Editor’s Desk: Content and Context

NASA announced the smallest exoplanet yet discovered, at just 1.4-times the size of Earth. According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that brings the total number of exoplanets discovered to 500.

In south Sudan, the vote for independence continues into its third day, despite a new attack on prospective voters. 10 died and the entire caravan of voters was forced to turn back.

Many new galaxy clusters have been discovered, each cluster with up to 100 galaxies, each galaxy with a billion stars.

***

As Cosmic Vinegar takes its first steps into the world, certain editorial questions arise, in terms of direction and content. The news stories above indicate the general composure ofthe magazine ; a focus on science and a focus on human rights / sociopolitical issues.

One of the first questions that comes to mind is: How much information do I provide? Take the Sudan news story. The south Sudanese interior minister claimed that the attack was conducted by the Missiria tribe, a portion of the Baggara Arab people. They have been involved in territorial disputes over the Abyei region of Sudan, which have been exacerbated by both the recent civil wars and the impending secession. The Dinka tribe settled in the region, yet allowed Missiria to annually drive cattle in to graze. Now the Dinka are considering joining south Sudan while Missiria are well entrenched in the north. The grazing land is presumably of vital importance to their cattle and way of life. The attack, if conducted by Missiria, is possibly their method of protest.

Now, we can firmly come down on the fact that this violence (terrorism, I would say, as there is a relatively clear political goal of stifling votes on independence) is wrong & a human rights violation. Yet I can’t help but feel that this is armchair analysis; north Sudan is not being polled on how they feel about secession, so in effect the political process is marginalizing them. How do you make your voice heard when the system isn’t taking you into account? In many, many cases, people resort to violence.

I don’t support violence. It stunts dialogue to the point where you don’t have to listen to anyone you think is wrong: You can just kill them or brutalize them into silence. Violence limits understanding, sunders sympathy, disfigures societies. This is the only argument I feel comfortable making. Still, there are some tribal groups in Sudan being marginalized by the secession process. Their government should probably do a better job of allaying their fears, but even that may not help, because the problem isn’t fear but practicality: they’re losing traditional grazing land to a new country.

I can console myself with the knowledge that this is an issue many people and institutions are struggling to confront.

This has been example by way of explanation. I have few answers–in fact, it may be fair to say I have no answers. It’s often difficult to figure out who’s right in a given sociopolitical context when the events are occurring many miles away; and perhaps due to differing cultural traditions, it may be impossible.

Back in an editorial frame of mind, I don’t know how much information to provide on these issues in (what will be the eventual print version of) Cosmic Vinegar. The original idea was to publish simple news blurbs as I have them above; but as my example proves, the issue is more opaque than mere retributive violence. I have two options, as I see it:

  • Concise, 1 or 2 sentences reporting merely the facts, with references to news articles.
  • A brief paragraph explaining the facts and immediate information, demonstrated in the second narrative paragraph, above.

The pure editor in me says option 1, but the writer in me who wants to study these issues in depth says option 2. The editor says–you cannot fully understand these issues, and to pretend to do so in a short paragraph would do disservice to local politics. The writer says–1 sentence misconstrues the events even more. At least with the paragraph, shades of grey are available. I think the writer in me wins today, butas with all things Cosmic Vinegar, this will be an ongoing debate.

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