Sunday, September 29, 2013

Britain From A to Z: G


Grasmere is a small village in the heart of the Lake District National Park in Cumbria, England. At Dove Cottage in this village, William Wordsworth, the poetic wordsmith, lived for many years and wrote much of his poetry. He is also buried at a nearby cemetery. This whole area was very scenic and well (words)worth a stop. Yet, our tour was not originally scheduled to stop there. It was at the request of two English teachers in our tour group that Tom, our tour guide, made adjustments to our schedule that allowed us to visit Grasmere.

Dove Cottage in Grasmere

Grasmere wasn't the only unscheduled stop we made on the tour. While in northern Wales, our son asked if we could detour off our intended path and visit a town on the island of Anglesey named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. This is the longest place name in Europe and one of the longest in the world. The tour guide wasn't sure of the pronunciation, so asked our son Andrew, who he knew spoke some Welsh, to say the name on the bus intercom system. Apparently the town took on this name in the 19th century to attract tourism. In English, the name means "The Church of Mary in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave."


While thinking about the places we got to stop simply because someone asked, we realized that there were many things we did on the tour that we would never have known to do had we planned the trip ourselves. Some things like the Scottish banquet we attended in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Welsh banquet we went to at Cardiff Castle in Wales. Had we missed the latter event, we would have missed Andrew being crowned king and being asked to taste the Leek and Potato Soup for poison. One very interesting place we would never have even thought about going to was the slate museum in Llanberis, Gwynedd, northern Wales. There, Andrew was allowed to split a large piece of slate using only a hammer and a chisel. This museum acts as a preserve for a very important part of Welsh history.

So, whenever you travel in the future, please remember Grasmere. If you're on a tour and you want to stop somewhere you're not scheduled to stop, ASK! If you are planning a trip on your own, consider going to a place or an event that you wouldn't normally go. You might be surprised.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Fundamental Question: Who Owns You?

When it comes to how people should interact with each other and with their government, there is a wide array of opinions. Some are liberal, some conservative, some libertarian. Some are statists and some individualists. Some are socialists; others capitalists. On listening to all these different viewpoints, it can get extremely confusing. There are good points to be made all around. I know that I personally find myself wavering as I hear the arguments coming from the various camps. Yet, through all that confusion, I keep coming back to one fundamental question that is foundational in choosing one's political persuasion.


Have you ever thought about this question? If so, have you ever settled on a definitive answer? I have asked this question of a number of people. Some of the religious folk answer, "God." Okay, that's fine, but I'm actually talking about ownership as it relates only to humans. With this criterion, most people would probably answer, "Me, of course." Yes, indeed. You own you, and I own me. It seems quite obvious to most people. Yet, most people do not fully understand the deep meaning of this answer and how it should play into their understanding of their place in the world and their relationship with others.

Throughout all of history, even into the present day, there have been places on this Earth where slavery existed. Yet, I believe that most people today would readily admit that slavery is wrong, even immoral. Why? Because we tend to believe that each man is an individual worthy of living his own life. I too believe this. Yet, in so many ways, people fail to understand how this belief should play out when living in a civil society.

Let us suppose that after the civil war Section 1 of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution was written to say:

"Slavery and involuntary servitude within the United States shall not exceed 40% of a person's productive life."

rather than:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

In other words, a person could own up to 40% of another person, but no more. The remaining 60% of a person's life would be his own. How does this settle with you? Nonsense, you say? Yes, well, I agree. No one should be allowed to own even a small percentage of another person. One's life is his own. If he wants to choose to work for another man, that's his prerogative. But no man should be able to force another to work for him even a short time, let alone 40% or 100% of his time.

Of course, even though slavery ended in 1865, many laws remained on the book for 100 years that allowed whites to treat blacks as second class citizens, thus, at least in part, permitting whites to have partial ownership of blacks. Yet, even this level was considered heinous and unworthy of an enlightened nation. It took a civil rights movement to get things changed.

Another egregious form of slavery that remained in effect after the civil war was conscription. After all, how is forcing someone to serve in the military not involuntary servitude? Yet, mandatory drafts were used as "needed" until they were abolished in 1973. It was then that the US went to a voluntary military. I know that there are differing opinions about mandatory drafts across the entire spectrum of American life. Many people argue that a mandatory draft is absolutely necessary when our country is under attack and we are in need of protecting our freedom. But, how does one justify taking away some citizen's freedom by involuntarily conscripting them into the armed forces in the name of protecting freedom?

