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Entries in America (149)


Kennedy Space Centre

Guess who was excited to be visiting Kennedy Space Centre?

Watching SpaceX's launch being set-up

"Mission abort!"

Practising his run for the International Space Station

Hayden takes space very seriously. He wants to go the university to study engineering so that he can be an astronaut. He likes space a lot, and Mars is his favourite because it is where all the robots live.

Perhaps one day Hayden's space suit with Mars dust will be on display? Hopefully at the European Space Museum though.


Wisconsin man shot by pet octopus

Madison, Wisconsin: Dwaine Edwards, 38, was hospitalised Thursday night after being shot by his pet octopus. Mr Edwards was rushed to St Mary's Hospital, where he was treated and is expected to make a full recovery.

Pet octopuses are known to be able to climb out of aquarium and perform complex tasks, such as opening jars of food. "Octopussy", the pet of Mr Edwards, is thought to have climbed out and triggered the loaded Glock 17 left next to the aquarium. Mr Edwards, watching TV in the same room, was hit by the stray bullet, resulting in a gunshot wound to the upper thigh. 

When asked whether the incident will change his policy on keeping loaded guns lying around the house, Mr Edwards replied, "No way man, I'm Second Amendment all the way". He continued, "I'm even thinking of getting Octopussy his own set. Can you imagine, some gangbanger breaks into my place, and he gets a bullet through the head from me and eight shots to the chest from Octopussy - how awesome would that be!"

When asked for comment, the NRA President, Mr Wayne LaPierre, replied, "our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr Edwards. While this minor accident is regrettable, we must not forget that the only thing that can stop a bad octopus with a gun is a good octopus with a gun". 


Antelope Island

The Bison herds of Antelope Island, remnants of the once great American herds, transplanted to the island in 1893 in order to start up a hunting business.

Fielding Garr Ranch. An opportunity to commune with a curious weasel. I also found out that the wool from black sheep was worth a lot less than the wool from white sheep, but ranchers used to dot their flock with black sheep as placemarkers, since they were easier to count from a distance.

The Great Salt Lake. Salt-encrusted beaches, swarms of brine flies and perfectly still water.


Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City strikes an unusual cord in me. There are so many incongruities - the landscape is semi-arid scrub land, deep in the continental interior, and yet there is a coastal feel, with seagulls circling in from the Great Salt Lake. The city itself is a rich modern American city, yet it seems to have been built in the old European monumental style, with massive and ornate stonework. To me it had echoes of Ashgabat, the surreal capital of Turkmenistan. Both are gleaming moments of polished marble rising out of the desert, buildings that will look stately in a few hundred years, once the age of the stone matches its style. Both are so clean they look unlived in, a feeling amplified during the heat of the day, when residents hide inside. And both are oases of green and blue within a desert, with spring flowers everywhere you look. Yes, Ashgabat is infinitely weirder, a city unlike any other, but Salt Lake City also has a unique feel, almost an American city from a parallel dimension. 

Utah is most famous for being the centre of Mormanism. It is a funny religion - in a lot of ways it is a direct upgrade of Christianity, with a stronger emphasis on actually living the wholesome life (by their definition), rather than just berating others for not doing so. Unfortunately it suffers from the rare affliction of being comically modern, with the obviously fraudulent origin being on the written record rather than conveniently lost in the mists of time. The magic underwear and polygamy make it (rightfully) the butt of many jokes, but really the absurdity is no greater than those inherent to Christianity or Islam - given another thousand years for the edges to rub off (kind of like the monumental architecture of Salt Lake City itself). The sacred heart of Mormanism, Salt Lake City is now only a minority Latter Day Saints, although its imprint is obvious everywhere. Unlike at Christian churches, where the architecture is there to be enjoyed in splendid isolation, the Morman temple is surrounded by friendly Mormans (is there any other type? Too wholesome by half) willing to jump at the chance to explain Mormanism to the stranger - the defining missionary zeal lives at home as well as abroad.  




Pike Place Markets, Seattle


Things I had forgotten about the US

Toilet doors. The doors have this big gap at the top and the bottom. I have a theory about the bottom gap. My guess is that toilet doors were designed by a cat, and they wanted to ensure that they could walk anywhere, any time. Why should humans be able to shut out cats when they go to the toilet? What I don't get though is why toilet doors only come up to eye-height. In such a puritanical country, why do toilet doors need to be made so that tall people can see over them?

Polished fruit. Having a fruit bowl at conference breaks is nice, but it weirds me out just how perfect and reflective each piece of fruit is. Is there someone who's job it is to pick out the fruit with the perfect shade and then polish the surface? Along with the fruit there are the unhealthy nibbles, like every conference internationally, but here they are all pre-packaged bags of chips and bars. For some reason it feel odder to pick up a bag of chips then to take a handful from a bowl that has been put out.

Getting carded when asking for a beer. I am literally a grey-beard now, and yet I still got carded when I asked for a beer at a coffee shop. The barista took my Belgian ID card and examined it carefully before saying she couldn't work it out and giving me the beard anyway. 



I feel the Bern, but I would love to see Hillary as President

Bernie Sanders is my type of politician. A dishevelled cranky old man, not afraid to call himself a socialist and willing to remain an outsider his whole career? Yes please. I've followed his career for more than 10 years, as the only politician that struck a cord with me when I moved to America. I'd love to see more like him in the Senate, and hopefully on the Supreme Court too.

