Saturday, February 28, 2009

Real Time Real Truth

I've been more than a bit deprived, living here in the UK for the past two decades, so I didn't get to experience the phenomenon that was Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher's show which ran from 1993 until 2002 on Comedy Central and on ABC. So, I'd really never heard of Bill Maher, until last year when I discovered, via the magic of the internet, Real Time with Bill Maher.

I'm an absolute fan of the man. As we're of a similar age and educational background, I feel he's pretty much a spokesman for people of my generation who espouse a progressive point of view socially and politically. I know his background is in comedy, but I actually think he's one of the most astute political commentators about these days, especially in the US. I can't see an equivalent in the UK - the closest, I would surmise, here would be a chappie called Ian Hislop, but he's not nearly as clever, quick or erudite.

Nope, Bill Maher is our national treasure.

I've watched the requisite Daily Show and the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, and while I know that they get the kudos, the positive criticism and the big names to interview, I prefer Real Time. Real Time is always the bridesmaid at the Emmy Awards and it doesn't (for various reasons) attract the big players in the political world for the big interviews - but it does give a platform for the serious players of the future. For example, one of the panel guests this week was Gavin Newsom, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, and next week the Newark mayor Cory Booker will be on the show. I can see both men as future Presidential material and I'm impressed with both. Of course, as they both rise through the ranks (Newsom has gubernatorial aspirations and Booker will probably go the Senate route), they'll appear less and less on Bill's show - Rahm Emanuel used to be a fixture, but as Bill said recently in a Larry King interview, he probably wouldn't touch Real Time now; but if nothing else, this is a program which makes the public who watches sit up and take notice of some people.

I don't know why the big guns forego this program. I like to think it's more because of Bill Maher's interviewing techniques rather than anything about the man, himself. He's easily the most apt political interviewer in the game today. He has a tenacious knack of getting the person being interviewed to answer the questions, without badgering, haggling or being aggressive. He's subtle. He asks a question once and if the interviewee waffles, he demurs politely with 'Let me put it a different way ...' and rephrases the question. If more waffling continues, he changes tack: 'So, in a manner of speaking ...' and reiterates again, in a different mode. Nine times out of ten, he scores. The person being interviewed actually commits to the question, and by the time he's realised the commitment, Maher's moved onto a different topic. It's gotcha journalism with finesse. And if he doesn't score the point, he leaves the person being interviewed with a surmisal that's tart and to the point, but never rude.

He's got a reputation for being snarky, but his snark has a particular point. And people have accused him of being anti-American, but if you can't criticise your country, you really can't be said to love it. You always want to improve upon something or someone you love. At the moment, we're going through a pretty perilous time all around in the US and worldwide. Yet, as Maher points out, the 'Loyal Opposition', seems to be intent on maintaining the status quo which got us into this deep shit in which we're barely swimming at the moment. And they're doing so for no other reason but jealousy and bitter resentment that the Democrats now have the bully pulpits of the White House and Congress and they've got a President with the courage, tenacity and abject balls to steer us, as a country, in a different direction. They're opposing for opposition's sake, for sheer unadulterated orneriness. Is that 'loving your country'?

One of the best definitions of patriotism I've ever heard in my life comes from Mark Twain, who said that patriotism is loving your country all the time and your government when they deserve it. I've heard Maher allude to that quotation as well. I'd like to add another, this time from Thomas Jefferson, who said, when a government rules for the people, that's good, but a government who rules the people is bad and must be opposed. On that basis alone, I think opposition to Bush and the neocon criminals who took us down the road to financial ruin and an illegal war, was entirely justified.

In the run up to the election last fall, Stewart and Colbert were getting the big names to do silly turns on their programs. They wouldn't touch Real Time with the proverbial barge pole; but Maher turned it up a gear. He took it upon himself to highlight everything, absolutely everything questionable about the GOP candidates, and in particular, the woefully inadequate Sarah Palin, that the mainstream media was afraid to mention: Troopergate, Palin's teenage daughter's pregnancy after Palin's espousal of abstinence, the witch doctor connection, Troopergate, the Bridge to Nowhere, and - most of all - Palin's association with an illegal secessionist organisation. He, rightfully, banged a gong about her ignorance, her inarticulace, her unwillingness to reprimand hecklers at her rallies calling for the death of the Democratic candidate, her profligacy with taxpayers' money and her lies about ACORN and Obama 'palling around with terrorists'. But most of all, he highlighted again and again, her desire and that of the GOP in general, to rewrite the Constitution along blatantly fundamentalist Christian terms, when specifically the document was written by an areligious group of men who were products of the European Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century, in hopes of establishing a purely secular type of government, the first of its kind in the world. Maher emphasised this again and again, week after week, to the point that he positively schooled the WSJ's John Lund into silence and shamed him with Lund's own hypocrisy.

It was a moment of sheer interviewing brilliance.

Lund was bigging up Palin as the candidate to watch, banking on her popularity with the base of the Republican Party, which had controlled the GOP agenda since Baby Bush came to power. Maher challenged Lund, an obviously intelligent man. He asked seriously if Lund actually believed Palin was qualified, on day one, to become POTUS. Without blinking, Lund asserted that she was. Maher rephrased the question, only to have Lund reaffirm the answer. Maher then suggested that after the show, after a couple of drinks, perhaps Lund might say what he really thought; whereupon John Lund pulled the po-face of offence and reiterated his support for Mrs Palin and labelled Maher that dreaded word 'elitist'.

Yes, Bill Maher agreed, he probably was elitist, and a snob as well. But he pointed out, quite rightly to Lund, that were Palin not, in fact, the Vice-Presidential candidate for the GOP, she was the sort of woman Lund wouldn't even think to have lunch with. He then admitted, himself, to being an arch cynic, but - he continued - people like Lund were worse than cynical. They were cynical manipulators; because people like Lund knew that Palin was a fraud, and yet they went blithely selling her as the real deal to the American people ... and that, he finished, was wrong.

You certainly wouldn't have seen that around the panel table on Meet the Press, even with the sainted Tim Russert moderating.

I used to watch MTP regularly with Russert and was sad at his passing; and I thought this would be a perfect showcase for Maher to exercise his talents - not that I ever thought NBC would think out of the box and show a bit of ingenuity with an appointment like that. But it certainly would have moved the show up a notch from the non-entity it's become since being hosted by Karl Rove's dancing puppet David Gregory.

Now that the Democrats are in power, I wondered what Real Time had in store when it began again last week. Well, there's the economy, for starters. Bill's of the opinion that Obama's pretty much transparent, but only up to a point: that we're sinking in deep shit and that if he told us the real truth, we'd panic - as we've become a nation of panickers, nurtured thus by the Reign of Terror of Bushco. I must admit, I thought this all along. Bill still reckons that the American public is stupid. He's saying something that I and many more of our generation have thought for a long time but were too polite to say it. I know it, because I come from a rural Southern background, but was raised in a very leftwing household. You kept your mouth shut and assimilated and you didn't talk politics with the rubes, the rednecks and the bubbas. But Bill saying what we've all thought has loosened our tongues.

