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Friday, June 1, 2012

Letter from America XV - June 2012

  
America's Mad Cow Desease
Narrowly avoiding the temptation to take a cheap shot at Secretary of State, Hilaryous Clinton, mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) has finally hit the states; a massive outbreak, at least as far as the single infected cow is concerned. Now let's see how the idiots in the USDA will overreact; I suspect that bovines with spongiform brains is all the excuse they need to reclassify cows as vegetables! I remember how much grief this buffoonery caused in the UK back in the late 80's fueled mainly by the deadly combination of a sensationalist and irresponsible media and a naïve (OK, let's be honest, dumb) consumer population and of course the USA 'does both' really well. I also remember with delight how I took full advantage of the situation (as did numerous other consumers without spongiform brains) to fill my chest-freezer to the brim with Aberdeen Angus, bone-in, filet mignon and prime rib roast at 25% normal retail price.

America's Maddest Cow
Bring it on USDA - my freezer is now four times the size! [side note: when it became illegal to sell meat-on-the-bone in Blighty, my local butcher, with whom I had developed an excellent relationship, raised a middle finger to the government and gave away all of his bone-in meat completely free of charge. The only condition was that you had to buy one of his plastic carrier bags and they were very, very expensive!]  

North Korea's Rocket
While on the subject of mad cows (oh well, best of intentions), Secretary of State Hilaryous Clinton continues to fret over North Korea and their (not so) clandestine development of Nuclear Weapons but she also continues to miss the point. With the North Koreans' grasp of rocket science, demonstrated to the world recently when their satellite deployment rocket (aka long-range nuclear missile prototype) exploded spectacularly shortly after takeoff, it would be in everyone's interest if they did have a massive nuclear weapon. Problem solved!    

Guilty 'til proven innocent
The outrageously biased media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case continues as new medical evidence emerges. The presumptive murderer, Zimmerman (always referred to by last name), suffered a broken nose, lacerations to the back of his head and numerous minor abrasions to his face whereas Trayvon (always referred to by first name) suffered only grazed knuckles (and a bullet wound to the chest of course). It is therefore obvious to all of the rallying dimwits (who are growing dimmer and 'witlesser' by the day) that Zimmerman viscously and repeatedly attacked Trayvon's fist with his face and then, after shooting him in cold blood, attacked the pavement with the back of his own head. Oh, and the THC (i.e. dope) found in cherubic-Trayvon's blood stream was obviously injected by Zimmerman postmortem before the police arrived. The case continues. 
      
Triple & Quad Bypasses
The "Heart Attack Grill" elevates American fast food to a whole new dimension of unhealthiness with its "burgers to die for." They proudly advertise that "this establishment is bad for your health" and, in so doing, invoke the American "legal doctrine of assumption of risk" that prevents the owner from being sued (very important in the States). In much the same way that elitist nightclubs invite stereotypically good looking bimbos to the front of the queue to attract their desired class of clientele (oops, sorry, we are not allowed to say 'stereotypical' in the USA any more), at the Heart Attack Grill 'every-body' over 350lbs (that is 25 stone in real money) eats completely free of charge! Qualifying customers have to prove that they qualify by weighing in on a cattle scale (seriously) usually to an appropriately 'huge round' of applause.

Heart Attack Spokes-Model
They can then choose from a menu including the so-called "double bypass", "triple bypass" and "quadruple bypass" burgers and "flatliner fries" clearly not intended for the fainthearted! The "quadruple bypass burger" features in the Guinness Book of World Records for containing a massive 2lbs of minced beef and clocks up 9,983 calories (see pic). Scooby-Do would be proud! The establishment certainly lives up to its name because twice in the last two months customers have actually suffered serious heart attacks while eating there and both had to be carted off to hospital. Disturbingly, this only proved to be excellent publicity and sales of the "quadruple bypass burger" rocketed! But a sad word of warning: last year, the company's 600lb (42 stone) 'spokes–model' did actually die of a heart attack (at the grand old age of 29).

