Dear Whoever You Are (4 – 13 June 2018)


7 June: Modern Love

In the middle of the night last week, my bedroom became suddenly alive with epilepsy-inducing incandescent light crawling across the walls, a lingering preamble to the loudest and longest thunderclap I have ever experienced. The initial sky-splitting explosion virtually shook me out of bed and the uninterrupted concussive aftershocks boomed as if Godzilla was stamping away down the street, spiked thagomizer angrily swishing entire buildings aside in its wake.

“The reckoning!” I spluttered nasally (I was suffering from a bad head cold), leaping to my feet and running to the window.

“Jesus, I told you not to put so much chili sauce on your dinner,” murmured my wife groggily before rolling over and promptly falling back to sleep.

“That’s it,” I thought to myself as I watched the sour expression on my face reflected in the window pane melt like candle wax under sheets of rain so thick I may as well have been looking through a windshield in a car wash. “I’m sick. This weather is an atrocity. Tomorrow can and will be a lazy movie day.”

Checking the movie listings the next morning, I was heartened to see that Solo: A Star Wars Story was playing just around the corner. Catching the first screening at 12:55, it was just me and a couple of teenagers playing hooky in the theatre. Nice, but my expectations were low. I thought Rogue One was mostly crap and I had read Solo was tanking at the box office. Nevertheless, as the lights went down, I still prickled with excitement just as I did as a boy when the original trilogy came out.

Recounting the early years of Han Solo, including how he comes to know Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, and flew the Kessel Run “in less than twelve parsecs” in the Millennium Falcon, this movie does not disappoint. Penned by Lawrence Kasdan* & Son, the story is simple and uncluttered with interesting, morally ambiguous characters. Director Ron Howard delivers some of the most relentlessly engaging action sequences I’ve seen in a long time and Alden Ehrenreich(me neither) is so convincing as a swaggering young Han, you’ll forget it’s not Harrison Ford you’re watching. The rest of the cast is solid, especially Woody Harrelson, fast becoming one of my all-time favorites, who nails it as Tobias Beckett, a struggling criminal and Han’s mentor. Best of all, the love story is mercifully ancillary, understated, and devoid of any groan-inducing cheese.

Movie review over but, coming back to the love front, the openly flirtatious exchanges between Lando and his leggy droid, L3-37, caught my attention most. Sure enough, when I got home, I discovered the Internet alight with discussion over Lando’s pansexuality, a neutral orientation that leaves wide open the possibility of robot-human sexual relationships. A few more Google searches confirmed that in the near future, after a robot has poached your job, you’ll at least be able to go home and angrily fuck an all-too-human one in any manner you see fit. Yes, the “sexbot” is, very controversially, also on the rise and if you don’t admit you’re curious, I have no problem calling you a liar.

Although not quite there yet, the technology is on a trajectory to deliver a female sexbot whose orifices (which can be swappable with dozens of variations) will not only be anatomically accurate, they will also be equipped with adjustable self-lubricating and heating systems. The neck will be designed so the head can rhythmically move up and down and side to side and its other flexible joints will allow it to engage in intercourse in more positions than you’ll find in a Kamasutra sex guide. Their faces and bodies will be fully customizable. For example, you will be able to select from an exhaustive menu of swappable racial characteristics, not to mention hundreds of nipple variations. Not only will its skin be lifelike and capable of simulating sweating in the heat of action, it will also be able to authentically simulate toe-curling orgasms better than Meg Ryan. And of course, with the galloping advances in AI, your sexbot will soon be able to talk to you like a real companion and presumably, as it gets to know you better and better, indulge you in all your naughty perversions.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the anal beads now or would you like to eat dinner off my chest first?”

Now ladies (and gay gentlemen), before you go hoarse howling in outrage, the male sexbot is also coming and it will have all of the anatomical authenticity and customizability of its female counterpart. Its arrival is going to be a bit delayed however but only because, somewhat understandably, it’s considerably more of a technological challenge to accurately mimic a man getting it up, performing in all the positions, and ejaculating a warm simulated semen (presumably this will be optional) upon command. Make no mistake though, it is coming, swappable cock and balls, nipples, racial attributes, you name it, all at your disposal.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the ribbed 10-incher now or would you like to sip chardonnay from my navel first?”

Implications? Obviously legion. Proponents argue that sexbots will help treat impotence as well as garden-variety sexual anxiety, provide meaningful sexual gratification to the millions of singles weary of striking out online and/or at the bars, reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (sexbot prostitute, anyone?) and, more interestingly, dramatically reduce the saturating prevalence of sex crime. How? Violent sexual fantasies acted out on sexbots are victimless crimes. Aware of this, manufacturers of next generation sexbots are already planning on offering a “rape mode” (no “safety words” required…) I can answer your next dark question: yes, rather than vainly attempting to punish or rehabilitate their ungovernable aberrant sexual impulses, it is already possible for pedophiles to acquire primitive child sexbots. All of this to say that soon enough you will be able to buy a highly advanced child sexbot, family member sexbot, celebrity sexbot, dead person sexbot, and of course, for those into the farmyard scene, one must assume that it is only a matter of time before animal sexbots make their debut as well.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Woof! Woof!”

Detractors warn of the desensitizing consequences of sexual relationships with sexbots. The fear is that acting out all your sexual fantasies on a totally compliant and unharmable sexbot will erode your relationship with “reality” and generate stratospheric expectations from the real, and limitlessly harmable, human beings you subsequently endeavor to have sex with. A particularly scary thought when applied to the pedophile.

I’m not sure I buy the argument though. It is the same one that links pornography to increased objectification and violence towards women. There is no meaningful evidence that supports this, especially in porn-loving Japan where cartoons depicting young girls being raped by multi-tentacled aliens do not so much as raise an eyebrow and sexual violence is almost zero. Not to mention that ever since vast libraries of porn migrated to the Internet, where they can be consumed for free and in private, women too have flocked to them in droves. Same goes for claims, also unsupported so far, that violent video games and movies glorify and encourage real-life violence.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of us can clearly distinguish between fact and fantasy. Those who cannot are extremely dangerous regardless of whether or not they use sexbots, look at porn, or play Grand Theft Auto night and day. I suppose it’s possible that sexbots, like porn, could encourage sex addiction but that’s like condemning bars for encouraging alcoholism. Addicts will be addicts and they arguably indulge more when the source of their addiction is sanctioned, e.g. 13 long years of Prohibition in the United States were barely remembered due to alcoholic blackout.

I lean towards welcoming the advent of sexbots. But not just as fantasy-facilitators that promise to keep it clean and off the streets. I can imagine sexbots assisting the millions of human couples who are in floundering relationships. What if your partner, still very much in love with you but suffering from extreme relationship fatigue, finally snapped and vented it all out for one long and torrid night with a sexbot? Even if it was a protracted “affair” with a sexbot, would the sense of betrayal even approach what it would be if it had been conducted with a human? Would you even rank it as infidelity at all? Perhaps you’d even be curious to watch your partner go at it with the sexbot? Perhaps you’d even take notes? Perhaps you’d even join in? Perhaps you’d even purchase your own sexbot so you could ratchet up the spice with foursomes?!

Okay, perhaps not. But I do see potential for some significant therapeutic upside for individuals and society once sexbots become mainstream.** Of course, the existential threat to human-on-human relationships, as AI races towards the singularity finish line, is that we find we actually fall in love with our sexbots and unload our human companions altogether. After all, not only will they be better in bed than any human could possibly hope to be, because they will come to know us inside and out (literally), they could very likely also morph into our best friends.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“I’m so happy to see you! Go relax and watch the football game. I’ll be there in a minute after I’ve swapped in my football night vagina.”’

