Drink Like A Dictator Night!

Ten whiskeys. Five dictators. Three US Presidents. Two African Despots. Multiple Koreans called Kim.

It’s back, after almost a decade on the 2nd of May in Budapest! It’s the long-awaited return of Drink Like A Dictator Night!

For one night only, you too can learn how to drink like a dictator. Discover the Scotches that fuelled Saddam and the Bourbons that built democracy.

During this light-hearted, heavy-drinking evening of political satire and commentary, you’ll discover which whiskey is the choice of most totalitarian leaders, which dictator created his own whiskey to promote the idea that he was king of a far-off nation, who accompanied their dram with some hippo sushi, and what became of the single malt forgotten by Boris Yeltsin.

Advance booking required. See FB event page here: https://lnkd.in/eM-NcmRC

#budapest #whisky #whiskey #bourbon #dictatorship

Buon Compleanno, Guglielmo Shakespeare

On this, his 459th birthday, I will dedicate a little time to re-reading some favourite sonnets – originally a Petrarchan form of poetry – by the Bard. I might even pass time with that overlooked early masterpiece Venus and Adonis, or else the now contentious Taming of the Shrew.

I might rewatch the excellent documentary series Shakespeare in Italy, from the BBC in 2012, featuring Francesco de Mosta, although it is alas not currently available on the iPlayer.

Or there’s always Nothing Like The Sun, Anthony Burgess’s tour-de-force novel of Shakespeare’s lovelife, which heavily features a Dark Lady who, for once, isn’t Italian. Burgess is somewhat of an outlier when it comes to Shakespeare. Despite having spent much of his own life in Italy, and married to an Italian, he tends to play down Shakespeare’s Italian connections.

Where most researchers and novelists have followed AL Rowse and identified the Dark Lady as Emilia Lanier, a woman descended from the Italian Bassano family, Burgess presents her as an unlikely Malayan in Elizabethan London.

This has always been my favourite of the covers.

Likewise, where many scholars accept that it is possible, though unlikely, that Shakespeare could have travelled abroad to Italy before his theatrical fame, Burgess elsewhere fictionalised a Shakespeare travelling to Spain to meet Cervantes at the height of both men’s fame. (He also wrote a short story where Shakespeare received literal inspiration for his plays from time travellers, so as a theorist of Shakespeare he was very much an outlier really!)

Despite Burgess, there is no doubt that Italy loomed large as a source of inspiration for Shakespeare. From the sonnets of Petrarch, to the sources of plays like Othello or Measure for Measure in works by Italian authors such as Ariosto, to the imagined Italy of his settings in Venice, Verona, Milan and elsewhere, to the Roman plays, Shakespeare’s work returns again and again to an Italy of the mind and soul.

I recently got the chance to revisit Stratford-on-Avon, and attend a performance of the recent RSC production of Julius Caesar, considered by many to be the best of Shakespeare’s Roman plays.

It was as magical and eclectic as one might expect from the RSC’s troupe. The lethal geopolitics of the late Republic and early Empire are distilled by the Bard into an almost claustrophobic clash of private loyalties and public interests.

I also went to visit Shakespeare’s schoolhouse, which is amazingly still in use as a school today, and was treated to a Latin lesson from his schoolmaster, an entertaining chap who may possibly have been an actor too. For it was of course in Warwickshire and not Tuscany that Shakespeare was first introduced to Italy and the literature of Latin and – by extension – Italian.

The more one reads Shakespeare, the more the influence of Italy, Romans and Italians becomes evident. I haven’t even mentioned his likely friendship with the English-born Italian John Florio, author of the first English-Italian dictionary, and a man who contributed almost as many words to English as Will himself.

Italy has no shortage of writers to be proud of, and no need to lay a claim to England’s finest. Nevertheless, Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare without Italy.

Buon Compleanno, Guglielmo.

Doing a Degree in How the World Works

It’s that time of the year when the students are facing their exam periods. I used to see quite a few meltdowns each year from anxious kids inhabiting a grade borderline. The pressure seems so vast for some of them.

So much seems to ride on their results. Will they outcompete their peers sufficiently to nab a good job? Where even are there any jobs anymore? AI seems to be devouring entire sectors of human labour voraciously. Copyrighting, graphic design, news reporting, even creative writing. Even the student’s own essays. All their future labour is already being replaced before they even got there.

