Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Train Robbery

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to appeal the penalty fare I was unfairly issued with on 28th October, 2008 at Brighton Station, after taking the 19:36 train from Falmer to Brighton (see enclosed). It says on the notice I was given that I “have been unable to show when requested either a valid ticket, or other authority to travel, for your journey.” This is untrue. It was I who requested to buy a ticket, and was refused, and instead told that I would be charged a fine.

I had arrived at Falmer Station with my colleagues shortly before the train arrived, and thus went straight to the ticket machine on the platform to get a ticket. The gate for the platform bridge did not take me through or past the ticket office and I did not notice if was open or not. I found the machine unable to take cards, with a coin slot too narrow to fit pound coins in, and, after several tries, unwilling to accept paper money either.

The train arrived quickly, and we boarded and sat down. I am not a frequent user of this route, preferring the bus. However, I had taken this train in similar circumstances at a similar time two weeks previously, and had found no ticket machines at all – I was assured that I would be able to buy my ticket at Brighton, and indeed was able to without any trouble. Naturally I assumed that this would again be the right course of action, and assured my companion, who also had no ticket, that we could get our tickets at Brighton. After getting off the train, we went straight to the office next to the barriers and asked to buy tickets, and were refused.

We were told that the ticket office at Falmer was open (I do not know if this was true, but there was some controversy), and that we should have gone to the conductor and got our tickets. If I had known this was the case, I would have done so, but because of previous experience, I waited. It appears my only crime was to ask the wrong person for a ticket. This was abundantly clear to the officers who issued me my penalty fare, but it seems they were not in a position to make judgments on individual cases, but had to follow procedure. So here is my appeal, I trust it will be evaluated fairly, and my fine will be waived.


Roger Johnson

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dixon, Illinois: Reagan's Small Town

(Last week, I wrote a piece for the New Statesman's election blog. I submitted this as well, but it doesn't seem to have made the cut. The shame! Amiable Dunce, though, is still a reliable host for my writing.)

At the dedication of his Presidential Library, Ronald Reagan took the opportunity to muse on his past and its contemporary relevance:

I grew up in a town where everyone cared about one another because everyone knew one another, not as statistics in a government program but as neighbours in need…Our neighbours were never ashamed to kneel in prayer to their makers nor were they ever embarrassed to feel a lump in their throat when old glory passed by. No one in Dixon, Illinois ever burned a flag and no one in Dixon would have tolerated it.

This was in 1991, in the midst of the culture wars that swamped American politics as the Cold War drifted into history. Patriotism and American values as defined by rural and small-town life defined conservative rhetoric in the renewed battle against liberalism, and Reagan here was asserting his continuing loyalty to the cause (incidentally, out of the five Presidents at that ceremony, only one place his hand on his heart during the national anthem – Jimmy Carter). Today, seventeen years later, such reminiscence would delight the GOP crowds who continue to turn out for a campaign which increasingly defines itself around the symbol of the small town. Here tradition and morality and independent conservatism thrive in apparent cohesion with the vision of the iconic President Reagan.

Reagan, though, had more to say about Dixon and the place of small towns in the American fabric. Peggy Noonan, in her memoir of the Reagan White House, recalled a meandering Oval Office conversation on economics and the changing shape of the family in the 20th Century. Reagan reflected:

It was the rise of the city, too…You know, those sleepy old towns where generation after generation lived. And then those kids in the Midwest left; there was nothing in those towns – Lord, that’s why I left! And they wanted to see the world, so they went to the cities…

Reagan escaped from Dixon, Illinois. He aimed for Chicago, ended up in Des Moines and before too long found his way to Los Angeles. Hollywood celebrated the small town, and in those days wore a rigid fa├žade of wholesomeness, but it was there that Reagan was trained in the big city values of celebrity, vigorous creativity, vibrant commercialism, and active, progressive politics. While he was to give up on the latter, or turn it into something else, it was still the city that made the Reagan who became President, and which made him a heap of money. The shining city secured him the American dream, which he proceeded to promote for the rest of his life. It is not just that McCain/Palin marginalise large swathes of the American people with their narrow focus, it’s that they ignore this vital aspect of American mythology, the cities which forged the nation’s ideas, images and dreams, leaving their vision strangely stagnant.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Would President Reagan Have Knelt Before Zod?

Following a several month long hiatus, I have decided to resurrect this blog for three reasons.

1) It is a useful means of procrastination.

2) To plug the possibly short-lived Three Weeks in America, the musings of my sister as she ambles round the States.

3) Because the presidency looks like it will be getting some attention in the near future, and I may as well Be Part of History as well.

So anyway, we all get much of our understanding of the presidency from its on-screen representations. Clips such as the one below inform us about how the office works, how it reaches decisions and acts upon them, as well as inform American identity with dramatic representations of important historical moments:

So this raises a few questions. How would Senators Obama and McCain act in such a situation, and do we want a president who would, in the end, kneel before Zod? Personally, I am surprised this wasn't raised in any of the debates - it's an important foreign policy issue. Reagan talked often about the potential of an extra-terrestrial threat, though this was in the context of how it might unite the interests and identity of the US, the USSR and the world in general. He never specifically addressed how he might act, as far as I know, in the face of an invasion by rogue Kryptonians (he did watch Superman II, though, at Camp David on 16th June, 1981). I suspect it may have been much like in the film: try to fob the alien off with Mike Deaver, then submit with an air of noble defiance. Pretty much the best you could hope for in that situation. Maybe Reagan, though, would never have allowed Superman to wander off and give up his powers in the first place.

I have a feeling that this might be Obama's course of action as well, while McCain would try something more reckless and angry, maverick if you will (is he even able to kneel?). But then what have you got? One dead president - and the choice between millennia of Kryptonian tyranny or President Palin. You decide.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


If Barack Obama becomes the candidate and wins the election he will be the first president since Kennedy with more than two syllables in his name. He will also be the first president to begin with an 'O'.

American lingers on the verge of history.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Huck Me

Mike Huckabee has won the most recent poll - I have decided that the "don't know" voters don't have a voice. Amiable Dunce officially endorses Huckabee for Vice President of the United States.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Standing Athwart History, Yelling "Stop!"

"Listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered!"

This was directed at Gore Vidal in a live TV debate at the 1968 Chicago Convention and was clearly not one of William F. Buckley's finest moments, but it was the first that came to mind on hearing today that Buckley had died, age 82 (The encounter can be read about, and apparently downloaded, here).

It is unfair to open with this spat, because although it brings to mind the dreadful, shouty bickering that seems to characterise American political discourse, Buckley deserves credit for his articulate, intelligent and determined efforts to confront and change the American political mind. For over fifty years, Buckley has been a leader of American conservatism, taking it from the fringes into the forefront. While Reagan took his confrontational conservative ideology to public office, articulating it in consistent popular rhetoric until it represented the mainstream, Buckley was of the elite, the now-maligned intelligensia, articulating his conservatism in its terms through his journal, The National Review, which challenged the weighty institutions of The Nation and The New Republic. Equally, this eventually became a standard in American political thought. This is from the first issue of The National Review, November 19, 1955:

We begin publishing, then, with a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right, and a despair of the intransigence of the Liberals, who run this country; and all this in a world dominated by the jubilant single-mindedness of the practicing Communist, with his inside track to History. All this would not appear to augur well for NATIONAL REVIEW. Yet we start with a considerable — and considered — optimism.

An optimism that, it seems, was well placed. But now, with both Buckley and the Communists out of the way, perhaps our current despair at the intransigent beneficiaries of his (and Reagan's) success can make way for a bit of optimism.