Memento Mori

It must be some kind of law of the universe that interesting things happen when you have the least amount of time to devote to them. It’s taken me eighteen months to get this book even close to finished – that’s twice the time it takes to make a person. (Well, I say ‘make’ – after nine months the fundamental materials are in place but there’s a reason we don’t let them vote until they’re eighteen.) I started it in March 2011, a year which Charlie Brooker aptly described as a sort of end of season finale for the human race. Everything was interesting in 2011, interesting in the Chinese curse sense of the word. There was so much to read, so much to learn and I had absolutely no time to do it, so mostly I had to content myself with a brief ‘argh’ at the headlines and carry on – difficult when every new edition was a fresh cherry on the Schadenfreude sundae as that evil old prick Rupert Murdoch finally got a tiny fraction of what had been coming to him for years.

2012 was bound to be interesting from my point of view. The Diamond Jubilee left me cold – vaguely interesting from a historical trivia point of view but not so interesting that they had to dye Mr. Kiplings’ French Fancies red, white and blue. They did that, you know. It wasn’t right. There’s something deeply unsettling about bright red icing. Say what you like about blue cakes – they’re not right, but they know they’re not right and they don’t give a fuck. There’s something endearing about the don’t give a fuckness of blue icing. But blood-red?

You know that little bobble of buttercream that sits under the icing at the top of a French Fancy? Isn’t that the best part – that slightly salty bubble of sweet, gooey buttercream? I love that. I always save that until last. Only with the red icing the colouring leaked into the buttercream and turned it a sort of pale, oozy yellow. Not the kind of colour that looks good next to red. It tasted the same but looked like an operation, which is not the kind of thing you want to be thinking about when you’re enjoying a nice cake.

So yes – there was that. With the red, white and blue colouring Mr. Kipling’s Fancies may have been rendered inadvertently Frencher than they’d ever been, but it was just so wrong. Mr. Kipling’s French Fancies are pink, yellow and brown – everyone knows that.

Sorry, yes – where was I? Interesting things. I always knew it was going to be an addictively interesting year because you Americans are having another one of those election things. (Has it really been four years?)

I have a thing about American elections. Odi et amo, excrucior. It hurts like hell because American politics sets the tone for politics everywhere else. Many of the modern techniques of spin originated in America – inane buzzwords and doublespeak designed to win elections and very little else. When American media-wizards talk about ‘controlling the narrative’ you can bet David Cameron’s new pet press-weasel will start spouting the same guff in the next five minutes.

Spin is a terrible thing and yet like most terrible things it is oddly fascinating. The current narrative (ugh) being followed by the Republican Party is that Romney’s veep-pick Paul Ryan is some kind of muscle bound intellectual powerhouse, a bootstrapped Übermensch who is going to utterly kerb-stomp senile old socialist cry-baby Joe Biden. One wonders if the press-creatures have been up too long and too late reading Ryan’s favourite Ayn Rand.

Like most Randroids, Ryan is probably no brighter than he needs to be, which is to say not-very-bright-at-all. All you need to understand Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is an unhealthy persistence of the kind of solipsism that most people have grown out of by the age of twenty-one, and a very strong stomach to cope with some of the ugliest prose ever committed to print.

In reality, Ryan is little more than a half-bright wonk with better than average muscle tone. Joe Biden, far from being the soppy left-wing caricature ripped from the pages of Atlas Shrugged, is a highly experienced veteran, a senior senator who was one of the youngest ever elected to the US senate.

Certainly, it’s fun to think of Grandpa Joe as that chatty old relative who can recite the train time tables from memory and frequently does so, when he’s not showing you pictures of his grandchildren. I think it’s partly because he’s such a contrast to the previous Vice President. After eight years of Darth Cheney, a literally heartless cyborg who forced a man to apologise for being shot in the face, Joe Biden comes across as a gaffe-prone and occasionally foul-mouthed Mr. Rogers.

This is exactly why Joe Biden, at his best, could eat Paul Ryan for breakfast. Biden’s emotional intelligence must be off the charts. I will never forget that moment in the infamous Palin debate when Biden remembered how it felt to be a single father after the death of his first wife and baby daughter. Palin’s biggest strengths, her handlers felt, were that she was an aw-shucks, blue-collar hockey mom, talking points she had no difficulty repeating. She was actually doing a pretty good job at hammering home her image, when a question prompted Joe Biden to remember the car accident that left him a widower, and put one of his children in the ground and another on the critical list.

In a handful of sentences Joe Biden managed to sketch the painful days in intensive care, the poverty that followed when charged with the indignity of medical bills, the intense kitchen table discussions with the father-in-law about how he would have to go and take the children somewhere where he could find work. Palin’s blue-collar mom schtick had never looked hollower – all she did was chirp about it. Biden had lived it, suffered it, and like most people, knew that parenthood was not all sunshine and rainbows.

It was a startling moment. Most politicians spend so much time pretending to be human that the public (and perhaps they themselves) forget that they really are human. We need that Roman chap back – you know the one who used to ride behind the Emperor in triumphal parades, whispering ‘You are yet mortal’ in the Imperial lughole? Him. If you want to create jobs you could do a lot worse than creating his job anew. There are plenty of ears that would benefit from such whisperings, not least Paul Ryan’s if he’s going to attempt to look like an actual person while standing next to Joe Biden.

There’s a Personhood Amendment that might actually stand a chance of doing these fuckers some good.


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