Friday, September 30, 2005

My husband the hero

So after a busy evening of poppin' 'los, I return home looking forward to a lovely meal lovingly ordered by my husband.

But what I find is a pile of junk by the front door. This is not so unusual, but this time it's not my stuff. Someone has dumped a briefcase, denim jacket and half finished bottle of diet coke behind our front hedge.

Well, I drag it in and the mystery deepens. We can see who the stuff belongs to because we find his Bible (with an inscription from his grandmother wishing him many happy years in the ministry) and his British Union of Baptists notebook with a journal of weekly reflections on his ministry (boring). We find a prescription , some random bits and bobs, old envelopes with phone numbers, but no contact details for him.

Well the Vol-in-Law phones every single phone number he can find. Nothing, no luck. He phones the cops, they don't care (but we do get a reference number). The ViL gives it one more shot digging through the stuff.

He finds an email address. He emails the guy and within 15 minutes we get a call.

Apparently the preacher ha'd received an urgent call that a parishioner was in the ICU and he parked in our road which is within walking distance of the local hospital. The parishioner died and when he came out he found his car window smashed and his briefcase gone.

The preacher's come to collect his stuff now, he's quite a posh chap and he was incredibly grateful.

The Vol Abroad is forced to complain

Well, there I was at the gym rather late for a Friday night and the clientele was rather sparse. I suppose one of the trainers decided that because there were few people around he could be a little more experimental with the musical accompaniment to our sweat and toil.

One of the things I kinda like about the gym is that it exposes me to music which is not on the routine playlist of the Vol household. It's broadening.

But today it was just plain too much. Instead of the usual cheesy crap promoting the quick succession of sexual partners it was a bit more hard core. I had an uneasy feeling, but the first line that really caught my attention was "I'm gonna pop those Ns just like balloons" and it just got worse from there. The chanteur then went on to explain how he made no distinction by gender, he'd pop "hos," too.

I'm in the middle of my 20 minutes of cross-trainer, and I don't really want to break my stride. I hope that this is merely an aberration. But no, the next song is really more of a how-to, how to keep your bitch in line. (It involves slapping aparently). Right, I've had enough. I'm really not much of a complainer, but c'mon.

So I walk over to the young man in question and say "Are you in control of the music?". He says he is. So I say "Listen 'Lo,"

(For uninformed readers 'Lo is new street slang for gigolo, a young man of questionable virtue)

I say "Listen 'Lo, I don't care for the kind of music which glorifies internecine violence among people of color. Nor do I approve of lyrics which reinforce a misogynist patriarchy and encourage physical assaults on women"

This crazy 'lo gets a little smart with me, so then I grab him by the throat push him against the wall and emphasise my point with a well placed knee lift. He comes back into line then, but my blood is up. (Really, I plead provocation) I give him a fat lip and make him cry. I don't think we'll be hearing that particular track again.

OK, that last bit didn't happen. He did change the music, but he was a little smart with me. I may just have to resort to a strongly worded letter.



Boo! Halloween help - please

I need help. I'm really struggling for a costume idea for this year's Halloween festivities. I hate renting costumes and generally prefer to pull my costume together from random bits of clothing I have plus, stuff from second-hand shops, and I can sew a little bit.

... and for anyone who plans to be in London this year on the 29th of October - here are details for the American expat community's best Halloween party.

The Texas Exes are hosting a Halloweeen Party at a bar called Heads and Tails. You can see pics from last year's Halloween party, so you know what kind of standards I'm trying to achieve.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Photo horrors

Yesterday the front page story in the Metro - the free paper you can pick up at Underground stations - was about the scandal of US soldiers uploading their gory, Iraqi and Afghani dead pictures to the Internet. Some soldiers were uploading pictures in order to get free access to porn sections of certain websites - readers' wives type things, as far as I can tell.

I'll tell you, gentle readers, this is not the kind of story that a proud American wants to read on her way in to work. Fortunately, since I'm always so late getting to work, there weren't any spare Metros (they're gone before 8:15 or so from my station), so I picked it up on the way home.

Well, the Metro wasn't kind enough to provide a link to these websites. I guess they thought that would be in bad taste, and I guess it would be.

However, I did find a link to one of these sites that hosts pictures of dead Iraqis and Afghanis and also hosts pictures of nekkid women -called Now that's f*kd up through a blog called Axis of Evel Knievel, (see, I'm not linking directly to the porn/gore site) and let me tell you, it is f*kd up.

But before I'd seen these pictures, I was wondering to myself, as I was watching The World at War (that fantastic 70s WWII documentary) last night about the Battle of the Bulge and seeing images of (mostly) dead Germans: how much worse could the stuff on the Net be? Indeed, how much worse could it be than another WWII documentary we watched one time called Hell in the Pacific, that had me and the Vol-in-Law and VolBro slack jawed in horror.

And how much worse could it be than the snapshots of dead, burnt Iraqis from the first Gulf War, that were handed to me by the man who took them (a captain in the US Army)? (Please note, this guy is a great guy, and I believe what he told me. I think he did what he had to do and I don't think he gloried in it. I also believe that the photos were about how he was recording and coming to terms with his own experience, not to gloat over Iraqi dead.)

Well, some of these pictures are worse. But I got to tell you, not much worse, generally. (There is, however, one image that I guarantee is not going away for a while - damn, I can see it now, and I don't even have to close my eyes to bring that image up.)

But these are, as far as I can tell, real pictures. These are the pictures that probably should be shown on our television screens. War is hell and we should see it for what it is.

But not on a porn site. And you know, I'm not going to excuse anyone, American soldier or not, who posts pictures and then is low class enough to make sarky comments about the dead, e.g. "Bad day for this dude," and worse. I understand gallows humor. This is hard stuff to deal with, even for hard men and women. Sometimes people make inappropriate comments to relieve tension, but these are the kind of things that should probably be left in the realm of the spoken word. Have some class.

When I was looking at some of these pictures, (the one thread of photos I happened to look at seemed to be mostly bombing victims, I presume the victims of insurgents) I kept thinking not "This shouldn't be posted on the Internet" or "Aren't our soldiers bad?" but:

"This is what it looked like Underground on 7/7, these are the horrors that were hidden away from us. I've ridden through areas that had dead Londoners who looked just like this, and I didn't even know it."

I forgot to mention that I was also a little annoyed at Metro's coverage. It seemed to be basically a gloating "look how sicko these Americans are", though I admit swapping gore for porn is pretty sick. (See some insightful commentary from Tiny Cat Pants). Metro also sought comments from Iqbal Sacranie, of the Muslim Council of Britain and George Galloway, who are generally known for their balanced, considered opinion of America and Americans.

The Vol Abroad issues fashion edicts

Someone I know has just bought some new shoes. Except they weren't really new shoes, they were exact replacements of her current shoes, which are white and which she was wearing yesterday.

This certain someone needs to be shown a calendar, with Labor Day circled in red and the words written in: "This is your last day to wear white shoes"

Somehow in Britain, the rule about white shoes being worn only between Memorial Day and Labor Day hasn't caught on. This may be because they don't have Memorial Day and Labor Day here, but there are equivalent holidays - the May Bank Holiday and the August Bank Holiday (so named Bank Holiday because the banks were/are closed). The May Bank Holiday is the exact same weekend as Memorial Day and the August one is the weekend before Labor Day Weekend. And because we're in a colder clime, the August Bank Holiday seems like a good cut-off point for white shoe wearing.

Where is Serial Mom when we need her?

And another thing - me and the Texan were talking about this Sunday and then I had the same conversation about this with another colleague this week - what's up with the underwear showing thing? Here in London anyway, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to wear any old color brassiere underneath any old shirt.

Wearing a blue crochet top that shows skin? Perfectly acceptable to wear your hootchie-mama red bra underneath it. Wearing a translucent white blouse, go on, wear your hot purple bra so we all know you have a hot purple bra.

Underwear visible above the waist line? Hey, that's ok, too.

When I was growing up, we worried about our slip being revealed beneath the hem of our Sunday best. Now, nobody seems to wear slips anymore, even beneath the lightest, unlined skirts. And while that may not (or may) reveal the color of your underwear, we can see exactly what kind of underwear you are wearing. Hey, but that's ok, how else would we know that thong underwear is de rigeur?

No. No. No. It's not OK. No white shoes after Labor Day, no visible colored bras, and no I do not want to see your ass cheeks through your clothes cunningly framed by your flossy underpants.

