Friday, February 29, 2008

The funny things that Brits do

Noddy in chains, originally uploaded by London looks.

It's quite common to see abandoned stuffed animals and dolls strapped to the front of trucks and maintenance vehicles in this country.

I don't know why.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dog bites child

The NHS is reporting a 40% increase in dog bites over the last four years, but in London the number of dog bites has doubled. Children under the age of 9 are the most frequent victims.

According to a BBC story this morning:

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, called for more to be done to make people aware of the risks of irresponsible dog ownership.

The Liberal Democrats want to see stricter legal duties laid on dog owners, and control orders to impose conditions on ownership - or in severe cases disqualify irresponsible owners.

Of the attack figures Mr Lamb added: "These are dramatic increases. I think in some communities these dogs have become a badge of honour, a fashion accessory in a way, and I think that's very disturbing."

I've certainly noticed an increase in the number of Staffordshire Bull Terriers (or allied breeds). I see them in parks (we spend a lot of time in parks these days) and on the street. Quite often not on a leash. Quite often accessorised in an intimidating fashion (spiked collars and the like). And quite often in the company of people whom I would not describe as responsible owners.

It scares me to death. They could have Buddy away in an instant and there'd be absolutely nothing I could do about it.

Defenders of the breed say that it's not the animals, it's the owners.

OK. It's the owners. But these are dangerous breeds because they can inflict serious damage. And the owners are brutalising their animals. I've witnessed it myself and I've seen the evidence in public parks.

Some owners seem appalled at the notion that their precious pups could be used to maim:

A lot of people look at them horrified, like you've got Satan himself on the end of your lead," says Marian Waller of Dulwich, south London, owner of a Staffordshire bull terrier named Teddy. "They look at you like you're taking the Hound of the Baskervilles for a walk." She adds, "They'll cross the road to get away. I don't know why, because they're great with people. (The Independent, July 2006)
Yep. I'm one of those people. Because Ms Waller, I just don't know if you're one of those people who encourages a happy friendly pup or if you've tortured your dog into some kind of killing machine. And even if you look like the next Miss Marple, how do I know that you're not looking after the dog for your teenaged, hoodlum grandson and the dog is much, much more than you can handle. And frankly, there's no way I can know.

We know that these dogs were bred to fight and to maim and to kill. And yes, in the right hands and in the right circumstances I'm sure they can be wonderful dogs. But many of the breed are ending up in the wrong hands:

Typical new breed of owner: young lad, aged 15-22. Typical purpose for having the dog: to gain respect, to intimidate, to use as a form of protection, and sometimes for crime.
And they're certainly ending up in the wrong circumstances. If people were just wanting canine companionship they probably wouldn't opt for a larger, dangerous breed in the crowded conditions of Inner London. For when I talk about seeing these dogs on the streets, I'm talking about the congested sidewalks of the local town centres of London. People naturally brush against each other, old people, babies and toddlers in strollers, the noise of traffic, and increasingly other dogs. (Even fans of the breed acknowledge that the males are prone to fight each other).

My council, Wandsworth, is taking action on dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners, but frankly it couldn't happen soon enough.

Wandsworth Council's leader, Edward Lister, is also calling for a new licensing system - including a minimum age for keeping a dog - to deal with the problem of irresponsible ownership.

The new licences would require stringent tests preventing those deemed unsuitable from owning a dog. We need sharper powers if we are to tackle this problem proactively."

Coun Lister added: "A risk-based approach to dog ownership would identify those animals for which a licence would be necessary. It could include, for example, all types of bull terrier - going beyond the very narrow list covered by the Dangerous Dog Act.

"Crucially it would also look at who was owning and controlling the dog. In our experience in Wandsworth most of the problems are with animals owned by young people aged 13-17.

"There should be a minimum age for ownership. You could add a fit and proper person test which would weed out many other unsuitable types. The critics might say this would be as unworkable as the current legislation or as irrelevant as the old licence system. That would be giving up before we've started.

Dog defenders are quick to blame irresponsible owners. If that's really the problem, then licensing seems like an ideal solution. If the dogs are inherently dangerous, then they just don't belong in crowded urban environments.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Very Reverend Vol Abroad

Did you know that you can get ordained, for free, online?

Well, you can.

And the ACLU is defending your rights as a free, online, ordained minister (what you haven't already gotten ordained? - didn't you follow the link?) to conduct weddings in Pennsylvania.

(And no, I didn't get ordained yet - I'll let you know.)

Casting one's pearls

Has anybody ever got a job from sending out a speculative resume/CV?

Other Cat's new life in the country

cat and daisies, originally uploaded by London looks.

Poor old Other Cat (who blogged anonymously), she's gone to a new life in the country. A farm, just over the rainbow bridge, turn left at the field of dreams.


Poor old Other Cat. She'd always struggled with her food allergies. We'd managed it for years by feeding her ridiculously expensive cat food and keeping her away from people junk food (which she loved). Over the past few months, the food allergies had come back in spades. She couldn't keep the ridiculously expensive cat food down. She couldn't even keep the beyond ridiculously expensive cat food down ($90 a month, just for food). Each morning we searched for cat puke, hoping we'd find it all before Buddy did. The garden was full of cat puke. The sores on her skin were coming back (her skin itched so bad from the allergies that she would literally tear holes in herself).

