Some Thoughts On Clintrumpica

They say a picture tells a thousand words. As a writer, I’ve always tried to resist the notion that words are obsolete. I have to believe they mean something, if only because I don’t want to feel like a blacksmith or a butter churner, a practitioner of some quaint but irrelevant art.

That said, here’s a picture that tells you all you need to know about the US Presidential election.

The population of the world increases beyond anything imagined before, while the population of its ruling class shrinks to less than the size of a quark.

You can channel David Icke, Douglas Adams and The Simpsons to arrive at the inevitable conclusion: they may all be reptilian monsters from outer space, but you have to vote for one of them.

Here’s one utter certainty: inequality will increase, regardless of who is elected in November. The only difference, perhaps, is that Hillary’s people will quote a lot more statistics from pet UN agencies telling you that it hasn’t.

If it takes pretty outrageous chutzpah for a man like Donald Trump to portray himself as a champion of the poor and an agent of change, then that’s just the time we live in.

Neither candidate will do anything to slow the satanic wheels of that creature called capitalism, which yields such huge profits for so very few, and which will probably give the plebs some sort of iPhone variant they can use to post selfies from inside their butts in a year or two.

In the meantime, if climate change (which Trump denies and Hillary accepts but won’t do anything about) does actually kill the planet, then Donald and Hillary and Bill and Melania will be on that escape ship, but you won’t be and neither will I.

Still though, the non-race to the White House might have a little more hot spice thrown in as it makes its indigestible way towards the nation’s colon.

Trump signalled furiously that he intends bringing up Bill Clinton’s personal life, and the only reason he didn’t was that Chelsea Clinton was in the hall ( he’s such a classy guy).

Even pro-Hillary media people (ie virtually all of them) are queasily admitting that there is some nasty fuel in there. The fox, as my grandma used to say, may go grey but never good.

Now isn’t that something to get excited about? Something to make you chug down your cheeseburgers with extra gusto. Buy that Hoagy, get that extra cake for in front of the TV.

The Donald’s getting nastier and it’s Monica time again. Make sure you have enough food and drink. We’ve got to shift some more units before November.

The Scourge Of Media Doctors

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There are many trends in media it is impossible not to despise. Body shaming, talent shows for people whose main ‘talent’ is a form of tragic neediness, trolling, clickbait, the relentless atomic smashing of culture into ever smaller and more mindless quantum particles, and I speak only of this month’s outrages. Next month will probably see a host of new ones.

Media doctors probably don’t feature large on most people’s lists of ‘things I’d like to see banned from the airwaves,’ but they are, in their way, every bit as insidious and potentially damaging as the Borg like assimilation of all other culture by pornography.

With the possible exception of the slick and ineffably polite US show ‘The Doctors,’ most media Doctors are in fact pretty shameless self-publicists, and while most forms of blatant attention seeking (apart from terrorism and the like) are relatively harmless, the fact that these people (usually) come armed with a medical degree makes their prognostications all the more dogmatic and toxic.

Producers of radio and TV shows are, at heart, a trusting and stressed out and gullible and ultimately pretty lazy bunch. They love anything that feels like an easy option. Picking up the phone to the nearest self-important medically qualified windbag is so, so much easier than generating new programming ideas.

Media doctors are people with an almost infinite need for ego gratification. Healing or comforting the sick or having tense relatives hang on their every syllable apparently just won’t cut it anymore. They need the larger stage.

And it can hardly be argued that they dispense studied, impartial medical advice. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard recycled prejudice, cultural bias and personal pique dressed up as so called sound medical advice. Many media doctors feel no compunction whatever about spewing nakedly partisan political opinions hypocritically dressed up as medical factoids.

Other have, apparently without the slightest twinge of medical conscience, taken part in so called ‘transformation’ TV shows which amount to little more than body shaming the morbidly obese, publicly humiliating people whose self-esteem is so low they need to be excoriated by millions of cretins with ‘send’ buttons. Whatever about the slack jawed greed of those who produce the programmes, it seems bizarre that a supposed medical professional would not realize the danger inherent in such treatment of very obviously vulnerable people.

But that’s the world we’re in now. Ten years of medical school, all those oaths to do no harm, are just grease in the engine of ambition. At least the Kardashians and others whose fame is mainly based on posting naked pictures of themselves to the Internet are engaged in an honest (if pathetic) grab for your vacant attention.

