Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Within the next few days, President Obama is due to sign a bill that will finally put an end to a policy that has marked the United States out as extremely backward in comparison to most, if not all developed nations.

The policy, known colloquially as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), is a fudge introduced in the Clinton era to get around the fact that the US does not permit homosexuals to serve openly in the military. The armed forces of Canada, the entire EU, Australia, Israel and even Taiwan and South Africa have allowed openly gay service members for many years. The US stands alone with Turkey in forbidding it, ostensibly on the grounds that the presence of gays in the armed forces "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability".

DADT created a bizarre situation in that the armed forces recognised that there were gays in the military, but sought to prevent them from being discharged (which they were obliged to do) by introducing a kind of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil": as long as servicemen and -women were not questioned about their sexual orientation or talked about it with fellow soldiers, the fact was ignored. Any that did were discharged immediately, albeit honourably.

Forced to make a decision on the matter by a court order that temporarily lifted DADT, politicians
in Washington spent much of this year wrangling over the issue. A subsequent poll found that 72% of servicemen said they wouldn't have any problems serving alongside gays, lesbians and transsexuals. Although mainly Republicans staged repeated filibusters in an attempt to talk the issue to death, the repeal of DADT - and with it the ban on gays in the US military - was finally approved by the Senate this week, and the National Defense Authorization Act has now arrived on President Obama's desk.

Welcome to the 20th century, America.

Odd Words

Just like in 2009, all this year I have been collecting words that are considered normal in the New World, but which sound strange to British ears. The 2010 list is considerably longer than last year's offering, partly because it spans 12 months rather than nine, but I trust that the quality is no less.

  1. Unwifeable (adj.) - Incapable of finding a husband
  2. Beautifullest
  3. Gangbanger - Member of a gang
  4. Favorite (v)
  5. Touchful (adj.) - Touching
  6. Best (v) - Beat
  7. Merger (v)
  8. Medal (v)
  9. Learnings - Things you have learnt
  10. PDA: public diplays of affection
  11. Recreate (v) - Engage in recreational activities
  12. Shrimp, crab, oyster (v) - Fish for specific seafood
  13. Doneness
  14. Anyways - Anyway
  15. Keyboard (v) - Type on a keyboard
  16. Fan (v) - Become a fan of
  17. Get back-burnered (v)
  18. Third half
  19. Detrain (v) - Get off a train
  20. Potty (v) - Go to the loo
  21. Dialog (v)
  22. Fill-in-able
  23. Black & blue (v) - Bruise
  24. Discussionize (v) - Have a discussion about (i.e. discuss!)
  25. Incest (v) - Commit incest
  26. Surveil (v) - Spy on
  27. Gunshot (adj) - Shot dead
  28. Arrearage - Going into arrears
  29. Derivative (n, official) - Dependent (i.e. family member)
  30. Prayerful
  31. Pre-lit (adj) - An artificial tree sold with fairy lights already on
  32. Crotchal (adj used by airport security personnel conducting pat-downs) - Relating to the crotch area
  33. Gift (v) - Give
  34. Regift (v) - Give received gifts to another person

Friday, December 3, 2010


America is often portrayed as a country of steak-eaters; of avid consumers of big, fat, juicy, barbecued hunks of beef. Although a great deal of beef is indeed consumed, the meat of choice surprisingly turns out to be chicken.

According to some estimates, 23 million chickens a day are slaughtered to satisfy America's hunger for poultry. In fact, so much chicken is served (primarily breaded) in the country which invented Chicken McNuggets and Kentucky Fried Chicken, that my wife has become positively averse to the stuff.

To give you some idea of the phenomenal prevalence of chicken in American cuisine, allow me to offer you an unadulterated list of the poultry-related items on this month's menu at our children's elementary (junior) school, where they have a choice of three main dishes:
  • 1.12. Chicken noodle soup, chicken Caesar wrap
  • 2.12. Sweet-and-sour chicken with rice, diced chicken with rice
  • 3.12. Grilled chicken sandwich, baked chicken rings with rice
  • 6.12. Chicken fajita salad
  • 7.12. Chicken tacos, baked chicken tenders with fruit cup
  • 8.12. Chicken corn dog with potato wedges
  • 9.12. Chicken patty sandwich
  • 10.12. (No chicken on menu)
  • 13.12. Grilled chicken salad
  • 14.12. Chicken fajitas, chicken pasta al fredo
  • 15. 12. Chicken nuggets with hot corn
  • 16.12. Grilled chicken ranch wrap
  • 17.12. Chicken tenders with mashed potatoes

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Odd Products

Than what?