“Aw, I love you.”

“And you always will…”

*Responsible for The Empire Strikes Back, hands down the very best of all the Star Wars movies.

**These things promise to be prohibitively expensive, but I predict that even people of very limited means will find the money one way or another. Just look at how many panhandlers have an empty coffee cup in one hand and an iPhone in the other…

~

Too speechless to rant about the Tweeter-in-Chief this week but this is worth being reminded of:

Why, oh why, didn’t Clinton hammer away at this over and over again during the election campaign? Why is it not regularly trotted out now to expose this master manipulator and liar?

This is probably the most honest thing the man has ever said in his life and it is so infrequently invoked to utterly discredit him. Gaaaaaaaa!

~

 

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Dear Whoever You Are (14 – 27 May 2018)


19-28 May: Lost in Translation

I’m standing in Marksburg which, although damaged by American artillery fire in 1945, is the best-preserved castle of the many dotting Germany’s spectacular Middle Rhine* and first mentioned in historical records in the 13th Century. Here is a picture:

I’m on the upper floor standing in a 65-meter knight’s hall with a long medieval dining table hewn from wood as dark as the surrounding forest, huge open fireplace, and window recesses revealing that the castle’s walls are 3 meters thick. Our guide is explaining that the deep bay in the wall in the center of the hall is a toilet where the knights could take an altitudinous crap on whomever might be passing by below while keeping up with the raucous banter going on at the table. Even more interesting, this was the most vulnerable part of the castle to enemy invaders who, used to being repelled with cauldrons of boiling oil, heavy rocks, and volleys of flaming arrows, were quite content to cast aside the chivalric etiquette of castle-storming and attempt to sneak in through the infinitely less perilous shithole.

“In fact,” our guide concludes, “downstream from here, just outside Bonn, Bavarian knights sacked Godesburg this way.”

“Trust the Bavarians,” mutters my wife to the quiet tittering of those within earshot except, not surprisingly, the plump Bavarian couple who scrunch up their tongue-red faces as if they have just been suddenly shat upon. [Side note: Bavarians are subject to some low-boil animosity in the rest of the country because they are viewed as perpetuating the hated stereotype that all Germans are lederhosen-clad mountain-dwellers forever swilling oceans of beer, during a permanent Octoberfest, while dancing to Oompapa bands. It doesn’t help that their accents, even if reciting love poetry, sound like a gathering storm. Even less that Bavaria is the richest state in the country.]

“Come this way,” says the guide with a wave. “Watch your heads on the ceiling. Here’s another great view of the valley from this window.” He pronounces ceiling “siling”, valley “walley”, and window “vindow”. My wife rolls her eyes again at the quality of his English. For me, though, I’m seized by another spasm of guilt about the quality of my German. Here I am on an hour-long castle tour being conducted in scrappy English despite the fact that everyone on it, except for me and an Asian couple (who don’t appear to even understand English) are German speakers. They’re only taking the English tour because they’d have to wait another hour for the next one in German. This is in their home country.

Personally, I suck at languages and actively resent people who have a gift for them. I like to think I’m not an easily intimidated person but when I attempt to speak German, I’m as blushing and self-conscious as a young boy who has inadvertently popped an erection at the swimming pool. During the castle tour, when I imagine myself seated at the table in the great hall surrounded by heavily armed knights drinking wine out of oversized goblets made from the skulls of vanquished enemies, what I fear most is one of them turning and talking to me. I can imagine him, face all whiskers and battle scars, deeply growling a long question in a medieval Teutonic language almost as mysterious to me as modern-day German. I picture myself fleeing the table to the toilet for the remainder of the meal and hoping the manifestation of my fear might at least get some credit for repelling a Bavarian invader.

My wife humors me by telling me how good my German is getting. Probably the only person on earth who would genuinely concur with that bright assessment is her 94-year-old grandmother (or “Oma” as grandmothers are affectionately dubbed in Germany). A lovely woman, I am at ease practicing German with her. Because she’s half-deaf and somewhat age-addled, we only very loosely get the gist of what the other is saying. It’s perfect. To give you an idea, here is a transcript translated into English of an exchange that took place over dinner the day before Marksburg:

Oma [stabbing at my plate with her knife]: How do you like the potatoes?

Me: The potatoes? Very delicious. Her nipples are furry and taste like landmines.

Oma: Exactly. I had a big garden once and grew all my own vegetables.

Me: Really? If I was a garden, my toes would probably harden in the ground.

Oma: I grew those too. I once grew a zucchini that weighed about a kilo.

Me: Did the cat make soup with it?

Oma: Oh yes, that was a super summer. Hardly any rain at all.

Me: Very nice. When the sun shines, does your pillow usually glow like that?

Oma: Of course, but the weather has been terrible lately.

Me: And the fog yesterday smelled like dandruff.

Oma: It’s not good for the tourists in England though is it?

Me: No, no. I toured the royal wedding around the gate and it went to bed before I woke up.

Oma: Yes, I did watch it. I didn’t know those princes had gone so bald.

Me: Prince Philip? His hair is older than your wife’s.

Oma: Your wife? She has beautiful hair. She gets that from me, you know.

Me: I know. I think her skin is also licked by bears.

At this point, a bemused family member who is eavesdropping (unbeknownst to me or I would have fled to the toilet) gently interjects before I accidentally desecrate an innocent conversation by blurting something pornographic and potentially provoking “Oma” to go into cardiac arrest.

In any case, over the course of a week, I did begin to sense that if I lived in the country for a significant amount of time I might one day wrap my head around the language enough to be conversationally fluent. It makes all the difference being totally immersed. This is especially true for colloquial usages. For example, when my mother-in-law is watching television in the evening I learned by osmosis that the easiest, most informal, way to ask her what she’s watching is to say “Was guckst du?” rather than the awkward and formal construction that I had learned: “Was schaust du im Fernsehen?”

As the week progressed, I also began aping the tendency of Germans to end almost everything they say with an interrogative “oder?” (“oder” being the word for “or” in German). For example, “we could go into town today, or?”; “do you want some asparagus, or?”, “the sex was great tonight, or?” etc. I probably overdo it a bit though. In fact, the transcript above is probably more accurate if you tack on “or?” at the end of each of my statements.

Wife [reading in bed]: By the way, why are you saying “oder” at the end of everything when you speak German?

Me [exasperated]: Because you maniacs do!

Wife: No, we don’t!

Me: Oh yes, you do! You say it almost as much as “genau”!** I’m trying to speak the street, man!

Wife: You’re doing great.

Me: Ja, genau. Oder?

Wife [sighing and turning out the light]: Goodnight.

Me [grumpily]: Gute Nacht. Oder?

And of course, just as I’m starting to get a bit into the swing of it, we return to Paris and I have to reconfigure my short-circuiting brain synapses back to French, another language I speak badly and which almost broke me learning on the streets of Montreal over the course of 30 years.

The day after we got back, I had to go and get my fucked-up knee seen again by my doctor. Marching up to the receptionist, I spewed this Franco-German vomit: “J’ai heute à midi einen Termin avec l’Arzt” (“I have an appointment at noon today with the doctor”.)

