Nuda Veritas: politicians in the UK and US, including the lying Brexit architects, fail to understand — or harness — internet culture’s radical transparency and reach

This story in the Washington Post the day after Brexit revealed the scale of media and governmental lapses in engagement and education

This story in the Washington Post the day after Brexit revealed the scale of media and governmental lapses in engagement and education


Cartoons as wish fulfilment? {{{LINK TO SIGMUND}}} Drawing by Cluff in Private Eye, Issue No. 1421, 24 June-7 July 2016 {{{}}}}}}

Cartoons as wish fulfilment? Drawing by Cluff in Private Eye, Issue No. 1421, 24 June-7 July 2016

Who — other than diligent inspectors of comments on internet news-analysis sites — could have guessed that the don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 Baby Boomers would one day trivialise their offspring’s opinions savagely enough to bring to mind kittens carted off to have their necks broken on the way to drowning? That older cannot automatically be equated with wiser was obvious from the meeting of minds between Britain’s overwhelmingly pro-Europe, anti-Brexit, younger people (under 50) and a huge spectrum of brainy Establishment figures in science and the arts at home and abroad, including Stephen Hawking, Amartya Sen, George Soros, Henry Kissinger, John le Carré, Joanne Rowling, Pedro Almodovar, Renzo Piano, Kristin Scott Thomas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elfriede Jelinek, Alfred Brendel and Peter Higgs.

Yes, Britain’s oldies won the referendum, but the headline that made our blood run cold on the day after Brexit belonged to the Washington Post’s most-emailed story, a report that UK Google search trends showed that too many Leavers had no glimmer of the meaning or consequences of their vote.

Digital communication tools let anyone communicate information to multitudes virtually for free. Yet David Cameron’s government and the media failed to implant in people’s heads the fundamental facts they required to make a rational choice. A transmission failure in the reverse direction was partly to blame. The leaders apparently had no inkling of how little Britons knew about the EU; or any visceral grasp of the dimensions of the resentment — by millions of Brexiters — of what the Union signified to them, in their enraged incomprehension. Or, that some people at the top who led the Brexit campaign, notably Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, did have the understanding Cameron lacked, and in the hope of using what they knew to replace him, spread lies about unattainable fantasies for a go-it-alone Britain. ( See ‘There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’ by the Guardian’s Nick Cohen. )

We tried to envisage what most upsets Brexiters, from their perspective. An image of an overcrowded people-carrier floated onto a mental screen. The hot, sweaty passengers are miserable about being jabbed by each other’s elbows and knees, yet the driver — who has made it clear that he cannot drive if he has to share his seat or lap — keeps stopping to invite pedestrians to hop aboard and squeeze in. His answer to the groans of protest is lectures about the importance of compassion for the less fortunate. He, of course, stands for Britain’s government, and the passengers for those Britons forced to depend on and compete for underfunded and underperforming public services, overwhelmed by the steady influx of newcomers from other EU countries and elsewhere. Only the mass-circulation papers like The Daily Mail — and Private Eye — have been regularly reporting on the struggles of the National Health Service, the country’s most beloved institution: the hair-raising details of ambulances arriving too late; lives lost because diagnostic test appointments could not be scheduled for months or even years; seemingly every known shortcoming in the care of people trapped in hospital beds — and desperately overstretched medical staff. Many of the horror stories about old-age care homes are unbearable to read.

All this — in addition to instinctive tribalism, primitive xenophobia and racism — makes it possible to see why, to many Brexiters, the EU stands for nothing but immigrants, more immigrants and overcrowding. Many of them are unwilling dependents on public services. They are unemployed — their manufacturing jobs lost to someone in, probably, China. They lack the education or re-education they need to compete for white-collar jobs. These voters overlap heavily with the rank-and-file in the populist movements on which Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have ridden into view in the U.S., and Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage at their own opposing political poles in the U.K..

Only Sanders has had the charisma and intellectual muscle to engage that class of voters, as well as the U.S. equivalent of the younger people who voted to remain in the EU, yet also command the respect of leading thinkers — in spite of his many detractors in the Establishment. In a BBC interview, the Indian economist Amartya Sen, who won the 1998 Nobel prize in his field, praised Sanders’ ‘commendable effect on Democratic politics’ in broadening ‘the Democratic discussion’ about economic inequality and remedies for it — although he wished he would adopt a less divisive, super-rich-bashing tone.

