Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On eccentric chess-players and independent journalists

The Telegraph reported yesterday, 13 Jun 2011, on the visit of Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to Tripoli, where he met Col. Gaddafi, the beleaguered leader of Libya (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8573080/Col-Gaddafi-refuses-to-step-down-playing-chess-instead.html).

The sub-headline referred to the visitor as being “eccentric”, as did the caption of the accompanying photograph. Indeed, the caption also suggested the reason why he is regarded as being eccentric: he has apparently claimed to have spoken to aliens. Interestingly, the photography is attributed to Reuters TV – did that source provide the writer of the Telegraph article with the caption as well, or did he happen upon “eccentric” on their own?

Now, the visitor labeled by this journalist as being eccentric is, according to the same article, the head of the World Chess Federation, a wealthy businessman and was the head of the Russian republic of Kalmykia for more than a decade.

The article does not state why the writer thinks the President of FIDE to be eccentric, but the juxtaposition in the caption appears to imply it is because he has claimed to have met aliens from space.

Now why would this make anyone eccentric? We live in a world where people believe in all sorts of invisible Gods, and whole systems of hells and heavens for which not the slightest proof exists. Indeed, some of the fundamental claims of some of the currently dominant religions are proven to be false. Yet there are those who believe in them. Would the journalist take it upon himself to call the Pope eccentric? The Imam of the Finsbury Park mosque? The millions of poor in India who generally tend to look towards a God-figure? The journalist is entitled to his opinion, but surely a little sense of taste would not be awry?

> “He (Gaddafi) is thought to spend his time constantly on the move, driving around Tripoli, and sleeping in hospitals and religious places that Nato would never dare bomb.”

By whom? By the journalist? In that case, why not “I think he spends his time…….”? Or by two Libyans who accosted him at the bar whilst they were getting some more ice for him? Why not state that source? The “is thought” device suggests common wisdom, an almost-truth, the truth.

The Independent followed suit the next day (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/dictators-gambit-look-whos-joined-the-chess-set-2297106.html), referring to the first President of Kalmykia as “the eccentric chess supremo”.

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