PS. I'd like to point out that if my underwear is ever visible, it's because I'm a careless dresser, not because I'm making a fashion statement.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Vol-in-Law writes

Following from the links in the Vol's post below, I came to:

Leighton Levy, a black man, writes about the looting in New Orleans:

"No white looters?
And it has nothing to do with poverty. Where are the white people in all this? I am sure there are poor white people living in New Orleans, Biloxi and the other towns affected by what has been going on. Is it that the media are not showing pictures of them looting and robbing? Or is it that they are too busy trying to stay alive, waiting to be rescued, and hiding from the blacks."

Actually Fox News did repeatedly - and I mean repeatedly - show a clip of a big police officer with a shotgun, who appeared to be black (AFAIK - IME it's hard to be sure of American racial classifications if you're not from the USA), who was chasing off looters who appeared to me to be white, though I guess one might have been Hispanic in US terms. In fact, Fox looped this clip so frequently it became a kind of signature to "America's Challenge". There was a clip of two black women police officers looting a convenience store, but I don't think that was even on Fox at all - might have been CNN, and I only saw it once.
Personally I was far more horrified by the general American reaction to the scenes of looting, than to the looting itself, which seemed good-natured and mostly for survival necessities. The extreme reaction in the US helped create a moral panic that delayed relief efforts for fear of the 'armed thugs', and undoubtedly caused more deaths, mostly of elderly and frail people dying in front of TV cameras for lack of basic needs like water. That was what horrified me (only watching Fox, remember!) and the rest of the world.

Leighton Levy also said the 'racist' thing that got the blog that quoted it condemned:

"Desperation? Yeah, right. I am beginning to believe that black people, no matter where in the world they are, are cursed with a genetic predisposition to steal, murder, and create mayhem."

Now, the fact is, we pretty much all have a "genetic predisposition to steal, murder, and create mayhem", to greater or lesser extent, given the right circumstances. That's basic genetics. From what evidence there is, whites have a significantly greater genetic predisposition to steal, murder, and create mayhem than do east-Asians like the Chinese and Japanese. That doesn't mean a white country can't be relatively civilised, peaceful and pleasant, though maybe we have to work at it harder than the Japanese. OTOH a population being more genetically (or just culturally) predisposed to create peaceful, orderly conformist societies can lead to communist China or Imperial Japan - or Nazi Germany. People vary - even groups vary, on average - but most traits of the individual or group can be negative or beneficial, depending on circumstance. Often the same societes that achieve the greatest heights can sink to the lowest depths.

Does Stacey Campfield care about black people?

OK, there's been a bit of a hoo-ha about Stacey Campfield, the white Knoxville Republican representative to the TN State Legislature, wanting to join the Black Legislative Caucus. Apparently, he's been refused.

This matter is no longer a little local difficulty, but has made it into the Washington Post. (HT to TN Guerilla Women)

Shame, shame. What does he think he's on about? Why does he want to join the Black Legislative Caucus? I think I probably agree with Rep. Shaw who as reported in the WAPO, said:

Caucus chairman Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Democrat, dismissed Campfield's request and called him a "strange guy" who was simply interested in stirring up trouble.

But I also have some mixed feelings about this whole issue.

Is he racist?

"He is using this as a joke. This is an insult coming from him," said caucus member Rep. Larry Miller, also a Democrat. "Why he chose to focus on the Black Caucus, I have no idea other than he is crazy and a racist." (also from WAPO)

I don't know if he's a racist, but Rep. Campfield has clearly got some kind of weirdo-bee in his bonnet. Surely he can see that this isn't going to get him anywhere with the general population. And if he thinks it's gonna get him somewhere with his political base, then I think he's either way off or I am seriously misunderestimating the intelligence of his base.

His use of a Martin Luther King, Jr speech on his blog I too dream, is in poor taste. And he's been criticised for linking to a blog called Staghounds, that's been called racist for posting this.

Stacey Campfield's latest post Are you a hate site? is a kind of whining nanny-nanny boo boo at all us bloggers who are linked to him directly (now me, too!) or through a couple of degrees of separation e.g. Bill Hobbs to him to Staghounds or to him via the Rocky Top Brigade. Because of our linkages, he's suggesting maybe we all run 'hate sites', too. Seems he thinks the only reason he's being called a racist is because of linking to that site (newsflash for you Stacey, that ain't the only reason - how 'bout the whole stirring up trouble with the Black Legislative Caucus thing?)

Others say, we shouldn't be too hard on the ol' Camper about his blogroll. It's kinda like condemning me because I've read hate speech. Paul Chenoweth has a good post on why we shouldn't be judging others in a kind of guilt by conversation (HT to Bob Krumm who has some interesting points of his own on that plus a post on let's give the guy a hand for blogging at all.)

But the fact is, I do expect my legislators to be a little more sensitive about these kind of things.

The original issue
But with all this, and despite the fact that Rep. Campfield is a bit of a buffoon, he does raise an interesting point. Why do we have Legislative Caucuses that have membership based on race or skin color? Most reasonable people certainly wouldn't approve of a whites only legislative caucus. The whole idea makes me a little uncomfortable.

As an American living in a foreign country, I've been subject to a certain amount of differential treatment based on my ethnicity. It ranged from favorable prejudice (you Americans are more can-do!), to joshing (some good natured, some not), to outright hostility, to what I perceived as discrimination in the job market. The point is, I'm often treated differently, based purely on my accent and my perceived ethnicity.

One of my previous employers sponsored a Black and Ethnic Minority Employee Forum, and one of my colleagues was a member. When I suggested that maybe I should join because I was American, half-jokingly, he reacted negatively. (Let me point out that I am white.) Although he did accept that I am part of an ethnic minority community. (We have more Americans resident in Greater London than y'all do in Maury County, TN)

OK, I get it. I didn't pursue it. I didn't ask to join.

But you know, I might have liked a little support when things turned a little ugly here for Americans during the lead-up to Iraq war. And it's clear I was being excluded from a support and advocacy group based ONLY on my skin color.

So, although I think the Camper is kinda weird (TN Guerilla Women have a great post with links to his weirdness), I don't guess his motives for asking to join the Black Caucus was to promote the liberal values of equal access, and I wouldn't be shocked if someone showed me definitive proof of him being a racist, maybe he has just a teeny bit of a point.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More confessions

Update at 31 October 2005 - I've been noticing a number of hits off the search term "what is boiled custard".
This post may not be the best description of what boiled custard is, but it sure as heck describes why I don't drink it anymore.

If you want a good description of boiled custard, including a recipe - this site with Ora Belle Smith Warren's recipe for boiled custard including a description of its desired consistency and serving suggestions is a good place to go. She came from Fayetteville, Tennessee and could very well be related to me and the woman who made the boiled custard described in the original post below (I ought to check my geneology files before
making such an assertion, but I can't be bothered.)

Anyway, if you do make some boiled custard - enjoy, but I won't be having any...

Original post below:

Yesterday after reading my post The Vol Abroad Confesses All, the Vol-in-Law expressed surprise that I hadn't confessed about boiled custard incident. I told him that I was really not much more than an innocent bystander, and at worst I was only following orders. But here goes anyway.

My great aunt Tiny (I'll let you ponder whether that's a real name or not) used to always make boiled custard for our extended family get togethers at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was good, it was so sweet and creamy, we drank it like egg nog, and it was probably my favorite holiday food. All the kids (and many of the adults) loved Tiny's boiled custard.

Every year Tiny and my grandparents would alternate the hosting of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and at the holiday of the boiled custard incident my grandparents were hosting. I can't remember which holiday it was, but it was cold. My cousin and I were larking about and so we were ordered by an adult to help Tiny bring her various cakes and casseroles and the custard into the house. We did.

Tiny used to bring the boiled custard in one of those big white plastic opaque catering jars like you might buy pickles or industrial portions of mayonnaise in. But she had long ago lost the lid, so sealed the jar with some saran wrap and a rubber band. Tiny very nearly made it to the house with the boiled custard, but sadly dropped it on the carport. My cousin and I were heartbroken. We loved that boiled custard.

Now boiled custard's pretty thick to begin with and it was a cold night, so the congealed spillage didn't extend far. My cousin and I just stared at that boiled custard, but Tiny was a woman of action. She said "You girls get down there and scoop that boiled custard back into the jar". We did.

Then she said "Your grandparents keep everything so clean, it'll be alright if we just serve it anyway." Then she told us it not to tell anyone. We didn't

Tiny was not the kind of woman you wanted to cross. I never said a word about it for maybe 15 years and I'm not sure my cousin ever would have told.

And Tiny, she served up the boiled custard in my grandmother's nice sherbet glasses to all my extended family young and old, who were happy to get it. But she didn't ask my cousin and me if we wanted any. She knew we didn't.


Home comforts

Melusina of Mel's Diner posted yesterday.

I interrupt this post for a public service announcement. Don't play your music out loud on the Tube.

