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Mr. Potato rocks with Hujan!

After blogging about philosophy and potato chips for Nuffnang, I got invited to the 'Mr. Potato Fiesta' last week.

It was at the Mist Club in Bangsar
mist club bangsar

As usual with the Nuffnang events, there were prizes galore given out, food and drinks were provided - the beer was upstairs on the balcony for some reason and at first we missed it. The door gift was a big bag full of potato chips, a 'Mexican' hat (actually, it was one of those gardener's hats you see workers by the road using, painted in red - but it did the trick :-)), and a fake moustache. The bag is a good sturdy reusable bag, and I'm using it to go to the market now.
mr potato fiesta nuffnang mist club

Mr Potato rocked with Hujan, while others took photos. Hujan were good - rock/punk mosh pit stuff.
mr potato fiesta nuffnang mist club hujan

There were prizes for best dressed, and for the best blog post - top prize RM5,000! Nice! Second was 3K, and third 2K.
mr potato fiesta nuffnang mist club

The top blogger was Kecik, second place was The Egg Yolks, and the third created a new blog for the entry - Mr. Fussy, which was pretty smart I think.

There were multiple hampers and giveaways, and as for me - I won something in a Lucky Draw!
gsc signature vouchers

Two GSC Signature voucher :-D Actually, they're going to be an Xmas gift to my in-laws ('cos I'm massively skint at the moment), so I'll have to find out from them what it's like to luxuriate in wonderful seats, get service while watching the film, etc.

Thanks again Nuffnang, who have provided me with many enjoyable evenings and multiple freebies.

Olympus XD card in unsustainable packaging

Well, the recent "Hopenhagen" summit turned out to be a dismal failure and an prime example of short-term political and business interests winning it out over good sense.

One of the main problems we face as a human species, is the unsustainable consumerism that pervades the 'development' and 'free market' (as long as it isn't the big banks) discourses that dominate the blinkered minds of the ruling elites.

And here is a little example of how wasteful some practices are:
olympus XD card unsustainable packaging

note the size, think of the plastic needed, the space for transporting thousands of these, etc. It is large so that the consumer feels they're getting something for their money, which is...
olympus XD card unsustainable packaging

A tiny Olympus 2gig XD card!

FAIL!

Auschwitz - The Death Camps

August 1990

I spent about three weeks in Poland from August to September 1990. It was a depressing place at times - heavily polluted, and with communist style buildings everywhere. And it has a tragic history too - it was designated as the part of the Lebensraum ('living space') by the Nazis, who intended to empty it out and fill it with German colonists (Wikipedia for more details). An example of this was Zamosc, a beautiful Renaissance-era town, which was emptied out and renamed 'Himmlerstadt' ('Himmler Town') after Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.

For anyone visiting Poland, a visit to Oswiecim is a must - renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis, it was the location of two of the camps built to kill Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Polish, Russian POWs, dissidents, and anyone the Nazis deemed sub-human or a nuisance. Those who weren't killed immediately, were used as slave labour until they died of malnutrition, disease or injuries.

A visit there is important, to bear witness to this horrific moment of the history of humankind - born out of racism and ethnocentrism.

I took this following picture in 'Auschwitz I', the smaller original camp.
crematorium at Auschwitz I

It shows the trolleys used for putting bodies into the crematorium. Although it felt voyeuristic and somewhat inappropriate, when I saw how it was so obviously made to put bodies in (note the shape and size), I felt that this photo could be a small way to show the truth to anyone who doubted it.

The camp itself was deceptively calm - red brick buildings and leafy trees (though the trees would be more recent).
fence at Auschwitz I

The exhibit that shocked me the most was this


and on top of the hair, I saw a blond plait (maybe this one, not my photo though)


It made me retch. It's one of the most horrible things I've ever seen.

At Auschwitz, they would use every part of the people they murdered - and this included making rough cloth out of the human hair. For that, hair was stocked - when the Russians liberated Auschwitz, they found 7 tons of hair, packed and ready to be shipped out.

A final note: while I was taking the bus to the camp from the train station, I started talking to an old man who spoke some German. I asked him how he knew German, and he said that he had had to learn it at school in Ozwiecim during the war; so I had to ask him - did he know what was happening in the camps? He shrugged and said Yes, everyone knew. How? I asked. He held his nose and said, 'The smell', waving his other hand to demonstrate the smoke wafting over the small town.

It's difficult, almost impossible really, to imagine what happened. But it did. And we should never forget it.

Are journalists an example for bloggers?

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein claimed that some bloggers, unlike local journalists, do not adhere to the rules and ethics of journalism in their bid to garner popularity.

Local journalists adhered to ethics but these bloggers did not, and this was what differentiated the journalists from these bloggers (The StarOnline, 15/12/2009)

I wonder what he would have to say about the two articles in The Star Online that I blogged about last week? "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" and "Boob-staring good for men" - both of which, through a simple Google search, can be proved to be fictional tabloid 'news' of the poorest quality.