No political candidate in the U.S. can match his following among millennials — who used the post-Gutenberg media in which they are so perfectly at home to magnetise other supporters. A superb analysis of his appeal to this group by one of them, Dasha Burns, on the CNN site, lacked only a recognition of how well he plays in digital media — his often wild, flyaway, dye-free hair and rumpled and unsmiling — crotchety — WYSIWYG appearance underlining the authenticity that is essential in this realm. Though seemingly a matter of mere exteriors, it is part of both his and Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal to young voters.

A new prime minister with a look that suits the zeitgeiest: no dyed hair or Botox. The glint of humour in her eye, and her colours and clothes, hint that there will be more to Theresa May than Thatcherite steeliness

A new prime minister with a look that suits the zeitgeist: no dyed hair or Botox. The glint of humour in her eye, and her colours and clothes, hint that there will be more to Theresa May than Thatcherite steeliness

Although the young are mocked by their elders for their love of selfies, those critics forget that the rage for self-portraiture has also spawned a fashion for publishing deliberately unflattering photographs of themselves, and no-makeup selfies, and actresses who compete to appear apparently cosmetics-free on tabloid sites, ideally with fetching dark circles under their eyes. Perhaps this demographic segment is tired of delusional Boomer parents whose most expert hair-colouring, surgical re-shaping, and fanatical dieting only yields a creepy simulacrum of their own gleaming, taut-skinned, vital bodies, and such depressing conversational staples as, ‘Have you noticed that she’s got duck lips, now?’ Among successful women politicians, only Theresa May seems to have grasped this shift in the zeitgeist. Unlike Sanders, she always looks tidy, but does nothing to appear any younger; it seems as if the only sense of style she consults is her own, which is impressively apt; vibrant but natural.

The new digital tools do not merely allow radical transparency — the ability to let us see exactly what is going on upstairs, and how critical decisions are made. They demand it of authorities — in politics and government; medicine; law and the courts; academia and scholarship … even the secret services. James Comey, the head of the FBI, read this trend perfectly in the way he chose to announce the conclusion of his agency’s investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal. He was lambasted for delineating her transgressions and publicly upbraiding her for them — going beyond the convention of a simple announcement that there would be no criminal charges brought against her or her staff for their carelessness with classified emails, and her lies about their handling. But the mood and special needs of these times were encapsulated by one commentator quoted by Politico, referring to the disgusted reactions to Bill Clinton’s unscheduled meeting last week with the attorney-general, Loretta Lynch, with every appearance of seeking to charm her on his wife’s behalf:

“Given the public outcry over the events of the last week, transparency was clearly needed,” said Kathleen Rice, a former assistant general counsel at the FBI …”… especially given the FBI’s interest in being seen as an objective and apolitical law enforcement and intelligence agency.”

The FBI announcement finally emboldened the unimpeachable Maureen Dowd — seemingly the only New York Times columnist refusing to fall in line with her newspaper’s alarmingly biased coverage of this presidential election until a few weeks ago — to speak her mind about the Clinton candidacy.

In Britain, the brand new prime minister was just as responsive as Comey to the internet-mediated reversal of top-down politics-and-government-as usual. Some excerpts from the Daily Mail‘s report of the unbelievable speech, for a Conservative leader, that she delivered an hour before the news that she would be replacing David Cameron on Wednesday – an address anyone would have sworn was written by Bernie Sanders:

Theresa May pledges to block fat cat pay and bonuses and force multinational firms to pay more tax in crackdown on ‘corporate irresponsibility’

Theresa May pledged new laws to block fat cat pay and bonuses as she promised to stand up for ordinary workers in an passionate speech just an hour before her leadership rival pulled out of the contest.

The new Tory leader, 59, will also give consumers and staff a seat on company boards in a bid to crack down on ‘corporate irresponsibility’.

The changes are intended to show Mrs May can ‘completely, absolutely, unequivocally’ reach out to the blue-collar workers who were the bedrock of Mrs Thatcher’s electoral success.

In a speech in Birmingham on Monday morning … Mrs May also pledged to build a Britain ‘that works for everyone, not just the privileged few’.


‘The people who run big businesses are supposed to be accountable to outsiders, to non-executive directors, who are supposed to ask the difficult questions, think about the long-term and defend the interests of shareholders.

‘In practice, they are drawn from the same, narrow social and professional circles as the executive team and – as we have seen time and time again – the scrutiny they provide is just not good enough.

