The fine art of pop-up journalism

A scandal as newsworthy as “Dog bites postman”: the local newspapers have set their face against those delightfully, unintentionally humorous pop-up newspapers distributed by political parties at election time. The party papers, in case none has come your way, pretend to be local newspapers but consist only of plugs for their candidates. They are not exactly subtle. They may appear real to the bored and gullible, which is what all political campaigning does.

Most of them are from the Liberal Democrats, whose novel interpretation of the notions of truth and honesty in campaigning have long been a fascination for students of politics and psychiatrists. We have all loved those ‘Labour’ leaflets that, when opened out say “Labour … cannot win here”.  (I mainly see those in seats where the Liberals trail a poor third.)

The LibDem fake newspapers have been joined by the other parties too though. They all give as good as they can get.  Some Conservative newspapers even carry on throughout the year and provide a more useful village newsletter than the commercial papers do.

Maybe a few people are taken in.  That is not the point though: these newspapers work at a subliminal level – they only need to hook you for a moment to embed the impression of their headline in your mind, and if you then realise to your horror that you are reading a political leaflet, nevertheless in that opening minute you have read it as news and it makes an impression.

I need to get hold of some more examples – they are exactly what I should be using.

The local papers, the genuine locals, are discontented.  They voice fears that these pop-up party pretend papers will sap trust in the integrity of the local newspapers.

Who are they trying to fool? The local papers have done that very convincingly all by themselves.  The political news is simply reprinting the political parties’ press-releases: all those pictures of a councillor standing by a new sapling or a hole in the road are no different from the pop-ups. There is no integrity nor that vaunted neutrality in journalism; that is a phrase thrown around to encourage customers, but there is no integrity in journalism beyond the appearance needed to bring in the widest range of paying customer.

I have sympathy with the newspapers as they have a hard task trying to persuade people to buyer a wad of folding paper when on-line splash stories and antisocial media dominate the attention of their key market.  An irony is that they pay journalists to produce news content as a chassis to feed the adverts to their customers, which is where the real business lies, but oftentimes the newspaper is only bought for the adverts anyway.

The local newspapers long ago blazed a trail in the bringing the news. Now the young apprentice has copied the master’s work, and may excel him.

Maybe the pop-up party paper is the way forward for local journalism. There is motivation for it, and their village citizen-journalists are closer to the ground than those in the town on the other side of the tracks. 

I do not see the pop-up papers in our villages though, not even from the Liberal Democrats: they are good at press-releases, so that the local commercial newspaper looks like their LibDem paper already.

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Bydded i’r Hen Iaith Barhau

Llongyfarchiadau i di, Boris: the Conservative Manifesto repeats and re-enforces the pledge from 2017, and in 2019 we are promised:

We will support Welsh institutions such as S4C, the National Library and Museum, the Urdd and the National Eisteddfod.

This time the pledge is not in the Welsh local manifesto but the national, UK-wide manifesto.

I pause with the thought that yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (what happened to ‘Brenhinol‘ in the name?) and yr Urdd, even before we get to y Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru and yr Amgueddfa Cymru are devolved matters on which Westminster has little influence. Sprinkling a little star-dust, or money anyway, goes down well, and the richness found in the Welsh language should not be confined to the narrow bounds of the Principality: let the bards speak over the world.

Welsh, yr Hen Iaith, is the most beautiful tongue in the world and need not stay hidden in the western parts. It is not just a part of British culture and identity, but the oldest, most evocative expression of our nation – it was not always called ‘Welsh’ but used to be called ‘British’, and British it is, found in the place-names of the island far beyond the thirteen counties of Wales: the great cities of London, Winchester, Manchester, Leeds, York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and others have their names from the old British language, from which Welsh of today has little changed. It suffuses the island and gives it a shape and a name. In the days of Rome, all those native tongues vanished in Italy, Gaul and Hispania, but the Britons did not give up our tongue, and it is spoke still, as Welsh.

It would be worth treasuring for that resilience alone, but there is far more, for it is not for nothing that the song praises Wales as ‘Gwlad beirdd a chantorion‘ (‘Land of poets and singers’): Welsh is peculiarly suited to poetry. You might not see this from the clumpy “Committee Welsh” painted on road-signs, but spoken in the free air it is such that you cannot speak it without singing.

