One Rant at a Time

Whatever heaves into view........better keep its head down.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Another Newsflash!

President Bush and a giddy Jacques Chirac shake hands on the deal.

Major News regarding Bush and France

**President Bush Sells Louisiana Back to the French**

BATON ROUGE, LA. - The White House announced today that President Bush has successfully sold the state of Louisiana back to the French at more than double its original selling price of $11,250,000.

"This is a bold step forward for America," said Bush. "And America will be stronger and better as a result. I stand here today in unity with French Prime Minister Jack Sharaq, who was so kind to accept my offer of Louisiana in exchange for 25 million dollars cash."

The state, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild.

"Jack understands full well that this one's a 'fixer upper,'" said Bush. "He and the French people are quite prepared to pump out all that water, and make Louisiana a decent place to live again. And they've got a lot of work to do. But Jack's assured me, if it's not right, they're going to fix it."

The move has been met with incredulity from the beleaguered residents of Louisiana.

"Shuba-pie!" said New Orleans resident Willis Babineaux. "Frafer-perly yum kom drabby sham!"

However, President Bush's decision has been widely lauded by Republicans.

"This is an unexpected but brilliant move by the President," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. "Instead of spending billions and billions, and billions of dollars rebuilding the state of Louisiana, we've just made 25 million dollars in pure profit."

"This is indeed a smart move," commented Fox News analyst Brit Hume. "Not only have we stopped the flooding in our own budget, we've made money on the deal. Plus, when the god-awful French are done fixing it up, we can easily invade and take it back again."

The money gained from 'The Louisiana Refund' is expected to be immediately pumped into the rebuilding of Iraq.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Sex Post....or not

I'm sure a lot of us have come across Yahoo's big British Sex Survey. One of the big, hairy conclusions it reaches is that women between 19 and 24 -- the "LiberTinas" as the survey calls them -- "show much greater self confidence in expressing their sexual needs and desires, practices and behaviours." Which is fine by me; I like to know what my partner enjoys in bed, though she won't be between the ages of 19 and 24....

This got me to thinking. This sexual assertiveness is clearly the latest manifestation of the long, drawn-out process of women empowering themselves that began Lord knows how long ago. Betty Friedan? Germaine Greer? Sometime in the last century, anyway. First it was women claiming their conceptual freedom, burning their bras and using the Pill, then it was the assault on the workplace and public life and now with sex, hopefully, they're close to the summit of Mt. Equality.

But something else occurred to me, too. If women are enjoying long and more fulfilling careers that develop, grow and become high-powered ones, perhaps they are putting of the business of settling down and helping raise a family. And statistics say that the age of marriage is indeed getting older; the UK office of national statistics says that in 1961, the biggest age category for weddings was 20-24. In 2002 it was 25-29. And the numbers of marriages... wow. In 1961 there were over 161,000 weddings of 20-24 year olds. In 2002, there were 71,500 marriages between 25-29 year olds.

Right. So far we've established that more women are working, and we're getting married later.

So what happens to those non-married years? The girls are out partying ("Ladettes") or having good quality sex ("LiberTinas"). The boys were doing this all along. Let's assume they get married at 29. They spend their early 30s building up a home, and maybe by 35 they're ready to start thinking about children.

Think about that. When the kids hit their teenage years, the parents are pushing 50. When they graduate and come back from their two years' round-the-world experience, their parents are about to retire.

I was born in 1963. My mother was not yet 22, my father not yet 23. When I was ten, we were going on camping holidays, playing football in the park, going to watch car races, generally doing a fair bit as a family. So were many other kids.

But now, if we're going to be 45-50 when our kids hit those years, are we going to have the time, space and energy to devote to them? Dad's going to be a manager somewhere, Mum will have picked up her career again to bring in extra income. We're going to be tired, drained by our careers even before we get home each day to nurture our offspring. That was what our parents did in their 30s, surely?

So our 20s are becoming nothing more than an extension of our teenage years, though there's the benefit of a paycheck and a squalid flat-share. Our thirties are where we settle down. Our forties are when we worry about our children and careers. Our fifties? Still worrying.

Everything's been put back by a decade. Except the sex. That's happening a lot sooner, it seems.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Morally bankrupt

World leaders met at the United Nations met this week and decided to do.... well, nothing really. A lot of politicians got up and spoke, the audience listened and applauded politely and they all went home.

