Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Think Ahead Time

Even before Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac began their torrid slide down the economic plughole way back in July, the world's financial situation was not looking good. Markets were sliding, slowly, point by point to oblivion. According to the press at least. Almost a quarter has elapsed since the mid-summer crisis and yet still we are perpetually stricken with panic, despite small personal losses. Here's why: it sells newspapers.
Unfortunately, Murdoch & co.'s impact on our predicament is, perhaps, the driving factor in its continuity. That isn't to put the blame solely on the shoulders of our business editors, but if the media industry wasn't thriving off our economic downfall then perhaps less alarm would have spread through global markets, perhaps the latest in a long series of Wall Street flops would not have such dire consequences.
For once, I agree with our President, George W. Bush. Dire straits call for drastic actions and if that means halting economic reportage for the meantime, so be it. Of course, actual monetary reimbursement at some level of society is more pressing but with power comes responsibility, something great swaths of the media too often forget.
Whilst a social collapse akin to the Great Depression has all but been prevented thanks to insurance of savings at up to $100,000, the world would not have been as badly affected had the press exercised a little care. Sure, the people have a right to know but was the knowledge really beneficial?
Our leaders have learned that hyper-inflation is most certainly not the way to go but nonetheless, frivolities will have to be cut down on and societies unified. So what message does it show us when Bush, desperately trying to push the $700 bail-out through Congree, is vetoed by his own party? Only 40% of Republicans backed the plan, compared to 60% of the Pelosi-led Democrats. Hopefully the voters read this, because it really would make very little sense to elect into office a ticket that doesn't mind the people being financially crippled. Once more, Vote Obama. So far, we've figured out that it will do the world a world of good. How about some goodness for ourselves too?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Referendums and Me

Just a little politics homework you might find interesting

The United Kingdom claims to be a Liberal Democracy. Criticism of that statement has come from a great array of people, home and abroad. The esteemed French philosopher Voltaire once said that “Britai

n is free for one day every four years.” At the time, the franchise barely expanding beyond the aristocratic elite, bringing further truth to Voltaire’s

words but after at least 250 years of all sorts of electoral reform, the legitimacy of the British democracy is still in question.

To counter such claims, Edward Heath’s Conservative government se

t a trend and issued a referendum on Northern Ireland in 1973. For a party that traditionally – since the time of the Whigs – has been the most out of touch with voters, this represented a trend to em

phasise the democracy. However, there are serious issues surrounding its usage, at least in the UK. Rare

ly are they issued to the whole country and rarely is the issue particularly important for the whole population. For instance, no referendum was issued on either significant military action since 2000 or on the potential institution of the Eur

o. In the UK it seems that referendums are primarily used to give false legitimacy to governments which have become isolated from the electorate. T

hat’s not to say that devolution should be taken lightly but there are many more pressing issues. Voltaire was right; people here are only

free once every four years.

Thankfully however, as a Dutch Californian, at least half of me come from a very democratic background. Whilst in Holland there is no legislation that allows for binding referenda, my motherland is one of the most democratic areas on the planet.

It’s not as though California is some small New England town or Swiss canton, this is the 7th largest economy in the world, ahead of Russia and India. In short, this is no small-scale project, no shrinking violet. As Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute said, No other state uses the popular initiative and referendum as aggressively as this one.”

Indeed, in 2008 alone, 22 referenda were issued. Not state, federal or nation can claim to come close to Hellenistic direct democracy but California comes close. Popular opinion remains decided over whether this is a good thing.

In my view, empowerment of the public opinion can never be a bad thing. Direct democracy on such a large scale ensures that politicians don’t get a chance to sway the vote, so the negatives are hard to pick out. We complain that the UK suffers from an elected dictatorship and with a potential resurgence in Tory control those fears will only be amplified.

