Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little white lines

Annie Mole of Underground blogging fame writes about her pet peeve:

People with loud music carrying through their headphones is a pet hate of mine and many others.

I've taken to the closest you can get to London opprobrium for those who emit high levels of headphone leakage. A mean squint and direct eye contact. In terms of London discourse, I think the next step on the ladder is violent affray. I have regular fantasies about snip-snipping the headphone wires of offenders.

I've noticed more often than not that if I can hear headphone leakage then the wires are white. Meaning crappy Apple iPod headphones.

I've been told by someone in the know that the headphones are manufactured not by Apple but by some other well-known company - and it's really all their fault. So you say...

But I'll still be suing Apple when I go on iPod rage and really hurt somebody. (Oh, woman sitting next to me with your hip hop leakage last night on the Victoria line you came awful close. You're lucky that I only squinted at you and silently cursed you with a wish that you suffer long term hearing damage instead.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

fish kill

It looks like there was a gas attack on our pond. All of our goldfish are dead. I'd like to think it was no one's fault really - there was kind of a perfect storm of conditions which contributed to the untimely death of Smoky, Larry, Darrell, Blackie and Swimmie. But, in truth, better pond maintenance might have prevented this.

Dismal track record
This isn't our first fish death. No - Caspar Weinberger and Blaze died under less than favorable circumstances. And one day Darrell and Darrell disappeared. Just vanished. We suspected the al Kitti insurgency. I also accidentally poisoned some bottom feeders once, too with algicide before I started blogging. Ooops.

Remembrance of things past

How did it happen?
During the morning of the snow, the pond didn't exactly freeze over, but slushed over - to a depth of about three inches. I'd never really seen that before, but figured that it was ok. You shouldn't really let a pond freeze over - not because of the cold, goldfish can stand the cold - but because of the gas created by rotting vegetation and fish poo and fish breath exhalation. I was pretty sure the fish were alive that morning, I think I saw them moving around and Fancy was messing around in the pond, pushing the slush aside trying to get at the fish.

It warmed up by the afternoon and hasn't frozen over since. But the fish must have died that day without me really noticing. (Fish are a little bit boring in winter). The Vol-in-Law noticed they were dead this weekend. We haven't found all the bodies, but there were enough floaters to bode ill and we didn't see any additional movement this weekend.

Our plan for victory
Now some might question our pond tactics and some might ask if we should have had a pond in the first place. Doubters. Sceptics. Fish-and-freedom-haters. Now is the time to reinforce failure our fish stock with a surge in goldfish numbers.

Just kidding. I think we've decided that with a baby on the way maybe we shouldn't really be in pond business anymore. Those things are really nothing but fish charnel houses at best and toddler drowners at worst.

I've enjoyed the pond and it helped us use a space that although sunny and sheltered, was paved over and not used for much else. But ponds are trouble and clearly we're not cut out for fish husbandry. I'm going to drain the plastic tub, backfill it with soil and grow tomatoes there instead.

Up to no good
Tomatoes aren't as interesting as fish. Plus without a pond, we'll actually have to remember to give our cats water.

Learning from our mistakes
The Vol-in-Law doesn't really like to talk about the dead fish. "Clearly, I'm not cut out for this. I can barely remember to give our cats food. And they're mammals, much more interesting than fish," he said guiltily on Sunday and then got up and fed the cats.

Yesterday I said to him "Doesn't it make you nervous that we're expecting a baby and we can't even keep goldfish alive?"

"Fish are very fragile and we'll try harder with a baby."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Culture, culture, culture

My brother and I went to Italy a few years ago. It was after my grandfather died and having lived with him (and my mom) after my parents split up, I think we felt extra close to him. But we weren't his children, either and it was difficult to express and for others to fully empathise with how we were feeling. So we went off, on our own, to Italy - as one does. And in the process we discovered that we could travel well together, a happy thing.

We had a great time - all that culture and pasta was very therapeutic. And I think we both liked Florence. But the problem with Florence is that it's just too amazing, too full of fabulous things to see. I love museums, I love art, but even my eyes were starting to curl. Oh look - I've seen that painting in many an art history text, (yawn) look it's another Great Master. Oh yes, this square is perfect in proportion - yes, I do have an odd feeling of peace. Ho hum. I think that's because Michelangelo designed this place, too.

We were outside the Museum of the Duomo (Cathedral), leaning against concrete traffic bollards and sucking on Marloboros - and I was trying to convince my brother to go in to this one last museum. He was reluctant. A British tourist stopped just next to us to light his cigarette - and I asked him - as one can do in the brotherhood of smokers "Hey, what's in there? Is it worth going in?"

"Well, there's some Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. Yeah, it's worth it," he said with a shrug - probably thinking "philistine Americans", but sounding a little culture weary himself.

"Hey, VolBro, it's got three of the four Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's gotta be worth seeing," I said.

So in we went. And I can't say I saw things with exactly fresh eyes. But the thing about great, truly great works of art, is that even when you've ceased to be amazed by merely the wonderful you can still be stopped in your tracks by a truly powerful work that can speak to you.

This one did. I saw it in expat blogger Anglofille's Flickr photostream this morning. And of course a sneaky pic can never have the power of the real thing, but it did take me back to an August afternoon in Florence this gray and cool London morning.


Rather interestingly, she her latest post is about her grandfather, gone 9 years and their connection that remains.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I successfully changed out our broadband router, splitter do-hicky thingy - for a slicker, smooth-white ipod-y looking thingy that also does wireless broadband Internet access.

I only had to dial up one call centre (though I did have to navigate through about 50 touchtone menus). And you know what, they gave my the password to my husband's new email account - and all I had to know was our address and his mother's maiden name. I had to do that 'cause I couldn't register the broadband without it.

I didn't break anything or put any holes through walls and I only swore quite a lot. My marriage wasn't under threat at any point (though I do wonder the Vol-in-Law didn't do this himself, given that it was on his account).

Today was a good day.

A different take on gay marriage

Here's one I hadn't heard before:

First of all, I do not believe that the Biblical definition of marriage is a union between man and woman. Marriage, as defined by God, is a covenant between man, woman, and God. Many non-Christians marry every year in Tennessee. Their marriages aren't Biblical, but they are alright with that. They are legal though. So from a Christian standpoint, there shouldn't be any difference between two non-Christians marrying and two homosexuals marrying. Why do we allow one "non Christian" marriage and not the other? Why are we so concerned about what two homosexuals are doing that we are willing to go to the trouble of passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage? The reason to me is simple. Many of us, obviously the majority, have an extra bit of contempt for homosexuals. What it amounts to is bigotry. I know I am in the minority on this, but think about it. Why would we even care one iota about what two homosexuals are doing, unless there was something spiritually wrong with us?

Although I suppose I'm ethnically Protestant, I wouldn't consider myself to be a card-carrying Christian anymore (or at the time of my wedding). So I guess, my marriage falls into the same category as any old non-Christian - or even homosexual marriage. And Glen Dean apparently thinks that should be OK.

I can't say I've ever heard this particular argument before - but if it's one that makes you feel better, great. I guess in a way it's more liberal and laissez-faire than my own reasons for supporting gay marriage.

Deer park

Yesterday we took a long walk in Richmond Deer Park. It was one of the first weekend days with a bit of blue sky that I can remember.

We went down to the lake and saw Sam the dozy looking English shephard mix nosing around the water, upsetting the swans. The swans were hissing and spitting. His owners were concerned - as well they might have been - a swan can break you arm with one beat of its mighty wing. They kept calling "Sam, Sam" - but in a nice sweet way. Sam ignored them and the swans.

These swans were mighty upset with Sam.

Then we walked past a big open field of dry bracken. I didn't really notice anything special about it at first, but then the Vol-in-Law pointed out that the field was full of deer. They are about the same color as the bracken and only their antlers were poking over the top of the dead vegetation.



Feral parakeets live in South London. Refugees from the pet trade, there are colonies all up and down the Thames. There are quite a few in Richmond Deer Park. They squawk and squeak and unfortunately usually stay too high up in the trees to get good pictures of them.

London parakeet

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Catwalk modelling

Me: Arghh, there's cat hair all over these baby clothes.
Vol-in-Law: Isn't that the outfit you dressed the cat in?
Me: Your point?

Friday, January 26, 2007

The ViL puts the world to rights

I said that if the Vol-in-Law did a good job on the Conservative Home web tv programme, I would post a link. Well, I reckon he did do a pretty good job (though I recognise my bias). So here it is.
And though it means breaking anonymity, the Vol-in-Law is not the young chap with the revealing neckline, nor is he the blonde woman.

