Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scottish Election Warm up

I am going to do a long post on this subject (hell, I can't vote in this election , so at the least I can voice my opinion in the blogosphere). In the meantime here is a small podcast with photos from the Guardian. It is an interesting starting point - and has some beautiful pics of Edinburgh - although it is only focused on the capital. (there is a tendency in Scotland for some only to ever see the central belt - Edinburgh & Glasgow and the area in between - and forget there is a whole rest of the country).

For political ranting and disenfranchised expat raving, watch this space.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Class Structure in the 'Land of the Free'

My last post, and particularly the comments from it, got me thinking about American class politics and structure. The Romantic image that we are brought up with in Britain is that the USA is the 'Land of the Free' - the land free from class barriers, free from artificial restraints of birth, the land free with every possibility. This Romantic ideal haunts the history of the American pioneers, the pilgrims and the cowboy. The Declaration of Independence sounds like this ideal is sealed into law:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is a most attractive proposition. It sounds like Utopia. It sounds too good to be true. It is.

America has a class structure. But it is different from the long established aristocratic familial one in Britain. At the time of the Declaration, most white affluent men owned slaves who were never accredited the title of "Man" written by their masters. Women were disenfranchised and powerless. The poor immigrants from Ireland were kept one step away from slavery by the nature of their skin. Thomas Paine's idealism bore little relation to the class structure of the New States of America of his day and the acknowledgement of every man being created 'equal' came also with an equally large blind spot. Its a stirring message in theory, full of hope and value but in practice it has never been fully applied.

In America there are still the upper class that [pay to?] go to the vaulted Ivy Leagues of Harvard and Yale. There they find there is a commonly accepted and even encouraged means of solidifying such class structure - the Greek System of Fraternities and Sororities. When I first came to this country I was dumbstruck by such institutions. Here were these students voluntarily joining "houses" where they lived like they were at a private boarding school in Britain - only with alcohol thrown in for good (or bad) measure.

They have "rush" week where freshmen attend parties where they are tempted by the lure of each house and then vetted by each house until they are finally accepted or rejected. The general means used for vetting? Who they are! What does their father do? How much does he earn? Which school did they go to? What is their major and how much are they likely to make after graduating? And is she still a virgin or at least has she been faithful and pure towards her high school sweetheart?

Acceptance then means the ushering of a degree of hazing. All Frats and Sororities claim they have outlawed such behaviour but it persists. New members are made to perform demeaning and degrading tasks for senior members. Their desire to be part of this exclusive club is tested to the very limit. After all this is how to win friends and influence people. This will be the social network that will guarantee your career. This will solidify your place in the class structure. This will even help you find a perfect mate for a future perfect family. This is clear because this is what your father and/or mother did so before you.

Amongst this upper class are the WASPs. This stands for White Anglo Saxon Protestants. They are a group at the high end of American society that have held onto power and privilege since they arrived by boat in the 18th or 19th centuries. This breed can mostly be found in such states as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Delaware.

Then there are the family dynasties. The oil rich Bushes. The bootlegging Kennedys.

For all the talk of freedom that abounds in this country everyone knows their place and generally stays there.

But there are the exceptions. This is where I perceive America as different. Only in this country could a poor peanut farmer from Georgia become the 39th President of the wealthiest nation on earth. Only in this country can a poor black girl from the ghetto rise to the top to become her own brand of "O". Only in this country can new money be spent as old resulting in the perpetual fantasy of the lower classes: the American Dream.

I believe it is this dream that keeps America's class structure in check. Why would you revolt against the rich when you hold onto the dream that you too can join their ranks? The upper classes let the occasional Donald or Martha into their exclusive club in order to let the others see from below the glass ceiling that they should tow the line, behave, because they never know when they may be given the key to the golden elevator of upward social mobility.

I think that the American class structure is so very sad for this very fact. The belief that riches are but a dream away placates so many from taking issue with a system that shuts them out.

But as with everything in this country there is also another side and its what I love about this country. For all the people adhering to the system there are others who do not. The Amish, the Mennonite, the Mormons all step outside the mainstream culture that slices society into class. There are people who pioneer outside the boundaries in a progressive activism of thinking and living outside of class. There are the vibrant and varied Gay communities in every American city with San Fransisco and New York leading the way. There are right wing and left wing anti-government types who hanker after the days when not every state was under the federal United States government. And then there are always the crazies. The ugly men dressed as women in South Beach, the freewheeling eternal backpackers and hitchhikers and those who provide fodder for shows on crazy lifestyles or crazy homes for a sleek coffee table book.

America has a class structure that can and does determine a great deal in regards to upward mobility and professional success. But America still retains that glow of the Romantic ideal, the image I was fed growing up, where some individuals step outside that structure and operate in their own way be it for religious, political, ethical, environmental or crazy reasons.
I can never pin this place down.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

UK Spin

It was an interesting day for me in the blogosphere yesterday. I got angry at my country being accused of banning the Holocaust when it was untrue. I was really surprised by how upset I got and considering my recent post on what life like an expat is like, I suppose I am still very much patriotic for home in spite of all New Labours bungling and Blair's obedience to his master Bush. I still believe in the integrity of the country I grew up in. I believe in the justice system and the press (excluding the Daily Mail!!) to keep that same system in check.

However as I also wrote in my last post, I was taught in History lessons, in Scotland, all about the causes for the First and Second World Wars. Hitler's rise to power was facilitated by certain factors all lining up. It wasn't that Germany suddenly woke up and decided to persecute the Jews. It was a long build up of perception that the Jews were causing or aggravating the plight of the "german" people. And whilst the UK has not banned the holocaust from the class room, what I learnt in history tells me to be extra vigilant in looking for the signs that resentment is building in a civilised nation to where it could tip into uncivilised thinking and actions.

