Category Archives: Travel

Putin probably LIKES being accused in Litvinenko death

Russia is issuing denials, but it occurs to me that on a certain level, Vladimir Putin relishes the British report that concludes he “probably” ordered the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 10 years ago.

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both...

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both…

He’s likely to be congratulating himself that the whole world — and especially the part of it that consists of critics of his regime — thinks he gave the order. And having his old KGB cronies believe he did it in such a Dr. Evil kind of way, with polonium-210 slipped into the victim’s green tea, should be enough to have him hugging himself with delight. That impatient Obama can blow people up with drones, but this was real artistry by comparison. What a way for one spy to do in another!

Such reports would be embarrassing to most world leaders, but not to Putin. Really, what penalty is he ever likely to have to pay for this?

At this moment, he’s probably fighting the urge to strip his shirt off and go running through the countryside, holding a rifle. Or not. Fighting it, I mean.

Yeah, Parliament’s vote about Trump IS embarrassing

I got this release from the DNC today:

Today, the governing body of one of the United States’ closest allies will debate whether to bar the Republican Party’s frontrunner from their country for “Hate Speech.” Setting aside the serious diplomatic implications of the United Kingdom barring a potential U.S. president from their shores, this shameful and embarrassing spectacle shines a light on the Republican candidates’ vitriolic rhetoric and discriminatory policies that undermine our values, alienate partners we need to prosecute the war on terror, and make our country and our people less safe. Today’s debate underscores just how far Republicans have moved to the extreme right and how out-of-touch they are….

Of course, I could do my usual thing and deconstruct that piece as typical overblown rhetoric from one side making generalizations about the other (as though all Republicans were Trump).

But you know what? They do have a point here: This really is embarrassing, and not just for Republicans. It’s embarrassing to America that someone who would attract this kind of attention is doing so well in the run-up to our presidential election.

All of our faces should be red. Because Trump’s supporters are unlikely to feel the embarrassment. We have to do it for them…

This was the only picture of Parliament I could find in my files. That's me in late 2010.

This was the only picture of Parliament I could find in my files. That’s me in late 2010.

Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC

downton

Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.

On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.

(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)

All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:

Graham

Possible national origins: Scottish or English
Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.

“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”

As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….

Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…

McCartney’s enthusiasm for Guy Fawkes Day creeps me out a bit

I say that on account of my being Catholic and all.

I reTweeted this from Paul McCartney yesterday, which included a picture of him that appears to be from his “Maybe I’m Amazed” period:

But this was a classic case of a reTweet not constituting an endorsement.

Now, y’all know that I’m an Anglophile from way back. I generally love English traditions, including some of those involving fire.

But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.

OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.

But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.

Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.

So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…

 

‘Le mort du guerre’

manicured

Reading various editorials and such about Memorial Day, I’m reminded of our time in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where so many suffered so much as prisoners of the Japanese during what is referred to locally as “the war of 1939-1945.”

Specifically, I’m reminded of how deeply impressed I was by how beautifully maintained the cemetery for British and Dutch POWs was.

Yes, I know this is American Memorial Day (known in SC, at least until recently, as “Yankee Memorial Day”). But this is what I thought of. And there is an American angle to this mostly British story.

monument

The monument says 356 Americans died building the railway; Wikipedia says 133. I don’t know which is right.

You’ve seen the picture of me standing in front of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Well, that was taken by the Thai wife of one of a trio of American veterans I ran into next to the bridge. It was hard to miss them — two middle-aged white guys and a black guy busily painting and restoring the monument at right. Even though two of them were wearing the proverbial Asian conical hat.

They were from an American veterans’ lodge in Bangkok. They had come to spruce up the one monument I saw in the town to the 133 Americans who died building the Death Railway or Burma Railway connecting Bangkok to Rangoon for the Japanese.

I asked them how to find the cemetery where the POWs lay (thinking at this point there would be Americans there among the Brits). They gave me rough directions — too rough, it would turn out — and an idea of how long it would take to walk there. I thanked them for their service, got my picture taken, and hiked back upriver to our resort.

