A Day Of Public Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Proclamation - Abraham Lincoln

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my family, friends and readers in the United States of America.

May God bless America.

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Happy Flag Day


In her own good land here she’s been abused
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

And she’s getting threadbare and she’s wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning, we take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag.


Happy Flag Day to my American readers.

The Special Relationship Endures

Those Brits who needlessly fret about the strength of the Special Relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America can finally rest easy – for so powerful is the bond between our two countries that we now apparently share a common weather system.

The Daily Mail reports on the perfect storm now linking our great nations:


For so great is the rapport between our countries that it is now reflected in the heavens themselves.

And at a more human level, fans of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch hoping to catch a glimpse of him at this evening’s BAFTA award ceremony in Covent Garden, London were left disappointed when our mutual storm stranded him at JFK airport in New York.

This bond is enduring.

On Drive-Thru ATMs And Stale Tortillas

Drive Thru ATM


I read an interesting piece by Peter Foster in today’s Daily Telegraph, titled “The quaintness of America, the backwards superpower”.

The basic gist of the article (written, it should be acknowledged, by a self-confessed admirer of the US) is that while America remains the world’s preeminent economic and military power, in some areas it lags behind the rest of the “modernised” world. He goes on to give several examples of this backwardness, citing the prevalence banking cheques as a payment method, the widespread existence of ATM fees, the use of imperial measurement units, the state of the roads, and – perhaps most shockingly of all – the continued use of corks rather than screwcaps by the American wine industry.

Now perhaps we can forgive Peter Foster his perspective based on the fact that his biography states that he is “the Telegraph’s US Editor based in Washington DC. He moved to America in January 2012 after three years based in Beijing…”

I have also spent time in Beijing, and would certainly agree that if you stick to the glitzy, brand-new parts of the city (as you would likely do when covering “the rise of China”) and you are able to successfully block out the people riding rickshaws along the side of the motorways, then yes, parts of America are likely to lose some of their gleam by comparison. However, the litany of complaints about America, and the fact that the US is singled out, makes me wonder when was the last time the author spent any time in his home country.

In America, if you want to do some banking in a hurry, you can go through the drive-through ATM in almost any town. No parking on double yellow lines, sprinting to the ATM in the rain and hoping that your car hasn’t been towed by the time you withdraw your cash, as is the case in Britain.

In America, there are more drive-through restaurants, pharmacies, (rather dubiously) liquor stores, drive-by trash cans and any number of other modern conveniences that mean you don’t have to leave your car to conduct normal business. You can probably argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but the Americans certainly have one over on us in this sphere.

And when the time comes to refuel your car, the chances are that you can pay at the pump in America. Remember that handy invention? I think they tried to introduce it in Britain in a few places, and then the machines broke, were never fixed, and have been covered over with signs, poorly written in felt tip pen, telling you to pay inside and join the long line of other people in the convenience store. Truly the way of the future.

There is a picture at the top of the article showing Buzz Aldrin saluting the US flag on the surface of the moon, with the caption “Sure, they can do this, but they can’t work out how to pay for stuff with a debit card”. Seriously? Mr. Foster, are we even from the same country? I can’t count the number of times I have gone to a fast food restaurant, or the cinema, or any number of other places in Britain only to be told “the credit card machine is broken, cash only, sorry” by some dead-eyed employee. Again, there is usually also a badly-written sign informing me of the same fact, carefully tucked away where it is almost impossible to see when placing your order. In America, I can wave my McDonald’s card at the little sensor at the drive-through window and it automatically debits my bank account. Nice.

And let’s look at consumer goods and food. If I buy a loaf of bread from the supermarket in Britain, it is sealed with a little sticky strip of plastic which loses its adhesive qualities after about two uses, after which time you either have to try tying the plastic bag and squashing the bread in the process, or leaving it to go stale. In America, the same loaf of bread comes with a little trusty wire device that keeps on working until long after the bread has been consumed. If I buy a pack of tortillas in Britain – well, first of all, they will look and taste terrible, because decent Mexican food cannot be had in this country for love or money. But secondly, the tortillas will be kept in a sealed plastic vacuum pack, which, once punctured with a knife to access the tortillas, cannot be resealed. The result, once again, is stale tortillas. In America, the same tortillas actually taste good, and come in a ziplog bag so that you can reseal them.

Stale tortillas, British-style. Yum.


I opened this pack two days ago, and I could use the remaining tortillas inside as an effective lethal weapon in a pinch. And yes, I could have bought my own zip-lock bag to preserve them, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to!

Oh, and say you want to buy your loaf of bread and your tortillas and it happens to be after 6pm on a Sunday. Good luck finding somewhere that is open in Britain. Sunday trading laws, sorry. In America, I would just nip to Target. Or Wal-Mart. Or one of the many other stores where they have correctly interpreted the phrase “Open 24 Hours” to mean “we don’t leave our stations at 5pm on a Sunday and go home to watch TV, and if you haven’t had the chance to do your grocery shopping yet, well that’s just tough luck”.

Mr. Foster also takes exception to American cable TV, finding the online channel guides to be very confusing compared to “the standard Sky TV menus that most English readers will be familiar with”. Well, shock horror, a country of 300+ million people has lots of regional and national cable/satellite TV providers, rather than the Sky/Virgin duopoly that exists in Britain. Yes, in America the providers may go to war with the content providers sometimes, meaning that you lose your favourite channel from the airwaves for a couple of months while they stare each other down, which is hardly ideal. But at least the American consumers have choice. We still think that’s a good thing in Britain even if we don’t practice it ourselves, right?