Media doctors are no different to nudist, wanna be celebs; what marks them out is the self-righteous insistence that you need to take their greed more seriously. Thus, I’ve watched ‘sport doctors’ shamelessly attempt to generate business for themselves on the stretched backs of overweight teenagers. There’s a guy who insists on wearing his white coat, along with what is presumably meant to be his disarming smile, into any interview. I don’t know why he just doesn’t emblazon his phone number on it, but then, even Mengele probably imagined that he was doing some good.

Some medical narcissists on this side of the pond no doubt gaze wistfully over the Atlantic at the gargantuan profits accrued by the phenomenon known as ‘Doctor Phil,’ a little like the way garage bands dream of being REM. Like his mother ship, OPRAH, Doctor Phil is simply unavoidable.

Frozen into literal immobility for a period by child rearing, I’ve sat impotently and heard the good doctor make all kinds of pronouncements I found to be half-baked, half-true, utterly subjective and at times, just plain old factually incorrect. But he’s a Doctor, ain’t he? At least he seems to think so.

So the legions of sad faces hanging on his every dribble seem to think. And I don’t have his medical degree, or his media profile, so I just have to sit there, silently and impotently being wrong.

Who needs to think when you’ve got some narcissistic and impatient medical celebrity there to do it for you? At least old Jerry Springer seemed to be having a laugh. Those who have followed him are far more insistent in their demand to be taken seriously.

The self-important witterings of media doctors also tend to obscure the fact that the way medical problems are classified and diagnosed tends to be far more fluid than many of us think.

The extreme end of this is in the area of behavioural problems, where types of behaviours tend to get shifted between labels according to whatever fashion happens to be dominant (because as many people don’t know, medicine is just as prone to fashion as clothes, or telly, or anything else).

Thus a behaviour which last week was described as ADHD this week lies on the Asperger spectrum. Today’s borderline personality disorder is tomorrow’s narcissistic psychosis etc. This goes on all the time, regardless of how much they try to tell you it doesn’t.

The same is true for what the old-fashioned among us term ‘real medicine,’ the stuff that actually has to do with ailments of the body. If you don’t believe me, then consider the number of people you know who’ve been to hospital only to be told ‘I’m sorry. We’re not really sure what’s wrong with you.’

Perhaps it is to recoil from this fluidity, this head scratching indeterminacy, that so many doctors have taken to the airwaves, where gullible viewers and lazy producers will treat every dogmatic gobbet that falls from their lips as a priceless pearl. A lot of the time, media doctors are actually just ‘spit balling,’ but they’re doing it with all the dogmatism of a 19th Century philosopher (‘this is the truth because I’m saying it and I’m a doctor for f***s sake).

This surely has a directly negative effect on the heads of their listeners. Presenting theories as if they were established facts is dangerous in any walk of life. In medicine, it can be fatal.

A case in point is nutrition, where media doctors now seem to be saying the exact opposite of what they were saying twenty years ago about red meat and butter and so on. The poor fools who may have gone obese from listening to all this free advice probably aren’t entitled to sue, and anyway, like the accountants who piloted us all into economic disaster, their media doctors have gone on to brighter and better things.

Unless there is an actual public health emergency, such as a pandemic or a nuclear explosion, which requires immediate action by the public, there is no reason why any doctor should be allowed in front of a microphone. They have more than enough to do trying to figure out what’s wrong with all those sick people, and if they don’t want to do that, then they have no business being doctors. Get rid of them.

 

New Proverbs Of Hell

Consensus means a closed door, a shutting of the mental gates against the virus of change or imagination. It is no accident that almost all our politics up to now has involved what politicians like to call ‘consensus.’

1916

Surely I’m not the only person to be struck by the irony that the Irish fought a bloody revolution, essentially to get rid of landlordism, only to later make landlordism the unofficial religion of the country? Was that what 1916 was really about: swapping one set of untouchable scumbags for another?

What if Bono Had Got His Way?

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One of the funniest things revealed by the most recent batch of leaked Hillary Clinton emails is that, apparently, Bono (or someone claiming to be acting for him) got on to the then Secretary of State asking if she’d use her good offices with NASA to have the astronauts on the International Space Station do a live link up with wherever U2 happened to be playing a gig on a given night.

This is apparently how things are done now in that great country club in the sky.