McDonald's Drive-Thru
On the subject of fast food, three years ago I set myself the ultimate American fast food challenge: to collect my Saturday morning 'Sausage Egg McMuffin' from the local McDonald's drive-thru and return home without actually stopping the car! A few weeks ago I succeeded! Like many things, it required a detailed breakdown and analysis of the challenges, careful pre-planning, competent and efficient personnel and meticulous execution not to mention favourable happenstance and a sprinkle of good luck. With the Mini reverse parked in preparation, reaching the security gate of the property is easy but the security guard must be facing inwards to see the car immediately and open the gates. Only then is it possible to creep forward slowly and squeeze through the partially open gates as soon as they ease apart. Next is the four-way stop – no problem with the Californian style, 'rolling stop' if there are no police around. Same for the second four-way stop but then there are traffic lights. There is sufficient distance to crawl very slowly on the approach until they change to green. You might think that this would irritate the line of cars behind but they naturally assume that you are texting, drinking coffee and/or putting on make-up which is perfectly acceptable, if not expected, in Houston. The next lights are sync'ed – no problem. Third lights - back to the crawling approach. Then a critical left turn across oncoming traffic into the McDonald's car park.

McDonald's Bag Grab
There has to be a timely gap in traffic and entering too quickly will ground the front spoiler on a steep concrete ramp over storm drains (yet another irritating feature of the Houston road system – the damage is likely to be superficial but the noise is excruciating). Ordering the food is the next challenge – there must be no more than one car in the queue and that car must be close to finishing the order so you can ease up behind. If you leave too much of a gap for too long someone will attempt to jump the queue (a popular though inconsiderate 'sport' in Houston traffic) and whether or not you close the gap in time, all will be lost. Continuing to cruise slowly past the order station, you must speak loudly and clearly and anticipate all of the standard questions, "One Sausage Egg McMuffin! No drink! Just the sandwich! That is all!" Regrettably you have to suffer the embarrassment and indignity of saying "McMuffin" out loud because if you order by number then the server will ask for confirmation by name and there is no time for that. There is also no time to say "please" but such unnecessary Britishness is unexpected here. The next challenge is paying – with any luck the window will already be open as you approach and you can hand the cashier your credit card leaning slightly forward ahead of the car window – she must take it, swipe it and hand it back quickly – no signature is required but you have to be prepared to grab the card from slightly behind you without dislocating a shoulder. 

McMuffin Impossible!
Collecting the food is surprisingly easy if the car in front doesn't take too long or ask for ketchup; you can coast along very slowly until you see the window open and then drive past and grab the bag. "Thank you" is also unnecessarily polite but, by this time feeling quite confident, you can try to say as much of, "Have a great day" as the time and distance permits. Then back to the road – the traffic must be sufficiently thin to allow an immediate entry onto the road and again too quickly will ground the spoiler. Then the lights and four–way stops can be negotiated in reverse order. Last but not least, the security guard must see you and open the gate immediately to allow you to squeeze back through. YES!!!!!! Mission accomplished! Jim Phelps and Tom Cruise would be proud. OK, you try it!

Shat the Negotiator
Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise (aka "Shat the Negotiator") celebrated his millionth tweeter follower by inviting the twit out for dinner (presumably for a negotiated price at one of his budget hotels). When interviewed afterwards, the twit reported that he only subscribed to the Shat's 'tweetersphere' out of cynicism and doesn't even like the guy but will do anything for a free meal. Meanwhile the other Enterprise, NASA's oldest Space Shuttle, also well past its 'sell-by-date', has been flown to New York on the back of a specially adapted 747 to take a more appropriate and dignified retirement in the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (see pic). I found out only recently that the Shuttle was originally named "Constitution" but that name was 'amended' (ha!) to "Enterprise" after a campaign by Star Trek fans – brilliant! Trekkies seem to have far more influence than your average rallying dimwits over here (thankfully). It is however a great shame that none of the Space Shuttles will be stationed at mission control in the real "Space City" of Houston. 