When I got there, we decided to go see the cemetery before dark, which was coming on soon. So we headed out in the general direction on the Maenamkwai Road. Maenamkwai ran parallel to the river, and was something of a party district, as evidenced by the signs in front of pubs offering such experiences as “Get Drunk for 10 baht” — which seemed both a fiscal and physical impossibility, 10 baht being just under 30 cents, but I don’t know because I didn’t test it. Those kinds of places were a bit… unsavory. Quite a few of the patrons were white men about my age — some Brits, some other nationalities — who could occasionally be seen groping the pretty young Thai girls.

We began to despair of finding the cemetery based on the veterans’ directions and the insufficiently detailed map we’d obtained at our resort. Finally, we decided to ask directions of a typically seedy-looking white guy we encountered coming out of a Tesco Express. He wasn’t, as I’d hoped, a Brit. He was French, and had no English. I was enormously proud that, though I think of myself as having no French, I managed to come up with “le mort du guerre” in my effort to tell him what we sought. (Google Translate says I should have said “les morts de la guerre,” but whatever — he seemed to understand). However, he was much confused by our map and perhaps by his own whereabouts — I suspected that he’d spent at least 10 baht at one of the local establishments — and his directions were decidedly vague.

But we carried on, and eventually found it, a few blocks further.

As I said, I was deeply impressed by what we found. Not just the sheer number of graves — almost 7,000, according to Wikipedia — but how meticulously they had been cared for. One section was cordoned off, where someone was putting in new sod so as the improve upon the near-perfection. I was astounded that a graveyard so far away from the families these men left behind was maintained to this extent. (I noted the plaque saying the land was the gift of the Thai people, but I learned later that the graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.)

When we arrived we were accosted by a couple of young Thai women. One of them explained that her friend was studying English, and had come here hoping to find someone to practice with — which impressed me with her initiative and desire to learn (if only that Frenchman had had such an ambition). So we chatted a bit along the lines of “Hello, how are you?” Then I excused myself because the light was failing and I wanted to explore the cemetery.

My aim was to find the Americans, but there were none. I kept walking from section to section, thinking that the next one would be the American grouping. No luck. I would later learn that the American remains had been repatriated. Eventually, I gave up on my chauvinistic impulse, and appreciated what I found. Most were from the Commonwealth, although there was a big Dutch section with 1,896 graves.

All these mostly young men, who died under such horrific conditions, at the hands of an enemy that regarded and treated them as less than human, under that generation’s twisted version of the Bushido code. All those families that would never even be started back home, on the other side of the world.

As we headed back, we passed Beata Mundi Regina War Monument Catholic Church, which was founded by some Carmelite nuns who located there to care for the graves. I don’t know whether they are still the ones who do that work, under the aegis of the commission, but whoever does does so lovingly.

That night, I purchased The Bridge on the River Kwai from iTunes — I wanted my daughter to have some idea of what had happened there — and tried to watch it on my iPad, but the wi-fi had trouble handling it. I would finish watching it after I got home, and also order the DVD of “The Railway Man” from Netflix.

But of course, there’s no way I will ever fully appreciate what those men experienced there.

 

A nice, readable primer on the upcoming British election

A penchant for awkwardness: Labour leader Ed Miliband having a spot of bother with a bacon butty.

A penchant for awkwardness: Labour leader Ed Miliband having a spot of bother with a bacon butty.

In case you’ve been vaguely aware that there’s to be an election in the United Kingdom but don’t know a thing about it and would like to, you might enjoy reading this piece from the WSJ over the weekend.

It’s a sort of dummy’s guide — I mean, Yank’s guide — that catches you up, and makes the acquisition of that information fun. You learn, for instance, that one of the main problems facing Labour is that their leader has an uncanny knack for being caught in photographs looking very awkward.

