Public libraries are wonderful things

For our Thanksgiving drive to L.A., I went to our local library and got several books on CD.  Since our small family manages not to have any overlapping areas of interest, this is always a challenge.  One wants teenage hero spy books, another wants high school romantic dramadies (half drama, half comedy), another wants books on computer technology, and I like history books.  Fate favored me because , on the day I went to the library, the only available books on CD that would meet any of those parameters were the history books.

The kids were not amused.  In a compromise, we ended up spending half of each drive listening to the videos they got to watch from the back seat (fyi, The Simpsons is fun to listen to), and half the drive listening to David McCulloch’s 1776.  My husband was so delighted with this book that, upon our return, he put it in his own car so that he could listen to the rest of it while driving to work.

I, meanwhile, put Joseph Ellis’ American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic in the CD player in my car. Since I drove about 100 miles yesterday to go to my pistol class, I was able to listen to the first disk.  It’s a delightful book, because Ellis shares my approach to American history:  it’s not about plaster saints or blinkered, evil white guys.  It’s about real people, in real time, dealing with real issues.  And yes, the Founding Fathers were special.

The Founders’ unique abilities came about by virtue of the particular historic time they occupied (what one might call the culmination of the Enlightenment), the incredible bounty of the American continent, their one hundred plus years of freedom as the British government ignored them (right up until the French-Indian War), and the education and class freedom that distinguished them from their European peers and from modern man. Despite these benefits and virtues, they still made mistakes, their personalities interfered with their decision-making, and they punted on the hard decisions because they wanted their own nation more than they wanted to free the slaves.  Those nuances are what make history interesting.

Ellis has a nice turn of phrase and a good eye for historic details, so the book is an effortless listen (or read).  I also detect in his tone a decided disdain for the Howard Zinn school of history, one that throws away the baby with the bath water.  Characterizing the Founders as racist, sexist hypocrites not only obscures their great accomplishments, it also diminishes Americans’ ability to understand their past, to control their present, and, in some small measure, to affect their future.

Listening to the book reminded me that one of the things that makes the Founders so fascinating is that they were men of truly catholic tastes.  Everything interested them.  No man from the Colonial era better exemplifies this quality than Benjamin Franklin.  (Thomas Jefferson loses first place because he was a bit too Southern elitist.)  Franklin was feted the world over for inventing the lightening rod, a device that drastically reduced a terrible scourge.  He also invented the Franklin Stove, bifocals (bless his heart), and the public library.

Before Franklin came along, libraries were reserved for rich people.  Even with the advent of the printing press, books were still expensive, and it was the fortunate man indeed who was both literate and capable of putting together a library of his own.  Now of course, we take libraries completely for granted.  In my community, we have ten public libraries, all of which are clean, well-stocked, well-maintained, and have wonderful on-line resources.

In a historical irony that Ben Franklin would fully have appreciated, modern Britain also has a splendid public library, one that includes a suburb on-line system.  The aristocrats of old might be rolling in their graves, but Ben Franklin, who was also an entrepreneur extraordinaire would especially appreciate the fact that the British library has a department devoted to business planning.  Yup.  That former bastion of intellectual and class exclusivity now has a great resource for British residents who want to see if they can make it on their own.

As a confirmed bookworm, I feel blessed to live in era that not only has public libraries, but that also puts so many resources on-line, so that one doesn’t even have to go to the library to experience the library’s benefit.  Is this the best of all possible worlds or what?

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about Benjamin Franklin, I highly recommend Benjamin Franklin’s own quite delightful autobiography, and Walter Isaacson’s slightly more honest look at Franklin’s life as a whole.)

Maybe my English history major does have something to do with my neoconservativism

Modern England makes me weep, but all my long-time readers know of my passion for British history.  Watching this Prager U video makes me realize that there may be a connection between my love for England’s past and my believe in America’s future:

By the way, for an in-depth analysis of the British Empire’s democratic effect, you might also enjoy Niall Ferguson’s Empire How Britain Made the Modern World — and yes, this is the same Niall Ferguson whose article explaining why Obama should lose the election recently graced Newsweek’s cover.

British police can’t even defend themselves against dogs

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding things here, but as I read this article, five British police officers got badly mauled by a single dog because none had a gun.  It wasn’t until a SWAT team arrived that the attack ended.

