Monthly Archives: December 2007

Furry Happy Monsters for 2008

Complete and utter frivolity to wish you a happy new year:

REM’s Furry, Happy Monsters

This is what British women want?

No wonder I have had not such great luck making friends with British women.  Thanks to a survey published today in the Aussie press, “Women just want a Posh life,” I get some insight into where the problems might lie.  I mean, I knew it was sort of strange that Posh was so popular but when you look at these lists of priorities and desires it starts to make sense.  If losing weight and having a better body are so important, and  more beautiful is  placed squarely above more intelligent, it starts to become clear why I don’t fit in (aside from my lack of affection for Posh, that is).  The really sad thing is the tenth place ranking for “being prime minister”–boy people are having a hard time recovering from the Thatcher years, eh?  Now where is the corresponding survey of American women, so I can hopefully find that they have different priorities and I’m not just glamorizing home again?

New Year Honours List

The BBC has a story on the just-announced New Year Honours, including a link to the full list.  It’s pretty hard to take it seriously when it includes honours to Kylie Minogue for “service to music”.  As one of my friends noted, “well, she has a nice bottom but is that really deserving of an OBE?”

This is one of those things that makes one ever aware of the classism that is still rampant in the UK.  If you buy something from a US website, your choices for “title” are typically:

  • Mrs.
  • Ms.
  • Mr.
  • Dr.

Occasionally you might see something like, “Rev.” but it’s not terribly common in my experience.  Now, say you want to buy something from a “” site.  Not only is “Rev.” likely to be there, but add:

  • Dame
  • Sir
  • Lord
  • Prof.
  • Miss

The last one always gets me, I forget that we Americans are pretty happy with the feminist “Ms.” that it is quite unusual for a young, unmarried girl to carry around an insistence on “Miss” (at least above the age of 10!) but I have seen that quite alot around the UK in twenty-something girls.

The term “sir” and “dame” of course go along with the New Year Honours list, for those made a KBE or DBE.  Additional choices include MBE and OBE which I don’t think have any sort of title (but who knows in this system!)

A few days ago, I was trying to buy something online and accidentally almost called myself “Dame” since I just hit the “d” key to select “Dr.” and was not paying attention.  Fortunately I caught it.  Of course, you might be asking, given my rant about honorifics, why was I selecting “Dr.” for myself and not “Ms.”?  And of course, the answer is that my UK debit card does not have my given name on them.   It is embossed with “Doctor” (spelled out all the way) then two initials then my  surname.   Let the eye-rolling commence.

It’s not just me

From the “Letters to the Editor” in the Christmas issue of the Economist, a quote from a letter from Carolyn Gibson of Birmingham:

My experience as an immigrant in Britain is that you have to sit quietly and patiently in the company of the locals for years-in health clubs, bars, at the school gates, and at work- before you are welcomed into simple conversation about the weather, let alone “the inner sanctum of Britishness”. The reward for patience is long, deep and meaningful friendships, plus a newly acquired sense of guarded scepticism and fear that the comfort finally achieved will be disturbed by someone new. Most of the time this is fine, but sometimes a warm, friendly and open conversation with a stranger would be welcome, even if it did end with “Have a nice day!”

I could not agree more up to the last part; I don’t yet have any reward for my patience in the form of deep, meaningful friendships with Brits, and so I’m more keen on the last phrase of the last sentence and how nice it would be to have a more casual friendly exchange once in a while.

Are Americans finally discovering rail transport?

A new article that I stumbled on this week talks about America’s beleaguered national passenger rail provider, Amtrak.  (This is not the typical article one reads about Amtrak, which almost always involves collisions with freight trains and automobile passenger deaths at rail crossings.)   The shocking thing about the article is exactly how bad the finances for Amtrak are; they have not been in the black since the early 1970s and are heavily subsidized.   I don’t know how this compares with the UK’s national rail, although I do note that it is interesting to me that the UK rail system is so much more heavily populated with regular riders.   There are a few places in the US where public transport is common and there are well-developed networks of subways and trains.  New York City, Boston, and Washington DC on the east coast are all part of this, and on my recent trip I used the systems in both Boston and DC.   In Minneapolis, where I am from, there were only ever some pretty frightening buses until recently, when the hugely successful light rail line went in.

