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.

A lovely, lovely song to wish our military friends a Merry Christmas

You know what the number one song in Britain is this Christmas?  “Wherever You Are” a beautiful choral song, with lyrics based upon a poem drawn from letters between British service men and their wives, sung by those wives:

By the way, if you buy the song, not only will you have beautiful music to call your own, but you will also help support two military charities.

(Just FYI, America’s top pop songs this Christmas are not quite so inspirational, unless you really like Rihanna.)

Hat tip:  Gateway Pundit

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.)

You can’t fix stupid

Britain, apparently, has solved the puzzle of criminal recidivism (H/T Melanie Phillips of the Spectator).

I know that this story provides us with a most important clue as to the greater disease that afflicts Western Civilization.

I really just don’t know what to do with this story, so I am passing it on to all of you greater intellects and other Bookworm Room habitues for a more proper fisking while I try to reorient my conceptualization of the “real world”.

We are doomed!

England swings wildly between the extremes

In 1931, Nancy Langhorne Astor’s son Robert Gould Shaw III was arrested for committing a homosexual act (in a park, I believe).  This was a continuation of a long-standing British public policy of prosecuting “sodomists.”  Arguably the most famous prosecution was that against Oscar Wilde, for public indecency.  The trial, scandal and imprisonment destroyed the noted Victorian wit entirely, and he died in self-imposed, poverty-stricken exile soon after his release from prison.

How times have changed.  In 2010, Dale McAlpine, a Baptist preacher in England, was arrested for stating in a public place that homosexuality is a sin.

Have the English no sense of balance or proportion?  Do they think that criminalizing people’s thoughts and opinions is the only way to balance the scales for the humiliations they visited on homosexuals in years past?

Anyway, rather than opining more on the subject, let me refer you to my previous post on thought crimes.  I think it pretty much covers anything I want to say.

Matched story sets on freedom of association and recycling

Yes, my friends, it’s matched set time again.  I just love pairing stories (or, here, a prescient video and a current story), for your enjoyment and edification.

I’ll start first with a couple of stories that have their genesis in San Francisco and that have made it to the media this past week.  I’ve already mentioned one at my blog, which is the story about the softball players who lost their championship because some of their team members weren’t “gay enough.”  The problem for the winning team was that the league was, by definition, a “gay” league, and mere bisexuality didn’t cut the mustard.  Aside from the obvious identity politic problems inherent in the story, I was intrigued by the last few paragraphs (emphasis mine):

Beth Allen, an attorney for the alliance, said Wednesday that the suit has no merit and that none of the plaintiffs suffered any discrimination.

She said the San Francisco league’s suggestion to remove the heterosexual limit is problematic.

“Presumably, if that were to occur, teams could be comprised of heterosexual players only,” Allen said.

“This is not a bisexuals vs. gays issue,” she said. “It’s whether a private organization may say who may be a member of their organization. It’s an issue of freedom of association.”

Are you holding that emphasized thought? Good. Because now I have the next story, again arising in San Francisco. This time, it involves a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The question is whether U.C. Hastings, a public law school, can ban a Christian group from campus on the ground that the group excludes active homosexuals.  Mitch McConnell argued that, under the Constitution, Hastings cannot do so (again, emphasis is mine):

On Monday, McConnell argued a case called Christian Legal Society v. Martinez in the United States Supreme Court. His client, a Christian organization at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, was subject to a law school policy that required it, in order to avail itself of law school facilities, to accept “all comers” as members of the organization–whether they are Christians or not. The CLS believes that this requirement violates its members’ First Amendment right to freedom of association.

McConnell argued that under Supreme Court precedents, a public agency like the University of California can ban discrimination based on status (e.g. race or gender), but not based on belief, since in many cases the whole point of freedom of association is to band together with those who share one’s beliefs. As is often the case in Supreme Court arguments, the justices pelted both lawyers with hypothetical questions, sometimes involving rather far-fetched scenarios. At one point Justice Stevens asked this question:

JUSTICE STEVENS: What if the belief is that African Americans are inferior?