Hillary Clinton is a woman I admire immensely (and I'm not alone, she has been the most admired woman in the world for 20 times in a row). She has stayed strong and true to herself despite 25 years of the most vitriolic attacks in political history. In today's world it is often easy (especially for men, and younger women) to forget just how ground-breaking she was. Hillary broke through the glass ceiling again and again in her legal career, and when Bill's political career took off she got an enormous amount of criticism for not fading into the background, only to be heard of when giving out cookie recipes. I've wanted Hillary to be President since 2008, when the policy wonk in me preferred her 20-point plans to Obama's Americana rhetoric.

When there are two good candidates (a problem Republicans would love to have!), why do I prefer Hillary?

First, I admire Hillary's heart. Hillary and Bernie have very similar politics*. But Bernie's progressivism is driven by righteous anger (like mine), while Hillary's is driven by compassion and love (like Lydia's). Always has been, going back to her highschool days. Bernie has had the luxury of being himself in public, while Hillary has had to hide that behind a public persona**, thanks to her position and the double standards of sexism. But the heart shines through. 

Second, I think Hillary has a better shot at winning the general election, and this will be one of the most important elections in American history. I know, Bernie-bros, that right now Sanders has better general election polling than Clinton. But the difference is, no one has ever run an attack ad against Sanders. You are dreaming if you think that the Republicans will pull their punches, and Sanders (like everyone) has dirty laundry that will be aired. There is nothing new that can be raised against Hillary - the Republicans ran out of real attacks years ago, and even their manufactured pseudo-scandals have been pre-factored in with the polls. And let's not forget - Sanders is not even winning Democrats - at the moment he has 2.5 million fewer votes in the primaries, and (except online) more Democrats are enthusiastic about Hillary than Bernie.

Third, symbols matter. Progressive politics is not just about the White House, it is about transforming society. Probably the most important transformation is one of equal opportunity. This needs to happen not just from the top, but also from the ground-up, which means every child needs to really feel like they have opportunity. With Obama, a whole generation of black kids have grown up knowing that a black man can become a great President. With Hillary Clinton, girls will finally have a role model succeeding to the very top. Will it end sexism? Of course not, but it will provide strength and inspiration to some women to defy sexism.

Fourth, I just think Hillary Clinton would make a better President. The President is not a King. The President needs to assemble a team of the very best, and then negotiate with some of the worst (most importantly, the Senate). Hillary has the A-team already lined up, the very best of Bill and Obama's team, plus her own network from an entire lifetime in service to the Democratic party. Plus, Hillary knows how to negotiate in the Senate. As Senator for New York, she was well recognised by both parties as being the person to cross the aisle and get deals through. Hillary may not be the natural in public that Bill or Obama are, but in these small groups she shines. How about Bernie? One of the most progressive Senators, Barny Frank, is blunt: "Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out". I love the fact that the guy is pure, but being unwilling to negotiate often means you get nothing. Like the way he voted against the auto-bailout, which he liked, because it included the bank-bailout, which ended up making money. Ultimately, I want a Democrat President who can get progressives onto the Supreme Court, and I think that Hillary's negotiation skills will do more than Bernie's ultimatums***. 

So, Hillary Clinton / Cory Booker 2016!


*They voted the same 93% of the time in the Senate. And the 7% difference was not always with Bernie to the left. On financial regulation he was mostly to the left of Hillary, but on guns and science Bernie was to the right.

** Which is not to say that she is dishonest, just justifiably guarded. Objective fact-checking puts Hillary as the most honest candidate in the race. Bernie is not far behind, and both are miles better than the Republicans

*** Not to mention, Hillary's willingness to raise money to get more Democrats elected. Those expensive fundraisers that Bernie criticises Hillary for? Most of the money goes to down-ticket Democrats. Bernie's never raised money for other Democrats


Republican definition of a natural-born citizen

The US Constitution only makes a distinction between different classes of citizens in a single place - to run for President of the US, you must be not only a citizen, but also a "natural born citizen". This is not defined anywhere in the Constitution, but at the time it probably meant someone who was physically born in the US as the child of US citizens (interestingly, the foreign-born writers of the Constitution also gave themselves an exception). The issue has never really come up in a legal sense, and exactly who would be a "natural born citizen" has probably changed over time - for example, it is unlikely that many of the Founders would have considered American-born slaves to be natural born citizens, and until quite recently American women who married foreigners would automatically lose their citizenship.

The only time "natural born citizen" has even come up as an issue is for the "birther" Republicans who believe that Obama is ineligible to be President. Obama was born in the US to a US citizen mother, but the lunatic right made up a conspiracy that he was actually born in Kenya. Ironically enough, one of the leading Republican contenders for President this year, Ted Cruz, actually wasn't born in America. Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. In fact, Cruz is less likely to be considered a natural born citizen than the pretend Obama in conspiracy, since there are doubts that his American mother lived long enough in the US as an adult for Cruz to inherit citizenship.

So, according to some Republicans, Obama, born to an American mother in America, is not a natural-born citizen, while Cruz, born to an American mother in Canada, is natural-born citizen. Confused? This info-graphic explains the rationale:



Bush vs Obama

Kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? Bush inherited an amazing economy from Clinton, and managed to run it into the ground, while Obama inherited a collapse from Bush, and managed to repair it.


Disney cruising

I think Hayden has found his natural habitat. The Disney cruise ship gave him chances every day to meet his heroes. There were waterslides and splash pools to play with Daddy, and in the evening shows with Mummy. There was a whole deck of the ship devoted to children, where he could camp out for activities in different rooms, and in case he ever got bored he had his own TV showing all the Disney movies.