Gravy that's better than gravy?

"Naturally flavored with other natural flavors"

Yummy - if you like turds

(I'm not putting this on my glasses!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Supersize Everything

We all know that everything is bigger - if not always better - in America.

I had not expected the same to apply to books. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when my son came home with the classic Ted Hughes tale 'The Iron Man':


Today is Thanksgiving in the US, the day the Pilgrims - and everyone since - celebrated the bounties and fruitfulness of the newly-colonised America. 

The traditional meal at Thanksgiving is turkey served with cranberry sauce and followed up by pumpkin pie. Nothing odd about that except that rather than cooking it in the oven for hours (and hours), as you would in Britain, here in the US turkeys are often if not mostly broiled.

It's hardly surprising that the citizens of the country that invented doughnuts and which deep-fries everything from Mars bars to beer and even butter (I kid you not) should also deep-fry  Thanksgiving turkeys.

Unfortunately, the process of immersing a very large bird in boiling fat is a delicate art at the best of times, and houses are burnt down year after year by inexperienced chefs. To give you some idea just how many, consider this: in 2008 alone, fire crews were sent out to 1800 home fires at Thanksgiving - twice as many as on any other day of the year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas

Today I found out what American Jews do on Christmas Day: they go to the movies and then have a Chinese meal ("Nowhere else is open").

I wonder whether British Jews head for the Odeon before settling down to a curry.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It may be the norm in the many developing nations, but haggling is probably one of the last things I thought I'd be able to do in the US. How wrong I was!

Although I've only tried it on a few occasions (and then only because the situation presented itself), it is amazing what you can haggle over - even when the official price is clearly marked. I have, for example, saved hundreds of dollars negotiating down the price of our cars and even new furniture. But my most recent haggling success was by far the most lucrative.

At a visit to the electronics superstore Best Buy, I was approached by a man who asked me who my Internet provider was. I told him that I get my Internet access, TV and telephone through the cable company Comcast. Was I satisfied, asked the man, whose shirt I noticed bore a Comcast logo. I said that yes, I was satisfied on the whole, but was considering switching to the competition because my triple-play subscription had shot up from an initial $99/month for the first three months to $176. "Let's see whether I can make you a better offer," he said.

After typing in some figures on his computer terminal, he said, "How does $122 sound?"
"Very good," I replied, "though not as good as $99". This prompted yet more fervent number-crunching (presumably he was calculating the margin), during which I again reminded him how ready I was to abandon his company. Finally he said, "The best I can offer you is $114". For how long? "At least a year."

I shook his hand and thanked him - and without having had to sign anything, I had saved myself $741 a year on a subscription for a service with a fixed price.

God bless America.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Campaign Spending

America goes to the polls next Thursday, 4 November. And although these are only the "mid-term" elections rather than a presidential one, the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group based in Washington, has calculated that the political parties, candidates and so-called "outside groups" will spend an estimated $4bn - I repeat, four billion dollars - on campaigning.

Just thought I'd share that figure with you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Ladies

As you are undoubtedly aware, Michelle Obama is the wife of US President Barack Obama. That makes her the nation's First Lady. Strangely enough, although her husband is the 44th president, she is the 51st First Lady.

"That's obvious," I can hear you say. "Seven presidents had two wives." In fact, only two did: John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson.

Thanks to a wonderful piece of tourist purchasing by Mrs Newbie, we are the proud owners of two place mats featuring the 44 American presidents on one side and their First Ladies on the other. Closer inspection of these by the Newblets in particular has brought us some very interesting enlightenment.

Three First Ladies were the relevant president's daughter. Two more were the head of state's sister, while another two were the commander-in-chief's niece. There were also three daughter-in-law First Ladies (or is that First Lady daughters-in-law?).

One intriguing First Lady was Anna Harrison, the wife of William Henry Harrison, the shortest-serving president, who died of a cold on his 32nd day in office after delivering the longest inaugural address in US history - almost two hours - on a cold and wet day wearing neither an overcoat nor a hat. For some reason left tantalisingly unexplained by our place mats, Mrs Harrison is described as the president's "absent wife". Was she on holiday throughout his short-lived presidency? Had she left him? Were they perhaps separated? Or was she merely away having one of their ten children (though this still doesn't explain why she should be termed "absent" - unless in the sense of "absent-minded about birth control").

