Courtesy Disconnect

I was in Los Angeles in January 2009 when Obama first took office, after beating Hillary Clinton for the nomination and then beating W. Politics ages you rapidly, and it seemed possible he would turn white within a few years.

Six years have gone by, and we’re all older—children have become adults, old people have left us—my mother, the unstoppable rabbit, died that summer.

Today I find myself on the East Coast, a totally different America, as Hillary attempts, for the second time, to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.

On the plane I got talking to a South African businessman, and told him ” I don’t think she’s likely to win.” He smiled and replied “Well, the US doesn’t have much choice—it’s either another Clinton or another Bush.”

A fresh-faced president and an America predicated on 'Yes We Can' come together.

A fresh-faced president and an America predicated on ‘Yes We Can’ come together in 2009.

We agreed that charisma lies in business and sports, not necessarily in that order, but not in politics. It really is a courtesy disconnect, although it’s only fair to explain the term.

The IRS has been struggling with budget cuts and staff reductions, like most federal agencies, to the extent that it is simply unable to reply to calls. The staff therefore simply hang up the phone. In the land of political correctness, a new term was created.

I personally think it’s more of a discourteous connect, but what do I know? It does identify a challenge when it comes to tax collection, which presumably will reduce taxes, and therefore feedback into more budget cuts—a bit like sacking police to reduce crime.

One of my biggest disappointments on this trip was the cancellation of my plans to visit Yale’s Beinecke library. The library is closing in May for renovations, and both Cantino’s planisphere and the fantastic 1492 portolan of Jorge de Aguiar have been stored away.

That leaves Venice, and the library of the d’Este family, the Biblioteca Estense in Modena. Hopefully I can find time in the first quarter of 2016 to visit both. By then Clear Eyes, my story of Columbus, will be nearing completion, so the timing is good.

As always, travel provides a chance for change, and en route through London I noted the febrile scramble for the upcoming UK election. I saw the debate a couple of weeks ago on ITV, a US-style, all-at-the-podium blabfest, and came away none the wiser.

It was painful to watch Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberals, because he is running after a stint as minority partner in a Tory government. Anything good the incumbent government did, the Tories took credit for—anything he faulted made him look impotent.

There is a similar upcoming election (general) and a similar arrangement (the Popular Party) in Portugal, but the minority leader is far too smooth a politician to be caught in this trap. He’s a man who promises everyone the world, known locally as Paulinho das Feiras (loosely Fairground Pauly)—his sobriquet because of his enthusiastic pledges at fish markets and country fairs.

But back to the UK. I don’t know any other established democracy where newspapers are so virulent when it comes to party politics. The (varying) stances taken by Rupert Murdoch, and therefore The Sun, are legendary, but I’ll just draw your eye to two UK papers. I won’t single out particular articles, because I don’t have to: just click left or right and look at any political or oped piece.

A word of warning: neither of these two tabloids are exactly intellectual material, so if you want that side of things (or both) you could look left at the Guardian and right at the Financial Times—of course you won’t find things quite as rabid there.

And if you go tabloid-slumming, you may have to do a bit of bottom-fishing at the very end of the website to even find the word ‘politics’—yes, it’s that dirty. Mind you, today’s Sunday, the most dirty day for all the other stuff, the day when the thankfully-defunct News of the World used to drop its daisy-cutters on unsuspecting glitterati.

How Private Eye, my favorite magazine, sees the UK election. Opposite the queen sits Alex Salmond, the last king of Scotland.

How Private Eye, my favorite magazine, sees the UK election. Opposite the queen sits Alex Salmond, the last king of Scotland.

The UK election will very possibly be decided by the Scottish National Party, which once more holds England on tenterhooks. The two main players of the SNP go by the name of Salmond and Sturgeon, a piece of trivia that appeals to me—to my delight, I recently discovered one of the eminent researchers on the topic of sea cucumbers was a Dr. Fankboner.

Some of my English friends think it may be time to invade Scotland, given the problems it seems to be causing—first the referendum, now a potential coalition. One possible hazard is that the British army is largely made up of Scots.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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