Sunday, December 16, 2007

A note to American restaurant staff

I enjoy eating out, m'kay? There is variety, decent prices and a generally wider choice than I am used to.

Service is pleasant, a nice smile goes a long way in any country.

But here is the thing ..... When you have brought me my meal, and I am eating, more often than not enjoying interesting conversation with my Wife or family, then I am fine. All is well. I am enjoying my meal, the food is great, the service fine. I don't need anything, and if I should want something, I will ask.

I do not need you to interrupt, continuously, with questions about my general well-being, the weather or sundry other subjects they taught you at waiter-school. Indeed, the size of your tip is inversely proportional to the number of times my meal is disturbed.

Less is more, my friend. Once we clearly understand this, I shall be happier, and you will be better rewarded.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Understanding Oklahoma

I am frequently asked, by both Europeans and Americans what living in Oklahoma is like.

Many are bemused by perceptions of life here being dominated by, on the one hand, gun-totin' shoot anything Rednecks, and Bible Thumpers on the other. There is a third group .... they have a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, but I jest :)

I recently heard this joke, which sheds a great deal of light on the matter:

An Evangelical Missionary was on a grand tour of the 50 States. His aim was to visit major Churches in each State to study the way Christians worshiped in different parts of the Union.

He started his mission in Illinois. On entering a big church he noticed a golden telephone, beneth a message which read Direct line to God. Calls $10 000 per minute.

As he travelled through the rest of the nation, in each church there was the same telephone, golden, with the identical inscription above it.

Eventually the guy wound up in Tulsa, and his first call was the Victory Christian Center. In the foyer he spotted the familiar telephone, gold in colour, with a familiar sign above it. On closer inspection he realised this sign was different. It read Direct Line to God. Calls 35c per minute.

This intrigued the missionary so he sought an explanation from the Pastor. Why, he asked, was the call charge here 35c per minute, yet $10 000 per minute everywhere else?

Well son, came the reply, you're in Oklahoma now. It's a local call!

Update re: Dish Network

Despite the assertions by Dish Network that I didn't call to cancel the premium packages, because they have no record of the call, they did indeed cancel two of the three free premiom packages.

I am wondering how they will explain the cancellation of two packages, when, according to them, no such request was made.


Meet my 2nd Ex-Wife

Right as of now, should you be demented sufficiently to type the search words my husband is useless into Google, then the very second result would be this:

That is a link to a post in my Wife's Blog, but I'm not buying her feeble excuse.

/me, retiring hurt :(

Dish Network - See you in Court

Following my recent experience with the US Justice System, I am keen for more.

At issue is Dish Network.

I have been trying to bring our payments to this company in line with the statements they are sending, regularly paying about $20 more in the hope that over a brief period this will catch us up. The problem has been that it has only been keeping pace, so we appear to be being charged around $20 per month more than we should be.

Back in September, I contacted Dish and told them I wanted to upgrade the package. I wanted America's Top 250, plus HD service, and nothing else. This should come to around $80 per month.

It seems that they remembered to note the increase, but somehow forgot to note that I asked all other services to be stopped (principally, 2 special offer premium packages that were included as a free trial on sign-up).


So, today, I contacted Dish Network again. They were willing to stop the premium packages from today, but unwilling to refund the excess charges back to September (the time I asked for them to be stopped), on the basis that they had supplied the programming and had no record of my having requested it to be removed. I patiently explained that I was not responsible for their record keeping, and as I HAD asked them to stop those packages, and had never watched them, and had no knowledge that they even existed, that I wasn't going to pay for their mistake.

I was informed that they hadn't made a mistake, and that the proof was that they had no record of the request.

At this point I wondered if I was in the Twilight Zone, or when Mulder and Scully would appear .... or even when I would wake up from this bizarre form of logic.

Dish Network appears to hold the view that it never makes a mistake, and cites as proof the fact that they have no record of making one !!!

A quick search on the Internet reveals many thousands of similar customer errors, all people trying to screw Dish Network for having the temerity to help themselves to cash from checking accounts and credit cards because their customers are willfully refusing to pay for services they have been supplied with; whether they asked for them or not.

I suspect the disputed amount is less than about $60. But it is MY $60, not theirs, and they are not getting it.

So here is the next step.

Today, when their website will consent to allow me to sign in, I will pay the amount I think brings us up to date. They will carry the disputed amount forward to our next statement, and continue to add $5 per month late charge. From today, that amount is in dispute.

Tomorrow I shall call Echostar, in Colorado, and inform their Executive Dispute Resolution Centre that I am holding them in breach of our 18 month contract, and ask them how they intend to remedy the breach. If they try to deny the breach I will cease paying, and request that they collect their equipment at their earliest convenience.

They will cancel my service, and bill me for breaking my contract. This is a bill I will not pay. At this point I have no recourse against them, as they don't owe me money. If they try to debit my checking account (which I shall watch daily), I will have the charges instantly disputed and reversed. I will tell the bank we will sue them if they allow those charges to post to our account.

If Dish Network sends the account to Collection, I will inform them they will be sued under the Unfair Credit Reporting Act, and the damages are around $1000.

I am on a mission here. The money is small, but the principle is not, and they are doing this to many thousands of people all over America.

Tune in and I'll follow this up as and when there is new info.

Now .... what is the phone number for Direct TV?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

I have a confession to make. I recently managed to collect a speeding ticket. It was my first on this continent, and my first for 25 years on ANY continent. Indeed, my darling wife laughs at me for setting the cruise control at 60mph on the highway, usually accompanied by unnecessary remarks about me being already too old to be able to afford the luxury of driving so slowly.

Now we have clearly demonstrated that I have either been lucky, for 25 years, or that I generally don't drive too fast, we can get to the meat of the story.

I need to tell you all about *School Zones*. I can already hear half of you laughing, and the other half groaning, but my less American family don't know about School Zones, so bear with me.

School Zones are areas of highway close to schools, that have reduced speed limits at certain times of day, and usually have flashing lights to indicate the reduced speed limit times. The speed limit here is reduced from the normal 40 to 45mph, down to 25mph. The penalties for exceeding the limits are severe, tending to be at least double the normal speeding ticket, and require a Court appearance just in case the Judge had a particularly bad bout of indigestion and wanted to jail you for thirty days too.

I am religious about School Zones (if nothing much else), and it would never cross my mind to exceed 25mph while driving through one. And I wouldn't have, had I known I was in such a place. I was driving, ironically from school, to collect some wood from a supplier. I thought the speed limit was 40mph, and I was doing about 35mph because I was aware that the schools had just emptied for the day. I knew this, at least in part, because I had just left one.

When the Policeman, on his motorcycle, pulled out behind me with lights ablaze, I genuinely thought he must be after someone else. He wasn't, and this soon became apparent. Ho hum! ..... I pulled over in a nice safe place and we conversed. Well actually, he spoke and I listened, nodding and agreeing with him at the appropriate moments.

He wanted to see my Driving License and Insurance. Bugger! The License was all present and correct, but the Insurance Verification appeared not to be. Not to worry, said the helpful Policeman, I can just write you two tickets. This level of generosity appeared a little uncalled for, but I already suspected that he was unlikely to be referring to two tickets for the upcoming OU v. Missouri game, and these doubts were soon firmly embedded in reality. While he disappeared to check my Driving License I called Jodie. She helpfully assured me that the Insurance was safely stuck on the side of the fridge. I looked all around the car, but couldn't see the fridge anywhere, so *helpfully* is a word I use advisedly.

She also asked me if the Police Officer was being nice, or an ass .... I told her that, under the circumstances, it was I who was the ass. As part of my efforts to persuade the Policeman that I was indeed a decent guy who had made a genuine mistake, I repeated this conversation to him. He took the view that I was making his boring job a little less tedious, and wrote down my speed at 34mph, not the 36mph he had clocked me at. This was a significant piece of kindness. Less than 10mph over the limit is way less of a deal than more than 10mph over. The latter would cause an entry on my driving record, and increased insurance premiums (and probably a larger fine). Under 10mph wouldn't. Thank you Tulsa, for decent Law enforcement.

