Perfect arse

Life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars St

Dear readers, allow me to announce that I have actually finished a short story. After weeks of nonsense, distractions, train trips and psychotic breaks I really, truly did manage to cobble together enough minutes to put one word after another for 22 of your earth pages and there it is – probably ugly and deeply flawed, but a story nonetheless.

In many ways, in fact, quite a dandy fortnight has just passed. I now have so much work to do that I can no longer consider considering any of it and have passed into a state of Zen-like calm - unless I’m running on caffeine, in which case, all my twitches and ticks kick in and I may also weep without noticing which adversely affects my hydration. (And it may be significant that the words “psychotic break” immediately suggest a delightful type of holiday, rather than something mentally catastrophic.)

Be that as it may, life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars Storm trooper mask showed me his bottom. He had mentioned it was exceptional and, in response to what may have been my mildly quizzical expression, took it upon himself to prove that indeed it was – pert, witty, unblemished, debonair and hairless – all one could ask of an arse. So a pleasant 68 seconds there and a chance to reflect on the fact that meeting the public is always enriching.

More comedy last week – had a grand time testing out new material for the Edinburgh Fringe show in August – and enjoyed again the relatively new Wicked Wenches tradition of taking tea backstage at The Stand in Edinburgh. Once a month, comics and staff gather together around a table furnished with an embroidered cloth, china, varieties of tea, home-made and hypoallergenic cakes, dainties and wildflowers. Every now and then someone leaves to go onstage and talk about genitals, dysfunction, relationships, hellmouths and so forth – before returning to nibble a fairy cake or straighten a doily. A great idea there from Julia Cloughley-Sousa and I cannot emphasise enough how delightful it is to experience a few hours of civilisation in one’s workplace. I would heartily recommend that you try your own variation on the theme – perhaps with a tasteful display of quality buttocks added on public holidays. Or whatever works for you.

My final meetings with this year’s students at Warwick University have also now passed. And what do you say to young people who are trotting (or just ambling, in some cases) off in hopes of becoming professional writers ? Obviously, a part of you does want to simply scream, “DEAR GOD NO ! TURN BACK NOW ! BECOME A POLE DANCER ! SELL YOUR ORGANS ! ANYTHING ! IT’S HIDEOUS ! NO ONE WILL RESPECT YOU FOR IT – STRANGERS WON’T EVEN BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU TELL THEM WHAT YOU DO ! AND WORKING FOR THE THEATRE, OR TV, OR FILM…? THAT’S LIKE RIPPING YOUR OWN HEART OUT, PARING IT INTO FLAKES WITH A HOT CHISEL AND THEN THROWING THE RESULTANT MESS DOWN A WELL. YOU’LL END UP BOSS-EYED, TWISTED, TICKING, SURROUNDED BY PALS YOU MADE UP EARLIER, SHATTERED RELATIONSHIPS AND CRUDE DRAWINGS OF THINGS YOU’D LIKE TO DO WHEN THE NURSES REMOVE YOUR RESTRAINTS.

But instead you smile, perhaps mention eating more fruit, self-maintenance, plans, hope – because the only thing worse than doing the thing you really love would be not doing it. And when it’s good it really is about as good as it gets – making dreams and wonders – not the worst job in the world.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.