Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kitti insurgency in its last throws

I couldn't let another day pass without comment on the latest fish killings in our garden pond.

The deaths of Caspar Weinberger and Blaze have been recorded on this blog previously. But this weekend, we had not one, but two deaths. Darrell and Darrell are gone*. Most likely killed on Saturday. It must have been like shooting fish in a barrel.

Fishy native rejoicing in the sweet water of freedom before recent disappearance

I worry it's my own cats doing the slaying. But the Vol-in-Law says that our cats are the loyal Kitti Garden Guard, there to protect the integrity of our pond and its piscine inhabitants. It is the foreign cats who are the back bone of the insurgency.

The increase in fish casualty rates of late is a sign that the Kitti insurgency is in its last throws.

Our remaining fish - Larry, Darrell and Smokey - are resilient. They are still grateful for our intervention. But our own Kitti militia has yet to stand up to the menace of foreign Kitti fighters.

We have not yet found the bodies of Darrell and Darrell. It remains a possibility that they may have been kidnapped by a feline group known or unknown in the region. I just hope we don't have to witness their deboning on Al Cat-eera

other cat in the sun
As they stand up, we'll stand down.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Granddad blogging: Hog money

Last week my grandfather described how they did a little hunting to raise a little extra money. This weeks he describes how they made their main income.

The only crop that we really had when I was little growing up was corn. We raised the corn and we took the hogs and turned the hogs in the corn and let them knock it down and eat the corn off the ground and get fat. Those that got big enough we’d have a truck come, I don’t know, I guess when the corn and stuff ran out, put ‘em on this truck and take ‘em to Nashville. The ones that weren’t big enough we’d run them over til next year. There was a joke told about a man who had a bunch of hogs and he said he had enough hogs to sell that fall and to kill and have enough meat to last him a year and said he had enough shoats coming on to take care of next year and he had enough pigs coming on to take care of next year and said after that he didn’t know what he was gonna do.

We’d take this hog check that we’d get once a year. My daddy had recently bought a little 70 acre farm and finally got it paid for and daddy bought about 50 acres in another place and he paid everything that he made on that place every year. The Depression was coming on then, and all of his year’s work would go to pay on the farm and the farm was worth about what was owed on it. And another year the same deal, it was going down, down, down. The hog price was going down, down, down.

We owed one of daddy’s cousins, I forget whether his name was Sy Jenkins or Sy Young. We’d go pay him once a year, and we’d pay him $700 and that was all the money we could get together. We milked cows and raised chickens to make enough to buy the groceries that we had to have. And all this hog money went to him. He wouldn’t take anything but cash, he wouldn’t take a check, though he and daddy were kin people and my daddy had as good a reputation as anybody did. But he had to go to Lebanon and get those hog checks converted into cash and then had to drive or ride up to see the old man and pay him that $700.

He had a great big old house and he had a dog in the house, and great big old bull dogs, and the doors chained. He had money, but he was ornery. I never did know why he was ornery and so hard until many years later. I knew he didn’t have any children, but I found out later that they had four children and they all died before they were ten days old. I often wondered if that hadn’t contributed to him being so hard and mean. I don’t know whether it did or didn’t.

Go to the granddad blogging main page for more including WWII oral history
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Monday, May 29, 2006

Things I might have done today...

I'm not making the most of this 3 day weekend. But you see I have a good excuse. My car is not working. The battery seems to be dead for no discernable reason. That's worrying, because if I had left the lights on or kept the radio running or something like that, then I could just curse my own stupidity, charge up the battery and move on.

We are charging up the battery, but it takes hours. So it's the perfect excuse to just hang around the house and do nada.

Things I might have done today
1. I could have turned in my knives at the local police station as there is a nationwide knife amnesty. But I only have kitchen knives, and anyway they'd have to pry my knife out of my cold, dead hand if I were in the habit of carrying.
2. Potted up my remaining plants...I'm out of potting soil.
3. Driven down to Crystal Palace to see the really big dinosaurs. It's been on our list of "fun things to do" for a while.
4. Gone to the grocery store for some much needed reprovisioning.

Things I could do without the car, but am not:
1. Cleaning and tidying
2. Laundry

Things I have done:
1. Messed with the cat til she bit me
2. Added some new links to my blog
3. Watched daytime tv.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Human trafficking

I just watched the first of a four parter called Human Trafficking. Now I feel dirty. Billed as non-exploitative, I felt it was all quite cheap and prurient.

It's a 4 part series covering the victims of sex trafficking and one agent's courageous mission to rescue them and bring their captors to justice. Maybe. I'll not find out as I certainly won't be watching it again.

Maybe this is not the kind of subject that can really be done on tv adequately sensitively.


The Salvation Army does some really good work with victims of sex trafficking.

A sunny day...sorta

Not much doin today - did a little gardening - it was the first day without a ton of rain in a while... It was partly cloudy...with intermittent sun.


But more rain expected tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

my birthday gift

Today we went to the Wallace Collection museum and took a course on printmaking based on their arms and armor collection. This was my birthday present, as I could never get the Vol-in-Law to organise such a trip otherwise.

I spent too much time drawing one item...instead of getting a bunch of other ideas, but it was still good to mess around with the ink and use someone else's art supplies.

It was a good day to do it, as it has been raining steadily since the morning.

On the way back, the Undergound seized up (as often seems to happen in wet weather) and we spent nearly an hour in packed bus full of damp Londoners.

Here's what we made:


The vol-in-law

Friday, May 26, 2006

One lucky voter...

As if voting wasn't enough of a lottery... Via Newscoma

This is utterly amazing to me.

(AP) An Arizona political activist is placing his bets that a proposal
to pay one lucky voter $1 million will drive people to the polls.Dr. Mark
Osterloh, an ophthalmologist who has run unsuccessfully for governor and the
Legislature, filed paperwork Monday to put the idea before state voters on the
2006 ballot."Who do you know that doesn't want to be a millionaire? What's the
worst thing that could happen? Everybody who's eligible to vote could be
voting," he said.

I need to think about this. I just see this not working ethically right out of the hatch or at least that's my gut reaction to this news.

I don't need to think about this. I had this idea years ago. But it wouldn't require any kind of taxpayer money. No. When you go to vote, you can buy a special lottery poll ticket. A portion of the money would go to say... education in civics or for voter registration drives or get-out-the-vote campaigns or to translate all those ballots into Spanish or something - and the rest of the money would go to one lucky voter...

Just call me the public policy genius.

Just a little gift of sunshine

After what seems like weeks of rain (it's actually about a week and half) we finally had a warm and sunny afternoon.

Other Cat enjoyed the brief sunshine in the garden - while I worked at home yesterday PM, taking my laptop out into the garden.


But now it's raining again.

Tomorrow's my birthday, and I would enjoy nothing more than a gift of sunshine this Bank Holiday weekend. But this being Britain and this being a Bank Holiday weekend then it will almost certainly rain.



Illegal immigrants and porn

Fellow American expat London blogger Anglofille has a great post about the "tart cards" that fill London phone booths. She says:

The majority of these tart cards feature extremely graphic and vulgar images of women. In 2001 they were banned and anyone caught distributing them can be put in prison for up to 6 months or fined £5000, but it’s obviously not enforced. Nearly 40,000 of these cards are distributed throughout the city each day and you see them everywhere.
(BTW - she has photos over at her site)

To be honest I had forgotten about these, since I've had a mobile phone since 2000 - and so haven't been in a phone booth in ages. But as I remember, if you walk into a central London phone booth you'll be assualted by graphic business cards offering a variety of services. It's not legal to post the cards - and some councils have had crackdowns intermittently. But I guess, since most people have mobile phones now, the booths' main purpose is to serve the prostitution industry with a place for sex workers to sell the wares.

Prostitution is legal for a sole trader in a "residential" premise, but solicitation and advertising is not. Of course, many of these cards offer "massage*".

