Saturday, July 4, 2009

9 Reasons to Celebrate America

I read this on the BBC, and it made me smile a little. Even the world recognizes the trivial reasons that America is great. Enjoy. :)

Nine reasons to celebrate America

As the US is marking its 233rd anniversary of its independence, the BBC's Kevin Connolly gives his own list of reasons why America should be celebrated.

I have left out such obvious American inventions as electrical light, water-skiing, space travel and the pop-up toaster on the grounds that someone else would probably have come up with those sooner or later.

This is more about the American genius for making daily life more convenient, more entertaining or just more fattening.

First - air conditioning - testament to the American ability to conquer the harshest physical environments and to expand American life towards improbable horizons.

For more than a century now, America has been making machines that blow cold air into hot places - without it Florida, Arizona and southern Texas would be uninhabitable.

Florida's population has gone up 10-fold since air conditioning became affordable. It caught on as a way of cooling cinemas when hot projection equipment made them unbearable in July and August.

Without aircon, going to the pictures would be as seasonal a pastime as ice-fishing.

Ice cubes , too, reflect the same happy knack for making light of the hostility of circumstance.

Every floor of every motel building in the country has an ice machine; every convenience store sells it by the sackfull, and every drink you are served contains lumps of ice big enough to sink a battleship.

All cold drinks in America are served at a temperature which could cryogenically freeze human tissue. I know you find ice cubes elsewhere, too, but in Europe bar staff hoard them as though they were precious stones. In America, they flow in rattling abundance.

Third - valet parking. President Barack Obama says America invented the car, which it did not. But it did invent motoring, and the pinnacle of the American motoring experience is the practice of having someone else park your car when you arrive at a restaurant or hotel.

It makes the list to symbolise the American genius for making money out of simple services done well.

I have paid people to valet my car and then watched mesmerised as they proceeded to park it just a few feet away from me. Somehow, I never feel I am being ripped off.

Item Number Four is aviation. America did invent the aeroplane but it was rather a dull device at first and spent its early years being flown short distances in wobbly straight lines by plucky pioneers.

Before long though, America had invented barnstorming, and intrepid entertainers were performing the Charleston on the wings of bi-planes as they were flown under low bridges. A pointless but brilliant feat.

I put it down to the manner in which the Declaration of Independence promises the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Fifth - chewing gum. One of America's more enduring gifts to humanity requiring no comment or explanation.

Except, perhaps, to note its surprising antiquity - juicy fruit flavour gum was invented in 1893. Odd to think it would have been a familiar taste already to the Americans who came to Europe to fight in the Great War.

1893, in fact, was a bumper year for people who do not worry too much about their fillings since it also saw the invention of Cracker Jack , a mixture of popcorn and peanut coated in toffee which is the baseball fan's snack of choice.

It is really on the list representing all processed food since the genius of it lies in a manufacturing process that prevents all the small lumps from sticking together in one big one.

And while we are on the subject of food, achievement number seven is American cheese - an industrially processed foodstuff chiefly valued for its ability to melt evenly on to a hamburger.

Often sold in a shade of orange - also used on motorway workers high-visibility coats - it exhibits a quality which I think is called hyper-plasticity which means once its ever been melted it never quite returns to its solid form again.

That is a lot of science behind the cheeseburger.

For anyone travelling through an airport this weekend I thought I should also mention the invention of metal detector in 1881 by Alexander Graham Bell, he of telephone fame.

One of its first deployments was a failed attempt to find a bullet in the body of the assassinated President James Garfield as he lay dying from a gunshot wound. Might have worked too if he had not been lying on an iron-framed bed.

Finally, for this year anyway I give you the space pen - a miracle of engineering which allowed astronauts to write in outer space.

Do not believe the urban myth that says Russians achieved the same effect as the Americans without spending millions of research dollars by sampling using pencils in their spacecraft.

Actually, pencils are dangerous in space because wood is flammable. The Russians use the space pen, too, apparently.

I leave it there because I have run out of time [space] rather than because I have run out of examples of American ingenuity.

Indeed so lavishly have the blessings of providence and the bounty of human ingenuity been bestowed here that by the time America's 234th birthday rolls around, I might well have compiled an entirely different list.

We will see - but for now, happy Independence Day.

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