Monday, October 31, 2005

Random thoughts


Well, y'all. My actual Halloween hasn't turned out to be very exciting. I ran a small event today and handed out candy. We had two trick-or-treaters. And now we have lots of leftover candy.

I had too much and now I feel a little queasy.

SCOTUS nomination:

That Alito guy sounds a little mean. CE Petro at Thoughts of an Average Woman calls him Alito the Hun. I'm laughing, that's funny. The rest of her post isn't so funny. Well, he's qualified anyway, I guess.

Can't we have Harriet back? She seemed kinda nice. Even though the Bush Administration said she had 'conservative credentials', I bet once Ruth Bader Ginsburg got her in the Ladies and put a little word in her ear, she would have come through with some good, (or well, maybe not eeevil), decisions.

Vol news:

Bye-bye Randy Sanders. I hope that works. No more seasons like 2005.


My old high school pal, St Caffeine, has sent me an unexpected gift - a 'happy' - from Alabama. (Thanks!)

What did I get?

  • Some fridge magnets
  • A CD
  • A pack of Rook cards.

The Rook cards are of a new "gothic" like design, which looks pretty cool. But nobody plays rook in London. The last time I played rook, was when VolMom and VolBro came to visit me - and the time before that, was when we were sitting up on my grandfather's porch, surrounded by his possessions that we were going to sell in the morning in an estate sale. That was a weird night, we had to watch all my dead grandfather's stuff to prevent it from being carried off. And a parade of my brother's friends who came round to cheer us up before the estate sale. Bless them - how did they cheer us up? Rook cards, beer, cigarettes. VolBro's friend Bates came round about 11:30 with his golf clubs and a bunch of hacked out golf balls. We stood in my grandfather's back yard and drove the golf balls across Springer Road toward the abandoned Mormon Church. (Abandoned after they went broke during an overambitious refurbishment and building expansion).

My grandfather would have never let us drink beer on his porch or chuck golf balls across the road. I have to think maybe he had a point (at least about the golf balls).

Anyway, you can see the new fridge magnets in this post.

About the CD. Lots of good stuff. Included on the CD was the song Knoxville Girl, which I am by birth. (Rex L Camino has a nice post on murder ballads at the team music blog Tangled Up in Blue).

Aren't there any good songs about Knoxville? Why does every song set in K-town have to end in tears or a jail sentence or both?

So I must end this post with a call for help.

  • Any positive, happy songs about Knoxville or Knoxvillians without jail sentences, criminal activities or death?
  • Anybody in South West London interested in some Rook? You can get my email from the Blogger profile.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I sense a revival of the paper sack

Goodness gracious. No more drinks on the train.

When I first arrived in this country I was shocked by the amount of public drinking that went on. It seemed you could drink just about anything, anywhere without fear of recrimination. Perhaps these days are numbered.

All over the news, but described here in the The Times, the British Labour Government has decided that maybe it's time to call time on drinking on public transportation.

THE prime minister’s controversial “respect czar”, Louise Casey, is urging him to ban drinking on commuter trains and other public transport.

She is “strongly supported” by the police, according to a confidential government paper on tackling anti-social behaviour.

OK, I have to admit that it is news to me that we have a "respect czar". RESPECT.

I'm all for getting the drunken yobs to behave. But I hadn't noticed that this was a serious problem in my travels. But what's described in the next paragraph is a serious problem.

But commuters who enjoy a quiet drink on the train home would also be banned from relaxing with a glass of wine or gin and tonic.

I don't tend to drink during my daily journeys to and from work, but I have been known to have a drink on the Tube. The only serious problem this has ever caused was mass jealousy when I carried a lovely Pimms onto a very hot and packed Victoria Line.

More seriously, after a harrowing business trip perhaps to some dismal town in the North, a little drink on the train, often a seriously delayed train, can be a soothing balm. I'd hate not to have the chance to buy an overpriced can of lager because some people are causing trouble.

The Vol-in-Law thinks that the Government should wait until ID cards are introduced. Then our cards could be endorsed with our class and drinking priviliges as well as our name, address and biometric data. According to the Vol-in-Law they might go something like this:

  • Hooray Henry: Upper class toff, up to three glasses of good quality red OR two gin and tonics (likely to bore, loudly)

  • Wayne: lower class hooligan - no drinking permitted (likely to smash train windows)

  • Tristan: Upper class - but Rugby player, limited to a single glass of white wine spritzer (likely to shout, attempt cack-handed seduction and thump rival team members)

  • Vol-in-Law: Middle-middle class any drink to any quantity

  • Vol Abroad: Middle-middle class any quantity, but no White Lightening Cider or tequila (priors)

Truly, if this does come into effect, I'll have to resort to the old boot flask.

New fridge magnets

New fridge magnets. Tabasco sauce and USS Alabama magnets new and courtesy of St Caffeine. I now see that I've got a good portion of the former Confederacy represented on my fridge - Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas - and I bought the American flag at a Home Depot in North Mississippi. (Does that count?) Still missing a few states, though.

BTW - those aren't really big magnets - my British fridge is really small.

Oh my Vols

I knew I wasn't going to be able to catch any of the Vols v. Gamecocks game this weekend, so I went ahead and checked the old Rocky Top Brigade to see how wide was our margin of victory over South Carolina.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This hurts. Post after post after post of pain...and calling for heads to roll.

Joel S. Hollingworth says: Brace Yourselves

2005 is shaping up to be the worst season for Tennessee football in a very long time. Add to that the fact that pre-season expectations were higher than they had been for a very long time, and you have serious problems on Rocky Top.

Brace yourselves.

This is not going to be pretty.

Big Orange Michael says: This must be some kind of cosmic joke...

Phil Fulmer--remember how you got this job. Johnny Majors had a team with talent and potential that was squandered and he left the door open for you. Now, 13 years later, you have begun to emulate the mistakes that cost Majors his job. I am no yet calling for your head but I do call for some firing or reorganizing be done--namely Randy Sanders. And I also must say we need to maybe just maybe emphasize in drills in practice how to hold onto the ball inside the ten and get a damn touchdown for a change instead of turning it over and losing the damn game.

Yes Phil - I'm sure you well remember the night of long orange knives. There are few moments in my life where I can remember exactly where I was when I got some kind of news...9/11, the OJ jury verdict, Reagan getting shot, the Miracle at South Bend (this is a great story in itself), and the night I heard that Johnny Majors got the boot. I was still a student and I remember the stunned faces of those I met on the street. You could tell just by looking if someone had heard the news or not. Remember that Phil?

Genderist at Haiku of the Id writes of Sucking the Gamecock:

For shame, Phil. I'd ask where the buck stops, but I'm afraid you might fumble it into the end zone.

Voluminous says: Disgusting

Rich at Shots across the Bow has some questions: and makes the link between Halloween and the disgusting loss.

I went to a Halloween costume party last night. I was going to go as the Vol offense, but then realized I'd have to be a no-show, and I didn't want to miss the fun.

Six Meat Buffet scoops 'em again and got Coach Fulmer to contribute a guest editorial. It's insightful, and boy Phil has really managed to raise my confidence that there's a bowl game in Tennessee's future.

But maybe Phil should hone his writing skills in a bid for a new career:

'Cause over at the Countertop Chronicles: Fire Phil Fulmer.

I'm not entirely sure that's the answer, but he does need to be made aware that he doesn't have a it-don't-matter-how-you-do contract-for-life.

The Vol-in-Law, who doesn't really understand these things (after all he's only a Vol through marriage and British to boot) was a little bemused as I read out these posts to him. He said: "Maybe the Vols should take a little break from the SEC."


Halloween bus ride

I left the Halloween party and because the Tube doesn't run as late as it should, were this a town that respected the normal operating hours of human beings, the Vol-in-Law and I attempted to catch a taxi.

