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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Oxford

I took a trip to Oxford yesterday. It was the first tourist activity I've done since I arrived in England. Except, of course, for the tourist activity I like the most: finding out what it's like to live in some place, especially what the people who live there are like. At the standard tourist spots, that is not what happens: they are filled with other tourists, not the residents. That bothered me when I stayed in old Quebec City: the entire old city area is a giant tourist attraction. After a few days, I realized I wasn't in a real city at all, but in something equivalent to Colonial Williamsburg on a larger scale.

The countryside the London-Oxford train passes through, once one gets perhaps 25 minutes out of London, is lovely. Autumn is fully setting in here, and the trees lining the green fields are muted tones of green and gold and brown, much quieter than a New England fall, but with their own charm. The English rivers are enchanting, full and slow and lazy, their banks studded with trees and shrubs.

Oxford itself is also very nice, filled with majestic old buildings. I walked down New Road, whose name probably means it was built only about five or six centuries ago -- New College was built in 1379. Crossing Hythe Street Bridge, I saw a sign that read, "Hump -- 75 Yards." I went there and waited for a while, but nothing happened.

I visited the Ashmolean, a wonderful museum. In the Ancient Egypt exhibit I pondered the explosion in human technical ability that started around 10,000 years ago. Egypt had been occupied by humans for roughly 1,000,000 years, over the first 990,000 of which the exhibit showed small changes in stone tool technology. Then, suddenly, there is pottery, farming, copper needles and fishhooks, and so on.

The night before my trip, I had wound up sleeping on a friend's couch, from where I went straight to Oxford. I hadn't planned to do so, and, therefore, I hadn't brought a change of clothes. By late afternoon my feet were feeling, shall we say, "not so fresh." I wanted to rinse them off, so I walked along a canal. A life preserver bobbed in the water, caught up in some branches. Someone throw it a human!

There I saw canal boats for the first time -- long, thin, low affairs, most of them emitting streams of smoke that smelled like a peat fire, but apparently were the result of burning some material that comes in plastic bags, which the boat owners stacked by the dozen across their roofs.

I finally found a place where I could reach the water with my feet, and rinsed them off. I walked barefoot back along the path. Two small, black birds -- ducks? -- with white heads fought the current to stare at me, perhaps hoping for food. As I took out my notebook to jot down their appearance, a couple strolled toward me up the walk. They gave me a very wide berth. Well, I suppose, standing on the asphalt path in dress slacks and a buttondown shirt, but barefeet, in 50 degree weather, my shoes, socks, and a notepad in one hand, while I scribbled on the pad with a pen held in the other, that I might have looked a wee bit odd.

I did not see Morse or Lewis during my stay.

Caution!

Passing through Paddington Station, I saw a sign reading: "Caution: Cycle Thieves About."

I guess it's like rotating your tires -- you don't want the thieves getting all worn out on one side or anything.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Urban Walking

New York and London are quite similar as far as how people behave walking around the sidewalks, and both quite different to where I grew up. (Over here, we say "different to.") The high density of people on the sidewalks seems to lead to most pedestrians dehumanizing everyone but the people they are walking with. Whereas in the small city I lived in as a yoot, someone approaching you would meet your eyes, say "excuse me," or perhaps gesture to avoid a collision, in New York and London people are far more likely to stare at your feet and try to outguess you.

This morning I was stunned by how far people can take that attitude. A woman was walking down a passage in the underground about twenty feet ahead of me. She must have decided she was going the wrong way, because she suddenly reversed directions, so that she was walking straight back at me. Now, the passageway was quite wide, and there was plenty of room for her to go around me.

Of course, I could have moved aside also, but my thinking was that, if I was walking down an exit passage in the wrong direction (which she now was), and if I had suddenly changed course, I would try to be accomodating toward the other pedestrians who were going the right way and who were not pirouetting about. Out of curiosity, I stood still, waiting to see what she would do. She was still fifteen feet away, so she had plenty of time to notice someone, not moving, lying ahead of her on the course she had set. But she simply kept walking until she was about three feet away from my chest, stopped, and glared at me. She was apparently prepared to do so for as long as I stood there. Damn it all, she was walking straight back to the platform, come what may. Since I was meeting someone, I stepped aside after a few seconds.

