A representative of the elephant species has spoken out in the most strident terms against the US Republican Party, calling it an immediate threat to all life on the planet and to the human race in particular. He also asked that the GOP find another symbol to represent its brand.
‘It has long been a source of considerable embarrassment for the elephant community to be associated with the Republican Party’, said the spokeselephant at a press conference held in one of the larger rooms of the Washington offices of the WWF. ‘We were no supporters of Richard Nixon, and very few of us were in favor of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. However, the spectacle of these last few months has, as we elephants like to say, taken the tusk’.
‘Not only have the nont exactly mammoth-brained sons of the Republican President boasted of hunting elephants and our fellow protected species’, he continued. ‘We have also had to suffer the indignity of becoming associated in the human mind with the most grave offenses against basic human and non-human morality. Without wanting to dwell on their actual enthusiasm for putting child sex abusers into positions of political responsibility, the venality demonstrated by Republican congressmen in serving the requirements of their superrich paymasters with regard to tax reform has been beyond scandalous. They have no concern whatsoever for the effects on your society or your economy’.
‘It’s also necessary to address the, if you’ll excuse the pun, elephant in the room. The Republican Party is an organisation which has, for the last few decades, dedicated itself to telling outright lies about the causes and consequences of environmental catastrophe, particularly with regard to the climate. Their greed and corruption is such that they ignore very real catastrophes and actively seeking to censor discussion of the topic, going so far as to ban the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ from government documents’.
‘This issue is one very close to the hearts of all elephants, given that we are a species whose continued existence is threatened. We therefore request that the Republican Party cease forthwith to use our bodies as symbols of their organisation. We would also like to point out the irony of a species usually considered, in human terms, mute, having to raise these issues in the absence of an appropriate level of concern among humans with regard to their own future. We, as elephants, find the Republican Party odious and repugnant; you humans must heed the warning of your intellectual Noam Chomsky, who quite correctly called it the most dangerous organization on the planet today’.
The elephant said that he was aware that given the long association of the GOP with his species, it may not be easy to disassociate the two in the public mind. As a gesture of goodwill he deposited a pile of elephant dung on the stage, suggesting that it would make for a more apposite symbol of what the Republican Party stands for.
Republican Party Chairperson Ronna Romney McDaniel was unavailable to comment as we went to press. Her secretary explained that Ms McDaniel was busy meeting some oxygen industy lobbyists and then had a Sandy Hook-themed NRA Christmas party to attend.
The elephant species is around 55 million years old.
In another age, disgraced government ministers, having let down their country in her hour of most dire need, finding themselves bereft of dignity and honour, would lock themselves into their oak-lined studies, sit down on their creaking maroon leather chairs at their vast, sturdy desks passed down from generation to generation of statesmen, take out their favourite fountain pen and some thick monogrammed writing paper, and compose a valedictory letter to their loved ones apologising for their failings and explaining that their was only one course of action left open to them, one final act which may eventually serve to redeem their family name. They would then remove from a locked drawer a bejewelled revolver, place the barrel between their bewhiskered jowls, briefly contemplate a cherished memory of a lovelorn glance exchanged on a collegiate boating lake many years before, sigh wistfully and then pull the trigger.
How the fuck are Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and David Davis still alive?!
For the last few months I have, I know not why, been receiving emails direct from Donald J. Trump, all begging for two things: praise and money. In addition to flattering comments on his racism, his outright corruption and the success of his rapid weight loss regime, he’s also very keen to recieve campaign dollars so he can carry on his important life’s work in support of pedophilia, climate breakdown and global war. Although that might sound a little cynical, I should add that he is careful to address me as ‘Friend’, which would make it all okay except for the slightly disturbing fact that every single one of his actual friends has at some point been investigated for sexual assault.
Slightly put out to be the recipient of such missives and disappointed never to have gotten a reaction to my admittedly less-than-friendly responses (sample reply: ‘Fuck off, you fat racist piece of fucking shit’), I marked the sender as ‘spam’. More recently, however, a new email arrived, this time from Melania Trump. It offered me, as a ‘valued supporter’, a very special something: an exclusive peek at her 2018 calendar. I’m not suggesting that you rush to Amazon and order an advance copy; after all, since I myself looked at it two days ago my eyes have felt kind of itchy, any sense of optimism I was feeling about the new year has dwindled and I’ve been suffering from a deep-seated and persistent feeling of nausea. For that reason, and also because of the copyright issues involved, I’m not going to share the actual photos with you, but I would like to give you a flavour – not a pleasant one, admittedly, more medicinal if anything – of what the calendar contains.
