Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ways of making you talk

I can now say that I think sleep deprivation is torture. I can attest that I would talk. But it would just be incoherent, grumpy blathering.

Buddy slept better as a newborn.

Update: on the upside, this may mean I get to listen live to Tennessee's first football game. Though I'm not sure if that's wise on a workday.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What a VP pick

I was amazed that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. What a crafty old fox. Despite the fact that I probably disagree with her on many issues, what I'm reading about her so far impresses me.

What impresses me most is how she took on her own state GOP to expose corruption and incompetence in Republican ranks. I love good governance. Her biggest scandals in her Governorship appear to be related to trying to get her brother-in-law fired. He was a State Trooper who threatened to kill her father and drank beer in the patrol car. Not such great qualities in a law officer. And she tried to keep a state run dairy open at a loss. Why are politicians such suckers for the farmers?

She's clearly a tough woman and a go-getter. We probably wouldn't have been friends in high school (if we'd been contemporaries), but she's the kind of person I'd be proud to serve with on a local committee. She'd get things done. But then she'd talk about teaching Creationism in science class or restricting access to safe and legal abortions - and I kinda have to draw the line there.

Her pro-gun stance is hardly surprising for someone from Alaska. I think they need their guns up there. They have some big and dangerous varmints in those parts, I hear.

Drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve? She's for it. I couldn't give a stuff. Really. I don't care.


Sarah Palin, not somebody I'd vote for, but frankly I think this is the good old kick in the teeth that the DNC deserves. Too much sexist bullshit this election cycle. Let the Republicans show they can rise above it. (If they can.)

I think it's great there's a woman in the VP slot. We do represent over half the voting electorate, so it seems only reasonable that we should have a fourth of the top slots on offer. Oh - and that would be two women total in over 200 years of major party campaigning.

Now we'll see how fair and balanced the media are. Will Sarah Palin have to suffer the same treatment as Hillary Clinton? On the left there will be the accusations that she's a sellout for women (the same slurs Margaret Thatcher endured). I've never bought into that. Just because someone doesn't fit your ideal of what a woman leader should be like doesn't mean she isn't a polticiian who isn't true to herself and her ideals. You don't like her ideals, don't vote for her. But don't say she's less of woman.

On the Right there'll be questions about whether she should be running for office while she has small children. Blechhh. I've already heard those comments (all from men that I saw) dripping into Fox News feedback. I'm sure her husband is a capable man and can look after things.

Just leave the cat alone

Occasionally people land on my site from the search "How do I induce a cat's labor?"

Don't. Just don't.

The email I didn't get

I've been watching the Democratic convention from afar, hearing the summary coverage the morning after on the BBC. I've heard a lot about some bitterness and I've heard a lot about Hillary Clinton didn't go far enough in her speech* to outline the fine qualities of Barack Obama. Oh please....what does she have to do? She gave a pretty solid endorsement, I'd say - but I guess it's never enough. She didn't jump high enough in her cheerleading?

I'm still a member of the Democratic Party, so I still get the emails. After Michelle Obama's speech I got an enthusiastic email from Barack Obama saying how great it was. I got another this morning after his speech asking for money.

But I didn't get an email thanking Hillary for her speech or thanking Bill for his rousing endorsement. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. It's little things like that which could make a big difference for disaffected Democratic voters like me. I almost emailed back suggesting that he do so. I've been waiting for those small gestures of genuine appreciation and understanding of Hillary Clinton supporters, but if I'd been holding my breath I'd be blue by now.

It particularly rankled after I'd had an email a little while ago from Howard Dean about how we must all fight back against the smears in The Obama Nation book by that kook Jerome Corsi. I never got an email about the sexism and misogyny surrounding Hillary Clinton's campaign. Yes, I know that it was during the primary - but a little balanced email about keeping the fight clean....I don't know.

All along, I've been wanting something, anything to persuade me to vote for Barack Obama. I have never not voted for the Democratic nominee in a presidential election since I turned 18. (Well, I did miss one - but I meant to vote. It's not easy to vote from overseas.) After all, I think McCain is a dangerous entity. I think he's unstable and I think he will be bad for America.

