Wednesday, September 24, 2008

today : I get a feeling of deja vu

Members of Congress. We are minutes away from disaster. We are facing a global crisis that will be the main battle of the 21st Century. If you don't do what we propose, then American life as we know it could be finished within the hour. Doomsday is upon us. Therefore we MUST take immediate action. Yeah, I know you want to read the fine print but there's no time. Just say the word 'Yea' into this microphone and sign on the dotted line. What? There are people saying that our plan isn't very well thought out.? You need more time? You want to see the evidence? Nonsense! It is the only plan for victory over the fear that strikes to the very heart of the American Dream. Just sign here and then you'll be a hero. You will save the world from a pernicious global threat and everything will be fine...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

today : I am mildly disappointed

I don't like to say it, but when the Hadron collider was turned on and then nothing happened, well, part of me was disappointed. It wasn't that I wanted the earth to be swallowed into a black hole, but part of me didn't really mind. The same happened when Lehman Bros disappeared into its own black hole of bad mortgage debt. I kind of wanted the entire banking system to go into meltdown. I was apprehensive, waiting for the dominoes to start falling. And then I was mildly disappointed when they stayed upright.

I really really don't want anyone to suffer at all. But just a small part of me is so seduced by the society of the spectacle, that it just wants more and more spectacle. And better spectacle. When an earthquake happens, I want to see it happening, when the Tsunami happened it was mildly frustrating that it took several days for the cameras to arrive.

Two things have ramped it all up. Firstly there were the green night vision pictures of Baghdad being bombed in the first gulf war. It was war, and it was live. Right
there on my TV screen.

Then there was, of course, September 11th 2001. As a spectacle it was stunning. The size and awfulness of the events unfolding on our TV screens trumped everything that had gone before, and set the bar for the flaneurs in us all.

So to find that the world financial system has been temporarily reprieved has left me a little disappointed. Who wants an economics expert explaining short trading and toxic leveraged instruments when you can have falling buildings, explosions and the earth disappearing into a black hole like a tissue into a vacuum cleaner?

Monday, September 15, 2008

today : Why the Republican colour is red

Here are the fundamental lies at the heart of monetarist freemarket economics. The government wants no taxes, apart from when they want to spend them on a war. The government believes in small government - hands off business - unless it means subsidising businesses such as defence contractors, or oil conglomerates or car-makers, or any business that might lose votes if it closes. The same goes with regulation and free-trade. The freemarketeers want totally open borders, apart from when it suits them to raise tariffs in order to protect profits.

In the 1980s Reaganomicists lined up to diss Russia as 'evil' At the heart of Communist economics is nationalisation of capital. In fact, the term 'left wing' in the USA and even much of Europe is a term of abuse.

But how can we describe the bailing out of investment banks and using the public funds to underpin mortgage companies? Surely the market can sort these things out? After all, we have been told endlessly for the past 30 years that the market is king and should be left alone.

Nationalisation: isn't that one of the basic tenets of communism?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Today : I was a teenage grammar fascist

I am not a grammar fascist, I am all for the evolutionary development of language and all that. But that's not wholly true. Even though I hate language mavens and grammar fascists and would happily burn every book Lynn Truss has ever written there is a kind of clash between heart and head going on inside my very being. I can't help it, it's a kind of instinct. Even today I tutted towards the radio when the presenter used the word mute instead of moot (it's something that I've noticed recently, from people roughly under the age of 30. They don't know which to choose). Fact is that in spite of my intellectual take on the slippery, ever-changing dynamics of language, from a very young age it's got under my skin when people get it wrong.

The first time I can really remember trying to correct someone was when I was in middle school. Perhaps 11 or 12. Johno Mallen was the kinda cool kid that everyone hung around. He was striker in the football team, had older brothers with motorcycles and all that. Once, in a school football match I skinned four players on the right wing, did a Cruyff turn and put in a perfect cross for Johno to head in on the run. It was a perfect goal. So perfect, in fact, that the opposing team's coach, who was reffing, disallowed it for some made up reason. This made me so angry that I scored five more goals, fuelled solely by revenge.

Johno was always coming to school armed with pulpy, well-thumbed paperbacks full of sex and violence, and new swear words that he learned from his older brothers. One day he arrived with an insulting simile: 'You're like my urinate.' All day he went around saying to it to anyone who deserved a friendly chiding. 'Give me back my pencil, you div, you're like my urinate.'

And all day I remember thinking to myself. That is just wrong.! You cannot use the infinitive, Johno. Urine is the thing, urinate is the thing you do. You cannot use a simile that compares someone to a verb.

It didn't work of course. Thankfully Johno learnt another 'cool' insult from his older brothers and the phrase fell rapidly into disuse.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stepping up The Ladder

On the evidence of his convention speech, John McCain looks like a fairly decent guy. I can deal with a fiscal conservative whose social policies are fairly libertarian. I can also deal with someone who has a history of annoying his own party by not toeing the line. So far, so good.

But when dealing with polticians I am always acutely sensitive to hypocrisy. What tends to happen with even the most idealistic public servants is that they compromise. Sometimes this is purely pragmatic. Compromise is a way to get things done. But other times their eyes grow big with power and they shed ideals in direct proportion to how many votes they can get. Stepping up the ladder, they make friends amongst the influential whose mission it is to influence politicians. They enjoy the attention, the wealth and the feeling of power. Their decisions become motivated not by ideals, or even ideas, but by expediency.

So rather than choose Joe Lieberman as his VP, McCain chose Palin. She is the exact opposite of him. Extreme rather than moderate. Socially illiberal, economically ideological. And the fact that she is a woman, and therefore bizarrely touted as some kind of consolation Hillary. Is he in charge of his own campaign, or has he ceded himself to the machine that can get him to the top of the tree. Oh how his long dead father would be impressed if he became the Prez.

It is this that makes me distrust him. His eyes are as big as saucers and he is shedding (or hiding) his moderate pragmatic side by the day. Palin was the expedient choice; a bespectacled rung on the ladder to power. Nothing more.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

today : Bristol fashion; not ship-shape

The private lives of politicians DO matter. It's context. If a politician makes a point of decrying adulterers and then is caught in an adulterous tryst then he or she has forfeited their right to separate private and public. The same on any given issue. A politician who campaigns on reducing debt and then is found to have overwhelming debts is in a similar position.

I found the dilemma myself as a school teacher. Having to present lessons on non-smoking, alcohol and sex, whilst knowing that my private opinions were at odds with what I was teaching. Actually they were not always at odds but mainly more complex than the line presented on a worksheet. The difference is that I was fulfilling orders - presenting material specified by a curriculum. I was not voted into my job as a result of my personal opinions or behaviour.

Yes, there are grey areas. Doctors who lecture their patients on the dangers of smoking then light up themselves are blatant hypocrites. But does this affect their ability to prescribe nicorette, or alter the facts they present as persuasion? I think not. Doctors, like teachers do not put themselves forward as leaders.

Which is why Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy matters. Palin supports the teaching of abstinence only, 'family values' and a traditional Christian moral outlook. It's unfortunate for the daughter, but she is now but she is the poster girl for how teaching abstinence only is a lunatic stance. Perhaps if the girl's mother had accompanied her to a clinic and explained to her the options for contraception then she wouldn't be in this position.

The episode puts Palin's political and policy judgement in question. Not only was it compounded by the fact that it was cynically put out on a day when the media was obsessed with Hurricane Gustav, but undermines Palin's suitability to be VP to an elderly guy in remission from cancer. Leaders are not just what they say, but what they do. If you don't want to be judged on moral issues, don't pronounce them for political gain in the first place.