Category Archives: England

Tony thinks we’ll be OK. Let’s hope he’s right, as usual

Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Our pal Tony has always been one to feel our pain.

Bryan calls my attention to the fact that while my main man Tony Blair is very concerned about the state of liberal democracy in Europe, he thinks his American friends will weather the Trump crisis:

WASHINGTON — Former British prime minister Tony Blair warns that political upheaval from Great Britain’s Brexit vote in June to the collapse of the Italian government on Sunday signals the most dangerous time for Western democracies in decades….

It has been a year of unexpected victories by populist and nationalistic forces that are challenging the establishment: passage of the referendum pulling Britain from the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States, defeat of a measure in Italy that prompted the prime minister to announce his resignation.

And in the Austrian election Sunday, the candidate representing the party founded by former Nazis lost — but after commanding 46% of the vote….

“I’m less worried about America than I am about Europe; I’ll be very frank with you,” he said. “America is such a strong country and you’ve got so many checks-and-balances and you’ve got such resilience in your economy and so on; you guys will do fine, I’m sure. In Europe, we have systems that are at a point of fragility that troubles me.”…

Tony’s almost always right. Here’s hoping he is this time. Although for once, I doubt him. Rome thought it was big enough and strong enough and had checks and balances, too…

Just in time, a comforting message from Her Majesty

Since Friday night, my wife and I have been semi-bingeing (I think we’ve seen five episodes so far) on “The Crown,” the new series from Netflix.

So it seems a delightful coincidence that Samuel Tenenbaum shares the following important message with me via email.royal_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_kingdom-svg

I find it comforting, a warm embrace from our Mother Country, just when we were thoroughly traumatized and needed one.

(Digression: As you know, I’ve been listening to the music from “Hamilton” lately, and have enjoyed the songs sung by “King George” in the play… although I think there’s a good bit of Rebel propaganda in that version. I prefer the clip above from HBO’s “John Adams,” which is pretty much word-for-word accurate, according to David McCullough’s biography. You can easily see that while His Majesty didn’t want us to go, he was quite willing to be a sport about it, after the fact.)

Anyway, here’s the message. It has apparently been passed around on the Web so much that no one knows who originated it. So, you know, it could actually be from Elizabeth Windsor:

A MESSAGE FROM THE QUEEN

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In light of your failure to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy).
Your new Prime Minister, Theresa May, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.
Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.
A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
———————–
1. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘colour,’ ‘favour,’ ‘labour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘-ize’ will be replaced by the suffix ‘-ise.’
Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up ‘vocabulary’).
————————
2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ”like’ and ‘you know’ is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter ‘u” and the elimination of ‘-ize.’
——————-
3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
—————–
4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can’t sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you’re not ready to shoot grouse.
———————-
5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
———————-
6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
——————–
7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
——————-
8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup, but with vinegar.
——————-
9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable, as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth – see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
———————
10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialect in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.
———————
11. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).
———————
12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
——————–
13.. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.
—————–
14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
—————
15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.
God Save the Queen!
PS: Only share this with friends who have a good sense of humour (NOT humor)!

Personally, I can go along with all of the conditions except 3, 6 and 12. If Her Majesty insists on those points, I’m afraid we’ll have to keep muddling on without her….

Maybe it takes a Brit to get us to face ourselves

635890934224265787884431994_new-harry-potter-story-halloween

Apparently, all Hogwarts is worried that He Who Must Not Be Named could occupy the most powerful position in the Muggle world.

A friend brought this Tweet out of Hogwarts to my attention:

Yeah, I know: She can’t even vote here. But the Brits are our best friends in the world, and sometimes you need your friends to tell you to take a good look at yourself.

As for those who think she should butt out, she has this good answer:

Folks, this isn’t just about this country; this is about the kind of world we will all live in in the future. And everybody has a stake in it. Even in Hogwarts, the possibility that He Who Must Not Be Named could be elected to the most powerful position in Muggle world is a cause of great concern. (And you’ll notice, she did not name him.)…

Brits are at their most creative when describing bad tea

Arthur Dent, yearning for a true cuppa...

Arthur Dent, yearning for a true cuppa…

This is something that I just realized.

All who have read Douglas Adams are familiar with this gem:

After a fairly shaky start to the day, Arthur’s mind was beginning to reassemble itself from the shell-shocked fragments the previous day had left him with.