But the most interesting - albeit confusing - case involves Andrew Jackson's two First Ladies, neither of whom was his wife. The first, from 1829-1836, was Emily Donelson, Jackson's niece. In 1834, she was joined by Sarah Jackson, the president's daughter-in-law, who remained
the nation's alpha female until 1837.

Three things puzzle me about this case: 
  1. What happened to the unfortunate Ms Donelson, or rather, what did she do to merit being downgraded? 
  2. Why was the First Ladyship shared for the first and indeed only time from 1834 to 1836?
  3. And what was Ms Jackson's actual relationship to the president? To be defined as his daughter-in-law she could either be his son's wife or his wife's daughter from a previous marriage. In either case there would have been a Mrs William Henry Jackson - who would then have been the First Lady herself.

Sadly, neither our place mats nor Wikipedia, the online dictionary of perceived knowledge, has any light to shed on these matters. So I guess Mrs Newbie will have to buy a pack of First Lady playing cards next time she's in that tourist shop.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Given the twin obsession of so many Americans with washing and religion, I'm willing to bet that the expression "Cleanliness is next to godliness" was coined in the New World.

I've already written about tips given for avoiding infection and about what I consider "knee-jerk vaccination" that is conducted here for completely harmless - and indeed beneficial - diseases. Other local oddities include
mandatory vaccination against Hepatitis B (at-risk groups: drug addicts and prostitutes) for all schoolchildren in the US. Add to this the fact that there are hand sanitisers wherever you look as well as anti-bacterial wipes routinely provided for cleaning supermarket trolleys, and you have the makings of a nation paranoid about illness.

Yesterday I came across something that highlights the lengths to which people go to avoid germs. It all started with a seemingly harmless question on Facebook: "What tips do you have to keep you and your kids healthy during flu season?" The responses (which for reasons too complicated to explain must all come from North Americans), are extremely telling from a European, spoonful-of-dirt-a-year perspective:

  • "Wash their hands constantly and before eating with hot soapy water!"
  • "Keep little immune systems healthy and stop the spread of germs with Kleenex® Anti-Viral"
  • "Flu Shots & GermX!"
  • "Making sure my kids and i stick to the '24 hour' rule [i.e. waiting 24 hours after a fever subsides] before going back to school or work. Wish more people did so as to NOT pass their germs!!"
  • "I keep Germ-X next to the tissue box, kids sanitize their hands after blowing their noses."
  • "Just keep the little germ carrier's home and feed them lots of Jewish Penicilin"
  • "Everyone must wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds to be effective or singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star all the way through twice"
  • "Hand sanitize or wash your hands as soon as you get off the bus, kiddies"
  • "Washing hands a lot of course. I've added a chewable calcium with vitamin D to my kids morning routine"
  • "Avoid washing your hands in public restrooms and use sanitizer after you leave the restroom instead. Also, don't touch any surface with your hands. I've gotten sick 10 less times a year by doing this"
  • "Kids - and adults - have been known to die from the flu. I chose not to get the shot this year, and I have already suffered through one strain of flu this fall. It isn't fun being sick, and if you are in a weakened state of health it can be deadly. Wake up and smell the mortality."

And my two favourites:

  • "Avoid people if possible. My Gramma has a shot of whiskey if she's been around sick people"
  • "Get ur kids to take a bath as soon as they get home from school, that way they don't spread germs all throughout ur home"

Friday, October 22, 2010


Often enough, to get laws passed through Congress, additional sometimes completely unrelated issues are bundled into white papers simply to get politicians on the other side of the aisle to approve them. These might result in so-called "earmarks" (i.e. pledges to devote funds to particular pet causes, like the Alaskan "bridge to nowhere"). However, the following case involves a particularly cynical addition shoe-horned into the 2001 "No Child Left Behind Act", a law ostensibly designed to reform education for particularly America's underprivileged.

At the start of my children's new school year, I was sent a thick, glossy brochure about the school district. Tucked away right at the very back of this laudable yet mind-numbingly boring collection of waffle, mission statements, and back-patting, I stumbled upon a form that almost made my eyes pop out. The key sentence of this was the following:
"If you do not want the school district to release your child's directory information to military recruiters this year, please complete the bottom portion of this letter and return it to the principal's office at your child's school no later than Friday, SEPTEMBER 10, 2010."
Needless to say, that was three days after I had received the brochure. Needless to say, I had already missed the cut-off date.


