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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Further comment on gay marriage

I should have noted that the legal portion of the Considerations seemed to me to be uncertain. I am rather hoping that Eugene Volokh when he returns might comment on it on the Conspiracy.

I also hope that what I said makes sense. Reading it over I realise I engaged in one of my favourite activities - idle pontification. Hope it makes some sense!

The Vatican and gay marriage

Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican have finally commented on the current gay marriage debate. The relevant document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, can be read here on the Vatican website.

So far I have read three basic kinds of reaction to this. From supporters of gay marriage Andrew Sullivan has a fairly tyical apopleptic reaction. From fellow Catholics reactions seem split between that of Catholic Analysis, and that of my good friend Waddling Thunder.

For my own part I am completely unsurprised by this statement. Especially to the Andrew Sullivan's of this world I would direct them to the following extract from the first paragraph of the document:

"The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question ..." (my italics).

The current document merely reiterates the current doctrine of the Catholic church. Supporters of gay marriage should not be surprised, especially gays themselves. What, might I ask, did they expect? The overturning of what is pretty much a 3000+ year prohibition?

The essential question of WT though is worth considering - why now?

My first thought on this issue is that the Catholic Church would not have been able to keep quiet on the long-term. It is too obvious, too contentious, too high-profile, too relentless. The last couple of months have brought the question of homosexual marriage again and again onto the headlines. In part this is because of Democratic Presidential contender Howard Dean. In part it is because the relentless discussion, debate, argument, and riot going on in the Anglican Communion. And in part it is because of the FMA, the Lawrence case, and the upcoming Mass. Court decision. These disputes affect the UK, the USA, and Canada. Other disputes are, iirc, taking place elsewhere. Not to comment would have been a derogation of the Church's duty to instruct and to lead.

There is of course a difficulty in today's society about commenting upon others' chosen lifestyles. My initial reaction to this is a particular expletive that I am not sure is current in America. People always comment, commend, or criticise other people's lifestyles. Basically on this one I simply not a libertarian. ;)

Which brings us onto the point about "common good". I would agree with the WT that it is not the role of the state to hold a view of "the common good", but I would argue that is is the role of the Church to promote what it sincerely believes to be the common good. I have no fear of this because it does not do so in isolation. It has to argue its case - as will those who disagree. I fail to see the difference - might that be my European heritage showing?

Personally I believe that the word 'marriage' does have specifically religious connatations, and that the right of religious groups to deny marriage to homosexuals should be enshrined in law, and there should be a recognition that marriage IS a religious term, and a religious ceremony. Part of the current difficulties imo is caused by homosexual groups trying to secularise that word, whether that is their explicit intention or not.

This may come across a little hardline, I realise. In this I must state that, as a Catholic, I take the teaching of the Church very seriously. I acknowledge now the difficulty it causes me, and I think it will be possible to infer where precisely I have greatest difficulty. For the record, I am a celibate heterosexual (though before anyone thinks this, I am not a priest).

Refighting the American Civil War - Turn 1 (June - August 1861)

The War begins ...

McDowell, in charge of the Army of the Potomac, acts quickly. Mustering around thirty thousand men, he launches an invasion of Virginia (leaving Wasington with a garrison half that). At Manasses Beauregard squats 20,000. McDowell launches a devastating attack, driving the Confederates headlong in retreat. After the victory however McDowell proclaims that Virginia will surrender within a week. Clearly no-one told the Virginians this was what they were meant to do. Beauregard, stung by his defeat, set about reorganising his army with gusto.

Meanwhile, out in Missouri, Lyons leads his army out of Springfield to hold up the advancing Confederates commanded by Price. Leading an assault on a well-defended position he is shot and killed, and his army retires in disorder back to Springfield. Price though is unable to capitalise. Although dead and defeated on the field, Lyons did enough damage to Price's regiments that further advance becomes impossible. Missouri is thus secured for the Union.

Out on the Texan frontier a wily Yank bribes a bunch of Commanche to attack Confederate settlements. They make one attempt against Fort Chadbourne, which is beaten back. However, equipped with some new (well, old Union castoff) muskets they successfully raze Fort Lancaster to the ground.

In the middle ground Kentucky desperately tries to receive guarantees of neutrality from both sides, even as troops muster on both across the Ohio, and in Tenessee. Finally, in something of an anti-climax, the Union are able to secure the trans-Appalachian counties of Virginia. General McClellan, in overall command of operations in that area, set in motion to process of establishing statehood.

First blood has gone to the Union.

Refighting the American Civil War

One of my interests is the history of the American Civil War. This is at least partly because of the personalities of those involved, and more simply because of the military history. Another of my interests in boardgaming. Both these interests combine in a boardgame called The Civil War. I usually play this game solitaire - partly because I don't know anyone else within playing distance who shares both these interests, and partly because that way I always win! In any event I am intending to give a turn-by-turn account of my most recent game.

I am intending to keep game mechanics out of descriptions, though if anyone is interested I will explain more via email. Just one note though - I am playing by a set of optional rules that means various leaders will appear randomly (and therefore ahistorically). Helps make the game a little more interesting and unpredictable. So, without further ado...

The Curtain Rises

For some months both the North and the South have been sounding the drums of war. In Washington General McDowell trains a nascent Army of the Potomac. Not that many miles away General Beauregard musters troops near the Manasses rail junction. Meanwhile Lincoln has sent McClellan to support the counties of western Virginia in their efforts to secede from the Richmond government; and in Missouri Lyons has nearly pushed all Confederate sympathisers out of the state. The Confederates have sent Price with a small army to counter Lyons, and the two are converging in the region of Springfield. Kentucky is trying to stay out of the conflict.

