26 October, 2019

I read the Mueller Report

When Robert Mueller was called to testify before a US Congressional panel in July, three months after his report was delivered, it went something like this:

Q: We haven’t read the whole report; can you summarise the juicy bits for us?
A: No. Read the report.

Well, I did. To the extent that it’s been released, I read every last meticulous footnote. It was a slog, which is why it took me so long, so I would be very suspicious of anyone who claimed to have digested it in a weekend as many did.

By now, I would have thought all this would be a bit dated but now the president and his attorney general, who both claimed the report exonerated Trump the week it came out, are now preparing an inquiry into the inquiry because that’s what grownups do.

For those who are interested, here’s my tl;dr version:

The report is split into two chapters, one on the subject of collusion and the second on the subject of obstruction.

That there was interference in the 2016 presidential election by Russian interests is never in question. Nor is it ever in question that there was contact between some of these Russian interests and the Trump campaign. However, the report returns an open finding as to whether there was direct collusion with foreign meddlers by the Trump campaign. It isn’t established beyond reasonable doubt that senior members of the Trump campaign willingly colluded with Russia, as opposed to simply being used as useful idiots. It also fails to show that candidate Trump himself had any direct knowledge of the cooperation at the time.

To quote a line from The Godfather Part II, the family has a lot of buffers.

On obstruction of justice, the inquiry has Trump, his campaign and his administration bang to rights. There is ample proof and the defence submitted by Trump’s counsel is thoroughly rebutted. The only reason it hasn’t gone further is because Mueller chose not to test the constitutional grey area of whether a sitting president can be indicted. It doesn’t mean Trump can’t be arrested at 12:01pm on January 20th.

It is perhaps for this reason, and to distract from impeachment investigations on another charge that has arisen since the report was published, that the Trump administration is looking to launch a counter-inquiry. However, if they are successful in their attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation, it would also negate over 20 criminal prosecutions which have arisen from it, seven of which have already resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.

27 September, 2019

Calm down! Trump isn’t going anywhere

With the Democratic Congressional leadership announcing an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s telephone call with the president of Ukraine, many of Trump’s opponents seem to think this is the moment they’ve finally got him. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.

The investigation may not result in articles of impeachment being drafted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been careful not to go off half-cocked so far and it’s unlikely the House will actually impeach unless they can be absolutely certain. But that’s hardly the point.

Impeachment would be followed by a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and led by a Trump troll in the form of Mitch McConnell. Does anyone seriously think they would convict? It’s not going to happen.

Trump is not without his critics in the Republican party but as the old saying goes, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. One of the most vocal Republican opponents of Trump during the election campaign was Lindsay Graham, who is now one of the president’s chief apologists.

The fact is if ‘Grab ’em by the pussy,’ didn’t end Trump’s political career, nothing will.

The one great service Donald Trump has done America is to expose what a bunch of shameless hypocrites many Republicans and their supporters are. They maintained plausible deniability for over 50 years but it was Trump who proved beyond reasonable doubt that all their talk about character, faith and family values was a load of bunkum designed to use Christian conservatives as useful idiots.

When the tape of Trump uttering those vile words and far worse was broadcast, his supporters rationalised it by saying the US elects a president, not a Pope. It would be a fair argument if the same people hadn’t clutched their pearls so over Bill Clinton’s infidelity.

The same people who continue to search for any excuse to charge Barack Obama with treason, have no problem with Trump publically begging Russia to hack the State Department, appeasing an unstable dictator with newly acquired nuclear weapons, or inviting the leadership of the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the September 11 anniversary. It’s not that negotiating for peace is a bad thing. It’s ultimately quite sensible. But you know Republicans would have demanded Obama’s head on a platter for any one of those things.

Despite talking tough on Twitter and at incredibly disturbing rallies, Trump has shown he doesn’t really have the stomach to order military action. Again, this isn’t such a bad thing. A president should not treat America’s military like toy soldiers. But after attacking every Democrat since Carter for being wimps when it comes to sending the marines at the drop of a hat, Republicans suddenly see strength in avoiding war. They don’t really of course. They see strength in backing Trump no matter what.

The same people who reached for the smelling salts when Obama used the word ‘hell’ as an expletive, were happy to shrug off Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comment. “He uses the language of the common man,” they said. In fact, the biggest change I have seen in America under Trump’s presidency (apart from people no longer being ashamed of wearing or carrying swastikas) is the fact that news channels no longer bleep out the word ‘shit.’

