Changing the guard?

Capture‘Whane yew is in ‘merica, we is right.’ came the response.

It was at that point I gave up on trying to explain that the dating convention commonly used in the US; MM/DD/YYY is the exception, rather than the rule.

Or to put it in the fat car hire woman’s vernacular I had been politely trying to explain to her that ‘yew is wrong’. But given she held had my credit card, my driving licence and the keys to the car I needed to complete a marathon 24hours of travel I felt it prudent to shut up.

I should have realised earlier as she struggled to write my date of birth correctly, in the American way, as 07/20/1970. I didn’t though, and avoiding my own advice of always agreeing with someone in uniform, I foolishly persisted in trying to further the woman’s education by explaining to her that there isn’t a 20th month in a year.

I think she then purposely slowed down because it took her another twenty minutes to finish a transaction which in any other country in the world would take two.

But in her defence she was right about one thing. I was in America.

And it’s an odd country.

Founded by a bunch of breakaway Europeans with lofty ideals and an overwhelming desire to start afresh and to break the mould. Their goal was to create something new, something principled, something better.

And they did.

I challenge anyone to read the declaration of independence and not be impressed with the principled statements Thomas Jefferson et al put down on paper back in 1776. Its even more impressive to note, this document was written and signed when the fledgling country was still at war with Great Britain over the minor point as to whether they could be independent or not.

But as we know they did win their independence and started creating a new country from scratch. They did what they said they would. And for about 150 years the United States happily, and relatively quietly, went about its business exploring, trading, improving, inventing, building up a vast industrial infrastructure and remaining generally peaceful when it came to foreign nations. For the most part the US avoided national alliances with other countries and worked on the premise that if you don’t attack us, we wont attack you.

That all changed in April 1917 though when the US entered WW1 and they stepped up onto the world stage, properly.

And they’ve remained there ever since. I also think its fairly safe to say that since about 1945 it’s been the most powerful country in the world. Not much of consequence has happened in the world since then without the US being party to, responsible for, or at least having a significant say in whatever it might be.

I first set foot in the US when I was 19 years old.

My own 1492 moment was in Fort Lauderdale and it happened to coincide with Spring break. Prior to that day my only perception of the country was through the media, the news, the movies and it was generally positive. It was a country full of cowboys, gangsters, rock n roll, Playboy girls, Levi’s and plentiful everything. A meritocracy where anything was possible.

My visit in 1989 did nothing to dampen this positive view – as you can imagine being a 19 year old Scotsman in Fort Lauderdale during Spring break can only lead to good things.

But in the intervening years my perception of the place has changed.

I have travelled there quite a lot for business and pleasure over this time and maybe its age or an increased cynicism but I have started to see the country differently. The girls, the rock n roll, the opportunity and the hamburgers still exist but they seem to have lost their shine.

I now see the country differently.

I see an insular country fixated on itself but with an inability to curb its insatiable interventionist nature.

I see a country unwilling to change and see things for what they are. I see a country not able to step back and try to see things from another perspective. A country which seems to struggle with recognising the illogical from the logical.

I don’t see balance. I see extremes and any extreme whether good intentioned or not, is bad.

Extreme poverty and wealth. Extreme focus on the few. Extreme focus on religion and on certain rights to the point where they start infringing on the rights of others. Lobby groups so rich and powerful that it makes you question if the ruling party is actually ruling on behalf of the people, or the lobby groups.

But it’s hard to say, historically speaking, if we are witnessing and living through a change of empire, from the US to say China or otherwise because none of us have a historical perspective.

It’s like trying to read the time on Big Ben when you are standing two centimetres away from it. You can’t and as with most major shifts like this you need to be able to step back to judge their importance. They very rarely happen overnight. Most great world events are not 9/11 or declarations of independence. The fall of the Roman Empire didn’t just happen with the Goths, it took centuries.These things normally happen with glacial speed with the edges being slowly chipped and worn away.

In 1914 Gavrilo Princip didn’t know he was starting such a dramatic chain of events. When the first cotton spinning wheels were invented in Britain the people living then didn’t know they were kick starting the industrial revolution and changing the world as it had been for a few millennia. They didn’t know this because they couldn’t know this – its only now can we see the impact of such things.

So are we living through another momentous moment in history? Are we unknowingly witnessing another changing of the guard?

I think we are and I don’t think this is a bad thing for the world, or even the US itself.

