Tuesday, January 31, 2006

breakin' the law

There's a nice post over at Mel's Diner about the furore caused by a Danish newspaper when it depicted the prophet Mohammed in a series of, perhaps less than flattering, cartoons.

Woooo-weee did folks get mad over that. Apparently, there was big boycott of Danish products by Muslims. Since the only Danish product I could think of - Danish bacon - didn't seem like the kind of thing that would have a big following in the Middle East, I wasn't sure how much that boycott would sting. (I remembered later that the Danes also make butter and really lovely flatware and I guess they make some other stuff, too.)

Now the paper which published the cartoons has apologised and the Danish Prime Minister has welcomed that apology (but wouldn't apologise himself and stressed the importance of a free press)

The Brussells Journal - an online paper - says that European Appeasement only reinforces Muslim Extremism. Maybe so. Anyway, they aren't appeasing - and they've published all the original Danish cartoons on their website.

The end of this row couldn't come at a more interesting time in Britain. Today, Members of Parliament vote on the "stirring up religious hatred bill" a nasty little bill which will essentially end the right to say "I don't like Islam" or "I don't like Christianity" or even "Atheists suck." Government Ministers swear up and down that they will only use the law for people who really, really want to stir up hatred and will look at the context of the speech.

All sorts of people came out to protest today at Westminster to say the Government Ministers were full of crap. I think they're full of crap, too.

Nick Griffin, the leader of a nasty political party, the British National Party (BNP) is currently on trial for saying that "Islam is a wicked religion". But wait - "stirring up religious hatred" isn't against the law yet. Oh, they're getting Mr Griffin on the old law, the law against stirring up racial hatred. My understanding is that prosecutors allege that because most Muslims are Asian - Mr Griffin's speech was really racist - thus a prosecutable offense. Sure, prosecutors also admit that they probably wouldn't have charged anyone else. But I don't think we really want a law of this type, the kind that seeks to look into people's hearts rather than judging their actions and which is passed on the principle that it's not to apply to all.

Busy, busy

We've been pretty busy showing our visitor K around town. On Sunday, we took her to the British Museum, despite the fact that she's not a big fan of museums. We kept it brief. The Great Court itself is worth seeing. And then we zoomed around the Egyptian area to take in the Rosetta stone and the big giant Egyptian heads. We took her to see the Elgin Marbles. The Elgin Marbles are basically bits and pieces from the frieze around the Parthenon in Athens (not to be confused with the one from Nashville). The British have big chunks of torso and legs and panels. If you want to see the heads, you have to go Copenhagen. When the Turks held Greece and accidentally (on purpose?) blew up the Parthenon when they were using it as a munitions depot - the Danes came in afterwards and knocked off all the heads as souvenirs. The British - always being greater respecters of history - took the panels as a whole where they could. Now the Greeks want the whole thing back. I think that the heads should be returned to the torsos, so we can see it as a whole in the British museum.

The British got a head

Great Court at the British Museum

We also went to Covent Garden market. But we took the long way, because we failed to bring a map. K bought a hat and some nice souvenirs in the Transport for London museum shop (the museum itself is currently closed for refurbishment).

Then dinner in Stockwell at the Portugese restaurant. Then home to play the game based on the Underground map that I had bought that day. It's very educational - a great way to find out about different things to see and do in London and to learn the Underground lines - and you can do mean things to other people by closing their stations and making them go the other way. Just like real life.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ice breaker activities

Tomorrow I'm running an event and we're planning an ice breaker activity.

I usually balk when I'm asked to do these. (You want me to build a bridge out straws and a piece of notebook paper? You want me to explain my job in three words to ten people I don't know? You want me to introduce one person to two other people?) But I expect all my group participants to play along when I ask them to do it.

In the past, I asked people to give their names, their jobs and the last song that was running through their head. That one worked well. I could tell that some people were lying. They were lying to avoid embarassment, because they thought the song was stupid, but the song they admitted was still stupid. I liked the people who admitted to having silly songs running loose in their brains. I had respect for them. It was a good icebreaker.

Tomorrow I think I might ask participants to name a fun, useful website that they visit on a regular basis. My plan is to get to put them all up on a flipchart and look at their common characteristics. (Informative, easy to navigate, etc)

These people aren't big web users, so I'm hoping we don't get 20 responses that are all "I dunno, Google?". But maybe it will go well. Maybe one person will admit that their fun and useful website is www.hotchicks.xxx


K arrived from San Francisco yesterday morning. We let her sleep awhile and then took her out to the deer park.

On the way out to the deerpark we picked up the Texan. Now the Texan is very tall, and she sets a good pace. The Texan and the Vol-in-Law charged off, leaving K and me a good bit behind. They were too far ahead to call back and confer about which way to go, so we ended up going a little bit further than anticipated. And it was cold. We walked a long, long way so that we could see the deer who seem to congregate on the other side the park during winter months.
Then we took K to see the delights of the pubs of Wandsworth Town. We introduced her to "shandy". What is shandy? It is a pint glass half filled with beer and half filled with British style lemonade - it's like Sprite. K said "It's kind of floral, it tastes like suntan lotion."

Don't let that put you off shandy. It's an acquired taste.

We managed to keep K up til about 11 and then gave her a sleeping pill.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Big bird watch

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (the RSPB) is having its big bird watch this weekend. Gardeners and homeowners around the country are asked to watch their gardens for an hour and identify the different birds and count them up. You're then asked to report the most frequently sighted species.

This has been going on since 1979, and the RSPB has built up a "scientifically valuable" database. People in England take this kind of thing seriously, it's one of the things I find endearing about this country.

I won't be participating. It's too cold for one thing, though I suppose you can watch from the window. Also, my bird ID skills are poor. But I suppose they're good enough to identify the garbage birds that appear in my garden. (Pigeons, wood pigeons, black birds of some type, and overflights by seagulls).

A couple of years ago there wasn't a living bird in my garden. There are cats all up and down our street, nearly everybody has at least one, and I assumed that this was the cause. My next door neighbours had two cats and when they moved they took the cats with them. Within months, the birds and squirrels returned to the back gardens along our road. At least one of them must have been a superb killer.

