Armed To The Teeth

In response to events in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about the “militarization” of U.S. policing. Much of the talk lays the blame for this as rooted in the Pentagon’s casting off since 1997 of military surplus that is scooped up eagerly by police departments across the country. But the issue isn’t really that “new,” though: it has been evolving for decades.

For example, I recall how, in the early 1980s (I believe), a New York City police officer involved in a shootout with a suspect, was killed when his NYPD-issue six-shooter emptied and he was caught reloading. The killer possessed a stronger weapon with more bullets than the police officer’s. Subsequently, the NYPD “upgunned” and vowed no officer would ever be “outgunned” by a criminal ever again.

More recently, Newtown police responding to the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 approached that building as if they were trying to take an enemy position in Normandy in 1944. Indeed, the shooter had enough weaponry – bought legally by his mother, whom he had already killed – on him that he might well have been able to have held Omaha Beach singlehandedly for some time.

It’s no secret that firearms saturate the U.S. As a consequence, a police officer approaches you warily. If he so much as stops someone for speeding, he never knows if at the car window he will be staring down the barrel of a gun. With much of the U.S. populace owning ever more powerful weaponry, police forces have responded by more heavily arming in the face of that public they in many respects greatly fear.

Free Stock Photo: An armored SWAT vehicle in the 2010 Saint Patricks Day Parade in Atlanta, Georgia.

Free Stock Photo: An armored SWAT vehicle in the 2010 Saint Patricks Day Parade in Atlanta, Georgia.

In Britain, routine interaction with police is far less tense than in the U.S. If you encounter a U.K. police officer, he is probably “armed” with a night stick and a radio. Because of the country’s incredibly strict gun control laws, in return he knows you probably aren’t carrying a gun either.

What’s the solution in the U.S.? There probably isn’t one. U.S. police will always feel (not without reason, as Sandy Hook, for one, proved) that they need heavy weaponry as long as much of the populace is armed to the teeth. In turn, much of the populace has no desire not to be armed to the teeth…. because, after all, the police are.
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UPDATE: From the New Yorker:

Of course, the militarization of the police is not entirely new. SWAT teams date back at least to the late sixties in Los Angeles. During the eighties and nineties, many big police forces armed their officers with automatic weapons, and, partly to prosecute the war on drugs, some police departments acquired some pretty heavy weaponry. But it was 9/11 that really changed things. Under the guise of beefing up their anti-terrorist operations, police forces across the country acquired all sorts of military uniforms and hardware, sometimes using federal grants to pay for them.

Quite true. We can’t forget 9/11’s aftermath as contributing as well. Worth bearing in mind also, though, is that Britain has also invested a great deal in its own domestic post-9/11 anti-terror policing efforts, and it has done so without the overt military-style approach one sees in U.S. policing.

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?

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Plane Courtesy

Back on Friday, we were on British Airways, which we almost always fly internationally (save for Ryanair). This flight was on a 777; that’s what BA uses to Newark (although they are supposed to be using Dreamliners too, I believe). I still don’t like that aircraft; but I will admit this one was a better cabin experience than many previous 777 flights. image The flight (in comparison to, uh, others) was relatively uneventful. One exception was finding ourselves upgraded to premium economy. The other was, less happily, discovering ourselves sitting behind a late twenties/ early thirties, American couple.

Yes, we all have our off moments. Still, this was all too much to have possibly been a mere series of coincidences. Please pardon me as I get this off my chest. ;-)

The male half of the couple was seemingly one of those people who “things just happen to.” Somehow he dislodged/ broke the plastic cover enveloping the outer leg of his aisle seat. Using his laptop, he almost sent a drink flying as well. The cabin service director at one point also announced that an iPhone had been found in a lavatory. Guess whose it was?

Sitting in front of me, his companion apparently inhabited her own, shall we say, “plane of reality.” She proceeded to recline her seat (in premium seats recline pretty far) for nearly the whole flight, including during meals. Yeh, why have perhaps an ounce of consideration for the person behind her? Indeed, did she even notice there was someone behind her?

