[religion] Easter egg truthers: the annual religious row over chocolate … an overview of the War on Easter from Martin Belam … ‘Chocolate is halal by default because it does not contain meat products or anything haram. Cadbury’s social media team is kept busy at Easter repeatedly explaining that: “In UK our chocolate is suitable for vegetarians & those following a Muslim diet, however they’re not Halal certified. The only animal related products we use in UK are milk & eggs.” This year, Sainsbury’s bore the brunt of the annual backlash. The retailer’s social media team has been forced to repeatedly correct a tweet that claimed all their Easter eggs were specifically “halal-certified”, rather than simply suitable for a halal diet.’
[brexit] What are they after?: How Could the Tories? … What do the Brexiteer Tories Want From Brexit?… ‘For all his idiosyncrasies, Johnson typifies something about contemporary conservatism, which might best be understood biographically. The cultural forces shaping the new conservatism resolve in a particular stereotype: men born between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, with some constellation of expat backgrounds, famous fathers and first careers in the media. All four things apply to Johnson, but a Venn diagram of these various characteristics would also include Michael Gove, Douglas Carswell, Daniel Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg. The result of these disparate characteristics is a comfortable familiarity with the myths and rituals of the British state, but a blasé indifference to the impact of policy.’
[politics] Paul Manafort couldn’t convert PDFs to Word documents … Rule of thumb: Sucessfully executing a criminal conspiracy requires robust IT skills. ‘So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”’
[politics] Jacob Rees-Mogg shows just how much the British love a caricature … The New Statesman attempts to understand Jacob Rees-Mogg. ‘There is a strange internal logic about the rise of Rees-Mogg, connected to both Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s survival and ideological confidence, mad as it sounds, brings new vitality to the Conservative extreme: Labour are doing it, perhaps we should, too. No wonder Rees-Mogg has carefully praised Corbyn’s “integrity”. As Stephen Bush recently explored in these pages, Rees-Mogg is being positioned as the appropriate and symmetrical cure to the Corbyn problem.’
A forgery, a couple of groups of hackers, and a drip of well-timed leaks were all it took to throw American politics into chaos. Whether and to what extent the Trump campaign was complicit in the Russian efforts is the subject of active inquiries today. Regardless, Putin pulled off a spectacular geopolitical heist on a shoestring budget—about $200 million, according to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. This point is lost on many Americans: The subversion of the election was as much a product of improvisation and entropy as it was of long-range vision. What makes Putin effective, what makes him dangerous, is not strategic brilliance but a tactical flexibility and adaptability—a willingness to experiment, to disrupt, and to take big risks.
“They do plan,” said a senior Obama-administration official. “They’re not stupid at all. But the idea that they have this all perfectly planned and that Putin is an amazing chess player—that’s not quite it. He knows where he wants to end up, he plans the first few moves, and then he figures out the rest later. People ask if he plays chess or checkers. It’s neither: He plays blackjack. He has a higher acceptance of risk. Think about it. The election interference—that was pretty risky, what he did. If Hillary Clinton had won, there would’ve been hell to pay.”
[tv] The 1978 Radio Times: Christmas TV, before Thatcherism ruined it … a look back at Christmas TV in the late Seventies … ‘In 1978 we had “special guests”, “stars” and “presenters” but I could find only one mention of the word “celebrity” in the listings, used in relation to David Soul, in a programme on 29 December. “David Soul epitomises the star of today. He is the new-style Hollywood celebrity,” we were informed. We quickly got back down to earth, though: the programme was followed by Citizen Smith, the sitcom starring Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith, leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front.’
[xmas] The Rees-Mogg Christmas Special … Jacob Rees-Mogg on Christmas. ‘One thinks often of that little child – born so very long ago in a simple manger in Bethlehem and his loving parents. Not for them the hideous EU enslavements of ‘compulsory inoculations’ or ‘maternity leave.’ Certainly they had to contend with the ‘massacre of the innocents’ but that was as nothing when compared to the enforced ‘EU legislation’ that has brought despotic workers’ rights or ‘the freedom to travel’ to millions of enslaved Britons. As we look back on that first Christmas Day – let us remember the true Conservative legacy of Christ’s Life – that if one is born in a stable, one might still climb to the very top – but only if one is of the ‘right stock.’ Jesus was the ‘son of God’ and not just any old riff-raff.’
[tv] Steve Coogan wrestled with including Brexit in Alan Partridge’s return … Today in Alan Partridge news… ‘It was only after some soul-searching that the comedian opted to include the decision to leave the EU in his alter ego’s return to the BBC. “The world has coalesced into a situation that is sympathetic to Alan, which for me is quite depressing,” Coogan told the Radio Times.’