But I just feel that Barack Obama has never asked for my vote. (McCain has - but he won't get it.) And each time I've expressed reservations about Obama on this blog, I've been met with critcisms of Hillary Clinton from enthusiastic Obama supporters. (Hey y'all, remember that old adage about honey and vinegar.) I've never bought into the call for amorphous change. What change? I just want good governance, a steady hand, sound economic policies and a serious attempt to deal with the healthcare mess. What I don't want is to be insulted or belittled or taken for granted, and I don't want that for my candidate I supported either. And I surely don't want a candidate from the so-called Left who says that too many people work for the insurance industries to attempt a major overhaul of the healthcare system. What kind of change is that? A lot of people worked for the kerosene lamp industry, too - but we still made the switch to light bulbs.

This convention hasn't changed my mind, I'm sad to say. I'm trying to summon the enthusiasm to request my absentee ballot so I can vote down ticket - or maybe hoping (with baited breath) that Barack Obama will do something to make me want to vote for him.


Didn't y'all just love Senator Clinton's orange suit though? If I hadn't already admired her policies, her fight, and her leadership abilities I'd probably have voted for her just for the orange pantsuit. (I know in national politics - for women - they can't often wear the same thing twice and I think people will remember the orange suit - so Hillary - can I have it? And if I can't have it, could you give it Pat Head Summitt for her joint appearances with Bruce Pearl?)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No sandwich for you

I love holidays, I do. If you got a feasting, dancing, singing, wear-a-silly-hat and jump up and down like a fool holiday, I'm all for it. As long as it's free and it doesn't clash with work, I might even join in.

But scourging and fasting just aren't my bag. I'm not big into ashes or penance either. Sorry. I understand it's importance, but I'm not in the game of collecting suffer tokens. Thanks, anyway.

And so, we're now almost into the season of Ramadan. You want to fast. Fine. Go ahead. But I'm not planning to do anything special for Ramadan. (I'll happily eat any Eid food, though.) I'm not planning to make much in the way of special considerations for those who do want to fast during daylight hours. I'll still eat lunch at my desk, but I won't offer you any special treats. Deal?

But at Tower Hamlets, everybody has to observe:

Muslim council leaders have sparked outrage after trying to ban all councillors eating in meetings until sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

Politicians have hit out after the move to impose hardline Islamic rules on non-Muslim colleagues throughout September.

The bombshell has been dropped by Labour chiefs of the notoriously loony Tower Hamlets Council in east London.

The storm was sparked by an email sent to all councillors this week highlighting arrangements for Town Hall committee meetings next month, which marks the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.

Oh, dear.

These are evening meetings and many of these councillors have jobs and are coming straight from their places of employment and they won't get out until very late. No tea, no sandwich for them. And it's rare that you'll go to a meeting in the UK where at least biscuits aren't on offer (unless I've arranged the meeting, I rarely order biscuits). But I guess that's out, too.

Some councillors (the ones in political opposition) are outraged and say this appears to be favouring one religion over another. I'd tend to agree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mamma Mia!

So, this being the traditional week of not doing any work in this country, I'm taking the week off. But instead of packing a million baby things and heading for a cold and windy and overcast beach after many hours of traffic jams, we decided to have a stay-cation. Yeah, I know.

Best thing about the staycation thing is that I can put Buddy in his daycare for a couple of days this week and just have the day free. He went today and he'll go on Friday.

So the Vol-in-Law and I went to see a movie. There isn't usually much I want to see - even when I was child free I probably went once a year or so. But I'd kinda been wanting to see Mamma Mia! for a while. Like for a long while - 'cause it's been on in the West End here for ages. The thing about popular shows is that they hardly ever have those steeply discounted tickets that I like so much - and I'm just too cheap to pay full price.

But the movie was a lot cheaper, and I'm guessing not nearly as good. For one thing, the cast in the movie can't sing and they can't really dance either. Anyone who knows anything about music (and I'm counting everyone who's ever watched one of those "informative" "factual" shows about pop music) knows that ABBA songs are hard. They are difficult to sing; they're pretty complex. I know this because I like to sing along and on ABBA songs, it's hard to do that without ending up screeching a little. Which is what the cast of Mamma Mia! the movie did.