Jackson - Human or Alien?
On a similar theme, May 4th was "International Star Wars Day" and a few Americans celebrated on the 5th by realizing that they had forgotten it was yesterday. Fewer Americans actually realize that one of the best puns in science fiction, "May the fourth be with you!" (get it? May 4th, force, never mind) was actually devised in Blighty by Margaret Thatcher back in 1979. Americans typically don't use the "th" in dates so failed to spot the obvious. Seemingly in celebration of International Star Wars Day, Wacko Jacko's wacko sister, Janet, now at the peak of her career advertising a dietary supplement called "Nuttersystem" on TV, has completed the last round of her plastic surgery to become an alien (see pic). I'm not sure what is worse: Wacko's surgery to transform his birth features from black to white, Mega-mouth Tyler's from male to female or Wacko Janet's from human to alien. All three rival the 'special effects' of 1970's Sci-Fi but, in real life, are far more frightening. "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

Cinco de Mayo - Party!!
That conveniently segues to "Cinco de Mayo" (i.e. May 5th in Spanish/Mexican) commonly misunderstood to be the celebration of Mexican Independence. By the way, "May the fifth be with you" in America, is presumably the 'right to remain silent'. Cinco de Mayo is in fact just a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride (aka just another excuse for a party) and why not? The parties typically include music and dance washed down with copious quantities of Tequila, Margaritas, Mezcal and Dos Equis. Children get to blow off steam by the traditional smashing of the piñata.

Kids smashing a piñata
A piñata is a highly decorative ornament made of papier-mache containing hundreds of sweets and charms. It is hung from a tree, just above head height and is smashed to pieces by blind-folded children wielding baseball bats (see pic). Much more fun than pinning tails on donkeys! It is traditional for the biggest kid (normally the school bully) to take the lead role (his parents, the ex-school bullies making sure of that) while the little kids are made to stand dangerously close to the flailing bat in readiness to pounce on the sweets that fall. What fun! Sometimes the school bullies, thus trained, go on to join the police force and cause riots across the country; as Rodney King found out, it is apparently illegal to impersonate a piñata in some parts of the USA.

Secretly Serviced Agents
The latest scandal in the news concerns the not so secret service of the Secret Service. It appears that several of Obama's 'advance party' agents (allegedly) entertained a similar number of "escorts" in their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia only days before Obama was due to arrive; they clearly misunderstood the term 'party'. It is important to note that "escorts" differ from 'prostitutes' in terms of both cost and class (the former presumably negotiable, the latter presumably not). The agents' defense? They had no idea that they were prostitutes … um? … (the age-nts of innocence maybe?)  But wait a minute, in the USA this is now a perfectly reasonable and rational argument because nobody is allowed to 'profile'! It is totally unacceptable, in fact verging on criminal, to assume that the 6-inch heels, fishnets, 36DD implants, piercings, 'tramp stamps' and plastic mini dress up to the armpits indicate anything else than a law undergraduate letting her hair down between bar exams (now I come to think of it, the majority of lawyers over here look like that anyway). Any suggestion of 'profiling' and there are thousands of dim-witted activists out there just waiting to take you to task. 

Clinton? Reputation?
But anyway, prostitution, profiled or not, is perfectly legal in Colombia so what is all the fuss about? It would appear that the episode was deemed to reflect poorly on the USA's Administration, its reputation, code of conduct and morality. What's more, it was supposed that security might well have been compromised if the agents were to have been blackmailed … um? I wonder what (ex-) President Bill and First Lady Hilaryous Clinton make of all this. Reputation? Code of conduct? Morality? Who is kidding who? The only difference I can see between Billy Boy's antics and those of the Secret Service agents is that the latter didn't squirm and lie on prime-time TV and didn't commit perjury but still lost their jobs. In fact, when compared, the respective misdemeanors might be considered 'close but no cigar' (sorry). Regardless, this episode completely rewrites the Whorehouse, sorry White House, book of double standards - but not one TV news channel dares to say so!   

