Covid-19 in England and France

Having recently spent a few weeks in France, I can confidently say that the experience of life is currently very different from that in England. This is simply because the way that the covid-19 pandemic is being managed differently in the two countries.

France was easy to visit in September, all that was required was to demonstrate double-vaccinated status using the NHS app. To return to England we had to take two covid tests, one in France and one in England (now it is just the one in England) – despite the fact that the French covid statistics were much lower than the UK rate. So English measures are apparently more strict, but actually less effective.

While in France we never felt in great danger from covid-19, simply because mask wearing is widespread, and public spaces such as restaurants require either proof of double vaccination (the NHS app is accepted) or proof of a recent covid test. It became apparent that this is policed by the restaurants themselves, as we witnessed the exclusion of someone whose test had expired just a couple of hours before.

Returning to England, we were shocked by the low level of mask wearing and lack of social distancing in public after ‘freedom day’, particularly at large social events where no vaccine passport is required. For the clinically vulnerable and the elderly, this has now created a two-tier society where these groups are effectively excluded from many forms of social discourse. 

The current daily rate of new cases is now below 5000 in France and over 40000 in England, which does suggest that the French ‘control’ approach is keeping the virus under much better control than the English ‘hands off’ approach.

Of course, the French approach is not universally approved of in France, particularly by the large population of French anti-vaxxers – but it works. The English approach is or course applauded by that constitutuency that objects to receiving any instruction from the state, even if it is for the general good – but it seems not to be working.

I know which approach I prefer.

Incredulous, amused, bonkers, sad, insecure

We finally made it to France, for the first time in 2 years because of covid. When talking to our European friends, their view of Brexit is pretty well unanimous, as indeed it was two years ago. They cannot understand why UK chose to leave the EU, why we would choose to erect borders, checks and tariffs, when previously there was free flow of trade with our main trading partner, why we would choose to make it difficult to take our pets on holiday, why we would choose to lose freedom of movement across the whole continent, why we would choose to make it difficult for Europeans, even spouses of Brits, to come to UK, why we would choose to risk a resurgence of the troubles in Northern Ireland by leaving the customs union. Why did you do this self harm?

This incredulity is supplemented by amusement at the antics of the Johnson government in trying to justify its extreme interpretation of the Brexit vote, which did not itself mandate all these unfortunate results.

Personally I have seen just one possible benefit of Brexit – leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, which has over decades decimated European wildlife, as we have observed on our travels. That policy is in great need of reform. Other than that, all we Brits have ‘gained’ is a lot more bureaucracy, expense and restrictions on our lives, compounded of course by an insistently different approach to covid.

Basically, our European friends think that Little England has gone bonkers and is taking the UK Union with it. It is difficult to disagree.

They are also sad that we, who they regard as friends, have left. We and they feel a little more insecure in these troubled global times, when we Europeans need to stick together.

Featured image is based on that at forexop.com

Cigarettes, gas guzzlers, and the power of corporate interests

Here’s a powerful post by Jane Fritz. How corporate interests have successfully stopped effective action on climate change for decades, until it’s too late to avoid the really serious weather stuff that is evident right now, and only going to get worse.

And yes, the rest of us let them and our politicians get away with it. Collectively we have so far failed to meet the challenge. What a mess we are in now…

And there’s a great poem by Drew Dellinger.

Robby Robin's Journey

Drew Dellinger pretty well says it all in his compelling 2006 poem, Hieroglyphic Stairway.  In fact, he pretty well says it all in his first stanza.

it’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do
once
you
knew?

Think about it.  As is evident from Dellinger’s powerful poem, when he published it in the mid 2000s not only was the destruction of our planet through man-made climate change well known – the only place that sustains life as we know it – but as…

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A question of balance?

1966

A group of us members of the university astronomical society visit Herstmonceaux Observatory in Sussex. We travel by coach from Cambridge. We have a great time, and on the way back consume significant quantities of Merrydown, which someone had the foresight to provision us with. One of the most entertaining of our party is an acquaintance, Brian Hoskins, of Trinity Hall. I will not embarrass Brian by saying what actually happened on this journey, but it was nothing disgraceful.

2014

I hear this vaguely familiar voice on BBC Radio 4’s morning Today Programme. It is distinguished Professor Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute on climate change, voicing the urgency of the action needed against global warming and climate change. Next, I am horrified to hear the old political bruiser and ex-chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson pontificating about what nonsense is all this stuff about climate change. It is not a fair contest, the experienced media brawler versus the earnest scientist. Lawson was supposedly put up by the BBC in the interests of ‘balance’ – balancing true science against bigoted opinion.

