Monday, September 14, 2009

2 unpleasant symptoms

Where do you put your anger? I ask this rather difficult question because I'm watching a report on the G20 finance minsters' conference and it reminds me that bankers are still bleating on about the necessity to pay themselves colossal bonuses on top of their rather generous pay packets. And it reminds me that we own them. They work for us. These people who are more than comfortable with cutting lines of credit to businesses, throwing people out of work and lines of credit to homeowners. Literally destroying lives at the stroke of their gold-plated overpriced pens. These people who rail against state intervention as some kind of ultimate evil but who ravenously bit the arm off governments when it meant they can stay in their country mansions and still drive their childish and unnecessary sports cars. These people whose moronic ultragreed led us all into disaster.

If we the poor non-bankers deign to rip off a couple of quid from the rich or figuratively steal a loaf from their gluttonously laden tables face prosecution and punishment. Yet as a result of their mutant imbecility they are invited to continue to suck the blood of our pitiful labours, laughing as they bury their pig-snouted faces into salvers of cocaine, feeding their baseless arrogance.

I'd like to see these bastards digging pointless holes until their hands bleed and they cry out with pity. They work for us: we should insist.


It seems that lots of folk have a bit of them that enjoys other peoples' discomfort. How else do we explain the popularity of TV shows like Total Wipeout, and the fact that skateboarding accidents and car crashes are always at the top of web-video charts? Schadenfreude is not simply a German concept, even though plenty of other nations accidentally forgot to invent a word for the concept.

Which is why I've taken to quite enjoying watching American politics in the past few months. You can't help but laugh at the fact that plenty of Americans (i.e. the dumb-ass Right Wingers) are quite happy to piss away the fact that they have an intelligent and pro-active President. It's not even like they even object to what Obama is doing or planning, because their ranting and raving is always targeted at some ridiculous scheme that he isn't actually enacting. So far we've had him banning guns, creating death panels, introducing compulsory government funded abortion and gay marriage, and punitively taxing everybody in order to create big government for no other reason than he hates people having money and simply loves big government. Oh, and he doesn't want to fight any wars and kill anyone if he can help it.

Of course the apogee of this is the 'Health Care' debate. It's not about health care at all, but about the fact that the right wing has demonised Obama in any way it can. It started during the campaign and just got more extreme. They can't seem to get out of that Attwater/Rove thing where you don't win by being better, but win by insisting the other guy is worse. It's not so difficult with a black man because the fact is that many 'natural' Republicans hate black people (which is part of why they are 'natural' Republicans), but even for those Bible-belters who might be post racist, there is plenty more for them to chew on. He has been portrayed as everything from an illegal immigrant to someone whose politics are slightly of Castro. His Christianity is questioned, his morality is attacked, his stated policies are simply not believed.

Okay, so he is probably the most left wing President of all time, but that's not saying much in a world context. What's extreme left in The USA is right-leaning social democratic to everyone else. Another out-of-step phenomenon is the fact that in almost every other democracy the political spectrum is a shifting, organic thing. In Britain the incumbent party tends to lead the way in the way everyone thinks. Other parties analyse what is popular and adopt similar stances. It's pragmatic and it means that that almost everyone hovers around the centre and never strays too far to the right or left. The political landscape moves around - a little bit left, a little bit right - reactive to context and events. The same kind of thing happens in France, Germany, Australia, Spain and most other countries you could care to name. Since Reagan, however, the opposite has happened in the USA. Whatever happens the Right wingers stay nailed to right hand wall like shy kids at a disco. Politically they are going la la la with their hands over their ears.

In fact, any excuse is legitimate in making them dig in to their positions and shift even further right.

The fun in this is in watching these dunderheads screaming at town hall meetings, Like the young woman bursting into tears with fear over her country turning into Russia, or the woman who embarrassed John McCain by accusing Obama of not being an American. The fact that they are so easily susceptible to the downright lies they are clearly bombarded with is worrying in one way, but watching them is a bit like watching one of those compilation shows of the stupidest ever answers on Family Fortunes.

The fun is also in watching the self-styled paragon of democracy having a hilariously frozen, dysfunctional democracy. The nation that recently has been spreading its 'freedom' around the world battling its own citizens over what they do with their own bodies. A nation that prides itself on being fair and free giving money away to the rich and punishing the poor. Nobody seems to have reminded Bush and co. that 'huddled masses' are something America has always been there to cosset - not create.

It's hugely entertaining to see Americans rushing headlong into disaster because a blinkered few refuse to accept that their healthcare system needs reform. It's like watching 'Funniest Home Videos when you can see the banana skin on the ground. Never mind the huge deficits crippling the government because of costs, how about the fact that every other G10 nation has sorted out their healthcare system, leaving America as the only straggler. And lets not get started on literacy rates and educational standards.