The bottom line? Neither the Tories nor Labour are likely to win a majority, thereby giving us yet another uneasy coalition government. But the fun in the piece isn’t the conclusion; it’s the trip itself. A sample:

A British election is looming on May 7, and you might be wondering how it will all work. In a word: sensibly.

Here in the U.K., things are far simpler than in the U.S. We select local representatives we know almost nothing about, in the vague hope that everybody else will select lots of other local representatives from the same party. Then one party either has enough representatives to form a government on its own, or it has to cook up some sort of power-sharing arrangement, without bothering to ask the electorate about it. See? Easy. Like cricket….

What space travelers need (hint: it’s not a towel)

A low point from our recent trip to Thailand:

This was some sort of super-duper, futuristic towel that my wife had had the foresight to buy before our trip. Small-folding, super-absorbent, and super-fast-drying so you can use it again before long. Whoever found it may not have recognized it as a towel. Its texture was like a cross between felt and rubber — hard to describe, really.

I had thought it really cool that, like a Douglas Adams character, I was a traveler who always knew where his towel was — in his backback:

Somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is. The logic behind this statement is presented in chapter 3 of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy thus:

… a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Technically, I still knew where it was — I had left it on a doorknob of a farmhouse in the countryside of Khorat. But I no longer had the use of it, which of course was the point of such knowledge. I also had most of those other things listed in the above paragraph, and more — just not my towel, which saddened me, because it made me feel less hoopy.

But now I read that in the future, a space traveler’s most critical accoutrement will not be his towel. In fact, “A 3-D printer may one day be in the carry-on luggage of every savvy solar system traveler…”

They are experimenting with a 3-D printer that would make bricks suitable for airtight buildings and radiation-proof shelters using the grit that blows across Mars’s red surface.

In Huntsville, Ala., Ms. Werkheiser, NASA’s 3-D print project manager, is starting to print curved walls and other structures using imitation Martian sand as an ink. Engineers at the European Space Agency are exploring ways to use lunar dust as an ink to print out an entire moon base. London-based architects Foster + Partners have designed a printable lunar colony.

And if astronauts ever do attempt to reach Mars, they may survive the journey by eating pizza made with a 3-D-printed food system for long duration space missions, now under development in Texas…

These printers will use materials found on the moon and on Mars as “ink.”

Frankly, on this topic I’m a little like those people who believe the moon landings were a hoax. I DO believe in the moon landings, let me be clear, but I still don’t understand how any sort of complex item — say, pizza — can be recreated so that it is functional. I see how you might print a plastic statue of the object; I just don’t understand how it could work like the original.

In other words, I can imagine having something like a low-functioning 3D PDF — like a fax that is a picture of text, but doesn’t give you text that you can work with, because the document does not know that the text is text. If you can follow me.

But the boffins say it will work. If so, I suppose, in the future you won’t need to have your towel, because you can always print another…

When the package is in Thai, you just have to guess

Bryan Caskey posted this on his blog last night, about the small tokens I brought back to show my appreciation for his handling this blog while I was out of the country:

Gifts from Thailand are not always what they seem.

Everyone knows the saying “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” However, most people are not aware of the somewhat lesser-known saying “Beware of Americans bearing gifts from Thailand.” Oh yeah, it’s totally a saying. Go look it up.

I had some firsthand experience with an American bearing gifts from Thailand when a friend of mine brought me back some gifts from his trip to Thailand. I was surprised and gratified that he even thought of me, because I didn’t really think I merited a gift to begin with.
In any event, the first gift was really wonderful. it was a silk necktie. A tie. A Thai tie, to be exact. I love telling people that I have a Thai tie. Here’s the my Thai tie, actually tied:
My Thai tie
It’s actually quite snappy. I actually prefer red ties, and the elephant look is very Asian. All in all, it’s a smashingly successful gift. I wear a tie pretty much everyday, so the cliche gift of a tie is actually a good gift for me.
In any event, the second gift was a lot funnier, or at least it ended up being funnier. After giving me the tie, Brad pulled out a little candy bag, which he said he picked up for me, because it said “M16” on the packaging.
So, figure this is candy, right? The little cartoonish-smiley face guy in the upper lefthand corner is playful, right? I think we both kind of figured that it would be a fruit candy that would be some sort of Thailand jolly rancher, or something.
A couple of days went by, but eventually I figured that I’d open up the Thailand candy and maybe try it. I mean, how weird could it possibly be, it’s candy!
Yeah.
Seeds
Just seeds. Just plain ol’ seeds. Not candy seeds. Not chocolate covered seeds. Not seeds dipped in yogurt. Just seeds. Joke’s on me, I guess. I think I could plant them and grow some Thai-watermelons. In fact, that’s actually what I did. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
By the way, Brad. I think you should have declared this agricultural product to US Customs upon your return. Oh well. I’m sure no one will know. Our secret.

