Gerry’s News Digest 192: Post-truth, FIFA and poppies, Body on the Moor Pt 4 (2nd December, 2016)
Hi, this is Gerry, and this is my News Digest for Friday December 2nd, 2016. Today’s the day that sees the 100th “Al dente” podcast by Alessandra. Brava! Complimenti! Always interesting, and it’s easy enough even for me to understand most of it! On my show today, however, there’s an English word that I find difficult to understand, but it’s not really the word it’s the world it comes from. It’s the 2016 Word of the Year. My second story is about the latest FIFA scandal here, and finally there’s Part 4 of “The Body on the Moor”.
Years ago, when I was a linguistics  student I remember having to struggle  with philosophers who had written about language. I remember one of them was an Englishman called Grice. He had a theory about conversation. He suggested that for a conversation to succeed it has to be cooperative. So when we‘re talking to somebody else we need to respect a number of what he called maxims . For example, we expect everybody to give enough, but not too much, information; we expect the information to be relevant; and it should be expressed as clearly as possible; and it should be true, so we do not expect people to say things that they believe to be false. Sometimes, of course, we disregard  these maxims - if we’re trying to confuse or fool  somebody, for example - but most of the time we respect these maxims because otherwise conversation wouldn’t work. Well, that was the philosopher, but I now learn that the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016, is “post-truth ”. This is an adjective to describe situations where objective facts are not as important in influencing public opinion as emotion and personal belief. It seems that, at least when it comes to politics, we’re no longer bothered if people say things that are not objectively true. We prefer “truthiness ” – another new word that describes something that feels true, even if we know it might not be. Michael Gove, a politician and a leader of the Brexit side in our referendum, said: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” And he would seem to have been right. The Brexit campaign was successful despite  most political and economic experts arguing against it. Apparent facts and figures were regularly quoted even though independent experts showed that they were only partially true or not true at all. And now the Americans have gone further. Because people don’t trust either politicians and economists, or journalists, they tend to rely on social media for their information. On the face of it  this sounds OK. Social media allow fellow citizens to pass on information without it being filtered  by the government or some media organisation you don’t trust. But unfortunately there’s no real fact-checking in social media. People just pass things on . Mr Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, has been rather evasive  when asked how he feels about Facebook being one of the main platforms for “fake  news” – stories that are invented to support a theory, or one side or other in an election. Zuckerberg would like us to think that Facebook is just there for people to share news with family and friends, but of course it’s not as innocent as that. It provides companies with data for commercial purposes and has also become, without perhaps intending to, the major source  of news and information for many, many people.
Football always seems to be in the news here, and I don’t mean just the games. In the recent round of qualification matches for the next World Cup, there was yet another row  between FIFA and the British football associations: that’s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you ever see people from Britain on television at the beginning of November you’ll notice that they are wearing a red poppy  of some sort. November 11th is national Remembrance  Day – a day dedicated to the memory of all those who died in the First World War and all the subsequent wars since then. And the red poppy is the symbol of that remembrance. The Royal British Legion makes and sells the poppies. It’s a military charity that cares for survivors: widows, children, and so on who’ve lost family members in wars, and those who’ve been disabled or who are suffering from long-term physical or psychological injuries. Not everybody supports the red poppy: some think it honours  military action, and there are white poppies that some pacifists wear, and purple poppies that remember the animals that were killed in the wars. All the big political parties in the United Kingdom apart from Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist republican party, support the wearing of the poppy. This year the international football matches took place on or around November 11th. One game was between England and Scotland, and both teams featured the poppy on their shirts. FIFA objected. The poppy is a political symbol, they said, and as such it’s against the rules. But how do you define political? Isn’t the national flag also political in that sense? England and Scotland defied FIFA. Wales, in their match against Serbia, didn’t wear the poppy, but FIFA is still investigating Wales because the fans were wearing poppies – like just about everybody else in the country that night. FIFA is not the most respected organisation in Britain, and this incident  has not made it any more popular. I wonder what the Swiss make of this story.
Now let’s get back to our mystery: “The Body on the Moor”. We don’t know who he is or why he was on Saddleworth Moor. But we do know that he came from London that day, although the police couldn’t find any trace  of him living there. Today, let’s consider what actually killed him. Three post-mortems  have been carried out on our body. The first established the facts that he had died from taking strychnine and that he had no life-threatening illness. So he was poisoned  with strychnine. That’s a very unusual and nasty poison to use these days. We know it from Agatha Christie, and from films like Psycho. Our mystery man had a little medicine container in his pocket that had been used for the strychnine. It looks as if he took it himself. The packet had, however, originally contained another substance: a medicine called thyroxine sodium, which is used by people with an underactive thyroid gland . But most interestingly, the medicine had been produced for Pakistan – the writing on the label was in English and Urdu. The later post-mortems found and then removed a titanium plate that had been fitted to the man’s leg after he had broken it in or before the year 2013. The plate was marked with the name of the manufacturer, and again this particular plate had been produced and sold in Pakistan. Just 12 hospitals had been supplied with this model of plate. So was this man living in Pakistan, or just visiting? He didn’t look like a Pakistani but he had clear links with that country. Police enquiries are now concentrating on those 12 hospitals in Pakistan, and it’s hoped that they’ll be able to trace  the man through the hospital records. But one year after the body on the moor was discovered, we’re still no wiser  as to who he was, why he was there or why he died. So I’m sorry, my story doesn’t end with an easy explanation. I can only wait, and keep an eye on the news. Perhaps 2017 will bring some more clues. Meanwhile, perhaps you can write to me with your theories about “The Body on the Moor”.
Thanks to Käthi and Sister Raphaela for your comments after the last show. If you want to send me any questions or comments about the show you can write via the website: www.podclub.ch. Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. Remember that you can listen to me via the PodClub app, and that you can access the vocabulary learning programme also via the app. This is my last News Digest of 2016. I’ll be back on January 20th: the day of President Trump’s inauguration! Till then, thanks for listening, and take care!
 linguistics: the study of languages (how they work, how they have developed, how people use them, etc.)
 to struggle: to fight hard (here: to find it difficult to understand)
 maxim: rule (or more exactly: a short statement that contains some kind of general truth or principle)
 to disregard: to pay no attention to, to ignore
 to fool: to trick, to make (somebody) believe something that is not true
 post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief (“In this era of post-truth politics, it's easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire”)
 truthiness: the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true (The word was invented by Stephen Colbert, the American satirist and talk-show host.)
 despite: a preposition used for saying that something happens/happened or is/was true even though something else makes is improbable (Example: The football game was played ~ the terrible weather.)
 on the face of it: an expression used for saying that something appears to be true although it may not be true
 to filter: to remove something from something else, such as little bits from a liquid such as water or wine (here: to censor)
 to pass on: here: to send from one person to another
 evasive: here: not answering questions clearly
 fake: not real, not true
 source: the place that something comes from (for example, a river)
 row: argument, dispute (NB pronounced like “now” or “how”)
 poppy: a flower (botanical name: papaver rhoeas)
 remembrance: the action of remembering something, especially the dead
 to honour: to show (great) respect to/for
 incident: event (something that happens that is unusual or unpleasant or violent, dangerous, etc.)
 trace: sign
 post-mortem: a medical examination that is carried out after death, autopsy
 to poison: to give somebody something to eat or drink that will kill them
 thyroid gland: an organ in the neck of the human body that produces hormones
 to trace: to find
 to be no wiser: to not know