Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cheap, Obvious, True:
How to be a Good Republican

About four years ago, I got onto the forwarding list of a right-winger who just worships the ground George Bush walks on. This is the Republican from your worst nightmares...who apes every talking point Rush or Fox can come up with. I'm glad I got on this list however, because receiving these emails gives me an insight into the dark side of America that I would never otherwise receive.

Because of these emails, I've learned that Hillary Clinton has insulted Gold Star mothers, that an Iraqi Sculptor melted down bronze statues of Saddam to celebrate the conquering American Hero's and that Obama is the Manchurian Candidate of Islamo-Fascists.

The best things about these right-smears is that they can be spread by the thousands AND it is very hard to squelch their messages because the originator remains safely anonymous and the forwarder bears no responsibility for the mis-truths he forwards.
(See the great article from The Nation on this one for more...it's a good read. Go to: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071112/hayes)

But every once a while, a great Liberal answer comes back through the either and I print the following email below:

To be a Republican Presidential Candidate you have to believe:

1. Jesus loves you and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

2. Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's Daddy made war on him, a good guy when Chaney did business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

3. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Viet Nam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

4. The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

5. A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multinational drug corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

6. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches, while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

7. If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

8. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our longtime allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

9. Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism. HMO's and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

10. Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

11. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

12. Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

13. The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

14. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

15. Supporting "Executive Privilege" for every Republican ever born, who will be born or who might be born (in perpetuity.)

16. What Bill Clinton did in the 1960's is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80's is irrelevant.

17. Support for hunters who shoot their friends and blame them for wearing orange vests similar to those worn by the quail.

If you don't send this to at least 10 other people, we're likely to be stuck with more Republicans in '08.

Friends don't let friends vote Republican.

Monday, December 24, 2007

God Save the Queen- Now on You Tube

These days, she reigns in a world facing the threat of terrorism and environmental ruin, a world on edge.

Yet just like her hair - still much the same style as when she first assumed the throne - the Queen has never wavered.

As historian John Grigg said, she has been "a bastion of stability in an age of social and moral flux".

From "God Save Our Aging Queen" in Australia's Herald Sun.

Queen Elizabeth recently, and quietly, became Britain's oldest living monarch a few days ago. (She will have to wait until 2016 to become the longest reigning monarch, that title is still held by Queen Victoria.)

And, keeping up with the spirit of the times, the AP reports that she has launched her own "You-Tube" page. This holiday will mark the first time that her Annual Christmas Message will be delivered via You-Tube, as well as by radio and Television.

The first televised Christmas Message is posted on You-Tube now...and, for those who value tradition, is a staid but enjoyable treat.

It is a deep seeded need in most of humanity to look to a sovereign in times of trouble- and I've often wondered if we, in America, may have made a mistake by doing away with such a position. The British model seems all but perfect- if we had had a solid head of state, would we have need to turn to a Reagan or set up a Bush in times of trouble? Would their roots have been able to scour such deep rents in the American Body Politic? We will never know, but it seems the British can thank their monarch for a great deal.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Carols by Candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall

Bobbi (assisted by Uncle Fred's wedding present) treated us to a wonderful Christmas gift on Sunday evening. The Mozart Festival Orchestra and Chorus presented "Carols by Candlelight"- a perfect mixture of 18th Century Classical Christmas Music and more traditional Christmas Carols.

We felt quite posh as we took our seats IN A BOX on one of the Grand Tiers...and throughly enjoyed the sprightly antics of Ian Clarke as he capered around the stage, leading the orchestra, told Christmas stories and spent the evening doing everything but standing still.

We are far away from friends and family this Christmas, but this was a great way to get into the seasonal mood!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Huckabee Split?

I opened my in-box this morning to find an interesting article from "The New Republic" entitled: "Smells Like Civil War" by
"The Huckabee surge," argues Dionne, "represents a break with what has been standard operating procedure within the GOP for more than a generation. Huckabee's evangelical Christian army in Iowa ignored the importuning of entrenched leaders of the religious right and decided to go with one of their own.

"Huckabee himself preaches a gospel of populism that rejects conservative orthodoxy on trade, the value of government and the beneficence of Wall Street."

The alliance between these disparate wings of the of the Republican story has been told many times, and is recounted quite well in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It is an alliance that has brought great benefits to the upper class in America. As Frank writes:

If you earn over $300,000 a year...raise a glass sometime to those indigent High Plains Republicans as you contemplate your good fortune: It is thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or troublesome labor unions, or meddling banking regulators. Thanks to the allegiance of these sons and daughters of toil, you have escaped what your affluent forefathers used to call "confiscatory" income tax levels. It is thanks to them that you were able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one and get that Segway with the special gold trim.

But according to the article in the New Republican, Huckabee is leading a group of rebellious primary voters who are ignoring their nominal religious leaders (who support the likes of Mitt Romney- a wealthy Mormon who seems to offer the more traditional Republican nod toward values while groveling before capital.)

The former Arkansas governor has exposed a fault line within the Republican coalition. The old religious right is dying because it subordinated the actual views of its followers to short-term political calculations. The white evangelical electorate is tired of taking orders from politicians who care more about protecting the wealthy than ending abortion, more about deregulation than family values.