We couldn't take care of her anymore. And rehoming wasn't an option for poor old Other Cat - a kitty who would flee in terror from regular visitors, the mailman, the gas man and lately the baby (although to be fair he would pull on her fur, which must have been torture considering the state of her skin). She was a cat who mourned and pined pitifully for weeks and weeks when her mother died - and we felt sure she would pine for us, too. (She always did when we were away.)

The decision has been weighing on us for a long time. It seems like a lame thing to put a cat down for - food allergies. But crawling babies and cat vomit don't mix well. And Other Cat wasn't happy and was getting less happy.

I have to be honest and say if we were childless still we would have tried harder and kept her going for longer. But we aren't and we just didn't have the energy to take the extraordinary measures to keep her going in a good state. Today was the end for her, a little over a week shy of her eighth birthday.

We were with her when she was born and we were with her when she died.

Poor old Other Cat.

Go Vols

Yesterday I was wheeling Buddy to daycare beneath his luminous Volunteer stroller blanket. I thought to myself as I passed people in cars and buses and on foot on the sidewalks. Let them look on and know that our Men's Basketball Team is Number One. Let them eat their hearts out.

But then I remembered that hardly any of them know or care.

Here's one I took earlier

Fortunately, even though I'm only working on a limited basis right now, my short time in the office exposes me to a "new guy" who has a working knowledge of NCAA sports.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Raped twice

Tennessee isn't the only state where victims of rape have to pick up the tab for collecting evidence of their own rape.

North Carolina rape victims are charged, too.

Like Tennessee (now), in North Carolina there's a fund to reimburse victims...until the fund runs out. Not just unlucky enough to get have to hope you're not raped too late in the fiscal year to cover the fees of collecting criminal evidence.

A rape kit isn't treatment - it's police business and law enforcement should pay.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Measles scare

I'm watching a very scary show about measles.

According to WHO a population needs to have 95% immunisation to have "herd immunity" - I'm watching a show saying that London's rates of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shots are about 75%. Apparently, the numbers of measles outbreaks are on the rise.

All this due to the MMR scare (link to the Science Museum's online exhibit).

Obviously, armed with this information I'd be a fool not to get Buddy the shots.

But not yet.

And that's not by choice. The MMR vaccine is given for the first time at 12 months.

The story featured a very angry mother whose little baby contracted measles because others have failed to inoculate their children.

Her baby seems to be ok, unlike these boys who were left disabled after contracting measles.

The boys’ doctors blame the now discredited research of Dr Andrew Wakefield for the boys’ condition. They say his claim that MMR could cause autism led to the outbreak because fewer children are being vaccinated.

Matthew Costen, 13, was blinded and paralysed after contracting measles last year. He is believed to have caught the disease from his friend Joe Quick, 9, who suffered partial paralysis to his left side and damage to his speech. Their condition originated from an area of south London where the take-up rate of MMR, which offers protection against measles, mumps and rubella, had fallen to 52%.

For medical reasons unrelated to MMR, neither boy could receive the vaccine. This meant they were dependent on other children being vaccinated to minimise their exposure to the infection.

Busy Mom time lag

I like that Busy Mom blog. I do. But I got to get Busy Mom on the time lag now - and for the stupidest reason. She has American Idol spoilers on her blog.

I try to stay away from the reality tv show lark. It's not snobbery. I mean - it can't be considering that I have an addiction to DNA testing talk shows.

It's the commitment. I am a reality tv show commitment-phobe.

I just can't be signing up for regular viewings of can't-miss-tv. If I miss an episode of Maury Povich originally run in 2003, well - it's not that big of a deal. But miss a key installment of a reality tv contest and then I feel somehow incomplete. I know I'm a bitch for the tv, but it's true.

I thought I could watch the audition phase of American Idol and not get hooked. I've watched audition phases before and walked away. But they were in deep re-run. The overall winner had already been selected. The shows I'm watching now are probably only three days or so behind the US show.

Dang. My life is lame now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not those dang cartoons again

Here's a true story. It's one that might be familiar to you if you were raised amongst the hard core Protestant, as I was.

A Protestant walks into a Catholic Church and is offended.

Why? Because of the depiction of the Prophet. Not that prophet. But our prophet, our final prophet and savior, Jesus. And there were depictions of Jesus and his whole family and some people who went before him and his Apostles, too.

I didn't say anything, and I wasn't deeply offended. But I did sort of wonder if anyone had told the Catholics that maybe putting up graven images and praying before them was not just a little idolatrous. Perhaps a teensy bit heretical or even blasphemous. Seriously. And from talking to others over the years, it turns out I'm not the only one to feel this way when first faced with these differences in Christian worship.

Even now - and I'm essentially faithless - I sometimes feel a little bit squidgy inside when I see representative religious art displayed prominently in a place of Christian worship - even though, very likely, I've specifically gone into the church to see the art.

But my squidginess is but a vestigal reminder of the blood shed in the towns and fields of Europe over these differences among people who really are our co-religionists. Now I can enjoy religious art in churches from a secular point of view, but as a youth I reconciled it with the notion that the Catholics were wrong but well intentioned with their display of graven images. I could look upon it much more in sadness than in anger.

