Tuesday, October 31, 2006


My husband disapproves of me playing the lottery. He says "Why don't you just take your ticket price and flush it down the toilet?"

But he doesn't understand. I only ever play when the expected value is greater than or equal to 1.
Well, mostly...(I assume away the possibility of having to share the jackpot with another winner). And since the odds remain crap - it means it's got to be a big old jackpot for me to play.

Even when it's a big jackpot - like this weekend's Euromillions £75 million pounds (that's probably around $140 million) - I savor my ticket. I don't check it straight away. I try to get good value out of my lottery fantasy*.

Well, I just checked my ticket. And guess what!!!!!!!!

Nothing. I did match one number, but that and the price of a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee.

But guess what else!!!!!!

Nobody else won either - which means that this weekend's estimated jackpot is £88 million. That's a lot of money. That's a life changing amount of money. That's awesome and I'm playing again.

(I have a complicated lottery fantasy which is such a great business idea that I don't think I can share it here.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pack of pumpkin lies

The Tennessean carries an article on canned pumpkin today - espousing the LAZY version over fresh pumpkin for your holiday pies and breads. Saying that canned is just as good as fresh.

Now, I might have believed this notion some time ago. I grew up on canned pumpkin myself - and always used it when it was available.

But over here in the UK, such things as canned pumpkin (pre-spiced or plain) don't exist - and where they do they're in expensive stores catering to Americans on corporate expat packages living in the luxurious ghettos of South Kensington. When I go to places like that, I feel poor and inadequate, so I generally don't go. (They are also full of Yankees buying jars of marshmallow cream, to make nutter-fluffer sandwiches for their ill-bred children.)

I admit - cooking down pumpkin for pie does take a while. But once you've had fresh - you'll be reluctant to go back. Yum. Yum.

  1. Tip: do a big batch at once - i.e. a pumpkin's worth - and freeze one cup portions for your autumnal baking needs.
  2. Tip: can't find pumpkin? - other "pumpkin like squashes" will do - butternut squash is an acceptable alternative.
  3. Tip: West Indian and Asian stores carry pumpkin - and now most mainstream British grocery stores do as well.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Oops - it did it again

I wrote about the pelican that ate a pigeon in the park in London earlier this week. Park staff said it was a one-off, but it did it again.

And this time there's video:

Thanks to an NBC affiliate in Florida for the video link.

Who hasn't?

I voted for Harold Ford. My ballot has already been mailed. There's no power in the world that can uncast that vote now. Not that I want to. We might not see eye-to-eye on everything, but he's young, he's dynamic and he's not going to be a bland Bush toady.

I saw the Who Hasn't ad this morning (actually yesterday - blogger problems prevented me from finishing this post). The one with the "bimbo". You know, this one.

It made me laugh. Especially the porn line "So he took money from porno film producers. Who hasn't?" That guy's a corker cracker card. That made me laugh the 2nd time, too. And the third.

The Vol-in-Law watched the ad, too. He laughed. He said "That would make me vote for Harold."

"Do you think it's racist?" I said.
"Racist about who?"


Now, I certainly wouldn't put it past the Republican National Committee to create something that subtly - or even overtly racist. When the mud starts flying, people get crazy and don't care what kind of mud it is or who it lands on.

But to me, it's not racist. That is - it doesn't inspire me to think negative thoughts about Harold Ford based on his race - nor was my first thought that it might do so in others.

However, I know I'm not living in America anymore - where there's still subtext about black men sleeping with white women. In the UK, black-white romantic partnerships are very common. So common as to not really be notable. (Asian & white or black relationships less so).

Some people think that interracial relationships just aren't right - to echo the final line of the RNC ad.

As quoted in The Tennessean:

One national observer, Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, called the ad "despicable," "disgraceful" and "racist," but also effective.

"That's the reason they do these things," said Sabato, director of the university's Center for Politics. "There are voters in between who are not fundamentally racist but may have certain subconscious fears energized by an ad like that," he said.

But I have to wonder - is getting crazy upset about this ad doing to do more harm than good. Yes, it was low and sleezy. But I'm slightly worried that to jump up and down about the racism in this ad is to alienate those who thought "Ha, that's a funny ad. That Corker is desperate. I'm voting for Ford." by planting this thought "Are they saying I'm a racist, too because I didn't pick up on the racist stuff that I didn't see?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

hunka, hunka uncovered meat

In Australia, a Muslim cleric -Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali- has caused a furore by comparing uncovered women out of the house to uncovered meat. And implying that these slutty women have only themselves to blame if they're sexually assaulted.

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?" he asked.
Well, I blame neither the cat nor the uncovered meat. Meat is just meat and a cat is a cat. But humans can make choices. And choosing what you wear is a more benign choice (generally) than choosing to sexually assault another human being. I don't think these choices are on the same level. I think implying that they are is dangerous to women and degrading to men.

But it's not as if this isn't an argument that we haven't had to rehearse in Western society and recently, too. Here's a paragraph from 19 April post of Tiny Cat Pants:

I don't think men get this, but we women constantly hear about sexual violence against women. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because rape is not just what one bad man does to one unlucky woman. The way we talk about rape makes it clear that we understand rape as punishment. If you don't want to get raped, don't walk alone in bad neighborhoods, don't dress 'provocatively,' don't get drunk, don't be alone with a man you don't know, don't be in a crowd of men, don't work in shitty jobs, don't stand out, but don't make yourself seem like an easy target. Don't, don't, don't. With the underlying message being "Because, if you do, you will get what's coming to you." You might be raped.

So it's not just non-Westerners or Muslims that have this problem, it's just that sometimes their limits of "modest" dress are so much more limiting. And the punishment for breaching the dress code is that much more likely (whether through "gentle admonishment" or something worse).

Of course, the Sheikh Hilali doesn't think just women are to blame. No there are others who don't understand as well.

"Then you get a judge without mercy... and gives you 65 years," he added.

UPDATE: After some calls for the Egyptian born cleric's deportation from Australia, he has backtracked... a little. He says he was talking about scantily clad women who lure men into infidelity. Yes, I too disapprove of infidelity - but I'm not buying it. Last time I checked Australian judges were handing down heavy sentences for rape not for coveting your neighbour's wife's ass.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Swallowing pigeons in the park

London has some fantastic parks. Hyde Park, Regents Park...but my favourite is St James Park.
It so happened that I often walked through there on my way to meetings at a previous job - so had a chance to see the park at regular intervals over the changing seasons.

One cool thing about St James Park is the concentration of exotic birds hanging around on its central lake. I'm no bird watcher, so I can't really tell you what they are beyond "pretty ducks" - but I do recognise the pelicans. There are several pelicans that live in the park and they are all pretty well accustomed to humans. I once saw a pelican take a shine to a family and begin walking in step with them down the wide paths around the lake. It looked like a scene out of ET - three humans and an alien just ambling along.

Unfortunately, the park also has quite a concentration of some more common birds - pigeons. And if you go to feed the pretty birds in the park, you'll have to aim carefully to keep from being overrun by pigeons.

That little problem may be taking care of itself, though. Yesterday a pelican ate one of the pigeons. Just walked up to it and scooped it up in its beak. Pigeon is a slow lunch apparently, it took about 20 minutes to swallow the bird down - flapping all the way.


Every once and a while I get a hankering for some artery stoppering down home food.

Today I would like:

1. Fried chicken (breast only)
2. Mashed potatoes (made with milk, little or no butter, lots of gravy)
3. Biscuits - flaky and sour and hot and buttery - steam rising when I pull it open, I'll pile on the mash and the gravy and eat it with a fork.
4. Green beans - cooked to mush with bacon grease and lots of pepper
5. A side of fried okra (ideally homemade - but the frozen kind that you fry up will do ok)
6. Sliced tomatos - juicy and earthy

What I'll have:

Maybe a tuna sandwich?

