June 26, 2003

Sir Dennis, The Queen, The Italian Job and the Finding Nemo.

Now that summer is here, I have been meaning to write a report on current movie releases in the US I have had the pleasure to see recently.

However, the top news in the UK today is that Maggie Thatcher’s husband, Dennis passed away this morning. There is not so much to write about him other than he was a faithful husband and confident to one of the most popular and longest serving PM’s in recent memory.

He never wrote a kiss and tell, he never was caught in any scandal, he was simply Dennis. A successful businessman in his own right who happened to be the husband of Britain’s first woman PM. I have read today that he was the model consort for any head of government in the world. I am inclined to agree.

Here in the US Prince William’s twenty first birthday has not passed without some notice from the media and special television programs of his life at twenty-one. As an enthusiastic listener of one of the local talk radio hosts on the drive-time show in the evening, I was shocked to hear of his position on the monarchy and that the Queen should step aside for Charles and William.

I have never called a talk-radio show before, I have been interviewed on the radio, but that is another story. As a minority Brit, I was duty bound to put this talk host in his place with a few well-chosen facts. Surprisingly enough my call connected first time and within no time I was talking on the Big Talker 1210AM, on my cell phone parked on the side of the road somewhere in north east Philly. Well the host had mentioned that perhaps they should get someone in the studio from the UK, I was the next best thing.

I am a royalist, always will be. To listen to the senseless local who suggested the Europe would crown Charles King of Europe and negate the power of the Queen was verging on hysterical. I just had to explain the protocol, the fact that many hours of airtime had been spent on the same subject on the British talk stations. Heck, they had no idea Britain even had talk stations.

It was fun, I enjoyed the experience and who knows with the right subject matter I might just hit #1210 on my cell phone again.

Now to a matter of movies. The Italian Job, seen last Sunday with my brother in law Chris who has a passion for British cars, Mini’s in particular. I have avoided reading too many critics and went to see this remake of the Michael Caine classic expecting to be disappointed. I was very surprised and very happy at a reworked storyline with some neat stunts and of course the new BMW Mini as the Star of the film.

Personally, I liked the connection to Philadelphia, but that is totally a personal reference, which very few would appreciate.

It was a good film, nicely reworked. Still not as good as the original but despite a little less comedy, very funny at times and a salute to the original. – Go see it!

Last night I went to see Finding Nemo the new fishy tale from Disney. The animation and imagery is very stunning. My wife an aquarium and tropical fish (in nature not tank) expert loved the film for its accuracy.

The voice of the shark, Dame Edna’s alter ego Barrie Humphries is great casting. A great white shark has to have an Australian accent, right. While I cannot claim that this will be a Disney classic, in the mould of the Jungle Book or Snow White, I am somewhat concerned that the main theme of many Disney movies is abandonment by the parent forcing the child, fawn or whatever to fend for themselves. With the advances in animation, technology the image is so sharp you can take it for real. The experts at Pixar have shown this repeatedly with Nemo, Monsters Inc. and Toy Story.

Finding Nemo might not be the best film for a little one to see this summer. It has its dark and scary moments for a small child. However, I would suggest an academy nomination for best-animated film this year is not out of the question.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

June 16, 2003

Tidal power in Devon

Put down your scones and cream tea, it is possible the pot was brewed with boiling water powered by the sea!

Well not quite so dramatic, but I have since a boy been very interested in the generation of power by water. Hydroelectric dams are today nothing new, but a power farm at sea in innovational.

I wish this project every success.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

June 14, 2003

Double - Weekend Posting

I am not sure why but Blogger was playing up last weekend when I wanted to post so 7 days later I have two weekends to post, here is last weekends first.

It’s the end of the first week of June, warm weather, blue skies and plenty of sunshine. Or so we would all wish. Summer does not officially start for two more weeks on June 21st. Spring seems to be fighting to keep these here parts under days of thick gray cloud and steady rain. We did see sunshine yesterday, - the first time for 7 days. Depressing? Everyone is fed up with it and looking forward to the warmer weather.