Cover: Melania Trump sits looking out of the White House window wearing a white ballgown and an expression on her face suggesting that she’s thinking of jumping through said window. In the background her husband Donald Trump can be seen shouting angrily at the television. The words ‘Melania Trump 2018 Calendar’ are written in cursive script, but the word ‘calendar’ is misspelt.
January: Melania Trump sits looking out of the White House window wearing a red ballgown and an expression on her face suggesting that she’s thinking of jumping through said window. In the background her husband Donald Trump can be seen shouting angrily at his Samsung Galaxy S3.
February: A winter landscape. Melania Trump strolls a tree-lined avenue accompanied by members of her immediate family. Her lip is curled up in a disdainful manner and she is holding the hand of her son Barron, who appears to have been crying. Her husband Donald is looking at his Samsung Galaxy S3 with an expression of considerable anger. Security guards follow at a safe distance.
March: Surrounded by cherry blossom trees, Melania Trump sits naked astride a horse.
April: Surrounded by silk sheets and rose petals, Melania Trump sits naked astride a security guard. On the bedside cabinet a Tiffany’s security pass is partly obscuring what appears to be a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’.
May: Melania Trump looks on disdainfully while her husband makes a speech. Her husband is mocking a military veteran with facial disfigurement suffered at the service of his country. Every single person in the room is wearing an expression of extreme discomfort.
June: Melania Trump is pictured in a formal pose with her family in their home in Slovakia. The photo is rendered in sepia tones. The oldest man in the photograph is wearing a military uniform with a number of medals on it, including at least one eagle symbol. The walls of the room are bare except for a framed photograph of Jozef Tiso. No one in the photograph is smiling.
July: A beach scene, in which Melania Trump is lying on a sunlounger in a bikini. She has a contemptuous expression and a pair of mirror sunglasses, and is surrounded by security guards. Her husband is several metres away, seemingly shouting into his iphone. Also present is their son Barron, who appears to have been crying.
August: Melania Trump stands next to her husband, President Donald Trump, and their Chinese counterparts. They are standing on a red carpet and Donald Trump is holding up a cheap bookmark he has been given by the Chinese President as a mark of their two countries’ friendship. He is beaming with pride. Melania Trump is wearing a disgusted expression on her face.
September: Melania Trump enjoys afternoon tea with a select group of her closest friends, consisting of the wives of Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. Roy Moore’s wife has a spiteful expression on her face and appears to be telling an anecdote. No one in the photograph is smiling.
October: Melania Trump descends from Air Force One. She is preceded by her husband, Donald Trump. Neither of them is smiling. Through the plane window you can just make out the face of their son, Barron Trump. He appears to have been crying.
November: Melania Trump sits next to her husband Donald Trump at what appears to be a formal banquet. Donald Trump has his eyes closed and looks like he is in the act of relieving himself. Melania Trump looks like she is aging ten years for every second she spends in the company of her husband.
December: A family Christmas. Barron Trump is sitting in the middle of a huge pile of presents, most of which are unopened; he appears to have been crying. Melania Trump is smiling as she admires a very expensive necklace in a gilt-edged mirror. Her husband Donald Trump is shouting at a gigantic television screen, while on the wall a large coffee stain is dripping onto the expensively-coiffured carpet, where lies the remnants of a high-end coffee pot. A few feet away, amidst the wrapping paper and already forgotten presents, there are the remains of a Samsung Galaxy S3. The TV screen shows an image of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Everyone’s in favour of the right to free speech. Until, that is, ordinary people open their mouths – then things quickly get much more complicated, with exceptions to the rule cropping up all over the place like cracks in a bursting dam. Liberals in particular will claim that their commitment to freedom of expression is total and boundless, but we’ve seen over the last couple of years, from college campuses to the Internet, that their dedication to the cause involves more reservations than the Wild West. Instead of a full-on no-holds-barred debate, they want their safe spaces, where only certain kinds of opinions can be voiced by certain kinds of people.
