Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Travel Broadens The Mind

Having lived most of my nearly 49 years in the UK, life here in the USA has offered up many delights, some frustrations, and a generally broader outlook than I had before. I have traveled some, France, Italy, other places but mostly European, and always felt “European”; that is, comfortable with life in England but pleased to be a part of something greater.

Moving, as I did, to Oklahoma by way of Maryland and South Carolina where I spent time with friends in their homes rather than hotels in resorts, I came to understand the meaning of the saying travel broadens the mind.

I always thought this was about simply learning more. You know, new places, different people, stepping out of the box, so to speak. What I learned is that it’s rather more subtle than that. You can learn about lifestyles, scenery, languages etc right at home. No need to leave the sofa, actually. A laptop, internet connection and decent TV and there you have it …. Learning.

Here is what I learned.

I learned that everyone, every culture and society has faced very similar problems. From how to wire homes for electricity, through how to get kids to school. The simple things … heating homes, which side of the road to drive ….. In Malta, for instance, my then wife and I spent at least a week trying to work out the last. We got iteventually, they drive in the shade!

All of these, and many more are issues society works out answers to. Here is the thing though. They all come up with slightly different solutions. And guess what, they all work. Some things are done better in France than in the UK, America could teach the world about many issues, but has a lot to learn about others.

It lead me to realize that no one has a monopoly on the truth. That the solutions I had always relied upon were not necessarily the only ones, and may not even be the best ones. It taught me that when a problem appears to be intractable, just ask around, your neighbour might just have the answer. It demands you roll back your pride, you actually look better when you ask than if you don’t.

Liberating :)

One area that is in stark contrast here, compared to the Europe I know, is the disconnect that people here seem to have between their daily lives, hopes and ambitions, and the role their Government plays in all of that. Sure the Brits gripe about Westminster, the French do Tax avoidance as a National Sport, and the Italians change their leaders more frequently than most of us change our underwear. All though, do feel that the Government is THEIR government. There is a closeness (varies) but there is also a route to change it if it doesn’t behave to their satisfaction.

It seems not to be so in the US. I get that America is big. I have written elsewhere about the lack of understanding of the US that exists in the UK. Often, when asked by friends or family back home what it is like in the US, I am minded to ask “Which US”. The US of the Pacific Northwest, the US of the Bible Belt or the US of the Peoples Republic of New England? It is this lack of understanding that lead to an opinion poll in the UK predicting that the US would vote 80/20 against GW at the last Presidential Election, and astonishment when the results started rolling in.

I can’t help but feel that this “disconnect”, if such really exists outside of the imagination of this Limey, is damaging in a very profound way. If the people feel disconnected from their government, then to what extent might the government feel disconnected from, and not answerable to, the people?

I have the questions, but not the answers, although a few suggestions spring to mind :)

We might consider spreading out the government a little. Is it actually necessary, modern communication being what it is, for everything to reside in DC?

Could we leave the White House there and move a few bits around. Maybe the Supreme Court could go to Seattle, the Senate to Charleston, and the House to San Francisco. I would send FEMA to New Orleans and give each State a government department.

Maybe the last bit is hopelessly impractical. But wouldn’t those “Peoples Representatives” and Officials be rather more likely to have their minds concentrated on what is best for America if they were actually likely to meet Americans, rather than lobbyists and other Washington insiders?

During this election cycle it is pertinent to ask whether or not the US could learn anything from how elections are conducted abroad. Notwithstanding the size and scope of the country, the cost of campaigning here is astronomical to the point of absurdity. Especially preventing, as it does, any but the wealthiest and best connected from making an impact. In a country of 300 million people it is ridiculous to suppose that more than one person from the same family would rise to become the best suited to the role of President, yet this does happen here, frequently. I simply observe that unless the Bushes or Clintons (or Kennedys) have some genetic disposition to be brilliant Presidents, then somehow the system isn’t serving the country well.

As the biggest slice of expenditure, by far, is Media Spend, what say we just ban it? Yep, you did hear that right. A national primary, with the candidates given free airtime to submit their resume in each State in the few weeks leading up ( a few minutes per evening, networked, Primetime) and be done with it. Of course that would vastly reduce the hold that major contributors have over potential nominees …. Ho hum.