If you wanted to be unstoppably hectored by someone in tie and blazer about how the Edward Heath government had committed treason by taking us into the Common Market in 1972 and then find out the the name of the acrobat who performed a quadruple back-somersault on to a chair at the New York Hippodrome in 1915, and the artiste who caught him, Norris McWhirter was your man.
And you can add to that the fact that Norris, along with his twin brother Ross, created the Guinness Book of Records, which had sold more than 75m copies in 37 languages by the time his involvement ended in 1996.
We will never see his like again, not because the world doesn’t teem with libertarian ideologues, nor with grown men who know too much about the minutiae of stuff; but because combining these two disciplines successfully in public seems beyond our wit in 2017.
[politics] No more ‘my dog ate it’ excuses. Where are the Brexit impact reports? … a political sketch of David Davies from John Crace. ‘David Davis knew he had a choice to make. Either to be in contempt of parliament for deliberately failing to provide full disclosure on his department’s Brexit impact assessments. Or to own up to incompetence and laziness. No contest. Incompetence and laziness won hands down. For one thing, they had the virtue of truth. For another, he was just too lazy and incompetent to do anything else.’
[politics] Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends … An interesting analysis of why Richard Nixon’s Presidency collapsed and comparisons with Trump. ‘Nixon was genuinely tough, a self-made man who’d climbed out of what may have been the most Dickensian childhood of any American president. He’d served as a Navy officer in the Pacific theater during World War II. He entered the White House at a younger age than Trump — 56, not 70 — hardened by decades of political combat as a savage knife-fighter during the McCarthy witch hunts and the explosive American divisions of the 1960s. Nixon actually knew American history, read books, and, unencumbered by ADD, played the long game in life (his courtship of his wife, Pat) as well as in politics. He was a lawyer who repeatedly (and presciently) advised his staff that the cover-up, not the crime, posed the greater legal threat, a lesson he had learned during his star-making turn on the House Un-American Activities Committee; his prey, the State Department official Alger Hiss, was convicted of perjury, not for being a Soviet spy. Nixon was also a far more strategic liar than Trump, crafting sanctimonious and legalistic falsehoods to paper over wrongdoing rather than spewing self-incriminating lies indiscriminately about everything.’
A few days before the election Silverman and fellow BuzzFeed contributor Lawrence Alexander traced 100 pro–Donald Trump sites to a town of 45,000 in Macedonia. Some teens there realized they could make money off the election, and just like that, became a node in the information network that helped Trump beat Clinton.
Whatever weird thing you imagine might happen, something weirder probably did happen. Reporters tried to keep up, but it was too strange. As Max Read put it in New York Magazine, Facebook is “like a four-dimensional object, we catch slices of it when it passes through the three-dimensional world we recognize.” No one can quite wrap their heads around what this thing has become, or all the things this thing has become.
“Not even President-Pope-Viceroy Zuckerberg himself seemed prepared for the role Facebook has played in global politics this past year,” Read wrote.
[people] Why Steve Bannon Wears So Many Shirts … ‘He’s a layering extremist, if you will, adhering to a disheveled uniform of shirts from Brooks Brothers and Orvis, a brand that makes clothes for fly fishing and other outdoor sports (he does not fly fish). He keeps them both folded and hanging in his closet at the Breitbart headquarters, a townhouse in D.C. known as the “Breitbart Embassy,” as well as in other unspecified closets in unspecified locations. “They’re not all long sleeve,” his spokesperson explained. “There’s some polos that are short sleeve.” They added that when wearing a suit in the White House, perhaps he only wore two shirts beneath his blazer — an undershirt and then a button-down — but wasn’t sure.’
[mogg] Dennis the Menace takes Jacob Rees-Mogg’s dinner money … ‘Mogg, whose mother gave him a ten-shilling note to purchase tuck and snacks at big Parliament this morning, was accosted by the notorious bully on the way and forced to hand over the money after being threatened with having his ankles viciously bitten by Gnasher. Mogg only recovered after being allowed to spend the remainder of the morning picking daisies in Parliament Square by Nurse instead of going to votes like the rest of class. Jacob and his cohorts Algernon Perkins and Dudley Nightshirt are understood to be front-runners to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, and being relieved of his dinner money by an anarchic prepubescent may damage his claims to economic credibility.’