The smoke has cleared over Fort Sumter, and the Starts and Stripes has been taken down. Will it rise again?


(I'll update you all on Turn 1 later tonight).

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

ERA - finally!

I've worked out what it stands for! Or rather, I was absolutely resisting the urge to visit a website to find out, and see if I could either figure it out, or pick it up from the commentaries. It was clearly some kind of average, but what on earth did that E mean. Now I know, thanks to the nice commentator on the Rangers v Mariners match a couple of nights ago that said it off-hand.

Of course, I still have no idea how it is calculated, and to be honest I am not sure I really need to. I didn't really need to work out that 'E' after all. The lower the number the better, more or less. Under 4.00 being 'good' (inasmuch as 4 is a just a physchological boundary), under 3.5 seems to be 'very good' (ditto), and so on. I doubt I will be able to work thow it is calculated one out just from watching the matches though, so perhaps it is time to visit a site to find out.

In other news of my learning baseball I have now noticed there is such a thing as a running lane - but only because someone got docked for not running in it. I've now sorted all the fielding initials, and roughly where they are on the field of play. More of the pitching abbreviations are revealing their secrets - not just ERA.

Though how on earth 'BB' stands for I have no idea. I mean, it means a walk right? Ball Base? Seems possible.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Comparing Embassy websites

Now, I admit I could easily have missed something, but there seems to me to be one major difference between the British Embassy in Washington DC, and the American Embassy in London. What is it? The American Embassy has a very obvious place to click for US travellers visiting the UK, and another obvious place to click for UK people like myself travelling to the US. The British Embassy only does the latter of these things.

No wonder we Brits sometimes feel that Whitehall et al view are as nothing more than a necessary nuisance.

Hearts and Minds

This article is all about how the US Army has requested a small British team teach its soldiers in Iraq the 'softer' approach to occupation. It should be no surprise that the UK is better in this department than the US. Hopefully the US soldiers will take these lessons to heart.

Mouse, ankles, and other news

Many apologies for the lack of updates. This was due to an unforseen accident that involved my cat, a half-full glass of sweet red wine, and my computer mouse.

I have a big cat. By big I mean he wieghs in at 16lbs, and is not fat. In fact at that weight he is rather lean. He measures about 2 and a half feet from tip of tail to nose, and just over a yard if he stretches. And he gets a little clumsy, and is the world's largest coward. He knocked something, panicked, fled, and in the process knocked a lot more stuff including the glass of wine. Four hours later the mouse was dead. Well, not quite dead, but the mousewheel was.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to do anything on a computer when any page is automatically and permanently scrolled to the bottom! In short, computing became impossible and mouse has only just been replaced.

Which brings me, sort of, to ankles. Or rather, ankle. Some time ago I spoke about the X-Ray I had. Last week I had the results. My ankle shows wear and tear "consistent with that of a man in his 40s". I won't say my precise age, but I am approximately half that age. Of course, the GP has no clear why my ankle should be in that condition, so its off to the consultant, in 3 months if I am lucky.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to exercise with a dodgy ankle? (There, that was the link. Did you catch it? ;) )

As for news ... I'm heading Stateside at the end of August. Expect more as more becomes apparent!

Thursday, July 24, 2003

New links

Just added a couple of links to other blogs I've been reading. Across the Atlantic seems to be loosely based on a similar precept to my own - though has clearly been 'in business' much longer. Tacitus seems to be somewhat more well known in the blogosphere, and one that I've had much fun reading.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Inappropriate commercials

The theory between TV commercials, presumably, is to get the 'message' about the 'product' across to 'potential consumers' who are part of the TV 'audience'. One would therefore expect TV ads to be vaguely relevant to the type of audience likely to be watching a given channel at a given time. Most of the time this seems to be the case. Sometimes it is blatant - like a baseball computer game advert during the baseball match. Others it is more general, Cornetto ads during the same baseball match.

However, I have yet to understand the ads for pension unlocking that also seem to be prevalent at that time on NASN. These ads are aimed at the over 50s (you have to be over 50 to prematurely unlock your pension). This link leads to their website. Now, why do they think that there is a body of over 50s watching baseball on a special satellite channel at 1.30am. Oh I am sure there are a few, but enough to make it worthwhile? One feels they are being scammed.

Not that I object to companies such as that being scammed.

I wonder how much of a problem this is in the US. In my (very) limited exposure to domestic US televison to problem did not *seem* to occur as often. But then I have hardly watched enough to be sure of that comment.

My birthday presssssent

My brother, bless him, has today given me my birthday present (he had to order it, and the order was late).

Tis a ring, the least of rings, with some funny lettering inside and out.

I think, in all honesty, I can claim to have had a big grin on my face for the last few hours.

Umpires/referees

I had a longer, somewhat rambling post, but stuff happened and I lost it. Grrr.

Anyway, the basic point was that in America players/teams seem far more willing to contradict a referee's decision. Indeed in the NFL I know that a coach can actually challenge a decision, that the process has been co-opted as part of the game.

What started me thinking along these lines was watching a replay of a Royals-Mariners match where 1 Royals player was sent off for arguing with the ref over a decision he had made to send another Royals player off (sorry, the names just went in one ear and out the other). Over here even if the ref has made a bad decision it is known that arguing with him will only make it worse. Rugby has gone the farthest I believe where only the captains are allowed to initiate conversations of any kind with the ref.

