America does not need a younger, leaner Donald Trump

At the airport I see a copy of Bloomberg Businessweek which poses on its cover the stark question: If America were a company, would you keep this CEO?

Such a worldview is so ingrained that even in the face of its unavoidable and catastrophic failure it somehow stumbles on, eyes burnt out and arms outstretched, groaning for more brains – smarter ones in presumably less decrepid bodies. Even a sterling Democrat like Michael Bloomberg, with his sincere and laudable statements about Climate Change and sanctuary cities, is unable to see beyond it. For almost a decade American TV viewers were sold the idea that their country needed a CEO, and that pitch was accompanied by the face and the voice of the country’s most iconically successful ‘business leader’. Enlightened neoliberals like Bloomberg must surely be starting to understand that it is their zombie ideology of letting the market run rip through all institutions that has led to this point, that in order for democratic values to remain intact prices have to be kept at bay. The problem is not that the Presidency was sold to the wrong person. The problem is that if we think of the country as a corporation the most brutal corporate interests will govern and destroy every aspect of our lives. Those who argued that there was nothing to choose between Macron’s Neoliberalism and Le Pen’s barely disguised fascism were absolutely wrong, but genuine liberals – of which Bloomberg is undoubtedly one – urgently need to be reminded of one of Mussolini’s most terrfying definitions of fascism: the point at which corporate and state power are indistinguishable.

Why I avoid Twitter

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Cartoon from xkcd.com.

My memories of the few times I’ve lost my temper about politics when talking to strangers IRL are mostly shameful to the point of trauma. In a cottage in the west of Ireland in early 1999, I was introduced to a friend of the couple I was visiting. I’d worked with my Dublin friend Barry in the kind of stupid software call centre job which everyone was only pretending to pretend that they were doing. He was hugely witty, sharing my predilection for massive acts of seditious timewasting and tactical work avoidance. He was also teeming with goodwill, even towards the idiots phoning up, and was massively gifted in terms of Scandinavian languages and various forms of stringed instrument. I was one of the first people with whom he shared the news that he and his Swedish girlfriend Ana were going to have a baby. However, I don’t want to dwell on self-pity because I wasn’t the victim, but rather the protagonist of an attack of rage. I have no idea what it was all about. Maybe the integrity of the Irish Labour Party. Or the Millennium Bug. Or EU piscine policy and its relation to the price of fish. Regardless of the content, the form was drunken shouting. All that mattered was winning. I regret the whole incident, not so much for its consequences (I never saw my friends again) but because my behaviour was just plain wrong. I was subsequently too ashamed and they were (I presume) too angry to contact me again. I’d ruined a valuable friendship and been a total prick to someone who definitely didn’t deserve it and could herself have become a friend.

There have been other times (not recently, I’m pleased to say). One New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago I got angry with the partner of a friend for excoriating Jeremy Corbyn. Luckily I knew by then that I had a choice, that although I could if I wished give in to the seductive impulse to let my blood boil over, to allow myself off the leash, it was wrong in the fullest sense to do so. On that occasion I was able to reign myself in and treat a fellow human being who happened to hold a slightly different opinion with respect rather than scorn.

Unless (as I often need to remind myself) you’re dealing with someone whose sole motive is to abuse, annoy or in some other way antagonise you, it’s far better to identify points of agreement and try patiently to move forward from them, no matter how swampy or thorny the territory. While it can be great fun to throw off the constraints of politeness, in any sort of meaningful social reality there is no way that you can or should. We are after all civilised creatures, socially interdependent beings. Only if you actively want to alienate yourself from a particular social group can you rant and rave to (as it were) your hate’s content.

The first rule of civil debate is not to attack the person themselves. In an attack of rage there’s always an element of the personal. Fury always seeks a target, and almost always finds the wrong one. That’s what’s refreshing about Twitter. There are no real people, only avatars. Thus it doesn’t matter if you hurt someone. It doesn’t matter if someone unfollows, mutes or blocks you, or vice versa. Or, when you prefer, you can join in on ripping to shreds someone who, on the basis on fiften or sixteen words at most, appears to deserve it. Jon Ronson’s book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ is an excellent primer on how pile-ons can resemble rapidfire pogroms or instant witchhunts. Taking part in such orgies of digital violence is like participating in a Milgram experiment being conducted on a planetary scale and producing much the same results. As a Twitter user you have your own microfascist coup at you fingertips: you can eradicate dissent with the tiniest gesture of the thumb. And, of course, trolling is huge fun, creating an imaginary audience for your savage japes, while all the tim alrt to avoid being trolled yourself. Thus we all get to be bullies, and then when called out on it pretend to be victims. Or often we’re long gone by that point. We never see our victims again but did they even exist in the first place? Twitter is a world without moral consequences, rather like a dark room of hate.

