Monday, December 11, 2006

Ding, Dong...The General's Dead

Well, Augusto Pinochet is down for the count. It's setting up to be a truly bad year for conservatives, all in all. First, the Republicans fall in commerce. Then, Rumsfeld resigns. Next, the former head of the Sandinistas gets elected in Nicaragua. And now this.

It's not quite Republican hell, but you can see it from here.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Ugly Duckling

On my birthday last Monday, I had lunch at a restaurant across from St. John's College, The Ugly Duckling. The Ugly Duckling is a Chinese restaurant, but unlike most establishments of that type in the United States, it does not feature such faux Chinese dishes as chop suey. The Ugly Duckling specialises in more traditional Chinese dishes, offering its customers interesting new culinary experiences, at least to western palates.

For my lunch, I had a starter of prawn crackers and a main course of king prawns and rice with undercooked egg white. (What can I say, I like shrimp!) Although the prawn crackers were advertised as a starter, they served as a course in their own right, with an entire dish full of them accompanied by a side of sweet and sour sauce. I had expected them to be saltine crackers with tiny shrimp on them. However, they turned out to be more like a pork rind, composed of actual shrimp processed into crunchy crackers. This starter was decent, but it lacked a strong prawn flavour, and only served to fill me up in advance of the main course.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the only silverware provided by the Ugly Duckling is chop sticks. On the whole, these proved to be less difficult to maneuver than their reputation would suggest. (It was particularly helpful that the chopsticks came in a small paper bag with instructions on how to use them.) However, they proved rather ill-suited to picking up the thin prawn crackers, especially in my beginner's hands.

Far better was the main course of shrimp, rice, and undercooked egg white. The egg white in this dish was deliberately undercooked, provided the overall dish with a pleasant, gooey consistency. The prawns were truly excellent: large, plump, and pink. They were a genuine treat, particularly when combined with a coating of egg white. Eating this dish with chop sticks was surprisingly easy, particulary when compared with the prawn crackers. The large prawns were easily picked up, while the egg white helped the rice to clump together for easier handling. (I think my handling of the rice may have further benefited from the fact that the rice was of a sticky variety found in some Thai and Chinese dishes.)

One true disappointment was dessert. I requested a cup of vanilla ice cream, which cost roughly three pounds. You can imagine my surprise then when, peering over the counter, I noticed the waiter scooping out ice cream from a Walls carton. Walls is a British brand of ice cream that costs no more than two pounds for an entire carton, less than what they were charging me for just one dish. That will be the last time I order ice cream there.

On the whole, however, I greatly enjoyed my lunch at the Ugly Duckling. The restaurant itself had a quiet atmosphere that was highly pleasant, though no doubt this was helped by the fact that I was eating lunch a little before noon, thus avoiding the main rush. I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Latin Mass

This morning, I gave the first reading for the 9.30 A.M. Latin Mass at the Fisher House Catholic Chaplaincy here in Cambridge. (Luckily, the reading was not in Latin.) I woke up to get there on time at 7.30 A.M. I had set my clock to 7.40, but I was awakened by the sound of bursts of rain getting blown against my window by the wind. This meteorological wake-up call was courtesy of a storm which had produced wind gusts of up to 100 miles an hour in Scotland, according to the BBC website. Luckily, Cambridge was not hit that badly.

I arrived at Fisher House roughly fifteen minutes before Mass started. I was rather nervous because I had never attended the Latin Mass before, and consequently I did not know exactly when I would have to get up and give the reading. (As it turned out, it was right after the Collect.) Sister Pauline, who was in charge of the readings, showed me where to begin and end.

Overall, it went well. I did mess up slightly when I began the reading without mentioning what book of the Bible it was from. Luckily, I noticed this mistake quickly and corrected myself, with some slight embarressment. (If I remember correctly, the book was Jeremiah. I was so wrapped up in giving the reading that I did not really pay attention to its contents.)

