Essays and discussions

Review of 2008

2008 has really been dominated by two news stories: the credit crunch and the US election. We’ve seen the economy nosedive (as measured by by metrics such as the FTSE index, house prices and unemployment figures) and many household names on the high street close. This has been a time of hardship for many, but I can’t help thinking that it’s also something that’s helping to rebalance an economy that seemed to be largely built on clouds – with ever more complex financial instruments, and people treating housing as an investment rather than somewhere to live. Next year will be, if the pundits are to be believed, just as hard and I’m just glad that both my job and home are secure.

Almost despite myself, I’ve been drawn into the American election race, starting with Obama and Hilary Clinton’s epic race to be chosen as the Democratic nominee for the race proper. I started the year confidently predicting that Hilary would be chosen, so watching Obama’s progress has been fascinating, from being an outsider to being a serious challenger, to becoming the party nominee. I found John McCain’s candidacy more interesting for the people he surrounded himself with, more than the candidate himself. First, the suggestion that Mike Huckabee might be waiting in the wings for the aged McCain to die and then his actual running mate, Sarah Palin, struck fear into me, both with her right-wing policies and her apparent ignorance of the world beyond (and sometimes within) the boundaries of the United States. Obama himself ran on a ticket of promising change and it is on this that he will be judged during his term in office. He also seems more outward-looking than George Bush and it will be interesting to see whether he engages more with the world on issues such as climate change and the Middle East.

The big news story in the scientific world this year (well, if you believe the BBC, anyway) was the Large Hadron Collider, which was started up in September, and almost immediately shut down again due to a fault between a pair of superconducting magnets. I firmly believe that the LHC is very important in furthering our understanding of particle physics, especially if it does manage to detect the Higgs-boson as hoped for. However, I also think it was extremely hyped in a manner that didn’t necessarily improve the understanding or standing of science in the public mind. Hopefully when it come back online in summer 2009 the event will be somewhat more muted.

The news from Britain has been somewhat muted this year, with the big two stories above often taking precedence. It seems that Gordon Brown’s popularity is rising in proportion to how bad the economy gets, which strikes me as somewhat odd, since it was during his stewardship of the economy that we got into the mess in the first place. Well, that’s somewhat harsh, since a lot of the problems are global in cause and scale, but he still won’t be the saviour that he’s painting himself to be. Meanwhile, ‘Wacky’ Jacqui Smith is continuing the dishonourable tradition of New Labour home secretaries to be rabid, authoritarian nutters, while New Labour as a whole ‘won’ the Big Brother award for 2008.

Something I blogged about this year was David Davis’ principled stand against 42 day detention and his resignation from and subsequent re-election to the Commons. It says a lot to me that New Labour have gone so far to the right that even some Tories are uncomfortable with what they’re doing. While I should make it clear that I’d never actually vote for them, I can’t help admiring what Davis did.

Personally, it’s been a fairly quiet year with no major upheavals. I took a flatmate at the tail end of July but purely as a favour to a friend rather than because I wanted to live with someone or needed help paying the mortgage. It’s been nice introducing him to Babylon 5 but I am, however, looking forward to living on my own again.

Just about nothing happened in 2008 regarding my marriage search but I did, eventually, agree to widen the search to India, following what you might call an Irish referendum – they kept asking the question until they got the answer they wanted. That looks like it will happen sometime in the spring, although I have finally got a positive response through, so we’ll see what happens there first.

— 30 December 2008

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