Actually, we did try to bring back some papaya seeds — the gift of a hostess, who lives on a farm in Nakhon Ratchasima, who was distressed to learn that we don’t have papayas growing in OUR yard back home.

We were looking forward to planting them and cherishing the plants to see if they could possibly survive. But in a fit of conscience I showed them to the agricultural inspection guy in Hawaii, and he confiscated them. The clincher was the large, dead beetle that had crawled into the plastic bag with the seeds. I think he might have let them go without the bug…

Who knew they sold, as food, the one part of the watermelon that we’ve bred out of our watermelons in the States? Hey, maybe that’s what happened to all the seeds that used to be in melons over here — they get packaged up and sent to Thailand…

Burl posts picture that says ‘eat your hearts out!’

schooners

Burl Burlingame posted today on Facebook a better shot of a sunset from Schooners, the restaurant right on Pearl Harbor where he took us to dinner after giving us the tour of Ford Island. In this shot, Ford Island (where Burl “works”) is between us and the sun going down behind the Waianae mountains. Off to the left is the causeway out to the island. To the right is McGrew Point Navy officer housing, where my family lived briefly just before I left for college.

Sigh…

He said he was there celebrating National Beer Day. Probably with a Newcastle, I’m guessing.

My second greatest regret from our time on the island (the greatest being that we couldn’t stay longer) is that I didn’t get a Primo. I had never had Primo. During my very brief time as a legal drinker in the islands (that week or so I was there over Christmas vacation, 1971), I never had a Primo. It was considered cooler to drink Olympia, so I did. Nor did I ever eat poi, strangely enough.

I rectified that, at least. The last thing we did before heading to the airport to leave was to have lunch at Ono Hawaiian Foods, a wonderfully downhome, unpretentious, authentic eatery. We had da kine pig and poi, and it was great. Pictures of the food and the place are below.

No, not as beautiful as what Burl posted, but it was good. We ordered and shared the Combination Plate — kalua pig and laulau, pipikaula, lomi salmon, haupia, and poi. (The poi is the purplish-gray stuff in the blue bowl.}

Ono

poi

Touring Ford Island with our own Burl Burlingame

On Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor, with Burl Burlingame.

On Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor, with Burl Burlingame.

There are so many things I’d like to share with y’all from our trip to Thailand, but I don’t know where to start. My thoughts of how to approach it have ranged from trying to write a day-by-day account, in installments, or just throw in a travelogue piece now and then as the opportunity occurs.

Those of you who followed me on social media during the trip already have a rough idea of where we went and what we saw, but I need to get something down in greater depth before I forget. If only days on vacation could be 48 hours long — 24 to experience it, and 24 to write about it.

Anyway, today I thought I’d share something from near the end, since it involves a regular on this blog — Burl Burlingame, my high school classmate. He and I graduated from Radford High School in 1971. I was only there for a year, but cherish fond memories of the time.

You may or may not know that Burl, who was a real Renaissance Man in high school (writer, photographer, musician, cartoonist, actor and all-around wag), also spent a lengthy career in newspapers. Except Burl stayed in Hawaii to pursue his craft, while I returned to the Mainland. Another big difference — on the side, Burl earned a reputation over the years as an authority on military history.