But there is a more subtle form of slavery that occurs in our society that many people simply ignore: taxation. Yes, taxation. How is this slavery? Well, think about it. If the 13th amendment had read, as I stated above, that citizens could be enslaved up to 40% of their time, we would consider this immoral. Yet, isn't having 40% of the fruits of your labor taken from you essentially the same as enslaving you 40% of your productive time?

Okay, some of you are probably saying, "But that's different. Slavery entails one person owning another. Taxation comes from a government elected by the people." Fair enough. So, how many people have to come together to enslave you such that it will be okay? The people on your block? The whole neighborhood? Your entire city? The state? The whole nation? At what point along this continuum does enslaving you go from being immoral to moral? Let's suppose the 13th amendment had been written this way:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except at the behest of the duly elected officials of the federal government or as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Is this wording satisfying to you? Would you be okay with the government being able to enslave you, even partially, as long as no individuals could? I kind of don't think you would. But taking your hard earned wages, in essence, is the same thing. To this you might counter, "But I am willing to pay a part of my income to the government to provide essential services and to help others less fortunate than me." Well, there would be nothing to prevent you from sending that money in voluntarily just like young men and women voluntarily join the military.

The founding fathers of the United States of America understood well the power that government could wield over its citizens and were understandably dubious of having one. Many of them, or their ancestors, came to the colonies to rid themselves of the tyranny of government in other parts of the world. Yes, unfortunately, slavery was encoded into the original Constitution, but that was mostly a compromise position in order to get the country started. It took an extremely bloody war to correct this problem. Yet, the founding fathers also understood that some level of government was essential to a nation's preservation since there needed to be an ultimate authority to settle disputes, provide law and order and justice, and to protect citizens from foreign invaders.

So, the founders decided that since a central authority was absolutely needed, they would create one. But a VERY limited one. A constitution was written clearly delineating the powers this government would be allowed to have. In other words, the government operates at the behest of the country's citizens rather than the citizens working at the behest of government. The number of people making up that central government was very small and could be supported by only a very small amount of taxes. Interestingly, the income tax didn't even exist.

However, as the founders feared, government began to grow. Slowly at first, but speeding ever faster as the present day arrived. Congress, with the help of the Supreme Court and the President, now have hundreds of thousands of pages of federal law that gives the federal government FAR more power than we citizens have permitted them to have via the Constitution. And as it grows, funding has to be continually increased to pay for it. Citizens gave the government the right to tax their income at a very low rate with a Constitutional amendment in 1913. Since then the rate has increased dramatically. Other taxes not approved by the Constitution have been authorized by our elected officials as well. Now, the amount of money needed by the government has grown to a point that even those taxes are not sufficient to fund it. Knowing the negative effect of increasing taxes even further, both electorally and economically, our nation now borrows about a TRILLION dollars each year. We are now almost 17 TRILLION dollars in the red.

The system as it exists is unsustainable. We citizens need to help our nation by once again asking ourselves that fundamental question, "Who Owns You?" Once we truly understand the ramifications of the answer, "I own me," and begin to enact it in the real world, we can begin to veer our country off its current path to destruction and hopefully make it once again the land of the free, the home of the brave, and a nation of prosperity.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Britain from A to Z: F


Now I come to my favorite topic in this series: FOOD. While in Britain, we ran into some interesting food traditions that were common to the entire area and some that were unique to certain areas.

Our tour price included a breakfast every morning at each hotel we stayed at. Most mornings we had a buffet. Many of the items on the buffet were similar to what we have here in the United States. Scrambled eggs, potatoes, cooked mushrooms, toast, coffee, tea, etc. However, there were some interesting differences. For instance, what they call bacon would be called ham here. I only remember one hotel that had our version of bacon (thin sliced and cooked until crisp) and it was called fatback bacon. Another interesting difference was that essentially every breakfast buffet included baked beans and cooked tomatoes. We would call the former pork and beans; they weren’t baked with brown sugar until the sauce was thick. The cooked tomatoes were always medium-sized, cut in half, seasoned, and then cooked until soft, but not stewed. One last thing concerning breakfast is egg preparation. In the US, it is fairly common for breakfast buffets to include an omelette station. We saw none of these in Britain. Rather, they had poached egg stations. However, most of the time poached eggs were simply served on the bar without the need of a separate station.

