Wednesday, September 30, 2009


It never happened to me in nearly a decade living in France or more than a decade spent in Germany. It didn't even happen to me in my two decades in Britain. And yet just a year after arriving in the United States, I've been summoned for jury duty.

Thrilled at the prospect of saving an innocent man from the gallows (or whatever it is they do to convicted felons round here), I began planning in my head how I would prepare for my forthcoming civic duties. This included:

  1. Re-watching 'Twelve Angry Men' and several episodes of 'Judge Judy';
  2. Revising the minutiae of American criminal and constitutional law; and
  3. Standing in front of the mirror and confidently saying "Not guilty".

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed when I read the questionnaire that accompanied the summons, and discovered that I failed to qualify for jury duty on several counts.

I'll spare you the details, but I'll just say two things: nationality and previous convictions.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Full Disclosure

It's a well-known fact that Americans donate millions to election campaigns. Thanks to FundRace, you can find out not only whether your friends and acquaintances made campaign donations, but also how much and to whom.

The system is brilliant: you can either search for donors by name or you can zoom in on the map of the US and search for donors by neighbourhood - even those in your street.

Frighteningly, FundRace lists not only the name of the donor, but their full address and occupation. But this also makes for interesting research.

For instance, George Bush sr. gave money to the McCain campaign, but "Dubya" did not. Bill - that is, William Jefferson - and Hillary Clinton both donated $2300 to Barack Obama's election campaign, yet neither spent (wasted?) money on Hillary's campaign.

What I really don't understand is that Barack Obama donated $6900 to the campaign of rival Hillary Clinton, while Michelle Obama donated $2300 to the Clinton campaign but a mere $399 to her husband's.

Former Alaskan governor and would-be vice-president Sarah Palin made no campaign donations whatsoever.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Yikes! it's Constitution Day tomorrow, and we haven't practiced the Pledge of Allegiance all year (how unpatriotic of us)!

Oh well, I guess the kids will have to put their hand on their heart and speak in tongues, like everyone else seems to do.

I just wonder whether they'll be using the Bellamy salute this year:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tear-off Slips

Never would I have imagined that something as mundane as paying a household bill could be so different on opposite sides of the Atlantic. But strangely enough, one aspect is exactly the opposite over here - with peculiar and perhaps unforeseen repercussions.

The standard the (western?) world over for invoices seems to be that they start with the corporate logo of the provider/seller in the top left- or right-hand corner, followed by information (address, telephone number, reference numbers, etc.) about the sender and recipient, and finally details of the service or product purchased and billed.

In an effort to make payment and processing easier, many firms integrate a tear-off slip into their invoice that can, as the name suggests, be torn off - ideally along a perforated line - and returned with payment. That way the party issuing the bill can easily associate the payment with the invoice and therefore the customer.

In Europe, the tear-off slip is at the bottom of the page, but here in the States it is invariably at the top.

I expect this is probably so that the provider/seller immediately has the customer's address etc., which are printed at the top of the invoice for mailing purposes. Unfortunately, as the paying customer you are left with this:

a bill albeit bearing a helpful reminder to "retain this lower portion for your records" but neither the name, address nor the logo of the company you've paid! So unless you remember to write the provider's name on your payment record, you have absolutely no idea who sent you the bill!

And have you ever tried filing an anonymous bill?!

Luckily, this bill contains two subtle hints - "water" & "sewer" - as to its origins, but given that all the company names are new to me, I often am more-or-less completely at a loss to know what I've paid whom for.

This isn't an isolated example either. I've received top-of-page tear-off slips from the electricity company, the gas company, the local authority (e.g. the above bill), the phone company and even my credit-card provider (and they're just the ones I can think of straight away). In fact, I can't think of a single provider that has supplied a slip at the more consumer-friendly end of the page. I've even had electricity bills running (don't ask me why) into several pages, the top of each of which contained a perforated tear-off slip, even though only the first was intended for return with payment.

Worst of all, being a concerned citizen keen to improve the world around me, I have no idea who to suggest my revolut
ionary end-of-page tear-off slip idea to. Although this being America, there's probably an American Association of Tear-Off Slip Manufacturers with an army of highly-paid lobbyists in Washington working hard to prevent such socialist* ideas from being implemented in the US of A.

Perhaps I'll have to patent my idea then. So for now, keep it to yourselves, OK?


* Anything people don't like, from tax reform and state-sponsored healthcare to investing in rail networks (I'm serious!), is eventually damned as "socialist" by its opponents and/or Fox News**. Ironically, if said "socialist" idea is in danger of being adopted, the nay-sayers move to the next stage: likening the proponent(s) of the scheme to Hitler. The obvious impossibility of this position aside, the level of historical knowledge over here doesn't suggest this is because he was a National Socialist.

** It's actually got so far that politicians try to completely avoid using the terms "social" and "socialised" because people - especially the right-wing media - automatically associate them with socialism, à la socialised medicine today, the Gulag tomorrow!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day

Why do they call it Labor Day when everyone has the day off?