Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The view of Katrina from good ol' Rocky Top

Reading through Rocky Top Brigade posts on Katrina, I find:

Over at Shots across the Bow, Rich says that he’d be taking [looting] food and water if he were in N.O. (and then highlights links to potentially racist copy, also picked up in AmericaSedition) But, watch out, other Brigadiers might shoot you if you try – see High Country Conservative and SayUncle.

In Thoughts of an Average Woman, she wonders how long it will be before the right wing crowds start crying “lack of personal responsibility” for why people didn’t evacuate before the hurricane hit, but SK Bubba says “why weren’t the poor evacuated”. (I agree with Michael Silence, Bubba's writing is most poignant on this.) Tennessee Guerilla Women point to underfunding of flood defenses by the Bush Administration, but Bob Krumm wonders if N.O. should be rebuilt. Fact is N.O. is in a dangerous and unsustainable place, but it doesn’t make the human tragedy any less horrific.

Finally, genderist at haiku of the id, gives some good advice on giving blood. And she ought to know, she's a nurse.

Me, as usual, I don’t let the dictates of good taste prevent me from writing tongue-in-cheek crap. I'm not very good at taking in big disasters 'til later.

Fire that blogger!

Should we be allowed to blog about work?

Jeremy Blachman* thinks so, and he's written a guest op-ed piece in the New York Times (requires registration) saying so. I can't say that his argument is especially compelling but I do think that it's right, particularly in cases where you're not really writing harmful, hurtful things about the company you work for and the people you work with.

I don't blog primarily about work (I don't blog primarily about anything), and I don't think my company should be able to fire me if they find out I have a blog and if I occasionally write about the things that happen at work. Interesting things happen here and in the things I do. I blogged about my colleagues' reactions to the 7/7 and 21/7 terrorist incidents, I've blogged about my under-par performance at talk I gave, I've blogged snippets of conversations I've had with co-workers. (Sadly most of them on a previous blog site).

Fortunately for me, under UK employment law I think they'd have a tough time getting rid of me regardless.

Part of the reason I blog anonymously I so that I can do such things and also because I work in a political environment. I sometimes have opinions which differ greatly or in detail with the policies that I work to promote. Also, I know that many, many of my co-workers and client group will have views that differ from my personal views (I'm quite right wing by UK standards). My name is unusual and I'm reasonably well known amongst a small set of specialists. If you searched on my name, you'd find links to my employers straight away, and my views are mine and not my employer's. I don't want this blog to create a distraction from what I'm trying to do in my professional life.

Interestingly, I've learned a lot in the short time that I've been blogging that will help me with the work I do. I'm thinking about setting up a team blog under my real name for work, and I think it will be really beneficial.

Anyway, food for thought.

*You can also find his stuff at: Jeremy's Blog and his fictional Anonymous Lawyer blog.

oh, Katrina

My heart goes out to you, Katrina victims. There's no point recording a death toll now, as I'm certain it will rise. This is bad... I don't think I'm really taking it in. I knew when I saw the Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco barely holding back the tears that it was bad. Some friends of mine have just had a baby, and she's from New Orleans. I emailed congratulations and expressed my hope that her relatives were high and dry. Turns out, her mom is over here visiting the new grandchild, and new Dad said "Who would have thought a month ago, that she'd be safer in London?" I don't suppose their property is faring very well.

Do your bit
I'm sorry, too for the loss of the casinos in Mississippi. No offense to the state, it's a fun place, I've had some good times there, but it doesn't have a lot going for it in many ways. After all, it's Mississippi that helps keep Tennesssee off the bottom of the league tables for infant mortality, child poverty, educational attainment, etc. The casino taxes were keeping Mississippi afloat. I guess there's still Tunica. I hope that every Tennesseean who reads this will go down and gamble in Tunica to help out the Mississippians. Well, maybe you should just give to the Red Cross instead.

Fox News
I'm a good liberal (though not terribly lefty), so I always watch Fox with a little trepidation. But it's times like this, that I'm really glad I have Fox. It's the only American news channel we get. (CNN is the European version) - so it's all America, all the time and has the most continuous coverage of Katrina. The Vol-in-Law has been watching rapt, with our US road atlas on his lap, switching between the pages showing Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Clearly, I'm not in favor of looting. It's bad form, but I note that fellow Rocky Top Brigadier - the High Country Conservative says:

Any looters in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina caught in the act of looting should be shot on sight by the National Guard. Any questions?

Yeah - here's a question, what if they're looting for food and water? Though I know that's not all that's going on. I may be judging this guy unfairly, but why do people who fashion themselves as hard core conservatives always take such an unforgiving, uncharitable stance as quick as they can? Looting's bad, and the disorder in a time of chaos is awful and frightening, but c'mon- shooting people? Is the death toll not high enough for you. Most of the stuff in N.O. is gonna be ruined and underwater anyway, soon.

And finally, I know this is in bad taste, but I've always fancied a little looting myself, after meeting basic needs - (food and water, maybe a change of clothes). Here are some things I would take:

  • An MP3 player, I can't decide which one to buy, so in looting perhaps I could try some different varieties.
  • A new coffee maker - the old one's not doing so well.
  • A handful of sports bras.
  • Shoes - a gal can't have enough shoes.
  • One of those fancy itty-bitty, wi-fi computers.
  • The new Laura Cantrell CD and maybe the new Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash box sets.
I also need a new oven, but that doesn't really seem like a lootable item.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

My irreplaceable brassiere

Today one of my favorite bras gave out. It's a black sports bra that I wear in sort of general use. It's not repairable, the whole thing is made out of a stretchy kind of fabric and the elastic has just sort of expired.

I'm quite sad about it because it's not like I can just go out and get another one. For one thing we in Europe are facing a bra shortage because of silly quota rules imposed on textile goods from non-EU countries. Apparently there are container loads of bras and sweaters from China just piling up in EU ports waiting for customs folks to release them once the folks in Brussels come to their senses. And for another, well I just don't buy underwear in Europe.

I can't say why that is exactly but even after 9 years of living abroad I've never bought any underwear but in Tennessee, Alabama or Georgia. (Ok once I bought a push-up bra in the UK but that was definitely a special occasion, a sartorial emergency).

At first I thought that I was just being cheap. Clothes, in fact just about anything you can think of, are less expensive in the US. But now that I'm making halfway decent money that can't be the reason. I think I have to face that I'm just a completely unadventurous sort when it comes to foundation garments. I prefer plain serviceable items in breathable fabric. Maybe buying underwear in a foreign land, even in my adopted country, is just too adventurous for me.

Anyway farewell bra, it will be a while before I can replace you.

Better stir up some hatred while you still can

Over at No Quarters I see the story's been picked up about proposed religious hate legislation here in the UK, and that inspired me to post. This law would outlaw any speech which “stirs up” hatred against others on the basis of their religion (or lack thereof).

The provisions make it an offence for a person to knowingly use threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour with the intention or likelihood that they will stir up hatred against a group of people based on their religious beliefs
From the Home Office FAQ on the incitement to religious hatred proposals

First off, I don’t think hate should be against the law. I should be able to think what I like about whomever I like. Period. Not only that, but I should be allowed to communicate in such a way as to persuade others to my view. I should not be allowed to make speech which is a direct incitement to violence, but new legislation isn’t needed for that, it’s already against the law.

Comedians are particularly worried about this because they're afraid that telling religious jokes will land them in the clink. Whether that's a valid fear or not, I can't say, but even the worry that it might be will have the effect of restricting speech. (And that’s what was picked up at No Quarters and in particular a contest held by Ship of Fools to find the best religious joke – there are some funny ones)

Prosecution of this law will be at the discretion of the Home Secretary, we're told. The government says that means it will hardly ever be used. But I'm not so sure. There's already a law restricting speech which provokes hatred on the grounds of race and according to the Home Office there have been:

Between commencement of the Public Order Act on 1st April 1987 and 3rd February 2005 there have been 72 defendants prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred.
The Attorney General has only used his veto on 3 occasions.
Between 2001 and 2004 86 cases were referred to the CPS for consideration. As of the 2nd February 2005:

  • 6 cases have been prosecuted (involving 12 defendants)
  • 2 defendants have been convicted
  • 1 case was dropped
  • 3 cases are ongoing (involving 9 defendants

Here’s an example from a Scottish newspaper The Herald of a newspaper editor charged under this racial hatred act. He said some pretty unpleasant things about immigrants, but it didn’t stir up any hatred in me.

But with only a quick perusal of the net, I couldn’t find out how many people had been arrested under this act as the sole offence or as a ‘tag-on’ to other offenses (assault, public disorder, etc). The Vol-in-Law and I were watching a “Cops” type show within the last few months and saw a young woman arrested for shouting a racial epithet while drunk. I have no idea if she was later formally charged and prosecuted, but she was arrested. The threat of arrest and detention (even for a short time) is a danger to free speech. And this even in a case where her abusive shouting was unlikely to lead to any kind of ‘stirring up’ of hatred against whatever ethnic group it was (the word itself was bleeped).

