Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Grave Of Winston Churchill At Bladon

The grave of Winston Churchill at Bladon, which we visited early on the morning of August 18, 2008, two years ago today.


When we returned from our 2008 trip to Great Britain, I wrote about our journey.

I ended my post by describing how moved I was by Churchill's grave.

Andrew tells me it is the best thing I have ever written, and he suggested that I publish it again.


Andrew’s father always has insightful and original observations to make, and it is always a pleasure to learn what he has to say about anything. About halfway through our trip, he pointed out that everything in Britain worth seeing, and everything that makes Britain unique, pre-dates World War I.

World War I was the great turning point in Britain’s fortunes. The country has never recovered from the disaster of The Great War, from which Britain emerged as a titular victor but from which Britain also emerged as a spent force. Nothing created in Britain after World War I—whether buildings or institutions—is of anything other than parochial quality or interest.

Other than summoning one last burst of energy to get through World War II, Britain is a nation that has been in long-term decline since The Great War. After 1918, the nation turned inward, and shifted its focus to bitter domestic infighting over apportioning pieces of a dwindling national wealth. That decline will soon be one century old, and there is no sign of abatement in its depressing progress. Its insignia are everywhere.

The most obvious evidence may be witnessed in its citizens. Britain’s people are provincial and narrow-minded, poor and poorly-educated, unable to accept and adapt to the fact that Britain is now a Third-World country, more or less irrelevant on the world stage.

The standard of living in Britain is remarkably low, and the gap in living standards between Britain and the most advanced societies such as the United States, Japan and Singapore is great and ever-widening. The quality of goods is poor, the quality of food is poor, the quality of health care is poor, and the quality of education is poor. This has very troubling implications for the future of the Atlantic Alliance, an alliance many Americans assume will die (and rightfully so) over the course of the next two, three or four decades.

Thirty years ago, Britain enjoyed a standard of living that was the envy of Spain. Today Spain enjoys a standard of living that is the envy of Britain. The standard of living is today higher in traditionally-impoverished Ireland than in Britain, a situation genuinely unthinkable as recently as one generation ago. Soon enough, Poland will enjoy a standard of living higher than Britain’s.

Personal productivity is today higher in France, of all places, than in Britain. Personal productivity is also higher in Brazil, still an under-developed country by any reasonable measure.

For the cause of its decline, Britain need only examine its tax policies, which inhibit the creation of capital.

None of this will change unless and until Britain abandons its present course, and this is very unlikely to happen. Only a shocking external event could reverse the course of decline Britain has embraced, and even a shocking external event may no longer do the trick.

Ironically, Britain’s decline was set in stone, not in the first half of the 1940’s, while war raged, but in the second half of that decade. Having secured a victory over Germany for the second time in as many generations, Britain voted Churchill out of office even before victory in the Pacific theater had been secured. The new government instituted policies that guaranteed that Germany, the loser of the war, would be the ultimate victor. To what ends had the great sacrifices of the war years been perverted?

Churchill did not return to power until 1951, at which point he was too old to take a firm hand in shaping his country’s future, lacking the strength and the willpower necessary to dismantle the social welfare programs and revoke the draconian tax laws enacted by Clement Atlee and Ernest Bevin. Churchill led what amounted to a caretaker government until 1955, at which point he was gently eased into retirement by the senior leadership of the Conservative Party and succeeded by Anthony Eden, who was to fall from power only one year later, a victim of the Suez misadventure.

At least Churchill, upon his death in 1965, ten years after retiring from office, was awarded the honor of a grand State Funeral. His was the last State Funeral to be accorded to one not a member of The Royal Family. (It was recently determined that Baroness Thatcher, upon her death, will also be honored with a State Funeral).

We visited Churchill’s grave at Bladon very early on Monday morning, our last full day in Britain. We were the only visitors present at such an early hour.

Churchill’s grave is a simple stone slab in a small rural churchyard, only a short distance from Blenheim Palace, where Churchill spent his unhappy childhood years. His grave is surrounded by trees as well as the graves of his loved ones: his British father and his American mother, his devoted Clementine, and three of their children, including Randolph, Churchill’s favorite. (The grave of another Churchill relative, Consuelo Vanderbilt, wife of the Ninth Duke Of Marlborough, is also nearby. The Churchill men clearly liked to marry American brides.)

Churchill’s gravestone is white. This shocked us greatly. Alex and Andrew had visited Churchill’s grave in 2004, and they had told us that the gravestone was dark gray in color, almost black.

As things turned out, we learned that Churchill’s gravestone had been cleaned in 2006 and restored to its original color. The current gravestone, however, is not the original. It is the second gravestone installed over Churchill’s grave. The first gravestone had been replaced in 1998, decayed by the tens of thousands of visitors who had worn away the gravestone by touching its surface in tribute to the great man. The current gravestone, too, shows great signs of wear, and will probably have to be replaced in another decade or so.