Who risks the fines and jail time and puts these cards up? Well, I happen to know someone who used to be in that trade. He is an Oak Ridge native and a graduate (I think he graduated) of the University of Tennessee. I've known him since he was six years old. He came over here about 10 years ago, overstayed his tourist visa - and the only employment he could get was as a "tart-card" poster and DJ'ing once a week at the Blue Note. Who says illegals aren't entrepreneurial? Illegals will do the jobs that native Britons just won't do.

The Vol-tart-card-poster is getting married this summer to a rich girl from Indianapolis. Congratulations Mr VTCP, enjoy the day! Perhaps I should send a pack of tart cards for old time's sake**.

*When the Vol-in-Law's back problems were at his most severe, he had a fantastic massage in Finland - from a one-eyed man with shamanistic skills. He walked straight and without pain for the first time in over a year. Didn't last - (the shaman said it wouldn't) - and so the ViL decided to search for massage in London. A search through the yellow pages didn't offer much luck...after several misplaced phone calls to ladies of the night (his story) - he gave up. Now, he says real masseurs have wisened up and list their services under "therapeutic massage".

**Don't worry, VolMom, I won't actually send them. Please don't tell Mr VTCP's mom that he used to do this. I don't think she would approve.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Boy, one of the things I miss about Tennessee is the BBQ. I like me some BBQ. I've introduced the Vol-in-Law to BBQ, too - and I think he loves it more than I do.

So I told the Vol-in-Law that blogger Nashville Knucklehead was opening a BBQ joint.

ViL: But, it's in Nashville, right?
Me: Yeah
ViL: That's not much help.
Me: Well, no, but he wrote so impressively about the BBQ, I think it's got to be good. Otherssaid it was good. We can go the next time we're there.
ViL: Do you think it will be better than the BBQ at the petrol station in Lawrenceburg? (I think he means Leoma)
Me: I don't know.
ViL: Well, that was good BBQ. And the last time we had BBQ in Nashville it wasn't that good.
Anyway, I'm excited. Good luck to you, Knucklehead! Happy prospects to Mothership BBQ:

Mothership BBQ is at 2806 Columbine Place. That's in Berry Hill, about a block behind Sam and Zoe's.

Make a wish

The Make-a-Wish foundation grants wishes to kids with life threatening illnesses. I think we've all heard the heartwarming stories of meeting celebrities the trip to Disneyworld, etc.

But little Harrison Richard, who is recovering from a kidney tumor, used his wish to perform a public service to all Londoners.

Yes, little Harrison operated the giant crusher that struck the first blow against that municipal mistake, the Greater London Council Island block - once an office building for council workers.

Now it's a little boy's dream come true. What a wish!

Harrison said: "I don't mind which is the next building I knock down as long as it is old and ugly like this one,"

It will take another 16 weeks to take down this montrosity. In the meantime, Harrison has the demolition outfit with hardhat and boots and was given a toy model of the crusher he used to strike a blow against urban ugliness.

Photo thanks to Derelict London.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The privileges of adulthood

VolMom is a gardener par excellence. She regularly wins awards in Lawrenceburg. People go and have their bridal photos in her yard.

She regularly involved me and VolBro in the gardening. But mostly in the weeding and mulching not in the decision-making. Whenever some fanciful plant caught my eye in the gardening catalogs, she'd always have some reason to dismiss it. If the flower was some other-worldly blue, she'd point out that a filter had been used. If it had a spectacular giant bloom, she'd point out that it was trick of perspective.

I always wanted to plant allium, the large ornamental onion, and VolMom always said no. In seed catalogs, it was usually pictured in full bloom with a small, blonde child standing next to it, and the kid always a little shorter the top of the seed head. They look like big starry lollipops.

With adulthood comes responsibility, working and paying bills and stuff. But with it also comes the power of decision-making. Ice cream sandwich and a beer for breakfast? Why not. Stay up late, watch a movie full of swearing and bare breasts. I can if I feel like it. Alliums in the garden. Absolutely.

This is a little "arty-shot" of my Globemaster allium.

VolMom wouldn't let me have garden statuary either. And do I have some now? Is my garden a sculpture park - an outdoor museum of gnomes and lantern boys and concrete deer? No. Sadly the Vol-in-Law has put his foot down. But I am allowed to hang pictures in the garden.

Rotation of IMGP2247
Found and purchased art

Fancy at the shrine

canna and lavender
Traditional folk-art fence decoration

IMGP0957 crop1
Part of a slate and mirror mosaic, which in its making resulted in a trip to the emergency room with glass in my eye

UPDATE: The Today Programme - the morning news radio for the intelligentsia and policy makers of Britain did a little feature on sneaking a garden gnome into the Chelsea Flower Show - the creme of garden shows in England.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


tap, tap, tap. is this thing on?

Young's Brewery to close

I heard on the news today that Young's Brewery, just up the road in Wandsworth Town, is shutting down its local operations after 425 of brewing on the Wandle. Young's will move its operations to Bedfordshire.

That's a shame. I'm glad we took the tour last summer.

Ninety people will lose their jobs. The dray horses, still used to deliver beer locally, will be retired. I wonder if that retired as in lovely pasture in Surrey or retired as in glue?

And what will happen to the other critters that live on site, like the brewery cats. Perhaps the Vol-in-Law will let me take one in.

Vee haff vays of making you laff

It's a commonly held notion, especially in the UK, that Germans have no sense of humor. I can attest that they do, but it is very different. It's a direct sense of humor, stark and pitiless, but Germans have often made me crack up to rib-aching, eye-watering, hysteria. On one occasion, my friend Vol A and I were in Mexico and had met up with a couple of German fellows. They crossed the roads of Veracruz without much regard for the Mexican traffic. When we rebuked them for their lack of caution, they said "You must be careful, but in Germany we have nationally funded health insurance." (Maybe you had to be there.)

Stewart Lee is one of my favorite British comedians. He's incredibly irreverant and one of the geniuses behind the downright blasphemous Jerry Springer, the Opera. (It puts The Da Vinci Code into the heretical shade). He's written an article about the cultural chasm between British (or anglophone) humor and its Germanic cousin.

The good folks at The Guardian, where the article appears, have kindly gathered up some German jokes for your reading pleasure. Here's a sample:

Tabea Rudolph, 26, Stuttgart

There are problems in the woods. The animals of the forest are always drunk, so the fox decides to ban alcohol.

The following day, the fox spies a rabbit hanging out of a tree, clearly wasted. The fox ticks him off, and carries on his way. But the next day he sees the rabbit drunk again, and gives him a final warning.

The next day, the fox does his rounds and there's no sign of the rabbit, but he notices a straw sticking out of a stream. Wondering what it is, the fox scoops it out, only to find a very drunk rabbit on the other end of it. "How many times do I have to tell you that animals of the forest aren't allowed alcohol?" says the Fox.

"We fishes don't give a toss what the animals of the forest aren't allowed to do," says the rabbit

Vee haff vays of making you laff

It's a commonly held notion, especially in the UK, that Germans have no sense of humor. I can attest that they do, but it is very different. It's a direct sense of humor, stark and pitiless, but Germans have often made me crack up to rib-aching, eye-watering, hysteria. On one occasion, my friend Vol A and I were in Mexico and had met up with a couple of German fellows. They crossed the roads of Veracruz without much regard for the Mexican traffic. When we rebuked them for their lack of caution, they said "You must be careful, but in Germany we have nationally funded health insurance." (Maybe you had to be there.)

Stewart Lee is one of my favorite British comedians. He's incredibly irreverant and one of the geniuses behind the downright blasphemous Jerry Springer, the Opera. (It puts The Da Vinci Code into the heretical shade). He's written an article about the cultural chasm between British (or anglophone) humor and its Germanic cousin.

The good folks at The Guardian, where the article appears, have kindly gathered up some German jokes for your reading pleasure. Here's a sample:

Tabea Rudolph, 26, Stuttgart

There are problems in the woods. The animals of the forest are always drunk, so the fox decides to ban alcohol.