Republican Ted Nugent
Another famous rendition of the American Nation Anthem is credited to Ted Nugent who, regardless of advancing years, is still able to make an electric guitar sound more like a chainsaw cutting sheet metal. He returns to the headlines for a different reason though. He is known for his strong Republican political views and his defense of gun law and 'Castle Law' but recently he declared that he would "either be dead on in jail by this time next year" if Obama was to remain in power. This was taken to be a thinly veiled threat on Obama's life not least because he made this declaration at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Convention! Obama's Secret Service agents then had to pull up their pants and pay him a visit (to exchange 'travel stories' no doubt) but not before Mitt Romney had graciously and gratefully accepted his endorsement. 

The dreaded mesh trailer
Another tale of the roads. Traveling home from work on the I610 one evening, there seemed to be a lot of dirt and stones strewn down the centre lanes of the highway and cars were slowing down to avoid chipped paintwork. Then I saw the perp. - a wire mesh trailer (all too common here) loaded with rubble and garden tools being dragged behind a scruffy pick-up. In the rush hour traffic I chanced to pull up beside the pick-up and, unable to bite my tongue (I never learn), I managed to attract the passenger's attention. "Hey! Do you realize that you are dropping stones all over the road behind you?" The reply, after a quizzical pause and mental translation (from English to Spanish), "Stones? Them stones ain't goin' nowhere, man; they're too big!" I was just about to reply, "That's precisely my point, you moron; them stones are the only bleedin' stones left" when I noticed the wrong size wheels on the pick-up (beep beep idiot alert!). In my last job my team had a ground rule, "Never argue with idiots; they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." Window up. Drive on (better in front than behind though). The team benefited greatly from living by this ground rule but, of course, if everyone did that, there would be no more Republican debate.

The iconic Jaguar Leaper
And still on the subject of road ridiculum. When I lived in Aberdeen I was the proud owner of a Jaguar XJR and I remember that I was not allowed to mount the little chrome jaguar (known as "the leaper") on the bonnet (hood) of the car due to pedestrian safety concerns. You could buy special leapers that retract on impact but they were prohibitively expensive. No such rules exist in Texas! Several times I have seen bull horns on the front of cars (normally pimped out Cadillacs, see pic) but even more disturbing are the Boadicea-style wheel hubs (see pic) with protruding spikes and blades. With no aesthetic appeal whatsoever, the only purpose of the latter is to intimidate and maim. 

Boadicea wheel hubs
The spinning protrusions are specially designed to tear apart bodywork and rip tyres from rims in sideways collisions and to dismember pedestrians just below the knees if they have the audacity to take advantage of a zebra crossing to disturb traffic flow. It is almost impossible to remember the registration number of a car in a hit-and-run case when prostrate on the road, bloody and a foot shorter than you used to be. Perfectly street-legal in Texas though! 

As needlessly predicted in my last letter, Santorum has now squirmed his way out of all the nasty things he said about his new-best-mate, Mitty. This first took place on the "Piers Morgan Tonight Show" which is becoming known for soft, polite, and dare I say, British interviews where controversial, emotive and/or embarrassing messages can be snuck (sic) into the public domain with the minimum of ridicule and embarrassment. Santorum showed up with the plastic puppet he calls his wife (I am convinced he was working her with his foot), newly whitened teeth and heavy make-up to disguise the true colour of his faces. As he spoke, the goo and slime were oozing out of my TV and I had to take a shower before going to bed feeling decidedly nauseous. It was nevertheless a bitter pill to swallow (even for the guy who put the 'pill' in pillock) but please, please, please keep this pseudo, stuffed-shirt away from the White House.