I know, and so do a lot of other people, that the country's tanking and tanking badly; I know that it started in earnest, with Reagan and Reaganomics. I lived through Thatcherism and that's Reaganomics in British. I remember Gordon Gekko and his real life counterpart Nick Leeson. I know too, that this time around, people were lulled into a false sense of wellbeing and keeping up with the Joneses through credit card debt and being given easy mortgage money for houses they couldn't hope to afford. And I know too, as Gavin Newsom, said on the program this week, that Obama's just going to keep throwing ideas and plans at the problem until something works, because, as Bill said, that's all he can do -and he is, probably, the only President I can remember in my lifetime, who's actually hit the ground running after being elected.

Another point he hit upon last week and this week is also something I've been banging on about since I was at the University of Virginia back in the mid-Seventies, and that's bringing the military back home. ALL the military. They're leaving Iraq. Let's forget about Afghanistan too - because as Maher stated last week, maybe they aren't ready for 'our sort of freedom.' This is something I've felt for years. Studying Spanish affords one the opportunity to study a bit about Islam as well, because Muslims inhabited the Iberian peninsula until 1492, which is fairly recent in terms of European history. The history of the Middle East and its inhabitants doesn't lend itself easily to the Western European notion of democracy, which is one of the reasons the State of Israel makes them uncomfortable. But I've always alleged that loads of money could be freed up if we'd stop having military outposts abroad. In fact, the first year of my marriage, my late mother and I scared the living shit out of my very British civil servant husband by launching into a rant over Sunday dinner about the US should come out of NATO, full stop. So, Bill, you're preaching to the choir here.

But, I do, take a bit of exception to something he said in last week's show. Bill maintained that the only people now wanting to immigrate to the US were those from basically Third World countries, that no one in, say, Denmark was queueing up to come to the States. Well, maybe not Denmark, Bill, but most Brits would tear their right arms off to get that almighty Green Card. I can tell you that truly. Sixty per cent of people in Britain aged between 24 and 60 are desperate to leave, and the countries targetted are the US, Australia and Canada. So whilst the Scandinavians might be satisfied with six months of darkness, saunas, high prices, and rolls in the snow, the British are trying to invade our shores again, by hook or by crook.

There have been various and sundry rumors flying about since the beginning of the year, that MSNBC are targetting Bill Maher, possibly to fill their 10pm slot after Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman. That would be innovative, and if it happened, I'd hope they'd give Bill the free reign of expression HBO affords him. I know he's appeared on that network many times, being interviewed by Maddow and Chris Matthews, who's appeared on Real Time, himself. And while I welcome Real Time as my favorite show of the moment, I'd welcome seeing Bill Maher on MSNBC too ... as long as NBC realise and appreciate what a national treasure he is. National treasures should be cherished and appreciated ... and eventually become edgy and esteemed moderators of Meet the Press. Sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mortality Bite - A Requiem

Even now, after years of living a fairly cosmopolitan lifestyle on the European side of the Atlantic, I'm still a bit superstitious in a countrified sort of way, especially when it comes to things occurring in triplicate.

Back in November, the week before Thanksgiving, one of my cousins from North Carolina telephoned me to tell me that a man whom I'd known when we were both teenagers, someone my own age, had suddenly died that morning. I hadn't seen him since our paths crossed partying when Virginia played Wake Forest in some sort of sporting event back in the mid-Seventies. He lived in a town where one of my cousins was the local GP and I used to spend some weeks every summer there as a young girl. The next week, my oldest friend e-mailed me to tell me, again, of the death of another man, with whom we attended elementary and high school, someone I'd not seen in almost thirty years.

I remember remarking at the time to my husband that there must be a third death. 'Things like that always happen in threes,' I said.

At the moment, I'm mentally (and physically) preparing to go back to the US for two weeks from next Monday. Sunday evening, I received and e-mail from an old friend back in Virginia, telling me of the death of yet another friend; but this time, this death hit home. He told me that our mutual friend, who is a couple of years my senior, had been feeling ill since last week. He lived on his own, near his elderly aunt, whose husband had died a couple of months previously. His aunt and cousins apparently had urged him to see a doctor, but he reckoned the illness was minor and would pass. Saturday morning, he was found dead in his home.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about him since. This was someone I grew up with from a small child. He was the older boy that young girls fancied. I certainly fancied him as an awkward 8th grader, when he was a more knowledgeable sophomore, who always seemed to have time to talk with someone so plebeian. I took Spanish because he studied Spanish. I read books he read. I had the ultimate crush to end all crushes. He graduated two years ahead of me and went off to study at the University of Richmond, the prototype of John-Boy Walton's fictitious Boatwright University.

My second year at Virginia, I was getting ready for a date, when Jackie suddenly appeared at the door of my dorm room. In his last year at Richmond, he stopped by en route home from college for the weekend, deciding on the off-chance, to visit, taking the trouble to stop by the Student Union and ask my address. I promptly went to the hall payphone, called my date and pleaded period cramps. Jackie made it as far as Charlottesville that weekend, and Jackie and I made it.

That was the beginning of a poignant yet unusual friendship-love affair. It was a bit of both, but more of the first than the second. Rather than being lovers who devolve into friends, we were friends who slept together on occasion, usually when we would find ourselves between relationships or just when we found ourselves within a five-mile radius of each other. But there was never a time that it happened when it didn't need to happen, even if it meant cancelling other arrangements previously organised. It had its own pattern during college. Jackie would just 'show up' on a Friday evening or a Saturday afternoon. If another boy were hanging about the premises, he would have to go - even if it meant I never saw him again. If I found myself at a loose end on a Saturday afternoon, I'd ring. 'I fancy a drive to Richmond,' I'd say. 'There's a girl down from Mary Wash,' he'd say. 'But don't worry. I'll get rid of her. Tell her it's a family emergency. Get driving.'

When he finished uni, he worked for a couple of years in DC and lived at home. By my third year, I was seeing a boy who was a rigid Republican and destined for law school. But everytime I came home, there was Jackie. It drove my mother crazy that I had what she termed one boyfriend in Charlottesville and another hanging home. But I could never explain to her that what I had with Jackie wasn't a 'boyfriend thing'. It was almost inexplicable.

It wasn't the sex, although that was part of it, certainly. It was the talking, the laughing, the connecting on a certain level. It was making contact with someone who'd known me from the word dot and who I was letting know me in a way I couldn't open up with my proper college boyfriend. Maybe it was friendship on another level.

