Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Random Thoughts

I am way too tired to think connected thoughts, so I'm going random instead.
  1. I want to age like the people in Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary. Ok, maybe not Allen Ginsburg, but Joan Baez looks great.
  2. Speaking of Dylan, what's up with his hair? All that money, you'd think he could buy some conditioner.
  3. And he still has a Minneosta accent, doncha know. You'd expect him to sound cooler and not oh, say, like my dad. (I love you, Dad, but you're just not that cool, you know?)
  4. I am fearing the end of Six Feet Under. I can't watch Lost because I fly too much...the plane crash thing will freak me out.
  5. I was recruited for a different job today. I can't take it, but it got me thinking about possibilities.
  6. What's so great about Coldplay?
  7. When I go to New York I can have pickles.
  8. I have too much to do at work right now.
  9. Tom DeLay was indicted. Nice to know the justice system works.
  10. I see that they're going to start selling the Versa and the Yaris in the US. These cars are the tiny sorts of clown cars popular in Europe where gas is $8 a gallon. Hoping they succeed in the US...they're great, and these two are even kind of cute.
  11. OH! And I see that W is encouraging energy conservation. It's not bad enough that he's taking the bad plays from his dad's playbook...now he's taking them from Jimmy Carter, too? Interns beware...Laura won't be as pleasant as Hillary was because she's not going to run for president anytime soon.
  12. I shouldn't be so mean...unlike Dick Cheney, I believe conservation is not just a "personal virtue," but, in fact, can be the basis for a sound energy policy. (You must supplement with other measures, but it's a start.) Instead, I'm going to be pleased that they're coming around to my way of thinking.
  13. Just got home from work and it's 930. Nothing good to eat, so I ate crap instead. Hate that. Why do I never remember to have easy, tasty things available in the fridge?
  14. I have the tv on to BBC2 to keep me company, and I am currently watching a naked man with a firework spewing sparks stuck in his butt, and he's singing "There's No Business Like Show Business."
  15. Come on...could I actually make that up? Honestly, it's on TV.
  16. I've been here almost a year now. Can't believe it.
  17. Learn to calculate your weight in stones. (1 stone = 13.7 pounds or something like that.) You'll feel much thinner.
  18. It is only September. I absolutely refuse to turn on the heat until at least October. I'm wearing my coat and a fleece right now, but gosh darn it, the heat is o-f-f.
  19. I'm going to bed at 10pm. That is so not me.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Everything is Illuminated

I hear this movie is out now.

If you haven't read the book, please do so immediately. It is extraordinary, and will make you weep. It will also connect you to humanity in a raw, profound way that I didn't believe was possible with literature until I read it.

Oh. And don't see the movie first, because part of the fun of the book is the fanciful nature of the narrative. And Pam says you'll be retroactively disappointed in the film if you see it before you read it.

It's by Jonathan Safran Foer, and it's got weirdly colored cover...easy to find on the shelf.

Go get it. You heard me, go.

This ain't right

Did you see the article about the dog that swallowed the 13 inch knife?

How can this possibly be true?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Long Live Paul Wellstone

So I'm sitting on the couch listening to the radio and catching up on news, etc. I try to check in with the NYTimes, the Washington Post, The Seattle Time/PI, and the Star Tribune each week so I know what's going on.

In today's Strib there's an article about the legacy of Paul and Sheila Wellstone.

Personally, I think it's great that people have turned their grief/pain/loss towards political action. What better way to honor the memory of a fiery, principled politician who voted his conscience as opposed to the polls, and who got to the US Senate with effective grass-roots campaigning, than to teach others how to do the same. Yes, Paul Wellstone was a big liberal, but more than that, he was a real, live Mr. Smith going to Washington. The Wellstone Action team and the Camp Wellstone concept is a great way to continue his work in the world.

Now, the reason for this entry....partway through the article, David Strom, president of The Taxpayer's League of Minnesota and on-air personality for The Patriot (aka local liberal-bashing radio) has the balls to say that this is worrying because it seems like people are sanctifying Wellstone...and this sort of sainthood behavior is unfair to those who disagree with Wellstone's politics. He cites the popular "What Would Wellstone Do" bumper sticker as evidence...it is supposedly dishonoring anyone who doesn't think like Wellstone.

Lighten up, pal. It's a bumper sticker.

