Telling Lies #11: Fake News

Fake News

Once upon a time journalists were seen as heroes of the people.  They fought against “the man”.  They exposed the elaborate cover-up by dint of hard work, hours of laborious investigations in dark libraries (the libraries were always dark), cultivating whistleblowers by having meetings in car parks at night.  They were threatened by the powers that be with jail time but they would not give up their sources.  You could trust a journalist.  A journalist was solid, brave, loyal, resourceful, basically a boyscout.

Good journalists were given Pulitzer prizes for their investigations.  They were given international awards for exposing corruption, white collar crime, tax avoidance, all that stuff the top 2% hate you to hear about.

So then “The Man” took over the news organs.  The “independent press” became a mouthpiece for the interests of the Global 2%, the Davos set, the Bilderberg crowd.  You could not trust the headlines, or the stories.  Investigative journalism was fine if it exposed low-lifes, organised crime or benefit cheats.  But God Forbid it should look into the tax affairs of Billionaires.  In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by 50 companies; in 2012, 90% was controlled by just 6 companies.  This pattern is reapeated worldwide.

Then along came the internet and the 5th Estate.  On Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Quora etc we get the truth, straight from the horses mouth.  You can talk to the person at the source.

The Media Moguls who now owned the 4th Estate needed to disrupt the 5th Estate.  The tool they use is called “Fake News”.  If you flood the media with sensational fake news you can create so many side conversations that it is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the lies.

The age of the investigative journalist was over.  Success in journalism today resides in the ability to write good clickbait.  The headlines that go viral are the Pulitzer prizes of today.  Nobody cares about the actual article.  So these days as a Journalist you may write an excellent and insightful article which is published widely, only to find that it is topped with a clickbait headline you did not write.  The headline may not even bear any resemblance to the article itself.

In a world where every politically charged news item is presented with wildly contradictory “facts” the average Joe just retreats from the war for airtime.

Karl Marx famously commented on how the oppressed retreated into Religion as an anodyne to the realities of a hard life, something to distract the attention of the worker from his or her own exploitation, a promise of something better in the next world.  In the modern social-media world religion has been replaced by “Reality TV”.  Keeping up with the Kardashians, Love Island, America’s Got Talent, Who wants to be a Millionaire, Big Brother, Survivor, The Bachelor, America’s Top Model, Duck Dynasty, Ice Road Truckers, Storage Wars and so on.  All of these shows are examples of Hyperreal simulacra.  They represent an idealised life that does not exist – Disneyland for adults who find themselves out of touch with the cold hard realities of the modern world.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” Karl Marx


Happy Birthday Claudia Emerson


Claudia Emerson, Poet Laureate of Virginia and Pulitzer prize winner, born 1957.  In a cruel trick of fate she died at 57, in 2014, of Colon Cancer.


Piano Fire : by Claudia Emerson

How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins, more
than we hated practice, the lessons, scales, the winter-hot parlor,

her arthritic hands, the metronome’s awful tick. She lectured
to us about the history of the piano: baby and concert grand,

spinet and player had come across oceans in the holds of ships,
across continents in mule-drawn wagons, heavier than all the dead

left behind. On her face we could see the worry: all the struggle had come
to this, the tacky black upright she had once loved haunting the room

it could never leave. And her piano was now part of a mute,
discordant population doomed to oldfolks homes, bars, church basements,

poolhalls, funeral parlors—or more mercifully abandoned
on back porches where at least chickens could nest, or the cat have kittens.

So when she could no longer play well enough even to teach us,
she hired some of the men to haul out and burn the piano

in the field behind the house. We watched the keys going furious and all at once,
heard in the fire a music-like relief when the several tons of tension

let go, heat becoming wind on our faces. We learned that when true ivory burns
the flame is playful, quick and green. And in the ash, last lessons: the brass,

clawed feet we had never before noticed, the harp’s confusion
of wire, the pedals worn thin, shaped like quenched-hard tongues—loud, soft,

sustain. We waited with her until they were cool enough to touch.

Happy Birthday John Gould Fletcher



The Irish storm season is in full swing and gale follows gale follows Storm Eleanor across Ireland.  So it is fitting that today is John Gould Fletchers birthday, born on this day in 1886.  First Southern US poet to win the Pulitzer prize, he was a member of the british Imagist movement which rejected Victorian sentimentalism and harked back to the dispassion of what they considered to be classical values.


Tide of Storms : by John Gould Fletcher

Allegro con fuoco

Crooked, crawling tide with long wet fingers
clutching at the gritty beach in the roar and spurt of spray,
tide of gales, drunken tide, lava-burst of breakers,
black ships plunge upon you from sea to sea away.

Shattering tide, tide of winds, tide of the long still winter,
what matter though ships fail, men sink, there vanish glory?
War-clouds shall hurl their stinging sleet upon our last adventure,
night-winds shall brokenly whisper our bitter, tragic story.


Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!


This is the USS Maine, the ship that started the Spanish American war.  She was in Havana harbour in Cuba in 1898 to “protect US interests” during the Cuban revolt against Spain.  She sank in mysterious circumstances on the night of 15th Feb.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Maine was sunk by the US themselves as a pretext to start the war.

Whatever the reasons for the sinking, the war with Spain was given credence, not by the sinking, but by the treatment of the sinking in the press.  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were engaged in a pitched battle for circulation in New York.  They invented the concept of “tabloid journalism” or as it was then called “yellow press”.  Yellow press journalism ignores principles such as good research and reasoned argument in favour of sensational headlines, graphic or shocking content and explicit photographs.  It is journalism aimed at selling papers.  It is also ironic that the doyen of tabloid journalism, Joseph Pulitzer, gave his name to the prize for excellence in Journalism.

Pulitzer and Hearst leaped on the Maine sinking and turned it into a national cause.

The USS Maine was not a great loss to the US navy.  Heralded as a great addition to the fleet when she was launched in 1889, she then wallowed in dock for three years awaiting delivery of armour plating.  A pre-dreadnought heavy cruiser, she is an example of clouded thinking in battleship design that became obsolete the day Dreadnought was launched in 1906.  In truth Maine was already obsolete by the time she was commissioned into the navy in 1895.

The Maine had two big gun turrets carrying four 10 inch guns.  The big gun turrets are housed in sponsons that jut out from the fore-starboard and aft-port quarters of the ship.  In the photo above you can see the starboard Turret.  With our knowledge of subsequent ship design we can see all sorts of problems with the big gun placement.

Firstly the guns cannot fully traverse.  The starboard gun can only fire effectively to starboard.  To fire to port required a deck cutout with very restricted lines of sight. The port side guns are even more restricted.  This means that in action at sea the four big guns can never effectively aim and fire at the same target.  Deck section cutaways were needed just to allow them to fire fore and aft.

Secondly, with the big guns mounted off the ships central axis the recoil from the fire has a destabilizing effect on the ship, making her rock.  Even in normal sailing conditions the low mounted – off centre sponsons took on water.  All in all she was a lemon.

In 1899 during the Battle of Manilla, the poem below was published.  It made Kipling a household name in the USA.  It was read in the Senate by Benjamin Tillman, who argued against the US annexation of the Philippines.

The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands; by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:
“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days
The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!