Thursday, August 31, 2006

Normandy blanding

The Vol-in-Law is playing a PC game right now called Brothers in Arms. It's a kind of computer game version of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. Paratroopers, Normandy, WWII, you know the kind of thing. I think the Vol-in-Law is trying to kill a lot of Computer-Krauts, but mostly he's jumping back from the PC as his character is killed - again. The game is pretty realistic apparently and depicts the Normandy villages as they were - and largely as they still are.

We're going to Normandy next week. I have a high tolerance for battlefields and cemeteries and war museums and such. And I want to see Omaha Beach as much as the next girl, but the Vol-in-Law can spend hours, I mean hours, in these places. To me, when you've seen one display of medals, you've seen them all. But the ViL will read every description, look at every batallion photo, and examine every piece of old artillery. On our first trip together, I think we visited every podunk regimental museum in Wales.

He just pointed at the screen and said - "You see that, where that building is. In Carentan, there's a war museum in that very spot."

"I suppose we'll have to go there, too." I said.
"Oh, yeah."

Scream again

A couple of years ago, on our epic voyage across Scandinavia, we visited Oslo and the big museum there. We were going to see Edvard Munch's The Scream. But we couldn't. Because the museum was closed that day. I pressed my little disappointed face against the locked doors. The other exhibit I wanted to see in central Oslo museum was the Christian Leden ethnographic collection (his memoir Across the Keewatin Icefields is one of the best books I've ever read) but just months before our visit the collection had been sent to Toronto - permanently. So, we went off to see the shed museum of Norway instead. If you like sheds - they got 'em.

About six weeks later, The Scream was stolen from the museum. I thought I'd never get the chance to see it for real. I felt like art thieves and the museum board of Oslo had conspired against me ever seeing that painting. But now it's back.

Checking the story, I now also see that we didn't actually go to the right museum. We went to this one. The Scream was housed at this one and it's open on Mondays. Two years later and Norway's joy is my d'oh.






Screamy guy realises he went to the wrong museum

Crime pays

So I've got this new mp3 player, and I'm filling it up in advance of our road trip in France. I'd spent many a wet and wintry afternoon copying CDs I'd paid for onto the old PC and I wanted to retrieve my music. Meanwhile, we got a new PC. So I got the Vol-in-Law to hook up the old PC again and I duly downloaded my vast collection onto the new player.

Well, it doesn't work. Turns out I'd recorded almost everything in RealAudio format or agreed to have it convert the files from Windows Media format (.wma). My mp3 player doesn't support .rmj files. RealPlayer doesn't support my particular brand of mp3 player (though just about every other brand I've heard of and those I haven't). I spent a fruitless morning trying to find free downloadable converting software. Arggg.

The funny thing is - all the music that I stole off the internet using peer to peer file transfer software is all in mp3 format already and plays perfectly well in my machine.

Crime does pay. Music wants to be free. And I feel like a chump for using RealPlayer.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

they probably say the same thing in Alabama

Yesterday, I announced at work:

"It's almost football time in Tennessee."
"Oh no, the Vols" said my colleague. But she says "Vols" all funny, with crisp British vowels, not with the loving, long vowels of a Southerner.
"Don't sound like that. This year it will be different. I won't be dragging myself in all morose on a Monday. The Vols are going to win."
"Yes, of course." smirked the colleague.

____________

I had just been watching this via Mr Rocky Top.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Keep yer big trap shut

Genderist has some splendid tips for the criminally minded.

I would add...don't say nothin'. Don't say anything at all. Don't respond to the question "just one more thing". Don't engage in chit-chat with those cops. They aren't interested in you, they are interested in their closure rate. They want to fit you up.

It's a well known technique and it's practically infallible. In the UK, cops let you spin a yarn and then they ask you again and then they compare differences in your story and they work on that. Fortunately, it works both ways. For one job, I had to interview a lot of senior police officers* - these people are tough cookies. They use all kinds of distraction techniques to avoid answering the real question. I'm no expert, but I used flattery and "rapt, admiring attention" and "stupid questions" to draw them out.

I'm sure there's plenty they didn't give away, but I also like to think maybe they gave away a little bit more than they meant to, e.g. the time the cop grabbed me by the shoulders on the way down the stairs and gave me a little push to illustrate one of their "interview techniques". He was kidding on the nose.

__________

*I've been on both sides of the chat, and it's definitely better to be the one asking the questions.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Islamic art and fashion

On Saturday we went to the Victoria & Albert museum. I wanted to see the new gallery of Islamic art. It opened recently to much adulation and celebration.

Well, it was a bit of a disappointment, I must say. Don't go to the V&A just to see that - there are better and bigger collections elsewhere. Because of the hype and hoopla, I assumed that there were a lot of new items, but it was the gallery itself that had been refurbished. And it's nice and all, but it's dominated by an enormous Persian carpet - I guess the size of badminton court, that's in a giant glass, low-light box. That should be impressive, but since the light is turned on the carpet only twice an hour, it makes the gallery seem crowded out to the edges a big dull wall-to-wall carpeted cube.

mirrorBut - a new piece was commissioned by an Iranian artist - a mirror mosaic, which was absolutely awesome (and in the main entry hall rather than the gallery). That thing is absolutely fantastic.

And they had other events on as well, including a Saudi Arabian fashion show.

Hmm...a Saudi Arabian fashion show - you might think there's not a lot of mileage in that, this year's black is the new, well, black and hemlines never rise above the floor.

But rather than being a fashion show, it was ethnography on the catwalk. Young women and men were dressed in traditional Arabian garb, and walked around the central courtyard. The event was put on by a group of Saudi women who wanted to "revive and preserve" traditional textile and costume. And since they all went around bareheaded, I must presume that they are Saudi dissedents and want to show that contrary to the current Wahabi all-encompassing black robes, that there was diversity of dress in Arabia, and not all of it so severe.

Even the Vol-in-Law had to admit that the show was pretty enjoyable.

covered

festive dress


I must presume that the models were the sons and daughters of the society women. It was mostly young women, and a few young men. Only the teenaged boy who looked like a version of Lawrence of Arabia seemed vaguely comfortable in his outfit - this poor lad, with the flowers in his hair...well, mostly he seemed like he'd rather be somewhere else. But kudos for being a good sport, young man, I thought you looked rather fetching.

garland

No trip to the V&A is complete without a visit to the Court of Casts - two vast rooms of plaster casts of great artistic treasures. The Brits were very good at "liberating" art to display in London, but what they couldn't carry they copied. I remember in my first day in Italy, wandering around Rome in the heat and the noise and seeing Trajan's column. Was I amazed or impressed - nah, I thought, I could have stayed at home and seen it in London.

Court of casts

But I must say, that some things, impressive as they are in plaster (and this is amazing) are even better in marble. The first time I saw the David, I entered from the other side of the room, the scale and proportions are so perfect that you don't realise how enormous it is until you see people dwarfed at the base.

still hot after all these years

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Slav for you

The Vol-in-Law and I were in South Kensington yesterday and spied a Polish restaurant. It was a difficult spot - since the name above the door looked like a French joint and I nearly walked on by. I think the place is called Daquise - and it's by the station in the area that looks up to Exhibition Road. Aparently, it's been around since the 1940s - when the first Polish diaspora arrived in England.

It wasn't my first experience of Eastern European food, but it was my first time in a Polish restaurant. There's one not far from our house which I've been wanting to try, but it's within a private club and I'm not sure how easy it is to get access to the restaurant.

