Category Archives: politics and governments

Civility, respect and responsibility

It was a beautiful sunny morning; unlike the previous three months, it was neither raining nor snowing. At 7:30 in the morning, there were already more than 20 cross-border commuters lining up for the public transport. On the same street “Place de la liberté”, there was a local bus waiting for the traffic light to turn green. We watched in disgust as four teenage girls opened its window and threw empty cartons of orange juice that landed in front of the queueing passengers. I got out of the queue and picked these up then gave them a disappointing look wondering whether they realised that they had just exposed publicly their uncivility. When I returned from the nearest bin, their bus had left and mine had arrived, and no one uttered a word.

I didn’t think twice; picking up that litter was an instinctive reaction. I didn’t expect or want recognition from anyone; however, if I see you removing a piece of rubbish left lying in a public place, I’ll definitely give you some words of encouragement. Littering is hazardous for our health and environment.

During my first two years in France, while in parks and playgrounds with my toddler, I used to pick up wrappers of snacks and boxes of juice and put these in the bin while asking myself whether it was the kids or their parents who littered.

Whose responsibility is it when children litter: parents or society?

We, as parents, have an immense responsibility and opportunity in educating our children to be respectful of people, properties and our environment. Our words and actions help shape our children’s values and behaviours. If they deliberately litter, we must tell them why this is unacceptable. (When my son was 3 years old, he said, “Mummy’s bag is a fridge and a bin” because I had water, snacks and fruits every time we went out and kept all wrappers till we found a garbage bin). If the parents litter, their children are likely to do the same, and this is a societal problem.

Is the onus on the society (i.e. governments, school, association, neighbours, families, etc.) to ensure that children don’t litter?

Although we learn values and behaviours from our parents, our society and cultural environment play an important part in making us “who” and what we are. If our teachers, politicians, relatives and friends reinforce the message at home that littering means being disrespectful and irresponsible, we grow up with an attitude that is averse to littering; otherwise, we get confused and may not appreciate the importance of collective duty of care for our global planet.

According to an Austrian activist living in Sri Lanka, Ms Carolin Baumgartner, different cultures have different attitudes towards nature. She reasons that in Europe and the USA there is waste management (bins everywhere, garbage collecting and recycling plants) unlike in Sri Lanka where there’s a lot of garbage throwing, plastic burning, turtle eggs eating or dolphin killing.

It’s not only the children and those in developing countries who litter. Sometimes, I take umbrage to the roadside litter, which is mainly recyclable plastic bags and beverage containers, in some places in Italy and France. Whether littering is cultural or not, it should be stopped through education at home and at school, effective government policies and programmes, and community involvement.

February – what a month it was!

(The photo above was taken in 2016 in front of the Regal cinema in Brisbane, Australia, where we used to go almost every weekend and saw “The Mission” – one of my favourite movies. I was so glad to know that it’s still open and has kept its 80s-90s atmosphere).

February 2018 was a cinema month for me. I watched thought-provoking and inspiring films based on true stories: “The Post, ” The Darkest Hour,” and “15.17 to Paris.”

“The Post” stars Tom Hanks and Myrl Streep, and it is about the Washington Post’s decision to publish government secrets found in the Pentagon Papers. My favourite line in this movie is “The Way They Lied, Those Days Have to Be Over.”

“People need to be led and not misled. Those who never change their minds, never change anything” – these are just two of the many words of wisdom in “The Darkest Hour.” It is in the 1940’s and Adolf Hitler has risen to power. The European nations, including Belgium and France, are in turmoil; and Dunkirk is in danger including the lives of 300,000 British soldiers.

“15.17 to Paris” is about three Americans (Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler) on their European backpacking tour in 2015. While on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, they tackled a heavily armed jihadist terrorist saving many lives. (There were 554 passengers. The gunman had KM assault rifle, nine magazines and 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a knife and a bottle of petrol. Imagine what could have happened if these brave men didn’t intervene).