The following day, the fox spies a rabbit hanging out of a tree, clearly wasted. The fox ticks him off, and carries on his way. But the next day he sees the rabbit drunk again, and gives him a final warning.

The next day, the fox does his rounds and there's no sign of the rabbit, but he notices a straw sticking out of a stream. Wondering what it is, the fox scoops it out, only to find a very drunk rabbit on the other end of it. "How many times do I have to tell you that animals of the forest aren't allowed alcohol?" says the Fox.

"We fishes don't give a toss what the animals of the forest aren't allowed to do," says the rabbit

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Commons

So tonight I was drinking at the Houses of Parliament, an annual drinks for the Wandsworth Conservatives. I can't say it was the best time I've had with them, but it was fun. The main disappointment was that we were at the terrace bar, but the weather was dreadful, windy and rainy. Thus we couldn't enjoy what must normally be one of the best views in London.

Highlights of the evening include smoking on the terrace - which is against the law at the very place where they make the laws. Sure I only got three quarters of the way thru the cigarette before I got told off by the wait staff. But it was the ultimate in petty rebellion.

I also passed the current Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt in the hallway. But I'm dreadful at spotting celebrities of any sort, it was the Vol-in-Law who recognised her. For my American readers, this might be a little like spotting Michael (?) Chertoff. They are both doing a heckuva job, according to their equally odious leaders.


Drought order

Regular readers may be aware of my ire at the hosepipe ban - keen gardeners such as myself are unable to use hosepipes or sprinklers to water our lawns or gardens.

Now some water companies are getting even tougher - disallowing the use of water for certain commercial activities - such as watering golf courses, and using piped mains water for car washes, and window cleaning. The Environment Agency (which advises and regulates on such matters) put pressure on my water company to request a drought order. Thames Water refused. Indeed, the right call since reservoirs are at over 90 per cent capacity.

But ever since the drought order has been in place, it's been raining. Raining, with brief moments of hazy sunlight, then drizzle, then rain. My water butt is full and overflowing. My flower pots are saturated. And I'm missing warmth and sunshine so much I think I'm coming on with Spring onset Seasonal Affective Disorder or SO-SAD.

Last one on the ark, rescind the drought order.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lordi, Lordi, Hurray the Finns!

A Finnish "horror-rock" band Lordi won the Eurovision song contest last night. Fantastic!

Lordi's masks, armour and jets of flame attracted widespread attention before the contest - but many thought they were too outlandish to win.

Too outlandish to win?? Restraint is no way to win the Eurovision song contest. After all, the Ukrainian winner of a few years back won on the back of furs and whips.

For my American readers - the unitiated to Eurovision - let me try to explain. The Eurovision song contest was set up many years ago to promote harmony through song. But I suspect it was really an attempt to showcase French and German pop, which really cannot compete outside (or even in) their home market with British, Irish and American pop. We anglophones are the royalty of rock, the princes of pop.

The contest has changed a lot over the years. Yes, it's still cheesy pop, scantily clad chanteuses, and inscrutable English lyrics sung with incomprehensible foreign accents. (Most songs are sung in English, except for French entrants who I think are required by law to sing in their native tongue). It's still a lot of prancing around to bizarrely choreographed routines, but now it's even more so. Since the fall of Communism, Eastern European countries - the Latvias, Moldovas and even Armenias are swarming the competition. And let me tell you, nobody does cheesy like the Eastern Europeans. Their cheesiness is just so thoroughly earnest. There's no smug self-awareness, no post-modernist irony, they just go out there and sing and dance their painfully cheesy best. It's awesome.

The only downside to the new entrants is that all countries participating get a vote. The vote used to be some kind of rigged set up by judges from each of the countries who would swap votes in regional blocks. Now the Eurovision Song Contest promoters have cottoned on to the premium-rate phone in - and citizens from all over Europe can vote in to support their favorite act - though not for their own country's entrant.

People still vote regionally, often overcoming past conflicts. For example, Croats will vote overwhelmingly for Serbs. Last night Lithuanians voted strongly for the Russian song "Never let you go." (See video complete with creepy imperialist lyrics and wife-beater t-shirt). So perhaps I underestimate either the Baltic sense of irony or the effect of pop on global harmony.

But with all these countries voting, the part of the show where the votes are tallied - which used to be the best bit has now become tedious and over-long. Although there are only 24 acts in the final, there must be about 40 countries eligible to vote.

And last night, those 40 countries overwhelmingly supported the Finland's entry, a Eurovision first. Check out their Eurovision entry and the winning song's official video (complete with cheerleaders.) I must say Lordi look especially incongruous holding their winners' bouquets and monster masks. Congrats to 'em.

T-tags: , Eurovision, Video, Pop, Rock,Finland

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's English

I see the Senate has passed a measure which would make English the official language in the US. I guess it was inevitable in today's anti-immigration political climate, but in a way it makes me kind of sad.

In a world of official state songs, flowers, trees and critters of all descriptions, I thought it was cool that the language was allowed to evolve naturally. English survives and thrives because it is peraps the most adaptable, flexible, expressive and precise language on the planet.

What's next? An American Academy of Language determining our usage like the French Academie Francaise? I hope not.

La première mission lui a été conférée dès l’origine par ses statuts. Pour s’en acquitter, l’Académie a travaillé dans le passé à fixer la langue, pour en faire un patrimoine commun à tous les Français et à tous ceux qui pratiquent notre langue.

Aujourd’hui, elle agit pour en maintenir les qualités et en suivre les évolutions nécessaires. Elle en définit le bon usage.Elle le fait en élaborant son dictionnaire qui fixe l’usage de la langue, mais aussi par ses recommandations et par sa participation aux différentes commissions de terminologie

I think this translates* as: our role is to be a bunch of hidebound academics who fix the French language to some point in the past so that it becomes less and less relevant as time goes on.

* I am very disappointed that the Academie Francaise website doesn't have a little US or UK flag in the corner translating the site into English - the current lingua franca.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Shhh... Quiet

I'm on the train - in the quiet carriage. The one where you aren't allowed to use your mobile phone.

Some guy is snoring his head off, I wish a phone would ring and wake him up.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where do you draw the line?

Via Irresponsible Journalism:

I've been a staunch supporter of Bush & The War in the past, and still am of the War. But breaking the law aka The Fourth Amendment: well, there are lines. If the USA Today article is true, then Bush has violated the Fourth Amendment and deserves to be impeached. In the words of John Stewart, "I did not have sexual relations with that NSA program". Our government is subject to the laws of the land, just like all of us.

Yatta, yatta, yatta, blah, blah, blah...this is what's making you mad? Yeah,'s bad and all, collecting data on every phone call made in America. But this is what finally tips you over? This is your line?

Why wasn't it your line when the government admitted to listening in to international phone calls? You think everyone who phones or receives calls from outside of the United States is somehow suspect? That my rights and family's rights as citizens weren't violated when they listened in on our calls? (Potentially listened in, I'm not paranoid, but maybe, just maybe we got lucky dipped one night)

'Course, if they did listen in to some of my transatlantic phone calls they might have got:

  • There's not much going on in Lawrenceburg. What's blooming in your garden right now?
  • Yeah, I watched the game. How 'bout them Vols? (Voice tone depends on whether it was last season or not)

But then again they might have heard:

  • This is it, you had better book a flight for tomorrow. I reckon we'll have the funeral over the weekend.

or maybe they got:

  • What are the incompetent, constitution breaking nuts in the Bush Administration up to this time?

Granddad blogging: huntin' and choppin'

Last week in granddad blogging my grandfather described bathing and the interior wall treatments of the converted school house he grew up in (it's better than it sounds), this week he talks about hunting and trapping.

