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February 02, 2003

CBC discussion forum

The CBC has set up a discussion forum around the Columbia disaster (via Daimnation). It is curious there are techies at the CBC with time to set up such a forum but nobody at the office of the ombudsman to answer my mail. Let us assume this is down to who gets to have weekends and who has to work through.

Follow the "shout outs" on Damian Penny's post and you will find viewer comments on CBC coverage from later in the afternoon to the effect that a former Israeli fighter-pilot was an inappropriate astronaut. My fellow Canadian Peter Jennings - presumably as part of ABC coverage - apparently claimed that Colonel Ilan Ramon was one of the pilots who participated in the destruction of Iraq's French-supplied nuclear reactor at Osirak. I did not see these later approaches to the events of the day but they would answer my question as to how long it would take before the Israeli astronaut would some how be held to blame by those wishing to impose a specific political interpretation on the disaster.

Please note I have not posted the name of the CBC anchor who asked the question regarding U.S. "arrogance" this morning. From what I could see of Newsworld coverage later in the morning the line of questions posed in interviews seemed increasingly sober and thoughtful. It is possible the Sawyer interview was the exception (though those Daimnation comments would suggest otherwise). I am waiting for a response from the CBC in the form of a transcript of the interview in question and an apology. I want to thank everyone who expressed their concern to the CBC. Without your letters I believe it is not likely a transcript or explanation - let alone an apology - would be be forthcoming.

Furthermore... I notice that while the CBC disclaims responsibility for individual postings (noted at the bottom of the page) they also assert ownership of everything posted.

Posted by the Flea at 12:41 PM

Letter from Madonna's Rabbi

Madonna's tattoo and other symbols in her video for "Die another day" pointed to her continuing interest in kabbalah. A word appearing as a tattoo on her shoulder and in letters of fire was particularly intriguing. Now I have an official interpretation in the form of correspondence from Rabbi Yehuda Berg at the Kabbalah Centre, reportedly Madonna's source of spiritual teaching. Rabbi Berg explains:

The "word" on Madonna's shoulder is not actually a word, but rather one of the names from the 72 Names of G-d. Kabbalah explain that Moses used these names to split the Red Sea, and that we can use them to create miracles in our own lives. Each name draws a particular kind of energy. The name in the "Die Another Day" video is for eliminating the ego. This spring, The Kabbalah Centre is releasing a book explaining all of the 72 Names, and you can learn more about these sequences at www.72.com.

Posted by the Flea at 08:26 AM

Robert Sawyer comments

Robert Sawyer comments on this morning's interview on CBC Newsworld. His comments may be found posted to his personal website. I am reproducing his letter to me here in its entirety. I want to thank Mr. Sawyer for his interpretation of the interview. I hope he is correct to suggest the CBC anchor's question was a result of distraction rather than any intent to cause offense. Once again, I am not posting the name of the anchor to this website until the CBC ombudsman's office opens on Monday and has an opportunity to respond.

Robert J. Sawyer here, at 12:50 a.m. on February 2.

At 9:37 a.m. on February 1, I was awoken in my bedroom by my wife saying the phone was ringing. (We'd been up late the night before.) We have the ringer off in our bedroom, but she was awake and had heard it from her office, down the hall. Since the bedroom phone is on my night table, not hers, I picked it up.

A producer from CBC Newsworld (the public broadcaster's national cable news channel up here) was on the phone and told me that contact had been lost with COLUMBIA. He put me on hold, with the CBC Newsworld audio in the background, while my wife put on the TV, and we flipped back and forth between channels, watching the breaking news. I tried very rapidly to come up to speed on the shocking, horrible, devastating events. I saw the video footage, and my heart sank. At about 9:42 -- just five minutes after waking -- I was on the air, doing a phone interview for live television.

The interviewer (I'm sorry, but I don't know her name, or even what city she was in -- Newsworld does production across Canada; I've been on Newsworld many times, but never had been interviewed by this woman) did indeed ask me a question related to whether this was a terrorist attack, and whether it had been arrogant of the Americans to launch a shuttle now. The idea that it was terrorism hadn't even occurred to me -- it looked like a tragic accident, and I was reliving my memories of when CHALLENGER had blown up all those years ago. So, the question took me by surprise.

