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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Guard(ian)ed Reactions

Life in Northern Ireland just picked up a notch or two for me since Starbucks made its way to Belfast City Centre. I realize that it is not PC to like old Starbucks, but it is a bit of 'home' in the corporate sense of the term.....

It isn't just the coffee, however, that draws me there. Belfast has a number of terrific coffee spots, including one ('Roast') that I spend a great deal of time in (so much so that some people actually phone them up to find me). No, what makes Starbucks so attractive are those damn cushy chairs, and the fact that I can sit for hours over a venti or two and read the UK version of the New York Times Book Review -- the Guardian Review section.

The Guardian Book Review section comes out on Saturday (the Guardian doesn't publish on Sunday), and it is probably the best read I engage in all week. The biggest problem I have is restraining myself from going right out to Waterstone's to buy some of the books being reviewed -- with the exchange rate of pounds to dollars, any book ends up costing significantly more here than in the US....

Today's issue was filled with interesting pieces, and it will probably be a few days before I stop writing about my reactions to each. But for me the two most interesting was a review and a commentary, both about the US.

The book, 'American, Right or Wrong' by Anatol Lieven, was reviewed by Martin Woollacott, and seems at first glance to be one of those 'what wrong with America' analyses that I found all over the bookstores both here and during my last trip back to the US. But Woollacott views it as much better than average among that genre and has given me reason to give it a closer look. Most interesting is the thesis that the US, for all its on-the-surface goodness, has kept many of its 'demons' in the basement -- and that these have now emerged after 9/11. This is an intriguing approach.... More on this at some later point.

The other piece was a short commentary by novelist Richard For on how it feels to be on the losing side after last week's election. Its a gloomy piece, but probably the one that comes closest to my own reactions to the the Bush victory. The view from 'this side of the pond' was depressing to say the least, especially for those of us who were being asked to publicly comment on the election as the results were coming in. One colleague -- another American here on fellowship leave -- was so down in the dumps that I was forced to find something positive to say about the future just to cheer him up. But my own sense of despair for what we face for the next four years soon returned. Reading Ford's comments at least put the feeling in some perspective....

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