Just a Wee Blether…

About too close for comfort weather

A few weeks ago, I was mumping and moaning about the extreme weather conditions in Arizona. The temperature had hit 122f and the heat was getting unbearable. Road surfaces were melting, the zoo was closed, even some planes were grounded.

It turns out I should really have kept my mouth shut. As bad is it was – and it felt pretty uncomfortable for most of the summer – it was nothing compared with the crazy weather of recent weeks. North America has had to endure everything from hurricanes and floods to wildfires and earthquakes.

Americans in certain parts of the country are well-used to this. In Florida and the southern states, they talk of September as the ‘hurricane season’. Here in Arizona, the worst we get are wildfires caused by the intense heat. At one point this summer, there were 75 wildfires burning in the state. Four years ago, 19 firemen were killed fighting a massive hill fire north west of Phoenix.

This year’s weather season was absolutely devastating, one of the worst in living memory. Luckily, I wasn’t affected – well, not directly. What did make the situation real for me was that, in every major disaster, from Hurricane Harvey to the Mexican earthquake, I knew someone involved, somebody who was there and affected by it. That brought it home more than any news report or TV coverage.

Harvey came first, striking a direct hit on Houston, Texas. A former school friend of mine has lived in the city for decades and, when I saw the scale of the destruction, I emailed to make sure she was ok. I was pleased to get a reply a few days later to say that all was well. But bizarrely, she had just flown for a pre-arranged meeting with another old school friend – to the Florida Keys. So, they then had to be evacuated from the path of Hurricane Irma.

Talking of Irma, as it was barreling its way across the Atlantic, my stepdaughter’s in-laws were enjoying a much-needed vacation on the sunshine Caribbean island of St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. They flew home only two days before Irma flattened the place, uprooting trees and homes, and knocking out power supplies. Their holiday snaps might just show the last pictures of St Thomas as a paradise resort.

Irma then continued to the US mainland, most notably the state of Florida. Friends of ours live in the city of Fort Myers. They had to flee their home as it approached and returned days later to find tiles from the roof blown off, along with some landscaping damage. Bad enough but a lucky escape compared with others in the area.

They braced themselves for Hurricane Maria, which followed in Irma’s wake, but it passed them by.

While all this mayhem was going on, my wife’s sister and her family were clearing their valuable possessions from their home on the Oregon coast as the Chetco Bar wildfire headed towards them. The fire at its peak covered 107,000 acres, destroyed houses, and sent a column of smoke 20,000 feet into the air.

The fire got within three miles of the house before the wind changed, the rain came, and the danger was averted.

Just as things were settling down in the USA, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City, killing more than 270 people. Again, my first thoughts were for a long-time friend, an ex-journalistic colleague from Scotland, who lives in the city.

When I emailed him, he replied with the good news that all was well. However, there had been a ‘scary hour’ before he could contact his wife and school-age daughter to make sure they were alive and well.

So, you’ll be pleased to know that I survived the natural disasters that came our way this year. And equally pleased that all my friends escaped unscathed too. Next year, when the temperature soars in Arizona, I’ll be careful to keep my complaining in perspective.

Now, did someone mention volcanoes?

Just a Wee Blether…

About tragedy…tweetery…stupidity

Take a look at the woman pictured. Until Monday, she had a pretty good job, earning a six-figure salary as a corporate lawyer with one of America’s leading television stations, CBS. Today, Hayley Geftman-Gold is one of the most hated women in America – and for very good reason.

Late on Sunday night, while the horror of the Las Vegas massacre was unfolding, the 41-year old made the fateful decision to issue a tweet, giving her thoughts on the tragedy.

It read, “If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered, I have no hope that the Repugs will ever do the right thing. I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are republican gun toters.”

If you’re not sure what she meant, the ‘children’ were the youngsters shot at the Sandy Hook school in 2012, and the Repugs are the politicians in the Republican Party. As for country music fans, In Ms Geftman-Gold’s world, it’s ok for them to be shot and killed because it’s most likely they are Republican voters.

I don’t know if she was drunk, high on drugs, or is just a complete idiot. I suspect the latter. She graduated from the prestigious Columbia Law School, one of America’s Ivy League universities, so presumably she has a brain of sorts lurking somewhere inside her head. Just a shame she didn’t use it.

Her bosses at CBS fired her immediately. She has been ‘bombarded by online death’ according to her attorney. What does she honestly expect? What could possibly have gone through her mind when she typed out such a stupid, idiotic message?