A Buzz in My Shorts

Drying one's clothes outside brings surprises. Two days ago, I put on a shirt and found that a bird had used it for target practice. This morning, as I pulled up my boxers, I felt a small lump on the waistband. I pulled it off, and then looked to see what it was.

I found that I was holding a decent-sized, live wasp in my fingers. Yikes! I have no idea why I wasn't stung, unless I luckily had employed just the grip Steve Irwin uses to hold a wasp and not be stung by it.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Be All That You Can Be!

In my local (that means a bar) the other night, I was in the loo (that means the bathroom) when I heard some fellow drunkenly ranting about "frogs" and "genocide." Did he want to wipe out the French? No, because then I heard "amphibians." I left the toilet and went to wash my hands, where I found the ranter, wearing an Irish football jersey, addressing his victim -- I mean, audience. He leaned closer and told the fellow, "You know, in this life you can be anything you want to be, if you put your mind to it."

Even a raving, batty drunk!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Be Sute to Vote!

If you're sick of having an elitist, Ivy League alumnus, multi-millionaire, Skull-and-Bones member, warmonger as president, then be thankful you live in a country where you have the opportunity to replace him with a man who is an elitist, Ivy League alumnus, multi-millionaire, Skull-and-Bones member, and warmonger.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Odor of a Discount

I passed a Woolworth's in North London the other day, then turned because I realized I was curious: Would a Woolworth's here smell the same as one in the states?

Yep, it sure did. Just what is that smell? Caldor and Bradley's always had pretty much the same odor as well.

Famous Thinkers Gather at LSE

From left to right, me, Lionel Robbins, and Pete Boettke:



Monday, October 25, 2004

treppenwitz

I'm in Los Angeles so naturally the discourse at parties eventually runs towards how Dubya is the new Hitler. However, the other evening when somebody made the comment, "I think the election is going to be a disaster", I was thinking how amusing it would be to respond, "oh, you think Kerry has a chance?" but I kept my mouth shut because I wasn't really in the mood to antagonize people. (I hadn't drank anywhere nearly enough and was looking for a ride home.) Later, I realized that I should've responded with something closer to my own sentiment, "so you think somebody is actually going to win the election?"

In my bumper sticker count system, Kerry wins slightly over Bush in the Los Angeles area. There are a lot of anti-Bush stickers but that doesn't necessarily mean those votes are going to Kerry. They might. They might not. Nobody anywhere seems really excited about their candidates. If nobody shows up for the election...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Inconsistency in American Christians

I've been to several "right-wing" Protestant churches, and what's odd is that they generally hold the following two beliefs:

(A) America is going to h*ll in a handbasket. Our culture is absolutely disgusting, and if we don't shape up God is going to take us out to the toolshed.

(B) America is the most wonderful country that has ever existed. Foreign people would gladly welcome our bombers and take the chance of being blown to smithereens, if only to be more like us.

Again, I am not trying to make fun of American Christians; I'm one of them. I'm just making this observation...

Shatner on SpaceShipOne

William Shatner has offered to pay $210,000 to ride into space. (Doesn't he know how much he could've saved by booking his flight though priceline.com??)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Excuse Me, Officer, But How Do I...

I was walking down the main road near my house the other night when a police van, containing two cops, came to a halt by the curb.

My mind flashed back to a night in sleepy Redding, CT, when I was walking home from my local around midnight and had a cop pull up alongside me. His window came down.

"Excuse me, sir, are you just out for a walk?"

"Actually," I responded, "I was down at the Georgetown Saloon, and I'm walking home."

"Oh, you live near here?"

"Yes, Highland Avenue."

"How long have you lived there?"

"Four years."

"And what's your name?"

"Gene Callahan."

"And your birthdate?"

Well, I had tried to be patient, but that was about it. Instead of thanking me for not drinking and driving, this nitwit was going to grill me because not many people in Redding walk at night.

"Are you going to send me a birthday card?" I asked.

Chagrined, he answered, "Something like that."

"Officer, I haven't broken any laws. I'm heading home." I turned and walked away from him.

Was this to be a repeat scenario, here in London? Once again, the window came down. I waited for the question.

The cop nearest to me leaned to the window and said, "Excuse me, sir, can you tell us how to get to the Colindale Police Station?"

I swear, I'm not making that up.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Sine of the Times

Here's a new angle on this situation: On the tube yesterday, I saw a sign showing an abandoned piece of luggage on a seat and reading: "Don't touch, check with other passengers, inform station staff or call 999."