I trapped and caught ‘possums and polecats and coons. Tried to catch foxes. Never did do much good at that. But there was a black family that lived down below us. They had good dogs and I went huntin’ with them a lot. They’d come up to the house about 4 o’clock in the morning, knock on the porch and I’d have to get my clothes on real fast and bounce out the door and we’d go huntin.

They had dogs that would tree animals, in holes or up in the trees, catch ‘em before they could get in the hole or the tree. We’d catch from none to four or five animals before daylight. Then we had to come home. And if we caught a pole cat, well, I’d change clothes and wash a little, but had to wear the same shoes and go to school and get in there where they had a pot belly stove. You could tell whether I’d caught a pole cat or not.

We would skin the animals and sell the hides. We usually carried ‘em to a country store or we carried ‘em to Lebanon. Down on the square there’s a statue standing of General Stratton, I believe it is. It had an iron fence around it and the fur buyers would come and stand around that fence and you would show ‘em your furs and they’d tell you what they’d give you for it. If they bought it, they’d pay you for it and hang it up on that fence. They’d buy fur from all over Wilson Co all day long. I reckon they carried it to Nashville and sold it to somebody and then it wound up being shipped to St. Louis or Chicago or New York or somewhere where they needed ‘em for coats and hats and what have you.

We also caught rabbits. We dressed them, that was simply takin the insides out and leaving the fur and everything on ‘em. We wouldn’t eat ‘em that way, but we’d take those rabbits down there, too. They’d give us a dime a piece for ‘em. And they shipped them to Nashville, I don’t know where. Somebody ate ‘em somewhere.

I ate rabbit, but I wouldn’t eat a rabbit that had been done like that, whole and all. But now in England at one time, they dressed rabbits and hung them in the well. They’d let ‘em hang there to where when the pulled the hair it would slip off and come off. They also hung chickens in the well and let them hang there til where when you pulled the feathers the feathers would come off. I never would go for that either.

We raised chickens, a lot of ‘em. The ones we were gonna eat, we took ‘em and put ‘em in a chicken coop and fed ‘em, confined ‘em pretty tight, and fed ‘em corn and gravy, I don’t know what all. Fattened ‘em up, and they would get fat in there. Sort of like the French do with geese. They nail their feet down to where they can’t move. But these chickens were stuck tight in the coop and they couldn’t move much.

After they’d been in there so long, we’d take ‘em out and we’d either cut the heads off or take ‘em and wring their heads off and then dip ‘em in hot water. You had to be careful and not dip ‘em too long. Then you could pull the feathers out pretty easily. Then you cut the chicken up and washed it real good and put a little salt on ‘em. We never would eat ‘em the day we killed ‘em. We’d keep ‘em overnight and eat ‘em the next day. But a lot of people would go out and kill ‘em and cook ‘em and eat ‘em right then. But we would never do that, I don’t know why. We thought they were better if you wait a day, I reckon. That’s the only reason I know.

Go to the granddad blogging portal page

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Not your usual kitty treat

I was walking around the garden dead-heading the pansies, when Other Cat started meowing most plaintively. I had forgotten that, after I finally broke her of eating the blooms off the plants, we used to have a little game where I'd feed her the faded blossoms that I removed.

So, we walked around the garden, still damp from a rainy afternoon, I pulled the old blossoms and fed them to her petal by petal.

mmm, tasty

Funny thing is, she only waits for me to feed her the pansies, she'll still eat alyssum and other flowers straight off the plant.

Financing health care

Do you think Government has no business in funding health care? Think again. In the US, the government is already paying almost half of health care costs. But with the US having the most expensive health care system in the world and with poorer health outcomes than many industrialised countries, there has to be a more efficient way of doing things. The US could have a "single-payer" system* that covered more people, more effectively and more efficiently with far less coming out of individual's pockets.

The current sytem is groaning under the strain and here are some of the reasons why, according to Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton University health economist, speaking to a conference of state finance officers:

Reinhardt warned his listeners that his remarks would “make you scared of health care, as you should be.” Health care, he pointed out, is now “the locomotive that pulls the economy.” Flashing his slides, he noted that half of GDP growth now comes from health care. “Aside from saving lives, health care also creates enormous numbers of jobs. Having said that, I will now beat up on it.”
Among the economic “beat ups” Reinhardt set down for GFOA listeners:

  • There is a “2 1/2 rule” of health care spending in the United States. “Every year, the health sector wants 4.5 percent more real dollars per American than the year before. GDP is growing 2 percent. So, every year the health care system wants to grow faster than the rest of GDP. Health care always gets this money. and we can assume it will continue to do so.”
  • Canada, with its universal health system, spends 57 percent per capita of what the United States spends.
  • Today, one-third of all health spending is by private insurance companies, 15.3 percent comes from individuals and government writes 48 percent of the checks.
  • While health insurance premiums rose 9 percent in 2004, 55 percent of American businesses experienced premium increases of more than 10 percent — some more than 20%. “What this means is that businesses will dump employees into your laps.”
  • As the economy roared during the 1990s, the number of insured never grew. “This shows that the idea that we can grow out of this problem is dead.”
  • “With current trends, the average cost of health insurance per American family will price out one-third of Americans. Yet there is no legislation on uninsurance before the U.S. Congress. So the real question is, will we in the upper one-third be willing to come up with help subsidizing health care for the lower one-third? You’ll have to read your old and new testament to answer that.”

    (Article by Penelope Lemov,

    *always a misnomer, since the wealthiest will always be able to opt-out and go private if they want to - you can still get your cadillac care if you want to.

Monday, May 15, 2006

National Guard, Mexico and vast right-wing conspiracies

OK, so President Bush is sending the National Guard, our volunteer part-time army, down to Mexico to patrol the border. Don't worry, it's only temporary. When the Mexicans stand up, we'll stand down.

Lots of other people have already commented on this with nice thoughtful, posts (see Brittney's round-up at Nashville is talking.)

This isn't going to be one of those thoughtful posts. The rational me says..."this is just a stunt to shore up the base in a midterm year when Bush has slipping poll numbers."

But that's just too easy, too pat. Some tiny part of me is saying: "Dang! Bush has form. He's going to invade!" (And I hope that's my comedy voice and not my oddly prescient voice.)

See, the American electorate is tired of all these far flung foreign wars. Iran is just too far away and those people are so crazy they just might fight back, like the walkover in Iraq. No, we could have a war where we just drive down across the border, drink a few margaritas, eat some tacos, buy some cheap but colorful ponchos and then take over the country. He stacking troops on the Mexican border as a staging post. All this malarky about preventing "drug and people smuggling" is a ruse.

Mark my words, we'll own Mexico by October.

But there's an upside, besides the colorful ponchos. Once we've incorporated Mexico into the United States, there won't be anymore Mexicans illegally crossing the border.

Mission accomplished!

T-tags: Mexico, invasion, Bush, immigration, illegal immigration, National Guard

Sunday, May 14, 2006

DaVinci Code - SPOILER

I admit it. I read The Da Vinci Code. And you know what, I enjoyed it. It's an easy read, it's pretty gripping and was the perfect commuter book. I'm sure it would also be good on a plane or a beach. It wasn't great literature, but I don't mind stuffing my head with all kinds of crap. I'm easy that way.

If you are one of the few people (it seems) who haven't read the book, but do plan to go to the movie and don't want to know how it ends - look away now. But if you have no intention of reading it or bothering with the film - go ahead, I sum up everything - and then I tell you the really controversial bit!


Ok, so basically the whole premise of the book is that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and that they had a kid. Not only that, but the kid survived and has descendants alive today.

And not only that, but the the Catholic church hierarchy has known about this for say...2000 years and they've been working to cover it up. Meanwhile, there's another group of people who know and keep the secret. And an albino monk goes mad...and there's lots of driving around and visiting famous landmarks in Europe...and then, and find out that not only did Mary Magdalene and Jesus' baby live, but they became French and Mary Magdalene is burried beneath the weird glass pyramid at the Louvre (which explains why they built over the objections of just about everybody in France).