Basically, we in the rest of the world are able to sit and chortle as America blunders recklessly onto the slippery slope of decline. China and India are pretty much falling off their chairs with laughter. Because that's what is happening. 26 years of post-Reagan economic policy has left the country with bridges that fall down, schools that are a haven for violence, major industries that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and entire states running out of water and barely able to keep the lights on.

It's a kind of insanity to be so violently opposed to the 'other' party that you become obsessed with blocking anything that they do, even if it is necessary for the nation, and morally out of tune with your stated belief (I'm thinking the evangelist right wingers forgetting the Good Samaritan and insisting that uninsured people remain uninsured).

And that is why we laugh.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

today : The Baroness

I didn't personally know Baroness Nicky Chapman but for much of her life she lived on my street, so we were used to - for as long as I can remember and from when she was a child - her being around. I saw her last year tootling along in her wheelchair. She wasn't much older than me but I didn't have anything to do with her because Nicky was educated at home and then at a special school for people with disabilities. My Mum says that she used to chat with Nicky's Mum and even at a young age, perhaps ten or eleven, Nicky would join in and voice strong opinions. She told me that because Nicky was so small people would look strangely at two women apparently chatting with a baby in a pram (an image that puts me in mind of Stewie Griffin - although not in character, obviously). I was reminded of her later when I went to College to do my PGCE. It was the same college where she'd got her degree and people still talked about her. She was a star wherever she went.

Lucky for me that my congenital disability wasn't debilitating until recently. Nicky Chapman was written off at birth with brittle bone disease. In 1961 the fact that her body was so frail and problematic meant her brain and personality were disregarded. Her parents were apparently told to put her in an institution and then try for a 'normal' child. Shocking, I know. Not too many years later I was in hospital for the first two months of my life and my parents were only allowed to visit for a few minutes a day. I think it still upsets my Mum when she goes into hospitals.

Famously, Nicky Chapman kept statistics of negative discrimination, counting the 9 London taxis that ignored her in one day and the hundreds in a year. From the House of Lords she used her voice to highlight this hidden and ignored discrimination. And now that I am using stuff like wheelchairs and walking sticks I am acutely aware of it. How nobody thinks to design the built environment to be disabled-friendly, despite it being very easy and cost-effective. How so much of life is inaccessible because people just don't think - such as supermarkets placing heavy objects on high shelves out of reach of wheelchair users and too heavy to lift for many, including the elderly. How the lot of the disabled is ignored or even disparaged (I should really - Nicky-style - compile stats of the large number of people who complain to me, an obviously disabled driver, about blue-badge parking being some kind of undeserved privilege, or the people who speak to me like I'm an imbecile because I'm shopping from an electric cart).

Two personal examples I could give:

I worked on the 9th floor of a building. Arriving one morning the lift was broken, which meant to get to my office/teaching room I would have to go up 18 flights of busy, crowded steps. Instead of going home I did the steps and it took me almost 40 minutes. I phoned upstairs and apologised in advance for missing the daily morning meeting. When I got to the 9th floor with my dodgy foot screaming in pain, a couple of management types made cutting remarks about my absence and, even when I re-explained what had happened, because of previously booked meeting that was scheduled before I started there and my office was considered 'spare', I was still reshuffled to work in another room on the floor above for part of the day. This meant four more flights of stairs as well as the 18 to get back down at the end of the day. Perhaps they did it as some kind of punishment as they were pretty nasty people all told. But I guess they actually did it because it was easier for me to move out than for them to use another room and tell the attendees about the change. Other peoples' pain is easy to ignore because you can't see it and in my experience there is a no win situation. If you complain you are a complainer: if you are stoic then there is clearly nothing wrong.

Some time ago I went to a wedding. Planned into the schedule of the day was drinks on the lawn of the hotel. Very nice - apart for anyone who simply cannot walk on soft and uneven ground. Then, the photographs were taken on the lawn and nobody took into account the fact that I couldn't be involved. A week or two later I got a thank-you card from the bride and groom. Inserted was a memento of the day. A copy of the group photo of every guest raising a glass of champagne. Except I wasn't on it. It was as if my effort to attend had been wiped from history. The couple are lovely, kind people. I am sure it was just a minor detail overlooked - like forgetting to put a vegetarian option on a menu. But its impact was pretty big on me. I'm okay with not being able to join in the country dancing in the evening, but it made me feel as if I was a pretty pointless invitee.

I am always wary of signalling the achievement of disabled people as special. Anything a disabled person does is often not in the face of their condition, but in the face of other peoples' prejudiced perception of their condition. So she should be celebrated simply as an achiever first. The fact that she was the first peer ever to be born with a serious disability itself says a lot. I can only think of David Blunkett as someone else in Parliament with a serious disability. It's pathetic that it took until the turn of century for these people to get into positions of influence. The statistic is all we need to tell us that not so much has changed in her tragically too-short lifetime.