Department Of The Fail-Safe Therapy Tool For Kids Of All Ages
Before I commence to deal with some Serious Subjects ® , I’m going to play for a few seconds with the farty putty (aka, “noise putty”) device MH got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer. ‘Tis such a primal amusement, and also an effective stress reliever. I think the American Psychological Association should recommend it to their counselors, to have on hand for sessions that get really intense: “It’s time for a farty putty break.” 😉
Lest you think moiself jests about its therapeutic applications, feast your eyes on this, from the National Autism Resources website (my emphases):
“Kids of all ages love to play with noise putty! It has an unusual squishy texture that you can squeeze between your fingers. Push it back into its jar and listen to it make funny, gastronomical sounds. Use it to work on fine motor skills….”
And not to worry, for y’all who consider yourselves to be technically-challenged. It even has handy-dandy instructions:
* * *
Department Of Not Up To Their Previous Standards
Moiself is referring to the latest installment of Serial, the Peabody award-winning investigative journalism podcast (developed by This American Life) which made a name for itself in the past ten or so years with its episodic, documentary-style presentation of compelling non-fiction stories. Past seasons included an investigation of the 1999 murder an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, and an in-depth look at what happened to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American Army soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, then charged with desertion.
The Trojan Horse Affair, Serial’s latest installment, claims to take a closer look at the 2013 scandal in England which involved claims of a conspiracy to introduce Islamist tenets into several schools in Birmingham – claims which were set out in an anonymous letter  sent to Birmingham City Council. TTHF is hosted and reported by American veteran producer Brian Reed and a novice journalist, Hamza Syed, a British doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England.
“This is my first story as a journalist. I don’t plan for it to be my last story as well, but given what’s happened in the years I’ve been working on this, it probably will be.”
( Hamza Syed, from his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air 2-15-22)
Syed’s provocative quote, and my enjoyment of Serial’s previous installments, got me interested in listening to the series. After having done so, I’ve concluded that if, indeed, TTHA turns out to be Syed’s last story as a journalist it won’t be because of his concerns, both overt and implied, of anti-Muslim prejudice against him. It will be because he proved to be a lousy reporter.
Besides displaying a rather volatile temper, Syed made a major faux pas which cast doubt on the integrity of his methods and motives, and on his ability to distinguish between his personal identity and an investigation’s subject matter.
“Long story short” territory: In a latter episode of the TTHA series (# five or six, I think, of eight total episodes) it was revealed that, at one point in Syed’s and Redd’s investigation, Syed, frustrated with being unable to get sources to confide in him, played the Muslim card:  Syed wrote a letter to a potential interviewee (a Muslim man), saying he has never believed the accepted narrative around the case, nor many of the people involved in the investigations around it, and that his (Syed’s) identity as a Muslim takes precedence for him in his investigation.
MH and I each (separately) listened to the podcast, and each of us had similar, jaw-dropping reactions to what Syed had done. Given the opportunity to provide feedback to Syed, I’d have phrased my reaction thusly:
Why should I take *anything* from you seriously, when you’ve just admitted that you do *not* have journalistic integrity at heart, in a story that especially demands it?
Like the evangelical creationist who admits he views science through the lens of how he interprets Christian scriptures, you have told a person – from whom you are trying to get information – that, like him, you are ultimately and firstly a Muslim.
Now, were you lying to get him to trust you? Or were you telling the truth? Either way, I can take nothing you say or do as if it were coming from a serious journalist striving for truth, integrity, and objectivity.
Despite our respective shock and disgust at what the reporter had done, both MH and I found the TTHA story intriguing, and continued to listen to the rest of the series. But we weren’t the only ones to have an issue with it, and with more matters than its rookie journalist’s whopping boner of a tactic. There was also the assumption the series seemed to take, from the beginning of the podcast: that anti-Islamic sentiment was behind and/or ultimately responsible for *everything* in the scandal. Accusations (including incidents of verifiable and disturbing behaviors  ) about sexism, anti-LGBTQ teachings, and child abuse on the part of some Muslim men – alarms raised by Muslim women – were mentioned in several TTHA episodes, in marginal ways, then dropped.
We weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by this. To quote only one critique:
“The Trojan Horse Affair presents a one-sided account that minimizes child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia in order to exonerate the podcast’s hero… In doing so, it breaches the standards the public have the right to expect of journalists, with cruel consequences for those it uses and abuses along the way.”
( “The Trojan Horse Affair: How Serial Podcast Got It So Wrong,”
Sonia Sohad, The Guardian 2-20-22
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Department Of How Other Journalists Are Getting It So Right
What comes to mind when you read the words of a critic and writer at The Washington Post, who called an Academy Award-nominated film “…the most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”?
Nope. The WAPO writer refers to a documentary (among five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature) which takes place in India.
Indian politicians would have you believe that their country is a major power in the modern, 21st century world, yet they do the bare minimum to change aspects of their culture which hark back to 1500 BCE, when the caste system was established.
The good news: in India, one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism,  there is an astoundingly brave and persistent group of reporters committed to the ultimate tenet of good journalism: holding the powerful to account. What’s amazing about this group is that is it composed of people with inarguably the least amount of power in their country: Dalit (the lowest caste, aka “untouchables”) women.
“Writing With Fire“ is the documentary which tells the story of these reporters and their newspaper/news outlet, Khabar Lahariya (translation: “News wave”). Moiself urges you to see it (streaming on Amazon, and available via other venues).
” In India’s millennia-old caste system, Dalits fall entirely outside the structure. Once pejoratively referred to as ‘untouchables’…over centuries Dalits have remained oppressed by tradition and the rest of Indian society.
‘I tell my daughters, their caste identity will always follow them. This is how our society is structured, but it’s important to keep challenging the system,’ says Meera Devi, the outlet’s chief reporter who is the main protagonist of the film.
