High, low, yo: 25.07.15

I’m trying something out here, so bear with me. In my effort to be a better blogger and to concentrate on writing, which has been wandering of late, I want to start a more regular feature. High, low, yo will comprise of three small parts: a high point in the news (a genuinely good news story or schadenfreude), a low point (self-explanatory) and yo – something that happened to me in the day. Let’s begin.

Low

Sadly, another day begins with another shooting in America. It’s a tragedy with heroes, an obvious villain and a clear cut solution. Well, to everyone on the outside, it appears obvious but progress is non-existent. 

For this latest awful shooting, it appears that the immediate cause is a deep-seated misogyny, yet that doesn’t explain the ease with which John Houser was able to buy a gun. The underlying cause helps to explain the anger motivating the murderers, however we cannot keep palming off these tragedies into the outskirts of excuses: ‘he was racist’ – yes but there are many racists who do commit murder; ‘he was anti-feminist’ – ditto; ‘he was religiously confused’ – ditto ditto. All of these have a common theme running through them which is the ready access to guns. Remove the guns to save the lives. Which is easier said than done when the monolithic second amendment stands in the way. Confounded by an 18th Century piece of paper.

High

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has spent £31,400 on travel expenses between 2010-2013. It should also not be forgotten that Speaker Bercow was meant to be a disinfectant, cleaning Westminster up from the stench of the expenses scandal. Whilst he may not be fiddling his expenses in the same way as he predecessor, it does make me question the prices that the chauffeur cars are charging and how I can become involved in that racket.

Yo

I met Lola and Sophia, my twin ‘first cousins once removed’ (an ugly turn of phrase, if e’er there was one) for the first time. Both had almond eyes that were intently gazing on their surroundings, taking it all in, studying every face, toy and movement as if it’s a work of art. Yet to a couple of 8 month olds, it is art. There is nothing more important and interesting than their own wiggling fingers. Plus, it appears that fart noises are universally funny.

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Naughty Netanyahu and Dissenting Democrats

Congress is ramping up for the arrival of the Israeli Prime Minister leader Benjamin Netanyahu to its hallowed dome on Tuesday. He is the five time winner of the ‘We Wish You Were A Republican’ award and yet, for the first time in living memory, some senior Democrats are thinking of finding themselves busy when he is due at the lectern.

The speech is likely to contain the Greatest Hits of ‘Iran away because you want to hurt me’ and ‘Existential Threat’ (a 1980s New Romantics number with a killer keyboard solo) but with a hidden track of ‘Being Here: My Election Boost’. The reason for anger stems from Netanyahu’s combination of performing the Tel Aviv sidestep by snubbing Obama and using Israel’s most powerful ally as a pawn in his election campaign.

Netanyahu: The Man with the Frozen Hand.

Netanyahu: The Man with the Frozen Hand.

With the pro-Israeli lobby financially supporting so many members of Congress (see here), those that are dissenting are trying to find cleave a difference where previously there was a solid stone wall and doing so by relying on a nuanced logic that does not typically operate in media. Instead they need to find new excuses for not being at the speech, such as:

  • rumours that Netanyahu is going to read spoilers from House of Cards Season 3. Those busy Congresspeople who haven’t caught up with the travails of Frank Underwood feel it is safer to stay away rather than have the highlight of their televisual year spoiled
  • they were busy trying to finish crocheting an ‘I Love Israeli’ cushion
  • putting an Ikea flatpack desk together
  • inadvertently spending hours trying to craft the perfect off the cuff, snarky tweet
  • got locked in a birdcage
  • became a kitchen porter and spent 8 hours peeling potatoes

We will have to see what the reaction and repercussions to avoiding the speech will be – but with political engagement trending downwardly, can you really blame them?

Ten Lessons and Carols about New York

I write this in a new continent. In November, V and I moved across to New York, where we will call the city our base for a few years. Since we moved, I have been meaning to keep a journal of our adventures but things (living, working, eating, walking) got in the way.

