Category Archives: Culture

Switzerland

To many Americans, Switzerland is either a) Sweden, b) a European theme park, or c) not real. To very few of us is it known as a small Alpine tassel adorning Italy’s boot. What we don’t know about Switzerland says as much as what we do know. For example, the fact that we don’t know Switzerland for its rampant gang-related violence – or for producing androgynous Europop stars – is a very good thing. With little to go on in the way of cold, hard facts, many Americans are forced to rely upon stereotypes to fill in the gaps. Now, I would as lief form judgments on a people group based solely on broad stereotypes as the next guy, but even Swiss stereotypes turn out to be vague and uninformative, and sadly, my countrymen go about their lives blissfully unaware of the awesomeness that is Switzerland.

Not from Switzerland

We know from common Swiss stereotypes that they make chocolate, cheese, clocks, army knives, banks and neutrality. In fact, according to a 2009 UN report, Switzerland is the number one neutrality producer in the world, accounting for 43% of earth’s neutrality. That’s more than Canada, Ireland, Sweden and Vatican City combined! But what does this tell us about Switzerland? That they can tell time? That they have currency? And how does making chocolate set them apart from any other European nation? Or for that matter any nation with access to cocoa and sugar? Or any nation founded after the advent of Dessert? We need more to go on!

There’s so much more to Switzerland than what products they export. Like the people who live there. The Swiss people speak four languages – French, German, Italian and Yodeling, reflecting their location between four countries we can prove exist – France, Germany, Italy and Austria – and one we can’t – Liechtenstein[1], as well as their eclectic mix of ethnic groups and lonely goatherds. The Swiss people may come from many different people groups, but they all have one thing in common: they make mediocre post-Cold War Bond villains.

One ethnically ambiguous Swiss banker on the wrong end of Mr. Bond's Walther.

Switzerland is also home of the Matterhorn, which, legend tells us, the last President of the Confederation will blow when all peace is lost in this world, when Swiss neutrality no longer protects them and their borders are overrun by foreign hordes. When the Matterhorn sounds, the last remnant of Switzerlanders will know to flee to the highest mountains to make their last stand.

The Matterhorn at the Annual St. Berchtold's Day Parade

Okay. Look, I’m going to level with you. I may have made some to all of that up. Swiss stereotypes really are all I have to go on, but you see, that is exactly what makes Switzerland so awesome. The less anyone knows about Switzerland, the longer it survives. It’s nearly impossible for a country as small as Switzerland to remain neutral when its next door neighbour is Germany, a nation which tried to take over Europe not once, but twice in the last 100 years. Italy, France and Austria don’t exactly have spotless records themselves. It’s far too risky to invade a country when you don’t know how many weapons they have, what kind of weapons they have or where those weapons might be. It’s even riskier when no one’s even exactly sure where the country is located. Sure, we all know Switzerland’s crammed in the middle of France, Germany, Austria and Italy, but finding it would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The Alps form an impossible labyrinth, not mention the country’s less than twice the size of New Jersey, and I bet most of you couldn’t find that on a map either.

Which one of these is Switzerland again?

If Germany tried to invade Switzerland during World War II, Hitler would have spent half the war digging under the couch cushions of Europe for it. Then he would have yelled, “Eva! Have you seen Switzerland?”

To which she would have replied, “What?!” from her room.

“I said, ‘Have you seen Switzerland?’ I could have sworn I saw it next to Austria this morning, but it’s not there anymore!”

Then Eva would have said, “Have you tried next to Austria?”

And Hitler would say, “That’s what I said! I already looked next to Austria!”

“Oh, well look on Italy!”

“It’s not on Italy! Don’t you think that’s the first place I would have looked?!”

And the next thing they would have known, the Allies would have invaded Berlin, and they would have been on fire in a ditch before the Americans even knew what was going on in Europe.

You see, Switzerland grew up around bullies. Now, I’m a big fan of Germany, Italy and France. They’re our allies and our friends, but let’s face it: they’re bullies. To survive in a schoolyard full of bullies, the littlest kid in school either secretly takes karate lessons after school or he learns to hide really well. I suggest to you that Switzerland has learned to do both. Even if I’m wrong, even if Switzerland has no might to back up its neutrality, its existence is just vague enough to have kept more than one dictator from invading. That is no small feat, and it has earned Switzerland a permanent place in the annals of awesome.