That being said, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable. Their varying degrees of crapness made me feel like I could live my life to ABBA songs. I bet the sing-a-long version (they have one showing at my local cinema, but it's in the evening) is an absolute blast. Get a couple of beers, go with some friends, and sing a long to ABBA. Fabba.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

British cuisine in an easy open packet

It amuses me when those American new to these shores are somehow amazed by the vast array of different flavoured crisps (potato chips) in this country. Beyond the fairly normal cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, and even the slightly poncey cracked black pepper and sea salt, there's a wide selection of the unusually flavoured snack food items. Roast Chicken, Worcester sauce (yes, we know it was Worcestershire Sauce), Tomato and Basil, Thai Sweet Chilli, Chinese Five Spice, caramelised onion and mature cheddar, duck and orange - to name but a few. And there are other snack stuffs, too, like the potato based(?) extruded product Hula Hoops - which has a very popular ketchup and bacon flavor. (I'm guessing that's nasty.)

That's not counting the limited edition crisps that Walkers - the market leader - come out with occasionally such as Scampi and lemon, brie and cranberry, lamb and mint, Port and Stilton. Those were all apparently part of a Christmas promotion. Mmmm - nothing says Yuletide fun like the family gathering around a glimmering, oddly flavoured packet of crisps.

Walkers current promotion is called "Do us a flavour" - a contest where you can come up with your own wacky flaves, send them in (along with a picture of your inspiration) and you and five other semi-finalists can see your bizarre creations on the shelves.

We currently have a visitor in our house who is probably more into the junk food than we are and our rather tame suggestions included:

Me: Sweet and sour chicken
Visitor: Been done
Vol-in-Law: Szechuan chicken
Visitor: Been done.

And the conversation died there.

But I've been racking my brain. There is a flavour I'd like to see produced, but I'm going to hold my fire and actually enter it. Realistically, it's probably too tame. But pulling from the array of classic British dishes there might be some potential. How about...

  • Jellied eel
  • Jugged hare (hare meat is served in a sauce of its blood mixed with port)
  • Squab pie
  • Brawn (when the first step in the recipe is "cut the cheeks and ears off the pig's head", the rest of the instructions for jellied pigs head isn't worth reading)
  • Bath chaps (pig cheeks in bread crumbs - I guess that's what you do on the 2nd day after you've eat the brawn)
  • Laver bread (mmm....seaweed and oats)
  • Bedfordshire Clanger (scrag end of mutton with kidneys and fruit - does scrag end mean what I think it means?)
Think I have a winner there? Yummy, yummy - this potato chip tastes of scrag. It tastes of scrag and I like it.

(I'm going to kick myself if I see these on the shelves.)

Overheard at the playground

You know that sensation of a couple year's past - Overheard in New York and the various copycat sites from other cities? Pretty funny. They should have an "overheard on the playground" blog. (Who's they? I don't know - the ubiquitous Internet "they", I guess.)

Despite being all out in public, there are actually some pretty unguarded, intimate, revealing exchanges out on the playground.

Yesterday an adorable little girl with an adorable outfit complete with adorable little sunhat was in the swing next to Buddy. Mom was pushing. Grandma was doting.

Mom: I'm going to sit down now.
Grandma: And Grandma will push, because Mummy isn't very good at pushing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

what change?

What was that about how if Obama picked Hillary Clinton it would be a repudiation of all that he stood for - you know HOPE, CHANGE, a different style of leadership, not the same old Washington insider?

Joe Biden?

Same old. Same old.

Wasn't he the same guy who helped skewer Anita Hill?

Way to respect to the women, Obama.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gold vs. Lead

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made a surprise stop-over in Afghanistan on his way to China to see out the closing of the Olympics and accept the torch (or the giant public spending bill or whatever it is) for London's 2012 Olympics.

I guess he wanted to rouse the troops - so here's what he said:

"This week we are celebrating the Olympics where we have had great success. People have been winning medals in areas where we have been breaking ground. But this week also I believe that our Olympic athletes and everybody else in our country will remember that you have showed exactly the same courage, professionalism and dedication. "


I'm not dismissing the efforts of Olympic athletes. I know they have what I don't - and that's not just the talent bit, the inherited athletic ability - they have a drive and determination that I'm lacking.

But courage? Sorry, did I miss the Olympic event called Taliban Fire Fight? Was IED Dodge just too early in the morning to broadcast?

You see them on the streets of Paris and London

I had to go back to the hospital to get the old breast cyst thing checked out - a routine follow up sort of thing. I had packed a mystery novel and a sudoku book and I was looking forward to a relaxing wait. But they saw me right away, almost right away. I did one work email and then they called me through. It was forty minutes from leaving my door to getting back to my door. (I do live across the street from the hospital).