I'm sure that Mr. Strom is a perfectly decent guy. He's probably fun to be around, and has lots of witty party conversation and is kind to children and animals. In fact, I'm positive we have mutual friends, and I know in my heart TC/Kelli wouldn't associate with a true devil, no matter how objectionable I find their public persona.

But, in this instance, I have to say...I think David Strom is being a colossal wanker. (Wanker=dick=a**hole=idiot...take your pick of the insults, as they could all apply.)

Do the "What Would Jesus Do" bumper stickers dishonor our non-Christian citizens? (Or, for that matter, should I be taking umbrage with any of these?) Is his station's co-opting of patriotism a crime against those of us who don't think tax cuts are the way to help the victims of Katrina, or who DO think that the Iraq war is a mistake? Of course not. Freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. You can say what you want, but so can others...and you don't get to cry foul just because you don't like the message.

Remember when Ronald Reagan went to that gated community in the sky? Instead of bringing up Iran Contra and the troubles in Afghanistan that started back in the 80s, we kept our mouths shut and let FoxNews viewers mourn their saint in peace. People have heroes...and whilst you may not understand what they see in them, it's still their right to revere whom they wish.

I believe the real argument Mr. Strom is trying to make is that he is annoyed by the sanctification of Paul and Sheila Wellstone.

You see, you can't swift-boat a dead man. People find that unseemly. Instead of using innuendo, sarcasm, and intentionally misleading information to pick apart the opposition, you have to deal with their arguments head-on.

More importantly, you have to deal with their candidates at the polls. In this climate of cronyism and half-truths and empty promises from both sides of the aisle in Washington, truth and honesty strike a chord with people, which is why eight Camp Wellstone grads are now in the state house, and six more advanced in this year's Minnesota primaries. Worse yet, Camp Wellstones are happening all over the country, and with dissatisfaction growing amongst the voters, this success is likely to make the conservative agenda stall in all sorts of races, not just for state houses but possibly for the US Congress and Senate. And, if the other side gets momentum, who knows what they'll do in 2008?

The real problem...people emulate saints, and people who emulate Paul and Sheila Wellstone advocate peace, they believe in taxing the wealthy more than they do the lower incomes, and they believe that the government can and should establish standards of dignity and living for all citizens, and then they fund programs that ensure all their citizens' lives meet these standards.

Yes, Mr. Strom, I understand that these things are certainly worrying for you.

The Parrot, Part Two

My worst fears are being realized.

The parrot next door is learning new songs. He now has the following repertoire, and it seems to be growing daily:

  • Col. Bogie's March (AKA the theme from The Bridge Over the River Kwai)
  • A cellphone ring
  • The laugh of someone, I assume his owner
  • A host of car alarm squeals
  • A sound like police scanner chatter
  • Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits
  • Quacks like the ducks across the road
  • Ice Cream Van songs (part of Fur Elise and part of some chipper German sounding ditty)

What will he learn next??? If the music I hear through the wall is any indicator, I'm in for nothing but heartache (or headache, as the case may be.) They seem to be fans of bad easy-listening music. Yesterday I heard "When We Get Behind Closed Doors", and "People."

God, help me.

Cooking Shows Reveal All

I had a rather stressful week. Between working a trade show in London, an offsite meeting with my team, and a two-day retreat for a leadership training course, I was not only exhausted when I got home on Friday but a bit overwhelmed by all the talking and interacting I'd been doing. I longed for sleep, relaxation, and peace and quiet.

After a 12 hour sleep on Friday night (followed by a two-hour post-coffee nap,) I decided to read the online news and watch a little television. UK Food Network was having a marathon of their most famous television chef, Delia Smith. I love cooking shows so this seemed like a good non-intensive way to multi-task...read a little, watch a little, etc. etc.

But what started as a casual time-killer turned into a revealing education into the differences between my homeland and my current home.

Take, for instance, beloved US TV chefs such as Sara Moulton, Rachel Ray, or Emeril. They chat, they smile, they make jokes, they make mistakes. They leave the dirty dishes in the sink, sometimes even on the counter they're working on. Sometimes they don't measure things. Their shows are action television, they're entertainment masquerading as recipe advice, and regular viewers develop a relationship with these chefs. (For example, my friend Tom and I have decided that Rachel Ray is actually a friend we have yet to meet, so enamored are we by her on-screen style and goofy demeanor.)