We could probably have more birds if we got a bird feeder, but the Vol-in-Law won't let me. I had a bird feeder when we lived in Sheffield without cats. He didn't like my motives. He wanted to know why I wanted a bird feeder when I'm not even that fond of birds. I told him that though I didn't like birds, I liked cats, and feeders attract birds and birds attract cats.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bring your cat to work day

The rodent infestation and ensuing drama at work continues apace. We've been asked to keep a "mouse log" - a record of sightings and so forth. And since it's known among my team that I usually carry my camera with me everywhere, I've been asked to photo-document any mouse damage or droppings. A mouse log log, if you will.

When the problem first became apparent some months ago, I suggested that we get an office cat. This would be more environmentally friendly and would have a calming effect on the staff. If that were not feasible, I suggested that we at least have a "bring your cat to work day". I emailed my suggestion to the head of facilites, copying in all relevant personnel (though not my actual bosses).

I have yet to receive a formal reply.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Brrrr.....It's cold out there

It's turned cold in London. And when I mean cold...I mean it's dropped just below freezing. It was record cold in central London the other night - about 28 degress Fahrenheit. Of course, that doesn't count the wind chill factor.


I've been lame on the blogging front. I've been quite busy at work and I've also been fretting about getting my house up to a respectable standard for a guest who's coming this weekend. She says "don't worry about it", but I am. I'm supposed to be grown-up. Not a slob.

(Note, that I've been fretting but not actually cleaning.)


Speaking of squalor. We have a rodent infestation at work. There are mice and rumors of mice. Mice have been seen living, dead and clinging to the veil that separates this world from the next.

Some of my co-workers have got quite lathered up about it. Including ones who've admitted to having rodent pets as children (hamsters, gerbils, etc.). Myself, I can't really see the difference. Though obviously a rat in a cage is better than a rat chewing up my files.

This problem has been going on for some time, but the whole of London is infested. The building management says that the increase in mice sightings recently means that the mice are getting desperate, the mice are on the run, the anti-mice activities are working. Hmmm.... Isn't that what Dick Cheney says about the insurgency in Iraq?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Poor thing

If you have a flickr account and review your photos, you'll know that it says whether or not a given snap has been counted as a "favorite" by others with a flickr account.

My cat referred to on this blog as "Other Cat" has her good qualities, she's very sweet. But she really is kind of a secondary pet. When her mother died, we had to go out and get another cat, because she's really just not an adequate pet on her own.

However, I think she's pretty photogenic. And she features in the second most viewed of my photos - and this is what I see when I go through my sets.

white and black cat
Nobody counts white and black cat as a favorite.

Poor thing. Won't somebody count white and black cat as a favorite?

This idea was suggested by the Vol-in-Law, cause it makes him sad. He thought a blog appeal might fix the problem.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Brit's view of whiskey and country music

The Vol-in-Law was spouting a number of observations about whiskey and country music this morning.

Okie from Muskogee is held up as some kind of conservative anthem, but it espouses consumption of illegally distilled alcohol. I'm not certain how that reinforces the conservative values of respect for authority.
Rocky Top celebrates the murder of two federal law enforcement officers, I don't know how many British people could get their head around that. Or yankees for that matter.
I guess if Steve Earle were to add another verse to Copperhead Road, his son would come back from Iraq and cook meth.
See how I have enriched his cultural life.

And for the culturally uninitiated:
  • Okie from Muskogee: "...white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all"
  • Rocky Top: "once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top lookin' for a moonshine still, strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top, reckon they never will"
  • Copperhead Road sysnopsis: Vietnam vet abandons family hooch business to grow dope in the hills.

moral character and nationality

Chit-chatting with the embassy civil servants the other day, they were practically encouraging me to take out dual nationality. "You won't lose your American citizenship, you know."

Yeah, I know. But taking out a new citizenship is a lot like getting married. It's a lifetime committment and it ought to be based on love. I've struggled with the idea for a long time, I even have the application for British nationality mostly filled out and sitting in my "holding-tray" at work. There are two things holding me back:

1.) You have to swear loyalty to the Queen, her heirs and successors.

Well, I don't mind the Queen, she's seems alright. But I have my doubts about Charles, and it seems to me that you're signing up blind. I mean, chances are, all the future monarchs that I'll see in my lifetime are already here and on display. But maybe that's not the case, maybe somebody I'd be swearing loyalty to hasn't even been born yet. Talk about hostage to fortune.

Plus it seems a kind of metaphorical slap in the face of our Founding Fathers and my own ancestors who fought against British tyrany. And I am a [small r] republican. I really don't believe in that nobility malarky. (Though if I ask myself - would you accept a peerage? I have to say too bloody right, I would - think how cool my stationery would look.)

Most of my British colleagues are surprised that I don't already have a British passport. They seem to have a disturbing notion that that's all citizenship is: travel documentation. Many seem to think that all you have to do is marry a Brit and hey presto, the passport arrives in the post, without the bother of even sending in four cereal box tops.

Actually, because there is a new requirement to take a test and have a swearing in ceremony at your local council, they're starting to become more aware that becoming British is bit of a bigger deal. That's a good thing. Of course, the New Labour citizenship quiz-masters have come up the stupidest test. First you have to read a booklet called Life in the UK, then you have to answer multiple-choice questions based on this booklet. So, for example, Life in the UK explains what to do if you spill someone's pint in the pub.

And the test asks: What, according to the book, usually happens next?*
A) You would offer to buy the person another pint.
B) You would offer to dry their wet shirt with your own.
C) You may need to prepare for a fight in the car park.

2) My moral character

The other bit of the application that troubles me is a series of questions on my moral character. I know there's an equivalent question on the US application which says something like "Have you ever been a Nazi?" The British one encompasses a heckuva lot more. To wit:

Have you ever been convicted of genocide or war crimes?

I gave the NO box a big tick.

Have you ever been suspected of genocide or war crimes?

Well, I can't say for sure, because how do I know what's in another person's mind? I suppose there might be someone who thinks that because I eat meat, drive a car and refuse to buy FairTrade coffee I'm contributing the genocide of indigenous peoples and/or fluffy animals. But I've lived a life pretty well clear of the danger zone on this one. Tick that NO box.

And finally: Have you ever done anything which might bring your moral character into question?

