And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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“Don’t look into their eyes! You’ll be turned into stone!”

I don’t like to talk U.S. party politics here, really (as you know, it’s about writing and expats, etc.); but this is interesting in terms of media. And it this isn’t just an Americans’ issue. It’s also an international one given how U.S. domestic politics can resonate around the world:

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I don’t watch Fox News with any regularity. The article also addresses Fox’s left-wing opposite number: MSNBC. MSNBC is not available here in Britain, but, similarly, I wouldn’t watch it much either even if it were.

I find both Fox News Channel and MSNBC to be essentially unwatchable yell and snark fests. However, back in the States, my mother must be one of the few who revels in both channels. “I like to hear what both sides are screaming about,” she laughs.

There’s a program on Fox I’ve seen a few times called “The Five.” My Mom likes that one for amusement; but to me, frankly, the less said about it the better. One minute chattering hosts hold forth on ISIS (“The Middle East is so complicated, and Obama won’t do anything!”), or global economics, and after a commercial break on some celebrity’s award show outfit.

My Mom often has MSNBC on as background noise in the kitchen. In my mind, it’s mostly a blur of predictably left of center opinions. A few times, however, I’ve also overheard anchors/ presenters getting so carried away I expected hammer and sickle flags to be unfurled on set at any moment.

From U.S.-based TV news channel offerings – and I know I’m a minority, and I know it has its own issues – I still much prefer CNN. Here in Britain, we see CNN International. Above all, it has Hala Gorani:

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Choose your viewing carefully. Also create a list of varied web sites from at home, and from around the world. Spending “quality time” on news is far more worthwhile than sitting through Fox and MSNBC doing their TV impersonations of “talk” radio.

And life’s too short.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Coinage Of A Distant Land

Last week, my mother told me someone had slipped her this coin in change in one of her northeast Pennyslvania local shops. She was annoyed when she got home and discovered it. She then asked me if I could at least maybe identify it:

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I was stumped. As I don’t like being easily stumped, I resorted to a Google search on coins and the years “1987” and “1407.” After a few clicks around, I found the source country: Morocco.

When I told my Mom that, she laughed. “We get Canadian coins all the time. Morocco? In backwoods Pennsylvania?”

I shrugged and reminded her, “Increasingly global world nowadays, Mother.” :-)

Hope you’re having a good Monday….

World War II: “What does it say about us?”

If you visit my modest site here regularly, you know I write novels revolving around young Americans abroad in the 1990s – in France in particular. Unsurprisingly, I have many French characters, one of whom is a Second World War veteran. Before heading down that literary path, as an academic I’d studied the war and its impacts on post-war Europe.

So please pardon an extremely serious – even depressing – post. For whenever American WWII involvement is cited non-chalantly in present political debates, I take notice. In this case, a former comedian (who now has a chatter show on HBO) tweeted breezily the other day that the U.S. had won WWII without resorting to torture:

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We’ll leave aside his Cold War reference. We don’t know much that happened “quietly” in “black spots” and out of sight during the Cold War. But his raising it in that manner merely demonstrates he probably has only cursory knowledge about how the West and the Soviet bloc intelligence services went at each other viciously during those years, including resorting to umbrella poisonings, and in involving themselves (and sometimes succeeding) in overthrowing unfriendly governments, and then supporting torturers within the new governments.

Let’s focus instead on asking about “us” during the Second World War, which is a conflict that in U.S. lore today is now the last “good war.” Yes, millions of Americans served honorably. Yes, they helped liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. Yes, they helped end Japanese militarism. Freedom and democracy in Europe and much of the Pacific today owes a great deal to their sacrifices and accomplishments.

However, all of that did not come about without misery and death on what is now an incomprehensible scale. Two thousand years ago the Roman Tacitus famously wrote of his countrymen, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.” It could well be said that, between 1941-1945, America helped do much the same…. to “win” that former comedian’s version of the Second World War. Just a few examples:

  • U.S. soldiers raping Frenchwomen was not nearly as rare as we all might like to think it was.
  • After entering Dachau concentration camp near war’s end, U.S. soldiers herded captured guards together and shot them:
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)
  • There were other occasions U.S. soldiers murdered captured PoWs, as in Sicily in 1943.
  • Following the D-Day battle, U.S. Rangers at Pointe du Hoc reportedly shot dead in cold blood French civilians they believed had fought alongside, or had artillery spotted for, the Germans.
  • In the several months’ long pre-D-Day air campaign that sought to hamper German movement by bombing roads and railways in German-occupied France, it is believed “we” may have also killed some 14,000 French civilians.
  • President Roosevelt oversaw years of carpet-bombings of Germany and Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children.
  • President Truman ordered two atomic bombs dropped on cities full of Japanese non-combatants – including children.