Anyway - yummmmy. In my opinion, you can't beat paprika laden, meat and potato Slavic cooking. The pork stew was so slow cooked, it reminded me of East Tennessee pulled pork. I had the Polish platter, since I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted - and the Vol-in-Law ordered the generous portions of the hunter stew but helped himself to the various bits on my plate.

Good cheesecake is hard to find in the UK - it's mostly the gelatinous, slimy un-baked no-cheese cheesecake. But their cheesecake was crumbly, cheesy goodness.


polish food
The Polish platter and the hunter stew

and the beer was good, too (particularly the one on the right)

polish beer

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Scots banned by BBC for insensitivity to Islam

Those crazy Scots - they're so irreverant with their comedy stylings. So irreverant that one comedy group Franz Kafka Big Band has had shows banned by the BBC.

And for what?

The BBC has pulled a radio comedy show featuring sketches of a cow flying into the twin towers and a spoof Rolf Harris drawing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

...

The corporation said the programme's "bold" subject matter required some "fine-tuning" before it could go on air.


Fine tuning indeed.

The show, written and performed by a Glasgow comedy troupe of the same name, featured a segment called Rolf's Blasphemous Cartoon Time, portraying Rolf Harris drawing cartoons of Muhammad and Buddha.

American readers might not quite get the Rolf Harris context - but trust me, it's funny. He's a twerpy, didgeridoo-playing, animal-rescuing, Australian who had a "learn to paint" and "learn to draw cartoons" show on tv for years. (It's deeply unfashionable to admit it, but I kinda like his paintings)

Anyway, the sketch - not only offensive to Rolf Harris, is apparently deeply offensive to Muslims. At least according to the Ramadahn Foundation:

This programme is deeply offending to Muslims and all that we stand for. We are disappointed that the BBC did not realise the hurt this would cause the Muslim community when they commissioned the programme.

We support and defend the right of freedom of speech but this right ends when other human beings are offended and hurt. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is more sacred to Muslims than anything in this world and we will defend his honour and respect.

Boo-hoo. You don't see Rolf Harris hopping to some kangaroo court of sensitivity.

This is a dangerous concept - the right to free speech ends when someone's feeling are hurt. And it's not the first time I've heard it.

Here's what the Glaswegian comedy troupe had to say via one member- Innes Smith's MySpace blog:

What I would like to make clear is that the Sketch, "Rolf's Blasphemous Cartoon Time" features no names and no blasphemy. We were very careful to not include anything which may be considered blasphemous, but felt that the joke could be made by using BLEEPS ~ suggesting that blasphemy was taking place, but without any real blasphemy. The point of the joke ? That we can't make jokes about religion...

AND

Oh yes - there is quite a bit of racism in the shows, but - as is the current fashion - the only racist stereotypes are Scottish ones, which - as is the fashion - is okay, because we're Scottish.

However, we do slag off beliefs - because belief is not race, and should not be immune from criticism, comedy or good old fashioned slagging.

The exception to this is Islam. We don't slag off Islam because...well, you work it out. We do slag off the fact that we can't slag off Islam - which is a legitimate target ...I think.


Oh yes - belief, religious, political and matters of taste must be subject to question - as well as sometimes - humurous derision. Although, of course, judging by other BBC radio comedies, the derision has only about a 40% chance of actually being humorous.

Friday, August 25, 2006

High times and German country

John at Salems Lots has a hee-larious video of a German group covering OutKast's Hey Ya. Country and Western style. Well, sort of. The yas are most definitely jas.

One of the commenters questioned the German country music connection. Well, I can tell you I had the time of my life in a C&W bar on the outskirts of Hamburg. They're well up for it.

My brother (VolBro), husband (the Vol-in-Law) and I were staying at the house of German friend's parents in the burbs. We were a little early arriving so had to kill some time before collecting the key. On the way to the house - about a minute's drive away - we spotted a dive. A dive with Confederate battle flags proudly displayed. Failing to make the potential connection between confederate flags, white supremacy and Germany's unfortunate history we walked back there to kill a little time.

Germany has some strange licensing laws, so the bar wasn't open at 4:30 pm, but we peered through the window to see a bar chock full of C&W memorabilia and the state flags of the Confederacy.

Of a sudden, the door opened and we were ushered inside by the owner. She couldn't serve us any beer until 5, but she sold us cokes after we explained we were travelling and waiting to get a key. Where were we from - she wanted to know. We pointed out the Tennessee state flag and she was excited. Her English was pretty rough and our German was downright non-existent. She even called an English speaking friend to ask us to come back that night for an open-mike/session. And we said we would.

After dinner, we went back. There weren't many people in the bar, but they all turned to stare.

"Are your instruments in the car?" One asked.
"Instruments?"

Turns out that word had spread (but clearly not that far) that we were a travelling country band from Tennessee. They were very excited about hearing us play.

They bore their disappointment with good grace and indulged us by playing back up to the country music songs that we knew some of the words to. "Vat key should I play?" Uhhh... key? How 'bout the key of follow me - I have no idea. It was all pretty good fun. The owner plied us with free drinks - Jack and beer and a strange rum-based homemade concoction called Virginia Brandy.

Finally, we asked if they knew how to play the one song - other than Happy Birthday - that VolBro and I know all the words to. Rocky Top.

One guy did. The guy who'd learned to speak English from country records. He'd played back up for a German C&W band on occcasion and Rocky Top was part of their repertoire. We sang it through three times. But not all at once. That would be overkill.

HT: Sharon Cobb

MP3 commuting

So today I brought my new MP3 player into work with me. I haven't yet bought "noise reducing", "low leakage" head phones, so I spent the whole journey worrying if I was causing annoying iPod leakages. You do have to crank the volume up a little to hear over the train noise, but hopefully it wasn't too outrageous. I don't know what my fellow London commuter thinks about early-ish Dwight Yoakam, but I can't imagine it's tremendously positive.

Still this being a holiday weekend, and commuting a little lighter than normal of a Friday. So others were able to glance at me askance and take other seats until we were quite close to the city.

Dhimmi fashion choices

Late one day, when few people were left in the office, I caught my colleague looking at headscarfs at the hijabshop.com

I asked her why she was shopping online, since there are plenty of markets in London that sell an amazing array of scarfs that some Muslim women use for hijab and the rest of use for fashion accessories - and if you look around they're pretty cheap. She was just browsing.

On this site, there's a full page of different styles of hijab wear (there's a million different ways to wear them), but most of them on this page are faffy and impractical - and some frankly just ridiculous. To wit:



We had a good laugh, and my colleague, a hijab wearer herself said "We shouldn't laugh, in some countries this is the way Muslim women wear them."

"Well," I said "What's the point of looking at fashion pictures on the Internet if you can't laugh at them."

"Good point."

Then she turned and said "Which style would you wear if you covered?"

"Well, I wouldn't." I said.

"Yes, but if something happened, and you did - which style would you wear?"

If something happened????

"Well, you know I just wouldn't, but if I did..." And I think I pointed to this one:




But on reflection, I think I'd go for this.



or maybe this, cause you know...at least it's orange.



Photo grabbed from Belly Dance in Instanbul


But you know, if I really had to wear hijab on the streets of the UK...I guess I'd be going for a look a little more like this:
Image from the St Petersburger's Soviet Army fashion page

Thursday, August 24, 2006

New blogger

The gal who appears anecdotally on my blog every now and then as The Texan has her own blog now. She will henceforth be known as The Texan - see, note the hyperlink.