Oh well, just another of those cultural differences.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Blair 2004

This site, Blair 2004 is just too tempting for me not to comment on. It is, as far as I can tell, done in good humour and worth a laugh. Personally I am tempted by a mug. If I manage to get over the US this year I might try to arrange getting one.

More seriously, like all good comedy I think this one strikes at one of the strange truths of out times: that a foreign politician with socialist leanings has widespread admiration and respect in the USA. I doubt many of the people who admire Tony Blair in the US know much, if anything at all, about his domestic policies - and why should they?

No other real comment, just thoughts.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

NASCAR

Today I watched my second NASCAR race, the New England 300. The first I watched was last Sunday, the Tropicana 400 iirc.

Strange. I have watched Formula 1 on and off for the last 10 years or so. And for anyone who 'starts' in F1 I think the strangest thing about American racing are the differences in tracks. All American tracks seem to be variations on a basic oval shape, as opposed to the weird and wonderful courses that populate the F1 racing circuit. On one level this makes the race more boring. After all, how exciting can watching 40-odd cars or so going around an 1-2 mile oval track c.250-300 times be? At least the F1 tracks are more interesting.

That of course misses one of the points, cramming 40-odd cars into such a small track creates plenty of excitement.

Another difference is the number of cautions. In F1 after crashes sometimes the emergency car comes out and everything slows up. Going a race without the car is not remarkable, while having the car out more than a couple of times would be. The comparison with caution flags is obvious, even if the 11 cautions (iirc) today was a little excessive. Again a function of the track, but one that annoyed me. I felt that the 'action' kept getting interrupted.

Otherwise I thought the 'strategy' of the race was interesting, and I imagine this race will become a regular Sunday evening feature of my existence for the next few weeks. Even if most of the time I only have it on in the background.

Oh - I do realise that Nascar and F1 are really analogous, but that was what was on! ;)

Just a quick note

Just the quickest of notes, since I cannot claim to be entirely sober and trying to type this without spelling mistakes is proving .. interesting.

The reason being that I am now one year older, and my brothers determined I should be getting drunk. Not that I objected too strongly I must confess since they were buying all the drinks. A good time had by all.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

In praise of Liberty

Well, since I didn't post anything last night I'm somewhat aware that I am quite late on commenting on Tony Blair's Speech to Congress. Like most of Tony Blair's behaviour post 9/11 it has put me in a bit of a bind.

I am, by inclination, a monarchist, a traditionalist, and right-wing. Tony Blair domestically is all for change and his heritage is socialism. I have a great dislike for many of his domestic policies. But in his foriegn and military policy he has been surprisingly and pleasantly competent, particularly since 9/11. When I watched and listened to his speech on CNN I felt proud that this man was representing me on the international stage. I felt proud that my nation was being represented by a man who was willing to stick to his beliefs, willing to make himself a target for ire and criticism by his own supporters because he feels that something is right.

This sense of what is right flowed through the speech, right in the first serious sentence (after the obligatory jokes). "Members of Congress, I feel a most urgent sense of mission about today's world." It was later elaborated into a primary theme - the human desire for liberty. I wonder, not entirely idly or in jest, how George Washington would have reacted to knowing that, over 200 years after he fought against the UK for the liberty of his nation that the Prime Minister of that same UK would be praising Congres and America. What would Abraham Lincoln think of being quoted by such a person in such a place? Indeed, what would Winston Churchill think, half-American as he was and in more ways than one the man who casts the longest shadow on Anglo-American relations? I somehow think that they would all be pleased, and more than that. Churchill of course saw Britain and America's unity as essential for maintaining the liberty of the entire world. One is tempted to ask how much, precisely, has changed. As for Washington, I somehow feel that if he had known that the UK and USA would one day be at the fore-front of the fight for liberty he would have smiled. After all, the decision to break with Britain did not come easily to him. And Lincoln, I somehow feel that he would appreciate the appropriatness of the event.

This was a panegyric for liberty in so many ways, that value that is so mixed up with America. Indeed, I would say the two are inseparable. Trying to understand America and Americans is hard enough at the best of times, but if one does not appreciate the central importance of liberty to the US then it is as if one speaks a different language. To that extent the speech was also a panegyric of America. Concentrating on America and liberty as it did, and evidently gratifying as it was for many Americans to hear, I cannot help but feel that the true audience for this speech was in Europe.

Although Tony Blair did have some criticisms for the US by far his harshest criticism was for Jacques Chirac:

"There is no more dangerous theory in international politics today than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitor powers, different poles around which nations gather. Such a theory may have made sense in 19th century Europe. It was perforce the position in the Cold War. Today, it is an anachronism, to be discarded like traditional theories of security. And it is dangerous, because it is not rivalry, but partnership we need, a common will and a shared purpose in the face of a common threat. "

This is of course a very public condemnation of the 'bipolar' worldview touted by Chirac. And then: "To be a serious partner, Europe must take on and defeat the anti- Americanism that sometimes passes for its political discourse."

If his colleagues in the EU or his critics at home hoped that political difficulties of recent weeks would force Tony Blair to soften his stance they have been mistaken. Of course, from my personal point of view Tony Blair's newfound principles work against my own most of the time - but on reflection I think I am happy that the PM is actually a man of principle than the spineless politician he was. I am in no doubt that, in a few decades time, Tony Blair will be hailed as one of the most important men of the early 21st century.