Not so Delia. Delia is friendly enough, but she is very controlled and precise. Her conversation is like listening to very superficial small talk intended not to offend. You would never, ever hear her say something like, "Pork fat rules," or, "I hate anchovies." She tells antecdotes about ingredients or recipes, but they aren't long and they don't distract from the task at hand. Every ingredient is measured to the gram/ounce, and if she deviates she warns you that you must first do as required and THEN experiment. And the weirdest thing...somehow, in the mix of closeups and action shots all used utensils/pans/dishes magically disappear so that the only visible items are those immediately in use.

Sarah Moulton takes live calls and lets callers ask any question they like. She asks them questions, too, and has regular conversations with these total strangers on the phone as she cooks. Emeril does his show with a live audience...he talks to them as he cooks, he let's them sample his final product, he even has a band there to entertain them. Delia cooks in what appears to be the kitchen of her country home. She's the only one in the room (except for whatever sprites are whisking away the used bowls and spatulas.) The only personal pronouns she uses are "one," and the occasional "I" to explain something she has tried/learned/does.

The recipes themselves are different, as well. Emeril, Sarah, and Rachel will use pretty much any ingredient they can think of. They try ethic recipes and add lots of spices and flavours. Some of what they cook is healthy, some is a bit indulgent, but their signature seems to be a wide variety of influences/processes/ideas to fuse into a new American cuisine.

Delia's methods, ingredients, and recipes are much simpler and definitely British. Don't get me wrong...she has some amazing flavours and ideas going on. But she tends to use very traditional British ingredients, often combined with a simple sauce of some sort. Her ethnic forays are those common in England...a bit of Indian, a bit of Thai, perhaps some Moroccan or Spanish, but that's about it. And all of these influences are still secondary to the British ingredients and techniques that dominate. For example, you can do a North African stew, but you wouldn't do a tangine. Nothing is extremely healthy or exotic, nothing is extremely decadent...everything is in moderation.

My conclusions:
  • Americans are loud and discuss personal things. The English are quite reserved and have safe subjects to discuss with everyone else...they wouldn't even consider approaching many subjects with anyone other than the most intimate friends and family.
  • Americans talk to strangers. The English, well, they don't.
  • Americans are messy rule-breakers. The English value order and appropriateness above individuality.
  • Americans are adventurous risk takers. The English calculate their risks.
  • Americans are comfortable with their melting pot. The English are English...foreigners are great as long as they learn to be English.
  • I like both cultures very much, but I am very much an American living in England.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Jesus of the Week

Go here if you want the narrative. Personally, I believe the picture is silly enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

So I've discovered a new favorite thing about England. Everyone here loves Pride and Prejudice. They have all read the book, even the men. They love their BBC-1991 version, and more than half of the people I work with sat through five hours of it on Sunday in honor of the new version arriving in theatres. Most people I know have also either been to the opening weekend of the new one, too, and if they haven't they've got plans to go. They discuss the nuances of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy like they are friends, and even men see why women swoon at the mention of Colin Firth.

It's nice to be in a nation of romantics. Considering their demeanor, who knew?

Sky News inadvertantly speaks the truth

(just in case you don't read Wonkette.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Argos, the catalog store

Tonight I discovered a new shopping experience.

It all started because I need a new toilet seat. The one I have has been loose since May. If you're not careful, the thing will slide off like a toboggan on a well-iced run. While this is perhaps a good way to build your core muscles, four months of this is enough. Plus, my toilet is already a challenge for visitors, what with the temperamental British flush, so making them perform some crazy butt surf whilst using the loo is perhaps a bit much to ask.

Resigned to the idea that I needed to actually go buy a toilet seat, I decided to ask around the office for help finding the sort of DIY place that would carry something like this. Milton Keynes is a city of roundabouts with green space and trees shielding the main roadways from the buildings on the side of the road, therefore you don't necessarily see what you're passing. Plus, most of the stores aren't on my way to anything, so when I have a specific need I have to ask: a) what store should I check, and b) where is the dang thing.

Colleagues recommended Wickes, B&Q, and Homebase...basically your Home Depot/Menards/Lowes type places, except English. Then someone else said it would be cheaper at Argos, so I figured cheap is good...I'll go there.