It’s pointless to expect any kind of moral consistency from Republicans because they have none. And that’s why impeachment proceedings will probably go nowhere. It’s not that they don’t know Trump is a corrupt idiot, they just don’t care.

A large portion of Americans, and fellow travellers internationally, would happily watch the world burn so long as the guy who flicks the match yells, “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!” as he does it, and it upsets leftists

(which these days can be described as anyone more progressive than Mussolini).

These people are enabled by another large section of the population which expresses its disillusion in the imperfection of alternative candidates in the form of not voting. And how’s that working out for you?

This is not a fit environment for common sense to prevail. If intellectual, ideological or moral consistency mattered a damn, Trump would never have made it past the first primary.

The truest thing Trump ever said was, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” I don’t see impeachment going anywhere. It’s not that he isn’t a liar, a phoney, incompetent, and probably a traitor. It’s just that half the county doesn’t give a fuck.

06 August, 2019

The lyin' and the unicorn

With apologies to George Orwell for the title, a summary of Brexit so far...

"We want a unicorn!"

David Cameron: You don't really want a unicorn, do you?

"Yes! We want a unicorn!"

Cameron: Are you sure you've thought through all the ramifications of getting a unicorn?

"Stuff thinking! Unicorn or GTFO!

Cameron: Alright, if you're very good and re-elect me, I'll hold a vote on whether you get a unicorn...

[Cameron re-elected]

Cameron: Okay, you can have your vote on whether you get a unicorn, which I am sure you don't really want.

"We want a unicorn!" 

Cameron: Look, I really don't think it's a good idea...



Cameron: I see. You have voted that you will get a unicorn and therefore I will... [car door slams, tyres squeal]

Theresa May: Fuck!

"Where's our unicorn?" 

May: Well, we have this horse. If we just affix this silver horn...

"That's not a unicorn!"

May: Alright, we have a silver horn. If we were to get, say, a donkey...

"No! Still not a unicorn!"

May: Okay, fine. I believe if we were to find a zebra...


May: Look, I think we can all agree that a species of the Equus genus with a silver horn protruding from its forehead, is for all intents and purposes...


May: Look, be reasonable.

Boris Johnson: I can make a unicorn.

May: You can't be serious.


[to be continued...]

Spoiler: Unicorns don't exist.

04 August, 2019

No more sympathy

Following the Australian federal election in May, there was a move on social media to stop donating to regions that regularly suffer drought, bushfire and flood. It may seem cruel and petty, but there is a certain logic to it.

You see, the regions which are suffering these events with increasing regularity due to climate change, are the ones that keep electing climate deniers to parliament.

It’s not a question of ‘punishing’ them for voting in the wrong people. No-one is suggesting they deserve the hardships of extreme weather. Nobody does. It’s simply a case of recognising that decisions have consequences. There is a direct connection between the way regional areas traditionally vote and successive governments’ inertia when it comes to mitigating climate change.

Why should people in areas that didn’t vote for climate deniers throw good money after bad? Why should we protect people from the consequences of their own decisions?

Which brings us, with extreme sadness, to El Paso.

Embed from Getty Images

Yet another mass shooting with depressingly familiar details. Yet more calls for gun control. Yet more offers of thoughts and prayers, and yet more mocking of those same offers. It’s all become clichéd.

This may sound callous, but as with the farmers who keep electing representatives who deny the real causes of their situation, perhaps the time has come for some tough love. America can wring its hands over this latest* slaughter all the way up to the next one, but if they keep electing representatives who are either beholden to the gun lobby or haven’t the spine to stand up to them, then this is going to keep happening.

In any democracy, however flawed, you get the government you deserve. I’m not going to make the case for gun control again. It’s been made. You can heed or ignore. It’s up to you. I’m sorry America, but you can have as many dead kids as your precious Second Amendment is worth to you. Your decisions have consequences. It’s just a pity everyone has to live with them.
*UPDATE: I posted this less than three hours ago, and El Paso is now no longer the latest mass shooting.

YES, it IS the GUNS and America's attitude towards them!

25 July, 2019

Boris Johnson vomits into the Queen's hat

Well, that didn't happen. At least, it hasn't yet.