As a Brit (in these here parts) I have given up counting the number of people who tell me that I must be used to this weather. Yesterday it was a visiting wannabe vendor from Dallas Texas who believed he had brought the sun with him!

But enough of the weather.

A little later this month is Father’s Day, actually in the Friend family its Fathers Day twice over in June as it is my Dad’s Birthday on June 6. If you have forgotten that last minute gift log on to www.greatergood.com, register as a user and please consider selecting the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) as your nominated charity to benefit from your on-line shopping without costing you a single penny. Yes this is an unashamedly obvious plug for raising funds for my employer, but given the cause and the early successful reports this program in May of traffic through the site for MSSA, I urge you to visit this site before you start your on-line shopping.

There is a huge billboard I pass everyday that is advertising an exhibition in Fort Washington, a mid-sized exhibition center not far from our town that is hosting a Gun Exhibition this month. The tag line about this being the ideal place to pick up a gift for Fathers Day really had me amused! In these here parts, guns are less the American culture that other parts. Those I know don’t pack a shotgun loaded under the bed at night, not a handgun under the pillow for (just incase). The only guns I have seen were secured in a large safe, as large as a big fridge and a great deal heavier. In a house so far out of town, surrounded by wildlife that is both wild and larger than your average squirrel to keep at bay.

Do you remember the TV program ChiP’s, the two California Highway Patrol cops on the bikes? Although the program has vanished from the TV schedules over here, I saw something very similar yesterday for real. On my drive in to work I pass through a town called Rockledge, along their High Street past the shops that really are little different from driving through say Whetstone north of London. You get the idea. At a set of lights I notice on the road to my left a couple of large motorbikes, side by side. The riders were dressed almost identically, with short-sleeved heavy starched blue shirts (remember yesterday was the first sunny warm day for a week). I followed them for a short distance and at the next light realized that they were cops on Harley Davidson motorbikes. They were evidently on their way to work, as the helmets were not police helmets but Harley Davidson “biker” helmets, complete with the stickers! To watch them ride side by side as in the TV program on Harley’s was priceless. This was one occasion I really wished I had had camera on me.

We now move on 7 days.

Ah, the weather has had more than 3 consecutive days of temperatures over 80F, for the first time since last October, and about time to. But there are more important things to write about this week starting with the news of the “new” Union Jack.

I proudly fly my Union Jack somewhere on my property 365 days in the last year. I have both a Union Jack and Old Glory on my desk in my office. Yet I would never have thought much about doing this when I lived in the UK. Why? Simply that our flag, the Union Jack does not have the same deep sense of belonging as flags of other countries, not least the Stars and Stripes. After three years I have started to understand, but still cannot truly comprehend the full meaning of the flag to the American people. Although this week I did have an opportunity to consider this when reading of plans to effectively rebrand the Union Jack with additional black stripes to represent the multi-cultural nature of Britain today.

Tosh, the Union Jack does mean different things to different groups of people. One thing it is not and never has been is a national definition of racial ethnicity. By turning a flag that is over 400 years old into a racial statement is distasteful at best. The irony of this news story is that the originator of the plan to change the flag has carefully looked at this issue and inadvertently created a racial issue. The right wing BNP party has for many years referred in tasteless slogans that there is no black in the colors of the Union Jack. Yet the last time red, white and black was flown on a flag in Europe was in the thirties and forties in Germany. Sadly despite the best intentions of this individual to change the Union Jack has done little other than stir up a hornet nest. Sometimes flags are best left unchanged. – But if the Union Jack is to change should the Welsh flag not be included in the combination of the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew?

Other members of my extended family in the US will be hosting a visitor from Australia next month who has already asked the question, why do you fly an American flag outside the house? This gentleman is already asking many of the questions I did before my first visit to the States some five plus years ago. Perhaps 9/11 has galvanized my thoughts on this matter, perhaps my deep respect for Americans and the American culture as I live and work among them has something to do with this. Yet I will continue to fly my Union Jack on my property for the next 365 days and the next after that.

Changing subjects there has been a report in the UK this week about the impact of American TV on British audiences. A couple of interesting facts have immerged. Homer Simpson – a portly balding yellow cartoon character who spends time slacking his way through life professionally and his family, made the top spot.