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[1] The last Liechtenstein sighting was on July 27, 1978, in the form of a grainy photograph taken from the Austrian border by Swedish mountaineer and amateur cryptoethnologist, Erik Blomkvist. The so-called Blomkvist Photograph has gained its proponents, but it has yet to be verified by leading cryptoethnologists and is considered by many to be a hoax.

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Tumbarumba

Tumbarumba is not to be confused with Chumbawamba, a band made famous for getting knocked down but getting up again. “You’re never,” representatives of the band assured us when called upon to comment, “going to keep us down.”

Chubby wombat, like Tumbarumba, sounds like Chumbawamba and comes from Australia.

A town in New South Wales, Australia with a scanty population of just under 1,500 people in 2006,[i] Tumbarumba is famous for its annual Beer Drinking Tournament, Croc-Wrestling Competition, Bar Brawl Invitational, Australian Stereotype Convention, and for not being famous. The most intriguing thing about Tumbarumba is the name itself. It’s rhythmic. It’s rhyming. It has a deep, primitive sound and feel to it; evocative of wild, untamable words like tumble, rumble and of the sound of thunder. Tumbarumba sounds like the verbal embodiment of outback Australia, similar to the American equivalent Podunk. Qualities which make it strangely onomatopoeic. But Tumbarumba’s real claim to fame comes from its being featured in an Australian poem.

But before we can get there, we must leave the  Australian outback and first travel back to Ancient Greece and Rome, where most stories involving words have their start. In Ancient Greek there was a rhetorical technique called tmesis, meaning ‘to cut.’ Tmesis involved splitting a word into two pieces and sticking another word in the middle for emphasis. The Romans, ever fond of rhetoric, picked up the habit as well and passed it on to their many linguistic children, both legitimate (Spanish) and illegitimate (English).

Immanuel Kant

If there’s anything English speakers love besides arguing about the pronunciation of “can’t” and “bath,” it’s prefixes and suffixes. We cram prefixes and suffixes onto words almost haphazardly to produce all manner of new words and to change the forms of existing words to suit our purposes. But there’s a third affix that goes almost entirely ignored in English known as the infix. It works much like a prefix or a suffix, but instead of sticking it on the beginning or end of a word, it gets crammed in the middle. There are very few examples of infixes in English, and they are all or nearly all considered informal and tend to be used by marginal groups in society.

A young Saddam Hussein and other members of the Ba'ath Party

A prime example would be the infix -iz- which is used almost exclusively by the hip hop community and only occasionally by lame white people who desperately want street cred, even though — if they’re anything like this lame white person — they’re not even sure what street cred is or what it involves. Some uses of the infix -iz- are:

house  –> hizouse
chain –> chizain
Mouri –> Missouri

Tmesis is a similar concept to infixes, but instead of putting an affix in the middle of a word, tmesis involves putting an entire word in the middle of another word. It’s like a verbal Dagwood sandwich. Tmesis is also considered informal in English, and so as with infixes, is generally employed by marginal groups in society. The marginalization of tmesis is only exacerbated by the fact that it is most commonly used with profanity. Fortunately, it’s almost as common to use euphemisms, and so we’ll do so here. We recommend you do the same. For the children.

A Dagwood sandwich

The first and probably the most common example of tmesis is freaking. If you’re from the UK or Australia, simply substitute freaking with bloody and you get the idea. The initial f and hard k sound, plus its seemingly infinite applicability, make freaking (and its obscene counterpart) the ideal emphasis word. Observe the examples below.

fantastic –> fan-freaking-tastic

absolutely –> abso-freaking-lutely

unbelievable –> unbe-freaking-lievable

la-di-da –> la-di-freaking-da

Vietnam –> Viet-freaking-nam

antidisestablishmentarianism –> antidisestablishmen-freaking-tarianism

Another, more Southern example is old.

anytime –> any-old-time

anyplace –> any-old-place

anywhere –> any-old-where

One of my favourites is the insertion of whole into another as in:

another issue –>whole nother issue.

If you want to be really annoying you can use -toota- as in:

absolutely –> abso-toota-lutely.