July 7th 2005 began murmurings in the press and society in general in Britain about Muslims. I remember talking with my friends about it. It was awkward. How do you address fanaticism in the Muslim community? How do you address a group of people who like to create their own community within a society and do not necessarily want to assimilate? How do you address the growing feeling that immigrants are changing the country from how it has always been perceived?

The UK is still very much a class based society. The recent split between Prince William and Kate Middleton has allowed the aristocracy to reveal their distaste for Kate because of her aspiring upper middle class mother and return William to the fold and set about finding him a true blue blood for the future throne. Oxford and Cambridge are still bastions of privilege and old boys clubs. Yahs still frequent the trendy bars in Edinburgh. Which school you went to and who your father is can still get you further in the UK than ability alone.

The difference now is that this class based society does not want to be seen as such. David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, has gone out of his way to prevent a photograph of himself being published. Is he nude? No. Is he drunk? No. Is he wearing women's clothes? No. He is photographed as part of an elitist old boys club in Cambridge. He is in short, photographed as a toff!! He knows this is not the image to win votes. You have to be young cool, green and hip with none of the stuffiness of Oxford dons or polo matches.

The UK is a country of spin, thanks to New Labour. This is a country where perceptions are spun to hide the truth beneath. So we elected a party and prime minister in 1997, who was young cool and hip (alas not green enough..) and who seemed to care for people and making a difference in a way the population was starved of after so much thatcherite incompetency. That election was incredible. The whole country was on a high. It was like the good guys had finally triumphed over the forces of darkness and were riding home in victory. It was infectious.

Finally rid of the Tories, the UK seemed like it may modernise and shake off the class ridden power basis. We may find that the UK could become one of those trendy socialist countries that everyone is envious of - Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland. That was the perception. That was the spin.

Underneath it all everything was the same. We were made to feel one thing when the reality was something different. So I suppose we did "modernise" into the ultimate "postmodern" country of Baudrillard's "Simulacra" where we are always spun away from reality. I did not know of Tony Blair's righteous Christian beliefs. I did not for a moment think that He and George Bush would have anything in common. New Labour might have had a face lift but surely they were supposed to be somewhat close to the left? Blair's beliefs had me thinking he was one of those Christians who truly care about the poor and helping people and to be fair I think some of that is true. But I was totally unaware that that would morph into a "holier than thou" attitude that invading foreign lands to liberate suffering people was OK. I suppose the high he got upon being first elected must have lasted too long.

Britain is a country of two faces. One is the outward modern one that has a diverse multicultural society that welcomes immigrants (I personally believe that after taking over half the world its only right that those people we colonised should be able to come and live in the UK too - although I can guarantee they won't like the weather). The other is a conservative class structure that wishes to preserve power and influence. I fear what would happen if the conservative elite ever felt truly threatened. I fear they would hold onto power at all costs. The compromise right now is that through the spinning of the simulacra everyone can feel hip and cool and modern and open and free whilst the mechanism doing the spinning is the same fixed structure that its always been.

Friday, April 20, 2007

UK is NOT banning Holocaust from School Books!!!

I was wondering what to blog about this morning when I saw this headline:
"E-mails are circulating around the world, claiming that the UK has banned the teaching of the Holocaust in schools."
You can read the BBC article here. I am so disturbed by this and have already read one blogger post on the subject. (I know this is not about N'awlins but I'm so angry that I'm posting on both my blogs!!)

It pains me to think that people (highly intelligent thinking people) actually think that my country would do such a thing. When I was in school in Scotland our History classes were focused on the causes of the First and Second World Wars. I know more German History than Scottish. Why? So that we could learn that we are all susceptible to Germany's mistakes and that our country had a large role in causing the First World War which led to the Second.

We have war veterans who liberated the concentration camps in eastern Europe. We adhere to the Geneva convention. We have a free and very vocal press. If this was true they'd be shouting it from the rooftops!!! And yet people will believe an email!! And not research this wild story!!! I am disgusted. I am angry and I am sad.

Update: The blog I read this on has recanted the initial claim that the UK had banned teaching the Holocaust. [thank goodness because I really like her writing and her blog!!]
I know that it must be very challenging for teachers to teach the Holocaust to some (not all) Muslim students who are taught at home that it never happened but it is a challenge that must be met head on. As Edmund Burke (allegedly) said: "
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

thinking blogger award

I just received a nomination from Horizon for a thinking blogger award. I am touched and honoured - she has so many blogs on her roll and so many wonderful people comment on her blog I'm quite shocked that she picked my blog!
The task is now passed to me to do the same for five blogs that make me think.

I wish I could nominate the entire New Orleans blogging community, but as it is here are a few bright sparks:

Mark at Wetbank Blog. Always hard hitting, always controversial, always makes me think. My IQ goes up after every visit.

Traveling mermaid was my first foray into the NOLA blogging circle. I love her blog - full of fun, feisty political commentary and music (really like Rotary Downs that she linked to recently!).

Adrastos is a Nola blogger with a taste for British politics. My two worlds converge somewhat, under his posts. I am also glad to hear of someone else who reads the Guardian in N'awlins.

Ashley Morris is way more intelligent than I could ever hope to be and my wee brain cells get quite the workout following all his witty comments and links.

And finally a non-N'awlins blog:
Katie at Longayelander is an American girl from Long Island who is experiencing the joys (and irn bru, pub culture, and vomit...) of living in Glasgow. Its definitely thought provoking to see my country through an other's eyes.