Anyway, a few minutes, and two tickets later, I was on my way, complete with Court date and helpful instructions on how to get there.

This would be simply a sorry tale of one man's stupidity, and there is little of any real interest in that. But there is a sting in the tale, and that became apparent yesterday, in Court.

Tulsa Municipal Court is, I soon came to realise, a cash register for the City. As I sat there for an hour listening to case after case, the fines were racking up thousands of dollars income for whichever departments benefited. Now don't get me wrong. I am not complaining about this, just astonished by the revenue flowing in from various traffic and other less savoury crimes committed daily in this city. It goes on, day after day, month after month, and must add up to a tidy amount per annum. I was simply hoping that, when my turn came the penalty would be bearable. We are not wealthy people and can ill-afford for me to squander hundreds of dollars in this manner. In the end it was a bearable $175 including costs, and I count our blessings.

There were a good number of defendants who were out of work. Some of these unfortuanates were racking up fines in the hundreds (actually, thousands, for one guy), and clearly didn't have the means to pay them.

Tulsa has a *Workday* scheme. I am sure they are common, but this was my first encounter. Basically the Judge, when satisfied a defendant couldn't pay, was able to offer a number of days Community Service in lieu of the fines. I did the math .... He was offering a rate of exchange of about $50 a day (tax free, of course).

I did some more startling, more revealing and much less palatable maths too. At my rate of pay as a Substitute Teacher, I would be financially better off taking the Community Service, than I would be by paying the fine and spending the equivalent time teaching classes of High School students.


Pitiful is the only word I can readily think of to describe a situation where the City values a few hours cleaning graffiti, or sweeping up leaves, or whatever, at a higher rate than they will offer to those who regularly spend days, weeks and months educating our children. Their commitment to Education is underwhelming, and this City, and local School Districts should hang their heads in shame. If the experience of shame was an emotion ever felt by politicians.

Nope ... we need grandiose schemes to develop the River, or a new Exhibition Centre, or tax breaks for business. Meanwhile we will appear on TV wringing our collective hands when school results crop up, when it is demonstrated that half the City schools are on the "need of improvement" lists, or otherwise failing.

Pitiful! There it is ..... Now then, you can start by giving MY $175 to the school my kids go to. Maybe then they won't have to rely so heavily on cash from Quick Trip to fund necessary school activities.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I find myself in a large measure agreement tonight, with the Southern Baptist Convention.

This is a first. Hopefully it will happen again, I am nothing if not for decent people living together in harmony, while respecting each others differences.

At issue is the Oklahoma Legislature House Bill 1804. I have spoken about this racist law before, and now the Southern Baptists have spoken too.

They have written to the Governor of Oklahoma, expressing an intention to break this law by passive resistance. In doing so they join the many Churches and Charities who have expressed similar intentions.

So, tonight, I raise my glass, and tip my hat in their direction.

Monday, November 19, 2007

So, it's not just Oklahomans who are nuts!

I am a man. Ok, now we established that I'll further state that I generally hold that what happens in a woman's body remains her private business; until such time as a new life emerges and takes it's place as a Citizen.

Apparently, not everyone feels the same way.

A small group of demented and power crazed (my analysis) Coloradans believe that it is THEIR business too. They believe that they have a right to interfere with women, in particular with their wombs, in a manner that is quite unprecedented. If the Government wished to persue such intrusion it would require a warrant. Well it would have required a warrant had the 4th Amendment not been so severely wrecked by the Knuckledraggers.

See: Medical News Today

In this instance a Judge in the Colorado Supreme Court has given these mysoginists permission to raise the required signatures (76000), to place this on the Ballot.

Let us examine the implications and motives for this move. If a fertilized egg is to be regarded as an individual, with full rights, then a pregnant woman will be guilty of child abuse everytime she does something the "State" disapproves of. A drink, a cigarette, too many late nights, not enough vitamins ..... all would become criminal offenses.

More significantly, abortion would be first degree murder, and any action taken by the woman that caused, or contributed to the death of the fetus would become probably second degree murder.

A minor car wreck that caused a spontaneous miscarriage would be vehicular homicide, and every miscarriage would be a matter for the Police and Prosecutors to *mull over*.

The second major implication is for contraception ..... everything other than a barrier method, or possibly the mini-pill, would be murder. Any method that prevents a fertilised egg from implanting would be murder.

I hear Colorado's entry into the World Series was almost abandoned when the Pope advised them to "pull it out at the last minute".

Curiously, the proposal doesn't explain how the State is to deal with the minor matter of there being no "Good Samaritan" law, or Constitutional provision. If the fertilised egg is to be considered a Citizen, there is currently no way the State can force a woman to allow it to use her body, possibly at the expense of her health or well-being, for nine months. There is no way, in US law, that one citizen can be forced to aid another. Mothers cannot be legally be made to care for their children, even after birth. They are legally constrained from neglecting or abusing them, but they are not compelled to raise them. Nor can they be.

It's probably not a well thought out proposal, but it might actually reach the ballot, this being the USA.

I suspect that contraception is behind this move. The Fundies around here cannot control sex. They would like to, but they mostly cannot keep their pants shut, as an endless prossession of sordid revelations continually reminds us. What they can do is continue to control women, and make them as subservient to old white men as much as possible, for as long as possible.

But only if we let them.

Find the bigots and nutcases who hide behind religion. Find them, expose them, ridicule them and humiliate them. That is precisely what they wish to do to you. Especially, it appears, if you happen to possess a womb.

Monday, October 01, 2007

If that girl gets out of bed ..

... one more time tonight ....

I am going to forget to be nice !!!

When will America ....

... get up off it's burger filled ass and start complaining?

Let us start with a few facts, not jingoistic opinions.

Fact: Americans have fewer freedoms than Europeans.
Fact: Americans have worse healthcare than Europeans
Fact: American children are less well educated than Europeans.
Fact: American employees have pitiful job security.
Fact: Service levels in the USA are appalling.

I could go on ... and most probably will at some time, but today two things have seriously pissed me off. Not, you understand, because I think Europe is better than the USA; but because, in certain areas it clearly is, yet Americans have swallowed the shit peddled to them by politicians and media to such an extent that they actually believe the lies.

My commitment is to life here ..... but I pay taxes, and have opinions, and while there is breath left in my body I will shout and scream that you need to shake off this ridiculous belief that you are always right, and start complaining that you are not, and that only this way will we make America the country y'all think it is.

First ..... I was teaching today. My School District pays Substitute Teachers $50 per day. You, and your children, get what you pay for, by and large. If you agree that your children and Grandchildren should be taught, sometimes for days on end, by people who could earn more at McDonalds, then we have nothing else to discuss.

If you think the students deserve better, then why are you not bitching about it all day every day? I chatted, during Gym, to a full-time teacher. She was asking me about life in the UK, and the conversation turned to Healthcare. She was a self-confessed Conservative, Republican Christian (nothing wrong with that), who believed that free enterprise should run the health service, and that the USA had the best quality healthcare in the world. I was blunt. No, you don't. France, Germany and the UK all have superior healthcare, and so does Canada. The very wealthy here indeed have wonderful healthcare .... the rest have the highest rate of infant mortality in the Western World, many citizens having little or no access to any but the most basic of services.

"But I have heard about the waiting times in the UK", she said. "Well", I replied, "that is part of the lie they feed you to keep you quiet. In fact, for urgent care the UK system has service standards that rival the best in the world. How long are the waiting lists in the US, if you don'tt have health insurance?" I asked her.