How am I so sure of this? It’s a game I’ve happily played in the past. My own life on Twitter has gone through several stages, including more than one phase of outright addiction. I used to see myself as scourge of Britain’s far-right, and wasted several months of my life trying to reason with people opposed to reason itself. I was also guilty of all the bad habits described in the previous paragraphs until eventually (in the day after the Brexit referendum, my wife reminds me, when it was clear that the far-right had basically won) I finally deleted my account, which at that point had a balance of around 1,200 followers (who for comedy purposes I referred to as my disciples) and 4,124,132 mostly angry tweets. I was drawn in again recently by the sweet opium smell of Trump’s catastrophic presidency. Although, of course, Twitter is not so much opium but crack cocaine. Over the course of a few intensely fruitless days I went on a binge, throwing the odd firecracker into rooms that may have been empty, hoping to hear an explosion. It was not by any standards an edifying or improving experience.

If you search for mentions of trump on Twitter you see immediately that there are two worlds that only skirmish and very rarely engage in any meaningful way. The next civil war is being rehearsed, this time first as farce and then quite (almost inevitably at this stage) as tragedy. Viewed as a game, Twitter is a first-person shooter, in which the main activity is sniping. It involves as little human engagement as two people sticking their heads above opposing walls, acknowledging each other’s existence only insofar as they’re trying to eradicate each other. Just like a baby wishing its parents dead because it has no sense of what that might mean, if I’m arguing on Twitter I want to annihilate the other person.

Then there’s the question of time. A few years ago there was a story doing the rounds about a Korean couple who were so busy raising their virtual baby that their real one died. I didn’t get to that point over the last week but I did come close to falling into that mysterious black hole of time that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it, produces most internet content. Twitter is an intensified form of social media in that even more than Facebook it rewards minimal effort with an infinite abundance of stimulation. My overuse leads to extreme irritability upon even momentary withdrawal. No wonder it is the perfect medium for Donald Trump.

Maybe it is the medium itself that’s the problem, maybe not. Some people make wonderful use of it, and by no means everyone uses it to track down and antagonise political adversaries. Perhaps in a better world where people were in a more cheerful mood…but I don’t think so. Much as has been written of Zuckerberg and Facebook, the ways in which his immature notion of friendship has come to dominate the world, Twitter doesn’t serve our needs, or at least not in any way which we can consider healthy. In my experience, the notion of social media as a community is risible. People in communities share various complex facets of their daily lives. For me, Twitter brings out the very worst side of me – the side which craves instant affrimation and adulation in return for very little imagination or effort, along with an aggressive and sadistic streak which I’d rather not encourage . That’s why I deleted my account again and will endeavour not to get drawn in again in the future. Tl/dr: I don’t use Twitter because it turns me into an asshole.

Why can’t the USA be more like Saudi Arabia?!

I’ve often been accused of political bias on this site, so to ensure balance I’ve asked my Trump-supporting friend Ralph to share his thoughts on the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

Like all Americans I’ve been mighty impressed by the royal welcome extended to our President Donald J. TRUMP in Saudi Arabia. They certainly know how to greet a world LEADER. They had fireworks, flypasts and US flags galore. The hotel where the Commander-in-Chief is staying was bedecked in images of President TRUMP and his Saudi counterpart. To quote a fellow PATRIOT on Twitter, seeing Trump’s triumphant arrival in the Middle East was akin to watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon*.

Such images must be hard to swallow for so-called American liberals. They were probably hoping he’d get a frosty reception. Instead the Saudis, rich and poor, have literally LAID OUT the red carpet for someone who they clearly see shares their values and view of the world.

Maybe THE DONALD will end up taking some inspiration from his hosts. Because you know something they don’t have in KSA? LIBERALS! And they certainly don’t have any time for FEMINISTS! Plus they’re not held back by a so-called ‘free’ press and fake political ‘parties’. As for PROTESTERS, they know how to deal with them! Nor will you find a member of the Saudi Royal Family telling you that the lives of black people ‘matter’, allowing women to drive motor vehicles, permitting Jews to own property, or campaigning for the rights of so called ‘transsexuals’ to go to the ‘bathroom’! What’s more, while we in the backward old US of A go through the same bullshit charade every four years of electing new faces to ‘run’ the country, in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE (and who wouldn’t want to live in DUBAI?!) they just have the best FAMILIES take care of everything. And what better FAMILY do we have than the TRUMPS?