The truth of the matter is that Hayley Geftman-Gold encapsulates everything that is wrong with 2017 America.

She is quite obviously a supporter of the Democrat Party, one of two criminal gangs masquerading as political parties that fight it out every couple of years for control of the nation. The other, as I’m sure you know, is the Republican Party. I love country music, but I wouldn’t vote for anyone connected with either of these mobs, and I use the word advisedly.

There seems to be no such thing as meaningful political debate in America today. If it did exist, it’s been replaced by tribal warfare and infantile mud-slinging. Like babies throwing their rattles out of the pram, or little kids hurling childish insults at each other in the playground, that’s the level we are talking about.

Republican supporters are Repugs or Trumpeteers who support the Trumpster. Democrats are Libtards, Libturds or Dumbocrats, followers of O’bummer and Killary.

That‘s what passes for serious political discourse in 21st century America. One side blames the other for absolutely everything. At times of national crises, when normal people in normal countries are looking on in shock and horror, Americans are blaming their political opponents.

Repugs will tell you today that if Crooked Killary had been in the White House, more people would be dead in Las Vegas. She couldn’t handle Benghazi, she would never have handled this. So, you get the point.

For a country that purports to be one of the world’s greatest powers, it is an utterly pathetic state of affairs. And it’s not getting any better in the near future. The country is so divided and polarised that its difficult to see how the two sides will start to behave like adults towards each other.

A few years ago, I asked a lifelong Republican supporter if he would go for a drink or a meal with someone he knew to be a Democrat. He shook his head and said ‘no’.

The gun control debate that should take place after Las Vegas will never happen of course. The corrupt politicians in Washington would never dream of it. Their hip pockets are stuffed full of wads of cash from lobbyists. In the real world, it’s a practice we call bribery, and the politicians are what we call crooks.

Big businesses like health, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies hand over millions of dollars to congressmen to buy up health debate votes. They pay many more millions in campaign funds. The powerful and controversial National Rifle Association does the same to ensure there is no meaningful gun control legislation.

If and when a vote comes around, then it’s payback time. The person who started off as a well-meaning politician now finds he or she has no place to go. They must do what their paymasters demand of them, and to hell with their constituents. Simple as that. This kind of thing, of course, happens all over the world. But this being America, it’s bigger and badder.

So, with the nation hurling childlike barbs at each other across the Internet, what will become of the clownish Ms Geftman-Gold. I doubt if she will get a job for a very long time, and she will be maligned on the internet for years. Should we feel any pity for her? Well she felt no sympathy for the Las Vegas victims so I guess that answers the question.

One solution had crossed my mind. At a time when hard working Mexican business people and students who have lived in the US since they were children are being deported because a family member sneaked across the border illegally 20 years ago, perhaps we could keep just one of them.

In their place we could transport Ms Geftman-Gold’s sorry ass to a desert island inhabited by giant pythons and crocodiles and let her await her fate.

Truthfully, I don’t want her to die. Of course, I don’t. She has been an idiot but I have always believed that people should be forgiven. One of my heroes was a gentleman called Gordon Wilson whose daughter Marie died in the 1987 Enniskillen bombing in Northern Ireland. In fact, he cradled her in his arms beneath the rubble as she spoke her last words – ‘Daddy, I love you very much’.

In the aftermath of the bombing, Mr Wilson reached out to the Provisional IRA bombers, he said he never felt ill-will towards them, and had prayed for them. He and the IRA had several face-to-face discussions and he became a noted peace campaigner. I always hoped I could find the courage to do the same if tragedy like that came to my door.

Tweeting nonsense is, of course, a national obsession in America, nowadays. The leader does it every morning. Perhaps penalties should be in place for tweets that fall foul of some sort of internet legal code. Hayley Geftman-Gold could serve a period helping the shattered survivors in Las Vegas, or in hurricane-strewn Puerto Rico.

On second thoughts, I suppose that’s about as likely as politicians behaving like people of integrity, and the American public having sensible, grown-up political dialogue.

 

Just a Wee Blether…

About the Schmucks and Eagleburgers

The Mooch’s madcap stint at the White House was all too brief in my opinion. I thought the guy was absolutely hilarious. It was like the Mad Hatter had come to the party, and if nothing else he gave us all a good laugh.

Not least because Anthony Scaramucci was the latest in a long line of Americans with surnames that are memorable to say the least. Scaramucci is actually a relatively, not to mention noble, surname in Italy. But we all knew that during his short spell in the limelight, the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody were being rewritten all over the world.