… Outlining her commitment to getting tough on ‘corporate irresponsibility’, she added: ‘We’re the Conservative Party, and yes we’re the party of enterprise, but that does not mean we should be prepared to accept that “anything goes”.

‘I want to make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding.’

Should she fail to keep these promises — as we hope she will not — painful reminders of them will be written large on websites all over the world. For as long as she lives, and at least as long as the net lasts.

An open letter to Walter Isaacson, the Steve Jobs biographer and channeller-in-chief

'Me as my iPhone', a reveller in Luzern dressed for Fasnacht, the Swiss winter carnival (photographs by Walter Wieland)

[ part II of an assessment: part I is here ]

Reading about Steve Jobs’s estimation of his talents in the biography of the moment reminded me of a descendant of generations of Iranian painters sketched in a 1937 travelogue, The Road to Oxiana. Muzaffar launched his career ‘decorating pen-boxes,’ but has graduated to portraits in both the Persian and European manner. He shows the traveller, Robert Byron, his poster of two peacocks painted for a cigarette advertisement:  ‘”There!” he announced proudly. “I can do miniatures and I can do this. Rubens couldn’t have done both.”’ Byron, speechless, asks himself, ‘Why Rubens? Why Rubens particularly?’ … And that is the perfect frame for a conversation I would like to have with Steve’s biographer.

Dear Walter Isaacson,

Why didn’t you fight harder to resist Steve Jobs’s infamous ‘reality-distortion field’? You mention it repeatedly in your book, which reads like a ghost-written autobiography in the third person – if not outright channelling. It was authorised, but could never be seen as authoritative. I tried making excuses for you as I read the first half of your text. Acting as imperial scribe to a man as you watched him die must have been excruciating. But why did you submit to his publishing timetable, obviously set to capitalise on the impact of his demise, when your years at Time – a good incubation tank for journalists – should have told you that Steve’s way with the facts meant that you could not afford to cut a single corner in your research?

I am sure you are laughing as you read this. Only a minute fraction of your readers know enough to spot the effects of the two main smoke-and-mirrors wiles that he used on you – and in the second half of this post, I will explain why this matters too much to be dismissed with a shrug:

(1) Taking off all his clothes. He turned disarming candour of such elephantine proportions on you that it has worked, in its transmission to the minds of book reviewers, like the venerable military shock tactic known as a diversionary skirmish. Steve’s confessions about thieving, outlandish eating habits, hard drug use, paternity denial, child abandonment – and miscellaneous mistreatment of almost everyone he knew – were outrageous enough for the genial Guardian columnist Alexander Chancellor to nominate him for an effigy for Guy Fawkes Day. They have created such a swirling chaos of impressions that your text has duped intelligent people who have no idea of the dimensions of all they do not know about technology into calling him an ‘inventor’.

Even the usually hawk-eyed Maureen Dowd, who opinionates fizzingly for a large New York newspaper, arrived at precisely the summing-up of his life that Steve intended: that his behaviour (about which he was unashamed) was the price for what he cared about most, which was to be seen as having attained ‘the brightest heaven of invention’ in his time on earth. Your conclusion carefully states that ‘he didn’t invent many things outright,’ – I cannot name even one – and yet you used the Bard’s words for the title of your closing chapter.


You grant him the conceit of ‘inventing the future.’ What he actually did was to manage, by dint of super-human focus and force of personality, the execution of visions other people had long ago. You predict that ‘history will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford.’ But not once do you pause for the task of comparing what he did with either man’s accomplishments to justify such hyperbole. 

(2) Sticking his head into picture frames where he did not belong. Glamour by association, if done skilfully enough, can create an impression of achievement with very little or nothing behind it. You say that you were mystified when he approached you at a Palo Alto signing session for your Einstein biography to suggest that you make him your next subject. That seems disingenuous. Anyone who met Steve’s formidable instincts for PR would have understood in a flash that he was already plotting for the all-capitals banner near your e-book’s opening, trumpeting: FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE BESTSELLING BIOGRAPHIES OF … and hey presto! there he is, linked to the most sacred name in Western science, after Newton. You and your career have been used just like subliminal images of cowboys on horseback in cigarette advertisements commissioned to foster new generations of nicotine addicts.

