Friday, November 21, 2008

There has of late been perplexed disbelief in some quarters at the joyous reaction of Europe, and in particular the European press, to the election of Barack Obama. There has also been resentment of Europe’s apparent “pious dismissal of the past decade of [the USA]’s history”.

Firstly, let’s not forget that it was Le Monde that proclaimed in September 2001 that, “We are all Americans now.” This from the newspaper of record of the one country in Europe to which America historically owes the most, a country that a bare two years after September 11 would be vilified as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

It is precisely because of who America is, and who she has been, that we Europeans have been so incredulous these past eight years. The election of Barack Hussein Obama is a return to the ‘shining city on the hill’ that America, for Europe, has always been. The fact that Obama is black, has a funny name, and is a progressive is just further testament to America’s enduring ability to realize it’s full potential; to stare down the regressive and fear-mongering elements that all proud nations have. To be able to shake off the fears and prejudice of uncertainty and ignorance. To rise above.

Americans believe their country to be exceptional, and to a certain extent it is. The American president is often referred to as ‘the leader of the free world,’ though tellingly mostly in the US itself. If you insist on taking on this mantle you have to actually carry it through. Walk the walk as they say. Who in their right minds opposes a treaty designed to tackle the universally accepted threat of climate change? Who would veto a bill that would provide the most basic of health coverage to children? Why is New Orleans still in ruins? Reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions? The suspension of habeas corpus? Guantanamo Bay? Abu Ghraib? Rendition? We all had a chuckle at George W. Bush trying to pronounce ‘nuclear’, but redefining torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’? This is not the America we all know and love.

Now obviously it’s not like you should be electing leaders based purely on whether Europe likes them or not. Nobody should tell you who you should elect -- because that would be telling people how they should run their country, and that’s just not right is it, er, America?

However, you should surely be electing the leaders who best embody the values and principles of ‘America’; the values that have endured and inspired so many nations for centuries. There’s a reason Obama beat out the formidable Hillary Clinton for the democratic nomination: hope is a powerful force. The desire for something different, something better, that something at the end of the long dark tunnel. It is a motivating force, the same force that America has used and embodied for so much of the past century. That Obama won in a landslide electoral college victory in the general election speaks to that hope.

Somebody has likened the jubilation in Europe at Obama’s election to “the popular high school crowd who suddenly wants to befriend you for your new car”. The school analogy is not totally out of place, given that George ‘Dubya’ Bush is known not to play well with others. But if there were a school-based analogy to be made it would be more akin to a group welcoming back a core member, one who went off the rails for a while and hung out with the bad boys, dabbled in petty theft -- maybe even smoked some funny cigarettes -- until they realized that that just wasn’t who they were and returned to the fold. If, you know, we were doing school analogies.

There was recently an article in Foreign Affairs pondering the future of US-world relations, it related an anecdote about how John McCloy, US commissioner of a defeated Germany after World War II, attended the Opera in West Berlin some thirty years later, during the 1980s. On hearing of his presence the entire audience rose to it’s feet and applauded him for several minutes. In June 2008 that same Opera house, now in a unified Berlin, played Beethoven’s Fidelio, a “universal celebration of love and freedom”. The actors playing prisoners wore orange jumpsuits, those made famous by the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Can you imagine anyone in a Baghdad opera house in thirty years time applauding Paul Bremer? “Within a generation”, says the author of that article, Dominique Moisi, “the United States has moved from being a symbol of freedom to being a symbol of oppression.”

For Europe, America had always been the benchmark, the ever-reliable defender of freedom and promoter of progress: The Marshall Plan, The United Nations, NATO, The Dayton Accords, The Oslo Accords, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, The Non-Proliferation Treaty; all enterprises of common good, benefiting not only the United States, but also the rest of the world.

It’s not that we forgot who America is, or how awesome it is, nor do we discount the courage and hard work and vision it takes to be in a position of leadership; we were just waiting to see it there again. With the election of Barack Obama, America has reclaimed it’s rightful place at the head of the "tea-table."