(Erghh here's the problem with blogging on the Tube. I'm being distracted by a kerfuffle caused by a young hooligan playing his hip hop without earphones on his tinny mobile phone. Two people have already asked him to turn it down or off and he's ignored them. I've asked him too, quietly and politely with a surreptitious hand signal. Ahh he's just got off at Stockwell, hurray. I wish him a career with a miserable commute, clearly hanging is too good for him.)

Anyway, yesterday Mel posted about an expat care package she's received from her family. Maybe her family cares more about her than mine care about me. (Everybody go awwww).

But it's true you do miss certain items, and her post inspired me.

Here's what I stock up on:

  • Lipton ice tea. You can laugh about bringing tea to England, but the tea here doesn't make good iced tea. I need my iced tea on the rare day it's a bit warm
  • Dale's sauce. Yumm Dale's sauce, nothing makes a steak so good. VolBro was supposed to bring me some from Knoxville but he forgot.
  • Goya seasoning packets - great in chilli and beans. Who couldn't use a little more MSG in their diet?

Most things I've found adequate substitutes for. Thank goodness for the Asian population here. Through their stores I can buy all kinds of dried beans, cilantro, okra and cornmeal. With this and my stash imported from America, I can have my beans and cornbread and iced tea.

But there are other things you can't get and can't reasonably have sent to you: Grainger Co tomatoes, fresh catfish, SunDrop, really fresh corn from your neighbor's garden, my Aunt Virginia's chocolate chess pie...

You can't smell autumn in the Smokies or see the stars shine on a cold moonless night in December on the Trace. You can't watch kids running barefoot through the grass on a still, humid night catching lightening bugs. You can't go to the river on a hot summer day and swim in your cut-offs. You can't see Knoxville bloom into beauty in Dogwood season.

There are just some home comforts you can't get in a box.

Granddad blogging: To the front

Last week in granddad blogging, my grandfather described how they were shipped across the Atlantic during WWII. This week, his hopes for a nice, safe Army career as a cook are dashed and he heads to the front.


I think it took us about a week or ten days to get to Southampton, England. We got there one night and they unloaded us and walked us through the town in the pitch dark ‘cause there were no lights in England because they were still being bombed then. And we went somewhere and our place that we were gonna stay were great big old tents that would sleep about 12 people to the tent. And they had straw piled on the ground and mattresses stuffed full of straw and that’s where and what we slept on.

Well, we were supposed to still be cooks then, but they decided they’d take all the cooks and bakers and buglers and clerk typists and support people of that various kind and retrain us as infantrymen again. So we trained in England for I guess about six weeks, I don’t know how long. Then they said we were infantry men again, no more cookin’.

So we're then assigned to go to France and we were placed in what’s called a replacement depot. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but the war was winding down and there had been – I guess – millions of people killed, wounded, captured and things happended to them and all the companies were way under strength. They put as all in these replacement depots and signed us out to the companies that were in the worst shape. All they really wanted was just warm bodies to fill up the gaps and that’s what we were.

So we stayed in these replacement depots for a while, pretty good while I don’t know how long. And then they said they were going to assign us to a company. So they came in and moved us up to some town – I remember we went by St Dien (?) which had just been fought over a time before and they told us that we were going to wait in this particular town until the General came and he was going to talk to us before we went to the front.

Well, we waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited stood out in the rain. Stood there so long, some of ‘em fell out. But finally the General came and I don’t know what he said, but I reckon he said “Fight hard,” I don’t know what else, but they loaded us in trucks, about 10 or 12 people to a small truck and took em up to the Fosgives (?) mountains with us.

It was dark then and it was really dark when we got there. ‘Course we rode three or four or five hours. They unloaded us from those trucks and a seargeant came out with a blanket over his head and a flashlight and called the roll. How he knew who was going to be there, I don’t know, but he did. And didn’t take him long to call the roll and he said “OK we’ll see you all in society in the morning.” And we said “Sergeant where we gonna sleep tonight?” and he said “I don’t care where you sleep. I’m going to get in my hole.”

And he took off and we stood out in the middle of the woods with the rain pouring down and the mud and the snow and the slush all around us and we didn’t know what to do, but another old boy and I each had a shelter half and we laid one of ‘em down and pulled the other one over us. I reckon we’d been through so much that we slept there.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

IRA puts guns and bombs 'beyond use'

Today the IRA put its weapons beyond use. You can read about it here on the BBC website. I guess this is a step forward, but I'm not sure. The IRA has gone back on its word before. We have no pictures of the decommissioning.

But I do believe that some weapons were put beyond use. Just how, I don't know. And we really have no idea if they've done them all. I reckon they were just last year's unfashionable guns. Plastic explosives are just so 90s.

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, currently the main Unionist (Protestant) party in Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley has said

...there had been no transparent verification of IRA decommissioning in the announcement.

He said the church witnesses had been agreed by the IRA and as such could not be considered "independent".

Without a photographic proof, an inventory and details on how the weapons were destroyed questions remained, said Mr Paisley.

"This afternoon the people of Northern Ireland watched a programme which illustrates more than ever the duplicity and dishonesty of the two governments and the IRA."

The Rev. Paisley can be a little repugnant, but he's often spot on the money predicting the behaviour of the IRA. Of course, if you expect the worst of people committed to using terror to gain their aims, you're not often wrong.

The Vol Abroad confesses all

I'm a little tickled by the revelations of Gas Guy . Gas Guy is supposed to be a blog about a Nashville gas station attendant, which I didn't read. But now Gas Guy has said he isn't really in Nashville and in fact hasn't been to Nashville, and it's all fiction. Rex L Camino admits on his Blog of Doom, that he's not in Nashville either. But I don't believe him.

So I thought maybe it was 'fess-up time for the Vol Abroad. Here goes -

I really am in Nashville, not in London at all. I'm just pretending to be an expat. I've only ever been to London, Kentucky.

OK, that's a lie.

I would like to confess however that:
  • I'm a little behind on my current work project.
  • I did cause the dishwasher frothing overload incident of 1988 by filling the soap tray with dishwashing liquid not dishwasher powder. I didn't know for sure that it would do that, but I had a pretty good idea.
  • I have stolen at least one piece of office equipment from every job I've ever had, but nothing more major than a stapler or pencil sharpener, and nothing yet from my current job - it's a leaving thing I do.
  • There just might be an outstanding parking ticket from the City of Knoxville for a car registered in my mom's name. (I'm sure there'll be an amnesty soon, VolMom).
  • Every kid I ever babysat for got to stay up past their bedtime.
  • I cheated in Driver's Ed
  • I never paid for my prom ticket, so my high school wouldn't give me my diploma or send my transcripts on. But I knew where everything was kept in the office, including the signature stamp. I went in to school found my transcripts, stamped them with the official stamp and sent them on to UT where I got bachelors and a masters. I still have dreams that I've been caught and have to go back and do my final year of high school all over. (I don't know why I can't just dream they come after me for the prom ticket money).
  • I probably sold your wedding gift to me in my grandfather's estate sale. (OK, not the one from St Caffeine - it's a pewter tray and I still have it.)

You know, I don't really feel any better.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How much is that kitty in the window?

Window shopping is great in Wimbledon Village. If you're not looking at £300 dresses, or purple boots with magenta rhinestone hearts for £100, you can look at the nice antique stores.

In one antique store we saw a cat. A real live cat. It did not look happy. Who leaves a cat in an antique store over night? If I was that cat, I'd knock over something real expensive.

Fortunately, we know exactly who leaves a cat in an antique store over night. And we know his mobile phone number, because it's taped to the store window. We texted him.

Your cat is in store. Looks sad.

We have not received a response.

Lovely sunny sunday

I'm very tired. I think I was a little hungover from all those Wandsworth Borough Hurricanes last night. I left my car at the Texan's house for obvious reasons, so we had to take the bus to collect it. We rode up on the top deck of the bus (which I usually do), but that may have been a mistake. It was hot, and of course it sways a lot more up there, so I felt a little queasy...

Anyway, arrived at the Texan's without incident and we all went for a nice long walk in Richmond Deer Park. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, with mostly blue skies. The deer are now in rutting season, said the strange little man who sidled up to us while we were watching the antics of a herd of about 150 doe and fawn and one big-antlered buck. (Mmm... don't talk to us.) I think he was just trying to be friendly. But the Vol-in-Law and I were recounting a tale to the Texan about how we'd once seen two women in full burkas running through a herd of deer in the park, waving their arms at them and riling up the deer. It was a funny sight, but I think we're also jumpy about saying anything about Muslims (lest someone take offense) that even just recounting a factual tale (what they were doing, what they were wearing) seems somehow a bit risque.