Most of the answers out there tend to say STEM. Go into science or tech. That’s where the last stand of human labour takes place. That’s where there’s still a wage, still some future perhaps.

As a result, the humanities are allegedly dying. Literature and History now look as threatened as Modern Languages did a half-generation ago. Market forces are eroding Literature enrollments so much that entire departments are closing en masse. It doesn’t currently look like Literature is going to have a happy ending.

I had a ringside seat in academia for some of the death throes of Modern Languages as a discipline. As the world, particularly the online bit of it, converges on Globish as its chosen lingua franca, there will always be a need for TEFL and TESOL, though increasingly even pedagogy will be achieved in part online and learning from machines.

But to an entire generation in Britain and Ireland, it suddenly seemed kinda pointless to study French, or German, or Spanish, or Italian, never mind Russian, or Chinese, or Arabic. Entire departments dissolved overnight. The discipline is a fraction of its former size now in just a few years and the condition may be close to terminal.

And now it seems like English Lit is dying too, or at least, so the media is scaremongering. For full disclosure, I’m happy to admit I have an English Lit degree. In fact, I’ve got two (a BA (Hons) and a PhD, both from Trinity College Dublin; I never bothered doing a Master’s.)

When I was doing my second, in what we might politely refer to as early middle age, I was frogmarched to a fascinating talk given to doctoral students by former doctoral graduates of English. We were told that only one in ten of us would end up permanently employed in academia, such was the pressure of the number of graduates versus the number of already threatened positions worldwide. Such jobs as did seem to be available were already primarily in China.

We got given inspirational little mini-lectures from people working in publishing, in parliament, in accountancy and law, and entrepreneurs of all kinds. The message was clear: this is the future most of you should expect.

Then they told me something which has haunted me since, primarily because they excluded me from it on the grounds of my more advanced age. They said: the demands of the world are now constantly changing. Most of you will have about ten jobs in your career, where previous generations might have had merely one or two, the ‘job for life’ of lore. And of those ten jobs, they added, six haven’t yet been invented.

Of course, it’s true, or at least it’s a truism of sorts. Tech is accelerating sufficiently as to require entire squadrons of people, from programmers to imagineers, that didn’t exist a generation ago, and will continue to do so. Hence the allegedly safe haven of STEM.

University Careers Advisor: Six out of ten of your future jobs haven’t been invented yet, yay!

Digital Careers Advice Avatar ten years from now: The AI overlords are hiring radiation sludge technicians for the prohibited zone. It’s that or we’re uploading you to the cloud to save the cost of feeding you. Which do you prefer?

I was lucky enough to be the one in ten who got a career in academia, though I’m currently out of it. But it did get me thinking about the need to embed some form of adaptability and resilience into student curricula at all levels, from primary school to post-doc. (I’ve spoken about this extensively before.) Because those are the only attributes that will truly allow young people to future-proof themselves for the demands of their adult lives.

And this is where I think studying the literature of the past can come in useful. English Literature is a degree which teaches critical thinking, use of language, aesthetic appreciation and a range of other comprehensive techniques. But it also frames the world as stories. As Yuval Noah Harari has pointed out, the human superpower, the ability which shot us past predator species and all other creatures to dominate this planet, was and remains our collective abilities to tell and share stories. And English Lit graduates learn how those stories work, which is another way of saying how the world works.

So I have two English Lit degrees. I can’t exactly say that they always directly impacted on all the jobs I’ve had. I have been among other things a roulette croupier, a barman in a lesbian pub, the Olympics correspondent for the Morning Star newspaper, a wine bar sommelier, a roofer, a film critic, maître d’ of a Creole restaurant, a playwright, and a member of the Guinness quality control taste panel at St James’s Gate brewery.

Most of those experiences didn’t make it to my formal LinkedIn CV. Pretty much all the things that did make it – primarily my careers in journalism and academia – are very clearly connected to my initial course of study.

But whether I was serving ales to Dublin’s lesbian community, reporting on an international soccer match, describing that night’s special in the restaurant, or assessing an exotic variant of Guinness, I think my undergrad study of literature and language always served me well.