Why do Americans pay up to 25% of their salaries for healthcare, only to be denied treatment by an insurance company, even when doctors recommend it? Why do you not scream, shout and complain? Why do you keep voting for those who put you in this position, then do everything they can to keep you there?

Another point we covered was TV advertising. The UK prohibits Political and Religious ads. She was aghast. What about freedom of speech? Well that is one of the biggest red-herrings of all. Britons do not feel that their right to express a view is particularly impeded, but they are simply not prepared to see the entire democratic process debased and reduce to the guy with the biggest pocketbook.

Case in point. Tulsa will vote next week on a sales tax increase to fund River Development. Now there are many cogent arguments both for and against the proposed development and it's funding. Both sides have strong arguments with merit on each side. For the last month, however, the TV has carried hundreds of *Vote Yes* ads, and not a single *Vote No*.

The vote yes campaign is being funded by individuals and businesses whose identity is obscure. My question is how does this serve democracy? How is this *Free Speech* in the best interests of the community? And if it isn't, then why was the right of people to freely express a view allowed to be used to buy election results?

Fact: Americans have fewer, not more, rights than Europeans.

We even still hang on to Habeas Corpus .... fancy.

When UPS tells you one thing, and does another .... complain. When three doctors say you need treatment, and the Insurers disagree, moan, go camp in their fancy offices, be a pain in the butt. When your kid fails to graduate High School, or misses a scholarship, make the District Superintendents life a total misery. When store personnel tell you something just can't be done, don't accept it, demand to know how it CAN be done.

America ... quit lying down and rolling over when every petty beaurocrat and official refuses to provide a level of service that America should be demanding. Vote for the other guy, watch the other TV channel, and email Producers and tell them what you are doing.

Use your much vaunted Free Speech, loud, long and clear. Maybe then you will find out what Europeans have long known:

Telling you you have Free Speech gets rid of the difficult part in the title ... when you really start to use it, watch them panic, and count the improvements.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

News (sic) Reporting

It is neither fun, nor rewarding to watch News Broadcasts here in the USA. What makes it worse is that it is rarely informative either.

More than anywhere else than I have experienced, it is slanted, biased and the worst of "lowest common denominator" I have witnessed.

The so-called News reports do little other than pander to an uneducated, and largely uncritical audience. That, at least, is the impression they give of the Broacasters respect for the viewers.

A case in point toninght. The local affiliate of ABC broadcast a piece about the falling school roles in Oklahoma. They attribute at least some of this to the latest round of Immigration Legislation passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, and will become law in November.

This particularly odious piece of law is both Un-Constitutional, and discriminatory; but that is another post. Clearly though, local community leaders and business have been reporting falling trade and numbers of Hispanic families coming here, and reports that, so far, up to 20 000 may have already left for more humanitarian States.

Of course the Extremists here see this as a victory .... and have little understanding of the concept of "Phyrric" None of this excuses News Channel 8 for it's story. They were suggesting that the Education and Social Services would benefit to the tune of $200 million anually, in Oklahoma, from reduced costs.

That assertion is both bogus and intellectually dishonest. Bogus because it simply isn't true, dishonest because they know it isn't true, and if they don't, then they are absolutely in the wrong business.

Last year, the IRS published figures that showed they received contributions totalling $56 Billion (yeah, you did read that right) from residents with no Social Security Number. Of these, an estimated 10 million people were adjudged to be illegal immigrants. No one particularly disputes these figures, even the Republicans seem to stipulate to them. Most estimates put the social costs of accommodating the same group of immigrants at around $26 Billion per year. Do the math!

What News Channel 8 seemed to be suggesting is that as Ford Motor Company might save around $7500 for every car they don't make, the company would indeed benefit from selling no cars at all.

Of course the "cost" of any operation is never, and never can be, judged by the investment, but only by the Return on the Investment. It is dishonest, willfully so, and rather stupid to suggest any other.

What is even worse is that others who trumpet the economics of the Madhouse, are elected to high office, and returned to office time and again.

There is a possibility that they are right, and I am wrong. News Channel 8 did little to persuade me of that tonight.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

We all should have fountains

Whatever happened to healthcare in the United States of America?

I have an angle here, an edge, a motive. My starting point is a profound belief that a society is judged not by it’s military might, it’s technological achievements or it’s presence on the World stage; no, it is judged by how it cares for it’s Seniors, it’s children and it’s sick.

On all three of those tests the USA falls woefully short of accepted standards in the developed world. Baby Boomers will feel the full force of the first, the second is being felt by High School students all over this nation, with Many Children Left Far Behind, but here I want to address the care of the sick.

I am angry tonight. Angry that, as a father and husband I have to make choices about whether or not my 5 year old step-daughter gets the drug her Doctor prescribed, and if so, what we have to go without to afford it.

Natalie has a Staph. infection. Nothing serious, but her allergy to penicillin requires an alternative drug. The one prescribed is an antibiotic that isn’t on the Formulary of her Insurance company (Aetna). So it’s going to cost $80, on top of the $20 co-pay to see the Doctor. That is $100 to sort out a boil on her cute butt!!

Natalie is lucky. She will get her meds, and insurance will meet part of the bill. An estimated 47 million people in this country are not so lucky. They rely on charity, or go untreated. It’s that simple. 20% of the population of the USA, in 2007, have little or not access to effective healthcare. I don’t want to hear about the *waiting lists* in countries with Universal Healthcare systems, or the cost to taxpayers of maintaining those systems. Ask people here with no coverage how long the waiting lists are! Ask my wife, who badly needs surgery, how long is the waiting list. Her Insurance company have decided that *medical necessity hasn’t been established*, despite a pain management doctor, a primary healthcare physician and two plastic surgeons saying that it has!

So, despite approximately $650 per month being paid to cover my wife and her three children, they still either can’t get the treatment they need, or have to pay through the nose for it. Jodie earns about thirty four thousand a year. Those premiums add up to $7800. That is around 23% of her gross income. On top of that are all the co-pays, which could be nothing, or could be many hundreds of dollars a year.

Did I tell you about the fountains in St Francis Hospital, Tulsa?

The building is magnificent …. Marble and fountains in every foyer, beautiful plantings and comfortable chairs. The only problem is that up to 25% of the city population can’t actually be treated there …. They can’t afford it.

Jodie has three children, born in ’98, ’01 and ’03. The first cost her about $40, the 2nd about $1500 and the third about $4000. These were her out-of-pocket expenses, the only difference was that the third was a caesarian section. What happened between ’98 and ’01? And why, with citizens paying those kinds of additional contributions, is infant mortality among the highest in the developed world.

How is this society in a position to criticize a young woman for attempting to flush a baby down a McDonalds toilet, when it might cost her anything up to $4000 to have the baby in a medically accepted manner? Ok, I accept the example is extreme, and the young woman really should have known better; after all, she had had the benefit of twelve or thirteen years schooling!

I am not one of those Europeans who comes over here and simply criticizes. I do not wish to see the USA emulate a British way of life at all. But it is useful to draw the odd comparasion here and there. To not do so is to be blinkered and insular.

In the UK, there is Universal Healthcare, free at the point of delivery. It’s not perfect, and it’s under strain. Some charges have crept in but the principle remains the same. The Brits pay for this in two ways. Employees contribute around10% of gross up to a threshold, and employers pay about the same, with no cap. Put simply, less than 20% of payroll fully funds healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefit. The cover is available free, to all.

As I said, it isn’t perfect, but it’s considerably cheaper than healthcare here in the US, and 100% inclusive.

So why are Americans afraid of *Socialised Healthcare*? I simply fail to understand why y’all are prepared to pay through the nose for inferior products, and then hear folk claim you have the world’s best healthcare. No, you don’t, and you don’t even come close.

Did I tell you about the fountains?