A week ago, one of Trump’s Republican opponents in last year’s election campaign, John Kasich, announced he was contemplating a run for President in 2020, but with a Democrat running mate. The name of the Dem in this highly unusual partnership – John Wright Hickenlooper.

Many families who arrived in the US from Europe changed their surnames over the years. The Hickenloopers are a branch of the family that started out as Heckenleib in Germany and the Netherlands. How they ended up with the slightly weird name of Hickenlooper is anyone’s guess.

John W isn’t the only family member to achieve fame. During the Civil War, his great grandfather Andrew Hickenlooper was a Union Army general.

For many years my favourite was the guy who was appointed Secretary of State by George H W Bush. Lawrence Eagleburger (below) quite honestly sounded more like an item on a Macdonald’s menu than one of the most important men in the country. But how do people get these names? Or is it just some bizarre American game to try and outdo each other?

The wonders of Ancestry.com revealed that the Eagleburgers came to the US from Switzerland in the early 1800s. Only they weren’t called Eagleburger then, they were Eichenberger. Over the decades they morphed into Eggleburger, then Eagleburger. Possibly a census taker couldn’t spell, who knows?

There’s just one more little oddball touch about Lawrence Eagleburger. He has three sons from two marriages. They were all given the same Christian name – Lawrence obviously – and are distinguished only by their middle names.

One of the Arizona Senate seats was last year contested by a Republican with the wonderful name of Frank Schmuck. If he’d been standing in my district, it wouldn’t have mattered what party he represented, I’d have voted for him. Sadly, he didn’t get enough votes to become Senator Schmuck.

 

If someone calls you a schmuck in America, it’s an insult. It means you’re a bit of a jerk. However, in Germany, Schmuck is a common surname dating back to the 1300s. The word can also mean precious jewellery, or neat and tidy.

But my current favourite is a guy who appeared on the American football scene a few years ago, and whose name raises a snigger only in the UK. Over here, Randy is a common boys’ name, a short form of Randolph. The word doesn’t have the same connotation it does in Britain.

 

His parents clearly didn’t know either. But cue much British giggling when the Houston Texans unveiled the team’s new place kicker in 2012 – Randy Bullock. He’s been a great success as a kicker, and is now with the Cincinnati Bengals but, seriously, can you imagine going through life with a name like Randy Bullock?

On that note, Happy Labor Day y’all.

Just a Wee Blether…

About America could learn from Mannie

At the summit of Ben Bhraggie, overlooking the village of Golspie in Sutherland, stands a massive memorial to the 1st Duke of Sutherland, George Leveson-Gower. The 100ft statue, dubbed ‘The Mannie’, was built after money to build it was raised by public subscription.

The Duke is a figure of hatred in the Highlands. He was the man most closely associated with the Highland Clearances, arguably the worst example of what can only be called domestic terrorism perpetrated by the landed gentry against Scotland’s rural population. Thousands were burned out of their homes and sent away in boats to Canada and the US never to see their homeland again. The land they once occupied was turned over to sheep. They were more profitable than humans.

Over the years the statue has been defaced, and there have been attempts to have it removed. So far, they haven’t succeeded. The belief among Scots seems to be that, while this was a hellish part of our history, it happened and it should never be forgotten. The Duke’s statue stands as a painful reminder of our past.

There was a report last week that parcels of the land are to be sold off to the descendants of the people who were cleared. It’s a very sensible, adult way of behaving. Compare it with the lunacy on this side of the Atlantic, where America has become convulsed by SRH (Statue Removal Hysteria).

The past two weeks have been horrible here. I was born 11 years after World War Two ended, and I never thought I’d see people – in my adopted home – marching through the streets carrying Nazi flags, wearing Swastika armbands, and gathering outside a synagogue chanting Sieg Heil. It’s chilling, to say the least.

There are obviously dark forces at work in America right now, and the planned removal of statues of Confederate ‘heroes’ like Robert E Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson have brought them out in force. Obviously, Lee, Jackson, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate Civil War leaders represented a chapter that right-thinking people in America find repugnant.

Of course, it isn’t just the memory of slavery that is the problem here, it’s that racism is so built into the American psyche. The economy of America’s southern states was once built on slavery, and there are many today who still believe that non-white people are inferior in every way.