Walter Isaacson, I would like to see you rise to the standard set by your excellent biography of Benjamin Franklin – a copy of which I own – with a drastically revised second edition of your book about Steve. I have never aspired to be a book critic because I am too keenly aware of my own defects as a scribbler to enjoy dissecting other people’s work. But a new, reflective version of this book is essential because of the scale of his impact on thinking about success and failure. I would like to offer these suggestions:

Use your own head to write the book you owe us, without fear or favour. Reviewers have complained that your biography offers practically no insight into his character or actions. That was because you wrote the book he wanted you to. He was a man of action, like most successful businessmen, never mind all he said about Zen and the art of vegetarianism. No entrepreneur I have ever met has struck me as capable of serious, unflattering introspection. Unless your book contract bound you to duties as a medium after Steve left us, you should eventually find the distance and perspective missing in your first version of his life. I noticed in a review of the cluster of new works about Charles Dickens – who died at 58, just two years older than Steve, at his end – how infinitely more perceptive he was about his flaws, in spite of childhood deprivation that makes your subject’s unhappiness about being put up for adoption inconsequential. Dostoyevsky said that Dickens told him:

All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote.

Oh, for the faintest glimmer of such comprehension in Steve’s opinion of himself.

● Give us the social context for the life and work and, especially, address the sacrifices and suffering of hundreds of thousands of others who have made Silicon Valley famous. You owe it to the families of the many dazzling scientists and technologists Steve robbed of credit for their work. ‘We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas,’ as he glibly told you, throwing in a remark of Picasso’s for justification. But uncountable other gifted men and women in the Valley go home grey-faced with exhaustion, night after night, for years on end. Yes, the illness that killed Steve was horrific. How many others have endured fates far worse than his, as well as divorce and estrangement – even madness, and clinical depression — through chronic overwork?

You wrote as if only he was dealt a cruel fate, falling in with the delusions of the narcissist’s dream life he led from start to finish.

Deal with the ‘Criticism of Apple Inc.’. That is a whole entry in the Wikipedia, listing a range of topics you have barely skimmed, and one that you have ignored altogether – the sweatshop conditions in which workers in China made Apple products, an environment so inhuman that it is blamed for more than one suicide.

Amazingly, you avoided the subject even when the Chinese factory made a back door entrance into your text. You described a 45-minute meeting with Barack Obama earlier this year:

‘You’re headed for a one term presidency,’ Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulation and unnecessary costs.

No mention of the implications of any of that in your report. Take that, you ‘Occupy’ movements around the world raging about corporate greed! Let us copy what is worst, not best, in modern China!

● Give a lot more thought to the question of who in business history Steve most resembles. Henry Ford was obsessed by the welfare of his workers, just as Jamshetji Tata — India’s most revered industrialist — was about his labourers in steel-making. Clearly, Steve does not belong in their slot. You might well find that his closest equivalent was Ray Kroc, who made McDonald’s the multinational burger bagger nonpareil. Like Steve’s, the secret of his success lay in his ability to profit from his talent as an instinctive mass psychologist. They believed in the same take-no-prisoners ethic. This passage of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser will, like Steve’s  rage about the iPhone competitor called the Android, seem strangely familiar to readers of your biography:

He was a highly competitive man who liked, whenever possible, to settle the score. “If they were drowning to death,” Kroc once said about his business rivals, “I would put a hose in their mouth.”

Please drop the nonsense about placing Steve’s accomplishments at ‘the intersection of the humanities and science’ – mimicking his deployment, on his own behalf, of the marketing ploy known as ‘product positioning’. In no conversation I ever had with him, or have seen recorded by anyone else, did he give any sign of knowing more than a moderately curious teenager would about history, literature, political science, or indeed any branch of the arts unconnected with design.

Steve had no education whatsoever in the science behind the products for which he was famous, which were the fruit of research in solid state physics, electronics, classical numerical analysis, mathematical logic and computer science. These are hardly disciplines that can be mastered by intuition.

Have you noticed the deafening silence from computer scientists in the hullabaloo about his death?

His exceptional achievements were at the intersection of commerce and industrial design (and about the latter, I see that some industrial designers have a bone to pick with you.)

I have written this letter mostly because of one aim of this web site, which is to test the speed at, and degree to which, internet communication – and the advent of the 5th Estate — can correct distortions of the truth. I mean, banish the unfortunate side-effects of limiting the authority to disseminate facts to the club you and I grew up in, the 4th Estate, when that is no longer necessary or desirable.

Best wishes,

Cheryll Barron