That Classic Dry British Wit

A competition in Great Britain picked the ten best one-liners of the year, as determined by public vote.

The winner?  Canadian comedian Stewart Francis’ jibe:  “You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”

If, like me, you don’t know who the heck “Posh” and “Becks” are, you just don’t get this quip.  With a little digging, however, you learn that “Becks” is British soccer star David Beckham and “Posh” is his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, and that they have named their unfortunate children Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven — and suddenly you think that the one-liner is pretty funny.

Two other personal favorites from the top 10:  Will Marsh’s comment that “I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister” (number 3) and Chris Turner’s jest, “I’m good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet… I don’t know Y” (number 5).

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Remembering A Forgotten War

On Independence Day, shouldn’t we also remember the conflict that some have called America’s second War of Independence?

What’s that, you say?  A second War of Independence?  I’m speaking, of course, of what Americans call the War of 1812 — when they talk about it at all, which isn’t often.  Most people heard about the war in American History class, thought it was boring and confusing, and promptly forgot about it.  That reaction isn’t surprising.  Who wants to think about a war where Washington, D.C. was embarrassingly captured and burned?

The War of 1812 grew out of America’s status as a pawn in the global chess game between Great Britain and Napoleonic France.  Both countries tried to restrict trade with the United States, a bit player in the Euro-centric world of the early 1800s, and the British routinely “impressed” — i.e., kidnapped — American sailors the Royal Navy encountered on the high seas.  A fed-up Congress declared war on Great Britain, land and sea battles were fought, the White House and the U.S. Capitol were burned by British troops, and the British bombardment of Baltimore led to the penning of The Star Spangled Banner.  The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent, in which the British agreed to leave the U.S. border with Canada unchanged and promised not to roil up Indian tribes in the American West, and America stopped insisting that the British end impressment.  America then achieved its only significant land battle victory in the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the treaty had been negotiated.

Although most Americans have forgotten the inconclusive conflict, many Ohioans — including the Bus-Riding Conservative — are buffs of the War of 1812.  That’s because one of America’s notable victories, in the Battle of Lake Erie, was fought just off Ohio’s northern shores.  An American gunboat squadron commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British squadron, and Perry wrote the deathless line “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  Today any reveler at Put-in-Bay — and there are likely to be a few — can hoist a cold adult beverage to Commodore Perry and salute the nearby Perry Monument that towers over the lake’s shores.

The Dreaded Double Dip

Today Great Britain published statistics indicating that its economy has slid back into recession, making England the victim of a dreaded “double dip” recession.  Economic officials in the United States are holding their breath and hoping that the American economy doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

“Double dip” recessions are no laughing matter — but we can all use a laugh now and then.  And who can hear the phrase “double dip” without thinking of this classic scene from Seinfeld:

George Washington, Their Greatest Enemy

The British National Army Museum has held a contest to identify England’s greatest military opponent, and the winner was . . . George Washington.

The Father of our Country beat out Napoleon Bonaparte, Irish leader Michael Collins, Erwin Rommel, the crafty Desert Fox of World War II, and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a World War I opponent and the father of modern Turkey, among a number of other candidates.

How could Washington be considered a greater foe than the likes of Napoleon?  After all, the history of the Revolutionary War is a long litany of defeats and retreats by the outmanned American forces, without many of the brilliant tactical maneuvers that gave Napoleon and Rommel their reputations.  For that reason, some people have belittled Washington’s military prowess.

But one other, important factor distinguishes Washington from Napoleon and Rommel — Washington’s side eventually prevailed.  General Washington never gave up and somehow managed to hold together his rag-tag, underfunded band of soldiers until the French entered the fray.  Washington then teamed with the French to deliver the final blow to the British forces at Yorktown, which led to the Treaty of Paris and the independence of the American colonies.

The loss of the American colonies was probably the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the British during the glory centuries of the British Empire.  So yes, George Washington is a logical choice for England’s greatest military opponent.  He was, as the British themselves recognized, a worthy foe.

British Breakdown

It has been an evil week in England.  Across that country, there has been an outbreak of lawlessness that has overwhelmed police and firefighting forces and left law-abiding Britons frustrated and furious.