More ridiculous, mid-flight, to reach her seat after having used the lavatory, of course he didn’t stand up and let her pass; she decided to climb over him. Naturally in grabbing the back of her seat to seek extra balance for this gymnastics move, she managed to shake and push back her already reclined seat even farther – so much so that it clipped and nearly knocked over an open bottle of water I had on my tray. I’d think nothing of behavior like that from an eight year old. But from an adult?

Twice her pillow also slid back to us after she’d gradually pushed it brainlessly between their seats. Once is an accident. After the second time, instead of shoving it back again between their seats, I just left it on the floor. She displayed no obvious interest, or concern, about it having vanished.

After landing, as we stood waiting to disembark, I glimpsed the dim-looking and self-absorbed expression on her face: it reminded me a little too much of a certain study abroad U.S. student who has been seen a great deal since late 2007. It all clicked. Suddenly, everything that had gone on before made more sense. ;-)

We’d met up in London a little more than a week earlier with an Alaska college friend of mine and his wife during their first visit to the British capital. Over lunch, he noted that he thought the people-watching is absolutely amazing. His wife (whom we did not know before then, and now do) agreed enthusiastically, and added that she couldn’t get over the incredible variety of shoes seen on the women. At that, my wife grinned and concurred with her wholeheartedly.

We may wish we could get to know some of those people we all “watch.” Then there are others we actually do encounter whom we really wish would keep their distance. And the more distantly, the damn better. :-)

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In-Flight Romance

A Wandering Aramean post yesterday brought back a travel memory. His article was about a woman on Southwest inexplicably choosing the middle seat right next to him in the window seat – when the aisle seat was empty. Reading it, I recalled a laugh (and a cringe) I had had on a transatlantic journey…. more years ago now than I care to admit.

On a NY to Paris flight, I had the aisle seat in economy on the 747. After I’d settled in, an American man (I saw his passport cover) boarded after me and had the middle. Lastly a woman appeared who had the window seat; she was some non-French apparently European nationality I never established. (I had heard her say she was not French, but I didn’t hear what nationality she had said she actually was. I do recall her being rather “Mediterranean”-looking.)

All hum-drum. It was cordial between us. We were all about the same age.

However, during the night, let’s say it became far more cordial between them. After dinner, the lights went down as usual, and I fell asleep. At some point, I awoke to discover them making out.

And I mean they were REALLY going at it. (I couldn’t see “exactly” what they were doing, nor did I care to try to find out.) Okay, fine. Whatever. It’s nice you’ve gotten to know each other, uh, so much better at 39,000 ft. International relations and all that….

This is stuff you hear about happening on planes. You never imagine you’ll ever really see it in person. I turned my head and went back to sleep.

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In the morning, pre-landing, they behaved as if nothing “odd” had been going on between them a couple of hours earlier. I do recall her mumbling to him that she was changing to go on to…. I never heard the city name clearly…. and he telling her he was staying over in Paris for a few days before connecting to, as I recall, Egypt. He seemed to be angling for contact details to meet her somewhere in a few weeks’ time, but she wasn’t sounding overly enthusiastic about it.

So, I surmised, err, that was probably that. Well, these things happen. Sigh. ;-)

Time Zones

The world is more than ever a 24 hour place. Yet it is not entirely so 24 hour that you too may not have noticed a similar phenomenon. My Twitter goes relatively quiet during the U.S. overnight; but around 9am ET, as the country starts to get to work, my timeline becomes far busier.

Not that you are ever tweeting from work, of course! ;-) As an aside, if you use Twitter and you’d like to, follow me, and I’ll follow you back. (I happened to joke yesterday on Cas Blomberg‘s blog about how I view Twitter.)

To our WordPress. I know many of you receive an email when a post appears here (thank you!), and, if you want to, you return and read that post when it’s most convenient based on where you are time-wise in your day. But I know lots of people use the WordPress reader. (Thank you again!) As with Twitter, that so many do causes me to wonder when are the better times to post on here?

I’ve seen more American and Canadian visitors turn up if I post around 9am ET – which is 2pm in London and 3pm CET. But if I do that, I get fewer European visitors. However, the reverse also seems the case: if I post 9am UK time, which is 4am ET US (1am in California), I get fewer North American visitors.

I have simultaneously also spotted some of you popping in from to the east of Europe – in southwest Asia, India, Singapore and Australia, etc. Naturally, a 9am ET US/ 2pm UK posting time means if you are in Asia and Australia, you see a post even later – the farther to the east, the later it is in your day….

