The American Way, or the Highway…

I’m following current events in the US with increasing dismay.

The protests / counter protests in Charlottesville over the weekend showed just how much white supremacist fascism feels enabled by the actions of the present government over there.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and the injuries suffered by many others is horrific, but I fear that the underlying cause that created these events runs far deeper.

‘The American Way’ is often touted as their utopia. It’s all about people being free – free to do, say, live, behave, worship however they want, with little or no interference or control from the state. In principle, that’s a good idea. Sadly, it relies on a principled population to work.

Let’s take the First Amendment – the freedom of speech. Basically, you can say what you like. Even if that’s not what other people like. and they can say so, and you can argue, and you can confront each other’s views, and then suddenly there’s a car being driven into a crowd of people simply because they think differently to you. And people die.

That’s not an issue that specifically surrounds white supremacism, although pretty much all of the recent events have been due to their actions. And the alt-right need to take responsibility, as do all groups, for the impact their views have on society as a whole.

Let’s take the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Written in the late eighteenth century at a time when there was a clear danger from Native American Indians, rogue English-supporting vigilantes, and claim-jumpers looking to secure the best land for themselves, it made sense that a homestead could be protected.

But it’s not been updated for over two hundred years, and you now have people with an armies’ worth of assault weaponry, quoting ancient legislation as their ‘right’. The rights of these gun-toting mavericks legally outweighs the rights of the rest of society to be protected from their potentially murderous intentions, or any accidents caused by a trigger-happy citizen out shopping (such a dangerous pastime in some states, clearly).

Most other ‘civilised’ countries understand the need to draw a line between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. They know that free speech is important, but hate speech is illegal. They know that having an armed population will only lead to people being shot.

America needs to wake up to the fact that ‘The American Dream’ is in severe danger of being left for dead on the sidewalk, and that only by bringing the edge-case lunatics (white fascists, survivalist weapons hoarders, etc.) into line by protecting the many against the few, will the US start to regain it’s freedom.

Because – after all – the anthem doesn’t just talk about it being ‘the land of the free‘, it also declares itself ‘the home of the brave‘, and it’s time that the brave stood up – like Heather Heyer did – and start to make a difference.

 

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…

 

Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff’:

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.

The School Reunion – How To Survive…

After thirty-four years – yes, THIRTY-FOUR YEARS – tomorrow I will be attending my first ever school reunion. And most of the people there will last have been seen through my eyes on that fateful day in July 1981, when we all escaped through the gates of Haymill Secondary School for the very last time.

I will admit to mixed feelings about tomorrow night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to getting there and seeing everyone, catching up, and finding out about people’s lives. But there’s a part of me that is wondering just what it’s gonna be like.

Reason: American Movie Reunions.

Yep. Up to now, my knowledge of, and exposure to, school reunions has been entirely covered by movies such as Grosse Point Blank, Peggy Sue Got Married, Something Wild, and of course, the brilliant Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. And all of these have a stock set of characters that repeat every single time.

There’s the Jock That Never Grew Up. He was a bit of a bully, and a bit of a tosser, back in school, and he still is. Probably worked his way up to Assistant Manager in his dad’s Car Dealership, and did so despite never doing anything useful except show up three days out of five.

There’s the Fallen Princess. Voted the Girl Most Likely To Marry A Millionaire And Live Happily Ever After, she’s somehow found herself in a trailer park with seventeen kids and a real knack for up-cycling curtains into dresses.

Then there’s Mr “Too Good To Be True”.  Whatever he says about his wonderful life, supermodel wife and perfect children… well, you know. He’ll probably claim to have invented Post-It notes…

There will be Farmer Ted, the sad geeky one from school, who after all these years is the sad geeky one from work (work being a public sector job, maybe Post Office or Council Housing) who hasn’t changed a bit.

And finally, there’s the Ugly Duckling. Someone nobody ever expected to succeed, who has turned out into the most successful, wonderful, beautiful/handsome* (delete as applicable) person in the entire world. You know the one in the movies, she’s the one that nobody notices at all until she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down.

That’s all I know. And if I let myself, I’d wonder which of them was me (hopefully NOT the Princess).

But, like the movie directors, I’m missing all the rest. Those who may be played by extras, who go through the story and their lives largely uncredited, but who have brought remarkable stories to the table. Tales of travel and adventure, tales of hard work, sacrifice and reward, tales of children and – in some cases – grandchildren. These are the real successes, people who have lived every second of those 34 years and are there to share and enjoy that with you. Especially when you talk to them and recognise not just the person they have become, but the nerdy boy / giggly girl they used to be as well.

So. As promised, here’s my Secret of Surviving your School Reunion. Have fun, avoid the drama queens and those who look like they’ve just watched life go by, laugh a lot, and hope to hell you can recognise everyone, cos there’s nothing worse than reminiscing with a bunch of strangers who don’t know who on earth you are…

UPDATE!!!!

So the reunion went very well. We had around forty people there, which after thirty-four years was a great turnout. I guess there was a certain amount of “And you used to be….?” for a while, but it was a cool evening of catching up. And yes – most of the stereotypes were there to a degree, but everyone was lovely and pretty much well-adjusted!

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