Well, a bus arrived before the taxi and I thought what the hey - let's take the bus home. The first bus we got on only went so far as Elephant and Castle - not exactly the nicest part of town, but still quite lively and colorful. So we had to change buses - and this required a two or three block walk to the next bus station. Did I mention that I was dressed as Adam Ant and carrying over $600 in cash?

Anyway, the bus was great. I was stared at a lot. There were a couple of people dressed in costume, but mine was perhaps the most flamboyant on the 333. That is until a guy got on wearing - and I kid you not - about four yards of dark cotton that he had draped across his shoulders and he gripped together with his fist just below his navel. He was also wearing a gold necklace and some sandals. He didn't appear to be wearing anything else. But when he got up to leave the bus, he grip slipped and I could see that he was also wearing a pair of tighty-whiteys. Nice.

Let me tell you, that's not a look that everyone can pull off. And you will read it here first if I ever do see anyone who can pull it off.

When I wasn't watching my fellow passengers, I was watching the passing landscape. Being dark, only the bright lights of the signs from late night take-outs were visible. Most of them were chicken joints - Halal fried chicken joints. Many were trying to cash in on the notoriety of Kentucky Fried Chicken, by using a name with a vague American association:

Dallas Fried Chicken and Ribs
Kennedy Fried Chicken
OHHO Fried Chicken and Pizza
Great Chicken
Tennessee Fried Chicken
a genuine KFC
..and the last one we saw:
Lick'n Chick'n.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Vandals in Lawrenceburg

Farm Feed, the blog of Farmers' Almanac TV (?) has a story about an historical cemetery in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee being vandalised.
Sadly every year about this time we read of cemeteries being vandalized. Not far from us the Old Prospect Cemetery in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee contains many historical graves, including seven Confederate soldiers dating back to the Civil War and veterans from the War of 1812 and World War I. Yet a week ago, someone turned over monuments, broke tombstones and damaged crypts in this cemetery by throwing large stones against them.

Not good.

Bye bye slugs

I hate slugs. I hate slugs and snails. They eat my lovely garden plants. My garden just ain't big enough for the both of us - and since I'm paying for this property, they have to go.

Here in London we have extra pernicious slugs and snails. I've never quite seen anything like it - they are everywhere. It's something about a calcareous soil, and damp shady gardens. To make matters worse, someone at some time thought it was a good idea to import French escargot snails, and they got loose. And now they're everywhere - something else to blame on France.

I avoid traditional slug pellets, because Other Cat is a little bit stupid and she has a tendency to eat things that maybe she shouldn't - and slug pellets can be really harmful to cats and dogs and birds.

I'm not a big fan of slug traps, because you have to clean the things out, and dessicated slug corpses and dying snails aren't the most fun thing to deal with.

So I tend to favor a product called NemaSlug.

NemaSlug is a wonderful product. It's a biological control for slugs which are the bane of my garden.

From the Green Gardener website:

Nemaslug® contains naturally occurring nematodes for safe and effective slug control. Each pack of Nemaslug® has millions of microscopic nematodes that kill slugs both above & below ground.

These nematodes are teeny tiny worms that are carriers of a bacterial infection that kills slugs dead. And they burrow under the soil to die, so you don't have to see their little slug corpses. Unfortunately, this product's effectiveness is temperature dependent, that is it doesn't work very well when it's cold.

It's been an unprecedently warm autumn with just enough dampness to make the slugs and snails happy little critters. But because it's been warm, we still have a small window of time to apply NemaSlug and allow it to work (it takes a few days for it to be effective).

I didn't get many of my planned activities done today (e.g. tidying and bulb planting) but I did manage to apply the NemaSlug. Bye-bye slugs.


By the way, last I heard this product is not available in the US.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A bit of harmless fun

I'm so, so, so sick of people just poo-pooing everything, anything that's fun.

C'mon people. Halloween is just a bit of fun. My previous Halloween post, was linked to by this guy - who says:

Secondly, Halloween is a hijacked American tradition of blasphemous commercialism. Even though there are traces to Druid and Celtic culture, there is now no real relevance to the United Kingdom except to sell products. Though many would disagree with this opinion!

And today on Nashville is Talking, Brittney (Happy Birthday, BTW) linked to a post about a school that's cancelled their traditional Halloween celebrations because a few parents were offended.

And soon we move into the holiday season of banned Christmas trees and so forth.

Now, I know that I come from a tradition of Halloween trick-or-treating, and Christmas trees and carolling and Easter eggs and the 4th of July... and I'm awful fond of those traditions. And I get a little upset when people try to tear them down when they aren't really hurting anyone. I'm all for separation of church and state, but there's a big difference between school prayer and a little yule time pine.

But you know, I don't really stop with just the festivals of my own culture, I like Cinco de Mayo and Chanuka and Texas Independence Day and Mardi Gras, Guy Fawkes night and I'll put out a flag for St George's Day in England - all things I didn't grow up celebrating, but are a good excuse for some fun. People who are offended by any of these should just avert their eyes.

If you've got a fun holiday that involves beer or nice food, I'm all over that. And even if I'm not invited to participate, I don't want to stop you from having fun*. Put up your decorations, put them up in the office, I love glitz. Bring in some food for Eid - I'll eat it and say "Happy Eid". It all adds to the color.

I will say that I'm not so much into the holidays that involve fasting or scourging. But don't let me stop you.

*I've got to draw the line a little bit at Diwali - when I lived in a predominately Hindu area it was fireworks every night til very late for around a month. That gets old. I like Diwali decorations and I'm up for a few nights of firecrackers, but not a month of disturbed sleep and terrified cats.

Lock 'em up and throw away - no -give them the key

There's a bit of a problem with prison overcrowding in Britain, and to solve this problem pre-fab quickie jails are being erected. Wooden huts really.

Problem is, because of 'health and safety' and danger of fire, they have to give prisoners the keys, according to a National Audit Office report as reported in this Guardian article.

The report says: "The risk of fire means prisoners have their own
keys to get in and out of the building and in category C prisons security is
maintained by a security fence around the unit."

But the Home Office denies that risk of fire is the reason prioners are getting keys

The Home Office last night denied that prisoners had been
given their own keys because the units were a fire risk: "This is not a 'risk of
fire' issue. Some low risk prisoners in category C prisons have the ability to
lock their cells for privacy and protection of their possessions."

Well, that's ok then.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Vol-in-Law writes

Yesterday a student came to see me and said he couldn't attend the 10am tutorial because Ramadan fasting made him weak. Too weak to get out of bed in the morning, apparently. He wanted to attend the 12pm tutorial instead. This was just about to start, and I said he could attend it (assuming there were free seats), and he said thanks but he wasn't coming this week as he had something better to do.

Later on, I ruminated over this and cast my mind back to the recent pig pogrom. It occurs to me, aren't religious impositions supposed to make things harder for the devotee? I'm pretty sure the idea isn't that you use your adherence to demand special treatment from those around you. What worthy quality does that demonstrate? Suffering the added burden without getting someone else to carry it for you, seems to me to be the whole point. If I'd been his teacher at a madrassa in Pakistan I doubt he'd have come to me wanting a later class because Ramadan made him hungry.

Good news from Iraq?

I think it’s probably good news that the Iraq constitution has passed, and I’m really glad it seems to have come off relatively peacefully. I have to give the Bush Administration some credit for actually pursuing this path so vigorously. (I hope the vigor was also matched by intellectual and constitutional rigor).

And although a democratic election is good news, I’m not sure the constitution passing is great news. My hesitation seeps from a couple of sources.