He came yesterday wearing makeup (to make him look less shiny) and told me he'd had precisely 15 minutes of fame. So, if your even vaguely interested in the internal workings of the British Conservative party, give him a quarter of an hour to entertain you on the matters of candidate selection, the British relationship to Europe and the Gove lecture on an anti-islamist intelligentsia.

Gay adoption

The UK is bringing in anti-discrimination legislation - which basically means that you can't treat gay people any differently than straight people. On the face of it, that sounds ok to me. I certainly don't want the government that I support through my taxes to discriminate against anyone.

Oh wait, the law applies to everyone... private businesses, individuals, churches, synagogues and mosques. And we know how much churches, synagogues and mosques want to hire or serve gay folks (as a general rule).

One of the examples raised by Christian evangelicals of how damaging this would be is the Christian couple forced to lodge a gay couple in their Bed and Breakfast (which are run out of private homes). Now, I do have sympathy with the idea that you should be able to choose who comes into your home, but you've made it a place of business... Personally, I would be devastated if any gay friend of mine and his/her partner were turned away from a B&B, say after having made a reservation, just for being gay. I would be horrified and disgusted and hurt on their behalf.

Another area of the law is gay adoption. Christian and Jewish adoption agencies will no longer be able to turn gay couples away from applying through their agencies (in the past when this happened, gay couples were referred on to agencies who would place children with gay couples). This is causing a furore - or as described in the UK press - a gay adoption row.

I'm not sure how I feel exactly about gay adoption. Personally, I don't think that anyone has a right to adopt a child. I don't think any adult has this right, because adoption ought to be about the best interests of the child. But I don't think that gay couples should be forbidden from doing so just because they are gay. However, with two equally suitable couples - I would tend to prefer the married heterosexual couple to the married homosexual couple (technically civil partnerships in the UK) - just because I think it would make for an easier life. But I would also tend to prefer the married homosexual couple to the unmarried heterosexual couple - all else being equal. (I simply cannot understand why a couple seeking to adopt would not get married to demonstrate the stability of their relationship. And since they apparently can't be bothered to do that, I'd worry about what else they might not be bothered about.)

The Catholic adoption agencies are asking for an exemption to the law. I have mixed feelings about this. If you can't discriminate between people in terms of adoption - I don't know when you can. For example, it's still widely accepted in this country that black children are better off with black families. And a Catholic adoption agency - to my mind - ought to be seeking to place children with Catholic families who seek to follow the precepts of the Catholic church. So does that mean that they should discriminate against me and the Vol-in-Law, say - a couple of deeply lapsed Protestants? Yes. Yes, they should. It seems to me that a Catholic adoption agency should always prefer a Catholic couple to us - if we seem equally suitable. And let's face it - there are far more couples seeking to adopt healthy young kids than there are healthy young children to adopt. They will always be able to turn up a Catholic couple who are at least as suitable as raising children as we are.

And if a Catholic adoption agency should be able to turn us away - a stable, well-educated, married heterosexual couple - then they ought to be able to turn away gay couples who by living together in a homosexual relationships are clearly violating the precepts of the Catholic church.

On the other hand, it sounds like these religious adoption agencies are not functioning as separate bodies, but as an extension of the state. The Catholic church merely provides an administrative function of Government. There are many such arrangements between the faith and voluntary sectors in the UK. This makes their position demanding an exemption weak - very weak. The Catholic church is now threatening to remove themselves from the adoption agency market. Perhaps that's the best solution, if they can't operate as a private adoption agency seeking to be an agency where Catholic birth mothers can place children with the assurance that they will end up with Catholic families.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

King of tears

Sometimes small things speak volumes.

Dress your children in orange and white

VolMom called last night to tell me that she had picked up a whole bunch of baby boy clothes for Cletus at a consignment shop. So that's right - used clothing for a brand new baby.

"Nothing but the second best for my baby," I told the Vol-in-Law.
"Third or fourth best, really, is fine - so long as it's not dangerous," he replied.

Actually, used is great. And VolMom knows very well that I'll enjoy items more if I know she got a deal on them. I'll buy used clothes for myself, used cars, second-hand jewelry. If it still works, why not? Call it my personal take on environmentalism. To re-use is better than to re-cycle.

Baby boy clothes have bears and puppies and trucks and tools on them. Baby girl clothes have kittens and fairies and flowers on them.

"Not that it really matters, but did you find any boy clothes with kittens on them?" I asked VolMom. "I know that kittens are mostly found on little girl clothes, but you know I'm more of a cat than a dog person."
"No kittens," she said rifling through her (many) newly purchased onesies and rompers. "But here's one with a lion on it. And a tiger... And another tiger..." PAUSE "Oh no, that tiger looks a little too much like an Auburn Tiger."

Ahh, the complexities of SEC rivalry and baby fashion.

VolBro has emailed to congratulate me on having a baby with the correct chromosome sequence, but has warned me that Baby Cletus needs "proper attire".

That is - I need to dress my child in orange and white.


I promised the Vol-in-Law I wouldn't buy any more baby clothes - especially since, as yet, we have no baby to dress. I haven't gone crazy on the shopping. (But I think VolMom has). I n fact, I haven't bought anything more than what I posted about.

Well, until today. (Maybe he won't read this.)

I had a little look at Marks and Spencers (a sorta department store - found in every UK town center) - and found a pack of newborn body suits - in yes, orange and white.

Well, what would you have done?


My old pal St Caffeine is already worried about what a half-Brit, half-Vol baby will be like.

See, much as I love her, the VA is one of those obnoxious UT fans. This little tyke (Cletus for now) will be all decked out in his bright orange sweatshirt underneath an appropriately staid British blazer and he'll be saying things like, "UT's going to flather some serious bum against Bama this week. Quite so!" Sorry, I'm not an expert on Brit slang, I had to make it up. Still, I'm thinking I'm not too far off base. Durr, UT trash talking of any sort is bad enough, I hate to imagine it coming from a precocious British lad. Still, I bet it'll be awfully cute! Regardless, congrats VA, ViL, and Cletus!

Of course it will be cute. Who doesn't love a bit of toddler Tennessee trash talk? Or perhaps a sweetly mangled chorus of Rocky Top. I'm not sure about the sweatshirt beneath the tweed though. But you're right - gentlemen's wear has an important place in proud English sporting tradition - i.e. football hooliganism. From wikipedia:

In the 1960s, when fighting at football was commonplace in the United Kingdom, British police would be on the lookout for fans wearing skinhead fashions or cheap work wear. Once this became apparent, hardcore hooligans started to wear the expensive clothing favoured by the well-to-do fans, to avoid police attention. This led to the development of the casual subculture. Since then, classic gentle-men's clothing lines — such as Burberry, Ben Sherman, Aquascutum and Paul and Shark — have been appropriated by hooligans as their uniform. Now the wearing of such clothing at domestic football matches is more likely to attract, than repel police attention. The height of casual culture was the mid 1980s, when hooligans following Liverpool F.C. through Europe would raid boutiques across the mainland continent to steal the latest fashions.

Yes, perhaps we can bring together the finest traditions of British and Tennessee sportsmanship. The orneriness, the drunkeness, the loudness, the unwaranted bragging, the sullenness at loss, the property damage... Really, I'll leave it to you to determine which feature to attribute to which proud culture.

The Vol-in-Law gets famous

My husband is going to be on 18 Doughty Street tonight (I think). This is British Conservative web tv.

Before he left to go to the studio for the pre-record, he was wearing an old shirt of VolBro's. It's some kind of collared blue-on-white plaid, polo-like shirt. I suspect it was an unwanted gift to my brother (VolBro is very selective in sartorial matters) which the Vol-in-Law scavenged from a Lawrenceburg closet. The ViL loves it.

"Is that the shirt you're wearing?" I asked. Meaning: I know it's only Internet tv, but it's still tv.
He said no, but he kept wearing the shirt and it was getting to be time to go.
"Are you wearing that shirt?" I asked. Meaning: Please don't wear that shirt.
He changed shirts.

Anyway, if he thinks it went well, I'll link to the actual programme.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


My view of snow is that it's alright looking out at the white via a window from a snug room - or maybe for playing in on a Saturday late morning - but it's no good for going out in on a work day. And since five days out of 7 are work days it's a good chance that snow is just a cold, wet inconvenience.