The good thing is, as terrible as I am at languages I’m not despairing with German. I’m slowly, very slowly, improving and it helps a lot that I actually like the language. Although the grammar incites me to gnaw on my left leg, it does have an internal logic that I relate to much more than French. Also, after even as little as half an hour of studying, I really feel I have given my brain an iron man workout and I’m able to think more clearly about other important things (e.g. pants first, then shoes).

When I do get mopey about my skills, I remind myself that I have had to struggle to learn French and German as an adult, long after my brain had been fully and unilingually hardwired in English. It’s all very well for my many Montreal friends to be smug about being fluently trilingual. I sometimes remind them that if, when I was growing up, I had to go through the French school system (courtesy of Bill 101**) while speaking e.g. Portuguese at home and English with my friends, I would have been effortlessly trilingual by age 18 too.

“So, there!” I declare, standing in front of the mirror at the conclusion of my pep talk. But still, I know I really do have to work on my confidence as much as my skills. Perhaps I should start by hanging out at the swimming pool with a deliberate erection and shamelessly not offer a single word of apology about it… in any language.

* This section of the river snakes through vineyard pocked and thickly forested mountains between Mainz and Cologne. The stuff of German fairytales and a wine-tasters paradise, it’s a must for your bucket list!

** Genau means “exactly” and over the course of an average lifetime, a German will say it approximately 5,896,054,321,468 times.

*** This is the mainstay legislative piece in Quebec’s odious language policy, undoubtedly the subject of a future rant. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_French_Language

~

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Dear Whoever You Are (5 – 13 May 2018)


10 May 2018: Suicide should be painless

Renowned Australian botanist and ecologist, David Goodall, arrived in Switzerland earlier last week in order to end his life in one of the few countries in the world where assisted suicide is legal for the non-terminally ill. While Goodall fell into that category, the man was so ancient, he made wrinkly old Mick Jagger look like Dorian Gray. For perspective:

  • He was born 4 April 1914, four months before the start of World War One.
  • In 1944, more than a year before the end of World War Two, he was 30 years old.
  • In 1963, when 46-year-old JFK was assassinated, he was almost 50 (my age today).
  • He was pushing 90 when the 9/11 attacks occurred almost 17 years ago.
  • Last week, he was four years older than a century.

You get the idea. You may even marvel at how cool it would be to defy mortality and survive that long. Perhaps not, though. For many who reach that age and beyond, your friends have been dead for decades. Same for your spouse (which admittedly may, in some cases, be cause for celebration). And if that were not a deep enough well of loneliness, your emotional mutilation goes into hyperdrive when, through the fog of advanced age, you suddenly realize your kids are also dead. Little solace is found in your navel-gazing grandkids, so freaked out by their own middle age they barely have time to check your pulse when they breeze through the nursing home for door-spinning, will-verifying visits. Even less in your great-grandkids, spotty High Schoolers who, in the rare instances they come to see you, amuse themselves by comparing images of you with unrecognizable petrified fossils on Snapchat.

In Goodall’s case, he retired at age 65 and mostly enjoyed life for the next 30 years. However, since age 94, afflicted by steadily deteriorating eyesight and mobility, he has wanted to die. He could barely make out the faces of his 12 grandchildren and was entirely wheelchair-bound. After failing to take his own life a few weeks ago, here’s how he heart-wrenchingly summed up his quality of life: “At my age, I get up in the morning. I eat breakfast. And then I just sit until lunchtime. Then I have a bit of lunch and just sit. What’s the use of that?” What, indeed. Now, thanks to GoFundMe assistance raised by Exit International,* Goodall finally got relief at a Basel clinic today, where he personally administered a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.

Goodall had lamented that most euthanasia legislation, in the few jurisdictions that have implemented it, only applies to “assisted dying” for terminally ill patients. For the past 20 years he strongly advocated the Exit International mandate that all competent adults, regardless of age or terminal illness, have a right to end their life peacefully, in dignity, and without requiring permission from the medical community. The idea is that suicide needn’t be so painful for those among us who are in such unbearable pain, either physical or psychological/emotional, they really do feel a burning imperative to leave us irrespective of the slick wake of grief they will leave behind upon departure.

This resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Five and a half years ago, I received a devastating phone-dropping text message at work informing me that my dear friend of over 20 years, Annie, age 42, had ended her life in New York City the night before. She had been ravaged by unbridled depression her whole life and, like Goodall, had attempted suicide once before. Nevertheless, she tirelessly battled this soul-withering disease, from all variety of pharmacological cocktails to admitting herself to hospital to be tortured for months on end with electroshock therapy that left half her life’s memories burnt to cinders. I stayed at her Queens apartment (which, to her delight, I called the Cuckoo’s Nest) on a visit to NY just a few months before she died, her haunted eyes always searching mine through her tinted bug glasses. I was used to this and was completely oblivious to how close to the end of all hope she was.

If only the option had been available to her to end her intolerable suffering with dignity rather than slowly choking to death in a closet. In the dark. Terrified. And utterly alone.

*See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit_International and support the legalization of assisted suicide in your jurisdiction.

~

13 May 2018: Another week of assholery in the dock for Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump

Having wiped away his crocodile tears over last February’s mass school shooting in Florida, the T-in-C delivered a dutifully balls-licking address to the gun-worshipping National Rifle Association (now headed by Oliver North – aiieeeee!), coffin-black owner and overlord of the Republican Party. During the course of it, he incensed the U.K. by arguing the “war zone” knife violence there would be curbed under looser gun control laws, presumably because then everyone would be afforded the civilized option of shooting each other to death rather than hacking each other to pieces. France was equally apoplectic over his infantile mimicking of the gunmen during the 2015 Bataclan theatre massacre in Paris, again arguing the tragedy could have been averted had the crowds been armed to the teeth with biiig bootiful faaaaat guns. The reality is that violent crime rates in the U.K. and France are a miniscule fraction of those in the U.S. (e.g. where 47 children and teenagers are shot each day….)

Two days later, delivering another kick in the nuts to European allies just for good measure, the T-in-C yanked the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. His speech rationalizing the decision was chock-full of lies, the most glaring being the false claims that Iran is still able to enrich weapons-grade uranium and would be “on the verge of nuclear breakout in just a short period of time” due to the deal’s sunset provisions. The real reason, beyond that he’s now surrounded by Mephistophelean Iran hawks who back regime change, is that the Iran deal is the signature foreign policy achievement of the nigger… er, that is, Barack Obama, his enlightened and progressive predecessor who eviscerated him in eye-watering fashion at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The point is that the T-in-C is unflinching in his ability to stare straight into the cameras and flatly lie, whether to push his vendetta-driven agenda against Obama, to appease the NRA, or wriggle out from all of the personal accusations forever swirling around him.

Regarding the latter, also last week the barking mad Rudy Giuliani continued to put his foot in it as the newest member of the T-in-C’s battalion of attorneys. Contradicting months of vehement denials from the T-and-C and White House officials, Giuliani stated unequivocally that Trump repaid his attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 in hush money handed over to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the election to keep it zipped over an alleged affair. He went even further by stating that Cohen could have paid off other women too! It’s little wonder the T-in-C hasn’t rushed to engage the services of yet another attorney to pay lip-flapping Giuliani wads of hush money in exchange for a solemn promise to never be interviewed again. Instead, the T-in-C grumpily spat that Giuliani “will get his facts straight” eventually. Translation: “Giuliani hasn’t yet fully orientated himself to the whirlpool of lies around this place”. Even more remarkably, Giuliani then went onto claim that, get this, he’s “focused on the law more than the facts right now…” Wow! Double wow!