My biscuits are sub-par and my gravy is poor and lumpy or grease with a bit of flour at the bottom. I haven't attempted fried chicken since VolMom yelled at me when a mess didn't turn out right. Green beans take too long and I'd have to clean out my deep fat fryer to make the homemade okra (you can't buy the frozen kind here). The tomatos are already dull and tasteless this time of year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Big brother isn't just watching, he's collecting

Tony Blair wants to expand the UK's DNA database - so that everyone's on record.

Via Maureen - fellow American ex-pat blogger:

The prime minister is not content with his sinister ID card scheme. Now he is calling for the national DNA database to be expanded to include every citizen. (link via the Telegraph)

The UK DNA database is already the world's largest so why should it expand
to include every citizen? Combined with the ID card/database, the government will be gaining even more power over its citizens if this plan is allowed. There are no guarantees that there will be no misuse of the DNA database.

This is very scary stuff, people! This government is rapidly taking away all rights and freedoms of its citizens and everyone needs to wake up before it's too late.

Yes. Except it's probably already too late. The Government is already implementing a database which will store the records of all children in one place. Would you want all the info about your kid - (school records, health records, your home address) on a big old database that thousands of local government, health workers, cops and civil servants could access from all over the country?

And this DNA thing? Freakin' scary. I don't want my DNA on record. There's no telling what someone will do with that*.

This government does not have a great record of respecting ancient freedoms, civil liberties or delivering large scale databases that work on time and to budget. A waste of public money if it doesn't work - a danger if it does.

*Hmmm - genetically engineered mutant army of Tennessee Vols fans controlling Europe. It might not be so bad.

The cost of freedom

I voted last week - but I only finally got my ballot off yesterday. I'm rubbish that way. It cost me £1.12 - that must be right about $2 to mail my ballot back to Lawrence County Tennessee. That's one small item in the total cost of freedom.

Now Glenn Reynolds may have revealed his vote. But I'm running late this morning - and the Vol-in-Law is standing over my shoulder menacingly wanting to see if his article was published on Conservative Home this morning.

But I'll give you a hint, before I post in full... CE Petro wrote:

Ford has been a Bush rubberstamper a lot of the time, I'm sorry to say. However, I would much prefer that over someone that would be a Bush rubberstamper all of the time.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A celebrity blog post

Now, I don't normally post often on celebrities. There are plenty of blogs that can satisfy any need you have to read about celebs. And frankly, since I hardly buy any popular music or go to see films and sometimes feel that I need a English to Yoof! dictionary to understand most of these celebs I can't be bothered to keep up with their lives.

But this Madonna adoption thing is actually kind of interesting to me. She sure has got herself into a mess. But somehow I'm less interested in what she's done and more interested in the press and public reaction to her.

Has Madonna broken the rules?
Looks like it. Madonna doesn't really believe the rules were made for her. Madonna has mostly broken the rules in the UK. Since she's a resident of the UK and her husband is British - they really should have gone through the UK's rather onerous adoption procedures - I think this can take quite a long time. If you're dead keen on finding out how it works - here's a link to a council website which describes the process. (I suppose they could go through the US process which is still long - but I hear not quite as tough for overseas adoptions).

In Malawi, I expect the general rule is to grease the hands of officials if you want to speed things up. I expect in Malawi she's followed the rules - only much, much more so.

Madonna bought that baby. (Example here.)
Yes, she did.

Madonna has acted selfishly. (examples everywhere)
Yes. That's right. Is this surprising? This is how she got where she is and how she stays where she is. And now that she's no doubt surrounded by yes-people who'll indulge her selfishness, she has no reason to stop now.

She's just doing it because all the celebrities are adopting 3rd World babies. (example here)
Yeah. They're all doing it. OK, some are. Living in London - it does sometimes get to feel like babies are the latest must-have fashion accessory. And I guess some people have to have more exotic accessories than others.

Transracial adoptions are problematic (example here)
Maybe so. I would certainly think that it would be easier to feel you fit in with your adoptive family if you looked a bit like them. On the other hand, at least it's always pretty obvious you were adopted so there aren't any temptations to keep it secret or awkward revelations. And a transracial adoption is better than life in an orphanage - I reckon.

That baby's dad was confused/tricked (example here)
Now baby David's father is saying he didn't really know it was a real adoption. He just thought Madonna was going to look after his son until he left school and then David would return home. Well, I don't suppose that's outside of the realm of possibility. But once little David has left Eton or Harrow - I'm not sure how much he'll be interested in working on the family farm. (Unless it's for a photo-op for septugenarian Madonna's latest pop release).

I don't think so. Baby's dad seemed pretty clear about it last week. I don't want to be cynical about this - dad seemed pretty selfless last week. But some of dad's cousin's had a bit of ch-ching in their eyes. I think the dad's extended family may have convinced him to ask for a higher price tag. I suspect Madonna will pay.

Madonna is bringing that little baby to a better life - and a longer life-expectancy. (Example here)
Well, she's certainly bringing that baby to a richer life. And Malawi life expectancy may be under 40 - but what's the life expectancy of spoiled rotten celebrity kids. If they're not starving themselves to death - no doubt they often come to other sticky ends.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Oh yeah!

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

Do you remember when the Superfriends went out and battled evil - evil from the Legion of Doom. Upon vanquishing evil, they restored balance to the universe. Then they went back to the Hall of Justice and lounged around in the conversation pit came back and laughed at the antics of Gleek? That laughter helped them express relief. Relief that a wrong had been righted and that the Superfriends were not going to be the butt of the SEC again.

No, wait - I'm mixing metaphor and real life. What a relief - the Vols beat Bama!! I was so happy that I made a local councillor and a doctor from a posh practice in leafy, posh section of London listen to Rocky Top when they were riding in my car today. I made my friend from Texas (that other UT) listen to Rocky Top at least four times (she knows almost all the words now).

Normally the Vol-in-Law could hardly care less, but even he stood and watched over my shoulder as I checked the score this morning with bated breath.

How 'bout them Vols? Bama lost and the Tennessee won - order in the universe is restored.

Rainy day

I didn't sleep well last night and today was one of those non-stop dripping, rainy days. I did finally go out and get a section of downspout pipe to replace the one I mangled last week, but it was too wet outside to mess with it.

The Texan called and I happened to mention that my ordered copy of Gone with the Wind had arrived. So she and I and the husband spent the whole day watching it. Fiddle-dee-dee. The Vol-in-Law had never seen GWTW all the way through. (What!? - you gasp. Yes, I know.) Come to think of it, I don't know how many years it had been since I'd seen it all the way through.

Before we left for France, we'd watched half of it on cable tv - and then decided to go to bed - as it does go on. But it was nagging at me to finish it. And so finally I broke down and ordered a copy. And it is so brilliant, I forgot what a perfect film it is. Yes, yes - it has its lack-of-PC-ness to contend with - but as a product of its time - marvellous.

Why can't they make movies like they used to? These 30s movies were fast paced - not a wasted syllable of dialogue - and at the same time absolutely content rich. I hate the dragging heavyness of arty films or the vapid fluff of almost anything else.