Another common dish found throughout Britain is fish and chips. I have always considered this to be an England thing, but I learned quickly that it is prevalent throughout Scotland, England, and Wales. In fact, the best fish and chips we had on the tour was at Greyfriars Bobby Bar in Edinburgh, Scotland. The fish was always a white fish, usually cod or haddock. And, as most of you probably know, chips are really fries. Warning: I seriously doubt that the Brits would want to hear you call them French fries. (By the way, potato chips are called crisps in Britain.) What amazed me about the fish was the size. Every time we bought fish and chips, the fish was a HUGE fillet, taking up nearly the whole plate. The only place I recall seeing fillets this big in the US was up in Massachusetts many years ago. One thing I didn’t like as much was the malt vinegar for putting on the fish. It didn’t have nearly as much vinegar twang as what I’m used to in the US. So, I mostly used tartar sauce.

Whenever I think about fish and chips and England, I’m reminded of the story my uncle told me when I was a kid. He said that when he was in England during WW2, he used to eat fish and chips out of a rolled up newspaper. That’s how it was served in those days. Later, an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips came to my home town. That was my first taste of British-style fish and chips, and I loved it. It was interesting that the paper they were served on looked like newsprint.

I can’t forget to mention the mushy peas. This was something that essentially every restaurant served with their fish and chips, although you could get them with other dishes as well. They are essentially an embellishment of what we call green peas or English peas. They’re not totally mushy as there are still solid pieces of peas in the mush. Kathy and I are not big fans of green peas, so were hesitant to try them. But lo and behold, they were great. Try ya some sometime. Unmushed peas were also generally available.

Speaking of mushy, I must tell you about the soups of Britain. We tried a number of different soups, but not one had any chucks of anything in it. In the US, I am used to getting broccoli and cheese soup with chunks of broccoli in it, vegetable soup with chunks of vegetables in it, and so forth. Well, every soup we had in Britain was chunk-less. Apparently if it’s called soup, they blend it up. In other words, if there is anything that has to be chewed in it, it’s NOT soup in Britain.

Just like in the US, bread is a staple food in Britain. One difference here is that across the pond they seem to only like bread as an appetizer or for making sandwiches. Yes, restaurants here in the US usually serve bread before the rest of the meal. But they also leave it for eating with your main course. Over yonder they like to take up any remaining bread before the main course arrives. Of course, all we had to do was ask that they leave it, and they would.

Salads were everywhere in Britain. They seemed to pop up on any sandwich plate and were available for every meal. Yet, there seemed to be a severe lack of dressings to put on them. I discovered this was generally true throughout Britain when, after many times asking “What salad dressings do you have?", I got sort of a blank stare from the server. Typically, the only thing available was something like Miracle Whip or little packets of salad cream. Fortunately, the salad cream was really good. Otherwise, I’d have been eating a lot of dry salads.

As far as specialty dishes in the different countries, the first we encountered was haggis and black pudding in Scotland. These were actually on the breakfast bar our first morning in Glasgow, Scotland. Haggis is made from sheep guts and ... ‘nuff said. Sheep guts are enough to turn me off regardless of what else is in it. That being said, I tasted it and it wasn’t too bad. Yet, it wasn’t good enough to get me over the sheep guts hurdle. Our son, Andrew, loved it. He ate it just about any time he had the opportunity. But, that’s Andrew. He’s not only weird, but he loves weird foods and drinks.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that black pudding would be good. I mean who doesn’t like dark chocolate in a pudding. Well, you’d be wrong. Another name for black pudding is blood pudding. And, yes, it is actually made from real blood. I don’t mind a bit of blood coming out of my medium steak, but for a dish to have blood as its main ingredient grosses me out. That being said, I tasted it and it was essentially tasteless. That was definitely not enough to get me over the animal blood hurdle. Yet, our weird son loved it. He even got it on his pizza in Edinburgh. Sometimes I think he needs to host that Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods America”. Hey, come to think of it, isn’t the current host named Andrew? Maybe our son could start a new series called “Bizarre Foods Britain”.

Two unique dishes we tried related to Wales were leek and potato soup and Welsh rarebit, although the latter we actually had in York, England. We had the soup at a Welsh banquet at Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales. As mentioned earlier, it was chunk-less, having been blended to a thick liquid. Yet, it was so good we have since made it here at home.