“Hey Hil. Hi, it’s Bon. Ah, fine now, thanks. Yeah. Great stuff on that whole Libya thing. Do you think it’ll be safe to play there soon? Twenty years or so? Hm. What about a press conference telling people they’re not doing enough? Grand. Sure let me know. Did you ever talk to the Pentagon about getting an air strike going on those bastards in South Park? I know, I know. Sure people can say whatever they f*****g like, so long as they’re not in Ireland anyway. Sure who am I telling? Anyway, I was in the loo the other day and I had this thought about NASA, you know, that big thing in the sky, and anyway…”

And there’s real power, you know, the type of thing you and I can’t even dream about, stuck as we are in our linear, rule-driven, non-networked little inequality bubbles. That true power might very well have led to a situation where, months later, a minor panic might have ensued high above the Earth, inside the most impressive monument to itself humanity has yet produced.

“Ah, merde. Ze light is flashing. Another vun already. Ivan, you do it.”

“Vat, no way. I did it last time.”

“You can have mein freeze dried ice cream at dinner.”

“I told you it tastes like shit.”

“Oh, all right. To think I went through fifteen years of astrophysics for this. Ok. Hello?”

And just imagine the type of conversation which ensues to enthral the sixty thousand souls crammed into a football stadium in Buttwipe, Oklahoma.

From space, a sheepish looking astronaut floating in mid-air sees a corpulent little man apparently fully encased in shimmering gold, sixty thousand dim lights at his back. What follows is perhaps the perfect inversion of what David Bowie imagined when he sat down to write ‘Starman.’

“Hello International Space Station. How’s it going?”

“Hello. Uh, fine.”

“You know you guys are just amazing. You’re the real heroes of tonight. Well, obviously I mean that metaphorically. Obviously I’m the real hero, but you know what I mean.”

“Uh. Great, yeah. Thanks.”

“You know you guys are just like us. Just as we blaze new trails in music and figuring out new ways to get people to pay for stuff, you guys blaze new trails in the sky. We all still haven’t found what we’re looking for, but we’ll bullet the blue sky because we’re even better than the real thing (muted cheers from the crowd, who dimly realize that those words remind them of something).”

“Uh, thanks Beano.”

“This is such a beautiful day. Have you any message for the kids down here?”

“Uh… don’t do drugs?”

“No, not that one. Come on Igor.”

“Uh, ah, sorry: (reads) ‘keep feeling pride in the name of love.'”

“God bless you, International Space Station.”

“Uh, thanks. You too.”

“Exactly. And this next song is dedicated to all you space guys.”

“Ok. Can I go now?”

“No. The deal is you stay floating there and hear the song, then tell everyone not to delete our stuff from their phones.”

“Ok.” (Igor mutters a very pithy Kazakhstani curse into his freeze dried ice cream. But it’s ok, because in space no one can hear you silently scream.)

This is the kind of stuff that real money gets spent on. Because once you pass through the economic event horizon Bono and the Clintons (and let’s be balanced, Trump too) entered ages ago, money itself ceases to have meaning. You can remould reality into a kind of monument to your own vacuity, and the resources of NASA itself are redirected towards staging conversations that make Homer Simpson sound like an intellectual.

In fairness, U2 have form in this department. During the height of the Balkan war, they used to do live link ups with people in Sarajevo. Someone, I believe it was the late journalist George Byrne, described this – unkindly but accurately – as the conscience rock equivalent of a drum solo.

The idea, presumably, was to inspire the punters of Buttwipe, Oklahoma with some kind of schtick about the triumph of human progress, or something.

But isn’t it strange how these things inevitably become a kind of hymn to pointlessness? No wonder we just can’t believe in stuff anymore.

What If Life was Exactly Like The Internet?

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Imagine if life was exactly like the Internet? Well, let me rephrase that slightly: imagine if the tiny fragments of ‘real life’ that remain to us were exactly like the Internet?

A decreasing number of us decrepits still wander down to the nearby shop for the proverbial pint of milk. No doubt the day is fast approaching when the Internet will do that for us as well, and anyone who still insists on the use of their own legs and larynx will be regarded as a dangerous weirdo, but for now…

I select the most attractive looking pint I can (that dairy, the blue and white one, they do good milk) and join the tail end of the evening queue, which features the usual line up of alienated old people, part time nudists, mothers who reach the checkout only to remember that they need eighteen other things as well, and foaming at the mouth residents of the Planet Neptune.

I pass a silent, yawing eternity waiting for the last of the Neptunians to be discharged by the ineffably smiling reality hostess, and humbly present my pint (probably gone sour by now).

Is there something a little weird about her smile?

“Can I get anything else for you today?”