When you're sent to a store, you expect a store. So you can imagine my shock when I walked into Argos and it looked like an office lobby with a jewelry counter. Luckily, my friend Anna was with me, as we were on our way to dinner, and she showed me the ropes...it would have taken me some time to figure it out. You start out at the table where you can flip through the catalog. They have everything. Kitchen stuff, tools, furniture, clothes, electronics...it's like Sears and Roebuck from 1970. You find your item, enter the number in a little keypad, and it will show you an LCD of the price and the number of items in stock. You write the item numbers on a little notesheet and then take your sheet to the counter to pay.

Once paid, you go sit in color coded chairs (for the four pickup points that are addressing your order,) and the people scurry around in the shelves. When all items in your order are collected, a cheery voice calls your number, you show your receipt, and then they give you your purchase and you go home.

I love this store. Sure it's weird that you don't get to look at the item before you buy it AND you don't get the convenience of home delivery, but the sheer novelty of the place is worth the trip.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Spiders part 2

There was a giant spider living in my boots under the steps. He is dead now. I never, ever, EVER play that if-I-had-a-boyfriend game because, frankly, I can't really be bothered with the hassle they bring and I know how to hook up my own DVD player/computer/stereo, thank you very much. But I tell you what. A big strong man with a thirst for spider blood could make me swoon and bat my eyes, yessiree, BOB. If he also cleaned up overgrown plants in the wet, spider-filled Garden of Terror, I'd marry him on the spot.

Heck, a cave-chested, pencil-necked, pasty-white-stay-inside could turn my head if he had a good strong pair of boots for kicking spider ass.

But then who am I kidding? Pasty-white-stay-insides always turn my head.

Quiz Night 2

Tonight, we had our second quiz night. My first one was back the second week I was here (see November posts, if they're still there,) and so this was definitely a testament to how much my life has changed.

I knew the answers to some of the TV questions.
I knew the name of everyone but two people out of 45. (And those two are new.)
I had conversation with people not on my team.
I identified and successfully avoided all marmite.
I followed proper pint-paying protocol.
I didn't drive on the wrong side of the street when I left.

All in all, I'd call this progress.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that thanksgiving is two months away, but I am happy happy HAPPY about it today. I confess, I've been homesick lately. I think the permanence of my move has now sunken in, my friend Patricia and I have been busy with our respective jobs, so our Americans in England lifestyle has been on hold for a couple of weeks, plus I've hit the 10 month doldrums that you get any time you move...all in all, I've been dying for a friendly familiar face.

So yesterday my friend Tom and I were emailing. I sent him a link to a castle here that is throwing a thanksgiving party for beaucoup ££s. We decided if we win the lottery we could go, but otherwise it was aimpossibilityty. But Tom invited me to NYC for Thanksgiving instead. He and Georgie are having dinner with friends who also happen to be wine merchants, which means excellent food (from George) and excellent wine (from friends), and then Tom is responsible for the scintillating conversation. I jumped online looking for a fare I could afford, but alas, there were none under £840 plus taxes. No way.

But then I remembered we had a programme going there over these dates and I thought, "Hey! Maybe there's a spare seat!" And there WAS! It was cheap cheap cheap, and I can be in NY by Thanksgiving Wed night, and I can stay for a whole four nights/five days of funfilled NYC and Tom Time. I can go to see the Macy's floats, I can shop at Bloomingdales and Macy's for work clothes, I can have Indian food in the village, I can see a play (hoping for Avenue Q or Wicked), and if Blossom Dearie is playing over the holiday we'll see her, too! I am going to start practicing Howard with a vengeance so that I can entertain my hosts with ukulele hits. I am going to bring the cheese course from my favourite little cheese shop in Oxford. It will be much fun.

And when I return to England, two days later my friend Ms. Bethany arrives for three weeks of pre-holiday fun, and then we fly home together for Christmas!

OH! And then this afternoon, my friend Susan started planning her trip for the last few weeks of October, which means more guests and more fun!

Instead of three months of England and only England, I have one month until Susan and her friend Katie arrive, then I have three weeks until Thanksgiving hols, and then three weeks of Bethany, and then HOME to see my family and my friends.

How homesick can I possibly be?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cricket for Dummies

England has just taken the Ashes, a little urn of cricket bat ashes from 1882 created after the test where Australia first beat England. Every two years the two countries battle for the right to "own" the Ashes. There are 4 - 5 days of play in each series, with four series total. England hasn't won the Ashes in 20 years, so this is a big deal. Pretty much everyone is glued to the tv for the duration.

