Impeachment Memes: T.S. Eliot, Paul Newman, Woody Allen

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Adam Schiff dialogues with Republican senators regarding impeachment (includes videos)

Despite their advancing age, these noble and conscientious statesmen engage in scintillating banter with House Manager Adam Schiff, who is formally attired for the occasion. But these discussions are only an apéritif preceding the main course, where fish will be served, though justice may be wanting.

Impeachment is an extremely rare phenomenon in American politics; but when ventured, it is done with precisely choreographed movements of the actors, and an almost superhuman gracefulness which speaks marvelously well of our public life and public men:

Still, the outlook remains murky, with some senators plainly in the tank for Donald Trump, swimming headlong toward disaster.

If justice is not served, history will look on this impeachment trial as a mere kabuki dance.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Lev Parnas Slideshow FUNNY!

Not quite a buddy movie, but almost. Starring all the people who don’t know Parnas: Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, et al.

The pose with Jeff Sessions wins the award for most Shreklike. And there’s one with Giuliani that might have been filmed by Francis Ford Coppola. All that’s missing is the cat. 😉

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Trump administration: The quality of thuggishness is not strained

The quality of thuggishness is not strained.
It droppeth as the chilling rain from Moscow
Upon the place nigh Trump. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that’s on the take.

In early 2018, I wrote a piece called “Drain the Swamp” or “Pad the Reptile Fund”? which still gets lots of views. Using careful language, I explored the stylistic similarities between Donald Trump’s operations and organized crime, as well as the parallels with Watergate. I noted that there’s just too much Russian money sloshing around Trump.

Given the recent release of a “trove” of documents produced by Rudolph Giuliani’s crony Lev Parnas (who is under indictment), the parallels have become more striking — particularly the series of WhatsApp messages between Parnas and Robert Hyde.

Connecticut Republican Congressional candidate Robert F. Hyde, here seen with Donald J. Trump

While the matter has yet to be fully investigated, the implication is that Hyde and Parnas had Ukrainian thugs surveilling anti-corruption U.S. diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, and at one point these thugs suggested that for a price they could have Yovanovich “removed.”

This underscores the sense that Trump is always on the wrong side of history — that in the struggle between light and darkness in world politics, Trump is broadly on the side of darkness. He’s the bad guy tying the heroine to the railroad tracks, or having his thugs do the dirty work, possibly with a couple of layers of deniability interposed.

Among the documents released on January 14 was a copy of a letter sent by Rudy Giuliani to the newly elected president of Ukraine stating that: “In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you.”

This helps remove some of the plausible deniability with which Trump typically shrouds his most sinister activities. Lev WHO? I don’t know anything about it. You’d have to ask my lawyer. Maybe Lev is a client of Rudy’s, or Rudy’s a client of Lev’s. What’s that you say? Hours of home movies of me, Lev, Igor, and Rudy frolicking poolside? A million dollars sent from a Russian bank account? That can’t be right. After all, I’m only in the cement and contracting bidness…

In my imagined Trump denial, I’m embellishing (as in the part about hours of home movies). But there are enough pics of Trump and Parnas together to make a slideshow.

In the prior piece, I wrote:

[Michael] Cohen’s role as fixer and cutout man is not a traditional lawyer-client relationship to be sure; but it is a relationship that might be worked out between two longtime business partners who are veterans of many shady deals or operations where things need fixing, and who both understand the role which each man needs to play, and the type of public denials which each man needs to issue.

Slush funds and cutout men are hardly unknown in the world of Washington politics. During the Nixon administration, Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert W. Kalmbach recruited private detective Tony Ulasewicz to be the “bagman” who delivered cash to Watergate burglars in order to buy their silence.

In our topsy-turvy world, those who have studied the law or worked in law enforcement are sometimes used to find creative ways to skirt the law. Bagman Ulasewicz was a retired NYC police detective. According to the above-linked Times article, “The [Watergate] hearings turned more sober when Mr. Ulasewicz acknowledged that his bagman role was part of a criminal enterprise.”

These characterizations suggest that what investigators armed with a boatload of evidence are finding is not just isolated acts of wrongdoing, but a pattern of organized corruption — corruption which would be undesirable in the world of real estate, casinos, and beauty pageants; but is wholly unacceptable in and around the White House.

Since that time, Michael Cohen has been sent to prison, and Rudy Giuliani has replaced him as Trump’s fixer. If this were the plot of a novel, the reader would begin to suspect that it won’t be long before Giuliani joins Cohen in the slammer.

When did Giuliani go over to the dark side, and begin working for the Trump crime family? (which doesn’t push heroin or engage in street level extortion, but has certainly been linked to white collar crime, e.g. Trump University, and Trump’s fake charity used for personal benefit).

Giuliani was once known as “America’s Mayor” and the antidote to hateful stereotypes of Italian-Americans as mafiosi.

“When they say John Gotti, you tell them Rudolph Giuliani!” the motivational speaker at a church social tells a group which actually includes mafia wives. This episode of The Sopranos was filmed in 2002, when Giuliani’s reputation was still riding high. What a blow to law-abiding Italian-Americans to find Giuliani now rubbing elbows with the Ukrainian underworld, and neck deep in Trump’s political chicanery.

Historical footage from 1995 shows Mayor Giuliani welcoming an elephant from Ringling Bros. Circus:

These days, Giuliani is cleaning up after the elephants, and creating his own media circus in the process. It remains to be seen why Lev Parnas paid the former New York City Mayor something like $500,000, or where the money came from. One thing’s for sure: Giuliani ain’t working for peanuts!

As for Trump, he’s in the same pickle as Nixon: There’s just too much illegal stuff that needs to be swept under the rug, too much silence that needs to be bought, and too many henchman that Trump needs to deny knowing.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. When Trump threw Cohen under the bus, that was when Cohen turned state’s evidence. And when Trump denied knowing Lev Parnas (or knowing what he does), that was when Parnas likewise flipped.

Even as I write, the teasers for Rachel Maddow’s January 15 interview with Parnas are already circulating — an interview in which Parnas reportedly says: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. … I was on the ground doing their work. … It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden. It was never about corruption. He [the president] lied.”

When it comes to Trump and his cohorts, we are rapidly moving beyond the point of outrage fatigue. But it remains shocking that the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is poised to ignore the massive evidence showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump is a crooked character who is undermining the ideals of American democracy on a daily basis, and turning America into a villain on the world stage.

This, Trump has been doing for quite some time. That’s why I called for his impeachment fully two years ago, almost to the day. Once you know the fox has gotten into the henhouse, you don’t wait for the last chicken to be eaten.

