Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A thought on Bill Clinton

I can't find a convenient link to it now, but when Bill Clinton was over here in the UK recently on his book tour he said some rather strong things in support of Tony Blair's position on the war. Naturally this got rather seriously under-reported. Most of Europe (including many in Britain) seem under the illusion that a Kerry victory would mean an outbreak of US pacifism. The logic seems to be that a Democratic President (or anyone other than Bush) would be more peaceful than a Republican.

Now, examining very, very recent history one only has to look at Bill Clinton's Presidency to see how false this image is. Unilateral air-strikes against Iraq and Afghanistan anyone? OK, not quite unilateral. We in the UK joined in too. Funny, the more things change the more things stay the same.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Marks and Spencer

Marks & Spencer are one the dominant names on any British High Street. Indeed, in the realm of clothing they are the dominant name, with plenty of rivals but no equal. One measure of this is that despite losing market share for the past five years they are still the market leader by a considerable margin. As a result a couple of weeks ago they fought off a takeover bid from entrepreneur Philip Green. To put it mildly this has been the Big Story in the UK business world for the past few months.

On Sunday I discovered one reason why perhaps Marks and Spencer have been in trouble. So, there I am in London (visiting Waddling Thunder) and I decide that while I am there to go an buy myself a couple of pairs of trousers (or pants on the other side of the pond). Not expending terribly much effort in the brain department I decide to go to M&S, and since we are in the vicinity of Covent Garden we go to the store there. Whereupon we discover that they do not sell gentlemen's trousers. Shirts and ties yes, but no trousers.

I kid ye not.

We even asked a store attendent, who looked somewhat embarrassed. I have since mentioned this to a couple of people, and the common reaction was simply disbelief.

For the record I did eventually buy some trousers, in another Marks and Sparks (as the shop is colloqually known) in a store on Oxford Street.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Religious conversion

Amber and Waddling Thunder both muse about religious conversion for non-theological reasons. Amber can't understand conversion because one agrees with the political position of the new denomination/faith, Waddling Thunder is perplexed by marriage converts.

I guess I'm more .. disappointed I guess .. by people not so much converting to a religion, but throwing their affiliation with a religion away because of a political event. The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is a prime example of that. To begin with if one is seriously a Christian, doesn't matter which denomination, there is this little business about forgiveness. Secondly, why hold to a believe. Certainly the abuse scandal showed the need for some reforms in the Church, but if one was a true Catholic the best thing one could do was stay within the Church and work for reforms from there. Also, if one is a believing Catholic you run into the problem that the abuse scandal did not in one jot alter Catholic doctrine. If you still believed in Transubstatiation, the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection and so on why leave?

Now, I know of course why various people did. They felt themselves betrayed and so on. But in which case I must doubt their conviction beforehand. I guess many people who identify themselves as Catholics or Lutherans or Anglicans in today's western world are not really so. To that extent I don't overly regret their realising that fact.

More specifically regarding Amber's point about political conversion quite a number of people from the Church of England started going to CAtholic churches after the Church of England allowed the ordination of women. The the couple of years following most made their way back to the CofE because they realised they made a mistake. These were and are people who very much believed in their creed, and it was proved by their discomfort at moving to another creed. However much the ordination of women might have irked them there was a reason they were Anglican and not Catholic, and those reasons were based on the key doctrines of the Eucharist, of the role of Peter, of the role of Mary, and of the role of the Saints. Expect a similar thing to happen with women bishops and (unless it causes genuine schism) gay marriage.

Completely OT - for some reason I'm having real issues at viewing what I post. from my home computer it just refuses to show anything after June 30th. Any ideas why?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


I'm currently reading a book on baronial life in the 13th century, which I'll probably get around to review when I've finished. I have, however, this observation to anyone ever going into publishing.

Check to make sure the endnotes are correctly entered on the page. I am pretty sure that Endnote #1 is not meant to happen on every page.

Seriously, I simply do not understand how editors let this sort of thing slip through.