You have insurance companies deciding treatment. Do they have your best interests at heart? You have drug companies literally spending billions in advertising to the public (who can’t actually buy the product), all in an attempt to pressurize a doctor to prescribe the latest wonder-drug. It is unethical, and in many countries is simply unlawful. Do the citizens of Germany, France, Switzerland, UK etc ….. appear to be suffering because Glaxo-SmithKline are unable to sell them prescription drugs over their bowl of Cornflakes?

The USA has one of the unhealthiest populations in the industrial world, but change? No Siree Bob, it’s the American Way.

In this Race For The White House, is there a single politician who has a costed and thought out proposal to deal with this situation. Is any one of them prepared to say NO to drugs? NO to the insurers, and enough already to the hospital administrators?

Is there a politician who has the guts to actually do the right thing, not the expedient thing, or the politically possible thing. Is there a man or woman who is brave enough to dream? Dream of an America where the sick are treated, the Seniors and Veterans adequately cared for, and the children taught?

And not just to dream, to get up of his ass and say so. Say so on TV, say so on the stump, say so from Maine to California. Brave enough to be a Democrat yet say Arnie is trying to do the right thing. Brave enough to be a Republican and say we need to move trillions from defense, and spend it on people? (actually, that last is asking a bit much).

Is any man jack of them actually concerned about the USA, and the welfare of it’s people, or do they all just want to look good on Face The Nation. They will indeed face the Nation soon enough. Let us hope for the sake of the candidates that their lack of clothing is not visible to all.

Or perhaps one of them will step up, and be the Emperor in a full dress suit.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh to be in England ...

The only consolation in Tulsa right now?

It's too bloody hot for the mosquitos!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just because

There's a new world somewhere
They call the Promised Land
And I'll be there someday
If you will hold my hand
I still need you there beside me
No matter what I do
For I know I'll never find another you

There is always someone
For each of us they say
And you'll be my someone
Forever and a day
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through
But I know I'll never find another you

It's a long, long journey
So, stay by my side
When I walk through the storm,
You'll be my guide, be my guide

If they gave me a fortune,
My pleasure would be small
I could lose it all tomorrow
And never mind at all
But if I should lose your love, dear,
I don't know what I'll do
For I know I'll never find another you

But if I should lose your love, dear,
I don't know what I'll do
For I know I'll never find another you

Another you, another you

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Tomorrow I an taking four *camping virgins* to Keystone Lake.

To be fair, Jodie has camped before, but not since she was about 5 years old.

If we are not back by Wednesday, would someone please call 911

Thanks :)

Humans .... Can't live with them, can't kill them!

My name is Sheffield. I am the gorgeous girl you see on the right. Aren't I just the cutest? I am almost two years old, and I live in Tulsa with my sister, Wednesday. She's the stoopid one. She was born at the same time as me, and was generally considered to be the runt of the litter, but now she's twice my size and don't I just know it!.

Anyways ... for about two years we have allowed a family of humans to live with us .... the smell is awful, the menu is boring, and sometimes the silly sods lock us out at night :: sigh :: On the other hand ... the food is free, and we have them pretty well trained. Well, all except the short, and often very scruffy, blond one whose hair is even longer than mine. She could almost be a cat, were she not so obviously devoted to the rest of this disfunctional family. Showing devotion, by the way, is something no self-respecting cat would ever do, not unless it wanted to repeat Grade school with the emphasis on *How to be a cat 101*.

Life has been pretty good until recently. We repay our humans by offering regular treats .... mice, lizards and snakes being particular favourites of theirs. See ... we at least try to offer them a varied diet ... but they aren't getting the message. Must be the school system, or something. Wednesday and I have recently been discussing how we might offer a little more, but we don't think the elder female human is quite ready for possum!

Where was I? Oh yes ....

Humans ... You know, we are easily pleased. We want to be fed, and we want you to leave us alone. Leave us alone. If we want you, we'll let you know. If we don't let you know, it's because we don't want you right now. Deal with it.

On the whole, we think it's a decent arrangement. We let you live with us, and you behave yourselves. Not too much to ask is it? There are several dos and don'ts. Right at the top of the *Don't* list, is DONT GET A DOG.

So what did our humans do? Did they get a dog?

No. They got TWO dogs !!!

Two scraggy little furballs that look more like baby bears than dogs. I mean, just how stupid can one human family be? I kid you not, these dogs (spit) are just a mess. They are called Edmund and Baldrick. We simply call them Dumb and Dumber, and the names suit them, believe me!

We were so sure we had these idiots where we wanted them. Even the midgits had stopped hauling us around like we were some kind of Barbie Doll, but no. Just when you think you can look forward to a long. prosperous and peaceful existence, along comes these:

Sometimes, I just throw my paws up in despair.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Bush the *Worst President Ever?*

He would have some competition for that title, but, again, the question is a little misleading. Yes, I know I asked it, but I did so only because it is a phrase I hear repeated around the place, and thought it maybe bore a little examination.

Let's go back to the beginning.

There are those, I am sure, who would consider George Washington (funny that, all those Georges) to have been a pretty Un-American kinda guy. After all, he was the 1st President to be sworn in under the newly adopted Constitution of the United States of America. This *liberal* nonsense has come under severe attack from the latest, and in their eyes at least, most enlightened of Executive branches of government.

Indeed, it would appear that root and branch reform of this worthless liberal document, this "piece of paper" is in order. Notwithstanding the fact that it has proven to be the very foundation of this country, and the bedrock upon which a broadly democratic society has been built.

Given the outrage heard from some right wing quarters when *freedoms* are called into question, then there does appear to be some support for the notion that the Bill of Rights in particular, needed George Bush's wholesale reform, and never mind what the State's governments might have to say about it. Oh, but leave the 2nd alone, as those same people think it allows them to shoot folk in the streets without any apparent concern that there might be an arrest, trial and life-imprisonment to follow.

So, broadly we have two groups taking positions on the two Georges. One group insists the first George was an enlightened leader of a young nation, and that the latest George is a man of limited intelligence, who is pushed around mercilessly by the smart but evil folk around him, eventually to be found washed up, like flotsam on the shores of history. The other group, and I generalise a little, accepts that history deals kindly with George Washington, and acknowledges that he was indeed a man of honour and vision, during times when democracy must have been a hard line to walk. The two hundred years or so that have elapsed have done much to show that the document those guys signed up to is still relevant, still powerful, and still a moving tribute to their courage.

Yeah we get amendments. There is a process, and it requires the States to sign their agreement. I have no record of which States agreed to the trashing of the 4th Amendment, but feel confident that others will point me to the evidence I am missing. I am conscious that other Amendments have been damaged too, but the 4th is so damned obvious I am stopping there.

So .... is he the worst or not?

I think the answer to this question lies buried in another piece I wrote. I think you have to ask *Which America?*. It is a fatal error that Europeans often make (many Americans make the same mistake), to think that America is one big place, homogenised from shore to shining shore. It isn't, it never was, and it came as quite a shock to me when I first realised it. There are many Americas, all linked federally, but separated in significant ways. Separated socially, geographically, culturally, racially, economically and in many other ...allys.

One significant separation is that between the corporate side of the US, and the people who live here. Each would seem to rely upon the other, and to a great extent they do. But it is not a symbiotic relationship. Corporations here are not run for the benefit of their employees, nor of the community at large. Walmart does not provide health care for very many of it's workers. In fact, in many States, Walmart is a parasite upon the State relief for the poor, relying on this to cover it's sick. And Walmart isn't alone, it is just the biggest.

American corporations do not move American jobs abroad to advance the economic standing of the community. They do it to avoid paying a living wage, to maximise profits for a few, with no sense of shame or patriotism. I don't give a flying fuck how many Stars and Stripes they fly outside their corporate headquarters, they behave like economic terrorists.

