Tag Archives: america

Right Nation

I was amused when, while working in North Carolina in 2003, I visited some friends for Thanksgiving. All their neighbours introduced themselves and then, on finding I was English, apologised. “It’s not our fault, we didn’t vote for him!” Stood amongst those liberal, well travelled and smart people it was difficult to reconcile this with the fact that they lived in a country that had a president that was none of those things.

It’s bizarre. Virtually every American I’ve met has disliked Dubya, yet over the whole country, despite a number of obvious set-backs, his popularity has rarely been in question. Why such a contradiction? How did it get like that and how soon will the US be returning to normal?

I decided to read “Right Nation” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge to find out.

It is split into four sections, starting with the history, then the anatomy (the various parts that make up the American Right), then prophecy (what comes next) and finally exception (what makes America different). It drills down into each area in detail, exploring their main ideas from any number of different angles.

For those that are looking for Dubya-bashing, this is not the book for them. In fact, if anything, he has gone up in my estimation after reading it. Not to say that he comes out smelling of roses. In fact the main villain of the piece turns out to be John Ashcroft, not necessarily because he did the worst things (although the PATRIOT Act takes some beating) but because, given the power, he ended up doing the exact opposite of what he professed to support.

I can’t say that I necessarily agreed with everything in the book, but I would say that was to its credit. The authors proudly claim that they have been accused of being sympathisers of both sides of the debate, which just goes to show how even handed they’ve been. The main criticism that I would level is that it was very dry and academic in tone. The langage is precise and functional, the structure shows detailed research and clear thinking. Maybe it’s just in the nature of a non-fiction tome like it and, while not entirely off-putting, didn’t make it a page-turner. I also found some US-centric terms not defined anywhere, or maybe they’re defined once but are just well hidden. For example, I thought you bought jeans at The GOP until I looked it up and realised my mistake.

But back to our original questions — why and how much longer do we have to put up with Bush and his cronies? Does the book answer those questions? For the most part, yes. You may not agree with (or like) the conclusion, but it does give some serious food for thought and is well worth a read.

New York, 2006

The company where I (currently) work is always trying to get people to transfer over to the New York office. There are a number of personal reasons why I didn’t want to do that, however the main reason was always that it — basically — just didn’t appeal. It really didn’t seem to be very much different from London, where I currently live, but, well, more. So when I visited New York in April I was not expecting to like it very much.

As this was my first time in New York, and only my second in the United States, I was immediately drawn to the things that the place is famous for. Yellow taxis. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. Central Park. I managed to “do” them all, but not always on the first attempt!

The first time I went to the Battery Park pier for the Liberty Island ferry I found a long, snaking line of people and no shade from the sun. Not feeling like turning lobster-red for my wedding photos, I decided to postpone.

Typically the weather turned the day after making this decision. It got to the point that you could barely see statue from Manhattan and I was starting to think the trip might have to wait until my next time in New York. But on my last day the clouds and rain lifted enough to consider it. Even the crowds had evaporated.

For the short trip out, the boat was accompanied by the coast-guard. The memory of September 11th lives on. I just walked around the statue rather than going inside. You can’t go all the way to the top like you could previously — security again. Liberty looks more impressive In Real Life than it does in the pictures. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it has a poise and grace that doesn’t come across quite so well in photographs.

A ferry took me from Liberty to Ellis Island, which was home to US Immigration for many years. It was late so I only managed a quick look around. It was fascinating if only because my wife had been dealing with UK Immigration for most of the time I’ve known her!

I had a similar experience with the Empire State Building. I first got there and found a vast queue. I had to be at dinner in about ninety minutes. Unfortunately the staff said that there was a ninety minute wait just to get to the top!

The next week I came back and splashed out on an Express Pass. I felt like a celebrity walking past all the queues — sorry, since we’re in America, lines — to step into the lift.