He was the last person I saw before I left for Spain. He was the first person I saw on the morning of my 21st birthday. The year after I graduated, he accepted a position out West and left for a couple of years. I taught school locally for three years, living at home, then relocated back to Charlottesville to teach middle school there. At the end of my initial year there, I came home, planning to stay only for the weekend. As soon as I entered the door, my mother informed me that Jackie was back. His grandmother had died the previous month and he was back sorting out the legal details of the house. He'd already called and would be calling back that evening. Within five minutes he was on the phone.

We went out to dinner, and I came back to my parents' house on Sunday morning. He'd broken off a relationship and I'd just broken an engagement with my lawyer fella. I suppose we were what each other needed, before the end of the summer when he left for Boulder again.

After that summer, somehow, we lost touch. I got married and went to live in England. It was years before anyone in my home community heard from him again. Then suddenly, out of the blue, he turned up five years ago, alone, unemployed and living in his grandmother's old house. I was visiting at the time, and everything seemed normal with him at first. I visited and we spent a whole afternoon just reminiscing. We went to the grocery store, bought some steak and salad and I made a meal. Then I went back to my aunt's, where I was staying. It was two nights before I left for the UK and he gave me a hug that went on forever.

That was the last I saw of him. When I was home in March, I mentioned dropping by, calling, but my aunt dissuaded me. 'Not now,' she cautioned. 'You wouldn't want to see him the way he is and he wouldn't want you to.' That scared me, and, trusting her judgement, I did as she bode. I asked no questions about 'the way he was'; I didn't want to know.

And now he's dead. My friend, who e-mailed me with the news, reckoned he had pneumonia. To me, untrained, it sounded like heart failure or something coronary-related. The funeral, a cremation, is Thursday; and I'll miss that to; but I wouldn't have wanted to go, for the same reason I never went to either of my parents' funerals. They're supposed to be closure, but the finality of seeing a coffin lowered into the ground or sped along a conveyor belt into a crematorium is just too final a finality for me. It's the end.

I don't know what happens after death. None of us, for all the surmisings and musings and religious hocus-pocus fairy tales, know what happens when a body's heart stops and his brain ceases to function. But seeing dirt fall on top of a coffin or watching one whisked away to be burned marks an end as dark and dire as the concept of Hades. At least, in my mind and memories, my parents still live. I remember them as they were, alive, healthy and vibrant.

When I learned of the earlier deaths of Evander, the boy from North Carolina and Mike, the boy I'd gone to school with, they appeared in my minds the way I last saw them - healthy and on the cusp of young manhood. Virile. Strong. Ready to meet and greet the world at large.

I'd like to remember Jackie like the time he first 'dropped by' my dorm room, when I was all of nineteen and he twenty-one, with his long blonde curls and his bedroom brown eyes and his slow and gentle smile. That way, he'll live for me. Forever young.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Selectively Deaf


Selectively Deaf?

OK, hissy fit of self-pity over. Back to business.

I watched the NBC Evening News on the web last night and saw the performance put in on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange by Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter.

Pardon me, I know that the MSM has a particular slant these days, depending on the network news you watch. Fox purports to be fair and balanced, when it's actually a fair and balanced look at things from the right wingnut direction. The BBC certainly has a particular slant, backed by the 'tax' imposed upon anyone owning a television in the UK, even though its charter requires it to be absolutely impartial.

I actually thought that reporters, be they working for a newspaper or in the television/radio media, are there merely to 'report' the factual news and not offer opinionated comment. Leave the latter to the domain of op-edders and social commentators.

But last night I witnessed this CNBC bod giving the performance of a lifetime, on the eve of the Oscars, in radging Chicago's finest, when it comes to making money, into a frenzy of consternation at the President's proposal that taxpayers should - shock, horror - use their taxes to help bail their 'neighbours' out of titchy mortgage predicaments. Santelli's outburst rivalled the sublime hissy fit Lindsey Graham threw on the Senate floor last week, stamping his foot against the Recovery Package. Santelli made Obama's mortgage rescue sound like the ultimate last bastion of forced philanthropic socialism.

It's not.

There followed various and sundry man-in-the-street interviews with concerned citizens who railed against their tax dollars being used to bail out some poor Joe who was remiss with his mortgage payments, some deadbeat.

But ... the plan's not like that.

The night BEFORE this diatribe, I actually listened to the President unveil this plan in Arizona, John McCain's home state, no less (and they say the Americans don't understand irony). I listened to his words. Maybe, in the confusion of diverse and various vocabulary milling about in my brain, I didn't hear or comprehend him correctly. Maybe in a rush of surplus estrogen, I played the adolescent and heard what I wanted to hear, but I honestly don't think so.

I heard the President say that this plan wouldn't help everyone. That it was designed to help those people who'd brought their homes in good faith, who'd paid religiously every month their mortgage payments, who'd lost a job or had a downsize in employment, who'd used their savings et al to help with the payments, who'd opened the 401K ... in short, people who'd paid regularly, despite their personal circumstances, until their funds etc had been depleted and they were now staring foreclosure in the face. I also heard him say it would not benefit the property speculator who sought to buy a house and sell within a few months at a profit, only to buy another. And I heard him say that it wouldn't benefit those people who'd bought houses they couldn't afford, with no intent to pay. And on the selfsame Nightly News last night, I heard another reporter say that 92% of Americans with mortgages, pay these on time.

So Santelli whips the public into a frenzy about 8% of the mortgage-holding public. First, you have to ask yourself how many Americans HAVE mortgages; then, you have to take 8% of that figure. Finally, you have to spread that figure over the United States as a whole.

Hardly a neighbourhood, is it?

I suppose we can congratulate ourselves on finally reaching the theta-clear of Thatcherism: the 'I'm All Right, Jack' philosophy of, as long as I'm doing ok, fuck the rest of you people. The ordinary Joes interviewed had better stop and think of the repercussions of having even one foreclosed house located down the street from their own. (Pssst! There goes the neighbourhood. It doesn't look good. It devalues your home, in the event that you want to sell or that you - dare I say it - die). So it's actually moot that a bit of good old fashioned socialism is using your involuntary tax contribution to help your fellow citizen stay in his home and pay his mortgage on time.

You have to look at it this way. In these most uncertain of times, it could actually happen to you; then you'd be singing from a different hymnal.

After all, what is socialism but 'to each according to his ability, for each according to his means'? It's sort of compassionate government, and we're totally unfamiliar with that concept.

Fishing Out of Water

I'm going to regret doing this, I know, but as no one ever reads this blog, nor ever will, maybe I'll use this post as a catharsis to make myself feel a bit better. I'm suffering today from what Winston Churchill called 'the black dog.'

It's a massive dose of depression. No reason. The sun's shining, which is rare in Britain, I'm healthy, I've still got a job (even though the industry is suffering) and I'll be on holiday in less than two weeks. I have a husband who loves me, and when I go home, I'll be seeing relatives who feel the same and friends who care. So, why am I sitting here in my office, with my door shut to the world and tears running down my face?