Most cats I've had have felt the same way. Not Fancy.

She woke me up this morning before dawn , cold and wet and purring and so excited. I got up to pee (as my poor smushed bladder often calls me to do these days) and saw the glow through the bathroom window. There's something unmistakable about the quality of even nighttime light when everything's covered with snow.

Fancy ran down stairs and up again wanting me to accompany her into the garden. I waited until it was semi-dawn (that's after 7 in London in January) pulled on my rubber boots and watched her galavant through the snow. I think this may have been her first experience of snow. She loved it. She even loved pawing the slushy pond and drinking the near frozen water.

She was so happy and having so much fun it made me see snow afresh through the glittering eyes of my excited cat. Well, that is until I had to trudge over slick sidewalks and through melting, gray London slush to get to the Underground this morning.

Fancy in the snow

An anti-islamist intelligentsia?

It seems like you can wait ages to spend an evening with a Conservative MP and then two chances come along at once.

We'd been invited to hear the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Peter Ainsworth MP speak on things environmental at a Wandsworth Tory event - and we'd fully intended to go. I knew I was going to spend the evening spitting and fuming about how the Conservative party has adopeted the pseud-scientific mantras of environmentalism. (Don't get me wrong, I like nature - I just think there are greater threats to human health and the environment in Britian than global warming.) But we would have been in the company of people we know and like, so it wouldn't have been awful.

But then the Vol-in-Law was invited to hear Michael Gove, MP speak at a New Culture Forum event “Are we seeing the emergence of a new anti-Islamist intelligentsia?”at Portcullis House (the parliamentary office building). And it's not that we're ruthless social climbers or the kind of people who'll stand you up for a better offer, but well it just sounded like a swankier and possibly more interesting event.

Unalloyed gushing
And it was. First, let me gush a little bit about the venue - as a girl who went to Lawrence County High School is allowed to do (so do bear with me or, if you must, skip down a few paragraphs). Portcullis House is a fabulous building - one of those places that firmly demonstrates that you can have wonderful modernist architecture so long as you a) follow the laws of physics and b) use predominantly traditional building materials (e.g. oak and stone).

And the building was filled with celebrities. Celebrities of the political sort of course, but none of whom I recognised. (The Vol-in-Law mocks my statement If London's so full of celebrities, how come I never see any? It's true, I recognise no one. The only celeb I've ever spotted on my own was because I recognised his voice first.)

But we saw, for example, Helena Kennedy QC ( the ViL says she's done more to destroy life in Britain than almost anyone else) and David Trimble, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who looks remarkably healthier and younger in real life now that the burdens of Northern Irish political leadership have been forcibly removed.

And finally, the wine. I know this is cheesy, but I was impressed. The wine served at Portcullis House - was House Wine - House of Commons wine - with its own specialty label including the seal of the House of Commons. I'm a sucker for a visual pun. The wine itself - well, I didn't indulge as I'm pregnant, but I definitely had to sample it - and it tasted much as you might expect Government wine to taste.

Anti-islamism on the Left?
But on to the topic itself, Michael Gove is the author of Celsius 7/7 an analysis of Islamism and how this came to manifest itself so violently in Britain just over a year ago. A sample of Amazon UK review comments:

It is a well reasoned attempt to show the historical roots of Islamic totalitarianism from Maulana Maududi, Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al Banna, all the way through to their modern incarnation of Al Qaeda and other Jihadist groups.

Gove's is a clarion call to all of us to defend liberty and rationality. Unless we do this, we may well find ourselves heading rapidly towards a time of repression by religiously motivated totalitarian ideologues.

Although a Conservative politician, Michael Gove concentrated on the emergence of a "new" anti-Islamist intelligentsia on the left. Partly, this is because there is little intelligentsia on the right (in the UK) and partly because the non-Islamic ideological support for Islamism and Islamic politcal aims has come recently most strongly from the Left. Gove says, yes - there is an emergence of anti-Islamist thought and voice on the Left - and he feels that it will be as powerful and important the condemnation of Soviet socialism in Europe by Left-liberals was during the cold war and in the collapse of communism. And Gove highlights a few key thinkers to support his argument. Daniel Johnson, also at the event, writes:

...the most prominent voices now being heard in protest against the scandalous alliance of the Left with Islamo-fascism are themselves for the most part intellectuals withimpeccable Left-liberal credentials. Gove singled out the journalists Nick Cohen(whose book What’s Left? How the Liberals Lost Their Way chronicles the Left’s great self-betrayal), David Aaronovich (who defected from the Guardian to the Times of London), and Christopher Hitchens, who needs no introduction for American readers. Nick Cohen is also a leading light among the group of liberal academics and writers who last year signed the Euston Manifesto, distancing themselves from the Leftist consensus.

For me, an unapologetic Liberal (more classical liberal) and still romantically attached to the Left, it's always seemed more shocking to me that the Left has aligned itself to a clearly backwards ideology. Yusuf Al Qaradawi - Islamist imam - was described by London Mayor Ken Livingstone as a force for progressivism. Yes, if by progressive you mean stoning gays and beating and covering women. I'm less interested in why a few voices on the Left are speaking up but in why so many have submitted to Islamism and so many more remain quiet.

Michael Gove almost seems to clutch at straws in a way. Who cares about a few Guardianista journalists (who like Nick Cohen might easily be dismissed as being Joo-ish Zionists anyway - so rife is anti-semitism these days)? So what that a few novelists like Ian McEwan or Martin Amis or even Salman Rushdie (who might be accused of still being peevish over the whole fatwa thing) are speaking out? Though I've got to admit they do it cleverly (again via Daniel Johnson).

Amis even describes himself as an “Islamismophobe,” but the real objects of his hatred are the “middle-class white demonstrators last August waddling around under placards saying ‘We Are All Hizbollah Now.’” As he observes, “People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.”

So now I'm also interested in the question - what can those on the Right do? The American Right has funded intellectual pursuits through think-tanks, Chairs and fellowships and has managed to fundamentally shift the debate. There is plenty of intellectual fodder there. Unfortunately, I cannot subscribe to the position of the American Right - for me it's often too closely aligned theocracy and the very anti-progressive views that I despise in Islamism. And while I find the optimism of neo-conservatism appealing - everyone wants democracy - everyone wants to be "free" - I don't find this view supported in reality. Not everyone wants democracy - Islamists for example believe that it's absolutely antithetical to Islam.

So I guess my question is - what can those on the British Right do? - particularly those who follow the Thatcher view that as Conservative you'll be alright so long as you follow the principles of "Liberty under Law". How can they develop cogent and powerful arguments to support the maintenance of a liberal society in the face of those who seek to impose Sharia - not just abroad - but here in Europe - and in contravention to those who would support them through ignorance or mischief.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


This year for Christmas, I gave my parents copies of a book called A year in the garden, 2006. It was my book. I made it with my garden and flower photos that I'd taken over, yeah - 2006. (You can see the photos in a Flickr set)

I ordered a copy for myself, too, as a record of the gardening year. The Vol-in-Law opened the package first. He was not impressed. See, I'd done a book of our trip to America over Christmas 2005 using a different company based in Britain. For a variety of reasons using that company again for gift giving in America just wasn't practical - and yes the Qoop book from 2006 wasn't quite as good - mostly because I didn't have any real control over layout, text size, backgrounds, etc. etc.

The Vol-in-Law does not hold back on his constructive criticism and accused me of being cheap and lazy (all too true, I'm afraid). But he conceded that since my parents hadn't seen the photo book from our trip to America - maybe they just wouldn't know any better and would think the gift was alright.

Well, my parents seemed to be fooled anyway - as I got good feedback on the book - or perhaps I got good feedback on the photos and the book didn't detract from the images too much.

Anyway, he told me that next year I had better raise my game. I don't reckon I'm giving away the game too much, but we're already planning to give my parents and his a photo book of Cletus and his first months - (we might sneak a few flower pics in too). If I know my mom, she'll have anticipated something like that already. But I won't have to go back to the slow-to-use and kinda expensive British photo book company. No, I've found a new one - via an American expat blogger Jackie Danicki who was working on a cook book.

So I checked it out. I haven't yet had a printed version done yet, but I've been working on a book of our French vacation in September and I'm really impressed by the ease of handling the photos (you can pull them in from your Flickr account in case like me - you happen to have photos on different PCs) and the flexibility of the layouts. It means that not only can I include my photos - but also the text - since I blogged my vacation. I've really been having fun pulling it together.