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As we are coming up to our two month marker for living in New York and as 2014 exits stage left, it is time to take stock and look at what we’ve learnt:

  1. Shopping requires spreadsheets and the patience of 12 saints to try and get the best deal possible. Either that or the contentment to throw money up the wazoolah.
  2. Waffles are good at any time of the year, any time of the day.
  3. New York apartment designers forgot about kitchens and added them as an afterthought. Ditto with laundry.
  4. Realtors here are as useless as anywhere else in the world
  5. The subway may never arrive; it may be just around the corner. Who knows? There is no information at all.
  6. Being able to see a traffic jam does not preclude the honking of one’s horn
  7. If there is a person that can be inserted into a transaction, there will be. Of course, all taking their share.
  8. Small popcorn is a UK large; US large is a UK swimming pool
  9. Everyone in the city dresses effortlessly and yet looks impeccable. Everyone, that is but you.
  10. At all costs, always avoid the empty subway carriage…

The U.S. Election from the other side of The Pond

The site of so much drama and glamour over the years, the US political system is viewed with a certain amount of jealous affection by us in the UK. At their core both American and UK politics are exactly the same: both predominantly feature middle-aged (mostly white) men in nice suits trying to speak as tepidly as possible yet at the same time attempting to stay on the right side of the Accountant Line. But putting British and American politicians side-by-side is like comparing the glamour of Mad Men to the Office; Ricky Gervais to Don Draper.

Yes, they both use balloon arches, but what looks tacky in the UK, looks exciting and innovative over there. Both use words such as: ‘change’ and ‘freedom’ but doesn’t American freedom just seem so much more alluring, more free? British change appears like a political ploy, nigh on impossible in such a staid society.

Maybe that is my British cynicism coming though, maybe I should try to be more wilfully optimistic like Americans.

Barack the Tired and Mitt the Mist slug it out. But why?

Though throughout this election cycle there has definitely been a dampening of spirits amongst the electorate. Both the supporters of the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to get fired up despite the best efforts of the candidates. Barack the Tired looks as if he wants to sleep for the next four years and would happily sit this cycle out and run again in 2016. Whilst Mitt the Mist is a man lacking in substance, someone lacking in a developed emotional range and imagines the middle-ground as a place you can say anything to anyone in the hope that they will vote for you, even if it contradicts a previous stance.

But to me, Romney is not a statesman, he is a local politician who can’t cut it internationally (is it that difficult to turn up to the Olympics and smile?) The Mitt-ster has only enthused his base because Obama must have been solving some logic puzzle during the first debate. The fundamental lack of choice for Americans is not just unfortunate, but more an indictment on the polarised toxicity of politics in recent times.

Even after four years, Obama still oozes charisma and cool; and whilst he has let down his supporters with his penchant for drone strikes, he has had some of the largest obstacles to overcome in recent memory. Namely, a Republican Party willing to roadblock any substantial policies that Obama put forward and then label him an ineffectual President. The move to the right (read ‘crazy’) of the Republican Party seems a vote killer to us over here but apparently a large portion of Americans are happy voting against their best interests (a refutation of Rational Choice Theory if ever there was one) and placing trust in unelected corporations rather than elected officials. And the Party’s oppressive use of the word freedom in every sentence which works at cross-purposes to it’s definition, serving to ensure all Americans conform to one specific, dizzyingly contradictory notion of it (Protect the Constitution (apart from the mentions of Church and State), stop the Government interfering in our lives, apart from the times when it acts as a medical safety net – they have to remain).

So hopefully you can see why we are entranced by American politics not just in Britain but around the world; here is a country with an actual ideological debate (albeit one-sided), where passions frequently erupt and where we can view from afar with a joyous sense of superiority mixed with a tinge of disappointment as the closest thing we in Britain have to a political celebrity is Boris Johnson.

Patriotism

It’s fair to say that America is a patriotic country; the chants “U.S.A .U.S.A.”  punctuate most sporting events, yet whether the pride is for the abstract ideal of the country or everyone and everything in it is another question.

To myself, as an outsider it seems that half the population see the US as a country of one, and the pursuit of happiness should not extend past yourself.  This individualism seems long engrained within society possibly due to the hyper-capitalist age with spending geared around what will benefit me and only me. Yet this attitude comes at the expense of a sense of community and the development of a truly social conscience. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone sees the dissolution of trust and by extension the vanishing of communities due to the atomised lifestyles we are living.