I do remember my mother holding up Scarlett as a fine example. Scarlett didn't obsess about the bad things - she'd "think about that tomorrow" - in the mean time she'd get something done today.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Scrumpy Vol

Scrump: verb to steal apples for immediate consumption in a youthful, light-hearted manner


Today the Vol-in-Law and I headed down to one of the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens - Wisley. I have membership to the RHS, which means that I and a guest can get in free. And today was Apple Day. Well, actually it's apple long weekend as apple related festivities are being held from Friday to Monday. Apparently apple day was a big attraction and there was fierce competition for parking. The Vol-in-Law actually had to get out of the car to resolve a parking dispute and get the traffic flowing. I think it went all went ok, but he came back muttering about "johnny foreigner" and some such colourful phrases.

Wisley has an extensive apple orchard with many different varieties. Some of these were on sale by the main gate, but mostly they were selling Cox's Orange Pippin. This is available in supermarkets, but it is really nice and they were going quite cheap. We also bought Russets and Spartans - these too can sometimes be bought in grocery stores. But they also had four Cortland apples on sale, two were quite sad, one was beyond redemption - so I bought three. If you're ever in the North East (especially upstate New York) when these are being sold, buy some, eat some. They are absolutely divine. I hope they translate to South East England. When I was very young we lived in Ithaca, New York - but the memory of Cortland apples remains strong.

We bought about four pounds of apples and when we got to the check out the Vol-in-Law spied "toffee apples" - though they were something between what I would call a toffee apple and a candy apple. We bought two of those as well - and they cost the same as all our other produce combined. But his eyes lit up like a little kid when he saw them.

And he ate them just like a little kid, too - getting the candy goo all over himself.


In retrospect we needn't have bothered buying all those apples. The orchard is huge and despite all the people at the restaurants and the apple activity tent it was pretty devoid of visitors. And the trees were laden with fruit:

laden bough wisley orchard

And clearly not all of them were being picked. I asked the Vol-in-Law if he thought it was alright to eat one off the tree. I'm not sure he thought it was ok. He recounted a childhood tale in which he had ratted on a friend of his for scrumping apples to the friend's parents. I told the ViL I thought that was pretty despicable - telling on a friend - but thought he wasn't likely to tell on me to the garden staff.

I can't remember the name of the apple I plucked from the tree. But it was perfect. Ripe. Flavorsome. Juicy. Tangy. Delicious. I knew the ViL disapproved of my scrumping - I could tell by his disapproving look. But when I said how good it was and offered him a bite - he did take of the apple - and said it was good.

I did notice some other people - people who looked pretty respectable, also eating apples, but I also noticed (when I was on my second apple) someone giving me a pretty nasty look. But that person was not wearing an official nametag - so I felt pretty ok about it.

After our walk in the orchard we went down the apple tent and jostled with all the other middle class people for tastings of cider and juice and bought cake and hot candied pecans. (Mmmmm - good). Every time we have pecans, I have to correct the ViL on his pronunciation. He says it Brit style (is it Yankee style, too?) PEE-can with the second syllable sounding like the can your peas come in. When everyone knows it's more like p'CAAHN - and love that last syllable because pecans taste so good.

I dream of them

Last night I dreamt that I found a single cigarette rattling around in a re-discovered pack. I'd said before I quit that I could smoke any random cigarettes I found if it looked smokeable. But that I wouldn't buy or ask for any cigarettes.

In my dream, I snuck outside while the Vol-in-Law was still asleep and smoked it. But I decided to savor the cigarette - to only smoke half of it - and save the rest for later. It was raining and when I bent down to wipe the burning tip from it, I sort of slipped and the whole cigarette got wet - ruining it for any future smoking - so I just had to throw it away.

I'm not sure what the dream means. But it might mean that pleasure deferred is pleasure endangered. Seek instant gratification - now!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hurray, no divorce!

We got a new dishwasher yesterday. The old one broke. Neither myself nor the Vol-in-Law are big on chores, but we really don't like hand washing dishes. There were several discussions about turns and who had completed a higher proportion of the washing up. These were colorful discussions.

The Vol-in-Law said that the absence of the dishwasher proved how fragile was the veil between civilization and barbarity.

I said - are you going to dry those?


Anyway, the new dishwasher is installed. Thus far I don't like it as much as the old one - except in one key area. It works.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Crazy in Alabama

In an amazing co-inky-dink, the guy whose photo I ripped as the result of a random internet search to fill my Go Vols, slam-on-Bama post.

Yes - this guy (Nathan Davis)

Has been interviewed in the Birmingham News. And turns out that big massive portrait of the Bear ain't the only ink he's sportin'.

A Crimson Tide elephant adorns his right bicep, and a tattoo of the late Paul "Bear" Bryant decorates the left one. A likeness of former UA quarterback Kenny "Snake" Stabler is tattooed inside his right forearm and the Alabama state flag is sketched inside his left one.

He has a matching set of signature Alabama A's inside each of his biceps, which he shows off when he flexes his muscles in the gym, and another one just below his Adam's apple. The outside of each of his forearms spells out the words "Rammer" and "Jammer," from the UA victory cheer.

And that's not all:

And he has one more to come. He is saving up for a Mount Rushmore-like mural of Bryant and fellow national championship-winning coaches Gene Stallings, Frank Thomas and Wallace Wade across his chest, one of the few remaining patches of skin that hasn't been tattooed with the Tide.

That's gotta be something to see - yeah, I'm kinda, actually impressed. And you know, I guess I'm impressed - in some ways that a guy would actually go this far. I have to admit that I'm not a tenth of the fan that this guy is. Sure, I wear a little orange in the Autumn, yes co-workers have threatened to drown my phone because of the Rocky Top ringtone - but I don't have a portrait of General Neyland on my ass.

Houndstooth Hat Tip to the Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer blog of Warren St John

Lawrence County Advocate Endorses Ford

Lawrence County, down on the Alabama border, has traditionally been split between Democrats and Republicans - but has been tending Republican in the last few elections. Will that change in this election? I still vote in Lawrence County (and must mail my ballot back today!) and I'm voting for Ford.

Via The Ford Report

Sam Kennedy, Publisher Lawrence County Advocate

A few years ago one of my Democrat friends lamented that the party of the donkey was on its last four legs.

Not so, I told him. Any group, left in power over a significant length of time, will self destruct. It happened to the Democrats when leadership was taken over by the more radical self interest groups who thought they could abandon common sense and the values of the people, and still get elected. Newt Gingrich taught them that was not so and we changed.

Now it appears to me that the Republicans are bent on teh same road of self destruction. Those they have elected seem to feel that they can reign with arrogance. While preaching moral values their leadership ignored clear indications of immorality in their congressional ranks.

As the people groaned under the high cost of health care they passed an act designed by insurance companies and health care providers. In the face of misinformation, and failure of leadership in the war in Iraq, their only response is to stay a failed course. Our allies abandon us while we plow on.

We even talk of war with Iran and North Korea.

Surely, we have had enough of war when we are not attacked.

In the race for the senate here in Tennessee, the GOP candidate, Bob Corker, only offers to keep on doing what we are doing. That is not enough. We need a change of direction and the world will not end if Republicans lose control of the congress. As a matter of fact, some of the best government we have had in recent history was when teh congress was controlled by one party and the presidency by another. It made it difficult for our leaders to do anything stupid or pass trivial laws like city council.

Frankly, I think the Republicans have been in power long enough. They have grown fat and arrogant. In Tennessee, their power brokers abandoned two fine congressmen, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary, and assured the nomination of a nice but uninspiring Mayor of Chattanooga as their senatorial candidate. I have reservations about Harold Ford Jr., but he at least is not bound to failed policies, is articulate, and does offer to explore new ideas.

I believe we must change our course and I shall vote for Harold Ford, Jr. It might be nice to cuss democratic leadership for a change. Your vote, as always, is your own, and for the sake of our country, I hope we choose wisely. There is more at stake than in an average mid term election.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Alabama image problem

Slurs fell on Alabama this week.