[trump] The President of Blank Sucking Nullity … more Trump analysis … ‘Trump will never get better as a president or a person: it will always and only be about him. History matters only insofar as it brought him to this moment; the roaring and endless present in which he lives matters because it is where he is now; the future is the place in which he will do it all again. Trump’s world ends with him, and a discourse or a politics that is locked into scrutinizing or obsessively #resisting or otherwise chasing him will invariably end up as arid and abstracted and curdled as he is.’
[moore] Alan Moore Interviewed by Greg Wilson & Kermit Leveridge … a wide-ranging discussion on counterculture … ‘Back in 1976, something like that, I was down visiting my late friend and mentor Steve Moore on the top of Shooter’s Hill and Steve, who was much more connected with the London fantasy and comics scene than I was, he’d got this new trilogy of books that he’d come across that I might be interested in, which was ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ by Wilson and Shea. I devoured them and I was absolutely blown away; I thought, “This is great!” All of these frankly ridiculous, paranoid conspiracy stories that are so popular amongst the right and the left wing – that it’s making it all, instead of being a debilitating illness, which is the way people like David Icke have tended to make this field of inquiry – they made it into this brilliant intellectual game and made it really enlightening. It was almost like an Anarchist primer – an Occult/Anarchist primer!’
[trump] Steve Bannon Is Back in Trump’s Good Graces … More on the rise, fall and rise again of Steve Bannon … ‘Bannon became a vital figure in Trump’s orbit during the early days of his political rise. The two met late in 2010, when David Bossie, the veteran conservative activist, brought Bannon along on a trip to Trump Tower to offer advice about how Trump might prepare for a presidential run. Like Trump, Bannon was a businessman and born deal-maker. With experience on Wall Street and in Hollywood, he was nothing if not high energy, a mile-a-minute talker with a volcanic temper who rarely slept and possessed a media metabolism to rival Trump’s own. And Bannon, too, had a healthy self-regard. On his office wall hung an oil painting of Bannon dressed as Napoleon in his study at the Tuileries, done in the style of Jacques-Louis David’s famous neoclassical painting — a gift from Nigel Farage.’
Theresa May is a classic phony Brexiter. She didn’t support it in last year’s referendum and there is no reason to think that, in private, she has ever changed her mind. But she saw that the path to power led toward the cliff edge, from which Britain will take its leap into an unknown future entirely outside the European Union. Her strategy was one of appeasement—of the nationalist zealots in her own party, of the voters who had backed the hard-right UK Independence Party (UKIP), and of the hysterically jingoistic Tory press, especially The Daily Mail.
The actual result of the referendum last year was narrow and ambiguous. Fifty-two percent of voters backed Brexit but we know that many of them did so because they were reassured by Boris Johnson’s promise that, when it came to Europe, Britain could “have its cake and eat it.” It could both leave the EU and continue to enjoy all the benefits of membership. Britons could still trade freely with the EU and would be free to live, work, and study in any EU country just as before. This is, of course, a childish fantasy, and it is unlikely that Johnson himself really believed a word of it. It was just part of the game, a smart line that might win a debate at the Oxford Union.
But what do you do when your crowd-pleasing applause lines have to become public policy? The twenty-seven remaining member states of the EU have to try to extract a rational outcome from an essentially irrational process. They have to ask the simple question: What do you Brits actually want?
[politics] Conservative election manifesto actually the Necronomicon … Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! … ‘An eldritch tome of unholy secrets written by an insane medieval prophet has been launched to sweep the Conservatives into government this morning. The grimoire, attractively bound in a bright blue leather of unknown provenance, was launched at a press conference by the Prime Minister and several capering imps.’
[curtis] Adam Curtis on the Dangers of Self-Expression … Curtis discusses a variety of subjects … ‘I sometimes wonder whether conspiracy theories are an attempt to re-enchant the world in a distorted way. It’s like religion knocking on the door and trying to come back in a strange and distorted form. A sense of mystery beyond our own understanding of the world. If you ever talk to conspiracy theorists, that’s the sense you get from them. A sort of almost romantic sense of awe that there is this dark mysterious thing that a rational thing could never penetrate. That’s sort of religious. Maybe what’s trying to get back into our world is enchantment, and the only way it can come back in is in these strange distorted ways. The downfall of capitalism is that it’s become appropriated by rational technocratic disenchantment. It’s become an iron cage. It’s trapped us. Some new form of enchanted myth is going to have to come back in.’
