poetry in politics

I read a children’s book over Christmas, a gift from my clever teacher sister. ‘Cloud Busting’ by Malorie Blackman is a beautifully crafted, emotional tale of childhood friendship, and one passage particularly resonated: a teacher asks his pupils to write a poem, encouraging them by explaining that their favourite music, whether rap or pop or punk or rock, is poetry set to music. Of classical music, he says:

‘Classical music creates poetry

In your mind.

And your heart.

And your soul.

Even if there are no words

Being sung or spoken,

It still creates poetry

Inside you.’

This is true, for me at least; in certain pieces of music, each wave of sound represents a word, or a sentence, or an emotion that is deeply personal. I almost peed my pants listening to Boito’s Mefistofele at the National Cathedral earlier this year.

This got me thinking about poetry in other forms – and before you get all ‘oh fuck she’s only gonna write about boring stuff’ just hang on, there is a point to all this and here it comes – I thought particularly about the poetry in words that rally and inspire, or provide comfort at times of sorrow and pain. Henry V at Agincourt, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Churchill pretty much everywhere, Reagan at the Berlin Wall, Bluto in Animal House .. all demonstrated a perfect vocabulary of strength and understanding that cemented unity and trust and, more importantly, hope.

Obama is the master at this, particularly at times of disaster. His speeches after the Tucson and Newtown shootings were a balm to the country’s grief. He instinctively gets it. And while the mark of a leader isn’t purely how he or she responds publicly to events, judging the mood of a nation and reacting appropriately has got to be in the top five of Stuff That Makes A Good Leader.

When the scale and nature of the attacks in Paris became known, presidential hopeful Donald Trump responded with an air of gravitas and sense of occasion that has hitherto been hidden from the American public ha ha who the fuck am I kidding, the man could be possessed by the spirit of Mother Teresa and he’d still be a total arsehole. Trump’s response was to criticize French gun laws and suggest that Syrian refugees should be banned from the US.

And the weird thing is, his poll numbers went up.

Trump isn’t a Henry V or a Churchill to you or I, but to his supporters he has shown true leadership. With a callous disregard for the consequences of his rhetoric, Trump has encouraged the fears and anxiety of a section of the population – older, white and less well-educated – who feel isolated and economically bruised in the midst of a rapidly changing world, and who don’t believe that the current political leadership speaks for them. Trump whines with all the spitefulness of the school bully – opponents are losers, dummies, lightweights, stupid, overrated – but his insults have served only to gain him more media coverage and a few thousand yard signs from those who have waited years for someone to tell the political elite to fuck right off.

I still don’t believe Trump will win the Republican nomination; either Rubio (yawn) or Cruz (lunatic) will get that honour, and their battle is the more interesting one, as it will help to define the future direction of the Republican Party. But Trump’s intervention in the race for the White House leaves all parties with a huge challenge to properly understand the sense of abandonment felt by these lost souls; dismissing them as racist rednecks is missing the point entirely, and fear combined with hope can be a powerful force.

Still, it is less than a year until the election, with loads of quality time to discover if Ben Carson is actually fully anaesthetised during the debates. But if you feel in need of a break from all the arguing and grandstanding and sheer arseholery of the campaign, take a moment to immerse yourself in the beauty of poetry such as this.

Happy New Year.


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in the weeds

One of the things I want to do before I die is visit the annual Iowa State Fair to see the life-sized cow made of butter because why would you not want to see that? A century-old tradition, the cow is sculpted from 600 pounds of salted butter and placed in a glass case to stop people (me, when I finally get there) from licking it or poking it with twigs.

Other exhibits at the fair are the presidential hopefuls who pile into Iowa to show the ordinary folks that they are just like them by wearing jeans and eating meat-on-a-stick, although they are not at all just like them apart from Scott Walker who is super ordinary and has the personality of a 600 pound butter cow and is pretty damn pokeable, maybe with something sharp.

The fair is one of those intriguing instances of American political theatre, like Senator Tom Harkin’s Iowa Steak Fry, that permits desperate politicians to legally touch meat in public.

Hillary and Donald and Jeb and Martin and Scott and Marco and Bernie were all there this week. Stump speeches were delivered, meat was touched, pictures were taken and kiddies were smacked in the face by footballs.

But I was not there. FURIOUS. So I went to the Congressional Cemetery in southeast DC,  35 acres of rural land that hosts the burial plots of politicians, civil war veterans and public figures such as J. Edgar Hoover (from the cemetery website: “Q: Do you have to be a Member of Congress to be buried there? A: No. You just have to be dead.”).

I wanted to see the herd of goats that the cemetery hires every year to clear the land of weeds. I thought it would just be sad old me watching a stray goat shit itself, but there were lots of people there, all staring at goats.


one of the goats i saw

Disappointingly, the cemetery doesn’t have a plot for political careers that have crashed and burned but that’s ok because I already watched the first Republican presidential debate. And it was awesome.