1. Democracy doesn’t necessarily mean liberty

Just having the right to vote and a population that exercises it doesn’t mean that you automatically get what non-ideological people might call “liberal democracy” – that is one that protects minority interests, free speech, freedom of religion and is tolerant and peaceful. Iran is a democracy after all, and that hasn’t prevented them from running a potentially dangerous, theocratic state. Nazi Germany started off democratic. Democracy is only the means by some decisions are made and leaders are elected. It doesn’t mean that we’ll like the decisions or the leaders.

2. What’s in that constitution anyway?

As I understand it, there were some last-minute changes. And some weeks ago, people were pretty upset about the way that women’s roles were dealt with in the constitution. Maybe it’s a good thing the constitution has passed, but is it a good constitution?

3. Security is still a mess

It’s hard to truly live in a democratic state, when you can’t exercise the free speech, women can’t walk around without being covered up for fear of being beaten or in some parts of Iraq, people can’t even exercise the freedom to visit the local market without getting blown up.

And I guess my “excitement” over the constitution is blunted by the war the war is going generally. I was equivocal about the war to begin with. I trusted that the Bush Administration had a plan (silly me!). But I was reasonably convinced that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” – i.e. chemical and biological weapons and conventional weapons banned under UN Security mandates. Colin Powell said so, and Saddam sure acted like he had them. And I knew very well that Saddam Hussein and the Bathists were a bad bunch, a despicably bad bunch, so it didn’t grieve me any to see them go. It was, however, clear in my mind that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. I knew that he had little in common with Osama Bin Laden, but I didn’t put it past Saddam to make the connection if he thought it might benefit him in some way down the line.

I’m no longer clear that we ever went to Iraq for the right reasons. In fact, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. But what’s even more upsetting is the way that this war is being run. I’m no military strategist, but I don’t think we ever went with enough troop strength or hardware to occupy a volatile area, and that’s probably resulted in more American, UK and Iraqi deaths than ever needed to be even if this were a justified venture.

The best news from Iraq

The best news recently, though is that the Tennessee based 278th National Guard unit is coming home. Congratulations to those going home and to their families. I wish you all could have.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Even more Euro idiocy

I had just finished posting on stupid European bureaucracy when I saw this.

Euroweenies say no to Halloweenie linking to a story on, well, just that.

This drives me mental.

"Halloween is American, we don't like Americanisation"

I always want to say -"Where the heck do you think we got it from in the first place? Do you think it's some kind of Native American custom?"

Halloween has definitely gotten to be a lot bigger thing than when I first arrived in this country. But how can that be a bad thing? Unless you're a wiccan (someone wrote into the Metro recently - a London free paper - that Halloween was disrespectful to her witchy religion) or maybe a hard line fundamentalist, Halloween is a great holiday. You get to dress up, have a little candy (if you're young), a little beer (if you're a bit older) and just have fun.

Today I was describing my costume (I'm going to be Adam Ant, my first foray into cross-dressing!) and one of my colleagues said: "That's not very Halloween"

In Britain, if people do Halloween, they go gruesome: witches, devils, dead people, monsters. I tried to explain that in American style Halloween costumes don't have to be ghoulish, they can be anything. (I definitely opt for the more glam costumes, mostly because I'm not very glam in my normal life.)

Someone a few desks away piped up "You're not in America now."

Thanks for pointing that out, I'd hardly noticed, given the dreary weather, bad teeth and poor service.

I say: "No, but it's an American style Halloween party."

"But you're not in America."

That's fair enough, I thought, but this person is one of those extreme lefties who's always going on about multi-culturalism , and the opression of imperialism (British and American) and the evils of capitalism and so on...

So I say: "What about respecting ethnic diversity and multi-culturalism? Don't I have the right to keep some of my holidays and traditions?"

No more was said.

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What's in a name?

Melusina of Mel's Diner congratulates the Greeks on winning the "right" to call only feta cheese made in Greece, "feta". Boo-hiss! More Eurocracy nonsense, I say.

There's two ways to think of denomination controlle. On the one hand you can control the name by process. How do you make it? And what's it like when you've finished making it. This seems fair and reasonable to me - for example you don't want something called chardonnay to be made out of merlot grapes, it's just not truth in labelling.

On the other hand, there's the 'origin' way of naming products. It has to be made in a certain place.

Take for example, Tennessee sipping whiskey. If you thought it was whiskey made in Tennessee, you'd be wrong. If you take the tour at Jack Daniel's Distillery (which I highly recommend) they will tell you that Tennessee sipping whiskey can be made anywhere. It doesn't have to be made in the great state of Tennessee, but it does have to use the distilling - and most importantly - the charcoal filtering process that makes it what it is.

But in Europe - they favor the naming by origin. So, for example Champagne can't be made anywhere but the Champagne region of France (else it's sparkling wine) Parma ham has to be made in Parma...and now Feta has to be made in certain parts of Greece.

Britain tends to be the loser in this battle, partly because most people think it's ridiculous although some do play the game - for example Shetland lamb (what?) or Newcastle brown ale (nice town, great beer, but I thought that was the brand name) are protected products. Britain lost the battle over Sherry (that went to Portugal) and now British Sherry (oops I think I broke a law) is called British fortified wine - not terribly appetising - unless like Harvey's Bristol Cream - they no longer bottle in Bristol, but in Spain.

Other British products like Cheddar cheese or Yorkshire pudding (a rather bland puffy round thing made of flour and lard - if you're dead curious you can see a picture of what must be the world's largest Yorkshire pudding on the Young Farmers' website) are deemed 'generic' so not worthy of the demonitation controlle.

It's ridiculous. Thankfully, America doesn't abide by these rules so you can still get a Champagne made in California or a British Sherry or a Wisconsin Cheddar (or Feta).

No smoking (ban)

Tomorrow legislation will be introduced into the UK parliament to ban smoking - sort of.

First the Labour party wanted to ban smoking in some areas, then all public areas, then all areas but special little smoker zoos. After much wrangling and frayed tempers, they've decided to ban smoking in all areas - except pubs that don't serve food or in private clubs (of which there are many).

Very few bars and restaurants in the UK have proper smoking sections. Mostly it's just a smoky free-for-all, which you might think suits me, since I smoke. But I don't really like smoking indoors around non-smokers, it dimishes my pleasure when they make those ridiculous faces. I'd much rather be in a segregated area with the other hackers and coughers.

I reckon my local pub will decide that they don't want to serve food and it will go on as it always has. A bar much like the Long Branch in Knoxville - poorly maintained wood and surly patrons and smoke. Lots of smoke.

Read more about the proposed smoking ban in The Times.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Now you know

The UK National Archives has uploaded a number of old public information films to their website, which you can download for you viewing pleasure and instruction.

The picture on the left comes from a film entitled Pedestrian Crossing.

I wouldn't have minded a little instruction on British pedestrian crossing myself when I first came over. They have Zebra crossing, Pelican crossings, Puffin crossings, Toucan crossings - and pedestrian refuges. (I still don't know what these all are after 9 years here - but here's a link if you're that curious.)

Pedestrians be warned - not all drivers regard pedestrian crossings with equal respect. In my neighborhood, I'd say drivers will stop 95% of the time once you're already out in the road. In my old neighbourhood, it was more like 15%. In the really posh London areas (like St John's Wood or Wimbledon Village) drivers will pull slowly and gently to a stop before you even consider stepping off the curb.

Other public information film classics in the National Archive are Charley's March of Time, where the hapless hero is persuaded of the benefits of the cradle-to-grave welfare system; Journey on a London bus, where immigrants are taught the proper behaviour on London transport (I bet back packs stuffed with explosives isn't covered); and Coughs and Sneezes, explaining how not to spread disease.

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Granddad blogging: Into Germany

This week in granddad blogging, they make the push into Germany, he witnesses looting and they hole up.

