Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The State of the President

I did not watch the State of the Union speech last night - I had to count the number of raisins in a bag and then the number of matches in a box - but I had seen this version an hour or so before the actual event.

My fellow Americans
Believers in all things possible
I am here tonight to share with you the State of the President

I know you thought that I was to talk about the State of the Union, but I will freely admit that I have not been to Union Station since I was fourteen.
As President, I have a hectic schedule. After I watch Fox News and then Teletubbies (which is where I get the ideas for my policies from), I have a series of phone calls with porn stars, felons, hat-makers, and wig designers. Then I get a security briefing, which is an ideal time to browse through shoe catalogs or brochures for various tan creams. Then I tweet – sometimes I tweet early, sometimes late – but tweeting is done to ensure that you all know the state of my mind. Once I tweet, then my mind of empty until the next tweet. I tweet the first thing that pops into my head. So as to make sure I am always tweet-free up there – I hate having ideas.

As the most successful President of any country in history, I don’t have to do much – just lie and call other people names. Both of these I am very good at. My friend Vladimir, who sends me secret messages every day and suggests really big ideas for tweets (it was his idea that we pull the troops out of Syria), says that I am by far the most deceitful President in the history of the species – he’s a terrific guy. You don’t get praised like that every day.

Tonight I will announce that I am expanding the border wall to be around every State in the Union except Puerto Rico – I don’t like that Ricky Martin and as far as I am concerned, Puerto Rico doesn’t sound American (I have my doubts about New Mexico too – we have enough problems with the old Mexico, don’t know why the founding fathers ever wanted a new one!). 

I am also going to build a wall between Canada and the United States to stop those pesky Trudeauians getting in and promoting universal health care, global trade and world peace – all dangerous ideas that will lead to hegemony and begonias – flowers that shouldn’t be in anyone’s garden.

I also intend to announce an amnesty for all the porn stars I have paid off as well as pardons for all my campaign staff and appointees who have or will be indicted by Robert Mueller. The witch hunter in chief will not besmirch my character with these characters. I can do this all by myself.

As you know, some of the world leading scientists have confirmed this, I am one of the most interesting narcissistic ego-maniac ignorant dufus’s to ever to occupy the White House – a title I am most proud of. This is why I surround myself with people who are also world-class at being bonkers – Rudi Giuliani, Stephen Miller, and Robert Bolton to name just five.

My economic strategy – lying about stuff that is about the economy and claiming that I am responsible for all the good things – is working. We have full employment, full money bags, full billionaires and a lot of poor people. Indeed, under my leadership, the number of poor people is growing faster than under any other President in history, thanks to my tax cuts, health care cuts and hiring Betsy de Vos. 

Two more years of this and then you have a chance to re-elect me, which you will. After all, Late Night Television has never been so good and Melania needs some new outfits and Barron can't leave until he has finished school, which will be six years from now. Then I will make him head of the FBI – what kid would investigate his Dad?

So, moving forward together, singing that song of union and marching to the tune of Yes we Are Bananas, I look forward to continuing to serve as the 4087th President of wherever we are.

God bless us all and God Save us!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Trump Does Not Lie, He is Simply Delusional

The Washington Post today reports that President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading statements since he became President and that the pace of these untruths or misleading statements has risen from 5.9 to 16.5 a day between the first and second year of his term. Indeed, so misleading are many of his statements that the Washington Post has had to create a new category – Bottomless Pinocchio’s – so as to be able to rate his statements. These Bottomless Pinocchio’s include the claim that the 2017 tax cuts were the biggest in history (nowhere near), overstatement of the impact and scale of US trade deficits and the idea that the US economy has never been stronger.

What the Post doesn’t understand, and many journalists fall into this trap, is that for Trump they are not lies or untruths. This is because Trump’s world and his understanding of the world are not at all the same as the rest of humanity.

President Trump believes in a different world. One in which trade deficits are like a balance sheet (they are not), a casual comment from Kim Jong Un is equal to a commitment, Putin is a friend, not an enemy and that dictators are not bad, just effective.

He is delusional about his own accomplishments and abilities – just count the number of times he has claimed “no one knows more about…[fill in the blank] than I do!”. He also is delusional about his electoral base – never accepting that he massively lost the popular vote (election fraud is his explanation) or that the base will follow him no matter what he does. His view of the midterm election – “we won” – is another example of delusional thinking in action.

