In the old days, I used to wake up to the morning paper, neatly folded on a silver salver and presented by my valet along with the kedgeree and the brace of grilled quail. Now I wake up to an inbox of Internet stories forwarded by readers that cumulatively feel like the front page from some bizarro kingdom cooked up for an unpersuasive dystopian satire. For example, a headline from the Washington Examiner:
“Transsexual Cabaret Performer Vomits on Susan Sarandon.”
An accident? Or the pilot for a hot new reality format? In other news, the London Evening Standard reports:
“Number 10 Denies Naked Gordon Brown Called Aide C-word.”
The second round of the hot new reality show? No, the prime ministerial nude had been trying to fix up some one-on-one face time with Barack Obama only to be rebuffed and having to settle for a hurried few minutes with the President in the aisle of the UN kitchen as they exited the big world leaders’ banquet in New York. Hence, his naked fury. You don’t have to be a G7 head of government to appreciate that that’s not the most helpful headline at this stage in the electoral cycle. But, as is the way, the story quickly moved on:
“Gordon Brown’s Staff Called Bullying Helpline.”
Indeed. According to the BBC, members of the British prime minister’s staff had called the National Bullying Helpline for advice and counselling. After all, as the Financial Times reported:
“Bullying: Seven Per Cent of Cabinet Office Staff Are Victims.”
No doubt. As I said, for a satirical novel it’s all a bit too obvious: the internal contradictions of the Big Government nanny state finally implode when the paranoid leader’s underlings start clogging up the 24-hour bullying helpline. Too pat, too neat. Perhaps it would work as a musical, with Bye Bye Birdie’s Telephone Hour number retooled for teary stenographers, distraught Lord Privy Seals and other minions of the ruthless Gordon: Bye Bye Brownie. “I have never hit anybody,” responded the prime minister, after allegations that he forced a secretary from her chair for typing too slowly. From the Times of London:
“Yes, Prime Minister: the Culture of Fear at Number 10.”
Another Downing Street staffer claimed to be “scared” of Mr. Brown. Big deal. Except that he’s a member of the personal protection security detail. So the guy who’s meant to take a bullet for you is reduced to a quivering jellyfish because your lingo gets a bit salty? What if there was a security incident such as took place at the Vancouver opening ceremony? From the New York Post:
“Mentally Ill Man Breaches Olympics Security to Get Near Biden.”
Wow. That’s almost as alarming as “Mentally Ill Man Breaches Olympics Security to Get Near Opening Ceremony.” He was stopped just a few feet away from Joe Biden. As the RCMP’s assistant commissioner Bud Mercer explained, “He had an infatuation with the U.S. vice-president.” CTV reports that the man has now been “committed to a psychiatric facility for treatment.” Evidently, an infatuation with Joe Biden is the one illness for which there’s no wait time in British Columbia.
But what of all those layers of crack security he breached with his homemade ID? It consisted of three words—ALL ACCESS PASS—in big letters; looks like it was downloaded from a Jonas Brothers tour memorabilia site. Shouldn’t we show that this kind of incompetence won’t be tolerated and fire the useless ninnies who let him through? Don’t even think about it. From the Australian:
“Bosses Rapped for Valid Sacking.”
Come again? Well, as the paper reported, “The nation’s industrial umpire has ruled that a long-term employee who was legitimately sacked for repeated safety breaches must be reinstated and paid compensation because of his poor education and poor job prospects.”
Okay, let me see if I follow that: his poor education means that it was unreasonable ever to expect him to do the job. Therefore, his inability to do the job is why he must remain in it in perpetuity. Gotcha.
Interestingly, what he was in breach of was a failure to observe Health & Safety regulations. Like the rest of the developed world, Australians labour under ever more intrusive ’Elf ’n’ Safety rules. One has always assumed the fellows who impose this stuff on the rest of us believe in it themselves: at the headquarters of Britain’s Health and Safety Executive, for example, staff are forbidden to move chairs due to the risk of injuring themselves. Instead, if you’re minded to move the chair by the pot plant over to the umbrella stand you have to book a porter 48 hours in advance and he will reposition the chair in compliance with safety procedures. But at Australia’s Norske Skog Paper Mills, Paul Quinlivan can ignore Health & Safety with impunity because his lack of prospects would make it impossible ever to get a job where he’d be expected to be able to follow them.
