Monday, November 25, 2013

Britain From A to Z: M


The UK is known for its great universities. Places like Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, St Andrews, York, Cardiff, King’s College London, and so forth. People travel from all over the world to attend these schools. Interestingly, people travel from all over the world to attend our local university, the University of North Alabama. So, perhaps this is more due to the quality of the university’s outreach program than to its name recognition.

It is humbling to think about the great minds that were once part of those prestigious British schools. John Locke attended Westminster School, Christ Church, and Oxford. Charles Darwin went to Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh. Isaac Newton attended Trinity and Cambridge. Margaret Thatcher matriculated at City Law School and Oxford. Marty Feldman attended the School of Hard Knocks in London. I’m assuming here, of course, that Marty Feldman actually had a mind.

On our tour of Britain, we didn’t specifically target schools for visits, but we did see several along the way. It would have been interesting to actually visit some of the campuses, but there were too many other things to see. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough days.” 
The University of Glasgow

One thing we learned that I found very interesting was that public schools in Britain are called state schools while private schools are called public schools. The former makes sense, but the latter at first seemed bizarre. But on further thought it made some sense. Schools not run by the state were being run by the people in the public. Yet, I still had occasional lapses while trying to keep this in mind.

We have a friend who attends the University of Oxford. He’s also a Rhodes Scholar, so he definitely has the brains to go there. The interesting thing about the city of Oxford is that it is full of schools. Just bring up Oxford on Google Maps and see how many schools you can find. It’s amazing. We attempted to meet up with our friend while there, but he was back in the States at the time. Oh well.

As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, my son Andrew loves Wales and would like to study and teach there someday. I guess time will tell.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Britain From A to Z: L


It's difficult to find another country to travel to where the language is exactly the same as your native country. Hey, in larger countries, like the US, it's difficult to travel to other parts of the same country and have the language be the same. Yeah, a lot of it will be the same, but accents will differ, pronunciations will vary, and some idioms may be unique. Since Britain is mostly an English speaking place, these were the differences we noticed there. However, some Scots speak Scottish Gaelic, and some Welsh people speak Welsh.

For instance, to say "Good Afternoon" in Scottish Gaelic you say "Feasgar Math". Personally, I would have thought you were talking about some type of math invented by a guy named Feasgar. "Good Afternoon" in Welsh is "Prynhawn Da". To me, you might as well be a parent talking gibberish to a baby.

But things were different for my son, Andrew. He became interested in the Welsh language some time ago and can converse with others to a limited degree. It's still a mystery to me why he became interested in Welsh, but I do know the Finch name most likely comes from either England or Wales. Perhaps some long dormant gene activated in my son that took him back to his roots from many generations ago. I do know that he was extremely excited about visiting Wales, and he made an impression on a number of natives as a Welsh speaking Alabamian. Heck, he even impressed me seeing him in action. A telltale indicator that a dormant gene has activated in Andrew was his response to my wife's statement near the end of the trip. Kathy said, "I'm ready to go home." Andrew responded, "I am home."

Apart from the alternative languages spoken by some in Britain, there were a lot of interesting differences in their version of English. The accent is the first you notice. There is a distinctly different accent in Scotland vs England vs Wales. There are also differences within countries. Some I can distinguish; some I cannot. My son is much more attune to this, sometimes being able to narrow a person's accent down to a specific area within an individual country.

There were many cases of the wording for things differing with what I am used to. One that really stood out was the restrooms. In Britain they are mostly called toilets. Even the signs in stores read "Toilets". They knew what you meant if you asked where the restrooms were, but that's just not how they referred to them. Later I noticed that places for rent had signs that said "To Let". Yes, we use that term here in the US, but not as much as "For Rent". Early in our trip, I saw a large "To Let" sign from a distance and thought it read "ToiLet". I was at a loss as to why a toilet sign was so big and why they would capitalize the L. But then I realized it actually read "To Let", and started laughing about the closeness of the signs "Toilet" and "To Let".

There were a couple of interesting statements made by our tour guide. He would say something like this, "We will be stopping in [city name], and we'll be here long enough for you to have a wander." Have a wander? You have to wonder what that means. It's really quite obvious. You can wander about. I just don't remember ever hearing someone say have a wander. Here in the US, we would more likely say "take a stroll" or "walk around" or even "wander around".