Birmingham's namesake - Birmingham- has launched a new tourism ad campaign - featuring a Birmingham, Alabamian called Wilbur, Sr. And Wilbur is a redneck - and Wilbur does look like this:

Go the Birmingham council website to view the ad

Now, normally I would holler and protest about the prejudicial depiction of Southerners in the media. But this is Alabama week, and I do hate Bama. So instead of ranting about Birmingham, England's city council's cultural insensitivity - I'll just pile in.

I will however, point out some factual inaccuracies in the campaign. Look at Wilbur, Sr's smile. Can you see what's wrong? Yep, Wilbur has all his teeth.

But Wilbur is not just fronting ad campaigns. No - he's got hisself a column in the Birmingham Post as well. And here's what he writes (or rather dictates)

Howdy. First of all, I'd like to thank you folks for all the letters you bin sending me. Only wish I could read 'em.

Fact is, I never had much in the way of education after Momma died. What with working in the cotton fields in the summer and cleaning the abattoir in the winter, there never was much time for book learning.


Still cain't believe I got this high-profile job explaining to you good people 'bout all the great things Birmingham has to offer, courtesy of Mayor Mike Whitby, the most wonderful an' humble man that ever did tread this earth. I ain't joking here, by the way

And some highlights from his column from a couple of weeks ago:

Howdy. Well, so much has happened to me since I last shot the breeze with you folks that my head's buzzing like a nest of hornets in an Alabama farmyard. And that ain't no exaggeration.

Apparently, the real folks from Birmingham, Alabama are none too pleased. Tourism boss Jim Smither said (as reported in today's Metro - which I can't link to)

I've lived in Birmingham, Alabama for 13 years and never seen anyone wearing a stetson. People in Britain tend to assume small US communities are either cowboys or hillbillies. I'd invite whoever invented Wilbur to visit us and see how different real-life US Brummies are.

Yes - let's look at some real Alabamians:

Crazy headgear? Not a stetson in sight.

I know it's hard to look past the back - but this guy is wearing a hat and sure enough - it's not a stetson.

UPDATE: For all you Bammers, here's a link to Birmingham City Council's "contact us" page, just in case you want to complain about the ethnic stereotypes and lack of diversity awareness. If you actually watch the ad, you may wish to do more than complain. Myself - I won't be complaining until after Bama leaves the field in defeat this 3rd Saturday in October. It'll be the least I can do.

Big British Blog Day

Hey, it's the Big British Blog Day - we're supposed to record the mundane details of our lives today and record them here.

It's part of the History Matters campaign - and the writings will be kept by the British Library both in electronic and print form - preserved for future scholars.

Make history with us on 17 October by taking part in the biggest blog in history.

'One Day in History' is a one off opportunity for you to join in a mass blog for the national record. We want as many people as possible to record a 'blog' diary which will be stored by the British Library as a historical record of our national life.

Write your diary here reflecting on how history itself impacted on your day - whether it just commuting through an historic environment, discussing family history or watching repeats on TV.

As someone who loves oral history and values "everyday histories" - I've always thought that blogs could play an important part of recording our everyday lives. This is a chance to record one day in the history of England and Wales. I think I will participate - and cross post here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tired of working? Come to Britain

Hey Americans, come over to our socialist paradise here in the UK.

The Brits don't want anyone to tread on your human rights - so feel free to claim asylum in Britain. Because they won't let you work, they'll house you for free and you'll get free medical care, too. Plus you'll get £35 a week spending money. (About $60, but it doesn't go far, so you might want to try some black market work).

All this, until your asylum case is decided at which point you'll be declared a refugee or you'll be put on the next boat to the land of the free and the home of the brave. But you can probably free ride for several years, because there's a backlog of cases. And when your asylum claim fails (as it almost certainly will), you can get legal aid to challenge the claim with a highly qualified immigration lawyer.

This offer would appeal to the true slackers, but I could see how the critically ill and uninsured might like this deal, too. And if that were the case, an asylum claim that your life were under threat through systemic injustice might actually have merit.

We came for the fog, but stayed for the handouts

LONDON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- A British citizen contends his country is such a soft touch when it comes to handouts that even U.S. residents are prompted to seek asylum there.

Rory Clarke says a few years ago he met two Americans who admitted they emigrated to Great Britain for the free healthcare and housing, The Sun reports.

Clarke, 34, says the pair initially told him they left the United States because of racial discrimination but later revealed they had come for the handouts.

Even Osama could get through
via South Asian Women's Forum

Rory Clarke, who resigned from Britain’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS) in disgust, has revealed that hordes of people from Middle Eastern countries, and even America, were easily getting asylum in the UK because the laws here were not stringent enough to check the practice.

He went to the extent of saying that asylum laws in the UK were so soft that even al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden could creep-in after concealing his identity.

According to him, people from these countries were seeking asylum in the UK for a "better standard of living, free healthcare, free accommodation and 35-pounds a week in benefits".

The UK Home Office also admitted that at least five American nationals had claimed asylum this year alone

British Home Office claims it's no so easy or so pleasant
via The Times

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Provisional statistics show that in the first six months there have been five asylum applications from Americans. Any asylum claim may be fast-tracked where it appears, after screening, to be one that may be decided quickly.

“Countries likely to be suitable for this process include the USA. Applicants will be detained in one of a number of detention centres. This process is very successful at rapidly deciding and, where appropriate, quickly removing refused applicants whose appeal rights are exhausted.”

a good burger in London

A good burger in London can be hard to find, but find one I did.

I'd been meaning to check out the 2-for-1 burger night at The Selkirk in Tooting for a while, and tonight we did.

Oh, it was awesome. I didn't have my camera with me, but these were thick, hand shaped, good quality, medium rare, flame grilled burgers with plenty of fixins and thick wedge like chips (fries) and a nice amount of salad on the side.

At £8, they're not cheap, but with 2-for-1 Mondays, it's quite a good deal.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thoughts on the Vandy win

The Vol-in-Law and I were taking a Sunday afternoon stroll today. As it is Fall, our thoughts turned to football - or mine did anyway.

Me: You know how we beat Georgia last week? [GO VOLS]
Him: At Georgia, right?
Me: Yes.
Him: That was really good.
Me: Oh yeah. Well, Vandy played Georgia this week.
Him: So I suppose Georgia won?
Me: No, that's the thing - Vandy won.
Him: Oh, no! That's terrible.

(Since the Vol-in-Law is just a Volunteer by marriage, and the only news of NCAA football he ever gets is from me - I was pretty impressed by his lightnin' quick evaluation of the situation).

Now I hate Georgia, I really do. But I sure hate to see them get beat by Vandy. For one, it makes Tennessee's win last week look less lustrous, and for two.... I think those Vandy fans are still gloating over their freak win last year and even if they're gloating over Georgia that's still too much gloating.

Not to mention their Nobel Peace Prize winning alum - enough already. But congratulations Vandy, and congratulations Mohammad Yunus.

My blogging friend St Caffeine sums up that Nobel thing nicely:

As for the peace prize, how cool is it that they recognized the role of economics in promoting peace and, more generally, prosperity? [I'll admit I'm biased.] As the guys at Marginal Revolution pointed out, though, it's funny that Yunus won the peace prize, yet he would never have been a serious candidate for the economics prize.

Autumn garden tidy

I'd kinda let the garden go a little bit. Of course, during my holiday and then after. I didn't look too bad, but the thunbergia and passion flower vine had taken over and needed cutting back. I did some hacking and garden maintenance this afternoon, since the weather was warmish and without the threat of rain- if a bit dull.