Good to see you again America, it’s been a while.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Geoff Is Update Status

Whoo. It’s been what, three years since I last blogged? Feels like it. I’m in an entirely different country now, and was hoping that with a new environment would come inspiration and great new blog material – just like Japan! But no, since I’ve been here I’ve tried to blog a couple of times, but nothing. I have read through my last one hundred and thirty five blogs and marveled. What was it that made those so easy? Maybe I should relax a little, slide into it. So one evening I made myself a drink and sat down at the kitchen table with my laptop to see what would come. Gin and vermouth mix wonderfully, so why not gin, vermouth and blog? Why not a cigar as well, since we’re here…the next day, after my private little party, I checked over to see exactly what it was I blogged about, because, to be honest, it’s a little hazy. I remember great excitement, but I also remember a toilet bowl. What came out? A drunken rant against monotheistic religion, and a rambling discourse on Free Will. It was mostly illegible, and worse – it wasn’t even funny.

To tide me over in the meantime I have done what all my literary heroes seem to have done in the last few years – I have plagiarized my previously unpublished material. I found this little gem from last April:

I took my nephew and his friends bowling for his twelfth birthday yesterday. I’m depressed to say that his friends are awful, truly terrible, at bowling. I, however, crushed them with a 146, including a four-bagger – strike in the ninth and a turkey in the tenth.

Twelve year olds really are little shits though aren’t they? While driving them to the bowling alley they were all yelling at one another:

I sell your mum on the street to businessmen for £5 an hour!
Yeah, well you’re gay, and your dad is gay too!
At least I have a Dad!
Yeah, and he’s gay!
You look like a girl from behind!
Yeah, well you look like a girl from the front!
You're a penis!
You’re obsessed with penises!
You’re bisexual!

And this lovely exchange:

Shut up Chris, let Gareth finish his anecdote!
Yeah Chris, you’re just like my nanny!
This country is turning into a nanny state!
Bush is a greedy criminal, he just wants oil and WMDs!
You don’t know anything! Saddam Hussein was a criminal!

Twelve years old. I crushed them at bowling though, did I mention that?

I wonder why I didn’t post that at the time? Obviously had just too much good material as it was…

Much has happened since then of course. I’ve moved to the US for one – living in a very hip area of Ohio. If anywhere in central Ohio can be called hip it has to be Short North/Victorian Village area of Columbus. It’s young and it’s liberal; people don't plant flowers in their gardens here, they plant political flags: “Support the Troops, End the War,” “One People, World Peace,” and there are rainbow flags everywhere. One house has an “Impeach Bush” sign as part of their portico; it even matches the colour scheme of the house. They don’t measure storm damage in dollars here, but in the number of wind chimes lost. Seriously, they’re so liberal that in a recent election for sheriff a lentil won.

I am not allowed to work yet; immigration has not collected quite enough forms about me, another forest or two to go I hear. So I am pretty much free all the time. I thought I should use this time wisely - maybe learn a language, read up on whole periods of history I keep hearing so much about. Relearn the stuff I never paid attention to in school, and also keep up with my sister who is now studying philosophy and fast leaving me behind. I compiled a worthy reading list and joined the library. I go every morning for a couple of hours reading. Unfortunately it seems that every other unemployed man in Columbus has the same idea, and indeed much of the homeless population too: the main library isn’t so much the reserve of learning as it is a refuge for the city’s vulnerable. At 8:30am most mornings you can find men and women lying on benches inside the foyer, or pacing back and fore muttering to themselves, until the library opens at 9am. You can also find me, sometimes, hiding in the car – the only thing that marks me out as not actually homeless. You see, with so much free time it’s awfully hard to get out of my dressing gown before noon, let alone brush my hair. This lethargy permeates everything: learning Spanish has become playing Scrabulous on Facebook. Reading the Bible, as every good atheist should, has become debating religion – on Facebook. Watching documentaries about the Peloponnesian War has become catching up on the last three seasons of ER. Not on Facebook, but I could if I wanted.

