Friday, November 28, 2014

Lord Monckton and the 20,000 Lays

Hold your noses as we consider the latest hateful comments made by Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, former advisor to Lady Thatcher (boo!), climate change denier (boo!), homophobe (boo!) and inventor of the Eternity puzzle (bo… hang on, what?).

We’ll come on to the Eternity puzzle later, because it’s incredible. First, let’s look and laugh at Chris’s article for WorldNet Daily earlier this week, in which the hereditary peer bravely tilts at the windmill of homosexuality and posits that gays are evil because of AIDS and sodomy and drugs and look he just doesn’t like it, OK? He also spends a lolsome paragraph fretting about what LGBTQ stands for and decides to call all non-straight people QWERTYs. Ziiiiing! That’ll show us!

Let it be noted that, as usual, Monckton’s beef is with gay men - not, say, lesbians. The locus for this particular fear in straight men is, as ever, the ol’ back door: the homophobic man does not fear or hate, or even consider the existence of, lesbians, because their sexual activities do not dangerously reframe male sexuality. Above all the homophobic straight man fears (and if you know your Sigmund you’ll dig that this means he is inexorably, spine-tinglingly allured by) the idea of being penetrated. This gleeful panic oozes from each of Moncko’s sentences, not least his hilarious bracket that begins: “just ask any proctologist”. Cheers mate, will do.

Never mind that the people performing the vast majority of all anal acts in the world are straight and that gay men are thrillingly able to dream up heaps more things to do with each other besides common-or-garden buggery: Christopher must be heard. He is the inventor of the Eternity puzzle, after all, and who here can say that he, she or ze (I don’t know what these QWERTYs will dream up next!) has earned such a platform for yelling at clouds?

The Eternity puzzle, Wikipedia tells us, is a tiling game that “consists of filling a large almost regular dodecagon with 209 irregularly shaped smaller polygon pieces of the same color. All the pieces [are] made from a combination of equilateral triangles and half-triangles, with each piece having the same total area of 6 of those triangles, and between seven and eleven sides.” (Quick aside: is the game supposed to be fun?) Anyway: Monckton put the puzzle out in 1999 and it sold a staggering 500,000 copies. The peer announced when the game was released that the first person to solve the puzzle within three years would receive a million smackers - half from his own pocket and half from private insurers. What happened next is fun: two mathematicians solved it within a year and Monckton had to mortgage his house to pay them. The Schadenfreude is strong with this one.

Sadly, this was not the first or last time that Monckton would be personally defeated by science. As a loud and persistent denier of climate change, his non-lordship must now be well used to having his fanciful suppositions patiently refuted by specialists with tonnes of corroborated evidence to back up their claims. Monckton has written a number of climate change -denying, non-peer-reviewed papers for the Science and Public Policy Institute, of which he is a Policy Director. The Science and Public Policy Institute is a hawkish organisation staffed, as far as I can work out, predominantly by Monckton, with input from such scientific advisors as Robert Carter, who in 2012 was found to have been paid a fee to advance ideas sceptical of climate change by commercial organisations with a vested interest in pumping out gases willy-nilly. The Science and Public Policy institute has also made a film, ‘Apocalypse? No!’, to rebut Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. The film is patented gobbledygook, but it’s got a funny title so I thought I’d mention it.

On, then, to Monckton’s latest claim that looks set to be tragically vanquished by science. “Official survey after official survey,” he bleats, without providing links to these documents, “had shown that homosexuals had an average of 500-1,000 partners in their sexually active lifetime, and that some had as many as 20,000. One wonders how they found time for anything else.” Indeed. Perhaps he thinks the Q stands for quick. I’m no Alan Turing but I calculate that I would have to get jiggy with 1.55 men a day for the next 35 years to reach my target of 20K lays. Don’t worry, I have  evidence to back up my assertion: (19,912/35)/365 = 1.55866927593.

