Some bits of American democracy have always baffled me, like the way a single senator is able to prevent the majority of peers passing, say, a healthcare bill that might stop poor people dying in the street. But others are bonkers in a more round about way.
Take "direct democracy", the system by which anyone who gets around half a million people to sign a petition can force their state to put a "proposition" to voters at an election. It becomes law if endorsed by 51 per cent of them. In principle this sounds wonderfully progressive. But in practice it fills the streets with political chuggers wanting your autograph, and leads to all sorts of new laws that eventually turn out to be less brilliant than originally appeared.
This week, a case in point: Californians learned that they'll vote in November on a "proposition" to legalise and tax the sale of marijuana. Polls suggest it'll get a handsome majority, meaning that the weed will officially be freed by 2011. As a good liberal, this should of course be music to my ears. Yet gazing into a crystal ball, I fear that legal pot may actually result in the most irritating wave of social snobbery since the demise of Prohibition – which of course gave rise to the beard-stroking wine buff.
I've never been much of a pot smoker. But plenty of acquaintances are. And California's current marijuana law, which permits medicinal use at home (if your doctor agrees) has already turned several of them into prize-winning bores. One surfing buddy refuses to touch weed that isn't organic. Another won't buy pot from Central America because growers there don't receive a "fair" wage. A third drives to Riverside each fortnight (a round trip of three hours) to source his favourite Canada Mango.
Legalisation will fuel their obsessions, turning cannabis into the narcotic equivalent of olive oils and organic mueslis that people agonise over in Waitrose. Direct democracy, in other words, will spawn tedious consumerism. Maybe that's the American way.
Burton skewers 'muse'
Tim Burton held a briefing on Monday, to discuss his forthcoming Alice in Wonderland film, which stars his longstanding collaborator Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. "Is Mr Depp your muse?" asked one reporter. "Hell, no," replied Burton. "He's just a piece of meat."
Interestingly, in a 1994 interview, I notice that Depp credited Burton with "saving" him from being: "a loser, an outcast, just another piece of expendable Hollywood meat." After 15 years, Burton clearly keeps that compliment at the forefront of his mind.