Narcissus was an amateur compared to The Donald

Do any of these words describe the new resident in the White House? All of them? That would surely be a burden for anyone to carry. Not so, it seems, Donald J Trump, who has made a career out of being the High Priest of Narcissism.

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It’s just two weeks since The Donald was inaugurated as the 45th POTUS. Good grief! It seems like a lifetime. Now that I’m retired, I often wonder to my wife where time has flown to. When considering all that’s happening right now in the USA, and the profound polarizing impact of this dysfunctional administration, it seems as though we are wading through molasses.

The next four years stretch out endlessly ahead of us (if DJT survives that long), because whatever His Orangeness says or does, affects everyone, not just the USA. He sneezes; we catch a cold.

Following his unbelievable (for all the wrong reasons) Inaugural Address from the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC on 20 January, The Donald has ratcheted up his invective and vitriol. His minions on the White House staff (Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway come immediately to mind) have stepped into the fray and revealed themselves to be unthinking and deluded acolytes, following the Donald line without question. The GOP in both Houses of Congress appears to have rolled over to have its collective tummy tickled.

Yes. Donald Trump is a narcissist. It’s all about him. He’s playing at being President. It’s the ultimate reality show, only the stakes are much higher, and he’s the apprentice. I think he was in love with the idea of being President. That’s why he ran. He liked the attention he would receive, the fawning, the center stage. Now, everything he does will be scrutinised, and I have great faith in political cartoonists on both sides of the Atlantic to pull him down more than just a peg or two. I signed up for Facebook page called Editorial & Political Cartoons; it’s a great resource.

And because he is so notoriously thin-skinned, this will eventually get to him. Expect a YUMONGOUS reaction before too long, especially when they insinuate that he is just a puppet. Take this cartoon distributed by Pia Guerra on Twitter just five days ago. As the narcissist sans pareil, The Donald won’t stand for this.

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Cartoonists are already focusing on Trumpian characteristics, such as:

  • his remarkable hairstyle;
  • the kaleidoscope of facial expressions (the snarl, the pursed lips);
  • his hands and fingers (small as they are) and exaggerated gestures; and
  • the over-long tie (more like an extended loin-cloth).

He has to be the center of attention, referring to all his ‘achievements’ (but not his multiple bankruptcies) as ‘great’, ‘YUGE’, ‘the best’, etc., while disparaging others. His disrespectful comments are too numerous to list.

His speeches—if you can call them such—are mostly incoherent ramblings often punctuated by his two favourite words: ‘I’ and ‘Me’. Here’s a good example, made at a breakfast recently in the White House to commemorate Black History month. It’s also hard to believe he made these comments at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this week. And talk about disrespect. During his visit to the CIA a short while after his inauguration, and speaking to an invited (and ‘packed’?) audience in front of the CIA Memorial Wall, he couldn’t resist boasting about the number of times he had appeared on the front cover of Time, as well the unprecedented record crowds who had turned up to his inauguration. He was certainly obsessed with those ‘alternative facts’. It just galls him that he simply is NOT the best.

Anyway, to get back to my original theme of Trump’s narcissism. I posted this simple comment on my Facebook page a couple of days ago or so: Narcissus was an amateur compared to Trump. And that’s why I decided to elaborate on that here.

I also posted the famous Caravaggio painting of Narcissus, painted between 1597 and 1599. Then, lying in bed this morning, thinking about today’s blog post, I wondered if I could superimpose Trump’s head in the painting. However, Google came to the rescue, and I found someone had been there before me.

Furthermore, the author of Poppa’s Cottage had already visited the theme of Trump’s dangerous narcissism in August 2016, and who has written more eloquently than I ever could.

I guess we can all hope that Congress will regain its senses and tell The Donald in no uncertain terms: YOU’RE FIRED!

 

 

America the Beautiful, Donald the Ugly!

I probably wasted a couple of hours yesterday afternoon watching the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to see how Trump would behave. I wasn’t disappointed. I even posted on Facebook while he was delivering his Inaugural Speech that he sounded like he was still on the campaign trail. It must continue to rankle, being such a narcissus I guess, that he won the election by a landslide loss to Hillary Clinton of almost three million votes.

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I bet he had his fingers secretly crossed . . . 

How depressing the spectacle was, for many reasons (and it seems that despite whatever spin Trump puts on it, his Inauguration was decidedly low-key) I was left at the end with a profound sense of unease, depressed even. It was the same feeling I had (and continue to have) after the EU referendum last June, and the UK voted (by the smallest of margins for such a social, economic, and constitutional—and irrevocable—change) for Brexit.