I’m sure that some of these ideas have already occurred to PRESIDENT TRUMP as he is driven along pristine streets from luxurious PALACE to sumptuous BANQUET with not a living demonstrator in sight. There’s so much that could be done to make the USA much more similar to KSA, and I’m sure that in Mike ‘Mad Mullah’ Pence and Steve ‘Al Jihadi’ Bannon he’s chosen the perfect team to move things in that direction. After all, any country that can secretly dispatch a group of dedicated, well-trained and above all BRAVE individuals to take down some of the most emblematic symbols of an enemy power must have some other great lessons to teach the world! LET’S MAKE AMERICA MEDIEVAL AGAIN! #TRUMPBINLADEN2020!! ALLAH AKBAR!!!

*Actual quote from Twitter.

#GE2017: Experts puzzled by ‘first party’ effect

YQoXTr6.pngThe last few years have seen huge shifts in world politics, with some established parties (the French Parti Socialiste, PASOK in Greece) more or less disappearing overnight and new contenders coming into play as the voting public tire of the same old establishment names and faces. In the upcoming UK General Election even seasoned observers have been astonished to witness the seemingly unstoppable rise in the polls of a brand-new political force. The party is known as the Conservative Party, and is led by Theresa May, which also happens to be the name (and the person) of the current Prime Minister.

Throughout the country people disillusioned with years of austerity, with cuts to public services devastating areas already reeling from deindustrialisation and underinvestment, are preparing to deliver a huge blow to the government, by voting for it.

“I’m particularly angry about what’s been done in my area to local schools”, says John Blobb from Exeter. “It’s almost impossible to find a place for my child, and it’s all due to the mess successive Conservative ministers have made of the education system. Plus in this next Parliament, if the Tories get a clear majority, it’ll be the final solution for the NHS, full-on privatisation. It’s terrifying. And I cannot f*cking stand the way that woman speaks. She’s like this horrendous mix of cruelty and insincerity, and it all comes out in that truly awful, unbearable voice of hers. That’s why I’m definitely going to vote Conservative”.

Amanda Mardy, from Sunderland, is voting Conservative “because I’ve been sanctioned four times by the jobcentre, and twice it was only because the public transport is so bad I couldn’t get to my appointment on time. I’ve barely got enough food to last me til the weekend, then that’s it. I’ll have to beg, or punch a policeman just so I can get a bed and some food. I think my case proves conclusively that Theresa May is doing an excellent job”.

Sunjit Sahil, from Manchester, is horrified by the level and tone of racist abuse he and members of his family have suffered over the last few months. “I blame the Government for stoking up division in the wake of Brexit. It’s a classic case of divide-and-rule. My nephew was actually called a ‘paki’, by a bus driver, in 2017 for god’s sake! I’m scared about what kind of environment my kids will have to grow up in. I’ll definitely be voting for the Conservative Party to express how angry I am at the Conservative Government.”

Jimmy Chonk is a lifelong animal rights activist who spends his weekends trying to sabotage fox hunts in Berkshire. He’ll be voting Conservative “because someone has to do something to protect foxes”. He also says that the Government’s treatment of child refugees and its “horrifying complacency” with regard to Climate Change has “disgusted” him to the point where he’s “definitely” going to vote for it.

Sandra Scallop of Portmerion was inspired to vote Conservative by the Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. “When I saw that film I was in floods of tears. Just the thought that in this day and age so many people are treated in such a callous way, and it’s getting worse. Thinking about it now makes me so angry I feel physically sick, any one of us could have an accident or get ill and end up in such a situation. People like Theresa May can afford expensive private insurance, they don’t have to worry about such things and they simply do not care about the fate of ordinary people, they’ve probably all got shares in companies which profit from people’s misfortune! And don’t get me started on bloody fracking! In five years’ time we’re probably going to be living in a permanent bloody earthquake zone, with fire pouring out of the kitchen taps. I don’t know the name of my local Conservative MP, but I’m definitely going to vote for him or her”.

Seasoned psephologists are struggling to explain the phenomenon. “We’re used to seeing a third-party protest vote, particularly in by-elections.”, says James Lee Curtice of Essex University. “It’s common to vote out of anger against the Government. This is the first time in my career that I’ve seen what we might call a ‘first party effect’. There is some evidence that the British electorate are responding to what we call the ‘man with beard’ effect in reaction to Jeremy Corbyn. There’s also a very strong chance that large sections of the British electorate are absolute fucking idiots. We really, definitely can’t rule that last possibility out.”

“Vote Conservative”, he added.

 

Ljubljana: Enjoy your symptom!

