Telling Lies #12: Firehosing

Image result for firehosing

You go online and enter a debate about Vaccination.  To support their Anti-Vaxx position somebody references the autism article by discredited and disbarred former Dr. Andrew Wakefield and you find yourself screaming at the computer “how can you reference something that has been so often and so clearly disproven?”.  You’ve been firehosed!

Rand researchers Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews coined the term “Firehosing”  in 2016 to describe the propaganda tactics Russian authorities use to quell dissent and control the political landscape.

Firehosing relies on pushing out as many lies as possible as frequently as possible. That’s typical for propaganda, but the aspect that makes firehosing a unique strategy is that it doesn’t require the propagandist to make the lies believable.  Its goal isn’t to persuade. It’s to rob facts of their power. Firehosing inundates us with so many wild opinions that it becomes exhausting to continually disprove them. In this scenario, reality is reduced to positioning and who can sell their position best.

How do you fight this phenomenon?  Factchecking alone is ineffective:  According to the team at Rand “Don’t expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth.”

Turn off the tap at source:  Social Media companies such as Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc need to be named and shamed for permitting dissemination of lies.

In traditional media if you have Dr. 5 PhD’s in clinical pathology advocating for Vaccination it does not provide “balance” to have Reverend Bible Thumper from Podunk Idaho Church of Anti-vaccination to speak for “the other side of the debate”.

Denying the lies reinforces the lies.  To combat the lies you need to highlight the strategies being used by the firehosers.  Expose their tactics to the audience.  Educate the audience in what to look for.  Trust the audience to make good decisions by providing them with the tools to make the decisions.

Adopt the old accounting mantra “follow the money”.  Who is profiting from the lies?  Who is funding them?  Follow the breadcrums to the source.  Expose the paymasters.

Acknowledgements to Lucky Tran & Guardian News

 

The Coyote Who Fasts

Nezahualcoyotl

When the Spanish conquered the New World they did a pretty thorough job of erasing anything good, positive or civilized from pre-Columbian American culture.  The goal was to say that Americans were savages, Spanish were Civilized Christians and the culture of the latter should erase the culture of the former.

From time to time it is possible to catch a glimpse of something else.  If you look very very carefully you can find traces of the rich tapestry and layered civilization that existed before Cortes arrived in Mexico.

Nezahualcoyotl (the coyote who fasts) was a philosopher king, poet and warrior who ruled about 50 years before the Spanish conquest.  His deeds and his poems were passed down through oral traditions.  When the native Indios learned to write they set down the history of Nezahualcoyotl on paper.

We get a picture of a wise and thoughtful king who would have been celebrated in any Western realm.  He ruled the Acolhua people from his capital of Texcoco.  One of his main preoccupations must have been to keep his people independent of the influence of the larger and more powerful Mexica.

As a child his father was killed by the powerful neighbouring Tepanecs, closely related to the Aztecs, who took control of Texcoco.  The young Nezah was taken to the great city of Tenochtitlan where he was educated by the Mexica, learing about their legal and administrative systems.

He worked over the years to build the alliances that put him at the head of an army of 100,000 troops.  On the battlefield he displayed strategic and tactical genius.  His victory resulted in a new ruling order in the Valley of Mexico, the triple alliance of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan.

He then demonstrated that he was not just a warlord.  He made his capital into a center of justice, learning and creativity.  Spanish friars later described his capital as the “Athens of the West”.  He assembled a library, built fine water gardens and held a court of “wise men”.  He established strong legal systems and the rule of law.  In lake Texcoco he constructed a dyke to separate fresh water from brackish.  He constructed aqueducts to transport the fresh water to his capital.

He rejected the blood thirsty human sacrifice driven religions of his neighbours, which were such a powerful propaganda tool for Christian conversion by the Spanish.   Instead he constructed a temple which was an empty space for an unknown and unknowable God.  He did not permit any sacrifice and worshiped by the burning of incense.  It was clearly in the interests of Spanish propaganda to sideline the legacy of such an evolved philosopher.