MR. McCONNELL: Again, I think they can discriminate on the basis of belief, but not on the basis of status.

As is often the case with these matched stories, I’ll leave the comparison and analysis to you. After all, put enough dots together and most of us should end up with the same picture.

This next pair isn’t really a matched set of news stories.  Instead, the pairing shows that, no matter how extreme we think a hypothetical is when it comes to environmentalism, someone will make it a reality.

First, enjoy a video of Penn & Teller examining just how far people will go to save the environment. (Since this is Penn & Teller, does the blue language alert go without saying?  Eh, I’ll give it to you anyway:  Blue Language Alert.)

As you can see, what P&T are imposing on people is ridiculous — or is it?  England’s bureaucrats, apparently inspired by Penn & Teller’s manic ideas, are putting a massive recycling regime change in place across Britain:

In a regime set to spread across the country, residents are being forced to juggle an astonishing nine separate bins.

There has already been a storm of protest with warnings that the scheme is too complex and homes simply don’t have the space to deal with the myriad bins, bags and boxes.

The containers include a silver slopbucket for food waste, which is then tipped in to a larger, green outdoor food bin, a pink bag for plastic bottles, a green bag for cardboard, and a white bag for clothing and textiles.

Paper and magazines go in blue bags, garden waste in a wheelie bin with a brown lid, while glass, foil, tins and empty aerosols should go in a blue box, with a grey wheelie bin for non-recyclable waste.

[snip]

Pressure on councils to enforce recycling schemes includes rising taxes on everything they send to landfill and the threat of European Union fines if they fail to hit EU targets from 2013 onwards.

Compulsory recycling is commonly enforced by bin police who can impose £100 on-the-spot fines for breaches like overfilled wheelie bins, extra rubbish left out, or bins put out at the wrong time.

If people do not pay the fines, they can be taken to court, where they face increased penalties of £1,000 and criminal records.

[snip]

Under the previous recycling system in the borough, householders had to juggle with the five containers that have become common in compulsory recycling and fortnightly collection schemes throughout the country.

The new system was introduced by the local council to help boost recycling rates from 26 per cent in 2008 to a target of 50 per cent by 2015.

It means only food waste is now taken each week. All other rubbish has to be stored for a fortnight before it is collected.

I won’t add anything here. You’ve got all the information you need.

The Obama administration and England

England is not one of my favorite places anymore, because of the raging antisemitism that characterizes her politics and her street.  Nevertheless, she is our ally and has been our staunch ally for more than a century.  For Obama to abandon her over the Falklands is disgusting.  At Power Line, in a few words, John nails Obama’s policy vis a vis England (emphasis mine):

So, once again, the Obama administration has sold Great Britain, formerly our #1 ally, down the river, along with the inhabitants of the Falklands, whose opinions would seem to count for something. We are past the point where anyone could doubt that the Obama administration’s hostility toward the U.K. is intentional. Obama seems to have substituted personal pathology for national policy.

I’m careful about calling someone evil, which I think is in an entirely separate class from misguided or ignorant or any other negative adjectives.  With this kind of excuse for foreign policy emanating from the White House, though, I’m increasingly inclined to imagine that appellation attached to Obama’s name.

In England, it’s not how well you educate, it’s how politically correct you are

When parents think about what a school should do for their children, they think in terms of the three “Rs,” plus a lovely layering of science, history, and other subjects that maketh a full (and employable) man.  The politically correct Nanny State, however, cares little for education and a great deal for ideology.  It should therefore come as no surprise to you that the British government, rather than ranking schools based upon how well they educate children is ranking them, instead, on how well they indoctrinate children in politically correct shibboleths, and whether their student composition matches race and color grids that the government promulgates:

Top schools risk being branded inadequate by Government inspectors for failing to promote race relations, gender equality and human rights, it has been disclosed.