Because I'm stupid, that's why, I suppose.

I'm stupid because for some reason, I was 'blessed' with a talent for language learning. I was able to study a foreign language and grasp more of it than the odd word or the ubiquitous ability to conjugate verbs. I wanted to use another language to communicate, to travel to other countries and engage with people who lived there in their own language. I was able to do this and, in doing this, I learned that learning a language, was more than just the ability to speak another language, it was the willingness and openness to immerse oneself in another culture, because language is just a mere manifestation of another culture. The trouble is, unlike a lot of English-speaking people, I didn't regard the 'other cultures' I visited as quaint or as a diversion. I thought I felt at home there, in Mediterranean Europe.

When I came back to the States, after my first trip (which had lasted three months), I know now that I went about beginning to subtly reject the country of my birth. I was in my third year at university. I only sought out the company of girlfriends who'd been abroad with me and our conversations consisted only of reminiscing about our time spent in Spain and Italy; but there was a difference: they'd viewed the trip abroad only as what it was - a vacation. For me, it was a goal. Somehow, I'd live in Spain or Italy. Someway, I'd work there. I'd go native, marry a citizen and raise bilingual children. Such was the stuff of dreams in the 'do-anything' Seventies.

Naive, eh?

As for male acquaintances, I carried on dating, flicking between two conservative Southern boys and pretending to be amused by what they had on offer, yet all the time comparing their somewhat awkward pawings and pokings with the filet mignon I'd had on demand in both Spain and Italy. These boys (and I considered them that) wanted pleasing; both my Spanish boyfriend and my Italian fella knew how to give pleasure as well as receive it.

(Now there's an argument raging in my main office, between the Italian owner's son and the Polish man hired to speak with the Polish drivers for our firm, people quite willing to work in the UK for better wages, but who really can't be assed to learn the language to communicate.) This is why I was hired for this job - to speak to Italians, French and Spanish, all of whom this company deals with on a daily basis, because the English enterprise can't be assed to learn how to communicate. So here I sit, a foreigner in this land, speaking languages not my own, on behalf of other foreigners.

And the irony of my situation is, although I'm communicating, there's really no one communicating with me. No one's speaking my 'language'. I can't tell anyone what interests me or how I feel because no one wants to know. I can't tell my family at home because I've made my bed and now I'm condemned to lie in it. They're all right, so I should be too. I can't tell my husband because - well, because I've tried before and he hasn't understood a gist of what I'm saying and I only end up apologising for feeling the way I do. And I can't begin to tell my friends because they all think of me now as something on the order of an exotic flower, an anomaly both familiar and foreign. They can't imagine me being unhappy, having successfully escaped from what they see as a mundane existence.

I'd take 'mundane', happily. I'd take the umpteen phone calls daily from elderly aunts trying to interfere and offer useless criticism of my lifestyle, I'd take cousins and local friends arriving unannounced and entering my house without knocking for a snouch through my fridge, I'd take living alone for the rest of my life with a small dog, if I could have that house in Virginia. I'd admit failure and work at anything if I had the courage to walk out on this life I have here and start over, but I wonder if it's too late. The husband's just rung with a rant about a parking fine I got which he'll pay. That's trivial. I got the fine trying to do an errand for him in an hour's lunch break and I parked on a double line to save time. That's life in Britain.

I have the internet and e-mail and the occasional phone call, and that's the 'contact' I get with my home. I want the physical and everything bad that that entails. Absolutely everything, if I could just go back in time, know what I know now and just stay Stateside. I hear various people complaining about America and Americans, how stupid they are, how they prefer Biblical myth to scientific reality, how they want God and Christianity incorporated into the secular Constitution, how they cling to guns and inbred prejudices. Yes, all that's true. But Europe has their village idiots too and their foibles go back further than ours.

I made a mistake, fishing out of water. I want to come home. There might be nothing there, I might be just as much on my own there as I desperately feel I am here, but at least the surroundings would be familiar.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More Sinned Against than Sinning?

OK, so Tom Daschle's bowed out of contention for Secretary of Health, Safety and Education, effectively the President's czar in charge of putting together a viable universal health plan for all US citizens - introducing us to the joys of socialised medicine. Concurrent with this responsibility would have also been responsibility for kick-starting a stagnant education system left to rot by the fundamentalist Republicans, who abandoned science to Creationism and the state school system to chartered schools. No child left behind. Yeah, sure.

So Daschle is no more, and various and sundry names are now being bandied about. Caroline Kennedy has been mentioned, no doubt as a sop for the cack-handed attempt on her part and fostered by her family to ensconce her firmly in the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton for the State Department. That's not to say that Ms Kennedy-Schlossberg wouldn't be a good choice. At least, she's had experience lobbying for the needs of the New York City public school system, even if her children received the best private education money could buy.

But there's one name which has been left out of consideration altogether ... John Edwards. Edwards had an absolutely cracking plan for universal health care, viable portions of which were adroitly adopted by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton when Edwards dropped out of contention for POTUS. He has experience as a legislator and advocate for people regarding safety conditions at work and his children attended local public schools. He's sincere and he was, more than most, an honest politician.

All of the above would be excellent criteria by which he should be judged in being appointed Secretary of DHSE.

But he won't be.

Because of the scandal of the affair from last year. I've lived in Europe for more than 20 years, and lived in Britain at that - probably the most puritanical and repressed of the Western European countries. After all, it was Britain who spewed the puritans amongst us - something from which we're still recovering, albeit slowly. Yet, politicians here, have affairs and are discovered all the time. The French Foreign Minister, over the Christmas holiday, gave birth to a child and still hasn't disclosed the name of the father. (Rumour has it, that the dad is the ex-Socialist Prime Minsiter of Spain). Italian President Berlusconi (a crook if there ever was one) is an avid womaniser, and even managed to become engaged to one woman whilst married to another. The Italians cordially hate him, but because he whiffs of Mafiosi and not because of his social morals. French President Sarkosy is on his third marriage. The current Mme Sarkosy once romped the beds with Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton (but not at once). Can you imagine any of that being tolerated with an American politician?

No. I thought not.

This is why I was so surprised and heartened when the pithy attempt to impeach Bill Clinton was overturned, and Clinton's popularity soared. I thought at last the American people were growing up.

In point of fact, even before I decamped to a Brit husband, I really couldn't have cared less who a President/Senator/Congressman/et al slept with (bar an underage child or an animal), as long as he/she governed her territory well, didn't break the law and listened to and catered for the needs of the people who elected him/her.

It's what's done here. And this is supposed to be 'Old' Europe as opposed to the 'New' World.

John Edwards had one affair in a marriage that's lasted and is still lasting 30+ years. He got caught. His wife forgave him. They've moved on. Together. If his missus can give him the nod, shouldn't the party he's supported and served most of his adult life welcome him back and move on?

