Cook

The whole phenomenon of television cookery is a little baffling; the one thing that isn’t transmitte

Too many cooks spoil the broth; unless it is cook broth.

Poor Gordon Ramsay: His super enlarged face looms from billboards all over town. His image dwarfs him - anyone meeting him from now on cannot help but be subconsciously disappointed that his head isn’t six feet wide. "He seems so small in real life", they’ll say.

Before the billboards impinged upon my eyes I’d only been dimly aware of Gordon Ramsay. He is a celebrity TV chef I believe, famous for swearing. A swearing cook; whatever next? The spitting cook? The shitting cook? Who’d want a meal that required swearing in it’s preparation? I’d like some love in my dinner not fuck.

The whole phenomenon of television cookery is a little baffling; the one thing that isn’t transmitted by TV is taste. A celebrity TV juggler would make sense; you could enjoy the juggling via TV almost as much as you would live - but food?

This is the era of televised cookery, glossy cookbooks - and endless ready meals. In a sense the TV chefs cook so we don’t have to.

I suggest a cookery show called “Unfamiliar Kitchen” in which contestants have a very short time to prepare a meal despite not knowing the whereabouts of any utensils or ingredients and being constantly pestered by the host : "Well what are you going to cook? When will it be ready?" etcetera.

Chefs always use 'the finest ingredients'. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t a great chef be able to create a decent meal out of mediocre ingredients? Where do chefs get off anyway taking the credit for food; they didn’t make it after all - they only heated it up, chopped it and slapped it on a plate. Food behaves according to the simple equation I have devised below:

Food + Food = Food

What a chef creates on a plate is a collage, not art. Then again, writers rarely invent words, and painters seldom manufacture paint, so I’m wrong. Sorry.

The billboard adverts are for Gordon’s gin, and his name’s Gordon. How did they think that one up? Presumably it wasn’t Mr Ramsay that approached the gin makers, but the other way round. Will they pursue the idea and use other famous Gordons? Gordon Brown perhaps - show him sitting in Number 10 glugging from a bottle with the strap line "Why not? It worked for Churchill!".

What products could the other celebrity chefs entwine themselves with? Jamie Oliver could promote olive oil; Antony Worrall Thompson holidays on Merseyside; Gary Rhodes, Rhodesia; Delia Smith, ironmongery.

There are several different versions of the Gordon’s advert - the first I saw bore the strap line "the most offensive word in the English language is AVERAGE". Firstly, it isn’t. Secondly it is offensive to proclaim to the general public that the word average is offensive - the public about whom one can say with certainty it is overall average.

The next one I saw said "I choose my gin far more carefully than I choose my WORDS" which devalues the other adverts as well as itself. If you don’t choose your words with care why should we listen to you? The ad seems to imply Mr Ramsay himself has said this. I’ll wager he didn’t; in which case it is partially true in that in this case he didn’t choose his words at all. Did he choose his gin? Or did it choose him?

There’s another poster showing Marco Pierre White scowling with some sort of jelly in the foreground. The caption reads "To get to heaven you must go through hell" which is a novel revision of thousands of years of theological thought - in one sentence. Previously hell has been seen as a final destination - rot in hell we say - rather than a staging post on the way somewhere else. Presumably the advert wants to imply that to reach the heavenly jelly one must pass the hellish scowls of Monsieur White - but it doesn’t: the jelly is in the foreground so the advert actually implies that one must pass through the hell of jelly to reach the heaven of Monsieur White’s face.

I often cook myself - accidents happen when chopping onions at speed. I never use recipe books; I always cook the same thing: what’s left.

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.