In other words, if you just ignore the bomb, maybe it will go away. For the want of a semi-colon, the train was lost.

Of course, the US is as full of badly worded signs as is England. At my old office, there was a sign on a door reading, "This door must be kept closed at all times." Wouldn't a wall have been a better choice than a door, in that case?

A Worthwhile Storm

The other day, a headline The Times read, "Hurricane Ivan Leaves Behind Wreckage Worth Billions of Pounds."

Perhaps Ivan can drop by my place and leave some of that wreckage there. I'd even be satisfied with wreckage worth a million pounds.

Escape ---- Leviathan

The other night someone said to Jan Lester, "Jan, how is Escape to Leviathan selling?"

The actual title of Jan's book is Escape from Leviathan, so the new title changed the thrust of the work a bit. However, it did suggest a series of titles Jan might produce: Escape for Leviathan, in which Jan escapes from a prison to rescue the State, Escape Through Leviathan, where Jan uses the labryinth bureaucracy of the State to elude his ferocious and vicious pursuers, and my favorite, Escape with Leviathan, in which Jan and the State run off to a deserted tropical isle together, leaving the bewildered populace longing for both authority and critical rationalism.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

All Available Doors

* I was on the tube a couple of days ago, when a voice came over the PA and said, "This train is quite crowded. When exiting, please use all available doors."

I know how to use one door or another to get off the train, but I froze in puzzlement as to how I could use "all available doors" to get off. It was six stops past mine before I just punted and used the one nearest to me.

* And I was looking forward to having tons of yummy English muffins when I got over here, but I haven't seen one! Have the English sold all of theirs to the states?

No Interference, Part II

Following up on Bob's post below, I got a good laugh when I heard Donald Rumsfeld warning other countries (he meant Iran and Syria) "not to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs."

You see, buddy, if there's any interferin' to be done, we Americans gonna be the ones doin' it.

US to Britain: Don't Meddle With Elections!

Apparently the UK paper The Guardian was trying to promote a Kerry win. Outraged Americans correctly pointed out that Britain has no business interfering with the elections of another country... I mean, with the elections of the United States.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

SpaceShipWon

For those of you who haven't heard, SpaceShipOne recently won the $10 million X-Prize. (Commentary here: http://www.lewrockwell.com/murphy/murphy87.html) If and when I get a few hundred million bucks, I'm definitely going to set up prizes like this. That's really one of the main benefits of being rich, I think. You get to decide the arbitrary hoops that everyone else jumps through while they're "paying their dues."

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bend It Like Callahan

* I'm beginning to get the notion that there's some fellow named "Beckham" who is something of a celebrity here. It's mostly the fact that his name has been in the front page headline of some tabloid every single day since I've arrived that has suggested that to me.

* In America, fast food service jobs are held mostly by Hispanics, in order to prevent the customers from wasting the staff members' time by talking to them. England doesn't have much of a Hispanic population, but fast food places here have gotten around that difficulty by employing Eastern Europeans who can't understand the customers instead. Last night, I stopped at a sandwich shop. "Cheddar Cheese Sandwich" was listed on the menu. But how was it prepared? A typical cheese sandwich here might include pickles and mango chutney -- not bad, actually.

So, I asked the chap behind the counter, "What's in the cheddar cheese sandwich?"

"Cheese."

Well, I had suspected as much, since cheese is constitutive of a cheese sandwich. (See, I'm already learning to talk like a fancy pants philosopher!) I was fairly certain there would be bread involved as well. But my curiosity was still not satisfied.

"What else is in it, besides cheese?"

He looked at me quizically. "Ham? Tuna salad?"

Did he mean that the cheddar cheese sandwich always includes ham and tuna salad? Was he saying he could put those in if I wanted him to? Was he suggesting other sandwiches I might prefer, since I seemed so suspicious of the cheese?

Who knows... I just said "Thanks anyway" and walked out.

* I'm finally getting settled in here. Last night, for the very first time, I remembered the name of the road I live on, Buck Lane, when I wasn't on the road! The fact that my house is prominently named "Buck Cottage" has been a big help in my learning the road name in as short a time as two weeks.

