27th July 2004
LONDON UK -
I stayed in London's East End (E1) with friends.
Peter & Maureen have a largish family and live near the church of
Stepne (mentioned in the nursery rhyme, "Oranges & Lemons".)
London is an old city. Parts of the Tower of London (which is
actually a castle-fortress, I had always pictured a lone tower) were
reportedly built in the tenth
century. Other parts are more recent, like the PVC downpipe that
is fastened to the outside of the stone walls of the castle, or the
middle ages brickwork addittions to the medieval stonework. The
which had been shown in nursery rhymes titled "London Bridge" is
called "Tower Bridge". London bridge was sold some years
past to the USA (for $1 million I was told), and rebuilt in
Arizona. Although my informant took the attitude "stupid yanks" I
actually think that the Arizonans probably got the best of the
deal. London Bridge is an Icon, written into every english
child's world construct, and to learn that the original is in
Arizona was a shock. The new London Bridge is a box girder
construct, no doubt adequate for the purpose, but lacking in
London city is the original walled city, and is quite small, about one
mile square. The Tower was where the East wall joined the
The city of Westminster is to the south-west of London city, and
where Whitehall (street) is, with the houses of parliament between
Whitehall and the Thames. About half a mile to the east of
Parliament is Buckingham Palace.
Queen Elizabeth II is the lynchpin of English and Australian
government. Few Australians realize it, but our uniformed police
and soldiers swear allegiance to the crown. The UK does not have
a written constitution, parliament exercises it's power by tradition
with the permission of the crown. The only power that parliament
exercises in it's own right is that to enact Taxation. As I
understand it, the Queen could make any proclamation (except taxation),
whether approved by parliament or not, and it would be law. The
Governor General of Australia has the same powers, written into our
The Thames is a tidal river, and the change in height from ebb to flow
varies up to about 8 meters (25 feet). This causes quite rapid
currents in the river, which contains many varieties of fish.
My Starbux T-Mobile wifi account functioned, (albeit with quite a few
problems,) in the UK. I had to modify my username, and for some
reason the connection process did not properly release my IP number; it
was necessary to go into DOS Command mode, and "IPCONFIG /RELEASE"
before each session, then
reboot to permit connection. I had no such trouble from T-Mobile
anywhere in the USA.
The cost of everything in London is high. Using the MacDonald's
index, (i.e. comparing the cost of a MacDonald's salad in USA to one in
London) I found that the UK pound stands at approximately twice its
purchasing power. In other words, after exchanging your US dollar
for Pounds, everything costs about twice what it would in the
USA. There are variations, petrol costs about three or four times
what it would in the USA (80pence per litre, which works out to about
$6.20 per US gallon).
AMSTERDAM NL -
The bus from London to Amsterdam cost about twenty pounds. That
was a bargain, the normal fare is around forty pounds. In
Amsterdam everything is, like in London, about twice what it would be
in the USA. I found accommodation for twenty euros (about AU$35)
in a youth hostel on Kloveniersburg wal.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city. I have not left the inner suburb
called Centrum, which is a spiderweb of canals & bridges.
Just about every
street seems to have a canal down it's centre. The bicycle is the
main form of mechanized transport. The canals are filled with
houseboats, tourist barges, and small outboard powered dinghys.
The canals provide an alternative transport system, no part of centrum
would be more than about 50 meters from a canal.
I only speak English, but that is no problem in Amsterdam. In
talking to over 50 people, I have only met about 2 or three with whom I
could not communicate with reasonable fluency. A young American
girl (from NYC) newly arrived in Amsterdam came up and asked me for
directions in what sounded to be fluent Dutch. I responded "I
only speak English", much to the discomfort of herself in front of her
friends. I have found that most written dutch can, after a few
moments reflection, be translated. Consider for instance
"boekhandel" which means (I think) "bookshop", or "poezie" for
poetry, although it could have been flowers, or "sleuthspecialist"
which means (I think) locksmith, although at first I thought it could
have meant detective.