Blatant Orwellian disregard for objectively verifiable facts has been the hallmark of this presidency from Day 1 when Kellyanne Conway (doesn’t she somehow remind you of a creepy Picasso?), defending the White House’s visually disprovable claims of “record” crowd sizes on inauguration day, notoriously coined the term “alternative facts”. Last week it came to light, as a surprise to absolutely no one, that the T-in-C had personally dictated to his doctor his 2015 “full medical report” which, to howls of derisive laughter, farcically concluded: “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Any normal political leader would be run out of town on a rail over Stormy Daniels and the fake doctor’s note alone. Not the T-in-C. The Washington Post has determined that this president has openly lied well over 3,000 times since being elected. Mind, these are only the wholly disprovable claims and statements and do not include the endless torrent of exaggerations, distortions, and misleading half-truths.

How does he do it? It is human nature to lie. We’ve all done it to some degree when fessing up would unleash unpleasant consequences (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” because blowjobs don’t count, right? Right?!) But lifelong pathological liars, most of whom are also narcissists, are almost always undone and fall hard when they inevitably get caught up in the web of lies they have spun for themselves. Almost. Delighting his base, the T-in-C forever dismisses the fact-checkers as “fake news” cooked up by the mainstream liberal media. Worse, he is almost rewarded for his deceitfulness. Undoubtedly, a typical Trump supporter would applaud his dictation of his own medical report on the grounds that it is evidence of his unassailable self-confidence. I can only conclude that this is the case for every brazen example of the T-in-C divining his own truth. Probably the only way his dishonesty will undo him is if he lies under oath. So, cross your fingers he blows off the advice of his enablers yet again and agrees to a sit-down with Robert Mueller.

As troubling as all this is, what irks and rattles me is that as despicably dishonest as this president is, unlike virtually every other politician who has ever lived, he is doing his level best to make good on just about every single one of his Obama-hating campaign promises. Here are just a few:

  • Gutting Obamacare (after all attempts at repeal failed in the House);
  • Leaving the TPP Obama supported and declaring trade war on China;
  • Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement Obama supported;
  • Renegotiating or leaving NAFTA Obama supported;
  • Leaving Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal;
  • Massive tax cuts after Obama bankrupted Americans by raising taxes;
  • Massive deregulation (especially all Obama era regulations);
  • Massive military spending on armed forces Obama neglected;
  • Curbing immigration, deporting illegal immigrants and building THE WALL on the Mexican border after Obama let in millions of criminals and rapists just like him;
  • Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because Obama hated Netanyahu.

Not only is this president keeping his promises, I have the creeping feeling that by keeping his word and following through on his threats he could be teeing up some major policy wins. It’s quite likely NAFTA will be renegotiated to the greater advantage of the U.S. Same goes for the trade dispute with China and all the lesser players. And leaving the Iran deal has done nothing to make Kim Jong-un balk at the upcoming Summit in Singapore.* In fact, right after the T-in-C exited the Iran deal, North Korea announced it was going to blow up (yes, blow up!) its nuclear weapons test site. It also released three American prisoners. Why? Because when the T-in-C stood up in front of the ineffectual United Nations last September and bellowed if Little Rocket Man didn’t start toeing the line, he would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”, Kim Jong-un had to burn his underpants afterwards. Here was a president, one with a much “bigger button” than his, he knew would “totally” keep that promise…

If this don’t-you-ever-fuck-with-me president can oversee the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, possibly even Korean reunification, that would be a monumental foreign policy achievement for the history books.

It begs the question: Could it be that lying about everything under the sun to numb the world to the truth while simultaneously keeping your promises is a brilliant political strategy?

After all, Hitler tried it once and came damn close to winning the whole shebang…

Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods in school. And the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and a fool. ~ Plato

*Of course, just today North Korea is threatening to scuttle talks over the current joint war games between South Korea and the U.S. but that is likely typical passive-aggressive bluster that will subside once the “games” are concluded.

~

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Dear Whoever You Are (23 April – 4 May 2018)


24 April: Incel Rebellion

The freshly minted terror tactic of deliberately bumping up onto sidewalks and plowing through crowds of people is as banally ingenious as it is truly terrorizing. With each fresh copycat attack, sidewalk strollers the world over are getting ever more antsy whenever a car is spotted accelerating for no apparent reason. So it was last week when the method was again deployed to murder 10 people on a busy street in Toronto. As the news broke, we all instantly assumed this was another “Allahu Akbar” shouting ISIS devotee. Apparently not. As it turns out, the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was just a sad and lonely young man profoundly aggrieved about his chronic inability to get laid.

Radicalized through sketchy subreddit online chat forums, like most terrorists, Minassian is an “Incel” devotee. Me neither, until now. Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate”, a so-called movement that would be more aptly named “Sefa” for “sexual failure”. It is an online community of seriously douchey men who obsess about “Chads”, males who are sexually successful solely by virtue of their God-given good looks and “Stacys”, the sexy sluts who fuck them. Incels have convinced themselves that the Stacys they covet are eternally unattainable. Why? Because Stacys will never have a flicker of sexual desire for genetically disadvantaged beta males such as themselves. That’s correct. In a staggering testament to loserishness, not to mention bald laziness, Incels have zero motivation to embark on a diet of personality self-improvement because they are possessed by the psychotic belief that bimbo Stacys will only ever be turned on by Chads with diamond-cut bodies and chiseled features. Accordingly, they are sexually doomed by genetic predetermination.

Sure, most of them are harmless self-pitying nobodies, babyishly resigned to a wholly manufactured sense of helplessness, who roam the edges of the Internet for likeminded company. However, a splinter group of the more unhinged Incels have gone so far as to liken their “movement” to Marxism, they being akin to the downtrodden proletariat and Chads to the bourgeoisie. This is why, with violent revolution on his blistered mind, Minassian posted on Facebook his allegiance to the “Incel Rebellion”*, aka the “Beta Uprising”, shortly before his deadly rampage. Curiously, none of the bitterness and rage is directed at the Chads, presumably because they too have no control over the genetic royal flush they were dealt at birth. No, in order to upend the unfair and unjust sexual status quo it is the bubble-headed Stacys, who choose to be sexual elitists, who must be eliminated. It is no coincidence that most of Minassian’s victims were women. He was aiming for them.

The “Incel Rebellion” is nothing short of a declaration of war on women. There is no political or religious basis to it. It is empty hatred. Incels are so psychotically disengaged from reality, they haven’t even taken the time to look around and observe that most men are just as much on the “losing end” of the genetic lottery they rail against as themselves. To underscore the point, here is a picture of Minassian:

Through the prism of the Marxist paradigm, the proletariat ferment understandable resentment because the minority bourgeoisie actually do, in fact, control the majority of the wealth. However, it is deluded fantasy for Incels to complain that the minority Chads have cornered the sexual market on the majority of the Stacys. Even if that were true, if the Stacys are the worthless conniving bitches they are made out to be, why would the Incels even want them? Presumably, only for sexual gratification. Because that is impossible, the only solution is to kill them. The vertiginous magnitude of the misogyny is breathtaking.

This is why some significant percentage of me wishes Minassian had been shot dead by the arresting Toronto police officer rather than being taken into custody peacefully as he was. After all, undoubtedly suddenly aware of his moral insolvency and the enormity of the brainless crime he had just committed, he pleaded with the officer to kill him before finally surrendering.