She wants me to link her straight away. So I have. She joins the seried ranks of the American Bloggers in London.

__________

And BTW- to Nicole, of Nicole in London - I have finally fixed my blogroll link to your new (ok - it's months old now) site.

London ain't your kinda town

Overheard Australian on a London street on a grey and misty day:

I have a phobia of people with umbrellas.

Protestor without a cause

New Labour, not being the civil libertarians we might wish them to be, have placed some serious restrictions on the right to protest. Particularly in places where you might actually like to protest, the seat of government, Westminster. No protests allowed within 1 Km of the parliament building.

But there's a wee loophole in the law. If you ask permission (pretty please) and fill out a form, and submit it in triplicate a week before your intended demonstration, you can protest on your own. You can be a lone voice in an uncaring world.

Or you can join a mass-lone-protest.

Londoners can get down there tonight to hand in their forms to the police for a mass-lone-protest before the Palace of Westminster next week.

Meet on Thursday 24th August outside Charing Cross police station any time between: 5.30pm-6pm to hand in your SOCPA forms. Go here to get a form.

-0-

Sure, what everyone will really be protesting is the curtailment of the ancient liberty of free speech. But I'm reckoning that since it's a mass lone protest, one needs to be original in one's outrage. Should I protest, here's some things that I'd like Parliament to consider:

  • Annoying iPod leakage on the Underground.
  • The TV license
  • Low-rider jeans and thong panties
  • Sunday trading laws which prohibit big stores being open more than 6 hours on Sundays
  • Multi-ethnic movable feast bank holidays - I'd like the British government to give me the 4th of July off with pay
  • The high cost of ice. There must be some kind of prohibitive tax on it - why else would it be so hard to obtain in the UK?
  • The burgeoning urban fox population. Bring back the hunt - but only in cities.
  • The lack of chi-chi delis in Tooting. Surely the must be able to do something to help my neighbourhood get fresh olives and prosciutto.
  • Driving on the left.

You might be a redneck 2.0 if...

...this is on the front page of your old high school's website:

The Frog Giggin' tournament will be held Saturday, August 26.


Back in my day, there was no website and no frog giggin', but we did have a deer-hunting tournament and a Rook tournament. I was ejected from the Rook tournament for unsportsmanlike conduct. That's a feat. I was playing against this guy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Travelling while brown

In the aftermath of 7/7, people were suspicious of each other. But folks were particularly concerned by young Asian men (Asian in the British sense of from the Indian subcontinent). Doubtless, many young men suffered under the weight of anxious glances from their fellow passengers. I remember seeing a few in the first week looking nervous and abashed. But some young men seemed to revel in it. They swaggered, hair gelled and spiked, Palestinian scarfs draped across their shoulders -and carried bulging, mysterious backpacks.

I wasn't afraid of these types, merely angered by their rudeness. They wanted to be noticed and to cause alarm among commuters. I was always more nervous of the quiet ones who clutched their bags and seemed to be drawing on some inner strength. In retrospect, these were probably guys nervous of being searched (as I am), late for an appointment, on their way to a job interview, appointment or some unpleasant personal business.

Two British men of Asian (or Arab) appearance were chucked off a plane from Spain this weekend after passengers raised concerns. The pilot agreed, but they were cleared by police and have returned home now. People are jumpy. This sort of thing is going to happen more and more.

And now the British establishment is wringing its collective hands over whether or not we should profile passengers. It's not a new thing - ask my husband - he was once a young man from Northern Ireland. It took him the better part of a year to get security clearance to join the Territorial Army (like the National Guard) because of his Irish connection.

Yes, profile - I say. We'd be fools to target only the brown, but young men and to a lesser extent young women, are a greater threat than little old ladies or old men. And, in recent times - sad to say, the brown are more likely to be perpetrators.

Muslim organisations in the UK are protesting and raised the shout of Islamophobia over the passenger protest. They are sharply warning against profiling. But some senior police are warning against playing the race card and taking advantage of trying times to achieve their objectives. (In the days afterward Muslims groups asked for Muslim holidays and some MPs -including mine - insisted on a rethink of foreign policy). When these Muslim organisations pressed their point, we didn't know much about the terror plot arrests. The most recent memory of arrests in the night at Forest Gate in East London turned out to be a bungled op -hundreds of cops disrupted an entire neighbourhood and netted (by chance) a potential pedophile rather than an evident terrorist. So I guess they thought that if these arrests too turned out to be bad, they'd have even more weight to their argument.

Now it appears that they've got some real evidence against these latest bunch. That doesn't mean that we should target all Muslims in our search for security. But let's not be pressured against taking a sensible approach.
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Orange

orange begonia

I'd never grown these before, but they've been fabulous. Apricot begonias. Some of them a beautiful orange.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

my JonBenet Ramsay info

My mom told me that her friend's son's girlfriend's grandmother lived in the same neighbourhood as that Mark Karr fellow when he was growing up.

I can't be certain of the accuracy of this information, since it's filtered through 5 people and many thousands of miles - but that Mark Karr fellow is weird. Always has been, even when a little kid.

There ya go.

Shoot

A colleague of mine just got back from a trip to Canada.

"Shoot," she said. "I've just been in a country where they say shoot."
"What?" said another colleague.
"You know, like the Vol says when she doesn't want to say another word that sounds similar. I thought it was just her, but apparently there's a whole country that says that."
"The better part of a continent," I said.

__________

And here I thought I had an absolutely unredeemable potty mouth. Turns out I'm not such a gutter-gob after all.

Working cats

I once saw a documentary which featured a cat who worked at a small business greeting customers. When the shop closed, the cat stayed at home full time. It developed behavioural problems.

The animal psychic (the focus of the documentary - called She Talks to Animals, which I'm not sure ever aired) determined that the cat was depressed because it was unemployed. I believe an unsuccessful placement at a restaurant was attempted before the cat was given a job greeting library patrons. That apparently, worked splendidly, the cat trotted off to the library every morning and returned home of an evening.

I say this because I just passed a barber shop near Victoria station - a cat was sitting proudly on a bench in the waiting area overseeing the work.
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French letters

My old pal St Caffeine needs a new book to read.

Me, too. But I'm also thinking about my forthcoming trip to France. I like to have holiday reading that reflects my locale. For example, when I was in Italy, I read a collection of essays on the Renaissance in Italy. It was cool reading about Renaissance Florence while I was there.

But I don't usually actually manage to live up to my ambitions. When I was in Norway...I can't remember what I read. I should have brought my copy of Kristin Lavransdatter (the only big Norwegian epic I know).

I could read something like The Longest Day, but on that same trip to Norway my brother read The Naked and the Dead and found it quite disturbing. I don't want to be disturbed. I want to be relaxed. I'd only want to read The Longest Day if it's truly a kind of triumphalist treatment of the D-Day landings that makes the most of its happy ending.

I can't say I've ever really cracked much in the way of French letters. I think I read some Guy de Maupissant short stories in school, but that may well be the limit of my experience with French literature. I did once try a dreary Simone de Beauvoir memoir...and then gave up. And in my teenage years, I read a few romance novels set in France. (So not only were the heroes domineering and utterly unlovable, they were also French. Most unappealing.)