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Is Barron Trump thinking about all the stick he is going to take when he goes back to school in New York on Monday?

After Trump had taken the oath, the former President and Mrs Obama left Washington, DC on board a helicopter bound for the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, en route to a well-deserved vacation (and period for reflection) in California. The BBC live broadcast captured an image of the helicopter flying northwest over Washington carrying the former president and his wife away.

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And I had this feeling that going with them was their dignity, decency, cordiality, ethical behaviour, and vision. Nature abhors a vacuum. It’s now filled with the mean-spiritedness of the Trump Administration, and the crass ostentation that The Donald personifies.

Welcome to the USA – about to become an extension of Trump, Inc. That’s certainly the impression seeing The Donald surrounded by his family. And the photo of him sitting at his desk in the Oval Office later on in the day, with Vice President Pence beside him (how soon will he fade from the limelight?), and Trump’s son-in-law and now Senior Adviser to the President, Jared Kushner (now there’s a prime case of nepotism).

As for Trump’s tie, I found this apt descriptionRed is an aggressive color that can make us feel passionate, angry, or hungry. The candidates in red ties want you to think they are decisive, bold, assertive, and powerful. Candidates accused of flip-flopping often roll out the red ties. Sound familiar?

We have a personal connection to the USA. Our elder daughter completed much of her education there, in St Paul, Minnesota, where she met her husband Michael, and where she continues to live and work, with children Callum and Zoë. We have visited the USA many times over the past 25 years,and have travelled extensively. Everywhere we went we have been met with warmth, courtesy and cordiality. I don’t recognise that in Trump’s take on America in his Inaugural Speech. No, I don’t deny that there is deprivation in swathes across many states, sites of former heavy industry that has been lost to competition elsewhere, or been overtaken by technology. These folks feel they have been neglected (just as those who voted to Leave the EU last June here in the UK), and Trump tapped into that sense of isolation.

He’s a multiple bankrupt billionaire businessman who is focused on one thing, and one thing only: himself (and his business opportunities of course). It’s unlikely to be America First! Trump First! Just like his branding franchises, will it soon be TRUMP USA?

What interest will he have in the common man and woman. Indeed one of his first Executive Orders, signed just hours after taking the oath of office, was to begin the process of rolling-back the Affordable Care Act. And that will directly affect the very constituency that expect him to perform miracles for them. And then any reference to climate change was removed from the White House website.

Trump has also surrounded himself with like-minded and very rich sycophants in his cabinet (if they are confirmed). Just like Pence, what influence will they actually have? The Tweet is mightier than the sword!

You know, Trump could found his own church (just like a number of fundamentalist preachers in the USA), and become the High Priest. After all, religion is faith, belief. Not fact. His invocation of God several times towards the end of his speech was, by the way, the depth of hypocrisy.

And as a Brit, it sickens me to see all our Conservative politicians wetting themselves over their future relationships with the Trump Administration. Also, deluding themselves that the UK will be ‘at the front of the queue’ when it comes to relations and trade deals with the USA (on American terms, of course). Trump is about to screw us. After all, Trump declared it would be America First! (after him, of course).

Then there’s the spectacle of UKIP former leader and self-proclaimed non-entity Nigel Farage almost orgasmic now that the bust of Winston S Churchill has been restored to its ‘rightful’ place in the Oval Office.

Don’t get me wrong. The UK needs to develop a solid relationship with whatever administration resides in the White House. But Trump has clearly signalled where his priorities lie. And that should give us all pause to consider what the next fours years hold in store, not only for the USA, but for all of us. A scary thought indeed.

 

Christmas is over . . . time to take the tree down

We took our Christmas decorations down on 6th January. That’s a tradition we have followed in our home as long as I can remember.

However, ‘taking down the tree’ has taken on a rather different aspect this year. We originally scheduled a local tree surgeon to fell a large tree in the back garden on 6 January. This is a tree that we planted almost 34 years ago. However, a job he started that morning overran by early afternoon; so the felling was re-scheduled for today.

Quite sad really. Philippa wasn’t quite a year old in 1983 when we decided to replace a ten foot weeping willow tree. But what to plant in its stead?

After some deliberation, we chose a West Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) because of its elegant white (peeling) bark, that would continue to give us some ‘colour’ in the garden, once it had dropped its leaves in autumn, even in the depths of winter. And it has.

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However, we never expected it to thrive quite as well as it has. In spite of being pruned at least twice in the past decade, it has continue to grow and is now really too big for the garden, even towering above the roof of our neighbour’s house to the rear of our property. And because of its extensive root system, it’s probably sucking more water from the surrounding lawn and flower beds than is good for them.

