Strolling By The Royal Crescent

I know, I know. [Hangs head contritely.] Sorry. I went all “academic” yesterday.

You may know I used to teach “Politics of Western Europe.” That guy on Fox just reminded me of a few students I’d known. Aside from the “French and perfect” finish, ;-) I realize now it was rather too heavy a post.

So today it’s back down off my soapbox. Hey, how about some Bath photos? Georgian English splendo(u)r.

First, a close up of a portion of one of those big, fold out walking maps:

Map of Royal Crescent corner area, Bath. [Photo of map by me, 2015.]
Map of Royal Crescent corner area, Bath. [Photo of map by me, 2015.]
I took these yesterday afternoon. We’re probably moving (yet again) in a few months, and were out apartment [flat] hunting:

Upper Church Street, next to the Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Upper Church Street, next to the Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
Royal Crescent. [Photo by me, 2015.]
View of part of the Royal Crescent, looking over a corner of Royal Victoria Park. [Photo by me, 2015.]
View of part of the Royal Crescent, looking over a corner of Royal Victoria Park. [Photo by me, 2015.]
The Royal Crescent homes were built starting in 1767. They are probably the quintessential “symbol” of Bath. So I decided to go all “tourist” myself and grab a few photographs.

It’s a shame it wasn’t sunnier. It had been. But by the time I took those it was approaching 4 pm, and the sun was fading for the day.

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

What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

* * *

His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

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Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

* * *

Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

* * *

To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

“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. :-)

Thoughts To Start This Week

You may have noticed the new template. I really like how “clean” this one is. It’s very easy to read, and the rotating banner photographs make for a nifty feature.

Just saw this myself the other day. Given recent events, that “France” has moved up to be my top tag is probably not a huge surprise:

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It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Let’s have a moment of photographic serenity:

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Anna Maria, Florida. [Photo by me, 2013.]
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Anna Maria, Florida. [Photo by me, 2013.]
Hope you had a nice weekend. On Saturday evening, our overnight-visiting friends (on both arrival and departure, she hugged and kissed me on the cheeks; he shook my hand) were pitching plot ideas at me over gin and tonics. Alcohol seems to bring out the potential author in everyone. ;-)

That said, unrelatedly (or perhaps somewhat relatedly, given in “relaxing” with them maybe my mind “opened up” a bit), I had a “major idea” knock me over last night.

As I have the main plot for the third book already laid out, it’s a great addition. It was one of those light bulb going off over your head moments that includes chastising yourself: “Rob, why the heck didn’t you think of that before?” It led “naturally” – and that’s what I love: I hate when subplots seemed “forced” or “contrived” – to other, related, necessary new bits as well.

I tap, tap, tapped the gist of it down as quickly as I could. That’s how this “game” is played. You never know when it – whatever “it” is – might hit you.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are. :-)

No Hugging, Please, We’re French

It has become the hug cringed at around the world. The Lebanese news site Naharnet has a nice summation of what went, uh, wrong:

….The towering John Kerry was meters from Hollande, striding fast, when he first opened his arms.

In turn, the French leader stretched out his, clasping Kerry’s hands. Kerry pulled him into a brief hug to his right, at which time Hollande appeared to go back in for “la bise”. [The kisses to cheeks.]

Kerry caught up, accepted the kiss on his right cheek, before they clasped hands again, awkwardly placing their arms around each other as they walked side by side up the stairs into the Elysee Palace.

Half-hug, half-bise, it was a moving clash of cultures….

It’s a surprise Kerry didn’t realize Hollande would be baffled. But the Secretary of State had signaled beforehand that he was going to go all “American” in terms of sympathy and give Paris “a hug.” Yet the French president obviously didn’t get what Kerry meant, or didn’t think it would be demonstrated, umm, “literally,” and so was clearly unprepared for an American-style, “Come here, pal.”

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My feeling is former president (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy, who reputedly has a solid sense of “Americanisms,” might have handled it better.

One can imagine the fun media and bloggers around the world might be having now had Ségolène Royal been standing there as president instead. Then again I don’t believe that had she been that Kerry would have tried to hug her that way. Kerry was doing an “American guy thing” with Hollande – and Hollande didn’t understand it.

Younger French of both sexes – especially those who’ve been to the U.S. for any substantive length of time beyond a vacation – are more attuned to Americans’ “curious” behaviors. But middle-aged and older French men on meeting even in emotional circumstances, such as offering condolences, as a rule don’t open by hugging each other like that. French men don’t do American-style “bromance.”

Compared to Americans, the French on the whole are simply far less into demonstrative displays of physical closeness between acquaintances, even friends. But they are not alone in that. Other Europeans, including the British (of course), are similar.