In America, the police are minutes away when seconds count.  In England, the police are there, but who cares?  Even the dogs aren’t scared.

Double paying in Britain for health care

When I lived in England, those who could afford to escape from government medicine by paying twice did so.  I addition to their high taxes, they bought a private insurance that I remember rejoiced in the name BUPA.  Things haven’t changed.  I don’t know why I’m on the mailing list, but I just got this announcement in today’s email:

NHS Waiting Lists Soar by 50% in the Last Year !!

Can you afford to be without Health Insurance ??

With the NHS waiting lists out of control, it’s no surprise millions of UK residents are protecting themselves with medical cover.

Premiums have dropped dramatically in recent years and are now at an all time low due to increased competition.

There are more providers and more plans available which has had an impact on price. Providers also offer more flexible underwriting terms which means helps people switch even if they have pre-existing conditions.

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We’re actually all familiar with this situation. Everyone pays for public schools. Thanks to unions, though, even the best public schools indoctrinate as much as they teach. The worst public schools are dangerous slums where children learn basic survival skills. Parents who want out, in addition to paying high taxes, also end up paying tuition for private schools. Poor parents, of course, are trapped, and beg for vouchers, which their elite Democrat masters deny them. (And yet they still vote Democrat. Go figure.)

Socialized anything is low-quality, crowded anything. Only the rich, who can afford to double pay, escape.

Downton Abbey — a soap opera for the intellectual crowd

Have you watched Downton Abbey yet?  Or perhaps a better question is, have you even heard of Downton Abbey?  I’ve been aware of it for a couple of years, because I read Britain’s Daily Mail.  The show has been a monster hit there and, during the season, the Daily Mail has a steady stream of articles about the plots and the actors. I only started watching it recently, though, when it crossed my husband’s radar.  I didn’t have any reason to ignore it before; I’m just not a TV person.

The easiest way to describe the show is to say that it’s a 21st version of Upstairs Downstairs insofar as the plot tracks the lives of an Earl’s family and his staff, all of whom live in a magnificent English country house.  The first season, which is available on streaming video and disc, begins in 1912 and works its way up to WWI.  The second season, which is currently showing on Masterpiece Theater, picks up with the war and clearly intends to take us into the post war years.

The series is absolutely gorgeous.  I’m madly in love with every single “upstairs” costume the women have worn, silly hats included.  Highclere Castle serves as the set, and it really takes your breath away every time you see an exterior shot or an interior “upstairs” room.  Typically for a high-end British production, the acting is superb.  Every character seems is a fully realized person.

Putting all that aside, though, fundamentally the show is a soap opera for the elite crowd.  There’s illicit sex, homosexuality, cross-class romances, heroism, death, brutal sibling rivalry, class warfare, etc.  About halfway through the first season, I became exhausted with the dragging soap opera feel of it.  Take away the historical story line, the lovely clothes, and the Castle, and it could be All My Children.

There is really only one thing that distinguishes the show from any other soap, and that thing is a whopper:  Maggie Smith.  Smith plays the family matriarch, and she is so magnificent in the role, I think that when she wraps up her career it will be considered her finest moment.  The following clip shows Smith in action.  She is at her best when she is sparring with the heir’s mother (the Earl had no sons, so the heir comes from a middle class line), a kind woman whose slightly over-officious work ethic deeply offends Smith’s character.

I’m not suggesting that you rush out to watch Downton Abbey, but I do think you might enjoy it if you get the chance.

Bully, meet Victim. Or, the two-sided story of sexual slavery in Great Britain

The British are starting to wake up to a problem in the Midlands and in Yorkshire.  Pakistani men are cultivating and pimping non-Pakistani British girls.  This video explains more:

Hat tip:  FrontPage Magazine

This problem has been obvious to many of us who have followed blogs that Chronicle the way in which Muslim men view the European around them.  Because the women go about unveiled and unescorted, the Muslim men automatically view them as prostitutes, and then treat them accordingly.  Wait, that’s not true.  One can treat prostitutes “accordingly” simply by paying them for sex.  These Muslim men treat them abusively (raping, acid attacks, murder, pimping, etc.), and then justifying it by claiming that, owing to their attire, the women deserve what happened to them.  It’s classic abuser conduct, carried out on a vast and brutal culture scale.