Since test cricket is only played in the daylight, it usually goes from 1030 or 11am through 630 or 7pm. Watching cricket is a time-consuming hobby. The nice thing about it, though, is that because cricket moves slowly it doesn't matter if you multi-task or step away for awhile. You might miss some exciting developments, but they'll be others to come so you needn't stress. Plus, they have scheduled breaks for lunch and tea throughout the day and the telly coverage shows highlights regularly. You'll catch the major plays eventually.

Sidebar...can you imagine the NFL taking a break for tea during the Superbowl? Oh. And instead of featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake as the entertainment, throughout the series fans sing the hymn Jerusalem over and over, so it feels more like church.

Okay, back to the cricket lesson.

They say that cricket is dense and difficult to understand if you're not from here. I would disagree with this. In the course of the weekend I've figured out the basics and I'm really enjoying it. Keep in mind that I watch baseball, as well, so I'm pre-disposed to tolerating slow-moving games with batting and style.

Players must wear white or cream in test cricket. Uniforms look like baggy sweat pants and polo shirts with logos. FASHION NOTE: They tuck the polo shirts into the sweat pants, which looks really, really stupid. Each team has a colored hat, thus differentiating their whites from the other team's. If it's cold, they can also add a cream/white sweater vest over their shirt, and it has a band of color on the v-neck that matches their hat...kind of tennis sweater-y. The uniform is very Ralph Lauren, actually.

In essence, the point of the game is the same as baseball...whoever scores the most runs wins.

The field is an oval, and there is a little curb around the edge of the grass. In the centre, there is a rectangle where the batting happens. The fielding team spreads out in relatively standard positions (though there is a lot of liberty in that), and there are two batters standing at opposite ends of the little rectangle in the middle. They stand in spaces called creases. Within each crease is a wicket, wood sticks that can easily be knocked over.

So....the bowler (like a pitcher) takes a run and tosses a ball overhand at one of the batters. (One of the creases is designated as the striker's side, so whoever is there is the one that takes the ball.) The bowler has to have his arm totally straight when he throws, so it ends up looking like some sort of running, freaky softball pitch. 90% of the time, the bowler makes the ball hit the ground midway down the rectangle, which makes it change its trajectory and thus harder to hit. If the striker hits the ball, the two batsmen can elect to score runs, basically running to the opposite crease. Either part of their body or their bat must touch inside the crease to score a run. They can try for as many runs as they like per ball, but they have to have a foot solidly in the crease before the fielders get the ball back to the little rectangle and knock the wicket over.

What we think of as a pitch is a ball, and there are six balls per over. When an over is completed, the fielding side has to switch bowlers regardless. Not every player must bowl, but no player can bowl two consecutive overs, so you end up seeing three or four guys bowling in an innings. (FYI, they say innings in both a singular and a plural sense...see below.)

There are some automatic runs, kind of the home run and grand slam of cricket....if you hit the ball so hard you knock the ball over the little curb around the edge of the oval, you get 4 runs. If you knock it way out into the audience, you get 6. It makes for interesting fielding, actually, because players who think they might mess up the catch will jump in front of the ball to deflect it from hitting the curb, and then worry about picking it up and throwing it back.

Basically this goes on all day until 11 players for one team have been batsmen and 10 of them have been marked out, thus completing an innings. They always call it "taking a wicket" when a player gets one of the batsmen out, but you don't necessarily have to knock the wicket over to "take" one. You can catch the ball once a batsman hits it. The bowler can knock the wicket over with his pitch, or the batsman can fall into his own wicket or deflect the ball there. Batsmen can interfere with the ball by touching it once they've hit it, thus getting themselves out.

You can keep track of the progress by the weird score. If you see a score of 200-6, that means that the batting team has scored 200 runs, and the fielders have taken six wickets, so they need four more to close out the innings.

When an innings is completed, the teams switch sides and the other one gets the same opportunity to score runs. Over the course of the first four days, teams switch as play determines, so if there are only 2 wickets taken when play ends on Friday, for instance, they resume in the same place Saturday AM.

In the end, though, things get interesting. I haven't figured out all the formulas and rules for this yet, but I'll get it down eventually. On the last day of play (either day four or five,) team captains who have the lead can "declare", which has some protocol involved but I think it basically says, "Okay, we have enough runs now...you can use the remaining overs to catch us." It then becomes a hitting game to catch up for the team that's running behind. The other factor that comes into play happens on day five...they use some math formula to average the number of overs played over the last four days, and they determine a number of overs that must be played that day. The teams then fight to have enough overs as the batting side to score the most runs for the series.