So how would this America, this corporate society view the current incumbent? Well, quite frankly, they bought him the desk, and he hasn't let them down. Well maybe a little, having kinda queered the pitch for a potential successor. With that single caveat though, he has been a resounding success, and possibly the best President in history. The biggest American companies have grown bigger, fatter and more difficult to reason with, more in the last six years than at any time in history. Take a look at the increases in defence spending if you don't believe me.

Meanwhile, I still post in internet groups where ordinary Americans ... you know, the comfortable but still need to work, the poorer but still happy, those Americans, most of us ... and this President gets oodles of support.

They support the employer who discriminates then is supported in turn by a bankrupt Supreme Court. They support the man who shoots someone who *looked at him in a threatening manner* (I exaggerated that for comic effect, but you get the drift). They think they have decent healthcare ... are they nuts? ... and heaven forbid we ever had *socialised care* ... you know, the kind that gets you better without bankrupting you ... and they will vote for Republicans again.

I want some of that. Some of the kind of power that allows you to treat people mercilessly, to abuse them, to deny them any worker rights, or even habeas corpus, yet still gets them buying, again and again and again.

Most of all, I want Democrats to have it .... have it and use it wisely, responsibly, and for the benefit of all Americans. Yeah, even the ones who voted Republican ... again, dammit.

There are many different Americas ... I want a government that responds positively to them all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


It’s three thirty seven am, as I start to type this, My wife is sleeping, noisily, and the kids are away for the weekend, The dogs are asleep, as I should be, and the cats are out looking for lizards, or some such treat to break the never-ending monotony of the Pedigree cat food we supply them with.

Jodie deserves to sleep a long time tonight. She took another major step on the road to realizing that all people are different, yet all are the same; and that difference is a cause for celebration, rather than a reason for fear and enmity.

I run karaoke shows from time to time. Tonight I ran one in an expensive hotel for a wealthy friend. I will call him Jack.

Jack is from India. He arrived in the US in 1971. He went to college and started a business. In the twenty five years that have elapsed since the business opened, both Jack, and his company, have prospered. Tonight we celebrated that 25 years, and Jack’s 50th birthday. Jack was the first member of his family to move to the US. Now there are around fifty. One is a banker, one runs another established company locally, many are children, or at college, or are elders enjoying a decent retirement.

Jack, and his family, epitomize the American Dream, and the benefits to us all of immigration. When I arrived, a little over two years ago, I met Jack in a local bar. He was friendly, and he was very helpful in providing me with opportunities, including parties to DJ. He continues to be helpful and despite him probably being the richest person I actually know in this country, I charge him rather less than I charge other people.

Tonight’s party was a curious affair. It was attended by around one hundred and fifty people, a mix of friends, family, employees and business contacts. They didn’t want to sing much, although they did enjoy the singing by both another guest and myself. Clearly, success in business turns you deaf, but that’s another post. It was, however, very clear that there was a clash of cultures that was very difficult for some people to comprehend. Much Indian music was played. It was the usual scene …. One of the guys would give me a bunch of CDs, with a neatly tabulated sheet asking me to play certain tracks in a particular order; then, as soon as I start, the girls would come rushing in, resplendent in their saris, demanding that I change the order, and casting withering looks in the direction of their menfolk. All very normal. My difficulty was that I don’t have much in the way of Bollywood Hits, and cueing up the next track is tricky, when you have no idea when the first is likely to end.

The culture clash was this …. Many guests simply couldn’t get their heads around the music. Nothing about it appeared to them to relate to life as they knew it. This lead to a general exodus to the designated smoking areas, and a dance floor filled with Indian teens, young Moms and grannies, all having a whale of a time. I heard a few disparaging remarks about the music, and was filled with a sense of loss. Loss that guests who didn’t understand, and didn’t try to understand, were suffering. From my perch all I could see was a room filled with people having a great time. From the 4 year old who waited up until 11 pm for a chance to sing a country music hit, to the very genuine attempts of middle aged white people joining in and having a blast.

I was witnessing a normal, very commonplace, family party. I was a little surprised that others saw it differently. Jodie didn’t. She saw exactly what I was seeing, and it troubled her deeply (several Jack and Cokes contributed). She was mortified that she grew up in an area where people see difference as fearful, colour as an object to be scorned, and if it ain’t sung by Garth Brooks, it ain’t music. I’ll be honest. I don’t much care for Bollywood type tunes. They are unfamiliar, and strange to my ears. On the other hand, when the girls insisted I play the same track three times in a row, telling me it was just the biggest hit ever, I got it.

Jodie wants to know how we can fight these attitudes. How she can shelter her children, my stepchildren, from their father and grandfather who still call black people “nigger”; a word I don’t even like to type, and how we can help them inderstand that a gay couple can be loving and decent, in the face of sneers from Dad. And she complains, that she may be awakening, but she is just one person, what difference will it make?

All the difference in the world, is the real truth, but she can’t hear it yet. Maybe in the morning.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Shopping for Dummies

I went to WalMart. I really should stop going to WalMart, given their abject failure to provide a living wage, let alone health care, for most of their employees. Nonetheless, I had a list, so I went shopping.

I also had $75, which was about all we could muster, and we just got two dogs, so I was a little concerned that said $75 would prove insufficient (it did).

Before I left, Jodie gave me the list. Usually, I shop without a list. I do the shopping, and I pretty much have a default shopping list hard coded into my brain ... Milk, creamer, lunch meat, bread ... it's a decent list.

Today however, Jodie had added a few things for which she felt the need to apologise in advance. I didn't actually look at the list before I left, but soon found myself looking at an unfamiliar shelf, and muttering "Kotex, Kotex, Kotex" ... which endeared me to a few of the female shoppers around me, and scared off a few others.

Maxi, Long, Ultra-Thin and No Wings ... said the list. WINGS? My experience of Wings in the US is that you smother them in hot sauce and butter. Never knew they were made by Kotex!

So, I am trying to find the exact ones specified by she who must be obeyed. It really wasn't all that easy. They had *Light*, *Medium*, *Maxi*, *Mississippi Levee*. Short, long, thin, purple, red, winged and wing-free ........

I decided to steer clear of the Mississippi Levee .... they probably leak! ewwwwww!

I bought a pack .... bought the right ones, and earned a few credit points :)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Life, the Universe, and Jodie ...

Sometimes we have conversations. We have a happy marriage, one that has not yet tired of exploring ideas about the world around us, and how we relate to it. I have a sneaking suspicion that we never will, actually, tire of it, and that is the source of a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction for both of us. In the beginning .... a cute phrase, doncha think? ... Jodie looked to me to help her find answers to things she had long considered, but never conceptualised, let alone put into words. Mostly it was about attitudes she had inherited, from parents, family, school and her general surroundings here in Oklahoma. I think what drove her to ask me was that I was simply the first person she had ever been close to that had been brought up in a different culture, with different ideas and a completely different perspective. It was probably encouraged by the fact that I clearly wanted to listen, and was willing to share.

That is where we came from, we have moved on a good deal. Jodie is now much more of an *equal*, in our conversations. She asserts her views, and listens to mine. She is equal in her own head, she was never anything less in mine.

Of late, the subject of Creationism has been on our minds. Not so much that it is something we obsess about, or even discuss much. Just generally. Little things like the opening of a Museum dedicated to lying to children about Evolution .... minor issues like that and the recent Republican debate where three of the ten rich old white men wanting to be President asserted a belief in Creationism, and a scepticism about Evolution. And they want to be the next Leader of the Free World!! The scary bit is that one of them might .... that they even can be considered credible is bad enough. I digress.

Today we chatted about the Universe, the speed of light, and the origins of religion.

Not bad for a quiet Tuesday afternoon. It was just one of those conversations that meandered a bit. Neither of us were seeking to explain the Big Bang, what came before it or what might happen in the unimaginably distant future when the universe stops expanding. These are answers that are unknowable, and quite likely will remain so well past next week. So it doesn't matter much.