Dionne's article goes on to point out that the cauldrons of Republican thought have already been bubbling with fears that Huckabee and Giuliani could split the G.O.P. from both ends. A new group, it has been argued by some, is emerging- some call them Sam's Club Republicans, others call them "pro-government conservatives". Dionne quotes a Pew Research Center report that describes these voters as "broadly religious and socially conservative, but they deviate from the party line in their backing for government involvement in a wide range of policy areas, such as government regulation and more generous assistance to the poor."

Huckabee, then is donning the mantle of heartland populism, a mantle which has been worn by Williams Jennings Bryan, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan - that tragic American garment which can combine an enlightened economic view of the world with a social vision of smallness, repression, and primitive religious fervor.

We can only hope that Huckabee does his job well enough to deprive the Republican plutocracy of support they do not deserve, but does not do it so well that he plunges us into a new dark age of religious intolerance and backwardness.

I wonder if this country will ever learn the secret of separating populism for provincialism.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fun At the Office OR Bad Bush, Bad.

I love those times when I get to combine business with pleasure. Each year, my firm produces a piece of audio holiday fun and ships it to our clients. Hey, it's less fattening than cookies. In the past, we've stayed away from anything even remotely political - instead producing some fun, but innocuous material.

I don't know what got into our owner and chief writer this year, maybe after seven Christmases of this Crap- he just rebelled against the old dictum of not mixing business with politics- and wrote the following piece of Holiday Revenge.

Enjoy the results as George W. Bush gets a call from "The Department of Naughty and Nice"...

Happy Holidays!

PS- If the clip won't play from this page, go to

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Joys of the season

One of the first things Bobbi did when we arrived in London was to find a magazine which listed the best places to buy Christmas trees. We've been waiting eagerly until the time came (we didn't want all the good trees to be gone, but we'd like our tree to last past New Years so that it will be still be here for Christmas when Steve and Kate arrive.)

Bobbi finished with exams last week, and today she judged that the day had finally arrived. So off we set to the Christmas Forest on Goldhawk Road which is about 12 blocks down the street.

Well, frankly, our eyes were a little bigger than my shoulders....we purchased an nine foot monster and hoisted it up over my shoulder. I made it about a block before having to set it down. I wasn't particularly worried, BUT I did reconcile myself to the fact that it was going to take about three hours to travel the next 11 blocks.

"Ken I hep youu wit dat?" I heard a soft Scottish accent ask from behind the tree.

"Oh, no, no. I can get it. No problem", I turned see a pleasant looking fellow looking at me like I was nuts.

He finally took "no" for an answer, and I went another block, well, half a block and set the evergreen bundle down again.

"Are ye sure ya dinna wan a hand wi dat?" he asked me again.

Oh for heaven sake, I thought. Why can't people just mind their own business, what does this fellow want? I thought. A tip, just to help, or a chance to scope out my house and rob it?
It's odd that we look for danger or trouble where there probably isn't any, but that just seems to be the way we are wired.

"No, No. Really, I'm fine."

"Well, I gotta frebaraogarchurlgle, you know frebaraogarchurlgle?"

Honestly, I had no idea what he was saying but I realized that this man had lost his bid to remain an island, so I said "Sure".

"Right, well I'll jest go fetch et."

"Well, only if you let me buy you a drink after." I said.

And he went off to fetch the frebaraogarchurlgle, whatever it was, and I found myself wondering again what he would want...money, or worse yet, a never ending conversation about God knows what. Crazy thoughts went through my head...maybe he'll want a damn invitation to Christmas dinner.

The Scot returned with the frebaraogarchurlgle, which turned out to be the very perfect thing: a two wheeled hand truck. Together, we hoisted the tree up on to truck and pushed it back across the remaining ten blocks to home.

We had a great conversation about New Year's in Edinburgh, and our helper marveled at the fact that most American's seemed to be so keen on Scotland. I speculated that this was probably because so many American's had Scottish roots. We talked about the tree in Trafalgar Square, donated each year by the Norwegian people as a gift of thanks for British help against the Nazis.
He expressed a gratitude that the Americans jumped in when they did and I expressed a debt of thanks that the British were able to keep the Germans at Bay long enough for us to get our heads screwed on straight and learn where our duty lay.

Together we navigated down through the Christmas Shoppers and finally arrived at our house. He helped us get the tree to our door.

"Will you come in for something hot," asked Bobbi.

"Oh no, but thanks anyway".

"Well, here, anyway, please," I said, "please, let me at least buy you a drink. We couldn't have got this tree home without your help."
"Yes," laughed Bobbi, "it's a lot bigger than I think we thought!"

"Well, it' certainly a great beautiful tree," he said.

I passed him a few coins. "Please," I said, "I really want to buy you a drink in return for your help."

He seemed pleased to hear the coins jingle into his hands (I really didn't want to offend him, but I also wanted to say thank you, and so I was glad.)

He started off down the walk and I called "Thanks" one more time. "Oh, ye're welcome." he said.
Somehow, I felt reluctant to let him go, feeling that, despite the money, there was something left undone.

And then I took the step I had been so afraid of at the start. "I'm Alex, by the way." He didn't quite hear me. "Wha?" "Alex," I said, "That's my name."

"Oh," he said,taking the hand I offered. "I'm John".

"Thank you John," I said, "Merry Christmas."