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea….

That one never fails to delight.

But recently, rereading Patrick O’Brian’s The Fortune of War, I was struck by the height of creativity to which he rose in describing Stephen Maturin’s suffering upon the occasion of his being served tea by Americans:

tea 1tea 2

… which, while drier, I found almost as delightful as Adams’ characterization.

Apparently, there is something in the experience of drinking bad tea that kicks the brains of British writers into a higher gear….

 

Right! What’s all this, then…? What are you on about?

Our regular contributor Jeff Mobley raised this question today on Twitter:

What followed was a clip showing the end of David Cameron’s presser when he announced he’d be leaving as P.M. After which he walks into the house humming to himself.

I could only answer that I wasn’t sure, but what I truly loved was that perfectly British, clipped “Right!” at the very end… Like that’s that, then! Stiff upper lip, what?  Stay calm and carry on…

back of Cameron

Having voted to exit, Brits now wonder, ‘What is the E.U.?’

Forgive me for using your signature line, Dave Barry, but I am not making this up.

Since all those awful headlines about Brexit disturbed me so much, I was wondering whether the full impact was hitting some “Leave” voters and making them have second thoughts.

Well, yes. The Washington Post had this quote today:

“Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just — the reality did actually hit me,” one woman told the news channel ITV News. “If I’d had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.”

So it appears some Brits who voted on this perhaps didn’t consider what they were doing carefully enough beforehand.

Actually, it’s much, much worse than that.

Today, faced with all the madness in the wake of the vote, here were the most popular Google searches in Britain:

You know, the sort of search you might expect a voter to have started with months ago, if he or she intended to vote yesterday. Followed up by a whole lot of other questions.

Seriously. They did not have an effing clue.

I mean, here I was, feeling bad that I didn’t focus enough on the referendum to have fully made my mind up before yesterday, and yet I — a Yank who had no say in the matter — had been far more conscientious about the issue than these twits who got to vote on it.

Of course, the feckless Brits are not alone. Wonder how people in this country could vote for someone as clueness and ridiculous as Donald Trump? It’s because of stuff like this…

Why do Brexit fans wave Union Jack in celebration, when they just voted to do away with it?

Farage

I keep seeing images of Nigel Farage and other fans of Brexit celebrating their win by waving the Union Jack.

Which is really ironic, and seems to indicate a lack of thinking things through on their part. Which, under the circumstances, isn’t terribly surprising.

Already, Scotland — which voted strongly to remain in the E.U. — is girding itself for another vote for independence, and this time it seems likely that they’ll succeed in seceding.

As I Tweeted in the midst of it all last night:

And that, of course, would mean the end of the Union Jack. Right? I mean, how could you keep the St. Andrew’s Cross after that?

Flag of England

Flag of England

For those who haven’t paid attention the last few centuries, the Union Jack represents the union of England and Scotland, hence the combination of the St. George’s and St. Andrew’s crosses.

True, I’m no expert on heraldry or anything. Maybe an independent Scotland would still be part of the Queen’s realm, and she could still fly the Union flag when she’s in residence at her palace.

But still… that’s a rather empty sort of union these days, isn’t it?

Here’s the flag they should be waving, since this is what they voted for. Not quite as satisfying to look at, is it?

Union Jack

Forboding headlines from our Mother Country

I went to bed last night fairly certain that Britain would soon be out of the E.U., after a couple of hours of being buffeted back and forth by SkyNews — Newcastle says leave, Liverpool says stay, Edinburgh stay, Manchester stay, Birmingham leave — and watching the numbers creep, like a tide going out, from slightly in favor of remain to increasingly for leave.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for the barrage of dismal tidings when I first looked at my phone this morning:

Brexit 1

Merkel

brexit 3

Brexit 2

And then, a bit later:

stocks

What a barrage. And as if that weren’t enough, in case we were still unsure this was bad news, we had Donald Trump assuring us that Brexit was “a great thing.”

I started imagining what the map of Britain would look like in the future. England and Wales and maybe, way off to the upper left, Northern Ireland…

I found myself almost immediately wondering how much worse it could get. We know Boris Johnson is poised to take Cameron’s place. But… what if the Tories lose control, and there’s an election that puts that leftist lunatic Jeremy Corbyn in No. 10?

