Society


Note: I wrote this the night of the election and it was printed in my university’s student newspaper a couple of days later. I just felt it belonged on my blog, so here it is. Obviously some things have changed, some for worse, some for better, but this was still a great day for me.
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On Tuesday night, another historic milestone was reached. As a usually not-so-proud American, I was giddy with excitement when I filled out my absentee ballot a week earlier. I’d never voted before (Americans aren’t good about telling citizens abroad they have the right), but I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been as excited in the last election. Let’s face it, Kerry was okay, but not really approachable or accessible to all voting classes.

However this election has been by turns thrilling and disgusting, hilarious and sombre. I admit, at the beginning of the primary season, I was leaning toward John McCain. Even though he’s a Republican, he had a reputation for independence and didn’t always toe the party line. As the sheen wore off, I realised that ended back in the 1990s and I noticed with dismay how much more hard-line his positions had become.

I was never a huge Hillary supporter beyond the fact that she’s a woman, mostly because I detect a suspicious affinity for political expediency in her character and she’s far too establishment for my taste: too many skeletons in the closet, too many favours owed.

Enter Barack Obama. He’s articulate, well-educated, erudite; he understands how useless the establishment can be. He’s also black; well, it’s about damn time. But wait, he was endorsed by Oprah before he even decided to run. That right there made me think thrice about voting for him; is he just a token, or worse, a puppet?

That’s when I started paying closer attention to the primaries than I ever have (not enough to register to vote in them, I don’t declare party affiliation and was still leaning toward McCain at that point). On the Democrat side, I was stuck between the female token and the African-American one, until I started listening to their words, how they see the United States and envision its future. Hillary made a lot of “Shrub sucks!” comments, but Obama didn’t do much of that. Instead, he focused on the way forward for the nation as a whole.

As I started to realise this one might be the real deal, he got the nomination at the Democratic Convention; I celebrated with a small “yay!” in my living room. The campaign began and he continued to impress me. He obviously also impressed many other: not only did he raise the most money ever, he also raised it from the most people ever (we’re talking $20-100 increments, people). It started to get negative, as these things do, but nothing compared to previously.

Obama continued to focus on change, hope for the future and a way out of our current quagmire (not just wars, but social safety net and economic issues too). I was more impressed by the day (McCain’s choice of Palin also disgusted me, making Obama seem even more…better). Then the economy went to hell and things got right messy: it was clear that the McCain and Obama camps didn’t like each other much.

Still, in the end, I was proud to see record voter turn-out (projected at about 64 per cent), to cast my own ballot and to vote for Barack. And when he won I was, for once, proud to call myself an American. Will he be perfect? No. Will he be able to deliver everything he promised? Probably not. Will this nip that looming recession in the bud? Hell no!

But Obama seems to understand that torture is bad, no matter what. He knows that a social contract exists between the governed and the state which must be honoured by both parties, always. He grasps the concept of multilateralism and how essential it is in the changing world order. I believe this man will do his best to fix what he can and to return the nation to the foundations upon which it was built: All humans are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As Obama sums it up, “Hope”. That’s why I voted for him.

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A lot has happened in the almost nine months since I last posted. Imagine that.

The most exciting thing for me was that I voted in the US election for the first time. I was very proud to be able to vote for Barack Obama, and I still haven’t gotten over it, as silly as that may seem. I was also quite perturbed to see that the ‘great’ state of California asked me vote on a little something called Proposition 8. I voted no, since I don’t feel that it is constitutional to refuse certain people the right to marry.

I was disgusted to see, however, that the state as a whole narrowly passed the measure, making it illegal for same-sex couples to marry. Not only was I disgusted, but I wondered about what would happen to the several thousand couples who had tied the knot since the state supreme court had ruled that it was legal. So far, nothing has changed for those couples, since they did nothing illegal. But what about when it comes time to put it to the test, like when someone retires, has a medical issue or gets divorced.