So instead of his newspaper career ending with his being laid off, Burl left under his own power — to become curator, and later historian, at the Pacific Aviation Museum, which is located on historic Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

It’s now physically easier to get to Ford Island. In my day you had to go onto the Navy base and catch a ferry. Now, there’s a causeway so you can drive out there — but you still have to get past the Marines on sentry duty, and these days they’re dressed and armed for combat, rather than wearing the blue dress “C” uniforms that I remember. (The causeway is featured frequently on the reboot of “Hawaii Five-O” — in the pilot, you can see the main characters driving out to Ford for no particular reason beyond the fact that the scenery is awesome.)

So to save us security hassles, Burl met us at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and drove us out in his car. Then he gave us the VIP tour, introducing me around as a big-time blogger from the mainland. Then he used us as guinea pigs. He’s thinking of adding a tour of the whole island as one of the museum’s features, so he took us on the route he’s been thinking of, let us stop and get out whenever we wanted, and timed it to see how long it would take (about an hour, as it happened with us).

Then he took us to dinner at a place overlooking Pearl, and finally we went downtown to meet his wife, Mary, who is still an editor at the paper and had Saturday night duty.

Below are some images, with cutlines, from what we saw.

I can’t give blood for a year, because Kanchanaburi is on a list

Bridge

Well, I went to give platelets at the Red Cross yesterday, and I answered “yes” to the question about whether I’d been out of the country in the past three years, and that led to a long discussion about just where I had been.

Turns out, it wasn’t a problem that I was in Thailand per se. The Red Cross breaks it down much more locally than that, and the problem was that one of the many places we visited in Thailand was listed as posing a risk of malaria.

That was Kanchanaburi. Those of you who were following me on social media may have already seen the above picture of me taken in that town. I’m standing in front of “the” Bridge On the River Kwai, which while it’s not the one from the movie (the movie was fictional, based on a novel inspired by the real-life Death Railway), actually is where the still-active rail line first laid by slave labor (Allied POWs and civilians) under the Japanese crosses the Kwai.

As you can see, I’m looking pretty grubby. If the Red Cross knew everything I’d done that day, they really would have worried. I had spent most of the day with elephants — feeding them by hand, bathing them in the river, and riding them. Taking a midday break from elephant care, we had floated down the Kwai, way out in the country, for 40 minutes, without a boat. Just life vests. Very refreshing.

(We were at this really neat place a few miles out of town that rescues elephants from the logging industry and from begging in the streets, and enlists tourists to help in their daily care. This was the thing my daughter had most wanted to do while we were with her in Thailand, and it did not disappoint.)

Then, on the way back to the resort in Kanchanaburi, I realized we were passing close to the Bridge, which I had only seen in the dark, the night before. So I asked someone to rap on the back of the cab of the songthaew we were riding in, and hopped off alone to go check out the bridge.

I ran into three American veterans from Bangkok who were painting the base of a memorial to the Americans who had died building the railway. The wife of one of them took the above picture.

But I digress. The point is, I can’t give for a year. So some of y’all will have to take up the slack…

Here I'd feeding bananas to a rather elderly elephant named Wasana. She's about 65 years old and a fairly slow eater for an elephant -- so it took a little patience.

Here I’m feeding bananas to a rather elderly elephant named Wasana. She’s about 65 years old and a fairly slow eater for an elephant — so it took a little patience.

All that overwhelming beauty

windward

I’m not just jet-lagged today. I’m experiencing a sort of sensory trough after being overwhelmed by stimuli that unfairly increased what my brain expects to be fed.

After the many gorgeous sights — and tastes, and smells, and sounds — of Thailand, there were those ridiculous couple of days in Hawaii. I had been there before, of course — it was where I had graduated from high school. But I was reminded of why I had trouble, back in my college years, adjusting to the mainland scenery.

