Broadcast Live From Your House

When you watch the news about the US president Donald Trump – or click the Facebook side panel – or listen to your friends deride him based upon what they have read on the internet…have you ever stopped to consider what YOU might look like if you were subject to the minute scrutiny that attends him?

I ask this as I remember being afflicted with similar scrutiny when a child in school – I was the fat, new, frightened kid…and was fair game for all the bullies and smart arses in every school I attended. As my detractors wanted to belittle me, they watched every single thing I did and found fault. The simplest action was cause for howls of contempt. Nothing was private, sacred, or approved. President Trump seems to be in the same position vis-a-vis the people who supported the other side of politics – and lost – and who now want their revenge.

So let’s imagine you – if you’re a Trump detractor – going about your daily routine. Let’s see if the treatment works on you.

You get out of bed in time for breakfast: ” Lazy swine lolls in bed while others slave to prepare feast. ” Not sounding too good.

So you get up earlier next day : ” Can’t sleep. Guilty conscience. Snoops on cooks behind the scenes. ” Still not good publicity. And who is feeding these stories to the press?

Okay, this time you’ll please someone…you’ll do without breakfast: ” Too good to eat like a normal person. No pleasing some people. ” Well, what the actual…

And we haven’t even started on your bathroom routine, your clothes for the day, or whatever it is you’re going to be doing for a living – never mind your religion, family, or politics. These topics will be covered by your enemies and will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are evil incarnate, totally incompetent, and in collusion with the Russians, the French, the Tongans, and the firm that makes Cheezils. Every single action that you undertake, all day, all week, all year, will be wrong. The press and your detractors will be free to lie about you, to you, and because of you. No-one will hold them accountable.

Feeling the love yet? Feeling the burn yet? Feeling the bigotry and pettiness yet? Want to do something about it? Here’s what you do.

Nothing. Not a damn thing. Do not take the slightest notice of your detractors. Do not reward them with anger, or distress, or recognition. Take note of the fashionable meme that started up a few years ago: ” Keep calm and carry on. “. By all means use social media but do not use it to vent frustrations or angst. Be benign, vague, and cheerful. Send kitten videos. And do what you were going to do regardless.

Don’t be too sanguine about the results. You won’t reap any better opinion of yourself from the people who are determined to hate you; they have invested to much of their time in speech and writing to resile their position. Many of them hope for benefit from your opponents*. The best you can hope for is a better judgement of history.

* And if, in a few years, they present their intellectual bill to the other side of politics – and it is not paid – they have a ready-made supply of protest that they can direct to them.

 

 

 

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I Need A Scold

I’m sorry to be bothering you…but could you please tell me off? I need to be criticized as soon as possible.

It’s after 6:00 AM and no-one has told me that I am wrong for voting for someone who they do not like. No-one has suggested that I am a bad, bad person for thinking different thoughts from them, eating what I like, and living my own life. I am starting to get very nervous.

I tried self-criticism, like they did in the cultural revolution, but all I go was an earnest encouragement to smelt more pig-iron and march for total electrification of the Ukraine. It’s just not the same as someone browbeating me on social media – I miss the memes.

Of course I can always get a sort of low-grade fix by going down to the local train station dressed in a kilt or a Marie Antoinette dress. People will stare and snigger, and as long as I’m prepared to imagine them making cutting remarks, I can sustain quite a decent level of self-hatred. It gets a little fraught in Pride Week when they start to applaud and/or hit on me.

The dog is no help. Dogs always wag their tails and want to be patted. The cat is a bit better because cats can sneer…but the smell of a can of tuna buys their affection and I’m left bobbing about in a sea of self-congratulation…and what good is that to me when I have a full Goth wardrobe and a poisoned dagger.

I’m hoping for a toothache or boil on the neck next week to cheer me up. Or down.

 

The Bookstore – A Tale Of Temptation

People have remarkably different attitudes to space and time.

I can spend a happy hour in a dentist’s chair as I spent many happy years sitting beside one. The comfort arises from my understanding of the processes and rituals involved. My dentist may not be having such a good time, as he realises that I know, you know, and that I know that he knows that I know…

I can also spend quality time in a hobby shop, art gallery, or hotel lounge. And be very happy in a bookstore or library.

Bookstores have books for sale that you don’t have to give back. Some of them are swanky places, quirky places, antiquey places, and they have prices that reflect this. Others have less style and more substance, and I can afford to shop there. The secondhand places are the most fun, but you need to adjust your mind to what you are actually seeing. And you need to realise beforehand that there may not be any gems to be found in the overburden of remainders and Mills and Boone novels. Be aware of the sucker shelf as well, and avoid it.

