Tag Archives | media

Why would a religious scholar write a book about a religious figure?

From Buzzfeed:

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in the sociology of religions from the University of California and author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” went on FoxNews.com’s online show Spirited Debate to promote his book only to be prodded about why a Muslim would write a historical book about Jesus.

This video is amazing. Most people, after asking a thoughtless baiting question and receiving an unfazed reply refuting the basis for asking it, would back off, or at least change tack. But this ‘journalist’ is not to be deterred. She just keeps going. And going. It’s awful but I couldn’t stop watching it.

Gunning for Manning

Meanwhile, the fourth estate seems in good shape, according to Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

Is Manning a hero, or a traitor? Did he give thousands of files to Wikileaks out of a sense of justice and moral horror, or did he do it because he had interpersonal problems, because he couldn’t keep his job, because he was a woman trapped in a man’s body, because he was a fame-seeker, because he was lonely?

You get the press and the rest of America following that bouncing ball, and the game’s over. Almost no matter what the outcome of the trial is, if you can convince the American people that this case is about mental state of a single troubled kid from Crescent, Oklahoma, then the propaganda war has been won already.

Because in reality, this case does not have anything to do with who Bradley Manning is, or even, really, what his motives were. This case is entirely about the “classified” materials Manning had access to, and whether or not they contained widespread evidence of war crimes.

This whole thing, this trial, it all comes down to one simple equation. If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal.

Taibbi’s tone is often one of outraged exasperation, which is on display in his book on Blackwater and in his frequent TV appearances. Can you blame him?

Little-read dot

Singapore’s media system is highly unique. To people who take the press’ status as the fourth estate for granted, it is deeply offensive. I’m not going to defend it here, but I will say that it’s more complicated than it seems.

People have been wondering for a while how the Singapore media environment would cope with the emerging implications of the internet. Here is the beginnings of an answer, as reported by ABC:

The Singapore government says the new licensing framework is not intended to curb internet freedom, but to make the rules more consistent with those governing traditional media such as newspapers.

Under the rules, selected news websites which report regularly on Singapore would be licensed, and a performance bond of nearly $US40,000 placed with authorities.

Any story deemed objectionable by authorities would need to be taken down within 24 hours.

If you take the idea of value pluralism seriously, as I do, then the important question here is not so much how we judge this approach by our standards, but how they judge it by theirs. That’s very much an open question, as dissatisfaction with Singapore’s ruling party is running at an all-time high, but that may be about the details rather than the basic assumption of their non-adversarial media.

Value pluralism is a difficult idea, but it is not the same as moral relativism. More on this later.

✱ Another election: what’s it all for?

Shortly before the last Australian federal election, I wrote an article for the ABC about how disgusting the state of politics in Australia had become. This time I can’t even muster the enthusiasm to be disgusted. I’m far from alone in this of course, which is heartening – since last time we’ve had Lindsay Tanner’s ‘Sideshow‘, Laura Tingle’s ‘Great Expectations‘ and a wealth of books, articles and speeches about how pitiful all of it is and why.

Before we embark trepidatiously upon another election year voyage of insipid campaigning, recriminations and broken promises, point scoring and the usual media sideshow, and before they start perpetrating Q&A again every week, I’d just like to get my thoughts on the matter on the record and out of the way.

If, as the polls suggest, voters have already made up their minds long ago, no-one will be listening during the campaign anyway. But we’ll all go through the motions in some sort of ghastly national ritual nonetheless, because what else is there?

No-one will be talking about what any of it is for. That we’re all stuck here together for a while so we’d better talk about how to get along.

Richard Livingstone once said (and it is still true) that if you want a characterisation of our age, it is that of the civilisation of means without ends. Australia is materially one of the richest countries in the world, but we don’t appear to have any idea what to do with it or how to make it last. It’s not that we disagree over questions of freedom, fairness and flourishing, it’s that no-one is asking these questions in the first place.

To take just one example that will occupy much of the campaign but which will have almost no effect on how people eventually vote, consider asylum seekers. We will talk endlessly about the process of what should be done with them and to them, but no-one will ask the question ‘what, if anything, is our obligation to strangers?’ That’s the conversation we should be having.

No-one will ask what education is for. We’ll talk instead about HELP fees and job placements and MySchool rankings and private school funding, if we talk about it at all. No-one will ask what people are actually able to do and to be in their lives. We’ll talk instead about housing prices, interest rates, the level of Newstart, hospital waiting times and parental leave entitlements.

In short, Australian politics is a perpetual proxy for a larger conversation that never happens and that we have forgotten how to have.

But we’ll still be fed up and noisy and looking for someone to blame. And our ‘leaders’ will indulge us, because they never fail to do so. No matter who emerges as the winner of this election, Australia itself will lose.

That is, unless we remember that the purpose of government is to act to secure the opportunity for the flourishing lives of its citizens. Maybe that resonates with you, or maybe you disagree entirely. Either way, let’s have that conversation.