We all know how history will be written. The fact-free bubble in which Trump presently exists will be pricked, and he will be viewed as a corrupt president on a par with Nixon.

The Republican Senators who will judge Trump’s case crave money, power, and legacy. Money and power they may manage to cling to a little longer, even if they engage in a knowing cover-up of Trump’s extensive wrongdoing. But we know what their legacy will be: They will be viewed as spineless cowards, and corrupt enablers of Donald Trump.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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O Little Town of Shandaken

O little town of Shandaken,
Small-minded with a passion;
How prejudice was ladled out!
But truth and insight rationed.

Those who spoke with lies and hate
According to their nature,
The Cosmic Fates shall recompense
To suit their dwarvish stature.

To slander one so innocent
Is ignorance phenomenal;
The minds of townsfolk thus engaged
Descended to the animal.

Though dogs may bark and cats may yowl,
And men may fight all day,
The proud and noble elephant
Continues on his way.

Michael Howard


Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy on dogs and elephants

A real genius is not bound by any convention. A genius is a genius. He has to go forward like an elephant, without paying attention to the barking of the dogs. Swami Vivekananda used to say that when an elephant is on the way to the market to eat bananas, the dogs bark and bark. But the elephant does not pay any attention. He goes to the market and eats the bananas and then he comes back home. The dogs are unable to enjoy the bananas.

Sri Chinmoy, from A Mystic Journey in the Weightlifting World, Part 1 Agni Press, 2000

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Dogs get joy
By barking and biting.

Men get joy
By fighting and stabbing.

Earth gets joy
By struggling and suffering.

Heaven gets joy
By dreaming and smiling.

Seekers get joy
By loving and surrendering.

God gets joy
By illumining and fulfilling.

– Sri Chinmoy, from The Dance of Life, Part 18 Agni Press, 1973

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Sri Chinmoy with elephant, courtesy https://srichinmoy.wordpress.com/

Sri Chinmoy: Bird drawing on Elephant, courtesy https://daily.srichinmoyart.com/


Of Further Interest

Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics
Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy
PIX11’s Mary Murphy: Stalking The Truth (but lies will also do)
Better Reporting on Religious and Ethnic Minorities

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The search for truth in politics…

…life and art, with nods to Monty Python, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Kurt Vonnegut, and Hannah Arendt. Also, what can the Vietnam War teach us about Brexit? Are there general symptoms of a bad government policy which we should be on the lookout for? Plus, Cambridge Analytica videos.

Lies Mar UK Election Results

With apologies to Boris boosters, there remains some question in my mind as to whether Johnson really has a ‘mandate from the people’ to do anything he pleases (as many in the media are claiming). To the extent that the election was marred by lies, he may lack an ethical mandate; and even some Tory voters would question his entitlement to autocratic carte blanche.

Consider this in the Independent: “Almost every Tory ad dishonest, compared with none of Labour’s, research finds.” And note well this comment by ‘Dianelos’:

It has become quite evident that democracy has stopped being an effective means, as exemplified by how people in countries such as the US and the UK (not to mention Greece) have voted against their interest and have given power to completely inadequate and indeed grossly immoral leaders. The reasons for that phenomenon are complex and the discussion of how to improve the democratic process is both difficult and urgent. But some corrective steps can be taken quickly: One obvious and significant reason for democracy’s affliction is that lying has become a legitimate tool of politics because voters often recompense those politicians who lie. Things have deteriorated so much that some have come to admire as especially successful those politicians who become popular thanks to lies that people like to hear. One solution to this problem is to criminalize lying. Since it’s not always clear whether politicians lie because they wish to con people or because they are just misinformed themselves, I’d say the appropriate punishment rendered by a court of law would be to strip the offenders of their right to be candidates for political office.

And since it’s not just politicians but also media organizations which systematically misinform the people the punishment in that case should be a heavy fine. Media organizations are private companies looking to make a profit, and unfortunately to misinform people is often an effective way to make money. This distortion of capitalism can be corrected by legal means.

In both cases justice should be rendered very quickly – within a matter of days. So a new kind of court would be needed. But it is doable.

There are some good ideas here — and some difficulties. Politicians often include microscopic scraps of truth along with a passel of exaggerations and mischaracterisations. Those scraps of truth are meant (in theory) to shield them from being branded outright liars. They may spin the truth in a variety of ways, including emphasising irrelevant details over crucial ones. I’m reminded of the classic Monty Python cheese shop sketch, in which a customer enters the shop only to gradually discover that no matter what kind of cheese he asks for, the owner claims it’s out of stock. After awhile:

Customer: It’s not much of a cheese shop really, is it?
Owner: Finest in the district, sir!
Customer: And what leads you to that conclusion?
Owner: Well, it’s so clean!
Customer: It’s certainly uncontaminated by cheese.

One can picture a scenario where the UK economy has tanked post-Brexit, but Boris Johnson continues to claim that it’s humming along on all four cylinders due to a ‘fantastic’ free trade deal with Swaziland: “They’ll be sending us goat meat, and we’ll be sending them videos of Downton Abbey.”

That’s as may be (said the man in the crunchy frog sketch), but deals with Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Lichtenstein, Grand Fenwick, and other smallish countries are unlikely to offset losses from lapsed trade deals with major partners. Beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue. Yes, but it’s dead. (See also this regarding the ‘blue-lipped bojo.’)

If lying is criminalised, how much truth is needed to act as a fig leaf? Separating out the convoluted claims of politicians isn’t always easy. Said claims aren’t always reducible to the binaries of true and false, but rather invite us to ponder “How many Pinocchios does this claim deserve?” (Boris Johnson collects Pinocchios the way some people collect swizzle sticks.)

Truth is a concept which deeply engages ethicists, civil libertarians, historians, and spiritual seekers. “What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate of Jesus in that famed confrontation. Historians know that truth is determined by the victors. In times of excessive populism truth is determined by the mob, drowning out more reflective views from the margins, including spiritual insights which might serve as cautionary tales. (Under Boris Johnson, will 10 Downing Street become a place “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal”?

It might be relatively easy to criminalise the telling of massive, Trump-sized porkies, but questions requiring nicety of judgment would still remain elusive. Judges are, after all, lawyers installed through a political process; and juries consist of lay people who may themselves fall victim to popular prejudices. Can a judge and jury determine the existence or non-existence of God, or ferret out the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism? Waxing Pythonish again: “Tonight, instead of discussing the existence or non-existence of God, they have decided to fight for it… To be determined by two falls, two submissions, or a knockout. All right boys, let’s get to it. Your master of ceremonies for this evening – Mr Arthur Waring.”