I can't think of a better, more able and sincere candidate for Secretary of Health, Safety and Education than John Edwards.

Wanted: US President: Train on the Job

I just read, online, an editorial by the centre-rightist op-ed journalist, Kathleen Parker, who writes for The Washington Post. I enjoy Ms Parker's columns. In fact, she was foremost amongst the gaggle of 'conservative-ish' columnists during the Election campaign to articulately rationalise the shortcomings of Sarah Palin, both as a Vice Presidential candidate and a candidate representative of women on the whole. I gather, from reading her columns regularly, that she received a lot of abuse from various and sundry, including an opinion from a Pro-Life Republican that it certainly was a pity that Ms Parker's mother hadn't aborted her as a foetus. Nice. And this from the so-called Christian right.

This time, Ms Parker's taken it upon herself to play schoolmarm and allocate a sort of early-in-the-term report card regarding the President's performance thus far.

Ms Parker sums it up succinctly in one word: amateur.

The President has been in Office just under one month, and he's been besieged with a plethora of problems, from the niggling little variety to the pesky, potentially damaging nominal coup d'etat speciality, courtesy of those sour losers on the other side of the aisle.

I must admit, I got increasingly frustrated when, Cabinet nominee after Cabinet nominee, appeared to have forgotten the age-old rule of thumb that all a body has to do in life is die and pay taxes. There's no avoiding death (unless you're Joan Rivers or Tony Curtis), but there must be a book someplace entitled '101 to Avoid Paying Income Tax' and each potential Cabinet member must keep a copy by his/her bedside.

Ms Parker's first note of unease: Obama apologised for Tom Daschle's resignation. True, and I agree with her in this respect, that perhaps these people should have been vetted more thoroughly. Or perhaps they were just so piggedly arrogant to think that non-payment of income tax was just a tiny matter that could be swept under the carpet. After all, no less than the late Leona Helmsley stated that only the little people paid taxes (and this before she was carted off to prison).

Ms Parker reasons:

"...Obama's eager confession: 'I screwed up' hit a hollow note. Doubtless, he was trying to demonstrate 'change' by distinguishing himself from Bush, who could never quite put a finger on his mistakes. Rather than seeming Trumaneque in stopping the buck at his desk, Obama seemed more like an abused spouse who starts her day saying, 'I'm sorry. It's my fault.'

He appeared weak. "

It didn't seem that way to me at all.

In fact, I found it not only surprising, but refreshing, that a President should stand tall and admit that he'd made a mistake. It was clearly a mistake that he didn't vet thoroughly enough and that it was a mistake made at Cabinet level. It must have taken Congress by surprise as well, because various bods inside that place let it be known afterwards that Daschle would probably have walked the hearing at the end of the day; instead, he fell on his sword.

Contrast this to Bush and the Harriet Miers fiasco, when he stubbornly did his best imitation of a sulky, spoiled frat boy determined to have his way, until - at the eleventh hour - Ms Miers showed uncommon decency, herself, and stepped aside from an appointment for which, she recognised herself to be supremely unqualified. Did Bush apologise? In the words of a British comedienne, 'Did he, bollocks!' The word 'apology' didn't even enter into Bush's limited and fractured version of English vocabulary.

So, in my opinion, that was score ONE to Obama: a President who owns up to his mistakes. And, really, any and every President will make mistakes. After all, a President is only a human being at the end of the day. He holds no infallibility clause, as the Pope believes himself to be. All this showed me was that Obama was, basically, a decent human being who was raised to take responsibility of his actions and to account for any misdeed or misapprehension with a simple acknowledgement of fault and an apology. In short, it showed me that Obama was real.

Ms Parker continues:

"At his news conference, the overriding impression was of a man not fully in control of his message or his material ... I began missing Bush's customary dispatch. Bush's contempt for the media meant he never stayed long enough to bore us."

Pardon me? She misses the Bush Press Conference? Of course, Bush was dismissive to the point of rudeness with the press. This was a man whose vernacular self-esteem was low enough to the point that he could be deemed unitelligible. It was a torture and an embarrassment to either sit through a press gaggle dominated by Bush or to read of its repercussions afterward in the British press. A stand-up comic couldn't have done better. Bush was an unintentional clown and an embarrassment to the Office. He treated the press with disdain because to have spent time verbally sparring with them would have painfully revealed each verbal inadequacy that the man possessed.

Ms Parker's premise throughout her op-ed is that Obama is singularly inexperienced for the job of POTUS, and that 'we the people', alienated by and disillusioned with the terribly substandard Administration that had spent 8 years re-writing Constitutional rules and behaviour, whilst ensnaring us in an illegal war based on fabricated evidence, sought 'change' by, basically, entrusting our wellbeing and future to a greenhorn junior Senator from Illinois.

This, after less than one month.

That's rich.

That's Republican.

That's rank.

Look, the office of President of the United States is not one to which a successful candidate comes with actual 'experience' at governing an entire nation. They may have governed a state, like Carter or Reagan or Clinton. They may have held a Senate post, like Kennedy or Johnson. It's interesting to note that the President who actually had the best curriculum vitae for the position was Richard Nixon, who deputised for Eisenhower, when the latter suffered a coronary. And, yet, Richard Nixon was the only President to be forced to resign from Office. And whilst George W Bush governed successfully (by Texas terms) as a bi-partisan governor, his inadequacies meant that during his two terms as President, the country was actually run from behind the scenes by a sinister Vice-President and a neocon cabal of Cabinet ministers, much in the manner of a third-rate and dangerous banana republic.

No one comes to the office of POTUS with the right experience. It's a position which the successful candidate learns on the job. And for such a job, the person had better be exceptional. Quick-witted. With higher than average intelligence.

In the last Presidential election, we had a choice between a greenhorn youngster from Illinois, who steered an image of calm, reason and articulace through a swathe of the population, or an elderly, crotchety old man, who didn't appear to understand that Spain was our ally and who thought the American economy was sound, and an inarticulate MILF.

And Ms Parker thinks our President is, as yet, amateur.

It's only been a month. Consider this: had McCain won the election, with all the pressure Obama's had to endure to date, we might have been considering life under a Palin Administration at this very moment, and wouldn't that have been a scarier prospect?

You betcha!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prize Package or Trojan Horse?

Well, it passed the Senate, and of course, it's not to everyone's liking. My faux Conservative friend from Virginia e-mailed me today whingeing about the fact that his son and all his as yet unborn grandchildren were going to be the inheritors of a 'massive debt' due t0 our rapid descent into socialism. My heart bleeds for him ... not. I've lived under semi-socialism and it's not that bad. Honestly.

