An apology to Paul Canning, II

we give support to refugees, and we give them something to seek refuge from

Back in February 2011, our readers will remember, the chronically inaccurate episodically accurate blogger Paul Canning — of the episodically biased chronically unopinionated website LGBT Asylum News — published the following false only intermittently true information:

Amongst the crowds protesting the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarek in Egypt are many lesbians and gay men. …  Yesterday, one of them, the well-known blogger and activist SandMonkey (the website was taken down by repeated attacks but is now back up) who is gay was arrested, beaten up and later freed.

Most of that is true! We apologize in advance for having to point out that some of it was not. Specifically, the phrase “who is gay” attached to Sandmonkey was not true. Sandmonkey, a dissident blogger known throughout the region, was and is not gay. It’s impossible to say what led the careless occasionally cautious Canning to think he was; but Sandmonkey took offense at those three words, coming as they did in the middle of a revolution where a brutal regime was looking for any reason to jail and discredit opponents. He wrote to the arrogant modest-on-alternate-days Canning:

Dear Paul/Editor of this sight,

You published an article claiming I am gay. While a supporter of gay rights, I am not gay. I have no idea where u got this info, and its totally unverified. Please retract and remove the article, since you must be very well aware what happens to people suspected of being gay in Egypt. You are putting my life in danger.

The editor of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, which carries Paul’s ill-researched carefully spelled column, wrote back:

We have deleted @sandmonkey from the story without consulting with Mr. Canning, who is the author of the story. SDGLN did not originate this story, which came from LGBT Asylum News in the U.K.

That must have infuriated the temperamental unevenly evenhanded Canning, who always likes to be consulted. It was particularly exasperating in that, even if one counts only the 43 words of the passage we cited (more if we hadn’t inserted that discriminatory ellipsis!) rather than the 800+ words of the whole piece, not more than three were in fact lies less true than they could have been. That means that the passage was, as an absolute maximum, only 6.9767% inaccurate. If you take the falsehoods near-misses at accuracy as a percentage of the whole column, the proportion falls to less than four-tenths of one percent, a completely nugatory figure.  It takes real cheek for Sandmonkey to write to the blinkered presbyscopically observant Canning that “You are putting my life in danger!”  At most only one part in thirteen of his life was danger, and more likely it was less than one-two hundredth. If Voldemort could live with large parts of his soul destroyed, why can’t an Egyptian blogger? The scope of mathematical ignorance is astounding. Obviously, few Egyptians can count. Sandmonkey should learn statistics, and the entire country should be handed back to Lord Cromer and the British to revamp its education system. (A tip to LGBT Asylum News: Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Britain’s proconsul in Cairo from 1883 to 1907, is alive and well and, with his boyfriend Norman Tebbit, working as a cage dancer Saturdays at Heaven.  He’s available. If you start a campaign now to have the British occupation reinstated, NATO might be able to start bombing by Christmas.)

I take note of this because I learned on arriving in Egypt that Sandmonkey — under his real name, Mahmoud Salem — is running for the lower house of Parliament in today’s elections. His campaign blog and program (mostly in Arabic) are here. (And he’s still tweeting at @Sandmonkey.) He’s a secularist, an environmentalist, a progressive — just the kind of candidate Paul Canning ought to like; except I suspect Paul Canning doesn’t like him anymore.

There’s still a lot that LGBT Asylum news can do, though.  They could out the heterosexual alleged, although to date unproven, homosexual Mahmoud Salem again!  There are still at least twelve hours before the polls close, and people in Heliopolis, where’s he’s running, wake late. Canning’s little-noticed sporadically influential blog deserves the chance to intervene in a world-historical occasion. Alternatively, Canning can out other progressive Egyptians. Dissidents, feminists, and human rights activists here are regularly attacked for supposed sexual perversion; these aspersions sometimes fall flat, and evidence from abroad is needed; it seems unreasonable that the pleasures of outing should be alienated from the heroic activists like Peter Tatchell who originated the tactic, and handed over to Islamist riffraff and demoted Mubarakite bureaucrats who are all too hamhanded in their exposures. Let the task of invading privacy be given back to those who do it best!  Only those who had a closet can appreciate what it means to be torn forcibly out of one — particularly out of one that never existed at all.

An apology to Paul Canning

oops!

We do nothing but apologize lately.  Soon we will need to appear on Leno to explain the incident with that woman and the limousine,  or perhaps try a pilgrimage to Lourdes or Colorado Springs. In our latest occasion for penitence, Paul Canning, the humble and accommodating editor of the chronically inaccurate [see below] blog LGBT Asylum News, has turned his preoccupied attention on us! – and has offered some intelligently spelled remarks in the Comments section. These sentences clearly are the product not just of typing but of Thought, so I prefer to respond to them in the body here, rather than relegate them to a footnote of history.

Canning writes about our post on African activists  and aid conditionality:

“chronically inaccurate”

Hilarious when in the same line you describe the Mail as “anti-everything” which it is not. That is an INACCURATE description of the Daily Mail.

Also, simply reporting the origins of this (the Mail) apparently means “attempts to minimize the shift”.

Which is a little rich given that I very quickly and uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists who mostly – though not entirely – criticised what the Mail had apparently reported.

But you don’t mention that.

You write polemics, Scott, but do you have to be such a b*tch? Because that’s what it reads like.