Now, how can any organisation tasked with making the world a better, safer place to live in not agree on some basic principles?

For example, the idea that war criminals should be tried for their crimes. After World War Two, the Allies got together and held trials in Nuremburg to call senior Nazis to account. Pretty good, huh?

So a few years ago, when the United Nations established the International War Crimes Tribunal to try war criminals, why, for example, did the US not sign up? After all, they practically invented the concept at Nuremburg.

One conclusion might be that the US is worried that some of its actions in the field -- in Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, for example -- might be dodgy enough to fall under the description of "war crimes". And the US wouldn't want to hand over its perceived moral high ground for the sake of justice, would it?

I mean, why else would it not join the Tribunal?

Secondly, the UN can't seem to agree that nuclear arms are bad enough to warrant a complete ban on them, and destruction of those that exist. Sure, this is probably down to the odd rogue maniac who likes the idea of punching above his weight -- I'm thinking of Kim Jong Il here, or perhaps Charles de Gaulle -- but surely, surely.....

In fact this whole arms thing is just plain loopy. Remember Robin Cook's "ethical foreign policy"? Well, that died a quick death, didn't it? When New Labour came to power in the UK and discovered just how much money the domestic arms industry was earning in exports, I don't suppose it was too difficult to bin the ethical foreign policy in favour of a continued revenue stream.

So, the conclusion? Morals are expensive and dangerous things, while talk is cheap. Which explains why the United Nations is running out of money.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Great Gig In The Sky


It's part of the human condition. We all, whether we like it or not, gotta go sometime. Most of us, I suspect, would like to go while we were asleep, not feeling, not thinking, just.....whisked off without knowing it. No clue, hint or advance warning.

A good friend of mine has just been diagnosed with cancer. She's an immensely lively, funny, intelligent woman, a loving mother, with a huge amount of talent and a lot to do and say for herself.

And right in the midst of this huge life happening at 100 mph, she's suddenly spied a set of flashing lights in her rear-view mirror.

What happens when you see those lights? What do you think when out of the blue, your life's highway seems to be shortening a lot faster than you expected?

Now, many of us are the architects of our own downfall. I smoke, I drink, I gave up drugs years ago because they didn't agree with me, I have a middling diet, I don't do much in the way of exercise and over the years my jobs have given me more than my fair share of stress. So, if ever I get to see those police lights in my own rear-view mirror, I'm going to know who to blame.

But in a sense all that's academic when you're faced with your own mortality. You forget the contributing factors because by then it's too late to regret them. You can't sit there and curse each and every last cigarette you smoked, or each drink you had. You can't even curse yourself because that's been taken care of already too.

Many people face up to their illnesses with bravery and determination: they face up to their enemy, they look it in the eye and they say "The hell with you, I'll go when I'm good and ready and not a second before." Others seem to shrink before your eyes as they lose faith in themselves and all around them.

I don't suppose there is a right or wrong way to go about facing up to your own mortality. In a sense, we all do it every day from the moment we wake up. If you're a hypochondriac like me, you're particularly sensitive to your body and the signals it gives out, and you spend time on high alert. And if you're young and healthy you don't give it much thought at all.

I think what all this is winding towards saying is that we take a great deal for granted. I don't often see my children between Sunday night and Friday evening, but I always take it for granted that I'll be seeing them in a few days. In the past, when I've been single, I've always taken it for granted that I'll meet someone, someday.

But we really can't do that, can we?

Bush to USA: "You can't handle the truth!"

Ain't it just like the movies? You know, Jack Nicholson squaring up to Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men" and telling him: "You want the truth? Well, you can't handle the truth!"

Bush's administration has suddenly decided it doesn't want US network television to broadcast pictures of the bodies littering New Orleans "out of respect for the dead." The subtext here must be "out of respect for my popularity", because TV has been showing these pictures for nigh on ten days now and maybe he's beginning to feel some heat.

The US media is up in arms about this, as they notably weren't when Bush demanded that no pictures be broadcast of US coffins returning from Iraq.

I'll come to the media's attitude in a moment, but first and foremost can we just stand back and admire the breathtaking arrogance and the jaw-dropping assumption of the Bush administration. Twice now, it has had the arrogance to ride roughshod over the Constitution, which explicitly protects a free press; and assumed the fundamental stupidity of the American people; that by not showing them the ugly consequence of its actions, the government hopes that it won't be judged as harshly as previous administration were over Vietnam?