As in the case above, this law is very likely to be applied unequally. The Home Office’s own FAQ states:

The need to take into account all the circumstances of a case means that it is very difficult to give a yes/no answer to whether particular statements will be caught by the new offence. For example the context and audience of what is said are as critically important as the words themselves. The same series of critical statements might be more likely to stir up hatred in the backroom of a pub full of drunken men in area of deprivation and tension than said an in academic debate in a university.

So essentially, it’s fine to debate the merits of Islam or Buddhism or Christianity in a ‘high class’ arena like a university lecture hall, but if you carry your debate on to the pub and start speaking a little loudly, you’re in for it.

I belive that this law is largely an appeasement to the Muslim Community and the Muslim Council of Britain are behind this law. Part of their reasoning they argue is that other religions are already protected under existing laws and they want the same legal protection extended to them. Jews and Sikhs are in fact protected under the Race Hatred law through a kind of addendum. And there is a law of blasphemy on the books now which means that technically you can't say anything against Christianity. In practice though this law is unenforced.

The Muslim Council of Britain has issued a statement in support of this law. But by supporting this law, I’m wondering if they’re doing their affiliates a disservice. See more about the ‘hate speech’ some of its member organisation practice over at MCB Watch. Certainly over at the rather scary web site Islamic Awakening, they feel that this law could curtail their efforts to stir up hatred against Jews and Zionists.

Of course, I’m sure that the MCB is more likely to follow-up complaints against speech they feel is ‘stirring up hatred’ against Islam and its adherents than many other groups, so they may yet get this law to work in their favor.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What comes around

This email just received from St. Caffeine - over at Baseball, books, and... - in reference to an earlier post.

Sorry, I can't help you with the the rubber paddles conundrum. You didn't really expect any help from AL on that one, though, did you?

No, what I'm writing about is the story involving the berries and Ipecac (man, that's a funny word) I was just wondering if this story might not have some bearing the MUCH later incident in which you allowed your brother and a friend (I think) to have their stomachs pumped because of the over-ingestion of Sudafed when you knew they had not, in fact, swallowed the actual pills. Sort of a "It happened to me, not it's your turn," thing.

I started to ask about his in the comments, but I was afraid that VolBro might not know of your complicity in that incident.

Sorry, I have a really good memory for things that happened long ago. Wait, that really happened, didn't it? I hope I didn't just invent that whole thing.

No, you didn't just invent that whole thing. And really that's not the whole of that story. I'm not as cruel as all that.

OK - my brother and his friend entered my room - without permission- and found my bottle of Sudafed. They proceeded to suck the candy coating off the Sudafed and then when they got down to the nasty tasting medicine bit - they spit the pills onto my bed, leaving a horrible mess of saliva and red food coloring and allergy medicine.

I told my dad, with the intention of my brother being punished for a) trespass, b) theft, c) property damage and d) ickiness. But Dad over-reacted and worried about how the Sudafed "overdose" might affect VolBro's health and and in his panic wouldn't listen to how they hadn't really ingested it. I could see that relief would have been Dad's reaction at that point if I had managed to get through to him, meaning VolBro would not have learned an important life lesson about respecting others' property. Besides the ER had already been called, so really it was out of my hands at that point.

VolBro knows all about this now, and he completely understands.


In an unrelated incident, just as I was coming upstairs to post this, the Vol-in-Law and I heard a terrible noise and then a splash. My cat Fancy (yes, named after the Bobby Gentry penned, Reba McEntire performed song about a call girl) had been fighting with another cat on the roof of our kitchen extension. Fancy got the worst of it and fell off the roof and then into the fish pond. She's ok, but a little damp and a little embarrassed.

Final vacation update

Well I have to go back to work tomorrow. Today is the traditional end of summer Monday off.

We did do a sightseeing thing plus I did one of the chores I've been meaning to do all summer. Our kitchen is floored with quarry tiles which are kind of like terra cotta and are very traditional here. I stripped and repolished them today.

Our tourist thing was a trip to Hampton Court Palace. It's about a half hour (non rush hour) drive from our house and we'd never been in all the years we've lived here.

The palace is made of brick and at first approach it seems like a rather grand school. The inside is no Versailles, but you'd hardly expect an English monarch to be that over the top. However, it's plenty oppulent enough within.

The palace originally belonged to Cardinal Woolsey an advisor to Henry VIII who then seized the palace when the Cardinal fell out of favor. Henry did it up in grand style and subsequent monarchs namely William and Mary and the early Georgians added their personal stamps. We toured several of the state apartments but by no means saw them all.

The most amazing room is the Chapel Royal which is still in its original Tudor style with absolutely fantastic painted timber ceilings. It is also still a working chapel though I don't think many services are held there.

Hampton Court also has beautiful formal gardens and an ancient yew hedge maze (except the yew was planted in the 60s to replace the genuinely ancient hornbeam hedge). The maze is quite famous and was featured in a book I read at Easter called Larry's Party. (here's a link to it at Amazon, I really enjoyed it) The character Larry is inspired on his honeymoon trip to England by the countryside hedges and the Hampton Court maze to become a maze designer. Like many things in life featured in novels and built up by expectation it was a little smaller and less exciting than I imagined it to be.

I abandoned the book when I finished it at the Aberdeen airport but I wish I'd kept it because it had the solution to the maze printed within. I would have never got it except we followed a kid who claimed to have found the center, the key, within 30 seconds (it is small) and we followed a group that he was leading in. So I guess I'm saying that even though it was smaller than I imagined and somehow less grand it was still hard.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fun at the fair in Wilson County

Mom tells me she's been visiting the Wilson County Fair this week, where I note they had a God and Country day. Mom works on Middle Tennessee District Fair, (and before you ask, not as a carnie) and supposedly Wilson County has one of the best, so they go up there to get ideas.

Mom got in free 'cause of her own fair work. Also cousins by marriage and by blood are on the Wilson County Fair Board, which I suppose doesn't hurt. My grandfather came from Wilson County, and his sister lives there now. Mom said she was really impressed by the historical and educational aspects of the fair, but she got to ride around in a cart to tour the fair and I think got some special treatment, so no wonder she was impressed.

I checked the website and I couldn't find any pictures of my great uncle's cucumber (entered in the longest cucumber category). Apparently it was 32 inches long, but sadly when carrying it to the fair, the last six inches broke off. What did he do? He taped it back together with duct tape. And he won anyway. A blue ribbon for the duct tape cucumber. I'm impressed. Apparently all the other cucumbers were shorter than the undamaged portion of his cucumber. He and my great aunt also won prizes for potatos, onions, flowers and so on.

My mom said she and her aunt had supper at the Fair, which really surprised me. My grandfather (her Dad) used to always tell us before we headed to the fair "Don't ride any rides, don't eat anything, and don't spend any money"

Don't say monkey trial

Living in a foreign country with a foreign spouse is a lot like living with your in-laws. Their ways can be a little bit strange, not wrong necessarily, but different. Little things can get on your nerves. Occasionally, these little things can pile up (store opening hours, the British approach to ‘customer service’, the way you have to debase yourself to get anything out of a civil servant, the traffic calming, the lack of free drink refills, no ice tea anywhere) and the Vol Abroad feels the need to vent. The usual target of this venting is the Vol-in-Law. When my critical view of the UK gets too much for him, he says two words, two little words, not "shut up", not "calm down", but "monkey trial."

For he knows that I find it a matter of shame that my state put a science teacher on trial for teaching science. I used to be able to counter that that was a long time ago, but the shoddy customer service I received was in the last ten minutes. But the controversy over Intelligent Design is proving that triumph of faith over reason is alive and well.

Now that we have Sky television (Rupert Murdoch owned), we have access to all kinds of new wacky channels, including about 50 shopping channels, Fox News and a slew of American televangelist channels (best of all is a channel which shows nothing but TV movies based on ‘true stories’). The other night we were watching one of these televangelist channels, this one really a clinic for becoming an evangelist (so it was educational), and they were going on and on about the evils of Darwinism. Now they seemed to view Darwinism as some kind of cult, which leads to all sorts of nasty things, like eugenics and they seemed to be implying that everyone who thought evolution was a reasonable theory were moments away from joining the ranks of jack-booted fascists.

Here is where the creationists and ID-ers go horribly wrong. They view the world through the lens of faith, through a kind of literalist faith, and think that scientists do, too. I believe that evolution is a reasonable explanation for the development of species as we see them today, but I do not cling to that belief blindly. I know that there are gaps in the fossil record, which we can never ever get back (dang erosion, stupid plants and animals not dying in areas where they could become fossils). I know that there have been arguments within the context of evolution – e.g. incrementalism vs. catastrophism. And I certainly don’t read Darwin as if it were the literal truth; it was really the first great treatise on evolution, but not the end of the story. I do doubt that anything is going to shake my belief that evolution is the mechanism by which we evolve (a bit of tautology) but as knowledge develops, or new techniques such as genetics working hand-in-hand with paleontology and paleo-anthropology, the accepted details change. Knowing for a certainty that our best knowledge now will be put in the shade by our best knowledge in 20 years only confirms my empiricist tendencies.