We apologize for calling LGBT Asylum News “chronically inaccurate”!  We were misled by the following incidents, among others:

  • In the middle of the Egyptian revolution, after State Security arrested the well-known dissident blogger “Sandmonkey,” Canning announced on his blog – incorrectly — that Sandmonkey was gay. This move could easily have resulted in further persecution of the blogger, who tweeted later, “Just as a matter of public record, I am not gay. Making such a claim about me without verification is incredibly unethical.”
  • Canning’s story of a gay activist’s  murder in Western Kenya was later discredited by the investigations of a coalition of nine local LGBT organizations working there.
  • Canning has broadcast inaccurate stories of “gay executions” in Iran – and accused other bloggers, who had reprinted his accounts, of unethical behavior when, on finding the stories unsubstantiated , they retracted them.
  • Then there’s Canning’s reliance on, and diehard support of, the discredited website GayMiddleEast.com.   It isn’t just that Gay Middle East is inaccurate. It lied about its own staff and origins, and put activists across the region who worked with it in danger.

There are undoubtedly other errors we haven’t noticed. But wait! It’s also true that we may not have noticed the uncredited times that Canning’s blog has been accurate.

This is an unfair aspect of our highly technical world, where one error on a matter of concern only to a small number of specialists – like a patient’s blood type, the location of a bomb target, or the existence of “global warming” – can outweigh all the other things one got right, like Derek Jeter’s batting average or the number of jellybeans in that jar. We are all correct far more often than we think.  I am surely on the mark when I assume that Earth’s atmosphere will not suddenly turn to laughing gas tomorrow, but do I ever get credit for the prediction? No. Surprisingly, even the Daily Mail  [see below] is probably accurate when it reports, e.g., that the sun rose at 6:24 today. (I stress probably: there could always be some hidden slant; possibly some faceless bureaucrats in Brussels forced the sun to rise at 6:23 instead, and by reporting 6:24 the Daily Mail is striking a coded blow for free markets and for British independence.)

So we apologize to Canning for underestimating the occasions when he reflects the truth. Let’s say no longer that LGBT Asylum News is “chronically inaccurate.”  Let us praise it as “episodically accurate” instead.

I apologize to the Daily Mail

This brings us to the Daily Mail. Canning is quite correct when he calls me out for saying it is “anti-everything.”  I was INACCURATE to give the impression that the newspaper campaigned against gravity, or condemned the habit of breathing. No one is against everything.  Even the Russian nihilists had the odd thing or two they supported, such as better bomb technology. Moreover, on reflecting, one realizes that almost every anti comes with its own pro.  For instance, we could note that the Mail opposed sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid regime; but rather than saying it was anti-sanctions, wouldn’t it be simpler to say that it was pro-apartheid?  We could observe that the Mail stood bravely against the welter of colors that the 1930s fashion industry offered to confused consumers. But rather than saying it was anti blue, or pink, or green shirts, wouldn’t be better to say that it was pro Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts?  (Though I have the feeling the Mail might prefer the first formulations, or maybe would like to forget the whole thing.)   Even a cursory glance at the Daily Mail shows it supports women’s cosmetics; a strong native plumbing industry independent of Polish expertise; and the prosperity of Pakistan through the return of its diaspora to the motherland.  In calling the paper “anti-everything,” I was succumbing to the wicked practice of “irony.” This is an addictive vice among homosexuals, sex workers, and editorial cartoonists; it mainly serves to infuriate the upright people who do not engage in it.

Finally: Canning says that he “uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists” on aid conditionality. Here I differ with him somewhat. In the one article he published, he quoted 13 people; 5 were in the global South, the rest in Europe. Three of those five expressed serious reservations about the British policy. Nonetheless, Canning headlined his piece,  “Cautious welcome, concern as UK ties foreign aid to LGBT human rights.”

More importantly, in the weeks since then 53 organizations and 86 individual activists across Africa signed a statement  laying out their reasons for opposing the policy; groups in other countries weighed in with their disparate responses; and a massive backlash  caused by Cameron’s move led to mounting anti-gay rhetoric in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and other countries.  Canning didn’t consider any of this news; he covered none of it. It’s hard not to suspect the reason: he supports aid conditionality, and doesn’t want to give much space to its grim consequences, or to the global South voices that collectively offer a sophisticated critique.

Paul Canning is perhaps right that I’m a “polemicist,” not to mention a butch, or botch. But then, I lay my opinions out on the line. I don’t pretend to be reporting “news,” and meanwhile suppress facts that don’t suit my presuppositions.

Nonetheless: I apologize!  In keeping with the spirit of utmost clarity, let me set forth my apology in transparent terms:

Such a vain endeavor! Let’s go back to agreeing compulsorily. To interrogate veracity is simply muddled. Facts remain overly messy. Truth hurts! Everyone should express expectable gregarious opinions. I swear that I can. Being unaware makes better life expectancy realistic – soon!

I hope no one will attempt to find some other meaning in that unequivocal statement.

Peter Tatchell apologizes to the Crusades for not enlisting

Meanwhile, we are changing our policy with regard to polemics. In future, we will offer apologies proactively before saying anything, indeed before thinking it. In fact, when addressing other people’s errors, we will apologize not only before pointing them out, but before they have actually erred. We believe that this will save our detractors psychological pain, as well as the considerable legal fees and effort required to extract apologies under English law. Moreover, it encourages our critics to err regularly and rhythmically rather than erratically and sporadically, creating a feeling of predictability and confidence among their readers. We therefore announce that we are apologizing to Paul Canning weekly for the next five years, and to Peter Tatchell daily for the next ten. And we have programmed our pacemaker to emit an apology to Doug Ireland seventy-eight times a minute, audible only to bats and whales. Now we would like to ask Peter kindly to remove that bailiff from our lawn, as he is walking on the crocuses it took us weeks to plant.