Friday, June 10, 2005

Oddly Enough

When I view my blog page in Internet Explorer it looks all jumbled, but it looks fine on Firefox. Anyone else notice trouble with IE?

There's lots of articles, etc. that I've been planning on blogging about over the past few days. I decided to bundle them in this post.

Do you love Napoleon Dynamite? Do you love Star Wars? Then you will love this.

Could it be that most people aren't persuadable anymore? I must admit, it seems the older I get the more I have my mind made up about most things before I give them much time. One part of me says that is sad... but the other tells me that I'm simply saving time to reach the same conclusion I would have anyway.

I take back everything I said about the BBC because Jon bought my lunch today. Well, okay, I take away point number 5. But this is worth reading.

The best place to get Fish and Chips in Birmingham is George & Helen's. Mary and I had it for the last time tonight... yummy.

On my way to the aforementioned restaurant tonight on my bicycle, I was approached by a group of 12-13 year old girls who stopped me and asked me to buy them some drink. It took me a second to catch what they were asking (the Brummie accent is brutal). I asked them if they wanted me to buy them some drinks (I thought Coke at first... duh). Their ringleader/spokesgirl said, "We have the money. Will you go to that shop over there and buy it for us?" Of course, I then realized that they wanted me to buy them alcohol. And, of course I refused. I was tempted to take the money and then ride off and give it to charity. Maybe I should have. I'd like to blame this juvenile deliquency on the influence of the BBC on these girls' minds... but the same thing could have happened in the States.

Maybe the only bright spot about the above story is that the girls must have assumed I looked younger than 31 to have asked me? Don't you think?

I must admit that I know my readers well. If I want Mark or Jon to respond, I simply ridicule the BBC. If I want BK to respond, I simply need to mention this Larry King interview with Condi Rice where she relates a story about growing up in Birmingham, AL and says that the right to own guns is a civil rights issue. If I want to get Fat Gorilla to respond, all I need to do is mention a World Cup Soccer match which will have no audience.

And if I want the rest of you to respond, I need to include a few of these:
My Photo
Sweet potatoes are for wearing and for eating.

My Photo
Proud of the dress she wore to church last Sunday.

My Photo
At Edinburgh Castle

My Photo
In the PJ's Amy P bought for her

My Photo
With the moms at the big Ferris Wheel in the City Centre

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Just reel them in

Now that I have hooked 2 of the most revered and respected of the Queen's subjects with my closing remarks about the BBC, I simply have to reel them in and take them to the taxidermist and I'll have a trophy.

Did you notice it wasn't my remarks about British education, or the Biblical warrant for the death penalty, but criticism of the beloved BBC that brought their ire?...

I must apologize for the fact that much of my argument, convincing though it is, has been refined from years of debate in America over public funding for the 'arts', PBS and NPR (National Public Radio). In other words, you don't know what you are getting yourself into :-)

1. Quality of programming - I'd never argue that there aren't 'some' quality programs on the BBC. That is beside the point. The question is whether everyone who owns a TV should pay for government subsidized programming, regardless of its content (which I cover in #3). The license fee (tax) which partially pays the enormous cost to have the BBC gives it an unfair advantage over other programming. Which leads to...

2. Competition - The growing number of people with satellite dishes and cable in the UK is evidence that people want a greater variety in their programming. This is classic 'voting with your feet'. If you prefer a government run network where a few bureaucrats decide the the pgramming to that which is decided upon by the people of this great land, then the BBC is for you.

3. Content - Is there really that much on the BBC that warrants the billions of pounds required to keep it running? And is a tax needed to fund creativity and entertainment? I'd of supposed that a nation which produced the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens (without the help of the BBC) would have enough talent to make worthwhile programs. Or, to put it another way, is it inconceivable that the best stuff on the BBC could have been made without government funding?

And the amount of pornography that comes on the BBC over the aerial (antenna) is horrendous. This is what you're (we're) paying for with the involuntary tax. And I don't want to hear any nonsense about desecrating the Koran from a company that thinks that its broadcast of a play with 'Jesus in a Diaper' should be overlooked because it is valid artistic expression. You can't have it both ways.