Some speeches are defining. Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, or Bush's "Axis of Evil" - or even Robin Cooks "Tikka Massala" speech, though that one has a more UK domestic theme. This speech I think also defines something. Just as Ronald Reagan revitalised the West's sense of belief in itself in the 1980s vis a vis communism I think this speech will be seen as the beginning of the West regaining its self-confidence in its own ideals after 9/11. For as Tony Blair has rightly pointed out this is a war of ideals. And this is a war that we cannot afford to loose.

Churchill never thought of defeat. His opinion could be encaspsulated by the phrase "to speak of defeat is to invite it to the table". Even in the height of criticism of the intelligence for the war, let us celebrate it, for there could be no other more visible demonstration of our liberty.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Rival to Challenger Deep

It appears that there is a possible rival to Challenger Deep for being the deepest place on earth - though it is still in the vicinity. Discovered by a group of researchers from Hawaii, they are not certain of the depth of the thing yet, just that it is certainly in the region of Challender. All fairly interesting.

However, in their inestimable wisdom the researches have named it HMRG Deep. Or Hawaiian Maraine Research Group Deep. What? One of the deepest places on earth and you give it one or the worst names!!!! Did none of them have a family or friend die recently, or alternatively not know of any recent family newborns to name in honour of the thing. Or why not after a ship, or their mascot!

I'll just grumble long and hard about this. I mean, really!

All Star Game

A further update in my continuing education in baseball. Tonight I watched the replay of the All Star Game (just finished actually). Well, more accurately I watched the beginning and the end, and missed out the middle 3 innings. Though I hate to admit it I fell asleep in the middle - which had more to do with the fact that I was knackered having had very little sleep for some reason the night before than the quality of the game. I know not why, but I only got to sleep after 2 and woke up dead on 6. And since I have a tv in my room I was watching it contentedly. I close my eyes at the adverts at the end of the 3rd, and suddenly we're in the middle of the 6th. Nice to see some of the bigger names in action that I haven't seen play until now.

Sticking my oar into the 'this time it counts' argument, I really don't see the problem with the set-up as I understand it. I think the real test will be however if, over the next 3 years say, there is an upturn in viewing figures. If there are, then good. If there are not then questions need to be asked.

Mind you, I don't imagine the game lived up to the hype, though the ending was quite exciting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

One of the Lords!

The House of Lords has once again shown that it is, as is too often the case, the only real place where the dangerous reforms of Tony Blair's government can be combated. They have voted overwhelmingly against restricting the right of trial by jury. I have some sympathy with those who want reform, but sometimes a messy principle is better than an over-efficient system.

Whose says Latin is a dead language?

Apart from the fact that since it is actually officially the language of at least one soveriegn state. ;)

Anyway, spread the word. Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis is here.

I like this, and not just because I am somewhat stuck in the past. Latin is one of the two languages that form the basis of Western Civilisation, and if (as I hope) this might create a little extra interest that will all be for the good. JK Rowling apparantly studied Classics, and it is good to see her support them in this project.

Some people

People have a tremendous capacity for stupidity, and some people have extra-ordinary capacity. This review had me in stitches.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Happy Americans

Came across this little gem from a fellow Brit in a forum.

I come into contact with numerous Americans. For the most part, I have no problem with them, but there is one thing that seriously gets on my tits. YOU'RE ALL TOO DAMN HAPPY!!!

I mean, its all "Have a nice day" this and "You have a good one that". I had a conference call yesterday, and when my American colleague asked me how my day was I went "Shite", and he was genuinely shocked.

As a Brit, I want to see misery!!! I hate my job, and so should everyone else!!! Stop smiling at me!!!


Sums up I think some of the differences between the UK and US very nicely.

UK Supreme Court

No I didn't make a typo on that title. In the recent Cabinet reshuffle it was announced the intention of doing away with the Law Lords and creating a Supreme Court. Well today the government finally came up with some proposals. This BBC article gives some of the details. From the looks of things it sounds dreadful. Tony Blair once again shows his complete inability to grasp that to change something one does not have to act like a bull in a china shop. I mean, what is wrong with keeping the position of Lord Chancellor, just altering the role of the office? It would hardly be the first time the role has changed.

I am equally certain as well that we will learn all the wrong lessons from the US. But then, I am generally pessimistic where the constitutional skills of this government are concerned.

Homosexual Marriage

I've been following some of the debate about the Federal Marriage Amendment, and for good or for ill here are my thoughts on the issue of homosexual marriage.

In the UK we are having to face the issue of homosexuality. The furore in the Church of England / Anglican Communion is just the latest sign of it. However, in most of the discussion I have heard or read, on both sides of the pond, it strikes me that people keep lumping the legal and the religious aspect of marriage.

'Marriage' of course is a word with very strong religious connotations. If we think of a 'marriage' most people initially think of some kind of religious ceremony. This is of course completely different from 'legal' marriage, which is regulated by the state.

I am opposed to religious homosexual marriage. I think that the concept of religious marriage needs to be further defined. It seems to me this is very important in the US where the religious and the secular state sit fairly uneasily side by side (witness the various arguments about the Ten ommandments or the Pledge of Allegiance). In the UK I think this will be necessary if the Church of England is ever dis-established, but until then we have an even messier situation.

That will not sort all the problems out, far from it. But it will perhaps make the debate a little clearer.


