Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Land of the Free (to be an idiot if you want to be)

    It's that time of year again, when I have to spanner the Wreck through another MOT test. This time it's new shock absorbers - relatively easy - and a rust hole under the accelerator pedal - relatively hard. It's a car worth the effort, I keep telling myself.
    So we're sitting agog on this side of the Atlantic, watching the nutcases on the right wing of American politics in a race to the bottom over who can make the most idiotic pronouncements over who can use which restroom. It's a fit of pique after losing their fight against same-sex unions, they somehow imagine hordes of randy teenage boys are queueing up to don skirts and invade the ladies' loo and they alone can assume their shining armour and ride in to protect the Women of America.
    Except it's all rubbish. They've never been in a ladies loo themselves so they obviously aren't aware that it's just a loo. No beskirted teenage boys queueing outside, no boudoir of earthly delights, just a loo. And a sink, and a working hand dryer if you are really lucky. They probably know more about the intricacies of cricket scoring than they do about the ladies loo or transgender people, for if they did they wouldn't be clamouring for laws that would force buff and hirsute transmen back in the their precious ladies'. Perhaps like Queen Victoria who was supposed not to have believed lesbians existed, they think transmen are an urban legend. Fortunately our trans brothers have risen to the attack with a fantastic series of protest pictures of themselves accompanying their female friends into the Holy of Holies.
    We've had stories of women who don't quite meet onlookers ideas of gender norms being harassed on their way to the loo, as well as transgender people being barred. Given the calibre of the ban's proponents it's probably only a matter of time before one of them reaches for his constitutionally authroised firearm and  starts popping off rounds at all and sundry.

    America, land of the free to be an idiot if you want to be.

    I grew up near a USAF base, so I grew up around Americans. I know them - at least those who joined the USAF - to be the salt of the earth, exactly the kind of people you want as neighbours. I have many American friends, who I know to be as sane and reasonable as anyone else in the world. Particularly over the last decade and a half as America's wars have not exactly endeared them to the rest of the world I have defended Americans and the United States of America in many a heated argument, often to an unbelieving audience.
    The trouble is, the more of this kind of story comes over the Atlantic, the less easy it becomes to defend the place. It's become a trope, that non-Americans say "Only in America" and mean a completely different thing from what Americans mean when they say it, well this is one of those moments. We know that these kind of stories are deeply embarrassing to the many millions of Americans who do not share those politics or live in those particular states, but from a distance the actions of those who do hold those views serve to tar the collective with the same brush. I've seen this in action, in the surprise of an American lesbian from California attending a British LGBT event and being treated as though she had narrowly escaped the clutches of a repressive regime.
    It's probable that the right-wing nutcases don't care how those on other continents view them. After all, we're foreigners, and their news outlets have gone to extravagant lengths to ensure they only ever see foreigners as Bad People. This is a pity, for we're also the foreigners who help their economy every time we use an American product, even when it was made in China and had its tax paid in the Virgin Islands by an American corporation. If you look upon every silly season story from the lunatic fringe of American politics as representing another sale for a Chinese brand you wouldn't have heard of a decade ago, it becomes something they should care about a lot.
    Meanwhile our American transgender friends are having to face the daily fear of something as simple as going to the loo. And all the European outrage from people like me at their predicament isn't going to help them. For that they'll need the rest of America who aren't on the far right to come to their aid. Are they up to it, or will they just walk by on the other side?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

In, out, in, out...

    Summer is slowly making an appearance, as seems to be traditional I'm kept indoors with a contract through the nice weather, and the country has descended into the silly season of a referendum on Europe.
    Where do I stand? Mild Eurosceptic. I like being part of Europe, but hate being part of a centralised European superstate. I think the whole edifice is likely to crumble anyway sooner or later and any economic stability we think we have is an illusion created by our addiction to unsustainable debt, so I doubt the outcome of the referendum will make much difference in the long term. I think that outcome will be a very narrow victory for the "stay in" crowd, but I'm certain whichever way we vote everything from freak weather to the England footy team losing will be blamed upon it.
    Where I'm becoming increasingly annoyed though is as I listen to the politicians and all their mates holding forth on the subject. It doesn't matter which side they are in, all I hear are the worst kind of fear politics. Lies and made-up statistics presented as the truth, at the same time as accusing the opposite side of being the one peddling fear. All with a straight face. The "in" crowd would have us believe the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will descend on our economy if we vote "out", while the "out" crowd tell us the same will happen if we vote "in".
    I start to wonder just how different a world they live in, up there in the London Bubble, but then again I start to despair of those around me. Every morning my feeds are full of people on both sides of this debate seemingly taking it all in without question, apparently able to see the lies from the other side as what they are but taking their own side's lies as Gospel truth. Yes, it's fine to be on a particular side and it's fine to have a pop at the other side, but come on, are they all really that stupid?
    One thing is for certain whichever side you lie on. Europe is in trouble, and it's not just because of the UK referendum, the Syrian refugees, or even the Greek bailout. If Europe has gone wrong it is because of decades of disastrous mismanagement by politicians seduced by the Brussels gravy train, furthering the project to the detriment of the people in their countries at the grass roots level to the extent to which they have become alienated and dispossessed. There is no quick fix to this problem and it is not a case of everything being OK if we just keep taking the pills and move on to the next stage of integration. If it's not the UK it will be any one of the other countries, either through a far-right election win or an economic collapse. The only way that Europe will be fixed is if it reconnects with those people at the grass roots so that they agree that it is working for them rather than against them, and that can be done either from within the EU or after its collapse.
    The question is, whether any politicians have either the courage or the competence to admit it.