Category Archives: United Nations

UPDATE: Roma and the Copy Fail

“The treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for civil society.”
–Former Czech premier Vaclav Havel, 1993


***To all my journalist friends out there: your copy desk is more open than you think. Please, if you see #gypsycopyfail, correct it. ***

Gypsy, Gypsies Capitalize references to the nomadic Caucasiod people found throughout the world. Also known as Roma or Romany.
—The Associated Press Stylebook 2008

A few months back, I wrote about the mechanics of the AP Stylebook and (characteristically) why you should care in the case of a particular European minority. Well, things have gotten even worse for the Roma in recent weeks, and if there’s any stronger evidence that we should stop calling them Gypsies, I’d invite you to find it.

By all accounts (and sadly, the moral accountants are few) the plight of Europe’s most blighted minority–slaughtered by the Nazis, stripped of their culture by the Soviets, swindled out of education, housing and work, and segregated out of Europe’s public life in the post Soviet era (and that’s just the last 100 years!)– is at a critical tipping point. Last year, Italy began an aggressive census of it’s Roma population, despite the failure of a popular push to fingerprint every Roma child. Violence against Roma in Hungary and Romania is so common, individual attacks rarely make the news. Now, it has begun to spill out of Eastern and Southern Europe into the vererable west, where earlier this month, one hundred economic immigrants to Northern Ireland–Romanian EU passport holderswere run out of Belfast. Roma in Kosovo are fairing little better. Recent events have prodded even sluggish American agencies to pick up their pens. At which point they commit the same fatal copy error, over and over, enshrining the same racism they are supposedly documenting against.

The fact is, the AP, the New York Times and other venerable American news organizations persist in the use of the word Gypsy in the face of overwhelming evidence that a) it’s offensive and incorrect and b) readers can handle the lexical swap. In my previous post, I offered some background on the formation and ammendment of AP Style–a system notoriously resistant to change. But enough is enough. Gypsy is a musical–Roma is a culture. If you work at a news organization, please keep your eyeballs peeled.  Even where AP Style is the gold-standard, most publications have their own styleguides, and your copy desk is more receptive than you think–if you believe the semantics are wrong, speak up. They’ll probably listen.

“They are not from Somalia. They are people like us.”


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Daily Oddities: Monday World Edition

There’s a lot to talk about in the World today, so lets jump right into it. You know about Tehran and you know about Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech, so we’re skipping that and getting straight down into the stuff you didn’t hear.


More than a billion people go hungry, says the World  Food Program. That’s about as many people who will contract malaria this year, a statistic that’s broken down masterfully by the country in a multi-part feature for the Global Post. Check out India. As long as we’re chatting about weird statistics, who knew that traffic was hazardous to your health? Well, ok, everybody, but who had a study to scientifically prove it’s hazardous to your health? The World Health Organization, that’s WHO. (hahahaha). Finally, a UN commissioned study with empirical evidence that climate change is effecting human migration. Which, if you’ve never heard of Tuvalu, might be news.
In other global news, the Cuban Five, whose pictures were emblazoned across whitewashed walls of local groceries and in the posh lobbies of upscale hotels when I visited Cuba in 2003-04 will not have another day in court, after what is at least five years (one for each of them!) of trying. The five stand accused of spying for Havana.
On the opposite side of the earth (and also in Brooklyn) the Guardian has a retrospective of female suicide bombers, more coverage of the refugees post-Tiger surrender and The New York Times has 4 Brooklynites (none of them M.I.A.) arrested and convicted of sponsoring the Tamil Tigers to the tune of millions. From Flushing or Staten Island, we might have expected…but this!
Some interesting stuff out of Russia: Global Post notices absurdly ostentatious oligarches reining it back. John Vinocur at the Times has some advice for Obama in Moscow next month. In sum: your shit will not work with the Russians, Mr. Smiley Pants President.
Finally, China still defies explanation, US Asians hate girls and Al Gore is once again the butt of a hilarious joke. (Guest Apperance by Rahm Emanuel.  Continue reading

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Terror Couture

Recently, I’ve become obsessed by terrorist chic- not the kind defined so brilliantly by bradtriescriticaltheory – the sort that’s already been coopted and comodified to the point that Palestinians should be embarassed to wear the kaffieyeh, but things you could only hope to buy abroad or in the untouched pockets of outer borogh New York. After all, isn’t that what drives fashion? Having stuff others can’t? Terror chic are things I would wear if i lived in nihilist, party-obsessed Berlin, where no one gives a fuck about being PC and my friend Anna walks around in a fox stole and suspenders over a wifebeater. Granted, I’ve never been there, but if i were i think this is what i would don.