Last night I watched a bit of a show looking at the different aspects of the Da Vinci Code - and they went through the contentious bits fact by fact. I have to say, it was all very plausible. Alright, the book is fully of hooey, and a lot of the stuff in there has been floated before... but some of it has validity.

1.Da Vinci's Last Supper - that is a woman sitting at Jesus' right hand side. Yep, it sure is. But why should an Italian renaissance painter know anything about what happened in Nazareth in 33 AD?
2. Mary Magdalene was an apostle of Christ.
3. The rest was all debunked or not proven.

The only thing that matters in all of this is the resurfacing notion that Mary Magdalene (and thus, by extension Martha) were part of the band of apostles. Thus blasting the notion - as I believe Jesus did - that only men can be ordained to do the work of God.

And while I'm not a big believer in conspiracy theories, the Church is still denying this?


Put it this way, in any reading of the Bible, Mary played at least a big a role as Peter. Martha was around as much as some of those other lesser apostles. Mary was clearly part of Jesus' religious life and work. So why do some churches still insist that women can't have a formal role in spiritual matters because Jesus didn't choose any women to be part of his work?

old and new

McCain, Falwell and the swing voter

I saw at Swap Blog that the religious right aren't trusting McCain cosying up to Jerry Falwell. But it was recognised that he had appeal to the swing voter.

Well, yes he did. McCain seemed like the reasonable Republican - the one who might tempt a fair number of centrists to vote for him, particularly if the Democrats choose a far-lefty. But no more.

In the Economist this week his latest lurches to the right include:

  • backing "Intelligent Design" being taught in classrooms
  • supporting the South Dakota abortion law
  • endorsing Arizona's constitutional amendement to ban same-sex marriage

Happy Mother's Day

It's not Mother's Day in the UK - I think it's in March. So no cards, banners in store windows or advertising on tv or in the papers to remind me that it's mother's day in America today.

Thank goodness for the Internets.

Anyway, Happy Mother's Day VolMom. Thanks.


Horticultural lies and half-truths

When I first came to Britain - almost ten years ago exactly - there were two places that I really wanted to visit that maybe aren't on the usual tourist circuit. Number one was Powis Castle in Wales, from which the Powis Castle artemisia draws its name (I still haven't been - it's in Mid-Wales, hard to get to - we arrived on Wednesday only to discover it's closed on a Wednesday). And I wanted to see the laburnum arch - the famous laburnum arch - at Bodnant Gardens* in North Wales.

I had seen a black and white photo of the laburnum arch at Bodnant Gardens* and I wanted to see it in all of its glorious and sunny yellowness. The laburnum trees carefully arched together over a frame hidden by flowers and foliage - the graceful yellow flowers draping sweetly and gently overhead as you walk through what's more of a tunnel than an arch.

The Vol-in-Law, VolMom, VolBro and I went together and I was so excited. We went straight to the laburnum arch and it was in full bloom. But like many things built up in the mind - it failed to match my expectations. It was lower and closer than I imagined. We all stood around and kind of wondered what the fuss was about. Then I sat down on the ground, I lay prone and finally the perspective came clear. That's how it had been photographed. I snapped a picture, too. And there it was in full color - the fabulous laburnum arch of Bodnant Gardens. Back in the states - there were oohs and ahs - but I knew it wasn't all that really.

And so the cycle of horticultural half-truths continues. I was drawn by the picture with the misleading perspective. I arrived, took a photo with a misleading perspective and perhaps drew others to visit.

In Richmond Deer Park not too far from our house, they're trying to establish a laburnum walk - same concept. It's not as old and filled in as the one at Bodnant gardens, but suffers from the same problems of dimensions and space. The photo below isn't nearly as good as the one I took with my old 35mm SLR, but it's taken from the same position - flat on my back.

laburnum walk

*Bodnant Gardens is still absolutely worth a visit - magical woodland valley gardens planted in a naturalistic style. The gardener who created it had future vision that went beyond a season or two - but thought years ahead to vistas framed by mature trees.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Nashville's dinnergate

I see that Nashville's dinner-gate issue - whether council members can eat for free on food supplied by local Nashville restaurants - is in the Tennessean again.

Councillors are considering tinkering with the hospitality rules to allow them to accept food up to a value of $25.

I'm not sure if sponsored suppers for local politicians is a good idea - but I don't have a problem with them getting some grub during long evening meetings. Why not just pay for it out of the Metro budget?


In one of my previous jobs, we had very strict hospitality rules. Since it involved visiting local councils with a view to checking out what they had or had not done wrong we had to be careful about being swayed by council hospitality. Our rules allowed us to drink as many cups of tea or coffee as the council might provide - milky tea tasting vaguely of dusty tea factory floor sweepings or cheap instant coffee usually. But we were only allowed one (1) council biscuit. Seriously. When presented with a plate of dry cookies with the knowledge that you can have only one - the pressure to choose wisely was high.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wine and political commentary

Before we got the 52 bottles of wine (now down to around 42, I think) we might have a single glass of wine with supper...Just now we've polished off a bottle and I'm feeling distinctly woozy. So instead of actually coming up with my own commentary, I'll just steal someone else's.

As a political junkie, I am quite enjoying the drama playing out right now in the UK. For my American readers, just a little background. Tony Blair is expected to hand over the leadership of the Labour Party (and thus the role of Prime Minister) to Gordon Brown before the next general election, but no one knows when this will happen. Given his mounting scandals and recent local election defeats, Blair is facing rebellion from Labour MPs who want him to set a timetable for his departure ASAP. In response, Blair is essentially giving everyone the finger. I think this sums it up?
Yeah...all that and more...over here. How's that for witty and insightful?


Back a few years ago, I was getting my haircut in Lawrenceburg. Now, hairdressers just about anywhere outside of Westminster or Washington are not known for their political nous, and even more not much known for their knowledge of foreign political leaders.

My hairdresser du jour knew I'd come in from out of town - VolMom had phoned for an emergency appointment after all. But when I said I lived in London she was pretty flabbergasted. "London, England?" she said. I confirmed.

She was quiet for a moment and then "That Tony Blair's all right." she said.

I hardly knew what to say...not having ever been a big fan of New Labour. But I will say this... he said the right thing on 9/11 - and I will never forget him for that - on a day when I was wondering "Where's my president?" Tony Blair stepped up to the plate and delivered. And I think that's what Americans know and remember him for - not just his obsequious and unfathomable loyalty to Mr Bush.

So no matter if his approval rating has dipped even below Bush's - Tony Blair always be able to make the big bucks on the American lecture circuit. And that must be some comfort.

Extreme weather conditions

There are delays on a number of Underground lines because of extreme weather conditions. There are spped restrictions because the rails the trains travel on can't take the heat.

How hot is it?

Well, to give you some idea of how hot it is, I'm actually wearing a sweater, albeit cotton, as I attempt to travel home on one of the lines with speed restrictions.

One of my colleagues said it was "broiling" today. I nod and smile as I now know it's the greatest social transgression to disagree with a Brit's assessment of the weather.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Really important gummint news

Today I picked up two really important bits of public safety information from the UK Home Office:

Summer sun no excuse for drunken disorder

Really? Now see, I don't agree. Perfect excuse. Absolutely perfect. Drunken disorder on a hazy or overcast day, however, really is unacceptable. But the cops say:

“This campaign comes hot on the heels of the successful Christmas campaign, and will reinforce the message that rowdy, intimidating and violent behaviour will be no more tolerated during the summer months than during the festive season."

So it looks like drunkenness is a no-no at Christmas and Summer, but a-ok in the Spring and Fall.

And - through another national feed - we get the Home Office shed security advice for Sedgefield Borough Council. I'm not sure where that is - but they're sheds are being targeted. Advice for Sedgefield residents:

With summer fast approaching, Sedgefield Community Safety Partnership is urging members of the community to think about the security of their garden equipment and have provided some handy hints for residents.