Mike Huckabee had already got himself into trouble before the debate by comparing Obama to Hitler. On stage, he said that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things” which lent itself nicely to a prior suggestion that he would, as President, use federal troops to prevent women from seeking abortions. Yes ma’am, he would literally declare war on you and use military force to get all up in your womanly business. And just to prove that he can be even more of a total and utter shit rag, this week he defended the decision to deny an 11-year-old child in Paraguay an abortion after she was raped by her stepfather. THIS MAN IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Seriously. He should be running into surgery for a fucking lobotomy.

The rest of the field was either dull, angry or forgettable. This is the best summary of how it went down (spoiler: you will cry laughing).

But then there was Donald.

When Donald Trump entered the race, I was pretty sure the offensive drivel that spurts from his surprisingly tiny mouth would inevitably force him to jack in the political game but no! It seems that the American public hasn’t yet heard enough from the man who, if President, would likely challenge Putin to a dick-measuring competition (“Call that a cock? That’s a clown cock, bro”).

Trump managed to insult and belittle Mexicans, women, political leaders, and his fellow presidential hopefuls (also he is responsible for the entire news media using the word ‘menstruation’: pro tip guys: no woman calls their period ‘menstruation’). AND YET HE IS INCREASING HIS LEAD IN THE POLLS.

America is enjoying the spectacle of traditional politics being booted right up the arse; Donald Trump is to politics what Father Ted was to Bishop Brennan. And to make things even worse for the GOP, Trump appears to favour more moderate policies such the single payer healthcare model, and the necessity of services provided by Planned Parenthood.

At least, I think he does. If you listen to one of his rambling, spitting soliloquies, he doesn’t actually have any serious answers to serious policy issues. To stretch the analogy one more time until it’s bleeding and needs stitches, Trump is the Father Jack of politics, barking the same deluded, incomprehensible shite every time he is prodded. And don’t forget he is a birther who has expressed doubts that Obama was born in the US, so he may be a moderate but only in the sense of being moderately insane.

And yet … where Trump goes, the others follow. His recent foray into immigration policy, suggesting that he would end the constitutional right to citizenship of those born in the US to undocumented immigrants, had all the other presidential hopefuls squealing and flapping like kiddies in a pool after the neighbourhood big boy top-bombed them. Trump is not only leading the field, he is directing the debate.

But for how long? Trump has many flaws but his arrogance outshines them all, and that ain’t a good look for President. And while voters are enjoying an unexpectedly lively campaign, will they be able to bring themselves to nominate someone purely as a giant fuck you to the present political system they have come to despise? My guess is that, come 2016, the two main Republican contenders will be Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

But what the fuck do I know ha ha, at the end of the day we’re all just staring at goats.

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kill it with fire

It must be super fun to work in the office of Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul:

– our fella’s getting stiffed in the polls
– yeah what do you reckon, we need a gimmick
– we could destroy stuff? with fire?
– yeah mebbe get a chainsaw too
– nailed it

And hey, Lindsey Graham’s staffers are all over it:

– that cheeky bastard Trump just gave our man’s phone number out on air
– what the fuck
– yeah bang out of order
– hang on there’s a video in this
– what are you thinking?
– cement blocks and an axe
– that’s why we pay you the big bucks

Hands up those in the Republican Party who watched those videos and had dirty sex dreams about setting fire to the Trump campaign! Because not only has Donald Trump magnificently derailed hopes that the GOP would begin once more to appeal to a broader church, but the candidates all be like, are you shitting me, this joker is gonna knock me out of the tv debates. New Republic’s Brian Beutler brilliantly sets out here the difficulties the party has got into due to the solid years of ferociously licking Trump’s towers.

It’s not even as if Trump is saying anything remarkably dissimilar from some of the other candidates, it’s just that he’s saying it louder and in shorter, cruder sentences. Trump’s ludicrous accusation that all Mexican immigrants are rapists was met with a deafening wall of silence from Republicans, yet they all jumped – except for Ted Cruz, who merely pliéd a little – on Trump’s clumsy attack on John McCain’s war hero status, ooh get the smelling salts Denise I’ve got the vapors, oh and stick a statement on the wires pronto, pay attention to meeeeeee.

Now the gloves are off, and Trump is engulfing his rivals in a tsunami of insults and smears (Lindsey Graham is “a stiff”, Jeb Bush is “weak”, and Rick Perry “should be forced to take an IQ test”). The media have no choice but to cover Trump’s campaign, given he is actually leading – leading! – in the polls. Meanwhile the Jeb! campaign is drowning, and Marco Rubio has all but disappeared under the froth.

