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Issue #1557      25 July 2012

Culture & Life

What’s in the paper today?

I picked up a recent copy of The Sydney Morning Herald that was lying around in the lounge room and selected a varied slew of items from it for this week’s column. I figured I had better get in before it goes the way of other papers owned by filthy rich individuals (the name Murdoch springs to mind, don’t know why).

The Herald has always prided itself on being Australia’s principal “journal of record”, the place where the gentry and the capitalists alike looked for news of significant events, shifts in government policies and of course developments in business. All the news that matters to the ruling class, in other words.

Now that the paper is controlled by an über-rich mining magnate’s ambitious widow I take little comfort (unlike Herald journalists, apparently) from assertions that she will “respect the paper’s editorial independence”.

Not that The Herald could ever be called “left wing” or accused of being on the side of the workers, of course, but if it is turned into a clone of Murdoch’s Australian we will certainly be the poorer for it.

The copy I picked up from the lounge was that of Monday, July 16, 2012. Across the top of the World section (international news) was spread an article about how Libya’s crumbling health system was being worsened by a rise in medical tourism, as Libyans went abroad to get health care. The article never mentioned NATO’s war against Libya at all, except for one reference to “last year’s revolution” and the “tens of thousands killed, missing or injured”.

That before the NATO bombing Libya’s health care system, funded from oil revenues, was an African success story, is ignored. Instead the emphasis is on the country’s “crumbling infrastructure”, in a blatant attempt to make the present chaos appear the result of mismanagement and corruption by the Gaddafi regime, with the implication that that is what caused the “revolution” in the first place.

Some things do get through however, such as the fact that the NATO-installed government’s health system is rife with corruption and not benefiting the Libyan people at all. Instead, it is spending millions to send people overseas to get treatment for even simple conditions. Salama Aghila, a surgeon at Tripoli’s General Hospital, pointed out the obvious: “If the government spent the money here to invest in our own health system, to improve hospitals and train more doctors and nurses, everyone would benefit.”

Every time a patient is sent abroad for treatment, to private hospitals in Jordan or Tunisia, he says, “it is US$10,000 spent in another country’s health system and a loss for Libya”. As of last month, the NATO-installed Libyan authorities were believed to owe private hospitals in Jordan alone some US$83 million.

Further down the same page (in fact down at the bottom of the page) was a report sourced from The New York Times basically correcting an earlier report by “Syrian activists” of a “massacre of civilians near the central city of Hama”. It seems a UN observer team had investigated and found that it had not been a massacre of civilians at all but a fire-fight between young armed men and the army, which the army won.

With the US and its allies waging a fierce propaganda war against the Syrian government (with allegations of massacres and torture figuring prominently to undermine left-wing support for President Assad’s anti-imperialist stance) and also waging a real war of subversion using “special forces” from several countries posing as rebels, the non-massacre near Hama must have been very blatant for the NYT to go to the trouble of negating it.

However, they nevertheless made sure that it was carefully worded to still make the Syrian government out as the baddies: even the headline was slanted, “Young fighters, not civilians, the victims of slaughter in Syria.”

Over the page is a very brief report headlined “Boy shoots father”. The story is from Indiana, in the gun-happy USA. As everyone outside the gun-nuts of the Shooters’ Party knows, guns in the house result in people getting shot, either in stupid accidents or fits of temper. If guns were not on hand, most of these incidents would not result in people being killed or incapacitated.

But when guns are plentiful, people get shot: by their children, by their siblings, by friends or neighbours, rarely by “gunmen” or villains. And of course, when someone has a mental breakdown, access to guns can turn potential domestic violence into a massacre of dozens of people.

So commonplace is this sort of killing that the case only got into the paper because of the age of the killer: he was three. His father had brought a loaded pistol into the house, because Americans are allowed to do that sort of thing. “It’s in the Constitution!”

Finally, an item about something that manages to get my goat every time I see it happening. “Authorities were last night hunting for a great white shark up to five metres long that killed a surfer off Western Australia. … The Fisheries Department said a boat was searching the area with orders to capture and kill the shark.”


To a great white a surfer is simply an odd-shaped seal.

Sharks live in the sea. You go swimming in the sea, you are putting yourself in their domain. If you don’t want to risk being bitten by a passing shark stick to swimming pools. In India during the Raj, if a tiger killed a person, it was thought that it would turn “man-eater” now that it had discovered how tasty people were and how easy to catch. A professional tiger hunter would be called in to shoot it, before it killed again. But that kind of thinking cannot apply to a shark which does not kill people by choice or because it likes the taste. Great whites eat seals. To a shark, a surfer is simply an odd-shaped seal. To punish the shark for being a shark is futile. It smacks of a pointless act of revenge.  

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