Measure twice, cut once
I also needed to ensure that my rain water diverter was working so that my water butt doesn't overflow and flood the back garden during heavy autumn and winter rains. I hadn't quite set it at the right level when I first installed it - and so when the water butt fills up, it flows over the top rather than backing up into the downpipe and away into the storm drains. That hadn't mattered much over the summer, since I usually kept the water butt drained in watering duty, but winter will be a different story. I even bought a new saw to tackle the job since the old one was a bit rusty and chewed rather than cut into the PCV drainpipe. If you watched PBS - you may remember the Old Yankee Workshop adage "Measure twice, cut once." I'm much more of a eye-up and keep cutting until it's about right kind of person. Sadly, this approach means that I no longer have a functioning drainpipe - and since I'd begun the job just before the stores shut due to Sunday trading laws in the UK - I couldn't run out and get new piping. Both sections - the one above and the one below the diverter are too short now - and not even duct tape would be able to remedy the situation now.

Root invader
I had been noticing that one pot of impatiens looked quite sad, but it is mid October, so I didn't think much of it. But when I went to pull them out - I discovered they'd been chewed off at the roots.

impatiens problem

by grubs - though I don't know what kind

impatiens problem

I had previously thought that impatiens were reliably resistant to most garden pests and diseases - and that's why, though common - I thought they were worth growing. I may need to rethink the strategy if the problem recurs next year. I looked around, and sadly this problem wasn't just in one pot - but had struck some of the impatiens in my beds as well.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Just to let regular readers know, I have still not smoked since my last cigarette on the 23d of September.

But I still want to...

photo from Flickr user Paulin'a's Photos

The Shia Revival: A book review

First off, I must make a confession. I'm rubbish at book reviews. I get this icky feeling inside like it's Sunday night and I have to prepare a book report that's due first thing Monday morning.

That being said - I've just finished reading The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr- and I think this book is pretty darn important, so I'll make my attempt.

The book isn't that long (254 pages), but I'd say it's kind of slow going. Mostly it's slow going because there are a lot of Arabic and Persian sounding names to get your head around - and there's a rather long and arcane introduction to the history of the Shiism which is important - especially for Western readers unfamiliar with the sects of Islam - to understand the thesis of the book. The thesis is: Sunnis and Shias hate each other, they always have, they always will. This conflict has been going on since nearly the beginning of Islam and usually the Sunnis have been on top - but the Shias have had enough and won't take it anymore - and this is going to make a big difference in the Middle East. The US doesn't understand this clash of faith and doesn't seem to think through how its actions will impact on the balance of Sunni-Shia power and how that will affect our objectives in the Middle East [and beyond].

After the introduction (the first 100) pages, it does start to read a little bit faster. And it is a compelling read in one sense, but I took it on holiday with me and didn't touch it once, so I wouldn't say it's exactly a fun read. I do think that the book has fundamentally changed the way that I look at American and British foreign policy and events in the Middle East - and I believe that has brought a new subtlety to my analysis.

As a service to my readers, I've looked around for better book reviews.

Here's a good one by Irshad Manji
Ingrid at Blogger Roundtable provides not so much a review as links for further reading.
And at Kicking Over My Traces, cehweidel points out a pro-Shia bias:

The major weakness of the book is the author’s effort — intentional or not — to paint puppy eyes on the Shiite community, an attempt to exploit the American tendency to empathize with the underdog. This might play well to some folks, but I am underwhelmed. Two counter-examples: Hezbollah (a Shiite militia running southern Lebanon) starts wars and the so-called moderate Iranian President Ahmadinejad threatens the destruction of Israel.

and provides a list of questions that the book didn't address:

The book I want to read might have a title like How to Knock Muslim Heads Together to Keep the Peace. It would have chapters on cleric-shopping (“The Best for the West — and the Rest”), historical events and their current importance (”How Zaynab Influenced the Iraqi Elections — Despite Being Dead for 1300 Years”), and a discussion of major tenets of Sunni and Shia Islam with an eye to providing an Islamic theological basis for peaceful co-existence (“Establishing a New Caliphate Without Exterminating or Enslaving Everybody Who’s Not Muslim,” “Why Worldly Success May Not be a True Sign of God’s Approval — a Sunni Perspective” and “What would the Hidden Imam Do?”)
Although, Vali Nasr hasn't perhaps answered these questions - he does explain how anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism are sometimes used as a unifying approach to bridge the sectarian divide.

Comedic culinary comparisons

Last night I was in the line to pay for a meager assortment of groceries at my local store. While waiting, I noticed some young Italian women (I couldn't have failed to notice one, as she had cut in front of me). Two were outside the queue and were giggling hysterically over the free recipe cards you sometimes see at grocery stores.

I don't know exactly what they were saying, as my Italian is crap, but whatever it was they found it so funny they were having trouble breathing.

Now, I know that English food has a bad reputation, but these recipe cards didn't seem that bad to me (maybe I've become accustomed to strange British culinary practices). True enough I'm not likely to actually prepare and eat courgettes in a blanket (baked baby zucchini wrapped in bacon and skewered with a toothpick) or these easy cheesy peas - which I had heard of, but honestly thought were a comedic invention. See here the cheesy peas discussed in an academic paper * on the BBC's Fast Show

The latter sketch is a series of fictitious advertisements shown occasionally in between other sketches, parody of cheesy TV commercials based on repetition, rhymes, colours and basic animated pictures. Following is the first of these adverts. In the show it is “announced” a commercial for “Northern types”, and performed in a northern accent, with the evident suggestion of the people from the north to be somewhat simple.

Do you like cheese? D'you like peas? Well, you'll luv these: Cheezy Peaz! A combination of cheese an' peas to form Cheezy Peaz! They're great for your teas! Come on Mam - think cheese, think peas, think Cheezy Peaz! It's easy-peasy with Cheezy Peaz! Pleeease! (FS, s1e4)

But certainly these Sainsbury's recipe cards weren't quite so funny as the Weight Watchers recipe cards of Internet fame.

Though I guess I can see why someone might get tickled by the concept of "secret soup". What's the secret exactly? With that weird reddy-brown color, maybe you don't want to know. And I suppose in some ways, it's not much different from inspiration soup, except for the degree of blending.

Anyway, these girls were so tickled, that one of them actually paid the 50 pence (around 90 cents) to buy the little ring binder to store the recipes in. And then she laughed her way out of the store - and into the arms of her English boyfriend.

"What's that?" I heard him say.
"Oh," she said, in a serious and culturally reverential tone "These are English recipes."


* Yes, that is a Finnish academic paper on the Fast Show. The Finns loved the Fast Show, apparently, and I spent a couple of hours with my Finnish relatives at Christmas watching the Fast Show on TV, in English , but subtitled in Finnish. What was really funny, is that several Fast Show sketches rely on you not being able to understand a word - or only understand a word here or there - such as the mumbling upper-class guy or the parody of Spanish and Greek television. The Finns though seemed to actually try to translate every word into meaningful Finnish. Though perhaps it was actually gibberish - I don't know - my Finnish is crap.

Friday, October 13, 2006

British General wants to cut and run

The head of the British army Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt says it's time to start packing our bags and saying the farewells in Iraq. (Following the link you can listen to an AM interview).

Although he denies being out of step with the British Prime Minister - he says he wants to have an army in 5 or 10 years time and urges political leaders not to break the army in Iraq.
"We can't be here forever at this level....Don't let's break it on this one." He also says that Afghanistan is the bigger, more important battle.