So I guess what I'm saying here is I understand how somebody could find those Danish Mohammed cartoons or any other depiction of "The Prophet" offensive. It's my understanding that Mohammed warned against the worship of himself as a kind of Godhead and thus came the prohibition of images of himself - to help folks avoid the temptation. But it was also consistent with Mohammed's destruction of idols at Qabah and his fight against the pagan and polytheistic. So yes, a devout Muslim might see a graven image of Mohammed and feel just a little squidgy or maybe a bit more.

But in the end, the prohibition is for Muslims not to depict their prophet. It's not actually a prohibition that falls on us the infidel. The right response would have been to right a strongly worded letter-to-the-editor (or blog post) about how deeply squidgy seeing the prophet depicted that way made devout Muslims feel and then that should have been the end of it. Or even, perhaps, writing letters to advertisers in the Jyllands-Posten (the newspaper commissioning the cartoons) saying that Muslims could no longer in good conscience patronise their businesses. But that wasn't the response. And that wasn't the end.


I originally began drafting this post back in January. After Ezra Levant was brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing copies of the cartoons in his now defunct (aka online only) magazine. I never finished the post, because - well, I'm busy. And it seemed like it was being covered well enough by the usual right wing suspects. Although it's absolutely wrong to leave cases of free speech and liberty to the right wing blogosphere, or folks will start to think it's a right wing issue only.

I couldn't believe that people were still going on about it and that publishers in a supposedly free country (Canada) were being subject to public prosecution (of a sorts) just for publishing some pictures.

Mr Levant has been accused publishing the cartoons in order to increase circulation to his magazine and for using his summons to an HRC tribunal as an opportunity to self-promote. (He uploaded his statements to YouTube). Maybe. But the guy was being subject to a ridiculous kangaroo court, congrats to him for trying to make lemonade from lemons. And he still has to bear the cost of defending himself.

The Canadian Muslim Imam who brought the complaint against Mr Levant has withdrawn his charge. Syed Soharwardy says it's because he realised just how important free speech was to Canadians. Mr Levant reckons elsewise. And Christopher Hitchens weighs in, too.


But that's not all. In the past week, Danish authorities have made arrests to stop a plot to murder one of the original Danish cartoonists. That's a lot more than a strongly worded letter. Read more about it at this Danish blog dedicated to the cartoons and their aftermath.


And now NOT the Danish cartoons, but medieval depictions of Mohamed are being targeted by many thousands of the faithful. There can be absolutely no doubt that these paintings weren't done with any spirit of malice. Yet Wikipedia is being bombarded with requests to take them down from the entry on Mohamed. Good for Wikipedia for refusing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I tell you, I am po'd. Yep, my blood is - if not boiling - is darn right simmering. Dang it. And I'm afraid I'm kinda pissed off at the whole of the UK.

Now British readers, don't take too much offense. This is a natural thing for a foreign resident to feel from time to time. I got hacked off with American culture, too. But listen, what the Brits know about customer service could be pulled out of my ass. No, wait - that's too much.

Let me give you a little bit of management advice. For free.


APOLOGISE IF YOU ARE WRONG. Offering an apology for my inconvenience is not an admission of liability. Don't make every customer service interaction a freakin' trial.

And just like the Harvard School of Business does, I will use case studies to illustrate my point.

Case One: The Ikea bookcase

OK, y'all don't start laughing - I know you're thinking. What did you expect? It's Ikea. But really, this experience sank beneath my already low, low expectations.

We loaded up the baby and our measurements and we drove down to Croydon. We bought a bookcase. We already had one like it, so we knew what we were getting into. We thought.

Once we got the thing home, I looked after the baby while the Vol-in-Law assembled the bookcase. He couldn't put it together. Nope. Not at all. He was really struggling. I walked in and said "That's because you've got two right sides and no lefts." Basically there was no way in heck that the bookcase could be put together.

So, we load up the car with our redundant second right bookcase side and go on down to Croydon to change it out. The ViL queues for ages. He gets the third degree, but eventually, and with some effort, we get a left side. We get home. It doesn't fit. It's been machined differently. The holes just don't match up.

So we load up the car with whole bookcase this time and take it down to Croydon. This meant that the ViL had to spend time disassembling the darn thing as well. We queue for freaking ages in the customer service corral. We do get our money back.

But do we get an apology. We do not. Not anything for the time that we've spent driving, the frustration, the anguish, the effort. Not the freakin' 20 questions from the 18 year customer service manager, the looks of disbelief, the "are you sure you had two right sides?" Yes. Yes. We were sure. Your goods were simply not of merchantable quality.

Believe it or not I'm pretty easy going. What would have mollified me was:

I'm sorry the bookcase didn't work out. That must have been very frustrating, sorry you had to wait. Sorry you had to make two trips. Here's your money back.

An apology costs nothing.

Oh, and by the way, I know we told you that we had returned all the screws and washers with the bookcase since you were so concerned about that. But when we got home we found a screw that had rolled under a chair, so nah.