Still, it was a lighthearted moment after a week and a half of at times incredible ugliness and sadness. We all needed it. It provided a badly needed chuckle.

A Danish close friend of ours, and her English husband of two years, are coming for a stay-over visit with us tonight.

We’ve known her for ages. I get kisses to both cheeks, and she lets me hug her. She even hugs me back.

However, if I ever moved to hug him, he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. Or I was going all “American” on him. A firm handshake between us men is all that’s needed. ;-)

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

Always Be “Cautious” Worldwide

In the wake of the terror in Paris, unsurprisingly the U.S. State Department has issued a “Worldwide Caution” for U.S. citizens:

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Naturally it is very difficult to “watch everything.” But you aren’t being urged to hide under a bed and stay home and away from every pub. The gist of a “caution” like this is to remind us to be extra-mindful at certain locations, and be particularly alert to what’s going on around us, wherever we are.

Of course “caution” in daily life can’t prevent one simply from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On July 7, 2005, when we lived in north London, I happened to drive to work that day. I also regularly took the London Underground’s Piccadilly Line – which was attacked by a suicide bomber that morning.

But as we know being at home in the U.S. is hardly a guarantee of safety either. Consider, for example, the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. That to me seems the closest comparison to what Paris has endured for the last several days.

I’ve been to the U.S. Embassy in London several times over the years. Once you get past the heavy U.S. military security, you’re “inside the United States” in a way. That reality makes it, and other U.S. embassies and consulates, “magnets” for protests and even possible violence.

Looking South from Upper Brook Street at the new security pavillions and entrance area. [Photo on U.S. Embassy, London web page.]
Looking South from Upper Brook Street at the new security pavillions and entrance area. [Photo on U.S. Embassy, London web page.]
Occasionally, there are “anti-U.S.” demonstrations in the vicinity – although never too close; British authorities don’t permit that. But they can be near enough that you could “blunder” into something by accident – which is also the sort of thing a “caution” like this wants you to be aware of as a visitor. Especially when you are around anything “American,” open your eyes a bit wider, be cognizant of what’s happening around you, and don’t, for example, wander into the midst of some “anti-American” demonstration because you’re snapping photos of buildings.

The Embassy is apparently due to relocate from its current location at historic Grosvenor Square to a larger building that’s also more “secure.” In Britain. Shows the world we live in now, and probably will for the forseeable future.

A last thought here: Vive la France !

Snow In England – Don’t Leave The House

It hasn’t snowed here overnight in London – fortunately. Parts of the country to the north got a several inches, though. That led to the predictable abandoned cars, stranded motorists, and people seeking refuge in churches, etc., and so on.

The BBC reporting on a couple of British snow. [Screen capture by me.]
The BBC reporting on a couple of British snow. [Screen capture by me.]
Yorkshire gets snowfall, and several inches is almost never a laughing matter anywhere. Still, England in a snow generally is perhaps best-described as a lot like snow in, say, Atlanta: it happens in winter occasionally, but no one ever seems honestly prepared for it. Local governments don’t own garages full of plows and salters. It just isn’t worth the investment for a couple of days a year of snow.

When it snows even a couple of centimeters/inches in southern England especially, it’s utter chaos. I will never forget about a decade ago taking 9 hours to drive roughly 10 miles in north London. A dusting or so fell in a late afternoon, and by the time we (in my then office) all had left work – early! – at around 4pm, the buses weren’t running, the Tube was shut, and the trains were a mess.

As for the roads, don’t ask. No one in southern England knows what a winter tire is of course. Far worse, some people seem not to comprehend how to drive in snow. First of all, you take it easy. Snow is, after all, uh, slippery.

Cars hit each other at traffic lights, or slid off roundabouts. Some drivers were going too slowly to take hills and got stuck; or others took them too quickly, got to the top and slid down the other side and crashed into parked cars. I saw several drivers give up, turn their cars off, and walk away.

It was surreal. It was like a Hollywood, end of the world, disaster flick. I was waiting for Morgan Freeman to rap on my car window.

But I made it home…. around 1am.

To add to today’s “fun,” King’s Cross train station in London is actually closed due to “overrunning engineering works.” Seriously. No fiction author would dare invent this stuff. If you wrote it, you’d get laughed for being totally unbelievable. ;-)

Santa’s Political Leanings

Always politics. Everything’s political. Now, there’s evidently a debate in the U.S. over whether Santa Claus is a Republican or a Democrat:

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Hold on. Actually, that question is immaterial until we ascertain his citizenship. Is he even a U.S. citizen?

If he is, he may be registered to vote in his last state of residency, which would prove his political leanings easily. Unless he’s an independent. It would seem his only possible place of U.S. residency might have been Alaska; there is a town outside Fairbanks named North Pole.