From what I can glean from the bill the Senate cut, pared and finally passed is that they're proposing a system by which the government 'buys' all the bad banks and sort of cleans them up and re-positions them. This is similar to what was done not too long ago in Norway; only there the bigger banks absorbed a lot of the smaller, less solvent ones under the bigger banks' aegis. I suppose our plan is semi-socialistic. I don't know. I can't pretend to understand economy as I've never been quite the one for maths, science and the lot, especially maths.

I know the Republicans are moaning about there not being enough tax cuts, but I can't see what that would accomplish. In an economically hard time, if you hand people more money in the form of tax cuts, middle- and working-class people are going to put this money aside in savings. Hand a tax cut to a wealthy person or a wealthy business establishment and they might spend; but we all know that trickle down simply didn't ... er, trickle down. The Republicans' behaviour has simply astounded me during the past week or so, especially in the Senate.

Talk about sour grapes. They're dangerously echoing the stated sentiment of their real leader, Rush Limbaugh, in wanting, willing Obama to fail. And I must admit, I've been more than a bit perplexed and critical of Obama in the past seven days, for his repeated attempt at 'peace, love and understanding' the Republican party in the name of bi-partisanship.

Mr President, these are not nice people. You've made your point. You've tried. They just aren't that into you as a President. They're bitter, twisted, angry, jealous, old and white. They tried. They failed. They're not going to get over it, so you and the Democratic party better develop some backbone and fast. Charlie Crist might be an exception; but Charlie Crist isn't sitting in Congress or the Senate with that disapproving old maiden-faced Mitch McConnell breathing down his neck or Lindsey Graham throwing hissy fits.

Mr President, kick ASS. Start by respectfully retiring that Mormon gentleman, Harry Reid. (A Mormon and a Democrat? That's an oxymoron, if ever there was one - or should I say oxyMormon?) I suggest making Jim Webb Senate majority leader. He's a man who takes no quarter and doesn't suffer fools gladly. (The fact that he's also a Virginian and from my native state, is an added bonus).

And listening to Tim Geithner's explanation of the bailout package .... well, hmmmmmmmmm, is all I can say. Part of it sounds suspiciously like stuff Bush propounded: like not holding the banks who got themselves up shit creek responsible for the dodgy mortgages and cruddy loans made to people who, unfortunately, didn't have repayment means.

Finally, I'm amused and dismayed and more than a bit peeved at the reaction of Mike Huckabee to the Stimulus Package. Governor Huckabee is one of the more likeable Republicans. He seems a nice man, in a Christian sort of way - and there's the rub. The very aspect that makes him likeable, also makes him 'unlikeable' as well. He reared the ugly head of Christianity when he slammed the fact that the Stimulus Package prohibited higher education funds from being allotted to Schools of Divinity. Quite bloody right. Someone's FINALLY thinking along Constitutional lines now in the Senate, especially after Obama's less-than-subtle wink in the direction of those people in the US who define themselves as secular. Federal money shouldn't be given to divinity schools. We have no established church nor do we have an established religion, and in no way should the government fund the education of clergymen or men of faith. It's a private matter. I see also, he went on to slam some of the agencies to which federal money had been allotted - like those evil women socialists who front Emily's List.

You know, they say the Republicans won the first round of the PR war last week with all their posturing and pirouetting about how bad the proposed Stimulus Package was; they did this with their usual 'fear tactics', with smear and appealing to the base, yet again. I was worried that some people, people who would normally have endorsed a Republican candidate, might have reverted to type in this first crisis of the new Administration. Therefore, I was glad the President moved swiftly, both in his Press Conference and in his visits to communities in Indiana and Florida. Obama is a great communicator. You have only to listen to him speak and then listen to some jumbled garbage propagated by Bush to understand the difference. The former speaks the people in the audience. He speaks directly to them. Take 49 people out of an audience of 50 and Obama would still sound the same way, as if he's speaking directly to the people. And he is. Maybe I'm naive, maybe I've been out of the country too long, maybe I'm just stupid and starstruck that after 8 years we have a President who can string a subject and a predicate together and come up with a coherent thought; but I trust Obama. I trust him in a way I've never really trusted any government leader in my voting lifetime. He seems sincere. I believe he's sincere, although I might be wrong. Listening to his predecessor was a painful exercise in anger management. I cannot believe the stupidity levels of American voters to have elected a cretin like George Bush, and to give him a second term and free reign to rape and pillage the Constitution. That single act by the American people gave credence to the addage that people get the government they deserve.

Well, we finally got one right, it seems - at least for the moment. I think Obama did the right thing in making those two trips and playing them out before the public. I hope he does more of that. Why? Because it will galvinise the people to contact their representatives and hold their feet to the fire in supporting a President who wants to work for his people - and not just the people who elected him, but those who didn't either. Maybe I'm wrong about Obama, but I hope not. A week after the Inauguration, I was speaking with one of my aunts in Virginia. She'll turn 80 this year. I asked how she liked the new President.

'Just fine,' she said. 'I've lived long enough to see a People's President.'

I have as well.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Economic Stimulust for Power

It's been a pretty depressing weekend, one way or another. I've been following the brouhaha on Capitol Hill with the Senate working overtime (that's an anomaly, surely) to try and iron out the kinks they don't like in the President's new Economic Stimulus plan. Living outside of the US, I often feel - even with the internet - that I'm living inside of some sort of time-warp bubble, where I'm allowed to see a bit of what's going on and understand even less. Well, that's the way it seems if the only news from the US is coming at you 24/7 courtesy of the good old BBC.

I first heard that the US was careening down the road to economic ruin sometime in the late autumn of 2007, the beginning of the Primary season, when I began to watch NBC Evening News on the internet. I heard about gas prices creeping up towards $4.00 a gallon (but that didn't phase me, because in Britain, they were and still are near as dammit 8 bucks a gallon, with most of the money paid going on a fuel tax.) It got worse, so much worse that when I came home last year in March, I did my bit to help the economy by going on a massive shopping spree. Much good that did.

As things have seemed to go into freefall, and as Obama, whom I supported from Day One, seemed to really inspire hope, I listened to his proposals to turn the US economy around, not pretending to understand the intricacies of the situation, less how the US had arrived at that point anyhow. All this talk of foreclosure and 'first-time buyers' were terms that I'd heard before - but here, in Britain, in the waning days of Thatcherism, when the Keynsian approach to economy was failing and failing badly. If this problem in the States started with housing, it's news to me and surprising. When I left the US, more people, so it seemed rented houses instead of buying; and when you bought, you bought for life and you left in a box. In the UK, however, when I first arrived, the people were heady with the extra money Thatcherism had put in their pockets and bought and sold houses as we would buy and sell cars. Between 1981 and 1987, my husband and I had managed to rent one house for two years and buy and sell 3 in the course of 4 years. After 1987, the economy tanked, interest rates rose and - presto! - instant recession.