2017-18

The BBC give Lawson an opportunity to further express his views on climate without scientific challenge. The next April, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom rules that “BBC Radio 4 broke accuracy rules by failing to sufficiently challenge the climate change denier Nigel Lawson’s controversial claims in an interview“.

2021, yesterday

The Meteorological Office reports on the Today programme that recent extreme weather events were undoubtedly caused by man-made climate change. No so-called ‘balancing viewpoints’ are expressed. The evidence is now fully in.

2022?

Interestingly, the other viewpoint commonly expressed by Lawson and other right-wing zealots around the same time was the importance of Brexit to sever the UK from the European Union. We don’t yet have the full evidence, but years of ill-tempered arguing, recent UK economic performance and the intractable situation in Northern Ireland suggest that the realisation, that this too was cloud cuckoo land, is not too far away now.

Billionaire man

What would you do if you had a billion pounds?

Would you follow the technological dream of science and the colonial dream of new physical horizons, and fund a space program to take humanity another step down this road that has supposedly served us so well for hundreds of years – exploitation of supposedly virgin lands, ignorant of the life that is there? Become so convinced of the magnificence of your own ego and exceptionality, that you insist on being one of the first to go into space? Even model your spacecraft to resemble a large penis as you exhibit your contempt for lesser humans?

Or would you do something to help repair the earth and nature that has been ravaged by that technological/colonial dream, to the degree that our ecosystem is now under extreme threat, both in its loss of biodiversity, in its drowning in its own pollution, in the breakdown of its long-stable climate – all effects which have been made worse by you and your like, the rich and powerful extracting money from ‘the system’ to a degree that is surely obscene and has deprived the public purse everywhere of the means to ensure a decent life and environment for all, even undermining the democratic systems that of course put limits on your individual power.

Psychologically, the first path is chosen in humanity’s adolescence, the creation of ego that we all go through. Some appear to remain arrested at this increasingly narcissistic stage – ageing egos going in a circle of their multiple houses, yachts, private jets, exclusive parties, security obsession, separation from the masses. 

But modern psychological knowledge means we now know that this ego process is just the first stage of our development, as we grow to maturity, transcend our individual ego concerns and becoming co-operating adults and gradually becoming wiser and more spiritual. Our concern is wider than the individual; it is the good of the whole and all its parts.

Of course, this is also the perspective that will enable us to address all those problems that we have created in the world around us. Restoration of our living ecosystem becomes of paramount importance, the space ego trip seems somehow irrelevant. Not that we should not have more space programs, but that they are hardly today’s top priority.

So what would you do with your billion? And if you had more than one billion, why? What a weight of responsibility to have so much money, the weight of so much of the earth on your own shoulders? What on earth would you do, and why?

The ideas came to me after reading Prof Tim Jackson’s excellent post on The Billionaire space race; the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth. Do read it.

Featured image is of Mars by NASA, from Tim’s post.

Indigenous Peoples Day, lessons in environmental stewardship and more

This post by Jane Fritz gives an excellent summary of some key aspects of the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the earth, who knew how to live sustainably on the earth. Our current societies in all the countries of the world have so much to learn from this.

Let’s start with the humility to recognise that such earlier generations actually have much wisdom to offer us about living a good and sustainable life. It is the hubris and arrogance of modernity to discount the value of this wisdom, in favour of modern more materialistic concerns. It is apparent that this is leading to massive destruction of our natural environment, soiling the only nest we have, so to speak.

Robby Robin's Journey

NationalIndigenousMonth

Today is not just the third Monday of my postings for National Indigenous History Month, it’s also National Indigenous Peoples Day.  It’s a day for celebrating Indigenous knowledge and culture, and Indigenous contributions to our planet.  [You can find some wonderful pictures of powwows and community celebrations that take place on this day in non-COVID times at my last year’s post: Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.]

In recognition of this special Day, I’d like to focus on lessons non-Indigenous people would be well advised to take from the teachings, traditions, and beliefs of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and indeed Indigenous Peoples around the world since time immemorial.

Lesson 1: Sustainability.

NatalieSappierFish

From the Assembly of First Nations (AFN):

For countless generations, the First Nations and Inuit people have had unique, respectful and sacred ties to the land that sustained them. They do not claim ownership of the Earth…

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The Power of Systems Thinking: Beyond the Reductionist Mindset

Systems thinking and an moving beyond the limitations of a reductionist mindset are vital aspects of the thinking needed for a New Renaissance. In this post Andrew gives an excellent summary.