I have a degree in Geology, so I’ve known and been taught by a number of evolutionary scientists (I was more fascinated by crystal chemistry and metamorphism than dead bugs, so I perhaps didn’t pay as close attention as I might have). A couple of these guys were incredibly religious, they were steeped in the theory of evolution and thought it was such a beautiful thing that there had to be a higher power which provided a spark of creativity, But they didn’t believe in Intelligent Design (not that it was around then as such), they believed that through evolution a series of wonderful creatures with wonderful features could develop. They didn’t think that evolution worked just so far and then bingo-bango something irreducibly complex was needed so an Intelligent Designer stepped in and created an eye. (If you want real irreducible complexity, don’t look at biological systems, look at the atom or the molecular structure of a diamond).

Good science is often about picking holes in existing theories, but with evidence, not tortured pseudo-logic. The development of the ID movement really bothers me, because it’s faith dressed up as science. It’s picking holes without offering a testable alternative explanation. It also bothers me because ID-ers and creation scientists are not really willing to engage in debate within the framework of real science. They are not swayed by argument or evidence (as are scientists, who can change their minds).

I recently had a conversation with a Muslim who said she didn’t believe in Evolution. I don’t believe we descended from monkeys, she said. (Me neither, monkeys are a whole ‘nother branch of primates). She admitted she was a bit stumped by the whole dinosaur thing, as obviously they had existed, but she said that she had spoken with a friend about this who was ‘more knowledgeable in the Koran" and who had set her mind at ease. She said, I can’t convince you because I haven’t read the whole Koran, so I’m not as knowledgeable as I should be. Really, I said, it wouldn’t matter if you had, because it’s not science, so I can’t engage in a scientific debate by using reference to a religious book.

If she wants to believe that way, that’s fine with me. But it is a little worrying, because if you’ll turn your back on well-established science in favour of religion, you’ll turn your back on accepted ideas of civil society, free speech, allowing others to live their lives the way they choose (so long as they don’t hurt others) in favour of imposing a popular view of religion on the rest of us, too.

ID-ers want to push their religion on me, they want to teach it in schools, and they want to dress it up as just offering counter-evidence against a theory. But it’s not evidence it’s argument. They think they’re fooling the rest of us by arguing that it’s really science, but it’s not. It’s a worrying step toward imposing the fundamentalist world view on all of us in other areas, too.

On a final note, Britons avoid the whole controversy of evolution by just failing to teach it at all to school age kids. Rather than facing it head-on, dealing with the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus and their various approaches to creation, they just don’t teach the science at all.

Beautiful sunday

Oh, dear...

Yet another Sunday morning - a beautiful one - blighted by my neighbours' music. This morning it was Baltic Hip Hop. I didn't even wait until I'd had my first cup of coffee before going over there and remonstrating. Those who know me, may realise that wasn't a pretty sight.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The company you keep

George Galloway will be joining Jane Fonda on the anti-war speaker circuit - according to a post at Harry's Place.

I know Americans will know him from his Congressional hearings, but this guy is Bad News. He's called for the desertion of British troops in Iraq, he's called for their murder, too. He's also made some not very nice statements after the 7/7 bombings. He appeals to the worst kind of

Jane Fonda, don't tarnish your anti-war efforts with this bozo. Really.

I'd post more but I'm late for dinner engagement.

Mystery poles on the South Downs

So now that I’m rested up, I can write about our big walk yesterday,

Growing up in Tennessee you get spoiled by the wonderful parks and recreation areas we have with thousands of great hikes on public lands, many through wilderness areas. In England there’s really no such thing as a wilderness area as we know it in America, and there are certainly no virgin forests that I’m aware of. Nearly all of the countryside is managed in some way and almost everywhere has been continuously inhabited, even if by a scant population and their sheep.

But the English like it that way, and part of the ‘farm movement’ is to protect the managed countryside. It certainly is beautiful. And despite the lack of vast tracts of public lands, there are still plenty of areas, even in the densely populated South East of England where you can go walking over hill and down dale with at least a tree line between you and the nearest housing development. This is because England has a tradition of the commons and freedoms to walk ancient footpaths or rights-of-way across privately owned land. There’s even a group which actively promotes keeping the footpaths open and in common use, the Ramblers’ Association. This means you don’t have to ask permission to walk a footpath and the landowner is under obligation to keep the path free of obstruction. Landowners and the Ramblers occasionally get into it, even Madonna has had some trouble over the whole footpath issue.

You can get ordinance survey maps which indicate the public footpaths, but me and the Vol-in-Law tend to use guide books with walks already planned out, usually with a very nice pub at the halfway point. Our favourite book is the Time Out Guide to Country Walks near London, and with these you can even use public transportation to get you to the start and finish of the walk. Yesterday though, we drove down to the quaint commuter village of Haslemere. Driving means you’re not at the mercies of the railways and train delays, but it also means that you risk being stuck in heavy Greater London traffic. Which is just what happened to us.

We started quite late in the day anyway, so we didn’t actually start walking until about 2pm. In winter this would mean we’d have about an hour before it started getting dark, but it’s still light quite late into the evening, so we were OK. It was roughly a 9 mile hike, but it felt much longer, because some of the paths were quite steep and quite deep in sucking clay as a result of the high precipitation we’ve been having recently.

Because we started so late, the halfway pub wasn’t serving food, but we did have a pint of the local bitter. It was a lovely traditional pub, but the gal behind the bar, a very attractive blonde, was in a sour mood. It didn’t so much seem like she was having a bad day, but more a permanent chip on the shoulder.

We discussed her non-customer-friendly attitude after leaving the pub.

Vol-Abroad: She seemed like maybe life didn’t turn out quite like she planned. Like maybe all that promise of attractiveness didn’t quite pay off and now she’s stuck behind a bar.
Vol-in-Law: Like maybe she ended up with the wrong sort of chap.
VA: Exactly,
ViL: It’s often the really pretty ones that end up with the wrong sort of chap. The wrong sort of chap is the kind of guy who’s a chancer, who plays the numbers game, trying it on with everyone just to see who’ll bite. Whereas, a nice chap might be put off by very attractive features, thinking he wouldn’t have a chance, so wouldn’t approach her to begin with.
VA: But not you.
ViL: There’s just no right answer to that one, is there?

Part of the walk led us through heathland, with lovely summer-blooming heather and thickets of blueberries and beautiful views across the South Downs. And other parts of the walk led us through brambles heavily laden with blackberries. Although I pride myself in having a not insignificant amount of horticultural knowledge, there’s always a part of me which doubts the wisdom of foraging berries in the countryside not in my native land. I know it looks like a blueberry plant in form and foliage, and those berries look and taste like blueberries, but perhaps it’s really the unique English pseudo-blueberry, which leads to a horrible death (if you eat a lot) or unpleasant stomach ailments (if you eat just a few). Or maybe I was just suffering the effects of the pseudo-blackberries I ate earlier which bring on symptoms of self-doubt and paranoia.

I digress
I’m sure I can trace this phobia to a childhood episode in which my mom caught me eating some berries that I had picked and collected in a handkerchief. I remember her shock and horror at seeing me eating these berries. Neither of my parents recognised these berries, we were living in upstate New York at the time and my parents had grown up in Tennessee where these berries didn’t grow (my mom has pretty good horticultural knowledge and plant ID herself). I remember telling her that a ‘grown-up’ had told me it was OK to eat them, but I don’t actually remember a grown-up imparting this knowledge, so I can’t be sure that that really happened. I was an only child at that point, I was only three or four, and my parents were perhaps a little over-protective. Anyway, I definitely remember they made me drink some Syrup of Ipecac which produced the usual violent vomiting reaction, which I also remember. My parents later found out that these berries were perfectly safe to eat, but I’ve stayed away from currants ever since.

Back to the story
Anyway, that’s about it, except for one mystery. A couple of places along the walk, poles had been erected upon which were hung rubber paddles with long wooden handles. I can’t imagine what these were for, unless they are for beating grouse out of the heather and brush during grouse hunting season. Here’s a picture of the Vol-in-Law wearing a Tennessee Army National Guard 278th Armored Cavalry t-shirt holding up one of these paddles. If you have any idea what these are for, answers on a postcard (or the comments section), please.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Vacation update

Nothing too exciting on the vacation front yesterday, a walk in Richmond Deer Park a visit to the grocery store.

Today we went on a nice long walk on the South Downs. And now I am tired so a full update tomorrow.

Big orange screw

Ahhh, the displeasures of the Big Orange Screw. My brother has just gone back to school and he says...

I started school yesterday, and the Big Orange Screw has grown exponentially since my last stint at Ol' UT. I walked into Rocky Top Books and took one look at the damn prices and decided I could wait for an online shipper to accommodate my scholastic needs.