I've even suggested to Genderist that she pull a cookbook together based on family recipes for her sister's wedding. My aunt Virginia gave me a handwritten book for my wedding that I still use.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging for choice

Today, is apparently, blog for choice day. I'm quite tired because I've been at a lecture at Westminster watching other people drink cheap white wine - which I didn't indulge in because I am pregnant. So I'm not actually going to go into all the reasons that I support a woman's right to choose and access to abortion.

But Melusina has a nice post. Jen's done one. The Tennessee Guerilla Women. Sorry if there are others that I regularly read that I've missed. Anglofille phoned one in, too (just as I'm doing).

You can see Brittney's Nashville roundup here and you can see a big old list of other doing the same at the Blog for Choice Day compendium.

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Last King of Scotland

Nicole in London reviews the Last King of Scotland. She thinks it's worth seeing. I believe her. But I won't be going. See, I already read the book. I read the book, I can't see the film. This is something I learned about myself a long time ago.

I only get annoyed by the pesky differences and perceived dimunition of the work. I feel compelled to tell my companion(s), "See, in the book this what happened." Or "I can't believe they left ______ out. It was a pivotal moment in the book." Or "Now, you see that didn't happen in the book - it couldn't have happened because the X couldn't be the killer, oops sorry - you didn't know that..." So then not only am I annoyed, so is my companion and potentially everyone seated around us.

And then I walk out of the cinema saying "Man - I wish I'd never gone, the book was much better and now it's all twisted up in my head."

By the way, Giles Foden's Last King of Scotland is an excellent book. It's been a while since I read it, so I can't give a comprehensive review. But it was powerful and compelling, exciting and disturbing asked what cost of going along with the flow?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Needless things

The Vol-in-Law and I have put off buying any baby things. While many of my May co-confinees have apparently painted and decorated nurseries, we've done nothing.

We did buy a couple of books. But as far as a newborn's immediate needs we've bought nothing.

Plenty of time. But I decided to go out shopping today. And I still have nothing that a new baby needs, but I've satisfied my own need to know that there are plenty of cute things out there for a baby boy.

I told the ViL that I had bought only frivolous items - and he rolled his eyes. But even he had to admit that the items I selected were "precious" and he was very impressed indeed by the low, low prices I paid (I did have quite a bit of hunting through the picked over sales racks).

deer sweater
Deer sweater - I got the biggest size they had, but unless we have a small kid or there's an unseasonable cold snap in August (not completely unknown) we may not get much use from this. But it was sooo cute.

swim suit
England swim trunks in two different sizes - 'cause they were just too cute to grow out of

wind jacket
Just in case I need to take baby out into the rain... Actually, if there's one thing I like it's good quality outerwear - and why shouldn't Cletus take after me and also own too many jackets?

Alright, this looks like something a real baby might actually wear...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

amateur kitty dieters

Despite our moderate success in kitty dieting, our cats are bush league dieters. They're nothing compared the kitty candidate for slimmer of the year.

Willie the Cat - has lost almost 5 pounds - although his picture looks like he's lost way more than that. (Of course, Willie's standing up pose is well chosen to make him look trim. Is he sucking in his kitty tum there?)

My colleague - the one who from time to time likes to look at (and laugh at) this picture of Other Cat when she's feeling down - sent me this news of Willie.

And although I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it - Willie the Cat is the typical fat American.

Ms Ebrahim, 43, who moved to Manobier near Tenby, three years ago, said Willie put on weight through lack of exercise when they were living in the US a few years ago. He was always a very big cat in size. We lived in America and he was primarily an indoor cat - we lived in an upstairs flat and he got bigger and bigger," she said.

Oh dear. It turns out that after moving to the UK, he got more excercise and is now competing for the svelte cat crown.

Friday, January 19, 2007


We had our big anomaly ultrasound scan this week. That's the one where they count the toes and the organs and stuff.

At 36, there's always the concern that you've spawned a monster baby - so it was a relief to hear that everything is visibly normal. Well, except for one thing - the ultrasound tech apparently thought Cletus the Fetus had unusually attractive feet and ankles. "It didn't get that from me," I said. I have notoriously thick ankles - I prefer to think of them as sturdy. (Although through the quirks of genetics - it might have - VolBro has slim ankles with a straight and visible tendon up the back.)

The tech asked us at the beginning if we wanted to know the sex. I told her that VolMom would kill me if we didn't at least try to find out. Besides, I'm not big on surprises.

In some places in the UK, that is in some regional health authorities, they won't tell you the sex during the big scan. Abortion - kind of on demand, you must get two doctors to sign off - is legal up to 24 weeks in England. South Asian families were apparently aborting female fetuses at disproportionate rates, and many localities stopped telling. In my old health authority, for example, it was the policy not to say. I always felt this was a bit stupid, since if the families weren't willing to foot the cost of a girl child, surely they'd be willing to stump up the money for a priivate gender scan. And why should I be denied interesting, if not necessary, information on account of someone else's bad behaviour. Besides, I want a girl.

Well, that was the other anomaly that showed up. My wished for little girl had a penis. I can't say it was a surprise, since everyone - and I mean everyone including me - thought Cletus was a boy. And so he is.

I'm looking on the bright side. I would have been at a loss with a really girly-girl. I can't manage to fix my own hair most days. I'm quite happy in the mud and the dirt. And slacking on the sofa watching football of either kind and playing armchair pundit with my boy sounds like fun.

And there's another advantage. I've read a study which says that statistically men work harder and start making more money after the birth of their first child - but even more so if it's a boy.

I reminded the Vol-in-Law of this.
"There's another plus then. You just focus on the money."
"You focus on the money," I said.
"I don't need to. Statistically, I'll just make more. You can't fight statistics."


If you want to see Ultrasound scan pics of baby Cletus - including those exceptional feet - you can see them on my "other blog"

I didn't want to just throw them up here - since I always find those blurry, black and white alien looking pictures a little diagnostic looking and vaguely unsettling.

We only paid for one pic, but we got 3. Who says you never get any extras on the NHS?


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Blow me down

There've been high winds today. No, not like kite flying winds. Like 9 people dead winds.

I managed to get home with minor delays in the one window of time I think that the Northern line was working.

Now, I understand that wind can cause major disruption. But just how windy was it, you know, Underground?

Fake it, 'til you make it

Now, I normally don't use a lot of swear words on this blog. I just don't think it's necessary. And when I do use swear words (such as in my previous post) - I do so only when the artistic integrity of the piece calls for it. Yep.

Anyway, in real life I do swear like a trooper. I feel that in the big performance art piece that is my life, my artistic integrity demands I use the F word. A lot. But what do you around kids? I can't just slap a parental advisory sticker on my mouth. Rex L Camino has been exploring this theme of cooing and swearing at the tiny bundles of joy:

...all my friends began having babies and expected me to come and look at their babies. I didn’t want to ask about using foul language since they were always so quick to turn down my request to smoke around the runt, but the tension that came from trying not to scar the fragile offspring quickly made these “baby introductions” the most nerve-racking of social endeavors.

I'm concious that we're expecting a baby, and I'm also aware I don't want to be raising one of those rat faced feral kids that swear and smoke cigarettes at 15 and know how to siphon gas and hot wire cars and stuff. (I'd like to aim higher - like hacking and insider trading). I don't want a kid that's turned out of nursery for saying the F word - just like mommy.

I was discussing this with my husband whose mouth is not quite as gutterish as mine:

Me: Do you sometimes feel like we're going to have to pretend to be better people than we are?
Him: Oh, yes. And then maybe we'll become those people.
Me: Yeah, right.
Him: It's called growing up.

The limits of rudeness

Advisory: This post contains strong language of an adult nature

I can't believe I'm posting about Celebrity Big Brother. The "normal" version of Big Brother is bad enough - but pack the tv fishbowl with a bunch of second rate celebs and it's even less interesting.

But here I am commenting on it. Here's why.

Many, many people are upset over "racism" on Big Brother. There have been 27,000 complaints (and counting) to Channel 4, which produces and airs the show. Apparently, a Bollywood actress, Shilpa Shetty has born the brunt of many negative comments from her fellow celebrity incarcerees. Shilpa Shetty is probably an annoying diva, but I bet she's more talented than the other D-list shut-ins and makes a ton more money, too. I'm sure that's at the root of the problem, rather than racism per se.