So why is this guy so attractive to Republican voters? It’s pretty simple. He says what the hell he likes, which happens to be what many Republicans are thinking, and he has so much money that he doesn’t need to give a stuff about lobbyists. Perversely, he is displaying the kind of honesty that people of all parties are crying out for in political campaigning, albeit the rambling, nonsensical honesty of a certified egomaniac.

Far from being the guy at the side of the road desperately trying to hitch a ride, Trump is in the driving seat of the clown car and steering the Republican Party straight into a massive fucking tree. The GOP is praying that the seat belt is off and John McCain got to the airbag first.

My sneaking suspicion is that Trump will bow out after the first debate, having rammed his opinionated point so far up the GOP’s backside it’s gonna need a second autopsy. And if/when he does, who will be there to pick up all his supporters? Why hello, Ted Cruz ….

Anyhoo, here is your irregular summary of Other News This Week!

– My favourite Republican hero-star Senator Tom Cotton, best known for being punched in the twitter-face by the Iranian foreign minister, compared John Kerry to Pontius Pilate, suggesting that America is the messiah because, as everyone knows, Jesus was from Ohio.

– Republicans will today try to defund Obamacare for the millionth time. They may be stoopid but give them credit for being persistently stoopid.

– In DC haterz news, Ted Cruz is trying to smash what he calls the #WashingtonCartel (if someone doesn’t immediately open a bar with that name in my neighbourhood I’ll be furious). Rand Paul is all about defeating ‘the Washington Machine’, while Jeb! is preparing to take on ‘Mount Washington’. C’mon guys, try harder.

– We learned from presidential candidate and professional exorcist Bobby Jindal that, even after the 240th mass shooting in as many days, now is not the time to talk about gun control because the day people talk about gun control and then actually do something about it will be the day I finally eat cheese so am pencilling in the twelfth of never.

Finally, some folk don’t know a good media-friendly video from a rat’s ass, and the Reverend Bobby J struck gold with this campaign announcement video that looks like he stuck a go-pro camera in a tree to spy on his kids which is basically what he did and how goddamn creepy is that. (Spoiler: he tells his kids he’s running for President, they’re all like whatever, you’re gonna lose anyway).

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what I talk about when I talk about running


“Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”


Ted Cruz: 

“It is a time for truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”


Rand Paul: 

“I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our country back.”


Marco Rubio: 

“Now, the time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.”


Jeb Bush: 

“Immigrants are more fertile.”


Chris Christie: 

“I can walk and chew gum at the same time.”


Martin O’Malley: 

“I’ve got to be honest, man, I’m a strummer, I’m a three-chord wonder.”


Rick Santorum: 

“This one time, at band camp …”


Mike Huckabee: 

“My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris.”


Sexy Ol’ Joe Biden:

“Isn’t it a bitch? This vice president thing? That was a joke, that was a joke. Best decision I ever made. I’m joking. That was a joke.”


*only one of these are made up. Also I was going to include Scott Walker but he’s very boring. 

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2016 republican runner and riders

right I’m off to work

thought I might monger a bit of war

you got cake in for later? 


Tom Cotton is the junior senator from Arkansas and my new favourite republican hero-star. When he is not getting punched in the twitter-face by foreign ministers for publishing his secret journal or insisting just gimme four days and some bombs and a false mustache and i will crush those pansy Iranians c’mon you saw Argo it’s totally doable, his favourite thing in the world to do is eat birthday cake every day. He looks like Ted Cruz if someone laid Ted Cruz flat out and ironed him. 