PS I note that I've lost the comment tags for the time being. I hope to get a email link for me up in the next week or so. Depends on me being brave enough to venture into the template.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Steak

Today I had the audacity to actually buy a steak today for my dinner tomorrow. I can only say I am approaching the whole experience with a due sense of dread and trepidation. Have mercy on the kitchen.

USS Ronald Reagan

Yesterday the USS Ronald Reagan was Commissoned into service in the United States Navy. It is the first aircraft carrier named after a still living President, and has such caused some controversy (though not as much as the propsective USS George H W Bush). Coming from a Royal Navy family I find the naming of ships after people quite odd anyway. Of all current ships in the RN I can only think of a very small handful of people that get ships named after them. These are usually famous Admirals or Royalty. There is the notable exception of the name Iron Duke referring to Sir Arthur Wellesly, Viscount of Talavera and Duke of Wellington. In fact there is a HMS Iron Duke currently in service. She is one of the Type 23 or 'Duke' class of Frigates named after various Duchies, or in this case a famous Duke. As for the Admirals and Royalty, their place in RN nomenculture has always been a small number of ships among a much larger sea.

For example, of the 35 Dreadnoughts that served during WW1 only seven were named after people. Famous battles (Agincourt), mythological figures (Bellerophon, Neptune, Orion), places (Canada, Malayasia) or martial virtues (Conqueror, Audacious, Resolution), dominate, alongside the mandatory traditional names (Warspite, Royal Oak). On the whole I have to say I prefer RN names to the USN names. HMS Daring just sounds better than USS Arleigh Burke.

Not that I think Ronald Reagan is undeserving of this honour. I think he will probably go down as the most influential politician of the latter half of the 20th century. But I do find it slighty amusing that there is a USS Winston S Churchill in the USN whereas the RN is never likely to honour one of its greatest First Sea Lords.

However, my only concern now is that the next time the Democrats are in power we will have the USS William Jefferson Clinton inflicted upon the world.

I wonder if that constitues a crime against humanity?

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Baseball and Cricket

First off, thanks Green for the explanation about Errors. My next decision is whether to watch the All Star game. Pros: (1) Gives me the chance to see some of the current big names so I will know a little more about who the commentators talk about! (2) Probably see some decent baseball. Cons: (1) For me it starts at 1am, and will go on for at least 3 hours, and I have to get up at 7. So sleep will be short to say the least! (2) I'm generally wary of anything that is hyped too much, because it can disappoint. Probably resolution: I'll record it and watch it in the evening.

Anyway, more thoughts cricket, which only have the most tenuous link to baseball.

Cricket is a funny game. There are various 'types' of matches, but the one that is the Rolls Royce of cricket is the Test Match. This is (usually) a 5-day affair. The game tends to be slow, though at times it can have you on the edge of your seats. And it has stats. Lots of stats. Stats galore. I ought to know because I scored for my schools 1st XI for 4 years, and it was a good-quality school team. One of my tasks were to produce all those statistics. Batting stats, bowling stats, fielding, wicket-keeping, drawing 'wagon wheels' to show how each batsman scored their runs, using different coloured pens for each bowler to be able to see how each bowler and batsman coped against each other, and it goes on. Fun. The depth to which these stats can go is amazing, and in the modern tech environment of the professional sport they do go that far. It is the most stat-orientated game in the UK. Nothing else comes close. So, in a strange way, is the 'national' game that is closest to American games with their similar stat-obsession. Which perhaps explains one reason why I liked American Football so much when I was first exposed to it last year, and also explains my growing interest in baseball.

Of course, I could ever see cricket catching on the US, even to the extent soccer has. Even though advertising opportunities would be frequent (on average, every six balls). It is too slow, pure and simple. But the similarity is definitely there, and definitely where baseball is concerned, even though baseball resembles rounders a good deal more.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Mississippi Burning

I watched this film for the second time last night. The first time was years ago, and I knew virtually nothing of the background and thought it was ok. Not that I remember much of it. Then I picked it up in DVD format in a bargain bin. Partly because I wanted to see it again (I had just watched several documentaries about the Civil Rights movement), and partly because I think Gene Hackman is a good actor, and partly because it was the third DVD of a buy 2 get 1 free offer in said bargain bin.

I am generally wary of any 'true-life' film. Holloywood does like its own input, and so the most I expect from Hollywood films like this one is a sense of realistic atmostphere. Low expectations for Hollywood films are, imo, essential if you want to regularly enjoy yourself at the cinema. They have meant that I have passed many hours more entertained than many of my friends. This film is not, I think, any great exception to this rule, though I liked the character Gene Hackman played if only for the outrageous accent (I have no idea what Gene Hackman's ordinary accent is). It sounded like a cross between a Cockney and a Scouser and a Texan to my ears, a most unique concoction.

I did think that the way this film portrayed atmosphere was excellent. However, I also find it a useful reminder about some of the imperfetions of the US. Now I am not going to embark on a 'bash-the-US' spree. I have great respect for the US, but I am hardly blind to her faults, past and present. I think films such as these are useful reminders that terrible things can happen even in democracies, and that precisely because they happen in democracies such crimes are more obscene than conducted in a dictatorship. Tyrants at least have a basic honesty of purpose, whereas those that corrupt democracy strike at the heart of what makes our society what it is.

Next year the EU will be admitting 10 new members. A number of these have large Roma minorities that are systemmatically (if informally) discriminated and segregated from the mainstream. In my own country I fear the same thing but slowly be starting to occur with 'asylum-seekers'. In certain parts of the US I think these threats probably remain very real.