The literature I studied taught me lessons of adaptability and resilience. I can’t think of another degree that might have prepared me better for life. This world is made of stories and I was privileged to spend some years learning how those stories work.

The OnlyFans Millionaire Story Doesn’t Add Up

A staple tabloid story in recent times has been the Only Fans rags to riches yarn, wherein our plucky heroine, often a former cubicle drone or till girl at the supermarket, packs in her life of drudgery for the freedom of posting saucy pics on Only Fans, and instantly reaps lottery cheque money.

However, these almost weekly tales of smut instamillionaires simply don’t add up, despite the ubiquitous pics of lasses in their smalls posing in mcmansions or draped over luxury cars. In fact, the OnlyFans millionaire story is one of the great alternative histories of our times. Or to put it another words, more fake news.

OnlyFans, like most things in the attention economy, functions on a hockey stick graph. A very small number of users make nearly all the money, in other words.

This latest yarn may be a tad more honest than most, claiming to be in the top 2% of earners on the site (as do they all) but only stating an income of approx £1,000 a week, far below the usual footballer salaries claimed by her peers. Interestingly, her testimony matches the analysis done by TSNFA as we can see on the graph.

If this one is remotely correct, we can assume that almost no one other than established porn stars or former Hollywood people are making six figures annually. There have been a few macroeconomics analyses of OnlyFans which seem to concur with this. Here’s the latest.

Which suggests in turn that most of those cubicle-to-camgirls are bringing in a few hundred a week at most, but are prepared to amplify their income a hundredfold if it gets them a mention in the redtops, which they hope in turn might bring in a few more punters. In fact, if TSNFA’s version of the OnlyFans hockey graph is correct (above) then about 95% of OnlyFans users are making less than $1,000 a month.

Also, there’s likely a certain amount of ego protection in this too. If you strip for cameras, you’d like to think that it was worth more than the market may necessarily provide. But you can salve that ego by ‘faking it till you make it’, claiming the money you want to be making in the hope that somehow the headlines make it true. This is somewhere between cosmic wishing and casting spells in terms of career strategy, but doesn’t make it any less prevalent.

All in, I’m unconvinced about the morality of this. It’s just page three without payment. And it’s selling a dream of financial freedom which pretty much doesn’t exist. Journalists ought to be doing their due diligence and demanding to see bank statements before publishing such claims.

Do You Drink like a Dictator?

In addition to being dreadful human beings, one of the most notable facts about dictators is that they have very poor taste in whiskey. By contrast, democratic leaders tend to have excellent taste in whiskey. In fact, this might be the single best test for checking if your political leader is in fact a dictator or not.

If you want to find out more about how to apply the Clarke Whiskey Test to your political leader, or if you simply would like to know what mediocre whiskey you should drink while you attempt to seize totalitarian power, you should definitely attend my forthcoming ‘Drink Like A Dictator’ whiskey tasting in Budapest next month.

This is based on the (in)famous tasting I hosted for the Irish Whiskey Society in Dublin some nine years ago, now expanded and updated to account for the explosion of dictatorships in recent years.

For one night only, in Budapest on the 2nd of May, you too can learn to drink like a dictator (and perhaps also like a leading hero of democracy if you prefer.)

Venue and Booking:
InGame Gamer Bar
Klauzál utca 26-28, Erzsébetváros, Hungary
Tel: +36 70 612 7673
Booking information: khbdugo@gmail.com

A journalist and academic, Dr Jim Clarke was one of the originating co-founders of the Irish Whiskey Society, and he wrote the tasting notes for all of their earliest bottlings. He has also written about whiskey for publications including Malt Advocate and the Irish Whiskey Magazine, and debated the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on the origins of whiskey on national radio (he won – whiskey is originally Irish).

He was trained in sensory perception by Diageo and spent three and a half years serving on the Guinness Taste Panel at St James’ Gate in Dublin. He has also worked as a whiskey sommelier in a number of Dublin pubs. He has hosted whiskey tastings for over fourteen years in Ireland and Britain, presenting tastings of Irish whiskey, Islay scotch, American bourbon and Canadian whiskey.