By 2020 Tom Cotton will hopefully join the swelling ranks of republicans whose main purpose in life is to entertain the rest of us by running for President. Alas, 2016 is too soon for our Tom. He still has a few years of solid lunacy to go before he can proudly stand on the corner of who? and you serious, bro?
Still, there are plenty of candidates for 2016 to keep us amused:
The aforementioned Ted Cruz. He is younger than me, which is infuriating, and has a lifelong hatred of avocados, which is insane (who doesn’t love avocados? avocados are delicious). In case you forgot, Cruz is the bloke who read out the children’s classic ‘Green Eggs And Ham’ on the floor of the senate in a faux-filibuster against Obamacare because why not. He also thinks the right to bear arms “serves as a fundamental check on government tyranny.” He launched his campaign last week in an evangelical fury and has since raised a whopping $31 million. His slogan is ‘Reigniting America’s Promise’, not exactly Yes We Can, more like Yes We Could But We’re Gonna Need Some Matches. He will never not look like the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Annoyingly, I have a feeling that he is probably quite a nice man, if you put to one side the whole dangerously unbalanced thing. 
Another contender with a similarly raging hatred of big government is Rand Paul, the self-styled outsider. He’s the super bright opthamologist-slash-senator who is cool with weed and not cool with bros getting banged up for weed and will debate any lame-o journo as long as the questions are not biased. He gives zero fucks about his *NSync hairstyle which he thinks is pretty great, so fuck you, media. His strategy will be to pick a fight with anyone he can in order to prove his independence, and then clean up with the twenty or thirty people left in the country he hasn’t yet argued with, although they won’t vote for him or in fact for anyone because they are too busy hiding canned food and short wave radios in their doomsday caves. 
This season’s moderate, Jeb Bush is like Eeyore if Eeyore was a tad more lively. His campaign, which started out fairly strongly with an embrace of social media messaging techniques and a flood of released emails to prove how transparent he is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, has faltered a little as he struggles to fit the straight jacket in a GOP asylum where the Tea Party gives out the meds and any sign of weakness on immigration policy results in the political version of a lobotomy. To be fair, with his name and family history, Jeb did show a sliver of balls by indicating he would run in the first place, but he needs to man up and get the whole package out. Mebbe he could Periscope it.
The youngster of the pack, Marco Rubio needs a goddamn decent haircut. His big campaign launch is on Monday, plenty of time to get down the barbers. Also his suits are terrible. I am super cross with him at the moment because of his current humpfest with the NRA, sponsoring a bill to introduce concealed weapon permits for DC. Hey Marco, you really want your kiddies dashing round the Natural History Museum surrounded by tourists packing more heat than me in my strapless jumpsuit? (I am SMOKIN HOT in that thing btw). Marco’s inspiring campaign slogan is ‘New American Century’, which I believe is a type of armchair. 
Rick Perry. C’mon. 
Donald Trump. For the lolz.
Now, Bobby Jindal is a name to remember only if you’re planning to join a pub quiz team in the near future and need the names of candidates kicked out of the race after the Iowa caucus. Otherwise, don’t bother. He’s the guy who is currently championing a bill in his state of Louisiana that will permit business owners to deny services to anyone who offends their religious beliefs, because Jesus was totally all about not letting the gays have nice cake for their disgusting public affirmations of love and commitment ugh gross look Denise they’re holding hands again omg get the camera. Yesterday, Jindal called the NRA the “most effective civil rights organisation” in the U.S., so there’s that. 
Chris Christie’s rise to the top of the contender list, much to the fury of the GOP who were all super bitchy at him for play-bromancing with Obama during Hurricane Sandy, didn’t last long. All that plotting and backstabbing and intrigue and Oprah interviews, only for his own team to fuck everything up over some petty road closures on a bloody bridge. Bit embarrassing all round. He’ll probably run for the presidency though, because ego. 
My final offering is Scott Walker, not the singer though. Walker is the Governor of Wisconsin who reckons his recent manly union-bashing experience makes him the Number One Fist of Choice to gut punch ISIS, who are apparently all a-trembling at the thought of him becoming President because of his ferocious ways, even though they haven’t actually ever heard of him. He recently visited London and didn’t turn the entire population against him like Mitt did, so I guess that’s a plus. 
 Next time, the Democrat candidates. Because why wouldn’t you want to read about Sexy Joe Biden. 
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We’re Only Trying To Help Poor Fat People Stop Being So Gross, Say Republicans

When the United States lost the race for the Most Offensively Fattest People in the World to neighbours Mexico earlier this year, the Republican Party, far from being furious that America no longer ruled the globe by girth alone, decided that maybe the right to bare forearms without all that disgusting skin hanging down, ugh gross or what, wasn’t such a bad idea so hey, America, we’re gonna save you from your lardy self.

This week the GOP put their plan into action to wean decent, hard-working Americans off their addiction to spanx but there was a huge fuss and people got all mad and instead of being grateful that someone was literally looking out for your fat ass, America, folk got all sniffy about it.


But why else would Republicans in Congress slash the food stamps budget by $39 billion if not to ensure that the 47 million poors who rely on them starve for long enough to get into their skinny jeans?

And for what other reason would Republicans attempt for the 42nd time to defund Obamacare if it wasn’t to encourage millions of lumpy people to lose all that disgusting weight when they fall ill because they can’t afford health insurance or medicines or other stuff that would keep them all bloated and healthy yuk you lot make me sick.

And hey, the Republicans are surely workin’ it so hard right now so that America might default on its debts and the Government will shut down and millions of workers will go unpaid so that you, Chubster Government Worker, yes you, can totally forget about taking the missus out to the all-you-can-eat-until-diabetes buffet at Olive Garden and stay at home instead with a celery stick and a raft of unpaid bills because we all know that worry is the best diet because Your Republican Party Loves You but loves you better when you are thin.