An average film, but one that had produced a considerable amount of waffle, some of which I hope makes sense, and might even be ... relevant!

Baseball update

First of all thanks to Greengourd for answering my query about the mysterious 'E', though my good friend Waddling Thunder when he read it also IM'd me the answer. When I was thinking about this post earlier today though I was going to ask what constitutes as an Error. However, when I was watching the Cubs/Braves game today I saw two examples of Errors, on by both teams.

Wonderful, except that has left me even more confused than before. One of the Errors I could understand, I think (throwing the ball into the crowd). The other just seemed to me like a case of bad fielding. And it left me with another question, what effect do Errors have on the game? Any at all? Or is it merely a statistic, which would seem odd given the prominence of their 'place' on scoresheets. Clearly something I am going to have to continue looking out for.

As for the game itself I enjoyed it. It is the first baseball game that I watched from start to finish - save for some of the 4th when I was getting my dinner out of the oven. It held my attention. Though the Braves were in control from about the 4th (iirc) it was no walk-over despite the 9-5 finish. There always seemed the possibility that the Cubs might come back.

All in all I've decided that the flow of baseball is alot like the flow of cricket. For most of the time very little really seems to be going on. And then all of a sudden it gets much more exciting. This quite laid back pace was not what I was expecting, especially since basketball and ice hockey in particular are incredibly fast games by UK standards. Just goes to show one ought not to generalise.

As for the rest of the stats, I have now worked out what 'RBI' means, and am getting an idea about what batter averages represent. Indeed, the batting terminology is unlocking itself quicker than I imagined. The pitcher terminology and stats though mostly remain closed books to me.

On a complete side-note I have to say that I absolutely adore the various infobars that US networks have displaying game information (such as score, innings, the mini-diamond and so on). So much better than the stuff for most games over here - though again cricket comes closest. Actually, that plants a thought, but I'll have to think it over before posting.

Editing 2

With any luck I will now have added comment tags. Let's see.

Thoughts on the Federal Marriage Amendment

I have been reading a little about the FMA recently on the net. This strikes something of a chord because we have are having a related debate in the UK about proposals for civil unions in the UK for homosexual couples, and the repeal of a law known popularly as Section 28 that forbids the promoting of homosexuality in schools. However, I didn't really start thinking these thoughts until I considered the FMA.

It seems to be that both arguments for and against the FMA are just symptoms of the real problem: a deep confusion over what 'marriage' actually is. Is marriage a religious ritual? The answer is of course 'Yes'. However, many of the legal and financial 'advantages' of marriage have nothing to do with religion. And it is these 'advantages' that are really at the centre of the dispute - though the symbolism does have an importance as well.

What of the odd things about the US to my mind is how can so religious a country have a near absence of religion in its schools. Although it has been explained to be a number of times, and although intellectually I understand how this situation came about, on a gut level I simply don't 'get it'. There is that furore about the ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance that will be heard sometime in the future. All these things are about symbolic language, and of all the words in the English language 'marriage' must be both one of the most symbolic and one of the words most associated with religion. I cannot help but suspect that at some point various legal rulings will define the symbolism of this word in a legal sense in the US, and when and where it is an approrpriate or inappropriate word to use.

I suspect in the UK we will be seeing a greater definition between Civil Unions and Marriage in the coming years, especially as un-married heterosexual couples press for the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. I think this would be the optimum way for the US to go as well, but I think there is little chance of that happening. The US remains too religious a society for this particular divorce between the secular and the religious.

Right wing nicknames

Just a thought before I have to get ready to go to work, why is it that both right-wing parties of the UK and US have nicknames. The Republican Party of course is the GOP. The Conservative Party is often referred to as the Tory Party (and Conservatives as Tories). Meanwhile in both countries the left-wing parties are not. At most they just get abbreviations. The Democrats (Dems) in the US, The Labour Party (Labour), or the Liberal Democratic Party (Lib Dems) in the UK? Odd no? I wonder if this is a wider trend, I'll have to find out.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

William Hague Speech

As promised, here is my look at a the speech by William Hague in the House of Commons yesterday in a debate about The European Convention. You can find the Hansard transcript here.

For those who know little or nothing about the context of this here is a quick summary. For the last 18 months the Convention on the Future of Europe has been meeting with two parallel objectives. Objective A is to simplify the existing EU treaty structure by bringing all treaties into one. Objective B is to reform the EU for the accession of 10 new members next year. Since the EU structures are still more or less the same as when the EEC was first founded with 6 members there is a clear need to update. All well and good. The Conservative Party argue that the changes that this process will bring about warrant the holding of a referendum. The Labour Party opposes this, in part because of the moderately deep antipathy to the EU that currently resides in the British electorate. The Conservatives are essentially anti-integrationist. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile are generally pro-EU and pro-integration. After this, I can hand it over to Mr Hague, the Honourable Member from Richmond, to tell the tale of what has happened since.

Near the very beginning there was a priceless moment. Hague, in a tandem, was remarking about how was agreeing with Menzies Campbell (Foreign Affairs spokesman for the Lib Dems) about a proposal that he had put forward. He then remarks how the Minister, David McShane was to be heard also saying 'good idea' to the proposal. McShane nodded.

Hague: "The Minister nods assent, so it is clearly on the record."

McShane: indicates dissent

Hague: "Now he is dissenting. We have had a U-turn in a matter not of days, but seconds."

