Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Wright Stuff

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Barack Obama's [ex] pastor Jeremiah Wright has gone all nutso. He is like a pastor scorned and he's struck back in an alarming melange of pointed social critique and crazy conspiracy theory.

What a dumbass. I realise Wright's probably feeling pretty neglected by his protege, but really he should have just taken a leaf out of Peter Mandelson's book. He's a British politico and Tony Blair crony who suffered scandal after scandal - but knew when to slink off and shut up and he's been rewarded with a couple of comebacks and now a very cushy position in European government. Not only has the good reverend potentially damaged Obama's chances, he's almost certainly blown his own chances of national power straight out of the water.

Certain right wing bloggers have a race theory about this - that because Wright's ideology is based on pervasiveness of racism and oppression in America to the extent that a black man could never be president - he has to make sure that this remains the case if a black man gets close and torpedo his chances. Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. It smacks of ridiculousness. Besides, I don't really feel that electing a president who's black will any more relieve America of racial tension or redeem past crimes than electing a woman president will make sexism and misogyny a dim and distant memory. (Although I think either would have beneficial effects)

Like a lot of people who behave so self-destructively, Wright's behavior seemed pathological to me. Like he just couldn't help it. Like an ill-tempered couple who just can't stop picking fights with each other. Still, he's an adult, a man of stature and experience and really Reverend Wright should have known better.


Barack Obama has denounced Rev. Wright's words. He found them offensive. Well, good - I guess. But it struck me that what Obama really found offensive was that Wright wasn't following the party line anymore, wasn't giving Obama his due. After all, he'd heard 20 years of Wright's challenging sermons - but only a few minutes of Wright's criticisms of one Barack Obama.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A cut that's easy to maintain

There comes a time in every woman's life when she says "I can't be bothered with the elaborate 'dos. Just give me a nice simple haircut that takes about five minutes to fix and is easy to maintain."

For me, that point came when I was about ten or so. Roughly about the time I didn't want my mother to brush my hair anymore.

I just can't be bothered much with the whole hair thing. So this post isn't about hair. It's about gardening.

I've reached a point where I need a garden that take about five minutes to fix and is easy to maintain. My garden is quite small, but my plant collection and the fact that I've waaay overplanted means that it requires a fair bit of maintenance. Weeding, pruning, staking, feeding, mulching, lifting, dividing - and worst of all - pest control.

I've decided I'm going to pitch out a bunch of stuff and replant with minimum fuss plantings that I know can withstand me nemeses: the gastropods, the lily beetle and a nasty kind of root grub that goes after rhododendrons and impatiens (a plant I previously thought was easy peasy). I'm going to dig up all my oriental and asiatic lilies and I think I'm going to get rid of a large tree peony, too. (It's nice, but I'm afraid it's just too big for my small garden). I think I'm going to replace the lifted items with hellebores, day lilies, ferns, heuchera and white Japanese anemones. (It won't take many. The garden is small and there are some there already).

And best of all, I think I'm going to make my VolMom do much of the work when she's over in May.

I want less of this

impatiens problem
grubs on impatiens

pretty, but evil

I hate slugs
snail damage

More of these

terracotta hemerocallis
terracotta daylily

Japanese anemone - though I want the pure white kind


Monday, April 21, 2008

ID please

My local cemetery often has football (soccer) related floral tributes. Lots and lots of soccer balls. Football strips (jerseys) and crests - mostly in Arsenal and Chelsea colours.


playing away

And the occasional Manchester United strip:

MAN U floral tribute

But here's one I don't recognise. Which football team is this? It's driving me crazy. Sam, do you know?

What team?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The ten pence punch

In Gordon Brown's last budget as Chancellor he messed around with the tax bandings - that is he adjusted marginal rates. He announced it as a tax cut. For some - mostly those of higher than median wages, it genuinely was. But for the very low paid, it was tax hike. The first level of taxation was at 10% - quite a low rate of income tax - and to me absolutely right that the first tranche of taxable income should be taxed at a low rate - to reduce the burden on the low paid. Gordon Brown's budget essentially doubled that rate of tax for the working poor. Interestingly enough, the press failed to pick up on it for a day or two and spun Gordon's spin as if they were paid hacks. But here's what I wrote about it:

Anyway, Gordo likes to make out that he's a swell and generous kind a guy. Sure, he taxes the rich, but only to give to the poor - especially the poor little tots.