The blubbing and boohooing surrounding tax increases, a threat so viciously reported, one would be led to believe it relieved itself on the Constitution (some might say it has, but they deserve to be patted on the head and left alone). Contrary to what some people may believe, higher taxes can BENEFIT you, the uses are endless: schools, hospitals, prisons, the arts, space exploration and so on. They don’t get funnelled into a secret project to create a tunnel from Mexico into Texas allowing people to come into the country and steal your guns. No, the money is used to help you or others. But that is the killer part to the sentence. Others. Ah yes, the self-interested part of the country just couldn’t bear to see a struggling single mother have a slightly easier time of it; don’t they know you want to get a new TV this year? I mean the old one has lost its new TV smell.

Yet those who bemoan taxation are the very people who claim to love their country. Just like in any relationship, to love is to share, so please do not get your knickers in a twist over the pitiful rate of taxation that has to be paid. Take one look at any of the Scandinavian countries and you will find some of the best literacy rates, the best healthcare in short, amongst the best quality of life in the entire world and their tax rates can be around 60%, a number that is unthinkable to some Americans.

Some might say that being American is to be free from government interference, and the lack of restrictions on the way you live your life. But that position is one that is built on shoddy foundations: why do those people allow the creeping tentacles of shady companies to slowly close around their everyday lives yet distrust the publically accountable government? Other than citing people who lived in a different age, are there any real reasons for hating taxation? In my opinion (one that is very rarely incorrect), man is a social animal, and this society extends to the very corner of the kingdom and beyond. Whilst it might be irksome to lose some of your paycheck every month, just think of the public benefits it will generate. One that no number of TVs can bring.

The idea of patriotism not following words with actions is lamentable yet wholly unsurprising as self-interest has been one of the backbones of any society since time immemorial. Yes, this is an act of socialism but what is wrong with that? Why is looking after your fellow person such an alien concept? The pervasive growth in belief in the United State of One needs to be addressed; the folly of self-interested behaviour has to be challenged. In short, patriotism can only be truly achieved by gaining a social conscience.

America: *pinches bridge of nose and sighs*

I was originally going to pop my blogging cherry by setting forth the case for a greater interest in politics (that’s little p politics not big P), but the continuing wrangling in the States over the health care reform has pushed that to one side. Thankfully, this long and drawn out struggle will end some time today, hopefully with some binding resolution that will pave the way forward for future reformations of the system.

But the question is: do the Democrats deserve this? Not being in America means it is difficult to say what the actual press and public attitudes are like, but from what I’ve seen, the Republicans have managed to get their message across far better. Granted their message made as much sense as the average Sarah Palin non-sequitur, but that does not detract from its efficacy.

The sheer genius in managing to get those to whom the Bill would greatly benefit, to instead be in opposition is a  masterstroke (I would have included the action the stereotypical chef finger kissing action but didn’t really know how to succinctly put it into words). The Republican Party has managed to bury the issue of the insurance industry behind the empty yet fervently believed rhetoric of socialism; the way the term is bandied around makes it sound like a disease, as if ‘socialism’ is the new ‘cooties’ in the playground.

Why has this not been refuted by the Democrats? It would be long, difficult and a lot like running into a brick wall made out of brick walls. The current stubborn reductiveness of the unthinking American is the culmination of years of Republican brainwashing to view the Government as a nefarious, rumbling bureaucracy whose very existence threatens the “American Way of Life”. Sadly, that seems to mean isolated self-interest. But instead of shattering this Republican created reality, the Democrats have tried to work within it.

This is symptomatic of their entire attitude. They needed to systematically, clearly and repeatedly refute the claims made by the Republicans. Not just the facts and figures but the a priori assumptions they make. For instance question why they are so keen on the insurance companies? These unelected, profit seeking, amoral organisations that literally have the lives of all Americans in their hands yet are accountable to no one. Anyone with any sense knows their reason for being is not to ensure the health of the population; it is to carry on this devils game they have started by any means possible. Have a look at the main campaign contributors for the main Congressmen opposing this bill: http://maplight.org/

In all, the lack of drive by the Democrats to fundamentally disseminate their message beyond Obama’s rhetoric, which although beautifully crafted is as useless as one of Glenn Beck’s tears (there have been reports that they can cure all illnesses but I’m holding out on that), has alienated many voters, voters which will have a startling impact in the Mid-Terms. The message needs to be clear, concise and cutting.

I hope that was OK my fellow bloggers. I’ll try to make the next one more entertaining….try being the operative word.