Friday, November 23, 2012


Odd Products

Dog shoes: because paws weren't made to run on the ground

 Probably spinning in his grave at this juxtaposition

Those poor socks


"What do you mean, you don't have Thanksgiving in Europe?" an incredulous young man said to me this week. "Aren't Europeans thankful?" Well, yes we are, I assured him. Just not in the same way as our American cousins.

Thanksgiving is a near-sacred event in the American calendar because it pays homage to the fact that, were it not for the generosity of the native Indians, the colonisation of the New World would undoubtedly have failed before it really got started - and I would not be here writing about it today.

You see, those pious pilgrims on the Mayflower may have brought with them such essential items as vinegar and salad oil - and thus nearly everything they needed to make a nice Ceasar salad - they neglected some of the lesser ingredients for life on a strange and alien continent. Like experienced farmers. And ploughs.

As a result, about half of those brave transatlantic souls had perished within a year of setting foot on Plymouth Rock. You can therefore understand their gratitude that the locals, who had after all survived successfully on this seemingly inhospitable land for tens of thousands of years, took pity on their hapless European visitors,
giving them food, patiently explaining agricultural techniques and introducing them to such strange delicacies as potatoes, corn, beans, wild rice and tomatoes, as well as a pick-me-up subsequently known as "tobacco".

The settlers were so grateful to their gracious hosts that they returned the favour in spades, giving the native Americans decimating diseases and a taste for alcohol, hunting their almost innumerable bison to near extinction for fun and fur - killing eight million in one particularly grisly three-year period alone - and relieved the Indians of most of their land since it was in any case far too fertile and vast to be managed by people who had been living on and from it for mere millennia.

Today's Thanksgiving celebrations are rather more humane affairs, involving an annual family get-together on the fourth Thursday in November to overeat (ironically), rekindle long-cherished grudges, argue about politics and celebrate community by gathering around a warm television set to watch American football.

One central feature of the Thanksgiving gorge-athon is the turkey, which is typically baked though often deep-fried, leading incidentally to thousands of calls to the fire services, tens of millions of dollars in damage and several deaths year after year. No fewer than 45 million turkeys are culled every year just so that Americans can say "thanks", and even the president of the United States is presented with one or more live specimens of these creatures for preparation in the White House kitchen.

Despite what some hagiographers claim, this has led only relatively recently to a bizarre back-to-front practice whereby the president pardons his turkey (for what cardinal sin, one can only wonder). Although JFK allegedly said of his turkey, "Let's just keep him" four days before his own assassination (tellingly not at the hands of a turkey), it wasn't until 1989 that George Bush Sr. first expressly issued a presidential pardon to a condemned fowl.

Since then, the pardon has morphed into an official Thanksgiving Day event, but because obese turkeys are not the healthiest of animals, there is always a main turkey and a backup in case illness or, perish the thought, premature death should prevent the alpha bird from performing its ceremonial duties. If both turkeys are still alive and kicking come Thanksgiving, both are pardoned. The lucky turkeys are allegedly selected at birth and although otherwise raised completely normally, they are "trained to handle loud noises, flash photography and large crowds" - I guess through repeated exposure to loud noises, flash photography and large crowds. Meanwhile, their less fortunate siblings are probably "trained" not to worry about decapitation.

In another anthropomorphic twist, the soon-to-be pardoned turkeys are given names. Thus in 2003, George W. Bush pardoned Stars and Stripes. The following year, he spared Biscuits and Gravy. They in turn have been succeeded by Flyer and Fryer, May and Flower, Apple and Cider, Cobbler and Gobbler, and sundry others.

Most recently, these pardoned turkeys have been permitted to spend their few remaining days or weeks in the relative tranquility of Mount Vernon, the former home of the country's first president, George Washington. In the past, however, they were sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia, where one must presume their lifespan was significantly shorter.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Election unwords

With the presidential election finally over, Chads throughout the United States are breathing a collective sigh of relief that they were not left hanging or even pregnant this time round. And although Floridians once again took three days longer than everyone else to count their votes, they did not hold the entire country to ransom as they had back in 2000.

We may not have had a Sarah Palin or a George "Dubya" Bush to mangle their words, but this election cycle spawned its own set of neologisms and odd terms, which I would like to take this opportunity to share with you:
  • Job-creators: A euphemism coined by the right-wing Republicans to describe the rich in a more positive light;
  • Soon-to-haves: No longer is America a country of haves and have-nots. Republican spin-doctors also recast the poor in a bald-faced attempt to win them over to pro-business ideologies;
  • Historian: The job-description preferred by would-be Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich to refute claims that the millions he had earned from the pharmaceutical industry were the fruits of lobbying;
  • Clean coal: A tautological concept dreamt up by the coal industry to counter the backlash against fossil fuels and moves to search for cleaner sources of energy, the suggestion being that you could burn coal without producing all that environmentally unfriendly soot;
  • Caucus (v): I think this means to canvas for a caucus, though it could mean to hold a caucus. Confused? So am I;
  • Mainstream media (MSM) or elite media: A favourite expression of Sarah Palin back in 2008, this resurfaced again as a quasi-swearword to describe the non-conservative media - in other words, all media bar Fox News;
  • Washington insider: Another "four-letter word" used to dismiss any politician except yourself. Used, bizarrely enough, especially by those who have held political office for decades to put down their opponents. Although this expression was used more widely in '08 and by the TEA ("Taxed Enough Already") Party movement during the 2010 mid-term elections, it featured particularly during the Republican primaries.
  • Forcible/legitimate rape: Terms used by senatorial candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who vehemently oppose abortion, even following incest or rape. Makes you wonder what the opposite is - consensual rape? Their controversial views on the topic resulted in both men being soundly defeated at the polls;
  • Romnesia: A neologism coined by Barack Obama (or his speech-writers) to describe a person's ability to forget what he stated one day and espouse views often diametrically opposed to these when seeking the backing of a different group of voters. Think Mitt Romney's "flip-flopping" on abortion, gun control, coal, immigration, healthcare reform, welfare, the auto-industry bailout ...