That’s the problem with the Muslim side of the equation.

The video above, though, hints at a reality few what to acknowledge — bullies don’t exist in a vacuum.  I remember reading aeons ago that someone, observing schoolyard activity, noticed that it wasn’t always the bullies who sought out the victims.  Sometimes, the victims gravitated to the bullies.  It doesn’t mean anyone deserves to be or is asking to be a victim.  It does mean, however, that sometimes there can be a complex dynamic between bully and victim that goes beyond the garden-variety situation in which a predator randomly seeks out prey.

Beginning at 2:55, Former Labour Home Secretary and current Blackburn MP Jack Straw starts a very laborious analysis of the problem.  Both as a matter of decency and a matter of fact, he tries not to implicate the entire Pakistani community, even though he admits that there is a significant segment of men within the Pakistani community that views non-Pakistan British girls as legitimate prey for their sexual desires and appropriate fodder for their prostitution business.  But the key language shows up at 3:50.  There, Straw says the following:

These young men are in a Western society.  In any event, they are like any other young men; they are fizzing and popping with testosterone.  They want some outlet for that, but Pakistani-heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan typically, so they then seek other avenues, and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care, who for sure and [sic] are not being subject to normal parental support, who they think are easy meat.  (Emphasis added.)

“Some of them in care” and “are not being subject to normal parental support” are both polite ways of stating that, while Pakistani girls may be over-protected by Western standards, white British girls are being under-protected by any standards.  I’m too lazy to find links now, but if you’re not as lazy as I am, you’ll be able to confirm that, in England, women are drinking more, drugging more, having children out-of-wedlock more, sleeping around more, etc.  More than what?  More than before and more than in most other Western countries.  They “are not being subject to normal parental support,” and they are raising second and third generations of girls who also “are not being subject to normal parental support.”  The Pakistani men in England may be plucking this fruit, but the politically correct, morality free, socialist English society is growing it.

 

 

Leftist thinking out of England

Two stories at the British Guardian caught my eye.  The first is the Guardian’s announcement that its readers think Private Bradley Manning deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.   You’re not imagining things.  Britain’s Left — at least that portion that answers unscientific online newspaper polls — thinks that the man who stole thousands of classified U.S. government documents and gave them to a man hostile to America, who in turn published them, leading to lots of boredom and, unfortunately, many deaths, is deserving of a “peace” prize.  The only thing that makes this logical is that you and I understand that “peace prize” is a misnomer.  What it really should be called is the “Nobel Hate America, Individual Freedom, and Capitalism Prize.”  Called by its true name, Manning is a perfect recipient.

The other story is one that’s both unbelievably tragic and that highlights the Left’s moral blindness.  The story is about a terrible famine affecting North Korea.  Here’s the Guardian’s take on the famine:

Footage of malnourished North Korean orphans and official warnings over failed harvests have given a rare glimpse at the scale of devastating food shortages in the country following a harsh winter and widespread flooding.

[snip]

North Korea has struggled with its food supply since the crippling famine of the 90s, and its biggest donors – South Korea and the US – have yet to decide whether to resume aid suspended in 2008, while rising global commodity prices have exacerbated its problems.

[snip]

The Reuters AlertNet humanitarian news service, which shot the new video, was allowed to make a tightly controlled trip to South Hwanghae, a farming province in the country’s arable heartland. The team reported signs of severe malnutrition in children and medical staff said they lacked the drugs they needed.

“The natural disasters of last year and this year have forced the people to live on potatoes and corn. Because people aren’t taking in proper nutrition, the number of in-patients has increased. While in May the number of inpatients was about 200, we have had around 350 inpatients each month from July to September,” said Jang Kum-son, a doctor.

Kim Chol-jun, paediatrician at a school for orphans, said heavy rainfall and flooding had also contaminated water supplies, leading to digestive diseases.

The governing People’s Committee said a bitter winter destroyed 65% of South Hwanghae’s barley, wheat and potato crops, and that rains, flooding and typhoons had destroyed 80% of the maize harvest. Officials added that they expected less than half the usual rice crop this month.

