Friday, December 10, 2010

The last cry of the middle class

A bit homesick and longing for some London footage I have been avidly following the student protests over the news.

Am I the only one noticing how everyone interviewed on camera seems to have a suspiciously plummy accent? Even allowing for the fact that the most articulated and educated protesters are the one most likely to get interviewed and that maybe some journalists are worried of approaching less polished ones still they seemed the only one they could get their hands on. I don't know if I should make allowance for this because on the other hand it would be a good scoop for a journalist to get on camera a barely comprehensible student from East Ham.

My point is the same that I have been making for a while, the ones that are going to lose from all this are the middle classes (in the English sense, i.e. the relatively well off) not the poor they claim to speak for. That class of people (perfectly described in Millenium People by Ballard) that is squeezed between the poor and the people (nowadays made mainly of bankers and Russians) who can send their kids to a good public school without thinking twice about the cost. The people who send their kids to University because it is the thing to do, but who take for granted that it should be free because otherwise it would be a considerable expense.

The poor's situation is different. No one seems to realize (or state openly) that the real cost of a University education to someone who does not consider it as the natural thing to do is not only the tuition fees (and the living expenses) but the missed income one would get from being employed. Someone taking the conscious decision (in this situation) to get a degree will not be put off by a further tuition fee. I can hear "but it is an enormous amount!". I hope that you know what I mean. If you are someone who considers University as a natural part of your life completely severed from any financial calculations, obviously 9000 pounds seem a lot, if you are someone who made a cool headed decision to treat a degree as an investment with a clear business plan, then 9000 it will be just a different cost.

I always like to compare the rage of the middle classes over tuition fees to my own rage over air travel. 25 years ago one could travel economy and arrive 40 mins before departure with only one or two people at the check in; one could find Boeing 747 with barely 20 people in coach cabin (when is the last time you had even only one empty seat next to you?). One could travel in economy (leaving aside the guilt about pollution and waste) with some of the comfort one can only find in business now. Not being able to afford business class when I travel on my own, I feel angry at the world, at low cost airlines that have pushed everyone to cut costs, at the yobs that now scoot around Europe when in the past they would have at most traveled by bus to Ibiza and in general at how things have changed. Basically I expect something without having to pay for it. Just like the middle classes expect to get a university education without having to pay for it.

Another image from The road past Mandalay by John Masters. He was in the 30s a British officer coming from a long line of Indian British officers. Not wealthy but considering a certain position in the world as a given (like the present day protesters): on his way back from American, he is short of cash and on the boat he cannot buy first class tickets, settling for second class. On the first evening without thinking twice he is entering the first class bar when the doorman stops him. John Masters looks at him shocked, I am a British officer, of course I should be allowed to enter, my ticket type should not matter. Unfortunately it was an American ship, where things work differently ...

As The Economist said a while ago, these elections will signal the end of the era of the free stuff and contrary to popular belief it will not be the poorest to suffer the most.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The exceptionally incredible

I followed a link from Lexington's notebook which brought me to the Daily Dish. Very interesting, if sad.

As far as the incident itself I thought when I heard it the first time that Obama was being not only very tactful, but extremely mature. Finally someone who speaks like a grown up. Andrew Sullivan's post is as usual very well written, what I find a bit upsetting is that he focuses too much on proving Obama's detractors wrong rather than showing what, by putting America's exceptional nature in perspective, a mature answer he gave.

My main point is however the shock at this paragraph from Jonah Goldberg

This reminded me of the wonderful scene in Pixar's "The Incredibles," in which the mom says "everyone's special" and her son replies, "Which is another way of saying no one is."

I am amazed. If we think carefully, as an example we are seeing brought to the table a (pseudo-)similar situation involving superheroes (animated ones to top it off). I cannot help feeling this is only the most explicit manifestation of a nation of little boys saying, superheroes exist, superheroes exist and there is one supernation and it's us. No wonder Obama's maturity is a bit lost on them.