Well, proponents of the kinds of views that liberals find unacceptable are fighting back. Ordinary people are rejecting the whole specious discourse of political correctness, and refusing to conform to the standard narratives, to the attractively packaged and artificially sweetened versions of reality which they’ve been force-fed for far too long. Opinions rarely expressed in the lamestream media are finding outlets and appreciative audiences online, free of regulation and admonishment by the self-appointed guardians and gatekeepers of good taste.
But who am I to tell you what to think? The video I’m going to show you will make my case far more articulately than any number of #MAGA tweets, Breitbart editorials or impassioned rants by Alex Jones. You’ll certainly never hear these views on a Ted Talk! The video shows a young woman, an innocent yet passionate embodiment of the desire for total human liberty, expressing herself as loudly and as freely as her heart and lungs will allow. It’s a moving lesson – as The Bible says, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings – that teaches us where the full realisation of ‘free speech’ will lead us. Watch it and then tell me you would ever restrict the right of such human beings to share their views in public, regardless of how unpopular the opinion or how unwelcoming the context.
(The point of this tongue-in-cheek post is to ridicule the new global far-right’s hypocritical and cynical pretence of being attached to ‘free speech’, and to make the point to fellow progressives that we must not let them get away with it. You may find it poorly executed – fair enough – but if you think my point is mistaken, please complete the following challenge: find me one social media fascist screeching about the inviolability of free speech (a liberal value in any case) who has also spoken up for the rights of those who don’t subscribe to the alt-right worldview. If you can find one such example, I will send you $10 by PayPal and edit the post accordingly. I’m off out for a pizza.)
Fox News host Sean Hannity has launched an extraordinary attack on ‘President Trump, sorry I mean President Obama’, calling him ‘obviously sick, pathetic, and twisted in this obsession with President Obama, sorry I mean President Trump’.
Hannity also claims that he recieves nightly phone calls from the White House during which ‘President Trump, sorry I mean Obama’ appears to be ‘either very drunk or on some sort of drugs’. He reports that the calls, which sometimes go on for several hours, reveal ‘Trump, sorry I mean Obama’ to be a man wracked with self-doubt, desperate for approbation, and, above all, profoundly out of his depth in his new role. Hannity stated that he is ‘worried’ for the president’s state of mental and physical heath, and pleaded with him to turn instead to a competent professional.
‘President Trump, sorry I mean Obama, you must stop calling me’, he pleaded directly to camera Thursday night. ‘I know you have an enormous amount to deal with right now, what with Mueller’s investigation about to knock on your door any second and the creeping suspicion that everyone in the world is looking at you and either laughing or crying with rage, incredulous that the American people could have entrusted the machinery of world government to someone so patently corrupt, obviously temperamentally unstable and catastrophically ignorant of the most basic aspects of what political power entails. But I have a family and a very high-pressure job. I need to sleep at night, not listen to the bitter, self-pitying, incoherent ramblings of an inebriated madman’.
Hannity also explained that ‘President Trump, sorry, I mean President Obama’ has an abiding obsession, one which ‘seems to be consuming him from inside, like a particularly malevolent cancer’, with the notion that he is ‘not nearly as well-suited to the job as his predecessor, President Trump. Sorry, I mean Obama. No wait, Trump’. According to Hannity, ‘Trump’s, sorry I mean Obama’s’ entire political agenda, right from the moment he was inaugurated in January this year, from Climate Change to North Korea to the Middle East, has been determined by a pathological need to destroy and thus emulate the achievements of his widely-respected counterpart. His fixation on ‘President Obama’s, sorry I mean President Trump’s legacy’ is said to be such that he is unable to face up to basic facts about his own situation, automatically projecting every criticism that is made of him ‘directly back onto Obama. Sorry, I mean Trump’. Hannity claims that even those within ‘Obama’s, sorry Trump’s’ inner circle now instinctively copy this behavior, to the point that in any statement that emerges from the White House or is made by his supporters in the media ‘you might as well just replace the name Obama with Trump, and vice versa. That’s how insane things have become. It’s very confusing and frankly puerile’.