What the heck does that mean? Umm, yeah. Does stealing street scenes or re-gifting wedding presents count? The folks at my grandfather's Pulaski Street Church of Christ frequently questioned my moral character for dancing, drinking, smoking and my failure to believe in the doctrine of inerrancy.

I know the real answer is yes, but that it's also the wrong answer. The box is unticked and the form collects dust yet.

*OK, this seems stupid to me, but VolBro describes a hilarious incident in which he spilled the beer of a fellow patron of a Knoxville bar. He chose D) Say: Hey buddy, you're not gonna melt and then had to shift to option C).

Friday, January 20, 2006

haute couture

VolMom emailed me and asked what I wore to the Ambassador's party. One must plan these outfits, carefully - particularly since it followed a day conference. I needed something which would seamlessly go from day to evening, something smart and savvy, creating an air of subtle sophistication. After all, I wasn't just representing a particular organisation, or a segment of the expat community, I was representing Tennesseans, too.

I scrambled through my wardrobe to find just the right thing. But in the end, the answer was clear. I wore these, of course.

new boots

Don't worry, VolMom, I cleaned the mud off.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Help! Consumer conundrum

OK, so I've had this idea for sometime that we should get rid of the cheap fold-out futon that serves as a guest bed and the couch we bought at a thrift store in the first year of our marriage and get a new sofa bed to replace the two.

This would give us more room in our tiny little living room and it might be more comfortable than what we've got.

So - I've found a leather sofa bed on sale here, and I'm thinking about getting it (sale ends tomorrow!). But I'm already having a bit of worry because it's a mail order place, so I've never actually seen the sofa, much less touched it or sat on it - and it's a heck of a lot of money. Plus - do those furniture sales ever actually end? Or is it a way to induce stress and poor decision making in the hapless shopper?

The Vol-in-Law's been no help. He said "Sure, get it, if that's what you want." He did make me measure up though before he'd look at the picture.

...folded out and coiled up like a snake...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'm an American Leader

I'm just back from a reception at the residence of the American Ambassador to the Court of St James (UK). And let me tell you, that Ambassador, he was really spoiling us.

I had to run the gauntlet of Embassy security, past what must be the ugliest security barricades in London and sit through a conference of endless presentations from Embassy staff to make it to the reception. But, it was worth it.

First off, should you ever have the privilige to go the Ambassador's residence, Winfield House, smack dab in the middle of Regent's Park, go. It is a beautiful house in beautiful grounds. I'd been before, but during the Clinton administration. And even though I don't vote Republican, I have to hand it to them. They really know how to cater an event.

Under the Clintons, we had dry nasty sandwiches and sour Australian wine. Under the Bush administration, we had, well, whatever we wanted on the drinks and an amazing selection of hors d'Oeuvres (including caesar salad in little pasty shells and soup - yes, soup!!) some of them served on the coolest toothpicks I've ever seen (crystal shard looking things and twirly real bamboo jobs). Of course, I was chatting around so you can't take full advantage and anyway it doesn't seem right to hog down on the ambassador's party food, but it was impressive.

The event was called The Conference of American Leaders. Yeah, that's me, the Vol Abroad, an American Leader. (Ha! Actually, I went in someone else's stead, and I'll have a lot of typing up to do.) It's just a dang shame they didn't give us nametags saying: Hi, I'm Vol - an American Leader. I could wear that around and tell you what to do.

What it was really all about
Although the US Embassy is basically our town hall, state and federal government rolled into one, handling American issues of taxation, representation and benefits, they have traditionally done very little outreach to the American expat community. Ambassadors do hold a 4th of July party and a big fun reception on Presidential election night (I haven't been to either of these and they are really about host country relations), but the Embassy just hasn't done a lot of good consultation and communication with us otherwise.

This event was meant to be the beginning of a change to that, and I have to admit I'm impressed. Most of it was good solid, non-partisan info which I will be sharing with a lot of other Americans. However, one staffer tried to get us to share four talking points about how Bush is doing such a great job on global warming with our host citizens. I just tuned out.

I'm really pleased that the Embassy and the new Ambassador Robert Tuttle seem to be taking their outreach role seriously. Sharing information about citizen services and obligations is what government is supposed to do. Well, that and feed me tasty tidbits on trays and keep the drinks coming.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Legal clinics doing worthless work? Not my UT experience.

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit and University of Tennessee Law Prof, links to an article by Heather MacDonald that says that law school clinics are stuck in the 60s. Ms MacDonald says that law students are spending their clinic time pursuing "liberal" ideology rather than representing poor businesses. The Instapundit defends the UT Legal Clinic, saying that they do represent businesses that the pros won't (here's a link to their business work) .

It's now been ten years since I was a client of the UT Legal Clinic, but I'd like to defend them, too. I didn't have a small and struggling business. But I was a struggling graduate student, facing potentially enormous legal bills and a huge court judgment, where my best possible scenario - my winning position - was to shell out money for my defense.

When I was a Fort Sanders resident, a friend of my roommate and mine (B) fell down the rather decrepit outside stairs to our apartment and broke her jaw. In several places. Badly. She shattered all of her back teeth. None of us saw it. We only left the apartment to find her motionless on the ground, her face in a pool of blood. We thought she had broken her neck.

We lived on Highland at the time right next to the fire house. We were friendly with the firemen, so instead of calling an ambulance, we ran over to them, knowing they were first responders. They were fantastic (three cheers for the Knoxville Fire Department). They radioed an ambulance, which to this day I think resulted in faster service. The firemen put her on a back board and provided first aid and the ambulance seemed to get there really quickly, even during a crisis when times seems to expand.

My roommate rode to the hospital in the ambulance while I followed. I dug through B's purse to find her insurance card and fill in as many forms as I could. I called her parents. It was about 11pm, and they hung up on me, saying B was always a bit clumsy. I called them again. When they got to the hospital the first thing they asked was did our landlord have insurance. I swear I could see the dollar signs in their eyes.

B and her parents sued our landlord. In a quirk of Tennessee tort law, defendants can enjoin others who they claim share liability. Our landlord enjoined us. B and her lawyer could choose to add us to the suit or not. They chose to add us and so we were sued for half a million dollars.