The reasons I went to see “15.17 to Paris” were: its director, Clint Eastwood, is an icon in the movie industry; it’s based on a true story; and the three actual guys played themselves (and not Bradley cooper, Chris Pine, Anthony Mackie, or other members of Hollywood’s A list). Hat’s off to these three guys not only to their courage but to their acting as well.

Unlike me, critics are not over the moon with this film. The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/08/the-1517-to-paris-review-clint-eastwood-france-train-attack seen 11/02/18) even stated “the real meat of the film is that mind-bendingly boring holiday: endless beers, endless coffees, endless selfies. No tension between the guys. No real connection either.”

Why does a good film need to have tension and loads of audio and visual effects? I disagree that there’s no connection because these three men have always been connected since their primary education. It was a European trip — France, Germany, Holland and Italy are geographically well connected. (Those beautiful monuments and landscapes brought me back happy memories of our family vacations there). Isn’t drinking beverage part of holidaymaking? For me, the real meat of the story is the composition of love and care (their mothers’ devotion, the wounded passenger warning to his wife, helping the injured, etc.), courage, friendship, politeness, kindness, and surmounting difficulties (as shown during their childhood schooling) = what make life worth living and fun.

We should encourage the watching of this kind of film rather than that of violent and thrill seeking ones. Gradually or immediately, what we see affect our state of mind. “15.17 to Paris” has strong positive moral values and pertinent issues to all of us — as parents, students, teachers, citizens, etc. (In the movie, the teacher recommended the use of drugs because one of them was underperforming and lacking concentration in her class. How about making her lessons relevant and motivating?)

WE are affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last February 14 that took 17 young lives. This kind of awfully heartbreaking crime isn’t linear and simple. He might be mentally or/and psychologically disadvantaged, socially or/and academically inept, or/and financially introuble, and a wrecker or wreaker. However, when something atrocious happens, the society and its leaders have serious questions to answer.

We may not be able to keep an eye on everyone who wants to harm us deliberately or not, but we can choose or appoint decision makers in government, public institutions, business organisations and associations who, primarily, act on our safety and secuirty rather than enriching themselves with wealth and power.

Predicting and forecasting

January has always been an intellectually exciting month for me. My students are eager and thrilled with whatever subject I present for discussion. Perhaps being the first month of the year, which is associated with resolution and starting afresh, they are motivated with most things, including learning or improving their English.

In January 2018, one of the topics that interested them most was predicting and forecasting — two words which are often confused by many native and non-native English speakers.

For me, predicting is a subjective telling of the future based on intuition and personal judgement, which can be biased (sometimes it is entertaining or disconcerting). Whereas, forecasting is done by analysing the past. I predicted that my Aussie nephew would have a wedding in a tropical island where the weather forecast is favourable for outdoor ceremony, reception and party.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines ‘to predict’ (verb – /prɪˈdɪkt/) as “to say that an event or action will happen in the future, especially as a result of knowledge or experience: It’s still not possible to predict accurately the occurrence of earthquakes. [ + that ] Who could have predicted that within ten years he’d be in charge of the whole company? [ + to infinitive ] The hurricane is predicted to reach the coast tomorrow morning. [ + question word ] No one can predict when the disease will strike again” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).

Mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker have made the following predictions for this year (http://psychics.co.uk/blog/predictions/): “A trade embargo with North Korea will fail, the US will strike at railway line and bridge to disrupt imports. Massive Bitcoin fraud uncovered and thwarted that funds terrorism and war. Terrorists make an airborne chemical weapon gas attack by multiple drones on a European capital city.”

Would you like to try your predicting skill? Who will win the football/soccer World Cup in Russia in June? Who among the world’s celebrities will fall from grace?

The Cambridge English dictionary defines forecast (UK /ˈfɔː.kɑːst/) (US /ˈfɔːr.kæst/) as a statement of “what is likely to happen in the future, especially in connection with a particular situation, or the expected weather conditions” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/predict).
Examples: The economic forecasts are gloomy.
According to the weather forecast, it’ll be sunny today.
“The global economy is set fair in 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently upgraded its forecast for global growth to 3.7%, to reflect the return to health of manufacturing in most of the developed world and China(https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/30 /business-predictions-2018-some-joy-quite-a-few-fearspopular).

