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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

All is well - Monday

Well, I have arrived without difficulty. The flight went fine, the only delay was the (expected) wait at immigration. What did not help is that evidentally there were several flights from Western Europe all arrived at roughly the same time. We were I think the second, so it wasn't too bad. Only about an hour. The INS man was particularly unwelcoming, but I suppose that is also par for the course. One interesting difference between Dulles and Boston was that in Boston airport the announcer occasionally welcoming all visitors to the US, in addition to welcoming home US citizens. Not so on Monday at Dulles, where clearly we were the scum of the earth, and how dare we enter the land of the brave, yadayadayada. On the other hand the customs man was very nice, and the wait at immigration meant I didn't have to wait for my baggage.

Had dinner at a steak house. You Americans sure do better steaks than us. Much munching took place.

Tuesday

Went to Arlington National Cemetery. Very interesting. Saw JFKs grave, got a picture. Admittedly didn't make much of an impact. I mean, how much feeling can I have for this guy? Still, nice to say that I have seen it. More interesting from my perspective was the mast of USS Maine (of Havana explosion fame), the changing of the Guard at the tomb of the Unknown soldier, The Arlington House itself, and the statue/grave of General Dill. Who is this General Dill? A Brit general of WW2 who get himself buried at Arlington by decree of Congress. I only remember little bits about him - later I will do some looking. Also went and saw some other graves. There was one particularly interesting orb as well.

During our lunch break listened to Rush Limbaugh for the first time. Interesting indeed.

In the evening go bowling for the first time in 4-5 years. It showed, oh my did it show. I seem to be able to hit the 7 and 10 pin without any difficulty. It was the other 8 pins that caused me problems!

Note

I see someone has left a comment. I cannot read it at the moment - the site that does my comments is down for some reason. I'll read it just as soon as I can.

One final word. BAGELS!!!!

Monday, August 18, 2003

Off I go!

Well I am now at the airport. This internt terminal has sticky keys, and although I am doing my best I am not responsible for any typos.

I have gone through the check-in and am in the departure lounge. Had my breakfast (smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel) and am ready to spend a boring couple of hours before boarding.

All I have to hope for now is that no terrorists are feeling frolicsome today!!!!

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Off tomorrow

Well, I am now all packed, staying at my grandparents. I've already worked out what I have forgotten - I did not follow the advice of Ford Prefect and forgot my towel! I suspect this is not a complete tragedy however.

With luck I will blog from the airport - and then who knows!

On a complete side-note I read today in the Telegraph that apparently UK drivers get ripped off by US car hire firms. Not that this bothers me - I cannot drive - but it chuckles me all the same. Apparantly we get done in by the bad driving of the Italians.

Another reason to moan about Europe! ;)

Off tomorrow

Well, I am now all packed, staying at my grandparents. I've already worked out what I have forgotten - I did not follow the advice of Ford Prefect and forgot my towel! I suspect this is not a complete tragedy however.

With luck I will blog from the airport - and then who knows!

On a complete side-note I read today in a the Telegraph that apparently UK drivers get ripped off by US car hire firms. Not that this bothers me - I cannot drive - but it chuckles me all the same. Apparantly we get done in by the bad driving of the Italians.

Another reason to moan about Europe! ;)

Friday, August 15, 2003

Religion v Intellect

Moderately interesting Op-Ed in the NY Times. Read it. Personally I think the author, perhaps intentionally, highlights the divide by stressing his own incomprehension. Fairly well written piece, and doesn't really offer much comment but rather invites some personal reflection. A very good piece.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Holiday

Oh yes, since I am about to go on holiday I am uncertain how much blogging I will be able to do (if at all) over the next 2-3 weeks.

Political funding

If there is one area where US and UK politics differ considerably it is in the realm of political finance. UK parties operate on a budget tiny compared to those used in the US. Even if you cancels out the Presidential election, and looks at say the spending in one of the large states like Texas or California it dwarfs the spending in the UK. Indeed, there is some serious debate about state-funding for political parties.

Of course one reason for this is that the number of TV ads is SEVERELY limited over here. iirc I think the most a party can expect are 5 or 6 Party Political Broadcasts in the entire General election. 'Soft Money' is the other difference.

I have been watching the debate about campaign finance in the US with interest as a result, and read today in the NY Times that the 9th Circuit have mostly upheld Alaska's law. Hopefully this is a good sign for the McCain-Feingold law when it arrives in the Supreme Court.

Dollars and Pounds

Well, I have my dollars for my forthcoming trip to the US. Nice crisp things they are too, with that funny smell all new money has. And I am likely to spend the next fortnight getting completely confused between 1s and 10s. The reason - everything is green!!!!