Case Two: The ASDA video game

A note for American readers: ASDA is a grocery store chain owned by WalMart. Like most major groceries in the UK, they've branched out into other retail goods - like clothes and DVDs and lawn chairs and stuff.

The ViL told me that all he wanted for Christmas and his birthday were some Bruce Springstein CDs and a certain computer game. I gave him the CDs for his birthday. Well, apparently I bought the wrong CDs by the Boss, and the ViL bitched and moaned about it most ungraciously. (Really bad form from a guy who often doesn't get me any birthday gift without some serious hint dropping.)

I bought the certain computer game at ASDA. Picked out the case, went to the counter where they keep the actual discs, paid and was on my merry way.

Come Christmas morning the ViL was so happy to receive the right gift. Until he opened it. The ASDA game and music person had put the wrong CDs into the case. She had put the original game (which we already owned) into the case rather than the expansion pack (which we did not own). The ViL noticed it right away. We never even loaded the CDs into the PC.

The ViL did remove the top CD to see if both CDs were the wrong ones. They were. That's all the touching that we did of that game.

So, after Christmas, I go back to ASDA. First checking at the media counter to see if I can make a straight swap. Nope. The correct discs are vanished and there are no others. An apology? Nope. Not even when the guy manning the desks tells me he can't give me my money back there, but I'll have to queue up at the erroneously named customer services desk.

Oh and what a queue. Ahead of me was a woman who was returning a jar of unused Christmas nuts. I guess she didn't get as many guests as she had hoped for over Christmas. Hardly surprising for someone so cheap they would return a jar of unused snacks. And then there were a couple of crazy dudes, without much English, trying to get some kind of rebate on 94 packs of Splenda singles. Ninety-four. And the "customer service" agent was gonna count them up. Crikey.

Once I get to someone, I explain my story. Do I get an apology for my long wait? No. Do I get an apology because my husband's Christmas gift was ruined because they gave us the wrong discs? No. I just get all kinds of palaver about how the CD is scratched and how that means they can't resell it. I just get the third degree, like I'm trying to pull some kind of stunt.

I say I don't care. Just give me my money back.

Case Three: Curry's

Curry's is an electrical retail chain. Everything from headphones to dishwashers.

The ViL buys some kind of cable connecty-thing for our new DVD player. He asked if it didn't work, could he return it. Yep. He does buy the cheapest option.

After tinkering for quite.some.time - he realises that it doesn't work with our system. Whether there's something wrong with the cable or we were sold the wrong thing, I don't know. But it doesn't work.

So we decide to take it back and exchange it for the not-the-cheapest-option. I go to the counter with my new purchase and my return and say this didn't work out.

Instead of oh, that's too bad, or well, I hope this one works better. I get a ten minute freaking lecture on how it has to be returned in its original packaging in a resalable condition. (This isn't true, by the way, the law says otherwise.) We didn't mess up the cable, but the box is a write off - because well, it was one of those all sealed up plastic things that had to be torn into.

I tell the woman I don't want to argue about it, I just want it credited against the cable which I'm buying that costs over twice as much. She goes off to her manager, while I'm left with a fretting baby.

I do get the credit. But do I get an apology? Do I get the slightest little pleasantry. Nope. I get MORE GUFF about how I've returned it the wrong way.

I tell her that her customer services skills are lacking and that politeness costs nothing. I probably should have added that I've spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds in that shop over the years. No more.


Here's another one. Don't insult your clients. Here's what I saw today when I took Buddy to the GP.


I told the GP I saw that as an American, I found it a bit unwelcoming. She laughed at me. Another tip. Don't do that either.

Career advice

I need some career advice. I'm bored with mine.

I'm looking for something that:

  • starts late
  • finishes early
  • sparks my creativity
  • allows me to expound (love to expound)
  • exposes me to a significant degree of adulation
  • has lots of new technology toys
  • allows me to dress flamboyantly
I know the job for Wizard of Oz has already been filled, so if anyone has any thoughts on anything else.

Monday, February 18, 2008


buddy in the garden, originally uploaded by London looks.

Poor old Buddy is sick. He hasn't been sick before, not really. He come down with the horrible, vomitous cruds. He's got some explosive yellow, baby poo. Ewwww.

He's had a fever, too - and just generally feels bad.

And he was supposed to start daycare this week.

Who's the daddy?

Yes, I've blogged about my love for paternity testing tv shows before.

Deadbeat punk, you ARE the father.

I know it's trashy. I know it's low class. I know it's wrong even to be entertained by the obvious misery and personal train-wrecks of these "guests". But I can't help it.

And now, apparently, my home state is trying to get in on the act. But instead of being piped into your living rooms, the touching DNA scene will take place at the side of every post-partum bed in the state. Or it will if SB3717HB2964 goes through. According to the Archcrone:

Basically, this bill provides that each child born in the state of
Tennessee will be tested for paternity before the father’s name can be placed on
the birth certificate. The state will take up the cost of paternity testing when
parent’s are unable to afford the test. Oh, and married couples are not
excluded, making the overt presumption that women are “unfaithful.”

The only thing better would be camera crews roving through the hospital waiting to capture the special moment of revelation. Blecchhhh.... (Though I hate to admit, I'd probably watch.)