"And to you too." he said. He gave me a smile and turned off down the walk bushing the frebaraogarchurlgle back into traffic and out of sight.

People,and especially me, I thought, sure are funny. And then I went into the house where my wife was decorating our gigantic British Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stating the Obvious

My friend Kate, of Gourmet Knitting Disaster, sent me a link to an essay in Newsweek by Marc Gellman. Entitled "The Houston Gospels: Reconciling Faith And Reason", the essay makes the case that, despite efforts of the right wing to argue to the contrary, Religion alone is not a relevant argument for or against any particular policy. This is not to deny that religion should inspire a citizen to take an interest in, and search for,answers to, questions of public interest...but religion must represent a starting point, not an end.

Religion, Gellman argues, may pose the question (about abortion, war, welfare, etc.) but Reason and only Reason may provide an acceptable answer that is accessible to all Americans.

Gellman writes:

The solution for the problem of politics and faith is for religious people to come to the public debates with reasons that an atheist can understand. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to civil rights from the language of faith, but he spoke to America in the language of American values and unaided human reason. He believed that racial discrimination was a sin, but he condemned it as unjust and a violation of the Bill of Rights. This is why he won.

Of course, this is all very basic stuff- it should be something that budding young American citizens take away from High School civics class, along with their diploma.

However, in a nation where Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are defined as Presidential Front Runners- then just listening to a dose of normal common sense is as welcome, and perhaps as necessary as a flu shot.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Everything Old is New Again

I sometimes feel that I missed the very best days of the internet...back when it was a free for all for information and fun stuff...before it became just another venue for commerce. I became computer literate just at the time all that cool stuff was, well, not disappearing, because it's still there, but getting harder for the Average Joe like me to find under the clutter of optimized commercial sites.

Do a search for an old piece of music, for example, and you'll land on I-Tunes or Amazon, who are more than willing to take your dollar.

But today, I stumbled on a completely neat, wonderful site completely devoid of any practical value, but a lot of fun....Internet Archives.

My Grandfather used to entertain his children, Grandchildren, wife and extended family, by singing the song of Anne Boleyn- with "Her 'head tucked underneath her arm"- and asked me, since I was in London to find a copy of the recording. I had no luck in the stores, but a trip to the internet took me to the Internet Archives.

What a great site. Internet Archives is host to the famous Wayback Machine (an archive of web pages from (gosh) decades (can you believe - decades?) past- but I never knew it was crammed full of so much other neat stuff!

A group of several collections of material, all of it in the public domain is housed there...

Not only did I find an MP3 version of the old British Novelty Record, but I also found a recording from the early 1900s of "The Wreck of the Old 97" a song my dad used to play on his guitar to sing me to sleep as a child.

You want to hear FDR's fireside chats, and download them...there they are....right alongside all the bootleg concert tapes that the Grateful Dead always allowed in the public domain....

At any rate, a great trip if you into collecting virtual junk...have fun.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

'Tis the Season but The Food Shelves are Bare

The view from across the pond is interesting. There is a lot about America that, of course, needs fixing. At the same time, there is a lot about our society which, while there is miles of room for improvement, makes me think twice (for instance, a few weeks ago, there was an article about Brits pulling out their own teeth rather than trust the National Health Dentists...Health Care in the U.S. is going to require careful engineering as we try to fix it.)

But there are a few things which I find completely intolerable and an article which ran in Saturday's Washington Post is one of the ultimate cases in point:

Cupboards Are Bare at Food Banks

Drops in Donations and Farm Surplus Cause Area Charities to Run Short

Area food banks are experiencing a critical shortage of supplies as donations drop dramatically and as demand for free and discounted food continues to soar.

A combination of strong farm sales overseas, consolidation and tightening of supply chains by supermarkets, and a decline in Government assistance have created a perfect storm which has lead to the shortage of help for those who need it most.

Many of these families, according to sources quoted in the Post article, are the working poor...meaning that they have jobs and are doing their level best to keep their heads above water...but it's not working.

And, according to the Post, condiditions are getting worse:
At the same time, economic factors have conspired to force many more people toward the brink of hunger. Calls to the food bank's Hunger Lifeline are up about 37 percent from last year...

"Good, working people are having a harder time making ends meet," said Kerrie Wilson, executive director of Reston Interfaith. "So far, we've not had to turn folks away, but we have limited the number of times we'll help someone. . . . You do less for more."

It is important, of course, that we work hard to ensure that leadership in this country is changed, but at the same time, it's not a bad idea to think about taking a page from the Republican play book ( in one respect, at least, WE can practice what THEY preach ) charity begins at home- and a gift of money or food to the local food bank would be a great way to celebrate the season.

Okay, I'm climbing off my soapbox now, and, just to keep ME honest, next time you see me, don't forget to ask if I have practiced what I was preaching.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Family Security

As an American living in the United Kingdom, I can't help but be fascinated by this country's relationship with Islam. While we have a fairly large Islamic population in the United States, our nation is so vast that most of us do not often encounter our Islamic fellow citizens unless we live in certain cultural enclaves.

In Britain, however, the situation is much different. Here in these Islands, people live cheek by jowl, and contact is constant. There is another difference, as well. While the United States was attacked on September 11th by outsiders, the United Kingdom has suffered from attacks by Muslims who were born here, who were raised here and who chose to kill here.

