Unpacific heights

The undoubted highlight of 2022 for me was my trip to the US in the summer. I had a particularly agreeable time in San Francisco; lazy days in peaceful parks, intriguing art in quirky galleries, culinary discoveries in exciting restaurants, and a climate that was pleasantly warm, but without the stifling heat and dust of Los Angeles.

I’ve been daydreaming about returning to the Bay Area more or less from the moment I stepped off the return flight, but I must admit I’ve been given some pause by the news today that the SFPD are planning to enhance their crime-fighting effectiveness by deploying killer robots on the city streets.

The actual story is perhaps a little less alarming than the lurid headlines; the androids in question will not be autonomous, and will only be armed in extraordinary circumstances, but still, I’ve seen Robocop, and Terminator, not to mention Blade Runner, so I know one can’t be too blasé about these things. I guess I could always move to Oakland instead…

Martian forward

In a week when discouraging news wasn’t hard to find – the war in Ukraine spilling over into Poland, Donald Trump hitting the comeback trail, the UK government gearing up for another round of austerity – it was heartening to see NASA’s Artemis spacecraft finally get off the ground.

We’ve written before of our disappointment that, well into the 21st century, lunar bases aren’t yet a thing, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the mission goes without a hitch, and the project to use the moon as a stepping stone to Mars comes to fruition within my lifetime. I don’t think things on Earth are quite so bad that leaving the planet is our only hope, or not yet at least, but it’s good to have a plan B…

BBC centenary

It was one hundred years ago today that the British Broadcasting Company, as it was then, transmitted its first programme on the wireless, a news bulletin from London, covering, among other things, billiard scores and the foggy weather. Or it may have been a children’s programme broadcast the previous day from Manchester; records of those pioneering days are a little sketchy.

Whatever the details, when viewed from the perspective of today’s fractured and fractious media landscape it’s hard not to feel a sense of longing for the days when broadcasting was viewed as a way of “spreading culture and good sense”, an antidote to the horrors of the Great War. More recently, the internet seemed to hold similar promise, but that hasn’t really worked out either. Perhaps the next telecommunication revolution will be more successful…

Blue midterms

A problem faced by all political candidates, particularly those operating in highly-polarised environments, is that the positions they have to adopt to get ahead in their own party can prove to be a serious liability when presented to the general electorate. This can be offset to some degree by a tacit understanding between politicians and voters that certain policies are for internal party consumption only, and that, once the election is won, they will be quietly abandoned.

Recent history has destabilised this arrangement however; the example of Donald Trump, who in office was even crazier than he had been on the campaign trail, seems to have convinced floating voters in the US that aspiring public servants should be taken at their word.

Thus the widely-predicted wave of Republican success has failed to materialise, and the Democrats have done remarkably well for an incumbent party at this point in the electoral cycle. Trump-backed candidates touting election-denial and abortion bans have largely floundered, leaving the man himself with a somewhat more difficult path to the GOP nomination in 2024.

It’s not all good news of course; the House is still on course to turn red, which will stymie Joe Biden’s modestly progressive programme, and control of the Senate may once again depend on the outcome of a run-off election in Georgia. The longer-term outlook is a little brighter though; Trump’s new vulnerability will embolden party rivals like Ron DeSantis, and the resulting struggle for the hearts of the ever more extreme Republican base can only further alienate the mass of the electorate.

That doesn’t mean that that Biden can relax about his re-election – the GOP will be redoubling its voter-supression efforts in response to this setback, the economy is still a potential time-bomb, and there may be any number of as-yet unknown crises waiting to break out in the next 2 years – but the odds on seeing Trump, or a Trump-clone, back in the White House are a bit longer than they were 24 hours ago.

Midterm blues

A couple of weeks have passed without a change in Prime Minister, and this relative stability has allowed my attention to drift from what is, in global terms, the sideshow of UK politics to the rather more consequential events on the far side of the Atlantic.

For a while over the summer it looked like the Republican assault on women’s rights would provoke enough of a backlash to preserve Democrat control of both houses of Congress, but as winter has set in the cold economic winds seem set to blow Joe Biden’s legislative programme off course by delivering GOP majorities in the House and perhaps the Senate.

Some commentators are predicting a descent into civil war should the Republicans prevail; that seems a little hyperbolic, or at least I hope so. My take is that the MAGA-fication of the GOP is a blind alley; the influx of assorted kooks and oddballs will fracture the party into a myriad of conspiracy-obsessed factions that will consume themselves in internecine hostility long before they pose any serious threat to the integrity of the nation.

That’s not to say that there won’t be a great deal of unpleasantness ahead, especially once Donald Trump declares his candidacy for 2024, an announcement that may come as early as tonight. Detaching oneself from reality is not a recipe for long-term political success though; as this year in British politics has shown, eventually the facts catch up. Whether the US electorate will figure this out this while they still have the right to vote is the big question; I guess we’ll have a better idea of the answer by this time tomorrow.

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