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September 10, 2008

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Tadhg

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis warned "When fascism comes to America,
it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross"

Transylvanianhorseman

Yes, and if they elect more Republican hawks, OBL will be succeeding: the world will be more violent, a showdown between religious fundamentalists closer, Muslims more deeply radicalised, and him no nearer to defeat. And the Washington nomenclatura don't see the plot.

Dave in Idaho

I always fine foreign commentary on American politics amusing. It provides a different perspective on what we take for granted here but in many ways foreigners fall for the same public relations traps.

By that I mean the idea that the Democrats are these suave, urban sophisticates on the coasts and the Republicans are the solid, salt-of-the-earth farmers in the middle is really just hype that both parties play up just to keep their party members in line and paying their dues.

The fact of the matter is that the professional politicians of both parties really don't have a bit of difference between them practically. They take money from the same special interests. Their kids go to the same schools. They all attend the same parties. Every two years they agree to argue over guns, gays, abortion, unions, etc. Yet nothing changes except the nation goes into more debt, regulation, and political gridlock.

Both parties make a ton of money by squeezing the American people between them.

At least a horse will only hit me up for hay and not a campaign contribution.

Keep up the good work in the meantime.

White Horse Pilgrim

Dave, thank you for commenting. It's true enough that every comment and analysis is, to some degree, partisan. Being outside of the U.S. makes us (for the most part) less partisan. We are more distant from the action, which is both good (not getting bogged down in detail) and also bad (not necessarily understanding all the issues).

There is a common perception abroad that U.S. foreign policy has made the world a less safe place, especially hawkish Republican policy, and this does (rightly or wrongly) encourage foreigners to favour Obama.

I do think that Europeans have a better understanding of world affairs. Many of us have been to the Middle East, for instance (even if just on holiday to Egypt: but still we saw how people live and talked to some of them). Within living memory most European nations have experienced war on their own soil.

I certainly agree (and the same could be said of Britain) that leaders are needed who grasp the real issues and take steps to steer affairs for the greater good over the long term.

I Gallop On

Hi Julian,

I think my cousin and her husband who raise wheat and cattle in Oklahoma would take pause at being called "peasants"! My farrier who has an advanced degree certainly would! You might even irritate the elderly fellow who lives down the road from me and whose a city retiree and raises goats with that word! I suspect that tag would sorely offend the Hispanic gentleman whose family are descendants of the conquistadors and who taught me how to use the acquias and raise corn in the Pojoaque Valley many years ago.

The eastern and western coast cities are not exactly filled with suave urban intellegentsia who sip chablis and say cool things. (I believe Obama just said he'd like to make government more "cool". Snort.)

That's simply a myth.

I don't believe London or Paris have exactly cornered that market either.

There are millions of ignorant people who are living in large western cities (both in the U.S. and the EU) who are products of the government welfare systems that have rendered them incapable of doing anything for themselves. Women who have five children with four or five different dads, for example. Men who father children, but see no reason to stick around. Whole families who are addicted to drugs. Toddlers who already consider themselves gang members. Mothers who don't feed their kids, because they know the welfare system will feed them breakfast and lunch at schools, heck, even provide them with summer lunch programs. Women who even have kids because they'll see additional money in their monthly check as a result. Social services programs that turn grownups into children, who, in the absence of anything better to do, like work for a living, find lots of trouble to get into. And I think the progressives have a considerable investment in having these kinds of useful idiots under their thumb. First of all, they'll always vote for the party with the most handouts. And secondly, there are lots of liberal progressives who have extremely secure and good paying jobs working in human services.

What I see is this infantilization of people who should be grownups. I read an article recently about how the Brits are going on these drinking vacations for example, and really getting themselves in trouble, even murdered. I remember your grumbling about them as clients for your equestrian center. And that's not a shot at the Brits, just an example I recently read in one of the British newspapers after another about drug use, suicides, and birth rates outside of marriage in the cities.

And, to be fair, people who are living off of the government handouts aren't just limited solely to the cities.

But the idea that these cities are glittering places filled solely with intellectuals and the rest of the place is filled with simple peasants is untrue.

As far as those muslim men who got us on 911, I just don't buy it that they don't like the U.S. because they feel economically slighted. Islam is radical. Period. The Koran is pretty clear. The U.S. isn't responsible for their radical ideas. Yeah, there were the crusades, but I think Christianity has been pretty tamed. Islam has not, apparently. I haven't seen any catholics on Youtube beheading anyone. I understand that England, France, and Sweden have got a large problem with these immigrants who aren't interested in assimilating into western culture. Of course, the media doesn't show us here in the U.S. too much info about what goes on during Ramadan in some European cities, for example. How many cars get torched? I know a lot of people in the EU worry that fundamentalists will take some of you back into the dark ages. We seem to have better luck assimilating them here, but I'm not sure how long that will last.