But my son needs a pee now!

For those who can't count to 15?!

Local Crime

The Crime Watch section of my local free newspaper, the Beacon, has provided yet more evidence of the perils of living in suburban America:
Pastries Pilfered
A doughnut thief reportedly stole two of the pastries from a vehicle parked in the 7000 block of XXX at around noon Oct. 4. The owner noticed that the vehicle was rummaged through, but the report did not specify whether the vehicle was locked. The doughnuts were valued at $1.
So to bowdlerise the famous recent "bed intruder" Internet meme, y'all need to hide your cookies, hide your candy, and hide your pancakes, cause they’re stealin’ everythin' out here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College Sports

In the film Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks says, "After just three years of playing football, I got a college degree."

Americans love watching sport, especially college (i.e. university) sport, both live and on television. That makes it an extremely lucrative business, and gives universities a huge incentive to attract the best players. So it's hardly surprising that they offer gifted athletes scholarships that (in some cases more than) pay their tuition fees.

However, the best players are not always the brightest students. What's more, to get - and keep - at their best, these athletes need to train hard and long. And that in turn means that their academic obligations tend to get in the way of their sporting endeavours. And here's where the problems arise.

Because educational establishments are justifiably starting to insist that students at least get a minimum of education, college teachers regularly give their "jocks" (athlete-students) the answers to tests in advance or even write papers on their behalf!

This of course makes a complete mockery of the concept of tertiary education, but when winning is all that counts, most universities just turn a blind eye.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Religious (In)tolerance

The US is currently in the throes of a horrible phenomenon: religious intolerance.

I can take constant references to the church, prayer and God in spite of the fact that this country is constitutionally supposed to have a separation of church and state. But what is happening right now is nothing short of frightening.

It all started a few weeks back with a row over what was dubbed by its opponents the "Ground Zero Mosque" but which is actually mere plans - possibly years from fruition - to set up an Islamic community centre fully two blocks from the former site of the Twin Towers. Christian groups, Fox News and others have protested vehemently and vociferously, claiming the center is everything from insensitive to a glorification of the killings of 9/11. Fox even raved about the "radical Islamic" Saudi who had "bankrolled" the project - until it emerged that he is the second-largest shareholder in Fox's parent company (News Corp) and Rupert Murdoch's business partner.

Whipped up by this religious fervour, there have been protests against the setting up of other mosques thousands of miles from "Ground Zero", and at least one mosque has been burnt down by arsonists.

Now a church in Florida has decided to up the ante even further by holding a Koran-burning ceremony this Saturday (11 September) to commemorate the 2001 attacks, ignoring pleas from President Obama, Muslim countries, Nato, the top US commander in Afghanistan (who fears reprisal attacks "everywhere in the world"), US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the US attorney general.

The name of this hate-formenting, insular church? The Dove World Outreach Center.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coney Island

The coney island is the  precursor to today's McDonald's and Burger King; a restaurant where you can eat a limited range of food - primarily hamburgers and hot dogs, but also apple pie - at a very reasonable price and without having to wait long for it to be served. It's also the source of the endless coffee cup. 

Despite its connections to the aforementioned globe-spanning chains, the food served at the average coney island is surprisingly good, since it's prepared more home-style than industrial.

Unfortunately, the first coney island I ate in clearly had a problem with its ventilation system, and I came out reeking of chip fat.

BBQ Chimneys

The barbecue chimney is probably the best thing since the invention of the grill.

You no longer need to liberally douse your charcoal in lighter fluid or use long-forgotten boy-scout skills to create a delicate pile of kindling, twigs, bark and pine-cones to get your BBQ coals to heat. And gone are the days when you waited the best part of an hour to get the charcoal to the right temperature.

With one of these babies, you just pour charcoal in the top, place a scrunched-up piece of paper or two in the compartment underneath, light the paper, and you'll have perfectly red-hot coal in 10-15 minutes.

The trick is of course the holes, which suck air up from below and through the sides, while all the heat is funnelled upwards - rather than wastefully radiating away - to warm the coals above.

So throw away your dangerous, environmentally-unfriendly lighter fluid and your stinky, smoky MatchLight coal, and use a BBQ chimney instead. Your spare ribs, steaks, etc. will taste far better than gas-grilled food too!