We nattered about Einstein, about the speed of light (whether, if it is a constant, time is constant), because it kinda matters if distance is to have much meaning, and whether or not God is a concept, created by man to satisfy his own need to have answers, or whether there really is God, or a God, or several ....

We ended up talking about what has changed in the 2000 years of Christianity, accepting too that there was religion before Christianity, and that there probably has never been a time when there was actually less religion than the current time; though, living in Oklahoma, it doesn't seem that way.

For what it's worth ...... my view is that, right from the time of the earliest men, there has existed a need to understand the world around us. It was easy enough, when dragging the bear back to the cave, to understand that one was able to directly affect your immediate surroundings. It was impossible to understand what affected, or effected change in the wider environment. For example/ It's not too hard to plant a crop and see the result of the planting. You did it, and the wheat makes the bread. It is not so easy to understand why some years it rains when you need it to, and some years there is drought. That is entirely outwith the control of an individual.

It must have been a very short step from hoping that it would rain to praying that it would.

As our collective knowledge grows, we need to pray a little less (although hope springs eternal). We understand a great deal about why things happen, how and the mechanisms involved. It's also not so hard to make this leap of faith .... and I use the term advisedly ... If it is the case, that developments in our knowledge have lead to a clear understanding of things that were hitherto unknown, then it's not such a leap to expect that much of what is currently unknown, will not remain so for ever.

We also discussed why America appears to be in the grip of such Fundamentalist Religious Nuttery. It's a personal view, but I suspect it has a good deal to do with time .... and development in terms of nationhood. It's easy for the UK, with it's thousand year tradition of Parliament, to be relaxed about religion. It's just as easy for France, Germany, Spain, etc. Remember, the USA has been an independent nation for only a matter of two hundred years or so. How long ago the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Catholics in the UK and the dissolution of the Monasteries?

Jodie believes in God. She believes in God in the way all decent Christian folk do ... as a source of strength and inspiration .... not a daily ritual, but a staff when one is needed. I don't, and we live very happily together, with our conversations.

Neither of us believes the new museum (sic) is anything other than lies. Lies that will harm our children. The last gasp of a failed and dying theocracy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Family don't call family "Fatass"

Let's clear up one matter, before we start, ok? I love my Mum. No ifs, buts or maybes ... I love my Mum the way we all do. That I also admire and respect her is quite another thing, those are earned, not given as right, because she's my Mum, y'understand.

So imagine my surprise when I get online, and start chatting to my son, Tom, who has just returned from two weeks in France with my Mum and Dad (and his brother, who is still there, and assorted other friends and relatives).

So Tom says to me ...... Nanny wants me to tell you something. Oh shit .... what did I do now? At 47, the words *Nanny wants me to tell you something* are redolent with memories of yesteryear. Not the wonderful memories, the nostalgis of childhood, but the *Steven you better get yourself in here quicksmart before you get into more trouble than you are already in*, kind of memory.

I wouldn't mind, but she is 5000 miles away, so what can she actually do? Well, quite a lot it seems :)

It turns out that Tom is to speak to me about all the weight I have accumulated since I took it upon myself to go live in the Land of the Burger.

It would appear that the various Clan members have been gathered around whatever kitchen table my Mum has, and have been discussing, doubtless among other things, like the length of my toenails; the appearance of a substantial gain in avoirdupois, in the Christmas picture they all received. Indeed, it is even possible the word ginormous made it's unfortunate way into a sentence that also included the word Steve.

So, at this point in the conversation with Tom I am half amused, half cross and half relieved. The Europeans will realise that is three halves .... many Americans won't, given their unwelcome position at the lower end of the world academic acheivement ladder.

Tom also informed me that son number two, Joe, had a few things to say to me, so I got on the phone. Our free calls to Europe are a mixed blessing! Joe tells me I have to avoid eating any more Krispy Kremes. I tell him that sometimes it is only Krispy Kreme that keeps me here. I also tell him that I have actually LOST weight since I arrived in the country of the Big Burger. When I left the UK I tipped the scales at a not inconsiderable 196 lbs (89 kg), and now weigh in at a slender 174 lb (79 kg). Indeed, I can now get into a 32" waist, and haven't weighed so little since I was about 30.

I did speak to Mum ..... she seemed entirely amused by the whole thing. I also spoke to my dear sister, who clearly took the view that the camera wasn't lying. My sister is called Sue. I refrained from reminding her that when she rolled back into England from a year in Australia, we called her Suet. I wouldn't be so unkind.

Jeez I love the lot of them, and I miss them.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Iraq ..... the President's Schoolyard

The matter of the War in Iraq is consuming Americans. It should as they are paying a very high price for it. A substantial majority of public opinion wants an end to it. A substantial body, but not substantial enough, of political opinion wants an end to it too.

But for the President, it will define his term in office. It will not define it kindly.

I read a piece that puts the issue into decent perspective, and I want to share some of the ideas I found, and add to it.

For the President, this war is about winning. He thinks it can be won, and will not stop until either the clock runs out on his term, or he wins. The main issue here is the belief that the war was ever *winnable*.

As Iraq slides further into civil war and chaos, we are assured that just a few more thousand troops and we will prevail. We will win. It's an illusion. As time rolls on, and the troops deployments increase, the death toll rises and violence breaks out in areas that had been relatively peaceful thus far. I heard it described as playing *whack a mole*. The US gains some measure of control in Baghdad, and as it does, violence erupts in other provinces. Many military experts have insisted all along that to subdue Iraq would require upwards of half a million US troops, not the 160 000 currently deployed. Even then, it would be like clamping a lid on a kettle.

All through the occupation benchmarks, targets, objectives have been set. As the deadlines came and went, so did the imperative to meet them, and new ones were dreamed up. Now we are told that the surge requires until September for a proper assessment. In September, we will be told that there are some very encouraging signs, and January will give a clearer picture.

How do I, a simple man with no experience or knowledge of military affairs, know this? Because we have been there before. Four years and 3500 US deaths ago we were told that the US had won .... major combat operations in Iraq are over .... declared a President, standing beneath a banner proclaiming *Mission Accomplished*, bought and paid for by the White House.

Since then, the actions of the President have resembled those of a child playing a game with another. We will play best of three, or first to five goals, or ten points. When he loses, he shifts the objective .... best of five, first to eight goals ...... then best of eleven .... well, you get the drift.

So we are back to the original point ..... it is about a President who thinks this war is winnable, and will not stop until either he wins, or someone tires of the game and takes their ball home. At which point he will declare victory, or blame the other side for bottling out.

Meanwhile, because we are saddled with a President, and his apologists, who all think we can win; then we all lose!

I might remind the President of another point, were I ever to get the chance. 9/11 and Iraq are not linked, never were and never can be. If you prefer it in simpler terms:

When you go Bowling, you get no credit whatsoever for scoring a Strike in the lane next to the one you are playing in.

Just for Tom and Joe

Your Monster Profile

Lethal Worm

You Feast On: M&Ms

You Lurk Around In: Las Vegas

You Especially Like to Torment: Cops

Who controls whom?

We have lost it. Finally, as we staggered dimly groping our way into the 21st Century, we lost. Too many Sci-Fi films have made mockery of an age where machines take over. They go from passive, but useful lumps of metal, plastic and silicone, forever tasked with spending their existence serving mankind, to Masters of the Planet.

My WebHost is a case in point.

Some time ago I purchased an additional domain, for a woodworking project. The WebHost (1and1 Internet, the biggest in the world) refused to accept my Debit card details. Specifically, it was having trouble with the address. This is a card they have had on file for two years, and have happily charged a not inconsiderable sum to.