No matter how long you're out of UT, the pointy tip of the Big Orange Screw can bear down on you. I've had an off-and-on struggle for a couple of years with the Alumni Office. I want them to provide me with information, email addresses for any UT Alumni here in London. I thought perhaps we could start a chapter here, maybe watch a little football together when the occasionally show UT games on the North America Sports Network. Meet up for drinks, whatever. They keep promising to help me and they never follow through.

Of course, it could be that I'm the only Vol in the greater London area. But I doubt it, even if I were it would be nice to know. Of course, one day I might be able to search the Online Alumni directory, but the message that it's "coming soon" has been up on the Alumni Association website for at least a couple of years.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Up and away

Remember when you were a kid and you got a ballon, a helium balloon. It was so exciting, you were going to love that balloon forever. Maybe you were warned that you should tie the balloon around your wrist. But what's the fun of that? That's what babies do and anyway you loved that balloon, you weren't going to ever let go of that balloon.

But then a momentary distraction, a gust of wind, and the balloon was gone. At first you couldn't quite believe that the balloon had escaped from your grasp. It rose up so tantalisingly slowly just barely out of reach. By the time you could get the attention of your parents it was out of their reach, too. You stood and watched as it continued to rise. And then a current caught your balloon, your now ex-balloon, and it rushed skyward and away. Maybe you shed a little tear as the balloon shrank to a spot against the clouds and then was no more to be seen.

You knew from previous balloons that eventually the helium would dissipate and the ballon would fall to earth again, a little latex Icarus. Maybe you wondered where it would come down, who would find it and if they would think about you, the little kid who lost a balloon.

Today I found a downed helium balloon in my garden. Ha ha kid, you shoulda held on tighter.

The Mandela standard

During our perusal of the papers yesterday during a break from museum going (The Guardian and The Evening Standard which we bought and a Daily Mail which I found on the Tube), Nelson Mandela featured twice in a justification for terrorism.

You know the old adage, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Well, I guess Nelson Mandela is now "universally" seen as the standard for the freedom fighter.

In an article in The Guardian, Adam Nicholson says:

No one, I think would put the attempt to liberate the Newchurch
guinea pigs on a par with the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa... But
perhaps the two struggles are not as far apart as you think.

The guinea pig farm in Newchurch is run by the Hall family and after years of harrassment by animal liberationists, they have decided to get out of the guinea pig business. They and their friends and relatives have been subject to intimidation, a pedophilia smear campaign, arson attacks, explosions and perhaps most disgustingly one of their old dead relatives was dug up from the local churchyard and her body is still missing.

But Adam Nicholson argues that if the animal rights folks had resorted to only legal, peaceful protests, the Halls would still be raising guinea pigs for scientific experiments. Unfortunately, because the Halls are phasing out their business (rather than face bankruptcy) and won't be finished with the fluffy critters until December, there are still going to be protests outside their home. He says:

Mandela's term for his control of [the Spear of the Nation, armed wing of the ANC] was "properly controlled violence." Seen simply in tactical and strategic terms, that phrase would be perfectly appropriate for the things that the animal rights activists have been doing to the Halls, their friends, families, employees and neighbours. ....the campaign to close down the guinea pig sheds will surely look like a violent, necessary and ugly step on the long march to freedom.


Even sicker is Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone's concerns about Home Secretary Charles Clarke's new standards for deportation. In the Evening Standard, Red Ken is reported as saying

that the new laws on banning terrorists should be rejected if they fail to pass the "Nelson Mandela test." If some of the proposed new legislation had been in force 20 years, he pointedout, it could have led to supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle by Mr Mandela's African National Congress being deported. Mr Livingstone also said that it would be wrong to ban from Britain controversial Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi who has said Palestinians are entitled to use suicide bombers against Israeli forces. He claimed that Al-Qaradawi was "probably the most respected progressive Muslim cleric in the world".

Progressive toward what? Toward a global Islamic caliphate. Toward punishing gays and repressing women?

(Why in the world does Ken continue to support this guy? See Harry's Place for more on this.)

Both Red Ken and Adam Nicholson fail to understand what really happened with apartheid. It wasn't the violence of Nelson Mandela that brought an end to that injustice in South Africa, after all he was locked up and couldn't commit any acts of violence. It was the whole world turning against that nation and its nasty, racist ways that brought F. W. De Klerk to the point where real changes were made. It wasn't violence that brought about the sanctions, but literate and compelling arguments from South Africans black and white. And it wasn't Nelson Mandela's violence, but his statesman-like leadership (unfortunately not seen currently in South Africa) which helped forge a new nation on a new path.

No excuses for terrorism.

Attic of the nation, vacation update 5

Another day of solid rain, so a good day for museums. Yesterday the Vol-in-Law and I headed to the Natural History museum, along with every family with small children in London. The Natural History museum is behemoth, and we didn't even bother to try to cover the whole thing. We headed straight to the dinosaur section, where they have several animatronic versions of the beasts, including a big giant, snorting, roaring, motion sensing T-rex. There were so many people there, that its motion sensing got a little confused, which is just as well, because when it stares straight at you with its beady reptile eyes, opens its giant toothy jaws and roars, it can be a little frightening and the Vol Abroad has a sensitive disposition.

We also saw Face to Face an exhibit of photographic portraits of gorillas, chimps and orangutans. All of these animals had been rescued from unfortunate circumstances. The Vol-in-Law found these quite pictures quite powerful. In the exhibit they also highlighted a book by Charles Darwin called The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals.

From the Natural History website:

In Expressions, Darwin argues that emotions such as love, joy,
anger, guilt and horror are universal among humans and they share evolutionary
origins with the expressions and behaviour of other animals. The prevailing
Christian view at the time was that emotions were a special gift to humans from
God to communicate our innermost feelings. This difference of opinion fuelled a
fierce debate in science that raged through the twentieth century.

This exhibit was supposed to show that the great apes feel emotions, too, which I never really doubted. My cats have emotions. Anybody who's ever had a pet knows animals have emotions. Some people will tell you that we're just anthropomorphising our pets, but I don't believe that. But of course, their emotions aren't just like ours. My cat who died last year, showed a range of very complex emotions, often unpleasant emotions like jealousy, anger, an excessive sense of self-worth and pique. But her daughter, who is very stupid, exhibits a much more limited range of emotions, contentment or grumpiness, usually.

They were also touting the new Darwin Centre, so we followed the signs to visit that. It was a little bit of a disappointment, because it's largely offices, labs and storage facilities. Guess what they store in there. Specimens in jars. Pickled animals. Shelf-on-shelf-on-shelf of pickled animals, and not a one of them I would eat. Some of these were on public display, they had worms and shellfish and foxes and bats. They also had a big old Rattus norwegicus (regular old rat) Locality: outside NH museum. Yep, one the way to work one day, one of the scientists stumbled across a dead rat, and thought to bring it on inside and stuff it in a big jar full of alcohol. Nice. Each square footage of storage space which is on prime real estate in central London must cost a freakin' fortune, and somebody sees fit to fill it with a rat off the road. Who says scientists don't have a sense of humor?

We then took a little break from museum going and sat in the pub for a while, nursing our pints and reading the paper before heading off to the Victoria & Albert museum. This has to be my favorite museum in London. It's like the attic of the nation. It's full of stuff. They call it 'decorative art', but it's stuff. Much of it very nice stuff, art and textiles and fashion throught the ages, bits and bobs. During the age of Empire, the Brits were an acquistive lot, and they had expansive tastes, including good stuff. Marbles off the Parthenon? We'll have that. Rosetta stone, we'll have it. (both in the British Museum) Old door, bit of carved wood, fancy sword, nice shawl, we'll have it and stick in the Victoria and Albert.

What they couldn't buy or steal, they took a plaster cast of. That's my favorite part of the Victoria and Albert, the Court of Casts. It's fantastic. They have a plaster cast of Michelangelo's David, Trajan's column, entryways from the great cathedrals of Europe, carved doorways from Norwegian stavkirkes. You name it, they took a plaster cast of it and they're all jumbled together in two great rooms. When my brother and I went to Italy and wandered around Rome on our first day, we kind of wondered why we bothered going, what with all the heat and fuss and expense, we'd already seen most of it in the Court of Casts. (We changed our minds later after seeing the Colliseum and the wonderful city of Florence). But as you wander around some of the great museums here, you do get the feeling that you can see all the world in this one great city, London.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What kind of Tennessean are you?

I see that my blog has been linked to from Nashville is Talking and I've had several mentions in the No Silence Here, Knoxville News Sentinel blog. So I've now been recognised by media blogs from two of the three Grand Divisions of the state of Tennessee. Thanks.

I also read in haiku of the id about genderist's mixed marriage. She's from Middle Tennessee, husband is from East Tennessee. (BTW, genderist, do I know you in real life?)

