Bits and bobs: 36 British phenoms that make Americans utterly gobsmacked

Americans are as rightly possessive of Magna Carta as are the Brits — along with other transatlantic sensations. 

But you don’t have to be an Anglophile to admit you can’t get enough of these faves from jolly ol’ England. What should we add to this list?

British — and American — Sensations
(in no particular order)

  1. Magna Carta
  2. Downton Abbey
  3. Princess Diana
  4. Fish and “chips” (aka French fries)
  5. James Bond
  6. Burberry plaid
  7. The Royal Wave
  8. Pints (as in, “Mind your pints and quarts” / Ps & Qs)
  9. The British accent (per Madonna, et. al.)
  10. Tabloids
  11. Wimbledon
  12. Pubs
  13. Monty Python
  14. Twiggy
  15. British humor
  16. Princess Kate
  17. William & Harry
  18. Stonehenge
  19. “Football” (a.k.a. soccer)
  20. Harry Potter
  21. Love Actually
  22. Gwyneth Paltrow/Chris Martin (and their recent conscious uncoupling)
  23. The Titanic
  24. One Direction
  25. Kate Moss
  26. Topshop
  27. Benny Hill
  28. Bridget Jones
  29. The Beatles
  30. The Rolling Stones
  31. Shakespeare
  32. Afternoon tea
  33. Fawlty Towers
  34. Doctor Who
  35. Punk culture
  36. Royal weddings

But why do these strike a chord in folks on both sides of the pond?

Paul Smith, the director of the British Council U.S.A. in Washington D.C. will examine some of the reasons why. As part of our Distinguished Lecture Series, he’ll explore icons in British cultural history that have captivated the U.S. and contributed to the special relationship between the two nations.

What might be in store for us Yanks during the next British invasion?

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
British and American Sensations
Wednesday, May 14, 6:30 p.m.                                            
Click here for advance tickets

Paul Smith joined the British Council in 1983 and has also been director of the British Council in Egypt and Afghanistan. He was educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham and Queens College Cambridge. His interests include history, international cultural relations and all the arts, especially drama. He has directed plays, particularly Shakespeare, in various countries.

Magna Carta programs are generously supported by the British Council.

Looking to move? Try Mars! Robert Zubrin on the fast track to colonizing Mars

In July 1989, on the 20th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, President George H.W. Bush called for America to renew its pioneering push into space with the establishment of a permanent lunar base and a series of human missions to Mars. Almost 25 years later, these goals still seem like pipe dreams to many Americans. However, as the nation debates how to proceed with human space exploration, a human mission to Mars must still be on the table.

While many have said that such an endeavor would be excessively costly and take decades to complete, a small team at Martin Marietta drew up a daring plan that could sharply cut costs and send a group of American astronauts to the Red Planet within ten years.

The plan, known as Mars Direct, has attracted both international attention and broad controversy.

Mars Direct is a sustained humans-to-Mars plan, advocating a minimalist, live-off-the-land approach to exploring the planet Mars. It allows for maximum results with minimum investment. Using existing launch technology and making use of the Martian atmosphere to generate rocket fuel, extracting water from the Martian soil and eventually using the abundant mineral resources of the Red Planet for construction purposes, the plan drastically lowers the amount of material which must be launched from Earth to Mars. Thus, it sidesteps the primary stumbling block to space exploration, and rapidly accelerates the timetable for human exploration of the solar system.

The principal author of Mars Direct, Robert Zubrin, has presented the plan to such fora as the blue ribbon Synthesis Group, headed by former Apollo astronaut General Thomas Stafford, the Augustine Committee, as well as to various government officials, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator John McCain, and NASA Administrators Dan Goldin, Mike Griffin, and Charles Bolden.

He will present at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on May 7 at 7 p.m. in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. Click here for advance tickets.

Principal author of Mars Direct, Robert Zubrin

HMNS DISTINGUISHED LECTURE
“Mars Direct: Humans to the Red Planet within a Decade,” with Robert Zubrin, Ph.D.
Wednesday, May 7, 7 p.m.
HMNS Wortham Giant Screen Theatre
Tickets $18, HMNS Members $12

Can Americans reach the Red Planet in our time? Principal author of Mars Direct, Robert Zubrin, addresses this question. Zubrin is an aerospace engineer and founder of the Mars Society. Following the lecture, he will sign copies of his popular books The Case for Mars, How to Live on Mars, and Merchants of Despair. Click here for advance tickets.