Finally, we got in to Strausberg. Got through there then we start for Colmar and we didn’t know anything about where Colmar was or where it wasn’t or anything else.

And by the way we crossed from France into Germany at Zweibrucken that was in the industrial part of Germany and the thing I remember about that was when we got there in daylight it was the first time any of the American troops in this particular outfit had ever been in Germany and they went crazy. They tore up, they smashed up, they did everything. They went up in the second and third story of the apartments and threw furniture out the windows and knocked clocks and vases and anything that there was left in the house down and destroyed and just absolutely went wild. And that went on for a while til finally the higher-ups came in with enough MPs to make 'em quit and move out and stop that crazy destruction.

Then sometime during the fighting they moved us toward Colmar and this was the place that we were going to hold out and we didn’t know what we were going to hold for. But that’s where we were anyway and it was sort of a rough place to be, ‘cause we were laying up on a hill and looking down into Colmar and if you stuck your head out of your hole in the daytime the Germans would drop shells on you. So you had to lay in those holes all day long til it got dark, and then at night you had get out and bring water up and stretch barbed wire and dig your hole a little deeper and cover it over with stuff the keep the shells going in if they came.

[What time of year was this? January?]

Yeah, January. It’s cold. The snow was several feet deep. But it is cold. And we stayed there thirty-some days and I never took my clothes off. I never shaved. I never had a bath. You just stayed in those holes that’s all there was to it. And you patrolled at night.

And it was dangerous patrolling because the Americans had listening posts down in front of us. Those boys were awful nervous. When they’d hear a racket, if you didn’t identify yourself awful quickly you’d get shot. And then the Germans they were lookin’ to shoot you also. It was mean runnin’ patrols down through there.

People would get killed, Germans in particular. We’d see an old German soldier layin’ there face up when you go out on a patrol one night. The next night you’d go out and he’d be layin’ face down. Somebody’d rolled him over and searched the pockets and everything to see what they could find. And then they’d roll him back the other way. Roll him out, roll him over. I never would touch one of ‘em. But a lot of ‘em did. They were looking for anything and everything at the time.


Not recorded in these tapes, but something my grandfather told me was that at one point in the war he was holed up with somebody from - I believe - New Jersey, whom he did not care for at all. I believe it must have been during this time that he describes above. He told me that they had very little to eat and none of it hot food. But the Germans were announcing through loud speakers that they had hot soup, and all the Americans need do for it was surrender. The boy from New Jersey wanted some hot soup and my grandfather wanted him out of the hole, but didn't think that fellow from New Jersey any good and didn't think it would do him or the rest of the Americans any good to have that boy down there telling about their position.

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Give him what he wants

British Respect Party MP "Gorgeous" George Galloway wants to be charged with perjury by the US Senate. He says he is willing to fly to the US today. What a man of honor! Look at him standing up to the big meanies in Congress.

Apparently new evidence has been uncovered by the Senate. According to this BBC story:

The US Senate committee which accused MP George Galloway of receiving oil money from Saddam Hussein has accused him of lying under oath.


The committee says it has seen bank records linking Mr Galloway and his wife Dr Amineh Abu-Zayyad with Iraqi government vouchers.

The blog Harry's Place has more:

Ex Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Tariq Aziz has grassed on George Galloway to the US Senate Subcommittee investigating the oil for favours scandal. Aziz states:

Mr Galloway asked him for political funding in allocations in the name of Mr Zureikat. The Senate report shows that Mr Zureikat received $740,000 from Taurus Petroleum on July 27, 2000, as commission for its purchase of 2,645,068 barrels of oil.

Galloway denied he had reveived a single cent of the money before the Senate back in May..

Ol' Georgie is a slippery fellow, and loves nothing more than a big platform to grandstand. So I hope the Senate does all the dotting and crossing it needs to do before inviting Mr Galloway back.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

How 'bout them Vols 2

I've been on the phone with the VolBro and he's been giving me the lowdown on the ignominious defeat and the mood in Knoxville (not good). He said the streets had fallen silent, but a simmering anger and lust for blood was rising.

VolBro says: I hope you like crow, cause we're havin' to eat a lot of it. Shake a little salt on it, maybe it'll go down better.

I would rather serve it up than choke it down. That is surely my right as a Tennessean.

VolBro says that that game would have driven my grandfather to cuss if he were still alive. In our entire collective family memory we can only recall three times that he swore (once at a Tennessee game).

I can't believe that the last time we lost to that team whose name shall not be typed by me I was still living in Knoxville. And the following year when we beat 'em, having not done so through my two degrees and bumming around period in Ktown, I knew that it was time for me to move on. It was the end of an era. I left Knoxville the following year. I can but hope that this weekend's defeat does not similarly mark the end of an era.

On the upside, my pure hatred of that team was beginning to be misunderstood, especially by younger fans who might prefer to hate Florida more. Now can you see why the flame of my hate burned undimmed through these many years?

I started school in the Johnny Majors era, so I can remember the bumper stickers that said "Go Johnny go, and take Don Devoe". I asked VolBro if there was anything similar on Phil*, and he said it's a little hard to do that when you've named a street after the guy. (People, not smart. Wait til a guy is dead or retired before you name a street after a coach, otherwise you're just a hostage to fortune) But VolBro did say that heads were gonna roll.

Indeed. If we can't have enough books in the library, if I have to see the value of my UT degrees eroding away in the slipstream of sliding academic standards, at least win us some damn ball games.

The Vol-in-Law says "He who would trade literacy for football deserves neither literacy nor football"

The Vol-in-Law says "Sic transit gloria VOLi"

I say, I hope you like sleeping on the couch.

*Update: apparently, the Vol fans, who'll turn on you as quick as rattlesnake on a hot day, are looking higher than Offensive Co-ordinators. The Countertop Chronicles have received an upswing of hits from the search string Fire Phil Fulmer.

How much could it cost for a new street sign anyway?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Readers write in

A few interesting queries from readers this week. There's very little that the Vol Abroad loves more than to be asked her opinion. (I also like to be asked "Can I get you a drink?")

Sam asks:

Hope at Appalachia Alumni poses the question that if Miers supports a constitutional amendment against abortion, does that mean she recognizes a constitutional right for abortion less an amendment? It's a good question. Any thoughts?

I say: I don't have sufficient confidence that Harriet Miers has thought through that question herself. She doesn't appear to be a constitutional scholar, and that's why she's just not qualified for the post. I imagine that she probaby is anti-choice, but is perhaps a great enough respecter of precendent to accept Roe v. Wade as it stands "as the law of the land". But it's a law that she probably feels needs changing - i.e. she feels there's no inherent 'right' or as I would prefer to say 'liberty' to have an abortion.

The Vol-in-Law and Sam go further in the comments section of my original Miers post arguing the merits of Roe and when a fetus becomes a human.

Then I got this query... not sure what to make of it exactly, but I'll bite. I couldn't reasonably answer in the comments section because I didn't really know enough about this case - though I had heard of it, vaguely:

And FG asks in the comment section of one of my older posts:

What do you think of the Gary McKinnon case ? He is a British national first arrested in November 2002 and released without charge, but now through the Extradition Act 2003 (who says we do not have retroactive legislation here in the UK ?) is facing extradition to the USA for allegedly "hacking" into over 90 US military computer systems, before and after the supposed high state of alert caused by the September 11th 2001 attacks.

No prima facie evidence has been presented in his case either, and he too fears a Miltary Tribunal, after all, unlike Babar Ahmad, he actually did "attack" the US Military.

The list of computer systems includes some at Pentagon, the NSA Fort Meade, the US Army, the US Air Force and the US Nabvy, NASA etc, all in hiis pursuit of pursuit of "UFO" information and the activities of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and because of the criminally negligent computer security procedures in place at the time, for several years previously.