They could be plunged into “special measures” by Ofsted under new rules that place equality on a par with exam results and child safety for the first time.

In official guidance, inspectors are told to be aware of “gender imbalances” in upper-ability sets and ensure after-school sport is not dominated by pupils belonging to one ethnic group.

Some local councils are also warning schools to make sure staff and volunteers reflect the ethnic make-up of local communities and feature people with disabilities to provide good role models for pupils.

Look at England closely, my friends. The country that led the way, that provided the seeds for the American genius, is dying before our eyes.  Even worse, our politically correct, liberal, Progressive masters are hastening to drag us down that same path.

Let me say again what you’ll hear me say in post after post after post in 2010:  The November 2010 elections are pretty much our last chance to stop the PC car before it drags the whole nation over the edge of the cliff.  We must start supporting candidates with money now, rather than waiting until the last minute; we must go to rallies and make our presence know; and we have to vote with vigor in the 2010 elections.  Otherwise, no slamming on the brakes is going to help.  We’ll already be airborne and ready to fall.

The dismal state of the British citizenship test

If I were devising a citizenship test for Great Britain, I can think of some things I would ask.  Broadly, I would ask about her  history (what makes Britain British?), her form of government (details about Parliamentary Democracy), and the duties of a citizen.

But you see, I’m not writing the test one needs to take to become a British citizen.  Instead, the Labour government has written that test.  Labour’s role in the process means that, while there are a few historical or civics questions thrown in, your average test taker needs to know how many Brits are drug users, when women got the right to divorce, how many black people are in Britain, how many single parent homes Britain has, when people become eligible for government welfare, how many immigrants have come from Southeast Asia (that means Pakistan), etc.  The test has everything to do with reassuring Southeast Asian and African immigrants that they are not alone, instructing them on welfare and child labor laws, and giving them info about British substance abuse.

In other words, the test is an insane measurement of what it means to be a British citizen, and a very good guidebook to how to game the British welfare system.  It’s a very good indicator of the canker that is socialism, isn’t it?

(Thanks to Mr. Smith for correcting my geographic confusion.  I should have known better or, at least, been more careful.)

Britain, with Communist medicine, has Communist health outcomes: lots of death

Britain’s NHS, which is government-run (i.e., Communist) medicine, has, unsurprisingly, Communist outcomes.  Lots of people die unnecessarily in England under the government’s beneficent care:

British health care is little better than that of former Communist countries, which spend a fraction of the billions poured into the NHS.

A survey published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development sees Britain languishing with the Czech Republic and Poland in international league tables on health.

The OECD – which represents developed Western countries, some former Soviet nations, Mexico, Japan and South Korea – compared healthcare standards among its 30 members and found that we lag even further behind the wealthiest nations, such as France, Sweden and Germany.

The figures showed:

  • British cancer and heart attack victims are more likely to die than almost anywhere in the developed world;
  • Asthma and diabetes patients are more than three times as likely to end up in hospital as their neighbours in Germany;
  • Life expectancy in Britain – 79 years and six months for a man – is far worse than in France, where men expect to live until 81. The deficit is similar for women.

Britain performed only marginally better than former Communist states whose governments spend only half as much on healthcare.

Read the rest here.

Do I need to say, again, that this is the ultimate goal the Democrats have for America?  Repeated evidence to the contrary (the entire Soviet bloc, England, Canada, etc.), the Democrats are convinced that, if you can just do it right, government health care will be better than health care in a market economy that is only subject to limited government constraints.  They can’t get it through their heads that, to the extent medical care in America is too expensive, that expense is driven by government interference in the free market.

As I always say, government should exist to police fraud and protect citizens from overreaching.  Government becomes a problem when it dictates what people must buy (as is the case in practically every health insurance market in America), and controls the available products.  Government becomes a threat when it takes over the market entirely, as it has in England.