Only it's a terrible lie and his current budget is a prime example. The headlines all read that he's cut the basic tax rate, but he's managed to actually increase the taxes on the very low paid while reducing taxes on those earning over $100,000.

Labour will tell you that the very low paid with children can always apply for tax credits. Sure, but you're forced to apply as a supplicant to Gordon Brown and entangle yourself into a notoriously knotty bureacracy. (The Treasury admitted only last week the system of credits was baffling.) But the point is that the young and potentially aspirational folks on low wages are hit with yet another Gordon Brown sucker punch.

This country has long had a problem of keeping people mouldering away on benefits - de-skilling and degenerating. For many it doesn't pay to work. With the abolition of the 10 pence marginal rate it pays even less.

And surely, if Labour is to stand for anything, it must be for labour - you know - the workers - and not screwing them out of the wages they earn cleaning toilets, stocking shelves and picking up trash by the side of the road.

Most Labour politicians and left-wing pundits were oddly silent on the matter. And they've kept schtum for nearly a year. If I were to be charitable, I would say that they'd perhaps been kept silent by the party whips - told to shut up until Gordon's coronation last summer, then to zip their lips until Autumn election (which didn't happen), then to twiddle their thumbs until this year's budget was announced in case this error was corrected.

But the current chancellor Alistair Darling - on orders from the true head of the exchequer no doubt - has decided to go ahead and scrap the 1o p rate.

This is bad policy. Here's something I wrote about that a while ago.

The point is, of course, that everyone has to start somewhere. And unless you're the privileged child of wealth, the place you start is at a very low wage job. You work your way up. And you should be rewarded for trading a life of penurious leisure for penurious labor by keeping as much of your wage as possible when you're at that rough, rotten bottom rung of the economic ladder.

It's not as if the low-paid don't pay taxes. They pay a lot of tax (proportionately). They pay taxes on goods and services. They are almost certainly paying other payroll taxes (FICA in the US, National Insurance in the UK). And they can't escape the taxman with sheltered income and offshore accounts.

I believe in the hand up, not the handout. But forcing the poor to hand-over disproportionately, making their precarious situation all the more tottering is just wrong.

Now the Labour back benches are in turmoil. And they should be. Gordon Brown is concerned only so much as in threatens his (weakening) grip on power - but still refuses to acknowledge the harm this policy will do.

Shame on him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Things I'd like to blog about

The Ten-P tax
The London mayoral elections
an IPPR report on why we should side with the Muslim Brotherhood (bad idea, btw)
The dreary cold weather (cruel.April.month)
Our colds
the implosion of Gordon Brown
the weirdness of the Shannon Matthews case

but I can't 'cause I'm too tired to even drag up links

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My first movie on flickr

My first movie on flickr
Originally uploaded by London looks

Flickr is now allowing users to upload short (90 seconds or less) video clips. Like some users, I'm not too sure about it. But we'll see.

Perfect pansies

facing up to it, originally uploaded by London looks.

This perfect little viola was on a grave in the local cemetery. Mine never look this good. VolMom's a dab hand at pansy rearing - apparently there's some kind of special pansy fertilizer that can make all the difference (she was tipped off by the VolAunt) - and it's remarkably and counter-intuitively high in nitrogen (I'm told). I've never seen it for sale in this country.

In the interests of global peace and security

I don't believe it! Gordon Brown has finally said something doesn't make me queasy. He wants to expand the Anglosphere, by deepening relations between Britain and America, or so he says in the Wall Street Journal. And he has a whole host of policy prescriptions backed by nebulous spending commitments.

And since our little family embodies the Anglo-American bond, we should get a grant. In the interests of global peace and security, of course.

British and American

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In the mouth, not on the mouth

The Vol-in-Law needs to work on his technique a little.

Cross selling

Cadbury's, the British chocolatier (confectioner is the real word, I think), has been running a series of high concept ads. And by high concept, I mean weird and not much to do with chocolate.

The first in the series was a gorilla banging on a drum to the tune of Phil Collins Something in the Air Tonight. What's that to do with candy bars, you ask? Nothing, as far as I can tell, I reply.

The second is short film of airport trucks racing around, losing your luggage (no doubt the trucks and the suitcases have escaped from Terminal 5) to the tune of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. The ad is brilliant in the sense that it's beautiful and watchable, but I still don't want to eat their chocolate.