When I hear the words “Welsh rarebit”, I always think of the episode of “Gomer Pyle” where Gomer starts sleepwalking after consuming large amounts of Welsh rarebit. The name belies its simplicity. It’s actually a form of cheese toast. In fact, the actual Welsh term for it is caws pobi, meaning baked cheese.

I don’t know how common this is in England, but in Oxford I purchased a roast beef sandwich at a large indoor market. It consisted of a huge thick roll with lots of lettuce, tomato, and other salad-like compounds. Buried under all of this was one lousy thin slice of beef. I couldn’t really even taste it. After returning to the states, I was watching Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He was talking about England with one of his guests. He told a story about getting a ham sandwich in England and it only having one lousy thin slice of ham on it. I guessed from this that one slice meat sandwiches are prevalent in England, if not all of Britain.

It pains me to think that I will never be able to sample all the different cheeses that exist in the world. There seems to be as many cheeses as there are people in the world. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of cheese. Oh, there are some that I don’t like, but there are a lot that I do. It seems that just about every place in the world has its own custom cheeses. Britain is no different. At one point on the tour, one fellow on the bus from New York bought some Wensleydale cheese with ginger embedded in it and shared it with anyone wanting a piece. This was good stuff. Later in the tour I decided to do the same thing and bought some Snowdonia white cheddar cheese with cranberries and shared it. Interestingly, while shopping at our local Publix tonight, I discovered they had some of the Wensleydale cheeses. I bought the one with cranberries. Yum!

There were more specialty foods in Britain than we either cared to try or had an opportunity to buy. You’ll hear of things like Toad-in-the-Hole, Pasties, Ploughman’s Lunch, Shepherds’ Pie, Neeps and tatties, Cullen skink, Stovies, Cockles, Cawl, Lobscows, Kendal Mint Cake, and more. So, you’ll find there is no lack of new things for you to try should you visit.

Well, this post has already grown too long and I’ve not even gotten to drinks. I’ll cover those in another post.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Unexplainable Biblical Discrepancy

As anyone familiar with the Bible knows, there are quite a few seeming discrepancies in it. For a pretty comprehensive list, see The Secular Web. Biblical apologists such as Josh McDowell, Sean McDowell, Lee Stobel, Alex McFarland, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and many others, have been diligent about solving these discrepancies. In many cases, they have been successful, satisfying my skepticism. Many times the explanation is that the differences lie in differing viewpoints of the various eyewitnesses. They usually point out how in even a modern day trial, eyewitness accounts will sometimes seem contradictory because of seeing things from different perspectives, emphasizing different points, and simply bringing their own biases into their testimony. All this is absolutely true. Yet, if I were one that believed the Bible to be inerrant and that the words of the writers were totally inspired by God, almost as if the words were dictated to a scribe, the differing testimonies would be troublesome to me. If all the writings are coming from the same source, God, there should be no differing perspectives and biases. However, I know that many Christians do not believe that God dictated the Bible to its writers. Some do not even believe in the inerrancy of scripture. They simply believe that the Bible is a collection of writings written by inspired, but fallible, men. Even so, there is one important aspect of the resurrection appearances stories that is troublesome even if written by fallible men.

First, it is important to note that the earliest extant manuscripts of Mark do not even mention any resurrection appearances. Mark 16:9-20 only appears in later manuscripts and seems to be a synopsis of the other Gospel endings. Matthew states that an angel and Jesus himself instructed the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee for a meeting, which they do (Matthew 28:5-10). It was in Galilee that the disciples first see the risen savior (Matthew 28:16-17). On the other hand, Luke says that Jesus appeared to the disciples on the day of the resurrection and instructed them to stay in the city of Jerusalem until they received the Father’s promise, which was the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:13, 33, 36, 47-49). They are reported to have received that gift on Pentecost and, according to Acts, began to preach in Jerusalem and stayed there (Acts 2:1-4). John says that Jesus appeared to the disciples twice in Jerusalem and at least once in Galilee (John 20:19-26, 21:1). However, the meeting in Galilee was at the Sea of Tiberias (aka Sea of Galilee), not a mountain as stated in Matthew. Apparently some of the disciples, according to John, had gone back to their fishing occupations in Galilee, and Jesus appeared to them there, even eating breakfast with them.