Therefore, in the United States, we are still somewhat free to view Islamic Terror is an external threat. While here in the United Kingdom, this is a threat that came from within.

I've been thinking about these matters lately because the head of MI5 recently warned of the dangers posed by a growing number of radicalized youth, and a study reveled that Jihadist literature was being sold in some of the nation's leading Mosques.

Today, the story again intruded on my thoughts. This time because I received an email from a right-wing correspondent back home in the States.

The email piece was entitled: "Salute the Danish Flag - it's a Symbol of Western Freedom." Originally run on a website called, Family Security Matters, purports to tell the story of how liberal Denmark fell from grace by allowing Muslims to enter their country, and then hold it hostage.

Here is the opening:

[I]n 1978 ...[t]he Danish population embraced visitors, celebrated the exotic, went out of its way to protect each of its citizens. It was proud of its new brand of socialist liberalism - one in development since the conservatives had lost power in 1929 - a system where no worker had to struggle to survive, where one ultimately could count upon the state as in, perhaps, no other western nation at the time.

The rest of Europe saw the Scandinavians as free-thinking, progressive and infinitely generous in their welfare policies. Denmark boasted low crime rates, devotion to the environment, a superior educational system and a history of humanitarianism.

However, because this brave and advanced little nation allowed radical Muslims into the fold, all of this began to change. (By the way, did you notice that paean to the welfare state? How often do you hear that in the Right Wing Cannon!? "a system where no worker had to struggle to survive, where one ultimately could count upon the state as in, perhaps, no other western nation at the time"-- bet the ditoheads didn't read that very carefully the first time!)

In fact, according to the article, Danish "commitment to multiculturalism would come back to bite".

By the 1990's the growing urban Muslim population was obvious - and its unwillingness to integrate into Danish society was obvious. Years of immigrants had settled into Muslim-exclusive enclaves. As the Muslim leadership became more vocal about what they considered the decadence of Denmark’s liberal way of life, the Danes - once so welcoming - began to feel slighted. Many Danes had begun to see Islam as incompatible with their long-standing values: belief in personal liberty and free speech, in equality for women, in tolerance for other ethnic groups, and a deep pride in Danish heritage and history.

The New York Post in 2002 ran an article by Daniel Pipes and Lars Hedegaard, in which they forecasted accurately that the growing immigrant problem in Denmark would explode. In the article they reported:

· "Muslim immigrants…constitute 5 percent of the population but consume upwards of 40 percent of the welfare spending."

· "Muslims are only 4 percent of Denmark's 5.4 million people but make up a majority of the country's convicted rapists, an especially combustible issue given that practically all the female victims are non-Muslim. Similar, if lesser, disproportions are found in other crimes."

· "Over time, as Muslim immigrants increase in numbers, they wish less to mix with the indigenous population. A recent survey finds that only 5 percent of young Muslim immigrants would readily marry a Dane."

· "Forced marriages - promising a newborn daughter in Denmark to a male cousin in the home country, then compelling her to marry him, sometimes on pain of death - are one problem..."

· "Muslim leaders openly declare their goal of introducing Islamic law once Denmark's Muslim population grows large enough - a not-that-remote prospect. If present trends persist, one sociologist estimates, every third inhabitant of Denmark in 40 years will be Muslim."

Leaving aside the veracity of the Post as a news source for a moment, this article unintentionally exposes the paradox of our Western Delema. On the one hand, the author praises the multiculturalism of the Danes, noting their national heroism as they smuggled most of their Jewish population to safety in the face of Nazi aggression. On the other hand, she all but blames that same openness on the part of the Danes for allowing the Muslim stranger to enter into this citadel.

And she offers the whole thing up as a cautionary tale for us at home:

meanwhile, Americans clamor for stricter immigration policies, and demand an end to state welfare programs that allow many immigrants to live on the public dole. As we in America look at the enclaves of Muslims amongst us, and see those who enter our shores too easily, dare live on our taxes, yet refuse to embrace our culture, respect our traditions, participate in our legal system, obey our laws, speak our language, appreciate our history . . . we would do well to look to Denmark, and say a prayer for her future and for our own.

There IS a thorny problem for us here, because the danger is real, and we in the west, as evidenced by the threat, and the fact, of home grown terrorism MUST deal with the balance between acceptance and assimilation.

This site, however, does the discussion no good service. Instead of seeing this as a n intense problem of justice, this site suggests that we view the problem in simple racial terms. (If you don't understand why I might say this, look again at the picture on the site's banner- a fashion-model mother, white, holds a fair-haired Aryan boy up against the American Flag. If this is NOT a subliminal appeal to racism that, in it's pandering to the subconscious, would make Freud blush, I don't know what is.)

I must admit, however, that I am so baffled by this problem that I couldn't finish this blog entry when I originally wrote it. I fear for us if we can't find that balance- and yet I distrust both a right-wing too prone to fascist tactics (see Newt Gingrich's calls for the restriction of Free Speach) and a left wing too devoted to a fantastical view of a human nature unsoiled by anything other than Americanism.

For more about this fun little white-wing, oops, RIGHT-Wing, front group- go to Source Watch

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Turkey Time In London

Of course, there is no Thanksgiving Day in London. That is only for the Puritans who went to Massachusetts. The Puritans who stayed home had a civil war with their King and chopped his head off- but it turned out that, in the long run, nobody was very thankful, and so eventually they invited the King's son to come home and be King and everybody did their best to try and forget that the whole thing ever happened.