When asked whether she thought she'd been the victim of racial abuse, Shilpa Shetty didn't think so. She didn't think she'd been treated well by Jade Goody (another participant) but she didn't think the remarks were racially motivated.

I think there are a lot of insecurities from her end, but I don't think it's racial.

Now I don't know if any of them are racist or not. But I have noticed that appalling behaviour - rude, crass comments, sexism, classism, snobbery (reverse or straightforward) go unremarked on - unless, of course, it smacks of racism.

Jade Goody's boyfriend called Ms Shetty a name which was bleeped. Many people complained that he'd called her a "Paki" (a derogative term for someone of Pakistani origin - Ms Shetty is in fact Indian). But actually, he'd called her "cunt". Well, that's ok then, apparently. Misogyny is all good viewing - (until you use the c-word), but woe betide anyone who uses a racial epithet.

I don't think it's OK to call Ms Shetty a Paki or a cunt. I don't think that this is the kind of behaviour we want from anyone. Why can't we just stand up for decency? Why do people even watch these nasty-mouthed people act in ways we wouldn't (or shouldn't) tolerate on the playground. Have we become so immune to rudeness that we only think it's worthy of comment when it's racist? Personally, I think we should be drawing the line a lot higher.

(Oh - and for anyone who comes to this post looking for Paki cunt - go fuck yourself. And yes, I do appreciate my own self-generated irony)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stand up

At Harry's Place there are two recent brilliant posts. One is about a Dispatches programme on Britain's Channel 4 last night called Undercover Mosque. I missed it, but apparently it "uncovers" the hate preaching going on in British mosques. Hate preaching that is bankrolled by wahabist Saudis.

The investigation reveals Saudi Arabian universities are recruiting young Western Muslims to train them in their extreme theology, then sending them back to the West to spread the word. And the Dispatches reporter discovers that British Muslims can ask for fatwas, religious rulings, direct from the top religious leader in Saudi Arabia, the Grand Mufti.

Saudi-trained preachers are also promoted in DVDs and books on sale at religious centres and sermons broadcast on websites. These publications and webcasts disseminate beliefs about women such as: "Allah has created the woman deficient, her intellect is incomplete", and girls: "By the age of 10 if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her," and there's an extreme hostility towards homosexuals.


On the Channel 4 site, most comments applaud Channel 4 and the Dispatches programme for their work. But of course, a few don't. I do love this one:

It is becoming fashionable in the West to attack the Islamic beliefs and teaching. One year ago, our prophet was depicted and mocked. However, we as Muslims should see this as another opportunity to reform themselves and to spread the word of Allah, after all our aim and objective is to give Dawah.

OK, I can certainly see how some Muslims would feel under attack or at least harsh scrutiny. And yes, that statement about "reforming themselves" and spreading the word of Allah is almost turn-the-other-cheek-esque. But our commenter goes on to say:

Gradually by the will of Allah, we shall conquer every country, be it the USA or others.


In the same post, though there's an example of a Muslim who doesn't want to use his religion as a weapon and who is fighting against political Islamisation. It's all very well to point out the bad in the spread of political Islam and to ask moderate Muslims to stand up to it, but we ought to least listen when some of them - like Shaheed Satardien seem to be doing so.


The other great post is about Argentina's Nestor Kirchner and how he's uncovering the secrets on some of his country's dirty past. This includes opening the files on the Buenos Aires bombing of a Jewish synagogue in 1994. Looks like it was Hezbollah with backing from Iran. Kirchner, although a "leftist" who buddies up with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, has done what other leftist leaders in South America haven't.'s reassuring that Kirchner is standing on principle by refusing to join other leaders in greeting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his current Latin American tour.

But here's the poignant bit:

I'm sure I could find much to dispute with Kirchner, not least his lavish praise for Chavez, but at least-- unlike some other "leftists"-- he draws the line at embracing a man who protects people almost certainly responsible for the mass murder of Jews as Jews.

There was a time when this was the minimum you could expect from those who identified themselves with the Left. Not anymore.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

lil peanut

Expact blogger Anglofille is doing some fine dining in France. On peanut butter.

When I first told my GP I was pregnant she gave me a list of foods I shouldn't eat.

  1. Liver and organ meats - no sweat, if I ever needed an excuse beyond my usual gag reflex, this was perfect.
  2. Soft, mold-ripened cheese - that one kind of bit, since I had a fridge stuffed with dee-licious bries and camemberts and similar cheeses that we'd just bought on our holiday in France (not to mention the cases of wine and hard cider...)
  3. Swordfish - tasty, but not a big part of my regular diet
  4. Peanut butter - hunhh??
Apparently, liver is too high in birth-defect causing vitamin A, the bries are rife with listeria, the swordfish is full of mercury and the peanut butter...well, the peanut butter might...just might cause your baby to develop a trans-placental intolerance of peanut proteins giving it a susceptibility to peanut allergies.

Yeah, whatver. When I first moved to the UK, I couldn't really find any peanut butter worth eating. In London, it's a little easier. You can occasionally even find American brands (like Jiff). But I sort of got out of the habit of eating peanut butter. But as soon as I was told I couldn't have it, I wanted it.

I read up on the subject. Apparently, the peanut butter threat is only valid in Britain.

The March of Dimes (a US birth defect site) says:

Although there is not yet an extensive amount of research on fetal sensitization, there have been suggestions that a fetus may be exposed to peanut allergens if a woman consumes peanut products while pregnant, so that an infant with predisposition to allergy may develop a peanut allergy.

Parents with severe food allergies in general and/or family histories of nut allergies should probably try to avoid early infant exposure to formulas or foods made with nut products, and these same mothers may want to avoid peanut consumption while breastfeeding.
But the British advice is anyone who's ever suffered hay fever should steer clear of the brown stuff. And I did, pretty much. Sure I ate cocktail peanuts and Thai food with peanut sauce, but that was just a little bit.

Then I thought

1. This baby is American, it needs peanut butter.
2. What do the Brits know about peanut butter anyway?

And I was craving protein and peanut butter is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to get it. So, I bought myself some peanut butter and I did enjoy it. I like peanut butter and honey and peanut butter and banana sandwiches on whole wheat bread - Anglofille's gone whole hog in Paris and had PB and honey and banana (I guess living in Paris does lead to decadence) And here's another American expat going on about peanut butter and banana - this time in a muffin recipe.


The hellebore is in bloom in my garden. It's foliage is evergreen, tough and leathery - attractive enough on its own. But as the blossoms start to rise on stalks from the ground, it's time to cut back the foliage(yes, right back to the ground)barring a few of the compound leaves here and there and let the flower shine forth.


Filthy creatures

Fellow expat Maureen from A View from England highlights a new London based blog - that isn't by your usual Englishman. Why the author isn't even human. The blog itself - pigeon scratchings.

Pigeons are not my favourite bird. In fact, I admit that I actually dislike pigeons quite a lot! I do have a sense of humour though so I think the only online diary of a London pigeon is quite funny - but whether that is the intention or not is another matter!

The blog links to a website called, Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons, a campaign that I think is intended to be taken seriously but which I personally think is a ridiculous idea. I happen to agree with Mayor Ken Livingstone's views of the pigeons as dirty pests or as the pigeons are also described - "rats with wings", and I think the mayor is quite right to discourage tourists from feeding the pigeons.

I think Maureen's being very generous on the humor front. The blog is funny, but in a cringeworthy way. Like watching a really bad dancer take the floor in an earnest attempt to impress.

But I agree with her view on pigeons. The only thing that keeps me from helping Ken with his campaign to rid London of the little pests is that I'm basically quite squeamish - well, that and I hate Ken with every fiber of my being. I hate him more than pigeons. The only thing that would please me more than pigeons out of Trafalgar Square would be to hear that Ken had been done in by a flock of the angry beasties who had subsequently croaked on his poisoned flesh.

See ya

Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury Secretary) and heir-apparent to Tony Blair, will likely take the crown before the year is out. A dour Scot and prone to worry, this time he's going on about the dissolution of the Union.

Yes, well he should worry. A Scot and a Scottish MP who wishes to rule o'er England, too. The Union between the crowns of Scotland and England will this year be 300 years old, but nobody's celebrating. The Union is in peril and Gordo knows that as the Union goes - so goes his future.

I know I'm not a citizen of this country and even if I were I could never be English, but I have to say "Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey goooood-bye." See ya, Scots. I, for one, have had enough of your English-bashing, your whinging and your scrounging. Take your bloody depleting North Sea oil and go. See how long you can keep your high-spending, low-producing Socialism without English subsidy. I'm tired of being bossed around by people who are even pastier than the English.