La Santa Muerte medal:

Two years from now, this will be on Vice Mag’s DOs/DON’Ts list. Today, I could only begin to start to tell you where you get it. Santa Muerte is the sculled and hooded figure of death, the patroness of narcotraficantes. Wear it on a gold chain, either over your cleavage creasing text-tat or in that bear-patch you’ve so artfully groomed to  sweat in full public view  over the collar of your V-neck 50-50 tee.

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Roma vs. Gypsy: NYT Copy Fail



3rdWorldImagineer is back today with another instalment of ‘why language matters’. For the record, I am not a PC fascist, but I do think it’s critical to examine how we talk about certain subjects, particularly ones gaining steam in the media. Hence, my semi-annual beef with the AP Stylebook.

For the uninitiated, the AP Stylebook is the vanguard of American newswriting style. Most publications write their own additions, but few deviate markedly from the BOOK.  Hence, the press dictates everything from what to capitalize to which country/city/state name is preferred (as in Mumbai/Bombay, Burma/Myanmar) and is NOTORIOUSLY adverse to change. In the words of TJK, one of the book’s overlords, “we don’t want to have to change it back.” 

The stylebook’s aim is a noble one: to take the world’s most widely spoken and written language–the lingua franca for news–and standardize it. Doing so requires a certain degree of rigidity, but sometimes conservative (and condecending) attitudes about the intelligence and adaptibility of readers block changes that are long overdue. Case in Point: Roma vs. Gypsy

The Roma, once called Gypsies (gitano or tzigan in most Euro languages),  are Europe’s largest ethnic minority. I had written a whole graph about it, but suffice it to say, their various plights in the post-Soviet era make them probably the unluckiest ethnic minority in the world right now (trust me, nobody knows how to brutalize like the Euros). To quote the Guardian:

The evictions underline the plight of Europe’s 8 million Roma as the continent’s most downtrodden minority. Subject to entrenched harassment, discrimination, and ghettoisation, the Roma are liberty’s losers in the transformation wrought by recent free elections and free markets

Given all that, you’d be forgiven for asking what’s  in a name. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot. 

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Sri Lanka vs Darfur: How We Read Conflict

*(reader note: since lots of my recent traffic seems to have an infants sense of irony, I’m marking anything I said ironic  with asterisks. ****)

I was asked in an interview recently why the Sri Lankan conflict (which has about 1/2 the deaths + 1/3 of the refugees of the Darfur crisis – 95% of the international attention) doesn’t get more press. Upon realizing that I knew the answer and could articulate it, I felt at once elated, depressed and fucking nerdy. I also felt a deep and abiding need to share.

1) Sri Lanka has precisely  * zero * strategic interest for anyone, ever (except India).
The island, though rich in culture, history, and foliage, lacks the natural resources of a place like, say Burma. As an island it borders nothing, and so threatens little. The only people Sri Lanka ever menaces are Indians, though they do that to great effect, since at least the time of the Ramayan, when the demon Ravaana came up out of its jungles to wreck Bible-style havoc. The Tamil refugee crisis has sparked civil unrest in India’s southernmost state, where the entire parlament resigned late last year to protest Delhi’s not doing of things. Then again, Tamil Tigers killed Rajiv Gandhi, so maybe it was, like, a thing. On the third hand, India’s protracted elections will probably reflect, at least in part, Tamil Nadu’s increasing distress at Delhi’s cold shoulder.

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Check Out my Awesome Slideshow


I am consistantly amazed at how much i get to do whatever i want.

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A history of the conflict in Sri Lanka, from

Chronicle of conflict

• Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. The country has a population of 21 million, of whom about 3.2 million are of Hindu Tamil origin.

• Tamil is one of the principal languages of the Hindu Dravidian dialect, with more than 200 million speakers across India.

• Ceylon Tamils are ethnic Sri Lankans and constitute approximately half of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. They are concentrated in the north of the island, are relatively well educated, and many hold clerical and professional positions.

• Other Tamils, so-called Indian Tamils of Sri Lanka, were brought there by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries from southern India to work on the tea estates.

• Though both predominantly Hindu, Ceylon and Indian Tamil are organised under different caste systems and have little to do with each other.

• In the 1970s, growing tensions between the Hindu Ceylon Tamils and successive Sinhalese Buddhist majority governments broke out into a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the central government by Tamil militants demanding a separate state in the north-east.

• The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s conflict with the government has killed an estimated 70,000 people since it began, and left thousands more displaced.

• Violence increased in 2005 after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign, when he ruled out autonomy for Tamils in the north and east and promised to review the peace process.

• Both the military and the Tigers have been regularly accused of gross abuses of human rights by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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