It is very telling that such a great man, who could have elected to be buried at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and who could have commanded a great monument to rival the magnificent stone edifices erected for Wellington and Nelson, chose for his final resting place a simple grave in an isolated country churchyard near his native soil.

We spent twenty minutes or so standing and quietly paying our respects. We all touched the gravestone, which was somehow important to us. Churchill, half-American, one of the greatest Anglo men who ever lived, was THE great figure of the Twentieth Century, just as Abraham Lincoln was THE great figure of the 19th Century and just as George Washington was THE great figure of the 18th Century. Churchill, however, somehow seems closer to us than Lincoln or Washington, perhaps because he was not such a distant figure. There are millions of people alive today who lived through the Churchill years, although their number grows smaller with each passing year.

Visiting Churchill’s grave was a deeply moving experience. It was also, oddly, a very sad experience. Our sadness was almost inexplicable in view of the fact that Churchill had enjoyed such a long and fulfilling life, a life of vast achievement and vast accomplishment in many fields, a life of long and deep friendships, a life that produced a devoted circle of family members and admirers. At age ninety-one, Churchill had earned well his final rest, and at his death no one lamented the fact that the old lion, who had performed his services to his nation so admirably, had been called home at last. (His beloved Clementine survived him by a dozen years, but Clementine retired permanently from public life at Winston’s death. She spent the final twelve years of her life in seclusion.)

It must have been the passing, not of the man himself, but of what Churchill represented, that filled us with a great sense of sadness.

His like will not come again.

I wonder what Winston Churchill would make of the Britain of today.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which we visited on August 17, 2008, exactly two years ago today.

Stratford-Upon-Avon, in which we spent two nights and one day, was one of the great disappointments of our 2008 trip.

The Shakespeare-related attractions were largely kitsch, and the town itself bore little charm and contained little of interest beyond its Shakespeare associations.

Even the performance we caught by The Royal Shakespeare Company, a production of “King Lear”, was not worth sitting through.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Royal Crescent, Bath

The Royal Crescent, Bath, which we visited on August 14, 2008, two years ago today.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Glastonbury Abbey

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, which we visited on August 13, 2008, two years ago today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tate Saint Ives

Tate Saint Ives, which we visited on August 11, 2008, two years ago today.

Tate Saint Ives is not a good building, and not a good museum.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saint Michael's Mount

Saint Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall, which we visited two years ago today, on August 10, 2008.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Klagenfurt Rathaus

It was one year ago today, on August 7, 2009, that Andrew and I, my parents, and my brother and sister visited Klagenfurt, one of Europe’s most beautiful—and most undiscovered—cities.

The photograph below shows Klagenfurt’s Rathaus, situated in a former palace belonging to some long-forgotten Carpathian noble family.

I would like to back to Klagenfurt, too.

Salisbury Cathedral

It was two years ago today, on August 7, 2008, that Andrew and I, Andrew’s parents, Andrew’s brother, Alex, and my sister visited Salisbury Cathedral.

For Andrew and Alex, it was their third visit to Salisbury Cathedral since 2002. For Andrew’s parents, it was their first visit to Salisbury Cathedral in many, many years.

For my sister and me, however, Salisbury Cathedral was entirely uncharted ground. We were eager to see and to visit this landmark Early English Gothic cathedral portrayed in so many beloved John Constable paintings.

We were not disappointed.

I found Salisbury Cathedral to be the highlight of our 2008 trip.

We devoted an entire day to visiting everything within the Salisbury Cathedral Close. We slowly walked around the entire close, admiring the great structure from all vantage points. We went inside and took a guided tour of the cathedral’s vast interior. After the tour, we remained inside the cathedral for another couple of hours, exploring monuments and chapels on our own. We ate lunch in the cathedral refectory, an excellent restaurant. We visited the Salisbury Cathedral Cloisters, the largest and most elaborate cloisters in Britain. We visited the Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House (and examined one of four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta). We took a second guided tour, which escorted us through inner passageways leading up to the cathedral’s roof, from which we enjoyed marvelous views from the cathedral’s ramparts. At the end of the afternoon, we slowly walked around the close a second time, admiring the structure under different light conditions.

It was a glorious, even inspiring, day.

The singular feature of Salisbury Cathedral is that it is a unified work of art, very unusual for English cathedrals. Because the cathedral was built in a comparatively brief period of time (construction required less than a century), the cathedral is a very pure and a very noble example of Early English Gothic, unobstructed by changing architectural fashion and unaltered by later—and inconsistent—architectural overlays. With the highest spire in England (and the only pre-1400 spire still standing anywhere in the world), Salisbury Cathedral is a remarkable structure, one of the greatest and most beautiful buildings on the planet.