Our tour guide would also talk about the people who live "in the street" as opposed to "on the street". I'm quite certain he wasn't talking about homeless people. But when you think about it, "on the street" sounds just as much like being homeless as "in the street". It kind of reminds me of George Carlin talking about getting "on the plane". He said he wasn't about to do that, he was getting "in the plane". So, perhaps for people who reside in a house we should say that they live "alongside the street". What'da'ya think?

Another idiom we encountered came from automated voices in elevators. We would step in and the voice would say something like, "The doors are closing. Please mind the doors." Mind the doors? I've not heard that one before, but you know the words mean, "Watch the doors" or "Be aware of the doors". Of course, all of these really mean, "Get your butt inside and don't get caught when the doors close." But I guess that's a little too verbose and a bit too direct.

One last word: Yip! I don't remember hearing this in Scotland or Wales, but it was quite ubiquitous in England. It was used frequently by female servers at restaurants. Here's a typical exchange. (You might better understand it if you have already read the F in this series for Food at

Server: Can I take your order?

Me: I'll have the Fish and Chips.

Server: Yip!

Me: Does it come with tartar sauce?

Server: Yip!

Me: I'll also have a Diet Coke with that.

Server: Yip!


Server: Would you like mushy peas with that?

Me: Yes.

Server: Yip.

This was then followed by a similar conversation with my wife and son. At first it seemed that these Yippee servers were being a bit curt with us, but I eventually realized that was simply their way of acknowledging they heard what we said.

Interestingly, we were recently dining at Ricatoni's, a local Italian restaurant. I noticed that our server had an English accent, so asked her where she was from. It was a small town in southern England. I told her about the Yippees we encountered in England and she was familiar with them. She could even Yip herself. Epic!

I'll stop at that. I will discuss more language differences in a later post. Yip!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Britain From A to Z: K


One thing that is always interesting to look out for while on a foreign trip is the clothing native to the country you are visiting. While most people we saw in the UK wore clothes similar to us in the US, there were occasions where we saw differing garb. The most prominent difference we encountered was in Scotland.

Most people are familiar with Scottish men wearing skirts. The Scots try to hide this by calling them kilts, but we Americans are not easily fooled. We know it is really a skirt. The kilt is usually made of wool--appropriate given the number of Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores we saw on our trip--in a tartan pattern. Of course, there has always been the question of whether or not kilted men wear underwear under that kilt. This question was immortalized in a song entitled "The Scotsman" written by Mike Cross. Give it a listen to get the answer.

The kilt is usually accompanied by a number of other elements of clothing. One is the purse. Yes, Scottish men carry purses. In an attempt to disguise this one, they are called sporrans. This is Scottish Gaelic word for purses. So, it's really only a disguise to outsiders. To complete the outfit, there is usually a dress shirt with either a tie or a tartan scarf, tall socks, shoes, and sometimes a cap. In more formal settings, things can be even fancier with jackets and so forth. This attire is typically called Highland Dress. Here are three photos of Scotsmen wearing kilts and differing accoutrements.

To their credit, Scotsmen don't eat quiche. And just in case that doesn't convince people they are real men, they sometimes carry a dirk, which is a long thrusting dagger. Just try to make fun of them when they are toting one of these.

In England, I didn't see much unique clothing except of course people wearing shirts sporting their favorite football team's logo. Of course, you do realize that football across the pond is what we in the US call soccer. Anglophiles like to call American football "handegg". I'm not sure if this is a compliment or an insult. Oh, well.

Come to think of it, one unusual type of clothing was the uniforms of the guards stationed at the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. It's definitely different than anything I've seen the US military wear. But them guns be cool.

In Wales I don't recall seeing any unusual clothing except for the costumes worn by some of the performers at Cardiff Castle's Welsh banquet. But that doesn't really count since entertainers are know the world over for wearing unusual, even outlandish, getups. Think Elton John, Madonna, and Liberace. And now Miley Cyrus is trying to make her mark. The harpist / pianist at the banquet wore a nice traditional Welsh outfit known as the Welsh National Costume.