In 2014, he hosted one of the Irish Whiskey Society’s most infamous tastings, ‘How to Drink like a Dictator’, which became so notorious it has never been repeated – until now.

How to hack religion

Easter Sunday is one of the two days a year when I engage in Pascal’s wager. This is because attending Christian service twice a year (the other date is Christmas) is, in some denominations, the minimal requirement for being considered a Christian.

This got me thinking whether it was possible to hack religion more broadly. What, in other words, are the minimal requirements to be considered a legitimate member of other world religions?

Firstly, in order to address the immediate objections of the devout, of course such an approach is not really ‘in good faith’ as it were. Furthermore, obviously certain contradictions immediately arise for anyone claiming to be an adherent of more than one faith-based belief system. After all they don’t agree with one another!

But one may equally argue that Pascal’s wager itself is not proposed in good faith either. And in any case, if we assume, as most religious people do, the existence of one or more deities, then one must also presume that the pertinent god or gods are entirely aware of the inherent dishonesty of such an approach (though this is not necessarily a disqualifying factor in some faiths.)

One bon mot often offered by atheists and occasionally agnostics to the religious is the sarcastic agreement that they concur with the devotee that all bar one god does not exist. Therefore their disagreement relates solely to that one final deity and the related belief system. It’s witty because it highlights the revelatory nature of religious knowledge and belief, the illogical component that this rather than that or indeed any other faith is solely correct.

But what if we were to jettison such narrow and unecumenical thinking? In other words, if we were to attempt to maximise our Pascal’s wager, how might we go about it? As mentioned above, two attendances at Church per year suffices to be Christian in some quarters. This is not an onerous requirement really. But what about other religions?

Islam is an interesting case. Generally, in practice, multiple daily prayers and weekly attendance at the mosque is expected. However, doctrinally, simply submitting to Allah is sufficient to be considered Muslim. Even better, that submission need not even be made in good faith, so long as the behaviour expected of good Muslims is also observed. Hence, it is possible to simply profess the shahada, the statement of belief in Allah, in order to become Muslim.

Buddhism likewise can be adhered to without major commitment of time or other resources. There are, as might be expected in a religion with such a wide range of variants, an equally wide range of expectations of Buddhists. To some, simply being alive makes one a Buddhist already. To others, seeking refuge in the ‘three jewels’, the triratna, that is the Buddha, the dharma (doctrine, or teaching), and the sangha (the monastic order, or community), is all that is needed. In practice, this involves turning to the Buddha, Buddhist teachings, and Buddhist community for guidance. This is a little more commitment than the monotheisms require, but again, arguably not overly onerous.

Hinduism, as a variegated collection of interlinked polytheist beliefs, is also a little difficult to pin down in terms of minimal requirements. However, in many cases, the eternal duty, or Sanata Dharma, is all that need be adhered to. This is the requirement to avoid malevolence to all living creatures, and treat them instead with compassion, charity and generosity. Quite a high bar, behaviour-wise, but doctrinally quite easy to accept.

Judaism is a much trickier affair. Generally, one must be born Jewish to be considered Jewish (and the nature of proving that descent is not always straightforward – matrilineal descent from a Jewish mother is generally required.) For others, a process of conversion is necessary, and this process – known as giyur – is far from easy. Judaism as a belief takes a range of forms, from Orthodoxy to Reform, and not all accept conversion. Furthermore, conversion even where possible is a protracted process generally undergone under rabbinical guidance, and even when successful then requires that the convert, among other requirements, adheres to all 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah.

I’ve yet to explore properly the requirements of other religions, such as Sikhism, Baha’i, Jainism, Shinto or any of the traditional African or Chinese faiths and animisms. I fully expect that again, they would require a process of commitment to behaving well towards others, the requirement to engage with the religious community, and perhaps a conversion process also.

But it does seem to me possible in principle at least to hack religion in a manner than expands Pascal’s Wager outward, and in the spirit of the original wager if not of the religions themselves.

I’m not sure if this means that the world’s religious faiths are a little more accommodating than generally understood, or if both Pascal and I are much more cynical than the world needs people to be. Perhaps both. In any case, a happy Easter, Ramadan, Passover or simply Sunday to people of all religions, one religion, or none.