Forward to the past

This time last year I was just starting to rekindle my interest in the US presidential elections, having gone off the process a bit after my favoured candidate, Hillary Clinton, failed to clinch the Democratic nomination. At that time it looked as though the race could be uncomfortably close, but that was before the Republicans unveiled their secret weapon, VP-nominee Sarah Palin, and the world breathed a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that Obama had it in the bag.

Ms Palin has been back in the news this month, having decided that staying on to complete the job she was elected to do in Alaska would be the “quitter’s way out”, and that she would show she was no quitter by, er, quitting. Now that she no longer has the tiresome responsibility of looking after the wellbeing of her constituents, she is free to start building her campaign for 2012.

It amazes me that anyone in the US, even those on the right, could think that Palin is the best shot the GOP has at regaining the White House, especially after the drubbing they received back in November. The one thing sure to keep the coalition that swept Obama to power together is the sort of intolerant social conservatism that may play well to the ever-shrinking right-wing base, but just alienates the rest of the population.

The Democrats would be much more vulnerable to the sort of fiscally conservative/socially liberal approach that’s being peddled by David Cameron and the Conservatives here in the UK. In a depression no one cares too much about gay marriage or abortion; they’re too busy worrying about losing their jobs and their homes.

I guess the Democratic and Republican strategists will be waiting to see how the election here works out, when it finally comes. It seems sure to be fought on economic rather than social issues. I think that there will be a real divide between the main parties this time around, with Labour proposing a continuation of deficit-funded government spending, which will, theoreticaly, kick-start the growth that will eventually pay off the national debt, while the Conservatives will be offering painful public sector cuts now with the promise of better times in the future. It’s difficult to see a Labour victory though, since the mood of the country, like the US last year, is for change, unsurprising when one considers the economic mess we are in.

Obama doesn’t seem to be making much headway in tackling the financial crisis; there’s every chance that come 2012 he could lose to a Republican candidate promising small goverment and a balanced budget. With Cameron in charge over here it will be the Reagan/Thatcher years all over again.

On second thoughts, maybe a Palin candidacy wouldn’t be so bad…

Fly me to the moon

40 years ago today Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot upon the moon. I was alive at the time, but too young to have any memories of the actual event. I do remember that when I was growing up in the ’70’s, watching TV shows like UFO and Space:1999, reading comics like 2000AD and lots of pulpy sci-fi novels (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein is one that especially sticks in my mind), and of course seeing Star Wars at the cinema, I just took it for granted that by the time I was an adult there would be widely-available space travel, permanent bases on the moon and regular trips to Mars and beyond.

Whole books have been written about my generation’s disappointment when these visions of the 21st Century failed to materialise. What we got was the internet, with virtual worlds to explore instead of alien planets. It is possible to visit a the SL version of Tranquility Base:


and numerous other lunar-themed sims, like this somewhat gloomy moonbase:


or this rather cooler one:


but I can’t help feeling a bit cheated.

The disillusionment isn’t just a generational thing though. It reflects my internal dissatisfaction with the course that my life has taken, as I age and am forced to acknowledge that there are some opportunities that will never come my way. It’s not that I’m unhappy with the decisions that I have taken over the years, just that every path that one chooses means leaving many more untrodden.

And anyway, I’m still hopeful that NASA will get their act together and make space travel available to the masses before I die. I just want to see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars

(Don’t) Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment

Asia is far ahead of the West in the recognition and treatment of internet addiction. While we agonise over whether the condition exists at all, the authorities in the East are already taking action; the South Korean government has made tackling cyberaddiction a national health priority, and the splendidly-named Chinese Teenager Mental Growth Base of the General Hospital of the Beijing Military Area Command of the PLA has issued guidelines on “Preventing Network Addiction at Home” (to be read in conjunction with “Basic Principles for A Harmonious Family”).

Unfortunately I have been unable to track down a translated version of the Chinese guidelines, so I don’t know what they recommend, but apparently the treatment options don’t include electroshock therapy, since the Chinese Ministry of Health has just ordered a clinic in Shandong province to stop using the method to discourage teenagers from spending too much time on the net. As a report in the Wall Street Journal notes, the efficacy of the treatment was called into question by the fact that disgruntled ex-patients had chosen to register their dissatisfaction with the clinic by setting up an online protest group.