Surely he too should be tried for his alleged crimes here in the UK ?


for more details

I say: First of all, I can see this is a transparent effort to raise publicity for this case - perhaps you were not aware of how few readers I have. Or perhaps you don't care. But clearly you didn't read my post on Babar Ahmad very carefully. Although the fast track extradition law doesn't require prima facie evidence - I believe that the conditions for prima facie evidence in that case have been met. Prima facie (as Vol-in-Law, the lawyer, tells me) just means that "on the face of it, there's a case to answer", in the US that might mean there's enough to bring to the Grand Jury - it certainly does not mean that it has to be enough to convict.

And although Gary McKinnon was sitting in Britain when he allegedly committed his crime, the crime itself took place in the US. That's where the criminal damage ocurred. I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about the jurisdiction of internet crimes. For example, I have no idea where this site is hosted. And though it's not my intention to commit any crimes, in some places, some of the things I might say, might be against the law.

But if he did indeed do what he was accused of, hacking into Pentagon, US Navy, etc it seems to me that he would know exactly where the damage was being done, so maybe it's fair enough that he's tried in the US. I would say that the internet jurisdictional issue is actually a little trickier in Ahmad's case.

...and finally, re. inadequate computer security - just because my neighbour leaves his door unlocked doesn't give me the right to walk into his house, even if it's just to have a look around.

Health care myth busting

There's a great post over at Thoughts of An Average Woman on affordable health care and how many American families have been forced into bankruptcy or begging at churches when ill-health strikes them.

I haven't blogged about this yet. But it's something I feel very strongly about. As a permanent resident of the UK, I've been a user of the National Health Service (NHS) for quite some time. I could complain about a number of aspects of the NHS. I want to say first and foremost that it is not the best model for providing health care in Western Europe. France has better. Germany has better. The Scandinavian countries have better.

But I will say this about the NHS. At least it's there. I know that so long as I am a resident of the UK, I will receive health care. For free. No questions asked. I can change jobs, I can start my own business, I could have a precipitous decline in my employment and lifestyle, I could get laid off. Doesn't matter. I will get health care. It might not be in the most luxurious surroundings. It might not be the Cadillac treatment that I would get if I were well-insured and well-off in America. But I will get it and I will not go broke.

Universal access to health care here is the reason that despite an overall lower standard of living, the UK now has lower infant mortality and higher longevity than in the US. On many public health standards, the UK does better.

But I do want to bust some myths about 'socialized heath care'.

  • I can choose my own doctor. There are some I can't choose, but that's because their books are full. I can wait for a vacancy and switch to that practice at that point.
  • I can buy private health insurance - yes, it exists. And use it to go to private doctors and hospitals and get that Cadillac treatment if I want to. This does not affect in any way my access to the NHS.
  • I can go to any doctor in private practice at any time, if I have bought insurance or if I am willing to pay.

How 'bout them Vols?

You know, it's great to have a saying like "How 'bout them Vols?". It works for all occasions. It all depends on the intonation and inflection - a little like how in Chinese the sound "ma" can mean horse, rope, mother and something else I can't remember.

So - how 'bout them Vols?

The Vol Abroad is shedding bitter orange tears.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


After my previous post about cruelty to cats - I tracked down my cats to give them each a big hug. But they don't like big hugs, and ran away. So I approached them quietly and calmy and petted them. But each doesn't like it when I show affection to the other cat, so that prompted a fight. Oh well.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share some pics of my cats. They are either not too photogenic or I am not a good photographer or my camera sucks. (I prefer to blame them or my tool, since I am a poor workman.) Or you can check out this website with cute pictures of cats to fulfill your pet-sploitation fantasies.

Here is a photo of Fancy on my shed roof. You can see her glistening medallion. No, she's not a disco cat - that's her Battersea medallion.

Black cat on shed roof

Battersea Dogs' and Cats' Home supplies pets to the stars and turns many lesser mortals away pet-less. So I am quite pleased to have got a cat from Battersea, after three separate visits including a nerve-wracking interview about our cat-owning suitability. Fancy lost her collar one day, and I was really disappointed. How could I brag that my cat came from Battersea? But then a few days later she found her collar and brought it to the Vol-in-Law, dropping it at his feet. She's so clever.

Below is a picture of my other cat. She's not very bright and she is grouchy. She doesn't like to be picked up. But she is very fond of me and that's a characteristic I find endearing in man or beast.

white and black cat

Here is another picture of Fancy - it's all artistic like.

Black cat

Tags: Pets , cat, Animals,

The sad death of Fluffy the Cat

This week in the UK, Holly Thacker, mother of two was sentenced to six weeks for killing the family cat Fluffy by putting it in the washing machine and turning it to the highest temperature setting 90 degrees Celsius.

She was turned in by her ex-husband after she bragged to him, laughing, that they no longer had a cat.

The cat died horribly. You can read more about it in the Sun, but cat lovers be warned that this link shows a picture of Fluffy's body and describes her death in graphic detail. For a tamer, but still disturbing, version of events see the BBC story.

In England, a nation of animal lovers, this has been BIG news. BIG, BIG news. Many people have said that six weeks is not enough for Fluffy's killing. Tough new animal legislation has passed recently, putting a much greater duty of care on animal owners. And many Brits think that people should serve far more time for this degree of animal cruelty.

I would tend to agree that Ms Thacker should have a stiffer sentence, but not for the same reason. I love cats. I have two. I can't imagine what kind of person would do that to any vertebrate (lobsters a whole 'nother story). I feel bad if I accidentally knock one of my cats when they get underfoot. But I think six weeks is a fair sentence for what she did. Fluffy was, after all, only a cat.

But she should have more time in the clink for what she did to her kids. Ms Thacker has two children, 5 and 15, and she boiled Fluffy alive in front of them.

Bothered by this post? See my next one, which is non-stop cute and precious kitty.


Friday, October 21, 2005


My previous post has reminded me of how I lost a friend to liver failure earlier this year. Not that I needed a lot of reminding. Terry was someone I went to high school with, but someone I'd lost touch with over the years. I had heard that he was ill and I emailed him, but I'm not sure he ever got the message.

My brother and I were in Budapest when I got an email telling me that Terry had died. I told my brother and he said "Terry thought a lot of you. Every time I saw him he asked about you." For the whole time that we were in Hungary, I kept thinking maybe my mom got it wrong. Maybe it was a different Terry who died.

It's hard to explain what was so cool about Terry. He was one of those guys that excel at sports played in the back of a bar, namely pool and cards. I don't know how he was at darts but it wouldn't surprise me if he was good at that.

One of my favorite memories is the time I beat Terry at pool. It was in the rec room of some University of New Orleans dormitory (we were down there for the national high scholl quiz bowl tournament, and we didn't do well). I am generally a very bad pool player and he was great, but somehow I had a great moment and beat him. He was mad and blamed an uneven pool table and warped cues, but I didn't care. I knew it was a fluke, but I didn't care. I beat Terry.

I have lots of other memories of Terry, warm evenings playing cards, school trips. But perhaps the most vivid memory is the one where I tried to kill him.

It was during the Law-Co-Hi Rook tournament. (Rook is a partnership bidding card game for 4, less complicated than Bridge, more complicated than Spades and how I happily passed many hours of my teenage life). Terry, an excellent card player, was partnered with St Caffeine, also excellent at cards and with a more stable temperament and demeanor which kept his hand well concealed. I was partnered with another quiz bowl friend, John.

John was a good player, solid and dependable, he understands the distribution. But he didn't take the risks. (He's a doctor now in Knoxville, the kind of guy you'd want for a doctor). Anyway, maybe this sounds conceited, but the only competition I was worried about in that tournament was St Caffeine and Terry.