I can understand why Andrew and Alex like to return again and again to Salisbury Cathedral.

I would like to go back again soon.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arundel Cathedral And Arundel Castle

Two years ago today, on August 5, 2008, we visited Arundel.

The town of Arundel lies on the banks of The River Arun. On hills high above the town are situated Arundel’s two most notable landmarks, Arundel Cathedral and Arundel Castle.

We visited Arundel Cathedral, a beautiful 19th-Century recreation of a French Gothic cathedral, in the morning.

In the afternoon, we visited Arundel Castle, the second-largest castle in the British Isles and home of the Howard family, Britain’s most exalted and most distinguished family after The Royal Family. Arundel Castle, when it is open to the public, is open only during afternoon hours.

Arundel is not a large town, and it appears not to receive large numbers of foreign visitors, perhaps because it is somewhat out-of-the-way.

There were very few visitors to Arundel Cathedral on the morning of our visit and, based upon accents we overheard, no visitors but ourselves were Americans.

Arundel Castle, with very constricted hours, had a significant number of visitors on the afternoon of our visit, but all appeared to be British. We heard no American accents—and no persons speaking German or French—during an entire afternoon exploring Arundel Castle.

Portions of the castle very seldom open to the public were open on the afternoon of our visit, and we suspected that the large number of British visitors was a function of the special opening.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lamb House

It was on August 4, 2008, exactly two years ago today, that Andrew and I, Andrew’s parents, Andrew’s brother, Alex, and my sister spent a delightful day in the English market town of Rye.

I loved Rye, a very ancient and very charming town with attractions sufficient to justify the devotion of one day and two nights.

We saw everything worth seeing in Rye, including Lamb House, residence of two famous novelists.

I quote the following from Andrew’s description of Lamb House.

Lamb House is of interest primarily to lovers of literature. Henry James wrote his mature novels at Lamb House. E.F. Benson not only wrote his “Lucia” novels at Lamb House, but he had his heroine actually reside there. It was from Lamb House that the worshipful Lucia governed the inhabitants of Tilling, making them come to her various soirees and dinners, and making them listen to her butcher the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata over and over. It was at Lamb House that Lucia played the piano duets of “Celestial Mozartino” with Georgie, plotted against Miss Mapp, guarded her secret recipe, Lobster A La Risholme, and started The War Of The Chintz Roses. It was also from Lamb House that Lucia placed her successful stock trades with her London banker, Mammoncash And Company.

Someday I shall have to read the six “Lucia” novels. Andrew insists that they are among the most amusing comic novels ever written.

Andrew’s parents spent part of their honeymoon in Rye. Our 2008 visit was their first return to Rye in thirty-five years—and they insisted that in 2008 Rye looked exactly as it had looked in 1973.

According to Andrew’s parents, only the prices had changed over the intervening years.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Saint James's Palace

Saint James’s Palace on Pall Mall, which Andrew and I—as well as my sister and Andrew’s brother, Alex—visited on August 2, 2008, two years ago today.

It was my second visit to Saint James’s Palace. Andrew and I—as well as Alex and Andrew’s parents—had previously visited Saint James’s Palace in September 2007.

Crud In Iowa City

Whenever Andrew’s father observes people say or do something idiotic, he invariably shakes his head and says, “We live in a nation of morons.”

I think of Andrew’s father’s aphorism whenever I view twitter accounts of college basketball players.

I, like many others that follow college sports, have relentlessly poked fun of late at twitter accounts of college basketball players. As a general rule, I believe it may safely be stated that only the dumbest of college basketball players tweet, which is why it has recently become fashionable for sports fans to read these grimy tweets and widely poke fun at them as well as at the persons composing them.

College basketball players that tweet seem especially prone to stupidity—which they display publicly and incessantly, on a continuously-updated basis—as well as baseness. I have yet to see a twitter account of a college basketball player that was not produced by an utter moron—and a total piece of crud.

It is basketball players at unsuccessful, down-market programs that seem to produce the most offensive—and certainly the dumbest—tweets.

It is pretty hard for a major university to lose money on a men's basketball program, but there are seven unprofitable men's basketball programs at major universities, the most conspicuous of which is the University Of Iowa, which lost $1.5 million on its men’s basketball program last year.

I can see why the University Of Iowa men’s basketball program is one of only a handful of B.C.S. basketball programs drowning in red ink: the program has gone totally down-market, populated by down-market players and down-market coaches. The program has lost its appeal—and, deservedly, loss of the fan base has followed.

Attendance figures for last season were gruesome: an average of 5,150 persons showed up for last season’s home games in an arena accommodating 15,500 persons. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, there were home games in Iowa City last season in which fewer than 2,000 persons were in attendance, a figure on par with high school games at mid-size high schools throughout the country.