As you like and good riddance, I say.

Crush this pathetic rebellion.

Preferably by running it over…

*Inspired by a warped manifesto penned by Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman”, prior to his 2014 killing spree in Isla Vista, California: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Isla_Vista_killings#Victims

~

25-30 April: Vive la Belgique!

I was in Belgium, Brussels and Bruges specifically, for a few days this past weekend. I know, great big YAWN, right? Wrong! I’m at quite a loss as to why this lovely little country gets the snooty cold shoulder from its larger neighbors. The French, in particular, consistently make Belgians the butt of their consistently unfunny jokes. Here are just a few reasons why Belgium is cooler than France:

Beer: There is a staggering variety of top quality beer in Belgium. When we took a boat tour of the Bruges canals (put it on your bucket list!) our guide identified one of the many pointy turreted medieval buildings as a beer museum that houses over 1,200 beers all of which are available for consumption. I could happily spend a month in that place alone. Here in France, you have a choice between Kronenbourg 1664 (which makes Bud Light seem like a rich flavor orgasm) and regular Kronenberg (which makes Kronenbourg 1664 seem like a rich flavor orgasm). Both will cost you approximately 1664.00€ for a 25 cl glass (a measly half pint) in an average Parisian brasserie. And that is only in the unlikely event one of the army of sneering waiters, loafing around smoking and chatting haughtily with one another, ever bothers to muster the energy to come over and serve you. In Belgium, you can order a 75 cl glass (that’s a whopping pint and a half, gentlemen!) for about 5-6€. It will be served to you quickly and cheerfully and you won’t need to order another one because there’s so much alcohol in it you’ll wake up the next morning in someone else’s underpants still burbling drunk.

“French” fries: As diabolically unhealthy as they are delicious, proper “frites” aren’t French at all. They are a singularly Belgian invention dating back to the 17th Century. Today, within a stone’s throw from most Belgian streets, you can buy a large cone of fresh deep-fried frites for a few euros that will come swimming in mayonnaise, ketchup or any other poutine-like sauce your imagination can concoct. Included in the price, ambulances are on standby to rush you to hospital in case your heart joyfully explodes. Here in France, if you order a “Steak-frites”, one square inch of your plate will be occupied by bleeding beef and the rest will be piled high with fingers of soggy ash-grey material that may or may not have once been potatoes. When you drop to the floor in convulsions over the 1664.00€ bill your sneering waiter has finally gotten around to flinging on your table before vanishing for another grumpy smoke break, you will die there.

Cafés: Even though their origin is neither French nor Belgian (Vienna laying claim to that honor), there are real cafés in Belgium. Contrary to popular belief, the French café crowded with hip, beret-wearing artists is a total myth. I have come across one or two in Paris after living here for over a year. But heaven help you if you want a latte. The best you’ll get here is a cappuccino that is 90% foam and 10% lukewarm espresso. After that, you could try a café crème which is 90% frothy cream and 10% lukewarm espresso. No, if you want an honest and decent hot latte, your only choice in France is, believe it or not, Starbucks. It too will cost you 1664.00€ but at least, while you vainly try and stave off the inevitable brain aneurysm over the price, you can hang out with Americans and/or their MacBook Airs. In Belgium, there are reasonably priced real cafés dotting your Google Maps app everywhere. There is one in Bruges that has about 20 different varieties of latte! When I suggested to my coffee-crazed wife that I could fuck off to the beer museum while she stayed there, she declined on the grounds we would never see each other again.

Chocolate: Personally, I could care less about chocolate but I’m aware that most people do, some to the point of religious fervor. While chocolate shops are ubiquitous throughout France, guess what they are full of? Correct. Belgian chocolate (admittedly with some top-drawer Swiss and German varieties thrown into the mix). In any case, strolling through the streets of Belgium, you are often struck by the sensation you are literally inhaling chocolatey sugar with every breath. This perpetually activates the pleasure center in the brain’s frontal cortex, releasing wave after wave of dopamine, and is one of the many explanations for why Belgians are so happy.

I figure, just on these food and drink grounds alone, I could easily rest my case. But there are other things too. For example, Brussels is a prettier city than Paris. There, I said it. Sure, it’s not as majestic and well-maintained but it’s buildings, un-levelled by war like those in Paris, are more varied, colorful, and interesting (watch out for all the ones adorned with delightful murals in homage to The Adventures of Tintin by the great Belgian cartoonist Hergé!) Its neighborhoods have a diversity and grittiness that remind me very much of my beloved Montreal. It’s multilingual and multinational, the headquarters of NATO, the de facto capital of the EU*, got real parks (i.e. where trees and plants are allowed to grow where they want) and pissing statues. Pissing statues! What more could you ask for?!

Oh, and this romantic nonsense about La Résistance during World War II? Little Belgium, with only a fraction of the population, had a significantly bigger and more effective resistance movement than France.

To French readers, if any: before you send in your death threats, let me return to food and drink once more. What I adore about living in Paris is the eating and drinking culture here. A recent study shows that the work-shy French spend far more of their time and money engaged in eating and drinking than any other country in the world (yes, that includes glutinous Italy). Everywhere, all the time, the bars, bistros, brasseries, restaurants, etc., are packed and lively and nowhere in the world has a cooler, more extensive terrasse culture where you can sit year-round courtesy of heat lamps that are installed in winter. Personally, little in life makes me happier than sitting outside on a terrasse bending the elbow and people watching. Which makes it all the more mysterious that another recent study shows that the French are the most miserable, unhappy people in Europe (yes, that includes the gloomy old former Soviet republics).

Go figure.

Or just go to Belgium if you want happiness – it’s only an hour’s train ride from Paris!

* Which is not a fucking “European Project” as insufferable, condescending Eurosceptics dub it. Projects are finite endeavors such as those handed out in 8th grade science class. Come see the EU Parliament and all the massive EU institutions in Brussels and tell me it’s a “project”. Anyway, this will be a rant for another day…

~

 

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Dear Whoever You Are (16-22 April 2018)


18 April: Is there anybody out there?

Did you get excited last February, almost to the point of sexual arousal, viewing those images streaming back after Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched and coughed into outer space his cherry-red convertible Tesla Roadster? Me too. “Starman” mannequin astronaut behind the wheel, clad in a functioning SpaceX flight suit, left arm casually slung out the window, wholly unperturbed by the staggering lonesome vastness of space all around him, dashboard screen displaying “DON’T PANIC”, an infinite playback loop blasting David Bowie’s Space Oddity into the heavens for the next several million years the car is expected to sling around the sun in a long elliptical orbit somewhere between Mars and the Asteroid Belt.

Greatest advertising gimmick and, arguably, piece of pop art of all time! GAGOAT! GPOPAOAT!

Today, SpaceX was at it again with another successful launch from Cape Canaveral. This time the payload was the refrigerator-sized Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, fondly dubbed TESS by the eggheads at MIT and NASA who are all, ahem, aTwitter about it. While TESS may sound as eye-wateringly dull as Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel of the same name*, this is some all-in 21st Century shit. TESS’s predecessor, the Kepler Space Telescope currently running out of fuel, was jaw-droppingly successful in identifying 5,000 exoplanets (those outside of our solar system) from a miniscule field of view. Now, over its 2-year mission, TESS will scrutinize an area of sky 400 times greater and is expected to identify a good 20,000 relatively nearby exoplanets within the “habitable zone”, i.e. those where liquid water can exist on the surface and are therefore ripe for life.