Well, we met in the tournament before the finals as it happens. As I remember, John and I weren't winning, I could see how the game was going, but we were still a threat. Terry began taunting me, trying to get me to throw my game. It worked.

I snapped. I lunged across the great octagonal library table - and it was only its great width that kept me from reaching him and wrapping my hands around his throat in a single great movement. He just laughed as the teachers rushed over to break up the "fight".

I was ejected from the tournament for "bad sportsmanship" - and of course that meant my partner had to go, too. I explained that to John that we were losing anyway, but he didn't buy it (I don't blame him!)

Anyway, I realise that those stories are maybe a little unflattering on Terry (and maybe on me, too), but that was ok - that was what was cool about him. He was funny and clever and he knew how to punch your buttons, but in the end you knew that was just how he played the game. And it was fun. And I feel sick that I lost touch with him.

He died young, barely in his 30s, and left a wife and two kids behind.

This is an ex-parrot

I've just heard on the BBC that the first case of bird flu has been found in Britian (link to BBC story here). A parrot, in quarantine, has died - and the test came back positive.

Of course, it had to be parrot - lovers of Monty Python may remember the dead parrot sketch - here is a snippet:

Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examimimg that parrot, and I discovered that the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been nailed there.
Shopkeeper: Well of course it was nailed there. Otherwise it would muscle up to those bars and VOOM!.
Praline: Look matey (picks up parrot) this parrot wouldn't voom if I put four thousand volts through it. It's bleeding demised.
Shopkeeper: It's not, it's pining.
Praline: It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.


Bad news

I got an email from an expat friend of mine (the one from Ohio who didn't know what SunDrop was). She's in the States visiting her friends and family and her father has taken seriously ill. He's been unwell for some time and awaiting a liver transplant, which is now critical.

I'm awfully sorry that this has happened, but happy (is that the right word?) that she was with her family when her dad became so ill that he had to be put in Intensive Care. Perhaps the hardest thing about being an expat is being so far away when serious illness or death strike your family. You feel so horribly helpless and it's often not clear if you should go (will you be in the way, will your arrival signal a loved one's departure?).

I've seen many expats suffer with the dilemma. It's particularly poignant for the Aussies and Kiwis who are days aways from their families and may not even be able to get a seat. I've watched an Australian colleague struggle with the airlines and pay through the nose in an attempt to see her mother one last time.

At least I can be reasonably assured of being able to get back to Tennessee within the day. But it doesn't make the decision about whether to go or not easier, I've had to deal with this twice once with my mom (she's ok) and with my grandfather (not a happy ending).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Just more proof that they can't govern

A great article in the Financial Times, Cheney Cabal Hijacked US Foreign Policy.

Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the US weaker and more isolated in the world, the top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed on Wednesday.

In a scathing attack on the record of President George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January, said: “What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.

Colonel Wilkerson goes on to say something I've always, always known:

The detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was “a concrete example” of the decision-making problem, with the president and other top officials in effect giving the green light to soldiers to abuse detainees. “You don't have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you've condoned it.”

You just don't get those kind of behaviours unless leaders have allowed it, even if it's just with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge. And even if they didn't condone it expressly, they created the environment where that kind of thing can flourish.

I know this may seem like a series of non-sequiturs, but all this crony appointing and the serious failures of FEMA (we can't blame state and local failures on Bush, much as I'd like to) post-Katrina, the quagmirish mismanagement of the occupation of Iraq (even if you thought it was the right thing to do), the deficit, the handing-out of contracts to greedy, non-delivering contractors - all of this, every bit of this is down to failures of governance. This governance is the responsibility of our elected leaders and they have failed.*

The Audit Commission, the public sector watchdog in England, published a report two years ago called Corporate Governance: Improvement and Trust in Local Public Services (link to a large pdf file) that looked at public sector failures in England. It identified several factors leading to major service failures in the public sector (and I would argue in the private sector, too). These were:
  1. Leaders creating a culture of self-delusion and deliberate misreprentation of information
  2. Poor decisons based on inadequate information and a failure to challenge, often because a climate was a created where people were afraid to challenge authority.
  3. Lack of clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities within and between organisations
  4. Organisations failed to address known problems in working relationships; and
  5. Insular organisational culture with poor customer focus or community engagement

Any one of these factors were enough to cause governance failures, and I see evidence of at least 1 and 2 in the FT article alone. Outrageous.

Props to: Brittney at Nashville is Talking for linking it and ChristianLibrul for spotting it

*it's our responsibility to watch them, and maybe we've failed there, too.

Tags: Politics Abu Ghraib

It's bulb time

It's that time of year... the time to buy and plant bulbs. I have to admit I haven't really been in the mood, because the weather has been so warm and though it's nearly the end of October, my impatiens are still looking pretty good.

To put bulbs in, I'd have to pull the impatiens out. I also overplant my bulbs with wallflowers, a very popular biennial in the UK. Wallflowers are often used for big mass bedding schemes in municipal and commercial landscapes, but I find they look really lovely mixed in to my regular herbaceous borders. So many times we overlook annuals and biennials just because they are used in 'professional' mass settings. Marigolds, vinca, wallflowers, ageratum... all those old standbys look completely different and are reliable (and inexpensive) performers in a mixed border setting. Here we can buy wallflowers in roughly 10-plant bare root bunches for about £1 a bunch ($1.75 ish). They come in some wonderful colors, reds and oranges and hot yellows. You just stick them in the ground and they bloom in late May/ early June. When they finish blooming, I just rip them up and stick them in the compost heap and by then early annuals and herbaceous perennials will have come on enough to fill in the gaps - or I can fill in with more tender perennials.

Back to bulbs:

I bought quite a few tulips and crocus (crocii ?) when I was in Amsterdam a few years ago. That was a wonderful experience, there are blocks of market stalls along the canals that sell nothing but bulbs (along with a modest selection of souvenir wooden shoes). I was like a kid in a candy store. But tulips have a tendency to 'fade out' over time. They aren't the longest lived bulb, particularly with our wet winters. My tulips haven't fared too badly, as my soil is relatively free draining, but it's definitely time to replenish the supply. I want to concentrate on late blooming tulips, as this is the season where I have the most gaps. I really haven't decided yet which colors or kinds.

Although I have quite a few daffodils already and even though my garden is really small, I think you can always squeeze in a few more. I love spring bulbs, to me they signify the renewal of life. Again, I'm particularly looking for later season daffodils and those with a UT orange and white theme. Two varieties that look likely are Semper Avanti (pictured left - image from Bloms Bulbs where I'll probably order) and Geranium.

I saw some unbelievably lovely varieties of orange and white daffs at one of the Spring shows put on by the Royal Horticultural Society. But many were ridiculously expensive by my standards (I think £5 per bulb is pretty dear, but some were a lot more than that) and I imagine that they need a little bit more pampering than I care to give.

David wins Tory leadership race

Well, it's Davids all around. Both David Davis and David Cameron have gone through to the final selection by Tory membership.

Yesterday, it was rumoured that David Davis might drop out if David Cameron came through to the final two. But there's no sign of that. Both will have to troop around the country now convincing the general membership that he's the man to run the Conservative party.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Those crazy cats at the ASI

From today's posts at the Adam Smith Institute:

They're not partisan, no siree...

While The Adam Smith Institute does not align itself with any political party (Conservative, Labour, or whatever), an interesting blog to note this week is conservativehome.

Though I do think they're intellectually rigorous enough to criticise where they see it's due:

But facts are fact... and the race is on for the Tory leadership.

The race for the Tory leadership is in full swing, and, since this is a Conservative story, conservativehome does a nice job of rounding up the news on the subject. They even tally up a"who is backing who" count (though we'd have preferred a 'whom').

Ya just have to get in the grammar snipe, dontcha?