So I'll make the same plea as St Caffeine. Does anybody have any good suggestions of a book to read while vacationing in France?

In car entertainment

When VolBro, the Vol-in-Law and I took our grand driving tour of Scandinavia, we each grabbed a collection of CDs to play in the car.

We thought we had enough. Fortunately my brother and I have similar musical tastes, especially on what we consider to be in car entertainment - road trip music. Unfortunately, that meant we had a lot of duplicates. And in the case of Folsom Prison Blues - I think we had about five recordings. Now "I shot a man in Reno" conjures up imagery of fjords and the high, barren mountain wastelands of Norway's Jotunheim rather than the dusty streets and squalid back rooms of the wild west.

Anyway, we tired of our own favorites, after hour upon hour driving through the peaceful Scandinavian coutryside. Maybe my themed country compilation entitled "Guns and Death: Cheerier than it sounds" wasn't the right choice.
So with the road trip to France approaching, I began to think of how we could extend our musical menu. So, I've finally bought an MP3 player. Folsom Prison Blues need only appear once.

And the bonus is that soon I can be one of those annoying commuters with the leaking headphones inflicting my music on others. (I won't - I'll spend the extra on quality headphones to avoid doing unto others what has irked me so often).
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Monday, August 21, 2006

Flowers I don't grow

Dahlias. Beautiful flowers. In America - pronounced DAH-lee-ahs, in England DAYL-ee-ahs. Whichever way, I don't grow them. I have very little space in my garden, even less with the reliable full, full sun that they need. They can be prone to slugs and snails. And most importantly the gardening advice is that you should pull up the tubers every autumn, store them in sand in a cool, dry place and replant them every year. I can't be bothered. Too much work.

But they are tempting. So tempting. One year I arrived at a London Royal Horticultural Society flower show to see people leaving with deep, dark red flowers. Perfect in form. Covetable. Some men were crouching on the stoop outside the entrance, smoking. One had this same plant bundled at his feet, the beautiful chocolately, velvety red flower peeping out of the bag.

"What is that?" I breathed.
"Dahlia," the man said. He met my eyes and held them. Slowly, he spoke, his tongue caressing the name "Dahlia, Dark Desire."

And that's as racy as it gets at the flower show. I nearly bought one, but they had all sold out. But I'm a married woman and there's no telling what trouble I avoided on the way home with that one.

I caught this dahlia in the park this weekend. Although softer and more romantic, it's still tempting.

pink dahlia

Friday, August 18, 2006

clearing out

Busy Mom writes in her inimitable style about the unenviable task of clearing out her mother's closet after her death.

Now, I've helped at two full post mortem house clearances. That's what you get for being the oldest grandchild with divorced parents. I probably wasn't as much help as I could have been during the first clearance when I was in my early 20s (my grandmother's house in Oak Ridge), but shifting my grandfather's stuff was monumental and my mom and my aunt really needed my help. My grandparents, being those depression-era types, weren't really into the whole concept of throwing away.

After fifty years in the same house, you can accumulate a bunch of stuff. My granddad was always relatively well dressed, if not exactly dapper, but he had a collection of ties that were just laughable. Not - tee hee - laughable, but like "Oh my gawd, that is the ugliest tie ever." He had jars of rusted up screws (which was kind of funny since his motto was "if you can't fix it with a hammer, it's not worth fixing".) He had strange mechanical parts shoved in kitchen drawers - my favorite was a valve or something that belonged to a boiler that had been replaced about ten years earlier. We knew that because it had a tag that said so - and on the other side of the tag was written "Probly [sic] doesn't work". I almost kept that.

We found about a million jackets. And when my relatives made fun and said "How many jackets do you need?" I had to look away...because I know - as he knew - that you just cannot have too many jackets.

We also found a bottle of nasssty whiskey that was a bit of surprise to me. Hard core Church of Christ, I had never once seen him take a drink. But apparently he was using it to wash down the OxyContin in those last pain ridden months.

But with all that bric-a-brac and memories and so forth, that wasn't the worst of it. You see my grandfather was one of those guys who just could not retire. So after he sold his share of the business, he sought various other means of employment, eventually settling on antique sales - which he stuck with even into his last week.

Well, I say antique. I mean junk. So we had not only his personal posessions to go through but also his...erm, inventory. To make it more even more complicated, he actually had two businesses - one that really did sell genuine antiques (cut glass and ceramics) and one that sold junk like cheap glass and ceramics, dirty halves of salt and pepper sets, poorly glazed dogs* made in China, dented saucepans. I mean junk.

We took what we wanted and sold the rest on in a monumental estate sale. I'm very proud that I managed to pass off some of the junk as antiques.

Busy Mom concludes that "the best gift you can give your family is to clean out your closet." Not only does it save them the hassle, but it saves you the posthumous embarassment of family stumbling across your more laughable posessions. I enjoyed laughing at my grandfather's stuff, it kind of made a horrible job a bit more fun.

But...as my Mom packed away the items that she wanted, I pleaded with her to reconsider. See as the eldest child of two divorced parents, I know that I have at least two house-clearances to go. I knew that as the items came down from my grandfather's attice and she packed away the toys we played with that I didn't even remember for storage in her attic that the next time those things would see the light of day was when she was dead. And I'd have to go through them again.

_______
*I have a pair on my mantle

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vacation plans

The Vol-in-Law and I are planning our little jaunt to France in a few weeks time – we’ll be driving around Brittany and Normandy. I’ve been pouring over the guide books and making little un-organised lists of places I’d like to see and things I’d like to do (e.g. a visit to the bell factory in a quaint French village with a name I can’t remember, but that I think is composed entirely of vowels.)

My sister-in-law has advised my husband that we should:

a) contact his aunt by marriage, a Breton – about things to do in Brittany. I think the Vol-in-Law is less than keen because he fears that her “things to do” might include visits to her elderly non-English speaking relatives.
b) pay homage at the war grave of my mother-in-law’s uncle in the massive ranks of soldiers’ cemeteries that dot the Normandy coast. Unfortunately, said relation rather inconsiderately died in the first World War, and so is interred far away in Flanders Fields or some such.

Of course, we’ll be visiting Omaha Beach and the Bayeaux tapestry.

But I also stumbled across a lesser known attraction that I really want to see. I’m getting really excited about visiting the Parc de Branfere. They have wallabies. I think they have monkeys. They also have a website, but it’s not in English. I searched fruitlessly for the little American or British flag in the corner that would help me navigate the world of Branfere Park.

Sadly, no one seems to have told the French that the Internet is in English, so I’m having to do my own translation. And since my French is sub-par I can’t be certain I’m getting it right.

I’m guessing that Informations Practiques – means practical information, and that Bar-terrasse sous un platane centenaire – means a bar under an old something (tree/platter/roof) or a bar serving very old plantains or maybe it means a really, really elderly fellow brings you your drinks. Anyway - it means they have a bar, so this has got to be good. It has animeaux, botaniques and bar-terrasse. Tick. Tick. Tick. It hits all the right spots as I like animals, plants and booze. How often, besides in my own back garden, do you get all of these at once.

I also managed to work out that they’re having a photo contest for visiteurs au Parc. I might enter, but with my luck I’d win second prize:

  • 1er prix: Un voyage au Maroc pour 2 personnes
  • 2√®me prix: Un week-end en Angleterre

Woo-hoo! I feel like I'm a winner already.