I am totally and completely pumped for the inauguration, just five days away. Thank God for the internet, or I would never see decent coverage, since I only have peasant-vision on my telly and live in Canada. I’m counting the hours for the 44th president of the United States to make history. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and it finally seems to be coming to fruition. Awesome.

I was told something was funny. I looked it up and disagreed: to me, it was hilarious. But not everyone would necessarily agree, mostly because the lens through which someone views anything is generated to a large extent by the culture in which they have been socialised. This particular case was funny to us North Americans, but a CEO in Europe would likely have said something along the lines of: this is a waste of time, and I’m not paying you to waste time.

As the internet has revolutionised the way we talk to each other, it has also brought cultures into contact which have previously had little to none. Plus, the way we now communicate so instantaneously lacks a certain element: face-to-face (F2F) communication. Most of us are never as aware of the importance of visual and/or audio cues in a conversation until we notice the lack of it.

Yesterday, I had a lovely, and extended conversation with my little brother, Linus. But it was on the phone, and so much of what he was telling me, I had a hard time understanding, since he uses his hands to talk, just like every other Gattiker. Luckily, my father was there and able to explain when I got lost, but without him, I’m sure my conversation would have been immeasurably shorter and far less satisfying.

This could easily be fixed with a video call, I’m certain, but not everyone has that capacity, and here the digital gap or divide becomes problematic. The world runs on money, and not everyone has enough to allow for things like video calls. So are we just stuck with the way thing are, or will technology somehow improve so drastically as to allow for free access for everyone?

Just a thought.

Edited 05.01.09: Claiming a blog is important in today’s social media environment. Or so I’ve been told, so that’s what I’m doing at my.commetrics.com.

I just spend about two hours fiddling with my blog. That’s stupid…but as with most things on the internet, if you really get into it, the time just flies. The problem is there are so many options and so many possibilities for customisation. A big part of me likes that, but then I look up at the clock and realise half of my day has just disappeared.

And there’s the rub: it can be so easy to get lost in cyberspace. While parts of it are highly useful for both personal and business reasons (such as email, messaging and voip), others are great for those of us trying to learn (believe it or not, Wikipedia can sometimes be a great starting point for research for a university paper).

Some parts of it, though, are just time-wasters, and unlikely to improve your life in any tangible way or advance your career in any way at all. Here I’m referring to almost any social networking site, including Facebook, MySpace, del.icio.us, Technorati, etc.

I know many would disagree with that assessment, but unless you are a business person, it is, in fact, quite unlikely that your use of these things is geared towards business, advancement or something else “worthwhile”. There are already so many people who label themselves “addicts” of one or more of these kinds of sites…can this really be a good sign?

Nevertheless, I keep trying to update my blog with half-intelligent thoughts and am trying to make it better (more on that later). Does that make me an addict too? Why are people so driven to put their inner-most thoughts out there for anyone to see and dissect? And why won’t people do that with someone F2F (face to face)?

Ye Gods, everyone in my world has some sort of election going on!

I live in Alberta, and people around here are pretty sure that our premier, Ed Stelmach will be calling an election pretty quick here. This is notable, because it will likely occur prior to this year’s budget being released, since the good premier does not want his budget being delivered by a member of cabinet who disagrees with him (one Lyle Oberg). This is important, I think, because Stelmach did not come to power by a provincial election. Rather, when King Ralph resigned, the ruling Progressive Conservatives had a leadership race, which “Steady Eddie” won as the dark-horse candidate. Generally, most of the province was fine with that, especially members of the party, since they got to vote (although I heard stories of people buying a membership just to have a say in who would now rule the province).

Now many people are unhappy, even a sizable number of Conservatives I would wager, and the opposition’s voices are growing louder, especially since Stelmach supposedly sold out to big oil last year when it came to reviewing royalty rates. I can’t actually vote in any election that might happen (one of the few drawbacks of only being a permanent resident here), but it sure will be mighty interesting once things get going. *gleefully rubs hands together*

Beyond my own backyard, so to speak, we’re supposedly going to be having a national election pretty quick as well. Apparently, either the opposition parties will make the government fall when it comes time for the budget to be presented, or the Conservative government itself will call an election, hoping to get while the getting is good, and try to snag a parliamentary majority. God, I hope not. But again, this should be rather interesting, and I am very interested to know what issues will be driving this year’s campaign. I can’t vote in that potential race either, but nevertheless, interesting times, especially given what’s occurring just south of the border. And this is where it gets really interesting, because that one I potentially add my two cents to. Canadian cents, because they’re now worth more. So there!