The Vol Abroad weighs in on the Miers nomination

Well, initially even I was speechless, but I've cogitated and I've finally decided my take on the whole Harriet Miers nomination...

...more Bushco crony-baloney. As a judicial nominee, she's a phony. Stick a feather in her cap and call her macaroni.

You can analyse and criticize, but she's just not qualified. It's a question of sheer luck whether she'll be a disaster or not. My guess would be yes. Look for opinions in favor of corporatist, big money government - and quite possibly against reproductive freedoms.

Check out Tennessee Guerilla Women for feminist focused commentary on the Supreme Court Nominations, for example here, here and especially here.

Tags: Politics, Supreme Court, Reproductive Rights, , Politics, SCOTUS, Law

Leaving London

It seems like I hardly ever leave London. I get a little antsy if I have to cross the M25 (the giant ring road that encircles greater London). I've become a London snob. I'm happy enough to use a London airport to exit the whole country, but I'm a bit phobic about travelling to the "provinces".

Today I had to do so, and I'm barelling across the Kent countryside (very pretty) on a train as I write. Thankfully I'm on my way back to London.

Of course, when I do travel to the provinces the folks seem happy enough to leave London to me (and the 7 million other Londoners). Conversations go a little like this:

"Oh do you live in London? I quite like visiting London, but I couldn't live there, it's just so ---" (take your pick from crowded, busy, noisy, dirty or ethnic)

I usually say I like living in London and yes it's hard but it's great, too. I don't say "I don't think I could live in your squalid little two-shop town whose entire daytime population appears to be made up of juvenile delinquents and middle-aged women wearing oddly colored fleece tops."

I guess it's a matter of perspective. Today someone asked me where I lived in London and when I said Tooting, he said "oh, you live right in London"

It's true that my borough is technically classified as "inner London", but for heaven's sake Tooting is Zone 3. We're practically suburban.

Anyway, it's only one more stop til London town and I'm starting to get that frisson of excitement. Ahh London, welcome me back to your loving arms.... ya dirty old whore.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Best reads?

Time Magazine has just issued a list of the best 100 novels written in the English language from 1923 to present.

Some interesting picks. And I always feel a little under-read when I see lists like these. I've read a fair few but not even near half of this set.

There are actually a few that I've tried to read, but just found impenetrable. For example, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Posession by AS Byatt. As for Naked Lunch by William Boroughs, I couldn't even hack the film and walked out halfway through (after falling asleep a quarter of the way through). I wanted to walk out during the Lord of the Rings film just about the point where I put the book down (after the Hobbit party, yep that early on), but we'd paid London prices for the tickets.

Someone at work recently put a new spin on things for me regarding book lists - she said her partner had estimated how many books he had left to read (about 500) and that made him far more selective in his choices.

I reckon I've got about 630 spots left for quality books. So I won't be going back to pick up Mrs Dalloway or Lord of the Rings, no matter what Time magazine says. But there are a couple of must reads for me on that list, ones I'm ashamed I haven't actually read yet - like The Sound and the Fury and A Death in the Family.

See the full list.
Hat tip: Deliverance

Where's my civil liberties?

Kathy F at What Do I Know has a great little list of how the Labour Government is slowly (or maybe not so slowly) eroding our liberties and freedoms post 7/7.

She says:

When the police state arrests your neighbor, it's not a far walk to your house.

Too right.

I'd add the pushing of 'stirring up hatred' legislation, too. Which on the Home Office site they seem to have declared as law despite the fact it hasn't passed Parliament... yet.


One down, two to go

Well, well, well, the lobby of Conservative MPs have eliminated Kenneth Clarke from the running for Tory leadership. (For those unfamiliar with the process, the Conservative MPs eliminate first one, then another candidate before returning two possible choices to be voted on by the Conservative party membership at large).

Ken had sort of threatened them all...essentially saying "If you don't vote for me, the folks out in Constituencies will be angry."

Of course the folks out in the consitituencies voted for the uber-boring, ineffectual Ian Duncan Smith over Clarke in a previous leadership contest - so maybe Ken's blowing smoke out of his own cigar.

Still, even though Kenneth Clarke is a bit of Europhile and wanted to take the UK into the Euro Currency (treason to most Tories), you gotta have a bit of soft spot for a bloke who an unashamed smoker and tippler.

Had we run an office book, we'd have all picked Liam Fox (the most Conservative of the bunch) as the candidate to be eliminated today. But we didn't, and he wasn't.

Maybe we're reading this all wrong and the Tory party wants to go more 'hard line'.

Read all about it at The Times.


Volunteer warning to Jack Straw

Well, there might have been any number of things I could have written British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about over the years, but what prompted me? The Tennessee-Alabama game.

Yes, Jack Straw is going to be touring around Alabama this weekend with Dr Condaleeza Rice. No doubt the eeevil Dr Rice will be trying to put bad ideas in head (e.g. invade Iran), but she will probably also try to convince him of something worse – supporting the Alabama team. She may well try to get him to wear an Alabama sweatshirt (or at least a crimson tie), and she’ll probably encourage him to say evil things - R*ll T!d@ and such like.

I wrote to Jack Straw today (sadly he’s not my own MP) with a real letter (it's been so long) to warn him of these nefarious plans and advise him to wear orange. I just hope it reaches him in time.

Hat Tip: St Caffeine with this link and The High Country Conservative
*Also check out the VOLuminous poll in advance of the big game, which wouldn't be a big game if they hadn't got better and we weren't just a teeny bit lame this year.

Granddad blogging: On the move

Last week in Granddad blogging, they came under fire, this week my grandfather describes how he gets some new boots, some target practice (sort of) and a big meal.

But this goes on for a while, they finally bring us back to our rest area and let us rest a while and get us some new clothes and stuff. And up to that time I had nothing but leather shoes, and your feet got wet and cold just all the time and there weren’t enough mountain packs, which were rubber on the bottom and leather on top to go around. So another old boy and I went round where the medics were and as the injured and killed came in to where the medics were they threw the boots out the window and we went by and got to looking at those boots and picked us out a pair of boots that would fit us and we put ‘em on and wore em from then on.

And those things would sweat your feet when you got hot, so you learned that, they all had a pair of felt pads in the bottom and you wore white socks like athletic socks and you learned that you had to change those socks and pads or your feet would really get in a bad shape – you’d have trench foot. So, I carried a pair of socks tucked down in my chest and a pair of pads stuck down in my back. And body heat would dry those out in about 24 hours, so every night about midnight I’d take those dry socks and pads out and put ‘em in my boots and put the wet ones back down under my clothes so I could dry them out.

Well, we went along down through there runnin, running, running, running, trying to catch up with the Germans and we were getting close to Strausberg and I remember one day we were way up on a hillside and we were in those World War One trenches and we were laying there in those trenches. I don’t know what we were gonna do, but we were there.

[How big were the trenches.]

They must have been ten foot deep and they were filled in a lot now. I remember where I was there was a cedar tree, probably twenty foot high growing right up and I was laying right under that cedar tree and had my rifle laying on top of the trench under that cedar tree waiting to do something. I don’t know what we were doing. We were just there.

We’d joined up with another company of people there was a whole lot of us there and I looked up from where I was and there was two Germans coming up a pretty steep hill. And they were reminding me of turkeys the way they were sticking their heads out looking this way and that way and looking the other way. One of em was right in my rifle sights and I thought “Well, I don’t care anything about shooting him. There are just two of ‘em”

And I didn’t, but directly somebody else saw and you never heard as much shooting going on in your life. And they hit one of the scouts for the Germans and knocked him up against a tree and the other one took off down that hill and I bet they shot ten thousand rounds of ammunition at him and never did touch him. That other one was laying over there under the tree and this old boy got up and walked over there – he was crying and moaning and carrying on. He walked over there and just took his gun and shot him.