The Genuine Dalai Lama
By stark contrast, the following evening, Piers Morgan interviewed the Dalai Lama in what turned out to be one of the most inspiring interviews ever. I couldn't understand why I enjoyed it so much until a mental playback afterwards. He was humble, intelligent and witty. He was not obsessed with his own appearance or image. He did not try to force-feed his religion or any of his political views. He did not try to promote a new book or his tweeter tweets or his facetube page. He actually answered the questions that were actually asked, honestly and straight from his heart. The only time he seemed a little confused and perplexed was when Morgan interrupted His Holiness mid-sentence and told him that he had to shut up for 5 minutes so the viewers could be force-fed inane TV commercials. By the second, third and fourth time this happened he had accepted with dignified humility that CNN's priorities (and profound messages promoting cheap hotels, Cialis, AndroGel, colonic health and car insurance) far outweighed his eminence. 

Dubya and his Llama
In a simple, single word this guy was genuine and that is a quality I had not seen on American TV since … err … actually it is a quality I had forgotten existed. What a delightful and inspiring Gentleman! By the way, when asked by Morgan (in-eloquently) "Which people that you have ever met really impressed you?", the DL replied, "I love President Bush … as a person, as a human being, very nice person. Not as President of America." When Bush was asked for a reaction to this he conceded, "I love him as a Dali but not much as a llama." 

The new Androgel 1.62%
Oh yes, "AndroGel". I have mentioned before how it is perfectly legal (though profoundly irritating) to advertise prescription drugs on TV provided, as required by law, you explain the possible side-effects. The latest commercial to plague our screens is for "AndroGel 1.62%", believe it or not, a body cream that claims to boost testosterone. After extolling its virtues, the rapid-fire warning at the end of the ad. explains that unintentional contact with the 'application areas' may result in third parties also being 'effected' and – wait for it - you should stop treatment immediately if you notice signs of premature puberty in your children or if your wife is becoming hairy!! I am not kidding – this is the sort of BS we have to put up with every day here; if this wasn't potentially very serious it would be hilarious. By the way, it is rumoured that Abbott Laboratories, the makers of AndroGel, are opening discussions with Chevrolet and other 'muscle car' manufacturers to explore potential symbiotic business opportunities. The next time you see a yeti in the passenger seat of a Corvette you will know what happened.     
   
Farewell to the Newt
Newt Gingrich also threw in the proverbial towel after being criticized for wasting over $40,000 of taxpayers money per day on the Secret Service protection afforded to candidates, long after his winning had become a mathematical impossibility (err … maybe he just liked the parties). His campaign fund is now over $5million in debt since he had the misguided belief that spending money you don't have is excellent training for a would-be President. Showing an in-depth appreciation of America's financial woes, one of his campaign promises had been to put an American colony on the moon! This had proved without a shadow of a doubt that he was a lunatic. Nevertheless, Newt was disappointed not be included in Time Magazine's list of the 'World's Top-100 Most Influential People' but it was pointed out on a satirical TV program that he shouldn't expect to feature in a list of the world's top-100 most influential newts. But will he now endorse Romney, the same guy he has been slandering for months? Of course he will. Now, if we ignore Ron Paul (as most people do) Romney is the only 'green bottle' left in the race and therefore earns the title of "Presumptive Nominee." Now it is head to head with Obama. I can't wait.

The USA-Mexico border
Illegal immigration in the USA will be a big issue in the upcoming election with "Presumptive Nominee", Romney wanting to build a barrier along all 1,951 miles of the Mexican-USA border that would make the Berlin wall look like a speed-bump (I believe similar plans have been proposed in Wales to keep the English out). Currently only about 600 miles of the border is protected with a physical barrier and Obama is assuming that the Mexicans haven't yet worked out how to walk through the gaps. Nobody really knows how many illegal immigrants there are in the USA but it is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 11 million (65% being Mexican). This is a significant reduction from the estimated 12+ million in 2007. If I were Obama I would be more worried about why so many illegal immigrants are going back home.