Not in California, home to 36 million people, 26 million of which can participate whole-heartedly in the running of their state if they so choose.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Brave New World

Mike Gillis is either very smart or very optimistic. Faced with $10 million of unfilled cap space, the freshly minted Vancouver Canucks GM declared via his players that a youth movement was taking place. Francesco Aquilini withheld those $10 million for the sheer, simple reason that the resulting roster space would allow some young shot to fill the boots purportedly intended for Mats Sundin. There's just one problem. No one knows if the youngsters can cut it.
Admittedly, the primary players we're talking about here - Michael Grabner, Cody Hodgson, Dan Gendur and Jannick Hansen have all become known for their offensive prowess but they have a combined 15 games of NHL experience between them. In actuality, Hansen, a former 9th round pick, accounts for all 15 of those games. Whilst unseasoned rookies have made huge impacts in a variety of sports - LeBron James, Sidney Crosby for example, the odds of our crop making aren't particularly high. Ridiculously, this is not for lack of talent, this is simply because Alain Vigneault - whose job was mercifully rescued by Gillis - does not have it in him to hand over the necessary minutes for a selection of the aforementioned players to make an impact. Instead, look for a mishmash of the perpetual grinders Rick Rypien, Mike Brown and PC Labrie on opening night. Viggy may have uttered the old, "if you're good enough, you're old enough" quote but all the same, he is synonymous with dull, defensive hockey the same that John McCain is synomous with dull, defensive politics.
However, this is a 2-dimensional realm of possibility. If it wasn't for the generosity of Gillis, Vigneault wouldn't have a job. At the same time, the new GM has said on several occasions that he will bring up-tempo, offensive hockey back to Vancouver. Gillis doesn't seem to the kind of guy that likes to joke around so perhaps, god willing, Vigneault will succumb to the pressure and take a leaf from Craig McTavish's book and give his talented rookies a chance. The media has been hinting at it for days and pre-season lines have reflected it, so here's to hoping.

This is what I'm talking about:




Sunday, September 21, 2008


In the realm of Politics, self-doubt is a killer. Thus, in the high-stakes battleground that is the Presidential Election, self-doubt is a cyanide pill. Whilst the chameleonic John McCain seems to have one firmly lodged between his molars, Barack Obama has laid deaf ears to overtures that he, for one reason or another, will fail to clinch the Presidency.
Ever since the pre-dawn of Obama's race for the Democratic Nomination, he has been told that he will fail due to his race, his inexperience or his unwillingness to play hardball with armour-plated opponents. In that same duration of time, Obama has avoided tempering his domestic policies and mindset, rarely dignifying Clinton's, McCain's or Palin's attacks with so much as a response. Instead, Barack Obama decided that the High Road is the one to take for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
I must say, it is an honour for the future President to have taken a leaf from my book*, for I am one of the only people I know to stand in unflinching support for the man from Honolulu. I have questioned him when he toppled over at the gold-embossed toe-caps of the Jewish Lobby but other than that, Obama all the way.
Howard Dean had similar potential but the Dean Scream put paid to that. If perhaps he had kept his wits about him, things would have been different. Unfortunately, he had scalding hot coffee running through his veins. This made for an excellent crowd-pumper but it also helped him quite literally blow his lid.
Thank heavens that this time, my choice for the Presidency has ice water running through his veins. This has not one but two immediate consequences. A), we'll *knock on wood* have a President who doesn't flinch in the face of criticism, and B) He'll also help reduce global warming. It just doesn't make sense, on the other hand, that a McCain-Palin ticket that is so mish-mashy, so changeable that it makes the English weather look predictable. How such a pairing can be electable beats me. Don't give them that dignity. Vote Obama

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wanted: Brains

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of John McCain revealing Sarah Palin as his running-mate, the press, American and international harangued the Arizona Senator for electing a fresh-faced politician with almost no experience concerning many of the forthcoming election's issues. The polls were swinging back to the left after a halfbaked Democratic Convention. It seemed as though the next few months would be a ridiculously long victory parade.
Imagine then, after it was announced that Palin's teenage daughter Bristol was several months pregnant, the Democratic camp's reaction. Euphoria, surely. Unfortunately, Obama & co didn't make enough of Palin's parental negligencies and archaic views but instead let the McCain camp dictate what these past weeks have been about.
Palin and McCain have these past few weeks congragulated Bristol for her courage in not seeking an abortion behind Mommy's redneck and back and have lauded praise on Sarah herself for giving birth to her youngest son Trig, who has Down syndrome. Essentially, the Republicans have managed to avoid all the key issues of the election to such an extent that foreign policy discussions were virtually unheard of at the convention. There is one, and only one reason for this. Obama let them. Thanks to Obama's quiet inaction, he's now head to head with a girl from a frosty little Alaskan town nobody had heard of before September. That's how distracted the election has become. Its no longer between the two presidents. Thank goodness the debate season is still to come, when Palin's nails-on-chalkboard voice and questionable policies will be revealed, and likely countered by the smooth talking, intelligent and experienced team of Obama and Biden.
McCain has found his babe, just not the brains.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Week One Done