There’s clearly a need for greater truth in our collective societies, but we do run up against the postmodern dilemma of having no ultimate authority, no final referee. People must be free to discuss different ideas, different theoretical constructs and life experiences without fear of prosecution. In these debased times, we may well ask whether any but a small minority even care for truth. See “The Truman Show and Finding Reliable Spiritual Sources.”

Does truth itself partake of a multidimensional quality or ‘fusion of horizons’ in which seeming opposites might be reconciled? Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics calls for skills like listening, dialogue, partnership and empathy — skills which are conspicuous by their absence in today’s political climate, where truth is determined by which colour rosette you’re wearing.

For more on Gadamer, see Art and Hermeneutics Part 1 and Part 2, where I try to provide a fun introduction to some challenging concepts, while learning myself. A footnote is that it’s easier to reconcile opposing truths in art than it is in politics. What was it F. Scott Fitzgerald said? “An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.” As I wrote previously:

Music is far more instructive than, say, a polarized political debate for understanding [Gadamer’s] fusion of horizons. In the typical political debate to which we are subjected, two politicians with fixed points of view slug it out, neither hearing the other or learning from the other, and neither being changed by the other’s point of view. But music by its very nature requires cooperative skills. Rather than treating the other as the enemy, a sensitive musician fuses with the other and counters in a manner which presents the other in the best light.

Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics has a distinctly modern feel to it because it implies the abandonment of the fixed point of view clutched fiercely (and leading to strife or warfare). In its place, we are offered (as a people) the opportunity to engage in listening, dialogue and empathy, and to experience a fusion of horizons which allows us to understand what we had perhaps previously regarded with consternation, suspicion or hostility.

Gadamer’s approach is well-suited to the global village. It is recognized as anti-dogmatic in nature and humble in its awareness that the other’s viewpoint may be equally valid. It carves out a helpful middle ground between absolutism and relativism, holding out hope that through dialogue we might gain essential insights that would allow us to live together, respecting diversity without obliterating difference.

Kurt Vonnegut was no great beacon of truth, but in his novel The Sirens of Titan he did reframe the search for some unified field theory in this fetching manner:

Almost any brief explanation of chrono-synclastic infundibula is certain to be offensive to specialists in the field. Be that as it may, the best brief explanation is probably that of Dr. Cyril Hall, which appears in the fourteenth edition of A Child’s Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do. The article is here reproduced in full, with gracious permission from the publishers:

Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula — Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula.

It might be Gadamer for preschoolers, but how can we apply this wisdom in a practical way? Simply transport Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn to a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, and there they will agree!

Hannah Arendt’s “Lying in Politics”

I recently stumbled on this 2016 article by Maria Popova rich in quotes from Hannah Arendt’s 1971 essay “Lying in Politics.” The original essay includes detailed discussion of the Vietnam War and the (then newly released) Pentagon Papers, but Popova has extracted quotes which are more universal and relevant to recent political crises. Those ‘teaser’ quotes inspired me to read the original.

It’s easy to see why there’s been a resurgence of interest in Arendt. Those who are gobsmacked by the rise of Trump and the general decline of truth will even look so far afield as simulation theory, which posits that some advanced race in the future has created our world as a computer simulation; and in order to liven things up a bit or stress-test our system, they’ve installed Donald Trump in the White House. I consider simulation theory nonsense suitable for enriching lawns, but it is a barometer of how perplexing the present situation has become, and how desperate people are for explanations. Arendt is one of the few political theorists in the past half-century to deal specifically with the connection between lying in politics, populism, and totalitarianism. So like Jonathan Winters in that old Twilight Zone episode “A Game of Pool,” she’s now on call 24 hours a day. 😉

Decades before Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts,” Arendt had already written incisively about the problem of “defactualization” in politics and government:

The first explanation that comes to mind to answer the question “How could they?” is likely to point to the interconnectedness of deception and self-deception. In the contest between public statements [about the Vietnam War], always over-optimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public. The great advantage of publicly established and accepted propositions over whatever an individual may secretly know or believe to be the truth is neatly illustrated by a medieval anecdote, according to which a sentry, on duty to watch and warn the townspeople of the approach of the enemy, jokingly sounded a false alarm, and was the last to rush to the walls to defend the town against his imagined enemies. From this, one may conclude that the more successful a liar is, the more people he has convinced, the more likely it is that he will end by believing his own lies.

In the Pentagon Papers, we deal with people who did their utmost to win the minds of the people, that is, to manipulate them, but since they labored in a free country where all kinds of information were available, they never really succeeded. Because of their relatively high station and their position in government, they were better shielded—in spite of their privileged knowledge of “top secrets”—against this public information, which also more or less told the factual truth, than those whom they tried to convince and of whom they were likely to think in terms of mere audiences, “silent majorities,” who were supposed to watch the scenarists’ productions. The fact that the Pentagon Papers revealed hardly any spectacular news testifies to the liars’ failure to create the convinced audience which they then could join themselves.

Still, the presence of what [Daniel] Ellsberg has called the process of “internal self-deception” is beyond doubt, but it is as though the normal process of self-deceiving were reversed; it was not as though deception ended with self-deception. The deceivers started with self-deception. Probably because of their high station and their astounding self-assurance, they were so convinced of overwhelming success, not on the battlefield but on the grounds of public relations, and so certain of the soundness of their psychological premises about the unlimited possibilities in manipulating people, that they anticipated general belief and victory in the battle for people’s minds. And since they lived anyhow in a defactualized world, they did not find it difficult to pay no more attention to the fact that their audience refused to be convinced than to other facts.

The internal world of government, with its bureaucracy on one hand, its social life on the other, made self-deception relatively easy. It seems that no ivory tower of the scholars has ever better prepared the mind for wholly ignoring the facts of life than the various think tanks did for the problem-solvers and the reputation of the White House for the President’s advisers. It was in this atmosphere, where defeat was less feared than admitting defeat, that the misleading statements about the disasters of the Têt offensive and the Cambodian invasion were concocted. But what is even more important is that the truth about such decisive matters could be successfully covered up only in these internal circles by worries about how to avoid becoming “the first American President to lose a war” and by the always present preoccupations with the next election.

So far as problem solving, in contrast to public relations managing, is concerned, self-deception, even “internal self-deception,” is no satisfactory answer to the question “How could they?” Self-deception still pre-supposes a distinction between truth and falsehood, between fact and fantasy, which disappears in an entirely defactualized mind. In the realm of politics, where secrecy and deliberate deception have always played a significant role, self-deception is the danger par excellence; the self-deceived deceiver loses all contact, not only with his audience but with the real world which will catch up with him, as he can remove only his mind from it and not his body.

