You might be able to explain this most accurately by just pointing me to some slightly more in-depth site, but could someone quickly explain what the difference is between the function of the House of Representatives and that of the Senate? The BBC says "the Senate must approve treaties agreed to by the president. Senators must also approve the appointment of judges and many government officials" - but is there more to it than that? To whom do the members of the House of Representatives represent? When do presidential cabinet members pay attention to the Senate and when do they pay attention to the House of Representatives?
On a related matter, why do Americans use the adjective "liberal" as an insult? (Of course, this happens in the UK from time to time too, but not nearly so often. Is there any more to this than the fact that the consensus of opinion is broadly rather more right-wing in the US than it is in the UK?)
Oh, and for those interested in British/European politics (*looks north-west*) Norman Tebbit yesterday referred to the in-fighting within the Conservative party as having been caused by "right-wing Trotskyites". I don't know much about Russian politics, but surely that's got to be a contradiction in terms. How might such things as "right-wing Trotskyites" exist?
Today was Guy Fawkes' Day here in Britain, inherently political in itself because it celebrates one particularly inept traitor who got caught when to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. The safety of the king was celebrated with the lighting of bonfires and the burning of effigies of Fawkes and company, sometimes including the Pope. Over recent years (we're talking about the last fifty years or so - changes spotted over my Dad's lifetime) the emphasis has shifted; bonfires have rather fallen out of favour and fireworks have taken over in people's affection instead.
Even the fireworks themselves can be controversial, responsible as they are for burns and injuries. There are some initiatives ongoing to restrict the sale of fireworks in the UK; it might well be that fireworks will only be on sale to the public for certain times of the year in the future and/or the fireworks that you and I can buy will be limited to a certain degree of volume. However, this isn't to say that the licensed professional displays won't be allowed to use the biggest and most spectacular fireworks that money can buy.
One of the movers and shakers behind the proposed fireworks legislation is one Dr. Nick Palmer MP. His pet topics are animal rights, European integration (he speaks Danish, which may be unique among MPs), the Internet, identity cards and fireworks. He's an interesting guy; he was one of the most prominent figures in British war games throughout the '70s, even writing a rare mass market book or two on the subject, and remained prominent in postal games until the times when his political ambitions became realities. He technically remains consultant editor of Flagship Magazine which has covered the subject for almost twenty years but has been just a figurehead there since the mid '90s.
I've met him briefly a couple of times, always in a PBM context. He speaks poorly (something unusual with his mouth or the musculature around there) but seems an affable gent. However, he is a good writer; as far as I can tell, he's a fairly committed sort of representative as well. His office maintains a pretty good local politics web site and he has built up a mailing list with something like a thousand members discussing the political issues of the day, both national and local. He writes to it about weekly, with details of his own business and the representation he is making and receiving as MP. There are occasional funnies and sometimes pieces of wider interest. It gets pretty party political at times, but the rest of the time it's an interesting little reader's digest. It seems like very good practice - it's probably about as close to an online journal as a politician is going to get - and I wish more MPs would do it to nearly the same extent. Of course, it's going to be as carefully spun as any other MP's communication and Nick does have a repuation for trying to be "all things to all men", but it's still a very interesting sort of development.
As usual, we went out to see the annual fireworks display put on by Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council. (Stockton is the next town to Middlesbrough - it's about a five-mile, ten-minute journey away by car.) I don't believe Middlesbrough has fireworks to the same extent; it certainly doesn't have as good a public place for tens of thousands of people to accumulate to watch them as Stockton's Riverside. There is a display at Hemlington Lake which may be council-funded, but doesn't have the same reputation. We had about half an hour's fireworks, which got better and better. Our favourites were the ones which exploded and left a bronze-y shower in mid-air for about ten seconds, but the final fireworks were unusually impressive - they exploded in a Saturn-like pattern, with a central circle of blue lights and a "ring" of white lights "around" it. The absolute climax was the dumping of three and a half pounds of sodium into the River Tees. (I'm joking, of course - I just wanted an excuse to link to Theodore Gray's tales of his sodium lake party. Ne try this pas at home, kids.)
The local twin radio stations, TFM and Magic 1170, had a roadshow playing music at the venue. The former station is principally a Top 40 station, the latter started off being VH-1 to TFM's MTV but has modernised a little bit to approximately BBC Radio 6 music standards. One of the DJs started off the event with a countdown from ten and managed to finish about twenty seconds before the first firework, which raised a chuckle. Songs I remember from the playlist: "Earth Song", Michael Jackson; "Believe", Cher; "The One And Only", Chesney Hawkes. I hadn't heard the latter for a good five years, so a very strange choice.
As Stockton fireworks displays go, not bad. The best fireworks display I ever saw was at the Hartlepool Marina, when the Queen floated by to visit on the Royal Yacht. I think she was also there to formally open the Marina. There were about an hour of fireworks and rather more impressive ones than the Stockton standards at that. The thing I'll always particularly remember was the first firework, to signify "five minutes until the start of the display", which is probably the single loudest noise I have ever heard. Ouch!