….Or it can also be extremely early the following day! Sometimes, I wonder if some people ever sleep!? I always find it hilarious on here, or on Twitter, when I notice friends posting at about 3am where they are!

Let’s have some fun. On our “big blue marble,” where are you geographically? If you’d like to, let me (and the rest of us) know in a comment. I’ll start: currently I’m in Enfield, London, United Kingdom….

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….Oh, geez, did I just write “big blue marble?” I’ve just dated myself…. again! ;-)

Happy Thursday! Or Friday…. depending on your location!

Comparative Driving: UK vs. USA

After several months in the U.S., we are again re-adjusting to British driving habits. The most famous of course is that Britain is one of those countries that drives on the left. Yes, it can initially be a bit disorienting if you’ve spent your whole life driving on the right; but it is not hard to master once you get used to it. Everyone in the U.K. manages fine.

When I was first learning over 15 years ago, I found the foremost rule to remember is this: “Keep the center line to your right side. Always to your RIGHT!” Drilling that into your head helps it become second nature quickly. (It had better.) Sitting on the right side of the car behind a right hand steering wheel is also an invaluable and subconscious (and logical) assistance:

The right-hand drive steering wheel on our Belgium-assembled, British Volvo. [Photo by me, 2014]

The right-hand drive steering wheel on our Belgium-assembled, British Volvo. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Beyond that, one encounters other differing rules of the road and cultural driving behaviors. Americans newly behind the wheel in the U.K. must bear them in mind, for falling afoul of any may mean meeting up with one of Britain’s legion of legendary, unarmed police officers, finding a whopping ticket (or even more than one, or even a court appearance demand) waiting when the rental car is returned …. or, worse of all, requiring an NHS ambulance (which non-EU U.S. tourists are billed for; they don’t qualify for “free” UK medical treatment). They may seem weird and alien compared to what Americans are accustomed to doing on roads at home:

1) In the U.K.: You should make space – move over, if possible – and permit vehicles joining the motorway, or dual carriageway, to do so smoothly.

In the U.S.A.: “That moron thinks he’s merging into my lane? I’ll hold my ground and make him get behind me. Dammit, I was here first!”

2) In the U.K.: No left turn on a red light.

In the U.S.A.: “The light’s turned red? Oh, no! I know, I’ll speed up and turn right as quickly as I can before the oncoming traffic comes through the intersection! Wait, that guy in that overpriced SUV actually stopped at the light before turning? Imbecile. That’s a funny looking license plate too. I’ll honk him. He must be Canadian.”

3) In the U.K.: At a roundabout, STOP if necessary. Give way to vehicles already in the roundabout. When it’s clear, enter the roundabout and indicate your chosen exit. After exiting, continue your journey.

In the U.S.A.: “Yielding and driving partly in a circle to be able to go straight ahead or make a turn? What a dumb idea. It sounds French. If I have to stop anywhere, I expect to see a red light, or a STOP sign.”

4) In the U.K.: STOP signs are usually placed at junctions where a roundabout will not fit, and traffic is heavy enough to be regulated. When you reach a STOP sign…. STOP! After doing so, look carefully, and when clear proceed.

In the U.S.A.: “Not another blessed STOP sign? Geez. It’s government conspiring with the brake makers to get regular business. Or it’s looking to make it easy for some cop to hand out a ticket when he sees me roll through one of the 25 STOP signs in the last 6 blocks!”

5) In the U.K.: Red lights are positioned generally where a STOP sign won’t do, a roundabout won’t fit or work, or traffic is so heavy that a free-flowing roundabout is impractical. On green, you may more forward into and through the intersection.

In the U.S.A.: “Why is there a red light here? There’s no one else around? Are those crickets I hear outside the car? This waiting is soooo boring. I think I’ll eat my sandwich.”

6) In the U.K.: Using a handheld mobile phone is strictly prohibited.

In the U.S.A.: “I know using the phone’s illegal, but I have to text my girlfriend. Oops, a cop’s behind me! Hope he didn’t see me using my phone? I’ll drop it on the floor. No, no, I meant to drop the phone, not the coffee!”