Why I can't fly

I have to stay off planes for a while. It's not that I'm worried about dying. I figure there's just a small chance of that. But there's a near certainty that I'll be subjected to long lines, indignity and the separation of me from my stuff.

Just look what happened yesterday:

A woman passenger has been arrested after a flight from London to Washington was diverted to Boston because of an on-board disturbance.

Transport officials said the 59-year-old woman was held in connection with a confrontation with the flight crew.

And what did this woman have, according to the BBC?

She was carrying hand cream - a banned item - and matches on board the United Airlines flight.


Hand cream? Hand cream!!!? That evil cow. What was she thinking? Maybe she was thinking that it gets awful dehydrating on that plane and maybe her hands get itchy.

See, I can just see this happening to me. Not over handcream...But I have been very annoyed at the confiscation of my lighter at airport - and even more so over the subsequent reprimands.. Look buddy, you can keep the lighter and the lecture.

I've had altercations with security staff. I was once treated so roughly and rudely that I seriously considered filing a complaint (but, of course, I had a flight to catch). Jumped up security guards are now given carte blanche to select and persecute and there's very little that you can say in response.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sleeds

Leeds. I have a thing about Leeds. I don't like it. Two reasons. The first place I lived in the UK was Sheffield. Sheffield and Leeds aren't that far apart, and have a kind of intra-regional Yorkshire rivalry. I never really understood why Sheffield people hated Leeds so much until I met someone from Leeds on a plane to the US.
"Where do you live?" she said
"Sheffield."
"I live in Leeds. That's in Yorkshire."

That would be a little like someone from Alabama saying to someone from Nashville "I live in Tuscaloosa. That's in the South"

The second reason is that now I live in London. It's practically my duty to exude urban snobbery when visiting those lesser provincial cities.

Leeds styles itself as cosmopolitan, and are oh so proud of their Harvey Nicks (a swanky department store). Well, we have one in London - in fact we have lots of swanky department stores. And anyway, if Leeds is so cosmipolitan - how come almost everyone I meet is white with a Yorkshire accent?

True people are starting to want to live in Leeds city centre and soulless flimsy apartment blocks are rising high.

But even though Leeds is trading on a chic image, they can't seem to get the basics right. The sidewalks are shattered. I tripped twice on the walk to my hotel, and walked over several wobbly, poorly fixed slabs (sidewalks in the UK are laid in segments rather than poured).

In a previous job, I had a consultancy project with a street maintenance service. I know trip hazards. Leeds is rife.
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So grey

Over the weekend and into Monday, it's been very grey, overcast and rainy and downright cold. Sometimes raining heavily. My garden needs the rain. But it's a bit depressing to get out the sweaters and coats in August.

grey day
This is a color photograph.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Anger and terror

I've had a dulled reaction to the revelation that security services have disrupted a plot to blow up transatlantic flights. My initial reaction was dismay at the thought of even longer lines at the airport and the inability to carry my little kit of boredom-assuaging items on board - e.g. electronic solitaire, books, pens for sudoku and crossword, a few pieces of nicorette to keep the cravings at bay.

But really I should have been thinking..."they're trying to kill me." After all, flights from Britain to America were targeted, and though I don't take them very often - lots of people I know do. And sure, I know it wasn't about me personally, but terrorists are certainly trying to kill people like me.

I have to admit my first blooming of anger was directed toward those who set the rules for airport security. "What do you mean I can't take a book on board? And now I'll have to choose from what's left of the Dan Brown thrillers? That is if I have time after the four-hour security queue?"

I still can't be angry at the alleged conspirators - not out of any sense of "innocence til proven guilty", but because I think people who plan such things have come to be so sick and so twisted in some portion of their brain that I can't really be angry at them. Maybe I should be, maybe denying them humanity in my mind lessens the horror of what they planned.

So who am I angry at? This is my first rambling attempt to pull together my thoughts.

Elements of The Muslim Community Of course, the Muslim Community is a bit of misnomer - people are all different. But I am angry at...

1. Those who wrap this up immediately as part of the broader conspiracy against Muslims (e.g. 9/11, the Holocaust, Jews). Those who say that these arrests were conveniently timed to distract attention from Israel. Those who deny even the possibility that some people who seeth in Islam are plotting death against unsuspecting travellers.

2. Those who don't deny the link, but demand an immediate change in foreign policy. I certainly agree that some of our recent foreign policy debacles has added fuel to fire. But pressing the same claim as the terrorists and implying that more attacks are likely unless foreign policy changes and soon is ...well, if it's not an alliance with terror it's at the very least sick opportunism.

A prime is example is Lord Nazir Ahmed - a Labour member of the House of Lords. He was on the BBC Radio4 on the morning the plotting was revealed claiming that our (US/UK) Middle East policy was to blame. When the usual question came up "So then why did 9/11 happen before the invasion of Iraq?" - he was quite clear that it was because Americans had troops on Saudi soil. Wait just a freakin' minute - that was what Osama Bin Laden said. I'm no fan of the House of Saud, but American troops were in Saudi Arabia by agreement.

3. And of course, I'm angry at those Islamists who prey on the weak-minded, preach hatred, provide the connections and the means to orchestrate these attacks.

The leftist chatterati

I'm quite annoyed by those who seem to worry more about "backlash against the Muslim Community" - of which thankfully there has been very little, than about the fact that Britain harbors people who would do us all harm.

I'm very annoyed at the reaction against President Bush's words against Islamic Fascists. I despise George Bush - I think he is an incompetent buffoon with who is no ardent supporter of our liberal democracy and civil liberties. I disagree with his Iraq policy, large swathes of his domestic policy and his fundamentalist world view. And once again...he wasn't as articulate as he might have been:


"this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to - to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."

But I think he's right about this (though it's not just "our nation" in their sights).

I simply cannot understand why those who call themselves "liberal" and worry about condemning all of Islam don't seize this as an opportunity.

I don't hate all Muslims. I don't believe that the Islamic faith needs to be violently at odds with the West. So why can't they see that parts of Islam are embracing and promoting a totalitarian, imperlialist vision much like the Nazi death cults of the early 20th century? Just as the Nazis used elements of Christianity mixed with Germanic culture and myth(including the tangling of Christian imagery and anti-semitism) and just as they used a twisted version of Christianity to promote their message, "Islamic fascists" do the same, just with a different religion and different culture(s).

"Hitler, nobody has ever characterized Hitler as a Christian," said Said Mansour, president of the Islamic Society of Santa Rosa, to which about 100 families belong.


"If it is true, what the British have said (about the arrested plotters being Muslims), then Islam doesn't approve it," Mansour said. "Islam has nothing to do with it. It's very sickening, every time there is something, they just stick Islam to it." (from the Muslim American Society site)


Unlike Nazism, religion must be attached to this world view. Nazism used Christianity tangentially, but it was primarily about ethnicity and nationality- Arian peoples, the German nation. Islamists are promoting a world wide imposition of their own totalitarian view of Islam.


Friday, August 11, 2006

My brush with the Da Vinci code

I admit it, I read The Da Vinci Code. And I've even thought of going out of my way to visit some of the places mentioned in the book. I went to the Louvre in April (I wanted to go anyway) - but I've also been meaning to go to some of the London landmarks mentioned in the book. Some of them like some Templar church, are really not far from where I work and worth a visit, so I should go. Whatever you think of Dan Brown, he does have some cool tourist destinations in his book.