What’s missing from this story, with its focus on rainfall and flooding (some of which I assume affected neighboring South Korea) is that North Korea has had a perpetual famine problem.  This is not a weather related famine problem, although you wouldn’t guess it from the Guardian’s coverage.  Instead, it’s the same famine problem that affected the Ukraine in the 1930s and China during the Great Leap Forward:  It’s called a Communist-caused famine, and it occurs when a tyrannical centralized government destroys markets, designates food and farmland for favored citizens, diverts most of its resources to the military that props it up, and generally uses its citizens as servants of and tools for a small cadre of privileged people.

Did you notice, too, that the South Koreans are feeding their starving neighbors?  On the one hand, I totally understand it.  They don’t want hordes of hungry, nuclearized North Koreans swarming over the border.  On the other hand, it’s a shame that they’re propping up a dictatorship that’s systematically starving its own citizens.  I’m not exaggerating with the systematic starvation comment.  When I quoted from the Guardian, I left out a paragraph that provides the Guardian’s single nod to the fact that nature isn’t the only one at fault as North Korea’s children die:

Some suspect that Pyongyang may be hoarding crops to ensure there is plenty of food next year. The North has pledged that 2012 – the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth – will be the year it becomes a major power.

The news out of England *UPDATED*

A few stories from England’s Daily Mail, all showing that the country is not in the best of health.  Each of these stories highlights, not the horrible things individuals can do, because those crimes transcend national boundaries, but the way in which England has rendered itself unable to react in any way to the insults occurring within its borders.

1.  An Eritrean national who helped plot an attempted jihad-inspired mass murder in England is not only free after serving just half his sentence, but the Brits cannot deport him for fear of violating his human rights.  Interestingly, concern about human rights didn’t seem to impinge on his activities when he helped the would-be bombers.

2.  Somehow England’s best, brightest and Leftest minds were unable to figure out that open immigration would depress wages.  This is what years of Leftist higher education will do to you — make you stupid.

3.  As a child, I remember reading that Soviet hospitals had something in common with medieval hospitals:  if your relatives weren’t there to take care of you, you died.  Turns out that you don’t have to be in a hardcore Communist nation or a medieval time warp for that to open.  Just go to England.  Soft socialism will do exactly the same bad job for you.

4.  Human rights don’t stop with Jihadists.  True blue axe-murdering Brits get their day in the sun too, as was the case with an axe murder with three notches on his blade who was nevertheless allowed out of prison to attend a course in chopping down trees.  Once an axe lover, always an axe lover, I guess.

UPDATE:  Sadie just sent me the worst article of all, one explaining better than anything else could, how Britain has arrived at this state:

From the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz to Meg, the good witch from the Meg and Mog children’s books, witches have always dressed in black.

But their traditional attire has now come in for criticism from equality experts who claim it could send a negative message to toddlers in nursery and lead to racism.

Instead, teachers should censor the toy box and replace the pointy black hat with a pink one, while dressing fairies, generally resplendent in pale pastels, in darker shades.

Another staple of the classroom – white paper – has also been questioned by Anne O’Connor, an early years consultant who advises local authorities on equality and diversity.

Children should be provided with paper other than white to drawn on and paints and crayons should come in “the full range of flesh tones”, reflecting the diversity of the human race, according to the former teacher.

Read the rest here.

And one more from Sadie:  police ban cafe owner from displaying Christian literature (including the Bible) and images, as they are an offense to public order.  The next thing, presumably, will be a raid on Buckingham Palace.  I’ve heard there’s an old woman living there who actually claims to be the head of a Christian church in England.  (I feel a satirical post coming on, if I can just keep my comic mojo going.)

The Nanny state makes it impossible to raise children — and then takes them away

Sometimes the matched sets just write themselves.  Both of the articles I’m quoting here are from England.  The first in our set is an article saying that town councils across England are being told that they need to reinstate actual playgrounds.  The current versions, which are the kid equivalent of a padded room, are creating useless human beings:

Old-fashioned playground equipment like climbing frames, sand pits and paddling pools are set to be re-introduced after research found a degree of risk helps children to develop.

For years councils have felt forced to remove older attractions from their sites fearing any potential injuries could result in costly legal battles.