My favourite places are the targeted shops – booksellers that feature a specific area and do not move out into the complete range of literature. Oh, they might be literary places and sell as much Jane Austen and literary criticism as you could cram into a string bag, but in general I go for ones that are not this. I find the transport, military, art, and history shops much more to my taste, though I can always be arrested by a bookcase full of low-priced paperback classics. I admire publishers who are prepared to give me the Dickens for $4.95.

Is there a drawback to this all? Yes. A bookstore holiday in Melbourne and Sydney once a year is a very good thing, and provided that the stores can send the goods by road you can purchase heavy items. I try for a metre-width of new literature on the shelf with each holiday, and have never failed. But you can be hijacked and diverted by finding a book  that cannot be deferred – that must be read as soon as possible, and this is at the expense of time spent doing other holiday things.

Mind you, it does give you a good excuse to prop yourself up in the corner in Young and Jackson’s with a couple of pints or to retire after dinner to the lounge of the hotel where you are staying with a pot of coffee and the new book. If the purpose of a holiday is to bid care farewell, this is as good a way to do it as sitting on a sandy beach.

 

Burning Through The Books Is Not Book-Burning

Book-burning is a crime and a sin. I have long held to this belief and every occasion in history when it has been done seems to me to re-enforce it. I do not wish to be guilty of it at all.

Yet.

Yet, I am awash in books and I have been brought to the realisation that some of them are not good books. Not readable books, not rewarding books, not happy books. Books that perpetuate horrible philosophies and celebrate terrible deeds. Books that encourage the worst follies of humanity. The actual objects are just collections of paper and pasteboard but the possession of them seems somehow wrong.

On the other hand, there are books that are very good – enlightening books, entertaining books, helpful books, beautiful books…that sit on my shelves unread or read only once, long ago, and mostly forgotten. Books that have formed my mind, such as it is, and deserve to be seen again. Sometimes they are buried behind two layers of other books.

What to do…what to do…How to remove the mental weeds and encourage the good thoughts. How to dispose of the unwanted carriers of the former and catalogue the books that have formed the latter. A serious undertaking and one that should not be undertaken seriously…

I shall not burn the bad books. I would not do so to heretics or blasphemers or sorcerers, though bidden to it. I shall exile them. I will carefully separate them from the rest of the library and take them to places of public refuge…and leave them there. Doctor’s waiting rooms, barber shops, train stations, etc. It is the literary version of exposing unwanted infants on a Greek hillside but I shall be ruthless.

The books that are good, but dealing with topics that I no longer wish to explore, will be bundled up and given away to friends who could be reasonably expected to share an interest in their contents. This is not a kind act – God forbid I should be guilty of kindness – as it tasks them with reading, storage, and possible disposal. On each occasion I will be given coffee and biscuits by the friends I visit and will thus have made an overall gain. Mind you, eventually they will realise what I am doing and refuse to answer the doorbell when I call. The ones with big letter slots will still be vulnerable, mind…

The books that are very good I shall re-read and re-shelve as valuable friends. By the time I get to this point there should be space on the bookshelves for them, and the discipline of cataloging them can only be good for my mind.

In My Good Books And In My Bad Books

I used to think there were no such things as good books and bad books – all books were the same thing: sources of knowledge that should be treated with respect. I have come to realise that I was wrong.

This revelation was occasioned by our recent decision to get new kitchen cupboards. You might not think a number of epic IKEA sessions ( complete with cinnamon buns and salmon salad ) would affect one’s literary tastes, but they did. BTW, avoid the cinnamon buns if they are plated – that means they are somewhat stale. Get the fresh ones off the tray.

The IKEA experience is one of following the marketer’s pathway through the store so that you see everything and are tempted accordingly. I stopped at the bookshelves and picked up some of the rubbish books they keep on them as display pieces. I say rubbish, but I could be wrong. Printed in Swedish, they generally have no pictures, but massive blocks of text with careful footnotes and bibliography at the end. They could as easily have been printed in Thai, Urdu, or Swahili, for all the help and attraction they offered.

Yet, they might have been good books. All you need is the key to the language. Mind you, given the look of them, and the fact that IKEA got enough of them off the Stockholm remainder tables to fill up a store in Perth, Western Australia, you can reasonably suspect that the Swedes don’t read ’em either…

That’s the crux of the matter – readability. I realised that readability is the chief determinant of virtue in literature. The best idea expressed in the worst way makes a valueless text.