In summary, the Gospel thought to be the first one written, Mark, does not mention any resurrection appearances. Matthew reports that the women at the tomb were instructed to tell the disciples that he would meet them in Galilee, which they do. Luke reports that Jesus appeared to the disciples, on the day of his resurrection, in Jerusalem and told them not to leave the city until they received the Holy Spirit. After that event on Pentecost, they stayed and ministered in the city according to Acts. John agrees with Luke in that Jesus first appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem. However, instead of staying in the city, at least some of them go back to Galilee and resume their fishing business. Jesus then appears to them again at the sea.

I first encountered these problematic verses soon after becoming a Christian in 1980. As a young Christian eager to learn more of God’s Word, I enrolled in a “Harmony of the Gospels” class at a nearby Bible college. As we neared the end of the semester, we began to study the resurrection. While studying at home, I noticed the contradictions mentioned above. During the next class, I brought these problematic verses to the teacher’s attention and asked for an explanation. In sort of a huff he said something like, “Uh, we don’t have time to discuss every aspect of the Gospels.” So, my concerns were left unaddressed. Later, I was thrilled to discover a book entitled “Gospel Parallels” edited by Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr. However, my excitement was quickly quelled when I found that while most of the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were printed side by side, the resurrection stories were not. Rather, at that point the Gospel Parallels became the Gospel Linears. I realized this did not bode well for the veracity of the resurrection.

Whenever I encounter an apologist discussing the supposed discrepancies in the Bible, they usually only explain the easy stuff like which women went to the tomb and how many angels were there. Almost never do they discuss the issues I present here. When they do, they usually explain it away by simply saying that there were appearances in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, and then again in Jerusalem (see this example). But this explanation totally ignores the fact that Luke clearly tells us that there were appearances in Jerusalem, then they waited to received the power of the Holy Spirit, and then stayed to minister in the city. I see no way to harmonize these differing accounts. If you know of a way or have a reference to someone who does, please leave me a comment.

After the disappointment of not getting any satisfactory answers to my questions about the resurrection appearances, I began to notice other problematic verses in the Bible. When I asked church leaders about these, the ultimate answer was that I just needed to have faith. That was definitely not satisfactory. All these issues ultimately resulted in my de-converting from Christianity.

I discuss the resurrection appearances as well as many other topics related to the Bible in my latest book, “God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God”. It is available in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Questions and comments can also be left on my book’s Facebook page.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Britain from A to Z: E


Everywhere I went in Britain, there were eyes. Deep dark staring eyes watching my every move. Well, not really. The eyes I am talking about are what we in the US call Ferris wheels. And, actually, in Britain they are mostly called simply “wheels”. But the biggest and boldest of them all is the one in London, which is called the London Eye. It stands on the edge of the River Thames (pronounced Temz) keeping watch over the good citizens of London as it rakes in huge amounts of money from tourists wanting a bird’s “eye” view of England’s, and the United Kingdom’s, capital city.

Wikipedia says that the London Eye has about 3.5 million visitors each year. Based on the crowd that was there when we arrived, I can believe it. Regular adult tickets were about 20 GBP each. If you didn’t want to wait an hour or longer, fast track tickets were available for an extra 10 GBP. These shortened the wait time to about 10 minutes. With the limited time we had in London, we opted for the latter. For the three of us, the final cost was about 140 USD, given that the exchange rate was about 1.55 USD per GBP. (With 3.5 million visitors each year, you do the math.) For your money you get to take one rotation on the wheel. That’s a 30-minute ride. And it was one fascinating ride. Since the passenger capsules are all glass, except for the floors, great views were available in every direction as you ascend to almost 450 feet above the ground. When the London Eye was completed back in 2000, it was the largest in the world. It has since been superseded by wheels in China and Singapore.

Typically, the Eye never has to stop. The rotation speed is slow enough to make that unnecessary. At the base of the wheel are three stations. The first is for unloading passengers, the second is for the clean-up crew to sweep out trash, and the third is for loading passengers. Quite efficient if you ask me.

The London Eye is not the only wheel in Britain. Other larger cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, York, and Cardiff also have them. Apparently, UKers like their wheels. We saw a few of these, but not all. The London Eye was the only one we had an opportunity to ride.

If you ever get to visit Great Britain, be sure to keep an eye out for the eyes.