My roommate (and now co-defendant) and I were both graduate students at the time with no income beyond our stipends. We used the UT Legal Clinic for our defense. Yes, there were some difficulties, our case stretched on and our original "lawyers" graduated. Some of the student lawyers were a little arrogant and dismissed the idea that I might have any legal understanding or legal research skills (I know how to look up case and statute law!) and had a tendency to want to make decisions without us. But the oversight from the Law profs was good, our second set of student lawyers were keen, and they got us summarily dismissed from the suit (we were not legally liable for the condition of the stairs).

They advised us to refuse subpoena to testify after we were dismissed from the case, which we did. B and some others, were angry about this, and I'm sure it hurt her case. But, they had a choice about whether to sue us, and the legal clinic felt that we might open ourselves to a charge of perjury if any of our testimony was inconsistent with our depositions. (We had no intention of lying, but memories fade.)

The UT Legal Clinic provided our defense at no cost. We only had to pay for our depositions (which is not cheap, several hundred dollars each). And when I went to settle the bill for that, it turned out that an anonymous donor had covered it. (I don't know if that was B and her lawyer hoping we'd be in a better mood, or an alumni fund, or some previous client, but whoever it was, thank you.)

So to Heather Mac Donald who says that legal clinics are spending too much time pursuing stupid left wing suits, I say, thank goodness for the UT Legal Clinic. Y'all saved our skins.

I am not a Neocon

...according to the results of a Christian Science Monitor quiz entitled "are you a Neoconservative"? Truthfully, I don't think there was ever much doubt.

Nope, I'm a "realist".

I really liked this quiz, but there was lots of reading in it. Unlike some RTB members (SayUncle and Yeah, yeah, sure, sure) I was reasonably satisfied with most of the quiz answers and would have tweaked the wording only a little. I never had a feeling that I wished there was a "none of the above" - but maybe, "could I have mostly option (b) with a little more (a) thrown in". Or rather, "I would choose option (c), but I don't trust that the Bush administration muppets have the governance skills to carry it off efficiently and effectively, so let's go with (d)".

The way the quiz was figured, you could turn out an Isolationist, a Liberal, a Realist or a Neocon. My guess is that if you don't fit in with the extremes of Isolationism, neoconservatism, or their idea of knee-jerk liberalism they lump you into "realist". (See I consider myself a liberal, but kind of a hawkish, hardbitten, utilitarian, pragmatic liberal).

But make no mistake - if you take the quiz and get thrown into the broad tent of "realism", my realism is almost certainly better than your realism. I'm keepin' it real with my realism.

UPDATE: The Vol-in-Law took the quiz and came out as an Isolationist (??!?). This seems slightly odd to me, because as a British citizen, he shouldn't really be counted as an "America-firster". He is pro-American (he betta be!) and he reckons it's because he's a bit "anti-UN", feeling there are negative consequences to giving primacy to other countries (e.g. members of the EU) and also feels that the Bush administration should maybe stay home a little more. Or, it could be the 'flu.


I didn't get rich in Vegas, I got the 'flu. It hit me on the way back from Hoover Dam - even the mega dose of Vitamin C delivered through a margarita didn't stave off sickness. I was quite sick that night, sweating and shivering and then like a good little soldier, I got up the next day, wrapped up warm and gambled.

I then shared the love. The Vol-in-Law got the 'flu, as did VolMom, and VolBro was sort of sniffling the last time I saw him.

It's not a surprise that I got the 'flu. Turns out California and Nevada are viral hotbeds. See this Centers for Disease Control 'flu map for the week I was out there.

The poor Vol-in-Law has really been suffering, he wasn't able to return to work until yesterday (though mind you, he's a university lecturer, so it's not really work), and when he returned from delivering his viral load lesson to his eager little students, he looked really bad and spent the whole evening in bed, getting up only for an hour to eat some soup.

I don't feel so good myself. I went to work last week, but I still feel weak and tired, so I'm working from home today.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pervs in schools?

It seems reasonable enough that people convicted of sexual offenses, particularly sexual offences against children, should not be allowed to teach in schools.

But Paul Reeve, who is on the official UK sex offenders' registry, was hired as a PE teacher. Was this because someone didn't check the list? No, a Minister of Government, Kim Howells, reviewed his case and determined that he should not be banned from teaching. Partly because he wasn't on a rather mysterious black list - called List 99.

What did Paul Reeve do exactly to get on the list? Well, he accepted a caution for downloading child pornography from the Internet. He claims that he is innocent. He just might be.

A couple of years ago, there was an investigation by the FBI into child pornography. They collected thousands and thousands of credit card numbers used to purchase pornographic images from a US site. If the credit cards belonged to someone in another country, they handed over the identity of the credit card holders to police. In the UK, there were thousands of arrests. Some of these people are guilty as sin, plead guilty or went to trial. Some of these people, presumably, checked out OK. And some people, people who maybe had only 1 or 2 images in their internet caches or PCs that might be deemed illegally pornographic, accepted police cautions. Essentially they plead guilty in exchange for no jail, but they are listed on the sex offenders' registry for a finite period of time and they do have a criminal record, but without court oversight.

One man, caught in Operation Ore recently appeared on More4's television news programme anonymously. He claimed that he was innocent, but that he accepted a police caution because above all he didn't want to face the publicity of trial and be forever tainted with the smear of pedophilia (potentially dangerous, a number of people have been assaulted and occasionally killed because of mob anger). He says that although he accepts that his credit card number was used, he didn't buy any porn (how many of us have had dubious charges on our accounts?). And he also acknowledges that there was one dubious picture in his Internet cache, but he thinks that was an accident. OK - maybe he is guilty, but maybe he's innocent but thought fighting the charge was a losing proposition.

Now, this issue of potential innocence is being largely overlooked by the media. Partly because cases of other sex offenders given ministerial leave to work in schools have come to light - and these are cases where the public should be rightly outraged. Apparently, pedophiles attracted to young boys have been given leave to work in all-girl schools, and those attracted to really young children have been allowed to work with high school age kids. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Paul Reeve will probably never work as a teacher again. And although I think he should have accepted that this would be the case when he accepted the caution (after all there's no right to teach in schools as there is a right to due process), now that his case has gone public his chances for any meaningful employment are probably now dashed. I don't know anything about Mr Reeve, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were innocent but extremely unlucky.