As a fun closeout, take a look at this short cartoon. My Bunny Lies Over The Sea.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Response to Joel Anderson's Critique of My Book, Part 5

Recently, Dr. Joel Anderson wrote a critique of the chapter "God is Omniscient" from my book "God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God". Here is my response.

Joel went quite easy on me this time, probably because he understood where I was coming from as far as my approach to the chapter went. I point out early on in my book that while much of what I critique is the Bible itself, a large part of it is more of a critique of some people's beliefs about the Bible. Joel is apparently not a fan of systematic theology in that it takes an a priori belief and attempts to find Biblical passages that support that belief. Joel believes in Biblical theology, where a person just accepts what is said without trying to read more into it than there is. I agree with this approach.

One of the biggest problems I see with some people's study of the Bible is how they rationalize certain parts of the Bible they don't like to make it fit with other parts they do like. I say let the words fall where they may even if you end up with a contradiction. Doing otherwise is akin to systematic theology in that you have a priori determined there are no contradictions in the Bible and therefore must reinterpret parts to make the whole consistent. This is a no-no in my mind. (NOTE: No-no does not here refer to a hair removal system regardless of what my head looks like. ;>) )

Concerning my comments about Jesus' lack of knowledge of certain things, Joel says that nowhere in Christian history was it taught that Jesus was omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. I would say that is good, since Jesus was indeed none of these things. However, many Christians today teach that Jesus was all those things. They believe him to be God incarnate and thus in possession of all the attributes of God himself, which they believe include all those things. I believe Jesus was simply a man that was disgusted with the Jewish leadership of his day and spoke out against them. At most he was a man that perhaps had more insight into the mind of God than did most people of his day. He was rather like Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses pointing out the errors of the religious leaders. Jesus' harsh commentaries eventually got him killed.

Regarding my concerns with God's omniscience and man's free will not being compatible, Joel says, "At some level beyond our finite human understanding these two things work together. We’ve just got to accept it." To Joel I paraphrase HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, "I'm sorry, Joel, I'm afraid I can't do that." It's by reasoning through some of these issues that we can conclude that certain ideas are untenable.

I was glad to hear that Joel sees Biblical prophecy the way I do. The OT prophecies were concerned with events that took place back in OT times, not NT times or current day. The linking of Jesus' life to OT prophecy was simply the writers' way of relating Jesus' life to that of their ancestors. But some might say that even if that is so, those original prophecies still came true back in OT times. Well, that's not necessarily true. When you have one writer relaying a prophecy as well as its fulfillment, things get problematic. The prophecy and its fulfillment could have just been made up or certain events simply interpreted as a fulfillment. But on the other hand it could simply be that there were many prophets predicting a variety of things. By pure chance, some would get it right, some would get it wrong. If the latter were killed as false prophets and the former kept alive and their writings preserved, it would appear they have special powers they in reality did not have. I am reminded of a story I heard from a friend.

Suppose you want to start a financial newsletter and charge people a large sum of money for your financial expertise. You might be pretty good at predicting markets, but you are by no means perfect. So, what do you do to make people think you are a financial wizard worthy of a substantial part of their income. Well, you first start out by sending out a sample newsletter. Half of them make one prediction, the other half the opposite. You'll lose the people that receive the wrong prediction, but get the attention of the other half. Now, send out another half and half newsletter to just the ones you sent the correct prediction. Soon you will have some fraction (1/4, 1/8, 1/16, or whatever) of the recipients thinking you to be a financial genius and willing to send their money to you for more advice. Something similar could explain the prophets of old. After eliminating the wrong ones, you'd still have some fraction of them appearing to be God's man of the hour. As Joel says, "The Jews kept the writings of Jeremiah because his prophecy about Jerusalem’s destruction came true; they ditched the prophecies of Hananiah because his prophecies about Judah breaking Babylon’s yoke was proven to be false."

To better understand my views of the Bible and Jehovah, be sure to read a copy of my book, God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God. I am also the author of two other books. Passion is a Harsh Taskmaster is a mystery romance novel. Beginnings to Endings is a humorous philosophy book written in the style of one of my favorite humorists, Dave Barry. I also have four photography books published. Check out the ads to the left and below for links to these books as well as my various Web sites.