Had dinner in Wimbledon Village. That's the swanky bit of already quite swanky Wimbledon. We happened to be playing Lynyrd Skynyrd through the open windows of my car while me and the Texan sang along while we were looking for a parking space (always a trial there). While it shouldn't seem too remarkable really, it always seems a bit strange in Wimbledon village where some houses rent for about $15,000 a month. I'm always afraid some "Poshness Police" are going to pull me up, demand my papers, and then chuck me out for being too trashy for the "Village".

It's Pimms O'Clock

Sam has written in asking about how to make a Pimm's Cup - well, when we mix it up, we just call it a Pimms. The weird brown liquor you buy in the bottle is called Pimm's No. 1 Cup. Pimms makes other cups, including some other number which I can't remember which is a winter version of Pimms. It's pretty good, but it's not the fabulous summer drink we know as Pimms.

What's in Pimms No 1 Cup? Who knows? It's a closely guarded secret. It's gin based and it's brown. I wouldn't drink it straight if you gave me ten bucks. Though apparently people used to drink it neat as a digestif.

But mix up a pitcher of Pimms on a summer day, and yumm, I'll drink that. I'll drink that and then we can mix up another one.

Everybody has their own way of making Pimms - here's mine.

  1. Pimms No 1 Cup - poured into your pitcher.
  2. Throw in a whole fruit salad's worth of sliced lemons, apples, strawberries (optional) and cucumbers (Cucumbers? You say. Yep. This ingredient is NOT optional) and oranges.
  3. Throw in a handful of mint.
  4. You should probably put the ice in at this stage, but I always forget.
  5. Then add lemonade, British lemonade, which I describe in my previous post as kinda like Sprite but not. It's clear, it's soda and it tastes vaguely of lemons and some unidentifiable chemical compound. Here my preference is R. White's Diet Lemonade.
The liquid should be the color of medium to weak strength iced tea. When I make it, it's medium strength, but it actually tastes better if it looks weak strength. Many people don't use as much fruit as I do, but I think it looks pretty and I like to eat the fruit and cucumber slices that have soaked up the Pimms in the bottom of my glass.

Sam's original question was should he use Sprite or 7-Up as a substitute for British lemonade. Either will do, but if I have to use one as a substitute I generally go for 7-Up. Some people use ginger ale or ginger beer (more gingery and sweeter than American ginger ale) instead of or in addition to the lemonade.

Serve in long glasses, over ice, but not too much ice, make sure some of the fruit gets in the glass, garnish with sliced strawberries if you can be bothered. Ideally Pimms should be consumed outdoors.

I've made Pimms with limes before, but I don't think it works as well, which I think is part of the reason why I prefer 7-Up to Sprite, because it has less lime flavor.

Pimms is such a wonderful summer drink that I'm kind of surprised it hasn't caught on big in the South. The first day it's warm enough for a Pimms in late Spring, is such an exciting day, it means the beginning of summer.

UPDATE: see a more recent post for a lovely picture of my Pimms recipe made real

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The hurricane party

So Operation Comfort Texan is well in order. We're over at her house drinking Wandsworth Borough Hurricanes* (like a Pat O'Brien Hurricane but with British lemonade which is kinda like Sprite but not really). I made biscuits and she made gravy and we washed it all down with Wandsworth Borough Hurricanes.

The Texan is from Beaumont and all her relatives are accounted for and she's heard that the house is still there and though most of the trees are down they all fell the right way. It's hard to say how bad it is.

We played Dana's (of Ain't No Rodeo Queen) hurricane coverage drinking game while watching FoxNews coverage. We did have to amend it a little bit - but we drank big every time "refinery capacity" was mentioned. Of course Shep Smith just said "if it had to hit anywhere, maybe this was the place." We drank to that, too.

The biscuits are sitting heavy and I'm a little tipsy. We also introduced the Texan's South African friend to biscuits and gravy, that's got to be a good thing.

*Wandsworth Borough Hurricanes because we both live in the Borough of Wandsworth, and why not?

Can I get arrested in this town?

Scary. Very scary.

An article in the Guardian timelines the arrest and detention of a Londoner of French nationality under the Terrorism Act. What did he do?

David Mery writes: I am told that I am being stopped and searched because:

1. they found my behaviour suspicious from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system;
2. I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates;
3, two other men entered the station at about the same time as me;
4, I am wearing a jacket "too warm for the season";
5. I am carrying a bulky rucksack, and kept my rucksack with me at all times;
6. I looked at people coming on the platform;
7. I played with my phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.

Since I'm a white female and not even swarthy, I'm generally not too paranoid about being mistaken for a terrorist. But this did make me stop and think.

1. Does my behaviour look suspicious? Maybe. I do have a kleptomaniacal fantasy about covering my fridge with the London Underground update board magnets (they say things like "Suspended", "Severe delays" or "Normal service" - blow me if I can tell a difference between these on a bad day) so I'm always eyeing those boards in a guilty way.
2. Looking at the cops? I'm never sure if I should look at them or not. Is it suspcious behaviour when I look at them and then glance away. They make me nervous.
3. Uhh, what am I supposed to do about that?
4. I'm usually wearing a jacket "too heavy for the season" because you never know what the weather is going to do here, and my office is freezing, summer and winter... and my rucksack's too full to stuff it into.
5. Yep, I carry a bulky rucksack. Work papers, gym clothes, etc. And of course I bloody well keep it with me at all times, I don't want it getting nicked do I?
6. Looking at people? I never used to do that, but now I do. Is that guy a terrorist? Is that guy a rucksack thief?
7. Yep, I play with my phone or blackberry. I read messages, compose posts to this blog and play a rather accomplished game of brickbreaker...


Hat Tip: Going Underground

Good news, bad news

I've received a text from the Texan who says.

I used to gamble at the Isle of Capri [Lake Charles, LA], crap.

Oh dear, doesn't sound good. FoxNews just reported that the hotel is "basically ripping in half in these winds."

But on the bright side, there's always the Isle of Capri in Natchez, Mississippi where I had my first casino gambling experience. (I was going to link to them, but their website is down, hmm

And even closer to 'home' for the Texan and me, the Isle of Capri is opening up a new gambling den in Coventry in the West Midlands, about an hour and twenty minutes from London's Euston station. Isle of Capri already have a license for one of the grim, tame, rip-off casinos already allowed in the UK, and Isle of Capris and a public-private consortium in Coventry are bidding for a license for one of the new Super Casinos to be introduced in the UK.

I used to live in Coventry. Coventry bites. What charm Coventry ever had that the Nazis didn't bomb to dust in WWII, the Labour City Council destroyed in the 60s with mouldy grey concrete 'redevelopment'. If you thought Tunica was a weird place to gamble...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Bush: He don't know Jack

This has been bugging me ever since I posted "Boozin' Bush??":

This quote from the National Enquirer story:

The First Lady was shocked and shouted: "Stop George!""Laura gave him an ultimatum before, 'It's Jim Beam or me.'

As a Tennessean, I am gravely disappointed that Dubya's not drinking Jack.

Why I blog

There's an interesting post at MyDD which advises "smaller bloggers" on what to do to generate traffic. Essentially, it's specialize and become a part of a community, the "general blog" spots have already been taken. But whatever you do, it's not about being blogrolled from his site. In fact Chris Bowers says he's not gonna blog roll anybody who makes such a request.

My blogroll is a collection of sites that I read or would like to find again. It's a covenient place for me to find them. (Sometimes I'm a little slow in getting around to adding a link, so there's a few out there I've been meaning to add) And in line with the post on MyDD, my blogroll is about placing myself in the blogosphere, it's about putting some context on my rather schizophrenic identity: Knoxvillian, Middle Tennessean and Londoner.

If you blogroll me, I presume it's because you like to read my blog on a regular occasion, yourself. I'm not gonna ask you to do it, but thank you to those who do. I really appreciate it.

And I have no intention of specialising, I'll continue to 'general blog' because that's what I want to do. I started this blog, because I'm lazy and morose. I've been meaning to take up journal writing again, but I'm haphazard at recording and I tend to dwell on the negative and that just gets me in a tizzy of Eeyore-ish-ness.

The pressure of blogging, the peer pressure and the lovely chiding from my readers when I had a slack week (thanks VolMom and Karen) keeps me writing. And as for the moroseness, well I'm aware that nobody wants to read my self-indulgent self-pitying crap. (Oh, if you think this is self-indulgent, you don't know me.)

Sure, I'd like more people to look at my site, I guess. But this project is about me and my lovely readers, no matter how few you are.


BTW, if you are from Lawrence County, Tennessee and blogging there or anywhere, or if you are an American expatriate blogger in Greater London then I'd be more than happy to blogroll you, I'd like to read your stuff. Drop a note in the comments section. Only exception being if you are a student for one semester in London, I'm probably not interested, unless you're from the South.