Hague was, and is, always very quick on the uptake; and one can only pity McShane for having nodded his way into the trap. After this amusement Hague got onto the crux of the argument, the reasons Labour has given for not holding a referendum.

Firstly, initially the Labour Party claimed the Convention was nothing more than a tidying-up exercise. He mentions a time when McShane said it was 'thre-quarters a tidying-up exercise' - to which the hapless minister nods.

He then comes out with the following quotes about the Convention:

"the most important treaty since the foundation of the European Economic Community"
"a new political age".
"a legal revolution, with no precedent".
"so new and large a document that it would be right to hold a referendum on it."

From the German, French, Spanish, and Danish foriegn ministers respectively. Strike 1.

McShane tried to stage a come-back. "Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the President of the Commission, Mr. Prodi, said that when he read the document he burst into tears, so anti-communautaire was it?"

Hague rallied, and though he referred to the "cheering news" of Prodi's distraught he referred to the fact that every other government in the union thinks that the Convention is rather more than the tidy-up so claimed. At this point Sir Patrick Cormack thought that Mr. Prodi's distress could have been caused by another factor.

Cormack: "Prodi burst into tears because he thought that Berlusconi could become President of the EU."

Which Hague acknowledged by saying: "Well he [Berlusconi] is the President of the EU, so, yes, lots of tears have been shed."

After making another joke at Tony Blair's expense, Hague moves on. He mentioned that Tony Blair had apparantly given up the first argument for lost, and that before the Liaison Committee Tony Blair had employed a new argument: that the Treaty was not in fact too unimportant, but too important to be trusted to the electorate. That "its very complexity means that parliamentary scrutiny is the right way to debate this." Hague was quick to seize the assertion that while the Irish, Danish, Spanish and Luxembourg people were evidently thought to be competent to vote on this matter the Labour Party was of the view that the British electorate was not. He then points out the occasions when the British electorate has been trusted with a complex decision - such as the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. The minister could only sit and grit his teeth. Strike 2.

And the Hague turned to the third argument: that the tradition of this country is not one of referenda but parliamentary scrutiny. Hague is happy to acknowledge that is the tradition of the country, but then he asks, since when is the Prime minister a fan of tradition?

Hague: "I must have debated with him a couple of hundred times across the Dispatch Box, and I cannot recall—although I have not checked—his ever defending any proposition on the ground that it was in line with the traditions of this country; that does not normally enter his head. We have a Prime Minister who is happy to cast aside the post of Lord Chancellor—a post that has existed for 1,400 years—without even thinking about what would happen the next day." Strike 3.

Personally I do not like William Hague, but on this occasion I have to hand it to him, he said preciely what had to be said, and he exposed the inconsistencies in the Government's arguments beautifully. I rather imagine that Mr McShane was quite happy when Hague sat down.

I have yet really to get the chance to view debates in the either the Senate or the House. It is something I intend to get around to before very much longer. It will be interesting to see how they compare with what is, after all, the Mother of all Parliaments.

Editing....

Just tried to do something to the site, let's see if it has worked

Take 3

Cross fingers, success

Press Officers

This article in the Washington Post is a very interesting look at Scott McClellan, who from Tuesday will be taking over from Ari Fliescher as White House Press Secretary. All in all he looks like a good man who has a good chance of doing a good job.

Most important though to the point I am trying (long-windedly) to make is the last line, a quote from McClellan. "This is not about me. This is about the president and his agenda." In two simple sentances he says precisely what the role of all Press Officers ought to be.

I would say that Ari Fleischer has more or less lived upto this dictum as well. Over here in the UK however Alaister Campbell seems to think differently. Clearly No.10 hasn't yet quite got the hang of a 'presidential' operation.

Thoughts on Dean

I find American electioneering possible the third most fascinating thing about the US (after its legal system, and its constitutional set-up). Firstly it seems to be nearly continual. You have an election, a short break (six months maybe), electioneering (18 months), mid-terms, shorter break (4 months) electioneering (20 months), election. Of course that is a simplistic view, but I think broadly accurate.

Of all the contenders for the Democrats I find Howard Dean the most interesting. This is, in part, because he could make a decent stab at running in Europe (most US politicians, GOP or Dem, would be considered more right-wing than Attila the Hun in the European spectrum). He certainly makes plenty of noise, and at least part of his 'success' thus far has been his ability to keep the media's attention. Not all that attention is complimentary, but every story raises his rather low starting profile a little higher.

At the moment I doubt if Dean (or any other of the contenders) really care about the whole of the american people. They just have to win over Democrats. Dean has clearly been exploiting Democrat disillusionment with the party since the mid-terms. He has been doing so rather effectively as well, mobilising activists to his support. Activists, but nature of being active, are more likely to vote than moderates. Dean would appear to be doing precisely what William Hague did in 1997 and Iain Duncan Smith did in 2001 in the Tory Party - take control of the party by winning over the party faithful. The lesson was though that William Hague suffered one of the biggest election defeats in modern democratic history.

But how can one attack Dean when the things he stands for are thought of as being generally good by a large number of people in your party? Certainly his stance on the war can still be attacked, but his stance on taxes is far harder for the Democrat mainstream to assault precisely because they also oppose Bush's tax cuts. Dean is playing a rather shrewd game, and it will be interesting to see how this particular cookie crumbles. I am certain however that GOP strategists would think Christmas had come early if Dean wins the Democratic nomination.

Perhaps they ought to send Dean some more money for his campaign?