I do believe that internet addiction exists, though I think it is more useful to conceptualise it as an impulse control disorder than an addiction as such. In my, fairly limited, experience of managing the condition CBT is the treatment of choice, along with pharmacological therapy for any co-morbid mood or anxiety disorder.

I’m not sure that everyone would agree with that though…

Wind of Change

When Second Life Shrink was placed at 108 in ArminasX’s list of SL blogs a few months ago, I posted an entry that claimed that we were the blogging equivalent of tennis player Virginia Ruano Pascual. The implication was that we were, like Ms Pascual, relatively low-profile, but heavy hitters. The analogy was misleading in two regards however. We only made 108 on the list thanks to ArminasX’s idiosyncratic numbering scheme, which disregarded ties (so instead of 1st, 2nd equal, 2nd equal, 4th, it went 1st, 2nd equal, 2nd equal, 3rd and so on, even when there were hundreds of blogs on the same rank); a more conventional system was have put us at about 1200. Ms Pascual’s ranking of 108 referred to singles, but her grand-slam titles have all been in doubles, where she is the world number 4.

Despite this, it did look for a while as if our careers were on similar trajectories; while Virginia was winning her tenth grand-slam doubles title at Roland Garros in May, we were in the middle of a run of posts that saw our traffic hit new heights and our Technorati rating finally break into the top 1 million. (We’re currently at 751,289, which puts us in the most popular 0.6% of bloggers, if you believe the figures).

Since then though, not so good. Virginia did pretty well at Wimbledon last month, getting through to the semi-final, but we managed a mere three posts, and our hit-count, while not falling off a cliff, has been disappointing compared with previous months.

The main problem is that my star correspondent has gone off on indefinite summer vacation, so we’re a bit low on virtual-world reportage right now, since I do just about all my internet browsing from my iPhone these days, and they’ve not released a Second Life app yet.

I was beginning to think that we’d mined the Second Life seam to exhaustion anyhow. Sigmund Leominster posted a piece on moribund SL blogs last month, which made me think that everything that has been written about Second Life was some variation on one of two themes: “Look at this cool thing I found” or “Look how the anonymity of the metaverse allows people to delude themselves/behave badly/expose their unconscious”. We were definitely starting to repeat ourselves; it may well be worth taking a break from SL discourse until we think of something new to say.

I will try to fit in a visit to Zindra some time in the not-too-distant future, since we would have to turn in our SL blogging licence if we failed to form an opinion on that development, but I think that SLS will be taking a turn towards more general cultural commentary over the next few months.

And if that’s not a development on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall, then I don’t know what is…

Nothing to do with your Vorsprung durch Technik

As I mentioned before, I’m not really in the festival-going demographic any more, so when Glastonbury rolled around this weekend I settled down in my comfy chair to watch it on the TV.

It’s getting on for a decade since I last attended the festival in person, and, fun though it was, I can’t say that I miss the authentic outdoor experience all that much. It’s not that I have any bad memories of Glasto – every time I went the weather was pretty good, and I was never ripped off or anything – but latterly it began to feel like a lot of hard work, trudging around huge fields packed with alarmingly young-looking people, all for the sake of a distant glimpse of an indifferent performance by a band I was only half-interested in to start with.

I can count the festival performances that I remember with real excitement on one hand – Nirvana at Reading, the Pixies at T in the Park and the Flaming Lips at Glastonbury. There were plenty of other festivals that were fun at the time, but stick in my mind for reasons other than the music, like the people I was with, or the drugs we were taking.

So having my friends round to get stoned in the comfort of my own house is how I get the festival vibe these days. The BBC coverage of Glasto was pretty good, and when it got dull we could always put on a record. Watching Blur play their greatest hits on Sunday night was pleasantly nostalgic, a trip back to the great summer of ’95. I was never hugely into Britpop, to be honest. I did buy all the albums – Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and the rest, even Sleeper, god help me – but I was more of an American alt-rock fan at the time. (I was deeply in love with Tanya Donelly for a greater part of the ’90’s). Parklife has aged pretty well though, and we all got up to dance around when Phil Daniels came on to do the title track. Know what I mean?

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