UK notes are coloured differently for each denomination. £5 notes have a light blue them, £10 light brown, and so on. Interesting £1 notes (you can only get them in Scotland) are coloured green, and I wonder if there is a relation there between the dollar and sterling. Certainly possible. Each denomination also gets noticeable larger both vertically and horizontally. In comparison a $50 bill looks much like a $1 bill.

Perhaps one day in the distant future the US Treasury will discover something called colour, perhaps not. I can live in hope.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The Passion

Which is the title of the film by Mel Gibson that is creating a fair amount of fuss. According to this BBC article the Anti-Defamation League has weighed in on it.

In a statement, the group said the film showed Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as being responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.

Now, maybe it was just me, but I seem to recall the Bible quite clearly gives that impression. The mob kept crying 'Crucify! Crucify!'. That is the story told in churches of all denominations every Easter. Is it anti-Semetic? Well, we'll have to wait for the film to come out to see. The Passion Story has certainly been used to fuel anti-Semetic propaganda in the past. However, I think it is a simple fact that Jews and Christians will have to live with: that Christ was killed at the urgings of the Jewish priestly hierarchy and by a the demands of a Jewish mob. (Or perhaps, more accurately, that that covers a couple of the facts of the Christian tale).

By saying that am I anti-Semite? Of course not. Just because I went to a boarding school that was founded on slave money does not mean that I am a slaver or support slavery. The same logic broadly follows here. Jewish-Christian relations can only improve if people accept the basic difficulties of our common heritage.

On a slightly related note I read somewhere something from a UK correspond based in the US sharing his thoughts on Independence Day. He said something like this: "While I admire the USA, and can appreciate the pagentry of July 4th, I cannot help but feel that I am on the other side of all that makes the day sacred." In certain aspects of Christian public life I am afraid that the Jewish people are just that - in some ways on the 'other' side, historically, of what makes the events sacred. Perhaps they might reflect that despite July 4th the UK and US have formed one of the most stable and prosperous partnerships in both economic (and later political) spheres the world has seen. Current events alone should show that poor beginnings do not stand in the way of firm friendships. I believe a similar friendship can be formed between Judaism and Christianity (and, incidentally, with Islam). But it requires recognition that some facts of history cannot be altered.

General comments

The Alphabetical order for the Californian Recall has been randomly determined. Do you know your R W Q?

6th Circuit Appeals Court

I regard this more as a simple effect of the power and influence placed into the US Judiciary, with personality acting as the catalyst and exacerbated by modern media. Oh, and it is quite entertaining to watch. It is a curious thing, but often the best way to get and understanding of a system is to observe it under stress. I am a happy man, and have confidence that whatever the eventual outcome the 6th Circuit, and the USA, will be better for it.

Meantime I intend to settle down with some Coke and munchies and enjoy the show.

Fund Raising

If there is one huge difference in the political systems between the UK and US it is fund-raising. I thought that while reading this article in the NY Times. It's about Arnie fund-raising in New York City, and visiting a charity centre he set up some years ago.

Which highlights another difference, Americans still seem to understand that 'Charity' is not a dirty word.

NY Times endorses Boston Archbishop

Well, this article reads like an endorsement of Archbishop Sean O'Malley. To be fair it is an opinion piece, but still, it is nice to read.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Conservatism is a psychological syndrome

Washington Post article.

Seems a bunch of four professors have decided that conservatism is some sort of psychological condition. Of course, there own views are decided entirely from reason.

This is a quote from the article of some of what the professor's wrote: "One is justified in referring to Hitler, Mussolini, Reagan, and Limbaugh as right-wing conservatives . . . because they all preached a return to an idealized past and favored or condoned inequality in some form."

So Reagan wanted to return to an idealised past? Did they actually bother to listen/read any of Reagan's speeches. I recall (reading them after the fact admittedly) quite a lot about making a positive future, not about reliving the past. But then again, I must also be suffering from the conservative malaise.

Oh well, it would hardly be the first time reasonable conservatives have been compared to Nazi's.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Job application

In my search for more 'worthwhile' work I have come across a truly frightening thing. Not only do we have internat application forms, we also have internet application testing. And not one test - but 3! Of course they say the tests are really there just to help you evaluate whether the job is good for me or not, but since they record the scores forgive me for thinking that these results might well enter into the overall picture.

Democrat v Democracy

Is it me but have Democrats (and some Republicans) forgotten what the word 'democracy' actually means?