I still think it's worth remembering that innocent people can be pressured by police to accept the "lesser" caution without court oversight and be ruined for life. Especially as the Labour Government wants to further erode the powers of the court and allow police and prosecutors together to issue summary convictions and punishment for certain crimes - eliminating the ancient liberty of "innocent til proven guilty".

From Tony Blair's recent return to "respect" speech:

This has, bluntly reversed the burden of proof. The person who spits at the old lady is given an £80 fine. If they want to challenge it, they have to appeal. The suspected drug dealer loses the cash. He has to come to court and show how he got it lawfully.

What's new Pussycat?

I'm away for three weeks and what do I find when I return home?

George Galloway on Celebrity Big Brother. Ewww. It's unseemly for a sitting politician to participate in such things. I'd think less of my MP if I found out he were even watching this show. I have to admit that I don't know who half these people are, but he's sharing a house and screen space with such luminaries as: Maggot, the Welsh rapper; Dennis Rodman, NBA cross-dresser (in my view the only real celeb); and Faria Alam whose claim to fame springs solely from sleeping with the chairman of the Football Association (governing body for English soccer) and England Manager, Sven Goren-Erikkson and the tabloid scandal fallout.

This is the same George Galloway, "Respect Party" MP for a London East End constituency, George Galloway of "Sir [Saddam], I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.... And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory until Jerusalem." George Galloway of testifying before Congress and thus becoming the darling of certain misguided anti-war activitists in the US.

There have been calls from both consituents and political adversaries that he quit the show. Parliament is in session, which means he's AWOL from his job.

George says that his Big Brother strategy is to raise politial awareness and money for his charity. (He also gets some cash). Channel 4, broadcasters of Big Brother, are editing out his political comments, citing political "fair and balanced" broadcasting rules. Others are calling for his stated charity InterPal to be banned in the UK (as it is in the US). InterPal ostensibily raises cash for the poor and downtrodden of Palestine. But British intelligence services have advised that InterPal be given another look.

But perhaps the most horrible thing about it is that you can't avoid it, news programs are running clips of his BB antics. Particularly, where he's acting like a cat, licking imaginary milk from actress Rula Lenska's hands. I'm not easily offended, but watching that, my stomach lurched.

Watch the video here via SkyNews, and never say the Vol Abroad doesn't provide good value - you'd normally have to pay good cash to see perverted films like this.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Red, white and blue

...what does it mean to you?*

And, by the way that lyric refers not to the red, white and blue of Old Glory, the Battle Flag, or Tennessee's Tri-Star banner - it's the Union Jack.

It's the very Union Jack that Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and pretender to the leadership of the Labour party and premiership of the UK, wants all good Brits to wrap themselves in.

Gordo announced this week that he wants a British National Day, a return to good patriotism and to reclaim the flag from such nasties as the British National Party (BNP).

Give me a day off, I'll celebrate
On the issue of a British national day, I'm all for it if it means that we get another day off. And can I suggest that it's in Mid-Summer or somewhere between September and Christmas. These are currently holiday dry spots and I could use a break in there. I'd happily give up one of the two May bank holidays in exchange, but better yet - give us an extra day off.

One of the things that make the 4th of July work well in the US is that it's almost always good BBQ weather, dry and fine, if perhaps sometimes too hot. Give us a summer holiday. Although, even mid-summer doesn't provide reliable BBQ weather. I've spent that past two Independence Days shivering on a blanket in Hyde Park and hoping that the leaden sky wouldn't drench us.

A return to "good" patriotism and flag waving
Good luck with that Mr Brown. As this English blogger Bishop Hill points out, the Scots and the Welsh have never been above a little flag waving, but the English have been a little more reserved. And to add to the difficulty, there really isn't a cohesive idea of Britishisness. Each part of the United Kingdom maintains a separate national identity, along with separate football (soccer) leagues, separate flags, and separate national football teams. Sure, they all have the same passport and pay taxes to the same national Government in Whitehall, but in many respects England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are separate countries. I found this difficult to get my head around when I first got here.

Despite Bishop Hill's protestations that the English aren't into the patriotism thing, I think there has been an increase in patriotism since I've been living here (coincidence, I'm sure). In 2002, the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee (and we got an extra day off!), the English had good chances in the World Cup and beat Argentina in a grudge match that made that Bama victory over UT look paltry, and the weather was good for Wimbledon where 2 British/English players were set to do well. Oh yeah, and 9-11 happened the autumn before and Tony Blair was brilliant as he declared the Britain, a warrior nation once more, would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US in the fight against terror. Flags were waved, people were happy. (We, too, hung a British flag from our balcony in contravention of our apartment complex rules, and for which our neighbours applauded us.)

But I can't say that this resurgence in patriotism and pride has led to a greater sense of British nationalism - far more, it has led to greater pride in being English. Since the summer of 2002, I've seen far more English flags, St.George's Day (patron saint of England) is more often celebrated, and I've had a greater sense of what it means to be English, though not how one can become English.

Growing English nationalism is something Gordon Brown, a Scot, probably doesn't want to foster. And some English, may see his promotion of Britishness as a way to usurp growing English pride and resent it. Hence this rant from the ProgCon blog and this image - which shows the British flag - with core English element - the cross of St George - missing.

*from, rather ironically, the song There'll Always Be an England, since the English flag sports merely red and white.

Red, white and blue; what does it mean to you?
Surely you're proud, shout it aloud,
"Britons, awake!"
The empire too, we can depend on you.
Freedom remains. These are the chains
Nothing can break.

There'll always be an England,
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me.

five things

Tagged by Rex L. Camino on the 5 things blog meme, I comply. BTW, Rex... this was hard.

5 JOBS YOU'VE HAD IN YOUR LIFE: (1) WDXE disk jockey (rock on FM, country on AM), (2) garden center worker, (3) press officer for a toothless regulator, (4) management guru (merely a minor guru and that's not my official title), (5) and my suckiest job - waitress at Shoney's.

None. I hardly ever watch movies. But films that I have seen more than once and could watch again are: The Divorce of Lady X, Paint Your Wagon, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Angel and the Badman.

