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At Large: Itchy fingers

At Large: Itchy fingers

Having spent several columns on it, Matthew JC. Powell vows not to mention Star Wars this time. Oops . . .

Some of you may be aware that next year the people of the United States of America will exercise their hard-won democratic privilege and elect themselves a new leader. They do this every fourth November, regular as clockwork. Even if the leader they elected last time ends up decorating the upholstery like that poor fellow in Dallas, they just pop the suit on someone else until November rolls around. It's reassuring in a way.

It also means they have an excruciatingly long and slow process of election. In Australia, where you can have an election any time (unless Meg Lees suddenly backflips, but that's another story) you need to have your candidates revved and ready to go. In the US, they know when the thing is, so they take their time. It means they have a good opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff - a fact that unfortunately doesn't prevent them electing the chaff.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, for a start I have a passing interest in whose trembling finger sits atop The Button. Nuclear paranoia may seem very '80s to you, but the fact remains - there is a Button, and as an Australian citizen I have absolutely no say whatsoever in who gets to decide whether or not to push it. People who do have a say in this appointment include adults who chew bubble gum, hoe down with Bigfoot and think that having a background check before they can purchase a handgun is an invasion of their civil rights. Be afraid.

One potential Button custodian is George Wallace Bush Junior, Governor of Texas and son of a former President and anti-broccoli crusader with a very similar name. His brother, Jeb Bush (I didn't make that up) is Governor of Florida, and recently challenged the Governor of Minnesota to arm-wrestle him publicly to settle a difference of opinion. The Governor of Minnesota, by the way, is a former "professional wrestler" by the name of Jesse "The Body" Ventura who could probably do Jeb a quite embarrassing injury without raising a sweat. Any of these people could be potentially in charge of The Button. Are you scared yet?

I'm particularly interested in the career of George Bush Jr, not only because his dad once ran the CIA and that spooks me. I'm interested in his career because it hasn't stopped yet, despite all indications that it ought to have by now. He lost a very large pile of other people's money in the '80s, but isn't reviled like Christopher Skase. He used drugs at college, but isn't hounded by it like Bill Clinton. Incidentally, Bush used cocaine at college - you can't do that without inhaling.

I'm also interested in Bush's career because he's a thinker, and he has a vision. He recently said that he thinks "every city in the United States should have a telephone number '119' - for dyslexics who have an emergency". That's the kind of new ideas and "outside the box" thinking I want from the guy with The Button.

No, I'm being serious (sort of). This guy is spending his time and cogitations on issues of technology and telecommunications, and access for the disadvantaged. I don't have the stats readily to hand of Americans with minor learning disabilities who have failed to reach help because they reversed the digits, but I'm prepared to presume that Bush does. Australian dyslexics can sleep comfortably at night, safe in the knowledge that "000" is palindromic and the fire engines will arrive no matter what combination of the digits they dial. Go ahead, put the second "0" first - thanks to the wonder of technology, it still works. New Zealanders have a similar system, using the digits "1", "1" and "1", in literally any order they prefer. Amazing. Americans aren't so lucky, but at least Bush is on the case.

(Incidentally, I must applaud whoever decided that New Zealand's emergency number should be "111". How many Australian houses have been overrun by stampedes of heat-crazed wombats because their owners have old-fashioned rotary-dial phones that take about half an hour to dial "000"? Too many, I say. Not everyone's on the leading edge, you know.)It is, of course, very early days in the campaign, and Bush's grand "119 vision" is only the first of what I'm guessing will be many helpful suggestions for ways technology can improve the lives of disadvantaged Americans. How about improving access to streaming audio for the deaf by TURNING IT UP REAL LOUD, or monitors without glass on the front so blind people can browse the Web by touch?

I'm looking forward to this.


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