The 4th Of July (2018)

4th of july

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, American Independence Day.  (Not really– Congress actually voted on the 2nd of July, but the boys didn’t sign it until the 4th – so everybody just goes with that.)  Anyway, every year at this time I take a minute to cut through the rhetoric and speak in praise of America.  (Some years are harder than others.)  I do it because, as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  Here are some facts about the Land of Milk and Money.

There are 1.5 million registered volunteer agencies in America (and that doesn’t include all the local groups, who run bake sales, sell raffle tickets, drive kids to practice, sew costumes for little theatre, plant community gardens, visit seniors, etc., etc., etc.)  In all, over 60 million Americans do some kind of volunteer work every year.  That’s nearly 20% of the population – far more than that of any other country in the world.

American universities spend mega-money on research.  Last year, the top 10 schools alone spent over 11 billion dollars studying everything from laser surgery to micro agriculture.  And here’s the deal.  Nearly 90% of all that research is available to the world – for free.  All you have to do is ask!

In 2015, the top ten charities in America raised and distributed over $26 billion dollars.  That’s more than the next three most generous nations (New Zealand, Canada and the UK) combined.

In 2016, the United States paid 10 billion of the roughly 50 billion dollar United Nations budget.  That kind of money goes a long way to keeping UN Women, the World Health Organization, Unesco and Unicef going.  By contrast, China the world largest nation, paid $1.3 billion and Vladimir Putin’s Russia paid a measly $562 million.

Those “Blood for Oil” bumper stickers are bullshit.  Roughly 40% of the fossil fuels used in the US are home-grown.  In fact, America is one of the top oil producers in the world (normally, just behind #1, Saudi Arabia and #2 Russia.)  The truth is, America gets more oil from Canada than it does from the entire Persian Gulf.

Despite what the Internet will tell you, America spends more on Health Care and Social Security (over half their budget) than it does on the military (16%.)  On average, university professors earn more than Army generals.  And there are 3 times as many teachers in America as there are police officers.

But my favourite is still:

Every year, the US government gives – GIVES – over $30 billion in non-military foreign aid to countries around the world.  That’s free money, folks — courtesy of the American taxpayer.  It’s from the woman who drives the truck.  The guy with 3 kids in school.  The architect, the nurse, the butcher, the baker and even the candlestick maker.  It’s from all those Americans who never get mentioned in the news.

Over the last 242 years, US presidents, policies and perceptions have changed many times, but ordinary Americans have always maintained a remarkable ability to cope, an incredible desire to help — at home and around the world — and an extraordinary willingness to share their good fortune.

Happy 4th of July, America

Black Friday And The Rocket Man

rocket-1027577_1920Unless you live in a cave on the northern slopes of the Himalayas, you know that yesterday was American Thanksgiving and today is Black Friday.  Black Friday (for all you cave dwellers) is a strange American retail phenomenon that’s slowly circling the globe.  A number of different countries — including mine — are starting to cash in on Black Friday’s consumer spending frenzy.  Personally, I don’t see the attraction, but I don’t have a philosophical problem with people beating each other over the head once a year to save 50 bucks. (I kinda figure it’s like The Purge with credit cards.)  My point is nobody but Americans could a) think up something as silly as Black Friday and b) make it work.  Let me demonstrate.

There’s a guy in California who’s going to launch himself into the air on a homemade rocket to prove that — wait for it — the Earth is flat.  Wow!  Think of the irony!  And this isn’t some Star Wars wannabe, blogging from his parents’ basement.  Oddly enough, Mike Hughes, a 61-year-old limousine driver, has already “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”  Back in 2014, he managed to build a rocket, get it airborne (with him in it) and soared for a kilometre or so through the skies of Arizona.  Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, and when Hughes’ DIY project did, he ended up in the hospital.

Aside from the fact that this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of (and I’ve heard a lot of stupid stuff in my time) I do believe this is a quintessentially American story.  The thing is, Mr. Hughes, dumb as he might be, actually did built a rocket and actually did fire himself into the sky.  Now, question Mikey’s tenuous grasp on reality all you want, but any way you slice it, that’s a hell of an accomplishment.  And this simple tale of one idiot in California is a deep look into the American character.  They are a dynamic people.  They don’t really care what their government, science, mathematics, the natural laws of the universe and sometimes even common sense tell them, ordinary Americans truly believe that — if they work at it — they can do anything.  And then, incredibly, they frequently do.

So, while people all over the world are chasing the American Dream of a 50-inch-Big-Screen-TV, I’ll just say this: “Good luck, Mike Hughes — and Godspeed!”

4th Of July — 2017

july 4thToday is the 4th of July, Independence Day in America.  And, like it or not, there isn’t a person on this planet who doesn’t have an opinion about America.  The Land of Milk and Money generates some pretty strong passion — for and against.  So here are a few facts about America that most people either ignore or forget to remember.

Every year, the US government gives $32 billion dollars in non-military foreign aid to the rest of the world.  That’s free money, folks — courtesy of the US taxpayer.  FYI, nearly one billion of that goes to free vaccinations for children all over the world.

Not to be outdone, individually, Americans donate 258 billion dollars — that’s $258,000,000,000.00 — to charity (domestic and foreign) every year.

There are more museums, art galleries and live theatres in the United States than there are in any other nation in the world.

Plus the US has more public libraries (read: free) than all the rest of the world combined.

There is more medical and scientific research conducted in the United States than in any other country.

Americans have won more Nobel prizes — in every category, except literature — than any other nation.

In 2016, the United States used less fresh water than it did in 1970 — which is a good trick, considering most of the world is going the other way.

In real terms, the United States generates more sustainable energy and uses more renewable energy than any other country on the planet.

There are more electric cars driven in the United States than in the next two countries, China and Japan, combined — most of them in California.

If California were a country, it would have the 8th largest economy in the world.

Every single weekend, the night life of New York generates more money than the GDP of 80 of the world’s poorest nations.

The poorest 5% of Americans are still richer than 68% of the rest of the world.

And finally, two of my favourites:

Officially, the United States, like the rest of the world, uses the Metric System.  (It was signed into law by President Ford in 1975.)  However, most Americans couldn’t care less what a few politicians in Washington DC do and still use gallons, pints, pounds, ounces, miles, feet and inches.

Originally, the President of the United States did not pick the Vice President.  Constitutionally, the Vice President was the person who got the second highest number of votes in the Presidential election.  Think about it!  If the Constitution hadn’t been amended, back in 1800, Donald Trump’s Vice President would be Hillary Clinton!

Happy Independence Day, America!