Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in a foreign land

I face my third Thanksgiving in Britain. This is the one day I really find myself homesick. Thanksgiving is a very American holiday. The traditions do join us across our little ethnicities and sub cultures. It provides a nice clear starting point into Christmas, something they do not have here.

But I think it is the commonality of celebration that I miss. We will celebrate this weekend. But happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ashes Update

From the BBC:

After losing the toss, England restricted the home side to 245, scored 620-5 declared in their innings and then took second-innings wickets with impressive regularity to complete a first victory by an innings against Australia in 24 years.

"Our batters are getting big scores which is crucial and that's putting pressure on the opposition," Strauss added.

"Bowling them out for 245 on a flat wicket was an outstanding effort from Jimmy Anderson [who took 4-51] and the rest of the lads and then we really made hay with the bat.

I have no idea what any of that means.

The Ashes are a big event here. In 1870 something, some smart assed and probably drunk Australians set fire to a cricket wicket or something made out of wood and the Aussies and Brits have been fighting over it ever since. I have no idea exactly what is going on, except that a match takes 5 days and even if you score more runs, it still could end up being a draw.

Oh yes, and something about overs and bails thrown in there too. Personally, I think it is just an excuse to get drunk. As though the Aussies and Brits need an excuse.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Catching Up -- The UK Election

The UK had an election in May and it was fun watching up close someone else choose their leaders. The election here technically only lasts a month -- Gordon Brown dissolved Parliament and the country went to the polls one month later. But in reality, the election was going on for years. The Tories choose their leader (and PM candidate) years before. Brown himself was chosen as leader of Labour in 2007. He had not been "elected" Prime Minister but took over when Tony Blair retired.

I live in what is a very safe Tory seat. In fact, Kenningston is something of a glamor seat for the Tories. This is a big difference from the US. While the Tories, like the Republicans in the US, control most of the rural seats (that is, those rural seats in England, the Tories barely exist in Scotland and do poorly in Wales), the Tories also do very well in the well to do urban seats. Kennsington would be a safe Democratic seat if it was located in Brooklyn, Chicago or any other major American city. Yet here it is such a safe seat that Malcolm Rifkind, a former cabinet minister during the Thatcher-Major years, holds it comfortably.

The election featured a number of firsts, most noticeably the first leaders' debate. I found myself explaining the ins and outs of these debates to my co-workers, as such debates are common in the US. In the UK they seem somewhat superfluous. The two (really three counting the Liberal Democrats) leaders face off weekly in Parliament during "PM Question Time". They know each other and have crossed swords for years (metaphorically of course, according to legend the distance between the two is slightly greater than two sword points, to prevent them from crossing more than the metaphoric sword). So the people have seen them debate and know where each stands.

This is not really that true in the US. Debates in Congress these days are mostly drab affairs conducted in front of a mostly empty chamber. The real work of Congress takes place in the committee rooms while the real debating occurs outside Congress, in our journals and on TV. While both President Obama and Senator McCain served in the Senate together for four years, did they ever really debate each other? And given that many Presidents and candidates for presidents are governors, it is possible that the first time they really spoke meaningfully to each other may be the day of a debate. Did Gerald Ford meet Jimmy Carter before their first debate in 1976? Bush and Dukakis in 1988? Bush and Clinton in 1992 for that matter? So for us, the debates are much more important.

The election ended sort of like ours did in 2000 with no clear winner. The Tories have cobbled together a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and everyone is still arguing over what it all means.

I wondered down to Downing Street the night the government was formed. A crowd had gathered. Happy Tories, angry Labourites, and a large group of people from the Socialist Worker Party calling for revolution or something. There also was a professional heckler. Heckling is an art form here. It is considered proper form to heckle on the floor on Parliament. About the only time there is no heckling it seems is during the Queen's speech. The guy stood there with his megaphone and made fun if everyone. The Tories heckled him back, the Labour folks were not in a mood for fun. The Socialist Worker contingent stood there and planned revolution or something.

So the election took one week. The uncertainty last about another. And they did it much cheaper than we do. Maybe we can learn something from the "Mother of Parliaments."

Friday, November 19, 2010

First the Engagement

Unless you have been living in North Korea, Prince William FINALLY announced his engagement. The people here are generally going crazy over it. The night the engagement was announced, there was wall to wall coverage on the BBC -- the Irish fiscal crisis (which threatens to take down the Euro and maybe even the EU) got barely a mention.

I am (small r) republican in philosophy. While living here as I have for the past year plus has not turned me into a monarchist, I must admit I understand why the people are so taken with this. It is a piece of purely good news. But it is more than just simply two young people getting married. Rather, it is a chance for the British to celebrate their history.

It goes beyond celebrity. Yes, William is famous merely because he is second in line for a throne (he can trace his family back to the Saxon kings of England). Yet unlike the celebrity culture that has grown up, he and his brother, do seem to be dutiful young men. William is an RAF helicopter pilot. While he will not be given his wish to serve in Afghanistan (Harry has) William is engage in a dangerous occupation as a search and rescue pilot -- he is not sitting around on his hands yelling at servants.

So Rule Britannia and good luck William.

As I was Saying

Well, I have been meaning to say something for a while and been quiet. So what has happened in the past almost a year?

Well, there was an election in the UK. It was fun watching someone else up close pick their leaders.

There was the World Cup -- the 1-1 draw against England was America's best tie against the British since Bunker Hill

There was the summer and a few Tube strikes.

There was our election. It was weird watching that from a distance.

And now someone here in London just announced his engagement.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

World Cup Draw

The big story this weekend in England is the World Cup draw. And what fun, the first game for England is against the United States.

The English see the group as easy -- besides the US and England, Slovakia and Algeria round out the group. I of course am excited by it, but considering the US team's history of losing games expected to win and winning games expected to lose, I fear the worst. But it should be fun here next June.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Now for a quick question

If you are invited to an acquaintance's house for dinner, and the person casually remarks that Titus Andronicus is his favorite (or is it favourite) Shakespearean play, what do you do?