Future shock

The global superpower of His Majesty’s Starship was Indian. Most of the future-based scenes from Time’s Chariot were set in an international community in Antarctica, with an international cast, and the hero lived in South Africa. The (very few) Earth-based scenes from Phoenicia’s Worlds took place out at sea or in Kenya/Tanzania. When I have characters that a contemporary audience – you lot – would think of as white(ish) and western, it’s generally because they’re the descendants of the same but no longer living on Earth. I will admit it makes it easier for me as a white guy to write that way, but I also have to find a credible way of getting my future heroes into the story at all.

Because, for a very long time now, I simply haven’t believed that the West as we know it has a future. And here’s a piece that nicely articulates why not: How to Shrink the Economy without Crashing It: A Ten-Point Plan.

It’s not about the actual decline of the West, just a thought experiment as to what needs to happen for our species to survive at anything like its current level of affluence and comfort. And as the author frankly admits, it ain’t gonna happen, because is there a single politician or other power figure that you can imagine actually backing something like this?

… at least, not here in the affluent West with our current system. Other countries may pick it up, gradually, and I can well believe this is what planet Earth could eventually end up with. It’ll be more by accident than by design, but it could happen.

But only after the west has gone the way of Ancient Rome. Sorry to depress you.

Jail a repugnant ass

… is an anagram of “Julian Assange, prat”. But let’s leave that to one side and concentrate on the issues.

Assange is many things. Self-important prick is just one of them. Sadly that’s not illegal in most jurisdictions. In Ecuador it even verges on the compulsory. For the sake of argument here, let’s boil it down to two things. He either is or is not one or more of the following:

1. A tireless crusader for truth and freedom.

2. A sex pest.

These are not incompatible: it is quite possible to be both. Both of these need to be settled in a court. So far he has, in chronological order, upset the Swedes over (2) and the Americans over (1). That is therefore the order in which the court hearings should be heard. He should therefore be bunged off to Sweden with no further delay the moment he sets foot beyond the Ecuadorian embassy.

His supporters say that the Swedes will in turn just bung him off to the USA and he will never see daylight again. There is no reason to assume this is so. At the moment we are the country most likely to roll belly-up when the Americans come seeking someone, and offer our virgin daughters into the bargains. He would be in much more danger if the Americans had asked us to deliver him. I suspect we would do so without a second’s thought. Other nations however have more balls. ‘Twas but yesterday that a New Zealand court, overhearing the extradition cause of another self-important prat, had the nerve to tell the Americans it wanted to see more evidence. There is no reason to assume Sweden won’t do likewise.

(If guilty then that self-important prat deserves extradition and jailing if anyone does, but – and this can’t be stated enough times – that is for the court to decide. Not the Americans. Because that is how justice works in civilised countries.)

The Swedes may or may not hand Assange over to the US once they’re done, but they will first put him on trial under their own judicial system, without any outside interference, as is the right of any civilised sovereign state, on the sex charge. What is the alternative? Sweden would have to tell the women accusing Assange that their woes aren’t important enough to register on the big picture. It would have to tell its own citizens that the politically expedient desires of another country overrule their own rights.

The Swedes won’t do that. Even we wouldn’t do that, and we’re the Americans’ bitch. We handed Christopher Tappin over without a fight because of our blatantly ridiculous and unfair extradition treaty – but if we had wanted Tappin for something unrelated, we would have dealt with it in our own courts first. That is how it works.

Assange will either then be found guilty, and face the appropriate Swedish penalty, or found innocent and released. Either way, the Swedes might then hand him over to the Americans, who will almost certainly send him to jail for a long, long time. That is a bridge to be crossed once he has had his day in court in Sweden. The justice system can’t be short circuited or double guessed because of what might happen. The only certainty at the moment is that he is accused of sex crimes and should stand trial for them. There is no acceptable alternative.

Unless you want to be the one to look any woman in the eye and tell her she’s not important enough to matter?

American presidents

The last movie watched in 2008 was The American President, which I first saw about 10 years ago and wanted to see again because it was a kind of dry run for The West Wing and now that I’m familiar with the latter I wanted to see how it held up. Same warm heart, same creator, a lot of the same cast, same attitude, a lot of the same lines and unashamedly Democrat.

And it does hold up, because like TWW its two greatest strengths are: (1) it actually uses real-world issues to drive its drama, and the result isn’t always a happy one, and good people are forced to do bad things because not doing them would be even worse; and (2) it loves the presidency. Not for what it’s become but for what it should be. It should attract people of the highest calibre. It should be such a power for good. To be addressed as “Mr President” should be the greatest honour a country can bestow, and it should only be bestowed on people who are utterly worthy of it. Presidents Shepherd in The American President and Bartlet in The West Wing – and indeed the future President Santos in the same – are such people. You can’t help respecting and liking them. Why can’t we get them in real life?

Also over the holiday period we reached the end of series 6 of The West Wing – one more to go, even if I do know roughly how it ends. Series 6 ended with the battle lines being drawn up – the end of the presidency in sight, the two new presidential candidates confirmed. And true to form and its own internal guidelines, it doesn’t make the Republican guy a cipher who will easily be beaten. He’s just as good and honest a man as Bartlet, who is well aware his own party can only produce slimeballs and second-raters and is actively worried that they can’t find someone to stand against him. Until the underdog Congressman Santos enters the fray, of course, but some conventions of drama have to stand.

It got me wondering: when was the last time a Democrat president handed over to another Democrat? (Not counting Clinton who should have handed over to Gore, but that’s history …) A quick check isn’t encouraging for the future. The last two Democrat successions both came about by the incumbent dying – Kennedy and Johnson, and before that Roosevelt and Truman. In both cases the former VP then won a single term in his own right but was followed by a Republican. The last time a living, breathing and compos mentis Democrat president was followed by another Democrat was Franklin Pierce in 1857, who was pro-slavery and had been disowned by his own party after a single term. The last two-term Democrat to hand over to another Democrat (though Clinton had two terms …) was Andrew Jackson in 1837.

So, fingers crossed for Mr Obama in 2016, eh? He’s already broken a couple of records; another one or two shouldn’t be a problem.