But ha ha the joke’s on you, America, because it’s highly likely that when the Bills To Gut Your Gut hit the Democratic-led Senate, they’ll be blown away faster than your boyfriend when he sees you getting all nasty and fat again.

Poor, sad, misunderstood Republican Party. Such a shame, when all they are doing is looking out for America’s health and well-being. And – *UPDATE* – now we’re in shutdown! Thanks Republicans! America thanks you for being total dicks.

(I got that right, yeah? Politics is just so baffling!)

But here’s a Thing: it has been scientifically proven that being fat and poor is often better than being dead or maimed.

In 2010, there were over 19,000 firearm-related suicides in the US, and over 11,000 firearm-related homicides. Over 73, 000 Americans were treated in hospital for non-fatal gunshot wounds.

Just think what the Republicans could achieve if they channeled their raging energies into gun control instead of trying to give Obama the finger.

sad obama

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Garden and Gun

“Your Father and I have been thinking,” said my Mum, “and we wondered if you’d like to have your wedding money for your 40th birthday instead.”


My reaction:

1. You have wedding money put aside for me? Ah that’s so nice.

2. Oh shit I’m going to be 40.

3. Um hang on a sec. You don’t think I’m ever going to get married?

I gave my poor Mum a good couple of minutes of major ‘I’m going to die alone’ whiny, sad-face teenage action before yelling “Kidding! Am gonna get me a garden!!” Finally I could afford to sort out the drippy bit of lawn at the back of my recently-bought house.

I love gardens. I love gardening. I love looking at gardens. I love reading about gardens. I love smelling gardens. I love touching gardens. I love gardens like Joe Biden loves trains.

Gardens are pretty much the only places where it’s acceptable to touch something and then sniff your fingers afterwards.


My new garden’s first winter witnessed a battle of epic proportions against squirrels looking for food, and foxes looking for the toilet.

Think back to the worst thing you have ever smelled in your life, something that made your eyes water and your stomach crawl halfway up your throat. Now imagine that vile stench has been wrapped in the frothing skin of a recently-dead badger, then set on fire. Now take a deep breath. That’s how bad fox shit stinks; it will literally flay the nose right off your face.

I became obsessed, checking the garden first thing in the morning and last thing at night, flashlight in hand, obscenities and shit shooting over the garden fence as I discovered the latest violations. The sweet smell of my eventual victory was somewhat tempered by the rendering of the garden into an episode of Tenko, complete with bamboo sticks and about six metres of chicken wire.


The next summer I sat with an old college friend in her kitchen, drinking red wine and talking gardens and leafing through seed catalogues and slowly becoming more and more horrified as we realised that twenty years earlier we’d been sitting drinking pints and talking about boys and now we were talking about SEEDS and BULBS and holy shit what happened to us oh fuck no.

I spent the next couple of years moving plants around my garden, discovering which preferred shade or sun, experimenting with colour and texture and scent, accumulating pot after pot of annuals and succulents. I’d go to my local garden center and buy the most pathetic looking plant to see if I could bring it back to life; watching something grow and become strong and beautiful is enormously satisfying.

I may not have known the Latin name for every plant in my garden, but I learnt that my agapanthus preferred its roots to be contained; that some plants like the tips of their leaves to be gently stroked and others love a good root-soaking; and that weeding on a sunny summer afternoon, with the radio on and a beer to hand, is the best form of meditation, when your mind simply dissolves into the cool earth.


It was a wrench to give up my little back yard when I moved to D.C. Now I have a tiny balcony where I’ve grown tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in pots, watched tulips and daffodils bloom, trained a clematis and a thunbergia to cling to the balustrade, and created a tiny meadow garden in an old scotch whisky crate.

It’s not quite the same as home but the city goes some way to make up for it. Washington D.C. is a leafy, green city. Trees line neighbourhood streets, providing shade in the searing summer heat, while downtown the sidewalk flowerbeds reflect colour and movement in the steel office buildings. Gardens like Dumbarton Oaks, one of my favourite places, and the many gorgeous creations hidden behind the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are a welcome sight for sore city eyes. And just this week, the city announced plans to “restore and animate” Franklin Square, a five acre ‘urban park’ behind my office building.

Walking through a beautiful garden gives me butterflies, little bubbles of happiness inside that make me feel quite stunned with joy. The French poet Pierre Albert-Birot wrote:

“Gardens are poems,

Where you stroll with your hands in your pockets.”

This summer I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny, and it was like walking in the heaven of my imagination.



Flowers have been used over the centuries to symbolise human emotion such as happiness, love, sadness and sympathy. Yellow roses, for example, are supposed to signify true love. In some countries, white chrysanthemums are symbolic of death. Over the coming weeks, thirteen families of thirteen people who worked at Navy Yards in D.C. will choose the flowers for the funerals of their loved ones.