Last week I decided to actually do something – I went to a human rights conference organized by Ohioans to Stop Executions and Amnesty International. The death penalty really is a terrible thing. I knew before I went that I opposed the death penalty; found it barbaric, unjust, and just plain wrong. I knew a few facts about it – that is does not act as a deterrent, that is actually costs more than life in prison – and other bits that I’d picked up in my general opposition. But I came away from this conference almost fuming at the ridiculousness of it. A couple of things stuck in my mind:

1) The prosecution has at its investigatory disposal the police and the justice department. The defence team has, well, the defence team. If you can afford one of course. This defence team you can’t afford is not privy to all the evidence either. If the prosecution deems a piece of evidence as not helpful to their case they don’t enter it into evidence. If they don't enter it into evidence the defence don't get to see it. Sure, if they find out about it by themselves they can use it, but if they weren’t aware of it the prosecution is in no way obliged to tell them about it.

2) You are 3.8 times more likely to get the death penalty for killing a white man than you are a black man.

3) 1099 people have been executed since 1976. There should have been 1125, but 126 innocent people were exonerated in time. That’s 10%. There are 3000 people on death row right now. How many of them are innocent?

But what really struck me about the death penalty was how it affects others – there were several parents and siblings of people on death row at the conference, even one man who had spent seven years on death row before DNA exonerated him. They were lambasting, arguing, crying – but they were all reasoning. Most of them were broke. For us armchair liberals these things are really just pursuits – the odd petition, forwarding emails to the Chinese government, signing up to Facebook groups. Until you actually meet people directly affected by it you can’t appreciate how something this terrible can actually happen in a developed, freedom-loving country like the US. The so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ countries have the death penalty. The Taliban have it. Great company to keep. In Nebraska they electrocute you. Hell, even Rwanda has abolished that.

But this is not funny.

I broke my thumb on a dog last week - that was pretty funny. I was at the dog pound. I thought it was just a bite, indeed the staff gave me two band-aids and a tube of ophthalmic antibacterial ointment - that would be doggy eye cream – and sent me on my way. It was only the nauseating pain that night that sent me to the hospital the next day. It turns out that this mongrel bit through the distal phalanx of my thumb. In effect separating the tip of my thumb bone from the rest of my thumb bone. It swelled up so much that the doctor had to burn a hole in the nail to release the pressure inside. He told the student doctor with him that she might want to back up from the spray. Nice. Also, turns out I broke my wrist – ten years ago. Straight across, there’s a piece of bone floating around in there and everything. The doctor told me this as he looked at me with sympathy – obviously I was abused as a child.

I am now trying to get the animal shelter to cough up for the medical bills because I am of course uninsured. Did you know that 45 million Americans aren’t insured? It’s ridiculous. Hang on, this isn’t funny either.

Maybe I should have a little drink, and why not a cigar while I'm at it…

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who ever compared The Beatles and The Rolling Stones? Seriously.

You know how great TV shows like to keep you hooked with an off-season catch-up, a compilation show of the greatest moments of the last season? Just to remind you how good the show is, so you tune-in in four months time for the new season? Well, this post isn’t like that at all. It is however an amalgam of the shit I seem to have written in the last month or two, with some vague idea of blogging on it but never getting round to it. Cue montage music…

A couple weeks ago I got fired from a temping gig three hours in. This is a true story -- I'm a bum who cant keep a job down. I'm halfway through a massive stack of data inputting for this medical services company and the boss-lady taps me on the shoulder and leads me into a side office. She hands me a printout of the only two emails I'd sent that morning, one to Robin and one to my sister. Both said, more or less, "I'm at my crappy admin job, this is my email address.”

Boss-lady looks at me.

Yes? I say
I'd like you to leave, she says
Really? I ask
Yes, she says
Right, I say. And she escorts me to the door.

Seriously. Fascist.