But recent research has shown that children actually benefit from risk when they play as it helps them develop the judgement skills they need in later life.

[snip]

Chairman Bernard Spiegal told the Sunday Times he believed Britain had been obsessed with risk assessment which was having a negative effect on children.

He said: ‘We were crippling their confidence by not letting them learn through experience.

‘We don’t want children losing fingers in badly designed swings or getting their heads trapped under a roundabout. But there’s nothing wrong with a bump, bruise and graze.’

I’ll add that current “safe” playgrounds don’t inspire much energy in the kids. The installations are so bland, the kids get bored quickly, and long for the less rigorous comforts of their computers and TV sets.

Before we head to the matched-set article, just have fixed firmly in your mind that Britain is a country that, out of an excess of nanny state caution, has rendered children’s physical play boring, essentially herding children back to the couch.

If you’ve got that notion firmly in mind, it’s time for article number two, which is harrowing. It all started a few years ago when a young boy banged his head and, because he was angry at his father, called his town’s version of Child Protective Services and accused his father of hitting him. Child Protective Services did exactly what one would expect it to do when dealing with a stable, middle class family — it latched onto it like a piranha or tick, and proceeded to suck the life out of the family.

The family’s sin? The kids are overweight. It’s now come to the point that Dundee’s CPS has announced that it will remove the four youngest children permanently, hiding them from the parents:

Four obese children are on the brink of being permanently removed from their family by social workers after their parents failed to bring their weight under control.

In the first case of its kind, their mother and father now face what they call the ‘unbearable’ likelihood of never seeing them again.

Their three daughters, aged 11, seven and one, and five-year-old son, will either be ‘fostered without contact’ or adopted.

[snip]

Warned that the children must slim or be placed in care, the family spent two years living in a council-funded ‘Big Brother’ house in which they were constantly supervised and the food they ate monitored.

[snip]

The couple have not committed any crime and are not accused of deliberate cruelty or abuse. Their solicitor, Joe Myles, said there was ‘nothing sinister lurking in the background’ and accused social workers of failing to act in the family’s best interests.

‘Dundee social services department appear to have locked horns with this couple and won’t let go,’ he said, adding that the monitoring project caused more problems than it solved. ‘The parents were constantly being accused of bad parenting and made to live under a microscope.

[snip]

Social workers became aware of the family in early 2008 after one of the sons accused his father of hitting him on the forehead. In truth, he had fallen and hit his head on a radiator – a fact he later admitted. However, the allegation opened the door to the obesity investigation.

While the couple admit experiencing what their lawyer calls ‘low grade’ parenting problems, which would have merited support, they were aghast when the issue of weight was seized on as a major concern.

[snip]

The couple were ordered to send their children to dance and football lessons and were given a three-month deadline to bring down their weight. When that failed, the children were placed in foster homes but were allowed to visit their parents.

After the couple objected to this arrangement, the council agreed to move them into a two-bedroom flat in a supported unit run by the Dundee Families Project. They insisted on the couple living with only three of their children at a time.

At meal times, a social worker stood in the room taking notes. Doctors raised concerns that the children put on weight whenever they spent time with their parents, a claim they vehemently denied.

[snip]

Although the children’s weight was the major concern, other allegations were included in a report. It showed that social workers were worried when the youngest child was found crawling unsupervised. The parents point out they were never far away and the flat had no stairs.

They also found her ‘attempting to put dangerous objects’ in her mouth. The family say this is natural in toddlers and she was never successful.

[snip]

The father, aged 56, said: ‘We have tried very hard to do everything that was asked of us. My wife has cooked healthy foods like home-made spaghetti bolognese and mince and potatoes; we’ve cut out snacks and only ever allowed the kids sweets on a Saturday. But nothing we’ve done has ever been enough.

‘The pressure of living in the family unit would have broken anyone. We were being treated like children and cut off from the outside world. To have a social worker stand and watch you eat is intolerable. I want other families to know what can happen once social workers become involved. We will fight them to the end to get our beloved children back.’

You can read the whole litany of social worker horribles here.

Anyone who has read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will not be surprised by the family’s sufferings.  This kind of micromanagement is precisely what the “loving” nanny state does.  Indeed, think about the fact that Obama’s administration has taken to calling itself your “federal family.”  For those who thinks it’s a figure of speech, it’s not.  Socialist government does not believe that it can trust parents to raise the next generation of cogs in the government organization.