(In an interesting side note, this seems like the ideal way to collect a nifty database which would eventually hold the DNA of all citizens.)


I think it's an interesting touch that the state will pick up the cost of testing for the low income. Ironic, even, considering rape victims were being charged for the cost of their rape kits. I was reminded of this by an email I got to my Vol Abroad account.

A young woman emailed to thank me for blogging about the outrage of women having to pay for their own rape kits in the state of Tennessee. She'd been raped. She reported the rape. She agreed to the rape kit, necessary for collecting evidence - and then she'd been charged for it. For whatever reason, probably stunned by disbelief, she didn't pay and now she's received a summons from the hospital that administered it. Sick. Sick. Sick.

When I was mugged on the streets of Knoxville, I got probably two or three hours worth of police time spent on my case that I was aware of - including at least a half hour with a detective. Given salaries and overheads, that wasn't without cost. I never got a bill. That one was on the good citizens of Knoxville.

When our house was broken into here in London, the Met sent round some forensics blokes. They dusted for fingerprints - which led to a conviction. We also spent about an hour talking to a detective, plus whatever time was spent by uniformed police. We never got a bill.

It's bad enough that victims of crime are left out of pocket for their medical treatment. And if they're uninsured, they're robbed twice. A rape kit, as far as I know, isn't for the medical benefit of the victim. It's used to collect evidence. That is purely and simply the responsibility of the state in its role of prosecuting public crimes, for the safety and protection of the public.

Now, thankfully, victims of rape can claim back the costs of their rape kits, according to the Nashville Women's Political Caucus:

Victim’s Rights – Payment of Forensic Sexual Assault Examinations – Worked
successfully to pass legislation that authorizes payment of costs for
forensic sexual assault examinations (for the purpose of gathering evidence of
sexual assault) from the Victim’s Compensation Fund for sexual assault victims
and establishes a “Sexual Assault Examination Fund” to reimburs victims for
these expenses that are not compensable under the victim’s compensation

But that's just not good enough. That means that the victim has to wade through one and perhaps two compensation schemes with the paperwork and the triplicate and the requesting of forms. Talk about adding insult to injury. The only reasonable approach is that the state has to pick up the tab in the first place as part of normal police work.

If I were one of those angry, radical feminists - I might say the link between these two stories is the presumption that all women are whores. Sluts who lie about sleeping around in order to screw some poor guy in the first case or some poor guy and the taxpayer in the second by reporting a rape. She must be a lying hoor, so why should the state pay? But in the case of paternity testing, she must be a lying hoor - so why should the poor, cuckolded schmuck have to pay?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The ViL's poppy

P1020577, originally uploaded by London looks.

On our walk in the cemetery today, the Vol-in-Law said he wanted to check the war memorial to see if his poppy offering was still there.

It is.

It's the single poppy beneath the wreath.

In a way, it's kind of amazing it's still there. It was place on 11 November and the first time he tried to leave it on the memorial it blew away within seconds. He retrieved it, replaced it and there it's stayed for over three months.

But it's not that amazing.

The only reason I'm blogging about it is because he said:

"You should take a picture of my poppy and put in on your blog"

What can I say? I'm a surrendered wife.

Roll it up and smoke it

A Brit policy wonk (Julian Le Grand) is suggesting a smoking license. For the nominal cost of £10 - that's about $20, but really not much considering that's less than the cost of two packs of twenty cigarettes.

Professor Julian Le Grand, chairman of Health England, said more people might stop smoking if they had to "opt in" by applying for an annual permit and paying a £10 fee. "Some 70% of smokers actually want to stop smoking. So if you just make it that little bit more difficult for them to actually re-start or even to start in the first place, yes I think it will make a big difference," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. He said some people would be deterred from smoking if they had to make the effort to fill in a complicated form, get a photograph taken and pay a charge.

While I can see that would piss a lot of people off, I actually think this idea has some merit. More important than making people choose to continue to smoke, it might actually have a greater deterrent effect for the recovering smoker. It would make that first pack on the way to permanent backsliding all the more difficult.

I only question whether the £10 would actually cover administration costs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Crystal meth-ods

This morning there was a news item on the radio about crystal meth. It's only starting to permeate these shores. From having no meth labs a few years ago, the police now estimate that there are twenty.

Coincidentally a few years ago, I considered introducing meth to the UK market. I used to have a long running riff with a friend of mine about how we were gonna become crystal meth queens. That we could cook it up in my shed at first and that we could use new migrants from Eastern Europe to be our runners, distributors and a sizeable part of our customer base.

I once even suggested the plan to an unemployed American rocket scientist (she was a chemist working with rocket fuels at one point) that she could come in on the plan and help us cook it up. Her boyfriend (perhaps lacking the appreciation for the high irony of the joke) was clearly appalled and said he didn't want her blowing up their flat. I said that I was sure he was underestimating her abilities.

We didn't see much of them after that.

My friend and I talked about marketing plans. Once in front of gen-u-ine London ad man. He said we were going all wrong with a piece meal approach to product introduction. He said what we really needed was a high profile celebrity arrest while hopped up on meth - and that the lower socio-economic profile groups would follow. That probably would have been a very expensive piece of advice had he charged.

