January 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Staying Connected In London:  Was harder than I expected it to be.   In the United States, many (most?) hotel chains now provide free WiFi for all their customers.  When I planned my last two disaster area tours, I had no trouble finding motels that would give me access to the internet, without imposing an additional charge.

In contrast, when I was looking for a budget hotel in London, I had trouble finding one that provided free WiFi — and when I thought I had, I was mistaken.  (More about the hotel experience later.)

I'm not sure why there is this difference between the two countries, why, for instance, a Days Inn in New York offers "free high speed internet", while a Days Inn in London offers only "High Speed Internet Access", which means that you will have to pay for it, quite possibly at exorbitant rates.  Are laptops rarer in Britain, so that fewer customers expect this service?  Are the hotel chains less competitive?  Or, is it something else?

(McDonald's, as it so often does, is coming to the rescue of the traveler, and is providing free internet access in most of its British locations.  I didn't try their service out, but should have.

Another alternative, and one I might have used if I had been staying longer, is Boingo, which does offer internet access in thousands of locations.   But not all of their customers are happy with their product, or their service, judging by, for instance, these user reviews.)
- 7:28 PM, 16 January 2008   [link]

Back From London:  With, unfortunately, a cold.  (Which I did not declare at customs.)  I fear I may have shared it with other passengers on the flight from Gatwick to Newark, and the flight from Newark to Seattle, though I tried hard not to sneeze on them.

(Oddly, I seem to have suffered no ill effects from jet lag either in going to London, or in coming back.  I have no explanation for that since I know, from previous experience, that I am not immune to the problem.)
- 8:08 AM, 16 January 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:   LONDON - Not everyone on the left welcomed William Kristol to the New York Times.  And one can see why from this column.
"Give me a break.  This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."   Thus spoke Bill Clinton last Monday night, exasperated by Barack Obama's claim that he — unlike Hillary Clinton — had been consistently right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) on the Iraq war.

Now in fact, Obama has been pretty consistent in his opposition to the war.  But Bill Clinton is right in this respect: Obama's view of the current situation in Iraq is out of touch with reality.  In this, however, Obama is at one with Hillary Clinton and the entire leadership of the Democratic Party.
The surge is succeeding, but few Democrats wish to admit that, having tied their political fortunes to an American defeat in Iraq.  (Some are now claiming that the success of the surge was caused by the Democratic victory last fall.  This has the advantage of putting the Democrats on the side of an American victory — and the disadvantage of being false, and laughably so.)

What American leftist would enjoy being reminded of such things, and in the New York Times, at that?
- 6:55 PM, 14 January 2008   [link]

Travel Food:  LONDON - Yesterday, I took a train to Cambridge and spent the middle part of the day exploring that university town.  The most convenient London station for me was the busy King's Cross.   Next to King's Cross is another large station, St. Pancras, which is now the London terminal for the fast Eurostar trains.  As you can imagine, the area is filled with travelers from all over.

And with restaurants catering to those travelers.  There were two McDonalds within sight of the two stations.  There was a Burger King on the same street, and another Burger King inside the King's Cross station.

The concentration should not surprise us.  The two burger chains may not supply gourmet food, but they do supply inexpensive and, almost always, safe food.
- 11:30 AM, 13 January 2008   [link]

The Frivolous BBC:  LONDON - Americans are accustomed to thinking of the BBC as a serious news organization, in fact, a very serious news organization.   But in this latest visit, I have been struck by how frivolous many of their news programs are.  Much of what I have seen is more like Good Morning America than the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The BBC was particularly bad in its coverage of the results from the New Hampshire primary.  In their first stories on Wednesday, they told their viewers who won in each party (though they were obviously less interested in the Republican result), but they couldn't be bothered to give us the score, to tell us something as basic as the percentage of votes won by Clinton, Obama, and McCain.  Nor did they show much interest in the candidates who had come in behind those three.