1. Ensure that your shed is in good condition.
2. Fit a good lock on your shed door. The fitting should be bolted through the door of the shed and reinforced at the back with a steel plate. The hasp should have concealed screws or coach bolts fitted.
3. Fit any shed windows with a grille.
4. Security mark property such as lawnmowers, garden furniture etc.
5. Never leave items unattended even if you are just popping into the house.

I have been the victim of shed burglary myself. Some thieves in Coventry stole our landlords really heavy, non-working lawnmower. So I can feel the pain of the Sedgefield residents, but how bad must it be if you have to lock up your garden furniture while topping up your drink in the house.

Murder update

I posted about some recent murders in my neck of the woods. Really, Tooting is quite safe. Don't let me and my murder talk put you off visiting. And please don't let it put you off buying my house at a premium when I'm done with it.

Anyway, now the Metropolitan police have placed the "murder board" near the scene of the crime. This is a common tactic for the Met. It must work, since they keep doing it (?). It's an appeal for information, but I reckon it must mostly serve to scare people silly and cause house prices to plummet. It certainly reduces the joie de vivre that Tooting is normally known for.

Rotation of IMGP3121

I'd also like to point out that it couldn't have been me. I was in Wandsworth Town drinking with the local Tory politicians (and an MP*) about that time.

The Vol-in-Law is at a borough wide neighbourhood watch meeting - so he may well come home with juicy goss from the cops.
*OK she was across the room and doesn't know me from adam's off ox, but lots of other people can vouch for me.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

hitch 'em young

In the blog for state and local government (there's a blog for everything these days) the 13th Floor a post today berates the minimum age for marriage in Kansas

Kansas is putting an end to child brides -- kinda. The state passed a minimum age requirement for marriage. Previously, Kansas didn't have a minimum age standard in cases where a girl had her parents' consent to get married.

But Kansas is hardly alone, lots of other states have low, low minimum consent.

Alabama: 14
Texas: 14
Utah: 14
New Hampshire: 13 for girls.

In all those states you need parental consent or the permission of a judge, but in Mississippi girls can marry at 15 and boys at 17 without parental consent.

I never knew that states had differential ages for males and females for minimum ages to marry. But NH, AR, DE, OH, RI, SC and PR all have differential age minimums. I'm not sure I approve in principle, but then I don't approve in practice of getting married that young no matter your gender.

Tennessee's minimum age for marriage is 16, although you can obtain a license under special circumstances...

Puerto Rico, incidentally has the highest age for marrying without parental consent - 21.

Granddad blogging: cleaning up

Last time in Granddad blogging, he described the home he grew up in near Tucker's Cross Roads in Wilson County, Tenneseee. This weeks he talks about cleanliness and wall treatments.

And we took a bath once a week, whether we needed it or not, in the room where we stayed. Where the big fireplace was. We’d pull the shades on those windows. We must have had 10 foot ceilings, I don’t know, they were tall. And you’d buy curtains to put on the windows, but they never could get shades long enough to come all the way down to the floor. So when we took a bath, we’d have to get papers and put on the shades down to the floor, so people couldn’t see in and also to keep the cold out. We’d put papers over the door, and heated water boiling hot and pour it in a number two washtub. My daddy would take a bath in that number two wash tub, and put clean clothes on, which he changed once a week whether he needed to or not and poured the water outside. Then we’d make another washing, a tub full of water, and they’d put me in and I’d take a bath. Then my mother would take a bath in the water that I had just taken a bath in. And then we all put on clean clothes and that was it. Didn’t do any more bathin’ til the next Saturday night. We all had long handle underwear, sleeves came down to your arms, legs came down below your ankles.

That old school house had lots of cracks and crevices and loose windows and loose doors and the wind would come through. It wasn’t very substantial or solid, and we would paper it every once in a while. It was hard even to keep wallpaper on the walls. As I told you, this house that we lived in was very open, no insulation. And we’d take demaskin(?), real thin demaskin, and put it on the wall first, and then we’d put the paper over that, because the paper wouldn’t stick to the wall, but it would stick to the demastos (?) that you tacked onto the wall, and we would get that fixed up. And then when the wind blew real hard you could see that paper shaking and movin’ about. Eventually it’d crack and have to be repapered again.

People’d come over just to visit a lot. They’d come about dark, sit by the fire about an hour and go home again. We had a friend that came to visit us at nights a lot, Dillon Beaver?, and Mr Dillon never did wash his hair, I don’t reckon. It was greasy, Lord, it was greasy. When he came he always set over there on the south wall in a straight backed chair, and lean back his head onto the wall and the paper, and I don’t reckon he ever washed his head, ever. It was just as greasy as greasy as greasy could be. And when he would leave, there was such a big spot, that you can’t imagine, where his head had messed up the wallpaper. It would leave a great big old greasy place, ‘cause he’d move about this way and that about a foot and a half long and about a half a foot deep. And my daddy wouldn’t let my mother say anything to him about it, and he wouldn’t say anything to him about it either, but they sure didn’t like it. My mother sure did hate to see him coming when she just papered the house, ‘cause she knew he was gonna leave a great big greasy place on her new wallpaper.

Me: Didn’t your neighbor ever notice the greasy spot he left on the wall?

Granddad: Well, he had greasy spots all over the wall at his house, didn’t mean anything in the world to him.
Go to the granddad blogging home page for more including WWII oral history
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Silly cat post

Fancy, the precious black cat, likes to cross over the fence and into other people's back gardens. I worry about that.

A few days ago, I could see very well that she meant to go into my neighbour's house. I shouted at her to stop - but cats pay little heed to orders.

A few moments later I heard him say "Stupid cat, don't drink that."

But it was said more in amusement than in anger.

Today, she popped over the fence and began mewling at the neighbour's door. A sad kittenish squeak - pitiful. My neighbour's teenage daughter was visiting and she opened the door. Clearly Fancy has been grooming her in an attempt to elicit treats and petting. Unfortunately, Fancy bites. I overheard visiting-neighbour-daughter in say that she had petted the cat, but it had bitten her. This was also said more in amusement than in anger. Fancy doesn't bite hard, but she does, unfortunately - bite compulsively.

Fancy in the garden

This being England, of course, I can't just chat over the back fence. I'd have to go round the front to discuss the actions of my stupid cat.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hang on to choice

Egalia and Middle Tennessee in CE Petro in East Tennessee both blog about what Wellesley women are doing to support choice in Tennessee.

As Egalia reminds us:

The bill that would outlaw abortion in this state -- and permit NO exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of a woman passed in the senate by a vote of 24 to 9! While SJR 127 was voted down in a House committee, there is still time in this session for the bill to be resurrected. If lawmakers decide to revive the bill and are able to get it to the House floor, SJR 127 will likely end up on Phil Bredesen’s desk.


January and February and even March - always dreary at the best of times in London - were especially cold and dark and drizzly. A tiny glimpse of sunshine was a cause for celebration. To stave off the winter blues, I browsed the garden catalogues - online - where it's easy to click and buy. I bought in anticipation of summer.

I bought this and that and the other. At this point, I'm not even sure what all I ordered. I went with an orange theme - what could be brighter and cheerier?

Now, my plants are starting to arrive. They come in bare root plugs which must be "potted on" in Britspeak garden jargon. Meaning, I've got to pot them up in small containers. I ran out of containers and have moved on to cheap plastic drinking cups with holes poked in the bottom. My patio tables are covered in little cups of spriglet plants waiting to be orange.


I'm always in anticipation of the next season. Do I have beautiful tulips and daffodils? Then it's time to think about the summer bedding. Beautiful cannas, lush impatiens, crocosmia bursting with color - then I'm thinking about the right time in the autumn to spread compost and where I have holes in my bulb scheme. I'm rarely in the moment. It's a strength - for gardeners must work in four dimensions - the three dimensions of space but also time for good succession, for a garden that has interest every day of the year. But it's a weakness, too because I fail to savor now.