Medical comparison

Two people I know of have, in the last couple of years, been diagnosed with cataracts. Both are octogenarians in basic good health. One has private medical insurance, the other does not.

The one with health insurance had the first cataract removed within a month. The second cataract will be removed next month. The only reason both were not removed at the same time is because of the age of the patient. Because they caught it early the person was still able to drive throughout this period, although in fact this person drives little. A little under three months between diagnosis and the second op.

The other does not have medical insurance, and was forced to rely upon the NHS. Over a year after diagnoses the first cataract has just been removed. The second cataract, all going well, will be removed in later October. A little over 18 months from diagnosis to the second op.

That is the best argument against the NHS I know, having run afoul of it twice myself - 22 months wait for a minor operation from seeing a consultant (26 months from seeing the GP), and now 32 after tearing a ligament in my ankle today the offending joint was X-rayed for the first time.

I would like to make it plain it is not that staff in the NHS are any less capable than their colleagues in the private sector, they are assurdely not. My own operation was a complete success, and I was very satisfied with the whole experience. It was the wait that was the problem, a wait caused by bureaucracy. One can only assume this is because of the Treasury's insistence on knowing how every penny of public money is spent. Certainly a worth-while principle, but one carried to extremes.

What does this have to do with the US? Simple - I am continually mystified by those in the US whole thin universal health-care is so great. In all probabilty health insurance would cost no more than the extra taxes one would have to pay, and might very well cost less. Of course, on the Continent the universal health systems function better, and the taxes are higher. So higher than they have contributed to the economic difficulties of those countries. The only reason the UK economy has been keeping above water has been that people have been spending money, money they would not have had under a Continental tax regieme.

This also ties into the US, it is a very practical demonstration of why less tax = economic good, something that the US (mostly) seems to understand.

Just a side-note, have been reading up on William Hague's speech yesterday. You have been duly warned.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Malpractise and politics

Well, the Democrats have, as expected, foiled the proposed Malpractise Bill in the Senate, at least for the time being. I think that this Bill though is fairly symbolic of some of the differences between the UK and the US.

It is widely acknowledged that the parties divided along donor lines. In the US this is accepted practice, and both parties are equally guilty. I feel the Democrats perhaps try to pretend this is not the case slightly more often than the GOP. In the UK this simply could not be. Period. With one notable, and glaring exception - the unions and the Labour Party.

The Labour Party was born out of the Trade Union Movement at the beginning of the last century, and so it is hardly surprising that formal links between the unions were intrinsic to the early party. The problem is that they are still there. These links are financial and political (unions control 50% of the vote at Labour Party Conferences iirc). The biggest unions contribute £1.5 million each to the Labour Party. In American terms this is tiny, but in a climate when equally large donations by wealthy individuals are savaged in the press and in politics these formal links are looking increasingly anachronistic, and out of touch with modern British politics.

Back to the Malpractise Bill itself, I think it is also symbolic of something else about US society when viewed from across the pond. It is litigious, and in these situations overly so. That is clearly a theme on which I will be speaking some more, so I won't go further down that road here.

As to my verdict, I'm with the GOP on this one.

Baseball update

Tonight I watched a replay of the first Boston-Toronto game. Although I had watched parts of the 2nd and 6th innings, I only really watched it from the 8th to its conclusion. I actually found most of this quite exciting - especially once the game progressed into extra innings. It was not quite on the edge of the seat, but still quite fun. I am beginning to think that some of my earlier thoughts about baseball were indeed due to a very flat couple of games I first watched. That said I think the first 7 innings of this game would have been equally flat, so, who knows.

I do still have a number of queries. What does the 'E' on the score sheet mean. 'R' is obviously Runs. 'H' i'm guessing is Hits. But E? I can't recall actually hearing in the commentary any term beginning with 'E'. Of course most of the stats are still a complete mystery, but you have to learn to crawl before you can walk, let alone run.

By complete chance today when I turned on the TV I saw a very good speech by William Hague of all people in a debate in the House of Commons on the Convention on the Future of Europe. When Hansard updates I'll talk about it.


Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I have, in the last few days, watched several games of baseball. I should mention that I know absolutely nothing about baseball. In common with most Brits I have always viewed it as a glorified game of rounders.

My first thoughts on the game are that it is slow, very slow, even by American standards where you have lots of commercial breaks. I think this must be because in the other 3 big sports (ice hockey, american football, basketball) the game itself is very fast when play is actually taking place. Of course, it might just be because the game I watched was the recent win of the Yankees over the Red Sox 2-1. So it was mostly the pitchers striking the batters out. I'll keep watching on and off and see if it changes anywhere.

I think I worked out most of the rules by now though - even if I know nothing of the terminology. Next step is trying to work out what on earth all the stats mean. That could take a while longer...

Well, this will be the second attempt to post this first message, the first attempt running afoul of my modem.

Perhaps slightly poetic, given that this is my second attempt at a blog - the first having crashed and died some time ago.

My aim in this blog is to provide an outlet for my fascination with the USA. As might be guessed I am British, and for some reason unknown to me, I truly am fascinated by the US. However, I am not going to limit this blog to the US. That would be a bit like ordering the seasons to cease their course. Of course, a good deal of what I intend to talk about will be related to the US in some fashion - that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

However, other topics that are likely to raise their head are, in no particular order: UK, European, and international politics; history; religion - especially Catholicism; and 'culture' (books, films, games, and so on).

Crossing my fingers, let's see if this actually posts this time!

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