He has always been delusional – it is not a new condition for him – and some have suggested that his mental state is linked to the possibility that he may have neurosyphillis (as did Delius, Schubert and Al Capone and possibly Mussolini, Hitler and Ivan the Terrible). Whether he does or not, it is clear that his delusional thinking and world-view has consequences. For example, this last weekend he praised San Antonio for its handling of immigrants because of its wall – a wall it doesn’t actually have.

The idea that he is a Russian asset – something he has denied – is an attempt by sensible people to make sense of his behaviour. After all, he is achieving many of Putin’s objectives – destabilize the US, NATO, Europe, supported right-wing leaders (Brazil, Hungary, Philippines) and don’t support increasing collaboration with China, pull out of Syria (leaving it as a Russian asset) – without getting much in return. However, as some commentators note, he may be doing this unwittingly (or half-wittedly) rather than intentionally supporting Russian political objectives. Given that he doesn’t read briefings, understand global politics or have any sense of real-politic, I go with the half-wit version of this. He is living in his understanding of the world, not ours.

As a psychologist, I need to make clear that I am offering observations not a diagnosis and am reflecting on what I see in the absence of detailed analysis.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Wonder if This Would Make a Good Birthday Present for My Good Lady?


When I was in high school - St. Bede's Roman Catholic Grammar School, Bradford, Yorkshire - I took poetry very seriously, following my "discovery" of T.S. Elliot, W.B. Yeats, C. Day Lewis (who I met - see an account at pages 48 and 49 here) and Ezra Pound. I also wrote some poetry and even founded (with George Wisz) and edited a poetry / literary magazine Katawakes - publishing poems by Peter Porter (his poems There are Too Many of Us and The Way the Cookie Crumbles was first published in this magazine) and many others. I also had poems published in Left and a few other places. I was also a founding member of the [Gerald Manley] Hopkins Society and have a signed copy of FR Leavis lecture to the society which he gave in London on St.David's day in 1971 (I also interviewed Leavis in 1969). Here is one I published in the school magazine (page 53 here), which only goes to show that poetry is not always good:

Still lie the waters of the silent pool
awaiting the. sound of a silent move
A hand ripples the surface, inconsequently,
and the gentle waters sound a sweet hollow in the hour of the darkening day;
There is a murmur, as if an endless sigh has moved against the hours of silent waiting.
So I do wait, alone and uncomplaining.
A hand, fingered with rays of burning light,
touches the dark waters of the mind,
soothing the disturbed water in a whirl of glory. Yet
Still lie the waters of the silent pool. 
Then I got seriously involved in a thing they call "work" - being an academic and later an academic administrator, innovator, and general gad-about. Poetry fell by the wayside. I read some occasionally - especially the modern poets like Roger McGough, Stevie Smith and I truly loved Charles Causley and Spike Milligan's children's poems:

I must go down to the sea again
The lonely sea and sky
I left my socks and knickers there
I wonder if they're dry?

and then there were the limericks:

There was a young man from Port Said
Who fell down a toilet and died
He had a brother, who fell down another
And now they are interred side by side

There was a young man from Siberia
Whose morals were rather inferior
He did to a nun what he shouldn't have done
And now she's a mother superior

But I left poetry and began reading crime and thriller novels, serious writing about the second world war and lots of other works. I also wrote a lot myself, now working on my 44th book. I have published over 600 other pieces - book chapters, articles, newspaper pieces and so on.

But I have now decided that poetry is something I needed to get back to. In part, this was triggered by the fact that a close friend is a very good poet whose work I deeply admire and by the fact that I watched a wonderful interview Mary Beard did with Clive James. He is, amongst other things, a poet. His collection Sentenced to Life (2016) and his long epic poem The River in the Sky (2018) are wonderful pieces of writing. He recommended another poet, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, who is simply outstanding. Her epic poem, The Throne of Labdacus, is masterful.

So I have committed myself to read poetry a lot in 2019. One helpful source for thinking about what to read - poetry is everywhere - is Clive James own Poetry Notebook, where he surveys his own interests. Through this, I discovered another brilliant American poet, Mary Oliver who won a Pulitzer for her poetry. A collection of her poems - Devotions - is a treasury of insight, incisive writing, and powerful imagery. It is also fun:

May I never not be frisky
May I never not be risque

- from her poem Prayer.

I also rediscovered Peter Porter, the poet whose work I published in 1970 but who was already a great poet and became an even greater one- just read his poem Browning Meers Wagner at the Schlesinger's - and Ted Hughes, a collection of his poems selected by Alice Oswald I have thanks to a friend, whose poem After Lorca I read at school.