I've always regretted the prohibition of the possibility of secession in US Constitution. It seemed to lack a certain openness to the potentiality of irreconcilable differences. I hope the Scots seize their opportunity for rerendum for independence - and that they don't dally.


If someone kept forcing you into icy water to retrieve a bleeding nasty duck, force fed with vitamin lead, you might snap, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What not to wear

Is that Nick Saban guy an idiot? Can't be if he's just signed a coaching contract worth a jillion with Alabama. But just look...just look what he turned up in to his first "official" Crimson Tide sporting event. A purple shirt (his old LSU school colors) to an Alabama basketball game. My old pal and a bona fide Alabama alumnus says:

From all I've heard, Nick Saban is one sharp cookie. How could he not realize a purple(ish) shirt would not be the best thing to wear to his first Bama sporting event? Even casual fans know, you wear Crimson to Crimson Tide sporting events.

His fashion gaffe isn't helped by the fact that Alabama was playing LSU that night. Apparently, many an Alabama fan is in a kerfuffle over the Saban sartorial choice - and was it really purple or was it magenta, and when did Saban know it was purple, and so on...

Well, I've got a few things to say about it myself...

1. I can kinda see what he's up to - he's wearing one of those kinda iridescent shirts with one color (purple) in the warp and another color (crimson) in the weft. See the shirt is two things at once... he's building a bridge between the two proud academic institutions of the two fine states of Alabama and Louisiana [cough...splutter...evil chuckle].
2. But as my brother says "You can only have ONE team in the NCAA," and the very idea of having two in one conference is ridiculous.
3. Besides that, when you take the King's shilling, you wear his colors.
4. Man - that shirt so does not go with the rest of his tacky-ass sky blue leisure suit outfit. I just thank my lucky stars we gotta a man-with-a-fashion-plan in Coach Bruce Pearl.

England safe again...

...for fat pet owners. Or more politely, the owners of fat pets.

The case of the two brothers who owned a really, really fat dog who were charged with animal cruelty for overfeeding it has concluded this week in the conviction of the two men. But at least British justice is consistent, and the guys got merely a slap on the wrist. I think they had to promise not to be so generous with the kibble, but they received no jail time and no fine and they got Rusty the-not-quite-so-fat dog back.

Magistrates convicted Derek Benton, 62 and his brother David, 53, of causing unnecessary suffering after a £12,000 two-day trial. But they decided that the dog, Rusty - who was 11-and-a-half stone [160 pounds] at his heaviest - could be returned to the Bentons providing it was properly cared for. They imposed a conditional discharge on each of the men.

Whewwwww....the Vol-in-Law and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We have a fat cat.

Earlier the brothers' lawyer, Ann-Marie Gregory, had told the court in Ely, Cambridgeshire, that the case had left the owners of overweight animals living in fear of prosecution.

You got that right. And our poor kitties have been on a diet ever since a co-worker of mine highlighted parallels in the pet rearing approaches of the Benton Brothers and ourselves.

The kitty diet update

Hey, after a slow start - the cats have actually lost weight. Fancy didn't really need to lose weight, but she'd put on just enough that we didn't think it would hurt her. But Other Cat, well - her lack of personal responsibility was putting us in danger of a court date. After following Melusina's advice of 2/3 cup of cat food per cat per day, Other Cat is considerably lighter - though still "big boned" - and Fancy is down to an optimum weight which means we've moved them back to regular food, but we're keeping a close eye on portion size. Other Cat already seems more active, so we're hoping that her weight loss will continue - albeit perhaps at a slower rate.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Monkey in the sea... on the bag, dog in the boot.

Yesterday I was oop the Newcastle area. Every time anyone says anything to me in a thick Geordie accent (I don't know why they're called Geordies) I either have to say "Pardon" or I just nod and smile and hope the meaning of their strangely inflected words will sink in before I have to make a cogent reply. I once nodded and smiled when a Geordie fishmonger suggested a most intimate encounter - for all I knew he'd been merely asking for directions. When I finally figured out that he wished me to use an approach more suited to a Washington intern, all I could do was flutter a polite "no thanks."

I call this impenetrable version of the accent "Monkey in the Sea". As in "He was all monkey-in-the-sea." This is based on a sketch from a show called I'm Alan Partridge. In the sketch the Southern English guy (Alan) has a dawning horror as he realises that the Geordie character threw his pet monkey in the sea because it ate 200 of his duty free cigarettes. And the folks of this area have form when it comes to monkeys. According to legend - the citizens of a nearish town hanged a shipwrecked monkey beached on their shores on the charge of being an invading Frenchman.

Among the wreckage [of a Napoleonic French vessle] lay one wet and sorrowful looking survivor, the ship's pet monkey dressed to amuse in a military style uniform. The fishermen apparently questioned the monkey and held a beach-based trial. Unfamiliar with what a Frenchman looked like they came to the conclusion that this monkey was a French spy and should be sentenced to death. The unfortunate creature was to die by hanging, with the mast of a fishing boat (a coble) providing a convenient gallows.

Anyway, so I'm in a taxi yesterday from my hotel to my work gig and my cabbie was all monkey-in-the-sea. I'm all "what..." until finally I figure out he's talking about a tool for a timing belt. But the folks up there are really nice, so I engage in the whole timing belt discussion. I pay him and then he gets my bag out of the trunk. But he's taking a long time and I hear a strange brushing commotion coming from that area.

A little background...when I go away I always take my black roller-bag - the one with the orange Power T on it and when I come back Other Cat - the white cat - always lies down on it, shedding copiously. I prefer to believe it's because she missed me. Her fur is particularly difficult to get off - vacuuming won't do it - and I'm lazy and slovenly, so I drag the bag around with enough cat hair on it to make a whole 'nother cat. Seriously, it looks like some kind of weird angora roller bag.

I go round the back and the cabbie is vigorously sweeping the bag with his hand and he's all monkey-in-the-sea about a dog-in-the-boot and I can't figure out what the heck he's saying. But finally, finally I realise that he'd been transporting his dog in the boot - and though he'd put a blanket down he thought his dog hair had gotten all over my bag. He was MOR-T-FIED and mumbling apologies and, bless him, he'd actually managed to get all the cat hair off with his hand, before I just burst out laughing.

"Aww Sugar," I said "That's my cat's hair." And I tipped extra.

Science made simple

Confused about global warming? Wondering what you can do?

This article sums it all up nicely.

Best place for 'em

Hey, David Beckham is moving to the US of A. He told the British media that he wasn't moving for the money - but he's getting like a million bucks a week.

But he's not moving for the money...and I believe him.

1. He's getting on a bit. He's not as good as he used to be. He stepped down as England skipper and then was dropped from the team roster. His International career - let's face it - is pretty much over. His football performance in the World Cup this summer was lacklustre (for him).
2. His wife's "career" isn't taking off in London or Madrid. The ex-Spice girl never wanted to move to Spain after he was transferred to Real Madrid. She preferred to stay in England to work first on her singing career (she can't) and then on her celebrity career. But that resulted in David playing away a little too often. So she want to Spain and wrote a book called That Extra Half Inch - which she says is about fashion, but which I suspect is about starving oneself - her only real talent. Spain was never going to work out for Posh and England wearies of her. So where to next - the land of her new best friend - Katie Holmies and other celebs.
3. I believe that David Beckham genuinely has a missionary zeal for football. I think he finds it staggering that America doesn't embrace the sport that he and the rest of the world loves. I think he wants to make America love soccer, too.
4. I believe that David Beckham sees the US as an untapped soccer market. Yes, that's kind of about the money, but it's probably more about pioneering and entrepreneurship.
5. There is a wider range of hair products available in the US.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

MP3 ruminations

...On the way from Newcastle to London on the overcrowded, delayed 17:32
  • Does George Strait think that living in Tennessee is some kind of 2nd rate consolation prize? All my Texas relatives only moved there after they got in trouble with the law or the banks (or both) of the Volunteer State.
  • Wouldn't it be cool to hear Tanya re-do Delta Dawn now that her own rose has faded a little? A sneering, lucky teenager has a different interpretation of life's maddening disappointments.
  • "Well, it was all that I could do to keep from cryin," always makes me smile.
  • I don't care if liking Johnny Cash's "Hurt" is something even people who don't like country do. I think it's awesome.
  • I kinda miss my old buddy Jack.
  • Anyone who thinks the Dixie Chicks hate America should have a listen to "Travelling Soldier".
  • All of my rowdy friends have NOT settled down. I'm the ice tea drinking one these days - but folks still come round for my cornbread. Mmmm - cornbread and iced tea.
  • That whole Van Lear Rose album kicks ass. See Johnny Cash comment above.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A two-percenter?

