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Coming home and the resulting circus

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 14, 2003


The sun rose twice for me on July 27th. Jet lagged and wigged out on caffeine, I returned to Encinitas on a quiet Sunday morning. Everything seemed oddly surreal. Having just left the brisk blue of Sydney in winter, we were greeted by the June gloom of late July. Adding to my sense of seasonal vertigo was the time warp associated with crossing the international dateline.

Through the fog of time spent away from home and hearth, the first thought that came to mind was "Safe." As we left the freeway I marveled at the illusion of breathing room, an illusion I was all to willing to embrace if only for a day or two. It was good to be home, and I was grateful to back on familiar ground. Still there was work to do. And a column needed to be completed to provide closure for my journalistic jaunt.

Crossing Australia on the Indian Pacific was quite luxurious as trains go. China and linen dinner service, gourmet meals, and comfortable cabins of golden Australian hardwoods made crossing the Nullarbor Plain decadently easy. Not being the shy and retiring type, I engaged fellow travelers in conversation over dinner and drinks. This allowed me to develop a useful understanding of how Aussies think about their place in the world.

In general, Australians are warm and friendly. Informed and politically astute, everyone I met seemed well versed in the environmental questions facing that nation of 22 million. In particular, Tasmanians seemed not only knowledgeable but also committed to ecological sustainability. When I commented on this, to a person they replied it was due to mandatory voting in Australia.

Providing contrast, they also found it ironic that in the country responsible for advancing democracy throughout the world, low voter turnout would be the norm and apathy the rule. That blamed the ascension of George "the Menace" Bush (their words not mine) on low voter turnout. Nothing more, nothing less.

I had to admit mandatory voting was contrary to the ideal of American freedom. Having the freedom of choice meant the freedom not to choose. Sadly for us, most Americans choose not to have a choice. I could only chuckle. Most folks just shook their heads as if in pity. That was rather disconcerting.

The people of Australia were also highly amused over the chaos of California politics and the freak show surrounding the Davis recall. Many asked if I would vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger, to which I replied "Arnold has a better chance of winning an Academy award for Best Actor than he has of receiving my vote for anything other than corporate stooge.

Many also wanted to know about Daryl Issa and why Californians would knowingly elect an admitted car theft. My answer to that was "money…lot's of money."

Everyday in the Australian press there were a stories on the California recall. The fact that an elected official could be removed from office without evidence of malfeasance was of serious concern for them. But then again they couldn't understand how the fifth largest economy in the world could be in such dire straits. What, they asked happened to the California Dream.

Meanwhile back on the train, I tried to explain Propisition13, term limits, 2/3 majorities, and the Enron inspired faux energy crisis to our dining companions. I also explained that had Governor Davis spent as much time worrying about the state budget as he did raising campaign contributions he would not be facing a bitter recall.

Many people asked if I was ready to move down under to which point I could only say that as tempting as that maybe, and believe me, it is tempting once you have experienced the wide open spaces of Western Australia or the cosmopolitan chic of Sydney. My place is with the gnatcatchers of Southern California.

Now that I am home, I better appreciate our life on the edge. Sure we are over populated, running out of water, and experiencing political and economic freefall, but what else is new? We got ourselves into this mess and, if enough people get off their butts and vote, we can get ourselves out of it.

As crazy as California may seem, I believe the recall is evidence of an evolutionary process away from corporate control of our lives. Of course the Schawarzenegger campaign flies in the face of such a claim. Just as Gray Davis has demonstrated being a career politician qualifies you for nothing more than membership in the worlds oldest profession, perhaps Arnold well prove, once and for all, being a media whore does not qualify one to be governor.

We can only hope.

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