But before I actually got to see the doctor, they led me to a cubicle and asked me to change into one of their hospital dressing gowns. I hate that. I'm a pretty quick undresser, so I don't much see the point of donning one of those of things. They're ugly and they don't do much for modesty. And there isn't much choice. There's the blue diamondy pattern or the blue diamondy pattern. Though this time there was a striking graphic print in shades of yellow.


Oh, and look what it says...


Hospital use only.

Does that really need to be said?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The medals table

The Vol-in-Law, who does not watch much sports, was watching the Olympics this morning. "We've won another medal," he reported.

The British are, apparently, delighted with their medals haul. "We've been doing well," he says. "Now how will we match this performance in 2012?" he wonders.

We. We. We. We.

It occurs to me that he includes me in this we. Like I'm thrilled that Britain's doing well.

Nope. I have to tell him, that though it's true I support the England football team - I don't give a stuff about the Team GB - the ridiculous name for the British Olympic athletes.

It's USA all the way for me, baby. Every medal scored by any other country is just one less medal than we deserve.

Things which neighbour children should be bannned from having

1. Recorders
2. Hammond organ sounding synthesizer keyboards

That is all...for now.

I know I am the wrong type of white person

I've been reading that Stuff White People Like off and on for a while. What white person hasn't? Over time, it's become painfully clear that I am the wrong type of white person. I like some of the things that white people like, but not all of them. Not enough of them. As if my failure to feel the Obama love wasn't enough, this post on unpaid internships lays it out starkly.

White people view the internship as their foot into the door to such high-profile low-paying career fields as journalism, film, politics, art, non-profits, and anything associated with a museum. Any white person who takes an internship outside of these industries is either the wrong type of white person or a law student. There are no exceptions.

No exceptions.

I had an internship. With an oil company. And it was with Exxon. And it was just a year or two after the Valdez incident. And it wasn't unpaid (oh no, far from it).

Monday, August 18, 2008

At the Olympic village

I've been wondering if there's a clash between the running, swimming, jumping athletes and the Olympians who participate in sports where you could, conceivably, drink a beer while you're waiting for your turn. You know, like air rifle.

Are the air rifle athletes in the Olympic village saying things like "Pass me another doughnut," or "Hey, if you're going to the store, pick me up some Marlboros."

While the running guys and gals are all "my tendons are killing..." or "I'm cramping from lactic acid build-up," are the shooting ones saying "My trigger finger sure is itchy."

dream time

Last night I dreamed I crashed a wedding. And although I was dressed appropriately (a flowy floral chiffon thingy), I found it difficult to grab a pew. They were all weird two and a half seaters. I sat with one guy just for a moment, though I promised to move when his friends showed up. But he ended up being the one moving.

And then guess who sat next to me?

Peter Falk. Yeah, Columbo. And he was even wearing his wrinkled rain coat. Wow!

I was so excited. I told him what a huge fan I was. And then I told him, that sometimes the only way I could go to sleep was to put on a Columbo...then I'd be out like a light.

Even in my dream that didn't go down well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

London's last defense

I once dragged my husband across northern France to see a dam, which it turns out was actually in another part of France. Ooops. We eventually saw it, right where it was supposed to be.

And being raised among the dams of the Tennessee Valley, I can't miss a good dam. But for all these years, I've never been to the Thames Barrier, London's flood defense. I had meant to go for my birthday this year, but a bout of food poisoning from one of soft serve ice cream machines put paid to that.

But finally, finally we went out there taking with us a visitor from Belfast, who probably couldn't give a stuff about dams. It took us a couple of hours to get there after having been stuck in a traffic snarl in Catford - and which only let up just at the point where we got to the giant cat, so we didn't even get a great look at that.

The delights of Catford*

But once we got there, did it live up to hours, weeks, months, years of anticipation?

Well, it's just a tidal barrier. I mean, how good could it be?

But yes, I'm glad I went. The light was good, so I got a couple of good pictures. There was a playground, so Buddy could let off a little steam. Alongside the barrier are giant berms (actually bunds, we were told)and in the play area - they built a giant slide the whole height of the bund. Buddy was fascinated, but sensibly decided not to go down.


