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Not Just Ireland

Beside the Irish shelves in my local supermarket there are no less than two others of produce surely intended to be sold in the US.

Second Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy Supermarket

First Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy Supermarket

A few of these things I’ve read about, Hershey bars (chocolate,) Jello (jelly.* – At £1.50 a packet no less. One of the packets was chocolate flavoured; how do you get chocolate flavoured jelly? The picture on the packet showed the stuff was opaque. Weird.) Lifesavers(??) Hominy grits. The rest is more or less a mystery apart from what were obviously cereals.

I suppose this has turned up here because the supermarket concerned has just abandoned its attempts to make inroads into the US market.

Here are two close-ups. Click either side to enlarge.

First Set of US Shelves, Kirkcaldy, Detail

US Shelves Kirkcaldy Detail

What on Earth is this stuff?

(*What Usians call jelly we call jam, I think. See my post on Jelly Jungle.)

It's Your Other National Day

For reasons to do with the Calvinist traditions of Scottish Presbyterianism Scotland’s national day of celebration actually covers two days, Hogmanay and New Year’s Day. (Christmas could not be celebrated riotously due to its religious nature, besides it was tainted with Catholicism.) Everyone, though, needs a blow out at the depth of winter to rejoice at coming through so far and look forward to the turning into light.

Today, however, is your other national day, if you’re Scottish.

It marks the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most renowned poet, lauded worldwide – most notably in the US and Russia.

Though the tradition may be dying out a little there will still be hundreds of Burns’ Suppers taking place around the world today, and in the days around, in his memory.

I shall not be addressing the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race,” nor toasting the lassies (only the good lady will be present,) nor even proposing the immortal memory, but I will be supping on haggis, neeps and tatties tonight.

Burns’s contribution to Scottish letters and culture lies not only in his own verses but in the collection of traditional songs which he sometimes revised or adapted. Without him many of these might have been lost.

He may have treated the women in his life badly, or off-handedly, but there is a concern for common humanity, and indeed for animals, in evidence in his work.

This is Is There For Honest Poverty (A Man’s A Man For A’ That) sung by Ian Benzie.

A Man’s A Man For A’ That

Good Guys: Quis Custodiet?

I note the US gun owners’ association, the NRA, has responded to the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Their spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, variously blamed the shootings on lax enforcement of “gun-free” areas round schools, deranged individuals not being on a national data base, violent video games and the media. He decried the fact that school staff had to give up their lives to protect the children as they couldn’t defend themselves and went on to say, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

It is perfectly true that a child in the US (and elsewhere) will witness tens of thousands of acts of violence between TV/the cinema/video games before reaching the age of 18. But they don’t all end up committing massacres. Plus, moreover, don’t such depictions help to create the climate in which the NRA finds fertile ground for recruitment?

(It is curious that these same children are not supposed to witness that most human of acts, of love/procreation, through the means mentioned before that same tender age. I somehow suspect Mr LaPierre would be against them viewing that sort of thing, though.)

Again; isn’t it possible that, even if the staff members had carried guns, they would still have been shot by the attacking gunman? He had the initiative after all.

And the only thing? Surely a better way to stop a bad guy with a gun is never to let him acquire the gun in the first place.

I recognise that the genie of gun ownership in the US is not one that can be easily put back in the bottle, there are simply too many of the things about.

The NRA’s remedy to gun attacks on schools, however, is to station armed guards, trained volunteers Mr LaPierre said, ex-police, ex-military etc, in schools.

Are you sure, Mr LaPierre? Are ex-military personnel, those who have seen combat, seen their comrades mutilated, blown up or shot, really the best people to protect young innocents? Aren’t veterans famously subject to trauma and mental problems, to difficulties reintegrating with civilian life?

So, Mr Lapierre, I ask. Who is to guard these volunteers?

Because I guarantee, I guarantee, that should this guarding of schools by armed volunteers come to pass, some day down the line one of these volunteers will run amok in his/her school with his/her gun. (Even if said volunteer hadn’t been in the police or military.)

What will Mr LaPierre’s remedy be to that?

Large Storm in US Disrupts British News

It wasn’t the lead story today – the murder of an off-duty prison officer in Northern Ireland saw to that – but it still beat the potential loss of 6,000 jobs (count that, 6,000 jobs) at Comet electrical stores down the item list and also, if memory serves, a little local squabble about EU contributions.

Well the US is a large, not-too-far-away country of which we know on the one hand too much and on the other, sadly, not enough.

It’s a disaster for those involved of course, and a tragedy for the dead and their families but did the people of the UK really need such saturation coverage?

Hurricane Sandy also hit Haiti, Barbados and Cuba and we learned far less about that. But they don’t speak English.

Oh, wait. In Barbados they do.

The Hugo Awards

Ian Sales has been complaining about the latest Hugo Awards.

This is a subject nobody outside the SF world (not to mention many inside it) gives a toss about but to others it’s important. The Hugos claim to identify the best SF in any particular year but as Sales says the categories are now somewhat out of date and their boundaries can be obscure.

I used to pay some attention to them as a guide to what to seek out to read – and later when an acquaintance/friend was up for one of them. This year’s mainly passed me by. The results are here.

Since only attendees of any year’s Worldcon (Worldcon = the annual world SF convention) or its supporting members (financial contibutors who cannot attend) have a vote in the nominations or final ballot the awards are in essence a popularity contest so not necessarily giving an indicator as to quality.

The main flaw though is that since the Worldcon is usually held in the USA – and even when it isn’t – most of its members are from the US. This means they are and always have been essentially USian awards. This is historically inevitable since the US was the largest SF market and largest source of writers. But it does unlevel the playing field.

Long Ago and Far Away

Two 60s memories are now no more.