[press] Is the editor of the Daily Mail the most dangerous man in Britain?… The Guardian on on Paul Dacre and Brexit… ‘His own success at the Mail has bought him schooling for his two sons at Eton, membership of the Garrick, a chauffeur, a house in the country, flat in town and a shooting estate in Scotland (generously subsidised by the EU). He rarely rubs up against the people he believes he represents. “It always amused me that his shoe leather never wore out,” one reporter told Addison, “because every day he was on a carpet in the office; he strode out the door and was in a car which deposited him either at home or a restaurant. He would be horrified at what modern Britain had become – but he was never part of it.” Despite this insulation, Dacre has always presented himself as having a unique “feel for the emotions of ordinary people”. He still apparently locates this feeling in the 1950s London suburb of Arnos Grove in which he grew up, and which persists as the model of the Mail’s middle England.’
[politics] Why the Phrase ‘Late Capitalism’ Is Suddenly Everywhere … ‘Finally, “late capitalism” gestures to the potential for revolution, whether because the robots end up taking all the jobs or because the proletariat finally rejects all this nonsense. A “late” period always comes at the end of something, after all. “It has the constant referent to revolution,” Roberts said. “‘Late capitalism’ necessarily says, ‘This is a stage we’re going to come out of at some point, whereas ‘neoliberalism’ doesn’t say that, ‘Shit is fucked up and bullshit’ doesn’t say that. It hints at a sort of optimism amongst a post-Bernie left, the young left online. Something of the revolutionary horizon of classical Marxism.” It does all this with a certain concision, erudition, even beauty. It’s ominous and knowing, brainy and pissed-off. “Now is a crazy political time,” Yeselson said…’
[trump] Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump … What Melania Trump’s stream of Twitter photos tells us about her life … ‘Melania posted her last photo to Twitter on Thursday, June 11, 2015, five days before her husband announced his candidacy for president. It is an old photograph, of a then six-year-old Barron, taken on the beach. He is looking down at the ground ahead and waving goodbye to a professionally built sandcastle in the background. That day Melania knew, of course, that the campaign was coming. In retrospect her choice of a Throwback Thursday post reads as prophecy: a goodbye to her golden towers, to the home destined to crumble. To this day she’s still up there, in the golden Tower, holding onto it for as long as she can.’
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These stories were written years ago, but Stillson and Rennie bear enough of a resemblance to the current resident of the White House for me to flatter myself I have a country-fair understanding of how such men rise: first as a joke, then as a viable alternative to the status quo, and finally as elected officials who are headstrong, self-centered and inexperienced. Such men do not succeed to high office often, but when they do, the times are always troubled, the candidates in question charismatic, their proposed solutions to complex problems simple, straightforward and impractical. The baggage that should weigh these hucksters down becomes magically light, lifting them over the competition like Carl Fredricksen in the Pixar film Up. Trump’s negatives didn’t drag him down; on the contrary, they helped get him elected.
[web] This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account … Impressive web-Stalking – finding the the Director of the FBI’s Twitter and Instagram accounts … ‘Of course, none of this is definitive proof @projectexile7 is FBI Director James Comey, but it would take a nearly impossible confluence of coincidences for it to be anyone else. Take what you will from the fact that the director of the FBI appears to have liked a tweet from the New York Times about Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner meeting a Russian envoy in December.’
[brexit] EU chiefs mock May’s Brexit plan with Tintin cartoon … ‘While we’re on metaphors for Brexit, we can think of a few more fitting Tintin comic titles: The(resa May’s) Broken Ear, Prisoners of the Sun, and Black Island. As Captain Haddock would say, it’s Blistering Brexit Balderdash!’
[crime] Steve Bannon’s Sad, Desperate Crusade … a nicely written analysis of Steve Bannon … ‘Even pieces of ostensible criticism reach, almost unfailingly, a passage of barely hidden astonishment, writers gazing at his references to the ancient Roman working class or Thomas Cromwell like they just peeked inside the Matrix. He is, in a way, a journalist’s dream prompt: His mysterious biography invites investigation; his mongrel-like appearance a paradise for vivid similes; his appetite for literature just like theirs. So what should be an attack on an irredeemable charlatan instead becomes something closer to fascination. Writing about Bannon tends to be studiously impartial, analytical, even as his worldview is dismissed as an absurdity. This is wrong. Bannon can be a disheveled maniac and only that—there doesn’t need to be a revelation or nuance or anything beyond a bloodshot sack of demented ambition, no matter how high he ascends. He is not a Svengali, he’s a shipwrecked banker who washed ashore and wound up the president’s ventriloquist. Hate is still just hate, no matter how intricately ornamented it is with Ronald Reagan idolatry.’