Yesterday’s horrific incident was the nineteenth mass shooting since President Obama took office. The nineteenth. Here’s the list. It is heartbreaking.

Last Thursday evening, I popped into my local wine shop. Thirty minutes later as I sat at home, bottle open, I watched police cars speed down my block. There had been a shooting. A man had been injured, and a bullet had hit the wine shop. This was one of ten shooting incidents in D.C. that week, leaving a total of two dead and thirteen injured.

And I sat there and shrugged. Oh, another shooting. I SHRUGGED.

“There’s something wrong here,” Dr. Janis Orlowski, Chief Medical Officer of the Medstar Washington Hospital Center said yesterday. “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.”

The gun control debate is on life support; with each new gun massacre comes a spike of vital signs, but it’s pretty much flatlining.

Obama’s press secretary said yesterday that it would not be appropriate to discuss gun control, given the early stages of the investigation into the shooting. If we can’t talk about gun control now, after a mass shooting in the capital of this country, when can we?


** Update. This evening I heard 8 to 10 gunshots fired at the end of my street. They were so loud, I actually ducked behind my bookcase. I’m not shrugging now.

Garden & Gun

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The findings are in.

My exploratory yet exhaustive qualitative research into the state of the UK-US Special Relationship, conducted over the past few days under a number of strict scientific guidelines (“I will buy you a drink if you answer my question” – “Fine”), resulted in an overwhelming:


The question being: do you think, following the Government’s defeat last week over Syria, that the UK is no longer America’s closest ally and friend?

The initial reaction of “Well, that’s just dumb” was followed by an envious respect for a parliamentary process that allowed for a binding vote on the issue of military action.

front-page-8-30-2013The data collected from the sample during the latter, significantly more boozy, stages of interviews served only to confirm what I have thought all along: that the Special Relationship is generally beloved of Americans, in the same way that they might adore a particular Great Aunt.

Those I spoke to – the sample, I should point out, was taken from age groups 20 to 29 and 30 to 39, educated to degree level and in employment – were rather astonished at the suggestion that the relationship between our two countries could be damaged by the intrigues of the past week. Most believed that the UK had done the US a favour by pushing Obama into seeking a Congressional vote on military action and, whilst acknowledging that this may have caused a fairly decent diplomatic version of brain freeze, they saw no reason to drop the UK from their in-case-of-emergency list.

A quick recap of the tear-stained reaction from the popular press back home (‘Twelve Reasons We Totally Just Got Dumped’) was met with further quizzical looks and some amusing drunken listicals of just how much us Brits are adored: “You have a Queen! I love your accent! Churchill! The Olympics! The prime minister’s question thing in the Parliament!” History, it seems, weighs heavier than current events, and the will of the people is powerfully attractive. Fret no more, UK. We’re still BFF’s.


This past weekend we celebrated Labor Day, a public holiday established by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor in 1887 and dedicated to the ‘strength and esprit de corp of the trade and labor organizations’.

My earliest awareness of trade unions came from my mother, who recounted stories of my grandfather, a coal miner, enjoying paid holidays for the first time in the 1940’s. Thus I have a sentimental attachment to the organisations that fought for better pay and conditions like sick pay and maternity leave. It has been an eye-opener to me that, here, unions are scarce to be found in the private sector, and those that are active in the public sector are apparently mistrusted because ugh unions, you guys holding the economy hostage with your shitty wage demands and your defence of workers’ rights and your *shudder* collective bargaining ugh shame on you.

Ok, ok so some unions these days keep a closer eye on their own preservation than on the interests of their members. Meanwhile, here in my little corner of the non-unionised private sector, the concept of being ’employed at will’, with little or no recourse should I be fired, has gone some way to curtail my daily swearage quota, cursing being rather frowned upon in the workplace. By the time I return home at the end of each working day, my little body is bursting with pent-up profanities, and the slightest annoyance – a misplaced book, a dropped spoon – is met with a stream of “fuckshitbollockfuckarse”.

Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes.

Photo by Sarah Anne Hughes.

Labor Day is of course a decent excuse to mark the last gasp of summer and get together with friends to drink beer and cook giant slabs of meat on bbq grills the size of my first flat. It is also when public swimming pools are open for one final weekend – for humans, that is. After Labor Day, D.C. enjoys the charming tradition of turning some pools over to dogs. Doggie Day Swim gives dogs a day of their own for fun and games in the water.


The weeks leading up to Labor Day often see employers inviting employees over to their homes for an evening of drinks and forced bonhomie, a social occasion to rally the troops for the hard work to come in the autumn.

It’s a nice and generous gesture, certainly. But bosses often live in suburban areas outside D.C. – Maryland or Virginia – and with little or no access to public transport, employees must car-share there and back. I don’t drive, and I would rather eat a herpes sandwich than get in a car with someone who has been drinking. So when the invitation came, I checked if anyone was intending to stay sober (nope), made my excuses and skipped the evening.