Got a job with the Independent Police Complaints Commission a week later. Had an amazing interview, somehow I managed to be witty, pithy, and intelligent. This was a gem, though not too pithy:

What does a team mean to you?
What does a team 'mean' to me?
Yes, what does a team 'mean' to you?
Ah, I'd say that a team means working together and, ah…no. Let me put it like this: you know circuitry? Well, the standard circuit is a series circuit. If one link in that series breaks then the whole circuit fails. Now a 'parallel' circuit is designed so that when any one link breaks the circuit will not fail, because it is self-supporting. To me, that's what 'team' means.
Nice, she said, writing on her clipboard, Very nice.

I feel dirty just typing it.

I seem to have started playing skittles for my mother’s local pub league in the past month or two. Don’t ask me why, I was bored one Friday night and…anyway. There’s a lady there who I haven’t seen in a couple of years, friend of my parents, and she looks different somehow. Then it twigs:

Have you lost weight?
Yeah, three and a half stone
Really, wow that’s great!
Yeah, my husband left me.

Have you ever been in a conversation and had that aside to yourself: This is weird, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. This guy is insane. I wonder if he knows he’s insane? Oop, my turn to contribute to the conversation, better pay attention. I wonder what I’m saying now…?
A couple of weeks ago I was mowing the lawn and the next-door neighbour came out to bring in her washing, wearing a muu muu. She leaned over the fence to me.

Seen who’s moved in across the road?
Uh, no, I noticed some moving vans though.
Saw them yesterday.
She looks around and leans in closer
Hmm-mm, Pakis.
Do you mean Pakistanis?
Yeah, Pakistanis, Indians, Somalis, whatever
Well no, there’s a difference
I’ve been waiting ten years to get a bigger flat and this lot jump the queue because they’re ‘asylum seekers’
Really? Are they? Because they don’t look-
They have babies just to get on the list. He gave me a lift home the other day in his taxi.
Who did?
The husband. They’re opening a community centre around the corner, for their kind.
Really? Where the old sheds are? That's good, that area needs some-
Didn’t give me a discount.
Well, I’m not sure I would either.
Well, if you were a stranger in a foreign country wouldn’t you want to have somewhere to go to meet other people like you, you know, people in the same situation? I know that wherever I’ve gone people have been very welcoming, but it’s always nice to be able to connect to things from home, you know? We’re all just trying to get by really aren’t we?
Yeah, well, I’ve been waiting years for a bigger place, and they’ve got this big house. Their kind always do.
Well, it seems like they’ve got a big family. Do they own the house?
I don't know. Council probably, always is isn’t it?
Uhh, well, I’ve got to get on with this grass and, er, you’d better get on with getting those brown shirts in before it starts to rain.

Great joke heard on NPR:

Ron Elving: Learned something new this week about Abraham Lincoln's face.
Ken Rudin: He's on the five dollar bill?
Ron Elving: No, his face - he was asymmetrical
Ken Rudin: He didn't like Jews? Actually that's not true because he was shot in the temple.

Happiness is not something you can define with things. It's a state of mind. You can be stacking shelves and be happy. Conversely you can have a high-powered job and the great house and car and still be unhappy. I was thinking this as I sat on the bus to work looking out the window at two girls sat on the pavement with their backpacks drinking coffee in the morning sunshine.

‘Infinity’ cannot be infinite. How can you define something that is infinite? You cannot define infinite – it has no definition. It is endless. You can define it in contrast to something finite, but you cannot say that something is infinite, you can only guess. When scientists say the universe is infinite they're not really saying that it is, they're saying that they don't know where it stops. And if the universe is infinite, how do they know this? The universe could be finite - it could have edges they say. But we can't see them, we can only suppose them. This is another way of saying "we don't know", so it is in effect infinite. This infinite universe is also expanding, potentially forever; it is doubly infinite, if you'll excuse the oxymoron.
If the universe is expanding then 1) how exactly can something infinite expand? 2) What is this infinity expanding into? 3) And what exactly is the turtle standing on?