This was underlined by my wife’s reaction, during the tour our friend Burl Burlingame gave us of Ford Island, and on a drive the next day around Diamond Head, and on up the Windward coast as far as Kailua — then back across the mountains with a stop at Pali Lookout. She had never been there before, and every place we stopped, she got out and started shooting video with her iPad, turning and exclaiming over the water, the mountains, the colors, the light, that incredible Hawaii air…

A most satisfying experience. I’d be like, “I think you’ll like this next thing,” and she’d be all like, “Wow!” I was never disappointed in her reaction.

My eyes have been filled these last days. Now, back on the diet…

Preview for our trip to Thailand

My daughter in the Peace Corps has posted this video chronicling some of her experiences during the month of January, as apology for not blogging as often as she should:

Please accept this video in exchange for my lack of blog posts/ updates recently. I figure if a picture says a thousand words then a video says a million and that about makes up for my many months of silence.

For my wife and me, this video acts as a sort of trailer, previewing what we are likely to see and hear when we visit Thailand next month.

Yes, we’ve decided to take the plunge and go, both because we haven’t seen our youngest (in person, not counting Skype) in a year, and because, you know, when will we ever get the chance again?

So for the last few months, whatever free time we can find has increasingly been tied up in preparations. First, we had to get new passports. Then, we started the incredibly challenging process of deciding what to take with us.

Why is this so challenging? Because someone involved in this expedition, not yours truly, decided that we should take only what we can take in a single carry-on bag, to avoid the possibility of having to chase checked luggage all over Asia.

This is fine for members of the gender that washes their smallclothes out in hotel room sinks and hangs them on the shower curtain (perhaps some of you gentlemen have noted behavior of this sort). But that’s not my style of travel.

My style of travel was in vogue during the Gilded Age, and involved steamer trunks and servants to carry them and hiring entire floors of the best hotels, and people such as Henry James and E.M. Forster writing books about one’s experiences.

We traveled in a modified form of this fashion to England awhile back. It was the dead of winter, so I packed everything conceivable, most of it into a wheeled suitcase that was almost, but not quite, as large as a steamer trunk. Plus a backpack-style laptop case, into which I crammed said laptop, accessories, drugs and toiletries and a change of clothes in case the big bag should be lost.

Not so this time. Everything must go into a backpack only slightly larger than the laptop bag. It arrived yesterday — an Osprey Farpoint 40, guaranteed to meet the carryon regulations. I’ll keep you posted on efforts to pack it with all I’ll need for 17 days.

If I sound discontented over this challenge, I am not. I see it as an opportunity to strip down to essentials, like Nick Adams in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.” If you’ll recall, the war-rattled Nick has to justify the decision to indulge himself with a jar of apple butter by rationalizing that if he’s willing to carry it, it’s OK.

I’ve already decided not to take any apple butter — so you see, I’m making great progress…

Doug reports from London: He didn’t have the time to wait in the queue…

Doug Tube

The queue at Oxford Circus, 6 p.m., Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Doug Ross

Yes, that’s a paraphrase from a song written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison

Anyway, you remember our discussion of mass transit back at the end of October, when Doug Ross mentioned he would be in London for a week in November, and would report on whether he thought the London Underground was as awesome as I say it is?

Well, he checked in via text last week (sorry, I failed to pass it on, what with trying to get my work decks cleared for Thanksgiving).

He sent the above photo, with this caption:

This is the line to get to the steps to get to the entry to the tube at 6 p.m. in Oxford circus. When it is not crowded it’s fine. Otherwise it’s a nightmare.

So there you have it; the opposite position from my own.

I never ran into anything that bad in London. I was in some crowded trains, and waited on some crowded platforms. But I never had to wait up on street level to get into the Tube. Maybe that’s because I was there between Christmas and two days after New Years Day, so normal commuter traffic was lighter than usual. Or else Doug has just had phenomenally back luck.

I will quote this from Wikipedia: “At the end of the 2000s, Oxford Circus had the highest pedestrian volumes recorded anywhere in London.” So, you know, it might be a place to avoid if you haven’t got the time to wait in the queue.