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Tree peony

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Blue bell and tulip

Blue bell and tulip

T-tags: , ,

Saturday, May 06, 2006

edgy Tooting

In a where to live in London guide, Tooting got a mention for its "multi-ethnic edginess". I'd say it was more multi-ethnic than edgy. Generally a pretty quiet area, but it's part of a big city, so there's some crime, but nothing more than you'd expect.

But a couple of weeks ago two young men were killed in an astonishingly brutal murder. They were dragged out of a van and beaten and stabbed to death by about 13 people. It doesn't appear to be a random act - it seems to be Asian* gang warfare. Details are still sketchy.

Then early Friday morning, someone else was stabbed and killed this time near the Underground station. The whole of the main intersection near Tooting Broadway was cordoned off by the police - and remained that way until nearly 8pm last night as crime scene investigators scoured the area. The speculation is that it's related, but no one knows for sure.

The cordon was down when we returned from dinner last night - and special contractors were washing the blood off the pavement.

*ViL: Asian in the English sense, ie south Asian (Pakistan-India-Bangladesh)

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community documentation

I love this. There's now a wiki for documenting the disaster of the Bush presidency. The main page says "just the facts", but facts are filtered through opinion. It's just as much about what's not there as what is there. I mean where will the positive contributions of the Bush administration be recorded...oh yeah, there's already a site for that.

Actually, I'm struggling to come up with anything that the Bush Adminstration has done that I agree with... Oh yeah, I do like the principles of No Child Left Behind -- but I'm not so keen on how they have put the policy into practice. They didn't adequately fund it and there are flaws. All policies have flaws - nature of the beast - but the Bush mal-Administration is so disinterested in actually governing that they don't bother to reevaluate. Any pointers to improve are seen as a sign of disloyalty. Very Maoist, I must say.

Anyway, it's a great idea and I really like the idea of using the web community for compiling living history.

Hat tip to Alice at 10,000 monkeys and a camera.

raw hide

OK, I've been posting on the local elections in the UK, which are interesting enough - in their own way.

But Rex L. Camino reminds me why I miss Tennessee politics.

Do be sure to check out the comments section.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sickening results in London elections

The Tories made good gains in London in yesterday's local elections. That's good. I'd have been disappointed if Labour or Lib Dems had done better than they did, but not disgusted.

But there are some sickening results in London. The British National Party won 11 seats in Barking & Dagenham - becoming the main opposition. And George Galloway's "Respect" party won 11 seats in Tower Hamlets. I think both parties are sick and divisive national socialists - they just appeal to different nations. Respect appeals to the odd coalition of trotskyites and islamo-nazis. The BNP appeals mostly to your traditional working class white with racist resentments.

Their election - equally - can only prove divisive, fractionalising society. We don't have to all agree, but we do have to all rub along together. Respect and BNP aren't really interested in that. I can only hope the rot stops before we see anything like the Parisian riots here in London.

T-tags: , Politics, Current Affairs, United Kingdom, UK, , , Respect , George Galloway,

Fair and transparent elections

I can't vote in the UK, but I'm interested in the electoral process. During one general election, I accompanied the Vol-in-Law to the polls, just to see how it was done. I wasn't sure I would get in, but the poll workers let me stand next to the Vol-in-Law as he placed an X in three boxes on a paper ballot, with only some ugly plywood boards between him and the next voting station for privacy. Then he slipped the folded ballot into a slot in a sealed metal ballot box - and that was it.

I laughed at the primitive nature of it all. Of course, that was before the debacle in 2000 with the hanging chads, the contested election and the Supreme Court choosing our President for us. That was before the specter of black box electronic voting designed and programmed by companies that give tons of soft money to the Republicans.

Last night I attended the count. Attending the count is partly a reward to people who have volunteered in the campaign. It's partly to support your local candidates, win or lose. And it's partly to participate in the political process itself - ensuring that the process is open and fair. (Of course, that means that all parties need to have folks in attending the count).

We watched as the ballot box seals were broken, as the ballots were sorted and counted. We were free to watch over the shoulders of the council workers as they bunched the ballots and they were all counted up. Yes, there were occasional mistakes in the hand counting - but the process was three fold, so there was plenty of opportunity to catch the mistakes.

1. opening the boxes, stacking and counting the ballots (but not the votes) to ensure that the poll tally matched with the ballots that actually arrived at the count
2. sorting the ballots into stacks those that voted all Labour, all Conservative, all Liberal Democrat and "mixed". Each ballot can have up to three votes on it and where votes were split between parties or where there were less than three votes (for example if a person voted only for the Communist or Green parties)
3. Hand counting the mixed ballots - which is done by two people for each stack one reading out the votes, the other marking them down - and they are watched by a third electoral worker (plus the horde of people standing behind them) - and bundling the solid ballots into stacks of equal numbers for easy counting at the end.

Then all the votes are added up, including the postal ballots which are opened earlier in the week with party witnesses.

The whole process took about two hours from the ballots being dumped (carefully) on the counting table to the winners being announced. It's expensive - there was a team of about 15 council workers (who get some nice comps for working the election from about 10pm (when the polls close) until it's done - which could be quite a long time if there's a recount), but they're not paid tons of money, it's also about civic pride.

The counting process seemed remarkably not open to abuse. But of course, that's not the whole story.

The current postal ballot system is rife with fraud. And there isn't too much to stop you getting on to the electoral register in the first place. I'm certain that I could get on the register just by sticking my name down, despite the fact that I'm not entitled to vote. (Most Brits are shocked by this, since many other foreigners can vote - all EU and Commonwealth citizens who are resident here can vote at least in local elections).

Anyway, as a government junkie, I enjoyed it. And it didn't hurt that 2 of the 3 candidates I supported won.

T-tags: , Politics, Current Affairs, United Kingdom, UK, Wandsworth, Democracy, , , voting , electoral process

Tory victory in Tooting

Well, my ward - the Tooting ward in Wandsworth has been Labour held since time immemorial, apparently. When the election campaign began, I didn't think the three Conservative candidates had a great chance, but I did think they could make progress against Labour's margin of victory - significant progress.

Well, they did better than that. Two won last night - Susan Richards and Alex Jacob. Unfortunately, Matthew Maxwell Scott - only just missed it with little more than 50 votes fewer than Alex garnered. He was the victim, I'm afraid, of where his name appeared on the ballot. Susan's legal name is Susan John-Richards. She doesn't use that, but that's what appeared on the ballot. That meant that Susan's and Alex's name appeared next to each other on the alphebetically listed ballot and Matthew was a couple of names away. Too many people unthinkingly went tick-tick-tick, voting for Alex and Susan and the person above or below them on the list.

Stuart King, the Labour group leader in Wandsworth Borough and Tooting councillor lost his seat last night. Nick Bowes, Labour won a seat last night.

Congratulations to Susan and Alex. Commiserations to Matthew. They all worked hard and really well together. I'm proud to be represented by them and look forward to watching Matthew's political career in future.

Sleeping with Fox

After our victory celebration last night, I've spent most of the day hungover on the couch, with Fox News running in the background. How stupid am I? Every so often I wake up and hear their crazy slant, their gleeful, sneering tone about Congressman Kennedy's sleeping pill induced accident and trying to spin every piece of news in favor of the Bush Administration. Doesn't make for restful sleep.

Local elections

Wow - I've only just got home after the local elections. I had hoped to blog during the process, but it just wasn't possible. Two of or three local candidates that we supported won. As an American the process was fascinating.

More later - I've been up for nearly 24 hours. Bed time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

No French Fry for Moussaoui

French national Zacarias Moussaoui, and convicted 20th 9/11 hijacker will not be executed. We watched the jury verdict roll in on the BBC.

I generally oppose the death penalty, but I wouldn't shed too many tears for Zac. However, I think the jury almost certainly reached the right decision here.

