September 2008 Archives

As a non-US citizen who doesn't live in the USA, it could easily be suggested that I have no reason to think that anyone should care in the slightest what my opinions are about the upcoming US presidential elections. Indeed, my opinions might well be harmful - my 2004 endorsement of John Kerry is widely agreed by political scientists to have tipped the electoral balance just far enough for Bush to win. I'm also not allowed to donate to US political causes, entirely correctly. So why should I feel it's worth even mentioning the US elections?

Here's the thing. It's not something I can really keep quiet on, not least because I'm a big fan of the USA both as a country and as an ideal. The Constitution of the United States is an extremely well-written document - notice that the only bits which regularly spark controversy are amendments - which lays down the foundation of an extremely robust democracy. It's a beautiful, varied country full of nice people (and yes, people can be nice or nasty completely irregardless of their political views). Heck, I even married an American.

As an idealist myself, one of the most painful things of the last decade of both American and British history is the relentless grinding-down of ideals. It's a process that started in the 1980s but which has only really been brought to fruition since the turn of the millennium, as political idealism has been gradually replaced with political fear, government for the people has become government of the people, as people have been encouraged to accept the most mindnumbing jackhammering of their basic rights in return for claimed protection from exaggerated enemies. The America of Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln has become the America of Dick Cheney, of Guantanamo Bay, of detention without trial, of waterboarding, run by a government of small-minded paranoiacs who see the Constitution as something to be worked around and reinterpreted to suit their own ends.

Don't get me wrong. Britain's done pretty badly too. The Labour government which we ushered in with such optimism in 1997 after 18 years of rule by inhuman Thatcherite dogma has reduced itself in the last few years to a paranoid husk, passing law after law restricting civil liberties as the country grows into a CCTV-studded wasteland where imaginary enemies prowl the streets - if it's not terrorists, it's some other bogeyman du jour, like paedophiles or immigrants or maybe trainspotters. The grotesque spectacle of a Labour government (thanks for that turn of phrase, Neil Kinnock) bribing that party of intolerance and bigotry, the DUP, to support its odious 42-day detention bill is one of the more shameful moments in our recent national history.

I see no prospect for improvement in the UK for the time being - if anything, the country seems to be sinking into a new dark age of superstition, selfishness, bigotry and fear. We shall have our own fights to fight in the future if there is to be any hope of restoring the basic values of humanity, trust and mutual respect to public life. The surprising thing is that the spark of idealism that lights the darkness may be coming from the other side of the Atlantic.

For the first time in a long time, America has an idealist in the electoral pipeline, someone who gives the impression of being genuinely determined that things can be done better, that the USA should be a country run by other things than fear and vested interests. There's something very brave about coming straight out and saying that your campaign isn't fundamentally about stability or cutting taxes or anything else material, it's about hope and change. I would say it's audacious, but that would give the impression that I was just cribbing from the title of the guy's book. 

The next few years are going to be critical for both the US and the UK, as what happens over in the US always casts a shadow on the UK sooner or later. Our two countries are tied more closely both historically and culturally than many of my more snooty British acquaintances or many of the more isolationist sections of US society might like to admit. What's bad for the USA will usually turn out to be bad for us, and right now I think that another 4 years of rule by Republicans would be terribly bad for the USA, not least with McCain's dicky state of health making the terrifying prospect of a Palin Administration very real if he wins in November.

Which is why I think an Obama Administration would be a jolly good thing, not just for the US but for the rest of us too. Some may agree, others may not. Some may disagree sufficiently virulently that they post comments about how "we kicked your limey asses in the War of Independence" (newsflash - that was 230 years ago) and that I'm a "pussy", or maybe a "jerkwad" or even worse, a "liberal" (gasp!). I guess they're not my target audience here.
While cleaning out the old crud from my web directories just now, I stumbled across an image from late 2004:

It took me a few seconds to figure out what it was, but then I remembered what it related to - this old entry. Well, it's four years later now. Here's hoping, eh?
Nine months after my last update here, I found myself having to throw away my old Movable Type installation and start from scratch - I don't want to know how, but the MySQL table with the entries in it had just vanished, I suspect due to upgrading.. issues somewhere. Anyway, it's a good thing, as it had been broken for 6 months (hence the lack of updates) and was exceptionally crufty.

So here we go again, tabula rasa, the uncarved block, the utter simplicity of a blank page from which to start anew. Except, of course, that the old stuff is all still there in the static archives because it's linked to by a few people, so the tabula's already a bit less rasa. To make the tabula not rasa at all and in fact more like tabula cluttered, there's even still the archived copy of my old, old website which dates back over 10 years and about 3 jobs and which contains many embarrassing old pieces of my soul.


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