Sunday, June 24, 2012

News without the point

I used to read Le Monde daily, but gave up  owing to their omissions and obliqueness.  (I now read Le Figaro instead.)  Again and again, the New York Times would have some extraordinarily interesting, well-analyzed and clearly-written article about events or trends in France;  at which point I would race to log into, but -- nothing.   While hundreds of automobiles were going up in flames in and around Paris, the leading newspaper would have nothing but mumbling little articles about the minister of this clashing with the deputy minister of that.   Then, when the story wouldn’t go away and the whole world knew what was going on, Le Monde would publish reaction pieces, tut-tutting about the aftermath, the way forward, like that.

The other day, I chanced upon this:
Projet d'une nouvelle allocation de garde d'enfants qui fait polémique

It concerns a new German proposal for disbursement of  Betreuungsgeld (public funds for childcare expenses) to mothers of infants, to allow them to care for the baby at home.   The surprising thing was that this issue is supposedly now tearing Germany apart -- more controversial at present than the truly momentous economic dilemma of the Eurozone.   But… why?

In today’s American context, with all the anti-government rhetoric, you might suppose that the opposition was to increased government spending, or even to government involvement in private family matters.  But that is not it at all.  For Germany already has -- apparently uncontroversially -- a huge public program of day-care centers.   The new proposal would be smaller scale, and support mothers-and-babies-together-at-home -- not the sort of thing that would spark an outcry, one would think.

But the Med1 reporter was not off;  a quick search of German headlines concerned the existence of much foofaraw:
Der Streit übers Betreuungsgeld belastet weiterhin das Klima in der Koalition. Nachdem der CSU-Vorsitzende Horst Seehofer erneut mit einem Bruch des Bündnisses gedroht hatte, griff FDP-Fraktionsvize Martin Lindner die CSU scharf an. Seehofer betreibe "groben Unfug", wenn er die schwarz-gelbe Koalition wegen der umstrittenen Familienleistung infrage stelle …

So what is really at stake here?   Are there religious motivations underlying the contending factions (as so often now in American politics)?   Do the opinions split along a divide of anything that Americans would recognize as Right versus Left?  (Such divides are actually quite multi-dimensional in each country, ill-fitted by the metaphor of handedness.  Moreover -- and crucially -- that pattern does not transfer from country to country.) What the American reader misses  is a glimpse of the background politicomagnetic field along which the ideological axes align and counteralign.

Perhaps, after an hour or so of seeking and clicking and wading through reams of German text, you might get an idea.   Simpler to wait in see if the New York Times reports it (or even better The New Yorker):  they will get right to the point.

(If one of our German readers would like to interpret the tea-leaves for us … Bitte “comments” klicken!)

Falls Sie im Doktor-Justiz-Sammelsurium
weiterblättern möchten,
Bitte hier klicken:

Each Sunday, I pour some steaming java into the proverbial coffee-cup, and browse the news.   Just now I stumbled upon this, in the Philadelphia Enquirer:

Israeli police arrest 85 after rally turns violent

Now, that’s pretty much par for the course in that part of the world, -- indeed it was surpising to see it picked up on the homepage of a minor U.S. paper that usually sticks to strictly local news -- and I’d have quickly surfed on, but that one detail stood out:  The article said absolutely nothing about what the rally was about.  The demonstrators were described only as “social activists”. 

Intrigued, I googled up some articles from  more specialized sources, anticipating the real deal:

But no such luck: the first was mum on the rationale, calling the events only “unprecedented socioeconomic riots”.   The latter was even less informative:  “a social protest”.    And even the Israeli newspaper-of-record, Haaretz, managed to publish a long article, with no allusion to what was going on or why, mentioning only “activists”.

The first thing that sprang to mind was something related to the recent violaent expressions of backlash among Israeli citizens against illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.   These have been so envenomed, so politically incorrect, that it is awkward even to allude to them stateside, in a family newspaper.  And yet they did get reported, albeity gingerly.
Also odd was that the photo showed whites, but the description didn’t fit the usual profile:

 Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says police made the arrests to prevent looting. He estimated there were 1,500 demonstrators in the protests, though media reports gave a number four times higher.

So what is going on?  If you search Google news on “Tel Aviv”, one of the completions is “Tel Aviv race riots”, but that refers to earlier  incidents.  In the new account of the latest dust-up, the code-words didn’t seem right for camouflaging a race riot.    

So, are they hiding something?  Something about sexual issues, say, or religious?  The latter seemed more likely, since there is a gaping divide within Israeli society along Haredim/non-Haredim lines, in ways quite unimaginable to Americans:  it is as though much of our national and foreign policy were being decided by the Amish.

You learn to read between the lines when faced with a modern mum’s-the-word news source -- and to quickly jump to the Readers Comments to get some idea of what is really at stake.   The Comments will of course be full of tendentious exaggeration and misinformation -- but at least you will learn what the story is really about.

Unfortunately, none of the articles above allowed Comments, or only a couple of completely oblique ones.

Finally, Reuters came through:
the latest sign of a nationwide protest movement demanding social reforms and affordable housing.
People at the rally said they were angered after a protest leader said she had been injured while being taken into custody at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Friday.

Thus, pretty innocuous in terms of what, to an American reader, would seem hot-button issues.  Apparently the event was not single-issue, but more in line with the multi-issue, broad-brush “Occupy” protests.   The clued-in intralinear reader could have guessed this from the articles’ allusion to the presence of a “tent” at the protest -- a symbol of Occupy and of Israeli housing issues.


For earlier posts on oddly contentless stories in major news outlets, click here:

And avoidance of controversial stories:


Some big stories go largely unreported, while quite minor ones go worldwide and viral.  This, from a Maghrebi radio station, concerning the incident of the NJ grandma on the schoolbus:

La grand-mère cendrillon

Go figure.

A note for those who imagine that this is a straightforward story:  not so;  il y a des remous en-dessous.  Thus, Gedankenexperiment:  Suppose that the portly one had been a man.  There would have been nothing like the outpouring of sympathy (not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions -- she need never ride the bus another day in here life).  If anything, he might have been further mocked, for failing to do his job, which was to keep order on the bus.

If you want a real hero -- or rather, a heroine -- take rather the case of a municipal bus in Springfield, Massachusetts, which I was riding  many years ago, when some foul-mouthed youths (much more profane than those in the grandma story), from the same demographic, began cussing:  the woman driving the bus simply … came to a complete stop, put the thing in neutral, and turned around:
“You don’t talk that way in front of your mothers, and you don’t talk that way in front of me.”
They shut up.

Now -- that’s the spirit, folks;  not the cowering and whimpering that is being wept over and fawned over now.  Thus, what seemed superficially to be a straightforward tale of discourtesy trumped by sympathy (and there is that aspect, of course), with a fairy-tale happy-ending (and thus it was likewise framed in the French-language radio-essay, whose title means “Grandma Cinderella”) is, on a more benthic level, an extension of the Jessica Lynch syndrome:  celebrating victimhood over valor.

(Note:  Neither Ms. Lynch nor Ms. Klein are in the least responsible for the cults that were erected upon their accidental notoriety.   They neither sought, nor relished, such a role.)

No comments:

Post a Comment