Drink driving is a thing here. In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes; that’s one person every 51 minutes. The US has some way to go until it reaches the zenith of smuggery we enjoy in the UK, where drink driving is seen as a crime so heinous it’s up there with kicking puppies. Blind puppies. Wearing tiny hats.

A co-worker once defended her practice of drink driving by telling me “Well, you smoke!” Yes, love, but I’m only killing myself.


While on the subject of horrific ways to die that leave families destroyed and communities devastated, here’s a fun fact for you. Maryland Police have received 85,000 gun-purchase applications this year so far. That’s an increase of 15,000 on the number of applications they received for the whole of last year.

Why the sudden rush? In a direct response to the Newtown school shooting, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley introduced tough new legislation aimed at preventing gun violence. The law will come into effect on 1 October and will, amongst other things, limit handgun magazines and add over 40 guns to a list of banned assault weapons.

Of course this has caused a bit of a kerfuffle with the gun lobby. The NRA plan to challenge the new law in the courts, and a local sheriff, suggesting the law is unconstitutional, has said he will refuse to enforce parts of it.

Possibly the best response came from a hilarious pro-gun advocate who applauded the declaration by the naughty sheriff by comparing him favourably to the blind loyalty displayed by Nazis working in death camps ha ha stop me if you’ve heard this one before.


Finally, an apology. It has been a few months since I updated this blog. Frankly, the political world hasn’t been much fun recently (also, the new season of Masterchef started). But in the spirit of Robert the Bruce, I thought I’d give it another go.

Comments welcome (also, drinks and gifts of money).

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a Washington D.C. diary, of sorts

There is a man who walks very slowly down my street every morning. He never walks on the pavement, always the road, keeping close to the parked cars. I spotted him once downtown. He’s not hard to miss. Dressed completely in black, he has a large sports bag slung across his back and a scarf wrapped around his head.  He walks with a gait that suggests he is listening to a particularly mournful Billie Holiday song; perhaps he has earphones on under his scarf. He looks like a weary ninja.

Never on the pavement, always the road. I want to stop him and ask, why do you never walk on the pavement?


I generally try not to think too much about paths, and choices. I rarely look more than a few months ahead. I fall into jobs. Trip into relationships. Stumble over music and literature. I like to think this is because I am the right-handed child of left-handed parents; my sense of direction is so skewed that I am happy to let the waves of life push and pull me every which way until they dump me where they think best.

If I am to be honest, I’m a lazy toad who can’t be arsed to make decisions and would much rather someone else make them for me. Particularly because then I would have some other fuckwit to blame when things go wrong.

Interestingly, I suppose, this is not a true reflection of my behavior once I have started a job into which I have fallen. I am rather decisive then. I have had jobs where the decisions I made, had they been the wrong ones, could have resulted in major pointing-and-shouting fuck-ups for the entire world to see. But that’s work. This is life.

So. I continue to take small hops from pavement to road to pavement.


Moving to D.C. was a classic Hebe hop. Two years on, it has proved a pretty epic leap.

If the great Ed McBain were alive today, and so minded, he might describe D.C. thus: the city is a woman, envied for her beauty and her history, despised for her politics, smothered by the constant attention of opinion. In the game of ‘shag, marry, murder’, D.C. is the woman men want to sleep with solely for the satisfaction of bitching about it afterwards.

A few months after my arrival, standing smoking in the street, I thought ok city, here I am: do your worst. Moments later, as I bent down to put the cigarette out, I got whacked in the face by an angry, ranting homeless man wielding a piss-stained blanket.


My current job is not as stretching as my last. This enormous change in circumstance, with its sudden abundance of free time, was not unlike a baby discovering its feet for the first time: what the hell are these and what do I do with them? So I walk. And walk. And walk.

This city was built for walking. Tree-lined streets and wide boulevards lead to monuments and museums, galleries and gardens and parks, bars and restaurants and roof-top terraces, theatres and clubs. And stretching above, unmarked by skyscrapers, the vast, forever-blue sky.

My favourite walk, the one I insist all visitors take with me, is along Q Street from 14th all the way to Wisconsin Avenue, block after block of beautiful row houses, higgledy piggledy with turret windows and French slate and verdigris, all shades of pink and cream and brown and lemony-yellow. With the advent of spring, the tiny front yards are filled with pansies and hellebores and tulips, the pavements sticky with browning magnolia petals.

Of course it’s not all pretty. The city has its problems, as all major cities do. The homeless guy who loiters on the roundabout near my apartment, bawdily wishing me a good evening as he pees into a trash can (I am always amazed he can do this hands-free). The panhandlers, standing wearily with arms outstretched on the corners of cross streets, the invisible lines encircling them drawn by the passersby – we, me – who give them a wide berth.