Politics should not interfere, but if it does then at least let it do so with love. Labour’s manifesto says nothing of the Welsh language, nor does the Liberal Democrats’. (Plaid Cymru do, as you would expect, but only in an odd context: they have forgotten that we are out of the EU in weeks.) The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto adds on another project t supporting the institutions: “We will support the ambition for one million people in Wales to be able to speak Welsh by 2050”.

(It’s not like farming and building up a flock, you know – these are people, who can choose what to speak, my wife’s family among them.)

There is a richness to be found from understanding the Welsh language. A million speakers does not mean those who speak it at home, but understanding it is a worth though wearisome endeavour. I can suggest another angle though: do not confine it to Wales. The first Gorsedd and Eisteddfod were held in London, and they have met in Liverpool. Britons outside those western counties might care to recall that once Wales was all Britain, and maybe their ancestors spoke the language, which is therefore a route to our own heritage.

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Ultima Thule at the woke frontier

An invisible star has a new name. In the unfathomably far outer solar system, in the Kuiper Belt, the NASA New Horizons probe encountered, passed close to and photographed a body with the romantic name “(486958) 2014 MU69”. Even here, four billion miles from the Earth, where heat is unknown, mindless political correctness can reach its fingers.

There no criticism from me of the International Astronomical Union, nor ever has been, and for NASA nothing but awed admiration. The concept of sending a probe so far and fast and reaching an invisible object with pinpoint accuracy goes anything we can imagine. The New Horizons team have achieved the unimaginable with the first exploration of a cold, classical Kuiper belt object.

Its new name is ‘Arrokoth’, which is a good name. ‘Arrokoth’ means ‘sky’ in the Powhatan/Algonquian language which used to be spoken in Maryland, where the team is based. It is good to hear at the new frontier an echo of a language once driven out of its ancient homeland, to hear its honour restored in this small way.

When first found though, observers gave (486958) 2014 MU69 the nickname “Ultima Thule”, and used that name for months. It is an uneven dumbbell shape and they even named one end “Ultima” and the other “Thule”. This name is of course a widely used metaphor for ‘a land beyond the farthermost’, and a natural thought when considering the farthermost object visited by man, or at least by his probes.

The came the objections.

The press release said that “Ultima Thule, one of Arrokoth’s first names, is a term used in ancient times in accordance with a place beyond the known world. However, the term was also used by Nazis and right-wing extremists when referring to a mythical place for the Aryan race.”

Here we have it – the neo-Nazis are ruining another thing for the rest of us. They have form in this: there is an ancient Indian symbol used not just in Hindu culture but across the world in many ages, usually with a positive, even celebratory implication and which became suddenly popular as a good-luck symbol in the west in the early twentieth century – but then the Nazis nicked it and it can never, ever be used without an implication of mass-murder drawn in the darkest corners of human nature. I do not even name it. It is irredeemable. I refuse to lose Thule though.

There is a better reason for not naming (486958) 2014 MU69 after Thule, because it is not the furthest humanity can reach and it will look daft when another body in the Kuiper Belt or the more distant Oort Cloud is found, and because I do not want astronomers purloining the name of Ultima Thule any more than I want murderous race-myth socialists having it.

For Longfellow this icy land as the ultimate destination was a vision of heaven:

Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.

The mystery land, the Θούλη described by Pytheas has had many interpretations. The description of Pytheas matches the coast of Norway most closely, but the Roman sailors who saw Shetland afar off named if Thule too, and later ages placed it about the Faroes, then Iceland, then Greenland, ever further off. Perhaps it is such a place that it should never be identified, so that it can remain a place of dreams, and then even the Kuiper Belt is not far enough.

Joanna Kavenna wrote a fascinating book on the identification and the myth of Thule, and travelled to many places that have been identified with it. She saw the ends of the Earth and spoke to people of many races and tongues, and met the name in ancient texts and poetry, and in modern poetry and art. She also found the lazy salons where proto-Nazis had met who wanted to claim Thule as a mythical Urheimat for their imagined pure Germanic race, but this was a minor aside at the fringe, and if there are modern loonies who follow it, frankly, they are not worth bothering with. The woke souls who forbid others from naming Ultima Thule are not opposing the neo-Nazis; they are empowering them, and such people should not be given the power to steal for themselves an ancient myth that belongs to all of Western culture.