But I’ve shared Doug’s report, in the interest of fairness. Perhaps he would like to elaborate…

Joe Wilson says Hamas could attack U.S. with Ebola

Joe Hamas

Today, our own Rep. Joe Wilson is enjoying his biggest splash on social media since his “You lie!” glory days. A sampling:


Here’s a link to video of the congressman setting forth this theory.

Is the Special Relationship getting a little less special?

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

See this news today?

Britain, Belgium and Denmark on Friday joined the U.S.-led coalition of nations that are launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants in Iraq, committing warplanes to the struggle against the extremists….

Good for them, but what took so long? The French have been with us from the outset. The French! Plus Saudi Arabia and other countries in the neighborhood.

Apparently, the PM had to do some heavy lifting to bring this about:

British Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate plea that spelled out the consequences of inaction in drastic terms – noting that the militants had beheaded their victims, gouged out eyes and carried out crucifixions to promote goals “from the Dark Ages.”

“This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill us and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us,” he said. “There isn’t a ‘walk on by’ option. There isn’t an option of just hoping this will go away.”

Cameron told a tense House of Commons in a more than six-hour-long debate…

Why would debate have taken six minutes, much less six hours? Yeah, I know — Iraq. The same electorate that tossed out Churchill after WWII turned on my man Tony Blair over Iraq, and they’re still kind of cranky over it.

Sigh. All’s well that ends well. The vote was 524-43 for action, so that’s something.

And remember Kosovo?

And remember Kosovo?

It’s International Talk like Robert Newton Day

Some call it “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” but I’ve often wondered where we get the silly notion that pirates went around saying “ARRRH!” and growling in a West Country burr.

I assumed it came from the movies.

Apparently, it came primarily from character actor Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the ’50s. This was brought to my attention by the Slatest.

So, if you didn’t know before, now you know…

Robert Newton

Open Thread for Thursday, September 18, 2014 — Special Scottish Referendum Edition

Today, I’ll offer you two choices:

  1. Discuss the independence referendum in Scotland, results of which will come in over the next few hours.
  2. Discuss whatever you like. I mean, if the Scots can do whatever they like, including committing economic suicide, then why shouldn’t my fellow Americans say what they please? (Within reason, and my civility rules, of course. Because this blog isn’t a bloody democracy. Harrumph.)

I see that YouGov has the Scots deciding to stay in the UK. If that’s correct, they haven’t gone completely mad. Or, if you prefer, they haven’t gone totally radge.

As to why I oppose Scottish secession, I do so for the same assorted reasons I oppose the Confederacy, Quebec secession, the disintegration of the Balkans, the Anschluss and Putin slicing off a chunk of Ukraine on the grounds of protecting ethnic Russians. Throw in my Anglophilia and my affinity for the Special Relationship, which causes me not to want to see Britain divided and weakened.

Also, I think the Union Jack is one of the most beautiful flags ever. By comparison, the St. Andrew’s Cross alone seems rather sad…

1200px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Mind the gap there, cobber! Crowd works together to rescue fellow commuter

Does the public transit system in Perth, Australia, warn commuters to “Mind the Gap” the way the Tube does in London?

If so, this man failed to heed the warning, and might have lost his leg and even his life if not for the quick reaction and concerted effort of his fellow riders.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

“Transperth spokesman David Hynes said the man was boarding at the tail end of peak hour, but the train was still fairly busy.

” ‘He stood in the doorway and as he was sort of taking up his position there, one leg slipped outside the door, slipped outside the gap, and he was stuck,’ he said.

” ‘We alerted the driver, made sure the train didn’t move.

” ‘Then our staff who were there at the time got the passengers, and there were lots of them, off the train, and organised them to sort of rock, tilt the train backwards away from the platform so they were able to get him out and rescue him.’ “

The man was fine, by the way, thanks to all those strangers.

Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post once teased me after I had said for the umpteenth time that I loved public transportation, saying something like, “I know you do, you communitarian, you.”

But this public transit incident is communitarianism squared…

mindthegap