Via Volunteer Voters

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) - An Army private at Fort Campbell charged with the slaughter of an Iraqi family was diagnosed as a homicidal threat by a military mental health team three months before the attack.

Hmmm...a soldier... homicidal?

Actually they didn't use to be. In World War II, very few American men fired their weapons in the vicinity of the enemy. That's very few men in combat units. Even fewer actually shot to kill - about two percent of soldiers. Half of those two percenters were normal guys who believed they were there to do a job - and they were able to shoot and to kill and then they were able to come home and be normal. The other half were...well, psychopathic. They'd been waiting for this big turkey shoot all their lives. Finally, finally able to kill without consequence. Presumably, some of them came back and were able follow the observable rules of society and others weren't.

The Army was pretty shocked when they came up with these numbers. Surely Americans were a little more bloodthirsty than that? Nope. Not really. Most people have an aversion to that kind of thing - particularly if they're not in the heat of the moment. Many people can't find it in themselves to do it. And if they do manage it, there are consequences. Mental consequences. It's hard on a human to kill another human.

So the Army came up with some better training. More desensitizing and of course, practice, practice, practice. They were able to get a much higher percentage of soldiers to shoot to kill. They helped these soldiers find their inner killer. But I'm not sure they helped them with how to put it away again.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pork belly

Last Spring, I began to hear rumours about a Polish restaurant in Tooting (my area of London). I heard that it was in a Polish club, but that the restaurant was open to non-members. I had visions of a little storefront club - with a bar full of horny-handed, bleary-eyed Polish labourers smoking cheap, bootlegged Eastern European cigarettes - with a tiny dining room off to the side, lit by flourescent strip, rickety tables covered by cheap yellowing vinyl tablecloths.

I ventured out with the Vol-in-Law sometime in July to visit the Polish restaurant. It turns out that the Polish club - The White Eagle - is really more in Balham than in Tooting (a little further north) - and it's not a little store front joint. It's in a massive old pub building - imposing with a full parking lot out the front and a gristly-armed hard man (probably named Stanislav) guarding the door. Nope. I didn't believe I cared for that - we got a curry that night instead.

The Texan and I had talked about going there a couple of times, but never followed through. But the Texan came back from the States this morning determined and texted us about going to the Polish restaurant. So we made the plan to go to the White Eagle and if for some reason that didn't work out, we could always choose from one of the many, many fine curry establishments in Tooting.

Stanislav wasn't on the door last night. And we were able to go through the 1970s wood panneled club bar into the restaurant without challenge. For a Monday night the place was...well, empty. There was absolutely no one there. But the restaurant itself was really lovely, beautiful blond hardwood floors. All the Christmas decorations were still up, bizarrely, but it was certainly festive enough. There was a salsa class going on in the function room which we could see and hear through glass doors, so until the waitress turned up the Baltic pop enough to drown in out, it was one of those weird conjunctions of culture that one seems to regularly find in London.

The menu offered a variety of Polish standards at quite good prices. We ordered practically the most expensive thing on the menu - the platter that includes all those Polish standards- for three.

"Is that a lot of food?" the Vol-in-Law asked.
" good choice," said the the Polish waitress in a suitably Boris-and-Natasha-esque accent.

We chose to have our food brought out in one big platter, rather than separately plated. She brought out two big pyrex casseroles on their own stands full of food - Hunter stew, breaded pork chops, weird blossoms of sausage meat, dumplings, potatos and stuffed cabbage rolls. We ordered a salad "set" as well in a bid for healthfulness and received two delicious varieties of pickled cabbage.

It was a good choice and it was a lot of food. My husband is known for being able to pack away the food, was in pain as he left. The Texan, well - that girl can pack away a lot of food. And me, I'm eating for two. Of course, with the amount of dumplings I ate - those two really should have been a couple of brickies called Mikoslaw and Lucasz.

The Vol-in-Law and the Texan both ordered Polish beer on tap which they decreed very tasty and quite strong and it was at a good price, too. (I had just enough for a few sips - and I agree it went down very well.)

Below is a photo of the Polish platter at Daquise in Central London. The food we were served last night was just about as tasty, not quite as pretty and heaped up in copious amounts and pound for pound much, much cheaper.

polish food

Where? Say what?

In Lawrence County, Tennessee there's a town called Loretto. OK, that doesn't look hard - sound it out. LOW-ReT-OH (almost like Low-RENT-oh, which would be appropriate). But that's not the way you say it. It's LOW-rett-uh. I know it's a small distinction - but an important one. To locals, anyway.

The British are very proud of their practically unpronounceable place names. The Welsh have that especially locked up, for example - Llanelli - is pronounced as far as I can tell
ccchuchhAN- echhhhchh-LEE. I was once on a train that passed through the tiny town of Llanelli and the whole carriage sounded like it was clearing its throat of a small, but very sticky lurgy. But for all the throat clearing and bizarre pronunciation rules of Wales - at least they seem to follow some rules.

Parts of London near me are Streatham, Balham and Clapham. That's stret-'m, bal-'m and clap-'m. How would you pronounce Loughborough - a town located somewhere in the Midlands.? Low-burr-OH? Lau-bor-uh? A co-worker of mine once heard an American asking a platform attendant where he might catch the train to Luga-buruga (I still maintain that they guy was trying to read from some badly hand written note where the Hs looked like As.) But anyway, it's Luffburow.

There are quite a few other examples of place names which foreigners invariably get wrong causing no end of sneering and jeering from the Brits. Though of course, 9 out of 10 BBC presenters can't say Michigan, Maryland, or Houston properly. And St Louis - is almost always St Louie, but I could forgive anyone for not knowing the right way say Louisville.

But one town looks like it's solved the conundrum of pronouncing place names. Via the Lynnster Zone - the town of Guin, Alabama tells you exactly how to say their town's name on their highway sign.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dahlia rivalry

This weekend in London was gray and damp and miserable. On Saturday it drizzled, occasionally raining. I caught cabin fever - so we went down to the garden centre in Morden, South London. It adjoins on to a National Trust property - and we thought we might be able to go for a walk if the weather cleared. It did not.

I didn't buy any bulbs last fall and I'm not planning any major additions to the garden for the summer. The garden is pretty full. I have a problem. I overplant.

But the garden centre workers were setting up a dahlia display. Dahlias. I've never grown them. I've always imagined them to be fussy and difficult, slug prone and requiring pinching back and precise mixes of fertilizer - not to mention more sun and more growing space than I can probably provide.

But I saw this awesome orange and white dahlia. Big and blowsy. Tennessee orange at the base and white at the tips. I had to have it.

I asked the Vol-in-Law if he wanted to get a pack of dahlias. You never know what his response will be to something like that. He'll either be completely dismissive or he'll really contemplate and mull over his decision. He mulled. He looked at all the different colors and finally he asked me:

Would you mind if I got the Alabama dahlia?

The Alabama dahlia. Sure enough the dahlia he was looking at was crimson and white and in just the same pattern as the Tennessee dahlia. Now I had to ponder. I've seen that one in real life - it's really beautiful. So we got it. At the check out, I held up the two packets of dahlias and made them play fight - "grrr...arrrgh" while we were waiting for the cashier.

"Wouldn't it be funny," the Vol-in-Law said "if they really did fight and the UT dahlia was a small and puny and the Alabama dahlia was all big and beautiful?"

"No, that would not be funny at all," I said.

Red and white dahlia
The Alabama dahlia at our hotel in Bayeux France

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Since this whole pregnancy lark, I've had something new to blame food cravings on - rather than homesickness, boredom or depression.

Do I want a sausage biscuit? Must be the hormones. Do I want a SunDrop to wash that down with? Must be the hormones. Never mind that these are truly the food and drink of the gods.

Actually, I haven't been plagued with too many cravings that I'm reasonably sure are pregnancy related rather than the result of bad habits of life time - other than cravings for apples or beef. And these are reasonably easily satisified. I have been dreading having cravings that just can't be satisfied on British soil (e.g. sausage biscuit, SunDrop) or could only be satisfied by visiting one of those exclusive epiceries in the American expat ghettoes of London (e.g. velveeta shells and cheese). I refuse to pay the equivalent of $10 for a small packet of highly processed American food. I've been an expat for 10 years now, I generally know how to substitute and make do. Do you think you can buy hushpuppies anywhere in London. Course not - but I do know how to fry some up.