We even paid the £2 it costs to go to the visitor centre - to see a film about the construction of the barrier and to watch a little working model of the barrier. I was asked mid-filming if it was for personal use. Ummm, yeah. I guess. I would upload, just out of some kind of lame maverick notion, just to thumb my nose at the Environment Agency - but it's so bad and that's 23 seconds of your life you'll never get back.

Thames barrier

thames barrier

raise the flood defenses! - at the Thames Barrier visitor centre
Raise the barrier! London's at flood risk

* Photo credit: Catford Kitty on Flickr by ljcybergal

Friday, August 15, 2008

Buddy walking

Buddy walking
Originally uploaded by London looks
Buddy's finally walking. He's been taking steps for a day or so, but just wouldn't let me video him.

The whining and crying in the background is not Buddy. It's some other little boy who is a month younger than Buddy and also not a walker at 13 months. His mother was frog marching him around the playground saying things like "I know you don't want to, but you've got to learn." She'd probably just received the parenting email that said on average kids learn to walk at 13 months and felt he was already slipping behind.

Go on and play the video, it's only 12 seconds long.

I need to clean my lens.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I know a guy who appeared on some BBC political show in London the morning after Bush won the last election. He was the American Republican on the panel. The guy who was all "I think it's a good thing Bush won."

But he wasn't a pundit. And I happen to know for a fact that he'd had some kind of major falling out with the Republicans in London, and knowing him I can guess it was pretty much a big bust up which resulted in him and them not being on speaking terms. (I know this because I'm no longer on speaking terms with this person for a different bust up.) But all the real Republicans were all off partying somewhere or sleeping off their hangovers or calculating short positions in the stock market or something, and he was the only guy the BBC could find on a Friday morning in November.

How they stumbled upon him, I'm not sure. But he had a big email list and he'd supplied Americans for the audiences of other political shows (I went to one myself) and maybe he was on some kind of shared tv researcher list.

Anyway, it's a mystery to me how anyone gets one of these pundit gigs. I mean, I have an opinion. I clean up pretty good. I have a fair bit of public speaking experience. I'm not without wit and some charm, but I've never been a pundit on British tv. (The Vol-in-Law has been a pundit on British web tv. Is that close?)


It was early Sunday afternoon and we were watching the news channels prattle on about South Ossetia and here comes this guy defending the Georgian position. And he was drunk and sweaty. And he was in chavvy sports wear. One of those ridiculous Ralph Lauren shirts with the giant polo logo like this - only bigger, I swear.

Photo credit: Hello, my name is douchebag by T'shane on flickr.

I've met more sober, more cogent Georgians* in London bars.

And you know what this guy said? Well, shit. He said a bunch of drunk shit. Democracy. Autonomy. Blah, blah, blah. A lot like the Rowley Birkin character from the Fast Show.

I know they have to come up with guests on short notice and can you name one famous Georgian living in the UK? But really. War in the Caucasus, the sleeping Bear wakes up angry, the return of the cold war and that's the best the BBC can do?

*And I mean Georgians by the Black Sea Georgia, not Georgians from down I-75. I've met some of those in London bars, too but they were pretty drunk and blathering on stupid stuff about Dawgs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mad princes and weird science

Prince Charles thinks that GM crops are going to destroy everything. Apparently.

In an interview with The Telegraph he....

... expressed the fear that food would run out because of the damage being wreaked on the earth's soil by scientists' research.

He accused firms of conducting a "gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong".

"Why else are we facing all these challenges, climate change and everything?".

Yes, indeed, why else?

I mean I'm not a scientist or anything (well, not a practicing scientist) but I'm pretty sure that there's not a gigantic experiment with the whole of humanity and all the earth that's causing climate change and reducing everything to some kind of radiating rubble.

But, if it's somehow escaped my notice and it's true, I'm betting Dick Cheney's behind it.

Beer fest

Last Friday we attended the Campaign for Real Ale's beer festival at Earl's Court convention centre. This is really something I should have done while I still had some tolerance for alcohol.

Live at Earl's Court

I'd spoken at a conference at Earl's Court before, but in one of the halls in the upper areas. I'd never been on the main floor, but let me tell you it was huge. And instead of being bedecked in conventiony carpet and grey corporate dividers with booths and banners it was just concrete flooring, dim lighting and rack after rack after rack after rack of kegs of beer.