Yesterday, I brought my new camera to work and thought I might go out and snap a few shots at lunch time. I didn't really have a plan, but I ended up going into the Priory Church of the Order of St John. I had worked within ten minutes walk of this place for years - but had no idea that it was there. The Order of St John, is apparently, a Templar order - though I don't think it's mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. It's still a functioning order and now does charitable work for ambulances and first aid.

The Priory Church was open at lunch time yesterday because there was a special exhbition of Zimbabwean artists. I went in and had a look around. Some of the stone sculptures were absolutely fantastic. I got questioned for taking pictures, but the art director was nice enough about it. You can read about it here: www.mysteryinstone.com The exhibit will be around for another 8 or 9 days - and if you're in London it's worth a look.

The Director, Tawanda Sarireniis, was an artist himself - but only had a few pieces on show. I can't find any of them on the website, and I was too shy to take a photo. But his pieces of cheetahs and hippos were fine and characterful.

Photos:

madonna at the foot of the cross
Agnes Nyanhong's sculpture in the garden of the Priory Church

Priory Church of the Order of St John
Flags of the sub-orders(?) of the Order of St John

Crypt in the Priory Church of the Order of St John
The Crypt - where I was startled by an odd looking albino monk (not really)

door handle in the Priory Church of the Order of St John
Door handle at the Priory Church of the Order of St John

White trash v redneck

Nashville blogger Aunt B examines the difference between the terms redneck and white trash and determines that redneck is the more pejorative.

Well, she is originally from the Midwest, so I suppose she doesn't know any better. But she always has a fine turn of phrase, so it's a worth a read anyway. She states that the modifier "white" is used when there's a class a distinction - e.g. WASP - Anglo-Saxon is already a racial (or at least an ethnic) descriptor, so is white needed? Yes, apparently, when discussing class.

So is the term "white trash" racist? Does it imply that most whites aren't trashy and most non-whites are and so we need to make the distinction? Perhaps. Or perhaps it's come to mean that. What it does imply is that whites needn't be trashy, that their natural state isn't trashy, and so somehow it's even more disgraceful when a group of whites get so low they ain't never leavin' their trash past behind.

I think the "white" in white trash is a warning to other white folks. If you are white and you see the trash of some other ethnic or racial group, you can think that you'll never be like that - you can ascribe ignorant, low behaviour (incorrectly) to the race of that trashy person. From a white speaker to a white listener, "white trash" says "watch your step, a few wrong choices and you can be trashy, too."

-0-

The best party I ever threw was a white trash party I co-hosted with the Texan. It's legendary. People still talk about it. But I'll tell you this, we didn't use the terms "white trash" on any official correspondence. We called the party "Deep South and Dirty" - partly because we didn't want to be exclusionary. We wanted everyone to reach down into their own trashiness and pull out the worst. It was a blast, but it did turn out to be exclusionary. Some Brits came, one (yes - just one) Yankee came. The rest were ex-pat Southerners, and we did surely revel in it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

You crack me up

I rarely sign with LOL. Not just because, well - I think it's a little lame. But because I rarely laugh out loud at anything I read. I might snicker a little, or make a little hmmph noise. But LOL, not so much.

But this - from the blog Corn from a Jar - made me LOL.

--Everyone loves a good list, right? So check out this list of top fight songs from SI On Campus. Rocky Top makes the top five (ahead of the Notre Dame Fight Song), which leads to some pretty funny comments posted by the haters. My favorite comes from a Minnesota fan talking about the Gophers playing UT in the '86 Liberty Bowl and hearing Rocky Top played 25+ times: "every time the chorus came up, the stadium shook like a white trash Nuremburg." And that's the point, isn't it?


Damn right.

Thanks al Qaeda

We were going to fly to Italy on holiday. It was a compromise trip. I wanted to go to Austria and Slovakia - he wanted to go to Cornwall. I'm not sure how we settled on Italy. Neither of us was too excited about it really. I've been trying to get the Vol-in-Law to go to Rome for ages, Florence is the best small city I've ever visited. (I LOVED it), and I've always wanted to holiday at Lake Garda or Lake Como, but yet I couldn't quite summon the excitement. Maybe it was my husband's reluctance dampening my enthusiasm.

And then - well, then there's a terror plot foiled. Now I know this is serious stuff, but let's be honest. The authorities do have a tendency to over-react. There will be no liquids or hand luggage on flights for quite a while now, I reckon. The strictures don't always make sense. Just like you have to take your shoes off in the US, but you don't in Britain - and just like it was fine to have a lighter in my carry-on in December, but it was a dangerous item in January. Or finger nail clippers were lethal for four years after 9/11, but now they're no threat at all. If British intelligence knew about this "liquids and every day object" threat for a while, why haven't we been banned from carrying it since then?

It may sound silly - but I am NOT flying anywhere without my bag. I'm not interested in carrying my tampons in a clear plastic sack or buying 5 dollar bottles of water from a budget airline flight attendant. Nope. Plus I HATE checking my luggage.

So when I said flippantly this morning that it's a ferry to France, the Vol-in-Law seized on it. And now I'm quite excited. I hadn't been to France in 20 years before I went with Vol-K. I guess that kind of broke the seal.

And truth be told, I would have actually gone to Cornwall (grudgingly) - but I've bought the guidebooks for France now - it's too late.

So thanks, al Qaeda, thanks terrorists. Thanks, too, to a potentially over reactive airport security. Now we've fixed on a vacation we can both look forward to. (If it's all the same I won't say how or when exactly we're going).
______

Are we all hezbollah now?

Please read this absolutely chilling piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site by Harold Evans. He was prompted by signs at Satuday's "peace" rally in London saying "We're all Hizbullah now".

For all the gruesome pictures of my fellow Londoners standing shouder-to-shoulder with Hezbollah check out Six Meat Buffet

-0-

So what is it? Hizbullah, Hezbollah? Let's call the whole thing off.

The faithless cat

A man is on trial in Britain for shooting his neighbour at close range with a shot gun. She is dead, of course.

And what drives a man to such extremes? Well, cats and pigeons, apparently. And beer chased with whisky.

You see he loved birds, he was a pigeon fancier. And she loved cats. And cats and pigeons don't mix. Her cats were poisoned with antifreeze and his pigeon hut was burnt. He told her son "I'm going to kill your mum."

"I thought it was an idle threat," said the son in court testimony.

-o-

Cats don't really keep boundaries well. Most don't respect property. We had to pay a vet bill of 60 quid recently because a cat attacked our Fancy. I often see the "two brothers" in our garden and I've seen Lion Cat especially go after my poor, tiny little Fancy. He lies in wait, hidden in the foliage above the shed until the train goes by at the bottom of our garden. He uses the noise as cover to spring a surprise attack from behind.

Not that Fancy's particularly a homebody. She loves to roam and to visit. She often scrambles over the fences and rooftops to survey her (disputed) domain.

She's been gone a lot of late. She used to go and visit the young Poles two doors down (gone now, thank goodness, along with their impossibly loud Baltic pop). She's taken up visiting their much quieter replacements (still youthful, but by my reckoning medical students who came by one day warning of a party and complimenting my garden). She also visits with our divorced next door neighbour. It's not him she likes - I've seen him whistle to her and she ignores him (not a cat person clearly - who whistles to beckon a feline?) But she loves his teenaged daughter, who visits not infrequently. I've seen Fancy scramble over the fence to greet her when she hears her voice.