The Mass itself was a rather interesting experience. I remembered a bit of my high school Latin, but not enough to understand more than a small portion of what was being said. This lack of comprehension was rather disconcerting. Indeed, part of me wondered why I was even there. (Most of the people who were there were old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II Latin masses.) Still, my experience did give me insight into the appeal of the Latin Mass. It had a mysterious feel to it, with its ancient language and some of the rituals, that to many people must have conveyed a sense of the divine. It was definitely an interesting experience.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Quote Worth Remembering

Here is a quote from one of our founding fathers, John Adams, in his Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America:

"It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [national leadership] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships and houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture."

I think certain members of the executive branch, and the Republican Party in general, should keep this quote in mind.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Modest Proposal

I have an idea about an alternative sentence for Saddam Hussein. Rather than putting him to death, we should make use of him. After all, he has between thirty and forty years of experience in running that country, whereas we've managed to plunge it into outright chaos within three and a half years. If I had been President Bush, Hussein's sentence would have gone something like this. (Believe me, the President could've arranged it if he had really wanted to):

"Mr. Hussein, in view of your crimes against humanity, there is no punishment this court can provide that would be adequate to punish you. Consequently, the only fitting punishment that we know of is that you will be appointed President of Iraq from this day forward. You will rule over your people, if you can.

"Do not think that this is a light sentence. Things have changed since you last ruled. The Shi'ites you once oppressed are now organised into military forces, all of which will want to see your head on top of a pole. They are not the weak minority that you once tormented to your heart's content. Likewise for the Kurds, who may well break away from Iraq once you return to power. Do not bother them; Turkey will deal with them. You will have your hands full as it is.

"Furthermore, you will not have the American Army to protect you as Maliki has. The Americans are leaving, now that they have come to their senses. They realise that they cannot teach liberty to a foreign people, or impose it on them. It is something that they must determine for themselves, no matter how difficult that path is. In our case, it may take years of bloodshed. It may not even happen within our lifetimes. You, I suspect, will be but a minor obstacle now, for whatever number of weeks you manage to stay in power.

"You have always proclaimed you would return to power. Now let's see what you can make of it."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dunk in the Water

Hmmm...he's not the vice-president for torture, but...

Now the politicos and the press are up in arms about what Vice-President Cheney meant when he talked about giving suspected terrorists a "dunk in the water." Many observers, quite naturally, assumed that the VP was referring to the practice of waterboarding, which simulates drowning in order to get a prisoner to divulge information. He made this statement at the same time as complaining about being labeled the vice-president for torture. Sending mixed messages there, Dick!

One would actually have more respect for the Vice-President and the Bush Administration in general if they actually came out and said that they condoned the use of torture. That candor would be preferable to the type of prevarications displayed at a recent press conference by White House spokesman Tony Snow, at which a reporter, frustrated by Snow's refusal to admit that the Vice-President had referred to waterboarding, asked if a pool had been installed in Gitmo. (Video of this press conference has been posted on the BBC News website,

Some Republican apologists might claim that Cheney was simply playing tough for the Republican faithful. However, it is, at least in my opinion, highly disturbing that one of the leaders of the most powerful countries on earth would consider the implicit condoning of a form of torture an acceptable means of currying political favour. The fact that such rhetoric is apparently considered acceptable by a significant portion of the American population is even more disturbing. It demonstrates a hardening of attitudes, motivated by understandable fears, that bode ill for American democracy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Going to Hell in a Handbag

Sorry that it's been over a week since I last posted, but I've been busy.

The big story recently has been what is happening in Iraq. We seem to be reaching a real turning point. High military officials in Great Britain are expressing extreme dissatisfaction with what has happened in Iraq and its effects on Afghanistan, and the British government has made an announcement to the effect that it wants to be out of Iraq within the year. Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said, as reported in The Guardian newspaper, that "I would have thought, certainly in a year or so there will be adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and security order to do the job." One suspects that the newspaper omitted some following statement along the lines of "Please God let there be adequate forces!"