In other words: just as likely

They sell everything bagels? That's my favourite!

Which bit of the sandwich do they carve? The crust?

They eat unmarried people?! Those patriophages!

Luckily I fail on one of these counts.
I don't want to be made into cheese.

Got that?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Best Friends

Call me an old-worlder (you'd probably be right), but I always thought best friends were like world champions, life or your first date - i.e. that there was only one.

Well that 's certainly not the case over here.

Yesterday I overheard a young man introducing someone to his mates: "That's my best friend X. That's my best friend Y. And that's my best friend Z."

Now I understand how people can have 1000 friends or more on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Culinary Acclimatisation

One of the annoying things about intercontinental air travel is that you inevitably cross one or more timezones, leading to temporary disorientation at best, and protracted jet-lag at worst. Mindful of the need to adjust to your new surroundings, flight crews deliberately dim cabin lights to simulate darkness, and time on-board meals to nudge your natural circadian rhythm into realigning with that at your destination.

On my recent flight back to the US from Europe, I was treated to a slightly different variation on the acclimatisation theme. After take-off from Paris, we were served a full meal on a tray, complete with wine, cheese and bread rolls. About an hour before landing in the States, we were then given our second meal: pizza and ice-cream delivered in cardboard boxes.

I almost expected the steward to ask me, "Would you like fries with that, Sir?"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Children of the Tweet

"'O.M.G. cholesterol': Oh my God, cholesterol!" my 10-year-old daughter read off her packet of cereal yesterday morning.

SMS and Twitter have a lot to answer for.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Census (Redux)

I am never going to voluntarily fill out a census form again.

I've just found my name, address, phone number and my wife's details published online by the US government on their official census site, a site that has of course been trawled and indexed by Google and co.

What's the point of painstakingly trying to keep your personal information private on social networking sites and elsewhere on the Internet when the government publishes this and more, with no little boxes to uncheck if you object?

The aim may be for greater transparency or openness, but it really puts the row over Facebook's privacy policy into perspective.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Best Intentions

My son's friend: "I have to go now. I have a father-and-son campout."
My son (accustomed to American competitiveness): "Have fun. Hope you win!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


(Before you start wondering about our cannibalistic diets, I feel I should point out that we ordered two children's portions of chicken fingers)

Thursday, May 13, 2010



Nemo's grandad has a car?!

For young parents?

Cougars in area?

My favourite country

Odd Products

Easter isn't Easter without these.

Why hang a folded flag on a wall?

Yum ... ow!

Don't get caught at Easter without your foam wall cross

... or your glitter crosses

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Back in the mists of time, in a happier, simpler age, whenever you bought toothpaste, you had the choice between a handful of brands - Signal, Crest, Colgate - as well as a few speciality products for neo-Victorians (Arm & Hammer), wimps (Sensodyne) and similar deviants.

Oh, what I'd give to be back in that long-forgotten, carefree era!

Today I went out to get some toothpaste recommended by my dentist. He'd helpfully given me a small sampler tube, so I already knew I liked it. I also remembered it was Colgate toothpaste.

However, upon reaching the chemist, I was faced with a bewildering array of brands, the most wide-ranging of which was - you guessed it - Colgate. So amazed was I by the plethora of Colgate toothpaste on offer that I actually noted down the names of the ones available at this particular store.

Here, for posterity's sake, is that list:
  • Advanced Whitening
  • Advanced Clean Plus Whitening
  • Advanced Fresh Plus Whitening
  • Advanced Fresh Enamel Strength
  • Clean Mint
  • Max Bright
  • Max White With Breath Strips
  • Oxygen Bubbles
  • Mouthwash Beads
  • Enamel Protect
  • Sensitive Whitening
  • Mint Strip
  • Whitening Paste
  • Icy Blast Whitening
  • Whitening With Stain Lifters

Apparently my local CVS pharmacy is short-changing its customers because the American Colgate site also mentions Total, Total Whitening, ProClinical, Max Fresh, Luminous, 2in1, Sparkling White, Tartar Control, Cavity Protection and Ultrabrite.

I'm sure they all do the same job. They all taste minty, freshen your mouth and clean/whiten/brighten your dentition. So apart from confusing consumers, what is the point of having twenty or more names - nay, synonyms - for what is essentially one and the same thing?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's the Law!

Believe it or not, some 50 million Americans live in communities in which clotheslines are banned. And in at least one state - South Carolina - any terrorist organisation seeking to overthrow the government must register its activities.