For fear of intoning like Carl Sagan, it’s worth remembering that the Hubble Space Telescope has identified more than 200 billion galaxies on top of our own grain-of-sand-on-the-beach Milky Way. Bearing that in mind, it is basically mathematically impossible that extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist elsewhere in the universe. It is basically mathematically impossible that a variety of extraterrestrial life significantly more advanced than ours doesn’t exist elsewhere in the universe. Why then haven’t the aliens popped by, via their local wormhole, with some fireside cautionary tales? Probably because Einstein was right: nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (a snappy 299,792,458 meters per second) and so, even if travel at that speed were possible, it would take centuries if not millennia just to discover a bit of rock with some moss growing on it. For perspective, it would take 20,000 years to travel from one side of the Milky Way to the other at the speed of light. And so, the ever-listening rows of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) radio dishes silhouetted darkly against the hard-blue California sky, like giant stoic sentinels, have so far only ever heard the ancient static buzz of space noise.

What then is the point of even sending TESS out there if the end game is to discover potentially life-supporting worlds that can never be explored? Because we are lonely, I think. At the end of the day, and despite our wretched propensity to mistreat each other upon the least provocation, all 7.6 billion of us collectively feel an impenetrable gloom and lonesomeness to think that we are “It”, adrift and alone on this boundless cosmic sea until we die and the relentless passage of time grinds into space dust everything we ever said or did. And if, against overwhelming mathematical probability, we are “It” surely our existence is proof of God. Then we really do get depressed contemplating our epic failure (or God’s, if it provides you with an emotional salve to think so).

But cheer up! Millions of years after Humankind has been eradicated by an extinction event (perhaps even the current one), it’s time in cosmic terms as fleeting as a spark’s, “Starman” will still be rocking out to David Bowie in his convertible sportscar all ready to greet the aliens on our behalf! But still, the infinite playback loop would perhaps more appropriately have been Roger Waters’ dark haunting voice pleading the inky depths: “Is there anybody out there?”**

*Full name is actually Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Throw your opiate-based sleeping pills away. One page of this novel will put you into a deep coma you will be unhappy to wake up from three months later.

**From Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Ask your parents and/or have a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQoZsXaEZ4M

Tesla in Space

~

20 April: Show me your colon!

Also last February, I endured the misfortune of turning 50. Not long after, and still sulking about it, I had a routine checkup with my GP. She informed me, with an unmistakable glint of malice in her eye, “a man your age should strongly consider getting a colonoscopy.” Suppressing a powerful urge to get up, walk behind her desk, and slap her (especially considering she is a good 10 years older than me), I said through gritted teeth, “A what?”

“A colonoscopy. Men your age can be prone to colon cancer. A man your age should also get his prostate checked.”

“I’m surprised a witch your age hasn’t long retired from the practice of quackery,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking to myself that I’m so young, I don’t even know what a colonoscopy is. Please enlighten me, doctor.”

And she did, with not a little relish in her voice. It turns out that a colonoscopy considerably broadens (or lengthens, more accurately) the meaning of taking it in the ass. The procedure involves inserting through the anus a flexible tube upon which is mounted a fiberoptic camera. This aptly named “endoscope” then slithers through the ho-hum rectum before brazenly invading all 1.5 meters of large bowel, i.e. the colon, hungrily searching for potentially precancerous polyps it is equipped to lop off with a laser knife.

“A laser knife!” I bellowed at the witch.

“Oh, and by the way,” she concluded dryly, “during the examination, air will be blown up into your bowel to smooth out its walls.”

Well, this morning, two months later, I was finally coaxed into the American Hospital here in Paris on the understanding the procedure would be performed under general anesthetic.

“Close your eyes and think nice thoughts,” said the kindly old anesthesiologist.

“You mean something other than the fact that masked guy over there is about to anally shiv me with 1.5 meters of laser-armed tubing?”

“Yes, something other than that.”

I closed my eyes and as the eruptions of false, psychedelic colors on the backs of my eyelids slowly turned to black, the last image that went through my mind was a closeup of the monstrous Xenomorph in Alien slowly opening up its double jaws and drooling acidic slime through countless rows of razor-sharp teeth.

All’s well that ends well though! After 30 minutes, I woke up in intensive care to a pleasingly endowed infirmière holding my hand and cooing “Ça va, Monsieur Aandrooo?”

“Am I?” I snarled.

“Pas de polypes! Prostate magnifique!”

“Well, thanks fuck for that.”

Less than an hour after that, I was nursing a beer in my beloved Jardin du Luxembourg, feeling grateful with the sun on my face, but still actively resenting my many friends hovering in and around their mid-thirties. To those of you reading this, if any, you can now pick yourselves up off the floor from all the laughter at my expense because I have news for you: the 15 years between the ages of 35 and 50 will evaporate quicker than winking. It’s not like that eternity between 20 and 35 where you feel so young for so long you may as well be immortal.

No, my flowers, sooner than you can possibly imagine, it will be your turn to face the beast as you confront your now undeniably wilting features each morning in the mirror… and then be asked to assume the position.

Alien monster

~

22 April: Appetite for Destruction

Nowhere is the untrammeled destruction of the environment, courtesy of reckless human activity, more soberingly apparent than in the massive plastic garbage patches found in the world’s oceans. Most notorious, the Pacific Trash Vortex that grimly roams between California and Hawaii is larger than the state of Texas, dwarfing even the size of the Tweeter-in-Chief’s ego, and growing exponentially each year.

The statistics on our plastic addiction are heart stopping:

  • 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the globe with only 14% ever recycled;
  • 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year;
  • 1 million + seabirds are killed each year from plastic entanglement and ingestion;
  • 3 billion metric tons is the estimated weight of plastic ever produced;
  • 9% is the estimated percentage of plastic ever recycled;
  • 450 years is the average time it takes for a plastic bottle to completely degrade in the ocean;
  • 2050 is the year in which it is estimated there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Perhaps with less high-fiving and back-slapping than when they stumbled upon Viagra, scientists were still immensely chuffed when they announced last week they had accidentally created a mutant enzyme (Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, if you must know) that can literally eat polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic used in the manufacturing of plastic bottles. There is cautious optimism that the discovery will revolutionize the recycling industry with even some conjecture that PET-munching bugs might be sprayed on the ocean’s plastic garbage patches to clean them up.

Pretty cool, right? Sure, but I always wonder if announcements such as these provoke us to discard what little restraints we have on our already ravenous and unsustainable consumption. Personally, I’m already feeling less guilty about my Diet Coke addiction even though this promising breakthrough is only in its infancy. We are naturally self-destructive. For example, would a smoker struggling to quit continue to bother if news broke that a serious breakthrough had been made in lung cancer treatment? Don’t we sort of need the urgency of our imminent demise to rein in our baser appetites, even if only a little?

I don’t really know. Does it really matter at the end of the day? I abandoned myself to the pleasure principle at birth and have been known to shout from the rooftops in a bacchanalian frenzy “Long live the id!”

I suppose now I could add to that “Long live Diet Coke!”

Pacific garbage patch

~

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Dear Whoever You Are (9-15 April 2018)


9 April 2018: Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin

All Russia all the time! Just kidding. I can obsess on certain things but, seeing as my attention span can be measured in fractions of seconds, this should be it for a while.