Now my websites are locked .... poof .... they are no more. Try one of the links, and you get the infamous Error 404 page. It's a pretty blue and white logo, with nice hints of red and yellow, but of the info you were looking for, nuttin'. The picture is missing from my profile here because it is hosted on my webspace. So, if you are reading this, and there is a picture, then it's fixed.

I do what all self-respecting customers do when their service is suddenly interrupted .... I call, and politely enquire as to why. I am informed, equally politely, that I am pondlife, with no care or concern about the welfare of this giant corporation, because the bank declined my card, and only vermin who don't deserve food, let alone a website, ever have cards that are declined. And it couldn't possibly be for any reason other than that I am the lowest of the low socially, I probably live in a trailer, almost certainly am a criminal, and if not my kids probably are, and they wouldn't be at all surprised if I was an illegal immigrant as well.

Of course, they didn't put it quite like that.

That was my interpretation of the sneer, when I tried to suggest their system was broken. Broken because it now seemed to have indegestion swallowing a card it had happily snacked on before, not because there were insufficient funds, but because it didn't like the address! Well Pardon Me!!! We can't all live at an address with a personal approval rating from 1and1 Internet.

So, patiently, and with great forebearance, I lead this hapless girl through the timeline. We managed to agree that I wasn't an axe-murderer, that I had indeed attempted to inform the company of the correct billing details; that I had even managed to contact their billing agent direct, and pay the bill (they had less trouble running the card than an Olympic Pole vaulter would have hopping a small creek), and that all was *hunky dory* with my account.

So, I persisted .... Why don't my websites work, and why is my Blog bereft of it's picture?

Well the system, apparently, takes 24 to 48 hours to unlock accounts. Ahh ... so it's the *system*. Ok, how can we ask the system to be closer to 24 hours, than 48 hours? .... We can't, it's the system.

At this point, I inform this young woman (who really was trying to help once we had punctured the sneer), that the company runs the system, and not the other way around. There must be somebody in the company who can tell the system to open this account.

Apparently not ..... the system is the system .... All Hail the System.

So, it's off with the shoes, Margarita in hand I'll kick back on the porch of the trailer, and enjoy the view of the cars on bricks, the loose dogs and litter for 24 more hours, while I wait for my probation officer to make his weekly call, and for 1and1's System to put my picture back.

Toodle Pip!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Do the dishes!

I did them :)

Jodie's rant here

Memorial Day

Today is a solemn day in America.

Over recent years, Memorial Day has come to be seen as the unofficial start of summer. It is a day of cook-outs, boating, swimming and family gatherings. But it wasn't the original purpose. Memorial Day is the day America honours it's fallen warriors. There will be, and are as I type this, ceremonies being conducted all over this land to do just that.

On this day, this year and for the last 4 years, it is particularly poignant as young men and women are dying in combat overseas. Specifically, they are dying in countries many Americans can't even find on the map, countries that pose little or no real threat to the borders of the USA. Arguably, Afghanistan has some justification, Iraq has none.

When we take a few seconds out from eating steak and hotdogs, swimming and sport it is worth remembering that a big battle still awaits.

The battle, here at home, to end the senseless conflict, the tragic destroying of another land, the futile and pointless squandering of the lives of so many brave young people who only dimly grasped the notion that they may really die when they joined up.

When you turn on your TV, and see the President using today of all days, to vainly attempt to justify his abuse of the military, his callous disregard for their families, his woeful inaction towards better treatment for the injured, and his criminal use of the nations resources, against Americans and foreign captives, then remember .....

The battle to re-establish morality, to end the violence and restore an Administration that acts in the interests of all the people ..... that battle is just beginning.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

What was the most venomous thing in our yard?

Yesterday we had a party. It was held to celebrate Michael's 6th Birthday, and it was a good party. We had the pool open, a Jupiter Jump, enough hotdogs and chips to make the Oklahoma National Guard feel at home, and the weather was, at least, tolerable.

Actually it rained .... a bit. Not enough to spoil anything, but enough so that I couldn't mow (good), and enough to keep the temperature below 90F (even better)

Michael had an absolute blast, and so did all the many other kids here. In the end, that was the point, so we claim the event a success.

Now let's talk about the adults for a moment.

This party was remarkable mainly for the fact that it is the first time since Michael's father left this house 3 years ago, that both sides of the children's family have occupied the same patch of (over-long) grass at the same time. The 2 weeks leading up to the function were punctuated by periods of Jodie worrying that the knives were all going to be used to cut food, and not find their way between the shoulders of varying family members.

Here is the reason. Jodie's family, and our friends, are decent, tolerant (well maybe not Tracy) and supportive. They are quite the nicest bunch of people I have met in many a decade. Jodie's ex-inlaws are dull, boring and filled with anger, resentment and enmity towards anyone not sharing the shallow end of the gene pool with them. The picture (right) shows two of the nice people, Jim and Ashley, Jodie's Dad and niece.

We have spent many happy hours, over the last three years, with Jodie's family, at many events from Baptisms to Thanksgiving, and rarely, if ever, has there been a cross word spoken. These people actually like each other. They even seem to like the weird Limey Jodie imported a few years back. Well they are at least polite enough not to object :)

Here are the Clampetts. Denny is the kid's Dad. He is the one in the foreground, who made a special effort to dress for his son's party. Now Denny I understand. He is not highl
y educated, but a hard working man who genuinely feels he does his best for his kids. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much of a grasp of their actual needs, so he gets it wrong, sometimes comically wrong, often tragically wrong. No matter, he works, he supports, and he visits with them.

Then he launches a futile legal action that deprives his kids of a good deal of money that, instead of being used to bring up his children, is used instead to meet the down payments on the Mercedes driven by various attorneys. He is a racist and a homophobe. To his credit, he is slightly less so than his father, and that is, I guess, to his credit. Nonetheless, yesterday he was respectful, and we were happy to have him here.

The rest of the tribe get no such credit. Jodie was concerned that I might be uncomfortable, given that this family has directed, albeit indirectly, a good deal of resentment in my direction. I assured her it was no problem at all. After all, they were coming to my house, to sit under a porch I built, on furniture I made and eat food I had not only had just been out and bought, but had cooked for them. I was perfectly relaxed. Besides, they are all way too busy concentrating on their own petty squabbles to worry too much about me ..... but for the record ...

One refused to meet my eye when introduced. Her problem
. She also just fell out with her sister, and spoke to her probably even less than she spoke to me. One shook my hand, then wouldn't utter another word the whole time there. He did manage a good few hotdogs though, and he sat in my chairs, and was entirely unable to find anything to criticize. His wife was a little more forthcoming. At any other time she would have been downright rude, but these are strange times, and by comparasion she was fine.

Any way, they came, they partied and they left. They all went off to a restaurant for dinner, and I was going to say that I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, but really, I don't care. They won't be coming back anytime soon, and even if they do, so what?

Jodie left that family after the best part of 10 years trying to make a life for herself and her kids. What took her so long? It's really quite curious watching these folk, and wondering about Jodie trying to fit .... she doesn't, she never did and she is a better person because of that. They will never see it. They are someone else's problem now.

There were other people here. Nice people, non-judgmental, or at least able to reserve judgment and enjoy family. They will come time and again, and we will enjoy them coming, time and again. We visited with friends, we partied and we sung karaoke until late. They went home happy and relaxed.

Tracy, by the way, is adorable .... quite one of the best friends a person could wish for.

Tracy's husband, Cory, has eagle eyes, and he found this lurking under the edge of th
e air conditioner. It is a Black Widow Spider. Technically, it is now an *ex-BWS* .... we squished it, sorry.

This little blighter is nasty. It is highly venemous, although, to be fair, rarely fatal. Being fair to spiders is an amusing
concept, but hey, I like insects :)

It is was one of those *moments* when I realise I am a long way from much that is familiar to me. On the other hand, which ever side of the Atlantic you live on, squishing spiders is pretty much the same process.