“Eh, no. No thanks.”

“Are you sure? We have plenty of other kinds of milk that don’t taste like pure shite?”

“Ah, yes. Thanks.”

“Ah, you said ‘yes.’ So what can I get you?”

“No, no. I said ‘yes’ in answer to a question I took to be a negative. So no, I actually meant ‘no. No thanks.'”

“Are you sure this isn’t one of those times when ‘no’ really means ‘yes’?”

“Quite sure. Thank you.”

“Perhaps there are other milk related products that might interest you. How about some cheese?”

“No thanks. I’m fine for cheese.”

“We have over forty different kinds of cheese. Well, only six of them are in the store at the moment, but I’m sure if we ordered some, it could be here by … next week?”

“No thanks.”

“How about some yoghurt? That’s kind of like milk. That comes in loads of different flavours too.”

“I’m sure. But no.”

“We have plenty of milk based chocolate products too. In fact, we have loads of chocolate that’s really just milk, except frozen and loaded with sugar. Are you a bit depressed today?”

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

“‘Cos we have loads of different types of ice cream. That’s got milk in it too, or something like milk, and we’ve tons of it. There’s nothing like a bit of ice cream when you’re depressed. My girlfriend Sally now, she’s a 22-26-42 and her turn ons include skinny dipping and walks in the park, she loves a bit of ice cream when she’s depressed.”

“I – uh – really?”

“Yes.”

“Right.”

“So can I put you down for some?”

“No.”

The people who designed the Internet, the people who crafted consumerism, realized something very important about the so called ‘power of no.’ They realized that ‘no’ isn’t actually that powerful at all. Or more precisely, they realized that ‘no’ gets very, very tiring after just a short while. You start to feel exhausted, leached of vital fluid. You also start to feel a weird guilt. Somehow your stubborn, tiring ‘no’ is holding up all the lovely progress, like a turd blocking a water pipe.

“Ok. So no other milk based products for you today. Are you interested in anything other than milk? How about football?”

“Football?”

“Yes. There are some great deals going on at the moment. You know you can bet on anything, literally anything, at any moment of any game. How about Suarez to score for Barcelona in the next 10 minutes? If you bet 20, they give you 200. A steal.”

“Are Barcelona even playing at the moment?”

“Probably.”

“No thanks.”

“Want to enter the lottery? Just imagine: by this weekend you could be driving a Lamborghini around a yacht, sipping champagne from a supermodel’s bellybutton while insulting Jeremy Clarkson.”

“I see … uh.”

“You will. Of course you will.”

“No.”

The smile never wavers a millimetre in either length or depth. She knows, her hive mind knows, that at some point I’m inevitably going to buckle and say ‘yes’ to something. Let’s face it. I’ve probably already done it several minutes ago.

“Ok so. How would you like me to get naked?”

“What?”

“We’ve a little booth in the back where I can give you a little lap dance. For a little extra, I can even call Sally and we can have a party.”

I’ve stopped talking and started silently reciting a poorly remembered prayer.

“Ok, if not me, how about that girl at the other checkout? I could transfer you to her and she could get naked.”

I don’t know if I’m ever getting out of this. I don’t know, in the wider sense, if any of us are ever getting out of it.

But a further chilling thought occurs. Apart maybe from the last two bits, hasn’t most of this actually happened already?

Yeats: Why The Old Weirdo Matters Now More Than Ever

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It fell necessary some time ago to mark one or other anniversary to do with the poet WB Yeats. Mea Culpa! I can’t remember which one. It couldn’t have been the centenary of his birth, because that would have made him less than one year old when he wrote Easter 1916. Mind you, I wouldn’t put anything past the prodigious old weirdo.

I chanced to hear one of the “events” allegedly devoted to the great man. It billed itself as a radio documentary exploring the life and legacy of Yeats. Any actual exploration proved entirely incidental however, as the programme basically involved (plus ca change) various members of Ireland’s artistic and cultural Cosa Nostra talking about themselves and occasionally mentioning the fact that they come from (broadly speaking) the same country as Yeats, and that while the venerable WB might have penned a few interesting ditties in his time, he really was such a sexist and strange old bugger, and did you know that he didn’t think much of democracy, and even flirted with fascism in the 1930’s?

The timeless and monumental significance of that handful of late poems, such as ‘Among School Children,’ ‘Statues’ and ‘Byzantium’ was utterly ignored. In any other country this would be a scandal, but sure whatever you’re having yourself thanks.

