England riots: watching Basket Case 2 and waiting for Oxford to burn

England riots, Basket Case 2The night before last, I walked into my local convenience store here in Oxford and the pothead manager told me, “Be glad you don’t have to stay here all night.”

“Expecting trouble?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard the news? It’s all over Twitter. They’re going to gather in five different locations and then attack the city center.”

I considered for a moment. The store, and my house, are on the south end of Iffley Road. It’s a nice neighborhood, but just south of it is Rose Hill, full of yobs and hoodies, just the kind of snaggle-toothed lowlifes who’ve been rioting in London and other English cities. I pictured a mob of them swarming down from Rose Hill, burning the nineteenth-century thatched roof houses in Iffley village (including my son’s school), spray painting the Norman church, and charging up Iffley Road in a lager-fueled fury.

They’d hit the store first, beating up the night manager and stealing his weed along with the liquor behind the counter. Refreshed, they’d head up Iffley Road towards city center. Right by my house.

I finished shopping and hurried home. There had already been incidents in nearby towns. A McDonalds set on fire. Shop windows smashed. When I got home my kid said that when he was coming back from day camp he’d seen a lot of police. Even a five-year-old knew something was up.

His bedroom faces the street. I pictured a brick flying through shattered glass. That happened to a friend of mine in London, and it wasn’t even during the riots. I moved him into the back room with his mother. I took the front room.

They soon went to bed. I texted some friends who live in Rose Hill, hardworking immigrants who work overtime to provide a good education for their kids. They didn’t reply. I constantly checked the Thames Valley Police Twitter feed, which said all was quiet but that there were increased patrols. I saw none from my window.

I needed to take my mind off my worries and nothing does that better than a B-movie. Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for New York City. Not today’s Disney New York of tourists and yuppies, but the gritty and vibrant 1980s New York of my teens. Besides Driller Killer, no B-movie captures the essence of the old New York better than Basket Case.This tarnished gem features conjoined twins: a regular teenager who looks a bit like I did at that age, and a shrunken lump sticking out his side. They’re separated with an operation, but of course they have a telepathic bond and the lump likes to kill people. The normal brother keeps the evil football-with-claws in a basket, hence the movie’s name. I’d seen Basket Case, so I put on Basket Case 2, which had to be better than the original, right?

In the sequel our “heroes” takes refuge in a mansion run by a mad psychologist who shelters mutants. The house is filled with them. In the first therapy session, the shrink tells the basket case, “I understand your pain, but ripping the faces off people might not be in your best interest.” Somebody should tell the rioters that.

The movie seemed to be taking an interesting turn. I kind of felt sorry for the monster. It never had a chance. I definitely felt sorry for his normal-looking brother, trapped into a lonely and fugitive life because of his evil other half. I soon lost all sympathy. Any regular people who enter the house of freaks are immediately attacked, and the freaks corrupt the normal teen until he’s as evil as themselves. The injustices of the world weren’t making the mutants do bad things, they just used that as an excuse.

I worry about my friends’ kids up in Rose Hill. Surrounded as they are by lager-swilling dropouts waiting to turn 18 so they can get onto the dole like their parents and grandparents, they’re going to have a huge challenge growing up clean. Decent folk in bad neighborhoods face a stark choice: be a victim, get out, or become one of the monsters.

The night passed quietly. The next morning the paper said several fires had been set across Oxford. None were serious. In one case a would-be arsonist stuck a rag into a car’s fuel tank and set the rag alight but somehow the fire didn’t spread. These guys aren’t exactly rocket scientists. I suppose the cops didn’t report the fires on their Twitter feed for fear of encouraging copycat crimes. Makes sense from a policing point of view, but from a taxpayer’s point of view I wasn’t pleased.

The next night I went to the Albion Beatnik, Oxford’s best independent bookshop. There was a reading sponsored by eight cuts gallery, a local small press, and unlike so many literary readings most of the stuff was actually good. This is the England I love, the England of intellect and wit, of culture and community. The England of the rioters is a different country occupying the same space. Shangra-La and Somalia.