Carpet & underlay export
The US59 highway through Houston is a main route to the Mexican border and goes a long way to explaining why there is so much debris on the roads. What would ordinarily be considered worn out or broken by conventional metrics in the USA is likely to live on and be used for another ten years in Mexico whether it is furniture, carpets, garden tools, tyres, vee-hicles; you name it. Consequently there are convoys of dangerously overloaded trucks and tatty pick-ups making their sorry way south and a trail of dropped objects in their wake. The picture shows an open van that used to be recklessly overloaded with tatty rolls of carpet and underlay: 'used to be' that is until it scattered most of the load over the road behind it. Drivers in the USA are habitually transfixed to a stupor by mile after mile of monotonous straight road but soon wake up to the joy of a slalom around 'flying carpets' and underlay (and soon find out that cup-holders don't always live up to their name). Passing thought: maybe this explains why Mexicans on the road shout, "Underlay! Underlay!" (sorry)  

The "Duluth Trading Company" is an American provider of innovative work gear that, in true James Dyson fashion, claims to "solve the obvious problems that others seem to ignore". Their top selling products include:
  • the so-called "no-polo shirt" - a short-sleeved shirt with "a useful breast pocket instead of a useless polo pony"
  • the so-called "crouch without the ouch jeans" - work jeans with a hidden crotch gusset that allows you "to crouch without singing soprano"
  • the so-called "buck-naked underwear" - briefs with a soft waistband to prevent "gut-chafing" and a "no-gap fly that prevents guest appearances"
  • the so-called "longtail shirt" - a shirt with three more inches of tail to prevent the dreaded "plumber's butt" (aka "builder's bum" in Blighty)
All Female Plumbers
These products are currently only available in their men's range but with the growing popularity of service companies boasting 'all female workmen' … um? … this might soon have to change. All-female plumbers first became popular in Blighty back in the 1990's with companies called, "Pink Plumbers", "Plumb-hers" and, best of all, "Stopcocks" (ha!). They are rapidly gaining in popularity over here thanks to TV commercials and the enthusiastic support of pensioners and women's groups (not to mention the Bill Clinton Foundation). I must admit I can see the attraction; I am sure they all look like supermodels - Farrah Faucet most likely (sorry). I hear a tap dripping - must get that fixed.

The "With Mitt" app.
Update: Presumptive Republican Nominee, Mitt Romney, won the Texas primary in Texas and, in so doing, overshot the 1144 delegate requirement to secure the Republican nomination. Now, presumably, he is no long "presumptive." The order in which the 50 states hold their caucuses and primaries is carefully contrived to make the smaller states feel important. In reality they are not and millions of dollars and TV hours could have been saved if the biggest states had voted first. Texas and California have 155 and 172 delegates respectively whereas lowly Iowa, Delaware and New Hampshire, the first states to vote, have only 28, 17 and 12. This whole contrived charade could have been wrapped up in March if the biggest twenty states had voted first. But anyway, Barry called Mitt to congratulate him on his nomination in a conversation that was described by both parties to have been "brief and cordial" (kinda like boxers touching gloves before beating the brains out of each other). Meanwhile, a spelling error embarrassed the Romney campaign when it released a cool photographic 'app' that said "A Better Amercia" (see pic). The so-called "With Mitt app" allows users to show their support (and their illiteracy apparently) by personalising a photo with the overlaid Romney slogan, but the typographic howler went viral. Many just supposed that Amercia was the Mormon name for the Untied States of America.

The devastating accident
Last but not least, sad news (in fact devastating to us Homer Simpson types). A beer truck carrying a 53ft container (55,000 lbs) of Heineken and Amstel Light crashed in Daytona Florida and shed its load. Don't worry, only a small percentage of the bottles were smashed and most were salvaged. It did take more than seven hours to clean up though. On national TV, the local Mayor expressed surprise that it took so long to clean up "especially with so many volunteers"!






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