If we take seriously the forecasts on environmental and climatic changes , we’ll be worried sick about the future of planet Earth and the well-being of our children and their offspring. As such, we shouldn’t be complacent and indolent when it comes to consuming wisely and less, recycling diligently, and supporting people and ideas that contribute to the sustainability of our global village.

Fake news – a global concern

Last March 4, the BBC reported on the joint declaration regarding fake news, disinformation and propaganda by Mr. David Kaye (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression) and his counterparts from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of American States (OAS) and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

After some minutes of flicking and clicking online, I got into one of the United Nations’ websites which I thought would shed more light on this declaration. Someone from the Special Procedures Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights responded promptly to my request for a copy of the declaration.

This declaration focuses on concerns about fake news and the risk of censorship while trying to combat these. It, likewise, mentions the danger in which the growing prevalence of fake news or disinformation, fuelled by both State and non-State individuals and agencies, mislead citizens and interfere with people’s right to know the truth. Charter 6, the last section, says “All stakeholders – including intermediaries, media outlets, civil society and academia – should be supported in developing participatory and transparent initiatives for creating a better understanding of the impact of disinformation and propaganda on democracy, freedom of expression, journalism and civic space, as well as appropriate responses to these phenomena.”

Last month, you most probably heard about the much publicised video of a female cyclist responding to catcalls from men in a van by chasing them and destroying their vehicle’s wing mirror. This was posted on Facebook then by the media; several of them later updated their stories calling it as a hoax or fake.
How to recognise fake news?

Publishing or reporting fake news undermines the trustworthiness of the media as a whole. But, why are some media outlets and journalists not careful and thorough with their information?

Facts and information take more time, effort and money to produce than entertainment-style reporting. Even well-known major media organisations use entertainment model to gain maximum audience and profits.

The onus, therefore, is for us – the consumers (readers, listeners, audiences) to decide whether we want to be informed or entertained. If our goal is the former; firstly, we should find out about the source of the information (i.e. do we recognise the author or publisher)? Are there supporting materials or reports from credible sources, i.e. has it been reported elsewhere? Most importantly, let’s be more questioning and less accepting, such as thinking about underlying purposes or intentions of the story and its source (e.g. income from ad platforms, political gain or propaganda).
Why are fake news believable?

Stories are attention getter (e.g. outlandish, involving famous people) and disseminated to meet specific agenda, but not really to inform factually. As well, often their formats and sources resemble those of reputable media outlets. According to the U.S. News & World Report (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2016-11-14/avoid-these-fake-news-sites-at-all-costsPrdicker@usnews.com.ublication), these news outlets produce fake news: The Onion (satire), The Borowitz Report – The New Yorker (satire), American News (hoax), Daily Buzz Live (propaganda) and World Truth TV (propaganda).

Why should we be vigilant about fake news?
According to research results by Zubiaga, Arkaitz; et al. (PLOS ONE, 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal), “Whilst one can readily see users denying rumors once they have been debunked, users appear to be less capable of distinguishing true from false rumors when their veracity remains in question.” As well, “highly reputable users such as news organizations endeavor to post well-grounded statements, which appear to be certain and accompanied by evidence. Nevertheless, these often prove to be unverified pieces of information that give rise to false rumors.”

Though we may know that it’s a fake news, we (human beings) have the tendency to remember this because of its entertaining element that interests and abets processing.

False news influences beliefs, attitudes and actions; therefore, can lead to fears, conflicts and loss of job/family/friends/belongings. It divides and destabilises communities and society as a whole.

For instance, fake news about crimes committed by illegal entrants and refugees, such as the reported rape in Germany that led to street protests (although Germany’s government officials debunked it quickly), undermine peace and the country’s refugee and humanitarian programme.
When it comes to our decisions and actions, there’s no short cut or substitute for facts and truths. Thus, we should always go for reports that have in depth analyses and are professionally-generated.

*(The prefix dis indicates reversal while mis means wrong or erroneous. Misinformation is a form of disinformation that is disseminated intentionally to mislead or confuse).