Fleeing Rita

The Texan's parents left Beaumont early this morning. But now they are headed to the west side of Houston (which others are fleeing) to stay with the Texan's aunt and uncle.

The Texan said that they just didn't know anyone in North East Texas (e.g. up around Tyler), and I suppose they're worried about not being able to find any accommodation. I know they don't want to be staying in a shelter. Fortunately, it's not a question of money for them.

I'm very worried about them, and of course, about the Texan's girlhood home. I hope (Vol) Lauren's family in Lake Charles are OK, too. And Kathy of What do I Know has a Volunteer relative in the path, too.

Take my vote and shove it

Sometimes I think I was born too late. I have occasionally wished that I lived in a time when lectures were the biggest thing in town, a time when we didn't distract ourselves with TV. I love a good night out with a lecture, and I will go and see just about anything (if I can get myself organised) except for pretentious poetry readings and Marxist agit-prop. Of course maybe I'm missing out there.

I went to see a good one last night sponsored by Democrats Abroad UK. Steven Hill, author of Fixing elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take all Politics spoke about the "failure of America's Winner Take All voting system". His area of focus is getting more Americans to vote and for more of our votes to be counted (correctly).

He spoke a bit about the Commission for Federal Election Reform headed by Jimmy Carter and James Baker. Mr Baker had a hand in Bush's 2000 Florida "victory" so he probably knows more than most where the system needs reform.

According to Steven Hill their key recommendations were:

  • Elections should be administered by non-partisan election officials, and
  • Universal registration of voters.

Now, I thought the first was particularly relevant because when I voted by absentee ballot, I noted (if I am not mis-remembering) that one of the election officials in my voting precinct was also the chair of the Republican Party in Lawrence County, TN, Jan Clifton. I do not want to besmirch Ms Clifton in any way, I know her, and she is a nice woman and has been a good friend to my family. But Jan’s gonna know or have a pretty good idea how I vote. I don’t think for a second that she threw away my vote, but I imagine she may have shaken her head in disapproval or disappointment. And frankly, it can’t be right that people who have active political and partisan roles are running our elections, no matter what party they are from.

In the UK, on the other hand, the local government officials who run our elections are in politically proscribed positions. That is they’re not allowed to hold political office or be active in party politics. That doesn’t mean they can’t vote or have a political opinion.

And the vote counting process is a world away, too. Votes are on a paper ballot and they are counted in the open, (like in a high school gym or public auditorium) with members of the public and press (including television cameras) permitted. No secretive machines without paper trails, no hanging chads, and all votes, including absentee ballots, are counted on the night.

Overseas voting

Americans overseas are particularly concerned about how their votes are dealt with and how the absentee registration and ballot request process is run. For many states, the process is complex and arcane and there have been problems with registration, some serious doubts over how ballots were treated, and some ballots were sent out so late there was no way they could be returned in time for the 2004 Presidential election. There's also the usual concern that our absentee ballots are just thrown away...

I have to say that the officials in Lawrence County, TN were very good through the registration and ballot request process and I got my ballot in plenty of time.


If you are an American expat, then you should check out Overseas Vote Foundation which has all kinds of information about voting from abroad.

Check out Longitudes, a new discussion forum set up for transatlantic exchange of ideas.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Unlovely Rita

One of my best friends, the Texan, is from Beaumont. We're watching FoxNews and we can see that Beaumont is in the path of Rita (for now). Her parents live there and have still not left. They're planning to leave about 4am Central time to go about 100 miles inland.

When I spoke to her earlier today, her mom was going through their posessions packing photo albums and other irreplaceable items. Although they were told to leave by noon central time today, they decided not to leave because the roads were jammed. The Texan's mom is not in the best of health, and I'm sure they're worried about being trapped in the car for long periods of time. They are also taking their elderly neighbors north.

According to the Texan's parents, Beaumont is a ghost town. There's hardly anyone there.

Good luck to all the people in East Texas and Louisiana.

Boozin' Bush??

George Bush has hit the bottle? W. has fallen off the wagon? This via Americablog who got it from the National Enquirer. (I picked it up via Nashville is Talking and Tennessee Guerilla Women, links on the left).

Well, it is the Enquirer, so I suppose we do need to be a bit cautious.

Personally, I'm not gonna pile in on George for this one. I thought he was generally incompetent when he was sober. And you know everybody's got their own problems, and I've been known to smoke or drink more coffee or overeat (my addictions) when I've been stressed out. And heck, although I'm usually quite cautious about drinking under strain, given the number of people with substance abuse in my family, I've done that, too.

So good luck, George. For all our sakes, I hope it's not true. We need you sober enough to keep Cheney in some kind of check and to think about your next crony appointments. (Me, pick me!)

So while I'm not piling in: here's the full text from the National Enquirer


Faced with the biggest crisis of his political life, President Bush has hit the bottle again, The National Enquirer can reveal.Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe.

Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.His worried wife yelled at him: "Stop, George."

Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against "falling off the wagon" and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add."When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot," said one insider. "He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back.

The First Lady was shocked and shouted: "Stop George!""Laura gave him an ultimatum before, 'It's Jim Beam or me.' She doesn't want to replay that nightmare — especially now when it's such tough going for her husband."Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink.

A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him — but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He's been in a pressure cooker for months."The war in Iraq, the loss of American lives, has deeply affected him. He takes every soldier's life personally. It has left him emotionally drained.The result is he's taking drinks here and there, likely in private, to cope.

"And now with the worst domestic crisis in his administration over Katrina, you pray his drinking doesn't go out of control."Another source said: "I'm only surprised to hear that he hadn't taken a shot sooner. Before Katrina, he was at his wit's end. I've known him for years. He's been a good ol' Texas boy forever. George had a drinking problem for years that most professionals would say needed therapy. He doesn't believe in it [therapy], he never got it. He drank his way through his youth, through college and well into his thirties. Everyone's drinking around him."

Another source said: "A family member told me they fear George is 'falling apart.' The First Lady has been assigned the job of gatekeeper." Bush's history of drinking dates back to his youth. Speaking of his time as a young man in the National Guard, he has said: "One thing I remember, and I'm most proud of, is my drinking and partying. Those were the days my friends. Those were the good old days!"

Age 26 in 1972, he reportedly rounded off a night's boozing with his 16-year-old brother Marvin by challenging his father to a fight.
On November 1, 2000, on the eve of his first presidential election, Bush acknowledged that in 1976 he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol near his parents' home in Maine. Age 30 at the time, Bush pleaded guilty and paid a $150 fine. His driving privileges were temporarily suspended in Maine."I'm not proud of that," he said. "I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson." In another interview around that time, he said: "Well, I don't think I had an addiction. You know it's hard for me to say. I've had friends who were, you know, very addicted... and they required hitting bottom (to start) going to AA. I don't think that was my case."

During his 2000 presidential campaign, there were also persistent questions about past cocaine use. Eventually Bush denied using cocaine after 1992, then quickly extended the cocaine-free period back to 1974, when he was 28.Dr. Justin Frank, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist and author of Bush On The Couch: Inside The Mind Of The President, told The National Enquirer: "I do think that Bush is drinking again. Alcoholics who are not in any program, like the President, have a hard time when stress gets to be great."I think it's a concern that Bush disappears during times of stress. He spends so much time on his ranch. It's very frightening."

Published on: 09/21/2005

ViL: came across this

I came across this this morning, in a page from the ALA the Vol had opened but not read:

"Biblioclasm: The destruction of Baghdad's library is only the latest chapter in the long, sorry war on words, May 14, 2003
“Although the details differ, the loss of contemporary Baghdad's books is no less shocking. On April 14, Iraq's National Library and Archives (home to 1 million books and an archival trove of 20 million documents) and the library of Awqaf or Religious Endowments were burned. The speed and ferociuos efficiency of the fires could have been on accident. Books burn poorly; their immolation requires the concerted effort of expert arsonists, who must have tended the fires with all the care that a poet lavishes on his lines or a scholar showers on her references. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 28 that the arsonists may have used white phosphorus, a fast-burning substance favored by military forces disposing of paper documents.”"

From the Vol Abroad:

About the Iraqi librarian featured in my earlier post, I guess we know what happened to the archives and the Iraqi libarian's job. Of course, we don't know what happened to her.

Banned books and speaking tips

A couple of things caught my eye as I wandered the Net this morning:

Public speaking tips from Mother Tongue Annoyances. These are all good, but I especially like the 'wiggle your toes' thing. I have another speaking tip that I got from a friend of mine, an ex-Marine. He says Hoo-ya in that Marine way before making a public appearance. It works for him. When I tried it once, it worked for me, but then I forgot the next time and my speech sucked.

