Telling Lies #8: Defamation

Man_Licking_Woman_With_Red_Hair_(4439640549)

Mmmm, gluten free hair!

Defamation is a communication that causes harm.  It may cause harm to a person, a business, a political party, a religion, a race, a group of people, a brand, a product or a category of goods.  Defamation is deliberate and is usually an attempt to profit in some way by the damage it causes to the defamed party.

Smoking causes cancer.  This is proven by science.  Telling people that smoking causes cancer is not defamation.  It is the truth.  It causes harm to the tobacco category of goods, but it is not a lie.  So this is not defamation.

To qualify as defamation it must actually be a lie.

Telling people that vaccinations cause autism is defamation.  Dr. Andrew Wakefield falsified medical studies to cause harm to existing vaccinations.  He did this because he was allegedly working on an alternative vaccination.  He caused widespread confusion around the safety of MMR vaccines, leading to parents rejecting vaccines.  As a result we are seeing explosions in infection rates from measles all across the western world.

Wakefield’s science has been disproved.  His papers have been rejected.  He was struck off the UK Medical register, but he continues to be cited as a reason to avoid MMR vaccination.  Indeed the panic he started has also impacted on takeup of HPV vaccination rates.

Defamation can be very subtle.  It works extremely well in mock denial.  If I make a statement along the lines of  “the prime minister has an STI” I am open to a charge of slander.  My statement will be denied as rubbish and will largely be ignored.

But what if I make a statement like this “I categorically deny any accusation that the prime minister contracted an STI during a visit to a refugee centre in County Louth.”

I denied a rumour.  What rumour?  Does the prime minister have an STI?  Where did he catch it?  What was he doing in that refugee centre?  If he didn’t catch the STI in the Louth refugee centre which one did he catch it in?  By denying the rumor I make the defamation all the more believable and all the more damaging.  Doing it this way unleashes the press horde into the private life of the prime minister.

You can do the same with brands, categories and products.  “Unlike our major competitors we make our shampoo gluten free.”  Is gluten bad for your hair?  If the man in the white coat says it then it must be!

Now I don’t want to defame the fad for gluten free shampoo, so if your partner suffers from Coeliac disease and if they like to clean your head by regularly licking your hair, go for it.

 

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Telling Lies #6: Plausible Deniability

sir-humphrey-appleby

Plausible deniability is a tool used widely in commerce and in politics.  It generally involves the identification of areas of knowledge that could, if details are fully known, compromise a senior individual as being complicit in acts that are illegal, immoral or culturally unacceptable.

A CEO of a Western firm, with operations in countries where bribery is endemic, will build a management structure that distances them from knowledge of day to day details of acts of bribery and corruption.

The Chairman of the board of an auto manufacturer may never ask directly if accident rates in their cars are an endemic manufacturing problem.  To do so may result in a widespread recall and catastrophic fall in share prices.  Better to retain plausible deniability.

The premier of a nation will structure allocations to “security agents” (AKA Black ops or Spies) as “Black Box” payments.  There is no direct link between the money allocation and the acts carried out by the security teams.  The President can’t be held directly responsible for an assassination because she never directly ordered it.

It is a plot line in the movie “Independence Day” when the CIA keep knowledge of the existence of aliens from the President even after an alien presence makes itself known.

No good Barrister will ever ask a question in court without first knowing the answer, and in may cases, knowing the answer, will never ask the question in order to maintain plausible deniability.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby says in “Yes Minister” one should never ask a direct question because it might result in a direct answer.

He also pointed out that the Official Secrets act was not designed to protect secrets, it was designed to protect public servants.

The script of Yes Minister is a fertile garden of plausible deniability.

plausible deniability

 

Telling Lies #2: Conflation

oitnb-10

Black Prisoners outnumber Whtes 4 to 1

You have heard it every time you have heard a US politician up for election.  Being tough on crime gets you elected.  So forget the truth, it’s time for conflation!

Conflation is when you take data from different sources and blend them into a statement that appears, on the surface to be correct.  It seems right.  Who’s going to challenge it?  And if anyone tries to challenge it just bury them in statistics.

So the US politician will wade into the debate saying that “we need to get tough on repeat offenders” and nobody will argue with that.

Then they say “our jails are overflowing with repeat offenders” and nobody will argue with that.  The prisons of the USA are the product of the plea bargain system where you throw the book at an offender and have them plead to a misdemeanor and let them walk, first time out.  So the prisons ARE overflowing with repeat offenders.

Then they move into conflation.  “Men of colour are proportionally the majority prisoners in our jails”.  The audience nods.  The audience assumes the candidate just said “Most of the prisoners are black”.  But he didn’t.

He took a couple of different statistics and sort of blended them together into a statement that, while not an outright lie, is intended to misdirect you.

THIS IS THE BORING BIT THAT YOU WILL NOT WANT TO READ:

In the USA the Black people make up about 13% of the population.  Black people make up about 37% of the prison population.  Black people have an incarceration rate 4 times higher than white people in the USA.

So how can this political candidate say 37% is the majority?