Asked after the show to specify which media figures are guilty of such behavior, Hannity refused to comment, saying only that he ‘hoped that Melania, I mean Michelle, can hide the president’s iphone so I can get a good night’s sleep for a change’.
There are three reasons why I reckon it’s about time for our daughter to learn her ABC. Firstly, she’s now ten months old. Secondly, I am, like Martin Fry, from Sheffield, and thirdly, my repeated experiments with ‘Being Boiled‘ and ‘Nag Nag Nag‘ weren’t encouraging, so it’s probably better to go for something a bit more accessible. As it happens, later this month we’ll be visiting my folks in Sheffield, so I can show her the former art college just around the corner where Martin Fry and, er, the others did their first ever gig. (Although when I pointed out Phil Oakey’s nearby house to her when we were last there in May, she was fairly nonplussed, I reckon if I just keep pointing at the block of student accommodation which now stands where Psalter Lane Art College used to and sing bits of ‘The Look of Love’, something might get through.)
For her, an album from 1982 is as distant in time in relation to my own birth as one from 1937. (Although seeing as she doesn’t yet possess concepts such as albums, years, meanings or words, imagine how she’d struggle with that sentence. What’s your excuse?). I showed her some photos of the group silver and gold lame suits they used to sport at the time and she seemed quite impressed, although to be fair her little roundy face does light up in a quite worrying fashion whenever she looks at a smartphone, so maybe it was more related to that.
With regard to the music, she certainly doesn’t react nearly as badly as she did to ‘Reproduction’, the cover of which admittedly features women in stilletoes trampling on babies. One of the many joys of parenthood is seeing which music is intuitive enough to inspire a reaction. ‘Reign in Blood’ by Slayer didn’t go down enormously well, but she does have an ongoing thing for Prefab Sprout, and as for The Fall, you can judge for yourself here. The opening bars of ‘Show Me’ certainly stir my soul, but she’s too distracted by the appetising sight of my laptop’s international plug adaptor, on which she’s had her eyes for the last couple of weeks, to pay very much attention. I had high hopes for ‘Date Stamp’, very much my favourite song whenever I’m not at that particular moment listening to any of the others. Its heart-bursting but somehow also wry denunciation of the then-inchoate idea that every aspect of our lives including love itself is mere merchandise, a notion whose power has only grown to the point where my hometown’s trees are currently being smashed up by corporate hooligans and malevolent forces are trying to hypnotise our children via Youtube is, in a very literal sense, music to my ears. Unfortunately she’s too busy putting in and taking out some wild animal finger puppets to and from an empty yoghurt container to really focus on how trenchant, lush and unabashedly romantic the whole thing is.
Attention spans being limited, I decide to skip the whole of ABC’S subsequent career up until ‘Lexicon of Love II’ (which means she misses out for the moment on the jagged swoons of ‘The night you murdered love’, but doesn’t have to sit through their attempts at house music). This belated sequel to the 1982 album was released just last year to general acclaim. Contrary to what you might expect given Fry’s history of involvement in ’80s revival cruise ship booze-ups, it sounds not at all like not a cheap copy of the original album, but really rather freshly minted. It sounds, in the most positive sense, like it could have been made any time between 1985 and 1992, like one of those Paddy McAloon records whose release was delayed for a number of years. She seems to appreciate its mix of expensively orchestrated pop classicism and hard-won middle aged wisdom, bouncing around with a massive baby grin on her face to ‘The Flames of Desire’. On the whole it goes much better than our previous music mentoring sessions, especially the ‘Reign in Blood’ one, which culminated in my having to put on ‘Il cocodrillo come fa‘ in order to get her to calm down. (My wife, that is. The baby seemed to be just starting to get into it by the time ‘Altar of sacrifice’ came on.) On this occasion it’s not Chiara that complains, but the downstairs neighbour, who bangs on the door to give out about unreasonable levels of noise at 3pm on the Day of Rest. Miserable bastard. Maybe one day he’ll, you know, cheer up and, as someone once sang, find true love. Or something.
British media personality Katie Hopkins has announced that she plans to move to Alabama with her children should controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore succeed in his bid for a Senate seat.