As I'm a person not known for the best of timing, 2009 was the year my husband and I had targetted for returning to the States, but listening to the dire news of 600,000 jobs being lost in the US in January 2009, I'm beginning to bite my fingernails again. As much as I don't like living in the UK, as homesick as I am, I do still have a job. So do I adopt a typically British attitude of sangfroid and muddle through or do I come home and take a risk? The Britishness that's wrapped itself around me relentlessly opts for the former, which means I'll spend the rest of my active days here, stifling back tears until nighttime and waking up with neuralgia from having slept on a sodden pillow all night. The Yank in me sticks up the psychological middle finger and dives into coming home with a greater vengeance. After all, the government is hiring, even though Michael Steele says a government job is just work and not a job at all.

But what disturbed me the most, listening to the wrangling going on on the Hill, was exactly what, in the end, the suits up there eventually agreed to drop as part of the package. Only items to do with education, health care and science!!!!!!!!!!! And what, specifically, did our new President talk about in his Inaugural address? Specifically?

Education, health care and science. The importance thereof to our economy bettering itself.

Of course, these cuts were made in order to get our friends of the conservative persuasion on board. And it sucked. It sucked that the Democrats, the majority party, in a strong position, rolled over and played dead as a dodo for these evil-featured clowns. I was raised a Democrat from the cradle, so I can be forgiven for thinking, when a child, that these people were sour-faced old trouts who shouted at children for stepping on their lawns, but - Jesus, Mary and Joseph - I'm of the same generation as some of these people and they still look like sour-faced old trouts. Old. White, miserable and old. Like the British.

As an ex-teacher, cutting $18,000,000 from improving school and university curricula and renewal programs chills me to the bone. I know that in any budget-cutting exercise, education is always the first to suffer. It's as though people pulling the purse strings think that it's fair to pare away at schools and univerisities because they cater mostly to kids or people eithe too young or too busy having a good time to vote anyway. Besides, if the populace is basically ignorant and uneducated, they're more apt to believe the shit dished to them by a political party, and more apt to stay at the base of that movement full stop.

The health care issue, to use a bad pun, sticks in the craw too. For fuck's sake, we are still seen to be the leader in the Western world, yet we're the only Western country without a viable universal health care program for our citizens. The British model (not one to be copied) isn't perfect, by a long shot, but I still don't get an exorbitant hospital bill if I'm willing to suffer a waiting list for treatment. And I'll never pay more than about $20.00 for a prescription to be filled (not that I'm the biggest proponent of prescription drugs, I might add). And so they cut that part of the stimulus package as well ... including the part about contraceptives, to 'stimulate' the Republicans into crossing the aisle, or jumping the broomstick. Contraceptives go, because the Republicans just can't risk birth control. Every unwanted unplanned little Southern bubba born to a 15 year-old illiterate Mylie clone is a potential GOPer for the future, maybe even a Senator at that. The mind boggles mightily.

And as for science, well, BushCo and the faith-based initiative pushed for Creationism and some schools obliged. Science was denigrated and we're paying the price now. It's the Twentyfirst Century! We have to go forward.

The more I thought about this, the more I got depressed. And the more depressed I got, I was convinced that this is all a contrived plot on the part of the Republican Party, and that they're taking their clues from Rush Limbaugh and his audacious remark in public that he hoped Obama would fail. This is really what these people, these sad, bigoted, ignorant, miserable and twisted old white hypocritical people want. They want this good man, this man who cares about his country, to fail.

This, this is 'Country First'. Because if Country First had won, the stimulus would have consisted of huge tax cuts to those people who don't need them and the government doing little else. It would be Trickle-Down Redux, instead of Trickle-Down Deluxe. And, really, that's what they're aiming for now.

We simply have to get a grip. Get a grip and get behind the President. It's not going to be easy, but he's pushing for us. And he was honest enough to tell us that it wasn't going to be fixed in weeks, or months, but years - maybe longer than the two terms allotted him.

I'm behind him. Until he does something so incredibly stupid, I have to take him to task at the voting booth. I may kick myself for it and get kicked by the husband in the process, but I'm coming home. Recession or no recession, the US is still a better place to be inside of than away from. I think I may be in danger of becoming a patriot.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lindsey Graham: GOP Drama Queen

I wasn't going to post any blog today, but I caught sight of the Senate debate on the Stimulus Package and I just had to vent my spleen.

Lindsey Graham, mouthpiece of McCain chicanery, was blowing hot air in a desperate and, at times, condescending attempt at filibuster in order to scupper the President's economic recovery plan. The minute I clued into this, reminded me of why I turned my back on Southern manhood collectively and sought refuge in the arms of the British. As in any chemical reaction, opposites attract, and when I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish and often found myself, at university, in two rather serious relationships with Southern boys of the Republican persuasion. They had the charm, they had the manners, they talked the talk and - on occasion -they walked the walk too. But they had an ugly side to them and it reared its ugly head again today in Lindsey's petulant performance on the floor of the Senate. I spewed my gin and tonic when he actually used incorrect grammar ('ain't')! It wasn't even deliberately rhetorical, I actually think it was a genuine rube slip-up. It showed his crackerness; it was embarrassing.

He acted like a spoiled bubba who didn't get his just desserts. He was patronising to the President as a man and he dissed Barbara Boxer, who was classy enough to school him on his inadequate performance. Post-feminist that I am, I don't practice gender politics; but Graham didn't even have the grace to respect Senator Boxer as a person, much less a woman.

Watch this spectacle. I don't know if I feel sorrier for Southern boys from Deliveranceland being raised to aspire to this sort of adulthood, or those poor dumbass Southern belles who bag a beast like this and think they've got something. All I know is, men like Lindsey Graham make Brits look bloody good; and the thought that this Neanderthal is an elected representative in the United States, scares the living bejaysus out of me.

Lindsey, sorry ... I'm just not that into you. I may have tipped you the wink in the Seventies from my elitist Virginia perch, but even I wasn't that desperate then. The election was over in November. You lost. Have a mint julep and get over it.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Coming to America ... Again.

I booked my flights today. I'm going home at the beginning of March for two weeks. That's my lot. Leaving the UK for a two-week fest of washing the crust of Britishness off my skin, of ridding my mind forever of having to adjust one minute to the mindset of an obdurate Italian in Rome and the next to the haggle of a merchant in Madrid trying to make an extra buck out of a sheister deal, or having to explain to my anti-French management why the French are revolting on this particular day over that particular matter. In fact, the closest thing to a 'furrner' I'll see in the US will probably be a Mexican.

I come from a rural community in what Joe McCain described as socialist, communist Northern Virginia. Therefore, according to one McCain surrogate during the recent campaign, I am not a 'real Virginian', even though my mother's family came over to the colony in the mid-Seventeenth Century because the founding father of my tribe reckoned he valued his head on his shoulders more than he valued giving it up for his King. So the King lost his head, whilst my ancestor kept his - and successive generations of his descendants have been losing theirs over some sort of fiasco ever since.

