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!