It is part of the X Factorisation of culture that we now apparently have to ‘like’ an artist before we can dare to enjoy his or her work. Or, if not actually like, at least make sure they tick a stringent series of politically correct boxes before we ever navigate to that increasingly irrelevant first page. They better take that bloody Carravaggio out of the National Gallery. Don’t they know what that deviant was into? Imagine how many young minds are being surreptitiously corrupted?

And what the hell was Yeats at anyway? Didn’t he know that proper Irish poets are supposed to be a humble and circumspect breed? They’re supposed to spend their formative decades staring at tussocks and cowpats and then – many, many years later – produce some artful meditation on the cosmic significance of the way Uncle Ned wielded a shovel while the arse was falling out of his trousers.

Or, if the poet is a woman, to ruminate endlessly on her eternal oppression by men, the Church, her father, her dickhead husband, biology, men, that girl who stared at her weirdly from the supermarket checkout the other day, about how it’s still the 1950’s even though the calendar says it’s 2016 etc.

The Cultural Cosa Nostra has decreed that this is what poets are supposed to be. Their view is that this both strengthens what passes for ‘Irish,’ i.e. their identity (sure yeah, Yeats was way better and more interesting than any of us, but he was a freak, an aberration, he probably fondled women’s bottoms and wrote love letters to Hitler) and to help the rest of us know our place, which is kind of the same thing.

In the meantime, America – a place which, for all its legion faults, still dares to dream – has adopted the old weirdo as a kind of unofficial National Bard. Nearly a century after writing about Byzantium, Yeats has become the Virgil of a new kind of empire. Right or wrong, this is what happens when you’re huge, too vast and complex a figure for small culture bureaucrats to classify.

Yes, Yeats did all sorts of things that seem incredibly silly today. He more than dabbled in nonsense like the Theosophical Society. He’s alleged to have married his wife mainly because she convincingly faked an ability to communicate with spirits. He was probably an inveterate sexist, but then, so was every human male who converted oxygen into haemoglobin in the 1930’s.

He had a certain disdain for democracy, but then, so does every successful politician in the supposedly democratic world. He may or may not have flirted with fascism, but those who get worked up about this kind of thing conveniently forget that many prominent artists were doing exactly the same thing at the same time. No one remembers that Bernard Shaw was extolling Stalin in the 1930’s, largely because, for all his prodigious gifts, GBS is no longer seen as relevant, whereas Yeats remains stubbornly so.

Two of the reasons he remains relevant are (a) because of the sheer vastness of the range of things he allowed to concern him and (b) his fearlessness. And it is the second of these which makes Yeats very immediately relevant to a movement in poetry which is happening all around us today.

Yeats’ life was dominated by the relentless examination of symbols for the extraction of what, if anything, might be eternally true (and no, I don’t know if he ever found anything). In this search he was relentless, and he didn’t care how ridiculous it made him look.

Whether it was Maud Gonne’s boobs or a bunch of naked Tarot Card readers in a forest, he went wherever that search told him. In his often silly way, he embodied that tragic beauty of a Knight endlessly questing for the Grail forever beyond reach, possibly because it’s just a story someone made up uncounted aeons ago. When shall we know the dancer from the dance? Possibly never. Because it may very well be that the dancer is the dance.

In the past decade or so, a great popular movement of poetry has gained force. It is not particularly validated (though it is occasionally patronised) by the Cultural Cosa Nostra. Its practitioners haven’t, by and large, attended validated courses where they are taught the proper scrutiny of tussock and cowpat. Their voyage is largely one of self-actualisation; they seek to discover hidden things about themselves through the wielding of a once unfamiliar tool.

Some of the poetry they produce is pretty good, much of it is excruciating, but the effort is about the journey rather than the end. The poetry is shamanic. It is concerned with the phases of the moon and the discovery of previously unsuspected forces both within and without the poet herself.

In this, today’s popular poets are directly connected to Yeats, and how extraordinary it is that, 76 years after his death (yes, I’ve finally remembered what the anniversary was about) the magnificent old nutcase remains so much more relevant than so many of the circumspect back watchers who followed him.

You can’t imagine poor, dear old Seamus Heaney sitting naked in a room with a bunch of Tarot Card readers. You can imagine Yeats doing it.

A new poet today might hate him (and I’ve heard more than a few give out) but you can’t ignore him, and that’s part of what makes him far too big for the Cultural Cosa Nostra in the little country he first came from.