Some of us either want us to think, or actually vaguely believe that, the U.S. fought WWII without engaging in “dirty” behavior – as if it were, say, a John Wayne movie. But the problem is even a “John Wayne” movie isn’t even always a “John Wayne” movie. In The Longest Day, the 1962 blockbuster about D-Day starring Wayne among a “cast of thousands,” note that in a brief scene a soldier behind Omaha Beach guns down a group of surrendering Germans…. at least one of whom clearly has his hands up.

Nursing Help

My Dad’s due to be discharged from the hospital today. The recuperation, and learning to live with his implant, begins. He has no choice: he’ll have it the rest of his life. (Thank you for reading, commenting, and your “likes” over the months when I’ve written about this. It has made me feel good. :-) )

Even in the midst of worry, and change, some humor can be found. Yesterday, in the labyrinthine (although hardly huge) hospital, after we saw my father rolled by post-surgery on his way to recovery, my mother grabbed the attention of a nurse. She asked the woman – who was a bit younger than me – for directions to the cafeteria.

We had just spoken with the surgeon and he suggested we wait in the cafe for an hour or so until my father was taken to his room and we could see him. All enthusiasm – the staff at this hospital must have taken a customer service course, everyone is so helpful and pleasant – the nurse smiled at us and replied, “I’ll walk you part of the way.”

I thanked her and praised the hospital. I also said if you’ve not been in it much, the layout was confusing. I ended up walking next to her as she directed us down the hallway.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a nurse.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a nurse.

“I love your accent,” she suddenly said to me almost too enthusiastically. “Where are you from?”

Surprised, I remember joking, “Not Pennsylvania.”

Over the years, living in Britain, my accent has changed a bit. I know that. But I’m not usually conscious of it.

Thinking of my Dad, and focusing on where we were headed, my mind was somewhere else. I honestly don’t really remember much of what else she was saying to me. I was strolling alongside her conversing politely about nothing.

We finally reached an elevator. The cafeteria was just downstairs, she said; and when we came back up, she also explained and pointed out, my father would be a floor above us. She asked me again if I understood, and I said I did. When the elevator doors opened, I thanked her again, said goodbye for about the third time, and with my mother and sister, I stepped inside it.

After seeing my Dad an hour or so later, we left the hospital to do a few errands before returning to see him again in the late afternoon. At a supermarket, while my mother and sister shopped for some bits, I walked to a next door liquor store to buy a Christmas present my father had asked me to get on his behalf. He wanted a bottle of Polish vodka for a Polish man who snowplows, mows the lawn, and regularly does odd jobs around their house. The man has practically become a family friend, and I’m glad: he is a huge help to them.

I left the booze (in its American brown paper – “He’s got booze! He’s got booze!” – obvious bag) in the car, walked back into the supermarket and found my mother and sister already at the check-out. They must have been talking in my absence, because the very first words out of my mother’s mouth to me were: “That nurse was flirting with you. They’ll be none of that, thank you! Had she kept it up, I woulda smacked her!”

The woman cashier’s facial expression was priceless. The entire line must’ve heard too. My mother, you also understand, still sounds unmistakably Queens, New York.

At the time, I had kinda thought the nurse was indeed too expressive and arguably excessively friendly. I also hadn’t thought my mother had noticed that; but obviously, uh, Mother had. That has never happened to me before in a hospital – ever.

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world….

West Country Wanderings

We may soon be relocating within here in England. After a stint in London following years in Christchurch, we could be heading to the West Country for the first time.

Nothing’s firmed up yet, though, and it may not happen. Still, thinking ahead while returning from Bristol on Tuesday morning, given we were in the area we took the opportunity to have a drive through parts of Wiltshire, which is a possible relocation general destination. We meandered through several towns to get a sense of the housing, local amenities, look, and overall “feel” of them.

Free Stock Photo: A road in a small town
Free Stock Photo: A road in a small town

We also stopped in at one letting agent to put our name down for notifications when new rentals come on the market. We explained what we are looking for and our price range. Hearing my American accent, the agent joked, “You understand, most of our properties don’t have big, American rooms at any price.”

“Oh, we’re used to that,” I told her.

Homes here are usually well-built (and often brick) and comfortable. Yes, most English houses are not “McMansions.” But who really needs all that wasted space? You gotta pay to heat it, furnish it, maintain it, and dust and clean it, etc.

The only thing I don’t like is when you can’t get off-road parking. (We could probably park a small English village on what might be termed our “big, American” Catskills driveway.) In our house in Christchurch, which we owned for ten years, we had no driveway of our own. Usually it was a non-issue, but on rainy days (or even snowy days – they do have those in southern England very occasionally) you don’t want to get home with a car full of shopping and find you need to park around the block.

