Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Crichton

Over many years of reading, my taste in books has gone through distinct phases. At different periods of time, I have been addicted to thrillers, westerns, comic strips, biographies, math-and-science non-fiction, chick-lit, philosophy...

Regardless of literary phases, however, there are some books that I have been able to pick up and read over and over, anytime, anywhere. These are the books that have kept me up at night, engrossed and trapped in the story, no matter how many times I have read them before. These are the books that have traveled around with me wherever I've moved - a permanent piece of my baggage, an integral part of my sense of home.

Thank you, Michael Crichton, for all the great books - for Travels and Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man and Jurassic Park... but most of all, for Congo. For "Peter tickle tickle Amy, Amy good gorilla." For the book I've read about a hundred times since I was ten years old, each time without the two pages that our copy had lost (I've never read those two pages - I still have no idea what happens there, after twenty years of addiction to the story). For capturing my attention with the Mercator projection, changing my view of the world and firing my imagination.

Rest in peace.


Scratch the earlier post - the people have spoken (with about 50% of the counting done). There is hope for the world yet.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In The Final Count...

It's a grey, glowering day in New Jersey as America goes to the polls to vote on the next four years. People across the country have been lining up since before dawn, in some places, waiting hours to exercise their vote. Arguing with election officials and volunteers at booths about their right to vote, waiting for their names to be found on the lists.

Meanwhile, some said analysts and journalists are writing articles like
this one.

So in keeping with the story of the hour, and pushed to the end of my tether by this kind of writing, here's my take.

1. The US is the biggest debtor country in the world. Its economy has gone to pot, its financial system is falling apart thanks to at best negligent, at worst outright fraudulent rating of securities. Unemployment is on the rise. People are losing homes, jobs, healthcare.

2. The Iraq war has been a front for control of oil. Think about this for a moment: the invasion of a sovereign country for control of its resources. With the public being hoodwinked every step of the way.

3. And then kept in line, despite the systematic removal of individual freedoms, by an administration that thrives on fear and ringing cries of "never forget".

4. America's claim to moral superiority has been razed to the ground with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation (it was ludicrous to watch Cheney rebuke Russia for invading South Ossetia recently).

5. American "foreign policy" is a disgrace, the constant sabre-clanking with Iran and refusing to sit down across the table being just one example.

6. America uses more energy - and more oil - than any other country in the world. And yet, the US is not on board with international agreements re reducing carbon footprint, energy use, global warming impact, etc.

And yet, the issue to focus on, as per Peggy Noonan, is how Obama addresses abortion?

"You only want a medical practice to be rare when it isn't good. For Mr. Obama, whose mind tends, as intellectuals' minds do, toward the abstract, it all seems so . . . abstract. And cold. And rather suggestive of radical departures. "That's above my pay grade." Friend, that is your pay grade, that's where the presidency lives, in issues like that."

President Clinton once said that abortions need to be "safe, legal and rare". I agree on the first two points. Outlawing abortion will lead to a black market situation. Like the organ trade in Dirty Pretty Things, this would mean back rooms and coat hangers. (The same applies to prostitution: legalization empowers sex workers, gives them rights, protection, health.) On a side note, there is an interesting argument in Freakonomics, that talks the correlation between crime and unwanted babies - specifically, relating the drop in crime rates in the US to Roe V. Wade. It may not be provable, but it's a cogent, powerful argument, and a highly logical one.

In the final count, this is an issue that needs to be left to a woman and her doctor. And a decision that needs to be left to the woman. The government's involvement in issues of right and wrong should extend only to areas where there is a victim. Enough with the regulation of victimless crimes. Enough with stuffing one group's beliefs down the throats of another.

So what is the presidency about?

Enabling citizens to earn a better living. Building and maintaining strong, mutually beneficial trade and policy relationships with other countries and regimes. Creating opportunity and economic growth, reducing debt, showing fiscal prudence, creating necessary regulation and providing necessary oversight. Enabling access (in whatever way) to healthcare and education and sustainable livelihoods. Providing "common goods" - infrastructure, parks, clean air and water.

If I had a vote to cast in this election, it would have been Obama's without question. And this was true even before McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate - although that should have tipped the balance for any thinking person. I don't necessarily agree with Obama's policies on the economy - I'm all for the economic ideal of perfect competition. But I also see that an Obama presidency has the chance to make the world a slightly safer place. I like his foreign policy approach. I think it's high time America sat down at the negotiating table with other countries and sabre-clanking and fist-waving at the drop of a hat.

It is interesting that, in an era of nuclear proliferation, escalating terrorism and bloodshed, where no two warring parties will talk to each other, the potential leader of the only (but only just) super-power in the world is being evaluated by some people - people who matter, who are listened to, whose views are noted - not on his ability to impact the country's (and the world's) safety and peace, but on his approach to interfering with the personal domain of an individual.