In today's test, this factored into England's win...England was having a hitting streak. By the time Australia got their 10 wickets and got into the batting position, there were only 20 overs left and it was pretty much impossible for them to score the 300+ runs required to win. But there was also no way they'd actually give up 10 wickets in 20 overs, either (an average innings is around 90 - 100 overs.) Therefore, the test could not be completed and was ruled a draw. England had won two of the three previous test matches in the series, so they won the Ashes and now the country is celebrating.

There's a parade in Trafalgar Square tomorrow. I have about six colleagues taking the day off to attend. I won't be doing that, but I will admit I'm going to watch the next test that's televised. And if you visit me during cricket season, want to go see it live?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Oh Happy Day

On Friday, my belongings arrived from the states.

I didn't ship that much, but what came will make me feel like there's a bit of me in the house.

I shipped art by my friends Larry and Pam, as well as some items that friends and loved ones have given me that remind me of home.

I have pictures of my friends and family already here, but there are more in the boxes. You'll be spread around the house now.

I shipped some glassware and such because, while I don't really need my dishes, the glasses here suck and I have cool ones. There are a couple of things broken in that box, but I don't know which because I haven't had time to unpack it. I'm hopeful it's not too bad.

I shipped all of my cds, as well as some books I've been meaning to read. I can now fill my house with the sounds I like and can finish Hillary's (auto?)biography before the campaign.

There are winter clothes in time for winter.

There are summer clothes in time for the last days of summer.

I have a down coat.

And best of all, I have my down duvet, my down pillows, and a beautiful quilt that my grandmother (maybe even great grandmother?) made. That box I unpacked, and have made my bed with my own bedding.

So now when I have to kill a spider the size of a baby food jar, I can crawl into my bed and seek comfort with a good book. Though since it's the Ashes this weekend, I've been spending more time with test cricket viewed on my laptop. Some things are irreversibly changed.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More on the international reaction

Want to know what the Brits are saying about the US and Hurricane Katrina? Read this.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How Katrina looks from here

I've had a lot to do the last few weeks, so I've been working a lot. This weekend, I took stuff home, and have spent a good amount of my weekend working on different projects and keeping an eye on the TV. I hadn't really been tuned in to the news or the internet and I don't get a daily paper, so I didn't really understand how bad Katrina was until Saturday AM when I decided to watch CNN.

My God.

As you all know, it's impossible to put words to how horrible the scene is. Not even going to try. It looks like New Orleans is one of the closest things to hell on earth that's happened in my lifetime. Watching the suffering and dying on national TV was overwhelming. I think I cried for about two hours. I know I saw old people and children from footage earlier in the week who are now sitting in a makeshift morgue somewhere. How can this happen?

I finally couldn't watch it and weep anymore. I had to start intellectualizing it...distance myself from it so I could start to process it. So instead I decided to do a little comparative study of the news coverage...analyze the way they covered the story instead of focusing on the story itself.

First thing I noticed is that the US media had found their spine. I saw Anderson Cooper, Mr. Nice, jump all over Sen Mary Landreau when she started playing politics. I saw Solidad O'Brien express exasperation and contempt in her interview with the head of FEMA. I saw media personnel illustrating the inherent racism of the situation by showing how blacks carrying bread and water from Walmart were labeled as looters and the whites doing the same thing were finding food for their survival. I saw talking heads who weren't wearing makeup or having their hair done, they were crying on camera and begging viewers to help.

Most notably, they were actually criticizing the Bush Administration, and they weren't backing down when they were offered spin and platitudes. Haven't seen that since August 2001. Heck, even FoxNews wasn't giving them a pass on this one. (Okay, the Heads were, but the anchors were showing a sense of reason.)

So then I decided to take advantage of my location abroad to see how the rest of the world was viewing this tragedy.

They have compassion. They have reporters on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well, keeping everyone posted on developments. There are 100 some missing Britons right now. They are just as emotionally connected as we are to this tragedy, and their hearts bleed for us. It's nice to know.

But now the part that's a bit more thought-provoking.

They want to know why our government wasn't ready for this, when weather radar showed the strength of the storm and everyone knew that New Orleans couldn't withstand a storm of that magnitude.