The problems began on Saturday, when what started as a peaceful protest of a police shooting in a London neighborhood suddenly turned violent.  The violence quickly spread to other London neighborhoods, and for three nights England’s capital city was the scene of arson, vandalism, and rampant crime as gangs roamed the city, burning cars and storefronts, looting businesses, and terrorizing citizens.  Police struggled to decide how much force to use to deal with the problem, while politicians at all levels were harshly criticized for failing to take action.  Last night, there was a massive show of police force in London that quelled the violence in that city, but the rioting and disorder spread to other British cities and towns, where hundreds of arrests were made.  (And don’t look now, but some American cities, like Philadelphia, are experiencing similar problems, on a much smaller scale, with teenager “flash mob” violence.)

Sociologists and criminologists will debate what has caused the rampages — is it boredom due to lack of jobs, or a reflection of general dissociation from mainstream society, or something so simple as a desire to get new athletic shoes and flat-screen TVs for free? — but the real tipping point would come if average citizens conclude that their government can’t protect them, their businesses, and their possessions, and therefore they need to protect themselves.  If that happens, a short-term outbreak of lawlessness becomes a long-term societal change with profound, and entirely negative, economic and political implications.

 

Taking A Stand Against “Manorexia”

In England, there is concern about “manorexia” — that is, males dealing with anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders.  Apparently statistics show a 66 percent increase in the number of hospital admissions for males with eating disorders in the last decade, and it is now thought that one in five people experiencing eating disorders may be male.  The experts believe that males are feeling increased pressure to look like male models and work out for hours every day to acquire “six-pack” abdomens.

In America — where I don’t know anyone who pays any attention to male models, much less wants to look like one — we don’t seem to have this concern.  In fact, from the examples of manatomy I’ve seen walking around lately, I’d say we are dealing with the mantethesis of the problem.  Sure, you see sweaty, shirtless guys running at lunch hour trying to showing off their ripped physiques, but for every one of those there are ten or twenty seriously overweight dudes huffing and puffing as they walk by.  We could use more attention to diet and exercise, not less.

Nevertheless, if “manorexia” is a problem, I will do my part to fight this scourge.  I will stoutly resist any impulse to look like a pale and underfed pencil-necked geek.  I will work to maintain a beefy, florid-faced appearance.  I pledge to forgo that leafy plate of greens in favor of a loaded meat and cheese pizza from Joe’s Place.  I will sacrifice a gut-crunching two-hour daily workout in favor of more time in front of the home computer screen and TV set.  I promise to drink beer and eat Frosted Flakes and cheeseburgers and fries in order to do my part.

Is anyone with me?

Royal Wedding Versus Jersey Shore

On Friday many Anglophilic Americans will get up extra early, brew some good strong tea and let it steep, heat up scones with clotted cream, and tune in the royal wedding.  Great Britain’s Prince William is getting married to Kate Middleton, and the royal watchers will be agog at the extraordinary display — commenting on every nuance of the ceremony, the cost of the event, the origins of the silks and satins in the bridal gown, the nature of the floral displays, and countless other details that no rational person would even notice.

The British people have a hereditary monarchy; they more or less have to pay attention to this stuff.  Why do any Americans, who fought the Revolutionary War 235 years ago to throw off the British monarchy, care?  Who knows for sure?  But Americans do like celebrity, and the British royal family are just about the essence of celebrity.  They’re super-rich and seemingly stylish, they live in castles and palaces, they take fabulous vacations and holidays, they wear crowns and medals and kilts and fine hats and gowns, and they don’t have jobs in the normal sense of the word.  What’s not to like?

Some haughty Americans will use the occasion of the royal wedding to make fun of the Brits and their American cousins who are obsessed with the royal family.  However, in a land where the dim-witted cast members of Jersey Shore are famous, we shouldn’t be so quick to cast judgment on our friends across the pond.  After all, even “Fergie” is not more appalling than Snooki.  If you have to live in a culture that seems to inevitably make otherwise unremarkable people famous, at least let it be folks who can speak the King’s English properly, who live in Windsor Castle, and who don’t apply make-up with a trowel, flaunt their perma-tans and cleavage and pumped-up muscles, blather to a camera about their inane personal problems, and routinely engage in drunken misbehavior.

So, good luck and best wishes to the Prince and his bride!  Now, let us get back to our fixation on American low lifes.