Knoxville, TN; Nashville, TN; Lawrenceburg, TN; Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and London, England.

5 TV SHOWS YOU LOVE TO WATCH: though slightly disturbing to admit I love to watch those forensic file, cold case murder documentaries which are many and varied but deserve to be lumped into one show; ER; the British version of The Office; David Attenborough nature documentaries; and I'm bending the rules a little...the Today programme on Radio 4.

Helsinki; Natchez, Mississippi; Budapest; Bucharest; and Dollywood.

my work website (OK, not at weekends), Nashville is Talking, Rocky Top Brigade, my Flickr account, and I try to get through my blogroll on a regular basis.

okra, sweet potato, home grown tomatoes, cornbread, various permutations of bean stew

hmmm... I think it's best to be happy where you are in the moment and perhaps plan to make a visit to places you'd like to go - so I'm glad to be right here, though I wouldn't mind being: (1) in my very own swanky central London house with garden on a peaceful square; (2) Knoxville; (3) in some other funky Southern college town; (4) on a boat on the Tennessee River on a warm and sunny day with someone else as designated captain; (5) on my way out of a "Big Bowl" with my brand new TN Vols National Champion souvenir drink cup, a good buzz, and two fingers to every other college team in America.

5 ALBUMS YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT - difficult, this is the kind of thing that's very mutable and I'm cheating by including my own mixes - (1) Johnny Cash, American IV; (2) Laura Cantrell, When The Roses Bloom Again; (3) The Best of Steeleye Span; (4) my own mix CD of Southern rock modelled on K-Tel's Dixie Fried Rock advertised on tv in the late 70s/early 80s but which I never actually bought; (5) and my own mix of Southern nostalgia songs including such favorites as Dolly Parton's In My Tennessee Mountain Home and Tennessee Homesick Blues, Granpa Jones' Are You from Dixie?, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama; and the Allman Brothers' Southbound.

Honorable mention goes to: my own mix of "porch songs" - from Hank Williams, Sr., Jimmie Rogers, the Carter Family, the Mississippi Sheiks and others of this ilk, which I haven't actually made yet but I think about doing every summer.

5 folks I'm tagging: St Caffeine, Genderist, the Vol-in-Law (yeah, it's a cheat), Nicole in London, and my near neighbour - Jen of Jen's Den of Iniquity.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


From a random Japanese blog I stumbled across this morning called Strange Fillings:

When I take a train with my pussy, some people are often interested in us.

I bet.


I know it's innocent enough, but I can't help but snicker when I hear or see this usage. My father-in-law often enquires about my pussy. I try to keep a straight face.

When we lived in NW London a lovely old couple lived in the flat beneath us. They had a fondness for our cat (now deceased) who often lept from our 2nd floor balcony and since this was not allowed by our apartment complex, we'd have to go out and hunt for her and try to bring her back. They were actually quite fond of her (I think they secretly fed her, but I wouldn't have minded) and always asked about her or mentioned if they'd seen her, but they never called her by her name.

One morning, the Vol-in-Law and I were in the lobby as the old couple were leaving their flat. Mr. L said:

"Are you going out looking for Pussy?"

I knew what he was talking about and answered according to context, but the Vol-in-Law exhaled loudly and fell against the wall in paroxysm of barely constrained laughter.

Black cat

See Seven States

See seven states from my vacation*...

On our vacation, the Vol-in-Law and I touched down in seven states. I made that little cultural reference when we were visiting St Caffeine in Decatur, Alabama. The Vol-in-Law didn't get it. He didn't even know about Rock City** (once you've seen that, you've seen the best). He came away from this vacation feeling that I've not been showing him the best of East Tennessee. Now he wants to see Rock City, sail the Lost Sea, spend a day in Pigeon Forge, taking in the minitature golf (now with added dinosaur) and see the sharks at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies (ocean fish in the mountains!!).

(Fellow blogger Genderist's husband, a native of Sweetwater, mentioned the Lost Sea on Christmas morning, and now the Vol-in-Law just won't shut up about the blind fish.)

The Vol-in-Law came away convinced more than ever, that he prefers to vacation in the South. One thing he hasn't yet seen is Tennessee in the Spring. Now, that is a sight to behold. Perhaps we'll do that in Spring of 2007.

But rather than dwell on the things we did not see, I'll rehash my vacation by telling you the things that we did see. With pictures.

Week One: Knoxville

Usually when we arrive in Tennessee, VolMom picks us up in Nashville and then we have another hour and a half drive down to Lawrenceburg. This time, my cousin A picked us up and we had a 20 minute drive to Brentwood. What a difference that makes, my transition to Central Time went smoothly.

Cousin A has a dog called Reese (sp?) which is a red heeler. Those unfamiliar with the breed may not know that the red heeler is derived from the Australian Dingo.


We drove from Nashville to Knoxville the next day to visit with VolBro, who lives in the salubrious village of Fort Sanders. The good old Fort. Neighborhood of my birth and my misspent youth. It's great to be able to go back to the Fort and stay in an authentic student residence, but in the comfort of my brother's two bedroom - no roommate - apartment. He has cable and beer and you can smoke inside. I forgot to bring a sleeping t-shirt, but another fine feature of Chateau VolBro is that he has plenty of Tennessee Vols t-shirts to borrow (on my favorite borrowing plan - permanent aquisition).

VolBro is getting perilously close to 30 (he'll be 28 in March), and this is the age where it becomes creepy to still be living in the Fort. We used to laugh at my crazy neighbor who was 30 and had been living in the Fort for 11 years. VolBro, you are about to become this guy. Get out (but not until I have one last chance to visit!).

Scenes from the Fort:
Fort Sanders garden
Unrepresentative Fort housing. My grandfather lived here during the 30s, fueling the basement furnace in exchange for meager room and board while a UT student.

Fort Sanders column
Holston marble columns marking the 11th Street entry to the Fort.

On Monday night I went to the Knoxville Country Dancers contra dance, which I used to frequent in my college days. It was as good as ever. I hadn't been in 9 years, but really it was just the same.

I had a nice visit with VolDad and VolBro. We visited the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Knoxville Museum of Art

We walked up to Market Square one morning via the World's Fair Site.