4. Independence - Can an entity which depends largely on government funds be expected to report objectively? Let me put it another way... when government entities from other countries release news stories, are you the least bit skeptical?

My most recent example is a comparison of the the BBC's coverage of Blair's visit to Washington earlier this week and the UK's EU 'rebate'. The way the BBC, among other British news outlets reports it, Britain is the country that is really concerned about Africa... but George Bush is a tightwad and refuses to help the poor African people. Now, when I first came across these stories I was shocked because the US has long been an advocate of debt relief for African countries (while European nations have opposed it, I might add). But, in an attempt to make Blair look unsuccessful (not their golden boy, Gordon Brown), the BBC never mentions that the US advocates debt relief for more countries than the UK, or that the real difference is over how the money is given to Africa. I am not arguing that America or any other rich nation is doing enough for Africa, really. What I am arguing is that the BBC's rampant anti-Bush and now anti-Blair stance does is keep them from reporting all the facts.

Contrast that with the BBC's tacit acceptance of the government's argument that Britain should continue to receive a 3 billion pound per year rebate from the EU. Now, one might expect some suspicion over the government's supposedly benevolent attitudes to poor countries when it insists that it will demand to continue to receive the rebate PAID AT THE EXPENSE OF POOR COUNTRIES LIKE POLAND AND GREECE. The UK is the ONLY country arguing it should still receive the rebate. Why wouldn't the BBC question Gordon Brown's motives when he says that the rebate is "wholly justified"? Could it be that it has a vested interest in the UK receiving the rebate? Might not a truly benevolent government give this rebate to poorer countries... 3 billion pounds a year more to Africa... where it is really needed? FWIW, a paper outlining Poland's position for the UK to stop receiving the rebate is here.

My point is not to simply pick at the government... it acts in its own (or what it thinks is its own) interest the way America's does (whether I like it or not). But I suspect a little 'fox guarding the hen house' with the BBC and the Labour Party. They despise Blair now but want to be sure that Brown, and thus Labour, still retain power in 5 years. So Gordon Brown is the man who can do no wrong if you watch the BBC. I'm suspicious, okay?

I could cite further examples from the elections in May... if I need to.

Lest one think I don't like it over here (I am an anglophile after all), I'll include this tidbit I came across today in my 'light' (non-research related) reading. It's from Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad. When Tom, Huck, and Jim are floating over the Sahara Desert in a hot air balloon, Tom explains to them to vastness of the desert... 600 miles wider than the entire US. This impresses Jim and Huck...

I (Huckleberry Finn) says:"Why, I've heard talk about this Desert plenty of times, but I never knowed before how important she was.
"Then Tom says:"Important! Sahara important! That's just the way with some people. If athing's big, it's important. That's all the sense they've got. All theycan see is SIZE. Why, look at England. It's the most important country inthe world; and yet you could put it in China's vest-pocket; and not onlythat, but you'd have the dickens's own time to find it again the nexttime you wanted it. And look at Russia. It spreads all around andeverywhere, and yet ain't no more important in this world than RhodeIsland is, and hasn't got half as much in it that's worth saving.

From Project Gutenberg online text.

Doesn't that make you feel all warm inside?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

11 days

We fly out on June 20th. In a few days I plan to blog about the things which have struck me most about living in the UK. I've got a running list.

A few more Edinburgh details... I was a little apprehensive about being able to rent the car we took because my Alabama driver's license expired in May. However, as I expected, the American convention for displaying dates helped me slip through. In the US, today's date is 6-9-05, but in much of the rest of the world it is 9-6-05. My license expired on my birthday, which is 05-07-05, which to a Brit looks like July 5th. Of course, I didn't say anything about this... they just assumed. BTW, my driving without a legal driver's license over here has parrallels to BK's driving without a license for around 2 years now.

