A hostage to fortune

I have to admit that it looks as if I was completely wrong about Barak Obama’s electability – there doesn’t appear to be any way that he can lose now. In my defence I would say that I couldn’t have imagined just how badly the GOP would screw up their campaign. With one decision – picking Sarah Palin as his running mate – John McCain threw away the single biggest advantage he had, his ability to criticise Obama’s lack of experience. Palin has done all that could be expected of her, shoring up the core Republican support, but I cannot fathom how McCain’s strategists ever thought she would be able to appeal to voters beyond the conservative base. McCain himself has tried to pose as both the elder statesman with the wisdom to lead, and the iconoclast who would shake up the establishment, and has failed to convince on either count.

The main factor that has helped the Democrats more than might have been anticipated though is the state of the economy. Back in the primary season it did look like there was trouble brewing, but no one foresaw that the federal government would be taking over the banking system. Now that even the Bush administration believes in state intervention in the economy on a massive scale, McCain’s jibes about Obama’s “socialism” don’t carry much weight.

Could the Republicans try to steal the election by outright fraud? Right-wing pundits have been advancing various theories about how the opinion polls could be wrong, and why we shouldn’t be surprised if McCain does much better than is expected, and you don’t have to be too paranoid to see that as an attempt to prepare the public for an unbelievable result. It seems to me though that the trouble this would cause – I would anticipate serious civil unrest if McCain is declared the winner next week – would far outweigh any advantage to the ruling class of keeping Obama out of the White House. Despite all the Republican rhetoric Obama is no radical, and there is no evidence to suggest that his administration would be seriously inimical to the interests of American capital. Some special interests – defence contractors and oil companies foremost among them – may have to trim their profit forecasts a little, but for the bulk of US corporations it will be business as usual. They are likely to be much more worried about the general economic situation than the prospect of an Obama presidency, and anyway, of the two candidates, he seems to have the firmest grasp of what is actually going on, and what needs to be done to keep US capitalism on the road.

I still think Hillary Clinton would have made a better candidate, and a better president, but I doubt I’ll be feeling too disappointed next Wednesday.

A foreign country

I was out of town for a few days last week, at a conference in the city where I went to university, prompting some elegiac reminiscence.

Several years have passed since last I was there, and, unsurprisingly, the place has changed a bit. The hotel where my meeting took place was in the district where I used to live, which has gentrified considerably in the time I have been away.

I know that everyone claims that they lived in an edgy part of town when they were in college, but I really did. Even at the time I found it less charmingly picaresque, more scarily lowlife, and I couldn’t imagine residing in such a locale these days. Hookers and dealers on the corners, regular stabbings, an occasional axe-murder, it was never dull I guess. Each day threw up new and interesting questions. Is that body lying on the waste ground across from my house an actual corpse, or just a passed-out junkie? What the hell was all that screaming about last night? Why, despite all the mayhem, do you never see any cops around here? (Except of course when you’re holding, when they seem to be fucking everywhere).

Anyway, it’s all much nicer now. High-end apartments, boutique hotels, classy gift shops and faux-bohemian cafes have taken the place of the crumbling tenements, soup kitchens and thrift stores. Our conference venue occupied a site where once stood the city’s largest homeless shelter. I spotted a few members of the homeless community hanging around in the side alley, looking wistful, as if they were pining for their old haunt. The strange thing was that they all looked much too young to have personal experience of the place; maybe it was some sort of wino ancestral memory.

My friends who still live in the city tell me that all the violence has moved out to the suburbs these days, and if anything it is a bit more intense. Their stories of drive-by shootings make my tales of the bad old days seem a little quaint.

As the years pass I do look back with increasing fondness on my student days, which I guess is an unmistakable sign that I am getting old. I do try to stay focused on the future, and most of the time I succeed, but not many days go by when I don’t think about how nice it would be to be 23 again.

October surprise

I’ve had a good October on the blog; posting regularly, and traffic way up. Now I’m off on vacation for a while, so it’ll probably be back to my usual slacker pace when I return.

View from afar

According to this article in the Guardian yesterday, “People around the world are pinning their hopes on Barack Obama in next month’s presidential election”. Polls in various countries revealed big majorities in favour of Obama – most notably Switzerland, not usually regarded as a bastion of socialism, where 83% preferred Obama, against 7% for McCain.

The surveys also showed that “Only a minority in the countries surveyed describe relations with the US as friendly”, a legacy of the Bush years that US voters will hopefully bear in mind come November. Though of course that information might influence the section of the electorate that McCain is appealing to in a way exactly contrary to the expectation of European leftists like me.

Favorite T

The McCain/Palin campaign has a new tactic; if reality is too uncomfortable, simply create your own alternative world. Glenn Greenwald covers it nicely.