So, no Thanksgiving for the British...just a good early start on Christmas.

Still, as Patriotic Americans- hell, NEW ENGLANDERS at that, we had to do something. So Bobbi, god bless her, found a barbecue place called Bodeans.

There is nothing to replace a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner, surrounded by friends and family... and maybe I had to learn that. The BBQ Brits did a good job, all in all, but here's what I found out is absolutely indispensable in a Thanksgiving dinner:
  • The Turkey- it must come in hunks, not in wafer thin slices. Both light and dark meat MUST be available.

  • Cranberry Sauce- duh!

  • Pie- More than one kind!

  • Lots of Friends and/or family

  • and most importantly....


But it was fun to be out with Bobbi and we had a good time... in the meantime, both Heather and Kate at GKD and Russell at NYCStories have great Thanksgiving entries....Kate gets the prize for best photo...Russell gets the prize for best turkey platter.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Time to Read

The last few days, I've been coming down with nasty cold. The bright side is that it has kept me in bed, and allowed me to catch up on a lot of reading.

I'm not a big reader of fiction...not because I don't enjoy it but because there is so much history that I don't know, or don't know well enough (and when I've O.D.'d on history, then there are contemporary politics to try to keep track of)... but I was fortunate the other day to find a series of books by British Historical Novelist, Bernard Cornwell.

Alfred, a Saxon who ruled the Kingdom of Wessex (now southern England), is fighting for the life of the Island against the Danes who come across the sea in wave after wave to take the land from the Anglo-Saxons. It is against this background that Cornwell sets the story of Uthred, a young Saxon who was raised by Danes, but who fights for Alfred the Great, whom he both admires and despises.

It's been a fun book, and seems to be well researched. There are two keys, I think, to good historical fiction- one is that the author stays true to the spirit of the events- for many histro-phobic readers, this will, after all, be their first exposure to the events- the second is that, when the author changes history, that he acknowledges it somewhere in the book. Cornwell does both.

Not only is it a good story, in the sense that you always want to know what is going to happen next, but it also raises the curtain on a second conflict, that between Christianity and Paganism.

The books don't become overwhelming- they are, after all, adventure stories- but it is interesting to contrast the pragmatic Paganism of the Norsemen- fight, die with your sword in hand, go to Valhalla- with the often sickly and rickety examples of the Christian Saxons- we watch as time and time again, the forces of the Saxons choose the wrong course because they are following the advice of their Christian priests.

...and yet, it was Christianity that won out as a belief system...makes you wonder what social forces where at work - what was it about Chritianity that, in the end, triumphed over paganism?
I don't think we'll get any answers from Cornwell, he's just out to tell a ripping good yarn...but it does raise the question.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Terror in the UK: More Alarming News

A few days ago, the story broke in the British Press that radical Islamic tracts were being sold in 25% of the nation's mosques, including some categorized by HM Government as "mainstream". The literature called for the oppression of women, the killing of apostates and jihad against all unbelievers.

When we stop to consider that these are being directed, not toward the inhabitants of some far away land, but to the children of British Citizens right here in the islands, we might be pardoned for being more alarmed than we might have been if these tracts were found in, say, Pakistan.

Today, more bad news. According to the Times, John Evans, director of MI5, announced that:

“Terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country.

“They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism.”

In an address to the Society of Editors in Manchester, he said: “This year, we have seen individuals as young as 15 and 16 implicated in terrorist-related activity.”

According to Evans, there is a "steady stream" of young BRITISH recruits to Al Qaida's efforts to bring violence and death to the West.

These reports indicate two important facts:

  • 1) That there IS a "war on terror" to be fought. (Those on the fringes of the politically correct left will doubt this, but they do so at their peril.)

  • 2) That the war on Terror, as it is currently being fought, is not a success.

If George W. Bush had gone after Bin Ladin and choked him in his lair when he had the chance, these young terrorists would have no rallying point around which to gather, and no force to exploit, and to coordinate their hatred and anger.

But of course, that is what begs the major question. WHAT is BREEDING this hate and anger in the first place. How is it that here, in the heart of the Western World, young people are being being bred who want to use flames and blood to bring us back to the 9th Century?

Make no mistake, there is a war going on...a struggle between the values of the Western Enlightenment and the forces of religious fundamentalism, prejudice, superstition and darkness.

We see these forces at work in the United States as we watch our Democracy fall prey to the machinations of the evangelical right wing.

We see these forces at work abroad in the world most obviously in the rising tide of Islamic Fundamentalism.

How then, is Western Civilization to triumph? By what combination of reason, justice (to ALL of our people- including the fundamentalists amongst us) and, yes, on occasion, shear force, are we to ensure that the world continues to move forward, and not fall back into the dark ages.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Signs of the Times: Climate Change, the Military, and Civilization

Readers know that, unless you are gazing upon my blog from the FAR right fringe, rip-and-read is not a home for wild-eyed lefty ideas. Unless you are a snake handling evangelical republican stock broker, I'm not all THAT Liberal...not much further left than, say, Harry Truman or Bill Clinton.