The following poem gives a sense of the man.  Given that it was written 100 years after he lived, and that it was originally Nahuatl, translated to Spanish and subsequently translated to English I have taken some liberties with it.  For instance in the second verse I have assumed that the “Eagles stained red” were battle standards, things we know well from the Roman legions and Napoleonic French Corps.  Also in the same verse I say the Princes are scythed down.  The pre-Columbian Americans had no wheat or barley.  They had no scythes to harvest grain.  But I am trying to convey the metaphor for the battlefield as a harvest of lives and the metaphor of the scythe just works.

Finally today is given as his birthday so he gets onto my “Poets’ Calendar”. Born April 28th, 1402.  Read the poem below and take note that this was written around the time when Europe was so civilized that the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake for heresy.

 

A poem by Nezahualcoyotl (Edited heavily by Donal Clancy)

He makes the Eagles and Ocelots dance with him.
Come to see the Huexotzinca.
On the dais of the Eagle he shouts out,
loudly cries the Mexica.

On the battlefield we raise toasts with the divine liquor of war,
where the eagle standards are stained red,
where tigers howl,
where precious stones rain from fine armour,
where rich plumed headdresses wave like fields of grain,
where princes are scythed down.

There is nothing like death in war,
nothing like the flowery death
so precious to Him who gives life.
Far off I see it. My heart yearns for it!

And they called it Teotihulcan
because it was the place
where the lords were buried.

Thus they said:
‘When we die truly we die not because we will live,
we will rise, we will continue living, we will awaken,
this will make us happy.’

Thus the dead one was directed when he died:
‘Awaken, already the sky is rosy,
a new dawn has come,
hear the flame-coloured guans sing,
see the fire-coloured swallows and the butterflies fly.’

Thus the old ones said that who has died has become a god,
they said: ‘He has been made a god there’
meaning ‘He has died.’

Even jade is shattered,
even gold is crushed,
even quetzal plumes are torn.
One does not live forever on this earth.
We endure only for an instant.

Will flowers be carried to the Kingdom of Death?
Is it true that we are going, we are going?
Where are we going, ay, where are we going?
Will we be dead there or will we yet live?
Does one exist again?

Perhaps we will live a second time?
Thy heart knows; just once do we live.

Like a quetzal plume, a fragrant flower,
friendship sparkles.
Like heron plumes, it weaves itself into finery.
Our song is a bird calling out a melody,
how beautiful you make it sound!
Here, among flowers that enclose us,
among flowery boughs you are singing.

The earth is a grave and nothing escapes it,
nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb.
Rivers, streams, springs and waters flow,
but never return to their joyful beginnings.
Eagerly they rush onto the vast realms of the rain god.
As they widen their banks,
so they carve their own burial urn.

The bowels of the earth are filled with detritus,
once flesh and bone,
once animate bodies of men who sat thrones,
judged cases, presided in council,
commanded armies, conquered provinces,
possessed treasure, destroyed temples,
exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power.
Vanished are these glories,
just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from
the infernal fires of Popocatepetl.
Nothing remains of them but the words of a poem.

Spanish Flu

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII

What’s in a name?  Diseases are often named after places, and who wants to be remembered for a disease?  Early outbreaks of Syphilis in Europe for instance occured during a French invasion of Italy in 1494.  The French promptly called it the “Italian” disease and blamed it on Neapolitans.  The Neapolitans blamed it on the French soldiers and called it the “French” disease.  The truth is that the strain probably came from the New World, transmitted to Europe by the men who sailed with Christopher Columbus.  Which would make it the Spanish disease.  Or the “Indian” disease since Columbus thought he had found a Western route to India.

Spanish flu was confirmed in the USA in March 1918 in Fort Riley, Kansas.  There is much debate now about the origin of the flu.  What is certain is that it exploded all along the Western Front at the end of World War 1 in the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which troops commonly live.

One theory is that it migrated from the herds of pigs that were kept penned nearby to feed troops.  Another theory arises from a forgotten piece of war history.  Thousands of Chinese coolies were recruited by the allies to provide labour along the western front.  There was an outbreak of H1N1 virus in China around the same time.  Did it originate in Europe and spread to China or vice versa?