Tune in next week for all new, fresh, Occidental Oriental...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Perfect Game

Am behind the reception at the Cardiff University School of Architecture. It's late on a wet and windy Friday afternoon during the summer recess. It's just me, some automatic doors, a very loud and ancient computer, and Tolstoy. They're paying me to sit here reading, and occasionally answer the phone to ask them to phone back Monday when people are here. There are some arty looking types wandering around now and then too; I'm hoping to learn something about architecture through osmosis, but all I've learned so far is that the tea in the urn on the second floor is pretty bad.

Spring has been strikes and gutters, both metaphorically and literally. At the beginning of June I temped at the offices of the Communist League of Cardiff. It’s not the Communist League of Cardiff of course, but their name does have the word "Workers" in it, which is good enough for me. At first I was pleased with the gig -- a progressive charity teaching the needy and vulnerable. By the end they were a dingy little office doling out money for Dough Sculpting courses taught by illiterate teachers for pregnant high school drop-outs who hang around outside between classes with their tracksuited boyfriends smoking joints and milling around the heroin addicts and tramps who loiter in that part of town.

The one good thing about temping, apart from the free stationery, is that ultimately you are your own boss. Take a few weeks ago. On the first day of a two-week assignment I was given a twenty minute introduction to the three filing systems, the four databases, and the dusty basement full of files stacked in rows. My boss looked me in the eye and said, "We need your help. Will you help us?" and I said, "Yes, yes I will help you," because I knew that there was no f------ way I was going to be there still in two weeks.

Sometimes I love being a temp, and three weeks later was why. "About these stacks of files here. Well, I'm not going to be able to finish them because next week I have to be in London drinking martinis. Now, could you sign this timesheet here, aaand here."

The year 2005-6 was a good vintage in Toyama. The parties were many and the good times were high. This past year I hear things have been more sedate, people have been paying more attention to cultural activities and studying -- in short taking advantage of the culture and making good on their time in Japan. Life back in Cardiff has been pretty similar for me; the parties are few, and when not working for Communists I find myself reading more and more educational non-fiction. So when Brad wrote to say he would be passing through London soon I got out the drinks menu to plan the three days he would be in town. Actually, both Emily Laurie and I planned the drinks menu, she even giggled slightly while doing it. It would be like the hey-day of Toyama, but in London.

On Tuesday morning Laurie and I walked into the tearoom of the Grosvenor Hotel, Park Lane to meet Brad. We’ll skip the tears and shucks and move right on to the first cocktails of the day. Brads parents, who were in London with him unbeknownst to us, introduced themselves, and fine people they were. We talked, we reminisced about the great times, we told great stories, ate scones, and drank tea. Then Brad’s father, the ‘Governor of Colorado,’ got in a round of champagne cocktails.

Our first stop of the day was chilled white wine under the trees of Hyde Park. It’s funny when you see someone after a long while. Initially it’s odd to see that person right next to you, in the flesh. But after a few minutes the oddness is gone and it’s just like it used to be. Oh look, it’s Brad, so yeah, bowling? And bowl we did.

Next stop was the Dirty Martini in Covent Garden. We drank martinis, we smoked great cigars. People ask why it is that good times must always revolve around alcohol, and the short answer is: because they do. Tell me the last time you had a really great time with your friends that did not involve alcohol -- and we had great alcohol. The next afternoon we spent bowling and getting sloppy. In the evening we hit many clubs and pubs and had excellent conversations with friends and strangers. The last place we stopped was the Guranabana bar where we danced samba for many hours and drank mojitos and strange Brazilian beer and smoked some more great cigars.

To put this post together I emailed Brad to ask his recollections and he replied, I quote: “I recall some very funny gay dudes dancing, especially one really sweaty gay dude, and gay dudes are always funny. Then throw in something about Emily puking. That's funny too.”

At the beginning of this post I said the spring had been strikes and gutters. I've been in a malaise of late, the type of funk that requires listening to Mahler. Waiting for things that you cannot control is always frustrating. Having no control is a real downer; this is why people believe in god, fate, and determinism. Recently though I've been thrown the line that has rolled me out of this gutter. I've been doing things better as a result, and I'm listening to jazz.

