Tuesday, 25 November 2008

November Reigns

There's something very comfortable about padding upstairs in my socks, glass of wine in hand, and settling down at my keyboard. I still have the tropical spirit running through my veins (and no, I don't mean rum); but I'm learning to make my peace with the winter.

A good pair of gloves help. I am grateful to them every time I take my dog for a walk in the morning, especially if it is in the subzero conditions we had last weekend. I've been in cold weather before, I've even been in cold weather in Boston before. But this is the first time that I've stepped on a clod of earth, heard it crunch under my feet, and when I picked it up I found that it was half an inch of soil sitting on four inches of perfectly formed ice.

There was more ice on the car windshield on Friday morning. I turned on the de-fogger and watched it melt slowly. I almost wished it wouldn't melt, so that I could keep staring at each perfectly formed crystal, and at the flawless snowflake pattern that stretched right across the glass surface.

We're expecting snow next week. It'll be my first snowfall. When it comes, I intend to go outside and turn my face up to the sky like a walking cliche. After all, cliches exist because they mean something.

It's good to come home from the office, get out of my car, and feel a slap of cold air on my face. It's a welcome reminder that there is a real world and that nature does not bother with protocol.

But most of all I like stepping out on a clear night. I like to look at the stars frosted onto a perfectly black sky. And if the moon is full it turns the trees into mysterious, faintly silvered silhouettes. I still have the tropics running through me, but I can see how a person could get used to this.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Shifting Winds

I have a feeling that something significant is going to happen in America. I get a feeling of forces gathering, of a society that is taking a deep breath before stepping out into a time of change. It’s not any one event that makes me feel that way, it’s more an accumulation of occurrences.

The obvious one is the election of Barack Obama as president. Perhaps my view is coloured by living in Massachusetts, a state so liberal that it was the only state that did not vote for Nixon when he ran for President in 1972. And you have to worry about the weight of expectations on him when 2 out of 3 Americans said in a recent poll that they expect the country to be better off by the end of his term. But I think it’s got to the point that this expectation will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In any case, there is more to the gathering storm than the tailwind that propelled Obama on his trajectory to the White House.

There’s the current economic situation and all that that could lead to. It’ll lead to job losses of course, and hardship for many. In just the past few weeks it’s got to the stage where I can see local businesses shutting down around me, and people losing jobs as a result. But there’s more. It feels like the country is poised to change its consumption patterns. A year ago restaurants were advertising the great deals you could get on extra-large portions. That's changed. Today I saw a TGIF ad promoting "the right-sized portion at the right price", and that's only the most recent of the small-portion / low-price ads I've seen on the television.

That's just the beginning. Imagine what could happen if the big American car companies do go bankrupt (as many fear they will soon), and credit remains expensive, and so does fuel. Will American decrease their usage of cars? Will we see the demographic momentum reverse direction and move from the suburbs back towards urban centers? If it does, that would be a profound social and cultural change.

And that’s not the only social and cultural change in the offing. Apart from voting for Presidential and Congressional candidates, voters in 3 American states voted against legalizing same-sex marriages. Ironically, that seems to have sparked a tremendous burst of support for a movement in favour of such marriages. The demonstrations across the country in the past week suggest to me that it’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriages are recognized across the country, and it may not be a matter of very much time at that.

So what do a change of Presidency, an economic recession, and a challenge to social norms have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing, except that they are simultaneous in time and place, and therefore they cannot help but affect each other.

This has happened before, and not too long ago. In 1990 it was the Soviet Union which swore in a new head of state, Mikhail Gorbachev. Movements for democracy and independence from the USSR spread like wildfire across Eastern Europe. Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into Kuwait, sparking American intervention. And just like that we saw the end of the cold war and the making of a new world order.

It is, of course, impossible to say that that’s the sort of momentous change that awaits the world now. But there is one thing that I think is clear: we have some exciting times ahead.