The underfunded public transport system, the lack of decent housing in poorer neighbourhoods, the reliance on cheap, unhealthy fast food for want of fresh fruit and vegetables, the city’s constant struggle for power over its own budget, the disenfranchisement of the entire population and the battle for statehood … I could go on. You get the picture.


Where else but in this small city of 600,000 people, where inhabitants change from year to year as jobs reach the end of contracts, would I meet and become friends with people far removed from my usual group? In London, you have your friends. You don’t need any more. Here, you are open to widening the circle. “My blog,” I told a departing friend, “is called ‘New Friends, Better Friends’, not ‘New Friends … Oh Fuck Off Then’.”

I have even made friends through social media, something I would never have done back home. “Do not,” warned someone as I went to meet a couple I had chatted to on Twitter, “go back to their apartment. They might want a threesome.” My new friends were forever after known as The Thruple.

As for dating. Well. I live in a gaybourhood where the only single, heterosexual men in my age group are homeless. This is a young person’s city. A badly dressed young person’s city.  Take a walk downtown on a Saturday night if you fancy a little DIY retinal surgery.


Although no longer employed in the world of politics, regular readers of this blog (er, there’s an email sign-up button, yeah? USE IT) will be aware of my continuing fascination/borderline stalking of all things political.

Exchanging one capital city, with its petulant, shouty politics, for another with a political system more baffling than a denim two-piece and the kinds of personalities you might meet in a focus group on a Saturday night, has been revelation. Not perhaps on the scale of the Second Coming, fair enough, but there are parallels with the struggle between good and evil. Also, a necessary reminder that politics doesn’t have to always be serious. Because, Newt.


I love this city. It has helped me to understand that whether you walk on the pavement or on the road, the main thing is to keep going. There’s probably a bar somewhere at the end of the block.

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The Republican Party: dead or still twitching?

Less than three in ten Americans view the Republican Party in a favourable light, a CNN poll found this week. And in other breaking news, I’m still flat-chested.

Timed to coincide with the publication of the GOP’s 2012 election ‘autopsy‘ (their word – because why wouldn’t you name your report into what went wrong with the term for a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the manner of its death?), the CNN poll came a day after the end of the party’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual national gathering of key figures and activists.

If GOP Chair Reince Priebus needed further evidence to illustrate his autopsy findings that the party is “scary“, “narrow-minded” and “out of touch” – other of course than the 65 million two-fingers the party received in November – the conference provided him with a laboratory of living, breathing examples that may prove that Mary Shelley was right all along.

Giving a platform to the likes of professional lunatics Sarah Palin, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and Donald Trump (and it doesn’t matter that Trump spoke to an empty room in a graveyard slot, the fact that he was invited while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was not speaks louder than a tourist on the metro) was like poking a corpse with a stick. Yep, it’s still dead.


Rand Paul departs the Capitol after his filibuster by @Dharapak

Or is it? The conference didn’t serve just to amplify the death rattle. The ‘future’ of the GOP, Senators Marco Rubio (for the young ‘progressives’) and Rand Paul (for the awkward squad), gave rousing speeches although neither said much of great interest; it is far too early for them to do anything other than give their supporters a little cheer to show the party hasn’t completely flatlined. Rand was the winner of the CPAC straw poll, the end-of-conference indicator of conservative feeling, although this was off the back of his impressive 13-hour filibuster over drones, so an unsurprising victory.

There are parallels with the Tories in 1997. Deeply unpopular, the party faced an overwhelming battle after it was dumped out of office to prove it was in touch with an electorate that considered it nasty, uncaring and old-fashioned.

The difference here is that the Tory party recognised this and worked to incorporate compassionate conservatism into its narrative; the GOP as it stands now seems too in thrall to its financial backers, and either oblivious to, or too frightened to acknowledge, the significant changes in the social issues important to the country in which it lives, a country recognising, for example, the rights of people to legally declare their love, the unfathomable power of the gun lobby, and the rights of women to have control over their own bodies.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Indeed there has been an encouraging softening by some in the party of the once-rigid opposition to citizenship for undocumented workers, and the autopsy report reflects this. And perhaps it is too soon. It is, after all, a mere four months since the election. The GOP autopsy does at least hold a mirror to the face of the party.

The GOP has an opportunity to apply the ideals and values that once made it a popular and respected party to the brave new world that it aspires to lead.  If the party doesn’t have the courage to ruthlessly jettison those who are determined to keep it strapped to the gurney – and that includes its current leadership – it will remain encumbered by restraints, seeing just one thing from the low point afforded by its more extreme base.

Good view from back there, yeah?


By Pete Souza

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