I know there are flaws in the argument. Just dare to believe. Dare to believe that something so radical might, somehow, be made to work …..

Friday, February 15, 2008

Back to Walmart Again

I am loathe to say "kudos Walmart" for reasons discussed elsewhere in this Journal. However, among it's 1.5 million employees, they have some very nice ones, and I met one today.

I had just come through the Express *20 items or less* checkout at a speed that made me wonder if I was in the wrong store. Our store is noted for the inability of it's patrons to count. Indeed, Tulsa Public Schools, which do a mediocre job at best, need really to concentrate on math. The inhabitants of this fine city appear to stop counting at 20, quite regardless of the actual number of items in their shopping cart, and completely oblivious to the inconvenience they are causing to those customers who actually did pass 1st Grade Math .... but I digress.

The total for my 13 (count 'em) items was over $73. This is unusual for me so I stopped to look at the ticket. The DVD I had picked up (on a shelf marked $9.75) had rung up at $20 ... ho hum!

Now the Customer Service desk at Walmart is a place I try to avoid much in the way one tries to avoid contracting anthrax .... it happens, but not because you didn't take precautions. It is a place usually reserved for the surliest, most entitled of the 1.5 million that Walmart can muster. Whatever your point you often end up feeling like a shop-lifter, fraudster or worse.

"Yes Sir, how can I help" I was immediately on my guard, but decided to play along. I explained to the lady that the DVD appeared to not have charged correctly.

"Oh", she said "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. We watched that in High School. I didn't even know who Sidney Poitier was at the time. Just recently we watched In The Heat Of The Night".

"Did you", she continued, "get it from the Black History shelf?".

I replied that I hadn't; I was a little astonished that a Walmart in Tulsa even HAD a Black History shelf.

She asked me how much I wanted to pay for the movie. I told her that I thought the price was $9.75, and even acknowledged that I realised that movies were sometimes put on the wrong shelves .... probably by the same person who dumped their McDonalds trash in the Lighting Section.

She promptly charged me $9.75, no quaestions asked, and gave me the change. Thank you :)

This kind and entertaining lady will never last.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Moving Soon

I am preparing to move the blog from here to my own servers.

Mostly it will be unchanged, just a new address.

I'll post the newaddress when it is available, meanwhile we will carry on here.

ps I got the domain www.bracken.name :)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Mitt Romney aka Idiot of our time

Mitt Romney will not be missed .... by any other than the corporate interests who wished to foist another 8 years of Bushism on this nation.

Yesterday he gave a surrender speech to a bunch of Darwin-hating knuckleheads, where he spoke full flow of his reasons for his abject retirement. He got his ass whipped, is the real truth, but tried to suggest he was withdrawing in the interests of the nation.

He said this, of the upcoming campaign:

If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

If Mitt Romney actually believes that Democrats are about to surrender to terrorists, then he is simply a very stupid man, and the White House will not miss him. If he doesn't believe it (and actually, he is NOT a stupid man), then he is either a liar or a shameful exploiter of the natural fear of the citizens that the Oath of Office would have him defend. The White House would not miss him.

Later, in same speech, he alleged that America under the Democrats will be like France. I'm not entirely sure what he was alluding to but I'll attempt to guess.

I suspect that he was saying that America, under the Dems, would be a nation of high, and highly paid employment, enjoy one of the world's best healthcare systems free to all citizens, have superb schools and colleges, and generally be a much more forgiving, tolerant and integrated society than it is at present.

Remind me again why we should vote Democrat?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

US Primary Elections

Someone called the BBC radio show I regularly listen to, complaining that there was altogether too much coverage of the US elections on UK broadcast media.

I have to differ with this view.

The US elections affect us all, as evidenced by their disastrous foreign policies over the last many years.

US elections are far too important to be left to Americans. History tells us how they so very often get it wrong. It might be an idea to ban Americans from voting in their elections, and let the rest of us help them.