London Eye on the River Thames

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Britain from A to Z: D


Let me address the obvious first. In Britain, people drive on the wrong—uh, I mean left—side of the road. Whichever way you want to look at it, they drive on the side of the road opposite to right. When we were trying to decide whether to take a tour or plan the trip ourselves, one of the considerations was our lack of experience driving on the side of the road opposite from what we have always driven on. I didn’t think I would personally have a problem on country roads with little traffic, but I could easily see myself getting confused in a place like London. And then there are those roundabouts. I’m not used to doing these on the right side of the road, let alone the left/wrong side. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned. But we ultimately decided to take a tour for many reasons other than the driving. So, for the entire >2-week trip I didn’t touch one steering wheel. It was a nice break.

I thought it would be weird just riding on the left side of the road, but sitting up high in the tour bus, it really wasn’t. It was on the final day of our trip that Kathy and I got a real taste of left-side riding. We had a chauffeur drive us to the airport in a private car. This was included in the tour price. Then it seemed strange. From the car, we could more easily see the other vehicles whizzing by us on the right side. Andrew had already experienced this as he had ridden a London taxi to the Sherlock Holmes Museum while Kathy and I walked to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.

At one point in our tour, our guide explained why the left side of the road was the right side of the road to drive on. Back in the day when people mostly used horses for transportation, a person would occasionally run upon a hooligan that had to be fought off with sword or spear. Since most people were right-handed, it was only natural for the horses to pass to the right of each other, meaning they were on the left side of the road. So, as motorized vehicles made their ascension, people just naturally stuck to the familiar side. I guess that means that either roadway sword fighting was rare here in the colonies, or most colonists were left-handed.

We had two different bus drivers while on our tour. The first driver, Mark, quite a friendly ole chap, drove the first week as we made our circuitous way from Glasgow, Scotland, to London, England. Richard then took over the second week, taking us to Wales and looping back to Windsor, England. I was amazed by these drivers. Much of our trip was on narrow country roads where the great scenery was. Sometimes it seemed that we were on a one lane road. And sometimes we met another tour bus or a large truck. Each vehicle had to get off the side of the road to pass. Sometimes our left windows were scrapping tree limbs while doing this. I was just glad that I wasn’t the one driving.

Britain has a lettering system for its roadways. The larger highways are M, such as M1 or M40. These were typically divided highways with multiple lanes similar to the US’s Interstate system. The next level road, which could be four lanes, but more typically just nicer two lane roads are lettered A, such as A2 or A9. The major A roads are based on radial patterns from London and Edinburgh. The local roads are lettered B, such as B1091 or B4343. For more information, see this article.

Just in case you were thinking it: No, I didn’t see any wild drivers cutting off people or weaving in and out of traffic. But then again I spent most of my time sitting up high on a bus where other vehicles were hard to see. There’s no telling what was going on below.

A59 Kingsway Tunnel in Liverpool

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Muse Comes to Nashville

A few years ago my son, Andrew, started listening to and enjoying the rock band Muse. He had me listen to some of their music, but I couldn't get into it. So, when he asked me to attend a Muse concert with him in Atlanta back in 2010, I was hesitant. But I decided to go anyway. Well, lo and behold, just a few songs into the concert, I converted to a fan. Now I love the group. So, when I heard that Muse was coming to Nashville on September 6, 2013, I immediately asked Andrew if he wanted to attend. Unsurprisingly, he did. Well, that concert took place last night and it was a dilly-whopper.

The concert was opened by a group named Cage the Elephant. They are a somewhat local band since they are originally from Bowling Green, KY, a mere 65 miles away. The musicians and the lead singer were quite good. However, I did not care for their style of music or the lead singer's spastic movements on stage. But most of the audience seemed to love them. I even heard one girl say they were awesome.

For unknown reasons, there was almost an hour intermission before Muse began, but when they did, they didn't disappoint. Raw power emanated from the stage from the beginning and never let up. The crowd stood up when the music began and never sat down until they got to their cars after leaving the arena. With lead singer Matthew Bellamy on lead guitar and piano, Christopher Wolstenholme on bass and harmonica, Dominic Howard on percussion, and unofficial fourth member, Morgan Nicholls, on various instruments, the band brought showmanship and excitement to an arena full of eager fans.

This concert was a part of The 2nd Law tour. The 2nd Law is the band's sixth studio album in their almost 20 years of existence. The music on this album is tremendous. Muse's music is like a bottle of wine that only gets better with time. Of course, they also played a few songs from earlier albums. Luckily, they were some of my favorites.