That’s conjecture of course. We do know he is domiciled abroad now at the North Pole. If he is a U.S. citizen, that makes him an expat.

If so, we know he enters the country only one day a year. Does he bank abroad? (Presumably he doesn’t have accounts in tax havens, like Luxembourg?) Does he regularly file U.S. income taxes, and pay taxes owed on monies earned above the yearly $100,000 or so earned income exclusion threshold?

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of Santa Claus
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of Santa Claus

And what about Mrs. Claus? Is she a U.S. citizen too? Or an alien? If the latter, does she have a U.S. Taxpayer Identification Number? And do they have minor children who were born abroad? Children born abroad to U.S. citizens are usually entitled to a U.S. passport; but the children must have been issued with a Consular Report of Birth Abroad by a U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign country of birth.

If Santa Claus isn’t a U.S. citizen, based on competing international claims to sovereignty regarding the North Pole, Santa seems likely either of Canadian, Danish or Russian nationality. It appears he enters the U.S. and leaves outside of normal U.S. Customs and Border Protection admittance procedures. That’s bad enough, but if he’s also Russian, as we know this year there may be sanctions issues for him due to the U.S. position on Russian intervention in Ukraine. Can he continue to do business as usual in the U.S.?

So before we ask about his preferred U.S. political party, we need to know a lot more about him first.

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

On The New York Subway

My father – he’s feeling excellent now, post-surgery; the implant is working well – sent me these photos that were supposedly taken on the New York City Subway. They’re obviously making the rounds. Some appear to be from other mass transit sources, but most do appear to be from New York.

I have no idea who owns them, and reproduce them here only for a laugh. (We all no doubt sure could use one given ugly events of late in my birth city.) As you scroll down (click on them to make them larger), smile and enjoy:

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Continue reading

Our English Pre-Christmas Miracle

One of CNN’s “Top 12″ places to spend Christmas, is just up the road from us:

BathChristmas

CNN opens its explanation about Bath this way:

There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath happens to be one of them.

The Theatre Royal, which Austen mentions in “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” is home to a musical celebration accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine in honor of the literary doyenne….

Indeed. Just yesterday we decided to have a wander around downtown on Monday or Tuesday. Clearly we’re in a good general Christmas location this year. ;-)

If you’re curious, here is the link to the Bath “Jane Austen Centre” site.

* * *

We also had something of a Christmas moment last night. We decided to splash out and buy a real tree for the first time in years. We needed some new Christmas decorations too: some are packed away here, but most are in America.

So last night we went shopping. At a B&Q, we bought the decorations (many on discount because it’s so close to Christmas now) and a tree (there were still a few nice live ones). We were feeling really good.

Then we abruptly discovered getting a live tree stand was going to be quite a challenge 5 days before Christmas.

Had we stumbled on “The Great English Live Christmas Tree Stand Shortage?”

It sure seemed so. B&Q still had live trees, but no stands at all. “It’s the end of the season for us,” the cashier said. “I think we sold the last one earlier today.” She recommended Tesco. First, we tried three nearer places, and struck out at all those too. Finally, even Tesco failed us.

By now, it was approaching 8pm. There was nowhere else in the immediate vicinity. We figured ordering via Amazon would be the last resort.

On the drive home, though, Mrs. Nello noted, “We had a live tree stand years ago. We must have it. Where is it?”

“I know. I’m thinking,” I mumbled, as we drove, our tree in the back of our small SUV, but with nothing to put it in yet. “Give me a sec. We had real trees when we first got married. Godmanchester. Then in London. Never Christchurch. Remember when I threw the dead tree out the Juliette balcony window after Christmas in Enfield one year after it dropped its needles early? We were so annoyed, we went to fake trees after that.”

“Oh, yeh,” she agreed.

“That must’ve been around 2003 or 4,” I continued. “The fake tree is in America. The live tree stand didn’t go to the Catskills. I didn’t give it away to anyone. It must be upstairs in an attic box. I didn’t throw it out. I never throw stuff like that out.”

“Don’t look at me,” she replied. “Christmas storage has always been your department.”

When we got home, I plunged into a small bedroom we use for storage. At the edge of a floor to ceiling pile of moving boxes full of “unnecessary” items, I found an unopened loft box that was taped shut. It hadn’t been touched in years.

I opened it, and found a few more lights, decorations, garlands and …. there it was! First go. First box. There it sat, looking up at me: our live tree stand, unused for over a decade!

I felt like I’d hit the lottery. I rushed to the top of the staircase and shouted down to Mrs. Nello, “Got it! I found it! It took me ten seconds!”

“A Christmas miracle!” my wife laughed and yelled up to me.

Have a good Saturday. Andy Williams goes on later, and the LIVE tree gets decorated. :-)