Banned book week.
This I picked up at No Quarters via Nashville is Talking. The American Library Association has a whole resource area on this. Including a list of the Top 100 most 'challenged' books. I haven't read a whole bunch of these, and a lot of them are children's books. But some interesting ones from the list are:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Beloved by Toni Morrison

And just about every book that Judy Blume ever wrote, and not just the 'dirty' ones like Wifey and Fo
rever. One thing I'll say for some of the above books is that they are upsetting. Beloved depressed me so much I couldn't stand to look at the book after I finished reading it.

They also have links to 'modern' book burnings. Including one where the book-burners in question were denied a permit by the local fire department, so they decided to have a 'book cutting' instead. Tee-hee.

A lot the current ire is directed toward the Harry Potter series. I haven't read any of these and don't intend to. I saw the first film last Christmas and I thought it was stupid and derrivative. So there.

I often see people reading Harry Potter books in the Underground. With the most recent one I had a great idea. I knew that a character died, so I hunted around for the spoiler on the Internet. I know who it is. I thought I could wander around the Underground looking for those in the early pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Brain Prince and threaten to tell them who dies unless they give me £10, or maybe £5 if they negotiate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A rapist by any other name

London's Metropolitan Police are discouraging the use of the term "gang rape" in preference to the term "group rape", according to an article in today's Guardian. A rape by two or more assailants is bad, but does one of those terms more neatly conjure up the image of a quick succession of violent sexual attacks by people working in concert?

The Met argues that the term "gang" is often code for groups (criminal or not) of young non-whites. So to use the term gang rape would be linguistically racist.


This isn't the first time that the Met has come up with such nonsense. Or where I've thought "Hey, that's the first time I've heard that was racist, and I just don't think it is"

Take for instance the term "nitty-gritty", meaning the essential details. A former colleague was working for the Met and had been told off for saying it. Why? Because the term was derived from a description of the detritus which collected in the holds of slaving ships. Only it hadn't. That's just not true as anyone who can Google and discern a reputable source could find out in a minute or two.

(It would be a cheap shot to say that maybe the Met should work out the difference between the word terrorist and the word electrician before venturing on to more complicated semantic territory.)

Another one that gets me, though I can't blame it on the Met, but one that's been floating around UK public sector circles is the objection to the use of "brainstorming" because it might be offensive to the mentally ill. We're supposed to use the term "mind showers" instead (which I find suggestive and mildly offensive itself). How about "brain washing" to describe pandering to linguistic bullies?

When I was challenged for saying brainstorming recently I said "I've had mental health problems and it doesn't offend me in the least". Well, that shut them up, partly because I reckon they suspect it's true. (It is.)

There are all kinds of terms that are genuinely offensive and are often used offensively. But I think it's offensive and potentially racist/ discriminatory to define benign terms as malign both to those whom the terms are meant to apply and to those who use them innocently.

Performance and the Bush administration

What’s the fundamental problem with the Bush Administration? They don’t like to do the basic research needed to plan ahead and make policy, they don’t like to look at the evidence to see if what they are doing is working, and they rarely take responsibility for things that have gone wrong. (I do want to applaud GW for recently inching toward personal responsibility on the Katrina relief disaster).

I urge everyone to read the book The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind* about former Bush II Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, which illustrates the perilous lack of evidenced-based policy-making in the Bush administration and a culture of blind action.

Leaders set the tone for any organization and the Bush Administration has certainly sent a clear message that appointments are not based on merit and that decisions do not need to be based on information. A recent article based on a Government Accountancy Office (GAO) report shows that use of information to make and deliver policies is poor.

In 2004, a GAO study concluded that "while the percentage of federal managers who report having performance measures for their programs has increased over time, their use of performance information in making key management decisions, such as adopting new program approaches or changing work processes, has not." [my emphasis]

What does that mean? It means that federal government employees don’t look at information that they already have about what to do next, never mind seek new information. (e.g. make a decision about reinforcing a levee or estimating adequate numbers of troops and equipment for occupying Iraq)

But never mind that, the Bush Administration wants to use the performance information for performance related pay. From the same article:

The Bush administration is focused on moving the federal workforce to a
performance-based personnel system, including a hotly debated
pay-for-performance structure. The Defense and Homeland Security departments are
working out the kinks in their pay-for-performance systems, and a similar one is
being floated for extension government wide.

That’s more than a bit worrying, since the Bush Administration has already stuffed Homeland Security and it’s subsidiaries (FEMA) with cronies and incompetents. What do you bet that performance related pay will be used more to reward political loyalty than honestly evaluating performance and delivering improvements?

*since I nearly always include a little personal anecdote in every commentary, here it is: Me and the Vol-in-Law went to see Ron Suskind speak in London on Inauguration Day this year. He was one of the best, most entertaining speakers I’d seen in a long time. He was selling and signing books afterward and I lined up to get one. “What should we ask him to put inside the front cover?” I said. The Vol-in-Law didn’t care. “How ‘bout if we just get him to sign it, not put our names in, and then if we don’t like it we can give it to someone else as a gift?”

You know those moments when suddenly conversation lulls and whatever you were saying then sounds real loud? Yeah, well that happened to me just then. Suskind looks up at me, annoyed. When we get to him, he asks us our names and writes it on the inside of the book in real big letters. BTW, it’s a really good read and I wouldn’t give it away, I wouldn’t even loan it out.

Get your blogger head on

On my way into the station this morning someone tried to hand me a brochure for the Stop the War coalition protest this Saturday.

In a response Glenn Reynolds would approve of, I actually said "Heh".

Though I did have second thoughts as I trundled down the escalator. Shoulda picked it up, good blog fodder.

I'm sure I'll get another chance between now and the 24th.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My fame ascendant

Today I was asked for my photograph, to appear in a magazine with national (UK) distribution.

That sounds great. I can't say what the rag is (since I'm sure you'd all rush out and buy it, blowing my anonymity) but suffice to say if I were in the hardware trade it would be something like Wrenches Quarterly. This is a publication that I generally leave in the shrink wrap when it appears on my desk.

I had to admit that I didn't have any current electronic copies of my image that would inspire any confidence in anyone that I know what I'm talking about. I did not admit that the only recent photos of myself shocked me when I saw with my own eyes how much cleavage I displayed at the Vegas party in June. (It looked alluring yet reasonably respectable in the mirror.) There's also one of me with my Tennessee sweatshirt, the one that makes me look a Volunteer elf. And of course, there's the one from my ID badge, which my employer should have on file somewhere, but it's so bad that I keep the face side in unless challenged.

I left my camera at the Texan's on Saturday night and doubt I'll manage to pick it up before then. I told the person that if it fit with his timescales I would try at the weekend. Maybe I should hunt on Flickr for someone who looks authoritative?

Blasphemy and a good night out

Warning: This post contains profanity. I was going to write around it, but decided that didn't go with the spirit of the post.

Jerry Springer, the Opera is going on tour to 22 regional theatres across the UK. Apparently there was some doubt about the tour coming off because of the protests of a group called Christian Voice. They threatened to picket the regional theatres, and some venues felt that they couldn't guarantee the safety of their staff.

I fully expect that there will be some protests at the the theatres, but I hope it's nice and peaceful, doesn't get out of hand, and doesn't interfere too much with the theatre patrons' night out. Theatre managers are probably nervous as they can remember that there was some considerable violence at a play called Behzti about sexual violence at a Sikh Temple. I wonder did anyone point out the irony that Sikh fundamentalists were protesting about the depiction of some Sikhs (by a Sikh) as violent and immoral by breaking theatre windows and threatening bodily violence. In the end, the protesters won, they play was withdrawn and looks like it will never be staged again.

Jerry Springer, the Opera, by comparsion has had a pretty peaceful history. It started at a South London theatre, then went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (with Jerry Springer himself in attendance one night), then on to the West End for quite a successful run. No protests in sight. Then the BBC decided to broadcast the play on television, and all hell broke loose.

Now, you may be wondering, why would Christians be so upset about this opera? Well, frankly, it's downright blasphemous and the bits that aren't blasphemous to prevailing Christian orthodoxy are of questionable moral content. (Not necessarily immoral, but it does make you ask a lot of questions) The Vol-in-Law and I went to see it in its West End run, and we were actually pretty shocked. First I was a little surprised that it was really an opera and not a musical. Secondly I was a little taken aback that in the first bit of the opera, the chorus sings "What the fuck, What the fuck, what the fucking, fucking Fuck?" Apparently there are over 8,000 occurrences of the F word, if you count each utterance by a chorus member separately.

