Letter 13 (page 5)

America

Enough about us. What about the rest of the country and the world?

The big news in our area this past year was, of course, the shootings at Columbine High School. To me it seems inevitable that these sort of things will happen given the violence that is accepted in TV, movies and video games, the scant attention paid by some parents to their children and the easy access to guns. What I didn't know was how groups of children get victimized and the school authorities don't seem to know or care. Apparently the two boys never ate at the school cafeteria because they were beaten up if they tried. It’s easy to see how powerlessness like this leads to resentment and ultimately tragedy. I read that 1.2 million kids go home after school to a house with guns and no parents.

What amazed me was how feeble the response was. Instead of outrage leading to major tightening of gun laws, as was the case after the Dunblane and Port Author massacres, a mild piece of legislation failed to make it through Congress. Most Americans believe the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution prevents any action being taken. This is what it says, in its entirety:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I don't believe most Americans know the crucial first half of the sentence though I'll agree it is an awkward sentence. At the time the Constitution was written, there was no national army, so to protect the new nation against the British who were trying to re-impose authority, it was essential to arm the population. The well-regulated militias are now the National Guard and the rest of the armed services. I also think the National Rifle Association (NRA) has now educated people to think of freedom in terms of being allowed to own weapons, not the ability to walk around a city late at night without fear of being attacked by someone, with or without a gun. The latter to me is real freedom. By the NRA’s logic, I don't know where the right to bear arms stops as I assume they wouldn't stop me buying a Stinger anti-aircraft missile, or a 155 mm howitzer if I had the money.

While America does have its failings, it also has many things to be very proud of. You'll recall that Serb forces captured three American soldiers during the Kosovo campaign. It wasn't commented on but two of the three had Hispanic names. It was a brilliant demonstration that people from different cultures can live together and can be trusted in matters of national security, a point obviously lost on Mr. Milosovic.

Moving now to bumper stickers. I've seen a lot of them in the last year.

  • COLORADO: So much snow. So little time.
  • Tree doctors still make house calls.
  • This vehicles stops at all garage sales.
  • Hang up and drive.
  • I wonder if you'd drive any better if that mobile phone was UP YOUR A__?
  • Need a tune-up? Join a choir.
  • Gun control is using both hands
  • On earth as it is in Texas
  • I love my job. I love my boss. I am self-employed.
  • Yes, it is my truck. No, I will not help you move.
  • Money isn't everything - but it sure keeps the kids in touch.
  • England forever. Scotland a wee bit longer.
  • Visualize whirled peas. (There is another that says Visualize world peace)
  • On the eighth day, God created beer.
  • Save the ales. (Instead of whales)
  • My other car is owned by my ex-wife.
  • Jesus is coming. Look busy.
  • I love the hate state (There’s a "Please explain".)
  • God is too big to fit in just one religion.
  • Man is not the only species on the planet - we just act like it.
  • Human milk for human babies.
  • I am not worthless. I can always serve as a bad example.
  • The more you know, the less you need.
  • I live with fear every day. Sometimes she lets me go fishing.
  • Leaving Florida? Take a developer with you.
  • If you love NY, take I-95 north.
    (I think this was encouraging tourists like us to go away.)

I've also seen some funny quotes:

  • "Every time I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes away." - Mark Twain
  • "A dog will look up to you, a cat will look down at you but a pig will look you in the eye and consider you its equal." - Winston Churchill
  • "Traditionally, most of Australia’s imports come from overseas." - Former Australian cabinet minister Keppel Enderbery

Speed cameras were introduced in Denver last year but they are different to those in Sydney. Instead of photographing the back of the car and just sending the fine to the registered owner, the system here attempts to identify the driver by taking a picture of the front. Obviously, the sudden flash in the driver’s eyes brings its danger too.

One of our local electronics stores had a "back-to-school" sale that included mobile phones. I thought it was ridiculous. We bought one, but only for emergency use and it stays in the car. While on the subject, I am pleased to report that Australia is one of just four countries in the world that prohibits driving while talking on a hand-held mobile phone. Apparently you are four times more likely to crash if you talk and drive.

I was pleased that the Australian Tax Office let us file our returns electronically last year and they even provided the necessary software. I thought it was an interesting example of the differing views on the role of government. You can get tax software in the US too but you have to pay for it since private companies produce it and you pay more to file electronically. I think it makes sense to have to have the government provide it free since electronic preparation and filing reduces the time they spend tracing and fixing errors. In the same way of thinking, the teacher of my business class surprised me by referring to England as a "socialist" country. How definitions change depending on where you are! Her argument (and it is a good one) was that many of the vital industries such as telephones, water, electricity and railways are (or now were) government owned.

In case you missed it, the sixth billionth person was born on October 12 last year. The UN Population Reference Bureau tells us that, "In the next minute, 268 babies will be born" (fortunately not to the same mother). "In the next minute 98 people will die, so total population growth is 170 people per minute, or almost 90 million per year. That means that every ten years the world’s population grows by the equivalent of all the people in China."

Other things you may have missed:

  • Newsweek mentioned that annual soft drink consumption has increased from 22.4 US gallons (85 L) per person in 1970 to 56.4 gallons (213 L) in 1998. Meanwhile, the Forest and Paper Association, tells us that total American paper consumption has risen from 86.8 million tons in 1990 to 99.0 million in 1998.
  • Mice and rats make up 95% of the 23 million mammals used in medical research each year.
  • Every year in the US, 354,000 children are reported abducted or missing. (Think about that. The entire population of Canberra and then some.) Of this number 98.8% are abducted by family members (ex-spouse, grandparents), 1.12% by family acquaintances (neighbor, baby-sitter, coach) and just 0.07% are abducted by strangers.
  • "World grain production hovers at just under 2 billion tons per year. How many mouths that can feed depend on how much is eaten directly vs. being fed to livestock, an equation that varies widely by nation. With 2 billions of grain, you can feed 10 billion Indians. Or you can feed 5 billion Italians. Or you can feed 2.5 billion Americans. If we're all eating like Americans, we need another planet, basically." - Lester Brown, President of the Worldwatch Institute.

The future

I don't know when we might be back in Australia to live but it won't be any time soon. I've given up trying to plan for the future, as it seems our circumstances keep changing but we won't be leaving Denver in the foreseeable future since I've just started my job. I plan to complete a proper degree here rather than just a "half-degree" and Lan is even talking about going to law school. I can also report that Lan has expressed an interest in living in New York sometime in her life and I'm sure we'll go and live in the UK one day.

Well, that’s about all for now. Please write to us one way or another, as we do enjoy getting mail.

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