But the people who invaded Charlottesville do not speak for America. Steve Bannon got it right when he referred to the alt-right brigade who showed up there as ‘a collection of clowns’. And he is one of their greatest cheerleaders.

If we put to one side the actions of the mob, and the gibberish that emanates from the President, it pays to listen to more reasonable, and interesting, voices.

Many thousands of southerners, proud of the Confederate past, have come out of the woodwork to say they are horrified by what is happening. One man, draped from head to toe in Confederate clothing, spoke of his pride at what his ancestors had fought for during the Civil War, but made the point that his grandparents had fought equally hard to defeat the Nazis.

The bottom line is that, unlike Scotland, America doesn’t seem able to have a grown-up conversation about its troubled past. Everything here seems to be – if you’ll pardon the expression – black or white. There is no middle ground, you are either for us or against us.

Just as the Clearances happened, so did the Civil War. It may have been one of the bloodiest and stupidest wars in history, but it happened nonetheless. Many of these statues were put up for all the wrong reasons, to goad people during the Civil Rights era, but tearing them down won’t erase the war. Moving them to a museum or somewhere more appropriate than a town square might be more sensible, but common sense hasn’t entered the debate so far.

Fort Bragg, the huge US military installation in North Carolina, is named after a Confederate general. What about Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi? There are hundreds of other examples. Should all these places be renamed?

Buchanan Street and Glassford Street in Glasgow were named for Tobacco Lords who made their fortunes on the back of slave labour in America. There’s Virginia Street and Jamaica Street? As a Scotsman report in 2007 put it, “These streets crisscross modern day Glasgow like scars from a slave-master’s lash.”

Believe me, Scotland looks like a haven of sanity right now compared with the USA. It baffles me that a nation with so much influence in the world, home to so many intelligent individuals, is unable to move forward and let go of its 18th century baggage.

Perhaps an American delegation should take a trip to the Lios Mor bar in the west end of Glasgow and see how Scots deal with things. The gents’ toilet has three urinals, each emblazoned with the names of villains of the Highland Clearances – Patrick Sellar, George Granville, and Colonel Fell.

 

A plaque on the wall reads, “This urinal is dedicated to the three men who participated in the Scottish Highland Clearances.
These men took part in what is now recognised as a form of central government endorsed ethnic cleansing.
Through their greed and bigotry, they and others have been instrumental in destroying a centuries old Scottish Highlands way of life.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO PAY THEM THE RESPECT THEY ARE DUE.”

Now if Americans could only pee on their old foes…how much better would they feel?

Just a Wee Blether…

About assaulting the Arizona cacti

It’s the kind of advert that would make you stop in your track if you saw it on eBay. For Sale. One Giant Saguaro Cactus Plant. Genuine Arizona Desert. Freshly Cut. Mint Condition.

This being Arizona, America’s unofficial ‘Cactus State’, the appearance of such an ad is at least possible. There are, after all, tens of thousands of very impressive cactus plants dotted all over the desert countryside, and in the back yards of suburban neighbourhoods.

Arizona residents don’t exactly have them lying around their garages. But there is a section of the population who steal and ‘assault’ cactus plants – sometimes in a vain bid to make money, but usually just for the hell of it.

They take their cacti seriously over here. There is an urban legend that someone who harms a cactus in Arizona can be jailed for 25 years. That’s not the case, but causing harm to a cactus – specifically the highly protected Saguaro cactus – is a class 4 felony.

There are different grades of class 4 felony, but removing or destroying a native cactus is categorized along with crimes such as negligent homicide, kidnapping, arson, and credit card forgery. It is punishable by between one year and three years, nine months in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000.

Cactus plugging is a form of vandalism in the Arizona desert. Gun-toting guys (always guys and usually tanked-up) head into the wilds and fire multiple shots at Saguaro plants to try and topple them. The practice falls under the category of causing cruelty or harm to a protected species.

In 1982 a student called David Grundman went cactus plugging with a mate just outside Phoenix. After firing at the cactus, he tried to knock it over. An arm of the plant weighing around 500lbs fell on him, crushing him to death. Just for good measure, the trunk of the cactus then landed on top of him.

That’s the trouble with cacti, they are big and very heavy. A Saguaro will live for around 175 years. They grow to 75ft and one of the giant arms takes between 75 and 100 years to grow. Driving along a country road with hundreds of these specimens on either side is quite a sight.

I made up that first paragraph about eBay. It was fake news as they say here. But stealing cacti is a major problem in Arizona and adverts for stolen plants have been known to pop up on craigslist and other sites. They can fetch several hundred dollars, and many people are happy to buy them on the black market for planting in their property.