I’m not sure if you know this about me but I’m terrible at sports. Of course you know this, everybody knows this. I am terrible especially at sports that involve connecting with a moving object, like a ball of some kind. I have these enormous limbs, but put them anywhere near a moving ball and my limbs turn to some weird depolarized matter that is repelled by balls. Recently I no longer suck as much. At least, it no longer bothers me.

So, I’ve gone back to stationary sports. I've hit a rich form in snooker - getting down on the shots feels natural and tight. I've had a lot of free time recently and I've spent some of it bowling, and I've hit some rich form there too. Last Thursday I bowled ten games with a friend and scored 143, 157, 161, 167, 170 and a 179. I feel the 200 is not too far away.

So plans are coming to a head, and in a month or two I should be leaving for the US and Robin. I can feel the strikes.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Down and Out in Cardiff and London

I might have mentioned recently how there is nothing happening worth blogging about. There is nothing really wierd, outrageous, or infuriating, in the same way as it would be somewhere totally alien like, for example, Japan. But, really, Cardiff is as wierd as anywhere else.

The other day I was in the registry office getting myself a replacement birth certificate as, according to my mother, mine was "lost in a move." In my family we keep important documents in a camphor box; everything is in there -- deeds, report cards, marriage certificates -- it even has a birth certificate for some guy born in 1881 called Samuel George Davies. He's got a birth certificate. Managed to keep that one for more than a hundred years. Mine though?

Thinking about it -- there are also no photographs of me before the age of six in the family albums either. Funny that.

Anyway, the other day I'm sat in the registry office waiting my turn when this teenage girl comes in pushing a pram. She's decked out in the pink baseball cap and the velvet tracksuit with her arse hanging out the back. After getting the form she needs she phones her mother:

"Mum, 'ave you gorra middle name? A middle name? No, mum, a middle name. Oh. Whorrabout Dad? 'As he got one? Really? Nah, I'm down the registry place innit..."

Pretty wierd eh? Do you know if your parents have middle names? I do. I even know my great-grandfather's middle name was George.

The other day in my office the admin girl was on the phone:

"Okay, can I take your name? Nial? Can you spell that for me? Uh-huh. What, November? Huh? Your name is November? I thought it was...oh, right! Okay, so: was that an M or an N?"


I went to London this weekend, again. This time it was for Yoshi's brithday, the boyfriend of my old uni roomie Becky, (and more recently a JET in Takaoka). London -that's another pretty wierd place. Despite being the capital of the UK, and of England, you will hear every other language as often as you will Englsih. In fact, London is almost like being abroad. Apart from the weather of course. As I was warming myself up in a Starbucks after a hellish bus ride down on the Megabus I noticed someone walk past the window. It was Emily Laurie! I have never before randomly run into anyone I know in London, even when I lived there for a while. A few hours later and we were both in Chinatown living it up at Yoshi's birthday party with Becky, Yoshi, Davyd and Adrianna, and a whole bunch of JETs we'd never met before. It was a hoot. We got to karaoke as well at a proper Japanese karaoke place, with Sapporo beer!

The next thing I knew I was waking up on Laurie's floor at 7.30am and I had 30 minutes to get to Victoria Station to get my bus home. I staggered around the room, gathering up my stuff and throwing on my bag, jacket, and umbrella. I stumbled down the road and jumped on the Tube. After one stop the announcer came on to say Victoria was closed due to flooding. So with 15 minutes to go, hungover, laden with stuff, trying to read my mini-London map without glasses, and desperately needing a wee, I ran from Westminster to Victoria. I almost died, especially after white-van-man sent me the wrong way after I asked directions halfway. I staggered into the station at 7.58am. Sweat was streaming down my face. I leant into the coach to make sure it had a toilet, otherwise I'd have to race to the station toilets and potentially miss my bus. Or I could just wet myself. I couldn't see that anyone had boarded yet so I sat down to wait. I was still desperate for a wee and wondered if I had time to run to the station toilets. A few minutes later somebody else got on, and I realised that the bus had people on board already who I hadn't seen, probably because my glasses were all fogged up. I got on, feeling a little stupid, and headed for the toilet.