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The Austrian-sounding man striding across the main square (actually a circle) of the Slovenian capital is bellowing into his Handy “BIN IN LAIBACH!”. I feel entertained that he’s used the German name of the city. I happen to know this because a) I’m sort-of German myself and b) it’s a name of a well-known Slovenian mock-totalitarian rock group/art collective which has produced a series of hilarious records and videos from the late ’80s onwards and also started their own nation state. Although I’m no defender of German totalitarian imperialism I do think it’s worth acknowledging that the name ‘Laibach’ is much easier to spell and pronounce than ‘Ljubljana’. #nursagen.

As I don’t have much money as of September 2009 I’m staying in a hostel. Whenever I stay in such places I start to feel like one of my English language students. The lingua franca of such places is International English, the lexicon of which doesn’t feature lower-frequency vocabulary such as ‘snoring’. The Turkish guy who’s spent all night making more noise than a large-scale military coup doesn’t understand the word but at least he was polite enough to ask me how I’d slept (I hadn’t). Hold on, he says, when he wakes up and I try to teach him the English equivalent of horlama. I’ll put my glasses. Eight years later I’m still waiting for him to tell me where he’s going to put them. In the event I’m almost tempted to tell him to stuff them down his fucking throat in case it stops him from snoring, but luckily he tells me he go back to Turkey the same day, which come as a relief.

It’s hard to learn languages, especially from scratch. I blearily reflect upon this as I sit in the just-waking-up market square with an enormous coffee and a giant slab of breakfast burek. It’s hard to start collecting vocab and building up a working grammar when you can barely remember how to say please, let alone water, tree, food or sunhat. Not that I’m trying: I’ve just arrived from London on the first step of a mini-grand tour of Northern Italy and environs. I could do with a sunhat because every day (and very night, although my memory may have been warped by lack of sleep) it’s blisteringly warm and blindingly sunny.

I am not here to track down Slavoj Žižek. I’m not what is already becoming known in Spetember 2009 as a fanboy. I try to avoid mentioning the subject altogether so as not to appear overeager and thus uncool. This is a bit silly as no one knows me here. I might as well put on an ‘Enjoy your symptom!’ t-shirt, teach myself the Slovenian for “DO YOU KNOW WHERE ŽIŽEK LIVES? DO YOU KNOW WHERE ŽIŽEK LIVES?!” and run round the circle in circles until someone takes pity on me and tells me where this is.

As I look at the big metal map of the city in the main circle (Žižek’s house is thankfully unmarked) I get talking to a lovely couple, local kindergarten teachers who want to use their softly-spoken English. They’ve never heard of Slavoj Žižek. Later the same evening they take on a brief tour, including a particularly significant spot where some people were shot, or raised a banner, or maybe it was where they themselves first had sex, or something. It was, as I’ve mentioned, several years ago now.

Ambling around on my own in the early evening amidst the refreshingly chilled old stone of the however-you-say-parte-vieja–in-Slovenian, I come across a (hooray!) critical theory bookshop. The guy who’s working there speaks better English than I do and is doing a PhD in the post-Deleuzian semiology of hair product advertising (I’m making that up. This was almost eight years ago.) He grew up near the border with Croatia, and the stories he tells me of petty rivalry and racism remind me of smalltown Britain, just with a few more military uniforms and some occasional ethnic cleansing. The (fascinating) conversation reminds me of a similar encounter eight or so years earlier in San Sebastian with a young guy who worked in the castke I clambered up to one sweaty afternoon. On the back page of my Spanish-Portuguese dictionary (get me!!!) there’s a scribbled diagram of the relationships between the Spanish and Basque states, the different Basque political parties, and some assorted words in Basque. I don’t take notes on my Slovenian conversation. The bookshop guy is, like all Slovenians I mention him to, fond but critical of Žižek, and doesn’t know where his house is.

In my memory of events I give my new friend a hug and then skip down the cobbled streets. Thinking about it now it strikes me that this may have been one of the times in my life when I was on antidepressants. There are some stalls on a bridge selling what I recall as half-liter plastic glasses of white wine for a single euro. I float around for a bit guzzling my massive drink and listening to the murmury language in which I imagine, possibly incorrectly, that everyone is discussing which ideologies are the most sublime and which absolutes the most fragile. Drifting round a corner I see that there’s a naked young naked woman in the middle of the street having her portrait painted by an eager crowd. It’s a wonderful scene. To see all…the people…there’s just a really…nice…civic atmos…totally naked woman.

A hundred metres away there’s a stage with what appears to be a military brass band playing ‘Jump’ by Van Halen. I could repeat that sentence but I’ll leave it up to you, if you do want to read it again there it is. Now, several years later, it strikes me as strange that it didn’t occur to me to move there, grow a beard, start to learn the language and maybe even take up painting. I had no particular commitments in London, having just finished my Master’s, and I was living in one of the three crummiest parts of the city. I wonder what my Lacanian psychotherapist would have said. Probably just nodded and blinked. Who knows, maybe all those nods, blinks and occasional snores were a subtle form of direction to Slovenia, Venice, Mexico and beyond. Probably a good thing, on the whole, that he didn’t tell me where in Ljubljana Slavoj Žižek lives.