I didn't know that the opera was blasphemous when I went to see it, and the first half of it isn't.
At this point you may ask the question "What is blasphemy?" And to that my answer is, I don't know, but I know it when I see it. A lot of it was contextual, that is, actors that appeared as certain characters in the first half appeared as Biblical characters in the 2nd half (Jesus, Adam and Eve, God, etc) so there was some cross-over of traits in my own mind, and I feel that was intentional. I can't say more than that without ruining the Opera for those who wish to see it. I have to say though that while I wasn't offended by it, I do know that my old Wednesday night Church of Christ Bible study teacher would have been pretty upset.

I knew it had challenging content and that the first half finale was the chorus dressed as hooded Klansmen tapdancing in front of a burning cross. (And it was fantastic!) So I was quite surprised when the second half became almost a parody of some of the Bible stories and ancillary Biblical myths (e.g. Milton's stuff, Paradise Lost). It was incredibly cleverly done. It was partially written by a guy called Stewart Lee who really knows how to parody the Bible and leave you with a positive moral message (really) - in this case about how your actions affect others. That's a tricky thing to do. And it was good.

Because it is an opera, it's sometimes hard to follow everything that's going on, so we left the theatre a little bemused. It is also strange to come out of a theatre singing "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fucking, fucking, fuck?" When it was broadcast on the BBC later, we watched and thoroughly enoyed it. On our second viewing we were able to see more in it, understand more of the lyrics and just kind of go with the flow

However, the television broadcast was where things started to go wrong for Jerry Springer. It was shown on the BBC, a public broadcasting corporation and the BBC is funded through a punitive special public tax called the "Television license" and the BBC has a public service charter. In addition, the UK actually has laws against Christian blasphemy ( I think you can legally blaspheme against other religions, but for how much longer I don't know). The Christian groups were pretty upset that their license fee was being used to put on this rather scandalous production on broadcast television. And honestly, I don't blame them. I can see their point. I would never, ever, ever suggest that this Opera not be staged or broadcast, but I do wonder if the BBC was the right place to show it, given its remit.

But now, Christian groups are threatening to picket the commercial theatre productions as well. I just hope that folks who want to see it can go and enjoy it.

Granddad blogging: Shipped to war

This is the second in a series of weekly posts of oral history recorded with my grandfather.

Post 2
And I got there on June 6 which was D-Day and unbeknownst to any of us that it was D-Day for some reason we were told to get on a train we were gonna be transferred out west. Why we didn’t know. We later found out that there weren’t any ships to take us across because they were all being used on the D-Day invasion. They transferred us to a Camp in Mississippi. I can’t think of the name of it offhand. I guess it was Camp VanDorn. There were lots of big mosquitoes there – I remember that.

Just before I was to get shipped overseas they examined us physically and they found out that I had one less than the number of teeth that I was supposed to have, so while I was on the East coast they made me a partial bridge, but I was shipped to Van Dorn, before they got my partial bridge to me. So I go to Van Dorn and they examine me again and the bridge doesn’t come so they fuddle around with me and make another bridge and ship it to the East coast when we go back the second time and neither one of the bridges caught up with me then. I thought I was going to spend the war waiting for a bridge.

But finally they shipped us out to go to England and this was in August or September I guess it was. We went on the Mauritania, which was a very large ship. I believe they said it had twenty thousand people on it. We were crammed in just like sardines. We had to take about 150 pounds of gear with us including our rifle and the bandolier, ammunition, overcoat, extra pair of shoes, shelter half, tent pegs, mess kits, and a whole bunch of stuff. All together it weighed about 150 pounds. You could barely carry it. And we were assigned to a place and got very unhappy with the room that we had. They assured us that they were going to give us more room in a little while, but they didn’t, that’s where we stayed.

We ate twice a day on the ship going over. It was run by the British and somewhere out in the ocean we saw a bunch of whales or porpoises or some kinda big fish and everybody started running to one side of the ship and the blare came over the address system. “Now hear this, now hear this. Get back on other side of the ship.” Everybody had run to one side of the ship and we were about to capsize the ship, they thought. Maybe we were, I don’t know.

We didn’t have any escort. This was a pretty fast ship and it zig zagged every seven minutes. They said it took something over seven minutes for the Germans to site their submarine torpedoes on a ship so we zig-zagged all across the ocean to the left and the right every seven minutes.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Home alone

I got home first today. This is extremely unusual. So what do I find?

1. A notice to collect a package at a house 11 doors down. Luckily the houses here are very narrow so it's not a long walk. And luckily I'm able to collect the package from a couple of kids who answer the door in their underwear and are very excited to see me. (I don't know them)

What's in the package? Three books and a Laura Cantrell CD. The three books (ordered by Vol-in-Law) are the worrisome thing. They are:

  • The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's assault on free speech and free minds by Tammy Bruce
  • All Must Have Prizes by Melanie Phillips
  • The Abolition of Liberty: The Decline of Order and Justice in England by Peter Hitchens
These all look disturbingly right wing and when they arrive together; it's suspicious. Must remember not to let the Vol-in-Law watch FoxNews unsupervised.

2. A cat in the closet. I came upstairs and heard a faint mewing. I followed the sound and discovered that Fancy has been left in the closet all day. Vol-in-Law must have shut her in when he got a shirt out this morning.

Fancy seemed to take the whole thing remarkably well, but then I haven't showed her the books yet.

Kenny and Renee and the German Elections

For some reason I feel I should blog about the German elections, but to be honest I don’t give a toss. I don’t really care who runs Germany so long as you can go to Germany and buy cheap beer, cheap smokes and have a swell night out at a country and western bar (I really must share my amusing anecdote on how me, the Vol-in-Law and VolBro got mistaken for a country band in Hamburg and drank all night for free, but not today). Maybe the Vol-in-Law will post something elucidating…(about the elections, not our failed C&W career).

Funny thing is, every time I think about writing about the German elections, I start thinking instead about the impending annulment of Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellwegger’s marriage I can’t really say why that is, it makes no sense, but there you go.

I went to a dinner party the other night hosted by the Texan (she made some yummy gumbo), and folks were talking about the Chesney-Zellwegger breakup. Now, back in Tennessee I reckon that the two celebrities are nearly par on fame, but here, people just don’t know who Kenny is. Even the Texan hadn’t heard of him. Name a song he sings, the guests cried. “She thinks my tractor’s sexy” I said, and the assembled table broke down into guffaws of laughter.

The other Kenny Chesney song I thought of was that Touchdown Tennessee. But I was pretty sure that one didn’t get big airplay in London, so I didn’t mention it. I downloaded that song once (it does have a great title) and then I had this dawning, horrible realisation that John Ward was dead. My eyes moistened and I had a little moment of reflection on the Voice of the Volunteers. I phoned my brother to find out more and VolBro said “Nah, he ain’t dead, I sold him some Scotch last week*. He’s just retired.” Oh. I felt silly, but you know The Economist doesn’t cover Volunteer football like it ought to.

Anyway, back to Kenny and Renee, I keep wondering about what the ‘fraud’ is that could lead to an annulment. (This might be my mental link to the German elections, have you had a good look at Schroeder’s hair color? )

It’s my belief that in the early days of a relationship everyone tries to portray themselves in a good light and the gloss of romance means that your partner is likely to overlook some of your less glaring faults. The ViL and I met on the Internet back in 1996 (and not at a dating site) so we had more scope than some for presenting ourselves in a potentially misleading light. We’re both pretty honest (him pathologically so, me generally so), so any ‘frauds’ were based more on self-deception than intent. For example, the ViL told me that he was a tidy person. Ha! But he still believes this to be so, despite my pointing out evidence to the contrary (e.g. the state of the bathroom), so I can’t really say that he was lying. (OK, for everyone who knows me, this is not an opportunity to pile in on me about my messiness, I know I have a tidiness issue and I do have the power to delete comments). For his part, the ViL says I should have told him that I was a recovering nicotine addict, as he was shocked when I fell off the tobacco wagon. I counter that I did say so.

*it might not have been Scotch, but it was some type of intoxicating spirit. VolBro keeps body and soul together by purveying liquor. He says about his work “Getting people drunk in East Tennessee, it’s a tough, tough job”

I'm gonna scupper your ship

Hey, it’s Talk like a Pirate Day.

Hmm, ok, not sure I’m really up to this. Arghh, me matey’s. Yo, ho, ho. Nahh… my heart’s not in it.

Perhaps I’ll just talk like an intellectual property pirate. I’m gonna rip and burn and photocopy like Xerox is going out of business. I’m not going to attribute any of my ideas today. So, I’m not going to link to the place where I found out it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day. Ha!

Oh and by the way, I’d like to share with you a little poem that I composed over the weekend:

A Ballad of John Silver

We were schooner-rigged and rakish, with a long
and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the crossbones and the skull;
We'd a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.