The idea is that you rent a glass and you just go up and get a pint or a half or a third of your brew of choice. It's a bit of lottery, though - the beers are labelled with their quaint and curious names and their alcohol by volume (ABV) and their price. That's it. No stars for quality (who would believe it anyway?) or recommendations from previous drinkers (now that would be a good idea).

The Vol-in-Law started us off with a banana beer, and it was pretty darn disgusting. Though I admit, it did taste of banana - peel.

Subsequent selections proved hardly more successful. And I was a bit wary of drinking too much since we did have to pick up the critter from day care later on. I know I'm a light weight these days but I wanted each and every beer randomly selected to taste great. And they didn't. Although a few selections were passable, notably a pale ale from Northern Ireland.

The attendees were overwhelmingly male and yet there was shockingly little eye candy for the female gaze. There were however lots of novelty hats (giant sombreros, plush union jack top hats, etc) and t-shirts with "witty" slogans - you know the type "I don't have a drinking problem, I drink, I get drunk, I fall down - no problem." And so on... I only saw one that caused me to snicker...Front: A man has to believe in something. Back: I believe I'll have another beer.

Strangely we fell prey to this and bought into this and purchased Buddy a black t-shirt with the imperial measurement symbol and the words "half pint" for way too much money.

All in all, I'm glad we went merely because it satisfied my curiosity. I've been meaning to go for years and just never got around to it. I won't be going back.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ninja warrior

Even babies who don't care much for tv will sit quietly to watch Japanese game shows.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Darwin vs God?

Last night I watched a little of Richard Dawkin's latest documentary, three hours of praise to Darwin over three weeks. All in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. I don't know why I turned it on. Richard Dawkins is a jerk. He winds me up.

I should state right now that I couldn't be more solidly in the evolutionary camp. I have a degree in Geology. Even before the smoking gun evidence of genome mapping, I was convinced by the overwhelming (though admittedly gappy) evidence of the fossil and geological record.

But Dawkins's diatribe is almost exclusively devoted to debunking religion with biology. He goozes enthusiasm about the wonder of the natural world - all without God. OK Richard, we get it - you don't believe in God, but I'm just wondering - if God isn't worth consideration why do you talk about Him so much?

Dawkins fails to recognize that maybe religion has some value - some evolutionary value - to human existence. We are not like the lions or the ant or the snails. We humans are more complicated critters than that, we build complex social organisations. We build civilizations. We construct cities and tribes and groups and clubs and - yes, religious hierarchies - all in a bid to hold off the savagery of nature and our own characters in order to help us survive and allow our genes to carry on. We have not evolved beyond this.

He tries to take on religious belief head on. In last night's program, he harangues a group of teenagers - some clearly from a variety of religious traditions. He takes them on a fossil hunt at the beach and shoves the DNA evidence down their throats in a quick few hours of (what seems to be) him lecturing about the silliness of relying on religious texts and their parents' teachings and them staring gormlessly back. Dude, that's not the way to support critical thinking.

He skirts around the dangerous trend of subverting proof and rationality to avoid causing anyone religious offense. Some Brits mock the credulity of the American public and the open battle between Science and Creationism. But in this country, Science and free speech are being gnawed away quietly by the trump card of not wanting to offend anyone's spiritual sensibilities. It appears that in many UK schools Creationism is taught alongside science.

And while Protestantism and Enlightenment have rubbed along fine for much of the time particularly when they keep to their own spheres, there's a new threat to scientific discourse. Islam. I don't know if Dawkins will discuss that in the remaining two hours of his programme on Darwin (and frankly, I don't know if it's relevant), but I'll give him some credit for at least raising the issue elsewhere. In a recent Daily Mail article:

Most devout Muslims are creationists - so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught. Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more but it doesn't want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.

He added: 'It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It's almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.'

I don't "blame Islam" for this, but I think Islamic religious sensibilities are reinforcing the trend to abandon science and pursue a "cuddly world" where belief is never challenged. I don't think religious belief should be subjected to same kind of rigour that scientific theories must face - as that is the model for how science thrives and progresses. But at the same time, we need a framework for nuanced discussion about religion and the ability to challenge pernicious beliefs, for example the status of women or indeed the perceived fallacy of scientific truths - like evolution. Richard Dawkins doesn't have a clue how to do this.