The premise came about from a comment I made on the socials at the time Boris was being announced as the winner of Most Popular Actor in a Comedy Soap:
Theresa May was expected to achieve the impossible. Of course, it's still impossible for Boris too, but expectations are so low that if he manages to avoid vomiting into the queen's hat, he'll be considered a success.
A friend made the comment that they would probably let him get away with that too. And that got me to thinking exactly how the reflexive right and gratuitous contrarians would justify it, and I am sure my correspondent is right.

Boris Johnson 
Look, I happen to be aware that when Her Majesty was working as a nurse, tending to our brave lads on the Russian front in the first world war, she liked nothing more than the scent of a bit of hardworking chunder as bit of a pick-me-up at the end of a long hard day. 

Donald Trump
I believe it's considered a mark of great respect in the British aisles. I know it is in Scotland. They always offer it to me. Beautiful place. They have the best golf there. They invented it, I perfected it. Boris is a very good friend of mine, he says very nice things about me, he's making regurgitation great again.  

Scott Morrison
How good's spewing? 

Piers Morgan
Oh, it's just the leftie snowflake fun police at it again. When I was a young man, blowing chunks in a girl's ear was a sign you liked her. In fact, it was quite a leg-opener. Oh, I suppose I'm not allowed to say that any more either!  

Paul Watson
The liberal left wing elite are supposed to believe in recycling and sustainable use of resources, yet when a Conservative Brexiter does it, suddenly they hate him for donating his excess nutrients to the Sovereign. They also claim to hate royalty but are now using the Queen as their new poster child for loony left victimhood. And I'll bet YouTube won't monetise this video for me.


10 February, 2019

It’s the 24-hour news cycle and social media

Saying, “I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media,” has become an acceptable answer to absolutely any topic on a news discussion panel show. It has already been blamed for everything from road rage to teenage body image problems, despite both being around a lot longer.

Try it for yourself...

Why does political discourse seem so juvenile these days?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are more children being driven to school by their parents rather than taking the bus or walking?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are we seeing an increase in childhood obesity?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

How do we explain the increase in religious extremism?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are people deserting mainstream religions?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

What’s with the rise of neo Nazis?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media. (yeah, because that’s how it happened last time)

Why are we seeing such extreme weather?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media. (nah, really. Back in my day we just said, “funny old weather” and got on with it)

It climate change real? (YES!)
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are we seeing so many severe food allergies?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

What’s the go with the au pairs?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Where’d all the good people go?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

03 February, 2019

LET IT BE - The Beatles (1970)

It was supposed to be a rebirth. It turned out to be the death throes.

With the news that Peter Jackson will be ploughing through the 96 hours of film shot for an album and documentary originally to be titled Get Back, I thought I’d take another look at the original. The film has never had an officially sanctioned DVD release but there is a version of the original cut issued by United Artists available if you look hard enough.

It is both fascinating and depressing. Paul’s idea was for the band to get back to the ways they used to make music – recording live, no overdubs – and film the whole process. What becomes evident even without the history we know, is that John and George have accepted that the group has all but broken up; Paul is in denial, desperately trying to hold things together; and Ringo is just dutifully coming to work.

The film is basically split into three acts: the Twickenham sessions, the Apple sessions, and the rooftop performance.

It’s immediately evident that attempting to make a record in a film studio was a mistake. The most notable section is the argument between Paul and George. The music is terrible. The environment of the film studio was so cold (both figuratively and literally) that the sessions were abandoned. Recording shifted to the Apple offices in Savile Row resulting in a noticeable improvement in mood. The presence of Billy Preston at these sessions seems to help them keep on track, and it’s here that they actually complete some takes.

Naturally, it’s the rooftop session that is the highlight – arguably the first ever guerrilla gig. Even though they had several weeks of rehearsals under their belts by then, we get the impression that having an audience – even of passers-by – forces them to behave themselves and put in a decent performance. It’s a rightly legendary show, but will give nightmares to anyone brought up with a 21st century understanding of health and safety.

Even though it’s obvious the four of them have completely drifted apart, when they’re playing they still give their all. It also reveals how underrated John Lennon is as a musician. He plays sensitive bass on The Long and Winding Road and Let It Be (despite his distaste for the latter), some blistering slide blues on For You Blue, and one of the most recognisable guitar solos in history on Get Back. It’s worth remembering that none of these were his songs.