Today when I look at the US I see a tired country unable to deal with the overreach it has unwittingly or wittingly built for itself. It is barely able to manage itself let alone the rest of the free world, so it should probably stop now and focus on getting its own house in order first.

Also, when I look at the current crop of presidential candidates, none of them really fill me with much hope.

Obama did. I genuinely believed along with a lot of people that he was the bright new light. The panacea to the problems and the bringer of change. But even his shining star got bogged down with the internal bureaucracy and the lobby groups to such an extent that it flickered and died.

He disappointed and now the electorate are looking for something different.

And that something different could potentially be a clown, with the face of Donald Trump.

I cannot imagine someone like Trump being the president of any country, let alone the United States. I can’t, but then I never imagined that George W would win a second term either. I was flabbergasted when he did and it proved to me that logic, reason and common sense are not necessary commodities when it comes to politics. Silvio Berlusconi knows this and I’m sure Donald Trump knows this as well.

Trump is appealing to the segment of the population who, like my car hire woman, don’t know or care much about the world outside of the USA. And if my prediction is right, this is ok.

This is, after all, what Jefferson and the rest of the brave founding fathers wanted in the first place.

It’s probably time for someone else to step up and take over.

‘Whane yew is in ‘merica, we is right.’

And when all is said and done, on this point, I would tend to agree with you.

I Love Me


I generally dislike travelling to the US.

Not because it involves a >10 hour flight, jet lag and an immigration process built on the presumption that I want to stay forever, carry out illegal stuff and blow something up.

It’s not because if I choose to smoke I am treated like a Middle Eastern leper with a worryingly oversized belt.

It’s not because I still get carded and have been refused alcohol because my British passport was not, to quote a Jurassic sized Polynesian doorman with an oily smile, ‘a valid form of identification sir’.

It’s also not because they have gun laws which should have been cast aside at the same time they stopped burning witches.

No, the main reason I dislike travelling to the US is that it’s a place where as soon as I land I start to feel wholly and horribly inadequate.

Self-confidence is a trait so ingrained in the American psyche it really should be added to their constitution. All men are equal, the pursuit of happiness, the right to arm yourself to the teeth and the right to be so self-confident that it borders on narcissism.

I am British and all that means. I would consider myself to be reasonably self-confident but even after living in liberal Europe for over ten years I still carry the baggage. I still struggle at the point in a job interview when the interviewer asks ‘So tell me about your strengths’. I giggle uncontrollably in mixed nude saunas and worry about rising. I feel distinctly uneasy when someone decides to discuss a deep personal issue with me and fully support ‘because I was drunk’ as a reasonable and forgivable excuse.

So how does your average, arse the size of a settee, American immigration officer become so self-confident and at what point does his or her self-confidence shift from endearing to ugly Kardashian-esq?

I don’t know, but I do think we are all right at the edge. We are teetering at the tipping point, clinging onto the edge of a self-confident/self-love cliff and very soon will find ourselves plunging headlong into an abyss where the words restraint, modesty and humility do not exist.

America has already jumped. They are lost and through the medium of Facebook we will probably (and I include myself here) join them soon.

On that, Facebook is a strange medium. I along with the other gazzilion users quite happily post without restraint or thought. I then sulk when no-one ‘likes’ or comments on my check in, my blog post or my hilariously funny joke.

Why do you not like the fact I have just checked in to the Holiday Inn in the arse end of nowhere Germany at 9.24pm? Probably because they don’t really give a fuck that’s why not but I still sulk for a brief moment before making up, or stealing, another joke and going for it again. Someone will like something I post eventually. Please.

The photos of me picking my nose, lying flat drunk or waking up looking like a 1,000 year old peat-bog man never make the cut. Why not? Because I choose what other people see and delete the ones I am tagged in if they show me in a light which I dislike.

I am, like everyone else, a real person. I am good, I am bad and I am ugly but two of these don’t make it onto my Facebook page (you might argue differently) and thus I am probably displaying a narcissistic trait which I have written about to this point in such disparaging terms.

Is Facebook to blame? Probably not, we would have gotten here anyway. How is less relevant.

In the Big Brother house, within days, the contestants descend into a manic state of inward looking self-absorption. He said this. She said that. How do I look in this? Me, me, me. Without other, more important distractions: a global war, famine, biblical plague or Mayan apocalypse its basic human nature to go all Lord of the Flies and I think this is exactly what is occurring.

So what is next?

Are we doomed to tip over the edge, fall madly in love with ourselves and suddenly become super self-confident?

If our collective Facebook pages are anything to be believed, then yes.