Here’s the thing though. I’m starting to feel sorry for Lord Monckton, and anguished by his perpetual seppuku with the sword of Science. So I hereby make this vow: if he is willing to put up a million pound prize for the first man to reach 20,000 discrete homosexual bangs in a lifetime, I will apply the tenets of science to my quest to become that man and vindicate him. He can draw up the terms of the challenge: for instance, oral doesn’t count, and all my partners have to have their separate identity verified by a panel of face specialists. There will have to be an independent supervisor present during each distinct act of intercourse, obviously, to ensure that I’m not making up my figures. I’ll draw up a plan to systematically meet those numbers, with weekly, monthly and yearly targets, and arrange for my annual results to be audited by a committee whose findings will be made available to all in an open source document. Only then, when Monckton is 97 and I have exhausted myself getting down on the good foot and doing the bad thing with a minimum of one man every day for the last 3.5 decades, then, at last, he will be able to claim superior knowledge and tell the gay men of the world “I told you so”, as he sells up his last property to hand me my moolah. That’s if the world still exists by then of course, because have you heard the bad news about greenhouse gases?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dulce et decorum choc-fest

The Sainsbury’s Christmas ad has arrived, and you will no doubt already be aware that it takes for its setting the lone heartwarming episode in a war that decimated a generation of men one hundred years ago. The football game that united enemy sides on Christmas Day of 1914 was a short-lived but touching truce whose legend has grown stronger over the years, even inspiring a syrupy film in 2005. In the Sainsbury’s advert, two wide-eyed young men in the twinky vein of Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon slip each other an illicit treat on Christmas Day, the memory of which will remain with them for some time after both sides have resumed their conflict, perhaps even up until their death by spade, grenade or bayonet the next day or year. The advert doesn’t say so of course, but we are rather led to hope that these dewy-faced teens are not among the reported 888,246 British troops or the estimated 2,037,000 Germans who were murdered in the war. Chances are that they would have been, obviously, but don’t let that spoil your pigs in blankets.

Gathering around our computers - and later this evening our televisions - to witness the annual unveiling of the new festive films literally devised with the intention of making an audience of consumers spend money, can’t help but have a touch of the Brave New Worlds about it. Aldous Huxley, an old Etonian, somehow escaped conscription in 1916 when he was twenty, meaning that he did not become one of the 2.2% of the British population to die in the First World War, and was therefore able to write Brave New World in 1932 - for which we give thanks. Brave New World, as you know, tells of a hideous, scarcely imaginable dystopia in which individualism is shunned and the supine populace is mass-manipulated by moving images. The book’s future world takes as its starting point the creation of the Model T automobile by Henry Ford in the early 20th Century. Ford, in the novel, is revered as a near-deity for having perfected the assembly line, and with it enabled mass production of cheap goods. For which we give thanks.

Two people who also revered Ford, back in our own brave world, were Walt Disney and Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. Writing about the pair in a London Review of Books article on Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, James Meek notes that the two men served in the same military unit in World War One and observes:

“The mode of operation in the trenches fascinated both Kroc and Disney: the assembly line. Everyone – the ammunition worker, the machine-gunner, the infantryman – played their small, repetitive, unskilled role with as much speed and efficiency as they could muster. (...) The trenches were the ultimate assembly line: the dehumanised troops not only manned it but constituted the raw material.”

It’s so grotesque that it’s almost thrilling to consider that perspicacious people might have learnt valuable lessons from the First World War about how to run a wildly successful business, by subsuming individuality and using people with few alternatives in order to build an empire. But Kroc and Disney would not be the only ones to make a buck from the Great War.

What were these “dehumanised troops”, including the unnamed lads in the Sainsburys advert, fighting for? Here’s a clue: you need lots of it to get through Christmas. That’s right, money! If the self-appointed pitbull of the British Empire, Michael Gove ever reads this post he will no doubt bite me on the arse for saying this, but the First World War which we celebrate - sorry, commemorate - this year could hardly have had less noble origins. To recap: everyone in Europe had been preparing for a massive old war for two or three decades before 1914 - since, pretty much, the Industrial Revolution. The elites in charge of the old Empires - French, British, Austro-Hungarian - were involved in a huge and probably quite fun game of weapons-chicken from the late 19th Century onwards, and were perpetually having itchy little skirmishes with each other from then up until the First World War, such as the hilariously petty Pig War of 1906-08 between Austria and Serbia. The commercial and imperial interests of the so-termed Great Nations had to contend with a rising nationalism across the continent, meaning that sooner or later conflict would occur.