Anyway, obviously, being law abiding types, we didn't even take the first step toward completing our plan. I haven't even bought sudafed when I've had a cold. I didn't even clean out my shed, which needed it anyway.

So it looks like we may have missed the boat on the meth thing. Just as well, I'm sure. The Texan has gone on to get her MBA and I have an ickle baby.

It couldn't happen here

The copper on the news piece this morning acknowledged that it was a growing problem, but was optimistic that it wouldn't become as rife as it has been in the US and in Australia. I do wonder if this isn't a bit of wishful thinking. According to one Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) rep:

Victoria Machin, secretary to Acpo's national methamphetamine working
group, which produced the study, said: "We have found clear evidence of meth
production, distribution or use right across the country." She said the
numbers involved remained small, although she added that it was difficult to get
an accurate picture as some people did not realise they were taking the drug.
"Drug users who are thinking 'This crack is good' are sometimes taking crystal
meth; that's the information we are getting off the street and that seems to be
the way it is creeping into the system."


Metropolitan police commander Simon Bray, who leads Acpo's work on
methamphetamine, said: "What we are finding now is that crystal meth is being
found in people who think they are taking cocaine or heroin ... In a pilot
scheme recently where those arrested were tested for the substance 4% were found
to be positive. "We approached one [police] force who assured us they did
not have a crystal meth problem in their area. After we had given them more
information about the drug it emerged that there were in fact two or three towns
where crystal meth was readily available."

But what really indicated it was wishful thinking was some nice little code for it couldn't happen here. The copper on the radio this morning said -

There are some demographic differences from the US and Australia.

Oh yeah? Does that mean you think there's more class and less trash in the UK? Hmmm...I think perhaps he hasn't watched any Jeremy Kyle* lately.

*UK trash talk show specialising in the DNA and lie detector tests

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy V-Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New shoes?

I've just been watching the BBC science series Horizon program on decision making. Verrry interesting.

I've learned a couple of things.

1. If you go for a job interview - make sure that your hands are warm before you shake hands with your interviewer. If you've just come in from the cold, buy a coffee or something to warm them up. (People's views of you, including hiring decisions, can be influenced strongly by temperature.)

2. Risky shoes choices are best left to single women. That is - the more married you are - the more sensible your shoes should be.

Tip 1 is useful. Tip 2 - less so. I've always bought sensible shoes. Plain dressing dikes think my shoe choices are sensible. My problem - according to my husband - is that I buy a lot of them. He calls me the Imelda Marcos of black leather sensible flats.

There's even a handy calculator for decision making. Good old weighting of cost and benefit using a collection of nifty little variables. Apparently, I should buy the fake grass and my husband should apologise. (Hey baby, it's all in the weighting.)

Monday, February 11, 2008


Buddy has been going through some kind of growth spurt or he's teething or an upset tummy or some combination of the above or all three.

I haven't been getting much sleep. Not much at all. He's comfort nursing much of the night. That is over the weekend he was waking say every 20 minutes to half an hour for most of the night. And when he finally did get to sleep (long about four of five) for a good couple of hours, I couldn't sleep, because I kept waiting for him to wake up again. It was so painful to be jolted awake again just as I was going off that I was nervous of falling asleep.

Buddy's heavier now, too. And his weight and his constant nursing have given me some kind of weird tennis elbow from where he lays in the crook of my arm. What with the no sleep and lugging him about, I'm tired and sore all over. Dang.

My husband has had disturbed sleep these past few nights, it's true. But I haven't slept through the night for about - oh, four months now and even on the bad nights where sometimes he'll help, I still deal with Buddy more, simply because I'm nursing.

Anyway, tonight the Vol-in-Law says to me, apparently in all seriousness: I don't think you understand how tired I am.

Yeah, he's probably right. It's been a long time since I've been that tired. I wish I could go back to mere exhaustion instead of long term sleep deprivation.

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

Walking around the neighbourhood yesterday,

we saw that the denture plate store had changed its window display

open wide


bridge to nowhere

Which is a step up from what it used to be...,

but not as good as has been in the past

(What are these people thinking?)

We also saw an unusual estate agent's board in front of a house. Seems like everyone's getting excited about the US elections.

vacancy arising

Then we went to the local park so that Buddy could swing. And we saw this in the park:

abused tree and the junkyard dog

I was told by the Head of Parks in a borough where I used to work that this is the sign of someone training up their dogs to be mean. We've seen a big increase in the number of pit bulls or staffordshire bull terriers or whatever (junkyard dog looking bruisers) recently. They're on the streets and they're looking mean. I know that there has been some discussion of breed bans in my home state of Tennessee and there are some vocal opponents. But dang it, these dogs scare me. They could have my Buddy out of his stroller and dead or damaged in seconds. There used to be dog licenses in this country. I think maybe it's time to investigate a return of the dog license - perhaps just for built up areas or just for certain breeds.

Won't someone think of the children and the trees?


We went back today to the same park. And we did see a big scary dog. But we also saw this.



