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I spent most of the day yesterday in transit between Cork and San Francisco. It was a relatively uneventful flight: reading about the Afghan quagmire in Newsweek, watching a pretty good Leo de Caprio movie (Body of Lies), getting some sleep, listening to a pre-recorded Skeptic’s Guide podcast, reading my book on the Permo-Triassic extinction event, and then listening to some Mozart on my iPod. The jouney was comfortable and although I had a small twinge in my back after the jouney, I didn’t feel the 10 hours pass by.
After dropping our bags off in Cupertino, I and some work colleagues decided to drive down the coast road (Highway 1) between Pescadero and Santa Cruz. The weather was foul: cold and rainy, so we confined ourselves to the car apart from one foray down to a beach near Pescadero.
The coast here is very different to home. Gone is the intimacy of the rocky Irish coastline. There is a great sense of scale: the cliffs and beaches stretch into the far distance, conveying the impression that it’s like this all the way down to Patagonia.. The cliffs are soft and chalky, and there is active erosion here. Not great places to be in a large earthquake, I’ll bet.
Total darkness had set in by the time we reached Santa Cruz. The journey back to the hotel was difficult for me with heavy rain, twisty roads, oncoming night-time traffic and the looming burden of sleep deprivation all taking their toll.
A quick bite to eat and I was in bed by 8.30, utterly, utterly exhausted.
I was originally going to post a snarky message comparing the ex-VP to Peter Seller’s comic creation, but then I saw this photo and realised that what I was trying to do wasn’t really that funny. What I see instead is pathetic and rather sad.
Here is a man whom history has already judged. Over the coming years, as the threat of censure fades, as the files documenting the Bush Presidency get released, the judgement of future generations is destined to get much, much harsher.
For Dick Cheney, there will be no kind epitaphs. No entry into the pantheon of the American Greats. No statues or streets named after him outside of his home state. Merely whispers, rumours and that background radiation of anger that accompanies the memory of someone who did so much to spread misery and resentment during his time in the limelight.
Some time ago, our CEO, a well known and incredibly successful and charismatic man, addressed his employees via a video link to talk about how the company was doing overall. He talked about the future, and the successes of the past. I was struck by a common theme throughout his talk. He declared, on a number of occasions what we were not involved in, what we not prepared to do, what wasn’t of interest to us as a company, what wasn’t yet a mature market.
Not, no, never, can’t, shouldn’t, won’t.
That is strategy: the realisation that you can’t do everything, that you have limited resources and limited time, and that you are much better off doing some things very well rather than doing everything poorly.
So, when I was listening to President Obama’s inspirational inauguration speech yesterday I was struck by the level of expectation heaped upon his shoulders, and what he expects his government will be able to achieve in the next 4 plus years. I couldn’t help wonder about the depths of the problems facing him. Iraq. Afghanistan. Al Qaeda. Global Warming. Financial Meltdown. Liquidity. Unemployment. Homelessness. Inadequate healthcare. A crumbling infrastructure. An educational deficit. Peak Oil. The restoration of international law and America’s moral standing in the world.
Where do you start?
However he does it, he will need to pick his battles wisely, because he and his administration will not be able to do it all. He can’t do everything. Maybe all we can expect, at least in the short term, is that he is judicious in sowing the seeds of change.
Here’s something to kick start this cold, cold week (gratuitously stolen from Compu-Diva).
One sunny day in January, 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he’d been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”
The Marine looked at the man and said, “Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.” The old man said, “Okay”, and walked away. The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”
The Marine again told the man, “Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.” The man thanked him and, again, just walked away. The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U.S. Marine, saying “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”
The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, “Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I’ve told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don’t you understand?”
The old man looked at the Marine and said, “Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it.” The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, “See you tomorrow, Sir.”
I have the happy fortune to be in California at the moment to witness a piece of history. The excitement all day was palpable. I was consulting my iPhone all evening as the results started to flow through. Then, sooner than expected, it was all over. Obama had crossed the line of 270 electoral votes and quickly had over 300 votes in the bag. All over bar the shouting, as they say in Ireland.
This is a terrific day for so many Americans. I was in a bar at the time and the whole place went silent when Obama stood up to deliver his victory speech. There were tears in peoples’ eyes. The king is dead*, long live the king.