– Hannah Arendt from “Lying in Politics” (footnotes omitted)

Arendt’s prose can be dense, but her ideas provide significant food for thought. She endeavours to answer the question “How could they?”, which is an enduring moral and practical one. When facts no longer matter, theories can run wild, and theorists may be well-insulated by the political bureaucracy and culture, so that they don’t see the bodies on the ground — whether the bodies of napalmed Vietnamese villagers, or the (more recent) “children in cages” which are a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. (Think also Windrush scandal.)

In a defactualized environment, it is not only the targets of deception who suffer. The deceivers themselves ultimately become casualties, because they lose contact with reality. The narcissist spins a version of reality in which he is always at the centre of the universe, always the star, and always right. In the case of Trump, he cannot tolerate the notion that it rained on the day of his inauguration, or that Obama had a bigger crowd. So the event must be defactualized to conform to his unreal expectations.

However, life is (among other things) our way of training for death, disease and suffering. Having lost contact with reality, the narcissist eventually encounters great suffering. His ego has become brittle; therefore, when death, disease and suffering overtake him, he is shattered.

Spiritual philosophy can help us gain insights into the human condition, as well as the Divine Nature. It can help us lead our lives consciously, with humility, understanding our limitations and weaknesses, and striving to overcome them. We have to accept reality before we can transform it.

Death is a part of life, not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that it is the completion of a cycle. The narcissist is not conscious of his own mortality, or refuses to accept it because the notion would rain on his parade. Therefore, how can he accept life, or make sound decisions in life-or-death matters? He is obsessed to an unnatural degree with preserving an illusion, therefore he is untrustworthy.

Arendt’s analysis of the Vietnam War in “Lying in Politics” includes many insights which help to explain Brexit. In fact, we can use it to derive a general profile of a potentially bad government policy, based on a list of common symptoms:

Symptoms of a Potentially Bad Government Policy

– defactualization (in which facts about the policy no longer matter, being ‘trumped’ by rhetoric)

– shifting rationales for the policy, while the policy itself remains the same

– reports penned by civil servants showing actual effects of the policy, but marked CLASSIFIED, SECRET, or SENSITIVE

– such reports, when leaked to the public, denied as to their accuracy by senior politicians

– the policy persisting even after any initial justification for it has been thoroughly debunked

– an overarching concern with public perceptions about the policy, rather than actual results (image over substance)

– the supposed benefits of the policy are largely theoretical, while the problems associated with pursuing the policy are real world problems

– the policy takes on the air of an end in itself, rather than a means to an end

– early indicators that the policy may be ineffectual, detrimental, or even morally unconscionable are ignored

– because such early indicators are discouraging, the policy ultimately becomes a matter of faith, or a shibboleth of party loyalty or patriotic sentiment

– media reports calling attention to drawbacks of the policy are branded ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘fake news’

While this is anecdotal, I’m reminded once again of the ITV report about British fruit rotting on the vines because EU seasonal workers are no longer willing to brave the ‘hostile environment’ consciously created by successive Tory governments, culminating in Brexit:

To my knowledge, none of the people sporting ‘Believe in Britain’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’ stickers have been willing to go and pick that fruit. This is one early indicator that the ideals of Brexit are out of alignment with the reality on the ground. In the real world, the UK made a decision 45 years ago to become more closely interdependent with other European nations. Such increased interdependence was and is the direction in which the world is moving; and while not unproblemmatical, this movement is largely for the best. Early indicators suggest that retrograde motion a la Brexit may be ineffectual, detrimental, or even morally unconscionable in its impact on the poor, and those in need of social care.

Further Thoughts, and Cambridge Analytica Videos

Each individual has to care for truth. This comes down (in part) to education, ethics, and insight. Unfortunately, the more you cut education funding, and the more you propagate a purely materialistic view of the universe, the less people will care about lying politicians, as long as they’re entertaining on telly and appeal to the lowest common denominator of human emotions. That is why, in one of my earliest posts about Boris Johnson, I noted that as with Donald Trump, his rise to power represents a triumph of entertainment value over character value.

Each individual has free will. Those who have proved untrustworthy in the past may yet redeem themselves and develop trustworthiness. But that’s an iffy proposition, given the leopard/spots conundrum. Those who choose to trust Boris Johnson today may want to consider his very recent betrayal of the DUP.

The problem of lying politicians cannot be considered in isolation from questions about the use of modern technology as a weapon for disseminating propaganda, about how elections are funded, and about transparency. We are nearing the point (or have perhaps already passed it) where those who can afford to buy the best tech can gain unfair advantage having little to do with the quality of their ideas, character, or truthfulness. Manipulation of the masses has become part science, part dark art — and such systematised manipulation poses a very real threat to democracy. Taken together, these four videos concerning Cambridge Analytica underscore the problem:

There’s a kind of story arc to the sequence. The first video includes footage from November 2015, with Cambridge Analytica’s Brittany Kaiser seated next to Arron Banks, explaining how her company would be helping Leave-dot-EU. The last video is a 2019 interview with Kaiser, who has since written a tell-all book highly critical of Cambridge Analytica. She continues to maintain that CA did help Leave-dot-EU win the Brexit referendum. In between are various clips of CEO Alexander Nix denying that CA helped win the Brexit referendum, and elsewhere bragging that it did. As the old Clairol ad goes: Only his hairdresser knows for sure…

The story arc also spans a period encompassing both Cambridge Analytica’s existence and its demise. As France 24 interviewer Jessica Le Masurier notes at time 10:17 in the final video: “Cambridge Analytica is defunct, yet there are many other new or pre-existing companies doing exactly the same thing.”

Of many possible takeaways, one is the palpable perception that voters aren’t being ‘persuaded’ in the traditional (and acceptable) sense. Rather (and especially in the third video concerning Trinidad elections), voters are being subjected to psyops of which they are wholly unaware, by cynical manipulators who seek to actively exploit them. Those Trinidadians persuaded by Cambridge Analytica not to vote at all were seemingly manipulated into doing something which would harm their own (obvious) self-interest in having political representation. This is a form of fraud, but not necessarily one that’s on the statute books.

The implication is that hi-tech con men with big money bankrollers have found ways to undermine the democratic process — putting their thumb on the scale to the tune of a few percentage points, thus changing the outcome. Those touting their ability to win votes through psychological manipulation may exaggerate, but there seems little doubt that their machinations do have some effect. That effect is difficult to quantify, not only because they operate in the shadows, but because the nature of the con is such that if it is done well, voters won’t even be conscious of how they were conned (as in the 1973 crime drama The Sting).