Scott McKenzie – a one hit wonder with San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)has died.

So too has the actor William Windom whom I remember very fondly as the star of the US TV series My World and Welcome To It, inspired by the works of cartoonist James Thurber, a role for which Windom won an Emmy Award. Though I hadn’t quite remembered it he also played Commodore Decker in Star Trek – for evidence of which see this:-

Commodore Decker

More latterly Windom has appeared in Murder She Wrote.

Here is a You Tube clip of a part of a My World and Welcome To It episode. It follows the usual pattern of Windom giving a spiel outside his (cartoon) house before the opening credits – which appear at about 1:30 and are a joy in themselves. The clip retains the original US adverts. (I must say they would drive me crazy coming in so early in a programme.)


Scott McKenzie (Philip Wallach Blondheim): 10/1/1939-18/8/2012
William Windom: 28/9/1923-16/8/2012

So it goes.

Gore Vidal

I must mark the passing of Gore Vidal.

As I have only read two of his novels, Myra Breckinridge and Julian, I knew him mostly from his appearances on television which were always entertaining and informative and in which he showed himself to be an unusual citizen of the US (at least from the perspective of this side of the Atlantic) since he was sharply critical of many aspects of his native country’s political and cultural life – a stance which is arguably more patriotic than that of someone who accepts and follows unquestioningly. He dubbed the US the United States of Amnesia, bemoaning the lack of historical knowledge the majority of his countrymen have of their own political system. He was in a position to know, having been brought up right in the heart of government when as a twelve year old he acted as guide to his blind grandfather – the first ever Senator for Oklahoma – through the corridors of Congress.

It is probably as a novelist dedicated to illuminating that history his countrymen are too blindly unaware of that he will be best remembered though various of his television and other appearances remain to give a flavour of his wit and perspicacity.

Most of his books from that US historical cycle are somewhere on my TBR shelves. So many books, so little time.

Eugene Louis Vidal, Jr. (Eugene Luther Gore Vidal) 3/10/1935 – 31/7/2012. So it goes.

A New Iraq?

The lead story on the lunchtime BBC news today (18/2/12) concerned Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. There followed some guy (from the Armed Services Institute?) talking about the ramifications of that on the likes of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc as regards proliferation.

The second story on the guardian‘s front page was headlined US believes strike on Iran is inevitable later this year.

Looks like Cowdenbeath are a banker for the Division 2 title this year, then. (With a side order of Armageddon.)

Seriously, though. What are these guys on? Remember Mr Irresponsible during the 2010 General Election campaign? It seems now like that was a prediction rather than an idle slip of the tongue.

How can I put this?

Iran poses no threat whatsoever to the UK. Still less does it pose a threat to the US. I’ll give you it may be a (possible) threat to Israel but its posture there may be rhetorical rather than real. However, there is no way it could invade either the UK or US; nor could it overthrow their governments.

And if it is in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons why might that be?

It has seen its neighbour, Iraq, attacked, on the flimsiest of pretexts, mainly by the US and the UK – and thereafter thoroughly destabilised. It does not want the same happening to it. It knows Israel has nuclear weapons almost certainly targeted on it; it also knows North Korea has such a “deterrent” and is treated more carefully as a result. In its mind developing nuclear weapons might be a rational response to its current circumstances. We (the UK, along with the US) have a history of interfering with the region that goes back a long way. If I were them I wouldn’t trust us either.

The ratcheting up of the Iranian situation reminds me of the run-up to the (second) Iraq war. Drip by drip of increasingly ludicrous assertions. (A much heightened version of this sort of thing was evident in the German press in the summer of 1939.)

I don’t much go for the idea that we could be the bad guys but, in the absence of any attack by Iran on us (or, at a push, Israel) that would be the case here; as it was in Iraq.

Moreover, and again as with Iraq, it would be thoroughly counterproductive.

The ramifications of an attack on Iran would only confirm the idea that the “West” sees Muslims as a whole as targets and though it would take time might make recent terrorist attacks seem like a garden party. Any occupation of Iran would make our involvement in Iraq seem like a picnic and Vietnam a cakewalk.

Do we really want that?

Refining Your Debt

I see the BBC has reported a British oil refinery has gone bust.

In today’s world, oil products – whether they be the petrol, diesel or fuel oil most directly obtained from refining crude or the plastics, chemicals, medicines etc derived by further processing – are the most sought after substances; excepting (possibly) illegal drugs.

So with markets like that, how the hell can an oil refinery go bankrupt?

To be fair, the headline on the news was a little misleading. It is the parent company which owns the refinery which has gone bust.

But the point still applies.

There has been a lot of scaremongering about the possible effects as the refinery supplies 20% of south-east England’s fuel needs; scaremongering no doubt put about to raise fuel prices. I would expect that some other company will take it over sooner rather than later.

Menawhile Britain’s debt has reached 1 trillion pounds* for the first time.

The Coalition cuts are working well to reduce the debt then, aren’t they?

I also see UK growth was -0.2% for the last three months. Not much scope for joy there.

Why are these idiots repeating the mistakes of the 1930s?

*That amount being illustrated on the BBC news last night as £1,000,000,000,000 is, to my old fashioned eyes, actually a million million or what we used to call a billion. Well, it was before we took up US descriptions of such things.


At the time of writing Wikipedia is blacked out as a protest at the impending legislation in the US about online piracy and intellectual property protection.

It seems the only link up on Wiki is to their article on this.

Many people seem to be of the opinion that these bills could infringe unacceptably on free expression and lead to even such a humble website as mine being targeted for closure due to a perhaps unintended or even unwitting infringement of the proposed acts.

Not being a US citizen I have no direct input into this but add my sympathy for the action Wiki has taken.

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