7) In the U.K.: On motorways and dual carriageways, don’t undertake. Pass on the (outside) right only. Respect lane discipline for the safety of all road users.

In the U.S.A.: “I weave in and out and pass slow guys wherever they are, from any side. It’s every man and woman for himself out there. That’s what America was built upon: freedom! Lane discipline is for Europeans. Just like socialized medicine.”

8) In the U.K.: A sign announcing “Average Speed Cameras” means number plate recognition technology is calculating your average speed. They are seen most commonly in roadworks, but are being used on other stretches of road increasingly. If you are detected exceeding the speed limit, you will receive a ticket in the post.

In the U.S.A.: “Good thing we don’t have those liberty-violating speed cameras in the U.S. If I see 55 MPH in a construction zone, I do 65. The workers? Look, if they can’t handle the excitement of working with cars flying by, this is America: they are free to get another job.”

9) In the U.K.: Yellow school buses are a rarity. Be extra-vigilant near schools in early mornings and mid-late afternoons. Most children – usually wearing school uniforms – walk to school, cycle, use public transport, or parents/ caregivers drop off/ collect them. (It’s called the “school run.”)

In the U.S.A. [when it is MY child]: “I drive our darling Dylan to the bus stop every morning. He waits in my car until the bus appears – because it’s cold outside and bad people are hiding behind bushes. When the bus stops fifteen feet away, all traffic must halt for miles in every direction as they wait for my angel finally to board. He will whenever the mood hits him because he’s raised not to feel crushed by authority. Or Republicans. Yeh, he’s 16 and 6 ft tall. But he’s our baby; just like he’ll still be when he’s on our health insurance at age 26. Those cars waiting will just have to wait. Tough.”

In the U.S.A. [when I am driving, and it is NOT my kid!]: “For God’s sake, teach Dylan how to walk faster! And to dress. You let him leave the house looking like that? Come on, you spoiled, idiot kid! Quit texting and get to the bus! I have to get to work to pay the obscene school taxes that help pay for that school bus!”

10) In the U.K.: If you drive into central London, understand it has a “congestion charge.” When you enter the “congestion” zone, your number plate is identified by number plate recognition technology. Cost and payment details are available at the Transport for London web site.

In the U.S.A.: “I’ll drive wherever I want for free because that’s what driving’s supposed to be. It’s on Henry Ford’s tombstone, isn’t it? Of course it’s not free on the New York State Thruway and on all those bridges and in tunnels in New York City. But New York is run by communists, so what else would you expect?”

Yep, we all increasingly imagine we live in “one world.” Yet we most definitely do not. We simply can’t ever escape certain, urr, national differences. ;-)

North London Flowers

Morning today, in north London:

Bluebells, Trent Country Park. [Photo by me, April 16, 2014.]

Bluebells, Trent Country Park. [Photo by me, April 16, 2014.]

A gorgeous day. Sunny English spring days always feel just a bit more “springlike” than elsewhere. I don’t know why that is.

But, I admit, I’m a bit biased. :-)

Bottom Places

I”ve shared my personal “top places” list. We all like to talk “best.” When we travel, we tend not to seek out “the worst.”

But what about “bottom places”? Uh, I knew you’d ask that. ;-)

A “bottom” issue is one to be approached cautiously. We know there are “bottom” areas in any major city. The U.S. certainly doesn’t lack for them.

Outside of the U.S., if we say London is a great destination, we are likely not referring to certain neighborhoods in the north of the city, which are clearly not “tourist areas.” Similarly with Paris. Same Rome. The list could go on.

And there are many places I have never visited. And I hate criticizing. All that said, if I have to offer up a “bottom” major central city destination I have encountered traveling outside of the U.S., it was probably Johannesburg’s central business district.

Overlooking central Johannesburg in the 1970s, on the cover of an apartheid South African government “information” publication. [Book cover photographed by me, 2014.]

South Africa is a difficult case, of course, owing to its history. Yet, comparatively, Cape Town’s downtown was excellent. Even Pretoria’s was fine.

My experience in Johannesburg was also in the late 1990s, which is now, naturally, a relatively long time ago. Years fly by so quickly. To end on a positive note, I have read Jo’burg’s CBD is somewhat improved, and working hard to improve further since then.