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

It is unfortunate that it often takes a crisis for us to become acutely aware of how interconnected the world really is. We see how everything is immersed in a web of interlinked systems ranging from the economy, natural environment, health systems to our own personal wellbeing. Each input is a unique part of the puzzle, and is connected to the system at large through a series of information flows and interdependent feedback loops.  

Systems are everywhere. We see them in the complexities in our own bodies to the harmony that exists in natural ecosystems. Every unique organism has its role to play in the sustainability and continuation of our vast and diverse natural habitats. The success of a well-functioning system is dependent on how well its parts are organized to achieve a common goal.     

In nature we never see anything isolated , but everything in connection…

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Dark Regions of The Country of The Mind

In this post Victor Negro suggests how we are influenced and manipulated by outside forces and individuals pursuing their own agendas, encouraging us to give away our own power.

All around we see how political agendas are pursued by subtle means to ensure a population compliant with their agenda (eg ‘economic growth’, ‘consumerism’).

Our task is surely to become aware of these manipulations (not necessarily conscious), and become our authentic selves. As Victor says, ‘It depends on whether you have your power or you have given it away.’

The Victor Negro

There are some happenings around you that will make you think that you are being wasted, being finished. You are living your life and doing what ought to be done to the best that you can, but something seems to be undermining you, something seems to be in resistance, tugging at your sense of completeness, trying to deflate you.

Sometimes, it is difficult to place a hand on what is going on, because most times these impressions are most active when you are alone, and at other times when you are with others. You can feel a lessening on your body and some dark thoughts within you. You can feel, sometimes, your strengths waning and everything seem dark and you question the truth of your being and of what you desire. You may even entertain the thoughts of giving up. At some points, these things happen to you not because…

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Lockdown King Street

Knutsford’s King Street, early evening

The lockdown goes on. Knutsford’s King Street is full of restaurants and usually (ie pre-covid) very busy early evening as people size up where to eat or drink. Now deserted and, apart from this short stretch, largely in darkness.

My phone’s camera has made a fair go at conveying the extreme contrast in lighting, but its representation of the sky is rather optimistic, better than the real thing!

The current UK government roadmap says we return to ‘normal’ opening of restaurants on 17 May. We shall see!

A dead tree

Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.

Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.

Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.

Reality is Now the Enemy!

Here is a passionate, thought-provoking post by Eric Wayne on the dangers of current trends away from respect for truth towards shared narratives divorced from critical evaluation and thinking for oneself – and whether banning ideas from media is actually a sinister trend in the wrong direction.

I particularly like his quotes from an old friend, Roman Emperor Marcus Aureliius. Eric also posts really innovative art.

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne

I’m old school on reality. Well, technically, I’m kinda’ old period. And white. And male. You could say I am a remnant of a bygone era. I still believe that reality should be sought, and accepted, and that to do so is healthy and necessary.


We should defer to the greater argument.

There are a few obsolete ideas that I still cherish, and they could get me erased if I’m not careful about acting on them. One is that we should defer to the better argument and evidence. I might have picked that up from an Intro to Philosophy class in community college. [Not that I didn’t go on to get a Master’s in Art, but I think I learned the most in a couple years of free community college, back in the day, which is part of the reason I think we should bring it back.] This idea has…

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Not the yellow headlights

The first time we took the car to France was in the early 70s. There was a bureaucratic routine you had to go through before we could cross the channel: get travel insurance, get car insurance, GB sticker and a green card for the car, pay the Automobile Association a fiver for an International Driving Permit, purchase beam benders and yellow transparent paint to be applied at the port.

Then we joined the EEC in 1973, which eventually became the EU. The French stopped insisting on yellow headlights, car insurers tended to include Europe cover, there was no need for green card or IDP. We still needed beam benders – some things never change. We got a dog and the pet passport scheme eventually made that easy. Mobile phones became ubiquitous and the EU eventually forced an end to yellow headlights and outrageous roaming charges. GB stickers bacame unnecessary.

And we never had to worry about how long our trip would be, we could stay as long as we wanted.

But today we’re finally out of the EU. All that bureaucracy is coming back, the pet passport is gone, there may be new roaming charges. We can only stay for 3 months out of six. We’re effectively excluded from free travel in ‘our’ Europe, the Europe that is our history.