It got me to thinking about my own mixed identity. See, I was born in Knoxville to a Middle Tennessee mom and an East Tennessee dad. I've lived longer in Knoxville (during several different stretches) than any place else (with London a distant second), but I went to high school in Middle Tennessee and I vote there, too. My mom's family is Middle Tennessee to way back on both sides. I guess I think of Knoxville as my spiritual home, but I reckon if I had to pick a city to live in, it would be Nashville. So, I don't know, I'm all confused. Although one thing's clear, I'm not a West Tennessean. No siree, bob. Those people are strange. Their bbq is funny.

Vol-in-Law says my "blog style" is more "East Tennessean". But what would he know, he's foreign.

In fact - here's how he got his handle. I was all excited about some Tennessee victory on one Sunday morning. I put on my Tennessee sweatshirt (the one with the hood that makes me look like a Volunteer elf) and while we were walking on Wimbledon Common I kept saying things like Go Vols, How BOUT them Vols?, and singing little bits of Rocky Top. My husband's patience was wearing a bit thin.

Me: What's the matter? Orange you a Vol?
Him: Harummph.
Me: C'mon. Orange you a Vol? ORANGE YOU a VOL?
Him: No.
Me: No, I guess not. You're just a Vol-in-Law.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

High times in Wandsworth - Vacation update 4

You know those little local attractions, like the world's largest ball of yarn or the birthplace of an obscure politician or writer that you've always meant to go to, but never quite made the time. Even when friends come to see you from out of town and you think you finally have the excuse you say "Hey, let's go see the childhood home of Eliza G. Crisp, inventer of the disposable printer cartridge and the printer cartridge museum" and they say, "Nah, ... let's watch a DVD." Well, today was devoted to things like that.

To be fair Young's Brewery tour, one of the things that the Vol-in-Law and I went to today, is a genuine tourist attraction. But since it's in a part of town where I normally only go to pay parking tickets or pass through on my way to the dump, it falls into the category of "we must go and do that one day."

If you go to the brewery tour website, they tell you that you may have to book two weeks in advance, but we just showed up today and there were still places. What they don't tell you on the website is that you have to wear "sensible" shoes. Sandals, apparently, don't cut it. But, the young Frenchwoman who sold me our tickets (£5.50 each), said if I hurried I could go and buy some socks at that nearby shopping center. The addition of socks would somehow turn my old sandals into the equivalent of steel-toed boots for the purposes of Young's Brewery health and safety regulations. The Vol-in-Law, gentleman [cheap bastard] that he is immediately offered to take the tour sans socks and proceeded to unlace his sneakers in the gift shop so I could wear his.

The Vol-in-Law handed me a pair of socks that he's had since grade school I reckon, but at least they matched. We also had to wear some lovely white lab coats for the tour. We weren't allowed to wear jewellry or watches, have mobile phones switched on, or carry our bags on the outside of our coats. I decided to wear the lab coat over my backpack, rather than hand it in, so I looked like Quasimodo, except stupider, because I was wearing socks with sandals.

We watched a little film before heading out on the tour and discovered that Young's Brewery site has been operating continuously at the same place for longer than any other, that Mr. Young poo-poohed newfangled beer making techniques and makes a traditionally great British beer, and how the railway came to town and so on... That was fine. Then we realised that the young French woman (the one who clued me in to the concept of safety socks) would be our tour guide. Well, she was cheerful enough, but her accent was so thick that I was surprised she wasn't still a little damp from her Channel crossing. It was also clearly the beginning of her career as a tour guide. She could not remember the English names of many of the machines she was pointing out, and touchingly called almost everything (hoppers, bins, tanks etc) boxes.

I can't say I learned a lot about brewing. Although at the fermenting box, I did learn that the first rising of yeast is re-used and the second is sold off for marmite. That was quite interesting , because I always thought that marmite was a "bottom of the barrel" product, not creamed from the top. Turns out, when the yeasty by-product comes from a lager you do get it from the bottom, but when it's a bitter (more hops and some other difference in the brewing process that I couldn't quite make out) they get it from the top.

We flew threw the brewery part of the tour. Including the obligatory trip through the bottling section where we saw lots of beer (in a brewery, who'da thunk it?) and on to the stables.

This is the really cool part of the tour. Young's Brewery still deliver their beer to London pubs (it's available in draft in London, bottles elsewhere) using shire horses to pull cart loads of casks. They also use trucks to deliver more widely, but until recently they used horse drawn carts to deliver to all the Young's pubs within 12 miles. But then Mayor Ken Livingstone's congestion charge came in (originally £5 then £8 pounds to enter the central London congestion charging zone) so they now only deliver by horse within three miles (thanks Red Ken for helping to destroy London traditions).

They have all kinds of animals there, geese, a pony, a couple of cats (one sadly, recuperating from a broken leg it sustained from jumping down from a great height - third time, too), a number of horses, a ram and some donkeys. Our French tour guide said that the last time she had given the tour she had gone through the list of animals and instead of saying donkeys, she had said monkies. We all laughed. She said "It is funny now, bit it was not zo funny zen." We laughed harder, and one of the other people on the tour (a guy from Wisconsin, everybody but the Vol-in-Law was American or Young's staff) said "What do they use the monkeys for?" I had visions of little monkeys filling flagons of beer. He was joking, but the French tour guide got a little flustered. The animals themselves were mostly all very friendly, and obviously quite used to attention. The little uninjured cat was quite demanding of affection and followed us around for a while.

One of the last things on the tour was a nice display of the shire horses kidney stones, some of them enormous, bigger than my fist, that the guide said all "passed naturally. But horses are bigger than us."

And we got the obligatory free pint of beer at the end of the tour. Now the Vol-in-Law and I had not had lunch, and had a half pint each waiting for the 2pm tour to start, so by the time we finished our pints, we were quite light-headed.

That was just as well, since our next stop was the Wandsworth museum. This is a little museum of local history run by our local council. It's free, and it was actually quite interesting, though I have to say that it concentrated more on other parts of the borough of Wandsworth than the part I live in, Tooting. I did find out that the original name for our area was Tottinge, and I wish to goodness it still was. We also found out that a Roman road cut very near our house, and that our borough and my neighborhood was thoroughly blasted by bombs and V1 and V2 rockets during World War II, but not a single bomb fell on my road. They had cool stuff to mess around with, too and unbelievably we spent a whole hour in there.

Here's a picture of me in a Roman helmet and shield.

Do you think it makes me look fat?

Vegas tomatoes

This is a picture of my brother in the shirt I made him wear to a Vegas party thrown by me and the Texan back in June. (The Vol-in-Law had to wear an identical shirt - I'm considering a shot of them together to grace my Christmas cards this year)

The party was pretty wild. It was pretty drunken. By the end of the evening there was broken furniture, blood on the floor (thankfully easy-clean hardwood) and a trip to casualty (the ER, and fortunately just around the corner).

You may be able to see from this picture that we served strawberries and tomatoes (as well as some vile ham and pineapple on fancy toothpicks).

Drunken guests are not always the most fastidious guests, and a number of these tomatoes ended up in my flower beds. Some of the seeds from these tomatoes sprouted, and instead of weeding these out, I let them grow. A kind of horticultural experiment. This isn't working out as well as I might have hoped. We've had a lot of rain, so the tomatoes have grown a lot, but we haven't had a lot of sun and heat, so we don't have a lot of ripe tomatoes, and none from the flower bed tomatoes. Now the bed just looks weedy and overgrown, but I can't rip out the tomatoes now, because they're setting fruit. I try to remember what I've been told many times, a plant out of place is a weed, but I feel that the tomato has struggled so valiantly from such inauspicious beginnings that I must give it the chance to reach its potential.

I haven't been very good at staking or pinching out my tomatoes this year either, This picture shows how tomatoes in pots have been allowed to get out of control. You may be able to tell that's a monster of tomatoes, stakes and string, and these are ones I planted puposefully. It's two pots of Sungold and another kind of red cherry tomato I forget the cultivar name.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Vacation update 3 Frida Kahlo

Today, the Vol-in-law says, was not an unadulterated success. First off it's raining and has been all day. Sometimes it slacks off to a drizzle but it hasn't ever quit.

So today it was indoor stuff art museum followed by swimming (almost always an indoor activity here). The Tate Modern has a special exhibit of Frida Kahlo's work. I love it, but the ViL is not a big fan. I can't say I got any great new insights but her pictures are compelling and they make me want to dig out my paints and create. The gallery captions emphasised the political symbology of her works something I hadn't much noticed before (she and her painter husband Diego Rivera were communists and Frida even had an affair with Leon Trotsky before he met his sticky end) but I often felt that the captions over emphasised the political and sought for it where it may not have been. Kahlo's art is generally too self obsessed to focus much on politics. But one thing her work does do is capture the exuberance and magic realism of Mexico.

Post museum we walked nearly two miles in the rain uphill one way to find that the showers had flooded and there was no access to the pool. To compensate for no swimming we decided to go to the fancy French food hall to get some cake. I thought I'd get some lettuce too but didn't see any on the produce table. I asked for some but the French help just stared at me. Lettuce I said. Lettuce.