London's air ambulance landing in the park. It was kinda cool and kinda scary. We were well close enough to get hit by the dust blown up by the blade. Buddy just stared at it until it was a dot in the sky after it took off again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


We watched the first episode of Ashes to Ashes the other night - the follow up series to Life on Mars. (Do y'all get that on BBC America?) Anyway, it's a weirdo show about time travelling cops who might or might not be dead, in a coma or genuinely sent back 30 years in time.

But whatever, the show is all about giving us a view of life in another era which we might or might not have lived through.

It does get you to thinking about how Buddy will see scenes on tv of people smoking in restaurants and bars and stuff and how alien that will be to him. Back in my day son, I'll say, we could light up in church.

Anyway, I think it all sort of reminded us of our generation gap. We're kinda old to be having kids. He thought it would be like the 50s to the 70s (our own childhoods) - but then realised that difference between us and Buddy is like the difference between us and someone born in 1933.

Someone born in 1933 might remember the needfulness of a childhood in depression, Pearl Harbor, would well remember World War II and advent of the civil rights movement. Someone born in 1933 would be old enough to shake their heads in disgust at those crazy kids protesting against the war in Viet Nam.

I'll be able to say I can remember where I was when I heard Reagan was shot. I can remember the Iranian hostage crisis. Heck, I remember where I was when I found out Bear Bryant was dead (apparently the 25th anniversary of his death was fairly recently).

But I don't know if any or which of these or what else will capture Buddy's imagination.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Six more weeks of spikes

Hedgehog!, originally uploaded by David Reece.

Today I overheard an Eastern European fellow telling his very pregnant Japanese partner all about "a movie where the weatherman experienced the same day over and over again - it was called Hedgehog Day"

Them internet searches

Somebody just came to my blog from the search term

Inducing cat labor

Don't be messin' around with that. Just don't.

Why I move right - but could never vote Republican

In accordance with the old truism, I've moved right - I've become more conservative - as I've gotten older. This is partly the natural cleaving to the old ways, it's partly getting an MA in Economics from the University of Tennessee, and it's a lot about moving to the UK and seeing the consequences of a true welfare state. You talk about dependency culture - whooo-weee, daaaang - there are generations of people here who don't have the foggiest about work.

So in Mitt Romney's withdrawal speech (full transcript from the NYT) there were some things I agreed with:

Dependency is death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity. Dependency is culture killing. It's a drug. We've got to fight it like the poison it is.

Yep. I agree. It is a poison. A poison that rots the soul.

But he goes on in that mean spirited Republican way which just sickens me. Sickens me with its mantle of "personal responsibility" - which is just a slick cover for tight-fistedness, for I-got-mine-so-screw-you, and most shamefully for sticking their noses in the trough of public goods that they like (highways, infrastructure, business tax credits and subsidies, policing and defense) and turning off the tap for other social goods that they have access to privately ( i.e. health care) despite the fact that this approach is actually economically inefficient and delivers poorer outcomes overall.

Now, some people think we won that battle when we reformed welfare. But the liberals haven't given up.

At every turn, they tried to substitute government largess for individual responsibility. They fight to strip work requirements from welfare, to put more people on Medicaid, and remove more and more people from having to pay any income tax whatsoever.

And the crowd cheered and the band played on.

Is this the latest sick, selfish Republican mantra? Make sure that poor folk don't have access to health care? Make sure the low paid pay through the nose but get rid of taxes on unearned income (e.g. capital gains, estate taxes)?

One thing I've learned about a dependency culture in the UK is that you want to make the transition into working as easy and rewarding as possible. One truth about universal health care that the Selfish-right don't want you to know is that it actually encourages economic activity and entrepreneurs. In the US, some people get caught in the trap of losing health benefits when they start to earn too much money. In the US, people are stuck with dead end jobs or denied the opportunity to go out on their own because they must cling to their employer provided health care.

In the UK, the non-working have every incentive not to work (at least in the short run) as they lose benefits pound for pound as they start earning (which doesn't take into account that leisure does have value) and they come into a rather punitive and regressive tax system. My tax burden is far lower now than it was when I was barely scraping by (though of course I am paying far more overall - it annoys, but it doesn't hurt now.)

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.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sharia in the UK?

The Arch-freakin'-Bishop of Canterbury* is saying that sharia law in the UK is inevitable? Holy-effin'-moly! Where's your convictions man? I'm nearly (but not quite) struck speechless.

In one breath the Archbishop says

Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states: the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women,”

Well, yes, I would certainly agree with that. But then he goes on to say:

“But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them.”

Arrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Sorry I couldn't come up with something more eloquent, but I did say I was nearly struck dumb with the stupidity of it all.)

Doesn't he get it? Doesn't he understand? Enforcing sharia based decisions in matters of family law - and especially in matters of divorce - is exactly what underlines the barbaric attitudes to women.

There's nothing to stop two parties coming to an agreement based on sharia and abiding by it under current UK law. Women - in case of separation, do you want to hand over custody of your children? Do you want to have a "mosque-based" marriage in which you have no rights when it comes to property? Hey, fine by me. Do what you want.

But no way, no how should British courts be enforcing such decisions or routing women of Muslim origin into sharia based civil court hearings. That's what a tandem system of sharia law for Muslims would mean.

It's wrong.

Equality before the law. One law for everyone. We may not always get it, but we must always , always aspire to it.