I left early to make it back before dark. The city at dusk was quiet. Several times people moved out of my way. Two girls even crossed the street. A lone man is suspect. Once again I slept in my son’s bed in the front room. No bricks this night either, but at 5:30 in the morning I got woken up a hollow thump thump thump. It continued for at least ten minutes, punctuated by incoherent bellowing.

I peeked out the window. A young drunk guy in a hooded sweatshirt was kicking the plastic recycling bins and calling for his friend to let him in. Eventually he realized he had the wrong house and staggered off down the street. He wasn’t going to make it far. I pictured him curling up on the sidewalk and dozing off, oblivious to the early morning pedestrians stepping around him. You see that a lot in England.

As I got back into bed it started to rain. I thought of him asleep out there and smiled.

San Francisco World Series victory a total riot on FourSquare

Oh, how the times have changed …

It used to be that fame-whores would look for television cameras at riots. With all the beating and smashing and mayhem around them, these unique individuals would invariably find the news crews and get their 15 minutes.

Not this time around.

When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, a riot broke out … and the check-ins began. The locals were looking for points. I strongly suspect a handful of people were trying to figure out how to become mayor. Riots began to pop up on social media site FourSquare, and there were even tips to help you figure out where the action was.

The most popular was on Polk Street: “Giants Riot On Polk St!!!” There were 208 check-ins and nine tips, including:

  • “Hide yo kids Hide yo wife”
  • “Swarm= 50 || Super Swarm Badge= 250 || Super Duper Swarm=500 || Epic Swarm=1000 … Can we get all of our swarm badges in one night?”
  • “After you get your super swarm badge remember to go vote”

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[Thanks, @SceneByLaurie, via Gawker, photo by alecdet via yfrog]

Top five best castles of Yorkshire


Yorkshire has always been a troubled region of England. It was on the front line of fighting between the English and the Scots and saw lots of action in the English Civil War, when the forces of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell fought the Royalists supporting King Charles I. Because of this, many castles dot the landscape, including some of the most magnificent the country has to offer. Here are five of the best.

York Castle
Dominating the skyline of the city of York is this unusual fortification, often referred to as Clifford’s Tower. The first fort here was built by the Normans in 1068 and was a motte-and-bailey castle. A wooden stockade and tower sat atop a large artificial mound. Around the base of the mound was another enclosure protected by a moat and wooden stockade. Motte-and-bailey castles were cheap and quick to build and provided sufficient protection against the rather basic siege techniques of the time. The Normans threw up hundreds of these in the years immediately following their conquest of England.

In 1190 the castle sheltered the city’s Jewish population during an antisemitic riot started by a man who owed money to a Jewish moneylender and didn’t feel like paying it back. The castle warden let the Jews hide there, but when he went out to talk to the mob the Jews wouldn’t let him back in, fearing the townsmen would swarm in with him. The warden lost patience and called out the militia, which besieged the castle. The tower caught fire and the Jews committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the mob. About 500 people died.

Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden tower was eventually replaced with stone, in this case an odd design of four semicircles. The rounded walls helped deflect shots from catapults and in 1644 proved useful against cannon too. Local Royalist forces held out against a Parliamentarian army for several weeks before finally surrendering when it became apparent that no help was coming.

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Raby Castle
Unlike most English castles, this one’s still lived in. It’s been the residence of the Lord Barnard since 1626 but actually was built by the Neville family in the 14th century. In 1569, seven hundred knights gathered in the great hall to plot the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I and install a Catholic monarch. The Rising of the North, as it was called, was quickly crushed, and many of its leaders executed. The Neville family saw their castle and lands confiscated and the property was eventually transferred to the Barnard dynasty.

