Guest: Barry C. Lynn, New America Foundation
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Sarah m’dear, it’s not about the party. It’s about the tea.
For those of us of the British persuasion, tea is black tea. It was the tea on which the British built the empire.
It was also, I might add, the tea that Margaret Thatcher served at No. 10 Downing Street. I enjoyed some with her there. A Conservative traditionalist, she served it with milk for certain and sugar as an option.
Thatcher did not ask her guests, as bad hotels do now, what kind of tea they would like. Tea to Thatcher was black tea, sometimes known as Indian tea, though it might have been grown in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. It was neither flavored nor some herbal muck masquerading as tea.
The former prime minister knew that good tea is made in the kitchen, where stove-boiled water is poured from a kettle onto tea in a pot, not tepid water poured from a pot on a table into a cup with a tea bag.
Boiling water in a kettle, or pot, on the stove is important in making good tea. In a microwave, the water doesn’t bubble. Tea needs the bubbles.
While the Chinese drank green tea hundreds of years before Christ, the British developed their tea-drinking habit in the 17th century. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company, establishing the trade in spice and silk that lead to the formal annexation of India and the establishment of the Raj.
Initially, tea was a sideline but it became increasingly important and started to define the British. The coffee shops–like the one that launched the insurer Lloyds of London around 1688–continued, but at all levels of society tea was becoming the British obsession.
By the 18th century, tea drinking was classless in Britain. Duchesses and workmen enjoyed it alike.
Tea was the fuel of the empire: the war drink, the social drink, the comfort drink and the consolation drink. Coffee had an upmarket connotation. It wasn’t widely available and the British didn’t make it very well.
Also as coffee was well established on the continent, it had to be shunned. To this day the British are divided about continental Europe and what they see as the emblems of Euro-depravity: coffee, garlic, scents and bidets.
Although tea is standardized, the British play their class games over the tea packers. For three centuries, most tea has been shipped in bulk to various packing houses throughout the British Isles. But the posh prefer Twinings to Lipton.
Offering tea with fancy cakes, clotted cream and fine jams separates the workers from the ruling classes. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea time; which the hotels turned into formal, expensive afternoon “teas.” The Ritz in London is famous for them.
The British believe that tea sustained them through many wars. “Let’s have a nice cup of tea. Things will get better.” I’ve always believed that America’s revenge against the British crown was to ice their beloved tea. Toss it into Boston Harbor, but don’t ice it. If you should have the good fortune to be asked to tea at No. 10, or at Buckingham Palace, don’t expect it to be iced.
Incidentally tea bags are fine, and it’s now just pretentious to serve loose tea with a strainer. Of course, if you want to read the political tea leaves you’ll have to use loose tea.
If you’re serving tea to the thousands at your tea parties, Sarah, remember that unlike politics, tea is very forgiving. It can be revived just with more boiling water. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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Workaround is a made-up word that came to us from the computer industry – at least, that is how it came into general usage. In that industry, a workaround can be a crafty piece of engineering to get the results you want without infringing on someone else’s patent.
Watching President Barack Obama at last week’s prime-time news conference, one had the feeling that he was engaged in a workaround. He was selling a vague health care reform proposal. His spiel was very long because he was selling something that is still a work in progress. Worse: Whatever Obama gets is not going to be the real thing. It is going to be a workaround.
One has the feeling that congressional pusillanimity has the Democrats and their leader working around what at heart they know is the only solution to the challenge of health care – a strong federal role. Call it the solution that dare not speak its name, like Oscar Wilde’s love.
One had the feeling in the East Room last week that the president wanted to lay down the burden of political gamesmanship and say, “National systems work from Taiwan to Norway, Canada to Australia; why, oh why can’t we face this reality?”
The first answer is that no one has the courage to face the Banshee wails of “socialism” that already echo from the right and would intensify to the sound of a Category 3 hurricane. Politically, it would be seen as a bridge too far. Had Obama said in the presidential campaign that he was for a single-payer option, the Democrats on Capitol Hill might have had the temerity to investigate what works remarkably well in Belgium and Japan, among dozens of other countries.
Globally, the single-payer option – or, let’s face it, nationalization – has brought in universal coverage at about half of what the United States spends today; let alone what we will spend with the clumsy hybrid that the president is selling and Congress is concocting.
Under nearly all state-operated systems, private insurers have a role. My friends in Britain and Ireland all have private insurance for bespoke medicine above that available on the state system. Sure, state systems are criticized, especially in Italy (along with everything else), but not one country that has a state system has made any political move to repeal it. State systems are popular.
In Britain, where I have had most experience with the National Health Service, it is the third rail of their politics. Even the great advocate of free enterprise, Margaret Thatcher, did not dare to even think of touching it. Every British Tory wants to make it more efficient, but none wants to repeal it. Thatcher repealed anything that had the whiff of socialism about it and privatized much, including the railways, but the health system was sacrosanct.
The issue should not be whether we can keep every insurer alive and whether we should continue to burden employers with the health care of their staffs and their families, but whether a new system will deliver for all Americans at reasonable cost.
It is probably too late to rationalize the system all at once. There are too many interests, too much money at stake and a pathological fear of government, fanned by the loud few. No matter that the Tennessee Valley Authority works well, that the Veterans Administration is a larger, and probably better, state program than those in many countries. It is not just in health care that Congress and the administration are engaged in workaround. Cap-and-trade in energy is another piece of avoidance.
Utility chief, after utility chief, after utility chief–among them, John Rowe of Exelon and James Rogers of Duke–has said that a simple carbon tax would be more effective and cheaper than cap-and-trade. But the same people who yell “socialist” get severe arrhythmia at the mention of “tax.” Workaround. –For North Star Writers Group
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Hello, young man (I’m 90). I was listening to your reaction [on Sirius XM Radio, Channels 110 and 130] to the diatribe against you, when you evidently said something favorable about socialism.
Let me tell you about my experience with socialism in the late-1930s, when the sawmill shut down in our town in north Idaho.
Since no jobs were to be had in the private sector, I joined the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps]: a socialistic project.
In my home state of Washington, before the Grand Coulee Dam was built, central Washington was inhabited by nothing but sagebrush, jackrabbits and rattlesnakes. The result of that socialistic project caused central Washington to bloom like the Garden of Eden.
I’m now on Medicare: another socialistic project. Enough said.
JERRY KESSLER via e-mail
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