But as I sat here over my British Breakfast this morning, two news stories from home caught my eye and I couldn't let them pass without notice.

Both come from the Associated Press.

In the small town of Orme, Tennessee, the water has gone. According to an AP story by Greg Bluestein,this tiny (pop. 145) municipality is importing water from nearby Alabama by fire truck. Residents have to make the most of their mere three hours of running water each day.

Between 6 and 9 every evening, the town scurries. Residents rush home from their jobs at the carpet factories outside town to turn on washing machines. Mothers start cooking supper. Fathers fill up water jugs. Kids line up to take showers.

"You never get used to it," says Cheryl Evans, a 55-year-old who has lived in town all her life. "When you're used to having water and you ain't got it, it's strange. I can't tell you how many times I've turned on the faucet before remembering the water's been cut."

In a related article, as Southern States are being squeezed by the drought tensions over the water supply are beginning to mount. Orme's mayor is quoted by the AP as saying: ""I feel for the folks in Atlanta. We can survive. We're 145 people. You've got 4.5 million people down there. What are they going to do? It's a scary thought."

The Tennessee mayor is not the only alarmist, it seems. In fact, in a separate article, the AP reports the conclusions of a recent report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security.

According to the article, climate change:

Left unchecked, "the collapse and chaos associated with extreme climate change futures would destabilize virtually every aspect of modern life," said the report, comparing the potential outcome with the Cold War doomsday scenarios of a nuclear holocaust.

The report, according to the article by Arthur Max, postulates that a shift in the world's climate will give rise to bitter and bloody conflicts for water resorces, a scrabble for land, as sea levels rise, increased immigration to the United States (and conservatives, take note, these immigrants will NOT be coming because we offer political freedom- but because they want our water and our dry land- it's your worst xenophobic nightmare come to life), and a proliferation of new diseases born of malnutrition, and nasty diseases able to expand their range...imagine, the return of malaria to Pennsylvania...won't that be fun?

Clearly, it is time (past time, actually) for us to start planning for this change. We will need to reduce our dependence of nonrenewable energy (which would have the extra benefit of depriving the middle east of the power it now holds over us) and putting systems of transportation, distribution, and conservation in place that will help us cope, and compete in this new, and unpleasant world.

Again, please take note, I don't make this argument out of some fuzzy "We are the World" bunny-hugging perspective. Personally, I want the United States to remain number 1. I don't want to see us fall far behind. I bear the rest of the world no ill will, but at the same time, I've no desire to live in a world where the culture of Saudi Arabia, China, or Russia is calling the shots. I'm very happy, overall, living in a world which is run according to the principals of the Western Enlightenment. The fact that we are able to indulge in this luxury is due only to the fact that we are at the top of the economic heap. Thus, I'd like to see us stay there.

Still, I have no doubt that, if this report becomes news at all, rather than seeing as a call to Arms to save the American way of life by making needed changes, the Rush Limbaugh crowd will develop a counter argument which enables their voters to discount it and go back to sleep.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is the Melting Pot Broken?

The cultural melting pot is, of course, an American idea...but it is not without relevance to the British situation. As I've pointed out, one of the most striking things about London, to me, is the the Amazing multi-cultural patchwork that makes up this city- so much so that it seems that the one language not heard very often is English.

That is why the headlines in this morning's Times were so unsettling:

Lessons in hate found at leading mosques

Books calling for the beheading of lapsed Muslims, ordering women to remain indoors and forbidding interfaith marriage are being sold inside some of Britain’s leading mosques, according to research seen by The Times...
Extremist literature, including passages supporting the stoning of adulterers and waging violent jihad, was also found on sale at many other mosques regarded as mainstream institutions.

One of the researchers pointed out that while most books didn't make explicit calls for violence, they served to foster "a climate of intolerance and contempt for nonMuslims that could be exploited by violent jihadists".

In a country which has suffered at the hands of British-Born jihadists, most notably in the London Tube Bombings of July 7, 2005 in which 52 innocent people were slaughtered while commuting across the city, this is a serious issue.

The fact that such killers have been bred here in the very heart of Western Civilization, and the evidence that this is not some subterranean phenomenon but rather something much closer to the mainstream of the culture, is something which must be discussed, diagnosed and reversed- this is important, not only to the United Kingdom, but also to us at home.

My worry is that, because of the demands of political correctness on the left and the vested interests of the Oil aristocracy on the right (not to mention a basic level of sheer incompetence on the part of the current American administration) this issue will remain unexamined and undiscussed except by those least qualified to do so.

London Journey: Interlude

October 27, 2007 Notes On Everyday Life

While London is an exciting city, it is also, for the time being, home to Bobbi, Izzy and me…and so, alongside the historical, the international, and the artistic beauties, we exist, going through the mundane chores and routines that compose daily life.

We take the tube around the city. While many complain that this system is antiquated, out of date, expensive and inconvenient…I must say that, coming from a land where we have bungled public transportation (everywhere, perhaps, but Boston and New York), the existence of the tube trains is something we are quite thankful for.
While we love British life, and try to steer clear of too much American culture, there are a few imports which are QUITE welcome…

...yes, that IS a Krispy Kream Donut Shop!

When we are not visiting some historical site, or medical shop of horrors, we often find fun simply walking the streets.