I'm frankly sick and tired of having good American men and women die for people who I'm not sure will ever be capable of democracy. Give them democracy, and they elect the mullahs.

As for travel, some of my relatives, who speak with west Texas drawls, drive pickup trucks, love God, hate the murder of innocent unborn children, trust in Jesus, and hunt and fish and can handle a gun and who consider themselves in their own words "plain country folk" have had careers with the U.S. State Department, living in places like Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East. You see, it's not so easy to generalize.

Maintaining our constitutional right here in the U.S. to bear arms certainly doesn't constitute throwing baubles to peasants. That statement demonstrates, I think, that you understand the U.S. less than you might think. And that's OK. But here's what I know--The right to bear arms in the U.S. is sacred to many many people. Essentially, the right to bear arms ensures that we will maintain our freedom. I suspect the fact that we here in the U.S. have that right will keep us from being overrun by the fundamentalist hordes one of these days. Whereas our European friends have been, and excuse me for being a bit crass, gelded, by their governments in that regard. I would not welcome life in a place where the right to bear arms was not a right, because my government wanted to ultimately ensure my passivity and my inability to respond. Isn't that why the Nazis rounded up the firearms? To ensure no conflict from the people?

I know Europeans are all high on The One, and I'm not sure why. He's no Winston Churchill. (And neither is McCain, for that matter.) I suspect Obama would be an appeaser who would rival the likes of Neville Chamberlin.

And those big oil companies are owned by the stock holders. I'm pretty sure that every American who isn't living off of the government dole and has invested in some kind of pension plan or retirement savings plan owns some oil stock.

Guess it just boils down to two entirely different views of the world. ;-)

Pax. Kimberly

White Horse Pilgrim

Hi Kimberly,

It's good to receive a long and detailed response: thank you. Your comments are thought provoking as ever.

Curiously and even surprisingly, I'm not sure that our viewpoints are so diametrically opposed. It is true, I think, that Europeans tend to be less vocal in opposing what they think is wrong (up to a certain degree of wrongness - they do act eventually).

There is a fair feeling against those who make a lifestyle of scrounging state benefits. Over the past decade, we have seen (largely for pragmatic reasons, I suspect) a Labour government trying to put single mothers back to work and generally crack down on benefit abuse. There is also a reaction against drunkenness and other ill behaviour. Overall, crime levels are falling, so something must be working (though the situation is far from perfect).

You are quite right that binge drinking is a major issue. It isn't new, however cheap flights have fuelled a tendency for younger people to go on boozing holidays. (I had noticed that attitude to drink varies appreciably between the UK and the US.) I put some of this down to young people over here not taking responsibility for their lives - it's not even that the state does too much for them, but that a combination of unaffordable housing and general ennui has tempted them to give up on responsibility. Not a pleasant spectacle.

I do think that there is a place for state provision of some services. For instance, universal healthcare that is free at point of delivery is a great benefit, and is appreciably cheaper per capita here than private healthcare in the US. There are "not for dividend" commercial models that allow private firms to deliver the likes of medical services, transportation, etc at keen prices without socialist-style nationalisation. Is it perchance private sector greed that is keeping the US from enjoying good universal healthcare? A case where the system keeps the largest number from enjoying the greatest good? (I note that the Clinton administration, faced with the opportunity to reform healthcare, backed down.) Dealing with huge issues such as a post-cheap oil economy requires a huge central steer, and that means "government" - not something I see in Britain either, though the French and Germans are doing a bit better. Leave that to corporations and we'll be exploited - there is a scandal here where the CEO of a gas corporation said, in effect: "citizens are suffering but, so what, our profits are up". That's not an argument for socialism, but it is an argument in favour of better regulation.

