Here are some thoughts (in no particular order) about our second day in Scotland:
Do you know about serendipity? I learned the meaning of the word many years ago. Someone described it as follows. You're in a library looking for a particular book. You locate the shelf where the book should be, but it's not there. Instead of leaving, you browse. You pull a book with an interesting title off the shelf and open it. Before long, you're engrossed. The book changes your life. Katherine and I had a serendipitous moment this afternoon. We had just eaten dinner and were walking hand in hand along an Edinburgh street, heading in the general direction of our hotel (a Residence Inn Marriott). Out of the alley to our right come eight or 10 people in a line. Wondering what was going on, we looked into the alley. There was an open metal gate, at the top of which were the words "Grey Friars." Katherine suggested entering, which we did. To our amazement, it was a churchyard, which I later learned is known as the "Greyfriars Kirkyard." We wandered about for an hour or so in the fading light, reading the inscriptions and taking pictures. Another surprise was our first view of the Edinburgh Castle on a distant hill. What a magnificent sight! To think that we discovered this incredible place by accident is mind-boggling. It's not that we did no research on Edinburgh before arriving here, because we did; but our time here is limited (just part of today and tomorrow), and we have plans to visit the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Castle. I'm glad we found time to visit Grey Friars.
Speaking of universities, we spent time today on the campus of the University of Glasgow, where Adam Smith taught. What a delightful place. We walked through a beautiful, lush park on the way to campus. Along the way, we found a large fountain that honors Queen Victoria for her work in improving the water supply of Glasgow. The park was filled with flowers and large, moss-covered trees. When we reached the campus proper, we asked directions to the bookstore. As we walked along the street in that direction, Katherine spotted a sign saying "Philosophy." I had no intention of visiting the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, but how could I omit doing so when I was so close? We walked half a block or so and found the building. The door was open, so we went in. I looked at the list (and photographs) of the faculty members (none of whom I recognized, incidentally) and walked down the hallway toward an open door. I peeked in and saw a man sitting on a sofa with his back to me. In front of him was a large glass-enclosed bookcase with what appeared to be very old books. Needless to say, I wanted to examine those books! Just then the man turned to me. He asked, "Are you here for the conference? The next talk is at one o'clock." I told him no, that I was merely a philosopher visiting from the States. He showed me the agenda for the conference. Guess what? It was on philosophy of religion, a subject I teach and to the literature of which I have contributed several times during my career. We could hear someone speaking inside the conference room, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed entering, but we had a schedule to maintain, so we thanked the man for his time and left. Katherine took a picture of me outside the main entrance with the word "Philosophy" next to me.
Our dinner this evening was at Namaste Kathmandu, which describes itself as serving "Unique Royal Nepalese & Indian Cuisine." We had heard or read before our arrival that Scotland has excellent Indian food. I have no idea why this would be, but both of us like Indian food and decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. The atmosphere was pleasant (though one table was occasionally boisterous); the service was good (and the servers friendly); and the food was delicious. Both of us had good appetites after many miles of walking during the day, in two historic and beautiful Scottish cities.
I've ridden on Amtrak a couple of times in my life, but that's about the extent of my experience with trains. Today we made our way from Glasgow to Edinburgh on ScotRail (known as "Scotland's Railway"). It was fun! The views of the Scottish countryside were superb. The Edinburgh train station was teeming with life, and overhead was a jaw-dropping view of the Balmoral Hotel through the glass ceiling. I must confess that I thought this was the Edinburgh Castle. Let's just say that if the Castle is grander than this, it must be grand indeed.
My general impression of Scotland so far is that it's old. I know that sounds strange, but there's a different sense of time here than in the United States. Americans love new, shiny things. A building is considered old, obsolete, and even decrepit after 50 years. Many of the buildings we've seen in Glasgow and Edinburgh are several hundred years old. The buildings are thick and solid, often with original engravings and sculptures on them. You can see that each stone of which the building is composed had to be quarried, cut, and honed to fit perfectly with the others. These buildings were made to withstand the ravages of wind, rain, snow, hail, dirt, heat, and cold—not to mention bird droppings. Admittedly, the stone buildings look stained and dirty all or much of the time (especially when wet), but that adds to the sense of age. In America, we flee our past. Scotland embraces its past.
Framed (1972). I post this song to celebrate the life of one of Scotland's greatest musicians, Alex Harvey, who died all too young (one day shy of his 47th birthday) in 1992. He was born in Glasgow, where today a tree grows in an historic park in his honor. The song is apparently about Isobel Goudie, a 17th-Century Scottish woman who confessed to being a witch (and may have been put to death as a result), though the lyrics are bizarre.
“Trumping on Eggshells,” by Frank Bruni (column, May 25), about his reluctance to talk politics with relatives, resonated with me as a Democrat in Georgia. I have adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with my Republican friends regarding Donald Trump.