London is a crazy city. This is what the coach driver saw that morning:

"So this guy runs up to the door of the bus, soaking wet right but it's not raining. He's got these glasses hanging off his face, and he's all confused and going on about how he's wet 'imself! He's real pale as well and I think 'uh-oh got another one here - 'care in the community''. Then, get this, he sits down on the bench and just looks at the coach! He's all shakin' and fidgetin', and looking around, and he keeps wiping his face with his sleeve and rocking back and fore. He's sat there for five minutes, rocking, and just as this Japanese guy gets on he jumps of the bench and into the bus and runs down the aisle. I didn't see him after that, but get some wierd ones here I tell you."

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Smoking in public places in Wales has been banned. More specifically smoking in pubs -- where most people like to smoke.

I am an ex-smoker. ish. I smoked through University. I gave it up because a) it was expensive, and 2) I'd already apparently taken two years off my life.

When I think back about what I enjoyed about smoking two things come to mind: the rush, and it was cool. People do look cool smoking. Well, the right people look cool smoking; everyone else looks like a dick. Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, James Bond -- you want to be these people when you're smoking. That sallow-faced mustachioed woman in the pub with a lager in her hand and a fag jammed in her mouth? The fat guy down the end of the bar in the leather waistcoat? Not so much. The problem is that everyone thinks they are the right people. I know I did.

I’ve been listening to my mother, an ex-smoker, for weeks now about why the smoking ban is such a terrible and unfair thing. As much as I try to be objective and open-minded, I cannot help thinking how totally totally wrong she is.

However, last week a chap I work with popped out for a cigarette, “Well,” he said, “this time next week I will officially be a leper.” Does he have a point? Maybe. Look at it from their point of view: smokers are being incrementally hounded out of public spaces, pushed into the corner (the well ventilated corner) because the majority will not tolerate them. They are being villified for doing what they want to do, for exercising their free will.

It’s not like smokers are a massive drain on resources either. Did you know that the tax revenue from cigarettes more than covers the cost of treating smoking related diseases? Did you know that alcohol is as dangerous as smoking? So what’s the problem with smoking? Why not ban drinking?

These are valid arguments, and a strong philosophical case could be made for your right to smoke. Even if smoking is bad for you, which it is -- it's terrible, the worst idea ever. You may as well go wrap your lips around a car exhaust pipe as smoke a cigarette. Everyone knows smoking kills -- Smokers know this, they're not stupid; they don't need protecting.

But that’s not the point. If only smokers weren’t trying to kill other people too. And make them stink.

If smoking were punching yourself in the face then that would be okay. It would be weird, but hey, you’ve got every right to punch yourself in the face. But smoking is also punching the people around you in the face. Now, if you like to punch yourself in the face at home, and I come round knowing that I might get a stray bunch of fives in the chops then, hey, that’s my own fault. But when I’m out shopping, walking past the exits of municipal buildings, in the pub having a quiet after-work pint, at a restaurant –- I don't appreciate the ol’ knuckle sandwich. You punch my child in the face and we have a problem. You see the clumsy analogy I’m making here? Smokers do have a right to smoke, but that right is negated by the fact that smokers harm the people around them.

The act of drinking in itself doesn’t physically harm those around you. However, drunk people in cars do -- and that’s where the law steps in. Surely it should be the same for smoking?

The problem is that I like the occasional cigar, and in the absence of any decent martini places in Cardiff that just happens to in a pub.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What's Next?

You know that walk-and-talk thing they do in Aaron Sorkin tv shows? Well, that just happened to me, only without so much of the fast-talking intellectualism. I came out a room at work and happened to fall in with a woman who was walking down the corridor. As we were walking along she looked up at me, and I looked down at her:

"Hi there" I said.
"This a long corridor eh?”
"Yep. I have to walk quicker than you though"
"I suppose, sorry about that"
"Isn't that discrimination?"
"What, that I’m taller than you?
"No, it's just reality"

And she turned off around a corner.

The West Wing it’s not.