While this imposing castle and its beautiful grounds are private property, it is still possible to visit Raby Castle at certain times of the year. The rooms have decorations from various periods and include many fine works of art from famous artists such as Teniers the Younger and Van Dyck. Make sure to take a stroll in the 200 acre deer park, with its own herds of deer that have been grazing here since Norman times.

Raby Castle is actually in County Durham, but it’s a quick drive from York and too good to miss.

Bolton Castle
Less grandiose than Raby Castle, the castle at Bolton is more geared towards defense. Finished in 1399, it looks like a solid block of stone with four square towers. While the walls were good for keeping people out, they were also good for keeping people in. Elizabeth I kept her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scots here as a prisoner.

During the English Civil War the owner of the castle supported the king. Most of Yorkshire was Royalist, like the city of York itself, so the region became a prime target for the armies of Parliament. A Parliamentary force besieged the castle but, despite having artillery, weren’t able to take it. The defenders held out for a year and only gave up in 1645 after running out of food. The scars from the cannonballs can still be seen.

Skipton Castle
Another strong fortress is Skipton Castle. Like York and Bolton castles, it also withstood a siege during the English Civil War, but this time for three years. Looking at it you can see why. It started out in 1090 as a motte-and-bailey, but soon developed into a massive stone stronghold. So massive, in fact, that nobody dared attack it until those pesky Parliamentarians decided to try their luck in 1643. Not even cannons could break the walls and three years later the Royalist garrison was still holding out. All other Royalist resistance in Yorkshire had crumbled and the defenders finally agreed to an honorable surrender.

Despite its ill treatment at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s men, Skipton Castle remains one of the best preserved castles in England. The fabulous gatehouse, towers, and Tudor-era courtyard really give a feel for what it was like in the not-so-good old days. It’s all very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck there for three years!

Ripley Castle
Like Raby Castle, Ripley Castle is a private residence but open to the public. This stately home been in the Ingilby family since it was built in 1309. It’s amazing they managed to hold onto it considering they remained committed Catholics when England became Protestant. One Ingilby was executed in 1586 for inciting a Catholic rebellion. Other members of the family were important members in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, who persecuted Catholics. The family played a very dangerous political game but they were good at it. They even had a secret room for their priest to hide in so nobody knew they were still keeping the old faith. They also had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up James I and all of Parliament and make England Catholic again. Even after the plot failed and Guy Fawkes was executed they still managed to wriggle their way out of trouble and keep their castle.

Ripley Castle is famous for its beautiful gardens and deer park as well as its historic interior. You’ll see a room that used to be a British navy ship, a sumptuous dining room, and take in sweeping views of the countryside from the drawing room. The library is much as it was when Jane Ingilby held Oliver Cromwell at gunpoint and took him prisoner. Cromwell escaped, of course, yet despite him leading the Parliamentary forces to victory and taking power, the family still kept their castle!

Stranded travelers riot at Argentine airport

In most airports I’ve traveled through, when confronted with flight delays or rude ticket agents, passengers quietly express their concern with the situation. Sure, there are a usually few outcasts who raise their voice or stomp their feet to show their frustration. Some of us even shake our fists in the air, bravely vowing to blog to the world, Mr. Johanson, just how rude you are, and how ugly your vest.

But in Argentina, they riot

After learning of numerous flight cancellations, frustrated travelers at Ministro Pistarini International Airport (also known as Ezeiza Airport) near Buenos Aires turned their anger towards the ticket counter, “tossing computers in the air and shoving security guards,” according to an AP article. “Local television broadcasts showed passengers overrunning ticketing counters, throwing computers and wrestling with airport personnel, even as a spokesman for the airline attempted to explain the cause of delays.”

The delays were said to be caused by a labor dispute involving pilots and baggage handlers. Incidentally, these are the same baggage handlers who have been frequently accused by a local news station of stealing electronics out of luggage, according to Wikipedia. The unions, naturally, blamed the delays on overbooked flights.