There won’t always be an England: Britain’s greatest generation bemoans the nation’s decline

Disillusioned members of the World War II generation state honestly that, had the England that now exists been the England in 1939, they would not have believed it was a country worth saving.  Most feel that their fellow veterans, those who died in the fight, are rolling in their graves as they look at the corrupt, non-Christian, EU centered, increasingly Muslim, angry, immoral, criminal, dirty country that is England today:

They despise what has become of the Britain they once fought to save. It’s not our country any more, they say, in sorrow and anger.

[snip]

‘I sing no song for the once-proud country that spawned me,’ wrote a sailor who fought the Japanese in the Far East, ‘and I wonder why I ever tried.’

‘My patriotism has gone out of the window,’ said another ex-serviceman.

[snip]

New Labour, said one ex-commando who took part in the disastrous Dieppe raid in which 4,000 men were lost, was ‘more of a shambles than some of the actions I was in during the war, and that’s saying something!’

He added: ‘Those comrades of mine who never made it back would be appalled if they could see the world as it is today.

‘They would wonder what happened to the Brave New World they fought so damned hard for.’

Nor can David Cameron take any comfort from the elderly.

His ‘hug a hoodie’ advice was scorned by a generation of brave men and women now too scared, they say, to leave their homes at night.

Immigration tops the list of complaints.

‘This Land of Hope and Glory is just a land of yobs and drunks’

‘People come here, get everything they ask, for free, laughing at our expense,’ was a typical observation.

‘We old people struggle on pensions, not knowing how to make ends meet. If I had my time again, would we fight as before? Need you ask?’

Many writers are bewildered and overwhelmed by a multicultural Britain that, they say bitterly, they were never consulted about nor feel comfortable with.

‘Our country has been given away to foreigners while we, the generation who fought for freedom, are having to sell our homes for care and are being refused medical services because incomers come first.’

Her words may be offensive to many – and rightly so – but Sarah Robinson defiantly states: ‘We are affronted by the appearance of Muslim and Sikh costumes on our streets.’

[snip]

The loss of British sovereignty to the European Union caused almost as much distress. ‘Nearly all veterans want Britain to leave the EU,’ wrote one.

Frank, a merchant navy sailor, thought of those who gave their lives ‘for King and country’, only for Britain to become ‘an offshore island of a Europe where France and Germany hold sway. Ironic, isn’t it?’

[snip]

‘I am very unhappy about the way this country is being transformed. I go nowhere after dark. I don’t even answer my doorbell then.’

A Desert Rat who battled his way through El Alamein, Sicily, Italy and Greece was in despair.

‘This is not the country I fought for. Political correctness, lack of discipline, compensation madness, uncontrolled immigration – the “do-gooders” have a lot to answer for.

‘If you see youngsters doing something they shouldn’t and you say anything, you just get a mouthful of foul language.’

You can read the rest here.

Government health care rationing strikes again in England

Just so you know, Britain, the ne plus ultra of single payer care, is having a little bit of death panel trouble:

Liver cancer sufferers are being condemned to an early death by being denied a new drug on the Health Service, campaigners warn.

They criticised draft guidance that will effectively ban the drug sorafenib – which is routinely used in every other country where it is licensed.

Trials show the drug, which costs £36,000 a year, can increase survival by around six months for patients who have run out of options.

The Government’s rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said the overall cost was ‘simply too high’ to justify the ‘benefit to patients’.

However, relatively few would be eligible for the treatment – around 700, or one in four of those diagnosed each year with primary liver cancer.

[snip]

Kate Spall, founder of the Pamela Northcott Fund, which assists cancer patients denied new therapies, last night said cancer sufferers had been sold down the river.

She said: ‘These policies were specifically designed to help patients with rarer cancer such as liver to access new treatments for a previously untreatable disease.

‘This decision will condemn patients to an earlier death than was necessary.’

Only 20 per cent of patients with primary liver cancer – where the tumour originates in the liver – are alive one year after diagnosis.