These freedoms have been taken from us in the name of an abstraction called ‘sovereignty’, an anachronism in the modern interconnected world. They’re intended to ‘make Britain great again’, harking back to the days when renegade Britons roamed the world, stole land and riches from indigenous peoples, eliminating them or turning them into slaves, and made an inglorious ‘Empire’.

Fortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that unexpected benefits will turn up, and needed change may eventually be forced on the EU itself.

But at least we won’t need the yellow headlights again. Unless there is a Frexit.

Featured image shows one of the first optic headlamp lenses, the Corning Conaphore made of selective yellow “Noviol” glass (public domain via Wikipedia). So-called ‘selective yellow’ gives better visibility than white light in poor conditions and is still permitted in fog lights.

A COVID Christmas message

Reblogging this post. It could save someone’s life…

Robby Robin's Journey

This is an unusual Christmas post, but then again this is Christmas in a year like no other. This season is a time that’s meant to bring joy, and this year we have to be especially creative in finding ways to do so while keeping everyone safe. I wish everyone a happy holiday; this COVID world is at least offering us the time to look for joy in the small things, if we only choose to take it. Let’s take advantage of that.

I think this blog post from fellow blogger Kavitha at Sunshiny SA Site is important to reblog in its entirety. It is a strong reminder of why the restrictions in place in so many of our regions are there for a reason. The story it shares has been replicated far too many times: in Canada, South Africa, the United States, the UK, EU countries, and everywhere around…

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The Argument for Free Speech & Against Censorship

This well-argued post by Eric Wayne puts the case for free speech and against censorship. The logic is impeccable. Censorship is a slippery slope to all kinds of ills.

Yet, is this not a polarity ‘free speech-censorship’? Can any society sit right at the free speech end of this polarity? I think not. Are there not acts and images that are just too heinous to entertain in a civilised society, particularly when exposed to impressionable minds? Does society not need to protect itself against such things? I think it does, but always with suitable checks and balances.

Anyway, read on. I like his passion!

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne

[This is a re-post of an article I wrote 3 years ago, and which sadly has become increasingly relevant, so much so that one can’t even articulate why it is relevant today without risking being censored for doing so. Censorship is no longer the bad word it used to be, or something liberals oppose on principle. Au contraire! Today, censorship is embraced as an uncontroversial tool benevolent institutions wield in order to protect the rest of us from the influence of darker forces. In the last several days, for example, major social media platforms blithely announced plans to implement sweeping censorship campaigns in the name of the righteous good. But If the presumed good includes plans to silence content that contradicts its own stances, some might question just how wholesome that goodness really is.

There’s that thing where our ends justify our means when fighting the evil opposition, hence the…

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The techie problem

I was a techie once, helping to produce mainframe software – probably still am in many ways. Techies understand the intricate workings of the modern world, the technology, the apps, the website mechanics… The job of techies is to produce products that help life in the real world, that society increasingly relies upon. Even WordPress is evidently powered by techies.

The problem with techies, particularly the cleverest of them, is arrogance. I remember many of them. They know their field better than almost anyone else, and do not suffer fools gladly. They know they are right. Even when they are wrong.

And that’s the problem. Their expertise is technical, and does not necessarily relate well to real life. The early software systems learnt the hard way that so-called usability is of vital importance, and that includes carrying your customers forward with you as you develop the technology. Woe betide a mainframe supplier who did not allow for his customers’ applications to continue to work when a new release of software came out.

So techies have to be well managed, by managers who understand end users and the usability of their products. They need to be reined in to ensure the result is acceptable to users.

Now, the IT revolution has meant that it is increasingly the techies who are in a position to call the shots – they head the companies. The list is too familiar – Facebook, Google, Apple, and so many more. The results of their arrogance are plain to see in the modern world: rip-offs, tax avoidance and undermining of governments and established businesses on a grand scale, but without apparent ethical compass. Far too much to cover in a quick blog post.

Which brings me back to WordPress and the case of the block editor. This editor is clearly a wonderful techie solution for those who wish to use the WordPress platform to do really clever things. Who could argue with that? The ony problem is that the arrogant techies decided that this should be forced upon the simple wordpress.com blogger who has no interest in this advanced functionality (why make blogging more difficult?).

Simple common sense says that the blogger should continue to see the simple classic editor presentation, so long as that satisfies the functionality he needs. If something can only be done with blocks, then blocks should be switchable on. WordPress management has failed to rein in the techies, with the result that they are losing bloggers, even the dogs.