Actually I had only noticed the latter article when I first blogged about it, but then another blogger (Chang Yang - My Little Moments) commented that he had seen a very similar one - and written to the Editor about it. Which reminded me that that was the responsible thing to do - maybe there's a rogue journalist, an inexperienced intern, or someone like that, who made an honest mistake. So I wrote to the Editor too.

Chang Yang sent an email on, or before, the 15 November; and I sent one on the 7 December. Well, frankly, I'm gobsmacked that the articles are **still** online! :-O :-O :-O

I can't believe that there isn't someone in The Star who has the responsibility for reading 'Letters to the Editor', and who wouldn't do a simple double check of the articles! A serious newspaper's credibility, and revenue, depends on the accuracy of their reporting.

But then, given the hostility that the mainstream media often shows towards bloggers, I wondered whether it might have been because I mentioned blogging about it in my letter (though Chang Yang didn't)...

So, I thought I'd give it another try - here is the email i sent today, to editor@thestar.com.my

Dear Editor,

Two pieces carried by your online edition over the last two months are factually incorrect, and reflect the poorest journalistic standards. The articles are:

1. "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" (Compiled by WINNIE YEOH, NURBAITI HAMDAN AND A.RAMAN, 12/11/2009) - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/11/12/nation/5092076&sec=nation
This is an invention that was originally reported in the "World Weekly News" in 2003. A simple Google search will confirm this.

2. "Boob-staring good for men" (Compiled by WINNIE YEOH, A. RAMAN and TEH ENG HOCK), 5/12/2009) - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/12/5/nation/5241171&sec=nation
This fictional 'research' has been circulating since 1997. See this link for more information: http://www.snopes.com/humor/iftrue/breasts.asp

These articles have now been referenced by other newspapers and wire services, with The Star being quoted as the source. I think that you should investigate them and rectify the situation, in order to make sure that The Star's reputation does not suffer.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Hopkins

Address:
xxxxx
Kelana Jaya
Petaling Jaya
47301 Selangor

Telephone:
xxxxxxx


Anyway, this will be the last I post on the sorry affair (noting, en passant, that The Sun's circulation has now surpassed that of The Star).

Appalling standards in Malaysian newspapers

It's often been argued that one reason for the popularity of blogs in Malaysia is the restrictions on the mainstream media (MSM) by the government, which uses laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and ownership by political parties to ensure a compliant fourth estate.

That seems straightforward enough. But an interviewee (a popular blogger) surprised me by saying that she also thought that the poor quality of women's magazines explained why some blogs that talk about fashion, makeup, etc. are popular. There's no political reason why a woman's magazine should be mediocre: that's only explainable by poor management and/or insufficiently trained manpower.

Anyway - thanks to a tweet by @kruel74, I have come across one of the worst examples of journalism I can remember. Inspired no doubt by the sensationalist potential, The Star online announced "Boob-staring good for men" (click here for a screenshot)
Both Sin Chew Daily and China Press reported that a German research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men ogling at breasts for 10 minutes a day was equivalent to a 30-minute gym workout.

Perhaps they were a bit dubious about this patently ridiculous claim, so they made a pitiful attempt to cover their butts
However, it was reported that reporters had attempted to search the article in the journal’s website but failed. Thus, there were doubts whether there was indeed such an article in the journal.

First of all, if there are doubts that it is true, why the heck publish it? The only journalistic reason to do so would be if it was deemed to be of major importance to the public. Is a puerile booby-joke worth infringing basic journalistic fact-checking ethics? I don't think so!

Second. GOOGLE! Within two minutes, I found it on Snopes - the primary source for debunking c**p like this: this particular "Important if true" snippet has been circulating since 1997.

It's not surprising that readership numbers for newspapers are constantly slipping! THREE newspapers managed to print this rubbish!

As a lecturer, I find these kind of poor standards a real barrier to convincing bright, eager and willing students to uphold the highest standards, to not copy and paste, and to look for examples of good practice to follow. For their own self-worth, and to represent Malaysia to the world.

Anyway, I guess the silver lining is that they won't have to try very hard to be better than those they will hopefully replace... :-)

**Edit**: Another blogger Chang Yang who commented (below) found a very similar piece of shoddy journalism in The Star a month ago, it was (probably not coincidentally) also about women's boobs: "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" sigh... (click here for a screenshot) He was more responsible than me, and emailed the editor - but to no avail apparently, the article is still online, and being recirculated and requoted by other people (most of whom, including bloggers, haven't bothered to check either - but then again, they're not paid to provide reliable information).

**Edit 07/12/09**: more evidence supplied by Bintulu.org
This 'story' was also apparently picked up by Asian News International, and republished in DailyIndia.com; and asiaone via Asia News Network. My feeling for the two 'wire' services (ANI and ANN), is that they have automatic RSS feeds that come directly from The Star. Anyway, now this story has been given credence (for the credulous) by a leading Malaysian newspaper, cited in each occasion as the source of this story.