Monday, August 04, 2008

They're everywhere, I tell you

On my way out of the Underground this evening, I was confronted by a most distressing sight. Four youths dressed in crimson tracksuits with ALABAMA emblazoned in a graceful arc across the back. Amazing. In a residential backwater of London. Also disturbing. There goes the neighbourhood...


On closer inspection, I noticed that the color wasn't quite the Alabama regulation red, and the kids didn't look like Alabama fans. Knock-off Alabama outfits clearly. Still, why Alabama? That can't be right. Kids these days....


I looked again and the letter resolved themselves into their proper configuration. ALBANIA. Four youngsters in tracksuits that read Albania. That actually makes much more sense.


Still, did I tell y'all I went to the cemetery open day near my house? (Yes, I know my life isn't as jet-set as it used to be). I met a man who worked for a custom coffin company. And do you know, he went to Alabama? We talked a little SEC trash and he tried to sell us a casket.

Rage on campus

I'm a little bit late to the party, but toward the end of July the Centre for Social Cohesion published a report looking at the views of both Muslim and non-Muslim students at Universities in Britain.

Like a spate of previous survey results, the findings should be shocking but sadly they just seem to fall into a long pattern of radicalised views of Muslims in the West. (See executive summary here) To be sure, most Muslim students don't want to stone all the gays, or overthrow Democratic traditions or kill in the name of Islam, or believe that women are inherently inferior, but a significant disturbing minority do. And apparently, that number (mostly) rises when survey respondents were active members of Islamic societies on campus. Actually, active members of clubs or societies were more likely to feel that Islam and Democracy were compatible, which can be interpreted in more than one way.

Kids will be kids. Young adults seem more likely to hold extreme views on a number of things from the unalloyed good of the "free market" to environmentalism to Islamism. Pragmatism and moderation and nuance can often increase with age and experience.

In a Times online article, it's reported that the full report (which caused my browser to fall over when I tried to download it) focuses on Queen Mary university, located in East London.

The researchers highlighted Queen Mary college, part of London University, as a campus where radical views were widely held. Last December, a speaker named Abu Mujahid encouraged Muslim students to condemn gays because “Allah hates” homosexuality. In November, Azzam Tamimi, a British-based supporter of Hamas, described Israel as the most “inhumane project in the modern history of humanity”.

James Brandon, deputy director at CSC , said: “Our researchers found a ghettoised mentality among Muslim students at Queen Mary. Also, we found the segregation between Muslim men and women at events more visible at Queen Mary.”

A spokesman for Queen Mary said the university was aware the preachers had visited but did not know the contents of their speeches. “Clearly, we in no way associate ourselves with these views. However, also integral to the spirit of university life is free speech and debate and on occasion speakers will make statements that are deemed offensive.

I used to be a fairly regular visitor to this campus and their views surprise me not at all. Over the course of time when I did visit, the tone of the local community changed. It became an increasingly hostile place. During the build up to the Iraq War, as an American, I no longer felt safe there. I don't know for certain, but I think the University is fooling itself by throwing up its hands and saying "Well, sometimes speakers say offensive things." I don't think the University would allow the student arm of the British National Party (should it exist) to host events on campus and spew hatred of this or that group. I don't think that the University would allow a group that segregated its black and white attendees (blacks in the back) to rent its halls and rooms. And the same standards should apply to Muslim groups.

In many ways, I think Universities abet the most vocal and most radicalised. In one "diversity" leaflet I've seen from another London based universities, it states in bland and matter-of-fact language that Muslim women are under obligation to cover their hair. Not all Muslims scholars agree with this and certainly not all Muslim women agree with this. This would be a little like saying "Christians must not eat meat on Friday" or "married Jewish women must cover their hair." To be sure, some do believe such a thing, but by no means all. And blanket statements like that inculcate a belief that Muslim women who do not wear the hijab are not "real Muslims" and their views on Islam is not really worth listening to.

Instead of denying these findings, as the National Union of Students seem wont to do....

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, condemned the study. “This disgusting report is a reflection of the biases and prejudices of a right-wing think tank – not the views of Muslim students across Britain,” he said. “Only 632 Muslim students were asked vague and misleading questions, and their answers were wilfully misinterpreted.”

...Universities should take these findings as a warning and proactively seek to promote a civil discourse on campus and perhaps also help their students understand statistics and a valid sample size.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

the playground and the hospital incinerator

the hospital incinerator that looms over the playground was looking especially nice today in the evening light

Friday, August 01, 2008

It's in the blood

Following the tragic shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church many folk have posited reasons and rationales for the motives of a madman. (Talk radio, lack of mental health services, and so on...)