We were the sole Catholic family in a rural community of Protestants, who varied in number from moderate Methodists to raving Holy Rollers, the likes of which would make Sarah Palin look liberal. We stood out like sore thumbs. Our parents were products of the Great Depression, who came of age under Roosevelt, just in time to go into the Second World War, having sacrificed education in order to contribute to the family coffers. In those days, if you were old enough to stand up and string a sentence together, you were old enough to earn your keep. All that, instilled in them a desire for their children to better themselves, and so we were raised with the aim of attending and finishing university.

I can't remember a time when I didn't like to read. In fact, I can't remember a time when I couldn't read. I certainly knew how when I started first grade at the local Catholic school, so I assume that, in her spare time, my mother must have taught me. I certainly didn't learn it from Miss Connie on Romper Room. I do know that the earstwhile novice nun who had charge of the entry class at St John's wrung her hands endlessly over the fact that I could read and had learned to do so in a manner which was 'all wrong'. That was the first of many disagreements I was to have with the Catholic Church in my life.

The thing about reading was that it taught me that there was a world outside the confines of a farming community. It taught me about life in the past in varied and foreign parts of the world, and it carried on teaching me about current life in those parts. By the time I'd reached high school, I'd also developed a penchant for foreign languages. But I didn't learn Spanish and French only to conjugate verbs. Somehow, I was able to use those verbs, those nouns and the adjectives describing them according to gender, to make sentences and communicate. In short, I could speak other languages.

By the time I left for university, I was aching to spread my wings outside my home community. A year abroad convinced me that I could never settle in the US, could never live with Americans. I felt more at home in Mediterranean Europe, I felt I'd been born in the wrong country at the wrong time. After teaching for four years, I met and married a Brit and settled in the southeast of England -close enough to the Med to make annual excursions, NOT of the package tour variety, a duty. I lived here happily enough, I worked with languages and kept abreast of politics on both sides of the Pond. Living here, I learned that, at least on the Continent, it never mattered what an elected Head of State got up to behind closed doors and with whom, as long as the electorate perceived that he ran the country well. I learned also that, for the most part, people in Europe were world-weary and cynical regarding their own politicians, electing someone because he or she was better than the next person, but - at the end of the day- only out for himself or herself.

All this time, I despaired of Americans, especially during the Nineties when I saw the resurgence of the Republican Party under the aegis of Newt Gingrich, a snarling, ugly, aggressive bunch of rednecks, preaching the doctrine of the right thinly disguised by the 'praise-the-Lord-and-pass-the-ammunition' brand of fervently born-again Christians from the backwoods and foothills of the Deep South. Something was familiar about this type, and then I remembered. These were the nasty little boys who spat through the gates of the Catholic school at the uniformed 'snappers' (so-called because we ate only fish on Fridays) as they passed by on the way to the bus stop, and then five years later steamed up the windows of their rattletraps on a Friday night while they tried to convince you to let them venture a finger or something else inside your Catholic panties before puking on your shoes. These were the homecoming queens who'd graduated with a degree in soccer mommery and tutted their tongues in hypocritical pity at any of their gender who dared to differ in anyway from their preconceived attitudes.

I hated them.

This was the party who pointed fingers at Bill Clinton and tried to impeach him; the Brits laughed at all this and predicted a successful impeachment. I was glad when Clinton succeeded in defying them, even gladder when his popularity soared in the aftermath. This was the party who produced Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and who foisted George W Bush on an unsuspecting nation. I had him pegged from the start. Watching the first inklings of the 2000 campaign, I was reminded of a cocky rich fraternity boy who mistook cruelty as wit, the product of a legacied father at an Ivy League university.

I hated him, and I resented the fact that, because Europeans tend to judge Americans by the leaders they choose, I was lumped into a misshapen gaggle of Americans described only by their European counterparts as 'stupid.' This happened more and more as Bush stumbled toward Iraq, to the point that most American ex-pats here started referring to themselves as 'Canadians'.

And then, something happened to me.

Still hating Bush and still deploring his invasion of Iraq (and I feel justified in the reason behind this illegal war being exposed as a lie), it proved to me to be a moment of singular epiphany. Coming home in 2003 for a visit (I was there for the infamous 'Mission Accomplished' moment), I had been in e-mail contact with a person I'd known since high school, a boy who was a close friend and fellow liberal debating partner. He and I met for a long boozy lunch and cocktails session at an old inn in Little Washington, Virginia, the same place which had hosted the wedding nuptials of Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan. His politics had reverted to the right; in fact, I almost gagged a maggot when he told me that his wife wanted to have Donald Rumsfeld's babies, if she hadn't already suffered menopause (thank goodness for small mercies!). As the minutes passed and the booze flowed, John's tongue loosened. He admitted -nay confessed - liberal sympathies and tendancies. He questioned the validity of the war, he admitted to hating Bush and deploring the Patriot Act. He was angered by the curtailing of civil liberties and the disparagement of the Constitution - the contents of which had been lovingly taught to us as students by an elderly retired colonel who looked like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame.

'I've got a confession to make,' he finally said. 'I'm a liberal at heart. And I'm so glad you haven't changed at all. You know,' he continued, 'I really wanted to go out with you in high school, but I always felt you were too clever to like me like that.'

'Well,' I replied, 'I always thought you were too pretty to like me like that. But you should have asked, anyway. I may have said yes. But then, had I done so, we wouldn't be sitting here, talking this honestly to one another.'

And that was probably true. We've seen each other on every visit since. The last time I saw him, last March, he was driving around with an Obama sticker on his car. But at the end of the day, he voted for McCain. Out of fear. Out of fear that Obama would 'spread the wealth'. He suffered a 'Joe the Plumber' moment of ignorance.

But, you know, I still love John; and I'll see him next month and catch up on the gossip. I love him as much as I love my brainwashed right wingnut cousin who says that because I'm to the left I have no morals, or the other cousin who was like a brother to me, but who hasn't answered an e-mail or a phone call since the election because he, a 'born-again' Christian, supported the 'right' candidate and I didn't. I love him as much as I love my best and oldest friend Robin, who's gay and hoping someday to marry her partner so I can be matron of honour, something I'll do with enormous pride, as much as I love Ross, who fires me up with indignation at Israel's plight in the world, or Wenonah, with whom I can sit around a kitchen table and bitch about the bitchy girls we hated in high school who've since enjoyed deliciously terrible moments of bad karma.

And since the election, I can love my country again ... for the moment; because we seem to have done something right for the right reason. And if our new President can weather the storm and calm everyone down and actually achieve half of what he aims to achieve, I can love the government too - and then I will have achieved a Mark Twain moment, loving my country all of the time, and my government when it deserves it. I'm not used to this love of government. I'd forgotten how it's done, so here I go again on a learning curve. Fingers crossed.