Our Warmest (And Coolest) Feelings: 25 Countries

USA Today tweeted this yesterday:

USA Today screen capture.
USA Today screen capture.

I enjoy polls such as that one. And that one makes for something of a change too. Usually it’s about who hates us. ;-)

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

“And where are you from?”

On our way out of church this morning, the priest asked me, “And where are you from?”

He may merely have been asking where I was from in the U.K. It wasn’t our “regular” church. Nonetheless, I was startled.

I thought: Gee, do I look like I’m not from here? I’m sure, to some extent, I don’t.

As we shook hands, I replied, “I’m from New York originally.”

The look on his face indicated that answer was a surprise. I suppose he had indeed figured I was going to say Bristol or something.

But I often don’t know how to answer that question. I was born in New York City, and when asked where I’m from that’s my initial answer. I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County; but most Europeans haven’t a clue where Suffolk County is, and they usually associate “Long Island” either with the Hamptons or The Great Gatsby. And, here in England, there is a Suffolk county too – the “original” Suffolk, of course.

US Embassy London on Google. It's closed today, Sunday.
US Embassy London on Google. It’s closed today, Sunday.

I’ve also spent much more of my adult life outside of the U.S. than inside of it. But I always feel American, and like a New Yorker. And I even still feel like a Long Islander – even though I have for years had no ties to Long Island whatsoever.

I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that way. We can move wherever in the world, but is where we are born and reared imprinted on us for life? Seems so.

Just a little “quiet reflection.” Hope you’re having a good Sunday. :-)

“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:

image

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:

image

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:

IMG_1548.JPG

IMG_1552.JPG

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….

Shopping Till They Drop

Our house in the Catskills has no internet. (When we’re in Britain, I suspend it.) That should not have been a problem. We knew we could rely on T-Mobile wifi.

But when we got there Sunday, T-Mobile failed for some reason (although it has worked before). Over the few days we were there we managed to get flashes of internet via our “suspended” line (and I have no idea how that could have been), but that was all. So I was “silent” on here for a few days. Sorry.

Although maybe you liked the quiet? ;-)

With a snowstorm due today, en route to my parents’ in Pennsylvania yesterday we did some Christmas shopping among the Woodbury Common crowds pre-Thanksgiving…. alongside half of Europe and half of Asia:

Screen capture of NYC tourist's Woodbury Common page.
Screen capture of NYC tourist’s Woodbury Common page.

Many of those shoppers are seen wheeling around newly bought luggage with which they will carry their purchases home. I’ve always found it hilarious: the existence of those shopping outlets in a non-descript location off of I-87 in upstate NY, about a hour and a half from our house. It is about as “international” a location you can find north of Manhattan. (A niece of a friend in Ireland has even been there during a visit to the city.) Hearing an American accent among shoppers is something of an oddity.

We’re now back with my parents in Pennyslvania. I may well stay for my Dad’s December 8-9 surgery. We are still talking about that…. as the forecast 12 inches of snow begin to fall.

With no internet of consequence at our house, I couldn’t publish Frontiers as I’d hoped. Moreover, it still awaits my toughest critic’s final approval: we’ve been unexpectedly busy and she has been unable to read the finished product, but once Mrs. Nello has given her nod, and now with internet again, I can wrap it up. I’m hoping to do that over Thanksgiving…. while we remain trapped visiting with my parents during a snowstorm. Ahhhh! :-)

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….” ;-)

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.
_____
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. ;-)