In 2014, prior to the ascendancy of Brexit as a populist movement, it does not appear that there was any great demand on the part of the voting public to leave the EU. The concept had to be mass-marketed and invested with emotional energy, so that by the end of 2019 many voters would end up feeling passionately that “We must get Brexit done!” (Why? Rationale for the policy has continued to shift. Outside the UK, Brexit is widely considered a “solution in search of a problem.”)

There are also deep metaphysical questions related to the issue of lying. What is the nature of Reality? Put into a succinct Einsteinian equation, R = WL + I. That is, Reality equals White Light plus Illusion. If there were zero illusion, then there would just be white light — no creation at all. But when there is too much illusion, then life becomes painful and incomprehensible, as it is for people who suffer from severe mental illness.

So we cannot force or extract absolute truthfulness from anyone, but still there needs to be some shared standard below which we should not fall as individuals, or as a society. That is at least the concept underlying laws against perjury, libel, and securities fraud. Not all forms of persuasion are ethical or legal. Yet, as noted in the Independent article:

Some 88 per cent of the most widely circulated Tory ads during the first four days of December included inaccurate claims, according to disinformation tracking organisation First Draft.

The ads included false claims about the NHS and income tax, as well as the Labour Party and its plans, it said.

Many of those ads – such as the misleadingly edited video of the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer – would be banned if they were commercial advertising, noted the non-partisan Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising (CRPA) in a new report. [Editor’s note: Their acronym comes with a warning for dyslexics.]

Now, it must be said that lies are already omnipresent in commercial ads for products and services — for example, in the form of puffery and speeded-up (or illegible) disclaimers. My friends at Mystery Science Theater 3000 once created a satire on toy commercials which included the disclaimers “Some parts may not exist” and “Some parts may be made of chicken”!

If politicians cannot be held to even the low standards of commercial advertising, then surely something is amiss! Politicians are also lawmakers, and if they’re benefiting from lies and graft, then how can you force them to pass strict laws against lying and graft? Here in the US, we have some (not very effective) laws against telemarketing, but the politicians conveniently exempt themselves from such laws, so in election season you may be bombarded with calls from bots programmed to play you pre-recorded campaign ads. Likewise, there are laws against libel, but there are also loopholes which (under some circumstances) exempt MPs, Congresspeople, and the owners of social media sites (even if they profit from the libel).

When is graft not graft? When it becomes widespread in the form of cronyism or regulatory capture. One pernicious form of regulatory capture occurs when a regulatory agency is stuffed with personnel from the industry it’s supposed to be regulating, or with personnel who largely oppose regulation of the type which is the agency’s core mission. For example: stuffing an agency which was set up to combat global warming with climate change deniers, or lobbyists from the oil, gas, and auto industries, who then proceed to lower emissions standards. See “EPA staff say the Trump administration is changing their mission…” or my own “Scott Pruitt Jokes,” which purports to reveal the (former) EPA chief’s day planner.

The relevance is that the Tories, including Boris Johnson himself, have been accused of being in thrall to an elite dining club consisting of rich donors from the hedge fund industry, fossil fuel industry, as well as a Russian contingent. See, for example, the Open Democracy article “Who’s behind the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics?” As with many such articles, there is no claim of outright illegality, but the appearance of cronyism, and the implication that the Tories’ primary mission is to please their mega donors by moving the UK in the direction of a low tax, low regulation, low services ‘Singapore-on-Thames.’

Big money from elite mega donors is arguably what fuels the Tory steamroller with its big media buys. Yet, Boris Johnson is a populist figure who’s good at selling elitist policies like Brexit to working class voters. So, the trust issues surrounding Johnson are not just about his pliable relationship with the truth, but the concern that he may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pitching pleasant-sounding One Nation platitudes while advancing a long-term agenda which is harmful to workers and the environment. Time will tell.

A great many people have placed their ‘confidence’ in Johnson and ‘supplied’ him with votes. It remains to be seen whether he will repay them in the same manner he has repaid the DUP. After Johnson’s blindingly obvious betrayal of Nigel Dodds, Dodds was handed the proverbial ‘one-way ticket to Palookaville’ by voters in Northern Ireland. Politics remains a cutthroat business.

No one knows for certain how Johnson will govern, but one thing to watch out for is a continued cognitive dissonance between Tory statistics claiming that life is getting better and better every day (in every way), and the evidence of one’s own eyes. If the epidemic in food bank usage and rough sleeping continues to worsen, the book of NHS horror stories continues to thicken, and life after Brexit seems filled with privation, then mayhaps trust in Johnson will prove to have been misplaced. After years of Tory austerity, turning on the money spigots for a short period post-election should not be allowed to confuse the issue.

I should really punctuate this post with a freshly made Bojo parody pic, but haven’t got one ready. So how about this: Here’s Bojo holding up a blank cue card. Make your own meme!

Or you can always fall back on this cornucopia of Boris Johnson Funnies. Collect them all!

From about a year ago (meant purely in fun):

I will close with one more Cambridge Analytica exposé for good measure

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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UK Elections – Such a Sad Result! Part 1

UK elections wrap-up and commentary

Jumping right in, I feel especially bad for Jo Swinson, who impressed me greatly with her character and her hopefulness. Here’s her speech from last Friday:

Other voices I will be sad not to hear in the next parliament include:

Dominic Grieve (Conservative)
Chuka Umunna (Liberal Democrat)
Luciana Berger (Liberal Democrat)
Sarah Wollaston (Liberal Democrat)
Sam Gyimah (Liberal Democrat)
Anna Soubry (Independent Group)

These people were brave truth-tellers, and I’m sentimental about their loss. I would say that like Jo Swinson, they’re victims* of the Tory steamroller, which is fashioned from equal parts big money, big media, and big lies. (There’s a Peter Gabriel song in there somewhere.) What a travesty that Swinson was frozen out of the big ITV debate. Unlike Johnson, she wasn’t hiding in a fridge, but seeking to emerge from one. (*This is not to gloss over the weaknesses of some individual candidates/party manifestos.)

Voters also bear some responsibility for casting out MPs who showed surprising honesty and reasonableness in a time of politics gone mad. It’s true that voters were heavily propagandised, but they could have done more to listen to their better angels. Punishing MPs who had the courage to defect from the two main parties sends absolutely the wrong message for the future.