I was petting Fancy the other night in our garden when the daughter stepped out into theirs. My little cat sprang away from me and popped over. I heard the girl's boyfriend say "Look who's back."

Faithless feline. But I guess that's what you get when you name your cat after a whore.
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Transatlantic terror plot foiled

We woke this morning to news that a major terrorist attack had been foiled, but that UK airports were in turmoil.

News is still breaking, but apparently there were plans to blow up planes to the US mid-flight. And that the explosives were to be stored in hand-luggage. We now have a critical threat level in the UK. I think this is the highest threat level.

I'm not sure if any flights are going anywhere right now, but when they do there will be NO HAND LUGGAGE. No phones, no cameras, no liquids, no lotion, no hair product, presumably no eye-drops or contact cleaning saline. No bottles of water.

I know this is serious, I know there was threat of loss of life. But I can't help thinking selfishly of my mundane comforts on flight. I'm not the best flier anyway. I'm not scared of crashing or dying or even being blown up. I get bored and claustrophobic on long flights. And not just a little bit - I mean a lot - to an obsessive degree. I get obsessed thinking about how I might get bored or claustrophobic. I need my little things. I need my leather bag, a back pack that I bought in the leather markets of Florence (Italy not Alabama), that goes with me everywhere. I need things to entertain me a novel, sudoko, etc. I need to carry my water. I'm also not too keen on checking luggage on short flights. I go with hand luggage wherever I can. And I'm really not too keen on the idea of checking my brand new camera in the hold.

I'm already rethinking my holiday plans. Ferry to France with my car, methinks. Of course, since the Vol-in-Law lost two cousins in a ferry disaster - that's not without its emotional baggage, too.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Muslims want

The Channel 4 documentary show Dispatches aired a programme last night called What Muslims Want.

So what do Muslims want? Channel 4 commissioned a survey. And just like any group, they want a diversity of things. But Dispatches seemed to focus on what a disturbing minority wanted: e.g. an Islamic existence separate from British life and in some case Sharia Law in Britain. To illustrate this, women in full veils (niqab) were interviewed, crazy youths with sheets draped over their heads were interviewed, those who had turned their back on an "integrated" life and sought fundamentalism were interviewed. But hardly anyone was interviewed who said that they wanted a reasonable, integrated life. No women were interviewed who didn't "cover" (though many Muslim women don't).

Perhaps Dispatches wanted to frighten us with the extremes. Perhaps they wanted to demonstrate to the leftist chatterati that there is indeed a dangerous minority who want something that is absolutely antithetical to Western values of liberal democracy, secual law and free speech. But what they did was underpin the views of separatists, the Islamists, the fundamentalists and the radicals - by showing only their views.

I'm one of those people who believe that moderate Muslims need to speak up, but I have to wonder if sometimes they're not fully given the chance.

-0-

Dispatches did highlight the prevalence of "conspiracy theories" among British Muslims. Many believe that 9/11 was not orchestrated by Muslims or Arabs, but that it was a conspiracy between Israeli and American intelligence services.

Nearly half of Muslims appear to think that 9/11 was some kind of US Zionist conspiracy; only one in five reject entirely any kind of conspiracy theory about the bombing of the World Trade Centre. (source)

Many also believe that Princess Diana was killed because she might have married a Muslim man (that most unobservant Dodi al-Fayed). Curiously, there doesn't seem to be much doubt that British Muslims did indeed commit the London terrorist attacks on 7/7.

Now, I knew about the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Anyone with an Internet connection knows about those. But it's shocking just how pervasive it is. I was chatting with someone in the bar the other night who was absolutely convinced that 9/11 was an American-Israeli plot.

I think I rolled my eyes in response. It's laughable. I've worked with government too long to believe that kind of stuff. Screw-ups and cover-ups. Oh, yes. Absolutely. Attempts at conspiring to get one over on the rest of us (yep, remember yellow cake or the 45 minute Iraqi missiles). Sometimes. But big scale stuff? Without anybody finding eventually out and presenting definitive proof? Unlikely. And 9/11? Preposterous.

But then she said something absolutely shocking. "Then why did no Jews die in the Twin Towers?"

What?? I knew about this conspiracy theory, too - of course. But I really didn't think that someone I think of as pretty reasonable could possibly believe that for a second. "That's just not true," I said. "How do you know?" she said.

Well, of course I didn't have any death certificates stapled to synagogue membership papers, that had been sworn and notarised as belonging to same individual there with me in the bar that night. That's just not the kind of thing I carry around. But it's the kind of thing - that if true - would be absolutely un-hidable.

But it got me to thinking. How in the world are we going to come to some kind of understanding if there's a reluctance to believe the most basic facts (who was responsible for 9/11) and a willingness to believe strange conspiracy theories (no Jews died in 9/11)? What kind of evidence could shake that kind of belief. Wikipedia? Clearly not - Zionists submit information to that. Mainstream newspapers? Hardly. The entire American media is controlled by the CIA (or some murkier organisation). How about Google Answers? What would it take? Would you have to parade bereaved spouses and orphans in front of everyone who held this view?

Deer stalking

Since my new camera arrived, I've been snap, snap, snapping. I'm still learning though...

The Vol-in-Law and I went out to Richmond Deer Park this weekend to see if we could find the deer and find out how the zoom function works. These were the first deer we came across, but they didn't hang out long.

two nervous fellows
Fallow Deer - these were two very nervous fellows.

So we had to hunt for some more, and we eventually found them. Along one of the main roads we spotted a clump of congestion and figured that cars were slowing down for deer, and so they were. I think this may be an area where the deer are fed, as they often seem to congregate in the area. There were perhaps 15 of them, all young. The young deer seem friendlier - I don't know if that's a natural tendency in deer or just the fact that they haven't lived through a cull yet.

deer
This fellow was quite a poser.

begging for a speech bubble
Here he is chewing on a straw. They Hayseed Deer - looks like he's cracking a joke or about to discuss the price of porkbelly futures.

We went back for more the next day and came across a very confident pack of red deer (at least I think that's what they are)

king deer
The King Deer of the Herd

They let us hang around them for a while and then, since it was such a warm day, the King Deer decided to meander down to the lake. They passed very close to me and I could have taken some more photos. But frankly, they were very big and very confident and I was just a little bit scared of them. But once they got in the lake, my own confidence returned.

king deer in the water

wading in

Turns out, though, that I had no need to worry - as August is one of the "safe months" to molest the deer.

deer will eat you

I guess we're fairly warned. Though I did tell the Vol-in-Law the story about the man who was killed by a white tailed deer in Cades Cove while he was on a bicycling trip around the Cove. I can't find a link to the story, but I seem to remember that his widow tried to sue the Park for not providing adequate warning of the danger of death by deer.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Experimenting

Dude, I hope you got off at the right stop. And I'm really sorry, but it was just too much to resist, what with my new camera and all.

At least you weren't drooling.

Asleep on the Northern Line (I have a new camera)

New camera

My new camera arrived yesterday - Canon S3 IS - but it seems like since the package crossed my threshold the light has been rubbish - dark and overcast, threatening rain.