"I can't understand you," she said. I couldn't think of any other way to say lettuce to make it any clearer. I couldn't think of a way to mime lettuce though I was moving my hands in a vaguely upsweeping leafy way. I couldn't remember the French word for lettuce (is it le lettuce said with a French accent?) "Salad" I finally said.

"No, we don't have any lettuce" she said.

British muslim institutions failing to deal with extremism?

I missed it last night, but the BBC's Panorama news/documentary program A question of leadership put forward the argument that "mainstream" Muslim organisations, like the Muslim Council of Britain, were failing to deal with extremists in their midst. (Transcripts available on BBC site.)

Here's something about it from The Times:

THE most powerful Islamic organisation in Britain has accused the BBC of
persecution after a documentary said that it was in denial about sectarianism in
its communities.
A Panorama documentary broadcast on BBC One last night
suggested that the (MCB) should provide a stronger lead and that groups
affiliated to it peddle hardline views.

The MCB is an umbrella organisation with more than 400 affiliated groups.
They include Ahl-e-Hadith, which has a British base in Birmingham and 41
branches across the country. According to the documentary one part of its
website exhorts its followers to “be different from Jews and Christians”, whose
“ways are based on sick or deviant views concerning their societies”.

My sense is that anti-semitism is common among British Muslims. One Muslim I know told me straight to my face "I don't like Jews". I was shocked, and to my shame, didn't challenge this as aggressively as I should have (though I did express displeasure).

So what is the Muslim Council of Britain's response? To lable the BBC "pro-Israeli". That is such a laugh. If anything, I would say that the BBC has long had a pro-Arabist bent, and the chattering classes in England (from which the BBC draws its staff, largely) have often been overtly pro-Palestinian. You can read their long and rambling response to the program on their website (but I couldn't find a permanent link to the full statement).

Part of the problem here, I think, is that the Muslim College of Britain, doesn't see extremism in the same way that many Britons do. Extremism to the MCB appears to mean fomenting or committing acts of violence on British soil, but not elsewhere (maybe elsewhere in Europe, they did seem to come out against the Madrid Atocha bombings). Nor does their view of extremism seem to cover hateful speech against other segments of our society (namely Jews, but also homosexuals). And they certainly don't seem to think that religion should be part of the private, not the public sphere. That's something they seem to be in agreement with Tom DeLay, Bill Frist and others who are involved in Justice Sunday type events.

For more info on this from other, better commentators:
MCB watch
Harry's Place (a post specifically about this Panorama program)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Kew. Vacation update 2

So here we are at Kew Gardens and the ViL is a little grumpy. First it was the 10 pound admission (each -he is cheap). Then he got mad at me because when asked if wanted to do Gift Aid (a scheme that means the charity gets the price of admission plus a kickback from your income tax it costs you nothing) he said no but I filled out the form anyway.

I reminded him that it cost him nothing and that it was taking money away from the Chancellor Gordon Brown. He said that he didn't care and that he'd rather his tax money went to nuclear weapons.

I reminded him that it probably wouldn't, but he said a man can dream.

Peace shattered

Ergggh... The sun, after weeks of hiding away, is finally out. But instead of being able to enjoy my garden in peace my head is throbbing with the thumpa thumpa of my neighbours' do it yourself nightclub. Mind you its been going on since 9 am and this isn't my first diisturbed Sunday morning.

These neighbours are relatively recent arrivals from Poland.(The UK is the only country allowing new EU citizens like Poles and Czechs access to its labor markets so we've got loads of new Eastern European immigrants) I reckon there's little to do in Poland and maybe they're from some tiny little village. At first they were well behaved youth, but I think a new housemate and the freedoms of London has led them down the wrong path. They seem to be having more fun than they used to, but the thumpa thumpa is driving me insane. They listen to an eclectic range of music: hip hop, house, and Baltic pop (as bad as it sounds) and all of it is headache inducing.

Thing is, you don't party at 9am without the aid of pharmaceuticals so there's not much hope of them tiring out soon. The Vol-in-Law tries to counter them by playing some of his favorite music. But I gotta tell you as much as I love the Man in Black, Johnny Cash don't drown out thumpa thumpa.

Vacation update 1: veg and walks

I'm sitting in my lovely garden, which needs some tidying, enjoying a brief glimmer of English sunshine. I spent a lot of time yesterday tidying my blog site too so do take a look.

Me and the Vol in Law also spent some time walking in Richmond Deer Park yesterday. The park is huge and if you wander around a bit you can get quite a decent walk in. We saw lots of deer (they don't call it the deer park for nothin') and we also saw some magpies on the deer grazing for insects.

I'd never heard of this kind of behaviour and I'd never seen it either. Magpies are beautiful black and white birds with blue dashes on their wings but they're seen here as some kind of suburban rubbish bird that are large and brash and will hog the bird feeder frightening off more desirable birds. Many British people find it hard to believe that I like magpies, but they also can't credit that mockingbirds can be a real pain if they take to dive bombing you. They only know that Gregory Peck and Harper Lee say that it's a sin to kill one.

We had planned to finish our walk in time to get to the swanky butchers in Wimbledon, but we discovered at 4:15 that they close at 4 on Saturday not 5. So no meat for us.

That's ok, we said. We'll have a vegetarian dinner. We had plenty of vegetables because we received on Friday the first of a weekly delivery of organic fruit and vegetables. Organic vegetable box schemes are all the rage here. Basically some company (staffed entirely, I imagine, by grungy, weedy Green Party voters) picks out a selection of vegetables for you and delivers them to your door. The idea is that it will force you to eat more vegetables because you have so many to hand and that you'll try new and different stuff.. Of course the other idea is that it's all organic and tastier and healthier, an idea I don't totally buy into, but there don't seem to be any non organic schemes.

We've already cancelled our order after one week. I suppose I imagined heaps of home grown vegetables fresh from the garden, sort of like the sackloads of yellow squash, corn and tomatoes shoved at you by overenthusiastic gardeners in the church parking lot after services on any given Sunday in the summer in Tennessee. But instead it was a paltry collection of limp broccoli withered green beans and peaches that went to rot in less than 24 hours. What we ate quickly was good and I'm still planning to make some coleslaw out of the cabbage and carrots we got, but I just didn't think it was good value for money.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Political sense and redistricting

I saw in the Tennessean the other day that several members of our Congressional delegation were calling for independent redistricting of Congressional districts. (I can't link to the article because my home PC refuses to allow me to access The Tennessean or The Knoxville News Sentinel - so here's a link to an article about it in the Dyersburg State Gazette - a fine paper, I'm sure)

Well, that's a start I guess. The congressional district that I vote in, the 4th Congressional District , is so bizarrely shaped you have to reckon it's been gerrymandered. But I guess it makes more sense than Tennessee's 7th, although its Representative Marsha Blackburn (R), says that its geographic diversity is a strength. I don't think strength in political diversity is really what she's after, but I don't suppose I can blame her for wanting to be re-elected.

See, a redistricting act would help us to avoid the kind of wrangles that the Texas Legislature got into a while back, but it wouldn't stop the constant money grubbing that House Reps have to do the minute they get into office if they want to stay there for more than 2 years. I can almost understand, it probably takes the first year just to get the hang of it, the next six months to come close to being effective and you've only just made lucrative lobbying friends when election day rolls around again.

I'm all for sensible campaign finance reform, though I haven't looked at the ins-and-outs of it to say who might have a decent plan. But, even then 2 years... it isn't really a very long time. To stop the endless chasing after cash, I think we should give them a couple of years break. Perhaps they could terms of office of four years (and elections of the House by half every two years, to keep midterms fun) which would give them a bit of breather from fundraising and maybe they could pass some sensible laws.

On vacation - hurray!!

Oh yes, my work day is nearly done. And then I will be off for a whole week and a day. Hurray!

Guess where I'm going this year? I'm going to London. Millions of tourists can't be wrong.

I'm going to take in a little West End theatre, I'm going to go to some special exhibits Frida Kahlo at the Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert, Chihuly at Kew, go to the Natural History Museum to gather evidence for my planned ID-bashing post, maybe do some country walks if the weather holds out. (Isn't looking good)

And although I've yet to book my tickets, I'm sure there's loads of good deals about, what with the collapse of the tourism industry post 7/7.

The only problem with vacationing in London is that my hotel isn't as centrally located as I would like, but it does have all the comforts of home.

Not right to speak ill of the dead

I know it's not right to speak ill of the dead... But I'm going to anyway. Ha.

Mo Mowlam, former Labour MP, former Northern Ireland Secretary and former Cabinet Secretary is dead. She had had a long running battle with cancer, brain tumor actually, and really had fought very bravely against it. The treatment and the illness itself ruined her looks, and as a female politician she had to put up with all kind of nasty comments about her appearance that I don't think a male politician would have had to put up with. She managed to rise above it.

Unfortunately she rose above it to a kind of politics that was stupid and harmful. Mo Mowlam cosied up to Sinn Fein/ IRA, and while Northern Ireland secretary actually flirted with Martin McGuiness, a man who was arrested and convicted of having a car-load of explosives. Mo Mowlam liked to talk to terrorists. She wanted us to open a dialog with Al Qaeda.

