated to draw distinctions between militants, insurgents, terrorists, fugitives, protesters, fanatics, etc? Wouldn't life be simpler if you could tar any ululating, gun-toting brownie with the same brush?

Reuters does not want to be seen holding that brush. I don't want to buy a newspaper, read a magazine, or watch broadcasts from a company that does. Here is a list of the major media properties owned by CanWest. Be sure they do not profit from your patronage.

Major Metropolitan Newspapers
• National Post
Montreal Gazette
• Ottawa Citizen
• Windsor Star
• Regina Leader-Post
• Saskatoon StarPhoenix
• Calgary Herald
• Edmonton Journal
Vancouver Sun
Vancouver Province
Victoria Times-Colonist

Television Networks
• Global Television
• CH Hamilton
• CH Vancouver Island
• CH Montreal
• CHBC Kelowna
• CKRD Red Deer
• Men TV
• Mystery
• DejaView
• Lonestar
• Fox Sportsworld Canada
• Xtreme Sports

Broadcast Radio
CKBT 91.5 The BEAT
• Channel Z
• Solid Gold FM
The Rock FM Network
The Edge

Net Portal
• canada.com

This begs the question: What is a terrorist? How should a terrorist be defined? Are insurgents or rebels resisting the invasion of their country terrorists? According to the Criminal Code of Canada, terrorist activity is defined very broadly indeed. Terrorist attacks need not harm civilians. Property damage or a disruption of service is sufficient to qualify as terrorist activity if it is committed "for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause" and "with the intention of intimidating the public...with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act." So if you blockade a road to protest clear-cuts, is that a terrorist activity?

Well, maybe. But "This definition of “terrorist activity” expressly excludes ordinary acts of advocacy, protest, dissent, work stoppage, or the expression of political, religious or ideological thoughts, beliefs or opinions per se." (see here)

Confused yet?

Perhaps because it is so challenging to define, and because of the fear that grips the West, terrorism constitutes a charged, dangerous and potentially misleading label. It should be used judiciously, and more precise terms should be used in its place where possible. This appears to be what Reuters is doing. Not only is CanWest changing Reuters' copy, it is falsely attributing that copy to Reuters. Who knows what other misrepresentations are routinely intoroduced into CanWest's reporting as a matter of policy, or tolerated at the whim of their editors.

A news organization's most valuable asset is its reliability. Look at CBS's recent woes when it undermined the public's trust. CanWest has lost mine.


OSO Concert: Take the Fifth

I enjoyed the Okanagan Symphony's most recent concert on Saturday, September 11, primarily because of the finale on the program, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The concert, mysteriously titled Date With Destiny, included Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Roccoco Theme featuring cellist Paul Marleyn. The concert also featured Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus, not Murphy's Colour of My Dreams as listed on the program.

Rautavaara's piece opened the concert. The composition is notable for its combination of recorded birdsong of migratory Arctic Circle birds in Finland, along with live orchestral accompaniment. The recorded passages have a haunting quality. Accompanying woodwind and brass play complements the birdsong. The lush strings play to create the landscape underlying the cacophony. The piece is a bit self-indulgent, lean on melody, but heavy on mood and colour. The performance was marred, not by the live performers, but by the sound engineers who could not eliminate a distracting hum from their playback of the recording. This was especially annoying during the piece's quiet passages.

Tchaikovsky's Variations were a disappointment. Marleyn performed capably, with only a couple of small misstrokes. The demanding passages requiring Marleyn's left hand to shoot down the finger board nearly to the bridge were performed cleanly and skillfully. But the piece did not move me, and for this I blame Tchaikovsky, not Marleyn and the orchestra.

After the intermission, the orchestra roared back with Symphony No. 5. Introduced by the familiar four note Fate motif, the first movement did not let up in intensity or pace. Following Beethoven's weak second movement, the symphony resumes its verve in the third, then proceeds directly into the fourth movement without a break. Midway through the fourth movement, the trombones make their first appearance, not only in this symphony but in any symphony. Their round, full sound announces their presence dramatically. Beethoven also introduced the piccolo and the double bassoon in this work.

Beethoven was a relentless innovator. As we learned during Maestro Sanford's pre-concert lecture, Beethoven's--and possibly all of classical music's--most familiar symphony overwhelmed his contemporaries. The piece, however, was not dismissed as Sanford suggested. Critic ETA Hoffman was effusive with his praise:
Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing -- a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.

Beethoven's contemporary Jean Francois Le Sueur was also overwhelmed: "It's incredible! Marvelous! It has so upset and bewildered me that when I wanted to put on my hat, I could not find my head."

Maestro Sanford also commented on "new music" and the importance of integrating challenging, modern pieces into an orchestra's program. Beethoven's innovative symphony would have been shut out of the concert hall if today's attitudes about new music prevailed at the time. Sanford raised a caution about integrating technology into orchestral performances as in Cantus Arcticus, saying that sometimes such attempts can distract from and undermine the classical players. Indeed, we saw that on Saturday as a technical gaffe spoiled a performance. The Kansas City Symphony is experimenting with a PDA called a Concert Companion that provides real time information about a piece as it's performed. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has also integrated video screens into its performances, showing close-ups of conductor Bramwell Tovey, members of the orchestra, or soloists. Speaking of his friend and technology in the concert hall, Maestro Sanford quipped, "I don't think it's bringing people closer to classical music. I think it's bringing classical music closer to football."


One Nation Under God

I was reading over the Democratic Party Platform, and was arrested by this passage:
That is the America we believe in. That is the America we are fighting for. That is the America we will build together – one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
It perplexed me that the platform would iterate this highly contested phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance. Especially in light of their policies regarding abortion...
we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with
Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.
...same sex relationships...
We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the
life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families.
...embryonic stem cell research...
President Bush has rejected the calls from Nancy Reagan,
Christopher Reeve and Americans across the land for assistance with embryonic stem cell research. We will reverse his wrongheaded policy.
...and financial support of faith-based programs.
we will honor First Amendment protections and not allow public funds to be used to proselytize or discriminate.