There are only two T-Mobile wifi connections in Amsterdam, one is in a
hotel at the airport, the other is in a hotel in the west of
Centrum. The staff at the hotel have been kind enough to permit
me to sit in various spaces within their hotel to connect with the
Some of the people in this city speak disparagingly of the homelessness
USA. There is as much homelessness in
Amsterdam. I was in "Rokin Amrak" (the main street) at 7AM and
saw the proprietor of
a restaurant move two people that he found sleeping in different parts
of his doorstep. Other sleepers were visible in other
locations. One homeless person actually demanded money with menace,
called me an A******e when I refused to give him money. I have
seen the homeless all over the USA, mainly in
the large cities where I have settled, LA, SF, NY. Back in Sydney
there are homeless. I have never felt as threatened as here in
Amsterdam. I have come to the conclusion that
homelessness is not cured by high taxes and welfare. In Australia
we have a welfare system that pays anybody who is unemployed about $220
per week. That is sufficient to find accommodation and buy
food. Yet still we have beggars, still we have the
It might assuage a few liberal consciences to throw money at
the unemployed and the homeless, but it certainly does not cure the
problem. In fact, it seems to exacerbate it. The
combination of higher taxes and minimum wage laws that are so popular
in nanny states mean that fewer people are employed. The lack of
consequences to those who use threats encourages violence.
Amsterdam has a name as practicing the most libertarian attitude of the
cities in the world. I certainly found that to be so. Like
Las Vegas, prostitution is legal. The girls stand behind full
length glass doors in the "red light district", displaying their wares
in (so it seems) whatever manner they please. While I was at the
town hall, I found a pamphlet entitled "same sex marriages" which
explained the dutch laws on same sex marriage. There are
delightful coffee houses which I have been frequenting. In one
(corner of Kloveniersburg wal & Rusland Raamor) I found the waiter
showing a printed menu for about six varieties of hashish and eight
varieties of grass. Both were being sold by the gram, for prices
ranging from six to eight euros. In a tulip vendor's stand, three
potting mixes containing marijuana seeds were selling "on special" for
While walking to my accommodation I was staring at my map, and a tall
dutchman (195cm, about 6ft 7in.) asked if I was lost. (I wasnt,
just puzzled.) We ended up drinking beer in a nearby bar,
discussing politics rather loudly. I said that people should not
blame individual americans for all of their (USA) government's actions,
and pointed out that I totally objected to Australian prime ministers
Whitlam & Frazer's countenancing of the Indonesian invasion of
Timor, and that I would like to see them both jailed for life. He
explained that the Dutch was also responsible for the Timor invasion,
because Indonesia was an ex colony of theirs.
Then a whole lot of Scotsmen invaded the bar, attracted no doubt by the
loud argument in english. We all started talking, and after a
while I left. Those guys need minders!
POLITICS & MEDIA -
Talkback radio is described by
"liberals"* in Australia and the USA as being "biassed" against
the Labour (or Democrat) party. The internet is
spawning a large number of "bloggers" of whom Matt
is the most famous. Most bloggers are described as
conservative. On the other hand, most newspapers and
television stations (with the exception of those operated by "NEWS Corp
and the WSJ) are distinctly liberal.
Talkback radio and internet "bloggers" are
direct & personalized feedback media in that they both accept
(censored) online comment. TV and
newspapers seem to have somewhat more restrictions on feedback.
Small capital media (radio & internet) tend to be
whilst big capital media (TV and the Dailies) tend to liberal. The
exception to that rule are the Murdoch media, which is considered (at
least by some vociferous liberal commentators) to have an owner
anti-liberal bias. They do not explain why Rupert Murdoch's media
favour with an increasing
proportion of viewers, while the big capital media, (which mostly
liberal opinion) have a diminishing share.
I suspect that Murdoch
enterprises are increasing their market share precisely because of
their editorial policy, which I suspect is more in tune with the
political perceptions of a majority of people.
*Not to be consfused with the
Australian Liberal Party, which are
actually the conservative party in Australian politics, whereas the
Labour party is full of "Liberals".