Meanwhile, the American government is trying to pressure the Iraqi government into providing better security, with the possibility of sanctions unless certain goals are met. (What are we going to do? Invade them again?) On the whole, it looks like the end might be in sight.

I will be writing more about what I foresee as the potential consequences of this debacle in the near future.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Important News Story

Everyone who reads this post should go to and read the October 15th post entitled "The End of Habeas Corpus," then click on the video. It is very informative and humorous, and it should definitely be viewed by every patriotic American.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

See...I was right

This morning, the BBC News website is reporting that American scientists have detected radioactive gases around the site where the North Korean nuclear test took place. Guess it must have been something more than a few firecrackers going off, huh? Although scientists say that the tests are not yet conclusive, it seems to me that the presence of radioactive gas around the site of an explosion is a pretty good indicator that a nuclear weapon was involved. Maybe now the conservatives will stop trying to laugh this issue off and actually try to do something about it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Trouble with Kim

The American government and the world have gone from concern to uncertainty regarding our friend in North Korea. Now, so we are told, it is not certain whether an atomic explosion actually took place in North Korea; all they know is that a really big bang took place. (Nevermind the fact that the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov stated in the immediate aftermath of the blast that "We have no doubt that it was a nuclear explosion.") Now some conservative columnists and bloggers are trying to laugh off North Korea. Personally, I am not convinced by this argument. It sounds like an attempt by an embattled Republican President to salvage his party's fortunes during a difficult election season.

Just more political manoeuvring, you say? Quite so, until one considers the stakes involved. North Korea is not limiting its investments to bombs; it is also developing missle systems to which nuclear warheads might be attached. As The Independent newspaper here in Great Britain reports, the North Koreans already have a missle, the Rodong-1, which is capable of hitting Japan and South Korea. They are also in the testing stages of another missile, the Taepodong-2, which would be capable of hitting Alaska. The possiblity of an attack on Alaska may not seem that serious, until one considers what would happen if one or more North Korean nuclear missiles struck the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. Oil prices would skyrocket in a way that would make what happened last summer seem like a beach party in comparison. Combine this with the economic damage that would result from a simultaneous nuclear detonation in Tokyo, and you have the makings of a catastrophe for global markets.

Here's hoping the politicians know what they're doing when they laugh at North Korea.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Well, Kim Jong-Il is now a nuclear power.

I say Kim Jong-Il rather than North Korea because, in the end, Kim is the guy who matters over there. He is, in all likelihood, the one with his finger ultimately on the button. Aren't you just beaming at how successful President Bush has been at preventing nukes from falling into the hands of psychotic lunatics?

After all, Kim is a guy who added the term "Sex God" to his list of official titles, and who allows his people to starve to death while he lives in luxury. Rather than trying to contain this freak, President Bush has refused to even talk to the North Korean government, lest it contaminate his vaunted purity. He and his administration have been living in a dream world where they can afford to deal only with nice international leaders, or at least leaders who seem nice from their perspective (e.g. Vladimir Putin, Musharraf, etc.) Consequently, they have opened the door to a potential nightmare. Kim is insane enough to actually use these things in an all-out war; at least Saddam had some grasp of reality in regard to using them. (If you don't believe me, take a look at how many of our troops died in chemical weapons attacks in the First Gulf War, i.e. none. The reason for that was that Saddam, genocidal tyrant that he was, realized that gassing American troops would result in a mushroom cloud over Baghdad. I do not think we can rely on Kim for such wisdom.)