* Many thanks to Ben Rozman for Slovenian language translation guidance and consultation services.

I no longer feel ashamed to feel ashamed to be British

1

What I most wanted to become when I grew up was a foreigner. My father was from another country and my mother hadn’t been born in the city where we lived (Sheffield), so I always felt like a bit of an Ausländer. I must have heard my dad and his mum speaking German together and wanted to join in, to be part of another world. I remember my mum being appalled when I, aged about 6 during an overenthusiastic game of toy soldiers, shouted with glee and fury as I smashed my fist into the enemy lines, “TO HELL WITH THE BRITISH ARMY!”. Straight after university I moved to Ireland and started to reinvent myself as someone a bit more worldly.

Something I subsequently read which left a major impression on me was Declan Kiberd’s classic book ‘Inventing Ireland‘, in which he wrote about how national identities are formed through mirroring, through a dialectical process of subjecting and objectifying. ‘Us’ can be defined as ‘not Them’, and thus the British projected onto the Irish all those qualities they didn’t want to acknowledge in themselves: catholicism, irrationality, brutishness, ignorance, free-spiritedness, etc. Much more recently, another Irish writer and thinker, Fintan O’Toole, has helped me reflect on what being British (and English – see below) entails in the wake of Brexit. In a recent article for the Irish Times he wrote:

Brexit and the English nationalism that underlies it are redefining England for the rest of the world as an angry, hostile, unlovable place. And it’s vital for Ireland that we are clearly distinguished from that new English identity.

An exemplary British European, Julian Barnes, expressed similar thoughts in an article for the LRB called ‘People will hate us again’:

We have our sentimental vision of how others see us: as correct, humorous, eccentric, polite, tolerant, phlegmatic and so on – ‘très British’. But historically, they have equally – if not more often – thought of us as cold, arrogant, violent, self-interested, racist and hypocritical.

Both writers are concerned with how Brexit changes the international reputation of the British. What about the view from inside? What will Brexit do to our sense of ourselves, especially those of us who live abroad?

The process of even acknowledging myself as British was a long one. Although in May 1997 I was living in self-exile (and no fan of Tony Blair), I shared at a distance the widespread relief that nearly 20 years of Tory rule were over and some measured optimism. I was glad to be out of the country when Diana died, with the public outpouring of sentiment for the loss of the national poodle. At the time I thought the whole morbid fanfare was both hilarious and contemptible; by the standards of 2017 it seems quite harmless, even laudable. When Blair sold Britain into the war in Iraq I expressed outrage and joined the march in Lisbon, but also felt that I benefitted from years of distance – he wasn’t ‘my’ Prime Minister, I thought.

I’ve written here about the process of coming to terms with my identity through living abroad, learning languages and reflecting on my own culture and history. In China I was confronted with the contradictions of presenting myself as someone who was all foreground, no background. My students’ questions revealed an assumption that as a British person I admired ‘my’ Prime Minister and was happy to be seen as a representative of my culture, my country, and my government. Such preconceptions were never hostile. They were positive stereotypes and as such, although they challenged my own view of myself, I benefitted from them.

I’ve also written (here) about my insecurity when it comes to claiming the status of a foreign language speaker, seeking acceptance as a member of another cultural community. My anxiety about that status being rejected – when, for example, someone switches from their language into ‘mine’ – houses a fear of being seen as small-minded, provincial, and naive. What results is an instinctive chippiness and defensiveness. Similar emotions arise when food is mentioned in class. In response to the stereotype of the British being unsophisticated in their eating habits, I get riled and feel compelled to point out that We, because of Our History, have a very cosmopolitan diet…I’ also have to keep in check a tendency towards snobbery in relation to less culturally or gastronomically diverse cultures. My sense of entitlement (“curry is a British invention! of course we know how to cook pasta properly!”) has deep roots, partly buried in centuries of colonialism. Barnes was right to mention hypocrisy. My defensiveness when it comes to languages and food and my refusal to wear the badge of my own culture ignores the fact that my livelihood is entirely founded upon on centuries of colonial and imperial dominance.

Over the years I’ve met both anglophiles and anglophobes. I like people who don’t speak English, but I have sometimes detected a certain antipathy from a lot of lingua-franca-refuseniks, particularly from those whose dislike of the language of neoliberal globalisation is motivated by anti-imperialist sentiment. It’s almost refreshing to have to challenge that stereotype of myself as cold and lacking in empathy. It’s a rare novelty and as such a luxury to encounter anti-English/British racism. Few other nationalities enjoy such privilege.