America is by no means the only country to have crazy laws, but it certainly has its fair share. Although there are even nuttier district and municipal regulations, here is a selection of some of the state-level gems I have found*:
  • Alabama: It is illegal to sell peanuts after sundown on Wednesday. You may not carry ice cream cones in your back pocket at any time.
  • Alaska: Moose may not be viewed from an airplane.
  • Arizona: Camel-hunting is prohibited. Donkeys may not sleep in bathtubs.
  • Arkansas: Men may beat their wives, but only once a month.
  • California: Women may not drive in a housecoat.
  • Connecticut: Pickles must bounce to be defined thus.
  • Florida: Women who fall asleep under hairdryers will be fined. It is illegal to sing in public in a swimsuit. Farting in public is prohibited after 6pm. Sleeping naked is an offence.
  • Hawaii: You may not put coins in your ears.
  • Idaho: Fishing while riding a camel is prohibited.
  • Illinois: English is not to be spoken.
  • Indiana: The mathematical symbol Pi = 3.
  • Iowa: Kisses may not last more than five minutes.
  • Kansas: Rabbits may not be shot from motorboats.
  • Kentucky: You may not dye ducklings blue and sell them unless you sell more than six.
  • Louisiana: It is illegal to gargle in public.
  • Massachusetts: Mourners may not eat more than three sandwiches at a wake. It is illegal to go to bed without having a full bath. Clam chowder may not contain tomatoes.
  • Michigan: Women may not cut their own hair without their husband's permission.
  • Minnesota: It is illegal to cross state lines with a duck on your head. It is also illegal to sleep naked.
  • Mississippi: It is illegal to teach the meaning of polygamy.
  • Missouri: Speeding is not illegal.
  • Montana: Sheep may not be transported in the cab of a truck without a chaperone. Wives may not open their husband's mail.
  • New Hampshire: It is illegal to nod, tap feet or otherwise mark time with music in a restaurant or bar. On Sundays you may not pee while looking up.
  • New Jersey: Soup slurping is prohibited. Men may not knit during the fishing season.
  • New York: Women may go topless in public unless for business purposes. However, public wearing of body-hugging clothing by women is forbidden. Slippers may not be worn after 10pm.
  • N. Carolina: It is illegal to sing off key. Elephants may not be used to plough fields.
  • N. Dakota: It is illegal to lie down and fall asleep with your shoes on. Bars/restaurants may not serve beer and pretzels together.
  • Ohio: It is illegal to get fish drunk. Police may not arrest people on Sundays or 4th of July.
  • Oklahoma: It is illegal to pretend to have sex with a buffalo in a bar. Women need a state licence to do their own hair. It is illegal to make faces at dogs.
  • Oregon: Dishes must drip-dry. No ice-cream eating on Sundays. Canned corn may not be used as fishing bait. Cars must be camouflaged to avoid startling passing horses. Fish may not be caught by any part of the body except the mouth.
  • Rhode Island: It is illegal to throw pickle juice on a trolley.
  • S. Carolina: Inadvertently killing someone while attempting to commit suicide is punishable by death.
  • S. Dakota: It is illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory.
  • Tennessee: It is illegal to sell hollow logs.
  • Texas: You may not sell your own eye. It is illegal to have more than three sips of beer while standing up.
  • Utah: It is illegal not to drink milk. Persistently stepping on the cracks in state highway pavements is prohibited.
  • Vermont: Women must have their husband's consent to wear false teeth.
  • Virginia: It is illegal to tickle women. Bribery is illegal - except by candidates.
  • Washington: X-rays may not be used to fit shoes. Lollipops are banned.
  • W. Virginia: It is illegal for men to have sex with animals weighing more than 40lb. It is also illegal to snooze on a train or whistle underwater.
  • Wisconsin: It is illegal to sell apple pie without cheese.
  • Wyoming: Rabbits may not be photographed between January and April without a permit.

I rest my case, M'lud.


* Much of these come from the wonderful site DumbLaws.com.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Garlic Salt

Garlic salt is a mixture of salt and garlic, right?


According to the label on the packet I bought today, it also contains sugar, tapioca starch, parsley, "natural flavor" (whatever that may be), soybean oil and carrot.

Bon appetit ... if you dare.


