I Wanna Be Sedated

There are about 24 hours to go until the less-than-edifying US Presidential campaign draws to a close, and the long-suffering voters finally get a chance to have their say. The national polls, tracking polls, swing-state polls, early voting indications and pundits all seem to agree that Hillary will win fairly comfortably, albeit not with the landslide that looked likely a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think I, or the rest of the world, will really be able to relax until the final count is in, and even then the trouble may only be starting.

It seems unlikely that Trump will go quietly, but I think fears of widespread unrest are probably overstated. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that what Trump needed was a redemption narrative; he has, of course, been unable to grasp that opportunity, but the story can still work for the nation as a whole. Having flirted with, but ultimately rejected, the spectre of fascism, the US will be able to congratulate itself on still being that shining city upon a hill, the country that we atavistic Europeans can only wish we were, and carry on down the road of American exceptionalism.

It’s not all gloomy though; it looks like marijuana-legalisation measures around the country will pass, as the stoner vote, motivated by anti-Trump animus, turns out in greater than usual numbers. It certainly won’t hurt to have some extra calming influence around…

Half way home

I must admit that I mentally composed an “Unlucky Cubs” post after they lost the second game at Wrigley Field, but, fair play to them, they dug out the wins to take it to a seventh game, though they couldn’t resist giving their long-suffering fans one more bout of anxiety in the decider by blowing a three-run lead in the bottom of the eighth and going to an extra inning, before finally emerging victorious.

I imagine the parties in the Windy City will go on for a while. I’m just hoping that one particular Cubs fan has another reason to celebrate next week too…

How ’bout them Cubs?

I spent a week or so in Chicago back in the early 90s, 92 I think it was. I have a lot of fond memories of that trip; early morning walks along the shore of Lake Michigan, late night music shows, great steaks, and a visit to the charming, ivy-clad arena of Wrigley Field.

I’m not a big baseball fan, but I did enjoy the game that night, or at least I enjoyed chatting to the fans sitting around me in the cheap seats, all of whom were keen to school an ignorant foreigner on the finer points of the sport, though none of them seemed to be paying a huge amount of attention to what was actually going on on the field. I think the Cubs lost, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, and I ended up going out for a few beers with the locals. I have a vague recollection of a bar with a goat-related name – possibly “The Goat” – which years later I realised was probably a reference to the infamous curse. The night ended with me sleeping on the sidewalk because I had missed the curfew at the youth hostel, which wasn’t a joke in Chicago in April, but it felt like it was worth it.

Anyway, it’s good to see the Cubs finally back in the World Series, though it’s not looking too promising for them so far. I hope they turn it around, and give those fans who welcomed me 25 years ago something to cheer about.

Change don’t come easy

The third and final Presidential debate turned out to be a bit anticlimactic. Donald Trump actually performed relatively well, by his own low standards, managing to more or less focus on the issues, before blowing it at the end with his self-defeating reluctance to say he would accept the verdict of the very voters he was supposed to be trying to win over. Hillary Clinton, who, as all observers have noted, might well be struggling against a semi-competent opponent, once again had little to do but avoid disaster, which she managed with the ease one might expect from such a veteran operator.

The papers today have been full of hand-wringing about Trump undermining the traditions of US democracy, which I think is all rather overblown, especially now that he has started to walk back his “No Surrender” position. Hillary will win next month, and an exhausted electorate will move on. The GOP will regroup, and it will be business as usual by the end of the year, in Washington at least. There may be some grumbling from the disaffected elements that Trump has riled up, but they don’t constitute anything like an organised movement, so it’s unlikely to come to anything.

The best chance of real change probably lies in the remnants of the Sanders campaign, but that will be a long-term project. Hillary may progress some mild reform, but, whatever the right say, she’s no revolutionary. For the left, once the distraction of the quadrennial election has passed, it will, as ever, be back to the unglamorous grind of everyday activism, the sort of thing that actually gets things done.

He’s a poet

In an otherwise gloomy week there was one bright spot; Bob Dylan scoring a Nobel Prize for Literature. The somewhat controversial (but thoroughly deserved) award has had everyone quoting their best-loved lyrics, but I haven’t seen anyone mentioning my favourite, Motorpsycho Nitemare; one of the few songs where I can identify completely with the narrator.

Pool’s re-opened

We’re not the only metaversally-orientated blog that’s woken from a coma recently; after a gap of nearly three years the legendary Alphaville Herald has started updating again, with Peter Ludlow back at the helm. (Presumably he has time on his hands after leaving his last job just before getting fired for sexual harassment).