A source has reported that Hopkins sees the move as an attempt to relaunch her career in an environment more appreciative of her talents. She is also said to believe that Alabama represents a healthier environment in which to raise her children, given the state’s preponderance of people who despise outsiders, its excellent potential for school shootings, its vulnerability to climate disasters such as floods, hurricanes and droughts and the fact that most of its heavily-armed and undereducated population apparently endorses sexual abuse of children. Hopkins recently spoke out about her own experiences of teenage sexual abuse in an attempt to encourage victims of such treatment to remain silent and to provide emotional support to any adults newly contemplating sexual assault of minors.
Hopkin’s fortunes in the UK have taken a downturn of late. She was sacked from her radio show at LBC because of falling listenership and for having called for a ‘Final Solution’, and was subsequently fired from her Daily Mail column for costing the newspaper hundreds of thousands of pounds in libel fees and also for being insufficiently entertaining. Her book of memoirs, ‘I, Hatey Katie’, sold only eight copies, and plans for her to go door-to-door shouting abuse at people in order to promote it had to be shelved for logistical reasons. A faeces-themed cookbook of recipes aimed at raising money for organisations fighting the homeless failed to find a publisher, and an offer to host a racist beauty pageant was revealed to have been an internet prank, as were rumours that she was to replace Angelina Jolie as Special Envoy to the UN High Comissioner for Refugees. Hopkins is also said to be disheartened that in recent weeks her prized position of pantomime harridan cartoon racist attention-dependent national hate figure appears to have been stolen by Jayda Fransen.
Hopkins is said to believe that relocating to the States will raise her standing in the Fox News ranking of probably-mentally-ill-people-who-can-be-guaranteed-to-come-on-TV-at-a-moment’s-notice-and-say-something-outrageous-about-black-people-or-climate-change-or whatever-just-to-get-attention, where she currently sits in 13,373rd position. She believes that she will quickly be welcomed into the supportive community of figures such as Tomi Lahren, Ann Coulter, Lauren Southern, all of whom similarly have built their careers by spitting in the face of female solidarity. Should her media ambitions not meet with success, Hopkins plans include dumping her kids in a motel and running through Washington screaming for people to notice her, before being transported to a secure psychiatric institution where she hopes to reinvent herself as that-one-who-just-stays-in-her-room-making-screeching-noises-all-the-damn-time.
Katie Hopkins is 64 years old.
I’ve been trying to work out why pretty much everyone treats everyone else like pricks on the internet, and also to figure out how far verbal violence online is starting to spill over into what we must for the sake of our sanity regard as the real world. For the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, it is the face to face encounter with the other which gives birth to ethics and hence to the development of moral and social codes of behaviour. I suspect that the fact we increasingly interact via screens allows us to hide from that encounter and avoid the vulnerability, the threat of fellow feeling it engenders.
Discussing serious subjects online is almost always a total waste of time: the weak links that bind us mean that if a discussion gets too awkward or we stand to lose face, it’s easy to disappear back into the ether. There’s little risk of commitment and thus a lack of mutual obligation, not only to others but also to ourselves insofar as we abandon our duty of solitude. Technology frees us from the need to reflect on our thoughts and deeds. (Few of us are blameless in this regard, as Oliver Burkeman explores here.)
Sherry Turckle talks of the hope of the early days of the internet, in which protecting our identities could seen as be a positive thing, allowing us to explore other ways of being in a (to borrow a phrase from the then-future) safe space, with no risk of physical violence. But it’s become clear that the exploitative form of our relations offline, all the exploitation and bullying and pornography that in our day-to-day encounters we manage to get on in spite of, determines what happens online, and in turn the form of our online lives influences our social lives.
As the internet has developed (but not matured) I’ve noticed a spilling over of violence, as digital threats become embodied in physical encounters, like a fist or bullet coming straight through the screen. One obvious form this takes the form is doxxing, sharing address details of online antagonists (which the British fascist Tommy Robinson is endeavouring to turn into a form of entertainment), but there’s also the cases of sexual abuse facilitated by apps such as Uber and Tindr. The internet is an embodiment of Labi Sifre’s assertion that violence is never just physical. The film ‘Unfriended‘ is a very literal but not entirely trivial example of how online threats can transgress the boundaries of the hyperreal.