The Simpson’s may have recently celebrated its 300th episode in the US, and when first aired the President of the day suggested that Americans should be more like the Walton’s than the Simpson’s, have changed their view as over the years seen the Simpson’s as a family that through adversity stick together and support each other.

This fact alone is not that newsworthy given the limited selection of American “stars” for the British audience to vote on.

I am more surprised that Brits see CNN News as the best source of televised information that portrays Americans as they truly are. My goodness WHAT are you watching CNN International? This subject has sparked interesting discussion in the family here who from an initial consensus would suggest that the Cosby show is closer to true American values than any other program.

As for the charge that American children’s programs are causing problems again WHAT are you watching in the UK? As for the accusation that they are not culturally relevant, you have to remember that audience that they are originally made for in the US. Spanish is the second language, the great American melting pot of cultures needs to be fed appropriately and shows like Sesame Street for instant is a great example of how well this is done.

While Britain is multi-cultural in the 21st century, the cultural mix is not the same, and therefore while the American programs are not culturally relevant, they do identify that there is a cultural mixture that mainstream British television is slowly accepting, for instance the new family in Albert Square on Eastenders, (yet to arrive in the US), Grange Hill to name but two.
The common denominator is that both the US and the UK are multicultural and that cultural identification is changing through the blend of programming from both countries to represent this.

In the sixties to see a person of color on a prime-time TV program was almost unheard of, Nichelle Nichols, in Star Trek was one of the pioneers that led to the first multi-racial kiss between her and William Shatner much later on.

Thank goodness in the years that have passed attitudes have changed, on the small screen, in the movies and in government. Before I completed working with the British Government, I attended symposia for civil servants that explained very clearly that for the British government to act effectively in the 21st Century, it should be proportionally representative of the cultures in the UK. Not only in both Houses, but also in every Department, of the Civil Service. An attitude that is not alone in the UK but elsewhere including the US.

There are some very good American programs that simply are not bought up by the British channels; this works both ways, as I am certain there are some excellent British programs that are not broadcast in the US. My position on this news story is clear, without the full facts and access to more than those programs the television moguls will buy that will sell advertising or are cheap enough to be bought up by the license payers cash, sadly surveys such as this will be skewed at best, and plain wrong at worst.

Certainly I have reported in the past that I will watch less TV in America, despite the dozens of channels available to me. I have become more selective in my viewing habits. Yet in defense of the tripe that is being peddled as American culture in the UK, Frazier, Friends, to name but two are sadly not representative of life in either Seattle or New York. 24 or West Wing are not representative of the powerhouse of Washington, it is after all only fiction. All four of these programs have won top awards, but you need to scratch below the tinsel of the film sets to understand a little more of the real America, and CNN is not the answer either. News channels rarely report on the good of America, even the local news will go out of its way to portray a crime in its worst possible light, acting as judge and jury on the same night. Yet for each single act of crime, there are hundreds of good American people who’s stories do not appear on the nightly news, as they are simply not news worthy.

In these her parts, family values are on a level almost unprecedented in the UK. There was a recent news story where a 3-year boy was sadly killed by a train after he made his way from a back yard onto the lines. His mother was nowhere to be found and this little boy was in under the watchful eye of his 4 year old friend and 10-year-old sister. The outcry from the silent majority of Americans in this area has been loud and clear. Where was the mother? Are the moves for neglect? Has a crime been committed? While the parent wants to sue the train company, perhaps the train company should sue the mother. Don’t get me started on how everyone seems to sue anyone at the drop of a hat. As again despite how this is portrayed in the media, I have yet to see anyone actually do this.

Just as there are silly by-laws in the UK, at a local township level there are some screamers here. Like the Pennsylvania Township recently that banned all basketball hoops and hockey goals from the streets. Or another that imposed fines on property owners who do not keep their grass cut regularly. Neither in my town, but I use these examples as illustrations.

Until next time, be culturally tolerant and watch multiple news sources and make up your own minds. (You could of course simply watch Fox US or Sky in the UK).

Rant over… until someone does something silly next week!

Feedback always invited, please email me.

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