Now, we will probably, short of some diplomatic miracle, have to live with the possibility that Seoul and Tokyo could be vaporized just because this wingnut gets paranoid. Congratulations, Mr. President, you've made the world that much safer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

F is for Foley

One American news story that has not received this much attention on this side of the Atlantic is the saga of former Congressman Mark Foley, whose rather interesting e-mails have landed him and the Republican Party in hot water. The Republicans are in something of a bind because they don't know how to spin this one. No matter what way you look at it, perversion is simply not a vote getter. This point is especially true when you pitch your party as being representative of Christian values. No matter how opposed you may be to gay marriage, it is difficult to get the Evangelicals to vote for you when you have at the very least a borderline pedophile dining with you in the House Canteen.

It's amusing to see how certain portions of the conservative blogosphere have responded to this. Although none of them, that I am aware of, have stooped to actually defending Foley, a lot of them seem to be missing the point. For instance, the genius at seems more interested in slight variations in different published versions of the same e-mail than in the fact that one of our congressman is an apparent pederast. He complains about the "overheated accusations" that are in the media, and he expresses hopes that Speaker Hastert will resign so that he will not have to hear about it anymore. Apparently, the idea of a perverted Republican is just too traumatic for him to handle.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Catching Up

Hi all,

I have been really busy for the past few days, getting my possessions together and setting up the internet link in my room. My classes started on Thrusday; they have been interesting, but really hectic.

Over here, there has been a lot of talk about the school shooting that took place in Amish country, which is not far from where I live in the States, interestingly. The story appeared on the front cover of the Daily Mail, and it has been featured in many other British papers. Part of the reason for this coverage is that it involves Amish people, who are something of a novelty to Europeans, but I also think it involves a certain amount of the British sense of superiority over their former American subjects. After all, when they see things like this incident, it is easy for them to see us as barbarians and wonder if losing the colonies might not have been the best thing that ever happened to them. It may well have been, in some respects.

I will post again tomorrow.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In Cambridge

Hi all,

I got to Great Britain on Friday, September 29th. It was a hell of a trip. First, I had to go through security barefoot because I had to take my shoes off. You'd think they would have figured out that it is difficult to conceal explosives in a pair of flip-flops. (At least this time around the TSA security people seemed to be actually paying attention to what they were doing. The last time I flew to Great Britain, they seemed to be mainly concerned with gossiping with one another.) Then, I had to wait for nearly two hours in the airplane after it was supposed to have departed because it was stuck in line behind several other planes which could not take off because of bad weather that lay between them and their destination. About one hour into our wait, the British Airways captain made an announcement apologising for the delay and noting that the air traffic controllers at Philadelphia International Airport were not the most organised group, eliciting cheers from most of the passengers.

The flight itself, which left on Thursday and landed on Friday, was very pleasant, much better than the last time I flew to England, which was basically eight hours of serious turbulence. This time, the skies were calm and you could actually walk about the plane without feeling like you were in an earthquake. Heathrow Airport was also much better than last time. I was able to get through passport control in only a few minutes, as compared to over an hour last time.

Since I have arrived in Cambridge, I have been extremely busy taking care of various things, mainly shopping for various necessities such as pots and pans, food, beverages, etc. I've also had to remove my belongings from storage, which was a bit of a hassle. I had to go off and buy a flashlight because my goods were stored in an area without lights, and none of the porters had a torch on them. The part of the basement where I had my stuff was slightly flooded; luckily, none of my belongings got wet. I had to wheel my belongings to my house using a hand cart.

I ate at The Mitre, a local pub, last night. I had an 8 oz. sirloin steak, which was especially good. I also tried a rum and coke, which was genuinely disgusting. It burned my throat and tasted somewhat like the cough syrup Robutussin. I also had their chocolate pudding, which was delicious. While I was there, a female member of the staff said that she liked my t-shirt, a black Amnesty International shirt. She seemed to be flirting with me, and I was happy to reciprocate, but unfortunately she spent most of her time in the kitchen, so we didn't get much chance to talk.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

First Post

This is the first post on this blog. I will be commenting on my experiences in Cambridge, politics, and sundry other matters. Hope you will enjoy it.