Let's take a look at the birthday boy:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell is dead.

As another human being, I sympathise with the loss to his friends and family. Like the rest of us, Jerry Falwell was a family man, and he will be missed as any of us would be missed.

Jerry Falwell was, however, more than just a private individual; he had a public persona as the Evangelical Minister who founded the Religious Right, and turned it into a political power in this country.

As a public figure, Jerry Falwell left a stain on this land that no amount of Oxyclean will remove. It will take generations for his demonstrably un-Christian views and teachings to be erased.

Jerry Falwell did more than any other single individual I can think of, to set back the cause Freedom, Liberty and Justice For All in the United States.

Whatever might be said in the next few days and weeks let us remember that if you are black, gay, pregnant or simply wishing for your leaders to represent ALL the people, then today one of the obstacles to human decency died.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day USA

Today is Mother's Day here. It is big in the US, way bigger, although no more significant than in the UK.

Julia Ward Howe wrote this, in 1870, when Mother's Day was proposed:

"From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace..."

In churches large and small, from shore to shining shore, I expect this sentiment was the central theme of morning services today.

Happy Mother's Day America.

Friday, May 11, 2007

sigh ....

I don't mind in the slightest, when I open the toilet to find the poop of our 4 year old sitting there.

What is less appealing, however, is the complete lack of visible evidence that any toilet paper was used.

Cute, isn't she?

America? Which America?

When I lived in England I had a view of America. It’s normal, we all do. America is a big influence there, as in many other parts of the world. My view varied over the years, as I grew up and influences on me changed; but also as I developed an independent perspective on the world around me.

Growing up, America wasn’t a nice place. The ideology my parents subscribed to held the United States responsible for a great deal that is wrong with the world. It was a view I grew up sharing, and, in truth, I can see where that comes from. It’s never quite gone away. It should have, because, as always, it’s never that simple. Let me give you a small example of how this view forms:

In theory, America is a Capitalist nation, where the vested interests of business outweighs the personal interests of the people. Of course it is never put quite like that, but judge me not by what I say, rather judge me by what I do! The old Soviet Union, on the other hand, was exactly the reverse. Again, it’s never quite so simple and Judge me not ……. Well you get the drift.

So let’s jump back a few years to the moment these two great cultures had a defining episode, and one which might, had two people of great wisdom and commitment not put country above personal considerations, have been a disaster for us all. The episode is known as the *Cuban Missile Crisis*.

I am not going to rehearse the argument. That has been, and continues to be done by scholars, and others, much better and more completely than I have time for. Rather, I would like to look at the conventional wisdom in the West. I’d like to briefly look at the two main contenders, and see what they predict for us all, in our differing environments.

America had John F Kennedy. A young President who has been pretty much raised to Sainthood here in the US. It is he who is credited with *bringing us back from the brink*, he who is seen as the strong, determined leader. He who represents the American Way. Kruschev is the enemy, the warmonger who was ultimately defeated by American might and resolve.

This is an unfortunate view. It is unfortunate that the tone of a nation can be set in this manner. I have little doubt that JFK had some very fine qualities. I equally wonder how much more just a society might this be had he been allowed to complete two full terms, then remain and still be influencing policy today. We’ll never know.

But how accurate is this *good guy*, *bad guy* scenario? Was Kruschev the evildoer? I suspect it’s not that simple. Nikita Kruschev was head of the Politburo and General Secretary of the Communist Party. Both positions required that he be elected by his immediate peers and colleagues. In the world of politics, both here and in Russia, such a position is not comparable to the US President. He is elected, indirectly, by the people, and can only be removed by Congress, or by term. Nikita Kruschev had many competing views, not to command, but to balance. JFK had only to follow his instincts. This is not to demean JFK, merely to compare their two positions.

Once those missiles left Russia, it is unlikely that Kruschev could have stopped them any earlier than he did. Had he attempted to do so, he could very easily have been replaced. What is important is simply that his replacement would have, by definition, been a politician with less inclination to turn the ships around than Kruschev; and then where would we have been? The only way those missiles were heading home was when Kruschev could convince the Politburo that the Americans were NOT going to back down, and that feat of diplomacy required JFK to play his part without over-reacting. Both men did what was needed, and a crisis averted.

It really does take two to tango. Kruschev needed JFK to be strong, and he was. The world needed those two men to *step up*, and they did. I am minded, at this point, to pause for a moment and wonder how the current incumbent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have handled it …. OK, enough doom and gloom for one day.

My point, if you are still with me, is that the emotional health of this great nation would benefit immensely from realizing that there are shades of grey. That Nikita Kruschev may indeed have been a bad guy, but on that day he played a full and active part in probably the greatest test of diplomacy the world has ever faced. It might allow some here to realize that military might is not, ultimately, the solution to anything other than the bottom lines of the military suppliers.

It might help Toby Keith refrain from such crass nonsense as this:

Now, this nation that I love has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin in from somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world like the Fourth of July

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty started shakin her fist
And the eagle will fly
And there's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom start ringin her bell
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is rainin down on you
Hey, brought to you courtesy
Of the red, white, and blue.

Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
You'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.
Cause, we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

I adore many of your songs, Toby, but really … grow up!

Where was I ? Oh yeah …..

So my view of America was formed by events such as this, events that had a profound effect on many yet don’t, I find, come to represent the reality here at all. They do, however, represent the views of a large and extremely noisy section of society here.

I live in Oklahoma. If I can’t live in *Old England*, then I would probably feel more comfortable in *New England* than I do here. There you have it. That is the thing about America that Europeans don’t get. When you talk about America, you have to ask: Which one?

Oklahoma is the State that allows you to shoot someone who approaches you in your car. Chicago has all but banned handguns. New York’s Mayor believes Gay Marriage should be permitted, and he’s a Republican. Oklahoma Republicans think he is going straight to Hell. Federal Law bans the use of religious symbols in State funded and operated institutions. Oklahomans put the Ten Commandments on the lawn in front of courthouses (actually, that is probably just to remind the judges arriving for work which of them they broke last night). Oklahoma has Toby Keith, Pete Seeger was from New York.

Oklahoma is not alone, and it’s not only Southern States that are different either. Oklahoma no more represents the USA, than does Washington DC, Vermont, Florida etc, etc.

The USA is not easily categorized, it depends where you are from, what background you have, what problems you face. I know that is true of many places, to an extent, but here it is magnified to a point where the entire nation is split along racial, religious, social, economic and political lines in a way that would be quite startling to Europeans (I know this, I came here and am more than a little surprised).

Americans take themselves way too seriously ….. seriously! As a nation, but less so as people, they give the world the view that they are a violent, greedy and dangerous country to have in our midst. Americans do not see this at all, but it isn’t helped by the very bad habit politicians have of giving the dumbest names to legislation. The Patriot Act! Implied in the title is that to oppose it would be unpatriotic. Actually what the Patriot Act does is to overturn 200 years of the Bill of Rights, and is the most deeply unpatriotic legislation this country has, with the possible exception of the Who Needs Habeas Corpus Act (they called that one the Military Commissions Act). Quite frankly, the world needs a Patriot Act to protect itself from the current band of villains running the show here.

In Oklahoma we have the Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Act 2007. Cute huh? Well basically it allows citizens here to abuse immigrants without fear of reprisals. Why didn’t they just call it the Immigration Act 2007? Simple. Immigration has bugger all to do with the State Legislature, it is a Federal matter. Govenor Henry, who signed this worthless piece of paper into law admitted as much, but he did at least have the common decency to stop the religious right’s attack on women this month. That was, by the way, about abortion.

I’m gonna stop here, conscious though I am that this is incomplete. I am well aware that I started this entry to look at some of the reasons and causes of the divisions, and I haven’t moved on to the biggest. I will though, but it will be later today, or in the next few days.