But day after day, the women defiantly expose sexual violence against women and the corruption of illegal mining operations in rural India.
‘We don’t trust anyone except you. Khabar Lahariya is our only hope,’ the husband of a woman who has been repeatedly raped by a group of men in their village tells Devi in one of the rare moments in the film in which a man acknowledges the organization’s value and impact.”
(“Opinion: The most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”
Jason Rezian, The Washington Post, 2-1-22 )
Writing With Fire has a bajillion  story levels to it (other than that of the newspaper itself and the stories it covers), including the reporters’ uphill battle against centuries of patriarchy, and gender and caste prejudice. It’s also an excellent briefing on what makes a good journalist, in any culture.
Some standout moments of the film, for moiself , include:
* Two of the reporters, while preparing a meal, are discussing questions they will be asking of participants in an upcoming election. One reporter asks the other,“Tell me something honestly, why do we call our country ‘mother India?’ Why celebrate the country as a mother?…. I get very irritated watching the celebrations on TV glorifying our democracy. But where is the democracy? Neither are we a democracy, nor are the women free.”
* Later in the documentary one of the more the most promising young journalists of Khabar Lahariya is interviewed about her having to leave the newspaper. She’d spoken earlier about not wanting to succumb to the pressure to get married, and about what happens to women in her society. And then…
“What can I say? At one point I thought of not getting married at all. Many things were on my mind. So I thought, why get married? But I’m under a lot of pressure. I need to protect my parents, because being a single woman is not an option here.
People are questioning my integrity as well as my family’s. They were saying that they (her family) want to live off my earnings, ‘…and at night your daughter…’
It tortures the family and creates a lot of tension. So I realize marriage is inevitable. I don’t want to be the cause of my family suffering.
Let’s think that whatever will happen will be for the best. Things have a way of working out, and that’s what I’m hoping for….”
(She pauses, shakes her head, holds back tears)
“I’m finding it difficult to speak anymore.” 
The film depicted scenarios both horrendous, and uplifting, depressing and emboldening, What affected me the most? It wasn’t…
* the husbands and families of these brave journalists showing lackluster (if any) support for their work;
* the frustrations of the reporters trying to learn and use digital technologies when most of them have never been able to afford a cell phone, and then, when they are issued smart phones and/or touchscreen tablets by the newspaper, they can’t charge the equipment because their homes lack electricity;
* the rising influence of the Anti-Muslim bigot Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Modi, and the prevalence of his inflammatory rhetoric using that most unholy of alliances – politics and religion;
* the danger and threats (physical, emotional, and sexual) the women face; nor the way way sexual slurs are used to try to cow and humiliate them and their families…
One small, domestic scene really got to me, probably because I took it to be illustrative of what these reporters, as women in a seemingly women-denigrating culture, have to deal with: with the should and should not limitations all women face, in a world still dominated by patriarchal attitudes.
The scene took place early in the morning. Meera Devi, who like her Khabar Lahariya peers has worked all the previous day (and well into the night), is braiding her daughter’s long hair before school. Like all of her married reporter peers, the vast majority (if not all) of household tasks fall upon Devi, even as she works full-time out of the home. Her daughter is insisting on two braids (“plaits”), as Devi wearily (if good-humoredly) grumbles about not having time for that…one plait should be enough. But the daughter pleads, telling her mother that she will be (and has been) scolded at school if her mother doesn’t do her hair in two plaits, “…because teacher says all girls should have two plaits.”
All girls should….
All girls are ….
All girls must…
All girls should never….
* * *
Department Of International Relations
MH and moiself are doing some much anticipated traveling overseas this summer. For some of the travel we’ll be in a Scandinavian tour group. The tour begins in Stockholm; following savvy traveler advice, I booked us rooms in a Stockholm hotel two days ahead of when the tour begins, so that we can adjust to the time difference and all that pickled herring and Swedish chefs, etc.
Moiself got an English translation while booking online, but the confirmation the hotel emailed to us was in Swedish. It began with a cheery greeting which I was mostly able to figure out, except that I transposed two letters in the fourth word, which made for an interesting impression/translation: “Tak För Din Bokning!”
Me, to Moiself:
” ‘Thanks for the bonking ?!?!? ‘
Wow – this really is an all-service hotel!”
Ahem, that’s, “bokning.“ 
* * *
Punz For The Day
Swedish inventors have created cyborgs which are hard to distinguish from real humans.
Critics are concerned about the use of artificial Swedeners.
Why does the Swedish military put barcodes on their ships?
So when the ships return to port they can scan da navy in.
My neighbor drones on and on about his notoriously unreliable Swedish sports car…
It seems like a great big Saab story to me.
Did you hear about a new Broadway show that combines magic with Swedish pop songs?
It’s called ABBA-Cadabra.
* * *
May you enjoy the therapeutic applications of “funny, gastronomic sounds;”
May you watch Writing With Fire (then maybe Spotlight and other journalism-themed movies) and appreciate the absolute necessity of a free press to a vital democracy;
May you put on ABBA’s “Waterloo” and dance around your living room
(you know you want to);
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Which was later deemed to be a hoax.
 About which he was confronted, and chastised, by Reed.
 Over forty journalists in India have been killed since 2014.
 Fortunately, the reporters of Khabar Lahariya, constrained as they are by sound journalistic principles, would never stoop to using such sensationalistic exaggerations as those employed by moiself.
 Later still there is footage of her at her wedding, in her wedding finery. Moiself wanted to cry; I’ve never seen a more downhearted looking bride…or woman in almost any situation, for that matter. But, in the documentary postscript, it was reported that she had rejoined the newspaper several months after her marriage.
 Uh, that would be, booking, as in, booking a room with them. Nudge Nudge wink wink.