That answers the question ‘Why do people steal them?’ But I don’t get the vandalism bit. Why go into the desert and chop off a 100-year old arm of a giant cactus? Or fire a ton of bullets at it in the hope of mortally wounding it?

I’ve only had one close encounter with a cactus. A few years ago, my leg brushed against a species called a jumping cholla cactus. Within a split second it had used its defence mechanism to fire about a dozen spikes through my jeans, into my leg, right through to the bone. It was uncomfortably sore for at least six weeks afterwards.

Despite the pain, I didn’t want to go back and kill it, or chop off one of its arms. In fact, I can’t imagine why anybody would. But they do. Cactus theft might seem minor, but the desert is a delicate place and, like I say, Arizonans are very proud of their cacti and serious about protecting them.

 

Just a Wee Blether…

About Dr Who – the latest incarnation

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth this week over the long-awaited return of a certain popular TV show. Newspapers, social media – every form of media in fact – have deliberated over it, and surgically picked apart the perceived rights and wrongs.

No, it’s not Game of Thrones. I’m referring, of course to the old time-traveller himself, Dr Who, returning for his 13th series.

Oops, did I say HIM-self? Have I been left behind in some distant galaxy? The nub of the current furore, the weeping and wailing of the past week, has surrounded the decision to cast a female, Jodie Whittaker, in the role of the Doctor, a character that has been portrayed as a man since the beginning of time – well, 1963.

The resultant uproar has thundered across the airwaves. Devotees have yelled, ‘I’ll never watch Dr Who again’ or ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ or ‘It’s a change too far’ or the classic ‘We’ve lost a male hero’.

All of which, with due respect, is baloney. Total nonsense. If you truly are a Dr Who devotee – which I am not – you would know better to suggest or believe that the leading character in the saga must always appear as male.

Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the first Dr Who, William Hartnell. In fact, I remember the first episode, which was broadcast in the UK the day after JFK was assassinated. I also distinctly remember my parents humming and hawing about whether this other-worldly new show was suitable for a young lad like me.

Dr Who was the televisual sensation of the year. Us kids all played daleks in the primary school playground. The timelord and his assistants were out of this world – quite literally. It was classic good guys vs bad guys – with the good guys always winning.

The question of who the Doctor really was and where he, she, or it came from never mattered. Until William Hartnell decided to call it quits. The newspapers were full of the dilemma facing the show producers. Either call a halt to the wildly popular series or somehow replace the leading character in a way that enabled some form of continuity.

And so, the extra-terrestrial doctor gained the ability to ‘regenerate’. Hartnell, an elderly, grey-haired man, was replaced by the younger, dark-haired Patrick Troughton, then the dapper and flamboyant Jon Pertwee, and so on. All this was explained away by the doctor not being a human, but an alien being who could transmogrify – or change appearance – when circumstances dictated.

All of which means that Dr Who can just as easily be a female as a male. In fact, the Doctor could conceivably appear as anything from a giant rabbit or a Darth Vader-like alien to a Scottie dog or even an inanimate object. Colour is no barrier, neither is ethnicity.

There is no justification for the complaints about the choice of Jodie Whittaker being too much of a change. The doctor has always been changing, this is simply the latest incarnation, no change is ever ‘too much’. Political correctness doesn’t enter the argument, since it was never specified that the Doctor was male. And losing a male hero? Seriously, people!

If it was a female James Bond or a male Miss Marple, I could understand the argument. Much is possible in the name of art, but these were literary characters with a clear and identifiable gender. The good Doctor is different.

For my money, the best Dr Who portrayal was by Tom Baker (pictured) and his very long and colourful scarf. I thought his namesake Colin Baker was atrocious and lost interest in the show at that point. To be honest, I had been rooting for Tilda Swinton as the first female but it will be interesting to see how Jodie Whittaker deals with the role.

If you really are a Dr Who devotee, you’ll take this change in your stride, safe in the knowledge that nothing has really changed. That this is the latest step on a long, time-travelling journey. And, I would suggest, time to end the wailing and gnashing.

Just a Wee Blether…

About tapes, presidents and ‘fake news’

A few months ago, I was watching a Netflix documentary about the JFK assassination. A good part of it focused on the setting up of the Warren Commission – the men who concluded that the alleged Commie sympathizer (by then dead) was single-handedly responsible for killing the President.