Take this quite from Californian Democratic Party Chairman: "Oh, my God!" Mr. Torres said. "There are views from A to Z." (From The NY Times)

Surely any serious democratic politician (especially one might argue from a Party that is called the Democractic Party) should support such a thing? Put your money where your mouth is!

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Anglican Schism?

Now that the vote has finally gone ahead I think it is time to comment directly on the Episcopalian decision to appoint a practicising homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson. The issue is mixed up with that of homosexual marriage. The whole homosexual issue is highlt charged, and many headlines have been generated. What has been missed however is the real battle. That current field that is being fought on is homosexuality, but homosexuality is nothing more than an issue in a wider context.

That wider context is the Anglican approach to Scripture. As a Protestant Church the Anglican Communion has subscribed to the idea of Holy Scripture as the sole basis of religious authority. This position was developed during the Reformation (Catholicism and Orthodoxy believe in constant revelation, where Scripture is the most important but not the sole source of authority). The position of the Anglican liberals inevitably means weakening that principle, and perhaps de facto doing away with it altogether. This may not be the intended result, but it will be what results.

Why? Because Scripture is very clear on the matter of homosexuality. It can be stretched so far, but liberal interpretations stretch it to breaking point. And this is the position of the Evangelicals who want to maintain this principle. Women priests were another battleground, but one where the Scriptural issue was significantly clouded enough (for Anglicans) that they could fudge. This issue is Scripturally more clear-cut.

What will it mean? I think it is quite possible the Episcopal Church in the USA will divide. I think it more unlikely that there will be a formal Schism yet - though I think it is quite possible the next Lambeth Conference will produce one.

What I think will be missed in all of this is the heroism of Canon Jeffrey John. I have utmost respect for this man. He decided not to push the Church down the path of confrontation, and not become the Bishop of Reading. Canon Gene Robinson on the other hand must be acutely aware that he is the cause of the current crisis. Perhaps being in the UK Canon John was/is simply more aware of the international dimension. I have no doubt that he resigned to maintain the unity of the Communion, and that sacrifice of personal position for a wider good is something I deeply admire. Canon Robinson must bear the burden for forcing this issue. I imagine he sincerely believes that the Holy Spirit has guided him here. If he does fracture the Anglican Communion though he must ask himself the question, and accept the responsibility.

California Recall

Looks interesting. I'll be keeping an eye on the Golden State, if only because what is going on is (nearly) unprecedented.

There is however some very important symbolism I feel in Arnie running for Governor. People often scoff the American Dream, and it certainly remains a most intangible thing. But Arnie represents a part of that myth, and that is one of those wonderful things about America.

In the meantime I find myself rather disgusted by those who claim this is all a carnival. All democracy is a carnival. It is at best organised chaos, at worse approaches anarchy. But like a carnival it is full of vitality. Politicians should be prepared to celebrate the potency of Californian democracy, or they should campaign to change it. What they should not do is whine and moan because Gov Davies is unpopular. Whether they like it or not popularity is part and parcel of democracy, and if Californian politicos have not worked that one out...

Celebrate the carnival. It will be good for California. It will allow Californians to make an important choice about their State in a way that cannot be obscured by other national elections. It will remind Californians that they kept Davies in power last year. It will (hopefully) remind them a little about what democracy is about.

And to the poo-poohers of the Democrat establishment - they should learn that to be afraid of the voter is perhaps the worst attitude imaginable for an elected official. On his current reactions I hope Davies loses miserably. It is, at the moment, no more than he deserves for the disrespect he has shown fr democracy.

Spider Silk

It's 120 million years old and encased in amber. I'm sure some scientists are thinking Christmas has come early. BBC article.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Tea

I am, in some respects, entirely stereotypical. My tea consumption is one good example of this. I drink tea in vast quantities. But, when it comes to tea drinking, I am also very 'common'. Tea and china is all well and good, but I prefer my tea to come in nice big pint-sized mugs.

Quantity in food or beverages is a very American thing. Last November I marvelled at a 1.9 litre size soft-drink container. I bought a coke and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking it watching NFL for the first time. Sometimess big is just so much better.

Interestingly though I was a fan of the pint-mug long before I became interested in America. Natural disposition? Probably not.

Incidentally on averafe I think that I probably drink c. 5 pints of tea a day .

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Solaris

I have just watched the DVD of this, and was mightily impressed. I do not know the novel upon which it was based, but the film conveyed the feeling of a 1960s sci-fi story. What do I mean by that? (of course, Solaris is actually a 1960s book - unless it was early 70s. To be honest I cannot recall).