Other news: some Obama supporters don’t like Sarah Palin very much. Now clearly the language is somewhat objectionable (though not to John McCain), but it’s not like they’re issuing death threats or anything. What’s amusing though is how the right-wing bloggers are getting into a lather about how this sort of thing is ignored by the liberal MSM. That’ll be why I had to read about it in that obscure journal the Los Angeles Times.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

I woke up this morning to find that I now have a bank account with the government. This is quite a development, when one considers that the institution that I previously dealt with was until a few weeks ago considered one of the pillars of free market capitalism in this country, and not a basket case that has had to be nationalised to save it from bankruptcy.

I should be feeling fine, I am after all a hard-core leftist, and have marched many a time calling for the commanding heights of the economy to be seized by the state. It’s hard to feel good though, when “depression” stops being something that you can treat with Prozac, and starts being something that will throw millions into poverty.

I’ll probably be OK personally; I work in the public sector, and everybody seems to be a Keynesian these days, so I don’t think my job will be cut. They might even give me a raise, in the hope I’ll rush out and buy a new house. There will be no shortage of business anyhow; human misery is the lifeblood of my profession.

At least REM will be happy; they must be raking in the royalties now that every news show is playing their song over footage of stock traders looking shocked and people queuing up outside banks.

Questions of character

The “Troopergate” enquiry has found that Sarah Palin was guilty of abuse of power and violation of ethics laws, though it also concluded that her decision to fire Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was “a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority”.

Even with my partisan bias I’m struggling to see this as a fatal blow for the McCain/Palin ticket, though clearly it raises serious questions about her judgement. It’s likely that this report will just strengthen people’s existing views; the left will think that it proves that Palin is unfit for office, and the right will point to it as more evidence that the liberal media elite are out to get her.

It’s a sideshow to the main event anyhow; the economy continues to slide, which is bad news for the GOP, hence McCain’s increasingly desperate attempts to shift the debate on to the “character” issue. Things are likely to get even worse before November, and the election is Obama’s to lose.

Fame at last

Second Life Shrink was featured in the Guardian’s “Letters and blogs” column this week, quoting the comment I made about Vic Keegan’s article on how the financial crisis will affect virtual worlds.

This hasn’t boosted my traffic much – two hits have come via this link so far, according to my stats page – but it’s always nice to know that someone, even an anonymous sub-editor, thinks my writing is worth a mention.

Banking on a crisis

Second Life is commanding approximately 0% of my attention right now, what with the US elections reaching their climax (though that last Obama/McCain debate was far too even-tempered, and pretty dull) and the world financial system melting down before our very eyes.

Even a couple of weeks ago the idea that the UK government would be nationalising the banks, even partially, would have seemed like some sort of deluded socialist fantasy. Now there are plenty people saying that Brown and Darling haven’t gone far enough, and they should have taken the whole system into public ownership.

I have spent years of my life standing on cold street corners, giving out flyers expressing such Bolshevist sentiments, and, a lot of the time, meeting with general indifference. Now that I’m semi-retired from such activity, the message is becoming popular again. I should quit politics altogether; my ex-comrades would be in power within the week.

Superstition aint the way

I started attaching tags to my posts a couple of weeks ago in the hope that my pitifully low traffic would pick up a bit. I’m not sure how successful this has been; the graph of my visitor numbers has been as erratic as the Dow:

I did get a comment yesterday, for the first time in a while, from Ann’s New Friend. It was a bit snarky, but any attention is good I guess. I felt it was unfair of him/her to imply that I wasn’t interested in reading opinions that conflicted with my own; I look at right-wing journals and blogs all the time. I was just worried that readers might interpret the fact that I had linked to Real Clear Politics without any comment as meaning that I had some sympathy with the views expressed therein.

Hats off to ANF’s work rate though; I had been feeling pleased that I had managed six posts in a week, but he/she is a true stakanovite who produces fifteen in a day. It’s interesting that the biggest item in his/her tag cloud is “Obama” (as indeed mine is “Palin”); it’s always easier to talk about your opponen’s failings rather than your candidate’s qualities.

It did make me think about why I bother commenting on the US election; hardly anyone reads these posts, and those few who do are unlikely to be swayed by a few links to stuff they’ve probably seen before anyway. I have previously expressed the opinion that blogs are vastly overrated as a medium of political discourse, but I am finding myself more and more drawn into the cross-linked world of the political blogosphere.

I made a light-hearted reference to voodoo the other week, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that blogging has a lot in common with primitive religious rituals. (No offence to adherents of voodoo; I’m using “primitive” in the sense of “uncontaminated by civilisation”).

Faced with a process that is likely to affect my life in many fundamental ways, yet which is completely outwith my control – like a volcano, or winter, or the US Presidential race – I am reverting to simple superstition, offering tribute to the secular gods of liberal elitism, and bowing before the mighty deity that is Tina Fey.