I squeezed off a few shots this morning. The camera seems fun - though it looks like I'm definitely going to have to actually read the instructions. I'm not thrilled with my first results, but it's more to do with bad light and operator ignorance.

purple hydrangea

a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/londonlooks/205536492/" title="Photo Sharing">green star - black beauty

white cosmos

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New computer

The Vol-in-Law and I bought a new computer yesterday. I fancied a system of laptops, where we each had our own with docking stations for peripherals and so forth. But to get whizzy memory and graphics cards and other things with alphanumeric names on a laptop we would have had to sell a kidney. Still, at the going rate, we should have had some money left over for a nice vacation, so perhaps we should have done that. And I would have made the ViL sell his first.

I've been pressing to get a new PC for a while. Our old one works, but it is old now and was below spec when we bought it. Also it makes a loud noise like this ZHZH ZHZH, interspersed with an occasional HURGH or GHU-HUG. I'm no expert, but don't think that sounds so good.

The last time we had to buy a new PC was when the old one died, potentially losing all our data and we got so panicked we made a poor and expensive choice of replacement. I was determined to get a new one before we did the same again.

In the end, we went to a big PC chain and found one with great specs and a reasonable price. It had a lot more memory and bells and whistles than we hoped for and it was only 10 per cent more than our budget - but below our reservation price.

Only trouble was, it was sold out. Imagine. A PC cheaper and with more "stuff" than a slightly newer model, and it sold out. So said our salesman. I don't know where he was from, but his command of spoken English was less than we might have hoped. He also used a lot of hair product. My friend, piece of advice, making your hair stiff and sticky-up with product reveals rather than conceals your reducing hair density.

Anyway, he said that he checked the stock and no dice. Wouldn't we be interested in a more expensive model? We asked if we could order the sold out model and he said "two or three weeks" and we said - ok. (But this conversation takes a l.o.n.g. time what with his English skills and all). But then he tries to fob us off to some "business centre" colleagues who use a "different warehouse" - and we go back to the stock floor.

We figure out that the stock is kept beneath the display tables - with the specs on the box, so we'll look for another model with what we want. I start looking under the tables with a promotional banner and find one with similar - no identical specs. "Hey, ViL," I say "check the product number on that one we were looking at.". Yep, the same.

Our spiky-haired salesman seemed disappointed. Was it because we revealed him as less than through? Was there a bigger commission on something else? Anyway, we bought it - and hooked it up and with only minimal shouting at each other managed to connect to Internet despite the fact we'd lost our broadband software.
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Hooker

Remember that tv show TJ Hooker, with a newly aging, newly fat William Shatner? That show was lame. They should have made a tv show about John Jay Hooker instead. JJ Hooker or just Hooker!

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've always heard the name John Jay Hooker - the perennial candidate - and I didn't really know who he was. I imagined a shrivelled old guy in a two-bed ramshackle house with peeling dirty mint green paint, with a rusting fence holding in a barking mean-eyed mutt. There was a lot of junk on his front porch, but also a swing. Not the wooden kind, but the metal kind with molded curves.

Every year, he'd scrape together the names and cash to become a candidate by harassing would-be shoppers in front of Big Lots. The one nephew he still had a good relationship with would plead with him not to run again. But he would, again.

Maybe I'm thinking of a different candidate, the real John Jay Hooker is a dapper old guy (see photo), from an "established family" and once very real political connections and aspirations. I know there was somebody that my dad would always threaten to vote for, if he didn't like any of the other candidates. But I can't remember. This was a memory from the 70s, and John Jay Hooker was still kinda close to the mainstream of political life back then - according to wikipedia - so I'm not sure that's who my dad was talking about - maybe he threatened to write-in William Shatner. You can see how I might be confused.


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What prompted all this? Well, I read this post from the Nashville Knucklehead about the forthcoming election - on Thursday. An election in which he endorses Nashville blogger and serious candidate Bob Krumm (Nash-Knuck also endorses write-in candidate, Rex L Camino*) I like Bob Krumm, but I will not be voting for him. Why not? Not my district, for one thing. I couldn't vote for him if I wanted to, which I don't.

I wouldn't vote for him because he's a Republican, and because I don't agree with him on a lot of issues. Particularly issues relating to choice and immigration and a worrying tendency to tighten voting rules (e.g. requiring IDs) which could leave the Vol Abroad - and a lot of other expat voters - disenfranchised. But to be fair to Bob, I presented this issue to him and he responded saying he wouldn't forget about us expat voters.

I won't be voting in my own district anyway. Why will I not be voting? Because I didn't get any good races on my ballot. I'm not declared with a political party, so I only got the races for Sherriff and dogcatcher and so forth. The only name I recognised on the whole ballot was my cousin's. I suppose I should be voting for Cuz, but since he's running unopposed - I think he'll be alright.

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I don't think I'll be voting for Rex L. Camino, either. Though presumably one could write-in his name in any district. And here's why not:

1. Politics might scar his sweet and gentle soul.
2. I can't be voting for Bama fans.

I might reconsider if he started sporting John-Jay-Hookerish suits and hats as in above photo -substituting the cravat for string tie.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Doing evil thru good

Where is your charitable donation going? Panorama- a BBC documentary news show had some interesting answers.

Last night's program was on the link between Palestinian terrorists Hamas and Islamic charities - in particular Interpal. This charity is proscribed in the US, but lauded in the UK - registered with the Charity Commission - the voluntary sector's regulatory body.

Interpal does raise money to do "good". They fund clinics, food distribution to the poor, cultural societies, youth groups and orphanages. Unfortunately, they use the youth groups, schools and orphanages to indoctrinate the kids of Palestine with the Islamist death cult ideology of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Panorama showed some chilling footage of cute little girls from an Interpal funded youth group singing songs about offering up their blood for Islam. And one little darling who sang "if you tire of the fight, put the Kalashnikov in my hands." Hamas use those social welfare funds and networks funded by Interpal to turn observant Muslims, and those who might just want to help folks in Palestine into witting or unwitting supporters of terror. I don't think there's any proof that Interpal monies buy weapons - but they certainly help deliver the people who use them.

This isn't a new strategy. Guerilla groups give food to the local villagers in hopes of creating social bonds strong enough to provide aid and comfort to the insurgency when they're in trouble. Soup kitchens and missionary societies provide a meal and a warm dry place in hopes of winning souls. Sometimes charity is performed for its own sake and sometimes to win support to a cause that might be benign or evil.

But we need to be aware of the links. I give money to the Salvation Army because I respect what they do, not because I agree with what they fundamentally believe. If they began work toward creating unrest in the Middle East or wiping out someone's country, not only would I stop donating, I would hope that they would be outlawed. Interpal contributes to doing just that, and yet they continue in the UK.

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The American government might be annoyed at the British Charity Commission for not proscribing Interpal. But we're not blameless in the charity for terror stakes. For many years, Americans raised money that was funnelled straight into IRA coffers. I've had Brits confront me directly over Noraid money that provided at the very least aid and succor to those who blew up people and property in Northern Ireland and England. I always said "Well, I never gave them any money," or "I think that was mostly people from up North who gave money to Noraid - really nothing to do with me."

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I was once set up on a quasi-blind date many years ago in Knoxville with someone who could not have been more wholly inappropriate. Over dinner he said he thought he'd seen me around or met me somewhere.

"Was it at Rock for the Zapatistas?" he asked. [A fund raiser for the poor in Chiapas and the Zapatista movement itself]

"No, I wasn't there. I don't give money to terrorists." I said.

And it all went down hill from there. They say that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. But if you can't agree which is which, I reckon you don't have a firm foundation for a romantic relationship.