Both the film and album were shelved, and only released to satisfy contractual obligations. The film does deserve credit for its honesty. None of the Beatles come out looking particularly good but it’s Paul who comes out worst. In fairness, his domineering is clearly an attempt to give the band direction and delay the inevitable breakup, but it’s not hard to see why none of the Beatles were keen on having the film reissued in any way. One hopes the new edit will not be a whitewash.

The transfer on this version is abysmal so Peter Jackson’s cut will probably be worth the wait if only for picture quality, providing he doesn’t CGI it all into a flaming island castle.

Highlight: The rooftop session
Feature: * * ½
Extras: None
Audio: Dolby mono

31 January, 2019

Let sneaking presidents lie

Many have observed that when it comes to defending his policies, President Donald Trump likes to just make shit up. Shit like this:
Many have also observed that normally this would be a big deal, and lamented the fact that in 2019, it’s not as big a deal as it perhaps should be. It’s true that in normal times, such shameless falsehoods would be a big deal. But these are not normal times.

The one true skill Donald Trump has is his ability to change the story. His willingness to say things that are so obviously stupid with such regularity means there’s always something new to be shocked at. The previous shocks are forgotten.

In the essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt argues that the liar needs to recognise and accept the truth on order to say the opposite. The bullshitter just doesn’t care either way. He could have been writing about Donald Trump.

It doesn’t matter whether Trump bullshits because it’s in his interest or because it’s in his nature. The fact is, his blatant disregard for the truth makes a convenient distraction from his blatant disregard for the rule of law.

At a time when thousands of federal employees were having to choose between rent and food due to a completely unnecessary government shutdown, Trump successfully launched a thousand hot takes about the White House serving cold hamberders. However delicious an allegory the story may have been on Trump’s character or 21st century America in general, it wasn’t the most important thing going on. It was just easier to write about. That’s Trump’s talent.

Pay no attention to the 800,000 furloughed workers behind the curtain
It’s enough to make you believe that Trump really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Here’s how he would do it: First, he’d shoot someone. Then, as the police and ambulance were on their way, he would tweet something like,
“Mexicans faked the moon landing becos it’s really made of mozzarella cheese!!” 
And suddenly everyone would be saying, “That’s not true! OMG, you’re so stupid!” while the victim bleeds out.

The level of Donald Trump’s malfeasance is so deep that we need to prioritise. Yes, it’s shocking and sickening that the president of the United States can lie with such ease and abandon. What’s even more shocking and sickening is that this isn’t the worst thing about him. At a time when there is reasonable suspicion that the US head of state may be acting on behalf of a hostile foreign government, either wittingly or unwittingly, who cares if he pulls figures on illegal immigration out of his ass? You know it’s bullshit. I know it’s bullshit. Even he knows it’s bullshit, or would if he cared. But there’s still only so much people can think about in one moment, and as long as people are talking about whether he really knows anything about Mexican immigration (spoiler: No. Duh!), they’re not talking about whether he’s a criminal or a traitor.

If America had a president truly deserving of the title, the steady stream of untruths would indeed be scandalous. We so far beyond that now as to render the bullshit trivial. Stay focussed.

01 January, 2019

I read Mein Kampf

(and maybe you should too)

A few explanations first…

I read Hitler’s memoir/manifesto so as to have an informed opinion. There are plenty of quotes attributed to this book and I wanted to know which were accurate. And I wanted to know how Nazis defined themselves at the time, as opposed to how historians define them (not that I question the accuracy of those definitions) or how present day pseudo-fascists perceive the doctrine. I wanted to know to what extent it is a ravings of a madman, to what extent true intentions were covered up, and how a nation could have been taken in by such a doctrine.

Put more simply: Know your enemy.

I took great care in sourcing a copy. There was no way I was going to purchase a copy in any way, shape or form. Since coming into public domain, the book has been made available to buy and I am given to understand that proceeds from sales are donated to charity, although some charities have refused to take such donations. I’ll have more to say about whether the book should be available at all later. In any case, I was not going to have my name, payment details or any digital profile associated with such a purchase.