Why were these BBC stories innumerate and incomplete?  Got me, since it is not difficult to add numbers, or a sentence on the also-rans, to a story.

(Incidentally, this morning I saw a discussion on the BBC about the coverage of American elections.   Many viewers think the BBC is giving far too much time to these stories.  I agree with those viewers; the BBC should give less time to the American election.  Less, time, but more information.  Judging by the stories on American elections that I have seen, the BBC could easily give twice as much information in half the time.

I am not sure why the BBC gives so much time to the American election — and conveys so little information — but I did get a hint from the BBC man defending their coverage this morning.  He gave me the impression that he, and his colleagues, see the American election as the best soap opera ever.  But that may be unfair.)
- 8:47 AM, 12 January 2008   [link]

Marion Jones?  LONDON - Her six month sentence for lying to investigators has been one of the top five stories in Britain for more than a day now.  For example, as I write, it is still on the Sky News "crawl" at the bottom of the screen.  And it has been a big story on the BBC and in several of the most important British newspapers.

In contrast, the top stories at the New York Times, again, as I write, do not include the story.  It doesn't make the top ten in most emailed or blogged, nor does her name show up in the top ten searches.

I'm not sure why this story is so big in Britain.  But I am reasonably certain that, if she were British, it would not be a big story in the United States.

(Full disclosure:  I was only vaguely aware of Jones even when she was at the height of her fame.  And I have not been surprised by her use of drugs.  More than a decade ago a serious woman runner told me that use of drugs was common among the top American women runners, but that our chemists were good enough to keep that use from being detected.  I took a look at some of the top women runners and was almost certain that my runner friend was right.)
- 5:57 AM, 12 January 2008   [link]

Surprise!  LONDON - When I watched the BBC news on Monday and Tuesday, I learned that Barack Obama was a lock to win the New Hampshire primary.  On Wednesday morning, the BBC was chuckling about the mistake made by the Times of London, which assumed Obama would win and put a big picture of him on their front page.  (Because London is three hours earlier than New Hampshire, the newspaper didn't have time to correct their coverage.)  By Wednesday evening, the BBC was admitting they had made the same mistake as the Times.

I found the result less surprising than the BBC did, because I have long known that polling is more difficult in primaries than in general elections.  Karl Rove makes that point more colorfully than some polling profesionals would.
The opinion researchers find themselves in a difficult place after most predicted a big Obama sweep.  It's not their fault.  The dirty secret is it is hard to accurately poll a primary.  The unpredictability of who will turn out and what the mix of voters will be makes polling a primary election like reading chicken entrails -- ugly, smelly and not very enlightening.  Our media culture endows polls -- especially exit polls -- with scientific precision they simply don't have.
But few of those professionals would dispute his main argument.  Polling is more difficult in primary elections and even more difficult, I would say, in open primaries, where independents may vote in either election.
- 8:58 AM, 11 January 2008   [link]

Chicken Cottage:  LONDON - After checking into my hotel, I went out for a late lunch.  Across the street was a small fast food place, Chicken Cottage.  I ordered their number one combination, two small pieces of chicken, french fries, and a small soft drink.

I took the order to a table and then noticed something on the package I had missed when I came into the little restaurant.  The food at Chicken Cottage is "halal"; that is, it meets Muslim requirements.

That didn't affect my enjoyment of the meal, but it did add an interesting touch to my visit to a city sometimes called "Londonistan".

(How was it?  For an American, the natural comparison is to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The diet Pepsi tasted the same, the french fries were a little blander than the KFC potato wedges, and the chicken was drier and less spicy.  (It may have been drier because it had it had been sitting under lamps for some time, as one would expect in the middle of the afternoon.)

The price for the combination, three pounds, was not bad, though some Americans would be bothered by the portion sizes.

The block where the hotel is located also has a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese takeout place, a Subway sandwich shop, and other ethnic restaurants.  I didn't see any specifically English places to eat, but I didn't explore very far.)
- 5:33 PM, 10 January 2008   [link]