The ad has, however, led directly to me and the Vol-in-Law rumbling about how we don't have any Queen in our CD collections. And today, I placed an order for best-of collection.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Class claims

The Vol-in-Law has had a high school friend visiting him this week. This friend is working class. His claim to working class status stem primarily from the fact that his father is working class in the traditional sense. That is, he works in a skilled, manual trade.

Now, while this friend was here - my husband tried to convince him that we weren't as solidly middle class as we appear. I didn't think that was particularly fair on me, as I believe that I am firmly of the middle class* - and of the professional/academic variety at that. My family has enough diplomas and certificates to wall paper a small north-facing wall of a bijou pied-a-terre. I'm not sure why the Vol-in-Law found it necessary to do this, but perhaps it's one of those weird British affectations all mixed in with some kind reverse snobbery. At any rate, the ViL swore blind that we weren't nearly as middle class as some of our acquaintances. This proof by comparison is a fairly weak one in my book and the working class fellow wasn't buying it at all.

"Yer the most middle class people I know," he declared in his thick Ulster brogue.
"That may very well be the case, but that doesn't mean we're like the middle class of London" said I.

But certainly, it must appear that way. The ViL is a lecturer and I have an ill-defined job snuffling at the public trough. We serve some kind of exotic vegetables at nearly every meal (roasted fennel again or shall we have crushed celeriac?). We have art on the wall and ninety percent of the food we try to feed our baby is organic and made in France.

But the friend's working class claims are muddy, too. My husband's working class friend, for a long time, did not have a job. He claimed benefits. Under New Labour terminology this underscores his working-class-ness, though why this should be I don't know. I would tend to put that kind of behaviour in the scrounger category. To be fair, this fellow is from a working class, Protestant area of Belfast and in the past jobs weren't so easy to find. On the other hand, this fellow has a degree and I reckon that the reason he was forced into working a normal (low-skilled manual labor) job was because he earned too much money to claim benefits anymore. And the source of this income? Selling hobbyist books that he wrote and illustrated. Yes, that's right, the scrounger was kicked off benefits because he was simply too successful as a man of letters. So exactly how working class is that?

But really, the whole discussion leaves me baffled. So the best course of action is to turn to a reliable source - The Telegraph - for a quiz that will settle the score.

And how did I score? Well, I was - as I expected - on the cusp between two categories. I'll let you guess which.

*When I declared this, the ViL said "Yes, in Lawrenceburg."

UPDATE: The quiz I included was for British- Americans may like to try these quizzes. The home decor one certainly got to who I really am (and it's a bit lower than I came out on the Brit quiz).

Friday, April 11, 2008

self medicating

I used to love me some whiskey. I'm partial to Jack. But since pregnancy and what with the breastfeeding and all, I've barely had a sniff much less a sip in nineteen months.

I have a cold. I've almost completely lost my voice. My throat hurts and my eyes are bleary. Time for a house call by Dr Daniels.

Let me just say, I'm feeling pretty mellow.

American Idol Shocker - total spoiler

OK, so on my last post I made a little joke about Michael Johns. And no one commented. No one even said the wallaby was cute (which he/she/it certainly was).

Is it because y'all knew that he got sent home in a shocking turnout?

Yes, here in the UK we're a couple days behind.

The Vol-in-Law checked the outcome on line because we realised we probably wouldn't find out til nearly midnight - and frankly we can't stay up anymore. He found out, his jaw dropped and then said "I can't even say it."

Who? Who? I said "Not that little David Archuleta., not Michael Johns."

He handed me the laptop and my jaw dropped, too.



In other news about foreigners on American Idol, I just want the American people to know that Gordon Brown doesn't normally look all chirpy and happy and smiley like that. (I couldn't find a picture of his appearance in a quick search) No - normally he has a rictus grin and a creepy demeanor. I guess the fact that he was getting praised on American tv for dipping his hand in my pocket (once again)* just warmed his ice cold soul.


*Not that mosquito nets aren't a good thing to spend money on - but I rather think it was the dipping into the pocket rather than the malaria prevention which made Gordon feel so warm and cuddly.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


wallaby, originally uploaded by London looks.

Tonight while watching American Idol, Simon Cowell called Michael Johns a wannabe.

I thought he said wallaby.

You know 'cause he's Australian and all.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How 'bout them Vols?