SPECIAL EVENING SCREENING
The Great Planet Adventures
Wednesday, May 7, 6 p.m.
HMNS Burke Baker Planetarium
Tickets $8, HMNS Members $4

Discover what it would be like to live, dress, and work on each planet and what you would need to survive in each planetary environment — particularly the local weather and gravity fields. Click here for advance tickets.

Don’t believe the crocodile tears: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & the truth about animal empathy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to you from Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, bestselling author of nine books on the emotional lives of animals.

It is pretty common to hear the expression “crocodile tears” in reference to somebody who does not feel remorse — rather, using them as a false or insincere display of emotion. They feel, as the phrase suggests, nothing for their victim.

The phrase began in Shakespearean times, with one prominent example given in Act IV of Othello:

“O devil, devil!
If that the Earth could teem with woman’s tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.
Out of my sight!”

I bring this up because of an intriguing problem. Suppose you were asked to describe the “nature” of the crocodile. Do they feel empathy? Do they feel emotional stress or pain? How do they relate with others in their species? Most would describe them as solitary predators. But what is this image based upon: documentaries where we only see their vicious feeding frenzies?

Have you ever given thought to what these creatures might be like when they aren’t on the hunt and are among their own kind?

The image of “crocodile tears” comes from the belief that the crocodile is so remorseless an animal that for him to weep over a victim is pure hypocrisy. It is a nice conceit. Of course, while all 23 members of the crocodile family (including alligators, caimans, muggers, and gharials) have tear glands, they are only used for physiological reasons. For example, they’re used to moistening their eyes when they are on dry land — not for emotional reasons.

Crocodiles do not, in fact weep over their victims. They don’t weep at all for emotional reasons. However, as far as we know, no animals aside from Homo sapiens weep from sadness, remorse or grief.

But that’s not to say other animals cannot feel sadness, remorse or grief — only that they don’t express these feelings by weeping tears any more than we express happiness by purring or wagging a tail.

Crocodiles are very vocal animals. Their social lives begins before hatching with communications occurring from egg to egg. Moreover, hatchlings have a distinct distress call, which not only brings the mother to help, but also other crocodiles in the vicinity. The adults, therefore, want to protect the babies — any babies.

Sounds to me like empathy. Empathy in a crocodile? Try saying that to the cast of Swamp People.

What we know, for sure, is that we only know tiny fraction of what there is to know. This is true, of course, of many animals, but takes on particular importance in an animal which looms so large in our imaginations.

If you’d like to hear more about challenging our perceptions on the emotional state of animals be sure to stop by on Sat., Mar. 13 for our distinguished lecture series featuring author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson!

Beasts - Book CoverHMNS Distinguished Lecture
Beasts: The Origins of Good and Evil
Jeffrey Moussaiff Masson, Ph.D.
Thursday, March 13, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets $18, HMNS Members $12
Houston Museum of Natural Science, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre
Delve deep into the unexplored territory of animal emotions in an illuminating account of the relationship between humans, animals and our perception of violence. Explore human emotions through animal behavior—the way dogs love, cats practice independence, and elephants grieve for their dead—and examine the difference between the unchecked aggression and the predatory behavior that separates humans from animals. Following the lecture Dr. Jeffry Moussaiff Masson will be signing copies of his new book Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil.

Jeffery MasonAbout the Speaker:
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is the bestselling author of nine books on the emotional life of animals. His book Dogs Never Lie About Love, has sold over 1 million copies worldwide. Jeff lives with his family in Auckland, New Zealand. His newest book is Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil, where Masson looks at why humans have killed 200 million of their own kind in the 20th century alone, while orcas have killed not a single orca in the wild! He will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Mar. 13 for a lecture and book signing.

For advance tickets, call 713-639-4629 or click here.

Understand the legacy of Magna Carta at an HMNS Distinguished Lecture

Nearly 800 years ago, on a summer day on the banks of the river Thames, 25 barons gathered waiting for King John. The document they sealed, under fluttering pendants, would come to underpin our modern conceptions of liberty, freedom and justice. But why — let alone how?