In France, England and Germany the wartime propaganda machine was in full swing.  There was no reporting of deaths from flu as this might encourage military action by the enemy.  However Spain was outside of the conflict.  When the Spanish king Alfonso XIII became ill with the flu the pandemic was reported widely, giving the impression that it was rampant in Spain.  As a result it became known as the Spanish Flu.

Now a truly international poet.  Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  Born in Italy to a Polish family he was wounded in WW1 fighting for France and died of the Spanish flu.  He coined the terms “Cubism” and “Surrealism”.

Le Pont Mirabeau; Guillaume Apollinaire

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Shoot the messenger.

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I have always considered Al Jazeera to be one of the enlightened and forward looking institutions emerging from the Arab World.  A news programme that is firmly rooted in sound, accurate, factual reporting.  OK I know that everyone does not see Arabic News in the same way as I do.  I was exposed to reporting bias by that paragon of impartiality, the BBC, during the Northern Ireland troubles.  I know that even when rooted in the factual reporting can be highly biased.  The point is, Al Jazeera seemed to be an antidote to all the other Arabic news, and it is a news channel consumed by Arabs.

So it was with some surprise that I learned differently yesterday.  I was having my golden tresses restyled and trimmed in Thurles by my barber who is a French national of Arabic extraction.  He has Al Jazeera on the TV all the time.  We were chatting about Algeria, Pieds-Noirs, and the recent tragedy of 92 Malian refugees who died in the desert when their trucks broke down.

As we chatted he nodded at the TV and commented in an offhand manner that Arabs no longer trust Al Jazeera.  I asked him why, and he said it was because Al Jazeera always tells bad news.  This raises all sorts of issues about the future security of Al Jazeera.

If you are raised on a diet of happy-clappy propaganda, telling you that you live in the greatest country in the world, and that you are rich and well-off, and then you hear real news and opinion from an independent source, who do you believe?  If Al Jazeera gives “bad news” we can understand the appeal of the channel to the intelligentsia, but we may also understand a rejection by the commons.  If you are condemned to a life of poverty is it better to find your life acceptable, or is it better that you are made to feel dissatisfied with your life every time you turn around.

For that matter, how happy are we “wealthy” western people with our lot?  Every time I turn on the TV I am barraged with all the reasons why I am not “happy”.  My car is not big enough, my clothes are not stylish enough, my teeth are not straight, I don’t have enough holidays, I don’t eat out enough, I don’t bring my boys to enough football matches.  In short, regardless of what I earn, I don’t spend enough money.

Also, I don’t plan sufficiently for the future.  I don’t have enough insurance, my pension is not big enough, and if either myself or my wife die our children will not be able to retire on the payout.

Western style news programmes sometimes throw in the odd fluffy heartwarming story.  Donald Trump gave $10k to a good Samaritan today.  But news is generally pretty negative stuff.  We revel in disasters, riots, wars and scandals.  Good news is ho-hum.

So which is better, to be an Arab viewer who rejects Al Jazeera and settles for a modest but happy life, or to be a dissatisfied well-informed Western consumer?

“How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” 

Robert Browning (1812–89)

I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I gallop’d, Dirck gallop’d, we gallop’d all three;
“Good speed !” cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we gallop’d abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turn’d in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shorten’d each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chain’d slacker the bit,
Nor gallop’d less steadily Roland a whit.

’T was moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawn’d clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld, ’t was morning as plain as could be;
And from Mechelm church-steeple we heard the half chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, “Yet there is time!”

At Aershot, up leap’d of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To state thro’ the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other prick’d out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groan’d; and cried Joris “Stay spur!
Your Roos gallop’d bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We ’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretch’d neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shudder’d and sank.

So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laugh’d a pitiless laugh,
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!

“How they ’ll greet us!”—and all in a moment his roan
Roll’d neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.

Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, lean’d, patted his ear,
Call’d my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer;
Clapp’d my hands, laugh’d and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland gallop’d and stood.

And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ’twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I pour’d down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.