A heads-up: Collapse of western civilization imminent, says this one bloke

The Brexit rhetoric just heated up a notch. From The Guardian:

David Cameron and his Remain colleagues have repeatedly been accused of scaremongering. Recession, rising unemployment, rising prices, rising interest rates, falling house prices, further rise of international conflict (although not necessarily “world war three”, which was Boris Johnson’s parody) – there seems to be no end to the list of negative consequences from Brexit that Cameron has been warning people about.

But Donald Tusk, president of the European council, has gone much further. If Britain leaves the EU, that could eventually end up with the downfall of Western civilisation, he says.

He made the comment in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. Some extracts were released yesterday, but the full article became available today.

Reuters has written it up as a story. Here’s the key quote from Tusk.

Why is it so dangerous? Because no one can foresee what the long-term consequences would be. As a historian I fear that Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also of western political civilization in its entirety.

I must confess that unlike that Polish cove (and yes, I realize my grasp of British slang is a bit outdated), I have not yet made up my mind — even though it’s a huge issue involving a country I love.

Donald Tusk

That Polish cove, Donald Tusk

On the one hand, I don’t like people on the continent telling the British people how to live — Bonaparte tried that, until Nelson and Wellington sorted him out. Emotionally, I dislike anything that might make Britain even marginally less British. Tell them, Professor.

On the other, we have establishment figures (and y’all know how I love me some Establishment) from President Obama to PM Cameron, coming out against it — although I found our president’s threat that Britain would go to the back of the queue on trade deals unconvincing. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, they say the same, on collective security grounds.

But I’m still unsure which side to root for. You?

By comparison, Bernie is practically a moderate

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn By Garry Knight - https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/26392896430/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48525044

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn By Garry Knight – https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/26392896430/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48525044

Writing about George Will’s column about Paul Ryan and Donald Trump earlier this week reminded me of a recent piece he did while in England writing about Brexit. The column I have in mind consisted mostly of marveling at what a total flake Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party, is.

An excerpt:

That year, Corbyn was elected to the House of Commons. He spent his next 32 years opposing the monarchy; writing columns for a communist newspaper; expressing admiration for Hugo Chávez, whose socialism propelled Venezuela toward today’s chaos; proposing that taxpayers should be permitted to opt out of paying for Britain’s army; advocating that Britain leave NATO and unilaterally scrap its nuclear deterrent; blaming NATO, meaning the United States, for Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine; calling the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”; appearing with and funding Holocaust deniers and other anti-Semites; criticizing China’s Communist regime for deviationism in accepting some free markets; demanding that Tony Blair, the only Labour leader since 1976 to win a general election (three of them), be tried as a war criminal (for supporting the Iraq War); praising Iraqi insurgents killing Americans; and calling the killing of Osama bin Laden a “tragedy.” Along the way, Corbyn got divorced because his wife insisted on sending their eldest son to a selective school whose admissions policy recognized merit.

Last September, in a Labour Party process in which an intense fraction of 1 percent of the British electorate participated — a cohort intensely interested in things other than winning the next election — Corbyn was elected party leader with 59.5 percent of the vote in a four-way contest. He promptly named as shadow chancellor of the exchequer a former union official who lists in “Who’s Who” his hobby as “fomenting the overthrow of capitalism,” who says he was joking when he said that if he could relive the 1980s he would have assassinated Thatcher but who was serious when he praised IRA terrorist bombers. Corbyn’s shadow farming minister, a vegan, says, “Meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it.” Corbyn, appearing with unmatched jacket and trousers and with his tie loosened at a St. Paul’s Cathedral service commemorating the Royal Air Force’s heroism in the Battle of Britain, refused to sing the national anthem.

Wow. Practically makes Bernie Sanders look like a moderate member of the Establishment — and a natty dresser to boot.

Actually, Will saw more of a comparison to Trump, as noted in his lede:

Misery loves company, so refugees from America’s Republican Party should understand that theirs is not the only party that has chosen a leader who confirms caricatures of it while repudiating its purposes.Jeremy Corbyn, the silliest leader in the British Labour Party’s 116-year history, might kill satire as well as whatever remains of socialism….

But what he writes about Corbyn highlights how far into extremism Labour has fallen since my man Tony Blair’s day.

Which brings me to an editorial today in The Wall Street Journal, “The Clinton Restoration.” The editors stress how far away from her husband’s and Blair’s Third Way politics Hillary Clinton has moved.