The programme featured a conversation between Lyndon B Johnson and a senator from Georgia called Richard Russell, during which the new President persuaded the senator to serve on the Commission. What struck me most was that this call – made from the White House in 1963 – had been taped and that the recording is still available to broadcasters. It’s even on YouTube.

Fast forward a decade, and another set of recordings – the Watergate Tapes – proved the final nail in Richard Nixon’s Presidential coffin. The taping system had been installed in Nixon’s Oval Office desk and captured the incriminating conversations. This was 44 years ago, remember.

Nixon’s departure was, of course, aided by arguably the greatest ever example of investigative journalism. Watergate would never have happened had it not been for the tenacity of Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post. The power of the press allied to advances in technology had brought down a President.

We now inhabit the digital age. It can be dizzying to say the least. Everything is recorded – from our meetings with colleagues to the road trips we take to the communications we send and receive. Unless you are careful and clever in the extreme, your movements and your conversations will become a matter of record. It’s inescapable.

And what of the current incumbent of the White House – the son of a Scotswoman, let’s not forget? I’ve been loath to get involved in Trump-related matters in this blog, but it’s the only story in town over here. Is he displaying care, intelligence, sensitivity, or even a manner befitting his position given that his every move, his every tweet, is being recorded for posterity?

Of course not. To be honest, with every passing day his Presidency becomes more bewildering and confusing. His twitter account screams ‘Fake News’ as he tries to persuade the world that events which were undoubtedly recorded never actually happened.

When I was a cub reporter in the early 1970s, the big American papers – Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal – were regarded as the best in the world. Trump now rails against what he calls the ‘Failing New York Times’.

At the same time, his young Presidency is embroiled in what seems to be scandal after scandal. A special counsel has been appointed to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the contacts he and his team may have had with Russia during the election campaign. Last week it was revealed that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met a Russian lawyer who promised to dish the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Every phone call and email he and his campaign team made, and every meeting they had before the election and since is traceable. And let’s not forget the ‘golden shower’ tape in a Moscow hotel room. That was revealed in a report by a former British spy and made public by none other than the so-called fake media.

Of course, that tape exists and so do many other damaging recordings. If Trump doesn’t realise that then he has bigger problems than we all imagine. It’s very possible a copy is locked in a safe deep in the offices of the ‘failing New York Times’. I suspect we’ll find out one day.

From day one, Trump has faced questions of competency. These have intensified to the point where serious political commentators, both Democrats and Republicans, now regularly appear on radio and TV stations and state without hesitation that he doesn’t have the mental capacity for the job. It’s not a question of perhaps, it is said as a matter of fact.

It doesn’t help that he blunders around the world stage like a bull in a china shop, pushing other dignitaries out of the way, leering at the wives of fellow presidents, and displaying a general lack of understanding of the important stuff – the matters that exercise the minds of world leaders.

In many ways, it’s difficult to know why he ever wanted the job. He quite simply isn’t up to it. Give him his due, he has proved a very effective orator, he can roil up an audience and tell them what they want to hear. To date, however, he has achieved practically nothing.

Every day over here, a new sensational headline emerges. The Republican Party, which never wanted him as a candidate in the first place, will tolerate him until he has outlived his usefulness. The Russian probe might prove his undoing but if not, as sure as night follows day, a scandal will emerge that will push his Presidency over the edge of the cliff and that will be the end of it.

The events of last week were the clearest example of the dangerous game he and his henchmen are playing. The meeting between his son and the Russian lawyer was exposed by that down-market rag they call the New York Times – where the reporters have contacts in every country in the world and every government agency in the US.

Trump still retains the support of a decreasing but fairly substantial number of Americans. But he is seen by many as an embarrassment – especially his tweeting habit – and unless he does something for those who voted for him, that decrease in support will continue.

Trump was clearly enjoying himself during the campaign when he swept aside Little Marco, Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary and the rest. It’s not such a laugh now that he’s in office and expected to be presidential and diplomatic.

All these years after Watergate, my gut feeling is that the combination of new technology and the power of the media will, one way or another, bring down another President.

Just A Wee Blether…

About finding 4th of July a damp squib

No disrespect to any of my newly-found American friends, but the Independence Day, Fourth of July celebration is not my favourite holiday. To be brutally honest, apart from getting a day off work, I find it all a bit boring. In modern-day parlance, it’s…meh.

It’s nothing to do with the fact the pesky colonists achieved their independence fair and square from us Brits. Not at-all. Who can blame them? And let’s face it, both nations are in great shape right now. Aren’t they?