I cannot claim to be anything less than an Independent, when it comes to American politics, because I’m not a registered Democrat, let alone a Republican. In fact, I would consider myself more of a socialist; a democratic socialist, but a socialist nevertheless. Since that does not officially exist Down South, and I would want my vote to actually count for something (let’s face it, the US is not ready for a president who is not a Democrat or a Republican), I generally agree with the principles of the Democratic party and pick from among those candidates.

Social programs are not evil, contrary to popular Republican belief. So there. For a long time, I was torn between the two front-running candidates in the Democratic primaries, but then I learned a bit more about Barack Obama, and what really struck me is that he is not part of the establishment, something that Hillary Rodham Clinton certainly cannot claim, especially given the fact that her husband used to have the job that she now so desperately wants. Someone needs to shake things up and not simply accept that business as usual is the only way. And wonder of wonders, I think Barack Obama may actually be the one to be able to do that.

It’s about damn time we had a president who cared about the plight of the people as much as their potential legacy and how good having “former President of the United States” on your resume looks. Now Imagine what such a President and a cooperative Congress could accomplish together. It boggles the mind.

And by the way, the reason I care, is because I get to help elect that person, I hope. And the reason you should probably care? Well, because like it or not, what happens in the United States affects the rest of the world, whether we agree with that reality of globalisation or not. And if that’s so awful (which I think it is), people need to agitate for change with their governments. The way I’m trying to use my right to vote to effect a little change. No apathy here!

All hail the call to the ballot-box!

Okay, this is sad and makes me sound utterly pathetic, but I just Googled myself. And I was sad not to find this little blog (or my now-dead lj) in the list. I did, however, find my father, the Meliorist and several academic papers I have edited. I also didn’t find the newsboard I administered. Plus, I learned that Google seems to think Gauthier is a better name than Gattiker, since it asked if that’s what I meant.

But I found a whole whack of people named Melanie and/or Gattiker. Who knew there were that many Gattikers in the world? Because, trust me, we have not been breeding like rabbits. Apparently they’re not liked in our clan.

I now feel appropriately humbled. Huh.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled pithiness.

Since the events of September 11th, 2001, the picture of security around the world has undergone wholesale change at least in the public’s perceptions. However, we in the West seem to constantly be skating on the edge between true security and the illusion of security, often pulled to the latter by some not-so-intelligent politicians who merely want to get re-elected. As a result, our fear has generally also manifested itself as xenophobia, in one way or another. A case in point would be the naturalisation laws in Switzerland: you cannot apply for citizenship until you have lived there for at least 12 years. There are few nations that have more stringent rules in this area; in fact, no European nation surpasses Switzerland in this regard. In many ways, Switzerland is one of the most progressive nations on earth, especially with respect to citizens who live abroad being allowed to vote in federal elections. This goes for several nations.

But those same states seem utterly backwards in other ways. Again, a case in point is Switzerland, which in its last federal election re-elected the Swiss People’s Party, increasing their hold on the Federal Council. They ran a despicable campaign, including inflammatory posters depicting white sheep kicking black ones off the Swiss flag. They were nearly all defaced with a single word: shame. Nevertheless, the SPP’s power base is generally in the rural areas, and their immigrant concerns and other issues like joblessness and the economy, appeal to people who feel uncertainty about the future.

Unfortunately, this is spreading, mostly in Europe, which is so used to being a community of nations of emigrants and now must reconcile itself being one of immigrants, but also in North America, where politicians’ fear-mongering runs rampant in the new 24-hour news cycle.

Is the world soon going to be at war with itself? Are we already? And how do economics fit into all of this?

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