Let me start by saying that I'm not a Christian, nor — to the best of my knowledge — were any of my ancestors, and I don't believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Lizzie
Saxe-Coburg-GothaWindsor's ability to cure Scrofula with a touch. So this is just a theoretical exercise at best, or a daydream at worst. But since when has that stopped anyone?
Here's a list of ten things I want for Christmas, filtered for positives (this isn't an appropriate list for "I want the RIAA and MPAA to be investigated for racketeering, found guilty, and their executives imprisoned", however tempting that might be), and ranked in order of priority:
1) World Peace. (C'mon, it'd be churlish not to wish for an outbreak of world peace, however cynical one might be about its likelihood.) Alas, we've only had about four days since 1945 when there were no wars under way somewhere on the planet. The causes are numerous, but among the most obvious are fresh water rights (this was a huge aggravating factor in the first thirty years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and still isn't solved), energy, access to preferred agricultural land and mineral reserves, ideology, and religion (although I suspect the latter two are used as excuses as often as they're a primary cause of conflict). Total annual spending on matters military exceeds US $1Tn per annum, enough to fund roughly two and a half gold-plated NASA manned Mars programs per year, or to find some way of getting clean potable water to the 600M people who need it, or ...
2) There is a disease pandemic that affects all of us. Its onset is slow but progressive and it inevitably gets worse once it is established. Symptoms include skin damage and inelasticity, loss of muscle tone with consequent lethardy, neurological degradation, bone damage, and at a cytological level damage to chromosomes and errors in mitochondrial DNA transcription that appear to drastically increase susceptibility to cancer. In extreme cases, it kills, although victims frequently die of other causes first. It may well be an acquired zoonosis or an endogenous retrovirus, because it is more or less universal among mammals but members of some other classes of animal (such as reptiles and fish) don't show obvious signs of it. This disease is senescence, and it would make me very happy indeed if people stopped treating it as inevitable and started treating it as a pathological condition that needs curing. I am myself feeling the early onset signs (I'm in my forties) and having to watch the decay of elderly relatives, who I remember from their vigorous middle age, fills me with a sense of helpless anger. (In fact, I'm not sure abolishing senescence shouldn't be in the #1 place, ahead of world peace: at least we have a chance of avoiding war.)
3) I was originally going to put a cure for AIDS and Cancer in at this level — as a bumper-pack, I guess — but I've changed my mind. AIDS and cancer make life a misery for many and kill up to a third of us, but there's some hope that they can be abolished without invoking a magic wand. On the other hand, as a species, we suffer from a dismaying surfeit of, to put it bluntly, misogynistic old sacerdotal bigots. It's not simply a matter of being a member of the clergy; I have no beef with belief itself (although I frequently consider it misplaced, irrational, or just plain silly). Rather, it is with the expression of bigoted religious beliefs that punish or restrict the freedom of others, within a political or cultural framework that provides them with the force or actuality of law. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped was subsequently sentenced to be lashed for adultery (yes, I know she was subsequently pardoned; that's not the point); in Africa, lying clergy assert that condoms spread AIDS and preach against their use: in Nicaragua a church-inspired ban on abortion is killing women with ectopic pregnancies: children are witch hunted in Nigeria, homosexuals around the world are routinely preached against and persecuted, as are religious minorities, such as Baha'i in Iran ... the list is endless. It's mostly women who are on the receiving end of this — the "minority" that's a majority, constituting about 51% of the human population — but when you add all the other out-groups up, I'd be surprised if less than two-thirds of humanity aren't suffering direct or indirect privation as a result of religious bigotry. I just want those who preach intolerance and hatred to stop.
4) On a much more limited (but achievable) level, it would be really cool if Airbus would relent and agree to provide technical support for a single aircraft of the type they designated the Airbus 200 to fly again as an experimental/demonstration craft. I believe there may still be a suitable airframe tucked away in a hangar at Filton, and there's nothing quite like the roar of four afterburning Rolls Royce Olympus engines to spice up an air show. Please?
5) On a related retro-futuristic note, please can Nokia see sense and release an identical-sized replacement to the 6310i, updated with the addition of HSDPA (or at least EDGE)? I don't need a camera, GPS, colour screen, multimedia messaging, games, memory cards, mp3 ringtones, or a pocket Transformers bot with guided missile launchers; I just want a human sized mobile telephone that can make and break calls and act as a bluetooth modem for my laptop. The 6310i, which went on sale in the ancient prehistoric depths of 2000AD, marked the climax of the mobile phone as an actual business tool for people who wanted to talk: after it came madness. Much kudos to Apple for trying to throttle the hydra-headed mass of random features that have turned modern mobile phones into badly designed rubbish, but even the iPhone isn't quite there (although I think a 3G iPhone that supported tethering, external bluetooth keyboards, and third-party apps would be very tempting to me). Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science. (Failing that, I'll settle for a Palm Treo that does 3G and/or wifi but doesn't require me to grapple with the crawling horror that is Windows Mobile.)
6) This year's request for a pony is canceled because (a) I live in a city centre, (b) on the third (American: fourth) floor, and (c) I can't ride. It is retained in this list to comply with tradition.
7) Global climate change is clearly a big deal. It doesn't matter whether it's anthropogenic or a consequence of natural variation in insolation — it's going to affect us either way, and the cause only affects us insofar as it might determine some of the things we've got to do to survive it. Similarly, it's fairly clear that we are not, contrary to orthodox Green ideology, going to deal with this by wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers. Nor are we going to deal with it by reducing our carbon budget. (You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse. NB: please don't suggest this to some of our more excitable politicians who might be worrying about meeting their carbon trading limits in the near future. That would be Bad.) No; dealing with global climate change is going to take big business and big engineering projects. Lots of nuclear reactors, solar power farms, and plants pumping CO2 into the salt domes of evacuated oil and gas fields. All of which means it's going to cost big money, but in turn, it's going to make big profits for the companies that wise up first and realize that mitigating climate change can be a shiny new business proposition. Please, let's stop thinking negative-sum about climate change and start thinking positive-sum? Capitalism will clean up its own shit — once it acquires a new set of taste buds and realizes it's delicious.
8) I know you colonial types are going to select a new king-emperor in October 2008. But please, can we have a bit more substance — some of those speeches and interviews are tooth-gratingly vacuous — and a lot less news coverage until there's something worthwhile to pay attention to? Over here, election campaigns last 6-10 weeks; anything longer gets old, fast. Starting a year before the main event is as bad as putting up the Christmas decorations in September. And while I'm on the subject — can you remember to elect a real president next time, with some gravitas and a bit of book-larnin'? I know this one promised a party, but the frat house antics are tiresome.
9) <dick-cheney>I want a USB-powered internet troll zapper. Push the button, apply a brief 50,000 volt electric shock to the troll's genitalia! Zap! (Use it too often, you become a troll. But just once in a while ...)</dick-cheney>
10) Finally, can some rich, beer-drinking Belgian entrepreneur please buy Liefmans Breweries, which were unfortunately declared bankrupt last Friday? It's a cash flow glitch, due to bugs in a new bottling line and scheduled duty payments; the brewery should be long-term viable as a business. (I feel that its continued existence would be a Good Thing for human happiness, if not the well-being of my liver.)