They, too, ask why it took so long to respond. Here we are, the richest nation in the world, and we leave thousands to fend for themselves in untenable positions while we figure out how what to do. They point out that international aid arrived for Tsunami victims over a holiday weekend faster than Washington started getting aid to their own.

And they want to know why we are refusing offers of aid from nations like Cuba and Venezuela...why are we putting ideological issues ahead of the lives that might be saved by willing doctors who can be on the ground in the airport triage hospital in a matter of hours? Why on earth does it matter that they're coming from Castro?

They want to know why we feel its more important to send troops to Iraq than it is to one of our own 50 states.

On the chat shows, one guy pointed out the economic and racial divide illustrated by this, and questions how the US is going to address this. Another asked how the government's reaction would have been different if this had happened in Florida, land of election-swaying electoral votes (and Republican strong-hold lead by Jeb.) They cited similar billion dollar plans for the Everglades and New Orleans to address sinking land and rising sea levels...and mentioned that, while New Orleans has been asking for help for years, only the Everglades plan has moved forward. They think this smacks of preferential treatment, and wonder if priority should have been given to a major city.

Another pointed blame solidly at a President who prioritized tax cuts and demonized big government at the expense of people who need its support. And he was not talking about Bush Jr...but Ronald Reagan. His theory is that the Reagan administration set the US on a path to undermine the government's ability to intervene in the lives of its citizens, and established priorities based upon individual success rather than maintaining a public good. After three more presidents who adhered to this doctrine to varying degrees, it shouldn't be surprising that we can't actually mobilize to proactively resolve a disaster of this magnitude.

So by this afternoon I was ready to bond with my own people and I decided to try CNN again. In the 24+ hours since I started watching this story, the coverage has changed. I actually heard Hayley Barbour (Gov. of Mississippi) suggest that people stayed because they wanted to, so it's kind of their own fault they found themselves in this predicament. The economic cluelessness of this argument is beyond explanation, and I can't believe he got by with it. But he's the governor of an afflicted state...he must know what he's talking about.

We're backing down again from the hard questions. We're letting somber press conferences make us feel guilty that we're angry instead of weeping. We're letting ourselves be diverted by forceful arguments that now is not the time to point fingers. We should be spending our energy helping these people....how DARE we question the administration at a time like this? Do you want the terrorists to win?

Certainly, we owe it to the victims of this tragedy to help them. To spend the money to rebuild and to offer food, shelter, and emotional support until we're done. We need to figure out how to get the thousands transferred to other states back home when they can safely return, and we need to step up to the plate and embody the values we preach to the world.

But we also owe it to them not to brush this under the rug because it's hard to talk about how we could make a mistake this big. We need to take homeland security seriously, and prepare to fight the war at home, even if it's a war against nature and not Saddam. We need to stop parsing the roles of state/local vs. federal government to avoid blame, and realize that some cities and states need help fulfilling their obligations in extreme circumstances. We need to identify the causes and fix them. We need to stop pretending affirmative action isn't needed anymore...we need to pay a bit more tax to fund education and programs that can give people a let up in this world if they're not born into a good starting position.

And most importantly, we need to find people to lead us who really can.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I hate spiders

I hate spiders. I really hate spiders. They should warn you before you move to England that there are lots of spiders here, just in case.

There are spiders that live in my car. They build little webs on my mirrors every night. In the daytime I knock them off, hoping that eventually the demoralized spiders will move on to some Vauxhall or Peugeot parked next to me, but they keep rebuilding.

I had to take a broom to my house today, knocking down webs and eggsacks on every ground floor window.

There is a spider in the front that I've nicknamed Charlotte, as it regularly builds a web between my rose bushes and my hanging basket that is literally six feet in diameter. I periodically knock it down, though, as I am not kind-hearted like Wilbur.

Robert Redford is a stone cold fox

Watched The Way We Were on tv this afternoon while I worked on some projects for work. My friend Lauren has pointed out on her blog that there is absolutely nothing not to like about Robert Redford, and I must agree whole-heartedly. I caught part of The Sting on Monday afternoon, and about a month ago I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My, he's attractive.

And of course, as a Katie-girl myself, TWWW always makes him even more attractive. Guys like that never happen to us, so being "Hubbell" makes him extra dreamy, even if it's not real.

Yes, Robert Redford is timeless.