The main difference between London and New York I found is that New York is much taller. I guess this is a fairly obvious observation, but the lack of sky was quite striking from ground level. From the top of the Empire State Building you can see it all laid out in front of you. Even nearly a century after it first opened there is little taller. Looking down, ‘little’ six or seven story buildings seem nearly as far away as the throngs of yellow taxis. South of here, the buildings are smaller — the ground-rock isn’t as solid — until near the tip of Manhattan where things get taller again, and where the twin towers used to stand. Facing north you realise just how big Central Park is.

I’m glad I did the Empire State near the end of my time in New York. It allowed me to make sense of the various bits of geography I’d come to vaguely know. Oh, so that’s next to that!

Not quite fitting in the theme of “failed visits,” I saw Times Square a few times at various times of day. On the way to my hotel I believe I passed through it without realising. I look back and wonder how that was possible. To be fair to myself, it does look very different at night. I had to wonder at the value of any particular company advertising there. There’s just so much neon that absolutely nothing stood out, although I was continually dazzled by the lights, the constant flow of pedestrians and traffic and the noise.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of what I saw on my first visit to New York, yet I only scratched the surface of what there is to see in New York. I liked the place much more than I thought I would. I’m sure I’ll be back.

The mince pie and the ewok

What does a two year old mince pie and an ewok have in common? The answer, it turns out, is “wedding cake.”


Let me explain.

Wedding cakes have a bit of a history for us. Americans tend not to be very keen on the traditional British fruit cake, which was a bit of a problem since I got married to a Californian in New York! Even the hotel concierge could only track down a fruit flan which is not what I’d call traditional. In the end we had to make do with less conventional but still delicious “normal” deserts.

We didn’t think much more about it until a month later when we were in California for B’s best friends wedding. She had a big wedding, including nearly two hundred guests. I’m not sure if this is normal, but they had two cakes. One, from the groomsmen I think, was shaped like a burger. The other was more like what most people would imagine at the suggestion of a wedding cake. Except for one small detail. Hiding underneath the top layer, behind some marzipan foliage, was a tiny ewok. The groom is a serious Star Wars fan, and the theme music at the end of the ceremony was not enough to keep him happy!

But back to the fruit cake saga. For our party, my sister-in-law wanted to make one for us but, unfortunately, started getting together the ingredients a bit too late. If you’ve every tried to make one you’ll realise that it takes at least a few days. Kudos for the attempt, though!

My father-in-law wasn’t going to allow the short time-frame to thwart his attempt. The cunning use of long forgotten boxes in dark cupboards was to (nearly) save the day.

Iced mince pieA couple of years ago B brought a Harrods Mince Pie back home for Christmas. It had been placed in a cupboard, then in storage while the kitchen was remodelled and then back in a dusty corner. Now was its time. He unboxed it and, using tinned frosting (icing), transformed it into… well — let’s be honest here — an iced mince pie. Most people refused even to try it, but the few brave souls who did said that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. A valient effort.

Fast-forward a couple more months. It’s now two weeks before our UK wedding reception, a cruise down the Thames, and we’ve just started thinking about cakes. I wonder if my mum would make one for us. I don’t like to ask. It’s quite hard work to make one and then she’d have to carry it two hundred miles south on the day.

Eventually I decide to call and ask.

After some small talk I edge up to the subject. “Would you mind… um… you know…” Well, it was something like that. In fact, she wasn’t going to say anything, wanted it to be a surprise, but she had put one in the oven only thirty minutes previously!

So on the day we finally got a proper, British wedding cake. Everyone was very appreciative. A few people asked if my mum had really made it as it looked so professional!

Thanks mum!

To hate America is to hate mankind

As today is Independence Day in the US, there has been a lot of introspection on the state of the country in much of the press.

To hate America is to hate mankind” is the UK-based Telegraph’s take on things. It investigates the results of a recent survey which concluded that “many Britons regard America as malign, although they remain fond of individual Americans.” (I’m anti-Dubya but married a Californian so I think it’s fair to say that I agree with that!)

We Need Fewer Secrets” talks about the “Freedom of Information Act” and compares its efficiency with some of those countries that the US is trying to impose its values on.