I also am reminded that not all poets who others rave about are poets that will appeal to me. Kevin Young, who now edits the poetry for New Yorker magazine, is one such poet. His collection The Book of Hours, written shortly after the death of his father, is one such poet. He has won awards, was a Professor of Poetry and has published a lot. I can't connect - can't see what others see. This is a challenge. I will try to read more of his work to "find" the secret, but after 181 pages I am not optimistic.

Why you might ask, has poetry suddenly become so important? I admire good writing (just as I admire good music, food, wine, painting, theatre, comedy) and poetry is the most difficult thing to write (I know, I have some published poems - see my collection of poems and short stories Beyond Words). Intense writing, powerful imagery provoking emotion and reflection - not an easy thing to do. Believe me, I have tried.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Brexit Mess

The Brexit clock is ticking. In less than 85 days, Britain will leave the EU with or without a negotiated departure at 11pm GMT on 29th March. At this moment, a negotiated deal looks unlikely – so a no-deal exit is the likely outcome. This would save £35 billion in payments to the EU but would also create a degree of chaos.

Some are still hoping for a second referendum in the belief that a vote held now would lead to the end of Brexit and for Britain to stay in the EU but this cannot be held within the timeline available, unless moves to leave the EU are stopped in their tracks (which, the European Court, ruled was possible). Others are looking for some movement from the EU members on the terms of the deal, especially as they relate to the Northern Ireland – Irish border, something which the EU has repeatedly said it is unwilling to do. Yet others are just wishing for this whole thing to be finished, one way or another, so that the country could get back to focusing on the issues that matter – jobs, healthcare, education, community development, and housing.

Let us just play out the scene. Britain walks away from the EU with no deal. It then has to deal with the “mess” that this creates – legal issues will dominate together with economic logistics, especially in terms of the movement of goods across borders and the movement of people. It is also widely thought that there would be a run on the pound – essentially a devaluation, which would make UK exports more attractive. Here is a list of the reported consequences:

  • ·          Goods crossing EU borders would be subject to WTO rules, would take longer   to cross and would become more expensive.
  •        EU citizens living and working in the UK would be in a legal limbo, though the   UK government has offered reassurance that nothing would happen “immediately” – there are some 4 million EU citizens living in the UK.
  •       UK citizens living in the EU (like my brother and sister) would also be in a position of significant uncertainty, though much depends on the attitudes of national governments, many of whom would not want to lose the revenues which such residents bring. Some countries, like Germany, have already offered a time-limited offer to Brit’s so that they can continue their residency.
  •       In Ireland, the Irish government would be under EU pressure to exert EU authority at the border in terms of the movement of people, goods and services. The Irish government, not wanting a return to the “troubles” would be reluctant to do so.
  •       The EU would experience a significant and substantial budget problem, having lost a major contributor and the £35 billion the UK promised in a divorce settlement.
  •       UK laws, currently intertwined with EU laws, would need to be repealed and rewritten quickly – nothing much has happened here. For example, the recognition of professional credentials earned in an EU member country may by subject to dispute. The current plan is simply to incorporate all existing laws in force from the EU into UK law.

The EU has already issued a plan for a no-deal, which would permit flights originating in the UK to land in the EU. But other consequences are being looked at, for example for ease of access to drugs manufactured in Europe, the movement of funds between banks around the world and the continuation of EU funded research in British universities. Britain would, however, lose some EU subsidies – for example the £3 billion paid annually to farmers in the UK.

This covers the immediate EU-UK logistics, but what about the politics of this? Can Theresa May survive the failure of her negotiated settlement if this is what occurs? If she cannot, who will replace her from within the Tory party? If the Tories lose the confidence of the house, given that they are a minority government, will there be a snap election and if so, who would win? What difference would a new government make to the situation?

It is these last questions that create the sense of uncertainty and chaos in UK politics. It is a real crisis – worse than 1956 Suez crisis, worse than Edward Heath’s 3 day week and worse than the Miners strike. What is quite remarkable about the predictability of it all. There are no surprises here. The EU was never that interested in negotiating anything that favoured the UK or dealt with the real challenges of this – just read the book by Yanis Varoufakis (former Greek finance minister) cataloguing his attempts to have a meaningful negotiation with the EU (The Adults in the Room) – and the UK Tory party is so divided over Europe, which is why the referendum was called in the first place.

It is a mess. It is an unholy mess and it will get worse before it gets better. Without divine intervention – or the intervention of The Queen (requiring the formation of a government of national unity) – this mess will play out on March 29th. Mark this date in your diary.