And let's say it out loud. Iraq is Vietnam II.

What's wrong with the American people that means they can't handle pictures of what's really happening? Are they less gutsy than the rest of us? Do they have more delicate consitutions? No, I don't think so. So what could the reason possibly be?

Now, to the media. So what's the deal here, guys... when Mother Nature takes a chunk out of you it's OK to insist on the right to publish harrowing pictures, but when a ham-fisted piece of electoral strategy goes wrong and kills US soldiers you get all mimsy? I fail to see the difference myself. Neither Mother Nature nor Bush are up for re-election, after all.

Anyway, I'm contradicting myself here because as I mentioned a couple of days ago, Katrina seems to have roused the media out of their drugged slumber. We got outrage, we got questions being asked, we got an administration on the defensive for once, casting around for a scapegoat. Hey! We just got one! Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency management Agency, just got fired, not 48 hours after his pal the president told him he was doing a "heck of a job".

And doesn't that sound like yer average British football club, where the chairman gives his manager a vote of confidence just before he gives the poor guy the chop? What club should Bush be chairman of?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Happy birthday!

Today is the young son and heir's 8th birthday. Being a Weekend Dad, I don't see him every day, but tonight he's picking the restaurant and Dad's paying. And this weekend there will be a small avalanche of toys somewhere in west London.

We interrupt this newsflash to bring you a newsflash

Either Sky News has the worst subeditors in the world - or the best. You decide.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's election time... a few countries. By the start of October, there'll have been major elections in Norway, Germany, Italy, Poland, Japan and Egypt (today, in fact). Later on this year, there are more polls in New Zealand, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Haiti and Honduras.

Let's just reflect on that for a moment - millions of people are going to be having their say, hopefully helping decide the future course of their homelands between now and Christmas. Gives ya a warm feeling in side, right?

I was having a discussion last night about representative democracy, and how what we in the western world actually experience as opposed to what we should experience.

What we should experience is an open, lively debate about the best way to deal with the various issues that affect our lives. We should offer solutions, alternatives and let the majority decide. Our own small, local lives should be changed for the better like this.

What we actually experience is more like going to a fast-food restaurant. You're offered a variety of menus from which you cannot deviate, at a single price which is non-negotiable, and you find that because you want to eat a cheeseburger with bacon, you have to buy the onion rings that come with it, even though you hate onions!

Instead of being a bottom-up process, where we (the people) get to set the agenda, representative democracy has become a top-down process, where the political parties tell us what they're offering (subject to spin, alteration, quiet abandonment and complete reversal) and leave us to choose. No pick-and-mix allowed.

It's watered-down, it's prescriptive rather than elective and it feels wrong.

But what's the alternative? If each of us wanted to elect someone who would represent our own personal interests, we'd end up with as many legislators as there are voters. Which would be - and I use the word in its political sense - anarchism: everyone left to follow their own desires.

Because over the centuries the globe's population has grown larger and more inclusive, we can't behave like the ancient Greeks did with their "polis", where the electorate was restricted to a small sub-set of the population. We've introduced universal suffrage - every gets to vote. And we expect that everyone should be represented.

And with an exploding population, this means that the entire system of democracy has become just too unwieldy, too clumsy to operate like we wish it would.

And with this increasing remoteness, as each member of parliament represents many, many more people than he did 200 years ago, there is more disenchantment and apathy. It's only natural.

What can we do to combat this and to take decision making back to the people? One way would be to play politics like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?". Supply every household with a registered voter with a special keypad, connected to the internet; every day, broadcast a debate on the issue of the day - should we increase funding for hospitals? - and have the nation vote on it there and then. Democracy in action, making a decision. And by having a debate, at least all sides of the issue should get aired.

That's one suggestion, anyway. As the great Steve Earle once said: "If you don't vote, don't bitch."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Journalism 101

This story fascinates and heartens me. For the past decade, America has been infected with the very worst sort of politically-biased journalism courtesy of Rupert Murdoch's Fox network.

Fox starts from the premise that they can convince you the Emperor is wearing a three-piece suit, Afghan coat and a natty trilby, even though the evidence staring you in the eyes shows nothing more than a flabby, old guy wearing nothing more than a monocle.

