Wednesday, May 11, 2011

England and Me

I've done a good bit of thinking lately about the British Isles -- home to my ancestors on both sides of my family. One of the reasons why I am doing this is a silly Facebook test I took a few months ago. It claimed I would be living in the UK in 5 years time.

Another, more serious, reason is a blog I discovered soon after the Tucson killings involving Gabrielle Giffords back in January. After sending an e-mail to my English cousins Harry and Anita Lawton, I simply Googled "Tucson killings England." I was looking to see how people in England reported on this tragedy and what reactions they had. One blog I did discover this way was Arden Forester's. He describes himself as conservative with a slight libertarian touch. One of the things that really stood out about his blog is his criticism of "covert corporatism." He is quite critical of the corporate elites that take too large salaries for their work and harm the larger community by doing things like Cadbury did -- closing down a profitable factory in England in order to shift production to a factory where they could get higher profits. I've seen the same thing done too often in too many places. The end result of this kind of behavior is weaker communities and, surprisingly, business problems down the road that weaken the businesses that do such things. For example, when a business such as GE fires thousands of engineers in the 1980s, young people in college will turn away from engineering careers in very large numbers, as they did for many years and now seem to be doing again. Who wants to do a large amount of difficult work for no reward? Then there is the Harvard Business School which sent its best graduates to one firm which it wrote up glowingly in its publications. What was the firm? Enron.

I don't know how well Arden Forester and I would get along in we lived a few blocks apart in the same town and ran into each other at a local pub, but my perception of people in England is that even people who disagree strongly about some things still are friendly in others. That's something that has changed for the worse in the U.S., alas, in recent decades. My Eisenhower Republican parents said of Democrats that they were fine people with whom they had some disagreements. Their friends who were Democrats said the same sort of thing about their Republican friends.

There are other reasons why I am increasingly interested in England. I was surprised to find out a few months ago that there is more equality in the UK these days than in the U.S. Our elites have been very busy concentrating more and more wealth and power in their hands. There are less quantifiable things. Via PBS I have been able to see over the decades a good bit of British TV. It's how I discovered Doctor Who back in the 1970s. These days I manage to see things like Sherlock Holmes -- even a newer version -- and Hercule Poirot. I find those shows much more interesting that American crime dramas. One of the shows that started turning me against American crime shows was Kojak back in the 1970s. Kojak was little better than a criminal with a badge. Even some people in the real New York City Police Department said that. Now, of course, I can catch many British shows via BBC America on cable.

I have enjoyed my trips to England over the years. I get to meet friendly relatives. They even once took me to see an English football match. When a radio reporter started talking to one of my cousins, he said to him that he should talk to me. I managed to give a friendly American's reaction to an important match.

I've been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A group is trying to get something similar started here in DC. I still remember catching "Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens" back in 1995. There were some very serious shows as well.

I've also been more than a bit involved in the Hash House Harriers. I discovered this group because a T shirt I saw while running the Marine Corps Marathon back in 1996 amused me. Imagine seeing a T shirt saying "White House Hash House Harriers -- The Drinking Club with a Running Problem" while you and the other runner are at mile 17. It was only after I joined in 1998 that I found out about its British roots and sometimes British sense of humor. (Or should I write "humour?")

Being a life long Episcopalian might also have something to do with my inclinations as well. While our church is currently going through a period of some conflict, we are still managing to do alright. We are also starting to address our challenges and will become stronger and better for it. I see some very interesting possibilities for healthy growth in Diocese of Washington, DC. People in my church are also starting to pay attention to some of the demands on people in general that are quite unreasonable. Working 100 hours/week is not dedication. It is a formula for burnout.

That's enough for now. I most likely will return to this topic in the future.