There were all the usual bits of praise for Mo who probably made an enemy of Tony Blair when she "inadvertently" upstaged him at a Labour Party conference. Hmm... Tony's list of enemies is dwindling rapidly, first Robin Cook, now Mo... who's next - Gordon?

Great expectations

Yesterday the A-level results were released in England. These are kind of like taking all the grades from your final two years of high school plus your SAT score and rolling them all into one. Everybody gets their results on the same day. And every year it provokes two reactions.

1. A-levels are getting easier. "Back in my day they were tough. Why we had to take ours in a opensided shelter with little burnt twigs as our only writing implement..." And so on. The marks and pass rates have been getting higher every year for 23 years and there is such a problem with grade inflation that universities are no longer able to distinguish the best from the rest.

2. A storm of reminiscing over the day when others received their results. At the office yesterday, most people spoke about their disastrous A-level results and their parents' rather blase reactions. I can't relate to that on several levels. First off, I never took A-levels. Secondly, I was a bit of a grade whore in high school, so it's extremely unlikely I would have had disastrous results. And finally, my parents were never blase about grades.

In response to one colleague's "My parents were just happy I passed", I say "My parents gave me a whippin' and cancelled my birthday party when I got a C in math in 5th grade." You should have seen their shocked little faces. They were genuinely appalled. Then I told them I had to write an essay on "Why math will be important later in life" and they were stunned. "An essay!" They cried. "How horrible!" You woulda thought my parents had cut off the tip of my pinkie or maybe taken a whole digit from the way they looked.

The Vol-in-Law, who took far more GCSEs than normal (the results level two years before A-levels) and who did very well and whose Mum woke him up on results morning by screaming and flinging his results paper at him because there was a C amidst all his As, even he thought the essay was excessive. (Though nothing was said about the licks or the birthday party cancellation). "That's very Stalinist of them isn't it, making you do an essay? All that self-denunciation. It doesn't seem right."

In defense of my parents, I did say to the Vol-in-Law that I didn't think it was Stalinist at all. I reckon it was more kind of Maoist.


Vol-Mom says

Now hold on a minute, we did not give you a spanking,
although we probably did cancel your birthday party. And the essay was NOT
Stalinist or Maoist. It made you think about the importance of something
that you were blowing off. Also it helped prepare you to become a
blogger. Yeah rah essays!

Oh - yes y'all did Vol-Mom! I remember it well. Vol-Dad used the yard stick from some hardware store, the one that was sort of cube shaped, with the really sharp edges and you witnessed it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Too satirical for my own good - The Volunteer!!?

Yesterday I blogged (satirically) about the loss of The Volunteer as a UT mascot (alright you can say he's Davy Crockett, but I reckon he stands for all those Tennesseans who volunteered in this or that conflagration).
But now on the Countertop Chronicles which I picked up via SayUncle's link, there's a post saying that the Volunteer is being dropped because of his gun. I don't know if it's true, as the link the official UT site was down - and I certainly don't know if the reason is correct as I believe those folks are little TOO sensitive about the whole gun thing.
Anyway, if the Volunteer is going, that's outrageous. If it's cause of the gun, perhaps we could keep the Volunteer and he could check his weapon at the door (or maybe he could apply for a concealed carry permit)
One of my favorite t-shirts of old pictured The Volunteer holding his rifle (muzzle planted in the ground - a gun safety no-no) with some pithy, slightly aggressive saying. I don't still have the t-shirt, wish I did. But if they are getting rid of the Volunteer, maybe I can get my brother to get me a new t-shirt on close-out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What about the Volunteer?

I'm seeing lots of stuff on the web about the NCAA getting riled up about mascots related to Indian names. I think that they're going too far by taking on teams with proper names like Seminoles or Cherokees. You take on the names of people, things or ideas with traits that you admire and want to emulate in sport. That's why there are loads of teams called "wildcat" or "bobcat", but not so many called the house cats - e.g. "Let's give a big miaow for the Hamilton County House Cats" Or look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, big tough guys doing a big tough job, and even though it's also a rough job you don't see many Sarasota Sewer Workers. So, it's really about honoring an idea or a group of people, isn't it?

I do think the Washington Redskins is an exception, because "redskin" is now seen as derogatory (and frankly probably always was). And for goodness sake get rid of the "Yankee" part of the New York Yankees, as all Southerners know what a slur that is. (I find it particularly loathsome that so many Brits think it's cute to call me a "Yank")

So what about The Volunteer - are we gonna have to get rid of our coon skin cap wearing, rifle toting, Smokey the Dog running mascot? Is his image contrary and detrimental to the modern South, a forward looking Tennessee? No, of course not, it's an homage to our heritage, just like the Seminole. Though truth be told, I'm in favor of any NCAA ruling that negatively affects the morale of any Florida team.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Redneck roots

What's on tv tonight? Well the Metro's Pick of the Day is Britney's Redneck Roots on Channel 4 (which is supposed to have a public service broadcasting charter).

Metro (a free paper distributed at Underground stations and the like) says: "Whether airbrushed and innocent or married and with child, Britney Spears has always been from Kentwood, Louisiana. But interest in her modest roots has changed with her carreer: as a pop darling she was evidence that hard work can bring success no matter what you background - but now older, spotty and swearing, she's white trash."

I doubt I'll be watching this (though you never know), but it did make me ponder. Should fame ever come my way, unlikely as that may be, which of my "Redneck Roots" would they manage to unearth. Never mind the relatives that live in trailers (too easy) or the ones with convictions, that's simply a matter of public record (although since my brother's record has been expunged he says "it" never happened - I won't go into "it", but "it" was kid stuff even if the State of Tennessee saw "it" differently).

I reckon they might interview some of my more colorful kinfolk (the cousin who's married to another cousin and who once kept an alligator in his fish tank) or perhaps acquaintances from high school. Might be worth getting a hold of another cousin's girlfriend - the one who came to both my grandfather's funeral and another cousin's wedding in the same skin tight deer-hunting camo mini-dress. That wouldn't have been so bad, but a) the events were only six days apart and b) while military style camo is appropriate for all times of year, deer-hunting style camo prints are more for Autumn fashions and these were both late spring gatherings.

A dreadful catalogue of errors

Turns out London's Metropolitan Police have seriously screwed up. According to information leaked to the press here, there were a series of errors, starting from tailing the wrong guy. A guy who turned out to be innocent Jean Charles de Menezes. Why did they start tailing him. Well, the officer on watch was 'relieving himself', that's right answering the call of nature, taking a piss. 'Course that happens to everyone from time to time.

Mr de Menezes took the bus to Stockwell station, used his Oyster card (an electronic ticket), got a free paper (no doubt the Metro), and only started running, when - yep, a Northern line train (my line!) pulled into the station.

Here's more about it from the Times, including some rather disturbing photographs.
As if we didn't feel tense enough already.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A new day... Liberalism is dead.

Reverend Jerry Sutton, Pastor at Two Rivers Baptist Church, said yesterday at Justice Sunday II that "It's a new day. Liberalism is dead."

Oh, dear... and just when I was getting the hang of it.

Of course, maybe he just meant in America, because James Dobson, founder of focus on the family said that Western Europe was "that most liberal place on the Planet". Yep, I know it's difficult to remember there's a world outside America, Rvd. Sutton, but please don't forget us here in Western Europe, it's like the Disneyworld for free-thinkers, the liberalist place on Earth. Although, we're clamping down here, too, on traditonal liberal values like free speech (or will be just as soon as Parliament can get back into session).

The article in the Tennessean about Justice Sunday was a bit distressing to me. I keep hoping that my America will remain the land of the free and the home of the brave, but I see it more and more becoming the land of the pious and home of the intolerant. (And I really hope I'm wrong about that.) Though I do have to agree with James Dobson that an "unelected, unaccountable, and often arrogant" judiciary, is imposing "judicial tyranny" as judges legislate from the bench, as that's how we ended up with Gee Dubya as president in the first place, and how we very well could see state sponsored religion like prayer in schools imposed on everyone regardless of their beliefs (at least if the folks at Justice Sunday have their way).

There was one lighter note in the Tennessean article, however,

...volunteer Sherrie Allen, a Two Rivers Baptist Church member, said, "I am
overwhelmed. It just amazes me how they are speaking in unity. It's like God
gave each one of them a message and He lined it up so that each one is speaking
directly to what the previous said."

Ummm, no Sherrie, I believe it's called working from a program. I organise events and conferences for my work and on reflection, it overwhelms me, too that everyone seems to be speaking on the same topic (the one that I gave them)overlapping only slightly, so as to support each other's messages (it helps that we distribute the powerpoint presentations in advance).

For more on Justice Sunday II ... visit the Tennessee Guerilla Women's site who were valiantly braving the August heat in Tennessee (and probably in the view of Justice-Sundayer-types risking a similar heat in hell), to protest this attack on our democracy. They also have a round-up of who said what in the Tennessee blogging scene, including those who were live-blogging the event.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Yesterday's post urged my Mom to join the protest over Justice Sunday II but I also suggested that I might have liked to attend the event myself if it weren't for the great distances involved, for the sake of curiosity alone.