Fox will repeat ad nauseam that the Emperor's new clothes are a beauty to behold, until you either begin to distrust your eyes, or you turn off the TV, or you start to believe that the Emperor is in fact wearing something that you're not quite worthy enough to see.

What's frightening is how good Fox has been in convincing people that there are indeed some clothes there, and that these people must somehow not be conservative enough to see them. By being strident, loud and in-your-face, Fox keeps the viewer off-balance enough to keep driving home its divisive message of unquestioning acceptance.

Fox believes if you repeat an untruth often and loud enough, it somehow will become a truth. Consider last week, when a Fox talk-show host (I'm desperately looking for the name of this chump) claimed that president Bush had shown "decisive leadership" during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Decisive? Let's see. First of all, Bush stayed at home. Then he went on a fundraising trip. Finally a little bell went off at corporate HQ and someone told Bush it might be a good idea to acknowledge that a disaster was happening. Three days after the fact....

Anyway, the point I started out trying to make way back at the start is that Katrina, unlike Iraq, has had blanket coverage by the entire US media. Because the government was so slow off the mark in taking charge of the situation and restricting access as they do in Iraq, the media had a clear run at all the information, all the pictures, all the outrage. They asked questions, and when they didn't get the answers they wanted, they asked more questions.

And the US media (with the exception of our friends at Fox) has played it straight. They've let the pictures do the talking, they haven't said that black is white, they haven't editorialised or tried to convince us that this was just a harmless prank by the kids up the street. They've just reported.

And because the media have finally got to do their job the way it should be done, the US government is now having to perform a very intricate tap-dance of regret, apology and humility, while all the time still trying to scrape off the radioactive gunk of incompetence and moral corruption that seems finally to be sticking to it.

So my hat's off to US journalists and camera folk for remembering what it is that journalists do.

Monday, September 05, 2005

When Is A Disaster Not a Disaster?

Katrina's devastation visited upon the citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is, first and foremost, a tragedy on a human scale. No matter what we may think - and Lord there are a few people out there who are thinking, and chuckling - of the USA as a nation, with its forlorn political leadership, Katrina's aftermath is about people, poverty and recovery. May the people of the southern US recover quickly....

But if I whip out my Cynic's Hat, I notice that this huge task of reconstruction is going to cost somebody a shedload of money - and that somebody is probably going to be the US Government.

But hang on a sec. Aren't the Republicans the party of less-government-spending-is-good? Shouldn't they be whipping the private sector into action to get cracking on the rebuilding of New Orleans?

This huge reconstruction, no doubt to be paid for by the US Treasury, looks and even smells alarmingly similar to a public works project. And public works projects were, according to Wikipedia , "a major program of public spending designed to alleviate unemployment, and moreover to pump needed funds into the economy."

The New Deal, which is where public works policies made their debut in America, was devised by FD Roosevelt. A Democrat.

So what we are seeing here is a very conservative US administration reduced to cherry-picking ancient Democrat, suspiciously Socialist-sounding policies in order to rebuild New Orleans and its environs.

But wait! I'm not done yet! Let's go back further to the whole invasion of Iraq. As we all now know, there is no concrete proof that Iraq ever had weapons of mass destruction, which was the numero uno reason for invading that land in the first place. And when the US Administration cleverly "morphed" its reason for invading into the claim that Saddam was aiding and abetting terrorist organisations, nobody could prove that either.

Hmmm.... so why DID we invade Iraq?

Now, putting my Cynical Mathematician's Hat on, I add two and two to deduce that the invasion of Iraq the the subsequent morass of threatening civil war, constant attacks on westerners both civil and military and general unrest, could be nothing more than a king-size, titanic public works project!

Follow the logic here: the invasion costs massive amounts of money in terms of soldier time, materiel use, consumption of... well, everything from Right Guard to gasoline to bullets. In order to keep that supply chain going and to support the invasion, the US needs to pump money into the armed forces who have to buy those supplies.

So the armed forces go shopping throughout America, throwing money around like confetti and creating "a major program of public works spending designed to alleviate unemployment, and moreover to pump needed funds into the economy."

Forget Saddam's WMD. Forget his alleged support for terrorist organisations. The whole thing is George Bush's co-opting of, and tribute to, a supposedly outdated socialist economic policy.

I'm off before my irony-meter explodes.