Belfast Telegraph

If you think politics here is bad, then try living the American nightmare

By Nuala McKeever

Looking forward to coming home. Enjoying the trip to the States. The people I've met have all been lovely, but between the Fear-bola outbreak, the overly fat-laden food and the need to have a car to get anywhere, my system's ready to get back to "normal".

Who'd have thunk that our petty little squabbles over budgets the size of a doll's house would seem so attractive? Over here in the land of the giants, where everything is supersized, Northern Ireland's problems seem so tiny and so easily sorted, it's unreal.

The United States of America is a beast. It's a massive hippopotamus of homogeny. Everyone speaks English and uses the same currency. Europe fits into the USA several times over and has dozens of languages and loads of fiddly border crossings and perimeters and edges and differences.

We think the civil service in NI is unwieldy at times. Trying to get government to make decisions is a nightmare. Imagine what that's like multiplied by a million and you have an idea of federal government in the US.

Which may help to explain why, on the surface at least, everything in America appears to be painted with very broad brush strokes. Very black and white, literally and figuratively.

There are of course pros and cons to the solidity of a massive nation. You can depend on things not changing quickly, which is grand when it comes to the things you like – traditional holidays, cheap gas, relaxed attitudes to fashion.

But when that leviathan tries to react like a finely toned athlete, the results aren't so pretty.

When someone in Stormont knee-jerks, the resulting ripple effect doesn't shake the world. When Washington knee-jerks, everyone gets shaken. So when Washington sets itself up as the policeman and the moral guardian and the healthcare specialist of the world, watch out for the aftershocks all over the place.

Like a hippo blundering through the Middle East, training rebels, making alliances with sworn enemies one day only to break them the next, the huge, uncontrollable backside of US policy wreaks havoc everywhere it goes. The head may have an idea of a plan, but by the time the rear end is passing through the region, the damage has been done. Because, just as with the Ebola virus, wars and allegiances and political/religious movements are unpredictable and subject to the 'things happen that you least expect' theory.

And of course, when the beast in question doesn't have a clearly defined and agreed upon approach, it's no wonder it seems to be as progressive as a hippo with one foot tied to the floor, lumbering round in circles with the left trying to go left and the right trying to go right.

Front page in the New York Times the other day was the revelation that even the CIA is now saying that training rebels in other countries doesn't really work. They cite years of experience at trying to overturn "enemy" regimes, none of which actually succeeded. If the CIA is saying "don't bother" you know it has to be bad.

No one seems to be listening, however. Every new administration has to find out for itself, the hard way, that the approaches that failed every other time they were tried, will fail this time too.

The diet here is already heavily salted, so forgive me for adding another pinch when I hear Obama pledging that Ebola won't be allowed to enter and spread on his watch. I think I'll pack my protective gear for the flight home, just in case ...

I should get Oscar for knowing him

Had a glimpse of the (possible) future the other day. Read the headline "Neil Patrick Harris to host Oscars" and my reaction was "Who?". Oh dear. Is this what it's going to be like from now on, not recognising anyone in popular culture? Or at least, not recognising anyone younger than me? Biding time till all the familiar faces die off, until finally, everything, apart from the past, is a blur? Starting every sentence with "I remember ..." because I've no idea what's going on in the here and now?

Harris is the star of How I Met Your Mother, by the way.

If you've just thought "What's that?", come sit by me ...

Alma's hostess with mostest

I could learn a thing or two from my hostess here in Kansas City. At 87 years old, Alma Rae has a busier social life than I do.

She's tall, slim and beautiful. Think the style of Katherine Hepburn with the colouring of Doris Day.

She was born in 1927, worked on The Marshall Plan in Paris in the early Fifties, taught for 40 years, has two MAs and a PhD, appreciates art, music, poetry and drama and enjoys wine at lunch and dinner.

Oh and she also dates younger men and loves robust political debate. I wanna be her when I grow up!

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