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This birch was just a young sapling, maybe six feet tall (and perhaps five years old) when I collected it from one of our local garden centers, Webbs of Wychbold, just a few miles south of Bromsgrove on the way to the nearest junction with the M5 motorway. In 1983, I was driving a Mark III Ford Escort, and I was able to fit the tree inside, with the pot in the passenger foot well, and the trunk and few branches stretching back over the seats towards the tailgate.

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Now it’s an impressive tree. In the summer, when in full leaf, it unfortunately shades about half the garden almost all day long, even as the sun moves round from east to west (we are south-facing, more or less, in the back garden).

Here’s a time-lapse video taken earlier today as the tree was felled. Sad to watch, but it’s amazing already how much more light is getting into the garden. We had a dusting of snow overnight, and the wind had picked up, so Chris Bishop, the tree surgeon, came to check early on what the state of the garden was. He told me that had there been too much snow he would have postponed the felling until another day. That wasn’t the case, and over the course of about three hours (including tea and lunch breaks), down came the tree.

Here’s the aftermath. You could say we now have a gardening ‘blank canvass’.

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We have yet to decide what will replace the birch. We must surely have a tree in the garden. High on our current list are an ornamental crab apple, maybe even an edible apple variety, or even a flowering cherry. Yes, it was sad to see our Himalayan ‘friend’ dismembered, limb by limb. Now, with more sunlight in the garden, we have many more opportunities to develop other planting options. Watch this space!

I’m a Kindle virgin . . .

594587Robert Blincoe. Not, I suggest, a familiar name. Somewhat unusual, as well.

However, in the early decades of the 19th century, the story of Robert Blincoe was told in an 1828 memoir by Lancashire-born writer John Brown, which appeared as weekly instalments in a radical working class newspaper, The Lion. It was re-published in a widely-disseminated pamphlet in 1832.

Born illegitimate in London in the early 1790s, never knowing his parents, he entered a workhouse at the age of four, but by his sixth birthday had been ‘apprenticed’ far away in the Peak District of Derbyshire to a brutal cotton spinner, along with dozens of other workhouse or work’us children. An image of his twisted and deformed body appears on the cover of the 1832 pamphlet.

They toiled under the most appalling conditions, up to 18 hours a day, subsisting on the most meagre of meals, going to bed each night tired, cold and hungry. Working among the dusty and dangerous spinning mules, these children were subjected to savage beatings, and risked life and limb crawling among the machinery. It’s no surprise that many of these children did not survive beyond their teen years, if that long.

Robert Blincoe was different. Not only did he survive, but prospered, married Martha Simpson, and had three children, and the youngest, Robert Blincoe, Jr, graduated from Queen’s College, Cambridge University, and became a celebrated Anglican preacher in London. His middle child, Martha, married into the gentry, and it was in her house in Macclesfield, Cheshire that Robert Blincoe, Sr. died in 1860, just a year after his wife.

It took decades for the law to be enacted that prohibited the employment of children in factories, or even reduced the hours they (and adults) were permitted to work.

blincoeBlincoe’s story is both appalling and inspiring, and I’ve just finished reading an account of his life and times in a 2005 book by historian John Waller of Michigan State University. Waller suggests that celebrated novelist Charles Dickens based the character of Oliver Twist (in his second novel, published in 1837) on Robert Blincoe. Perhaps, or not maybe. In an interesting article published in The Guardian in 2005, Blincoe’s great-great-great grandson Nicholas Blincoe examines the case for this proposition. Dickens must have been aware of Blincoe’s story. He was a reporter in parliament, and the political campaign to reform working practices in mills and factories was current during this period of Dickens’s career.

dickensSo what has all this to do with Amazon Kindle? Well, Blincoe’s story and the possible Dickens connection has inspired me, given me the challenge even, to work my way through his 15 novels¹, most of which were originally published as weekly instalments in one publication or another.

So yesterday, I downloaded David Copperfield on to my wife’s Kindle (a gift from Hannah and Michael in 2015). This is the first time I have used a Kindle, and it takes a little getting used to. I much prefer the feel (and smell) of a book. But the Kindle is very convenient, I must admit.

David Copperfield was, apparently, Dickens’s favourite novel, but I’ve never read it. I am familiar with many of the novels and their campaigning themes, mainly through TV or films. However, it was quite common when I was in high school in the 1960s to have one of Dickens’s novel as the set text in the English Literature syllabus. Great Expectations appeared on the list quite a few times.