World's Fair Site:
the ever iconic Sunsphere

World's fair site

Downtown Knoxville:

I know that downtown Knoxville is the subject of much controversy, but really I think it's OK. Sure Knoxville has the air of a town that has never really lived up to its potential, but that's kind of what makes Knoxville so great. It has hidden depths. I love that city. When I get twangs of homesickness, it's for Knoxville. I'll just say one thing about getting rid of art spaces and workshops in the Candy Factory to make way for condos and coffee shops... What would make living in that area cool is the quirkiness which exists because there are things like the candy factory, not just proximity to the Ice Bears...

Tennessee theater
Tennessee Theater downtown Knoxville

another hound of knoxville
Arty hounds downtown

The University of Tennessee
I didn't actually do much picture taking on campus - but here's a few...

Glocker gutted
I was shocked to see Glocker gutted, but pleased that they seem to be keeping the facade. I spent many hours in Glocker, mostly unpleasant, facing up to my intellectual inadequacies. Math is hard. That crazy math with no numbers is even harder.

Stop Phil Fulmer
Stop Phil Fulmer's way indeed if it's that losing 2005 season way.

Exciting West Knoxville
I didn't spend much time in West Knoxville, but we did go out to the dollar theatre. While waiting for our film to start, we browsed in a homewares store and saw Smokey's lovely Christmas doghouse.

Smokey's grotto
Sadly Smokey was out.

Next stop: Dollywood and Asheville, North Carolina

* Just like the Rocky City claim, ours is also slightly dubious. One of the seven states we visited was Michigan, and we did not leave the airport. We were in Arizona for about 10 minutes as we walked across the Hoover Dam, but we were outside so that counts. The other states were: Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Nevada and California. We also saw some other states from the airplane window. However, we do have some overlap with the Rock City's see 7 states - AL, NC and TN.
** We were warned not to indulge in the Rock City, Ruby Falls package deal. Apparently Ruby Falls is but a trickle that has been augmented through pumps that are turned off every night when the tourists go home.


You'd think I'd had enough of gambling in Vegas - but NO. I bought a lottery ticket yesterday. The EuroMillions draw had gone up to 70 million pounds. That's about 120 million dollars. And unlike US lotteries - you get the whole amount in one big fat lump sum.

I haven't checked my numbers yet. Since the chances that I'd actually win are so tiny, I get my value from milking the fantasy that I've won. Checking would just dash that.

Anyway, I know exactly what I would do with the money. I would start a business that has a large capital outlay, but few to no returns for a substantial period of time. One where the barriers to entry are so high that only those with a bunch of windfall cash and a crazy dream could dare to surmount them.

I cannot say what this plan is, because it is so good, I don't want any other lottery winners to take up my idea. But let's just say it's a business where my PR exercises would be alcohol sodden and might just involve TN Vols season tickets!!

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I have a bit of a cold and I'm still jetlagged. Hence the low blog activity. I feel like I'm walking on the bottom of a pool.

UPDATE: I actually sent this via my blackberry on Tuesday - but it got hung in the system...

fashion trendsetting

I have more of a sturdy, peasant build than a willowy heroin-chic build, so that means I'm never mistaken for a model or even the slightly less glam "fashion editor". (No regrets, when the end times come and my slighter friends fade away to nothing, I'll still be plugging along). But I do seem to be a fashion trendsetter.

Sometimes my trendsetting takes years to catch on, sometimes it happens more quickly.


  1. I bought a pair of combat trousers on my honeymoon in Little Rock, Arkansas at a military surplus store in 1997. Within a year, combats were de rigeur.
  2. Asymetrical haircuts - I had mine before Madonna. (That cow is always copying me, just remember I had a funky British husband first.)
  3. Tattoos - when I did it, it was trashy, now all the young people have them.
  4. Cowboy boots in London. It's part of my schtick - now you see it everywhere.
  5. Furry hats and folk embroidery. Oh yes, I was wearing dead animals on my head last year - now the "Russian look" is the cutting edge of fashion.

However, when it comes to eyewear I am a follower of fashion. I hate wearing glasses, so I don't like to draw attention by taking a fashion risk. When I bought my last pair of glasses, they were the small, sleek rectangular sort that you see in all the optometrists. Sadly, I broke my glasses when I was in San Francisco. I don't know how I did it, but I woke up rather disoriented in the night and by morning there were my glasses, less one lens, resting in shards of optical plastic.

I tried to get a new pair in California, but due to the no doubt powerful optomestrists' lobby in the Golden State, it is not possible to get another pair of glasses without an expensive eye test. It is apparently illegal. My friend K drove me to several places in Silicon Valley, but none would read my prescription off the remaining lens. We were given the name of an underground, independent optometrist who was rumored to provide black-market, no-test glasses, but we didn't make it there. (When the Vol-in-Law broke his glasses, he was able to get a new pair without the eye test as a "courtesy" in Lawrenceburg, TN)

I went without my glasses in CA, and countered the eye-strain headaches with naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, alcohol and a determination not to look at anything in the middle distance.

When we got to Vegas, VolMom presented me with a pair of my glasses from high school. Yes, the large round 80s glasses. Her habit of keeping everything from a misplaced sense of sentimentality really paid off.

OK - the glasses look something like this:

But at least I could see well enough to drive at night. And they do make me look really young, like a fresh young thing from the 80s.

Several colleagues have noticed my new eyewear, but no one has complimented me on them. The conversation goes like this:

Q: Are those new glasses?
Me: No, they're really old.
Q: Oh.

Anyway, I'm wondering if I can just get away with wearing them. Even though I can get free eye tests as a fringe benefit from my work, it's still a pain going, getting the test and picking out the glasses, never mind the expense. And maybe - given my previous track record they'll come back into fashion. My suggestion to all of you four-eyes is to ransack your parents' houses and pull out the big boxy-glasses. They're coming back.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holiday snaps

I think I've managed to upload all my vacation photos that weren't too blurry or embarassing (to myself, no one else is spared shame).

Interested parties can find them here: www.flickr.com/photos/londonlooks

Really interested parties (people who think they might be in the pictures) can email me directly and I'll invite you to to view the "private" photos - ones with recognisable people in them.