However, anytime that one of my conservative friends offers up her support of Mr. Trump, I am left bewildered and rendered mute, so as to save the friendship. This election can’t be over fast enough for me.
To the Editor:
Frank Bruni hesitates to ask friends and relatives if they plan to vote for Donald Trump. So do I, and I also hesitate to ask them if they support Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. But I ask anyway.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but if we do not challenge those close to us on such important issues, who will? Whatever our views, we must engage friends and relatives, particularly those with whom we disagree, in serious and honest discussions of what we really want for the future. We will get what we vote for. Let’s be sure that’s what we want.
LOUIS J. CUTRONA
To the Editor:
Frank Bruni says he avoids conversations about Donald Trump with conservative members of his family. I do the same.
I have a cousin from the Deep South who is staunchly conservative. We avoid politics. Imagine my shock, and relief, when three months ago, without prompting, she announced in the middle of a Scrabble game: “I hate Donald Trump! I’m voting for Hillary.”
Is it too much to hope that there may be many, many others who feel similarly and will vote equally independently?
Note from KBJ: These letters show just how insulated the readers of the New York Times are. They honestly don't understand why anyone would support Donald Trump. May I help? Barack Hussein Obama, Thug in Chief. Americans are sick to death of having leftist ideology (including such things as ObamaCare) shoved down their throats. They are sick to death of being lectured to by a man who has never held a real job and whose only skill is "community organizing" (which means cultivating grievances). They are sick to death of being told that they are racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic. They are sick to death of hearing their president apologize to other countries for the behavior of the United States (especially given that the United States is the greatest force for good in the history of the world). They are sick to death of being divided against one another rather than united. They are sick to death of being mocked for their religiosity and their insistence on owning guns for self-defense (remember "clinging to God and guns"?) They are sick to death of having a bitter, resentful First Lady. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I suggest that these letter writers get used to saying "President Trump," just as I and many other ordinary Americans have had to get used to saying "President Obama." What goes around comes around.
Here are some thoughts (in no particular order) at the end of day one of our much-anticipated, meticulously planned (by Katherine), ridiculously expensive vacation to Scotland:
We had dinner this evening at the Butterfly and the Pig, on Bath Street. Here is the restaurant's website. What a charming place! Although it was gray, chilly (by Texas standards), and drizzly outside, it was cozy, warm, and inviting inside. The restaurant is below street level and appears to be tucked away in a basement. The reason we ate here is that we wanted fish and chips twice during the vacation, once early and once late, and this restaurant has excellent fish and chips (according to Fodor's Travel Scotland, 2016). The fish was well battered, tender, and hot. We ate it with vinegar only. The "chips" were not the wimpy, soggy French fries you sometimes get in the States, but hearty, hot potato slices. All in all, a superb meal. Katherine and I enjoyed it very much. (We paid with my VISA card and I gave the server her tip in British Pounds.)
London's Heathrow Airport is borderline absurd, in the Kafkaesque sense. After zipping through DFW (I had feared the worst), we had to take a shuttle bus at Heathrow from one terminal to another, then walk or escalate up and down and all around as though in a maze, then stand in a line that WAS NOT MOVING. Only two people of a potential four were working at the counter. (At one point, only one was working.) We were worried that we would miss our connecting flight to Glasgow. Finally, an airport employee asked in a loud voice who had a flight leaving at noon. Since we did, we were moved to the front of the line. But then we had to fill out a Landing Card that we had been told was unnecessary. Grrrrr! We got through a few minutes later, only to have to pass another security point. This one required taking off our shoes and passing our carry-on items through a scanner. Katherine's bags got through with no trouble, but my backpack was sent on a separate line for further scrutiny. The poor old man in front of me had to open up the baggie containing his drugs and sprays. He fumbled with it for a long time, probably out of nervousness. Meanwhile, Katherine and I were sweating bullets, thinking we were going to miss our flight. Once my backpack was examined and approved, we ran (okay, hustled) to the boarding area. We made it. Don't fly through Heathrow if you can avoid it (or unless you're a fan of Franz Kafka and want to see an illustration of his novels).
The nine-hour flight from DFW to London was awful. I can't tell you how much I hated being confined to a seat for that amount of time. The only escape was to squeeze up the aisle to use the restroom, and even then you felt rushed because someone else might need to use it. There were movies and television shows on the screen in front of me, but I wasn't interested and kept it off. I didn't even read. I just sat there, unable to sleep and trying to stay warm, for nine hours. As I say, awful. This may be my last international vacation. I'm good for about three hours on an airplane. Any more is torture. I'm already dreading the return trip. (To be fair, the airline meal was good. I had chicken and rice; Katherine had vegan pasta.)