So I have determined to range through my libraries – both of them – and cull out the bad books. I am to blame for them being there, as I have bought them…and I am also to blame for them being there today as I have not had the courage to give or throw them away.

The shelves are full, sometimes three volumes deep, in things that have been saved for later. Later is now, and I am going to weed my literary garden. Wish me luck.

Trigger Issues

A new buzz phrase seems to be in the social media – ” trigger issue ” – which can cover anything that you decide it means – if you want to be angry about something you think up a series of triggers that will set you off. They need not be terrible things per se, because you can think up a story that makes anything into an opportunity to be angry – it is, after all, the way you want to be in the first place.

Ah, but are you doing it right? Are you sensitive enough…and seen to be sensitive enough by the cool crowd…to react quickly before the topic goes away? Perhaps it is time to advance to the next level: ” the set trigger issue “.

Set triggers have been around for centuries – they date far back into the muzzle-loading firearm days for hunting and target shooting. Any time the shooter needed to let the gun discharge with the lightest possible touch the set trigger was employed. They were not used in muskets or military firearms as these had to survive being cocked and carried in the rough and tumble of battle.

The set trigger was a two-part thing. You cocked the flintlock, then pulled the rear, curved trigger until it clicked. Then the front, straight trigger would fire off at the very slightest touch. If you lost your chance to fire you had to take the cock down off of full to half-cock and discharge the tension on the trigger.

The aspiring social warrior or fame-hunter can also use this technique. They think of an issue about which they have practiced a politically correct response, then analyse it for a key word that might be uttered in normal conversation. They attach this to the set trigger and pull it until it clicks. Then anyone even breathing it…or even something that sounds like it…can get the full roar of a discharge.

It’s very effective in giving the Facebook shooter an advantage – being the first-in frequently dominates any social exchange. And the advantage over discharging a real muzzle-loading rifle is that you don’t need to be accurate or even to hit the target. And you don’t have to wash the barrel out with hot soapy water afterwards.

Remember: You don’t have to be right to be righteous.

How Would Sir Like His Communication This Morning?

Please place the letters on the silver tray in the hall, Jenkins. Printed pamphlets, flyers, advertising catalogues, and real estate notices may be dropped unread into the recycling bin on the way into the house.

Please route the electronic letters to one of my two accounts. The commercial ones may be sent through to the studio address – the personal ones into the private address. The writers will know which to use from the email communications I have sent them originally. Unfortunately there will be a modicum of unwanted commercial material mixed in as well, but I shall institute means by which it can be held at bay.

I do not think I shall be taking the Facebook this morning. Perhaps later in the week, if there is no other pressing matter. Or later in the month.

Likewise, you need not switch on the television apparatus in the sitting room today. I have several books open on my side table in the library and I do not wish to be distracted by the sight of murders or gasoline explosions.

Do dust the wireless, however, as I shall be using it today as I write. I find the old-time radio station and the ABC classical music a soothing way to screen out other background sounds. And I do feel it a good idea to listen to the ABC news at least once a day. Not that the news is all that good, all that often, and the ABC has a decided political bias, but it is as well to know what the weather will be for the coming few days.

Should there be a call on the telephone, please listen carefully to the first few seconds of it. If there is silence, then a hiss, then a confused gabble of sounds in the background, you might be connected to a steam room in Bengal, Manila, or Mysore. The person who tells you their name – invariably a staunchly Anglo-Saxon one given in a strong subcontinental or islands accent – will be from a technical department of Microsoft. They wish you to give them code numbers for bank accounts and credit cards. Please feel free to replace the receiver on the cradle at any time.

The mobile telephone will be another matter. It will ring for only a very short period of time and then go silent. The call will be recorded as missed or the caller will try to leave a message, which will be next to impossible to retrieve. This is normal and desirable.

As far as personal callers, please ask them to state their business before admitting them to the house. Those canvassing for solar power panels may be referred to the roof, which they will then observe is covered in the things already. Those who press for my attention upon spiritual matters may be referred to my religious adviser,  Mr. Thomas Paine. Anyone selling raffle tickets, clothespegs, or books of discount vouchers should be addressed though first the locked screen door and then through the firmly closed main door. ” Goodbye ” is a useful word.

Telegrams? I have not seen one for three decades. I doubt they still exist, though I would welcome one just out of nostalgia. Not a sad one – perhaps one announcing a win in the Irish Sweepstakes. I miss those.

Now, I must to my desk. I have an essay to write: ” Have We Lost Touch With Ourselves? “.  A catchy title, I think, what…?