Just in case you slept through the UK elections or were dead drunk, here’s the major takeaway, delivered without all the pomp and circumstance by me old mucker Basil Brush:

Are there any silver linings on this cloudy morning after? Well, the comedians will have a grand time perfecting their Bojo imitations: freestyle, x-rated, at the dinner table, etc. And maybe the Labour party will re-form as a centre left party that can actually garner popular support in the Northeast again. (Unless the Corbynistas somehow manage to stay in power and pick a Jeremy Mini-Me as their new leader). As for mining communities voting Conservative, I believe it was an SNP chappie who once quipped: “The turkeys aren’t just voting for Christmas, they’re putting the stuffing up their own backsides!” (Might have been Pete Wishart re: Labour MPs voting for Brexit.)

Nothing is completely bad, so we can only hope and pray that Boris Johnson will manage to do good, perhaps by pivoting to the centre and opting for a soft Brexit. But it’s difficult to overcome one’s karma. I fear he will play the role of the lovable buffoon, and turn on the money spigots for awhile, but long-term his government may continue to pursue policies which favour the rich, and deliver the proverbial lump of coal to those most in need.

It’s a hollow victory for Johnson — indeed, what I fear is that he will continue to hollow out the UK so that it’s all bright and shiny with PR glitz on the outside, but inside, the institutions which ideally make the UK a caring society are gutted — strangled by underfunding.

This is purely anecdotal, but recently on James O’Brien’s call-in show on LBC, a gentleman who works with troubled youth told the story of how he called the emergency number for those who attempt self-harm — and got an answerphone. The man was in tears. That’s what I mean about the hollowing out of services meant to make the UK a caring place. All too often, nobody’s home.

Meanwhile, you can be sure the Tories will quote statistics claiming that self-harm is down by x percent, and answerphones are cheaper by y percent. Flying flamingos, Batman! I should really heed the perennial advice of John Bercow: calm myself, meditate, and take some soothing medicament. Undoubtedly, I shall be the better man for it. (Parli won’t be the same without Bercow! This bercow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby bojo…)

The psychedelic tie worn by Bercow in the clip is typical of his outrageous colour sense.

Scot Nats did quite well on Thursday, and I look forward to them actively heckling the Tories in inimitable style, with japes, puffery and performative outrage, as on July 25, 2019:

They’ve often taunted Boris with the line that he’s the “last prime minister of the United Kingdom,” meaning that if he and Brexit are voted in, the Scots will vote out. How does this go down? Scotland calls a second referendum on independence; Westminster says its illegal; the Scots hold it anyway; the vote is for Leave. What then? English troops in Edinburgh? Another Anglo-Scottish war? Tell me how this ends well.

Also a casualty of Thursday’s election was tactical voting — a good idea meant to challenge the primacy of the first-past-the-post system, but badly implemented this time round. Here’s the main vote count for Cities of London and Westminster constituency, where Chuka Umunna was running:

Vickie Aiken (Conservative): 17,049
Chuka Umunna (Liberal Democrat): 13,096
Gordon Nardell (Labour): 11,264
Zack Polanski (Green): 728

As you can see, had Labour and Lib Dems truly cooperated, they could have stopped the Tory candidate, who ended up winning with only 40% of the vote. Sigh…

Part 2 of this series is titled “The search for truth in politics…” and will delve into the problem of lying politicians, as well as the nature of truth itself. In the meantime, please do enjoy these seasonal posts (or ghosts) from Christmas past:

Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful
Jesus is Born – in a World of Many Faiths
Simple Gifts, the Christmas Truce, and Benjamin Bowmaneer
Christmas, Childhood, and Cable Spaghetti
The Twelve Days of Trumpster
‘Twas The Night Before Brexit

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Donald Trump – A date which will live in infamy!

Flanked by the co-CEOs of Tex & Tex Inc., Donald Trump complains about his enemies, including “Bob Mueller and his group of 18 killers” (Wot???). But the new IG report out today shows that Trump’s cries of treason and infamy are merely manifestations of his rampant paranoia. Et tu, Horowitz? Cameo appearances by Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar, and Sophie Aldred as the wot girl.

And yet, unhindered by facts, the Deep State plot to turn Trump’s brains to plutonium rages on!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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The Speech That Got Boris Johnson Elected

Could a computer create the ultimate campaign speech?

Let’s face it: What diesel is to trucking, speeches are to… er, politics. Those tender words of love whispered in the voter’s ear are not unlike the lavish displays put on by the peacock during mating season. With election season gripping the UK (along with the odd cold front and blizzard), we set out to monitor the speechifying exploits of that most colourful of political birds, the blue-lipped bojo.

More than that, we wanted to give Cambridge Analytica a run for its money by designing the ultimate campaign speech with the aid of computer technology. Such a speech would hit all the ideological high points, while also delivering key psychological triggers that would send Tory voters flocking to the polls in support of the former mayor of London.

We rolled up our sleeves, maxed out the ram on our Commodore Amiga, put the kettle on, and engaged in a furious spate of uber geekdom, feeding hundreds of Boris Johnson speeches into the gaping maw of the fully armed Amiga. We then pushed the Cuisinart button (located just beneath the printer port), and waited for what seemed an inordinate period. Finally, after much coughing and spluttering, the computer churned out this. A bit raw, definitely NSFW, but a new landmark in CBJ (or Cyber Boris Johnson). Surely such a speech must, in the immortal words of Cambridge Analytica, create an impactful marketing experience.

The Speech That Got Boris Johnson Elected

[Applause] Good evening, everybody. My friends, good evening. Thank you very much. All I can say is that I think most Conservatives that I’ve spoken to are passionate believers in making hay, uh, north and south of the border, whether it’s at Calais, or Rotterdam, or wherever, by extending the behind, ah, far more than people thought was possible. It’s a very, very simple idea. We asked the people what they thought, they gave us their answer: Ball the man, not the bus.

Is that not a good thing to do? If we ever had to do it again, we would need a bigger bus. Because in Spain, in the pueblos of Andalucia, they have massive Mars bars. More than thirteen hundred brilliant Conservative counselors went down instantly. I don’t think people in this country realise quite how bad the position is. Around the world we have a huge number of really tragic cases. We, in this government, will work flat out, to give this country the extra lubrication it deserves. And that is the work that begins immediately behind that black door.

It’s vital that we do that, so that our EU friends and partners look us deep in the eye and they think: Dude! Friggit, this goes to character and this goes to whether you stick by what you promise. Our mojo has, I’m afraid, become too soft, completely invertebrate. It’s dead and needs to be junked. The public have spotted it, and we need to do something about it, without necessarily getting our heads bitten off. If I’m lucky enough to be elected, I will of course be leading an immediate program of British-made battery technology.