I'm getting accustomed to the English driving on the left. When I first arrived, I could think, "I'd look left here in the States, so I'd better look right." But I've been here long enough that now I can't remember which way I'd look in America, so I'm actually much worse at crossing streets than I was two weeks ago.

* My friend Jan Lester has been trying to tell me that the name of the subway here is pronounced 'tyube,' not 'toob.' But he also tried to tell me that the rail stations have been 'moving,' so obviously he's just winding up the Yank.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Alarmed

* Many of the doors around LSE bear a sign saying "Door Alarmed." Well, I'm starting to become alarmed that all these inanimate objects are so worried.

* I'm writing this in the LSE library, where it's about 10 degrees colder than it is outside -- and it's not warm outside.

* And the library has a sign saying, "When in the library, your cell phone must be strictly switched to silent mode." Now, I know how to switch my cell phone to silent mode, but how do I do so "strictly"? Ought I to warn it, in harsh terms, of the punishment I will deliver should it ring?

Two-Nil

* Wednesday night, Ireland beat the Faroe Islands two-nil in World Cup qualifying play. In the States, of course, we'd say "two-nothing." But no one ever seems to say "two-zero." Why is that?

* And I'm surprised that there are enough young, athletic males in the Faroe Islands to form a football (that means soccer) team.

* My clothes are again "drying" on the line. I hope to be able to bring them inside by Sunday. I'm thinking of skipping the washing machine altogether and putting my laundry straight outside, since it gets both washed and dried there.

* I asked directions to a restaurant from a news agent. He told me it was right across the street from "steer box." Now, I wasn't sure what a "steer box" is, so I asked him where that was. He pointed it out to me. Starbucks.

* While on the topic, it's interesting to note the different effects produced by American and English rain. In the US, mushrooms pop up after a shower, while here each rainfall sprouts at least one new Starbucks.

* You can now play the lottery on your cell phone here. It makes me glad to be alive in the 21st century!

John Gray, Quiz Show Master

I was flipping through the channels on TV here in England, and happened on a quiz show. One contestant was an accountant. The profession of the other wasn't mentioned, but he was named
"John Gray." I thought, "That's a funny coincidence, but of course it's a common name." Then, at the end of the program, the host mentioned that a famous poet would be on next week. Hmm, could it be?

A few days later, I was talking with Jan Lester, Pete Boettke, and David McDonagh, and Gray's name came up. I asked if he appeared on quiz shows, and David said, "Yes, regularly."

So, while his political thought may have gone downhill, I can report he's very good at making words from scrambled letters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A Banner Day

I was able to bring my wash inside!

We line "dry" our clothes where I'm living. The trick is to get them out and back in during one of the 12-hour windows without rain. Well, Sunday I mis-timed things, and today was the first time I was able to bring them inside.

It's not that they were actually dry, or anything like that. It was just the first time they weren't dripping wet. Now they are in my bedroom, really drying.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Taps

The UK sinks are puzzling. There are always two separate faucets, so that you can choose to scald your hands or freeze them when washing up. And some of the sinks have a nifty "instant-shut-off" feature, where the faucet only runs as long as you are pressing down the tap with one hand, making it impossible to rub your hands together under running water.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Busking

Someone was busking (that means playing music or singing for change) in the tube (that means subway) line tonight. The song she was performing was "Walk on by." That seems to me to be the most unfortunate choice for a busking song I've ever come across.

Spotted Dick...

...heading down the escalator at the tube, but I didn't catch him.

* In both the US and the UK, waiters in Indian restaurants typically wipe your plate just before they place it in front of you. Is this supposed to inspire confidence? It always makes me worry that the wait staff fears the dish staff is not really doing their job.

* The new Scottish Parliament building was just opened... 3 years late and 10 times over budget. Who but the government could wind up 1000% over budget on a building? At least here they have the honesty to call state projects "schemes."

* The book store on the LSE campus is selling Waterstone's Giude to Literarute for Dlysexic Chilrden.

* The cigarette packs here have labels with big letters saying "Smoking Kills." Well, at least one government scheme has succeeded, since the labels have reduced the number of smokers per capita in Britain to only like 10 times the number in the US.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

UK, but IM

A block from LSE I found Drury Lane. I've been searching up and down it for the muffin man -- no sign of him yet, but I'll report back later.

Also near LSE is a building declaring itself, in very large letters, to contain "The Government of Gibraltar." What is it doing way up here? Oughtn't it to be down in Gibraltar?

