Dirty Harry

It’s unusual for the first of the month to fall on a Saturday. This year it happens twice (today and December 1st), but many years it occurs only once. Last time it happened in September was in 2007.

Computer programming that involves days, dates, and months is deceptively complex, because all the numbers fall into their own systems. February doesn’t always have twenty-eight days, because years are out of synch, weeks have seven days, you can’t fit a whole number of weeks exactly into a year, and so on.

Recently there was a computer glitch that caused a large electrical outage because someone had coded a year as seven days times fifty-two weeks. It’s almost right, but of course anything multiplied by an even number (52) could never give 365. And in math, if you’re almost right, it’s lights out.

This year, however, November marks the calendar, and it’s all to do with the presidential election in the United States. As I watched Clint Eastwood’s glib and pathetic moment in Tampa, it really brought home the abyssal differences between Europe and America.

First off, Europeans can’t even comprehend the party names. Republicans are clearly democrats (except a cupful of teaparty extremists) and Democrats are obviously republican. Labour and Conservatives in the UK are named for their views, or at least for what they once were, and the same applies to the various flavors of communist, socialist, social-democrat, christian-democrat, and nationalist parties that roam the EU political undergrowth.

What unites these parties across various EU countries is more than what separates them, to the extent that they then form families (by that I mean blocks, they don’t mate) in the European Parliament.

But when I watched Romney this week, I was perplexed by the glue that binds Republicans together. Religion, family values, gun laws, and capitalism are all unifying concepts, but my experience in the US is that those values are prevalent everywhere, though not necessarily together.

Islam puts a huge emphasis on family, albeit with a different framework, and so do the Mormons, who share the same viewpoint on multiple (simultaneous) marriages. And of course Romney is himself a Mormon.

The United States—always fun, occasionally perplexing.

Walk into a gun store in the U.S., and it’s hard to believe that all patrons, or even the majority, are G.O.P. In the same manner, churches, of which America has the vastest range of denominations, are packed out across the political landscape.

When Eastwood said, in his best Dirty Harry voice, “if someone doesn’t do the job, you gotta let ’em go”, a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief. Not because of the sentence, but because he had finally ended a seemingly endless ramble, which could charitably be described as the worst kind of below the belt politics.

Since the days of  ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’, Clint Eastwood has been an image of America abroad. In movies like Gran Torino, he deals with social problems that are now ingrained in American society. So to hear the Obama ‘interview’ in its entirety (I won’t link it),  was a huge sadness.

The plight of the United States is easily described. It’s the same as the suffering of the EU, and it’s called unemployment. This is additionally tinged with issues such as the budget deficit—but the two are clearly related—more jobs means more income, more exports, and a more vibrant economy.

Put this way, things are very simplistic; but nowhere near as simplistic as the way Paul Ryan put them, with an instant recipe for twelve million new jobs. The people he addressed erupted into applause. I’m amazed. Nothing about this is even remotely simple. After the banks tanked the economy, in a classic ‘greed is good’ sub-prime scam worthy of Gordon Gecko, the world went into a nosedive. Printing virtual money, known variously as quantitative easing and LTRO, provided a few boosts here and there. But not to the people.

We’re stuck in Europe, and stuck in the U.S., because we’ve exported our jobs. In agriculture, in manufacturing, in technology. We’ve grown consumer markets based on goods grown or made elsewhere. We can only expect change through lower wages at home, making locally produced goods more competitive. If we increase productivity through automated customer support, electronic checkouts, and many other human replacements, we put more people out of a job. If they’re immigrants, according to some policy advocates, they can return to poverty in their own country, if not…

In any physical system, there are limits to growth. It applies in ecology, and it applies in economics. Our analysis of economic systems is intrinsically flawed, because we don’t couple the various parts. If we did, and this is done in ecology, it would be obvious that whatever percentage of (GDP or whatever) growth politicians claim will happen under their watch, will be negatively compensated elsewhere. Like it or not, finite resources equate to limits in carrying capacity, not infinite growth.

The West is more and more dependent on services, when it comes to job opportunities. But services to whom?

We can’t all be lawyers for oligarchs. Or cellphone salespeople for Taiwan.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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