In almost a throwaway line, certainly one that the interviewer didn't follow up on - he implies that the British Army will not accept Sharia law in Britain. Does that mean coup? He didn't sound threatening, but think about this a little bit. Why does the head of the army feel that he even needs to mention this? I can't believe that I'm saying this - but I think I might just support a military coup which restored English common law to a Sharia ruled UK.


Meanwhile, Newsrack Blog brings us the news that Southerners are no longer in favor of the Iraq War and that they are more "saddened" by the war than those in other regions

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I met Mr Top 40

Yesterday, I met the guy who compiles the British pop charts. He's the data guy. - more or less.

Wow, I said, I don't know much about these popular beat combos*, but that's pretty cool.

I asked him who was number 1 last week - it was the Scissor Sisters - and I was so proud of myself, since I'd actually heard of them.

Not only have I heard of them, but quite by chance I actually have a bootleg copy of one of their albums. I didn't mention this because Mr Top 40's boyfriend works for the evil association of British record companies who sue illegal downloaders.

Anyway, I figure this is a pretty useful connection if I ever launch my pop career.

He was telling me all this over stew at a fund raising dinner. The menu was in French so we tried to figure out if we were about to eat horse or dog. We had a good laugh, and then we were told it was venison. Mr Top 40's parents were venison farmers. He doesn't like deer, he said, growing up among them it was kind of like eating your pets.

Maybe. But they sure were tasty tender pets.

*popular beat combo: a british joke indicating you're totally clueless when it comes to music. Some establishment figure once said of the Beatles "I believe they are some sort of popular beat combo" when asked by another establishment fellow who the blazes were these mopheaded chaps.

Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

This e-mail has been scanned for all viruses by Star. The
service is powered by MessageLabs. For more information on a proactive
anti-virus service working around the clock, around the globe, visit:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


umm, that was meant for my other blog

Death of a president

Now, I realise that you all won't be able to watch Death of a President in your American movie theaters. Knoxville-based Regal Cinemas, for one, has decided it won't be showing the film in its cinemas.

OK, CE Petro of Thoughts of an Average Woman, decries this move, but says...

While I personally don't go to movie theaters (I can't sit still that long), I will buy the DVD when it comes out. Perhaps Newmarket should seriously consider distributing to Independent cinema's since the big boy (Regal) doesn't want to play.

I say, save your money.

When I first heard about this film I thought it was pretty effin' cheeky to be making a film about assasinating a sitting president and using his real image. You know, I don't like this president, but he is still the president of the US. Killing an elected leader is insulting all of us and robbing us of our democratic rights (even if I think that Republican machine politics already did that, but that's another story).

I wasn't alone in my negative reaction - and I can well imagine how others - such as those who actually like President Bush - may have felt. The British press was like "What's wrong with you Americans? Can't you take a joke. It's just fiction."

Ha. Ha. Ha. No, actually it's not funny, it's not big and it's not clever.

But anyway, the film was much hyped here and was shown on cable television last night. (And frankly, cable tv is exactly where this kind of thing belongs). This was the front cover of the free evening paper I picked up on my way home yesterday:

Personally, I can't imagine why anyone ever thought of showing this in a cinema in the first place.

Yes, the real images of Bush and the images of the actors for the film were seamlessly and effectively intertwined (mostly). But I didn't get the feeling that the writers really understood Bush and what makes him tick as they had his speechwriter and protection officer describing intimate moments with the president. For example his speechwriter said "when he shook your hand you felt you were the only person in the world". I'm sure that shaking hands with the president of the US is a pretty electrifying experience, but I don't think anyone's ever described shaking hands with Bush that way. Clinton, yes. Bush, no.

There was quite a long lead up to the assasination itself, lots of protesting on the streets of Chicago. Lots of heavy-handed foreshadowing which was completely uneccessary - since you knew what was going to happen. Then Bush was shot, died in surgery and the manhunt was on.

The film is meant to be about how killing the president would result in a rush to judgement, in the further trampling of civil liberties and some bad consequences for some completely innocent Muslims and Middle Eastern countries. Well, maybe. And how Dick Cheney uses this incident to further his already-cooking nefarious plan against the Syrians. I have to admit I wouldn't put it past him. But c'mon.

I'd love to tell you how it ended, but I'm afraid I fell asleep just after the "Patriot Act 3" was passed by Congress in an Emergency session. The Vol-in-Law stayed awake, and when I opened my eyes and asked him what happened he just said "Stupid shaggy dog story."

So I don't know who did it, but it wasn't the Syrian guy. The Syrian guy who accidentally and totally innocently ended up in an al Qaeda training camp - which contributed to the jury thinking that he had done it. I'm sure we've all booked into holidays that didn't quite live up to our expectations, but when you sign up to go to a training camp in Afghanistan - and your travel plans include sneaking over the border from Pakistan - you have to think "this isn't going to be some kind of self-esteem and leadership course I'm going on."

Anyway, my verdict has gotta be a big thumbs down - maybe the Vol-in-Law who saw the whole thing will add his opinion.

And here are the opinions of others who've seen it

if all the constantly outraged christian righteous wingnuts totally don’t dig Death of a President, why don’t they make a film about the assassination of Tony Blair? watch it before y’all judge it, assholes. and yes we know — Michael Moore is fat.

-Dateline: Bristol

Event television, that's how they describe stuff like Death of a President. And even if "they" don't in this particular case, I would.
What is key, though, is how scary are the prospects of what would happen in such a situation. The erosion of personal liberties in the post-9/11 world fully informs this film, and it takes but the smallest of leaps in imagination to guess what type of shit would be acceptable after the assassination of a president in the third millennium.

Stirring stuff, this. I give it 68 out of 100.

- A blog about nowt

Last night I joined the millions of other pommies in watching the much hyped Channel 4 documentry entitled “Death of a President“.

I’m not a big fan of Mr. Bush, but I do sympathise with him a bit. There are a lot of people out there that hate his guts and blame him for a lot of things which make this assassination quite foreseeable.

Imagine a documentry made about the, God forbid, assassination of Nelson Mandela. Would that be broadcasted in South Africa? I think not.

-Mark's Digital Farm

And here's the last one, I'll quote - and the one that I'd agree with most

From the start it licks along at a good pace, using cleverly edited archive footage to show the Presidential convoy coming under an abortive attack, then Bush's speech at the Sheraton hotel in Chicago, then his assassination on leaving.

Alas, after the shooting it slowly degenerates into the sort of second-rate American made-for-TV movie you'll find gracing the BBC in the early hours. As wooden talking heads try to sound spontaneous the film becomes bogged down in mealy-mouthed soul-searching dialogue. Prior to that this had been a film you could imagine being made in the aftermath of an assassination. But when was the last time you saw the assassin's lawyer give a lengthy interview to one of these things?

The moment the hand-wringing starts, this production becomes tedious, but that doesn't devalue the thundering opening. After watching this I can see how the President might come to be assassinated, and can picture the events as they might happen. I am entirely unconvinced, however, that - were I an assassin myself - this would be the final piece in the jigsaw for me to now go and bump off the Leader of the Free World.


Fake grass update

A little while ago, I requested some "easy lawn" samples - as I am considering resurfacing my back garden - currently covered with paving slabs I don't really like. And, of course, I blogged about it...

Well, the fake grass samples arrived:

fake grass sample

And the unofficial straw poll on whether I should use the astroturf has come back as a landslide NO. Nearly unanimous, but one respondent was only leaning NO.

So, will I listen to all this well meaning advice? Hmmm - maybe

But...I did not share all of the facts with you. Did I mention that it might be possible to get the grass in custom colors.

I was going to just get the lawn in green. But then I saw this - here. Gosh, I thought, how I could even approach that? What could I do?

Well - how about this?