Ludlow, through his alter-ego Urizenus Sklar, has proclaimed a new mission statement for the publication, promising to extend his characteristically overwrought analysis from the virtual realm to real life, specifically contemporary US politics, on the somewhat shaky grounds that “Real Life has become a virtual world”.

So far the fruits of this project are limited to amusing but fairly pointless trolling of an obscure white-supremacist, but presumably it will move on to consider the whole Trump phenomenon, which, representing as it does the griefing of the entire body politic, should be right up Ludlow’s street.

Anti-Social

There’s a passage early in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting where protagonist Renton decides to kick his heroin habit, which he manages, though not without some difficulty (and a trip to the Worst Toilet in Scotland). Afterwards he finds that his friend Sick Boy has come off the smack too, just to piss off Renton by showing how easily he could do it.

In a similar spirit, I resolved last month to quit Facebook, just to prove to myself that I could. Rather to my surprise it’s been pretty painless; after a couple of days the urge to click the familiar blue icon on my phone more or less completely faded. I was a bit worried that, divorced from my carefully curated timeline, I might fall out of touch with world events and popular culture, but it turns out that looking at the BBC news a couple of times a day and listening to the radio are just as effective in this regard as compulsively checking the latest minor updates every few minutes, so I don’t feel that I’ve lost anything terribly valuable.

What have I actually gained though? A gratifying glow of smugness when I sit on the train and look at all the sheeple hypnotised by their corporate overlords of course, and probably something intangible, like a deeper connection with the natural world around me or the like. I can’t say that I’ve done anything particularly constructive with the hour or two a day freed up by this change in habit, but I guess regaining the ability to just do nothing for periods of time is actually quite valuable.

In the story Renton eventually relapses, and his subsequent detox is exponentially more horrifying than the first, so I suppose that I shouldn’t get too complacent after just a few weeks of abstinence. I need to find some other diversional activity – perhaps I’ll take up blogging again…

Information overload

Today is apparently the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web (again), which seems like a good excuse to reflect on the future of our own little contribution to the medium, namely this blog.

One of the many statistics that I’ve seen bandied about today is that, of the billion or so web pages in existence, around 75% are inactive. I’m not sure exactly what the definition of “inactive” is in this context, but I’d have to admit that SLS, with our relaxed update schedule, must be at least flirting with it.

Why is this? It’s not as if I’ve become any less opinionated in the last couple of years, and there’s certainly no shortage of subjects to comment upon. If anything that’s the problem; the sheer deluge of information, handily delivered at all hours of the day, means I never have time to stop and write about anything before I’m distracted by the next item on the timeline. Even when I do pause long enough to start to formulate some thoughts on a subject, I tend to be discouraged by the feeling that someone else will undoubtedly have already expressed them, and probably more eloquently, a suspicion that I can usually confirm with a couple of clicks.

Would it really matter if this blog slipped into a permanent limbo? To the world, I guess not, but I would feel more than a twinge of regret. I enjoy reading our old posts, and it would seem like a shame to give up just when we are closing in on our tenth birthday.

So what’s to be done? I have to drop back to a slower pace of news acquisition; perhaps I should start reading actual papers again, instead of addictively clicking on a Facebook feed. I could get rid of my smartphone and attempt to wean myself off of the need to be constantly connected. I might even try just hanging out with my friends and talking about stuff, like we used to do back in the old days.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve tasted the sweet drug that is the modern internet, and I’m not about to give it up. I’ll just have to try harder not to be so passive…

Obscure future

Well, for about 109 minutes there it looked like I might have finally produced an accurate football tournament prediction, but no luck, for me nor France.

My political forecasting skills are not much better; despite my confident assertion that Boris Johnson would be the next Prime Minister he didn’t even make it on to the ballot. Instead we are to have a female premier, which sounds like it should be progressive, but neither Theresa May nor Andrea Leadsom are exactly hard-core feminists, so perhaps not.

There had been talk of an early election, but that possibility seems to be receding, and with it hopes that Brexit could be averted by some sort of democratic means. There are a couple of legal cases pending that seek to overturn the referendum result, but, aghast as I was at the leave vote, I would hesitate to change the outcome by such a method, since it would only drive already alienated sections of the population into the arms of the far-right.

I guess we just have to play the long game; as the Chilcot Report has shown, progressive positions are usually vindicated with the passage of time, even if it is years too late to make any difference.

Euro 2016 forecast

On a lighter note, the other big question in Europe yet to be resolved is that of which team will emerge victorious in Euro 2016. Since my record of predicting the winners of big tournaments is little short of woeful, I’ve waited until the quarter-final lineup has been finalised before hazarding a guess – France to beat Belgium in the final. So put your money on Iceland