But for the past few days, I've been craving Fritos. They don't sell Fritos here. And I've only ever found something resembling Fritos once and that was in a Kosher grocery in North West of Wembley - which is about an hour a bit away by Tube. But I ask myself...would it really be worth the trouble of making the Vol-in-Law travel all that way?

Overseen in the Underground

What's one to do if one fails to bring sufficiently interesting reading material during one's commute on the Underground?

Read over someone's shoulder of course.

I just happened to glance at my neighbour's book. It had a page of jokes. Oh, what joy. Ideal reading-over-the-shoulder type material. I only managed to get one joke down while he was next to me, but it kinda tickled me all the same.

A chicken is lying back against the pillows, smoking a cigarettte, a satisfied grin on his beak.
An egg is lying next to the chicken, frowning and frustrated.
The chicken says "Well, I guess that answered that question then."

Extremist U.

Are British Universities hotbeds of extremism? Is the UK taxpayer educating the next wave of terrorists and suicide bombers?


Via Right Truth a report on the extremist elements rife in a number of UK (and mostly English) univerisities.

Europe recognized their problems with terror in universities and Adrian Morgan writes an excellent 2 part report at Family Security Matters. Mr. Morgan is also a writer at Western Resistance.

On Monday September 26, 2005, Britain's Social Affairs Unit published a report by Professor Anthony Glees and Chris Pope from Brunel University. This report, entitled "When Students Turn To Terror", listed 24 universities where radicalism flourished, including Birmingham, Brunel, Durham, Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan, Luton, Leicester, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Reading, Swansea, and Wolverhampton. Coming out while Britain was still reeling from the horrors of 7/7 when 52 people died on London Transport, Professor Glees' report galvanized the UK media. Already mosques and radical preachers had been named as contributing factors to the bombings of July 7, 2005. Universities had thitherto been ignored. Yet Britain's campuses had long been the playgrounds of amateur radicals and Islamists.

Well, I'm not so sure that Europe really did recognise the problem. When the current Labour government suggested that Universities start monitoring the activities of some of their radical elements - most of the leftists I know got all a-twitter. "They want the universities to spy on their own students. Outrageous."

Actually, not so outrageous. If students are meeting in their own private accomodation and keeping their terror activities off campus then I would agree that the university has no business in monitoring their behaviour. However, these students are fly-posting on university bulletin boards and using university meeting rooms (at low-low to no cost). These student-radicals are recruiting on campus. This makes it the university's responsibility to make sure that university property isn't being used for potentially catastrophic ends. It makes it the university's responsibility to protect other students from these student-radicals. And I'm not talking protecting them from a potential threat - but protecting existing students - especially female, homosexual and Jewish students.

I'm a free speech fundamentalist - but I don't necessarily believe in subsidised speech. I would ask leftists who might use the Islamaphobia label if at least the same standards should be applied to speech on university property and in university meeting rooms. If some skinhead types were railing on about scantily clad women and homos and the Jooos - what should happen? If women were being harrassed on campus - if there was a climate of fear created by skinhead activists - then what should happen? Well, the university authorities should step in. And I guarantee you that Qaradawi inspired radical Islamism certainly doesn't vary strongly from neo-Nazi views on homosexuality and the Jews and takes a somewhat dimmer view of outspoken, bare-headed women. The university also has a responsibility to protect Muslim students - in particular Muslims who practice a less Wahabist, less radical form of Islam - e.g. Muslims who will happily associate with students from other religions or Muslim women who don't cover their hair. I know Muslim students who have been harassed and intimidated for not being "Muslim enough".

This doesn't mean turning kids over to the authorities for their hot head views. This means creating a climate where harrassed students can make a complaint and zero tolerance attitude to threating misogynistic, anti-Semetic and anti-homosexual language and behaviour.

This means not supporting radical Islamist values with free or subsidised meeting spaces. For example, some time last year a radical group at my husband's university booked a hall for their outrageous anti-semetic propaganda. They claimed that it was for one thing when booking - but advertised another anti-semetic event. A group of Jewish students complained, the university investigated and the Islamists were moved on basically on the grounds that they had reserved the hall for one purpose and were using it for another.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Speech or incitement?

Remember those Danish cartoons - you know those 12 inflammatory cartoons - that caused outrage among Muslims throughout the world?

Remember the outrage? I bet my friend VolK does. She was making her very first visit to London during the time of the cartoon protests and got to see the big parade from the window of her first hotel and then she moved hotels only to find out she was just around the corner from the Danish Embassy.

Remeber what some of the protesters said - "Bomb, bomb Denmark" and "Bomb, bomb USA" and one exhorted Osama Bin Laden to attack Denmark so that the mujihadeen brothers could take the Danish wives as war booty. And there was more stuff about beheading those who insult Islam and Denmark would pay with blood and so on.

You might also remember that the only people arrested at the time were some folks protesting the protesters in favour of free speech. But the police have made up for that and done some investigation and handed over files to the Prosecution Service...we do have some standards in the UK, you know, and they're not double all the time.

Just yesterday, the first of this lot was convicted for inciting murder - a Mr Umran Javed of Birmingham, UK.

He's very sorry for all the trouble he caused and he was just angry at the time - he didn't really want anyone to bomb the USA or Denmark. Course not. He and some of the other Islamists who've gotten themselves in trouble over pesky placards and incitement have kind of plead the "heat of the moment" defense. But Mr Javed's got form. At least I think he has - maybe it's a different Umran Javed.

Here's something from Eye on the World last week:

A British Muslim Umran Javed, who is on trial for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred and who claims that he is being misunderstood, had this to say back in 2001 (taken from the BBC's Panorama program)

You can follow the link to see who wanted to bomb that time.

And here's something from a 2005 Jihad Watch post:

Another Muslim extremist, Umran Javed, told the debate that although he did not see an attack on Ireland as likely, retaliation would come "swiftly" if Ireland increased its support for the United States...

OK...the dude is bad. But does he deserve to go down? Is his shouting and slathering really incitement? I certainly find what he said offensive. I find it scary and I think it's just the tip of a very big iceberg of Islamist hate. I personally wish that Umran Javed would fall into the sea. But am I hypocritical if I rejoice in him being convicted?

I grant that the kind of stuff he said - including Remember the lesson of Theo Van Gogh - was at the very least in the gray area between offensive but permissable speech and incitement. But shouldn't incitement have some kind of direct effect to make it really incitement?

I'm not talking about what the actual law is here. In the UK, the free speech law is an ass. You can be convicted of stirring up religious or racial hatred. People have been convicted for calling each other nigger. Black people have been convicted for calling each other nigger. I don't think that's right. But just because people are being put away or persistently prosecuted under these laws doesn't mean that my opinion about the limits of free speech should change. I don't think it ought to be against the law to call somebody a racial epithet (though I agree that it's not nice.) And I think that there ought to be a test of reasonableness applied to incitement. Does a reasonable person think that even a mad person would take Javed's words and then act on them directly. From what I've seen, I'm not sure. But of course, I haven't seen all the evidence and I didn't sit on that jury*.

What others say:

Exile from On the Wing in Denmark:

The Old Bailey did it right. The jury convicted Umran Javed of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred during the oh-so-spontaneous islamic demonstration in London in february last year. Finally the Brits have tired of muslim indignation. About time too. The time has long passed for some "British indignation" served cold, courtesy of Her Majesty's Prison.

Peter Sanderson is pretty equivocal and says:

Although I think they are absolute morons, they are entitled to their idiotic opinions. As long as they stick to waving placards around and not actually bombing Denmark, I can live alongside them happily.
I understand his sentiments, to some extent I've expressed them myself. But I don't think he quite gets just how dangerous these people are. Though it's interesting that the image he chose for his post was this one:

Yes, that's right - it says "Freedom of expression go to hell". Hoisted by their own placard?

And finally, Craig at Bring It On - explores the legal framework around incitement in the US - and isn't sure that Javed could have/should have been convicted. I guess my free speech fundamentalism is largely framed by my US outlook.

* and thank goodness I'm not on that jury - as according to Brights News Feed

Supporters of Javed in the coutroom apparently protested loudly at the conviction, one man shouting “Allahu Akbar, I curse the judge, the court, the jury, all of you.”