I had some apprehension about going to see this film because it is a political satire comedy based on the French bande dessinée La mort de Staline and we all know what happens when the French perennially turn their hand to comedy: you’ll get more laughs at the funeral parlor. Nevertheless, I was still keen to see one of my all-time favorites, Steve Buscemi. You don’t? Re-watch the blood orgy Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s best film bar none, and you’ll remember how much you’ve loved him ever since. As a side note, forget about figuring out how to pronounce Buscemi. A tedious debate interminably drones on about it, between the terminally bored, on the Internet* (but, of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that).

A bald-headed and bloated Buscemi delivers, creepier and toothier than ever, in his tilt portraying reformist Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s eventual successor after the absurd (but not entirely off the mark, historically) power jockeying amongst the senior leaders of the Central Committee which the movie focusses on. So does the rest of the mostly British, and accordingly quirky, cast. As another side note, if the lovably awkward dolt who plays Molotov seems familiar and you can’t place him, that’s Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. You don’t? Ask your parents and, if they give you any shit about smoking pot again, ask your grandparents. You’ll be vindicated.

I just realized this is sounding an awful lot like a movie review which was not the original intention. I was most struck, morbidly as usual, by the notably unfunny scene close to the end where a screaming and frothing at the mouth Lavrentiy Beria, as malevolently duplicitous and power-hungry in real life as Simon Russell Beale plays him, is dragged to a dreary courtyard and summarily executed with a single gunshot to the head following a kangaroo hearing led by Khrushchev. His fat corpse, splayed out on blood-drenched snow, is then doused in gasoline and set ablaze, his devastated smoldering remains contemptuously shoveled into a burning oil drum. The camera lingers for a moment on the black ashes being blown about, helter-skelter, into an angry winter sky glaring down over a bleak Russian landscape. The peculiar blend of pure terror, defiance, and resignation when confronted with the great levelling finality of imminent death, the violent reduction to nothing (with not a little shame I admit to having downloaded repeatedly the awful video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and studied the expression on his face), I’m exploring in my book.

Until then, enjoy the movie!

*Yes, I capitalize “Internet” and I don’t give a fuck.

~

11 April: This is Your Digital Life

I have been watching with curious amusement the data scandal that has engulfed Facebook these past few weeks. In case you have only just returned from being stranded on a desert island, in mid-March it surfaced that back in 2014 some personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users was improperly (not illegally) harvested via a quiz app called “This is Your Digital Life” and shared with British firm Cambridge Analytica to create psychological profiles of U.S. and U.K. knuckleheads…er, I mean voters. Since this so-called revelation, the outrage has been so clamorous Facebook has lost $60 billion in market capitalization to date, a contrite Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to Congress for a 2-day grilling (during which he spent half his time explaining to those old geezers what Facebook actually is), and a #deletefacebook campaign was hatched that went viral.

However, unlike its recent #MeToo predecessor, are people genuinely so shocked by the “violation” of their online privacy? So far, there is no evidence that Facebook’s 2.2 billion monthly active users are shuttering their accounts en masse, Facebook’s advertisers are staying the course, and savvy investors are making easy money scooping up cheap Facebook shares that will profitably re-inflate as surely as the sun will rise. Why? Conventional analysis suggests that the public, after actively undertaking a painstaking cost-benefit analysis, lets out a collective sigh of resignation and then overwhelmingly opts to surrender personal data to advertisers in order to indirectly pay for the awesomeness of free platforms offered by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google/Gmail, YouTube, Messenger, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Reddit, Tmblr, and so on. The conclusion is that only government regulation of big bad tech can save the public from being so exploited by its own imprudent choice.

But doesn’t it go beyond that? With each click of a Facebook reaction button, you are aware that you are building a digital personality. You get a kick out of knowing how your choices and reactions to things are being tracked and monitored by powerful AI algorithms which, with each passing day, more accurately profile how cool you are through your tailored newsfeeds, suggestions for music on Spotify, TV content on Netflix, products on Amazon, etc. Even Porn Hub accurately nails your heretofore unknown predilection for watching MILF midgets engaging in interracial gangbangs. You sit back in your desk chair, surrounded by sodden Kleenexes, and are seized by the feeling that your devices, seamlessly synced with each other, know you better than some of the closest people in your life.

This is only natural considering we spend infinitely more time communicating with our devices than we do with in-the-flesh human beings. With the exception of protecting our online financial data, we don’t want digital privacy. We want digital intimacy. The nascent rise of AI-powered digital home assistants, currently led by Amazon Echo and Google Home, and virtual reality platforms, will only intensify that desire into the future. If we’re honest, we’re probably more gripped by fear at the prospect of our governments regulating our relationships with our machines than anything else. Of course, some people dispense with privacy all together, such as the alarming many who post on social media naked pictures of their toddlers, a prosecutable career-ending offence if the same images were published on the dark web. At the other end of the spectrum, my mother is deeply apprehensive about anything plugged into a power outlet, including the toaster. Even my wife half-jokes about putting tape over her laptop camera just in case beady-eyed Jeff Bezos himself is peering through it checking out what décor might better suit our home.

For myself, I will strap on my VR crash helmet as we hurtle toward the singularity and the end of humanity. In the meantime, I’ll re-watch Her* (but only after logging into Facebook and taking the quiz ‘If you were the moon and the moon was made of cheese, which cheese would you be?’)

*Starring the great Joaquín Phoenix and well worth checking out. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

~

15 April: Louder than Barrel Bombs

The only thing surprising about waking up yesterday morning to the news of coordinated American-led strikes on beleaguered Groznified Syria (the U.K. and France also chipping in), was that they hadn’t occurred earlier in the week upon confirmation that craven dictator, Bashar Assad, had once again deployed chemical weapons to murder his own people. Of course, the strikes had to be delayed after America’s own craven dictator, Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump, broadcast via infantile tweet #1,564,289 advance warning of incoming “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles. Didn’t Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s exhausted face this past week remind you of the figure in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’? If I were him, I’d have disencumbered myself of the stress over my T-in-C compromising military strategy by re-watching Jeff Flake’s ‘I will not be complicit or silent’ Senate floor speech, typing up my resignation letter, tossing back a stiff drink, and sleeping like a baby until the next election.

Nevertheless, as delayed as it was, the strike was undoubtedly the right thing to do. In his televised address to the nation the T-in-C quite rightly invoked, twice, the carnage wrought by chemical weapons in World War I and the global imperative that followed banning their use. At almost the same time last year, Syria and Russia (I lied! All Russia all the time!) tested whether the new Washington administration would be as much of a pussy about the “red line” as the previous one. Their answer came in the form of 59 cruise missiles that allegedly degraded the Syrian air force by up to 20 percent. After the T-in-C recklessly tweeted his isolationist twaddle about ending American engagement in Syria three weeks ago, his “red line” resolve was again tested. This time 105 Tomahawks eventually rained down on three separate targets which have allegedly significantly degraded Syria’s chemical weapons production and stockpile.

Vladimir Putin is predictably incandescent and has characterized the strikes as an attack on Russia itself. This must make the T-in-C particularly gleeful as he is extremely anxious to smack down the growing impression that, despite all his tough guy mobsterish bluster about virtually everything, at the end of the day he is little more than Putin’s bitch. Too bad he can’t now keep his mouth shut. No, instead he is gloating “mission accomplished!” and one wonders of those two words will dog him to the same extent as they did Dubya after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Probably not, but as heroic old maverick Senator John McCain points out, as necessary as these strikes are they are not connected to any broader strategy in Syria. With this horrific civil war (and proxy war for regional and super powers) grinding into its seventh year, with no end in sight, one is urgently required.