Some of that is true, and I blame Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and their admirers in the party. But aside from all the Identity Politics stuff (it’s been less than two days, and I’m already tired of hearing how “historic” her nomination is), I still think Hillary’s heart is more centrist than that — and she can be downright hawkish when it comes to national and collective security.

The WSJ editors sort of acknowledge that when they grudgingly grant that “We have some hope that she would come around to support the Pacific trade deal.” I hope so, too; and if they think it’s possible, I’m even more encouraged.

This is going to be a tough few months for that editorial board. To their minds, Hillary Clinton presents such a huge, inviting target. And yet they know what a disaster Donald Trump is, and would be…

What has government ever done for us?

The New York Times decided to have a bit of fun with the upcoming Brexit vote. Noting that a lot of Britons can be heard saying, “What has Europe ever done for us?,” the NYT’s editors harked back to the classic Monty Python bit in which a group of first-century Palestinian revolutionaries indignantly ask the same about the Romans.

Only to come up with a LONG list of examples, causing their leader, played by John Cleese, to rephrase his question:

But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the freshwater system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Good stuff.

But of course, whenever I see the clip, I hear the voices of all the people who insist that government is the problem, not the solution.

Unfortunately, after years of being governed by folks like that — or at least, folks who walk in fear of the Grover Norquists of the world — many of the blessings of a civilized government are falling apart. Thereby putting us in a situation in which government actually is doing less of what it should do for us, or at least doing it less well. Which convinces more people that government is no damn’ good, which causes more such people to be elected, and so forth…

Anyway, that’s sort of what my friends over at The State are on about with their new series, “How SC’s leaders have failed South Carolinians.”

And they have failed us. Because if our elected officials can’t manage to keep the basic functions of government up and running properly, what indeed have the Romans ever done for us?

IMG_1089

Is Google Maps cool, or what?

screen

Any of y’all using Windows 10? I am, on both of my laptops, and it’s working fairly well for me.

I have one small complaint — the lockscreen offers these wonderful photographs, and I enjoy looking at them and all, but I want to know more. What am I looking at? Where and how was it taken? And so forth…Ballentine - Warthen Ad

Well, this afternoon, I outfoxed it. The lockscreen gave me the image above, and I knew that was London by the glimpse of the Tower Bridge. So I decided to find it on Google Maps, using the Streetview feature.

And it worked! Even though that’s not technically a street, but a pedestrian area.

I thought at first that it was taken from the City side of the river. I remember some building angles like that from when I walked in that area back in December 2010. But then I spotted, on the south side of the Thames, the distinctive building that’s visible just before the Tower Bridge.

That’s City Hall, as it turns out.

Anyway, once I saw that, it only took a couple of seconds to place myself virtually in almost the same spot as the photographer.

Google Maps is just awesome. We may not have flying cars, but Maps provides us with something amazing that I could not even have imagined when I was a kid.

The future has turned out to be fairly impressive after all…

tower bridge

 

Obama: ‘Brexit’ would not make Special Relationship closer

Prince_of_Wales-5

Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the Atlantic Charter Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are seated in the foreground. Standing directly behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN; General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN. At far left is Harry Hopkins, talking with W. Averell Harriman.

I kind of go back and forth on the whole “Should Britain exit the E.U.?” thing:

  • I’m generally not for nations or federations splitting up, especially not for nationalistic (in the racial or cultural sense) reasons. Balkanization is bad. I’m against secession whether practiced by the Confederacy or Quebec separatists. I make an exception for the USSR.
  • On the other hand, British culture is so awesome! From Shakespeare to the Beatles, Jane Austen to Nick Hornby, Monty Python to Douglas Adams, King Arthur to QEII, the guy who wrote “Greensleeves” to Elvis Costello, Beau Brummel to Carnaby Street, Jack Aubrey to Arthur Dent, James Bond to George Smiley, I want to see Britain hang onto everything that makes it special and unique, and I don’t want a bit of it to be watered down.
  • The E.U. makes for a strong trading partner for the United States, when it’s not having eruptions in Greece and such.

    Stack of British one pound coins

    No coin is sounder than a pound.

  • I’m deeply gratified that the Brits didn’t go to the Euro. I’m still not thrilled that they decimalised the pound. It was disappointing, when I was there, not to hear people refer to shillings and crowns and such. But every time I held a pound or two-pound coin, I fully understood the phrase “sound as a…” That is some seriously solid, dependable-feeling money.