It’s always felt like a small victory to be told I’m not typically British. At the same time, I’ve very slowly came to realise that my response is by no means atypical: as Kit Wright’s poem ‘Everyone hates the English‘ exuberantly points out, no one resents the English as much as the English do. My self-deprecation (e.g. wanting England to lose at sport) is in some ways typically English. (Indeed, someone once wrote a book about this very attitude.) When it comes to coldness, what ‘we’ see as humour and irony doesn’t translate. In the notion of ‘taking the piss’ there’s a defensiveness, as a character in ‘Against’ the Day’ by Thomas Pynchon remarks: 

Any who may come to feel betrayed by them, insulted, even hurt, even grievously, are simply ‘taking it too seriously.’ The English exercise their eyebrows and smile and tell you it’s ‘irony’ or ‘a bit of fun.’

Here we come to a tricky area: am I concerned with being British or English? As the Scottish writer Momus points out, there’s a marked difference. Very few Glaswegians voted for Ukip. His classic essay is about English self-deprecation, not Scottish or Welsh*. He quotes Minette Marin making a similar point to Pynchon:

“To me, as an American on my father’s side, one of the most unattractive aspects of Englishness has always been false modesty. It’s called self-deprecation, but springs from a deep sense of superiority (not unjustified, and all the more annoying for that) and it was traditionally both a ruse to placate inferiors and a game to tease equals – a national form of self-aggrandisement and exclusion.”

While an English cliche has it that the Germans excuse their historical misdeeds with the phrase ‘I was only following orders!’, it’s long seemed to me that the English/British equivalent is ‘I was only having a laugh!’. It’s significant that insofar as Britain has sought to come to terms with its history of racism and violent plunder, comedy has been one of the main media.

I’ve gradually come to accept my national background as a defect, albeit one that I’m powerless to change, whether I eventually manage to acquire an Italian passport or not. I’ve lost some of my sense of shame, although I’ve never got to the point of cheering on the football team. I would never declare myself proud to be British. I didn’t like the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony any more than I liked Blair, but I could see that there was an aspiration towards a more inclusive cosmopolitan self-image, one that celebrated the progressive aspects of the country’s past without shying away from the guilt occasioned by slavery and empire. I began to see my antipathy towards my own national identity as a little more than an overgrown adolescent impulse.

Now, five years on, we have the most right-wing and nationalistic government of my lifetime, led by someone who actively sneers at ‘cosmopolitans’. Politics is dominated by a tone of unreflective and unrestrained imperial nostalgia and unreconstructed xenophobia of the most facile and obnoxious kind. Downton Abbey, Ex-NF thug Nigel Farage and scumbags beating up asylum seekers are all of a piece, symptoms of a deep reactionary shift towards the most repugnant aspects of our history. If you add in the media treatment of child refugees, the screeching of Katie Hopkins and all the other professional shit-stirrers and the fact that millions are expressing an intention to vote for much more of this, it’s hard to feel anything but a renewed sense of deep, deep mortification. We unambiguously are, as Barnes says, “cold, arrogant, violent, self-interested, racist and hypocritical.”

It’s shameful to be British, and I for one no longer feel ashamed to say so.

 

* I apologise for sometimes using the two terms interchangeably but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’ve tried to use them appropriately. It’s worth noting that: a) it was the British Empire, not the English one b) Tony Blair joined in with the invasion of Iraq in his capacity of Prime Minister for the whole of the UK, not just England, and it wasn’t just English soldiers who killed and died there and in Afghanistan c) Wales as a whole voted Leave d) I happen to think that Scotland made a catastrophic mistake in 2014. However, do feel free to challenge individual misuses, in the meantime I’ll just leave this here:

23 things you have an ‘absolute right’ to do

Immagine

  1. Shout ‘puppy dogs make me so horny!’ on a crowded subway train.
  2. Put human feces on a BBQ grill and try to feed it to your family.
  3. Stop any random stranger on the street and tell them they’re the ugliest person you’ve ever seen.
  4. Take a running jump out of the nearest window.
  5. Tell everyone you work with that you’ve joined the KKK or BNP.
  6. Go to a tattoo parlour and get the words ‘AVOID THIS ASSHOLE’ written on your forehead.
  7. Go for six months without taking a shower or a bath.
  8. Vote Republican or Conservative.
  9. Give up your job, throw away all your cash and cut up your credit cards, taking care to dispose of all the food in your house before you do so.
  10. Change your Facebook status to ‘I hate all my so-called friends, especially you’.
  11. Up your cigarette intake to 160 a day.
  12. Tell everyone you meet, no matter how fleetingly, the most unambiguously shocking thing you’ve ever done.
  13. Put your house on the market for $10/£9.
  14. Individually email all the members of your family asking them never to contact you again or you will kill yourself.
  15. Sit in the park in the rain eating dog food out of a can.
  16. Contract herpes and shun treatment.
  17. Refuse to share your name with anyone you meet in a professional context.
  18. Throw your cellphone and carkeys into the nearest river or stream.
  19. When introduced to friends of friends, immediately tell them a horrible lie about your mutual friend.
  20. Go to the theater and shout ‘fire’ when the play’s just about to start.
  21. Tell your partner that you have a terminal disease when you don’t.
  22. Cut off both of your ears and then try phoning for an ambulance.
  23. If you should inadvertently find yourself in the position of President of your country, give top-secret intelligence information to a foreign power in order to try to make the representatives of that foreign power think that you’d be a cool guy to be friends with, then get your subordinates to lie on your behalf, and then use social media to admit you did exactly what the news reports said.

Wikileaks boss appeals for ‘any’ information regarding Donald Trump

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has made a public appeal for “any” information relating to US President Donald Trump.

Speaking from the cupboard in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has for the past few years been hiding from trial on several well-substantiated rape charges, the Australian-born hacker asked for “anyone out there” to provide his organisation with “any” details relating to Trump’s “public life or private dealings”.

“We at Wikileaks would be very grateful if anyone could google Mr Trump’s name, do a screen shot of the results page and email it to us”, he said. Referring to Wikileaks’ “stainless” reputation for exposing corruption among public figures and its track-record of campaigning for transparency, he requested details such as Mr Trump’s place and date of birth, his middle name and information relating to any major controversies or scandals he may have been involved with in the past.

Mr Assange also specified that his organisation is “very interested” in allegations of Russian collusion in the recent US election (won by Mr Trump) and asked that anyone sympathetic to the aims of his organisation visit the New York Times or BBC websites, find articles containing the basic facts as they stand, print them out and send them to ‘Wikileaks, Utility Cupboard, Ecuadorian Embassy, London’.

He also urged supporters of Wikileaks to look beyond the “mainstream media” and visit sites such as Reddit and Twitter in order to track down any information relating to Mr Trump, particularly in relation to the sort of business activities he may have engaged in before becoming President and also what political program he campaigned on during the election.

Asked why, given that Wikileaks normally works by drawing on an extensive global network of secret informants, hackers and whistleblowers, he did not use other more surreptitious means to investigate Mr Trump and his alleged Russian contacts, Mr Assange paused and said that he “hadn’t thought of doing that” but that he “didn’t want to get in trouble with (at this point he appeared to adopt a comedy Russian accent) ‘you-know-who’. 

Mr Assange stressed that Wikileaks will continue to do “whatever it can” to expose misdeeds in public life, “regardless of political bias”. In response to questions as to why his organisation had not sought to investigate allegations of corruption against far-right French Presidential Candidate Marine Le Pen, and had instead endeavoured to diffuse disinformation against her centrist opponent, Mr Assange was nonplussed, explaining that he personally had been “away” for the last few weeks in another part of his utility cupboard, and that Wikileaks must have been “hacked, or something”. He appealed to anyone possessing or with access to any basic biographical information on Le Pen or any details regarding France (its geographical coordinates, the name of its capital city and any major landmarks generally associated with it) to send it marked for his personal attention at “the usual address”.

Mr Assange then excused himself, explaining that he had a “very important health-data related project” to complete for “a group of private clients”.

Happy Birthday, my blog

148577-happy-birthday-imOn November 12 last year I hammered into my keyboard a series or more or less consecutive thoughts inspired by my rage and frustration at Trump’s election, chose an apposite-sounding name and this blog was born. Now six months have passed…oh wait…seven. Shit.

Dang, that’s a shame. I had a whole gala event lined up for this occasion. Sleaford Mods were scheduled to do a short set, Neil Tennant was going to apologise for releasing ‘Winner’ and Hillary Clinton was flying in to give a speech on the need to press on with the neoliberal project (“we will continue…until not a tree is left standing from Tashkent to Toronto…in no valley on earth will any stone be left unturned…just in case…there might be any money under it” – that’s from an advance copy, it’s dynamite stuff). Although Slavoj Žižek was unavailable (doing a fundraiser for the Golden Dawn, apparently), Jean-Luc Mélenchon had agreed to be here in hologramic form performing “Je ne regrette rien” and Thomas Pynchon was all set to act out scenes from ‘V.’. I’d also hoped to be able to announce my millionth visitor to this site. All those plans will now have to be abandoned, like tears…in rain.