These, of course, are full of their own attractions…

which, if we ARE in a hurry, can prove damned obtrusive! At least, to some of us.

Last weekend, we visited that great British Institution….Harrod’s Department store.

Outside of Harrods you will find another great institution….the animal rights protestors. Good thing I already HAVE a nice furry Russian Hat.

Many people have inquired about Izzy the cat- wondering how she has settled in and if she misses her fellow felines: Buffy and Fluffy. The answer is that she is settling in just fine, thank you very much, and no, she doesn’t much give a damn that there are no other cats here. In fact, I think she is quite happy to be an only cat again. She has a big bathtub to sit in (empty, of course) and windows to look out…there are other cats in the neighborhood, to whom Izzy directs a transatlantic sneer.

The other question we are often asked by friends and relatives at home in the States is: Did you ever solve your coffee problem? Readers of this blog will note that in the land that gave us Jersey cows- cream for coffee is not to be had anywhere. Much MORE unfortunately, the most common way to drink coffee here is to prepare a cup of instant.

It is possible, of course, to get coffee drinks that are quite good- latt├ęs, espressos, etc…but a real, honest to god cup of coffee is a rare find. The British call this “filter coffee” and they make it very badly.

So…what’s a couple o Yanks’ to do?

We tried instant- too sour.

We tried going out for lattes- too expensive.

So finally we came upon the perfect solution…..

Well, really, it was the ONLY thing to do….

And THAT, my friends, is how Britannia continues, despite her somewhat reduced circumstances, to have her way with the world...because she offers freedom and choice, and yet does so in such a fashion that it becomes inevitable that you shall come 'round to her way of thinking in the end.


Monday, October 29, 2007

London Journey: Part Sixteen

October 14, 2007 Chelsea & The Old Brompton Cemetery

Halloween is approaching, but not really so that you would notice it. Certain pubs are advertising “fancy dress balls” on the night. The Tower of London is offering after dark ghost tours, and certain party shops are crammed with decorations. I think I’ve passed one house with a pumpkin (although they are for sale in the supermarkets.)

I don’t really know what position Halloween occupies in the British Isles, or how it is celebrated in the United Kingdom. I have to say that it feels very much like an American import…but I could be wrong.

Bobbi and I discovered the Old Brompton Cemetery almost by chance while we were walking from our flat to the Chelsea Embankment

This cemetery is one of the great Victorian burial grounds which ornament the outskirts of the metropolis. The most famous of all, of course, is Highgate Cemetery, setting for certain scenes in Dracula, and known in the 1970s for the scandal of the Highgate Vampire—Russell of NYCity Stories took in Highgate, and I suggest a visit to his blog if you want to learn more about this place.

Brompton is a less infamous, but is still a massive, and (forgive the pun) hauntingly beautiful cemetery.

I have to say, however, that for all the talking in the guide books about London’s claim to being “the most haunted city in the world”- the overwhelming feeling in Brompton is not one of supernatural menace, despite the incredibly gothic decorations of the mausoleums, crypts and tombstones, but rather one of extreme peace.

The cemetery is filled with wandering paths, and it is easy to stroll up and down the rows of monuments for hours. (An interesting fact, which I learned from Wikipedia, is that Beatrix Potter lived near Brompton, and that many of the names of her characters- Nutkin, McGregor, etc. all originated on the tombstones she saw here.)

Because I was so longing for the chill of Halloween, I tried my damnedest to make the place feel creepy, but I just couldn’t do it. The scenery was appropriate....

and the soot-black crows posed very obligingly on the tombstones….

but despite everyone’s best efforts, I could not summon up a single goose pimple here-

I never felt like anyone was watching me from beyond,

nor felt the icy hands of death clutching at my coat…

….maybe it was the pigeons.

…or the squirrels?

We continued our walk down to Chelsea. I was very anxious to see this part of town. The Movie A Man for All Seasons (the version with Paul Scoffield and Orson Wells, NOT the modern remake with Charlton Hesston) has always been near the very top of my list of favorites.

The open credits of the film run over some beautiful photography, representing the river Thames as it winds through rural farms, fields, and marshlands toward Sir Thomas Moore’s home in Chelsea. The river landscape is dominated by water rushes, and aquatic birds...just as it must have been in the 1500s, during the reign of Henry VIII.

Of course, Chelsea is now a part of the greater metropolis of London, and without street signs, it would be very hard for a stranger to know when he had entered the borough. Still, I was quite keen to see what had become of Thomas Moore’s river bank, and when I learned that there was a stature of him near the sight of his home, I knew I had to go down and see it..

Chelsea is an amazing place, and is chock full of the little blue circles that indicate buildings of historical significance. Long after Moore’s time, the borough became a mecca for artists and writers.

A stature of James Whistler (looking a little less grim than his Mother) gazes out over the Thames.

And houseboats moored at the bank bespeak of an enchanting way of life

Double Decker’s cross the Battersea Bridge- drawing the eye of the observer to the fact that the River’s face is far different that the one Moore knew.

Or perhaps not….after all, in some sense, he still here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

London Journey: Part Fifteen

October 10, 2007 The London Zoo & Regent’s Park

Walking through Regent’s Park, it is easy to see where Disney must have gotten ideas for the landscaping around Cinderella’s Castle; for the Magic Kingdom is, in many places, simply an idealized version of the United Kingdom (just as in other places, it is an idealized version of the Good Ole U.S.of A.)