Well, to be honest I cannot really describe it. It is the difference between 2001 and between the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. Both are works I thoroughly enjoyed, and yet I cannot but help feel that the older stories are somehow more polished, more complete than the newer ones. Perhaps it is because the earlier writers seem more restrained, more refined in their use of language. After all, when you are telling a story in only 250-300 pages you have to make every word count. When you are writing a series, or even a stand alone 5-6 hundred page book one can be somewhat slacker. I think modern books are perhaps easier to read, they are easier on the brain, but one misses perhaps the quality of earlier authors.

But that perhaps goes off on a tangent I didn't quite intend. The other aspect of 'classical' sci-fi - if I may be so bold to use that word - is how philosophical the stories are, and how limited. In Solaris the action is completely centred around the character played by George Clooney. This paucity of characters seems to be to be a symptom of the difference I am trying to define. Perhaps the style of writing is another symptom.

Of perhaps the more 'modern' writers the ones that strike me as most similar to Asimov or Clarke et al are CJ Cherryh, Iain M Banks, and Alaister Reynolds. I find the writing quality of all to be superb. The works of all three seem to be far more 'philisophical' than most science fiction today. Compared to the other sci-fi authors prominent on my bookshelf (Stephan Donaldson, LE Modesitt Jr, Peter F Hamilton, Frank Herbert, + others that are hidden behind those because of double-stacking) they seem to be more thoughtfully challenging. The others seem mostly about telling a good story (which imo they do), but these three in addition to telling a good story seem to be making some kind of challenge. Perhaps nothing more than 'think about this', they certainly provoke in me a more thoughtful reaction.

Thinking about this, perhaps that is because all these writers never really explain everything. What is the meaning of 2001? A much debated question. They leave us hanging, and by doing so we have to complete the thoughts they have presented to us, and they do not overwhelm us visually. Perhaps that is the difference I am groping at - the inclusion of the audience in the process. The 'popular' sci-fi of Star Wars or Star Trek often presents us with simple conclusions, and astound us visually. Likewise perhaps more modern sci-fi films like Fifth Element or Event Horizon. So much is taken out of our interpretation. This is not a bad thing, it is just a different thing.

So it was nice to see a film explore once again the restrained filming and thought-provoking tradition of sci-fi. In case you're wondering George Clooney pulls off a very difficult role very well. Indeed, all the acting is superb. And in a film like this, with no stupendous visual extravaganza, acting is what holds it all together. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it.

Flood warning

This BBC article gives one pause for thought.

Terminator 3 and Elite Foreces II

Well, they are the two reasons why I have not been blogging. As for the last (it is a Star Trek game), it was mildly fun, and I was not the person who shelled out the cash to buy it. On the former, loved it.

I know some people were disappointed by T3 (like the friend who I went to the cinema was). I wasn't, perhaps because I went in with fairly low expectations. I mean, you expect certain things from an Arnie film (explosions, more explosions, and what another friend described as "devastating wit"), and nothing more. For me then T3 more than adequately fulfilled my expectations. I was even impressed by the 'low-key' nature of the background to Judgement Day. There was no sense of doom. To paraphrase the Bible, Judgement Day comes like a theif in the night.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

And in other news I recommend people read this article in the NY Times on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I basically stand by the author's point, except I would develop it further.

By 1945 human compassion was wearing seriously thin. Dresden could not have happened in 1940, or even in 1942. Those who say we should have conventinally bombed Japan into submission should ask themselves how many more Japanese would have died in the firestorms that would have resulted. Many many people died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but better have just those two cities, than the tens or hundreds of Dresdens that would have resulted.

1945 was a brutal world. It was all for the good that it ended when it did.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Today in History

From The History Net. On today (2nd August) apparantly the following events happened. It might just be me but it seems quite a few of the more important events in history happened today.

216BC: Hannibal smashes Roman legions at Cannae. This day remains a 'evil day' in the Roman calender for many centuries.
47BC: Caesar reputedly coined the phrase 'veni, vidi, vici' in Syria
1802: Napolean becomes Consul for Life
1934: Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany
1990: Iraq invades Kuwait

There are several other impressive things which I missed out. Impressive wot?

Just noticed this

Just noticed this over at the Washington Post. Seems someone broke down the Supreme Court voting mathematically. Makes Hillary Clinton look ever more stupid in my, admittedly heavily biased, eyes.

It sounds very interesting (the mathematical analysis). In fact what it really sounds like is that Supreme Court decisions are really, really, complicated things, and to reduce reasoning down the ideology is a gross simplification and unsound reasoning.

Flogging a dead horse

Is it me - or is Hillary Rodham Clinton flogging a dead horse as she goes on again about the 2000 election? Why can't they get over it? Gore lost by the electoral system of the US. Sure problems in Florida's voting system were exposed. Problems that Florida recognised and were brave enough to risk ridicule to invite internation election observers to look over the 2002 election. She could be more usefully aid the democratic process by praising Florida's success, rather than raking over old ground.