Bang. That was the main though crashing through me on Monday, my first visit to a classroom in almost 3 months. Granted, a new chapter had started with my arrival (at last) at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge. Hills, as it is colloquially known, topped the national tables with its stunning A-level results. Fair reasoning has it then that carrying the ID card is more than carrying just a piece of plastic. It implies a responsibility to be all that you can be, and in the case of most of the student body, the quantity is quite something to behold, and I'm not just talking about following in the footsteps of Syd Barrett.
Hills Road graduates delve not only in to the musical big-time. Hills Road students also attain the highest Oxbridge admission rates of any school in the country, and thus the world so there is quite some pressure to succeed. This has brought the college the unfortunate reputation of being an exam factory but as of yet (I know, it's early) I haven't seen signs of that. Admittedly, some teachers have been rather exuberant in dishing out homework - Mme. Rigoni and Mr Binfield in particular, but all the same, this isn't the comfortable safety of Village College, this really is the academic big-time.
So, Hills has very musical alumni and a fluorescent-bright student body. What else? Well, the college also boasts some of the nation's best Athletics and Tennis teams, which for sporting wannabes like myself, that reputation doesn't exactly bode well for our chances of getting on said teams. Still, with top-of-the-line reputation comes top-of-the-line facilities. The college has some of the best tennis facilities in East Anglia and an NYO-laden orchestra. Of course, the teaching staff is the main thing and they too do not disappoint. So far I have noticed friendly professionalism, none of the irritability or questionable teaching skills that were rather common back in the village. No sir.
It seems almost alien to be in a French class where I do not have to rub Wasabi in my eyes just to stay awake. Whilst I didn't have such problems in History or English last year, I am pleased to report that there has been no drop-off in the standard of teaching. Most of all, my Politics class, which I had doubts over coming in to the year, has surged to the top of my list. Finding a fault is something I have not achieved yet. Even the notoriously active student body has lived up to its billing.
I'm more tired than I've been in months, even years, but boy am I loving it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Rude Dethroning

Several weeks ago, King Fed, better known as Roger Federer, lost his No.1 Ranking spot that had been slipping further and further from his ivory grasp since the Hamburg Masters, where he narrowly beat his successor, Rafael Nadal. The slippery slope got ever more lubricated when Federer succumbed to the Spaniard at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and by Aug. 18, the Swiss had officially slipped to No. 2.
During his incredible 4.5 year reign at the top of the standings, Federer has been the beneficiary of ridiculously lenient treatment from fans and umpires alike. Whereas the likes of Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin (all former No. 1s) have endured alarming anger from the audience and harsh decisions from the umpire, everyone just laps it up when Roger lets slip a cuss or a racket.
Obviously Federer has earned this leniency but to suggest that the aforementioned trio haven't is ludicrous. In professional sports, all players should be subject to the same regulations. Particularly for a guy like Roddick, who no doubt has the weapons to go far in most tournaments, who doesn't have the mental frailty of Safin, it must be painful to succumb to the world No. 1 despite playing fantastic tennis: see US Open 2007, all the while being picked apart by the media for not being an eloquent gentleman.
Still, any man who has the ability to play God (of the tennis world) for almost 5 years must possess a remarkable talent and indeed Federer does. Whilst competitors such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic seem to possess more power than Federbear, the latter's effortless, nostalgic style has brought him countless titles with very little injury along the way. By comparison, Nadal's knees are heavily strapped, the result of bounding around the court like no tomorrow. Similarly, Novak Djokovic has 16 or so body complaints following his arduous head-to-head with Tommy Robredo. Federer has reached the final of two grand slams this year despite a battle with mononucleosis earlier in the season. Such durable talent is a rarity.
Somewhat unfortunately, Roger is under no illusion as to the magnitude of his talent. Even when he succumbs to players as talented as Andy Murray or Mardy Fish, there is no reason in Federer's mind other than "I played bad." Stealing the glory of defeating the world's highest ranked player is not eloquent. Oddly enough, when Federer triumphs, he always lauds his opponent with praise. Thankfully for Fed, that is the usual outcome so he has become known as one of the most gracious winners in all of sports. I wonder what public opinion would have been had Federer's talent not been quite so pristine.