I think that, yes, US (and British, for the two are linked) foreign policy had an effect on radicalising the Middle East. That does not excuse the actions of the terrorists or make them into automata. However, deepening inequality (in terms of rights and freedoms rather than simply money) at the hand of our ally, Israel, has caused radicalisation. Sanctions against Iraq killed two thirds of a million minors: the sort of thing that remains dangerously embedded in a people's consciousness for generations. Normally the Arabs' inability to form a consensus keeps us relatively safe. But radicalise them, or allow this to happen, and for a while they become a potent irritant (as T E Lawrence proved). Now there is a timebomb to defuse - in some European cities too. The French seem to have a particular problem, largely because of their secularisation laws (created to restrain Catholicism, but latterly applied more widely) and narrow ethnic definition of "Frenchness". The situation in Britain worries me, especially that in certain northern cities parts of which have become ethnic ghettoes. How to inspire patriotism in these communities, even amongst a few people, is a difficult issue. Perhaps it is an impossible aim? Meanwhile the far right loiters in the wings, ready to exploit the situation. To be honest, I doubt whether there is any risk of Europe being "dragged back into the dark ages" - probably not, as we outnumber these people twentyfold and they are not armed. The risk is that Britain will lurch towards being a police state, as new laws and surveillance are introduced, and used by the authorities for more diverse purposes than national security.

As for what should be done in the Middle East - well, that decision was taken some years ago. Back after the first Gulf War, when sanctions were imposed rather than a new Marshall Plan for that part of the world. A policy of "cost-effective aid to gather hearts and minds" often is the best way. More people in Europe can see this, not least because many of us have been to the Middle East (even just on holiday to Egypt) and have seen that we can enjoy good relations with these people. Jobs, security and not being in poverty tend to disable the radicalisation. The attitude of "some far off land that does not matter to us" (Chamberlain's attitude when handing over part of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis) is a profound mistake, yet an easy stance for voters who haven't passports and rely on CNN and Fox for their "news". (Is that such a generalisation?) Is the attitude of the US electorate regarding "foreign places" reminiscent of that of the British electorate in the 1930's? Many Europeans do feel that recent US foreign policy has made the world a more dangerous place, and (rightly or wrongly) they think that Obama is more likely than McCain to correct this. If the US wants to be a world player, it does need to consider what its allies think. (Back to "hearts and minds".) Because Europe does provide America's natural allies - we know that we have far more in common with the US than with Russia or China!

Other than some wild parts such as the Greek mountains, I don't think that Europeans ever had widespread gun ownership as in the US. In general there was no need: no outlaws, no natives to suppress. Hence this is a difficult issue for Europeans to understand, and not one that affects our security thousands of miles away from you (hence it's an issue that I steer clear of it).

I do appreciate your clarification about people. "Peasants" was a bit strong, I know: though I lived happily amongst peasants for nearly a decade, so it isn't a term of disparagement. I was just thinking back to roots which inform some deep underlying attitudes. It will be good one day to meet some of these people whom you describe. I admit that I may not know as much as I think, and that is one reason why I like to hear from you. Danielle and I just need to earn some money before we can travel. But we'll make that trip over the Toltec & Cumbres yet!

You make an interesting point that oil stocks help support pensions.

It's good to talk. I wish that we could do so by that log fire, with wine and tankards of beer! You take care.

I Gallop On

Hi Julian,

This is the kind of thing that worries me --

Islamic sharia courts in Britain are now 'legally binding'
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1055764/Islamic-sharia-courts-Britain-legally-binding.html?ITO=1490

One of my very good friends is a very liberal democrat. I have, over the years, spent many many hours at her kitchen table having fascinating discussions and arguments about politics and life in general!

Always appreciate some good conversation.

Ale too. ;-) New Mexico isn't exactly known for its beer, but maybe one of these days we'll all four get to share a pint. Either in your neck of the woods or after a long ride on the Cumbres Toltec.

Pax. Kimberly

White Horse Pilgrim

Kimberly, this was not widely covered in Britain. There is a tendency, I feel, not to want to provoke Muslim opinion because people feel that the Iraq war has provoked it enough already. So, as a result, the issue that you mention has appeared. I have no doubt that Muslim women are bullied as a result, and that real justice often is not done as our legal system would define it.

A complication is that the Jews use the same legal loophole to apply their "laws". If we stop one, we must stop the other for consistency: imagine what an outcry the Jews will raise. But maybe that needs to be done. Why should any group consider themselves beyond our laws? These laws exist to protect the weak: such as disadvantaged Muslim women.

I'd like to see a government that takes no nonsense over this kind of issue, but which also provides key public services (health, education, transportation, etc) in an effective way. However that seems like wishful thinking. Now our "Liberals" want tax cuts, so the "Conservatives" will feel obliged to campaign for bigger tax cuts. I can see heath, education and transport being savaged again if there is a change of government. Too much ideology, too little pragmatism.

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