I know that many Europeans - myself included - recoil at the kind of overt, hand-on-heart patriotism routinely and proudly displayed here in America. But I have come to realise that there is one huge advantage to flying a flag outside your house, store or wherever.

On days like today, when an important person - or in this case a soldier from Michigan - is killed, schools, emergency services and other state buildings fly their flags at half mast as a sign of respect and to draw attention to the fact that another life has been lost.

For that chance to reflect, if only for a moment, I am deeply grateful.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baby Steps

Michigan has just taken what amounts to a giant leap over here, although it would qualify as no more than a baby step by European standards. 

After years of wrangling, in which opponents claimed it
constituted an infringement of privacy and could be used for racial harassment, a bill has finally now been passed (although it has not yet been signed into law by the governor) that allows policemen in Michigan to pull motorists over for texting while driving. Up to now, texting has only been a secondary offence warranting police intervention only if the motorist has already committed a more serious crime.

If my sources are correct, Michigan's bold move makes it only the twentieth-first state - out of fifty - to ban texting at the wheel outright. Various others prohibit only novice drivers from doing so. However, Washington is far from imposing nationwide bans. In January, the Transportation Department (i.e. ministry) merely prohibited drivers of trucks and buses over 10,000 pounds from sending text messages while operating commercial vehicles. A presidential order issued by Barack Obama at about the same time simply directs federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles.

A recent survey found that by 90 percent of the population would back a blanket ban. Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that drivers who send or receive SMS messages take their eye off the road for 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds they are texting. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that texting while driving increased the risk of having a crash by 23 times. Other research has compared the effects to that of driving under the influence of alcohol. Yet day after day I see people doing so. 

The fact that such a ban was not enforced long ago shows that
lobbyists and powerful interest groups still have the upper hand when it comes to real political decision-making.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Floor Coverings

Floor coverings seem to follow a strict rule in the States. In most instances, bedrooms and living rooms are carpeted, kitchens and bathrooms are tiled, and dining rooms and hallways are wooden-floored.

That's all fine and indeed logical given their different uses - except that we, like so many other households, have an open-plan, kitchen, eating area and lounge. As a result, when you come from the hall into the kitchen (through the non-existant door) and past the dining table to the living room, you move seamlessly from wood to tile, back to wood and then on to carpet, all in the space of a few metres.

Pampered Pets 2

I have an update on my earlier post about pampered pets:

The kennels that have a DVD/TV option also offer Posturepedic beds, sound-proof doors (so that vacationing pooches aren't disturbed by their neighbours), webcam surveillance, a daily 15 minutes' cuddle time and - for a mere $15 a day extra - a bedtime story.

School Dinners

Britain is not alone in having to rethink its school meals system. American school lunches are a shockingly non-nutritious mix of pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, pancakes and macaroni-cheese, with the odd placatory chicken salad thrown in.

At our kids' junior school, for example, with the notable exception of potatoes in the form of chips, "potato rounds" and mash, most vegetables are offered as optional and therefore ignored extras, and the emphasis is clearly on fostering a fast-food mentality rather than teaching children about healthy eating, not least since the children have no more than 20 minutes from the time they start queuing up to be served to the moment they are shooed outside for playtime.

However, this month the canteen has truly outdone itself, offering an appallingly multicultural culinary abomination termed "spaghetti taco's" (sic!), which the menu defines as - and the spelling and punctuation are all original - "Crisp corn shells Filled with spaghetti topped with shredded Cheese".

We're over here, Mr. Oliver!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


All households in America got their census forms this week. Not only is it the shortest census in US history - at just ten questions - but it has a number of interesting quirks:

Firstly, the accompanying letter asks us to return the form by 1 April 2010, yet all questions relate to who stayed - past tense - at the address on 1 April 2010.

Secondly, and extremely tellingly, having enquired about the name, sex and date of birth (and age!) of each resident, you are asked about whether they are of Hispanic origin, with the opportunity to stipulate Latino, Spanish, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Argentinian, Colombian, Dominican, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran or Spaniard. The rest of us may answer "No".

Only thereafter are you asked about your ethnicity from a list that includes Negro and ends with the wonderfully vague "Some other race".

Most amusingly of all, the final question is "Does person X sometimes live or stay somewhere else? If yes, mark all that apply". The list of alternative abodes includes college housing, the military, a second residence, a nursing home and "jail or prison", which makes me wonder whether people might think, "Uncle Jeb is always in trouble with the police. Better put him down as 'Sometimes in prison'".