*head honcho bishop in the Church of England

UPDATE: At Harry's Place, just as one would have expected there's a discussion about this. They call for the sacking of the Archbishop and the disestablishment of the Church of England. No need. When the head of the CoE calls for sharia law - the church done been disestablished.

Romney drops out

Mitt Romney drops out. The best I can say about him is that had he won, I reckon he wouldn't have been the total disaster that that crazy McCain would be.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

They're still doing it.

Looks like they had quite a shindig going on in London for Democrats Abroad where I could have cast a ballot. Didn't make it because my dad and brother were visiting, but the news coverage made me kinda sad I missed out.

But I'm so grateful for the opportunity to cast my ballot online in the DA Global Primary. Come November, I'll vote in my home state. Hillary won there last night without my vote and this fall she'll win in Tennessee with my vote.


My brother backs Obama. Tsk, tsk. But he also voted for Nader in 2000, so I think we know how politically wise he is.

Obama could still win and as a good Dem, I'll vote for him, but I tell you I hope he cuts out the backsniping bullshit pronto. That's not helping anyone.


I've noticed the Hillary Clinton coverage is all spun negative. They're still doing it. In one sentence it's all "Hillary wins more delegates..." in the next it's all "Hillary is struggling, Hillary is losing her advantage..." blah, blah, blah.

Hello, people - she's winning. WTF?

The Tennessee Guerilla Women have a good low down on the misogyny and last night's coverage.


But you know the weird press coverage is not just about misogyny. John Edwards couldn't have got 30 seconds if he were the man biting a dog. And poor old Mitt Romney had been winning until the media anointed that crazy McCain. And Huckabee? Well, he's getting good coverage, cause he's winning in the snake handling states. (Yeah, I know.... I'm bad.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

With friends (and MPs) like these...

There's a big furore here over the potential bugging of a conversation between an MP and his friend and constituent. This MP happens to be my MP. This constituent lives within easy walking distance from my house. That is he lives there when he's not in jail - on terror charges.

Sadiq Khan is at the center of a controversy about whether his jailhouse conversation with Babar Ahmad should have been taped without his knowledge. Doubtless, all of Mr Ahmad's conversations are bugged (except probably privileged conversations with his lawyer) - given that he is, in fact, a terror suspect awaiting extradition to America. It's all so very complicated why he's to stand trial in the US and not in the UK. But what appears to not be in dispute is that the man helped raise money for the Taliban.

He raised money for them, but this wasn't a crime in the UK at the time he was doing it because the Taliban wasn't a proscribed organisation at the time. Not that we didn't know they were nasty pre-9/11, just that they weren't outlawed.

From the Washington Post:

In late 1996, while a 22-year-o.ld undergraduate at Imperial College in London, Ahmad launched a Web site dedicated to promoting Islamic fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, according to U.S. federal prosecutors. Dubbed, in honor of Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who served as bin Laden's spiritual mentor, the Web site rapidly became a prominent and influential English-language platform for Islamic militants.


"It was the very first real al Qaeda Web site," said Evan Kohlmann, a New York-based terrorism researcher who has tracked since the late 1990s. "It taught an entire generation about jihad. Even in its nascency, it was professional. It wasn't technically sophisticated, but it was professional looking, definitely more professional than any other jihadi Web sites out there."


According to a U.S. indictment filed in October, Ahmad used to
solicit donations for Chechen rebels and the Taliban, and arranged for the
training and transportation of Islamic fighters. Among the specific charges is
one alleging that posted messages in early 2001 containing specific
instructions for supporters to deliver cash payments of up to $20,000 to
officials in Pakistan

And I blogged about this two and a half years ago (post has links to US extradition request).


Now, Sadiq Khan, MP feels aggrieved because there is an established convention that MPs' conversations won't be bugged. I guess I can understand that, though it was Mr Ahmad and not Mr Khan who was the explicit subject of surveillance.

But in news story after news story Babar Ahmad is listed as both a constituent and a friend. They did grow up in the same area, so childhood friends they may be - and I'm sure we all had playmates who turned out not as well as might be hoped. But Mr Khan should consider whether he really wants friends like Mr Ahmad. And Tooting constituents should consider whether we want an MP with friends like that.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's like groundhog day

If I'm not mistaken, tomorrow is Groundhog Day. In Britain that has no resonance. At least no weather predicting resonance. Instead when folks here say "It's like Groundhog Day," they're not saying today will be a bellweather for the next six weeks, they're saying "It's like deja vu - all over again." It means that the same [stupid] thing happens again and again and again. Based purely on that film.

And each and every year, when I say "Hey, I think it's Groundhog Day," they say "Is that for real?"

And I explain about the weather predicting abilities of Punxsatawney Phil and how we'll have six more weeks of winter - or not. I have to do it every year. It's like Groundhog Day deja vu all over again.

Funnily enough the origin of Groundhog Day is not some kooky American nonsense, but rather is steeped in European superstition - Candlemas Day -which falls midway between Winter and Spring Solstice according to a Groundhog Day history page. Or as they used to say in England:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.


I'm preempting the Pennsylvanian rodent and guessing that there will be six more weeks of winter. Blehhh.