News, Fake News or Dross

Most of my readers will know where I stand on Donald Trump, but the words “Fake News” in the title of this blog shouldn’t mislead them to think this is another anti -Trump piece.  It isn’t.

Donald Trump points a giant searchlight of criticism at the media, but it obscures as much as it illuminates and I want to explore where, hidden in the glare, there is some truth in what he says.  In my opinion it’s not the truth he claims, but I think it is important nonetheless.  Let’s start with defining “News”.  What do we mean by “News”?  Here are a couple of definitions:

  • Newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.
  • Information not previously known to (someone).

Self evidently these definitions of news say that “news” informs, that it is about recent events, that it is noteworthy, and that it is not previously known (i.e. it is “new”).  In my opinion much of what is presented as news by the media frequently fails one or more of the tests applied by these definitions.  Now we must add the test applied by Donald Trump, ironically in a way which also fails these tests: factual accuracy.  My own personal experience is, and has always been, that any news story of which I have personal, first-hand, knowledge (in many cases having been present at the event) have been misreported. Historically I could point to two reasons: laziness and “mischief”.  The latter of these is shorthand for an agenda driven by the owners of mainstream media.

Today we have the alternative media driven by the internet. It feeds an increasing appetite for instantaneous gratification.  It encourages promotion of, and response to, stories and, simultaneously, a diminution of reflective and analytical capacity in the audience.  I’d go so far as to say the rise of “social media” is the single biggest threat to democracy in that they feed the insatiable need to say “Look at me”, “This is what I think”,  “I’ve heard this happened”, and to share it with the entire internet connected world as if our knowledge reflects well on us.  I know, and you don’t, therefore I am superior.  Now I’m well aware that, in writing this blog, I’m doing the same to some extent.  Defenders of social media argue that their very immediacy, and relative lack of censorship, is a great strength in democracy.  Unfortunately, and referring back to my earlier definitions, a lot of what we see is a) not new, b) not accurate (or even completely false, i.e. fake) or c) not really noteworthy.

There is another dimension: commercial gain, the financial imperative.  Many posts on social media are, in fact, a kind of “Trojan Horse”.  They are titillation.  Little wriggling worms on hooks, that encourage ‘bite’ on a story whose purpose is really to expose us to embedded advertising or, worse, embedded political messages

Caught in a seemingly endless competitive media storm the mainstream outlets (including dear old “auntie” Beeb) trawl through, even encourage our engagement with, social media for “news” so they aren’t left behind.  “News”, by definition, has a short life.  You’ve either covered the story or it has gone.  The trouble, in my opinion, is that far too much “news” should just be left to wither away for failing the test of lacking accuracy, lacking news worthiness, lacking information.  Far, far, too much of our mainstream news comes from television where the lowest common denominator of populist interest is frequently presented by people who haven’t a journalistic brain cell between their ears, and skip from sport to nuclear energy to government policy to entertainment like bees gathering pollen.

We need more discernment than that.

Zombie Guinea Pigs and other Entertainment

I’m not well.  That’s my excuse, anyway. I’m watching a lot of Daytime TV, specifically extreme everything.  It seems to cut through the cattargh – and if that’s not how it’s spelled then it certainly feels like it, with double emphasis on the ‘argh’ part.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  Old American daytime TV.  The adverts for the coming programmes are so entertaining, especially as they are, bizarrely trailed as “Festive Fun”.  I started to freewheel on alternative content.  “Zombie Guinea Pigs”.  “When Koalas go Bad”.  “Bonanaz” (like Bonanza only more fruity).  “True Parking”.  “How it’s made, and then doesn’t work”.  “Extreme Lying Down”. “Sandwiches of the Pharoahs”.  “Secrets of Hitler’s Sock Drawer”. “Celebrity Podiatry”. “Killer Ironing” and “Pro-Celebrity Incontinence”.

The way I feel, I could watch most of these – once anyway.

Alternative Economics…a Random Thought!

I have a totally mad idea for repairing our economy, and threadbare national life, and I’m struggling to find much of a downside.

The government should give £5 million to every person of working age in Britain. Working age would be defined as between 23 (say leaving university age) and a new, lower, retiring age of 60.

The government can afford it now, after all it’s less than a couple of week’s UK “contribution” to the EU.  Those who hate their jobs will be able to give up, and do something more satisfying, or more creative, or nothing at all.  Jobs will be filled by people who want to do them.  Migrants will find plenty of space, because large numbers of people will simply go and live somewhere nice and warm, and the people still here will be able to employ them with a decent wage.