I used a TOR browser and private search engine to find a free electronic copy. In doing so, I discovered that there is some controversy among neo-Nazi circles about the accuracy of translations and certain edits of the book. Apparently there are certain “unedited” manuscripts which are alleged to contain Hitler’s “true” feelings because certain official versions were cleaned up. I sense bullshit there, and who cares anyway? I settled on a version which had been sanctioned by the Nazi party in the 1940s with the intention of distribution in an occupied Britain. This electronic copy was clearly scanned from a print copy, which explains the errors in the screenshot. I will not covert quotes to text.

There has been chatter in recent months about whether Hitler was left wing or right wing. It is an irrelevant question. George Orwell described himself as both a patriot and as a socialist but would recognise neither term as they are commonly used today. Yes, Hitler called the party “National Socialists” and he certainly held economic theories which might be described as socialist, but on the whole, the Nazi party was socialist in the same way that North Korea is a “Democratic Republic.” Hitler saved his most vehement (although non-specific) criticism for Marxism, which he considered to be a part of the great Jewish conspiracy.

The fact is there are passages of Mein Kampf that could plausibly be attributed to any post-war political thinker from Margaret Thatcher to Michael Moore. Trying to describe Nazism in modern terms of left and right is a fool’s errand which helps no-one.

Having grown up in a household where war documentaries were a common thing, it was regularly pointed out that when film of Hitler’s speeches are shown, there are never any translations and sometimes his voice is distorted too. Having read his book, I can now see why. He is seductive. There were moments in the first volume where I actually found myself nodding in agreement with certain passages only to be taken aback when I turned the page and was reminded that I was reading the words of one of history’s most evil men when he blamed it all on “the Jew.”

In last year’s rage read, Atlas Shrugged, it’s obvious in every paragraph that it was written by a sociopath. Mein Kampf has moments that are surprisingly, disturbingly reasonable in amongst the bizarre asides on Aryan supremacy.

This is the biggest problem with selective quotes from this book. While Hitler is rightly seen as the embodiment of all evil, it does not mean that all his views or policies are equally evil. This opens the door for people with modern political motives to make the spurious assertion that (for example) nationalisation of industry will lead to mass genocide.

General themes:
  • Parliamentary representatives are cowards because their collective responsibility also gives them the option to deny responsibility. Better to have a single leader who Providence shall identify and who will be responsible to the angry masses if they fail.
  • Oratory is greater than writing.
  • Marxism is evil.
  • So is social democracy.
  • The masses are mostly stupid.
  • Economic dominance is no substitute for military power and expansionism.
  • It is right to forcibly expand territories to feed a growing population.
  • Germany only lost World War I because of traitors and a defeatist press.
  • Propaganda needs to consist of short, simple slogans repeated endlessly. (sound familiar?)
  • The press want to undermine the state and therefore must be controlled by the state.
  • All the press is controlled by the Jews.
  • Marriage is for procreation and the strengthening of the race and the state.
  • Modern art is rubbish.
  • So is modern architecture.
  • Aryans invented everything.
  • Subjugation of ‘inferior’ races is mutually beneficial.
  • Racial impurity is the cause of all downfall.
  • Might makes right.

There is no pandering to any point of view. There is absolutely no doubt Hitler believes everything he says here. He actually makes a partially reasonable case for dictatorship, reminding us of that great conservative saying that representative democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. His unashamed belief in racial supremacy and outright dictatorship are both shocking and, in a way, almost refreshing in an age where we are used to certain sectors making sly hints towards these views. If nothing else, Hitler was honest about it.

The words “master race” are never used but Hitler’s obsession with racial purity and paranoid belief that Jews control all aspects of finance, the media and (somehow) Marxism dominate every topic. In fact, his assertions on eugenics border on the comical but it’s important to think before you laugh. As patently absurd as much of this doctrine is, we must remember it eventually seduced a nation which went on to conquer most of a continent, murder 6 million people, and it took a world war to stop them.

This brings me back to why I wanted to read this book and whether it should be available. Mein Kampf is undoubtedly an extremely dangerous book. I do not believe it should be banned. I believe that to guard against racist nationalist dictatorship ever rising again, we need to know and recognise the doctrine in their own words as well the interpretation of historians. The subtitle of this essay is in no way a recommendation or an endorsement. I don’t think people should read this book out of idle curiosity. As tedious as the writing is, it has the power to seduce the weak minded or those who don’t read it in the context of what it led to. It should however be considered by anyone who wants to recognise Nazism in its own words and identify anything similar.

PS: I am open to suggestions for a rage-read in 2019 but please make it something shorter.