On our trip to Edinburgh, we stayed about 12 miles outside the city in a town called Livingston. I actually had a good idea for once. I noticed a sign for a train station not too far from our hotel, so we drove to it on Tuesday morning instead of to Edinburgh. Parking was free at that station and the train came along in a few minutes. It took less than 15 minutes to arrive in the center of downtown Edinburgh. This was much easier than trying to negotiate Edinburgh traffic and find a parking spot. FWIW, we couldn't buy train tickets at the Livingston station but other folks there said we could buy them from the conductor. Well, he didn't have time to make it all the way into our compartment. So we left the train without having paid a cent or a pence or anything. When we were ready to leave, we only needed single (one-way) tickets back to Livingston. But, of course, we bought return tickets to pay for the morning's ride, too. I wonder how much money the train company loses every year from this stuff.

At the first little shop we entered in Edinburgh, I noticed that a woman paying for something at the register (till) had an Alabama driver's license. She was with another woman and both were from Gadsden. I struck up a conversation. As expected, they were tourists. We heard many American accents, and many Southern ones at that, on our visit to Edinburgh. They must think they own the place.

Though we didn't get to try any, I was glad to hear that our preacher and his wife will be bringing Haggis (picture here) to the cultural dinner our church is having the day before we leave. We'll be bringing biscuits (Southern variety), corn bread, and sweet tea. I wonder what the family from Malaysia/Australia will bring?

When we got home, the first thing I saw on the news was this. The news camera focused on a blood smear on the sidewalk. The incident took place on Tuesday not 4 blocks from our home. Always heartwarming to know. Or maybe heartworming.

I must mention this, too... At church last Sunday we were treated to Kit-Kat Lime candy bars. I hope I'm not the only one to notice the humor (or humour) in it.

One last bleat (which I hope does not offend my Limey British friends). It is my sincere hope that the BBC becomes a defunct organization in the near future. Besides being a waste of taxpayers' money, its news reports are skewed and as shoddy as any I've ever seen. Don't make me provide examples. The sooner the BBC has to actually support itself with its own revenues, the sooner it will have to wake up to the real world. I know, I know... it has some good radio programs and a TV show or two, but the product could be much better. I think most Brits don't like the idea of scrapping the BBC because they can't imagine life without it. But it's not hard for me. And you get used to the commercials.

Back from Edinburgh

We made it back to Birmingham around 9pm last night from Edinburgh. We rented a car (to make the trip easier on Helen than a long train ride would have been) and drove the roughly 340 miles. Because of a mix up and a little confrontation, Thrifty car rental gave us £20 off the original price and gave us a Renault Clio with a diesel engine. That was a blessing because the little car got around 40 miles per US gallon (45 UK). In fact, we got almost 500 miles off the first tank of gas.

I'll get to what we saw in Edinburgh in a minute. First, I must mention that staying overnight in a hotel with an 11-month-old is not easy. Because we'd kept her up well past her bedtime, and because we were in such a new place, and because we were in the same room with her, Helen would not go to sleep. This is uncommon; she usually goes to sleep for the night rather easily. First we tried to put her down at around 8:30pm, but she could see us through her Pack-N-Play walls, so sleep was out of the question. I moved the PNP and we decided to let her "cry it out," but with people staying in the neighboring rooms, we couldn't do that for long. As her hollering became more and more intense, we relented. Mary got up, looked at Helen, and immediately said, "Well how did you get that way". She was standing up! The first time she had made it all the way by herself (the added frustration helped, I think). It will only be a matter of time before the stand becomes a walk. To finish the Helen story, after about 5 attempts to get her to sleep, Helen finally passed out in the bed with us and none of us slept well.

But we did have a good time in Edinburgh. Besides the beauty of the city and all the little shops, we spent time in Edinburgh Castle (10£ each) and in the Museum of Scotland (free). There is too much in those places to blog about. One attribute of Edinburgh that I did not like, much like London, was the presence of Americans. Now, I tend to like Americans, but over here its nice to be in a city where being an American is somewhat of a novelty. In the tourist cities, no one bats an eye when they hear a Yank speak.

More later today...