In that case the identity of the online tormentor is not clear; he or she may even be from the afterlife. As things stand, we can often track who is trying to turn online rage into offline violence. Anyone happy to dismiss the role of Russian trolls in seeking to undermine US democracy would do well to reflect on this. Charlottesville was a rally of internet trolls who’ve come to see fascism as a natural extension of their online tastes and habits. Much far-right bullying and deliberate disinformation is for to have derived from the teenage hate forum 4chan. Four or so years on from Gamergate, rape and death threats against any woman who dares to speak out against non-approved targets are increasingly coordinated. In an unerringly similar way, Isis seduces its potential recruits using online tools, mostly Snapchat and Skype. While it’s comforting to think of such platforms as forming us into an inclusive global community, the fact that terrorist attacks are planned and coordinated via Whatsapp rather takes the shine off the whole enterprise.
For anyone wanting to argue that World War 3 has already broken out online, metaphors abound, from ‘sniping’ to ‘troll armies’ to ‘weaponising anger’ to ubiquitous talk of ‘entrenched’ opinions. Political debate is often adversarial, but social media has opened up many more fronts, partly thanks to its dehumanising tendencies. The adage that the first casualty of war is truth is particularly apt to describe the ‘post-fact’ age. Maybe that is how we see our online interactions with strangers: as a battlefield in a tribal war. Certainly the polarisation of news sources, with each side only exposed to its own propaganda is very evocative of wartime. Although, given that I’m using the very same media I’m condemning, I’m obliged to mention the benefits, and acknowledge that the end of net neutrality in the US is a frightening prospect, right now I think that anything that reduces the attractiveness of the online world may be a good thing.
The effects on children is one subject that’s close to home for two reasons, partly because I’m currently teaching in a high school where the abuse that digital media makes possible is having horrendous effects, and also because we have a very young daughter whose face lights up at the sight of a smartphone and who will, unless we’re extremely careful, soon start demanding to be hooked up to Youtube. The notion that the chief danger the internet poses to children is exposure to predatory pedophiles is a hackneyed one, but stories from Mexico of young girls being seduced by men who then sell them on are are not just apocryphal.
The internet is amoral because it reduces that basic recognition that Levinas identified. It’s a cartoon representation of reality, so all the bullying that goes on social media is cartoon violence. Until, suddenly, it isn’t.
If you google ‘Trump on opioids’ you get lots of news reports about his initiatives on the issue – he declared it a national emergency, but then did nothing else whatsoever for months, and he has now appointed Kellyanne Conway, who looks uncannily like the ‘After’ photo in an ad warning of the dangers of crystal meth addiction, his opioid czar. If you google ‘is Trump on opoids’ you find only one link, to someone casually making a daft quip on Twitter.
Without wanting to cause offence to anyone affected by the crisis, I think his inaction on the issue may be a tell. It’s also possible that his alternating bursts of euphoria and irritability, his very evident mental confusion both on and offline, his weight gain and his public slurring of words, his sniffiness and bizarre water fixation may all be somehow connected with reports that he has a quack doctor in New York who prescribes him whatever medications he needs to keep him (after a fashion) able to function. There are, after all, many things that connect Trump with Michael Jackson, from his 1980s ubiquity to the myriad rumours regarding various forms of abuse to which he’s subjected other people in his life. Trump has similarly spent pretty much his entire life immune to the consequences of his actions. Perhaps when his wife promises to give a voice to families suffering from opioid addiction, she’s unaware of the ironies involved. Maybe the thing that does for him will be whatever he’s taking to numb the pain and guilt he surely must suffer if he’s not actually, as all available seems to suggest, some sort of inhuman monster.
This is a blog, not a fake news site. I’m not pretending I have any inside information on Trump’s habits or medical proclivities – despite having read quite a few articles on the subject over the last few months, I’m still not even sure what exactly the term ‘opioids’ actually refers to*. I’m just innocently raising a question that I’m surprised not to have seen asked elsewhere.
The facts remain: opioid addiction is rife throughout the United States. In the words of Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America is ‘awash’ in the stuff. At the same time, its President is clearly deeply unstable in myriad ways. Maybe there’s more to Trump’s claim to be a man of the people than we previously suspected.
*In an earlier version of this post I even misspelt it.