We went through a place and I didn’t know what in the world it was, but it had posts all down one side and wire all down those posts and I couldn’t figure out what in the world it was for. But it was either where they had had or were building a place for a concentration camp. I’d never heard of a concentration camp and there weren’t any buildings there, just the wires and the posts. We just went on through that thing, still not paying any attention.

And we finally get somewhere that night and go in a German warehouse. We were gonna spend the night there. They warned us not to take our boots off, because some of em had trench foot and if you ever took your boots off your feet would swell up so that you couldn’t get your boots back on. And then we ran out of rations, we didn’t have anything to eat and we looked around in there and we found great big rolls of Swiss cheese – great big ones, I guess they must have weighed two or three hundred pounds a piece. And case after case of Portugese sardines put up in mustard. And we were all pretty hungry. And I ate so much Portugese sardines and Swiss cheese that it was years before I could even think about eating any more because it made me so sick.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Don't y'all have some assets to seize?

I love the old web stat checker. I'm a big fan of graphs and stuff, but what I like best are the keywords people use to get to my site.

For example, today someone in Holland landed on my blog looking for "DVLA replacement license expat abroad". I don't think they'll find much encouragement from that post.

But the best... the very best search was someone from the US Treasury, in its Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture (did anybody know there was such an office?) ended up at the home of The Vol Abroad by using this search term:

ugly UT vol fan photos

No way! I'm really hurt. This administration is even suckier than I thought if that's the Federal outlook. We're all beautiful. Orange is so flattering.

Here's what you get on Google images with that search string. Ha! Perhaps he/she should have checked out Preston's post from last Monday at Six Meat Buffet, Kenny seems a little rough, but all the fans are good lookin'.


In today's Times (which I found on the train) there's an article about people who have extra sensitive taste buds - the Supertasters, aka picky eaters.

Apparently, Supertasters taste things more vibrantly so more things taste yucky, especially more bitter foods like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc). There's even a scientific test for Supertasterness (read the Times article to find out more)

I myself can't stand melon. Not melon of any kind, not honeydew, nor canteloupe or watermelon. I hate the very smell of it.

I can't even begin to choke it down out of politeness. I wish I did like it, cause I can't even eat food that has touched melon. I can't even pick it out of a fruit salad, cause the whole thing becomes melony.

I never lie about it, saying I'm allergic or anything. I just say "No thank you I just don't like it."

Then come the questions and that's what I hate even more.

Questions like: "How can you not like melon?" "Won't you try this one, it's a good melon?" Or worse "What kind of Southerner doesn't like watermelon?"

The answer is "This one, and if you don't get that stinky melon out of my face, you're gonna find it going in the way it should go out".

Of course, I'm not alone in having a strong dislike of certain foods.

In a sidebar to the Times article there's a list of Top 10 food hates from a BBC Good Food magazine (interestingly it's a 20 item list.)

1 Tripe (will eat it if it's hidden in something else)
2 Snails (they're pretty good)
3 oysters (can't be doing with them raw, otherwise OK)
4 Black pudding (it tastes a bit like dirt, but it's not that bad)
5 Squid (love squid!)
6 Crab sticks (I like these)
7 Sago (what is this?) Update: apparently another icky custardy thing - see junket below
8 Junket (again, never heard of it beyond a freebie trip for Senators)
Update: I've looked up junket, and it's a rennet custard dish, check out the revolting "serving suggestions" on the website. I'm afraid to look up rennet, but I'm guessing it's made out of hooves or something.
9 Kidney (nope, don't eat that)
10 Tapioca (boring and slimy)
11 Haggis (I know the rep, but it's yummy)
12 Mussels (I've been a bit suspicious of these since the Vol-in-Law's food poisoning incident in Amsterdam)
13 Tofu (could take it or leave it)
14 Spam (not a big fan, would rather eat tofu)
15 Aspic (I've seen it in pictures, never looked appetising)
16 Oxtail (doesn't sound good, maybe it's fine)
17 Rabbit (done properly, v good)
18 Semolina (less slimy, but just as boring as tapioca)
19 Peanut butter (who hates that? Course who hates melon?)
20 Anchovies (they're ok, but I don't ever order them)

Many of these food items look like they could usefully be served up as part of the 70s Weight Watcher recipe cards (if you haven't checked this out, you really must)

Blow, pain and the Conservative leadership contest

If you’re interested in the complexities of the UK Conservative party leadership contest, it’s been quite a weekend. A weekend fuelled by drugs.

David Cameron, one of the Tory leadership contenders, (the youngish good-looking one) has decided that he won’t tell anyone if he’s ever done any drugs. But he has told the press that he had a “normal University life.” We can only guess what that means – and I think Mr Cameron would like us to spend time guessing about him. I reckon it means he smoked a little pot (commonly called cannabis here). If one wants to speculate even more wildly, perhaps he did some other ‘recreational’ drugs. (Mushrooms, Ecstasy, Acid were all pretty popular at the University of Tennessee. I don’t know what they did at Oxford University, perhaps the Vol-in-Law could fill us in.)

The other David running for the Tory top spot, David Davis has said that anyone who has done hard drugs “recently” shouldn’t be considered for a leadership position. I guess I would agree. Anyone who’s in their 40s or over and doesn’t have the sense to stay off cocaine or heroin shouldn’t be party leader or prime minister. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that David Cameron has done blow recently, though. But David Davis has kept up the pressure (see Times Online story) on Mr Cameron. And now there’s a new twist, and it should be beneath me to repeat it, but a) it’s not and b) one of the key actors in the drama has the ‘professional name’ of Mistress Pain which is just so darn colorful.

There’s been much commentary about whether Mr Cameron should or shouldn’t tell all, and if anyone has the right to ask him these questions in the first place. I’m in the camp that thinks what he did at University isn’t terribly relevant (but I would). It’s certainly less relevant than his lack of parliamentary experience (he's served very few years as an MP, but is currently the Shadow Minister for Education).

Tomorrow Conservative MPs start the process of whittling down a leadership candidate list (David Davis, David Cameron, Ken Clarke and Liam Fox) from four to two before it’s put to the Conservative Membership vote. So we’ll see if the drugs debate and/or Mistress Pain affect Mr Cameron’s chances.


Charlie Daniels and more pig nonsense

For goodness sakes, let’s stop being so uptight. Via The Monroe Doctrine – I see that someone has complained about a high school band playing the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” because it might violate the separation between church and state. Read more at the Washington Post.

I happen to like that song, somewhat, and my mind is just boggling at a high school band interpretation of the piece. (Do they do a little skit? Do the majorettes use their batons and saw away at imaginary fiddles? What on earth would it sound like?) And I’m all for the separation of church and state, but I don’t see how playing the Charlie Daniel’s Band classic would encourage anything more than chewing on a straw.

And today one of my colleagues suggested that I remove the little squeezy pink pig that sits atop my PC during the period of Ramadan. Lots of people have these squeezy pigs on their PCs, they were handed out by a company advertising (see now I’ve helped them out). She was inspired to put her own little piggy in her desk drawer during by the recent dictat by Dudley Council to remove all the porcine paraphernalia from their desks (e.g. Piglet tissue boxes and calendars).

Of course, my devout Muslim colleague, who sits right across from me, thinks the Dudley ban is insane. "That's over the top," she said. And she doesn’t think I need to remove my pig. So I won’t.

I'd be tempted to keep the pig regardless in solidarity with the Piglet fans of Dudley. But the truth is, although I’m not a big fan of Islam (or religion generally), I actually like my colleague personally and I have to work with her and I wouldn’t want to offend her. And if I really were offending her, then I would remove the pig. But I’m not about to presume that I’m causing offense to my colleague nor am I going to change anything about the way I do because it violates the tenets of a religion I don’t even value.