Turns out, the event is ticketed (no surprise) but I'd have about as much chance of getting a ticket as an ice cube in hell. You have to get your tickets through your home church and your home church has to apply to the host church, Two Rivers Baptist Church, for its allotment of tickets.

Since my usual Sunday service is conducted by Reverend Sheets with the able support of Deacon Pillow, I don't reckon my home church would be allocated many tickets.
Of course, there's always scalpers, wonder how much a Justice Sunday II ticket is going for?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Busy this Sunday?

This post really goes out to my Mom, who says she reads this blog. So Mom, if you're not doing anything this Sunday, why don't you join the folks over at Tennessee Guerilla Women , fellow Rocky Top Brigadiers, to protest Justice Sunday II, which is being held at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. (Boy the Baptists are getting a lot of play in my blog these days)

I'd go myself, but it's a little far from London to Nashville (in more ways than one these days). Though I'd be tempted to actually attend the Justice Sunday II, 'cause

  • I've never been inside one of those super churches
  • I'd kind a like to see Tom DeLay and Phyllis Schlafly speak, it's not often I get to see folks like that in the flesh (well, never)
  • Maybe I could be on tv as they scan across the crowd

Mom, you could make a day of it, you could get a bite to eat, visit with your sister. Perhaps you could both go down there... should be great.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A little culture

A friend emailed the other day saying the girlfriend of a friend of his was in a play and did we want to go see it. He reckoned it was likely to be "a bit amateurish", but cheap. It was in the Soho Theatre at 6:30, which would make it very convenient for me on my way home from work.
The play was called Preacherosity and the friend's friend's girlfriend - Kristen Alexander was playing a character called Angela whom she described as "equally interested in happy hour and Bible study". Well, that sounded just the ticket. It reminded me of a girl I knew at UT... although her name was...well, let's call her Cally. Cally was the roommate of a friend from my hometown and we all lived in the same dorm. Cally used to go to Monday night Bible study at the Baptist student union (I believe they were Baptists, but forgive me Baptists if I'm wrong) and then she used to head straight down from there to the Monday night beer bust at the Annex (a fine establishment no longer in existence). Now because we were living in Massey Hall, (which I see is now an air conditioned sorority dorm!!, it was not so well appointed in my day) and Cally didn't want to have to walk all the way back, she used to carry her personalized large plastic beer cup decorated with paint pens down to the Bible study. I don't know how she used to explain it, or if nobody asked, but that's what she did every Monday night.

Cally later came down with a dose of the clap for which she received a bunch of anti-biotics from the student health center. About the same time she was seeking treatment for this condition, she took up with a new steady boyfriend whom she was quite serious about. My friend (her roommate) and I suggested she refrain from sex until the course of anti-biotics was complete (too late) and then begged and pleaded with her to tell him and thus avoid the risk of continual cross-infection. Cally didn't want to tell him, but when she finally did, according to her in the midst of cross-infection, his response was "I'on't care" and he continued about his business.

I have seriously digressed. Anyway, it wasn't a play but a reading. It was directed and acted and the actors moved around but they read from their script and needless to say it was a little rough, but really very well done. The play was basically about a search committee at a Baptist Church in Texas trying to find a new preacher to replace one who left under a bit of a cloud. And a strange Palidin like person arrives to show them all the error of their ways and the play ends with a bit of uplifting casting off of sins and moral renewal. It was actually pretty funny. The playwright was there and he was looking for financial backing to stage this play in London.
Now I really enjoyed the play, and Kristen was great (if she wasn't I wouldn't have mentioned her name), really funny and her Southern accent was very good. I imagined that this play might go down very well at the Dinner Theatre run in the summer time at the state park just outside the town where I went to high school. (My cousin sometimes acts there and she is so funny. I mean gut-bustingly funny. She would have been ideal as the hard-nosed Texas businesswoman character). But I'm not sure Preacherosity is just the thing for London, where we like our religion cynical and in small doses. (For example, the last "religious" play I went to was Jerry Springer, the Opera which was amazing, but even a heathern like myself was surprised by the level and creativity of the blasphemy this production contained.) I did not share this view with the play's author, but good luck to him.

I didn't know it until I got there, but the play was part of a festival put on by the North American Actors' Association, basically to showcase NAAA talent, and it was the next to last reading they were putting on. I went back the next night with the Vol-in-Law to see one written by Amy and David Sedaris. 'Cause I'd heard of David Sedaris, of course. Anyway, that reading of a play called The Book of Liz was also really funny, but incredibly silly, just the right kind of silly. It's a shame it didn't get more publicity, because as far as I could tell the Vol-in-Law and I were the only people there who weren't friends of the cast.

Deportation special

It's oh-so interesting talking politics at work these days. The person who sits across from me wears hijab (the head scarf) and is a pretty devout Muslim - the person who sits next to her is white English, has a regular potty mouth and some pretty illiberal attitudes.

Today, for example, we were talking about Omar Bakri Mohammed, a generally unsavoury character who has been living in North London since 1985 and has the cute nickname of "the ayatollah of Tottenham". (an area in North London). He recently said that although the denounced the London Bombings - if he were aware of anyone planning a terrorist act - say a suicide bombing of the London Underground - he would not report them to the police. However, he would do everything in his power to stop them, even laying down his life. Since this guy has been on disability benefit for over a decade, is more than a bit portly and hobbles with a stick, I'm not sure exactly what that 'everything in his power' would amount to exactly, since anyone who could walk briskly in the other direction would soon be out of his physical influence.

Anyway, the white English gal (WEG), was saying that Mr Mohammed should be tried for treason. Well, Mr Mohammed isn't a British citizen, I pointed out. Doesn't matter, says WEG, he should still be tried for treason. He hasn't sworn any oaths to this country, I say. No matter, says WEG, Treason! He owes this country.

Well, he probably does owe the UK. After all, he's been on benefit here for many years - and though he works for jihad - in whatever form that takes, he hasn't had a job in ages. But a charge of treason isn't the right thing for Mr. Mohammed. I can understand WEG's confusion though, the British government has recently suggested that those British citizens who engage in or support acts of terrorism might be charged under the Acts of Treason - dating from around 1438, I think. But for those who aren't British citizens (or technically subjects), there's another, quicker solution -- deportation.

I explain this to WEG. And then I explain that I'm currently residing in the UK on the sufferance of the British people and have the exact same legal status as Bakri Mohammed. She tries to explain that I'm different, that I'm not doing the things he's doing -- which frankly, is pretty bloody obvious. But I also explain I haven't sworn any oaths to Britain, and in no way should I be open to a charge of treason to the UK.

I leave for lunch after this and start thinking about it. Although I haven't formalised my relationship with the UK, we do have a little something going. If you think about it in terms of a personal relationship, we've been going steady for a long time, we're not just dating anymore, I've moved in with the UK, but we're not married yet. So, if I weren't married but did have a boyfriend and then had a little fling on the side, that's not adultery, but heck, it is cheating. So, I do feel some sense of loyalty to the UK, but if I do something bad, well it's the deportation special for me, not a charge of treason.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, Omar is getting hauled in by the police in Lebanon (where he's on holiday), and ten other "preachers of hate" are being detained after getting awakened pre-dawn by a friendly assortment of cops and immigration officials. These folks are not UK citizens and they're about to get sent back to wherever it is they came from.

They won't be going quickly, however, they do have a right of appeal. And the way that the UK interprets the European Convention of Human Rights, means that the Government can't deport anyone to a country where they may be tortured or executed. (In practice this means that if a US murderer manages to get to say France, they won't be deported back to the US until the authorities there agree that they won't seek the death penalty), so it's going to be a bit sticky sending them to places like Algeria. (Although somehow France manages to send people there).
Fortunately, in the case of the notorious Abu Qatada, "Al Qaeda's ambassador in Europe" who may be going back to Jordan shortly, the UK has just agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan, whereby they agree not to torture or kill anyone deported from the UK. Human rights lawyer groups like Liberty are, understandably, sceptical.

I imagine that the ten "preachers of hate" are little a perplexed. Many of them were guests of Her Majesty until relatively recently, when the Law Lords (like the Supreme Court) decreed that they couldn't be held indefinitely any longer. These guys were all non-UK nationals and were being detained at Belmarsh Prison. They were free to go at any time, to return to their countries of citizenship, but weren't free to be at large among the UK public. They had a coterie of human rights lawyers complaining about how the Belmarsh detainees, as they became known, were being treated and how they were all being driven mad. The Government brought in a hastily wrought "control order" just before they were released which meant were basically under house arrest.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, says the rules of the game have changed and out they go. He says their presence here does not contribute to the "public good". As someone who's also here under sufferance and has been known to be a little disorderly from time to time (really sorry about that street sign, BTW), that worries me. Do I contribute to the public good? But on balance... Good riddance and good speed!