I could go on. At one point I thought about starting a blog that focused exclusively on the many ways in which British consumers are shortchanged and under-served compared to their American counterparts. The point is that it works both ways. Britain and America both come across as rather tired and shabby if you have spent a lot of time in the glitzy new developments of Beijing and Shanghai. But I don’t know many people who would willingly up sticks and leave to go there, for all the tea and Mag-Lev trains in China.

And in conclusion – well, I don’t actually have time to write a conclusion. It’s 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and I haven’t done my grocery shopping yet, giving me 45 minutes to run into town, throw some badly-packaged food into my shopping cart and get in line at the checkout.

How British Conservatives Miss Their American Mark

Fraser Nelson takes to his Daily Telegraph column today to extol the virtues of Mitt Romney, in a puff piece entitled “David Cameron need take no lessons from Barack Obama, but he might listen to Mitt Romney”. But by fundamentally misunderstanding today’s Republican Party, he fails to make a convincing case.

You might expect Nelson to perhaps talk about some of the reasons why David Cameron should pay heed to Mitt Romney rather than President Obama on his upcoming trip to the United States. But all we really get is this solitary paragraph:

“In the Republican primary contest, meanwhile, the candidates have been very precise about debt. American conservatism is now defined by plans to tackle it, and the candidates compete on which taxes they’d cut to kick-start the economy, increase employment and balance the books. Romney’s 59-point plan for growth is easily the most moderate, yet is still more radical and holistic than anything produced in Britain. He has ruled out tax rises, and pledged to cut state spending by 5 per cent on day one. Cameron, by contrast, is aiming for a 3.3 per cent cut over five years.”

Would that this were true.


American conservatism, defined by plans to tackle the debt? If there is one thing – and there are a lot at the moment – which distinguishes British and American conservatives, it is the fact that British conservatives (perhaps with the exception of the ultra-hardcore Eurosceptic fringe) live predominantly in the real world, while American conservatives have decamped en masse to cloud-cuckoo land, where huge swathes of the federal budget can be eliminated at a stroke without causing any undue suffering to those who have been coaxed and encouraged over the years to depend on various government programmes, and with no political repercussions.

Romney’s plan may well be more radical and holistic than anything produced in Britain, but that doesn’t really matter because nothing remotely resembling it is ever going to be implemented. The British Tories, on the other hand, are willing to risk alienating public opinion and their petulant Liberal Democrat coalition partners to actually implement a programme of needed budget cuts. So who should get the praise, the man who gives tough speeches about slashing trillions from the federal budget with no earthly chance of ever actually doing it, or the man who treads more carefully and holds together a precarious coalition to deliver more modest budget cuts that are actually attainable?

That’s not to say that the British conservatives are in the right with regard to the slower pace at which they have chosen to tackle budget deficits and spur economic growth while in government. Many people, myself included, are frustrated at the glacial pace at which much needed supply-side reforms are being implemented in the UK (often thwarted by EU regulations and/or the Liberal Democrats). A little more ambitious, far-reaching zeal would not be a bad thing at all, though how possible this is as long as the Liberal Democrats are partners in government remains in doubt. And so at first glance, once can understand why some British political pundits look at the fiery rhetoric emanating from the Republican primaries on the economy and find the British conservatives lacking. But to look closer, and to remember the different respective points that Britain and America occupy on the left-right political spectrum, is to realise firstly that the British conservatives have very little political scope to move further to the right, and secondly that the policy positions that the Conservative Party occupies do not differ greatly from the Democratic party in many cases.

And this is the crux of the matter. Even as the Republican Party in America continues to lurch further and further to the right and stake out ever more extreme positions on all manner of issues, the British Tories and their supporters in the British press as yet are unable to sever the psychological link which tells them that they should cheer the Republicans and boo the Democrats. This mindset may have worked in the past, when there was a greater degree of comity and moderation in American politics and the two parties were not so greatly divided, but it does not work today.

It seems to be of entirely no matter to the Republican cheerleaders in the British press that the majority of Democratic party policies are equivalent to or to the right of many current Tory principles (even the long-cherished and now-abandoned public health insurance option is significantly to the right of having a single-payer National Health Service), or that many members of the new Republican tea party congressional intake would (if they actually possessed a working knowledge of the world beyond their own borders) look at Britain with disdain, regarding us as some type of socialist dystopia.

Sadly, the time has come for the British Tories and their allies to acknowledge that they no longer have a serious, thinking partner on the other side of the Atlantic. This is probably just a temporary blip, as all such overcorrections to the right or the left tend to be countered by a return to more moderate positions (as will either happen in 2012 when Obama beats Romney/Santorum, or in 2016 when Obama’s heir runs against a chastened GOP desperate to win back the votes of the women and minorities that it is currently shedding so carelessly). But for the time being, British conservatives have nothing to gain by cosying up to the Republican Party of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The Conservative Party’s American role models may have embraced tea as their emblem, but their economic policy prescriptions are not based in reality, and are going a long way toward making the Republicans look callous, backward and foolish. There is no need for the Tories to damage their still-fragile brand by standing next to them, wearing a T-shirt that proclaims “I’m with Stupid”.