I have been to a lot of concerts where the band simply performs their songs without actually putting on a show. For softer music or more intimate settings, this can work, as it did at a Dan Fogelberg concert I attended many years ago. However, for a power band like Muse, I don't think it would. Muse apparently understands this, so spares no expense with the lights, lasers, projected live and recorded video, and all the props needed to implement them. Hey, they even had people manning some of the equipment from seats hanging from the ceiling. Not only do all these things add visual excitement to an already exciting show, it helps make the audience at a distance feel more included in the event. When you are far enough away that the band members look like Munchkins, it is sometimes hard to feel a part of the show. Muse makes it easier by filling the stage and the area above it with visuals; synchronized to the music, of course.

Muse has some interesting song lyrics. Being a libertarian-minded person, I particularly like the lyrics about standing strong against the oppression of others. One example comes from one of my favorite songs, Uprising, which in on The Resistance album.

Paranoia is in bloom,
The PR transmissions will resume.
They'll try to push drugs that keep us all dumbed down
And hope that we will never see the truth around.
(So come on)
Another promise, another seed.
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed.
And all the green belts wrapped around our minds,
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined
(So come on)
They will not force us.
They will stop degrading us.
They will not control us.
We will be victorious.
So come on.
Interchanging mind control,
Come let the revolution take its toll.
If you could flick the switch and open your third eye,
You'd see that we should never be afraid to die.
(So come on)
Rise up and take the power back.
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack.
You know that their time's coming to an end.
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend.
(So come on)

Check out some of their other lyrics at .

Andrew and I had seats about two-thirds of the way back from the stage. This was a bit too far to get good photos with the camera I had with me. However, I did get a few decent shots of the overall show. You can see them here:

If you have never listened to Muse or have only heard them occasionally, I would highly recommend you check them out. I would personally recommend The Resistance, their fifth studio album, released in 2009. I fell in love with all the music on this record and still consider it a favorite. Andrew recommends his favorite song, Follow Me, from The 2nd Law album. Also, don't miss them in concert if you have a chance. Matt Bellamy has a wide vocal range and does a pretty intense falsetto. Hopefully he will be able to maintain his vocals for many more years, but many people with that kind of range start losing it in their later years. You need to hear him while he's at the top of his game. If you’d like to hear some radical falsetto singing, check out Micro Cuts on the album Origin of Symmetry. The entire song is sung in falsetto.

In closing, I wanted to mention that, at the concert, Matt Bellamy performed a version of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, on his guitar. It was very reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s version at Woodstock in 1969. I wasn’t at Woodstock since I was only 14 at the time, but I did see the movie. Concerning Matt Bellamy’s version, I’m sure he would make John Stafford Smith and Francis Scott Key very proud. Well, once they got used to electronic music.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Britain from A to Z: C


While riding along on our tour bus in Scotland, England, and Wales, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the countryside was to many areas in the United States. Crop farming, animal farming, flat land, rolling hills, and mountainous areas. Grass, trees, shrubs, flowers, and rock. All pretty common stuff. However, there were a few things that were different; as least different as far as my experiences go.

One thing was the amount of sheep. It seemed that 70% of the rural land we saw was devoted to sheep grazing. In fact, one place we stopped at didn’t even have the sheep contained. They just wandered wherever they pleased. If they were in the road, they had the right-of-way. Perhaps there are areas of the US like that, but I don’t recall ever seeing them. The next most popular use of the land I saw was probably split between cattle grazing and growing crops. In the US, these seem to be the top two uses.

In the US, farms make extensive use of fences. They divide people’s properties as well as keep animals off the roads. There were a lot of fences in Britain also, but it seemed as if the great majority of them were stone fences. There were miles and miles of stone fences covering the land, even up on steep hills and mountains. I guess this resulted from how plentiful rock was. In many of these areas, there was much more rock on the hills and mountains than there were trees. I guess that is why many of the towns also used stone for buildings rather than wood.

One final observation. The roadsides appeared to be lined with hedges much more than here in the US. I can’t tell you how many times I would raise my camera to snap a photo and before I could push the shutter button a hedge appeared and blocked my view. I learned quickly that I had to look ahead for potential photo opportunities, ready my camera, and snap just as soon as I could to avoid those hedges. But such are the challenges of a photo enthusiast.

Scotland Countryside