Sample photos:

Christmas dinner 1
Christmas dinner table at Mom's. Note China pattern - the same as Elvis's in the white dining room at Graceland. Tablecloth purchased from Romanian gypsies.

tennessee theater 3
The Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, all b&w and artistic like.

Neyland Stadium
Beautiful Neyland Stadium

Sydney and Lucky
A rare photo of a recognisable person on my blog... my little baby cousin in Nashville with my mom's dog.

2006-01-11 011
Davy Crockett monument in Lawrenceburg public square. According to this guy, the only public monument to Davy in the US.

Goo-Goo supreme

We made it back to England without serious incident, but the Vol-in-Law caught my cold and he's finding the transition to Greenwich Mean Time difficult. I'm not finding it so easy myself, I feel like I've been walking at the bottom of pool for the past two days.

I went back to the office yesterday and stared at various papers. I did do some significant edits to a paper I'm working on, but I'm not sure I managed to save any of those changes.


By tradition, English office workers bring back tasty treats from their holiday travels. I brought back "giant m&m's" in weird colors, caramel creams, and Goo Goo clusters (supreme and traditional). My co-workers laughed at the name - "Goo Goo". Laugh if you will, but this Nashville candy is divine and guaranteed to set your blood sugar soaring.

I didn't take all the Goo Goos into the office - I set back a reserve for myself. In fact, I'm eating one right now. Breakfast of champions.

UPDATE: Maybe Goo Goos aren't the best way to start your day. I feel slightly queasy and over-sugared now.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Ten things I hate about vegas

Well, I would say I had a good time in Vegas, but I kind of took against the place.

10. Hotels charge extra for everything.
9. Long lines everywhere for everything.
8. The food's not as good as reputed.
7. You can't walk ten feet without someone offering you a time share.
6. The sidewalks are routed so that it forces you into casinos or cheesy souvenir stands
5. Traffic, blocked up on car and on foot.
4. They know that someone else is coming, so they're not hungry for your tourist dollar like they should be. No customer service standards.
3. To be treated decently you have to lose big.
2. You can get a girl to your room for as little as $49.50, but there's a two-girl minimum.

And the number one reason I won't be going back to Vegas unless I'm paid:

1. Vegas eats your money.

However, there were a few highlights -

The fountains at the Bellagio:
Bellagio fountains

And inside, VolBro saw some of his poker heros whose names I can't remember but Phil Ivy, some Chen fellow (was it Johnny) and other names I've heard from late night live poker on the higher numbered channels of our cable offerings.

The Hofbrau House German eatery and lederhosen floor show:

Hofbrau house

Plus, I guess the spectacle of the place is something to see.

Copy of Picture 048

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Back in Tennessee

Well after a week out on the left coast and Vegas, I'm back in Tennessee. We arrived late last night having missed the vast majority of the Rose Bowl because we were in the air. (We did see a few minutes of the first quarter). My guess is that we missed a hell of a party in London, since my Texas Exes friends and the USC alumni had gotten the whole top floor of the Sports Cafe on Haymarket (breakfast buffet at half time, which was probably about 3 or 4 in the morning in the UK).

The Vol-in-Law was very happy to wake up and see green out the window. Although we had a great time in California, including perhaps the best New Year's Eve either of us have ever experienced, he says he's generally happy to vacation in the South.

There's a few things I can say about California...

1. They worry too much (notices everywhere warning you of this or that hazard)
2. It's kind of expensive, but not as expensive as London.
3. No "W -The President" stickers as far as the eye can see - that's a good thing.
4. Good food and drink.
5. People with good jobs seem to have a very high standard of living.

Anyway, the best thing about California is that some of my very good friends from college live there.

I have more to say about Vegas, but that will go in another post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hoover Dam

Ok, so we finally made it to Hoover Dam which is about 35 miles from the Luxor Hotel where we're staying and it only took a little over two hours. Part of the problem was that there were big security checks for the dam. As I saw on the Las Vegas local news, Nevada gets a fair bit of Homeland Security cash, which is currently being challenged by Congress so I guess they have to do something for the money. (Though, fair enough perhaps the terrorists realise that they could take out the castles of Europe, skyscrapers of New York, the Eiffel tower and the Egyptian pyramids with limited legwork.)

After we finally passed the security checkpoint it was about 30 more minutes before we got to the dam. I was a little disappointed I guess. Hoover Dam didn't look too impressive from the angle we approached. It's across a rather small gap on the Colorado River gorge, and until you look down on the steep side, you don't get an impression of the scale. I guess it had been built up in my mind by photos taken from the bottom of the gorge, a really great docu-drama which was part of a series on the industrial wonders of the world and the song the Highwayman.

(The documentary puts paid to the lines from the song "...I slipped and fell into the wet concrete below. They buried me in that great tomb that knows no sound...". Although working conditions were terrible and around 100 men died on the site, anyone who died in the concrete was pulled out. My impression was that it was more for the stuctual integrity of the concrete than for sentimentality and humanity.)

Anyway, we arrived too late to take the tour. But the Vol-in-Law and I walked across the dam and into Arizona. (This means the Vol-in-Law hit four states he'd not visited yet, NC, AZ, CA and NV and we've been in all 4 time zones of the continental United States).

It began raining when we were on the AZ side of the bridge and were soaked by the time we got back to the great honkin' SUV VolMom rented. I caught a bit of a chill on the way back which got quite strong by the time I got back to the hotel and I hit the bed at 7:45 pm and sweated and shivered til morning.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Vegas Redux

I bought some gold cowboy boots (real leather, 25 bucks, class) that I wore on New Year's Eve. I wore 'em out in Vegas and won (small, small amount, but hey that's still ahead), didn't wear them this morning and lost. Lesson learned.

I am now in a giant SUV with Vol-Bro, Vol Mom, and my stepfather in a long slow line of traffic.

Much confusion over who's going on the tour, who's going where.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve

Fantastic. The Deco Lounge in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Piano bar, master of the ivories the gay son of a former Texas governor. He called us yankees (my friends are from Texas and Mississippi) just to get a rise, but then played the Tennessee waltz.

We're in the San Jose airport on our way back to Vegas. I feel queasy. As I write this, I am lying on the filthy carpet with my head propped on my luggage.