Perhaps they just don’t care, another strong techie attribute!

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

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Give us back the dark

I am about 8 years old. We are walking through the partly built-up area between North Hykeham village and the edge of Lincoln. It is pitch dark, apart from regular pools of light beneath the gas-powered street lamps. I am astounded and inspired by the beauty of the heavens, as my dad points out some of the constellations – the Plough, Orion, the Pleiades… – and the Milky Way.

This was the inspiring experience of all our ancestors, yet within a couple of generations it has become a much less common experience for today’s children, because of light pollution. You just cannot see the sky with the same intensity, if at all, from most inhabited areas. We are losing contact with the heavens, and hence the sense of our place in the universe.

Light pollution is one of the scourges of our time see eg this excellent article by National Geographic, the Wikipedia entry, and the dark sky movement. Here are just some of the ways in which increasing light pollution is detrimental to (our) life on earth:

  • harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark
  • endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels
  • losing our connection to the nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their stories of meaning, timed the planting and harvesting of crops, and deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos
  • thus losing our connection with the Earth itself
  • artificial lighting of buildings kills migrating birds in their thousands
  • nighttime lights suppress fertility in wild animals, affect their sense of direction, disrupt their natural rhythms, affect the ability of moths and other insects to navigate, with knock-on effects on bird populations
  • studies show that light pollution increases atmospheric pollution.

All this is pretty well known science, and many local authorities have responded over the years. I well recall that in the 1980s there was tremendous publicity about the scattering of light around and upwards by street lights at the time. But increasing awareness and improved technology have led, over the decades, to today’s more sophisticated lighting which casts light downward, giving an effect more like the local pools of light I recall from childhood.

But recently the ubiquity of cheap lighting has led, at least in our area of UK, to a new source of this pollution: individual households putting up relatively bright lights on the walls of their houses or the end of their drives, and leaving them on all hours of the night, others leaving outside Christmas lights on for months on end.

This is totally unnecessary, as modern movement sensors ensure that lights are only on when needed – surely the only sensible approach. What is it about people who press on regardless, because they ‘like their house lit up’, or feel they need their driveway under permanent illumination? “It’s a free country, I’ll do what I like.” It seems like ignorance and lack of empathic connection with nature and other people, with perhaps an underlying fear of the dark. Could this relate to a fear of the inner darkness perceived within themselves, because the inner world is an unknown land? The outer reflects the inner.

The dark is necessary for our sanity, as well as for nature.

Featured image is from the website of Dark Sky Association.

Irredeemable?

Kerry McAvoy has written an interesting post on evil What Evil People Have Taught Me, which came to my attention because she referred to my earlier post on People of the Lie. She poses an interesting question, can evil people be ‘saved’ or redeemed, and suggests that this may not be possible.

To recap, my post picked out three major characteristics which give warning signs of evil:

refusal to face the evil within, denial of one’s own guilt, often means projecting onto others and scapegoating.

an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.

a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

We tend to think that all people with evil characteristics can be redeemed, a speciality of Christianity. But what if the characteristics are so strongly built in that they are effectively caught in a world of their own, surrounded by the courtiers willing to go along with them? Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Napoleon come to mind.

As Kerry suggests, we can face them with the truth:

Our defense against such people is to stand firm in our convictions. To refuse to bow and tremble in fear. Truth is our best weapon.

Reality is the other corrective. Such as when a UK cabinet minister was sent to prison for his misdeeds and emerged from the experience a changed man, redeemed. Redemption has to be a possibility, but is difficult to envisage in cases such as Hitler and Napoleon. It would seem that there are degrees of evil.

Any thoughts on redemption?

Fake. News.

Here’s an excellent post from Older Eyes on the term ‘fake news’ – ‘lazy confirmation bias’ seems about right.
There’s a lot of wisdom in old curmudgeons!

Older Eyes

Fake: [fāk] ADJECTIVE:   not genuine; counterfeit.

News: [n(y)o͞oz]  NOUN: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or                                                    important events.

Fake News: a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.

I absolutely  hate the term Fake News.   First and perhaps foremost, it reflects the dumbing down of the American language that seems to prevail right now, even in the media.   You would expect better of journalists who are presumably trained in the use of language.  Look at the first two definitions above.  Of course, you could say not genuine news or counterfeit news but it really is a poor choice of words.   Inaccurate news or incorrect news is more precise, sounds…

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