Well, he kept the word “proportionally”.  In long worded terms he is saying that if you took 10,000 Black men and 10,000 white men and 10,000 Hispanic men and filled a prison from these 30,000 men you would find that 45 prisonners are white, 83 are hispanic and 231 are black.  So man for man, in a prison population of 359 people 64% would be black.  If the USA poplation was divided equally by the 3 races, which it is not.

This is the kind of maths that easily sells the public on harsh sentencing and larger prisons.  Especially when the public are white voters.  These are the kind of conflated statistics that sound very real.  They just seem to be right.  Every time you turn on the TV and see inside a prison what do you see?  A LOT of black folks.

This same process of conflating different statistical sets can be used to confuse any argument.  It is a very popular tool with populist politicians who tend to represent more marginalised and less educated people in society.  If you just lost your job to a Romanian immigrant you WANT to believe that 80% of Romanians are here illegally.  You WANT to believe that they are criminals.  So when someone hands you those statistics on a plate you eat them up.

If you live in a small rural village in the West of Ireland and you hear that 200 Syrian refugees are arriving next week to live in the closed hotel what is your first assumption.  Do you believe that 50% of the Syrian adults have 3rd level education?  Or do you believe that 10% of the young males have been radicalised by Islamic fundamentalists?  I can conflate statistical sets to sell either side.  But you, as a reader, which will you consume?

It is a technique of marketing also.  Nowhere better than in marketing of weight loss products.  How do you get fat?  By eating lots of fat.  So if you cut fat out of your diet you will lose fat!  Here is our sugar, it is 100% fat free.  They have conflated the fat on your waist with the fat in your diet.  Which is a bit like saying that bats can fly, so watch out for flying baseball bats.

How can you spot conflation?

A trick is to tell yourself to look for the kid in the china store.  You know the kid who went wild and broke all the china?  Seems correct?

It was a Bull in a china shop.  And it was a kid in a candy store.

One a metaphor for a pending disaster, the other for unbridled excitement.

Conflate them and suddenly you have a kid in juvenile court facing a charge of vandalism.

 

Telling Lies #1: Correlation

parisexplosion

 

I am starting a series of posts about how to tell lies, especially in politics and the media.  The Guardian is a newspaper I generally respect but in the headlines above they are lying.

Lies are usually pretty subtle.  People who tell overt lies are caught out, and have to retract the lie.  But a good liar will put information in front of you and let you add 1 + 1 to make 3.

The news article is about a Paris bakery explosion.  This was an accident.  Bakeries are dangerous places.  Flour dust suspended in the air is highly combustible.  If you are ever on the docks when wheat is being offloaded from ships you will see warning flags telling you of the explosion risk.

Add gas to the mix, and a naked flame and the Bakery is even more dangerous.  So, in Paris there was an accident in a Bakery and the explosion killed three people.  Sad story, but not the stuff of headlines, not the stuff likely to win a Pulitzer prize.

But what if you could add a bit of spice to the story?  Is there another angle.  As it turns out there is a Gilet Jaunes protest in Paris every Weekend this year.  So this explosion happened on the same day as yellow vested protesters were gathering in Paris.

So what we have here is a correlation.  A correlation is when two events occur together.  Kids get fat in a period of ten years.  You find that ten years ago a fast food outlet opened beside the school.  So obesity in children correlates to the presence of a fast food outlet.  But did the fast food cause the obesity.

Good science tries to avoid jumping to conclusions.  You will hear scientists say “correlation is not causation.”  Just because two things happened at the same time does not mean that one causes the other.  You may research the fast food outlet and find that none of the obese kids are actually eating there.  Scientists need to eliminate all the other possibilities, changes to transport, changes to school meals policy, changes to family incomes in the past 10 years, etc etc.

But a Journalist, especially a bad journalist, has no such scruples.  In the article above, in the second headline, the explosion is correlated with the Gilet Jaunes protest, and it is held out as a juicy possibility for another story.  Could protesters have blown up the Bakery?  Is there a conspiracy?

Populist politicians make widespread use of the correlation lie, and the greatest perpetrators in modern society are anti-vaxxers who maintain causative relationships exist when administration of any vacceine correlates with an outbreak of any condition in the recipient.

Correlation is NOT causation.  It takes work, but do the science.  Verify, verify, verify.

 

Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …

Seibo

Nagasaki

Born this day in 1884 Seibo Kitamura was the sculptor of the Nagasaki peace statue which is located in Nagasaki Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb.

His right hand points to the sky from where the bomb fell.  His left is extended in a gesture of peace.  His right leg is in a meditative pose, reflecting the eyes, close in prayer for the dead. His left leg prepares to stand, to help the people.  A plaque on the statue reads as follows:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the
struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)
Nagasaki should never have been bombed.
When the Japanese commanders saw the devastation at Hiroshima on August 6th and confirmed that it was a nuclear weapon, they should have stopped the war.
Instead Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on”.  American code breakers read these signals and the order to drop a bomb on Nagasaki was given.
On August 8th the Soviet Union announced an end to their non-aggression pact with Japan and began invasion of Manchuria on August 9th.
Even after Nagasaki was bombed on August 9th it took 6 further days before the Japanese agreed a surrender.
I believe if wars were fought as envisaged by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front we would have far fewer wars:
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. (3.42)
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Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

afrika1

 

Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.