Monday, June 8, 2009

Ziploc Bags

In this standardised, infection-obsessed 21st century, it's hard to find foods that aren't packaged in some sort of plastic, often enough several layers, one on top of the other. In most cases, this wrapping needs to be more-or-less ripped to shreds before you can get to the actual product. And any leftovers must subsequently be re-wrapped in cling-film or placed in a Tupperware or similar plastic container. As such, the same product needs a series of mostly single-use plastic coverings over the course of its consumer lifetime from farm to factory to fridge to fecal matter.

For this reason, I am particularly pleased by the extremely widespread use of Ziploc bags in American retailing, packaging which not only enables foods to be kept fresh prior to and after sale but - because you keep the food in its original recipient - helps reduce the environmental impact of consumer food packaging (not to mention the amount of non-recyclable rubbish it leaves behind).

Now, I bet there's someone out there who knows that Ziplock bags are actually the Devil's own instrument because - I don't know - it takes five types of highly-toxic plastic to make that clever seal, the original recipe was stolen from a subsequently extinct Amazonian tribe, the production of each bag uses up 15 barrels of rare Togoan crude oil and several gigawatts of energy, the employees are all indentured, non-unionised near-slaves, or the waste product of the Ziploc manufacturing process is simultaneously polluting all the streams in Bangladesh or wiping out 7 species of insect every second.

But I sincerely hope not. Because I really, really love them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fifth Third Bank

This is something that has been bugging me for some time.

I mean, calling a financial institution "Fifth Third Bank" is about as imaginative as naming a road "Fifth Avenue" simply because it is between Fourth Avenue and Sixth Avenue or christening a child John Smith when that's also its father's name.

Fifth Third Bank is doubly bizarre, however, because it makes me wonder what happened to the first four or whether, like in the John Smith II example above, this is actually the third attempt to launch a Fifth Bank. Alternatively, perhaps someone is simply bad at maths, and should actually have called it "One-and-Two-Thirds Bank". Or perhaps its headquarters are at the corner of Third and Fifth Street.

Whatever the answer, there certainly aren't other Third or Fifth Banks around. So why this one?

As so often when the New World throws me a banana skin, I decided to refer to the online Bible of perceived wisdom: Wikipedia. Boringly enough, this informs me that the Fifth Third Bank is actually the result of the merger in 1908 of the Third National Bank with the Fifth National Bank.

Unfortunately, neither Wikipedia nor the Fifth Third Bank site gives any clues as to where the names of the two parent institutions came from, so from my experience of all things American I must presume that one was the third nationally established bank, the other the fifth.

Isn't imagination a wonderfully elusive creature?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ring O' Roses

Nursery rhymes don't survive transatlantic voyages intact. Like all immigrants to the New World, they are integrated, adapted, homogenised, sanitised, Hollywoodised.

The classic "Ring o' Roses" as I learnt it goes like this:
Ring a-ring o' roses,
A pocketful of posies,
Atishoo! Atishoo!
We all fall down.
in reference to (I thought) the ravages of the Black Death and the fact that it gave sufferers a rosey rash on their neck, that people carried flowers (i.e. posies) around to ward it off, and that the pneumonic plague made them sneeze and eventually fall down dead.

The New World version goes like this:
Ring around the rosey,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down.
In fact, the locals add a second, happy-ending verse which "shows" that everything is all right after all:
Cows are in the meadow,
Lying fast asleep,
Ashes, ashes,
We all get up again.
Next up: Humpty Dumpty only bruised his ego, the Grand Old of Duke of York simply made bad choices, and the spider tells Little Miss Muffet he merely wants a Green Card.

Odd Products

Can't manage an entire delicatessen?
We have the solution!

Not my definition.

Two shredded pizzas?

He was fresh off the plane.

Energy Efficiency

I recently heard some interesting statistics that you may or may not be aware of: the United States has 2% of the world's natural resources and 5% of the global population, yet consumes 25% of everything and is responsible for 25% of the total CO2 output.

Having lived in the States for almost a year now, I realise that a great deal of this consumption is not even necessary. It starts with the fact that everything is done by car, including collecting children from the school bus (which drops them off 50-100 yards from the house), and daft things like leaving car engines running while getting cigarettes at a petrol station. But it goes much, much further.

