Fake News … Not New!

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These days, everybody and his friend is yipping about fake news as if millennials invented it last Tuesday, and … OMG! Ain’t it awful?  Well, here’s a real news flash!  There’s always been fake news, and this current crop of journalists and their Internet Overlords (If it isn’t trending on Twitter, it didn’t happen.) are just the latest incarnation.  I’m pretty certain some of the hieroglyphic accomplishments of the Pharaohs are embellishments, and we know for a fact that more than a few of the stories Herodotus (the Father of History) told were not necessarily factual.  The thing is Herodotus knew what every journalist since, discovers: the truth is a moveable feast.   Let me demonstrate.  Here are two sentences that say the same thing – except they don’t.

After extensive public dialogue, Mayor Quimby and his supporters have stepped up to tackle the homeless crisis in our city.

Bowing to extensive public pressure, Mayor Quimby and his cronies have finally stepped up to do something about the homeless problem that plagues our city.

See what I mean?

Two of the greatest purveyors of less-than-the-truth journalism were the 19th century dynamic duo of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.  They fought it out in 1890s New York to see who could grab the most readers (read “followers”) with clickbait headlines and salacious stories that would make BuzzFeed blush.  These two crazy kids were so good at manipulating public perception that Joe is now considered the Father of Modern Journalism (Yeah, he’s the guy the award is named after.) and Willie started a war.

But the Big Kahuna of fake news is Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches.)  This little ditty was published in 1487, just about the time Gutenberg’s printing press was radically changing European society (think: early Renaissance Internet.)  It was written to raise public awareness about the presence of witches in the world and offered some proactive advice on how to deal with them – notably, burning them alive.  However, it was just one clergyman’s (read: “influencer’s”) personal opinion, and it had no basis in fact or even the religious doctrines of the time.  It was disavowed by every authority on the planet from Martin Luther to the Pope (Even the Inquisition said it was hogwash!) but, unfortunately, the public fell in love with it.  Then, as the Reformation gathered steam and European society broke into two conflicting camps, Malleus Maleficarum became the go-to text to beat the other side with.  In those days, labelling someone a witch immediately discredited them and anything they had to say.  (Ring any contemporary bells?)  It was a bestseller for over 200 years, second only to the Bible, and was considered unassailable truth until the Enlightenment came along and said, “WTF were we thinking?”  Even today, many people believe in demonic possession and tons more believe that witchcraft is some ancient pagan religion.  (BTW, Wicca is no more an ancient religion than I am.  It was made up by a retired British civil servant, Gerald Gardner, in the 1950s.)

Yes, in the 21st century, fake news is serious, not because it’s there (It’s always been there) but because gullible people have immediate Internet access to other gullible people all over the world.  The problem is, back in the time of Herodotus, or even Joe Pulitzer, stupidity was a retail commodity, confined by geography.  These days, geography doesn’t matter, and stupidity is being traded wholesale in every corner of this big, round world.

The only solution is don’t believe everything you think.

The Meaning Of Life

You can read all the philosophers you want, but nobody summed up the meaning of life quite as concisely as Berk Breathed once did in Bloom County.  In fact, it was so well done that I cut it out of the newspaper (remember those?) saved it for easy reference, and tried very hard to live by its not-so-subtle advice.

Now, a million years later, my youth a dim memory and my future about to kick in the door, I still marvel at its relevance.

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Lies We All Live With

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Lies perform a valuable function in our society.  They keep us civilized because, without lies, fat people would be fat, stupid people would be stupid and 99% of the rest of us would be obnoxious assholes.  Everybody knows that lying works on a sliding scale from “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” to “No, I didn’t shoot Mr. Brown” and we’re content to live somewhere in the middle of that moral dichotomy.  Unfortunately, these days, lying is more about Mr. Brown than Mr. Claus, and it’s becoming institutionalized.  This isn’t healthy.  I’m not talking about politicians or journalists who have been lying to us ever since Cheops the Unwashed told the Cairo Gazette he wanted a small funeral.  I’m talking about those everyday lies we all recognize and just have to live with.  Here’s a small sampling.

Clothing size – The relationship between the number stamped on the label and the actual size of any article of clothing is purely coincidental.  For example, my closet runs from mostly medium through large, extra large and even a few XXLs – and I’m a man.  Go to a woman’s closet and you’re going to find a roulette wheel full of size numbers that would make a croupier cringe.  Actually, I think that’s how clothing manufacturers determine sizes: they just spin a big wheel and whatever it lands on – “We have a winner!” — that’s the size.

Airline prices – I don’t care what the advertisement says, nobody has ever gone to San Pedro, Switzerland, Swaziland or anywhere else for $99.  Nobody!  The 99 you see bold as gold in the ad is just the launch code.  The airlines use that to launch you and credit card into debtor’s prison.

Calorie count – These aren’t actually lies; they’re just blatant misinformation.  When the package says “100 calories per serving,” this is technically true. However, what they don’t tell you is the serving size they’re talking about is a WTF joke!  Who eats half a doughnut, for God’s sake?  I pig down two before my coffee’s even cool enough to drink!

Microwave instructions – Reading the instructions on a box of microwavable anything is like reading an email from a Nigerian prince: you know it’s a scam, but you just can’t help yourself.  Everybody knows there are actually only two settings on a microwave – overcooked and underdone — but we all try anyway.

And finally:

You can’t miss it – Yes, you can!