The massive increase in personal spending power will also stimulate the economy.  For example people will build or buy better houses, opening up the bottom of the property market as ‘upcyclers’ dump houses.  The banks and investment ‘industries’ would thrive.  There’d be less crime, because most criminals would already have more money than they’d know what to do with, and the police could concentrate on organised crime.  No need for any benefits at all ‘cos we’d all be rolling in it.  Tax take would need to be maintained, of course, to buy nuclear submarines etc., but if we are all multi-millionnaires VAT could be increased to 35% and nobody would really notice.  Those who have always enjoyed a life based on privilege and unearned income would be unhappy, but they can just sod off or start consultancies to advise what to do with our money; the nouveau riche would have more people to play with.

Now then.  I’ve had another lateral thought which, at a stroke (no pun intended), would free up bed blocking in hospitals, solve our underprovision in care home places, revive the steel and shipbuilding industries and cut off the exponential increase in funeral costs.  Well, not literally at a stroke – but relatively.  Instead of care homes, and cottage hospitals (those that still exist) full of recuperating geriatrics, we send them all off on a permanent cruise.  Move the whole lot “offshore” into a low, or no, tax, regime.  As I understand it, places on cruises can work out substantially cheaper than places in care homes.  Cruises have unlimited good food, on-board doctors and entertainment – all more than can be provided in “Halcyon Days” up the road.  Some canny geriatrics (especially in America) have already cottoned on to this and live the proverbial life of Riley swanning all over the world year round.  Permanent  ‘guests’ would be able to have their loved ones visit them “on holiday” and, if worst comes to the worst, a burial at sea is definitely more economical (and ecological) than a cremation or a burial on land.  We’d have to build a few more ships, and staff them, but that’s a bonus for the economy too and the billions saved out of the welfare budget would probably cover the cost anyway.  We could even have fully equipped hospital ships!  I’m putting my name down.

“May contain scenes of…..”

Do you watch the BBC TV drama “The Night Manager”?  Terrific stuff, but before the last episode the BEEB gave one of their increasingly stupid Health and Safety Warnings.  “..contains sex scenes and scenes of violence that viewers may find upsetting.”  I was amused that they differentiated between offence caused to viewers of sex as opposed to viewers of violence: in fact amused enough to ‘freewheel’ on warnings that might apply to other output of the BEEB.

“Contains scenes of pointless expenditure of licence payer’s money……(Top Gear, anything with Ant and Dec in, anything with the word ‘Extreme’ in the title)”

“Contains scenes of shameless political evasiveness…(The Andrew Marr Show).

“Contains items of trivial, lowest common denominator, lazily reported news…(BBC Breakfast)

Join in!  Any suggestions (other broadcasters than BBC are available) welcome.

What if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow…….?

None of what I’m writing here is new.  I was thinking about what I would do with the rest of my life if I was given a finite time to live: a diagnosis of a terminal illness.  Then I had the blinding flash of the obvious: we all have a terminal illness – called life.  We are all dying from the day we are born.  Inexorably, unavoidably, the clock is winding down.  Why then do we have this way of carrying on our lives as if there is always tomorrow?  I’m fully aware that this doesn’t apply to everyone: some people manage to live in the moment and some spend their lives preparing for the end.  Many people don’t have the luxury of planning their lives: they are too poor or insecure to do more than survive day-to-day.

Many of us have already had, and all will eventually have, experience of unanticipated events that change our lives.  Some are good things but some are accidents, loved ones die, people get ill without warning.  Events like that have the effect of pulling us up short, making us re-evaluate our lives and priorities, but for the most part we carry on more or less as before.  Why is that?

 

 

Christmas Sentiment

Have you noticed that, especially at this time of year, there are many more charity advertisements plucking at our heart strings?  Only £2 or £3 a month will secure a free conscience.  Competing for our conscience pounds are cuddly animals, not so cuddly animals and even less cuddly people.  We can adopt a dog, cat, old person, homeless person, snow leopard, African child with terrible eye disease and so on.  Why not cut out the middle man and, for example, send the donkeys off to feed the snow leopards and use the saved money to eradicate eye disease?  Donkey burger anyone?

Seriously, though, I find it incredible that we are asked to support thousands of donkeys in so-called “sanctuaries” all over the place when, at the same time, our compassion is tested by The Salvation Army and homeless charities like Shelter.  It ought to be no contest, really, and yet the Donkey Sanctuary is a multi-million pound business employing hundreds of people in the UK alone.  Not only that, but the charity owns and, as far as I understand it, continues to buy many hundreds of acres of productive farm land on which to let these beasts gambol and frolic.  Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, and abhor cruelty and ill-treatment – but surely people come first?

Something wrong somewhere, or am I Donkey Hotay and tilting at windmills?