Power Cut
Well there I was yesterday evening, just about to sit down in front of my computer, when the lights started to flicker rather violently. Then the computer turned off, and the lights settled onto a very dim setting. About an hour later we lost all electricity completely.
Power cuts always send me into an odd mood. If there ever were Armageddon I reflect that this is how it would most likely happen. First off there would be a power cut, and no one would know the world was about to end because no one these days uses battery powered radios.
Having had my plans for the evening interrupted I wenet and made myself some sandwiches (smoked salmon), and fought off one of our cats who is very of salmon. Then I went to bed. After all, without power there is precious little to do, and candles aren't the best things to read by. Fortunately I woke up in time for work.
The other thing about power cuts is that it is a helpful reminder of how lucky I am. A power cut for me is never more than an irritation. There are far fewer now to what I remember even 10-15 years ago. And besides, one has to have reliable electricity for power cuts to be just irritable. Just another reason why I rather like living where I do.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Nationalised health care is something I feel very strongly about. More accurately, it is something I feel very strongly against. Waddling Thunder comments on the issue over on his blog.
Let me tell you, I work in the NHS. It is inefficient and wasteful in just about every possible way. A great deal of that inefficiency comes from government and civil servant intervention in areas which politicians and pen-pushers in Whitehall should be banned from even thinking about, let alone being in charge of. The only reason anyone in the UK lets the situation exist is because they are under the myth that healthcare is free. It's not. It's not free because of the taxes we pay, and its not free because of the time that is wasted.
I have another month to wait for a referral regarding my ankle. I've been waiting 6 weeks already. That is, can you believe it, a good time. Just remember that my first referral was put in by my GP this time last year.
If I didn't have to pay the obscene taxes for the NHS, I would go private extremely quickly.
Don't believe any balderdash that the left might say. The waste in the NHS, and its consequences, are criminal.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Quarter-century: Reflections
Today I turned 25. I was just idling thinking the other day of the changes that the world I was born into to has undergone to become the world today.
In the summer of 1979 Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan were still in power. So was Leonid Brezhnev. NATO and the Warsaw Pact had lapsed into a semi-comfortable enmity. AIDS was unknown. In Rome the Catholic Church had just chosen the first non-Italian to be Pope in several centuries. For the most observant the fires of Solidarity were just visible. Most people assumed the Cold War was a simple fact of life, to be worked around rather than changed.
I cannot remember the Cold War itself. I can remember the euphoria of its ending. 1989 was the year that my own coherent memories of international politics begin. I can remember the huge sense of disbelief, and child-like hope that this was not all a dream. I can remember my parents smiling a little more, people being friendlier and cheerful. I can remember, simply, the fear of Armageddon receeding. I cannot remember the fear itself, but I can at least appreciate it for remembering its retreat.
That in itself is simply the greatest difference between now and then, and yet these days the Cold War is so rarely referenced one would be hard-pushed to think it were that big a deal. How quickly people forget. While I treat calling this period "the End of History" with utter disdain, it is nearly impossible to stress its importance. Until 9/11 our modern world was mostly a world of hope. It is now once again subject to fear.
Fear must always be confronted. Being afraid is no crime, acknowleding a fear can take a rare courage. But to let fear dictate our actions is to be defeated by it. That is why the source of that fear must be confronted and excised. The Cold War was not ended by the accomodation of the 1970s, but by the confrontation of the 1980s. That confrontation took many forms, from the political/economic confrontation of Reagan and Thatcher, to the moral confrontation of John Paul II, to the domestic confrontation of Solidarity and other dissident groups.
To defeat this evil of Islam Fundamentalist Terror we must also confront it, rather than cower in the aisles of the United Nations or the European Union. To be born into fear is no blessing, even when that fear is not understood. The legacy of the 1980s was the hope of the 1990s. I hope that the legacy of this decade will be another decade of hope, but I fear that instead a whole new generation will grow up cowering in fear, captive of a generation who dared not upset an immoral monster.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The 4th of July and what makes America great
I had meant to post something along these lines back on the 4th of July, but found myself busy and fighting off a cold. In any event the thoughts have been rumbling around.
As someone who is very pro-American the 4th of July fanfare brings very mixed feelings. The reason is simple. I may be pro-American, but as a patriotic Brit I cannot entirely escape the feeling that I am on the other side of the fence of all those things that make the day sacred. It's an interesting position to be in. After all, so many of the founding myths of the USA cast the Brits as the baddies. That political enmity was alive and kicking until well into the 20th century - and probably has only really abated since Britain has (mostly) lost the Empire.
For my own part I simply cannot appreciated the langauge of British tyranny. In part this is because I think tyranny has to be something a good deal more malicious than the maladministration of the colonies pre-1776. It is also because it is not often appreciated, I think, that Parliament was the great culprit, and not the King, in the lead-up to the dispute.
And even in my language there I downplay it, try to get around the fact. I called it "the dispute". In some respects this is because I see the war as something of an abberation. The Anglo-American metaculture is the dominant force in the world today. When we say Western values, or democracy, what we usually mean is the basically liberal and democratic culture of the English-speaking world. It is easy to forget that much of Europe, let alone elsewhere in the world, was undemocratic even just 35 years ago.
Which sort of leads me onto the second part of this post. What is it that makes America, and by extension Anglo-American culture, great? I do not know, but I do have an example.
Fahrenheit 911.
I will never watch the film. I have better things to spend my money on that make a contribution to Michael Moore's bank balance. However, I will praise the film's existence to the hilt. In just how many countries that have not been infused with Anglo-American culture and political ideas could a film be made and widely marketed that is so unremittingly hostile to the current rulers?
At a guess, I would say none. And that is what makes us great.

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