John Dolan, writing at Alternet, suggests that it's something in the blood. That maybe it's something about being the descendant of those brave pioneers, the Ulster settlers.

maybe, just maybe, heartland Americans aren't such wonderful people at all. What you see in these posts is the oldest, deepest and meanest strain in American culture: the Ulster America founded by violent sectarians who moved westward again and again, from Scotland to Northern Ireland and then to the southern United States, then again westward into the American continent, to find a place where they could hone their hair-trigger intolerance without fear of interference from warmer, more humorous people.

Reading that, some part of me wants to slash his fuckin' tires.

And while I can recognise some kernel of truth in his statement and even take some pride as being part of a culture that's the oldest, deepest and meanest, he destroys his own argument by implying that the Scots-Irish are somehow not warm or not humorous. Not funny? How can he say that? Has he not seen the Jeff Foxworthy "You know you're a redneck if..." sketch?


On a serious note, I've rarely met warmer, more side-splittingly funny people than those steeped in the Ulster tradition in America. Tennesseans, and in particular those Tennessee boys who keep their humor powder dry, coming out with those corking, cutting one-liners are absolutely without par in the funny stakes. The gals are hilarious, too - though men you may not know this - sometimes they're only at their best outside mixed company.


On a more serious note, what a bunch of racist hooey. Sadly, it's we humans who are savages.

I never found that the Unitarian Universalist approach appealed much to me, but their statements of purpose seem to me to be a noble attempt to overcome that savage side of human nature (from Wikipedia):

"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."
And I've no doubt that UUs in general, and the Knoxville congregants in particular (many of whom must be also Scots-Irish to some greater or lesser extent) would completely reject Dolan's flippant, easy aspersions.

No linky?

I'm name checked on Harry's Place (big British blog with a nice line in countering radical Islam from the Left), but no linky.

Cue a rare usage (first?) of emoticons on my blog.

:-) ... :-(

Update: :-)

Your kid has problems

Over at Seed Dispersal Mechanisms (no, it's not an agricultural blog, it's an agricultural metaphor), Furrow asks whether it's better to be the parent of the playground aggressor or the playground victim?

I don't know. Buddy has a nice line in car jacking during his weekly playgroup. He was in the habit of crawling up to the toddle cars and hanging onto the door of an occupied vehicle. He only wanted to play, but it was often distressing to the kiddie driver, sometimes to the point of tears (wusses) .

driver's license and registration please
Bad cop?

He's either grown out of it, or I've largely managed to break him of his early criminal bent. At any rate, the unwritten code of conduct at playgroup is pretty fierce. You better make your kid share, or else.

But that's fairly mild compared to what I saw recently at the playground.

A boy, maybe four, pushed a small girl (I'd guess 2 and a half) down the stair side of the slide. The attending dad couldn't see what happened, but he asked and I answered, truthfully, that the boy had pushed her down. (Is that tattling?) Mum-of-boy was mortified. She made him apologise and he was dragged off. I thought for good. But apparently it was just a chat and maybe some time out because he re-emerged and made a bee-line for Buddy.

I was pretty wary and stuck close. Extra close. His mother stuck close, too. She seemed pleased by his interest in Buddy and explained to me that he had a 4 month old brother at home. He tried to stop Buddy from playing with the heavy playground gate. And while that could have been interpreted as concern - Buddy does like to bang the gate open and shut in a potentially finger-smashing way - I didn't think it was. When his mother told him to stop, he drew his foot back and kicked Buddy in the leg. Hard.

Now Buddy's a tough old nut, and he didn't cry. But he was certainly perplexed. I knew his leg hurt, but I could tell his feelings were hurt, too. He couldn't understand why that boy had done that. Truth be told, neither could I.

Before I could remonstrate, the mother ran off. I mean she ran. She told her little delinquent that they were going home right then - but she actually left him behind. He followed, though, screaming and tantrum-ing.

I wanted to yell after her "Hey, where's the apology to my kid?" or "Hey, you better keep a close eye on that boy with your four-month-old, your kid has problems." But I didn't. She was too far away.

So, maybe - unless you're in deep denial - it's better to be the mom of the playground victim.

Is that bad kid still here?