I am not against government subsidies for rail or light rail transit, and I wish that as America moves into the mid-sized cities from the rural areas that more and more of these types of train lines are considered as part of the urban infrastructure.  The experience in Minneapolis would be that “if you build it, they will come”… ridership was about double the expectations almost immediately, and there is quite a bit of new development along the light rail corridor.   Plans are moving ahead for a new section through the University and connecting Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, and I think this is really exciting.    I can make a real case for continued subsidies of light rail in cities.

I also believe one of the Amtrak success stories is the Acela high-speed connection between Boston and DC (that goes through NYC of course, as well as Philly), in which you’ve got short (Britain-like) distances to travel through densely populated areas.   You’ve also got people in those cities that are used to riding the subways and local trains, so the interstate trains make sense.  What makes less sense to me is a huge investment of continued subsidy dollars in the cross-country rail lines.  The passenger rail system just might not be competitive on the 3-time zone hike from NYC to SF or LA.  The people in the heartland are no longer much accustomed to transport that does not involve cars.  There’s so much rail to maintain, so much rough terrain to cross, so much difficult weather, and such a large passenger time commitment to deal with.

So I’m not sure that I agree with the spirit of the Aussie quoted at the start of the article  in terms of the general usefulness for trains in America, and thus I’m not sure I support a continuing full subsidy for Amtrak.  I don’t think they will ever grab hold for cross-country sightseeing (except perhaps for visiting commonwealth types) but I do believe an investment in infrastructure in high population density regions like Chicago and the Northeast should be encouraged.  So should Americans discover rail transport?  Absolutely, if they live somewhere where it makes sense to do so.  Otherwise, perhaps it’s better to drive or fly and stop supporting Amtrak’s bleeding dollars in the middle of nowhere.

I need a lifestyle manager

Here is one place I am willing to say the Brits have 100% the right idea and the Americans are foolish: absolutely the day after Christmas should be a holiday too.  I present here for Boxing Day a reasonably random assortment of things that I had been saving in open tabs in the very few minutes I spent at the computer over the last few days.

While checking up on the cricket scores, I discovered that what is really missing from my life is a “lifestyle manager“.   Someone that you can hire to do things that you otherwise don’t get around to doing.  Especially errands that can only take place during the day when of course you are working.  The joke amongst us busy women always used to be that we needed wives, but apparently that’s not true any more.  We just need lifestyle managers.  I am ready to hire someone to try and make my stupid, closet-free apartment more livable.  I simply cannot seem to make any headway on it myself.

The Roman Catholic leader in the UK agrees with me  that we non-locals have a hard time in the unfriendly UK.  I loved his Christmas-themed quote:

“I understand that immigration needs to be controlled. However, sometimes they must feel like Joseph when he returned to Bethlehem after exile in Egypt, simply excluded because they are outsiders.”

I could not agree more.

I loved this little story about what Christmas means to the writer.   Always comforting to think of a bunch of Jewish people sitting in a Chinese restaurant in America somewhere wondering about the separation of church and state.   But perhaps they are a bit lucky.   I am somewhat shocked by the way the UK shuts down for Christmas (and Easter too).  It seems to me that completely stopping all train services for the day of Christ’s birth is a bit much, especially in a country where a person can still live a modern car-free existence.

Someone seconded my suggestion that “Once” was the best soundtrack of the year.   I still need to finish that music list I have been promising… see, I really do need a lifestyle manager.