Narrow streets lined with wrought iron fences climb over gently arching bridges which span narrow streams. Willows and other trees lean into the scene, and small lakes with tiny islands lay ready to be explored.

Regent’s Park is named, if I remember correctly, for the son of King George the Third. In 1810, the Prince of Wales was created Prince Regent upon the occasion of his father’s decent into madness. The extravagant prince spent great sums of money on art and architecture- it drove the politicians of the day insane, but London of today has a lot to thank him for.

While this park is fit for a prince, and in places seems incredibly formal to American eyes, it is worth noting that, in his London: A Short History, A.N. Wilson writes:
The London parks in the nineteenth century reflected the dawnings of democracy. As more and more people crowded into the metropolis, they felt ever more keenly the need for the “lungs” provided by the parks. As well as places to stroll, or hear music, the London Parks become the people’s gardens.

Perhaps that is part of, maybe the greatest part of, the unconscious genius of England…that, unlike other nations, where beauty fit for princes was torn from royal grasp by violent and bloody revolutions, leaving great rifts in the fabric of history and society, the slow and stately progression English history allowed these parks to become the shared natural property of both the people AND their monarchs…their joint birthright, rather than the spoils of war.

It is in the northeast corner of Regent’s Park that one finds the London Zoo. Founded originally by the London Zoological Society in the early 1800s, this zoo was one of the first in the world whose mission was the study of animal life, rather than the mere exhibition of it. As time has gone on, the zoo has modified its mission from one of study to one of study and conservation, and it has continually renewed itself.

One of the first areas we entered was the Reptile House. And yes, it does look familiar: this is where young Harry Potter first learned he could talk to snakes, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (better known here by it’s original British title: the Philosopher’s Stone). Inside the house is a picture of young Daniel Radcliff and the Python to commemorate the fact.

In Harry Potter, both Dudley and Uncle Vernon bang on the glass in a vain attempt to make the Giant Python move…but Bobbi and I had no such problems….the very first specimen we came upon was the deadly black mamba. (He’s green, actually, but the inside of his mouth is, apparently, as black as the death he brings.)

This fellow was quite the most active snake I’ve ever seen in captivity, and while we watched him, he watched us, slithering over all the branches of the tree in his cage and testing the glass.

Bobbi told me that, in Africa, one village was particularly welcoming of the mosquito spray used by members of her school. Not only did it drive of disease carrying insects, but it also made the black mamba that lived in the rafters of one of the huts move on, too. It is difficult not to ascribe evil intent to poisonous snakes…and I would have been very glad to see the back of this fellow myself!

The rest of the reptile house was fun, full of snakes of every sort, lizards, frogs, turtles, tortoises, and toads, but I have to admit that I was a LITTLE insulted by the fact that the Zoological authorities decided to decorate the Texas Sidewinder’s cage with sand, tumble weeds, barbed-wire, and litter: specifically an empty bottle of bud and a pack of Marlboro’s!

The enclosures at the London zoo are quite large….and most of the animals have much room in which to roam. But one of the neatest things about the London Zoo is the fact that, in many instances, you are allowed to enter the enclosures WITH the animals.

Many of the exhibits allow visitors to enter large enclosures where birds, butterflies or monkeys roam freely above and around you. The monkey’s, I thought, were particularly fun….it’s difficult to tell from the pictures, but this is not trick photography, we really are standing as close to the little guys as it looks.

Perhaps there are zoos in the United States which also allow this approach, but it is difficult for me to imagine in working in our litigious society. The minute some fat little brat from New Jersey stuck his finger in a monkey’s eye and got bit for his trouble…the parents would hire an army of lawyers to sue the zoo for allowing their little monster to get too close to the animals.

The trouble is not all on one side either, Bobbi and I watched gleefully as the little tamarin pictured at right , left his enclosure and waited near the edge of the airlock separating the animals from the outside world. He watched and waited very carefully to judge the entrance time of the next human visitors. At the last minute before making good his escape, however, he was spotted by a keeper who shuuushed him back into his tree.

The aviary is another place where one can get very close to the exhibit. These peacocks allowed us to get very close before they exploded into flight, which scared everybody equally!

The Lion’s cages have been re-done since the zoo’s Victorian Heyday. This is very good for the Lions, but there is still a nod to the old architecture of the place in the fact that the kept the old carved signs. The place which was, to Bobbi and I, the most reminiscent of the nineteenth century was the giraffe stables with their beautifully arched giraffe-sized stable doors and hardwood floors.

The other animals were fun to see, the pig was particularly pleasant.

The penguins were popular (particularly with squealing teenage girls, so we didn’t hang around long).

and the Dung Beatles were delightful (at least my little Dr. Awful-tologyst enjoyed them!)

The question of zoos is one that can be hotly debated. Are they jail cells, confining animals which should be allowed free reign in their natural kingdoms?

Or do they, instead, play an important role in the conservation of species which are otherwise under grave threat from extinction?

The answer is probably a bit of both. But I think that, until we all realize the danger in the clouds which hover over the natural world, zoos (while they may resemble jails) play a vital role in bringing people closer to the animal kingdom…it is perhaps in this way, that we, the people, will learn how to control the most dangerous animal of all….