We would come to call this document Magna Carta – the “Great Charter.” But how did it come about?

There were many, many medieval charters. Yet, this is the one that became embedded in the consciousness of England and then the world. What relevance could this document possibly still hold for us as Americans, an ocean away and 800 years later?

Tonight we’ll answer these questions at “A Universal Charter? The Legacy of the Magna Carta” as part of our Distinguished Lecture series. Featuring Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the British House of Commons – an office that dates back to 1363 – we will delve into the history and influence of Magna Carta.

Join HMNS in giving our distinguished speaker a big Texas welcome at his lecture tonight in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre!

 

Robert - full regaliaA Universal Charter? The Legacy of the Magna Carta
Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the British House of Commons
Wednesday, February 19, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

About the Speaker:
Sir Robert is well accustomed to the ways in which the old lives with the new. One of his tasks is to endorse Parliamentary bills in Norman French — but they are prepared using some of the most advanced text-handling software in the world.

Also an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple Inn of Court (the Temple Church plays a part in the story of Magna Carta), Sir Robert Rogers is author of two miscellanies about the British Parliament: “Order! Order!” and “Who Goes Home?” He’s the joint author of “How Parliament Works,” now going into its seventh edition.

UPCOMING MAGNA CARTA LECTURES:
Tickets $18, HMNS members $12
www.hmns.org/lectures

13th Century Sword & Buckler: Origins of the Knightly Fighting Arts
John Clements, Association for Renaissance Martial Arts
Wednesday, February 26, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

The liberal arts in medieval times were those subjects studied by a free man — who was free precisely because he was armed and trained in the fighting arts. Much of what is known of 13th century sword and buckler training is documented in the only surviving fencing manual of the period. John Clements, martial arts historian, will describe the science of defense developed in this period, as well as the arms, armor and chivalric work of knights. This lecture will be followed by a live demonstration of medieval martial arts.

Conquest, Wars and Liberties of the Realm: the Long Run-Up to Magna Carta
Bruce O’Brien, Ph.D., International Early English Laws Project.
Wednesday, March 12, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

To understand Magna Carta, one has to understand England’s past. Much has to do with the obligations of kings and their subjects, which was a point of negotiation. This process is writ large in pre-conquest Anglo-Saxon laws, in the monuments of the Norman kings such as Domesday Book and the coronation charter of Henry I, and in the legal reforms instituted by Henry II, which formed the basis for what came to be known as the Common Law.

Medieval Genealogy
Lynna Kay Shuffield, Genealogist
Wednesday, April 16, 6 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

Do you have royal lineage? Are you a descendant of a rebellious baron? Genealogy researcher Lynna Kay Shuffield will review tips to help you trace your family to medieval Europe. For those with English roots there is a fair chance you may find a Magna Carta link. Over 3,000 Texans are currently registered as descendants of the Magna Carta Dames and Barons from Runnymede. You do not need to be an avid genealogy researcher to enjoy this program.

ADDITIONAL MAGNA CARTA PROGRAMS

ADULT CLASS: Introduction to the Sword
Thursday, February 27, 6 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

The sword is an important symbol of power — from the gladius of gladiators to the light saber of the Jedi. It has been used to change history. Whether leading a conquest of the Normans or to helping to secure the seed of democracy, the sword is an important symbol of martial skill. Thought of as a “lost art,” swordsmanship is still taught using the writing and illustrations passed down from Renaissance sword masters. Learn the basics of this martial art in this class lead by John Clements, director Association of Renaissance Martial Arts. This program is for participants age 15 and up.

ADULT CLASS: Calligraphy, From Quill to Pen
Thursday, May 15, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m
Click here for tickets

Saturday, June 21, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Click here for tickets

Calligraphy — from ancient Greek kallos for “beauty” and graphe for “writing” — is a visual art dating back to at least 5,000 BC, although our western letter forms were standardized during in the 8th century. In this beginner-level class, Cindy Haller, Houston Calligraphy Guild instructor, will teach you to use a dip pen (our modern answer to the quill) and ink to create the Italic script, and introduce you to the history of English script writing. All supplies are provided and are yours to keep. Participants must be 15 years of age or older.