We spent some time this afternoon walking the streets of Glasgow, both before and after dinner. The City Centre appears to be a mix of very old and very new architecture. One old building is now the home of the Hard Rock Cafe. I took many pictures of beautiful old stone buildings with gargoyles, columns, and statutes. The young people we saw looked rougher (perhaps the word is "tougher") even than those one sees in American cities. Almost all wore denim. Many wore leather jackets and boots. Some of the women had butchy, edgy, or choppy haircuts. These young people could have been the Mod Rockers of the Who's Quadrophenia, or, if that's too early, the punk rockers who gave us the Sex Pistols and the Clash. I'm not judging these young people, mind you, only describing what I saw. Goodness knows my generation cultivated its own image. (I think of mine as country-boy rock and roll, replete with work boots, faded bell-bottom jeans, flannel shirts, and long clean hair on males.)
The first Scot we met was our taxi driver at the Glasgow Airport, and we couldn't have been luckier. He drove us to our hotel in City Centre. It was difficult to understand what he was saying to us, in part because he spoke rapidly and in part because my hearing isn't what it once was, but we muddled through. He told us about Paisley (which he pronounced "PEAS-ley"), Chivas Regal (a Scottish whiskey), the River Clyde, and other local attractions, and answered a few of our questions, such as whether Scotland uses the metric system. (It doesn't.) When he dropped us off at the hotel, I tried to give him 32 British Pounds for a 23-Pound fare. That's 39%. He said no. He said he would take 30 Pounds (which is 30%), but not 32. I wasn't about to argue with him, so I gave him a 50-Pound note, he gave me a 20-Pound note as change, and we parted. What a great introduction to Scotland and the Scottish people! This man would never see us again, so he could easily have pocketed the extra two pounds (about three American dollars). He wouldn't. I like to think it was a matter of honor to him.
More to come in subsequent days. I hope you enjoy my musings.
Wayfaring Sons (1990). I'm in Glasgow, Scotland, as I type this. I'm sitting at a table in my hotel room (a Holiday Inn Express!) in City Centre with a beautiful view of a parking garage across the street. Ha! I searched for "Glasgow" in my iTunes music collection (over 9,000 songs) and found only one item, this song by Colin Hay Band. Hay, whom you may remember as a member of Men at Work, was born in Scotland (near Glasgow) but immigrated to Australia at the age of 14. He now lives in Southern California. Here is his Wikipedia entry.
Addendum: It just occurred to me that I'm farther from home than I've ever been, in 59 years. I'm not the homebody Immanuel Kant was, but I'm not exactly Marco Polo, either.
While David Brooks searches for reasons that Hillary Clinton is not the warm and fuzzy type, he overlooks the most obvious answer. The Republicans have spent 24 years and millions of dollars vilifying her and every step she takes. To endure such a sustained assault, she has had to develop a pretty tough shell. What was more interesting about Mr. Brooks’s ruminations is that he never once questioned Mrs. Clinton’s competence to be president.
Note from KBJ: Incompetence is the least of it. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most corrupt politician in American history, with her husband a close second.
My support for Donald Trump is easy to understand. I am sick to death of Republicans standing idly by while Democrats destroy them. Think back to the way John McCain and Mitt Romney campaigned in 2008 and 2012 (respectively). Neither defended himself against the vicious attacks from the Left; both lost (and deservedly so). I saw early on in the 2016 presidential campaign that Donald Trump is a street fighter. To put it in the vernacular, he doesn't take shit from anyone. He will smash the Clintons in their faces, as they so richly deserve. This tit-for-tat response is long overdue, and it is discombobulating not only the Clintons in particular but the Left in general. George Neumayr touches on this issue in his latest column. What excites me is that Trump hasn't even begun to hit Hillary. By November, she will be staggering, if not knocked out. Get right with Donald.
Although I've had a bicycle since August 1981, when I was 24 years old, I didn't start riding in earnest until 26 May 1985. I rode that day (in Tucson) to take my mind off a failed romance and have never stopped. In the past 31 years, I've pedaled 84,048.2 miles, which is an average of 51.96 miles per week. I've pedaled 5,620 miles in the past year. I'm on track to have my second-best mileage year ever in 2016. Actually, I'm so far ahead of my pace that I may have my best mileage year ever. Stay tuned.
As a physician who favors a single-payer plan, I cannot disagree with your analysis about the high cost of moving to this type of health care plan.
Our present system is really all about profit—from the medical device makers to the pharmaceutical industry to health care workers and medical administrators to insurance companies. The challenge to bring down costs, under this system or single-payer, is large.
Yet we have seen what the free market has done over the last 70 years, and it has not been a success in terms of cost control. Indeed, health care costs are going to get significantly worse if we continue our present system, a combination of private and government payment.
Only a single-payer system has any chance to control costs yet guarantee that all citizens will have health care coverage. To stand pat with free-market fervor or to go backward, such as eliminating the Affordable Care Act, will deprive many of medical care while still driving up costs.
In the long run, the present system will cost far more than a single-payer option, and the sooner we proceed in that direction the better.
GREGORY L. SHEEHY
The writer is a retired internist.
Note from KBJ: If you like the Department of Motor Vehicles, you'll love single-payer health care.