And so forth.

I found myself swinging back and forth today, with President Obama visiting London and backing up David Cameron’s position of maintaining the union.

For instance, I find the idea that maybe we could deepen the Special Relationship by having special bilateral trade deals, just between us and our Mum Country.

But Obama threw cold water on that:

The UK would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US if Britain voted to leave the EU, Barack Obama has said.

The US president said a trade agreement would not happen any time soon in the event of Britain leaving because it was better to strike a transatlantic deal with Europe as a whole….

Which made me think, it’s great you’re helping the PM out and all. As you say, that’s what friends do. But really? We wouldn’t negotiate favorable trade terms with our closest friend in the world if she stood alone?

It’s almost enough to make you think Boris Johnson is onto something when he suggests that Obama’s Kenyan heritage makes him a less-than-enthusiastic ally of the colonial power. I mean, really — American presidents don’t stiff-arm Great Britain (by doing such thing as sending Churchill’s bust back).

Almost.

In the end, I suppose, I think it’s best for our friends to hold France close, and Germany closer. After all, Europe hasn’t launched another World War since this alliance came together. Yet.

But my Anglophilia still causes me to go wobbly sometimes…

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom talk during the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom talk during the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne Resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

You know, Apple, not everybody is hip to Zulu time…

That's me, standing astride the prime meridian at Greenwich in 2011.

That’s me, standing astride the prime meridian at Greenwich in 2011.

I had to update my debit card info on my Apple ID account this morning, and later I saw that I’d received an email that began:

The following changes to your Apple ID… were made on March 8, 2016 at 2:25:37 PM (GMT)…

And for a second, I thought, No, that wasn’t this afternoon, it was this morning…

And then I saw the “GMT.”

You know, not everybody is going to get that. Plenty of little old ladies are likely to see something like that and freak out, thinking their account has been hacked.

How much trouble would it be for Apple to simply take note of the time zone in which the change was made — information you know they have — and have the notification reflect that?

I guess they’re just too busy thinking up excuses not to help with a terrorism investigation…

Public transportation: To me, magic. To Doug, an insufferable hassle

My personal fave may be the London Underground. It's gear; it's fab; and all those pimply hyperboles...

My personal fave may be the London Underground. It’s gear; it’s fab; and all those pimply hyperboles…

Our brief exchange today about public transportation reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post this email Doug Ross sent me the other day:

Brad,
I’m still struggling with your love affair with public transportation.  Here’s my latest experience:  I started a new job today and had to travel to Boston for a week of onboarding.  I’m staying with my son who lives about 15 miles south of Boston.   Here’s how our journey went today:
1. Walk 15 minutes in 40 degree weather to train station (or he could drive and pay $7 a day to park)
2. Buy pass for the week for $19 (a reasonable deal, about what I pay per week now for a tank of gas in my Honda)
3. Wait 8 minutes for train
4. Board train. Luckily he is at one of the first stops so I was able to get a seat.  But I am not a small person and that means sharing personal shoulder space with the people on either side of me.
5. Train starts moving.  It doesn’t smell great in the car.   Not as funky as the night before when I spent 20 minutes beside someone who smelled like a mixture of old milk and onions, but not as pleasant as my personal car interior.
6. Next stop, a bunch of people get on.   They all are standing.  Had I seen a woman nearby, I would have given up my seat (since I am a gentleman at heart) but there were none.
7. The guy in front of me decides to stand facing me with his crotch perhaps 18 inches from my face.   This RARELY happens in my car.  In fact, it has NEVER happened.
8. Spend the next 20 minutes hunched over my phone so I don’t have to stare at crotch guy.   My neck starts to hurt 15 minutes in.
9. Arrive in downtown Boston and fight the masses to get off train, hike up stairs to sunshine, and then walk 5 minutes to office.   Imagine if it was a rainy/snowy day?
Overall it took 45 minutes to travel 15 miles.   Maybe it would be worse in a car.  Yes, the parking downtown would make it impossible to justify economically.  But if I had to do this every day, I would quit my job and move to the suburbs.
Your mileage may vary.

For Doug, his unhappy experiences with public transportation — even with those systems that are my favorites, such as London’s Tube — are closely related to his disdain of government as inherently inefficient and incompetent.

All he can see is the hassles; all he can think is how much he’d rather be in his car.