To be fair, a million visitors in such a short time was probably wildly ambitious. As it is the site has welcomed a mere, paltry and derisory (checks bottom of page for first time ever) 906,917. Now, some of those came here to read this, but by no means all. Only 89.52638444311883%, in fact. Here are the most popular posts on this site:

Immagine

…which puts things into some perspective. I don’t think there’s anything there that technically qualifies as clickbait, with one obvious exception, which in any case was both a joke and a semi-serious point and served as a sort of trailer for the piece that followed it. Amidst all the other stuff here there is inevitably a combination of edgelordism, hot takes, virtue signalling, circular logic and various other fallacies, some obvious examples of what annoying people have taught me is called social justice warrior-ism, but also lots of stuff I’m actually proud of. I started this site in a spirit of anger and I’m ending it (except I’m not) with feelings of gratefulness and/or gratitude towards all those who’ve visited and offered comments/likes/praise/constant and invaluable conjugal support 🙂 and etc.

VORWARTS!

My life as a gangsta in 1990s Dublin

When it comes to early-90s Dublin thievery and skullduggery, Martin “The General” Cahill had nothing on me. Long before filesharing became the rage, I used to steal music. The radio station I worked at regularly gave away prizes, mostly in the form of Daniel O’Donnell and (get this) sub-Daniel O’Donnell CDs. Often the winners would come into town and pop into the station to collect their prize, and would be disappointed to be told (by me) that the disc in question couldn’t be found and that I’d personally dispatch a replacement directly to their front porch. What I was scrupulously careful not to tell them was that I’d stolen the CD, taken it to one of Dublin’s then-many record emporiums, made up a short entertaining anecdote about a generous but dotty elderly relative with a misplaced understanding of modern musical trends, and swapped it for some hiphop.

This went on for some time during which I was able to amass quite a collection of the very latest releases from Redman, Mobb Deep, various Wu-Tang offshoots, and etc. To be fair, it was all just a means of feeding my family, although to be more fair my beloved siblings all went by names such as ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’, ‘Midnight Marauders’ and ‘Whut: Thee Album’. It was kind of a victimless crime in that a small record company would get to believe that their music was slightly more in demand than it actually was and some elderly Dubliner would acquire a nice anecdote about how they went all the way into town to pick up that CD they’d won and although it turned out they’d have to wait to get their hands on the prize they’d had a pleasant chat with a very well-spoken and charming Englishman with admittedly slightly shifty eyes and (unbeknownst to them) very sticky fingers.

Then there was the keg-of-Caffreys episode. Ah yes. Ahem. The barrel of beer in question was the (as it were) prize prize of the year, as it was to be awarded to anyone who could (correctly) guess the winners of that year’s Caffrey’s Hot Press Irish Music Awards. There were numerous entries but they all shared two simple defects: 1) They were all sent and received before the winners had been announced and 2) The person who’d guessed (the ‘entrant’) didn’t work in the radio station which was hosting the competition. The radio station receptionist suffered from neither of these disadvantages and the fact that he seemed to be slightly eye-squiffy and wobbly on his feet every morning for the following month was not recognised as in any way connected to the seemingly above-board award of the (massive) keg of beer to a (unbeknownst to them) pseudonymous version of his girlfriend.

Two things brought my budding criminal career to a close. Inevitably, after a certain point, my confidence, my hubris if you will, brought me down. One evening I happened to spot my boss walking through Temple Bar, which was a commonplace occurence as our office was just around the corner. The awkward thing was that at the very moment he waved hello I was sitting behind a pristine restaurant window with a fork halfway to my lips while a colleague-in-dishonesty gulped down the contents of one of many wine glasses. The fork and wine glass in question were both the property of a recently-opened dining establishment which had just the week before (via our radio outlet) offered vouchers for a slap-up meal for two to the first listener who could name the singer of Aslan (Christy Moore). The vouchers in question had sadly not been to be found on the premises when the person who’d rightfully won them (the ‘winner’) had come to pick them up a couple of days previously, and I had apologised profusely and promised to get back in touch with the restaurant to replace them. It was only a short while later that my boss (Paul) called me into his office and in grave tones explained that we needed to do something about all these prizes going missing. His solution was to put me (the thief) (he didn’t say ‘the thief’) in charge of an investigative task-force to track down the culprit. Shortly afterwards, gangland boss Martin “The General” Cahill was shot dead near his home in Rathmines. In the words of Coolio, he was on his way to gangster’s paradise at last, and it was time to put a stop to my own life of crime just in case it should come to a similarly sanguinary end.