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Counter-cheque Quarrelsome

If one word of public discourse curdles in the ear it is ‘lie’.  It is a lazy word and ironically a dishonest one.  It is a word issued out of hatred and without thought. To us ordinary, common folk we know what it means, but in political discourse it has come to mean “an argument which we do not want to be said” or “anything said by someone we do not like”.

There should be a subtlety to disagreement.  Shakespeare explained it in As You Like It, in which Touchstone enumerates the ‘degrees of the lie’.  In this context ‘lie’ is another meaning of the word:  ‘to give the lie to’ something is to contradict it, but contradicting a man plainly is fighting talk. Therefore there are degrees of the lie, for which Touchstone’s example began:

‘I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well’:

1. The Retort Courteous.  he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was.

2.. The Quip Modest: he would send me word, he cut it to please himself;

3. The Reply Churlish: he disabled my judgment;

4. The Reproof Valiant: he would answer, I spake not true;

5. The Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: he would say I lied;

6. The Lie Circumstantial (also ‘the Lie with Circumstance’);

7. The Lie Direct.

I durst go no further than the Lie Circumstantial, nor he durst not give me the Lie Direct; and so we measured swords and parted.

All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that too, with an If. I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If, as, “If you said so, then I said so;” and they shook hands and swore brothers. Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If.

This is wit and with is wisdom from over three hundred years ago.  Cannot our political commentators learn from it and temper their anger with art?

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The doctor and the silent usurpers

Something struck me about the latest jeremiad for free speech.  The Archbishop Cranmer blog does an excellent job recounting the persecution of those who are open about their Christian beliefs, and I know it is difficult to say “persecution” when elsewhere in the world that word takes on its full horror, but in the genteel malevolence of the woke class there is a relentless attack which is aimed squarely at driving dissentient voices out of public life and Christians in particular.

Still, there was something that struck home in today’s post, “If a Christian doctor can be forced to deny biology, there is no hope for theology”.

– but also an opportunity to strike to resist

It was not the involvement of the egregious Piers Morgan – anyone who appears on his show must expect to be shouted at and insulted as that is his only approach. No, it is the ability to locate the enemy position.

In brief, Dr David Mackereth worked as a benefits assessor in the Department for Work and Pensions, and in the course of his employment he was required to attend a diversity training course.  Most of us in the course even of a long career have no occasion to encounter these courses but somehow Government departments have been persuaded that they are a requirement.  On the course the trainer asked Dr Mackereth ‘If you have a man, 6ft tall with a beard, who says he wants to be addressed as “she” and “Mrs”, would you do that?’, and he replied in all honesty “No”.  We has sacked at once. He had not actually encountered a six-foot bearded man insisting on being called ‘Miss’, but the hypothetical approach was a sacking offence.  Never mind that Dr Mackereth is a doctor who presumably knows more about biology that the whole DWP personnel department put together.

There is no Act of Parliament that refuses employment to those who disagree with a set of doctrinal formulae, not since the repeal of the Test Acts in 1828. Someone though is exercising power over the livelihoods of a great many men and women as if they had authority to impose such a statute.

Dr Mackereth’s case may be a rare example someone in a position to find out who is exercising the power. The diversity trainer exercised this pretended power, except that she or he did not effect the sacking as her formal authority does not go that far.  Presumably she, or he reported the incident to a diversity officer, who used his or her influence.  The personnel department actually issued the dismissal – either they agreed with the diversity officer or they were terrified of her: we ought to know.  We can be pretty sure that such actions were not authorised by the Secretary of State, notwithstanding that he takes ultimate responsibility for his department.

It has got more murky though:  first the Department seem to be saying that he was not sacked at all and simply disappeared from work, while in the middle is an agency, also being sued for discrimination.  Getting any truth out of these cases is well nigh impossible, it seems.  Somewhere though, in some corner there are names, names of those forcing their own opinions into the powers of the state, and someone with less integrity or intelligence than an experienced, Christian doctor.

Therefore who is in the frame: a diversity trainer and a diversity officer, a terrified agency clerk, but terrified of whom?  It would be useful to hear their testimony.  The personnel department too:  did they make a decision, or do what they were told and by whom? Names are needed: names.

Next: if this goes to court someone will have to advise the Government legal service to pursue it, when they could easy say “Our mistake, welcome back, Doctor.” so who makes that decision?

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