Whereas for me, having the rare privilege of getting to ride on a subway is like a magic carpet ride. I LOVE it. You walk down some steps (or ride an escalator), step onto this conveyance that emerges from nowhere out of a dark tunnel (Minding the Gap, of course), and emerge moments later miles away across a metropolis that would be a nightmare to negotiate in a car, bypassing the traffic as though it doesn’t exist.

Wonderful…

images (3)

Putin probably LIKES being accused in Litvinenko death

Russia is issuing denials, but it occurs to me that on a certain level, Vladimir Putin relishes the British report that concludes he “probably” ordered the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 10 years ago.

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both...

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both…

He’s likely to be congratulating himself that the whole world — and especially the part of it that consists of critics of his regime — thinks he gave the order. And having his old KGB cronies believe he did it in such a Dr. Evil kind of way, with polonium-210 slipped into the victim’s green tea, should be enough to have him hugging himself with delight. That impatient Obama can blow people up with drones, but this was real artistry by comparison. What a way for one spy to do in another!

Such reports would be embarrassing to most world leaders, but not to Putin. Really, what penalty is he ever likely to have to pay for this?

At this moment, he’s probably fighting the urge to strip his shirt off and go running through the countryside, holding a rifle. Or not. Fighting it, I mean.

Yeah, Parliament’s vote about Trump IS embarrassing

I got this release from the DNC today:

Today, the governing body of one of the United States’ closest allies will debate whether to bar the Republican Party’s frontrunner from their country for “Hate Speech.” Setting aside the serious diplomatic implications of the United Kingdom barring a potential U.S. president from their shores, this shameful and embarrassing spectacle shines a light on the Republican candidates’ vitriolic rhetoric and discriminatory policies that undermine our values, alienate partners we need to prosecute the war on terror, and make our country and our people less safe. Today’s debate underscores just how far Republicans have moved to the extreme right and how out-of-touch they are….

Of course, I could do my usual thing and deconstruct that piece as typical overblown rhetoric from one side making generalizations about the other (as though all Republicans were Trump).

But you know what? They do have a point here: This really is embarrassing, and not just for Republicans. It’s embarrassing to America that someone who would attract this kind of attention is doing so well in the run-up to our presidential election.

All of our faces should be red. Because Trump’s supporters are unlikely to feel the embarrassment. We have to do it for them…

This was the only picture of Parliament I could find in my files. That's me in late 2010.

This was the only picture of Parliament I could find in my files. That’s me in late 2010.

Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC

downton

Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.

On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.

(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)

All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:

Graham

Possible national origins: Scottish or English
Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.

“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”

As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….

Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…

McCartney’s enthusiasm for Guy Fawkes Day creeps me out a bit

I say that on account of my being Catholic and all.

I reTweeted this from Paul McCartney yesterday, which included a picture of him that appears to be from his “Maybe I’m Amazed” period:

But this was a classic case of a reTweet not constituting an endorsement.

Now, y’all know that I’m an Anglophile from way back. I generally love English traditions, including some of those involving fire.

But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.

OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.

But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.

Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.

So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…

 

A nice, readable primer on the upcoming British election

A penchant for awkwardness: Labour leader Ed Miliband having a spot of bother with a bacon butty.

A penchant for awkwardness: Labour leader Ed Miliband having a spot of bother with a bacon butty.

In case you’ve been vaguely aware that there’s to be an election in the United Kingdom but don’t know a thing about it and would like to, you might enjoy reading this piece from the WSJ over the weekend.

It’s a sort of dummy’s guide — I mean, Yank’s guide — that catches you up, and makes the acquisition of that information fun. You learn, for instance, that one of the main problems facing Labour is that their leader has an uncanny knack for being caught in photographs looking very awkward.

The bottom line? Neither the Tories nor Labour are likely to win a majority, thereby giving us yet another uneasy coalition government. But the fun in the piece isn’t the conclusion; it’s the trip itself. A sample:

A British election is looming on May 7, and you might be wondering how it will all work. In a word: sensibly.

Here in the U.K., things are far simpler than in the U.S. We select local representatives we know almost nothing about, in the vague hope that everybody else will select lots of other local representatives from the same party. Then one party either has enough representatives to form a government on its own, or it has to cook up some sort of power-sharing arrangement, without bothering to ask the electorate about it. See? Easy. Like cricket….