No, it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why I find the Fourth of July such a turn off. The day doesn’t have the same anticipation and excitement reserved for other holidays – Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving for example.

Of course, Independence Day brings an outpouring of American patriotism, and let’s face it, no country does patriotism quite like America. But after a couple of years here, you get used to flag-waving and grown men crying at the National Anthem.

But that’s true of every country – America being America, it just does it bigger. We’ve all seen Scots getting misty-eyed when Flower of Scotland is playing.

Patriotism is not my biggest Fourth of July bugbear. That honour goes to the massive – and I mean massive firework displays held all over the country. More specifically, the amount of money ploughed into them.

In 2016, it was estimated that, between small domestic displays and large-scale city events, America spent more than $1 billion on fireworks on Independence Day. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a nation that struggles to house the homeless, feed the poor, and provide basic health care for millions of citizens.

When I was young I always looked forward to Guy Fawkes night. And even this year I watched three-year old Ford whoop with delight as the fireworks were set off.

I’m no party-pooper but the bottom line is that cities like New York, Boston, and Nashville – where three of the biggest displays are held – could have used the firework cash on other things.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the Fourth of July in Phoenix falls during the annual crazy heat spell – it was 112F last Tuesday. The rest of the country isn’t much better. Most of the east coast and the southern states are struggling with stifling humidity.

Who Knows? Perhaps in a couple of years, I’ll grow into the Fourth of July and start to enjoy it. All I can say right now is roll on Thanksgiving. Now there’s a holiday worth waiting for.

Just a Wee Blether…

About Scot who died saving Roosevelt

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ‘put a kilt’ on a story. The expression is newspaper parlance for ‘Scottify-ing’ or ‘tartanising’ a story that has originated in another part of the world – usually England.

The Scottish influence in America is so great that, if you try hard enough, you can put a kilt on almost any story that crops up on a given news day.

Take the recent case of a gunman who shot at Republican politicians in Washington DC as they trained for a charity baseball against Democratic opponents. He wounded four people, and narrowly missed many others before being shot and killed by two members of a Capitol Police detail, who were among the injured.

Had it not been for the armed police, the incident could have been a massacre. The officers were there to provide physical protection to the high-ranking representative who was shot, Steve Scalise. They give the same protection that Secret Service agents offer when assigned to shadow the President.

Employing Secret Service personnel to guard the US President and other world leaders seems routine nowadays, but the practice was only introduced in America at the start of last century, after the assassination of William McKinley.

And the first agent to die in the line of duty was none other than a man from Glasgow, William Craig, who effectively gave his life to save that of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Craig was born in 1885 and grew up in Glasgow’s Townhead area, the son of a newspaper compositor. He was a giant of a man – 6ft 4ins and 18.5 stones (260lbs). Big Bill, as he was called, spent 12 years in a British cavalry unit, and had been a bodyguard to Queen Victoria before moving to Chicago in 1889.

Eleven years later – in 1900 – Craig joined the US Secret Service. In 1901 President McKinley was shot dead in Buffalo, and it was decided that the incoming President Roosevelt should be given the protection of an SS agent. The blonde haired, blue-eyed, physically imposing Scotsman, an expert boxer and swordsman, was assigned the task.

Craig stood head and shoulders over the President and all his chief officials. He was always impeccably dressed – suit, shirt and tie, waistcoat and bowler hat, even a top hat on occasion.

The incident that wrote his name in the US history books took place in September 1902, in the town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It happened less than a year after the death of McKinley and, had it not been for Craig’s prompt actions, America would have lost two Presidents within 12 months.

Roosevelt, a dashing and charismatic character, was visiting Pittsfield while on a speaking tour of New England. Such a visit was a huge deal in those days, and the town was in a state of great excitement.

As the Presidential landau, being pulled by four horses, was leaving Pittsfield, many other vehicles accompanied it to cheer Roosevelt and get a glimpse of the great man. One of the vehicles was an electric trolley car which had been lagging. The driver sped up to try to catch Roosevelt’s carriage – with tragic consequences.

The trolley car caught up with Roosevelt (pictured) and his party – but as it hurtled down a hill towards the landau, the brakes failed and it careered straight towards the horse-drawn vehicle. A collision was inevitable.

Craig spotted the danger. He stood up and yelled to the trolley driver to slow down. Then, with the speeding trolley only feet away, he placed his own body between the tramcar and the President. The Scotsman was killed instantly.