Michael Gove got into hot water with historians earlier this year after advancing absurd and unsupported plans for the commemoration of the Great War’s centenary. How we mark the occasion - from the display of poppies at the Tower of London to this Sainsbury’s advert - is actually quite important. Our view of the First World War is important too: were the soldiers willing heroes, embarked on a vital crusade, or were they unwitting and helpless heroes, sacrificing their lives for a futility? Notwithstanding his hilarious demotion earlier this year, Gove is a member of a Tory government that has delighted in taking money from the poor since not winning the election in 2010. So it makes sense that he would want to paint WW1 as a noble and unavoidable foray by Britain and its allies to quash the dangerous extremism of Germany, rather than a petty and despair-inducingly needless conflict of the ruling class’s devising in order to protect its financial interests. You have only to look at David Cameron now to see someone engaged in a similarly hotblooded and misconceived tussle with Europe - an act of financial and political self-interest masquerading as “the right thing to do”. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

The irony of a film about the soldiers’ Christmas Day truce being used to flog products to a soma-quaffing mass audience one hundred years on is so poetic I could weep. The one day when the power of the people called a brief end to the violence and selfishness of the ruling regimes, and they met each other and spoke to each other and played together, is the new hook for a commercial for an enormous corporation. Here you are, little people - here’s your chocolate.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I'm Telling You Why - John Lewis Is Coming To Town

The John Lewis advert has finally aired, marking, at long last, the start of the long and thrilling mudslide towards Christmas. Laddies and gentlewomen, permission has now been granted from on high to start planning your Secret Santas, begarlanding your work computers with tinsel, and anxiously giving your parents notice that you’ve only been able to obtain a few days’ leave so will be arriving early on Christmas Eve and leaving late on Boxing Day you’re afraid, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I saw the new John Lewis Christmas advert (I’m lying, I haven’t seen it), I immediately wired J.L. ten quid via PayPal in return for nothing at all, merely because they do such a great job of just being themselves. And I bunged a crisp new Jane Austen to a penguins charity, too, because I loved Elijah Wood in Happy Feet.

Don’t you just love money? Sorry, I mean chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Just the smell of cold hard cash and cloves is enough to make me well up around this time of year, reminding me of all the Christmases I’ve spent putting a brave face on my disappointment at my parents’ financial expenditure. I still remember all those cheery Christmases singing songs in the sitting-room, enjoying the sight of tipsy grown-ups loosening their adultness for an evening, smelling the pine and delighting in the crinkle of the sweet-wrappers by the fireplace, while fuming with rage that my cousin got a Game Boy. The My Little Pony that my sister never got; the year when we couldn’t afford to heat the house for more than 4 hours a day; the quiver-lipped incomprehension at getting a tangerine in the bottom of your stocking to honour some obscure tradition, when citrus fruit is ten a penny for god’s sake: these are the memories I will cherish for all time

It seems apt that, under the coalition, the unveiling of a literal advertisement should have come to mark the annual descent into Christmas insanity. When anything heart-warming, beloved or truly necessary can be co-opted for financial gain and therefore has been or is about to be, there is a ring of poetry to us running around screaming about wide-eyed infants and Antarctic fowl in a feature whose every element has been devised, teased, workshopped and focus-grouped in order to squeeze money from our willing hands. Can we really have so completely forgotten the words of Saint Mariah, in her festive parable ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’? “I don’t need to hang my stocking there, upon the fireplace,” Mariah reminds us, in her wisdom. “Santa Claus won’t make me happy with a toy on Christmas day.”

Indeed. I’m certain I don’t need to remind everyone that Christmas was invented by Coca-Cola and that Santa Claus was trademarked by the company as far back as 1831. The reason Father Christmas wears a red robe in modern depictions of him, in fact, is a nod to the blood spilled in the alleged murders of trade union members by Coca-Cola in Guatemala and Colombia. And Santa rhymes with Fanta. Coincidence?

How I long for us to get back to the real roots of Christmas and celebrate the passing of another agricultural year with a pagan orgy of ale, song, the one piece of meat you’ll eat all year, and vigorous intra-familial intercourse. And alms, of course. Don’t forget alms. Have we already gone too far in the wrong direction, throwing money at a problem that doesn’t exist? In this era of grotesque financial inequality, and with climate change arranging things such that we’ll all be dead in 70 years’ time and it isn’t even cold in November anymore, I propose that we relocate Christmas to late February and call it Yule or ‘non-denominational festive time’, or something even more apt to get up the noses of Top Gear watchers. We would then devote the erstwhile Christmas period to a great festive protest, staying at home and singing and donating to worthwhile causes, while merrily kneeing Big Business one and watching our unelected government cower in fear at the great, holy power of the masses.