As someone pointed out, and which immediately struck a chord, when you go to a hotel in the US, all the lights in the room and often enough the TV are generally on. Although the TV has a remote control, there is no central light switch, so when you go for a meal, you theoretically have to turn every single light and bedside lamp off individually, which is easier said than done given some of the bizarre light fittings we've had to wrestle with. So people just leave them on when they go out.

There are other small, but telling examples of this wasteful use of energy: our fridge and washing machines are twice the size that our European ones were, though I doubt we or anybody else use them to full capacity. And despite having the heating element below the base (an extremely inefficient way to boil water, incidentally), our kettle has a minimum level of just under a litre. So even if I only want to make myself a cup of coffee, I have to heat up almost a litre of water.

Finally, and most well known, American cars are hugely gas-guzzling. Even though we have two Japanese-brand cars and deliberately went for fuel economy, my wife's sleek saloon car can get at best 29 miles to the gallon (8.4l/100km), while my 3.7-litre SUV manages an average of just 18mpg (12.9l/100km) with "normal" suburban use or 21mpg if I stick to motorways - that's twice as much fuel as our un-aerodynamic people-carrier consumed in France.

Perhaps instead of worrying about dwindling oil reserves and finding new sources of energy, America should start thinking about increasing energy efficiency - or making electricity and petrol so expensive that it forces people to think about consuming more responsibly.

Call Me "Reverend"

Ian Paisley allegedly has*. So have all four of the Beatles, Virgin boss Richard Branson, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, writer Hunter S. Thompson, John Wayne Bobitt (he of the "missing" penis), Alanis Morisette, Paul Newman, Robbie Williams and Sharon Stone.

Two days ago, when I couldn't go running because it was raining, I joined this illustrious group of people by becoming an "insta-priest".

The idea had come to me the evening before. Would it be possible in the self-proclaimed Land of Opportunity - or, as the Germans put it, the Land of Unlimited Possibilities - for a non-religious non-believer to be ordained a priest? I never dreamt it would be so easy. A mere ten-second search on the Internet provided the answer: not only could I become legitimately ordained without any training or profession/proof of belief, but I could do so instantly, online and free of charge.

Barely five minutes later, I was a reverend of the Universal Life Church authorised to perform marriages and baptisms and enjoying "all the privileges and courtesies normally offered to members of the clergy" (apparently the ULC has won several court cases upholding these rights). 

But the fun doesn't end there. Had I been less humble - and willing to toss $11.99 into the ULC collection box - I could have officially bestowed myself a grander religious title from a long list including (but not limited to):
  • Abbot
  • Angel
  • Archbishop
  • Ascetic Gnostic
  • Bishop
  • Child of the Universe
  • Colonel
  • Dervish
  • Druid
  • Flying Missionary
  • High Priest
  • Martyr
  • Messenger
  • Monk
  • Patriarch
  • Pope
  • Prince
  • Prophet
  • Rabbi
  • Saint
  • Saintly Healer
  • Seer
  • Shaman
  • Spiritual Warrior
  • Swami
  • Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality
  • Wizard, and my personal favourite
  • Reverend of Rock 'n' Roll.

For just $7.95 plus postage, I could even have ordered a gold-embossed certificate - again from the ULC - confirming that I was a Jedi knight, though I'll probably stick to my iPhone light-sabre app for the time being.

This being the 21st century, the Universal Life Church also offers its followers an opportunity to confess online. You simply write your sin in the appropriate box (or "if you don't want to write about your sins, you may enter an 'X' to signify that you have thought about your sins and wish to turn from them"), click the checkbox labelled "Have you forgiven yourself for your sins? (yes/no)" or "Have you forgiven others who have harmed you? (yes/no)", and then press the button marked "Submit Confession". Hey presto, instant absolution.

I wonder what I'll go for next. Although I could have bought myself various doctorates (including the wonderful "Doctor of Immortality") from the ULC, I think I'm going to try to get a free PhD from an American university. And when I get that, I'm going for the ultimate prize: an M.D.


* Although it is the subject of debate whether or not the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley bought his priesthood, it is certain that his doctorate was acquired from the outlawed American Pioneer Theological Seminary and later quasi-legitimised by an honorary Doctor of Divinity bestowed upon him by an unacredited fundamentalist Christian college.