Power T Lawn

Now, I know what you're thinking. But don't berate yourself for your earlier, too hasty condemnation of the fake grass. There is still another consideration. After all, our house isn't really a forever house, so one day we will want to sell it. And what would a buyer think about such a beautiful garden? Would they question their worthiness and move on? Or perhaps just the right South London buyer would be willing to pay a premium. I'm just betting it's the latter.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How 'bout them Vols?

Oh yeah.

I have to admit I was little pessimistic. Sure, Bulldog fans had their doubts - they knew Georgia was more bark than bite this year, but was Tennessee up to it?

Since I'm 5 hours ahead of Knoxville, I usually check scores first thing Sunday morning. I stumbled out of bed, muttering hopeful thoughts half under my breath since the husband was still asleep in.

But when I hollered out "Yeah, baby" he mumbled "Did the Vols win?" So I guess he was awake after all.

Just one thing, I wish I could have seen it. Especially after watching this and the game highlights here. Must have been one heck of an emotional roller coaster ride, but one with a jubilant finish.

Go Vols

Saturday, October 07, 2006

No on 1, what on 2?

I got my ballot for the Tennessee general election today. I ripped it open just like it was Christmas. Oh, look at my beautiful yellow ballot.

I've filled it all in. I even voted in the unconstested race. I took the time to laugh at the funny names of some of the independent gubenatorial candidates - like Marivuana Stout Leinoff. Who in the world name their child Marivuana? As it turns out nobody did, she named herself. And I checked out Carl "Twofeathers" Whitaker's website - crap website, at least in Mozilla, but he does have some lovely banners freshly prepared for bloggers such as myself. See:

But I wouldn't advise voting for this long-haired "independnent conservative" living in Sevierville. No sirree.

I voted on the ballot proposition for constituion amendement #1 - the anti gay marriage amendment. I voted no. I will explain why I did so in a future post.

I've voted for everything but Constitution Amendment #2. And I've held off because I don't really understand it. And I don't want to vote for something I don't fully understand.

OK here's what it says:

Shall Article II, blah, blah be changed by including...

By general law, the legislature may authorize the following program of tax relief:

(a) The legislative body of any county or municipality may provide by resolution or ordinance that:

1. Any taxpayer who is 65 years of age or older and who owns residential property as the taxpayer's principal place of residence shall pay taxes on such property in an amount not to exceed the maximum amount of tax on such property imposed at the time the ordinance or resolution is adopted;
2. Any taxpayer who reaches the age of 65 after the time the ordinance or resolution is adopted who ownse residential property as the taxpayer's prinicpal place of residence shall thereafter pay taxes on such property in an amount not to exceed the maxiumum amount of tax on such property imposed in the tax year in which such taxpayer reaches age 65; and
3. Any taxpayer who is 65 years of age or older, who purchases residential property as the taxpayer's principal place of residence after the taxpayer's 65th birthday, shall pay taxes in an amount not to exceed the maximum amount of tax imposed on such property in the tax year in which such property is purchased.

So basically it's a tax freeze on property owned by old people. Old people good, taxes bad, ability to locally vary taxes to take account of local circumstances very good, right?

Well, I'm not so sure.

Why should old people get this benefit? Why not low income people with small children, or veterans, or farmers or UT fans or old Southern families ? (What was that Faulkner short story about the woman who said she didn't have to pay property tax because her father had been a Civil War general and who possibly killed her Yankee carpetbagger husband?)

And, I have to wonder - who is really benefitting from this? Wealthy old people - or wealthy people who are about to be old. And who exactly is about to be old? Why it's the baby boomers - the selfishest generation. Wealthy baby boomers are only too happy to limit taxes on wealth and might even push for an income tax in Tennessee as their wealth increases and their incomes drop. And I have a sneaking suspicion that real beneficiaries will be baby boomer property developers. Just wait and see.

Anyway, I'm inclined to vote NO on 2 - but I'm not going to vote on this proposition and seal my ballot until...let's say Tuesday evening, so I'm open to persuasion until then.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Take it off

Jack Straw is the former Labour Foreign Secretary, Lord Privy Seal of the House of Commons, friend of Condi (in fact he was the guest of Dr Rice and witnessed the Vol loss to the Tide last year).

Jack Straw lost his Foreign Secretary job in May. Some people speculated that he was too close to the Muslim community in his Blackburn constituency. Hence his strong statements that war with Iran would be ruled out.

Now he's in the news again - and it's not for being too close to his Muslim constituents. In fact, he's all over the news for asking his female constituents who wear the "full veil" - the niqab to remove it before discussing constituency business with him. (MPs in Britain hold regular "surgeries" where anyone can make an appointment and ask for help).

Apparently, many of the niqab wearing women complied with Mr Straw's request. He made this request in order to aid interpersonal communications between him and his constituent. He has also made clear that he believes that wearing the full veil is a barrier to better community relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. I would agree. He says that part of community relationships is interaction between strangers - the smile on the street, asking someone the time of day...little interactions that create society. This cannot happen with the niqab.

It's all very well for Western society to accommodate the cultural practices of immigrants. I think that this should be done as far as possible. But there comes a point when the cultural practices of immigrants and the cultural practices of the host society are stand in direct opposition. In Western society (but not just Western society) face to face communication is important. Not only that, but those who cover their faces are up to no good. They are concealing and they are probably engaged in some sort of criminal activity.

When I see a woman in the niqab, I think that she is saying to me "I am different. I am apart. I have no desire to meet you halfway. I don't even want any type of interaction with you." I also suspect that wearing the niqab has less to do with men wanting to cover up their women out of modesty and sexual jealousy and more to do with both men's and women's desires to make a radical, political Islamist statement. I can't remember seeing the niqab before 2001. Afterwards, it started to appear and I saw more and more women wearing. I really started seeing niqab in the run-up to the Iraq war as part of political protests. Now it is not unusual to see women wearing the full black abaya and facial covering on the high street in my neighbourhood.

I have strong libertarian tendencies, so I'm not for banning the niqab on the street. However, I do think that you should have the right to refuse service or interaction with someone who is concealing their face from you - because it is a significant barrier to communication which puts the niqab wearer at an advantage to you (she can see your facial expressions - you can't see hers).

Jack Straw also said that many Muslim women didn't understand the impact of the niqab on Westerners with whom they interact. So I applaud Jack Straw for raising the issue, which for too long has been avoided in the country. Muslim women must understand that this makes many people distinctly uneasy. If they, like safety-pin through the cheek punk rockers, are aware of the effect their dress has on others and persist with it - let them deal with the consequences.


By the way - you like the niqab look as pictured above - you can buy more like it on eBay.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I see my friends, Dave surprises me a little

Watching the Conservative Party conference, we've been on the lookout for a friend of ours. Will the camera flash to her applauding the speaker (or perhaps scowling at some policy pronouncement she disagrees with). And we finally saw her last night, sitting on the dais (along with about 50 others) behind Tory Party leader David Cameron as he made his speech last night. We saw her and someone else we know. I had begun to worry that she might not have made it into the conference hall, after all the trouble they've been having with security passes.

David Cameron said a lot of things in his speech, but one of the things I didn't expect to hear was this:

But I also believe that marriage is a great institution, and we should support it.

I'm not naïve in thinking that somehow the state can engineer happy families with this policy or that tax break.

All I can tell you is what I think. And what I think is this.

There's something special about marriage.

It's not about religion. It's not about morality. It's about commitment.

When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it's in a church or anywhere else, what you're doing really means something.

Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important.

You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it's not just about me, me me anymore. It is about we - together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters.

And by the way, it means something whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man.


