Monday, January 23, 2017

Alternative Facts

From the NYT: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, said the White House press secretary gave "alternative facts" when he inaccurately described the inauguration crowd as "the largest ever" during his first appearance before the press this weekend.

Alternative facts is a new combination of words for Red Baron although the concept is old. I admit having used alternative facts as a student. No, not in examinations but during a trip to East Germany in 1959. Here is the full story copied from my blog, Weimar, German History in a Nutshell:

Red Baron then a young scientific hopeful in Munich still remembers his first visit to Weimar in 1959. In November 1958 Nikita Khrushchev issued the Berlin ultimatum that caused Hamburg's press baron Axel Springer in January 1959 to start a campaign in the Federal Republic with the slogan Macht das Tor auf (Open the Gate) selling pins with the Brandenburg Gate for 20 pfennig a piece.

Later in 1987 President Reagan when visiting the Berlin wall and looking at the Gate modulated Springer's slogan imploring the right person: Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

In fall 1959 a left wing Gesellschaft für fortschrittliche Politik (Society for progressive politics) in Munich had posted an answer to Axel Springer's slogan: Wir machen das Tor auf (We open the Gate) offering a bus trip at a moderate price to Gera, a small industrial town in Thuringia, and as a lure a detour to Weimar. Together with a friend and a couple of other students we took this unique opportunity to visit Weimar the working place of Germany's quadruple star Goethe, Herder, Schiller and Wieland but before that our delegation had to suffer agitated political discussions in Gera.

Political slogan in Gera's theater: Germany's fate will be decided between the forces of peace and
the military adventurers in the west
This scanned slide is more the 50 years old. In spite of image processing its quality is bad.
With my friend we fought virtually back to back against devoted followers of the communist regime. In the beginning we felt somewhat lost against their arguments supported by hard facts until we noticed that the achievements forwarded were not as "hard" as it seemed. So I started to invent "supporting numbers" myself and became so successful in defending "western values" that my East German counter part, a trade union official, looking for help frequently asked a journalist of the Neues Deutschland, the official government newspaper: Antworte du dem doch mal (You should rather answer him).

Back to 2017, here is my question: Are alternative facts as in the case of the inauguration crowd always post-factual? IFLScience gave an answer: Science and reason are up for one hell of a fight under the Trump administration. We now live in the Orwellian world of “alternative facts”, which are like facts, but bullshit. It’s surely only a matter of time before the Ministry of Truth is set up.

Here in Germany we have problems with facts too but more with the word alternative and its special relation with our chancellor. Whenever she defends a decision of her government she utters: Diese Entscheidung ist alternativlos (This decision has no alternative).

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