Among the best film and TV adaptations of Dickens’s work must surely figure the 1951 film Scrooge (starring Alastair Sim), based on A Christmas Carol (a short story published in 1843), and A Tale of Two Cities (1958) with Dirk Bogarde starring as Sydney Carton. One recent TV adaptation of Great Expectations (first broadcast in December 2011), starred Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, a slightly controversial casting but, in my opinion, an inspired one. Then from 26 December 2015, the BBC broadcast an innovative 20 episode series, Dickensian, based on the characters in his novels, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Anyway, I’ve set myself my own Dickensian challenge for 2017. Wish me luck!

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¹The novels (and other works) of Charles Dickens:
The Pickwick Papers – 1836
Oliver Twist – 1837
Nicholas Nickleby – 1838
The Old Curiosity Shop – 1840
Barnaby Rudge – 1841
Martin Chuzzlewit – 1843
Dombey and Son – 1846
David Copperfield – 1849
Bleak House – 1852
Hard Times – 1854
Little Dorrit – 1855
A Tale of Two Cities – 1859
Great Expectations – 1860
Our Mutual Friend – 1864
The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1870

 

 

 

No longer screaming like a badger . . . thank goodness

I can hardly believe it. Today is exactly one year since I slipped on black ice and broke my leg. So how did things pan out over the subsequent 12 months?

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Enjoying a walk at nearby Hanbury Hall on my birthday in mid-November 2016, sans walking stick!

It all happened in the blink of an eye,  at 08:35 on Friday 8 January, and was taken to Redditch’s Alexandria Hospital, where I received excellent attention and treatment (in contrast apparently to this year in Worcestershire hospitals). Late on the following night, I had an operation to repair the displaced fracture in my right fibula, and strengthen the ankle. I was allowed home late on the following Monday afternoon.

Over the course of the next three months I made three more outpatient visits to the Alex, and had several physiotherapy sessions at the local  Princess of Wales community hospital here in Bromsgrove.

For a couple of months I was not allowed to put any weight on my leg whatsoever, and I spent all that time downstairs, sleeping on the sofa. Fortunately we have a downstairs toilet and washroom, and our kitchen was close by as well. I got around using a walking or Zimmer frame.

Once my third cast was removed and replaced with a support boot, I was able to get around using crutches, and started to get out and about on a short walk each day. Once the boot came off, at the end of March, I was given the all clear to drive once again. I had expected to be given some sort of certificate. All the surgeon said was that if felt confident and able to brake the car in an emergency (since that would use my damaged leg), then I could get behind the wheel again.

Freedom! And also to start walking more positively using a walking stick, which I used for the next eight months. Since mid-November, more or less, I have been stick-less, although I have occasionally resorted to my stick when I thought conditions outside might be a little precarious. Another fall is the last thing on my agenda!

It will still take time for my leg to heal ‘completely’. Actually I doubt it will ever get back to normal. Although it doesn’t swell as if did a few months back after every walk, it has felt quite heavy and uncomfortable; not really painful, but not entirely pain free. When I was having physiotherapy sessions last March I mentioned to my therapist that the scar tissue was itching quite fiercely, and persistently, almost like an allergic reaction. The surgeon had warned me that, in a minority of cases, there was sometimes an allergic reaction to the bone plate and screws and if it persisted, then the plate would have to be removed in another operation. But not for at least two years when the bones would be much stronger and healed. I began to fear that would also be my fate. The physiotherapist advised me to take some antihistamine tablets (for hay fever), so I consulted my local pharmacist. The tablets did the job, and quickly. Itching subsided. But there was a down side, which made me stop taking the tablets.

Within an hour of taking a tablet I fell into a deep depression which lasted about 24 hours. Talk about black dog. So I quickly decided to give those pills the heave-ho.

Anyway, one year on, I feel really quite optimistic about the progress made. If you have read my blog during 2016, you will have seen that I have not been constrained from travelling widely, to Germany, Italy (twice), France, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Australia as part of my genebanks consultancy, as well as the USA for our annual vacation with Hannah and family.

Now I’d also like to take this opportunity of thanking all those friends and colleagues who have followed my progress and wished me well. Much appreciated.

 

Please don’t mock The Donald – he’s such a sensitive boy

Just 18 days. It’s hard to imagine. In a little over two weeks someone who has demonstrated, by his own actions, that he is emotionally unstable and intellectually unfit will be sworn in as the 45th POTUS. And this following a general election that he won by a landslide . . . loss of almost 3 million votes.