In any event, I told her no, it wasn't arrogance, and added that the Bush administration had very much had a business-as-usual policy post-September 11; I can't remember exactly how I phrased it, but my thought was that if you let terrorists freeze you into doing nothing out of fear, they've won. I wish I remembered her exact words better, and my own, but, like everyone else I was in shock.

I'm sure she didn't mean to be offensive, and it was quite clear during our brief interview that she was being distracted by all sorts of chatter in her earpiece (she first introduced me as Robert Fischer, who is a staff reporter the CBC).

After finishing interviewing me, she had on Randy Attwood, also by phone; Randy is the former president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. I listened to his interview, but then my wife and I started channel surfing, looking for other coverage; we settled on CNN. I didn't see any more of the Newsworld coverage.
I have no direct knowledge of what the reporter said subsequently, but there has apparently been much discussion of it
online, including in this blog:

Flea link

Here are two separate excerpts from that blog:

I am watching coverage on different networks. CBC
Newsworld just interviewed writer Robert Sawyer for
his reflections on the shuttle program and
potential causes of the disaster. The Newsworld
interviewer asked Sawyer whether the cause was
"arrogance" on the part of the U.S. government.
(Sawyer said no.) This is one of the most odious
questions I can imagine. It took minutes for the
CBC to twist a tragedy into a politically motivated
theatre of hate. Talk about manufacturing consent.

Furthermore... the interviewer linked American
"arrogance" explicitly to current potential
conflict in the Middle East. My only surprise is
the CBC did not manage to sneer at the death of
Israel's first astronaut in the same breath.

More manufactured consent as the same CBC
interviewer introduced the theme of American
"arrogance" in an echo-chamber interview with
another CBC journalist. She cited a "space expert"
- referring to writer Robert Sawyer - in which
"over-confidence" in the face of "fear and tension"
due to potential hostilities in the Middle East
could have lead NASA to go ahead with the flight
despite possible damage to one of Columbia's wings.
First, Robert Sawyer is a science fiction writer
and, while informed and interested in this stuff,
is hardly an expert. Second, in my view the CBC
interviewer misrepresented her leading question as
Sawyer's views. They were not. Sawyer clearly
denied the charge of "arrogance" and suggested that
at most a kind of over-confidence in a proven and
reliable technology may have been a factor. "Fear
and tension" in the Middle East had no place in his
remarks.

As I said above, I didn't hear any of the woman's later comments, but she did ask me whether it was an act of arrogance, and I said it was not. If she ascribed any other sentiment to me later, she was inaccurate.

My heart goes out to everyone involved, but especially to the families of these seven brave heroes.

Respectfully,

Robert J. Sawyer

Posted by the Flea at 01:39 AM

February 01, 2003

The link between the critics of American "arrogance"

The link between the critics of American "arrogance" and the murderous nihilism at work in the world is thought through by Arthur Silbur of The Light of Reason.

I have received many moving thoughts from people today. It is going to take a night to "fester" - in the words of a colleague - and I will do my best to present what emerges tomorrow. For now, I have to ask for patience in a moment of terrible consequences while the CBC gets its act together to provide a transcript and an explanation of the remarks made by their anchor this morning.

Posted by the Flea at 08:59 PM

More inexplicable remarks

More inexplicable remarks about the Columbia disaster this time from callers to a C-SPAN open phone line this morning (via Instapundit). Frater Libertas reports:

Which makes some of the International reaction I’ve heard so far a little dismaying. Listening to the C-SPAN open phone lines this morning, a couple of citizens of Canada called in. Both of them had basically the same comments. They remembered the Challenger tragedy back in 1986 and said they felt great sadness then. But they feel differently this time. Yes, they clinically acknowledge the human tragedy for the families involved, then each of them said they could not feel any sympathy for the United States. The reason, because of what George Bush is doing to the world and where he’s leading this country. The tone of their voices expressed an almost gleeful “I told you so” attitude.

Posted by the Flea at 02:43 PM

I have requested a transcript

I have requested a transcript of the CBC Newsworld interview with writer Robert Sawyer. I do not expect to hear from the CBC before Monday at the earliest given the office of the ombudsman is not open on the weekend. While I cannot provide a verbatim account of the question posed by the CBC interviewer without a transcript I stand by my interpretation of the exchange. "Arrogance" was the specific word used by the interviewer to suggest a possible cause of the disaster. The interviewer explicitly linked what is presumably an entirely apolitical technical catastrophe to "fear and tension" in light of current events with the clear implication such "fear and tension" may have lead to incaution in deciding to allow a risky flight to go forward.