* Well, metaphorically, and even then not until January… All the fun has been taken out of the modern day political leadership changes, don’t you think? No tumbrils, guillotines, or even chopping blocks these days. Such utter killjoys..
Like most people around the world, I am absolutely hooked on the upcoming American presidential election. It seems to me as if history is being played out in front of our eyes. It’s my belief that, with the now almost certain victory of Barack Obama, America is about to change forever.
I don’t think that the likes of a George Bush (or Sarah Palin for that matter) will ever get elected to the highest office again. This is the beginning of the end of the Christian Right’s domination of American politics.
Why do I think this? One word. Irrelevance.
America’s right wing built its power selling myths to its people. God, guns and gasoline, the belief that America was somehow special and superior to all others. A fear of the outside world. Ferocious self reliance – no safety nets and little care for those that do not make it.
Like a living organism, ideas need a context in which to survive and thrive. America’s relative isolation provided that context. It allowed many of its citizens to believe that they were superior, that life really was a clear and definable struggle of good against evil and that the resources of the world were somehow inexhaustable.
No more. Technology, education, cheap travel, globalisation, climate change, international terrorism and the failure of classical American foreign policy have punctured this myth, with only the most ardent believers (and there are still many of them) continuing to hold out defiantly.
It’s becoming increasingly more evident that, for America to prosper, to compete, and to address complex challenges such as disease pandemics, global warming, nuclear proliferation, financial meltdown and terrorism, it must engage constructively with the rest of the world. With the vessel of isolationism in retreat, the carefully nurtured myths that held fast to its hull have no home to go to.
Lest my American friends think that I am attempting to paint America as one homogeneous, naive, reactionary mass, nothing could be further from the truth. What I am describing is not some overnight phenomenon. Many Americans “get” this changed reality, and have done for years, if not decades. The election of Obama, I believe, will be the tipping point, where the prevailing ideology of the isolationists will finally become a minority view. To regain the upper hand, Republicanism will need to reinvent itself, but given the arch-conservatism of its support base, this is no easy task.
But what do I know? I don’t come from there, nor do I live there, but fascinated in the country I will always be.
I got to see CBS Evening News last night. It featured a lot of coverage of the Iowa Caucus and the snowstorms on the US west coast. At the end of the program was a longish feature on a 7 year old boy who was about to climb Kilimanjaro. “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything” he said to us all. Aww bless.
No mention however of Kenya, and the huge struggle for democracy going on there at the moment. It’s been the number one news item for the rest of the world over the last few days, where a positive result to this crisis might issue in a new era in African politics. A negative result, on the other hand, could cause the biggest humanitarian crisis since Rwanda.
A little boy climbing Kilimanjaro was more newsworthy, apparently.
“U.S. News and World Report, which does the definitive ranking of colleges, lists Regent as a tier-four school, which is the lowest score it gives. It’s not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook. This is for the people who couldn’t get into the University of Phoenix.”
It seems that in Washington these days, your religious conviction trumps lesser talents such as brainpower and ability.
I would have fallen off the seat laughing if it were not so discomfiting. Anyhoo – it’s worth a read.
Hmm. “Faith Based Politics”. Anyone for a “Faith Based Car”? Or, perhaps, a “Faith Based Nuclear Power Station”? Thought not.
This story, concerning the fate of the senior editor of the CNET portal in the US is very tragic and very moving. What that young family went through in that last week in the Oregon forests is unthinkable.
“They stayed in the car all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, amid rain and snow, occasionally starting the car for warmth. On Wednesday, they used magazines and wet driftwood to build a fire. The wood was hard to get because it was frozen, Hastings said, so they tried to thaw it and keep it dry by putting it under the car. On Thursday, the Kims burned the spare tire, and on Friday burned the remainder of their tires for heat and to signal for help”
My thoughts go out to his family.
I harbour a strong desire to spend a few weeks travelling around the US. I’ve been there many times, but normally just to the big cities on business. Many a time in the recent past, I have been sorely tempted to turn left on the I-90 heading south towards O’Hare.
Well, here’s someone who is doing just that, right now. Every day he writes up a blog entry (or three) eloquently describing his experiences as he tours the US in an RV with his wife. Superlatives fail me. I’m enthralled, amazed and astonished by the places he describes, the photographs he is taking and the experiences they have having as they visit lesser-spotted America.
Rock on, Fred. May the road rise to meet you.