Roosevelt was thrown 30 feet and suffered cuts and bruises to his head. It was reported he had to be physically restrained from attacking the trolley driver. Two others in the landau, including the Governor of Massachusetts, were uninjured. Of the four horses, one was killed while the other three bolted, dragging the carriage for yards.

Big Bill Craig, from Townhead in Glasgow, became an American hero that day. In his home country, few people know of his story. Roosevelt was said to have been devastated by his death – he referred to Craig as ‘my shadow’.

The President said, “He was a sturdy character and tremendously capable in performing his duties. My children thought a great deal of him, as we all did. I was fond of him. He was faithful and ready, and I regret his death more than I can say.”

Teddy Roosevelt went on to become one of the most popular of all the US Presidents. But if it hadn’t been for the bravery and quick thinking of Bill Craig, he would never have left behind his great legacy, and a different President’s face would have been chiselled on Mount Rushmore.

Just a Wee Blether…

About Starbucks move on to ‘res land’

An interesting little nugget of news slipped under the radar this week in Arizona. The Navajo Indian Reservation, the largest in the United States, and part of the tribal lands that help protect and enshrine the cultures of the Native American way of life, has given permission for the opening of a Starbucks.

On the face of it, it seems like the old world and the new colliding. We tend to imagine the reservations as places where traditional Indian customs, crafts, cooking, and even worship are upheld. A Starbucks coffee shop is like an intrusion; it doesn’t feel as though it belongs there.

There were objections from Navajo Nation tribal members on the 27,500-sq. mile reservation. Not because the coffee shop was out of place, but on the grounds that it would encourage obesity, an epidemic that has plagued Indians of all ages for generations.

The Navajo reservation is huge, roughly the same size as the state of West Virginia. The land, mostly in Arizona but extending into Utah and New Mexico, was granted to the Navajo in the late 1800s. The terrible treatment of the Indians – culminating in the ‘Trail of Tears’ that forced them off their lands – has been well documented. The creation of reservations was part of a Peace Policy in the 1860s.

Arizona is very much Wild West, Cowboy and Indian land. There are many large areas of what locals call ‘res land’. As well as the Navajo tribe, this was Apache country. The great Apache leader Geronimo, was active in southern Arizona; so too was the Apache warrior chief Cochise.

Smaller tribes like Hopi, Pima, Yavapai, and Tohono O’odham all have their reservations around the cities of Phoenix and Tucson. They are governed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Indian Health Service. The reservations have their own police forces and systems of justice and are, in effect, independent states within the USA.

The tribes nowadays have plenty money. Under a plethora of complex agreements, the US government pays benefits to the nations for, among other things, the extraction of natural resources such as oil and gas, and the fulfilment of treaty obligations. Casinos have been built on the res land, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars for the tribes. Much of that cash is distributed on a per capita basis among the tribe members. However, the poverty rate on reservations is more than 28% – and 46% on the Navajo land.

But you would never think when driving through a reservation that the people there are wealthy. We often drive through the Pima-Maricopa reservation because it contains several main roads and, to be honest, it resembles a Third World country.

Around 85% of the houses look dilapidated. The rundown homes have broken windows and unkempt yards; there are dozens of abandoned cars, and scores of mangy dogs everywhere. It appears very few people have any pride in their surroundings. The res is a miserable, desolate place.

Life expectancy is poor. A friend of mine in her 30s went to school with six Native Americans. Five had died before they were out of their 20s, one from suicide, others from gang-related deaths. Alcoholism and drug abuse is rife. The Pima Indians of Arizona are the fattest population group on earth, and suffer the highest prevalence of diabetes.

Among non-Natives, there is little sympathy for the plight of the Indians on the reservation. Most shrug their shoulders and argue that, with so much money slushing around, they could improve their lifestyle. Others are angry that, apart from the main roads, reservations are strictly no-go areas. Trespassing on a reserve is not recommended here.

The only serious incident of public drunkenness I’ve come across in Arizona was when a group of Native Americans staggered on to a light railway carriage in Central Phoenix. One of the guys sat beside me and was quite pleasant – but it is unusual to see that level of drunkenness out here.

Most of the Indians here don’t live on the reserve, they stay in big cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, Tucson etc. Whether Starbucks will prove a welcome addition to the Navajo reservation, who knows?

Whatever the rights and wrongs, I feel a certain sadness when I see how the Indians live and how they are still treated as outsiders by American society.