We'd a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It's a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.

Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter dashed with other peoples brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank.
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.

O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we'd little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.

O! the fiddle on the fo'c'sle, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial "Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!"
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.

Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,

A little south the sunset in the islands of the Blest

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not a very good IP Pirate, this poem was written by John Masefield, who talked like a pirate.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

My American Sunday

Yet another American Sunday, I'm starting to wonder how well integrated I am in British society.

I went to watch the Longhorns stampede over Rice with the Texas Exes, well I assume they did, I had to leave in the 3rd quarter, but UTexas had a score in the 50s and the Owls had 3 points, I can't see that the trend would reverse after I left. (Expats watch college football on a Sunday unless it's a very early start)

The Texans were sympathetic over Tennessee's loss. How 'bout them Vols?

Anyway after the Texas football I went to a business meeting of the UK Democrats Abroad. You know politics is exciting, but the business of politics is often tedious. Fortunately my professional experience has given me the capacity to sit through dull and dreary meetings.

Currently the Vol-in-Law is flipping between Meet the Press and The Daily Show.

Tomorrow I go back to the UK.

Way to go, Hanoi Jane

Well, according to the blog Harry's Place, Jane Fonda has backed out of her public appearance with George Galloway. I hate to give Galloway any blog-space, but this is great news. There are many people in the anti-war movement who are in it because they are really against war - period. There are a number of people in the anti-war movement who are in it because they are against this particular war. And there are a number of people who are in the anti-war movement because they have their own particular axes to grind. George Galloway isn't in the anti-war movement because he loves peace, George Galloway is all too happy to support violent action against the Israelis and American and British troops on the ground in Iraq and all too quick to excuse it against civilians in New York or London. People who are against the war in Iraq, for peaceful, moral reasons should steer well clear of people like him and others who have come together over the past few years in a broad anti-war coalition.

I was pretty equivocal about the war in Iraq at the beginning, but now I'm agin' it. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of public forums for people like me with my rather complicated views on the matter. That is, I now believe that we were misled about the reasons, that the war has been badly run from the beginning and while Iraq wasn't a good training ground for al Qaeda before, it bloody well is now. So leaving might just be the most dangerous thing to do. Unfortunately, you don't go to war with the leaders you want, you go to war with the leaders you have, watch them screw things up and hope to goodness that there's somebody capable of getting us out of this mess with the least bad consequences for American and British soldiers, American and British security and for the people of Iraq.

Next weekend there will be an anti-war protest in London, but I won't be there. I don't want to be associated with George Galloway and his ilk. I'm glad Jane Fonda has come to her senses and has made a similar decision. (I'm sure my earlier plea tipped the balance in her decision making process.) I hope others do the same. You are judged by the company you keep. I stick to my liberal (not leftist) values. Of course it would be better if Galloway were uninvited and the others were left to get their points across.

Read Greg Palast's views ( one of the speakers at the Operation Ceasefire event in Washington on Sept 24) on ol' Gorgeous George. Of course, unlike him, I was never an apologist for Galloway.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Matthew Paris on burkas & multiculturalism

This article expresses an opinion I've come to strongly share. To me, wearing the full burka with veil makes a statement that is not acceptable in civilised society, whether it's the woman's choice or her male relatives'.
I was against the French headscarf ban in schools, it seemed illiberal, but I'm not so sure now. According to opinion polling, the majority of French muslim women supported the ban, and they presumably know what pressures they're under in their own communities. Meanwhile in Britain we have the insane situation where schools are forbidden to ban any quasi-religious dress, no matter how inappropriate, supposedly this is required by the European Convention on Human Rights, to which both UK and France are signatories. It's worth noting that unlike eg Sikh turbans, nothing in Islam (requirement for women: "dress modestly") requires the wearing of headscarves, veils etc. Apart from a few Saudi sheikh's wives they weren't widespread in Britain until after 9/11, they are primarily a political statement of opposition to "western" values, and some muslim commentators have spoken out against their recent adoption in Britain. One chap suggested that if women did insist on wearing headscarves, they could at least make them Islam-green rather than Al Qaeda-black or Taleban-white.

Friday, September 16, 2005

How I got a free ride from Saddam Hussein

Right, so what the conversation in the previous post reminded me (where I write of the Iranians trying to protect their ancient treasures from the American Empire's barbarian hordes*) was the time I went to the International Federation of Library Associations' 2002 conference. (I get to do the most interesting things in my work.)

This conference was being held in Glasgow, Scotland at the big conference centre which was quite a distance from the town centre's railway station, hotels, etc. So this meant that delegates had to take taxis into town and we often shared cabs.

One one occasion I happened to be sharing a cab with an Iraqi librarian and her political minder. (I assume she was a political minder, 'cause she wasn't a librarian). The Iraqi librarian seemed nice enough (and in fact the Minder was pleasant, too) and we began chatting on the ride back to town. Turns out the Iraqi Librarian worked in the big central library in Baghdad and she was in charge of ancient scrolls and documents. That's got to be a cool job on the librarian scale of coolness. Baghdad was a seat of ancient learning, so there are bound to be lots of important and neat scrolls and old documents to look after.

Well, this was during the summer that George W Bush's War on Iraq plans were starting to become clear and invasion certainly looked highly likely, if not inevitable, and I am surely the mistress of the inappropriate comment:

Me: So your document storage must be pretty secure.
Iraqi Libarian: Oh, yes (Minder looks a bit nervous) it is good storage for documents.
Me: And are you taking any special precautions? (Minder begins to look quite nervous.)
IL: What do you mean, special precautions?
Me: Umm, you know, uh, in case anything bad happens, uh…
IL: Bad?

Then the Minder and the Librarian switch to Arabic for a few moments, and when they switch back to English they've clearly decided to change the subject and ask me what I was doing at the conference. Then they ask: Are you Scottish?

Well the taxi driver starts to get nervous then. He's been listening to the whole thing, and he darn well knows I'm American, and he's afraid of having an international incident right there in his cab.

Me: Am I Scottish, no, I live in London.

The cabbie lets out an audible sigh of relief, they seem to accept my answer, and then the cab ride's over. I feel bad about kind of teasing them, with the Librarian so clueless about what's about to happen to her city and her library and her collection of ancient scrolls, so I (on expenses) pay the whole fare, despite their protests. But of course, now I wish I had let them pay, so for the rest of my life I could say that I got a free ride from Saddam Hussein.


What's your favorite empire?

The Persian Empire, what did I know about that before last night?

1. Alexander the Great crushed it
2. It was in Persia*

Yes, that was about it. But the Vol-in-Law was keen to see a new special exibit called Forgotten Empire the World of Ancient Persia at the British Museum. So we went to see it last night (late openings on Thursdays) On our way in, he was all excited and informed me that the Persian Empire was his favorite empire. We've been married a long time, but it just goes to show that there are still some topics of conversation that we hadn't yet explored, I'm thinking in particular the 'favorite empire' discussion.

Me: Really, your favorite empire? what about the British Empire? Don't you like that one?
ViL: No, I mean my favorite empire that nobody remembers, excluding the British and the Roman. Everyone knows about those.
Me: Well, I guess my favorite empire is the American Empire
Vil: That's not an empire
Me: Really?
ViL: Oh, yeah. You're right.

And then he remembered this quote from Ron Suskind's piece on George W. Bush for the Sunday NYT (though he didn't remember it all verbatim like that**)

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based
community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from
your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something
about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the
way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire
now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're
studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating
other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort
out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just
study what we do.''

Anyway, the ViL seemed to enjoy the exhibit and we discussed it a bit more over our lovely dinner in the Great Court of the British Museum (that's got to be a must see for any London visitor, what a fantastic space, will post pictures later)

I was a little disappointed that the British Museum had seemed to exhibit only the Iranian stuff and didn't pad it out with some of the permanent collection. The ViL said he thought it was a pretty smart move by the Iranians.

Me: Oh you mean so all their nice stuff isn't destroyed when we invade.
ViL: No, there won't be an invasion 'til Spring, and this stuff goes back in January. No, I meant it's a good PR move, to show the British public that they're really quite civilized, and shouldn't be invaded.

And that reminded me an anecdote about how I got a free ride from Saddam Hussein which will be recorded in the next post.

*it wasn't all in Persia, it covered Egypt, Turkey, great bits of Greece and stretched all the way to Afghanistan. That's why Alexander the Great went that way, he was just following through on his great victory at Gaugamela.
** according to the ViL - though I don't remember it this way, he said "Oh yeah, like that Suskind quote 'We're an Empire now, we create our own realities', which means if they want the Katrina casualties to be under a 1000, they'll be under a 1,000."

PS - apologies for the incomplete post, technical difficulty.