I’m a passionate believer in rubbish-powered pumping pistons out on the streets, with their lovely traditional contours — burly, bulging, faintly reminiscent of a black bowler hat. If they can do it in Spain, why can’t we do it here in the UK? I think actually, plastic butts can be a good thing, a wonderful thing to entrench and intensify the union. Let’s make them in Britain!

A huge amount of work has already been done. Brilliant Scottish kids are growing up to make some badly-designed undergarment that discourages women from getting into politics — that we are selling, that we are using to help to defend and protect our friends and allies around the world. And Australia has bought them. The Canadians, uh, have followed suit, they’ve already done it.

It’s because of the hole, stretching out for years and years every part of the anatomy. Fantastic scheme! And that is what modern conservatism is all about. That is our moral case to the country. It’s true. On the other hand, a feminist is somebody who believes fundamentally in the equality of human beings and kippers.

And I think, to get back to my central point, my first priority is obviously feeding saprophytically on the sense of decay in trust in politics. I’ve made it very clear that we will have abundant murders on the London Underground, to say nothing of serious sexual offences of all kinds, throughout the summer, that actually stimulate economic growth! I hope you will not mind.

Question: Do we worry that you’re a bit of a loony?

It’s so interesting how often this question has come up. When you look at what I’ve done in politics — as the former useless Mayor of London — and what I’ve promised to do to any electorate that is, ah, that has, ah, hired me, I’ve always exceeded superhuman incompetence. ‘Pathetico’ I think is the word I want in Spanish. We can sell it again to the people of this country, cheaply and conveniently. And now’s the time.

Let’s prick the twin puff balls of Jeremy Corbyn, deep fried or otherwise, for a fantastic agenda of modern conservatism. And we can beat him, my friends! And this is what we, this is what we need to do to win: We should be accelerating basic hygiene for Conservatives with their various, their various piscine names. That is the right thing to do, and it will be a huge relief to every girl within reach of the central activity zone of London when we do it. Each Conservative MP must be accompanied by a plastic ice pillow. Doesn’t that make sense? Yes, it certainly does. That is the way forward. I have every confidence that in ninety-nine days time, we will have cracked it.

I’ve got to say I believe firmly in a woman’s right to choose suicide in some African countries. In a feminocracy, that’s the way it should be. We Conservatives believe in a collection of unsavory views about all sorts of subjects. We lead the world! We lead the world! By coming out, finally, we will be able to establish an identity as a kipper smoker in the Isle of Man — or olives or something — and by so doing, we will get our mojo back as a party.

We’re most of the way there. Every Conservative surely believes that all the young women in this country should have the same basic access to our fantastic mojo, both in primary school and in secondary school. There are things that we will be able to do when we come out of the EU, that we weren’t able to do before, using fudge technology. That’s why I made such an emphasis in my speech earlier on, about what I want to do with fudge. It is the great liberator and equaliser of society. I want to encourage millions of women around the world to get into my transport, lose their shirts, and receive twelve years of quality education. We start recruiting forthwith.

However, the President of the United States used fudge that was unacceptable. It is far, far worse than that. The President of the United States is full of codswallop. His economic program would be absolutely catastrophic for this country. So what we should do, is we should immediately get rid of him. I think I’ve made my position clear on that. And of course, having taken that decision, everybody is afraid of the twitstorm that will happen.

I feel I should say something about Theresa May, stamping her foot and clucking her tongue. This bird has now become too tight in some places, and dangerously loose in other places. Fantastic maidenhead! Absolutely colossal! And it is growing the whole time, in a supererogatory way. Popular with taxi drivers themselves, and believe me they’re pretty demanding clients, I happen to remember.

20% bigger than it was in 2010. Lovingly rubbed with British rhubarb. Waiting to be unleashed. It’s ready to go — just add water! And it will be a huge relief to those poor people in Salisbury. It shows what an amazing magnet we are for talent. British cauliflowers do it with confidence. Let’s make them electric! A glorious rebuttal to those sceptics who said it couldn’t be done…

And what I want to do in a nutshell can be summed up as selling the Tories’ brand of unpasteurised minestrone to boys and girls around the world. We did it in London, and we can do it again. That’s why we’re the Conservative Party! Insofar as all subatomic particles survive, we can be very, very proud of what we have achieved!

We must get Brexit done, level up English corporal punishment for the people of Scotland, and unleash the power of tampons. Here’s one I made earlier. Slam it in the oven, and no more VAT on Schrödinger’s Cat. The institution of the monarchy is beyond ridiculous.

We can win, we must win, and with your help we will win! I hope I can count on your support. Thank you very much. [Applause]

* * *

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization. No cyborgs were harmed in the making of this post.

Ask Dr Johnson!

Readers send in their questions to Dr Boris Johnson, and he answers them in true Tory fashion.

Dear Dr Johnson,

My husband and I vacationed in Swaziland in the summer of 2018. We went for the glass, but stayed for the sorghum! Since then, I discovered I have a large, cauliflower-shaped rash on my left elbow. What is this rash, and do you know of a cure?

Matilda Heath-Mullins

Dear Matilda,

I’m sorry to hear of your ‘rash’ vacation exploits. If it truly is cauliflower-shaped, then perhaps some form of pesticide would avail you. What I always say is British cauliflowers are the best cauliflowers! But under EU regulations, our fantastic British cauliflowers are forbidden to be sold on U.S. Army bases or cooked in U.S. Army kitchens. So we need to get Brexit done, leave the EU, and forge ahead with an amazing new trade deal. Then I’m sure we will experience a veritable renaissance in British cauliflower-growing and consumption. Speaking of consumption, your unusual rash could be a symptom of the latter. I’d have that looked at if I were you.

I happen to be a Swaziland trivia buff. Did you know that the King of Swaziland has 15 wives and 23 children? This hardly compares with the English aristocracy, but they are good people and they are trying.

Swaziland is, of course, a member of the Commonwealth and an area where we’ve already negotiated a fantastic post-Brexit free trade deal. They will be sending us goat meat, and we will be sending them videos of Downton Abbey. Cheers!

Boris Johnson
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Dear Dr Johnson,

My little Timmy was playing in the lanes when seemingly out of the blue a lorry carrying elderberries bore down and ran over his tail. We rushed him to A&E at Shrewsbury and Telford, but the wait was horrific. During the 11 hours before Timmy was seen, he lost a lot of blood. It was gushing out all over the waiting room floor, putting us rather in mind of the Hammer Horror era. Finally, a very nice but tired-looking Indian doctor examined him and confirmed that he had, indeed, lost a lot of blood. He said there was a shortage of hemoglobin due to Tory austerity measures, and there was nothing he could do. We buried Timmy in the back yard the next day, and since then our marriage has hit the rocks. My husband’s been made a dundancy and now collects alarm clocks. What do you advise, and how is it the Tories have instituted such drastic cuts that everyone’s tail is on the chopping block?