I can’t remember anyone being elected to high office in recent decades who is as thin-skinned as President-elect Donald Trump who takes offence at any and all unfavourable commentaries as personal attacks.

I hope it intensifies, as it inevitably must.

The problem (or saving grace for the rest of us) is that The Donald is his own caricature: the hair, the hand gestures, the curl of the lip, the snarl. His inability to put more than a few coherent words together. Certainly I couldn’t say that I’ve ever heard him give a speech, as such. PEOTUS is not one of the 21st century’s orators. He’s obviously more comfortable on Twitter.

He’s not an attractive politician—the term ‘politician’ is a misrepresentation. As if the term ‘businessman’ better describes him, given what appears to have been a rather chequered life in business.

He’s not an attractive human being. Period.

I came across a link earlier to an article that one of my friends and former IRRI colleagues Ken McNally had posted on his Facebook page. A story on the Politicususa website reported an interview with incoming White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, Sean Spicer, who implored the American people not to mock Donald Trump.

There’s more of that to come, particularly from the political cartoonists, who are already having a Trump field day. You only have to type ‘Trump cartoons‘ in Google to find this wealth of criticism and ridicule that The Donald and his cohorts must be finding rather uncomfortable right now. Just look at what the cartoonists did to Richard Nixon before and after the Watergate scandal was revealed, as I blogged about in 2013.

And it doesn’t take much to ridicule The Donald. Just listen to the Dalai Lama of all people putting in his two cents worth.

 

Trump is a typical bully – ever ready to attack his so-called ‘enemies’. But he doesn’t like it when the tables are turned.

Does Trump have small fingers? He was particularly sensitive about this during the election campaign. Small or big fingers, it doesn’t really matter when that finger is on the nuclear button. That’s not something to laugh about.

Post-truth is the new kid on the block . . .

glass-of-water1 January 2017. The dawn of a New Year. Will 2017 be a year full of promise? Maybe. Surely it can’t be any worse than 2016. I don’t make New Year resolutions; never have. Seems like a pointless exercise to me. Talking of exercise, though, I could probably do to lose a few pounds after the Christmas ‘excesses’.

I count myself an optimist. Just my nature. My glass is almost always half full.

However, things might really start to go pear-shaped on 20 January when a narcissistic, bullying, mendacious misogynist takes the oath of office to become the 45th POTUS. Yes, The Donald looks set to turn things upside down, and maybe run the USA as an extension of his ‘(shaky) business empire’. A conflict of interest? Not according to his transition team.

Just last night, Trump held a party at his Florida resort. According to an article in The Guardian today: The party, for which invitations cost up to $575, has attracted criticism regarding potential conflicts of interest and the alleged selling of access to the president-elect and his family. 

‘The transition is not concerned about the appearance of a conflict,’ said spokeswoman Hope Hicks in a call with reporters on Friday. ‘This is an annual celebratory event at the private club, like others that have continued to occur since the election. 

‘Additionally, the president cannot and does not have a conflict.’

Very worrying, but surely we have seen this coming for many months. And it looks like policy (if The Donald actually has any) and diplomacy could be formulated or conducted through Twitter. We’ll probably have to become accustomed to comments or gut reactions on Twitter by the POTUS at 2 am. Unless someone confiscates his smartphone.

Is the use of a personal smartphone by the POTUS the same as a former Secretary of State using a personal email server, I wonder?

The US general election and the EU referendum in the UK highlighted an increasing discounting by politicians of factual detail and the opinions of experts. Former Justice Secretary Michael Gove (MiGo) claimed during the referendum campaign that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts‘. So, during the campaign, and particularly on the GOP side in the US election, there was an appeal to emotions rather than fact-based evidence. Yes, we entered the post-truth¹ age in 2016.

I came across this interesting quote by American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse TysonAny time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on. That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion.

Among the many scientific concerns I have about The Donald’s agenda are his perspectives on climate change. He comes across be arch-denier in chief. Now, I have been speaking and publishing about climate change and its impacts on agriculture since 1990. I am firmly in the camp of the thousands of experts who have asserted the certainty of man-made climate change: based on solid data collected and analysed over decades. As deGrasse Tyson also commented: The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

It looks like Trump and his prospective Cabinet will be the neo-Luddites of 2017.

So, although I look forward to 2017, my natural optimism is tempered however, with some caution. But I am optimistic that, sooner rather than later, The Donald is likely to fall flat on his face. He won’t be able to help himself. After all, a ‘leopard can’t change his spots’.

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¹ Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

  • ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’
  • ‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’