[politics] I am The Crap Thatcher, confirms Theresa May … ‘Thatcher could push through a radical agenda because she won overwhelming majorities in three general elections. I only even became leader because everyone else quit. “I am a pale imitation of the Iron Lady, an authoritarian despot who isn’t even any good at it, which ironically means I’ll end up doing much more damage.”‘
[politics] Big Brother adds fourth line to manifesto … ‘In a series of tweets this morning, the beloved leader reiterated that War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, and Freedom is Slavery, but added that News is Fake – an admonishment immediately seized on by the faithful as always having been true. The expansion to the party message is designed to help loyal citizens better bellyfeel Party messages without bothering themselves with difficult and worrying contradictory reports. “Failing news media is enemy of the people! Doubleplus Sad!”, he announced at 2:37am this morning.’
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[politics] Paul Nuttall’s autobiography to be a Choose Your Own Adventure book … ‘If you want to be leader of UKIP, turn to page 23, if you want to battle a goblin for ten gold coins, turn to page 144. UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is to tell of his many adventures in a new autobiography called The Kipper of Firetop Mountain, he has revealed this morning….’
[politics] Dear President Bannon: Congratulations On Your Upgrade to Malebolge, the Eighth Circle of the Abyss! … ‘We thank you for your use of our offerings, including Graft, Pandering, Deceit, and the Promotion of Discord. You earned your Fraud points through a surprising variety of purchases, ranging from tax evasion to promoting white supremacy. The bulk of your Fraud points were earned, of course, through your war against Islam, a religion you slandered in Breitbart News and in your “documentaries.” Once you became a Presidential advisor, you started earning triple points with your Muslim-targeted immigration ban. (We apologize that the product broke immediately upon delivery.)’
[Politics] Is Theresa May up to the job of prime minister? Here’s how to tell … ‘There is a Shakespearean dimension to the way British prime ministers meet their tragic destinies. The seeds of their downfall are sown as they rise to the top. Thatcher glittered in the October 1974 election when as shadow environment secretary she pledged to abolish rates, the unpopular property tax. A few months later she was leader. Yet when she finally abolished the rates as prime minister, replacing them with the poll tax, the policy destroyed her. Cameron appeased Eurosceptics in his leadership contest by pledging that Conservatives would leave the centre-right grouping in the European parliament. He won, and then appeased them again as leader by holding the referendum that killed off his political career. Blair was propelled to power by his belief in third way politics, an attachment that led him to the hell of Iraq as he sought to back the US and yet persuade it to work with the UN – his fatal third way.’
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[politics] The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France … a profile of Marine Le Pen’s right hand man… ‘The night Britain voted on whether to leave the European Union, before the polls had even closed, Philippot hosted a Front National Brexit celebration dinner at a Parisian bistro. Marine Le Pen was there, smiling and laughing, eating fish and chips and waving French and British flags. Philippot later said that there were two key moments in his life when he cried – when his mother died in 2009 and his tears of joy when Britain voted to leave the EU.’
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So much of the news this year has been hopeless, depressing, and above all, confusing. To which the only response is to say, “oh dear.” What this film is going to suggest is that that defeatist response has become a central part of a new system of political control. And to understand how this is happening, you have to look to Russia, to a man called Vladislav Surkov, who is a hero of our time.
Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisers, and has helped him maintain his power for 15 years, but he has done it in a very new way.
He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career, say that what Surkov has done, is to import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.
His aim is to undermine peoples’ perceptions of the world, so they never know what is really happening.
Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theater. He sponsored all kinds of groups, from neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin.
But the key thing was, that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake. As one journalist put it: “It is a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused.”
 Which Philosophy Can Best Explain 2016? … Vice attempts to understand 2016 … ‘We’re thrust into the world described in Machiavelli’s The Prince, where what really matters is the geopolitical power-plays of great men and the polities they lead. Certainly this would help explain the disparity, in the context of both Brexit and Trump’s victory, between what the polls claimed and the actual results. Perhaps we’re not just awful racists after all: perhaps this is merely part of some grand plot by Russia to undermine NATO and the EU so that they can annex the Baltics. In the now-immortal words of a mind far deeper and greater than I: “Guys. It’s time for some game theory…”’
[trump] Donald Trump named NewsThump’s “Resource of the Year” … … ‘We’re looking forward to writing even more wonderful bits of copying and pasting of whatever lunacy he’ll come up with when he’s actually President, assuming he doesn’t get shot, imprisoned or simply become bored of the idea of being president in the meantime. I really hope he doesn’t get shot. He’s essentially paying to do up my conservatory at this point. I have a conservatory, you know. All of us liberal elites do.’