Sunday, 20 January 2008

Things can only get worse!

I'm quite envious when I watch the election process under way in America. It's not that I would want the saturation coverage that it must be getting because that is really a nightmare but there is an enthusiasm and a real feeling of change that I haven't known in England since 1997. After seven years of George W Bush, the hangover that just wouldn't go away, it doesn't really seem to matter (to an extent) who wins the election as things can only be an improvement. By 1997 we'd had 18 years of Conservative rule under the truly evil Maggie Thatcher and then the rather absurd grey little man John Major and people had had enough of political scandal and the mistreatment and underinvestment in public services; the desire for change was palpable and we had an anthem:

Looking back now it looks so cheesy but at the time it expressed what everyone felt, the Labour Party offered so much hope and after what had passed things could really only get better; this is where America is today. A general election wont happen in England until next year at the earliest and there are only two realistic results; 1) by some miracle Gordon Brown reverses his slump in the polls, develops a personality and wins. Would I celebrate? Even as a lifelong Labour supported, no I don't think I would. The last 11 years of Labour government have probably left me the most disillusioned with politics as I've ever been and that's not just about Iraq, I feel betrayed on many domestic fronts too. Option 2 is just as bad, the Tories get back in power under the cappuccino leadership of David Cameron (all froth and no coffee). He might try and put a smiley face on the Conservative Party but they are the same people as before, nothing has changed and if we see them in power expect tax cuts benefiting the rich and cuts in vital public services to pay for it as they go on to prove that they really are the party of vested interests.

America will have change, it's just a matter of seeing what form that takes but it makes for exciting times. In England change or none our prospects are bleak and getting worse and my only prediction for the next election is a low turnout.

This pessimism has been brought to you courtesy of insomnia.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Hello, My name's Paolo and I... or On Being

I like the verb 'to be', to take an ontological turn. I am, you are, we are and so on and so forth. In Italian the verb is 'essere' and as is quite usually the case the Italian gives you and indication of etymology; the word 'essence' stems from the Ancient Greek 'esse' which brings us rather neatly back to the verb relating to our being. Ontology itself stems from 'ontos' which is the present participle of 'einai' which also originates from 'esse': to be. The verb is the one with which we define ourselves; it is the beginning of how we encapsulate ourselves to the world, it is a verb with so much promise but what comes next?

Let me place you in a hypothetical yet common place scenario, you are meeting someone for the first time and know nothing about them, they are non-descript so all you will learn from them and they of you will be discerned from you following conversation; how do you start. My guess is that it will be along the lines of 'Hello, my name's Bob and I'm a taxidermist'. Well perhaps not that exact phrase, you might even tailor it to fit your own circumstances by using your own name and job but that's the point I'm getting at: why do we define ourselves by what we do? So little of who I am is wrapped up in my job but my employment is one of the first things I will tell someone on an initial meeting.

Marx argued that factors of our economic condition acted to alienate us from our real needs associated with our humanity. Work acts to objectify us; if we work for our own ends or for sustenance we can get affirmation from our actions but working as a cog in a machine we are reduced to a utilitarian calculation, a resource to fill a task. Our relationship with our work runs along the same lines, we work as little or as much as is required that we purchase all the things we think we cannot live without which is the other side of alienation. Capitalism requires growth, growth requires consumption and consumption requires the idea of necessity -- every person selling a product wants you to think that you cannot live without it. But what do we really need to survive? Do you know? I'd say you probably don't because we have been alienated from our real needs to the extent that we do not know what we want from what we need.

I am not advocating economic reform, I'm more pragmatic, I want linguistic change starting with how we use the verb to be. Just try it for a week: Hello, my name's Paolo and I like the verb 'to be', or how about 'Hello, my name is Bob and I like cheese, but not as much as people think I like it, conversational asides are a hazardous thing to toss around without care', or perhaps you have a more relevant idea.

Friday, 4 January 2008

USA - Vote 2008 (Global Edition)

This years elections in America are quite important, not just in terms of the US domestic political agenda but because of the effect the winner will have on the world stage; peace in the Middle East, poverty and aids in Africa, global climate. As the only superpower on the block the world has some serious vested interests in the outcome. In the spirit of democracy I might go as far as suggest that we all get to vote although there might be some complaints about that one so the best we can do is to attempt to influence from afar.

Now I'm going to assume that you're a democrat (Republicans can stop reading and find something else, perhaps a page on guns, you people like that kind of thing) and that you're about to, well over the next few months, select your new leader. You have a great opportunity ahead of you, Hilary Clinton, possibly the first female president in your countries history and with a political background that means there is a chance she will be nothing like Maggie Thatcher (although she has already tried to claim that mantle). The great thing about Hilary is that you vote for her and you get Bill too, he seems to be virtually running her campaign, the idea that will stop as soon as she's in the Whitehouse is a myth. Barak Obama, what a breath of fresh air and of course a chance to be the first African American in the Whitehouse -- but why is it that all I can think about is how he's managed to make so much money in such little time including taking lots of money from the medical insurance people?

I'm afraid in an election where there is so much possibility for an amazing first in American politics my backing (but alas not my vote) has to go to John Edwards. White, middle-classed and middle-aged but fortunately not middle-minded, he looks like everything I should hate about an American politician. Slick, shiny white teeth; you never see him anywhere without his wife or family in-tow you may as well stamp 'All American' to his forehead and lather him up for the patriots to drool over but he has a political zeal missing in either other candidate. His position on campaign donations show that he is not in the hands of the big corporations as do amazing statements like:

"I absolutely believe to my soul that this corporate greed and corporate power has an ironclad hold on our democracy"

It is early days upon which to make a pronouncement but at this stage a vote for Clinton and perhaps for Obama, even though that if either are elected it will be a major first, seems to be a vote for the status quo. A vote for Edwards, a man like all the others who have held the office of president, looks like a vote for change.

I may be wrong, I often am, and you really can ignore me with impunity. I also don't think that Edwards has a chance in hell of winning the nomination but if he forms part of any new democratic government then I shall have renewed faith in American democracy.