And this is what Iain Dale, big time Conservative blogger and parliamentary candidate a-lister has to say about this:

Somehow I just feel I have been legitimised. It may mean little to most people who read this blog, but to gay and lesbian people all this country it will mean a lot. Assuming they get to hear about it

Well, Iain, I'm not gay - I'm in a heterosexual marriage and have been for a long time, but it means a lot to me. I feel that support for the institution of marriage is important - and that support of marriage for gays and lesbians strengthens marriage. (Incidentially, that is why I support straight-up gay marriage over not-quite-marriage contracts like civil partnerships.)

For too long under New Labour, marriage has been under assualt. In fact, the civil partnership thing was the only thing they did which was kinda in support of marriage. They got rid of the marriage tax credit and there's an attitude that marriage is antiquated an old-fashioned. Too many of the Labour chatterati are opposed to marriage on some kind of bizarre cultural grounds. In long term relationships, they don't get married when they get a mortgage and they don't get married when they have kids. They mistake the fact that they are able to maintain longterm relationships without contracts for the idea that marriage has no value and doesn't support stability in our society. I believe that marriage does make a difference.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

public tunes

London Underground, I applauded you when you legalised the buskers. The fiddles, the guitars, the saxophonists can lift or shift a mood as their music reverberates through echoing tube station.

I appreciate that there is an audition procedure and I've enjoyed the fact that the buskers are of a resonable standard. That's important, since once inside the station, we often can't escape that music.

But how could it have escaped your notice that the bagpipe is an outside instrument?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Careless snacking

I was still in bed this morning when the Vol-in-Law called up the stairs

ViL: You know that half of a dead mouse from the other day, what did you do with it?
Me: (Bleary) What?
ViL: There's a quarter of a dead mouse down here.
Me: Oh yeah, I just took a couple more bites on it and then I laid it down, you must have found it.

No, you idiot sweetie, of course I wrapped it up and threw it away - in the outside sealed trash can.

Actually, we found two mice quarters this morning, two little heads with horrified expressions (eeek!).

I can't be sure, but I think this might be our killer. You go, girl. I didn't think you had it in you. As gross as it is having dead mice gifted to you, better dead than running around the house.

other cat

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Unbelievable. If you haven't seen this story about the Sweet 15 Birthday party in Knoxville, you must, must read it.

I've read it through twice now, jaw dropped both times. Unbelievable. The second time I read out snippets to my husband.

"If I ever have a daughter," he says "now I know how to celebrate her 15th birthday." Trust me though, he's kidding. My husband is cheap. He followed up with "I would never pay for my daughter to have a lap dance, by the time it would no longer be wholly immoral to do so, she could afford her own."

Hey Republicans

This is what McCain is saying about your chances in the mid term elections:

Conservatives in my country have held congressional majorities for twelve years, and the Presidency for six. A danger to all majority parties, but particularly to conservatives since it is so antithetical to our core philosophy, is the insidious, creeping conceit that to be the governing party we must become the party of government. That's what happens when you come to value your incumbency more than your principles.


Conservatives [Republicans] came to office to reduce the size of government and enlarge the sphere of free and private initiative. But lately, we have increased government in order to stay in office. And, soon, if we don't remember why we were elected we will have lost our office along with our principles, and leave a mountain of debt that our children's grandchildren will suffer from long after we have departed this earth. Because, my friends, hypocrisy is the most obvious of sins, and the people will punish it.
in his keynote speech to British Conservative Party Conference

Conservative Party Conference

David Cameron has just made his first party conference speech as Conservative leader. I thought it was ok, the Vol-in-Law was less than impressed.

We've spent much of this rainy Sunday afternoon watching the conference, yet managed to miss the best speeches. That's the way of things...

1. Francis Maude, Conservative Party Chairman, spoke about the importance of change and championing the NHS. No, Francis - that is wrong. Championing the NHS is not a goal in itself. Improving the quality of and access to healthcare is what we want to champion. Championing the NHS as an institution for its own sake will simply lead to further producer capture of healthcare - and more money on administration. That's what Labour do.

2. David Davis, one-time contender for Conservative Party leadership and Shadow Home Secretary, gave an absolutely rousing speech on the principles of British conservatism. And although he didn't quote the Iron Lady's "liberty under law," he came as near as dammit. He also looked much more "leader-ly" than he ever did during the leadership campaign.

3. The new Prime Minister of Sweden, Yawn Bohring, of the centre-right "Moderate Party" gave his speech by video link. The Vol-in-Law was still glued to the screen, but the rain had stopped, so I dragged him out for a walk.

4. ...thus we missed William Hague, former leader of the Conservative Party and current Shadow Foreign Secretary and kick-ass speech giver and we also missed most of John McCain's speech.

5. John McCain, if I ever thought he was a presidential contender - after what I saw, I certainly don't think so now. He looked old and frail and rheumy and said things like "you'll see more of the future than I will." The Vol-in-Law discussed this and could only come to the conclusion that McCain must now know that he will never be President. If this is so, why did he cave to the Bushies on the torture bill?

6. David Cameron. OK, here's a liveblog version of the speech from one of the UK's liveliest and most enigmatic political bloggersk, Guido Fawkes. But here's our take:

Me: I liked it, I thought it was pretty good.
Vol-in-Law: It made my head hurt, I went kind of all fuzzy after a while like I was on pain killers
Me: The Social Responsibility thing is good
Vol-in-Law: Sounds like Marxist claptrap to me
Me: Yes, exactly - that's what it's supposed to sound like, but really it has the right core values, but it's just explained in a way that's palatable to my lefty co-workers and the BBC.
Vol-in-Law: Explain it to me then.
Me: Well, you see he's denouncing Margaret Thatcher's "there is no society*" speech, but without actually denying any of the principles. See, my lefty co-workers like the word social, but it's social without the socialism. Social responsibility wraps up four concepts - the four pillars of social responsibility - personal responsibility - we all know what that is, civic responsibility, which is personal responsibility but like volunteering and community work and so on; corporate responsibility; and bugger I forget the 4th pillar.

So you see it was a rousing speech, which sets the Conservative Party in a great position to go forward and win - I think. At least it will, if it doesn't turn off more libertarian type party activists like the Vol-in-Law.

Margaret Thatcher once claimed "There is no soceity, there are only individuals" which has been much lambasted and lampooned by the British hard left. What she meant was - individuals must take responsibility for their actions - not blame society. No person could join a political party and commit their life to public service as Margaret Thatcher did if she had not passionately believed in the importance of individual engagement and responsibilty to society.

How tacky is that?

I've been thinking about getting an articial lawn. (Yes, astroturf) I have a paved patio area with some kind of "composite" paving stones. They aren't very nice to walk on -especially barefoot and I'm not crazy about the way they look.

I had been thinking about getting some slate, real slate as paving instead. It's very expensive, but really lovely. But then on television news one day, I saw a feature on artificial lawns. They're still pretty expensive, but they look pretty real (at least on tv). Growing a real lawn here would be difficult because:

1. It's quite shady at the back
2. It's a small area that we're always using
3. They greedy water companies are unlikely to lift the hose pipe ban anytime soon so in dry summers it would be difficult to keep it watered.
4. In rainy wet winters, it would be difficult to keep the area from getting a bit waterlogged.

The Vol-in-Law is not keen about the idea. I think he thinks it might be a little trashy. Being British, he's a little class conscious. So I ask you, is an artificial lawn tacky? Is the Royal Horticultural Society going to break down my door in a dawn raid and forcibly repossess my membership card?

My garden could look like this:

Image from the evergreensuk artificial lawn website.

or here's a mock-up of my garden:

the future?