More clamping down on UK immigration

It’s not just Paddington bear who faces a tougher time hanging out on the island that is Great BritainAnother BBC article, another list of immigration “reforms” meant to keep the non-English out of England.  Highlights include:

  • Shortening the visitor visa from six months to three months
  • Requiring payment of one thousand pounds (GBP) for family members who wish to visit loved ones in Britain.
  • Note that these are in addition to previously announced “reforms” (quote from the BBC article):
    • The government has already announced other changes to the visa system which Mr Byrne described as the “biggest shake-up of the immigration system in history”.  They included a points-based system for economic migrants and the tightening of procedures for people bringing spouses into the country.

It’s not just me, right?  This really reeks of xenophobia.  I know I have complained previously along these lines as I have discovered the many ridiculous rules for non-EU persons living in the UK; my favorite is still the one where I would have to get home office permission to marry.   I guess based on the point mentioned above, I would also have to do some fast-talking to marry back in America and then bring a spouse back “home” with me to the UK.

I know that immigration law and reform are hot topics in many countries, my own native America included.  There are many places in the world that people would like to leave for very good reasons, and there is certainly no question that wealthy, developed countries cannot afford to take in all of the potential refugees and migrants who would like to enter their countries.  That said, I really do feel a substantial difference in my experiences in the UK and America.  In the US, even though I was from the midwest, I had friends of many races and cultural backgrounds, truly representing the great “melting pot” that is America.  In the UK, at least where I have been for the last year and some change, I know mostly English, Irish, continental EU types (especially French and German), and other Americans.  I find that in general the diversity is underwhelming, and it’s becoming something that I miss about America–even about Minnesota.  Continuing BBC reports on the clamping down of immigration policy (for political reasons, apparently) is a hint at the greater problem of poor integration of the non-English already in Britain.  It’s hard to see how things could improve any time soon.

    And in the latest revision…

    My sister once asked me how Bridget Jones could drink so many alcohol units in one day (often upwards of 20, according to her diary).  I explained at the time that a UK alcohol “unit” was not the same as a US “standard drink” as far as I could tell.    I pointed to the fact that a single large glass of wine in a UK restaurant was technically equal to 2.5 alcohol units (250 mL at 100 mL per unit for wine) and thus exceeded the recommended daily intake for a female; a single pint of lager was 2 units and was just at the daily allowance.  (I will refrain from commenting on how a country with such stated problems of drunken hooliganism still persists in selling alcohol in these quantities as the standard measure.)  Regardless, imagine my surprise to find on the BBC today that they are further revising the guidelines to now state that a 250 mL glass of wine has 3 alcohol units.   A bottle of wine thus contains 9 units, not 7.5, according to these new guidelines.  Umm.  Let me make a suggestion, perhaps.  I believe this actually goes completely counter to the intended effect.   Reducing the size of a standard alcohol unit to the point that people drink many more of them will only reinforce the idea that the guidelines are a bit daft.   The shocking problems of public drunkenness in Britain are not going to be helped by this change–reform is needed but this is not the right sort of reform.

    VSL and my favorite 2007 movie

    Very short list this week features “Once” which was the best movie of 2007 IMHO.   I am also addicted to the soundtrack and would put it on my top CDs of 2007 (a list I am working on now for a future posting!)  This happy little nugget that came in my daily VSL email demonstrates the almost amazing convergence of two of my favorite things, indie movies and the pop culture sites that love them.  I highly recommend signing up for the VSL email, there are truly hidden gems in there most weeks.

    Very Good News for Homesick Minnesotans in the UK

    Northwest will either switch or supplement (depends on whose newsfeed you read) their current nonstop services to Gatwick with flights in and out of Heathrow early in 2008.  Yay!  Anyone who has traveled from Gatwick must have noticed that the security process there is far more invasive than at Heathrow for reasons that are totally unclear… it’s been enough to prevent me from taking the Northwest flights in favor of a two hop on Virgin to the US and then to MSP on Northwest.  Not to mention the fact that getting to Gatwick is even more of a pain than getting to Heathrow.  Oh happy day!  (This news originally found via my guilty pleasure website “Today in the Sky“… for the truly obsessive travelers among us!)