1987 1989
1991 1996 1997 1998

Congratulations Lady Vols and Coach Summitt once again.

Trouble in Tibet

I thought the boycott of the Beijing Olympics by celebrity luminaries on the basis of Chinese involvement in Darfur was ridiculous. I'm no fan of the Chinese communist government, but really... I thought it was fairly laughable considering all the other nasty stuff that China has done and continues to do in terms of human rights, property rights and civil rights to its own people.

OK, so the Chinese sold weapons to the Sudanese. They probably also sold them contaminated pet food and lead painted toys, or at least they would have, had the Sudanese been in the market for such things. I don't think China really cares about the oppression of this or that group in the Sudan. They just wanted to sell some guns, just like they sell some guns to all kinds of people. If that's a measure of moral depravity*, then the US and the UK and the Czechs and so on should just cover their heads in global shame.

So at least with the Tibet thing, there's a legitimate reason to be hacked off with China. I'm glad that expenditure of celebrity energy is going to something real.

*I'm not saying it's not.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Very tired

I know I've not been up to my usual standard of wit and wry observational humor. But I am sleep deprived. Buddy isn't doing well on the whole sleep thing.

I am, as the Brits would say, knackered.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What a difference a day makes




snow on blossoms

Yes, that's snow.

snow on camellias

Snow in April. Where's the Spring? Spring, Spring, where are you?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Radio wave

Used to be, on Sunday mornings, I'd switch it over to AM and tune in to the only and only country music station in the country to listen to a couple of hours of the classics while I cleaned the kitchen or worked in the garden.

The radio station went bust a couple of years ago and it hasn't been replaced. The development of digital radio brought Hungarian talk radio, and Nigerian faith music and French pop - but no country music.

It's a travesty, really.

And frankly, I've never been able to keep the kitchen as clean since then.

But some things in radio do last. Frank Strovel III - blogger at Left of the Dial - this week celebrated 15 years in his radio gig, by playing the classics on a Wednesday morning.

I feel for her, I kinda do

I'm no fan of Naomi Campbell. I think celebrities get away with far too much and appalling, base, rude behavior is excused and overlooked far too often.

Ms Campbell's behavior has been consistently appalling, assaulting maids, suing the press, throwing fits and on and on.

And, of course, there's really no excuse for spitting in the face of a police officer. At the very least it's a stupid thing to do.

But having had my own blood-boiling run-ins with Heathrow staff, understanding that the newly opened Terminal Five is a cluster-fuck of enormous proportions, and seeing the mountain of lost luggage*, I must admit I felt more than a twinge of sympathy.

*btw, all that lost luggage is auctioned off within walking distance from my house. I've never been to the auction, but I've always wanted to go.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Not really in the mood for a photo shoot today

This week, on the day I don't work. I took Buddy to his usual Wednesday playgroup. A notice on the door said that there was going to be a "team" photographing for "research" on the role of women in economic decisions in the household.

There wasn't a team there, just one of the regular mums with her very nice Nikon. And I couldn't really see how taking photos of children playing is social research. Almost certainly what it really was, was marketing research. She's probably a part time employee of an ad agency and she's being paid boo-coo bucks to take shots of the tykes and what they're wearing... Great work if you can get it.

Buddy is a regular male model. He's a Zoolander in training. And when he saw her camera he started striking a pose. That kid seriously mugs up. He no longer had eyes for mommy, but was smiling coyly up at the woman whose camera cost 3 or 4 times what mine did.

I guess Buddy wasn't dressed cute enough (2nd or third hand pair of overalls, shirt from WalMart) - or maybe I wasn't (I don't even want to tell you what I was wearing) cause she didn't turn her lens on him. I wanted to tell the woman - "C'mon, that camera's digitial - just shoot a few frames of the kid. And if you can't do that, at least pretend to take a shot. He's only a baby, he'll be fooled." Instead she muttered something about him being a cute kid and moved on.

In the afternoon, I took Buddy out for his usual walk in the cemetery in his designer sweater, as you do. I propped him in front of sward of daffodils and began snapping. But apparently, the magic was gone. I couldn't get him to really raise a smile. Of course, maybe he thought I wanted him to go for the moody look. Or perhaps, I'd inadvertently set him in a pile of cremains. (I did look.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Oregon is running a lottery for places in its state run health insurance scheme. The BBC takes its usual sneering tone for stories on America, but in this instance it's probably deserved.