Perhaps he could sell hot dogs to minors. From the Toronto Star’s “Parent Central,” Lesley Ciarula Taylor keeps us on the non-cutting edge of Health & Safety developments:
“Redesign the Hot Dog, Doctors Urge…”
No, that’s it. I’m done. I’m outta here. That’s gotta be some fake-o spam headline generator that infected my laptop when I got hooked on the vomiting transsexual porn. But no, it’s real:
“Hot dogs need to be redesigned so they aren’t potentially lethal to small children,” reports Ms. Taylor. Yet Janet Riley, president of the U.S. National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, prefers to keep hot dogs sausage-shaped. Needless to say, she “agrees with the need for education, and points out more than half the hot dogs sold in the United States have warnings to parents to cut them into small pieces.” But presumably not at concession stands in Vancouver, where Joe Biden groupies could easily buy them and force-feed them to distracted under-14s standing around agog at the non-functioning electric zamboni.
Speaking of “the need for education,” London’s Daily Mail reports:
“Girls as young as 11 are to be offered pregnancy tests at school.
“They will also have access to contraception, the morning-after pill and advice on sexually transmitted infections.”
Lovely. And, if that works out, we can start educating the nine-year-olds. I’m surprised there’s anything still left to teach British schoolkids in this area. As the Guardian reported a few years back, “Oral Sex Lessons to Cut Rates of Teenage Pregnancy.” This was part of a policy to wean the li’l moppets from intercourse to the joys of “outercourse.” Alas, teen pregnancy rates went up last year. Not sure how the 11-year-old pregnancy rates are looking, but I’m sure the eight-year-olds are holding steady. Still, whatever its deficiencies in reducing pregnancy, you’d have thought that an education system that teaches schoolgirls how to perform oral sex wouldn’t also have to schedule time to teach them how to consume a hot dog safely. Multi-tasking, people!
Poor, unlovely Gordon Brown desperately pursuing Barack Obama past the chopped zucchini and simmering coulis of that UN kitchen in the forlorn hope of landing one brief photo op of the two geopolitical colossi mano-a-mano. He’s as pitiful as that mentally ill guy in Vancouver besotted with Joe Biden. More so, in fact. At least that fellow did it on his own dime, downloading his ALL ACCESS PASS from the Internet, rather than requiring legions of aides and thousands of pounds to achieve pretty much the same result. The United Kingdom has huge systemic problems: its public spending is at a peacetime high and mostly wasted. Its social capital is all but exhausted: what LBJ’s Great Society did to the black family in America, Britain’s postwar welfare state has done to the general population. If Gordon Brown rages naked at his aides, it’s a cry of impotence: like many leaders of exhausted, unsustainable, micro-regulated entitlement states, he can do nothing about anything that matters.
Of all the itsy-bitsy stories in my inbox this week, the one that summed it up featured Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York. He’s promising that the big hole at Ground Zero isn’t going to be there for another decade. “I’m not going to leave this world with that hole in the ground 10 years from now,” he says. In the 21st century, that’s what passes for action, for get-tough leadership, for riding herd. Sure, those jihad boys got lucky and took out a couple skyscrapers, but the old can’t-do spirit kicked in and a mere nine years later we’ve got a seven-storey hole on which seven billion dollars have been lavished. But, if we can’t put up a replacement building within a decade, we can definitely do it within two. Probably. The non-official estimated date of completion for the new 1 World Trade Center right now is said to be 2018. Don’t hold your breath. We’ve got a hot dog to redesign.
It doesn’t matter now what the eventual replacement building is at Ground Zero. The hole is the memorial: a gaping, multi-storey, multi-billion-dollar hole, profound and eloquent in its nullity.