The first few days here, I would look outside in the morning to see if it was going to rain. I've learned to stop doing that: It is going to rain.

Sanctions Weren't Working

I saw Tony Blair on TV today saying that the invasion of Iraq was necessary because "sanctions weren't working."

I agree. Saddam had only been reduced to having zero weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, the only sign of the sanctions working would have been if he had had a large negative number of WMDs.

LA Doll

So I'm back in Los Angeles after a really difficult three years in Miami. I had no idea I'd be gone so long and I'm really only here to gather my abandoned belongings and go back to Miami, reluctantly. Sigh. The task is overwhelming as it is but for various reasons it's become even more daunting. The first thing that happened is my hostess locked us out of her place for several hours. Then other problems magically appeared. I'd just about had it when my ex mentions the New York Dolls are playing. I wasn't sure about it but at that point I was so frazzled that getting anything accomplished was out of the question and I do love the Dolls. I went to the show straight from working on my vehicle so I was covered in oil and gas too. Within three or four songs the curative properties of the Church of Rock N Roll were working their magic and all my troubles just slid off my back...or maybe it was the motor oil.

Gabba Gabba TSA

My first jet trip since 9-6-01 and I'm sitting in the airport at Miami. The last time was actually eventful. I was "selected" to have my checked luggage x-rayed and the Black fellow sitting behind me had a copy of the Koran. Things I probably would've forgotten about now except for the obvious reason. At the time I had no idea of the personal disasters lurking in my near future. Family illness after illness kept me from traveling far so flying home to Los Angeles was out of the question until now. Once again I was selected for the super duper inspection only now it involves having to take your shoes off (damn you shoe bomber), having some stranger rifle your panties in the carry-on bag and a groping that makes you feel like you are entering prison--a naughty prison. I was thinking the entire time, "even if a terrorist gets on board, I'll rip him to shreds with my bare hands so there's no point to this nonsense." I told this to my pal Ivan a few days back. If somebody tries to fling another obstacle in my way, I'll just shoot knives out of my eyeballs--like in the old comics--and destroy them. I'll be so furious that I'll just spout gibberish laced with obscenities. Ivan replied that I should try to yell the standard Ramones chant "Gabba Gabba Hey" instead because it'll probably be enough to stop any anti-American activities. I will certainly have try it next time I have to deal with the TSA panty police at the airport. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

When in England

If you want to emphasize something, turn it into a question. For example, LSE hasn't issued me a student ID yet. I was about to try to make copies at the student copy center, and I imagined answering, in response to a request for my ID: "They haven't issued me one yet, have they?"

I went down to Picadilly Circus. Not only did I not see Marcus, I couldn't find the circus at all -- no tents, no clowns, no elephants! My advice is, "Don't bother."

In the suburb to which I just moved, there is a eatery called -- I'm not making this up -- "New Jersey Chicken." All right, what the heck is "New Jersey chicken"? I grew up 100 miles from NJ, and I've never heard of such a dish or style. Do you get a little map of the turnpike carved into your roaster?

And the breakfast place nearby offers "Bubble and Squeak" on its menu. I have to order that one day.

The sidewalks in London seem to be made of some specially polished stone -- but that's OK, because it's not like it rains here often or anything.

The headline in today's Daily Mirror promised a profile of "Britain's Worst Pedophile." Maybe tomorrow they will follow up with one of "Britain's Best Pedophile."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

More from London

One great aspect of being at LSE: I'm writing this sitting in the Lionel Robbins library; my department is housed in the Imre Lakatos building and was founded by Karl Popper; one of the staff is holding the Lachmann Chair; soon I'll be seeing Pete Boettke deliver the Hayek Memorial Lecture; and the second holder of the chair in politics was Michael Oakeshott.



Friday, October 01, 2004

London Calling

OK, I've settled in a bit here in the UK, so I'm sending off my first dispatch:

1) British pubs are notably different than US bars in terms of how devoted the patrons are to conversation. At 5PM in a London pub, the volume of noise produced by the multitude of conversations occurring is startling to anyone accustomed to US bars.

2) Marlboro Lights here have brown filters: What's up with that?

3) The way I cope with crossing British roads -- where they drive on the wrong side -- is by frantically swinging my head back and forth in both directions.

More to come.