In our wanderings, we didn’t bother with Bath (in next door Somerset): it is monstrously expensive and traffic-snarled about 24 hours a day. (We well-remember that, having driven – more like did 5 MPH – through it several times years ago.) Warminster is a military town (maybe the name’s a giveaway?), but not a bad place to look at, although what we saw of the town center seemed a bit tired. Bradford on Avon is set in gorgeous hills, with winding streets, and looks like something out of a film; but, like Bath, we suspect that given that appeal it is probably also massively expensive.

Trowbridge has possibilities. It has a variety of housing and attractive areas. Surprising in England nowadays, we also discovered it even has a town center multi-story car park with FREE PARKING for 2 hours!

We discovered that only after we drove inside the building. We were so incredulous how that could be so that even seeing a large sign on the wall announcing “2 hours FREE,” and spotting no pay machines, we still didn’t entirely believe it. We actually scoped around just in case they were hiding them. My wife even double-checked with a local shopper strolling to her car, “This car park isn’t pay and display?”

Before that, after couple of hours’ driving around already, we had both needed to, ummm, shall we say, find somewhere personally important.

Now, here is one for you to file for future driving in the West of England travel reference. If you are ever in dire need, Tesco Extra in Trowbridge has them. We were so pleased and uh, relieved – if that latter is the right word? – we rewarded that supermarket with some purchases.

By the way, an Aldi a mile or so away did NOT. We found that out to our disappointment after we had stopped in, thinking, given its size, that it would. So, we didn’t buy anything in there. ;-)

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.
In Barba Gwen31’s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,'” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."
U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you:

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.
Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)

Favorite News Sources

I saw this asked on Twitter yesterday:

What are some of your favorite sources for trusted news?

I had never really considered that systematically before. I read lots of sites, so I had to think on it carefully; and I tweeted back several. Here is a fuller list of my “go to” regularly sites:

CNN
BBC
France 24
CBS News
VOA
RFE/RL
LBCI
The Christian Science Monitor
ANSA
SABC
The Times of India

Looking at those again now I’ve just realized that only one – the Times of India – appears to be an outright “newspaper.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Taking matters to another level, how about this? “Favorite” correspondents? Mine are:

1) “International”:

Hala Gorani (CNN), Vivienne Walt (Time, etc.), and Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (The Telegraph, France 24, etc. – and who follows me on Twitter!).

2) “U.S. national”:

Mark Knoller (CBS), and Brooke Baldwin (CNN…. who also follows me on Twitter!).

3) Extremely “U.S. local” (meaning the Catskills, in upstate NY):

Watershed Post (and which also follows me on Twitter, and is in my sidebar here).

I could go on and add some others – media outlets and individuals – but I’m sure you get the gist. Everyone has their preferences of course, and likely you have yours. Oh, and being followed on Twitter does not necessarily impact my preferences! ;-)

“Americans now get soccer”

As we all know – and as the #johnbrooksforpresident Twitter hashtag reminds us – the U.S. had a big, surprise win over Ghana at the World Cup on Monday courtesy of John Brooks’s dramatic goal as the game was ending. Reading Americans’ reactions to Brooks’s unexpected, last second header heroics, my [English] wife joked, “Americans now get soccer.”

During World Cups, inevitably this question arises: Why isn’t soccer (football) even bigger among U.S. sports? And Americans are lectured (for the umpteenth time) that although it is not the top sport in the U.S., all the rest of the world is obsessed with it.

Technically, though, “all the rest of the world” isn’t: that’s always been an exaggeration. True, soccer is nearly a religion in Europe, Latin America, and parts of Africa. But it is often overlooked that it is far less important not only in Canada, but also in much of Asia and Australia/ New Zealand. Indeed the billion person Indian subcontinent is definitely not soccer-crazed: its passion is cricket.

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That said, U.S. soccer has come a long way in the last two decades – particularly the women’s game. The U.S. women’s soccer team has been far more successful than the men’s team: it is one of the best globally. Yet an interesting question is this: is it possible the “rise” of soccer within the last generation is a flip-side to the “decline” in the fortunes of U.S. professional tennis?

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I recall tennis was pretty popular when I was in high school back in, uh, the Middle Ages 1980s. However, soccer was well down the sports preferences list. For both women and men.

Yet when we consider how there is no U.S. man currently in the tennis “Top Ten,” and realize, the Williams sisters aside, among women only Sloane Stephens is in the “Top 40,” one wonders if many excellent American athletes who might in the past have played professional tennis – especially women – have instead taken up soccer?