This is as it should be. The Iowa program is entirely smelly at present. It deserves support from no quarter.

Sports fans, consciously or unconsciously, do not support bad programs. They withhold their loyalty, their dedication—and their dollars. And the Iowa program in its current state is certainly entitled to nothing but scorn.

In addition to losing fans, the Iowa program is also losing out on the state’s finest native athletes. The cream of Iowa’s instate players now looks elsewhere, to out-of-state rivals, to play for successful—and clean—programs like Wisconsin’s rather than be associated with the Iowa program, which now evinces a distinct disreputable rub. It makes no sense for smart high school players from Iowa to remain instate and play for down-market Fran McCaffery when they can go across the border and play for Bo Ryan in Madison.

Sadly, the Iowa program has not yet hit bottom.

Things will go from bad to worse in Iowa City over the next few years because the current Iowa basketball coach goes after players that other schools, for reasons academic and otherwise, would never touch with a ten-foot pole.

A prime example is Melsahn Basabe, an incoming Iowa player that received scholarship offers from only three other schools, none in a B.C.S. conference. Many schools looked at Basabe, apparently a genuine rough talent, but only three schools offered scholarships. All other schools took a pass, since Basabe is precisely the type of student athlete that reputable universities do not want.

Basabe’s twitter account—a total hoot, one of the funniest (and most embarrassing if not outright disturbing) things available on the worldwide web—demonstrates precisely what kind of person he is.

Basabe is conspicuously dumb. His stupidity is probably his defining characteristic. He is so profoundly brain-challenged, he appears to be utterly incapable of embarrassment.

Like others, I have immensely enjoyed reading college sports fans as they have mercilessly poked fun at Basabe’s extraordinarily-low SAT scores. I have immensely enjoyed watching video interviews with Basabe, as the interviews have demonstrated, without question, that Basabe, does not have the brains God gave a rubber duck.

It is Basabe’s twitter account, however, that takes the cake.

Basabe's twitter account provides a rich source of amusement, a constant reminder that there are unaccountably stupid people in this world, people with which the rest of us are forced to share this planet.

Simply put, Basabe’s tweets demonstrate that he is a moron beyond compare.

Basabe’s tweets also provide evidence that Basabe is a crud and a jerk, destined to lead a very non-productive life (and one unlikely to be free from incarceration at some point).

Below are a few excerpts, taken from Basabe’s most recent 100 tweets.

“Since when has it become cool to get shoot, and not shoot back.”

Yes, indeed—and does not everyone ask oneself that question, and often? I certainly do, especially when encountering misusage of verb forms.

“Just downloaded a mixtape of all sex tracks . . .i know yalll proud.”

Yes, indeed—“proud” was certainly the first word that came to my mind. And it is always essential for athletes to alert the public about any pronounced fondness for pornography.

“Working on my speach.”

And I hope Basabe is working on his spelling, too—in another tweet, this moron also spelled “know” as “knoe”—as well as continuing to devote serious attention to elementary verb forms.

“ill nail you, fish scale, that on the scale boo, run a train on your girl then derail you."

Ah, there’s nothing more civilized than a little gang rape banter, is there? Basabe, a creep with a sex problem, will fit right in at the University Of Iowa, where Pierre Pierce and numerous football players—those already convicted as well as those currently awaiting trial—paved the way for acceptance of such behavior.

“alcholod edu is in the way between me and the end of summer school…This is stupid, I don’t need this information”

I’d review this sentiment if I were Basabe (as well as continue to work on basic grade-school spelling projects). In fact, Basabe may want to repeat that alcohol abuse course three or four times, perhaps more—and consider taking teammate Matt Gatens with him, too. Gatens has been a fixture of the Iowa City bar scene since high school, habitually engaging in underage (and unlawful) drinking in public bars even before entering college—and Iowa City law-enforcement authorities (and bar owners) have deliberately looked the other way for years.


If I were Sally Mason, President of the University Of Iowa, I would be having a cow over twitter accounts and facebook accounts of University Of Iowa athletes. The athletes are bringing disrepute upon themselves, they are bringing disrepute upon the athletics department, and they are bringing disrepute upon the university.

Basabe’s twitter account, bad as it is, is far from the worst of twitter and facebook accounts belonging to University Of Iowa athletes. Indeed, Basabe’s crude rantings are mild compared to a few others I have seen.

This deplorable behavior is happening on Sally Mason’s watch. It has become an inherent, integral and longstanding part of Iowa athletics. It is becoming part of Mason’s—and the university’s—legacy.

And this behavior is not admirable. It is not acceptable. It cannot be tolerated by a reputable institution of higher learning.

And people are watching.

And people are talking.