Melody Rundquist

Dear Melody,

I’m afraid I cannot agree with the premise of your question. Under this Conservative government, hemoglobin production is up 53%, and the production of other bodily fluids has vastly increased. The previous Labour government left us with no bodily fluids whatsoever, and a crudely scribbled note saying ‘Ham in fridge’. Well, that’s the Labour Party for you! Since taking office, this Conservative government has been proactive in increasing bodily fluids across the board. We are directly responsible for upping bile production by 36%, and vomitus by 43%. But we are not ones for resting on our collective laurels. My simple campaign pledge to the people of Shropshire is this: Return me as Prime Minister, and I will level up semen production to hitherto undreamt of levels, and produce a race of British Supermen ready to fight the Third World War! (‘Hear, hear!’)

Coming back to your original question: You fail to state categorically (but strongly imply) that little Timmy was of the, ah, canine persuasion (hence the tail). If Timmy was what we Etonians call Canis lupus familiaris, I must regretfully inform you that, unfair as it may seem, home sapiens receive priority treatment at most A&Es. I am neither a veterinarian, funeral director, nor marriage counselor, so am unable to advise you further.

Boris Johnson

P.S. Under this Conservative government, elderberry production has seen an increase of 26.3%, far greater than any other EU country. The alarm clocks are harmless, unless taken internally.
—–

Dear Dr Johnson,

My wife and I live in West Mersea and are both consummate fish freaks — though as I might prudently add, very conventional in other respects. In our garden pond, we have everything from bass to herring to octopi, and have managed to get them to live harmoniously together by singing to them regularly. They mostly prefer folk tunes, but do not complain too loudly if we slip in a bit of Cole Porter, or the odd aria from Pagliacci. (My wife likes to dress up as Cher and sing ‘Believe’.) Anyway, just last week our prize orangutan Pepe began exhibiting listlessness and shortness of breath. He refused to swim with the other fish, and began whistling ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’ on an almost nonstop basis. My wife says it sounds more like the love theme from Romeo and Juliet (the film version with Olivia Hussey), but that is neither here nor there. Pepe also seems to compulsively report the latest news headlines every half hour. What can we do?

Frank and Mildred Wylkes

Dear Frank and Mildred,

Take it from one who knows: You and your wife are not just freaks, but (with apologies to Rick James), superfreaks. Keeping an orangutan in with the fish is bound to dampen their spirits (as well as the orangutan), and Cher impressions are quite déclassé. It all sounds rather hopeless. Orangutans are not good swimmers, and the shortness of breath you describe is entirely to be expected when a tree-dwelling mammal remains in aquatic conditions for extended periods.

Even I sometimes experience shortness of breath in my renowned role as a cunning linguist. And while I regularly pose with fish and fishmongers (see photo below), I am not, strictly speaking, an ichthyologist — nor is Pepe even a fish.

Boris Johnson demonstrates his fish snoggery technique while being coached by a past master

I am therefore unable to answer your question definitively, but have a sneaking suspicion your orangutan has swallowed a small transistor radio. (The news headlines every half hour are more or less a giveaway.) The tune he whistles may be a manifestation of homesickness (as orangutans are not native to West Mersea), but it could also be a mating call. If the Romeo and Juliet theme gets on your nerves, try teaching him something from Porgy and Bess, or any love song that you find more agreeable. Orangutans are talented mimics, and he’s bound to pick it up in no time.

However, I fear that as with certain other letter-writers, your query is rife with superfluous detail and strays rather far from my core area of expertise. I hope future correspondents will stick more to the point, and not take unfair advantage of what is (after all) a free service provided by the Crown.

Boris Johnson
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Dear Dr Johnson,

We have a yellow-fronted Amazonian parrot which we love dearly. We think it’s a male, so we named it Romulus. But lately, it has developed a discolouration in the region of the beak. This used to be greyish-brown, but now shows a large white rectangular area. Romulus is very fond of marshmallows, and we worry that feeding ‘him’ too many marshmallows has caused the discolouration. Do you recommend a change of diet?

Edna and Edith Farthingworth

Dear Edna and Edith,

Firstly, I must protest the proliferation of pet complaints among these letters! I state (and repeat for emphasis) that I am not a veterinarian. I did once sleep with a veterinarian, but it was a one-night stand, and she later voted for the Liberal Democrats. I wish her well… As for your Amazonian parrot, I’m afraid it’s suffering from a condition which we Tories call ‘surrender bill’. The large white rectangular area is a classic symptom.

I advise you to prorogue your parrot for at least five weeks, or as long as the Supreme Court will allow. After that, treat it as you would any mushroom, writer, or parliamentarian: Keep it in the dark, and feed it lots of sh-t.

Marshmallows are right out, at least until ‘his’ beak returns to normal. If you have an excess supply of marshmallows, you can send them to my honourable friend the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, who has a peculiar yen for marshmallows. (He puts them in a pudding.)

Boris Johnson
—–

Dear Dr Johnson,

Help! I’m trapped on a fishing boat with a curved cucumber and no condoms. Am I in violation of EU law?

Signed,

Distressed

Dear Distressed,

While your question is not a medical one, it does relate to Brexit, so I feel qualified to answer. EU regulations concerning curvature of vegetables only apply to rutabagas, and even then only on oddly-numbered days. As for condoms… EU law requires that all fishing boats be equipped with condiments. I’m afraid this is a rare case where the Sun did cause needless panic due to inaccurate reporting. We must get Brexit done and dusted so that we can finally be free of all these draconian regulations which no one rightly understands. I myself have fallen foul of EU regs regarding serial liars and pompous windbags. Apparently I need some sort of license, or a jab with some foul, froggy concoction that will make me sound like Jacques Cousteau.

Boris Johnson
—–

Send in your letters to Ask Dr Johnson!, but please do keep questions on-topic.

* * *

Disclaimer: All names of letter-writers and pets are fictional. Any resemblance to real parrots, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Update: Sadly, life sometimes imitates art. I posted this parody on November 5. Then on December 9, a story hit the media about a four-year-old boy who was forced to sleep on a pile of coats on the floor at Leeds General Infirmary, for lack of a bed. I want readers to know that the parody predates the story by a month. I would not have made light of this real world incident. The parody stands on its own as a comment on the state of the NHS and Tory austerity measures.