Part of me - the cold, unfeeling, disrepecter of human rights part of me says that the prime consideration (after guilt, of course) of the penalty hearing should have been whether or not he poses a greater threat to US security alive or dead.

On the one hand, keeping him imprisoned and alive might fan the flames of radicalism, but I think the Bush administration has done a cracking job of that already. And it's not like we don't have a bunch of similar folks locked up in Guantanamo already (except a number of them might just have done nothing). On the other hand, since we can't seem to execute anyone in the US without ten years of appeals, he'd probably be even a great symbol with the threat of execution hanging over him.


I sure hope the recruiters over at London South Bank University can make the most out of this one...according to the website, LSBU has a very short list of notable alumni. Of the four "famous" past students, two I've never heard of, one is Norma Major the wife of the former British Prime Minister John Major and the other is Zacarias Moussaoui.

To be in such lofty company, I'm almost tempted to sign up for a short course.

...and guess who else is running locally?

I blogged recently about the BNP running candidates in the local elections in England (tomorrow!). But today we got a leaflet from the Communist Party. I wasn't aware there was a Communist Party in Wandsworth, but there you go - if it's not reds under the beds, it's reds shoving leaflets through our letter box.

Though I hesitate to give the candidate the oxygen of publicity...I simply cannot resist. His name is Phil Brand. And even though I cannot vote, I will use his brochure to tally up his electoral worth.

Strong local ties (born and raised locally)
Opposes public funding of faith schools.

Backs the Palestine and Cuba solidarity campaigns
Opposes the action in Afghanistan (though I oppose the poor execution of it)
Supports Babar Ahmad
Almost everything else on his leaflet

Still, best of luck Phil - every vote for you is vote against Labour.

You can fool some of the people...

Who do you trust most for news?

According to a recent cross-country poll of 10,000 people, most trust national tv.

The Reuters headline was Fox, BBC and Al Jazeera most trusted Dang! I thought lies, lies and more lies.

But there's good news in there - only 11% of Americans really trusted Fox (which actually led the most trusted broadcast news) and nearly a third of Britons most trusted the BBC.

I watch both the BBC and Fox - and it's twist from the left and lies from the right. But in a way, Fox is somewhat more reliable - it may not be fair and balanced, but they're pretty up-front and in-your-face about their bias - at least it seems that way to me. The Beeb (as it is affectionately known) hides behind their "scrupulous objectivity" and their hard-left slant is much more subtle.

For all anti-Beebery all the time, check out The American Expatriate blog.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The seats we all lose if Labour loses

Local elections in England are this week - only two days away. And the national Labour party has been having a very bad past couple of weeks. It's hard not to be gleeful, it's hard not to anticipate their right-good drubbing. All at once there was:
  • Home Secretary Charles Clarke's disgrace over the failure to track and deport immigrants who had finished their prison sentences - some of the rapists and murderers.
  • Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt's poor handling of the NHS's "best year ever"
  • and most hysterically - John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and perhaps the ugliest man in British politics has an affair.
And because of this Labour will lose some seats and quite likely even some councils. But hey, that's politics - and if this helps our local Conservative candidates, that's great.

However...there are some seats that I really hope Labour doesn't lose - and those are seats that are being targeted by the British National Party - the "reformed" racist thugs. And I blame Labour for any gains the BNP makes.

Labour are avowedly anti-racist and I believe that they really do think that racism is damaging to UK society and should be rooted out. But I think they're going about it the wrong way.

Legislation outlawing "stirring up racial hatred" and now a religious equivalent is being used to muzzle groups like the BNP. And I think that's a bad thing.

I don't think limiting speech changes the way that people think...and I think there are more damaging consequences.

BNP candidates and party members used to shoot their mouths off. The BNP used to say overtly racist things, but now they can't. Even when they come close, like Nick Griffin, head of the BNP, saying that Islam is a wicked religion results in swift prosecution. That means they mind their Ps and Qs, and that means that folks who aren't careful might be swayed by their rhetoric. You have to dig deep to see what they're really about these days, and that's not something a lot of people do in local elections. (See why some voters might be swayed).

And the BNP are taking advantage of this. They have candidates in more local elections than ever. They have candidates in 13 of the 33 London boroughs. I'm relieved to say that there are none in mine, but they are running in neighbouring boroughs - 1 in Richmond and 2 in Merton. That's dangerously close to home and in my view can only result in trouble. I truly believe that if they were still allowed to spout their racist crap, there would be far fewer candidates and far fewer would win.

It's not nice but I think most people are able to shrug off a few racial epithets, I think rational people aren't swayed by racist rhetoric, but I think electing candidates from a once avowedly racist party is what really stirs up racial hatred.

My previous posts on the BNP:
Why vote BNP?
I disagree with what you say...
breakin' the law

T-tags: , , Politics, censorship,

Immigrants: cheaper than you think

Many businesses have been very supportive of the Day without Immigrants protest:

Via Reuters:

Dozens of companies have sought advice from the Atlanta-based law firm of Jackson Lewis, which specializes in labor issues, said one of its partners, Jonathan Spitz.

"It shows the extent that people are taking this seriously," said Spitz, who said some companies were even considering opening on Sunday in order to close on Monday.

"There's been an awful lot of cooperation by companies and by employees," Spitz said. "No one who has called is looking to fire employees when there are better solutions."

And Via CNN:

Tyson Foods is shutting meatpacking plants on Monday, citing market conditions and a possible shortage of workers. Meatpacker Cargill Meat Solutions is giving 15,000 workers the day off so they can participate, The Associated Press reported.

This isn't a surprise, these stories are all from late last week. These businesses planned with their workers to shut down. And of course it's in their interest to do so. I've seen a lot of commentary about businesses wanting to continue to hire illegals because they're cheap, but they're cheaper than you think. It's not just about paying low, low wages - it's about avoiding paying the costs of making the workplace safe in dangerous trades like meatpacking or construction.

According to the site Occupational Hazards:

... a substantial increase in workplace fatalities for Latino and other immigrant workers. In 2004, the fatality rate among Latino workers was 19 percent higher than the fatal injury rate for all U.S. workers. At the national level, fatal injuries to immigrant Latino workers increased 11 percent from 2003 to 2004. Of the foreign-born workers who were fatally injured at work in 2004, 60 percent were Latino. The AFL-CIO attributes the sudden upsurge of workplace deaths on the reduction of OSHA's and the MSHA's budgets for the past 5 years.

It's in the interest of some employers to have a cheap workforce with a precarious immigration status. These businesses don't want to turn off the tap for cheap, compliant labor. But I suspect they're not much interested in serious immigration reform either.

Native born Americans might work for low wages, but they're less likely to put up with illegal employment practices - even in a climate where the Bush administration has slashed budgets for enforcement. Those with the ax of deportation hanging over their head are unlikely to complain about dangerous and deadly workplaces.

T-tags: , , ,

Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigration and protest

Today is May Day, traditionally the holiday of the labor movement. In honor of that (perhaps), four more countries have eased the labour restrictions on workers from EU accession countries. Good.

I'm glad that Spain, Portugal, Finland and Greece have joined Ireland, Sweden and the UK to allowing the full rights of employment and residency to the new EU citizens from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltics. It's about time, too. Failure to do so by France, Italy, Germany and Austria should be seen as a mark of shame and failure to live up to their own vision of the European Union.


And in America, of course, there's big labor news, too. In a Day without Immigrants, undocumented workers hope to make an impact by not showing up at their place of employment and instead showing up in downtowns across the land.

It's time for America to have a much more sensible policy to immigration - and I believe that means a much more open one. I don't think that wanting to work for a better life ought to be a felony. I don't think that managed, efficient immigration is a bad thing. The US immigration system appears to be in shambles, taking years to process some people who seem to have clear cut cases for residency or citizenship. Is it any wonder that people respond to economic pressure and slow and backward bureaucracy to work illegally in the US?