Oh, and in case she didn't notice, her fellow Democrats (and presumably herself) are showing once again that politicisation of the judiciary is a two-way steet.

Grrrr.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Refighting the American Civil War - Turn 2 (September - October 1861)

Hidden Strikes

At the end of August President Lincoln made a trip to the encampment of the Army of the Potomac. He met McDowell behind closed doors - but the room had thin walls. He upbraided McDowell, and the language used left McDowell in no doubt of the President's displeasure. This threw the general into action, and at the beginning of September he left-flanked Beauregard's position. The plan was hasty, and Beauregard had not been idle. After a gruelling battle McDowell was forced to admit failure. His army remained intact, and while Braag took the corps he gathered at Richmond to reinforce Beauregard, he crossed into the Shenandoah and marched onto J Johnson's small force. Taking Staunton they crushed Johnson's force. Johnson himself escaped, and lauched a scathing attack on Beauregard in Richmond. His accusations came a little late. Beauregard was already on the move. Reinforced he too crossed into Shenandoah and met McDowell's army outside Staunton. It was a crushing Confedate Victory, McDowell was thrown northward.

Out West Price, reinforced, finally attacked Union positions outside Springfield, Missouri. The Union were evicted, but Price himself was wounded in the battle. It just happened that both the Union and Confederacy had a number of very able snipers in their troops in Missouri. Lyons and Price were simply the most notable of their many victims to date. The tribes in Texas were now thoroughly stirred up, and an Apache warband destroyed Fort Phantom Hill. Further raids took place both in Texas and in New Mexico. To the south the Union flexed there naval muscles for the first time, blockaded Corpus Christi, TX; and landing a small army under command of Brigadier Blunt outside Brownsville. On the Mississipi Schofield led his corps against a Confederate fortification, and was repulsed. However he caused enough damage that the fort was judged by the Confederacy to be untenable a few weeks later.

Meanwhile...

Beauregard realised that McDowell had left Washington only lightly garrisoned, and that the commander of that garrison, General Halleck, had been desultory in completing fortifications. Realising that McDowell's cavalry were badly overstretched he snuck out of the Shenandoah, crossed the Potomac above Washington, and attacked the Union capital. The garrison was outmatched, and Halleck ordered the evacuation. Lincoln was not there at the time - fortunately. Some overzealous troopers burnt the White House for the second time in 50 years.

McDowell was moving before he heard the terrible news. Showing some unexpected foresight he ordered some naval ships to patrol the Potomac as far as they could. He then positioned his army athwart the crossings that Beauregard would have to use to supply himself. Beauregard, realising this, moved out of Washington, leaving only a skeleton garrison. He met McDowell some twenty miles up the Potomac, and forced McDowell to yield him the river crossings. But even as that battle was fought a small Union force under Brig Logan landed just outside Washington and broke the skeleton garrison. Washington was still in danger, and Beauregard was still a potent threat, but Washington was free again ... for the time being.

More from the Vatican, more pontificating - and a little something about population density

... But not about gay marriage. Indeed, nothing new either since the document concerned was published 15 years ago. It is entitled Christifideles Laici and can be found here. This is all about the role of the Lay Faithful, and I am so far about three-quarters of the way through it. It is called an 'Apostolic Exhortation', which if you read it becomes fairly self-explanatory.

However, what I found interesting was one particular paragraph, which I quote (italics are in the original):

"The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatibility of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element in some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in his becoming man in the womb of a woman, as we continue to be reminded each Christmas."

This is an incredibly strong and hopeful statement. "... the individual can never be reduced..." . It seems, to me anyway, to be in some respects a very 'American' sentiment.

Which picks up on something I commented indirectly upon in my Vatican post yesterday. I am far more used, accustomed, and expect governments to interfere for perceived common goods. I suspect this is because America embodies individulism, most often through the First Amendment. Here in europe we are more collectivistic. Maybe that is a result of having so many people living together. The USA is, from a European perspective, and incredibly empty place. For example, I have no idea precisely how many times the UK could fit inside the USA, but I suspect it runs to the hundreds, and possibly low thousands. But the population of the USA is only about 5 and a half times greater than the UK.

I think I am going to do some more thinking and reading along those lines. What effect has the differing population densities had on attitudes / developments in the UK/Europe on one hand, and the USA on the other. I realise this is hardly new or original a thought (or rather, I assume it isn't), but it's always fun trying to work these things out on one's own.

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