Once again, Robert Sawyer specifically denied the suggestion "arrogance" played a role in what is almost certainly an awful accident.

Furthermore... my earlier remarks describing the question in terms of hate was an emotional reaction. Even so, I regard the question as hateful. While I do not believe the remark reflected a calculated position of the interviewer or the CBC it was a telling response to the tragedy. Why is "arrogrance" at issue? What world does the CBC inhabit where happenstance or tragic accident are always already made sense of through the lens of political calculation? I find the off-hand nature of the question - later repeated in a following interview - almost worse than an editorial position I could link to. Without a copy of the Newsworld transcript that question can go unapposed and unquestioned and leave the CBC unaccountable.

Posted by the Flea at 01:50 PM

The loss of Challenger

The loss of Challenger prompted this speech by President Reagan (via various). The words evoke exploration and adventure and the very best in taking risks in the pursuit of truth. Perhaps this pursuit is "arrogant." Count me in. It turns out I know someone who had an experiment on this shuttle mission. I do not know if the results of her work made their way back to earth before the disaster. I hope so.

There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

Posted by the Flea at 01:30 PM

More manufactured consent

More manufactured consent as the same CBC interviewer introduced the theme of American "arrogance" in an echo-chamber interview with another CBC journalist. She cited a "space expert" - referring to writer Robert Sawyer - in which "over-confidence" in the face of "fear and tension" due to potential hostilities in the Middle East could have lead NASA to go ahead with the flight despite possible damage to one of Columbia's wings. First, Robert Sawyer is a science fiction writer and, while informed and interested in this stuff, is hardly an expert. Second, in my view the CBC interviewer misrepresented her leading question as Sawyer's views. They were not. Sawyer clearly denied the charge of "arrogance" and suggested that at most a kind of over-confidence in a proven and reliable technology may have been a factor. "Fear and tension" in the Middle East had no place in his remarks.

Furthermore... I want to apologize on behalf of any Canadians who would be appalled by the arrogance of the CBC. The following is the text of my email to the CBC Ombudsman:

I am appending my opinion of your coverage of the Columbia disaster posted to my weblog. I am appalled by your interviewer's question. Your network owes an apology to the families of those lost in the disaster, the people of the United States for your spite, and the people of Canada whom you have profoundly shamed and embarrassed.

Posted by the Flea at 11:25 AM

Space shuttle Columbia down

Space shuttle Columbia down. I do not have words for this.

I am watching coverage on different networks. CBC Newsworld just interviewed writer Robert Sawyer for his reflections on the shuttle program and potential causes of the disaster. The Newsworld interviewer asked Sawyer whether the cause was "arrogance" on the part of the U.S. government. (Sawyer said no.) This is one of the most odious questions I can imagine. It took minutes for the CBC to twist a tragedy into a politically motivated theatre of hate. Talk about manufacturing consent.

Furthermore... the interviewer linked American "arrogance" explicitly to current potential conflict in the Middle East. My only surprise is the CBC did not manage to sneer at the death of Israel's first astronaut in the same breath.

Still furthermore... (10.08 p.m. Feb. 2) if you are coming to the Flea through this link for the first time please be aware of two things. First, I wrote the above post in a moment of shock at learning of the Columbia disaster and extreme irritation at what I heard on the CBC. My language is intemperate as a consequence. It remains my opinion, however, that "hate" is an appropriate word given the context of the question. Second, there are numerous posts which follow this one as news of the suggestion of "arrogance" made its way through the blogosphere. Please scroll up to read these later posts. These include Robert Sawyers remarks on the interview. I want to make it emphatically clear that Mr. Sawyer neither provoked the CBC question nor did he agree with it. I have great respect for Robert Sawyer as a writer of speculative fiction. It was only to hear his thoughts on the Columbia that I was watching Newsworld in the first place.

The CBC Ombudsman may be reached through this website.

Posted by the Flea at 09:54 AM

Potato-bazooka

A school in Weinstadt in Baden-Württemberg recently came under a potato barrage thanks to a craze for Kartoffelkanone, improvised potato-bazookas (via Gizmodo). Sounds cool? Legs have been broken, an ear blown off and yes... it was all fun and games until somebody lost an eye.

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