As unlikely as it may be, if the T-in-C could pull off foreign policy wins in Syria and North Korea, he would be much better positioned to make like Don Corleone and invite Putin and Xi to the White House to kiss his rings (or his orange ass, as he sees fit).

~

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Dear Whoever You Are (2-8 April 2018)


3 April 2018: Denkmal

“So, how was Vienna?” asked my Dutch physiotherapist the day after my long Easter Weekend in the city.

A tough question. I explained to him that my wife and I were constantly reminded of Bonn and Berlin. It was easy to forget we were in Austria, not Germany. Little wonder that prior to German Confederation in 1871, debate raged about whether Austria should be included (Bismarck and the Prussians categorically saying “nein” to a unified Germany under Austrian Habsburg rule). In any case, I explained we were both expecting more of a baroque fairytale land with old narrow streets that you could imagine a champagne and snuff addled Mozart staggering along. I think, though, because we are living in Paris surrounded by block after block of creamy beaux-arts architectural grandeur, little else seems too impressive in comparison.

On top of that, I told him the usual blah blah about gorging on schnitzel, goulash, bratwurst, etc., while swilling Austrian beer, which also may as well have been German. Also, that I had neither seen so many horse drawn carriages in one city (I liked the little black bowler hats the drivers wore but small wonder the streets are not ankle-deep in horseshit) nor such stratospheric ceilings as found in the famous Coffee Houses. I blathered a bit about Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka at the Leopold Museum and Hunderdwasser. I admitted my ignorance about the Danube River starting in the Black Forest and draining into the Black Sea after flowing eastwards through ten countries. But what I got heated about was stumbling across the Soviet War Memorial, a 12-meter high figure of a Red Army soldier constructed by the Russians in 1945 in the Schwarzenbergplatz to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the Vienna Offensive.

I was appalled. “Why haven’t they torn that down!” I almost shouted at my wife. It’s no secret the soldiers of the Red Army, marauding under direct instruction from Stalin, committed atrocities and war crimes of such an epic nature in their rampage westwards across Europe, Reinhard Heydrich himself might have squirmed. Okay, maybe not. But still.

“It doesn’t matter. They were helping defeat the Nazis,” my wife said dryly with a resigned shrug. “There’s one in Berlin too. It’s Deutsche Schuld [German guilt].” Spluttering in disbelief, I reached for my phone and Wikipedia verified that in Berlin’s Tiergarten there is also a grand monument commemorating the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin.

“… so that’s why,” I said, as I concluded my rant to my physiotherapist two days later, “if it’s too politically volatile to dismantle these monuments, they should at least put up ones right next to them commemorating the innocent citizenry raped, tortured, and murdered by the Soviet forces who were allegedly liberating them. I understand it was deep revenge, and God knows they had reason, but do you really commemorate that shit and let it still stand?! It’s fucking 2018!”

My physiotherapist stared at me blankly and continued massaging my aching knee as if soothing a toddler who had just thrown a tantrum.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be really European. Just as I never really felt North American when I was living there. I’m so mid-Atlantically ripped in half, I may as well move to Iceland.

~

5 April 2018: How far would you go?

I wanted to believe that my left knee was getting better after the half-knee replacement 11 January. It’s not. It has been suffering painful complications and now there is a real possibility it will have to be replaced again in whole. My quality of life is deteriorating, not to mention progress on my book which is, in turn, depressing me. What I didn’t tell my physiotherapist about Vienna was how much I almost dreaded leaving the hotel to go out exploring because of the pain. As I lurched along the dimly lit Donaukanal (“Danube Canal”), through the long cold shadows, each evening to go to dinner with my wife in the Innere Stadt, wincing with each step, I honestly entertained the notion of what it must have been like to endure a death march.

I mean, I kept telling myself after each agonizing step, “don’t worry, in just a few more minutes, you’ll be sitting down in a warm cozy place, eating delicious Austrian cuisine.” Fine, delicious Austrian cuisine, which clocks in at about 4 billion calories per mouthful, is arguably more lethal than a death march, but I still shuddered at the idea of being marched across some frozen foreign hellscape to nowhere. In rags. Cold. Hungry. Injured. Marched under pain of death, or at least a beating, for so much as dawdling. Hour after hour. I wondered how long I would last, with my broken knee, before I would just collapse and be grateful for death. Hours? Days? Weeks? Then I wondered how long I would last if it wasn’t my life at stake if I didn’t keep marching. What if it was the life of someone I loved who would die if I didn’t keep going? How much further would I be able to push the limits of my endurance? Do I even have any endurance? Adrenalin? Sheer balls?

Or would I cave even faster under that pressure? What if the death march commandant said, “You can eat your schnitzel right now in a cozy little pub with a roaring fire, but friend X or family member Y will die.”

What would I do?

I hope the answer wouldn’t be: nom, nom, nom… pass the salt…

~

6 April 2018: Trade war, what is it good for?

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” proclaimed the Tweeter-in-Chief in a 6 March tweet. This is tantamount to a child saying, “oh, look at that boiling cauldron of water, I’m going to make believe it’s a cookie jar and go ahead and stick my hand in there.” It is well established that trade wars are never good for anyone and impossible to win. Unfortunately, The T-in-C steadfastly clings to the facile notion that trade deficits automatically mean your country is getting gang raped by its trading partners. Any pimply high school student who has taken an introductory course in economics will tell you that a trade deficit does not necessarily equal economic disadvantage. It often simply means that your trading partner needs fewer goods and services from you than you need from it. There is no inherent problem in that.

However, sometimes a trade deficit is a symptom of having entered into a “terrible deal” and there is no doubt that the U.S. has a legitimate bone to pick with China, especially in regard to China’s shameless poaching of intellectual property (i.e. technological know-how) as the price of admission to its leviathan markets. But instead of storming away from the TPP in a huff, forever threatening to replace the rolls of toilet paper in the White House with the NAFTA agreement, and lacing up the gloves for an unwinnable bout with China, why doesn’t the T-in-C establish a board of inquiry to identify, country-by-country, where trade imbalances are genuinely unfair and afterwards commence, bilaterally (as he forever bleats for), surgically re-negotiating the disadvantageous clauses in faulty and/or outdated deals?

Presumably because, as the mid-terms approach, the T-in-C’s ungovernable impulses are urging him to feed extra rations of red meat to his blue-collar, white-skinned, aging, angry-as-fuck, red-state base. Hence his renewed peal of hysteria, ludicrously demanding construction of a border wall with Mexico and rafts of so-called “protectionist” tariffs, ostensibly to protect good and pure heartland Americans from both physical and economic invasion by godless foreigners. In terms of the latter, it is already backfiring on him. This morning, he is clearly shocked that China has “unfairly” retaliated with tariffs of its own directly targeting the very base he seeks to protect, in particular the farm belt (soybeans anyone?) and manufactured products. He shouldn’t be but, with all of the irrational outrage of a spoiled brat having had his unearned cookie taken away, he is now hollering for an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese products, impending stock market implosion, alienation of long-standing allies, and economic contraction be damned.

All I can say to the T-in-C is this: get your crooked little fingers out of that cookie jar! It’s not a cookie jar! It’s a cauldron of boiling hot water, you fool! And, for Christ’s sake, stop communicating with Steve Bannon – we know that dark lunatic-whisperer still has your ear!

~

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