In the same way, anyone who has paid any attention at all to Child Protective Services agencies (in whichever country, and under whatever name they operate) knows that too many of these organizations are much less concerned with protecting genuinely at risk children (the beaten, starved and killed who make periodic newspaper headlines), and are much more concerned with forcing middle and working class families to abandon their parenting role or to risk being forced to hand their children over to the state.

There’s a reason I believe that CPS stands, not for Child Protective Services, but for “Causes Parental Suffering.”

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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Mixed feelings about England

I fought my husband for years about taking the kids on vacation to England.  Despite growing up as a complete Anglophile (I can talk for hours, unaided, about British history) and despite having spent one of the happiest years of my life there, I have a lot of issues with modern day England.

My primary problem with England is the institutional antisemitism that permeates its political and educational class.  A poisonous combination of virtually unlimited immigration from the Muslim world and Leftist education has turn England into one of the most antisemitic countries in the Western world.

It’s a little unfair to point the finger of blame solely at the recent past, though.  The slow drip-drip of Muslim antisemitism goes back to the 1930s and before, when England made an unholy alliance with the Muslim world over oil.  That emotional alliance was temporarily severed during World War II, when the Arabs made common cause with the Nazis (“antisemites unite”), but it came back in full flower when the British behaved disgracefully towards the nascent state of Israel.  (Briefly, as they withdrew, the British, in violation of international agreement, handed key forts over to the Arabs.)  What this means is that modern Muslim and Leftist antisemitism in England grows out of fertile soil.

I’m also unhappy about England because of the cultural rot that’s set in.  A few months ago or more, I would have illustrated that rot with links to reports about its rampant alcoholism, single parenthood, drug abuse, teen mothers, etc.  Now, I’ll just say:  riots.  Those riots — which weren’t about anything at all, but sprang from a nihilism brought about by decades of the type of government dependency that saps all meaning from life — perfectly illustrate England’s decay.

Going to England as a tourist means giving my money to that system.  By paying for food, lodging, transportation and entertainment, I feel as if I’m putting my imprimatur on something quite awful.

And yet….

And yet there’s still something for me about England.  My husband and are watching with the children “World War II in Colour,” one of the endless World War II offerings on the Military channel.  The show takes old footage, colorizes it, adds sound, and pieces it together with maps and very British narrative to put together a fairly comprehensive (albeit facile) picture about World War II.  Watching it, one cannot forget that it was the Brits who held off the Nazis for two years entirely on their own, and who ending up fighting the fight for six solid years.  From the end of 1941 onwards, the British also found themselves facing off against the Japanese in the Pacific.  It takes one hell of a nation to do what the English did.  There was a moral courage there (in America, too) at the time that simply earns my respect.

Generally speaking, British history has my respect as well.  Yes, the British were pirates (16th to 17th centuries), they were religious killers (name a century before the 18th), they were slave traders (16th through early 19th centuries) and everything else awful that makes up the history of the Western world.  But they abandoned those sins before other nations did.  And unlike other nations, they advanced a notion of individual freedom that (I believe) reached full flower in America.  Without British law and customs as the foundation, there would be no United States of America.  That too is worthy of respect.

From the travel point of view, Britain also still ranks high.  For the kids and me, it was the best part of the trip.  It worked at every level, whether we’re talking about a temperate climate, ease of transportation, beauty, interesting history, or quality museums and other historic sites.  You name it, we liked it (especially the Churchill War Rooms and Imperial War Museum).  As a tourist, England felt right.  If you stay in the heart of London, the rot that led to the riots is hidden.  All you see is glory.

That’s why we’re probably going back to England next year.  My husband wants to travel and I want to travel to a place that’s comfortable and endlessly interesting.  I’m not sure there’ll always be an England.  This will probably be my last chance to see it and, if current political and demographic trends continue onward, it might be the children’s last chance too.  So, while we can, we’ll go to the greatness:  Hatfield, Blenheim, Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Bath, York, Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford, Edinburgh, etc. — all the places that still feel redolent of the past, and haven’t yet been destroyed by the present.