Essays and discussions

Review of 2010

This year seems to have been filled with natural disasters, from earthquakes all over the world to the Icelandic volcano that brought air traffic in Europe to a complete standstill in the spring and dominated the news for what felt like months. And, of course, the snow. You can always rely on a few centimetres of snow to bring Britain to a standstill, although, to be fair, this time round it was both earlier and much heavier than we're used to in this country. And this year it's not just Britain, but Europe and the East Coast of the US that have been badly affected by the snow. I do still think that two heavy winters in a row don't make a trend though, so I think we're still right in not going to Scandinavian levels of preparation for it.

Moving from the natural world to the political, this time last year I had hoped that Barrack Obama would be able to implement real reforms in the US. Unfortunately, this is something that has completely failed to occur. His attempts at some form of universal healthcare led to, from our bewildered point of view on this side of the Atlantic, completely disproportionate and outrageous howls of protest from the right who resorted to blatant lies about the NHS to scare Americans away from it. And after that, the mid-term elections meant that the Democrats lost their majority in Congress, leading to a 'lame duck' session and the inability to get much done.

The other big news story of the year has been Wikileaks' release into the public domain of diplomatic and military documents, something that has kept papers on both sides of the Atlantic busy for months and made Julian Assange a household name. I am a firm believer in transparency of government, but, frankly, a lot of what has been released was just diplomatic chitter-chatter and I am unconvinced that it has added an awful lot of the public debate.

Elsewhere in the world, there has been some degree of hope in Burma with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, although I'm not raising my own hopes, since it's happened before and has proved to be only temporary. I really can't see the current military junta relinquishing power any time soon and unless Ms Suu Kyi fades out of politics I fail to see how she can avoid crossing swords with them again. Staying in the same general geographic area, we have North Korea, apparently becoming even more mental: first sinking a warship of the south and later in the year shelling an island owned by the south and killing civilians. There has been talk of the beginning of a transfer of power from one generation of the Kim family to the next, and it's been suggested that this may be related, although it's difficult to tell with that secretive country. Its antics really don't seem to be making it any friends, and if it's not careful, it seems in danger of losing the few friends that it still has in the world.

In Britain, we finally had our general election in May this year which, for the first time in a long while, resulted in a hung Parliament. We had a first in having a set of leaders' debates beforehand, something which propelled Nick Clegg from a joke to a serious contender, although when it came down to it, the Liberal Democrats won fewer seats than that had in the previous election. I have to say that I had high hopes for the coalition that eventually formed the government. I had thought that the Liberal Democrats could influence policy and shield us from the worst ideological attacks of the Tories. In the end, of course, that hasn't happened and the Lib Dems appear to be nothing but a human shield for those very policies. I suspect that for the next few elections (local and regional, at least), the Lib Dems will suffer hugely; certainly, although I've been a fairly solid Lib Dem voter in the past, I'm fairly certain that I won't be voting for them in the upcoming Scottish elections. As for their long-term future, I suspect that will depend on what happens over the course of this Parliament. The voting public have notoriously short memories, but if the economy hasn't substantially picked up by 2015, I'd suggest that the Lib Dems are in for a very rough ride. I should probably also talk about the new leader of the Labour Party, following Gordon Brown's resignation after the election, but, frankly, he seems just another Oxbridge-educated, middle-class, bland politician of the Cameron and Clegg mould and I have no idea what to make of him or where he's taking the Labour Party.

The protests that we've seen from students towards the end of 2010 are, I suspect, only the first taste of what we will see once the full extent of the spending cuts announced in the emergency Budget start to bite. Although the devolved administrations are not directly affected by these cuts, they will feel the cuts through their own reduced grants from central government. In Scotland, we've seen a budget from the SNP government which has seen cuts all over, with higher education bearing a hefty share of the cuts. For my institution, this means a substantial programme of cuts that are planned for the next three years, with no part of the organisation immune. Although a fairly generous voluntary severance package has been announced for staff, I have no desire to leave and will just try and keep my head down and work hard, hoping that the knife goes elsewhere.

For me personally, the year didn't start particularly well, with a stressful episode relating to a girl and the 'M' Word. However, beyond that, it's been a pretty good year. The 'M' Word hasn't really been raised again seriously since the early part of the year; I went to a great SF convention over Easter; and my sister proposed to her boyfriend gaining me my first brother-in-law next year. As I mention above, I'm somewhat worried about the future of my job, but apart from that, it's been a good year at work as well. The organisational Restructuring went off pretty smoothly in the summer and I've recently started working with a new team doing some more diverse work which has been great, even if it has meant going back to C(++) for the first time in about a decade.

This year, George finally brought our long-running Dungeons and Dragons game, Phratil, to an end, after six years. I'm very sorry to see the back of a game that has evolved into a rich world and a character who's been with me for so long. Still, there's a couple of new campaigns lined up for new year and I look forward to playing in them and many other games with my group in the year (and, indeed, years) to come.

— 31 December 2010

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