Tmesis can be used with any number of words, both expletives and pletives[ii], as fits the occasion. You can even fit an entire phrase or sentence into a word if you’re feeling adventurous. As in:

Becky Mc-I think I’m better than everyone else at the firm just because I graduated from Harvard and I drive a Lexus, even though my dad’s money paid for all of it-freaking-Callister.

The problem any developing trend in language faces is that unless it enters regular usage by the population of an entire nation, it’s not very likely to remain a permanent fixture. So when you have something as marginalized and often crass as tmesis tends to be, it would take an entire country of marginalized and often crass English speakers to popularize it. In other words: Australia. And that brings us back to Tumbarumba and its claim to fame.

Apparently, there was a poem written not too long ago by an Australian author and poet named John O’Grady[iii] entitled Tumba Bloody Rumba. I won’t include the poem here in its entirety, partly because its frequent use of the word bloody may offend some. Suffice it to say, the poem makes ample use of colourful tmesis with words such as “Tumba-bloody-rumba” and “kanga-bloody-roos.”

The result, thanks in no small part to the almost hypnotic power of the word, is that tumbarumba has now become a synonym for tmesis in the English language.

'I see you've played knifey spoony before!'

Not only is tumbarumba a fan-freaking-tastic addition to the English language, it also may very well be the only real contribution the Australians ever make to global English as a whole. I mean, unless you count “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” And, granted, I’m tempted to out of nostalgia for the 80s. But there’s no way any of us will ever have another use for the words ‘Yahoo Serious,’ as awesome as Young Einstein was. And does anyone even know what a billabong is? If so, is it even legal to own one?

Using tumbarumba isn’t going to get you any job offers or endear you to the ladies/the gentlemen, but that’s not its purpose anyway. Tumbarumba is a cultural ambassador, like the koala bear and Mel Gibson – a token of amity and fraternity from Australia to the rest of the English-speaking world. Like all things Australian, tumbarumba has the power to add spice and adventure to your life. So let’s do as the Australians do, if only this once, and spice up our vocabu-flipping-lary with a little tumbarumba.

Yahoo at his most Serious

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[i] http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/LocationSearch?collection=Census&period=2006&areacode=UCL176000&producttype=QuickStats&breadcrumb=PL&action=401

[ii] Inpletives? Impletives?

[iii] I could find nothing concrete online confirming Mr. O’Grady as the author of the poem. And unlike Yale University, I’m not comfortable using Wikipedia as a sole source of my information. See Yale University Library’s blurb on O’Grady here.

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James Lewis Macie

Our tale, dear reader, starts where any good story starts: with the illegitimate son of a duke.

James Lewis Macie

The year was 1765. French scientist Charles Messier recently classified a galactic cluster in the Canis Major constellation; Great Britain passed the Stamp Act and the Quartering Act, throwing the thirteen American colonies into unrest; Admiral Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory, which would eventually play a role in the decisive victory at Trafalgar, was launched; a large section of Montreal was destroyed in a fire. And a young widow of royal blood gave birth to the love child of the baronet who would one day become the Duke of Northumberland. The widow’s name was Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie. Sadly for her wretched child, due to his illegitimate birth, he could not inherit his father’s title or name, and so he was called James Lewis Macie. If he wanted to make it in life, poor young Macie would have to make it on his own, pull himself up by his bootstraps, and take life by the horns with nothing but his own grit, determination and whatever the 18th century British equivalent of chutzpah is.[i]

William the Conqueror, another illegitimate son of a duke

And that is exactly what he did. James Macie struck out on his own and made a name for himself in the high-stakes, no-holds-barred arena of professional mineral analysis.[ii] After graduating from Oxford, Macie became a member of the Royal Society, the most prestigious, most British, and most vaguely-named scientific organization of his time.[iii]

Macie was a scientist’s scientist. He was lauded by his peers as a competent and diligent scholar. Unfortunately for Macie, the hoi polloi don’t care much for accomplishments in and of themselves. Isaac Newton’s contributions to Physics and Calculus are unparalleled. While most of us have a vague appreciation of this, people mostly know him as the guy with the girly wig who had an apple fall on his head, giving him the idea for Fig Newtons. Or something like that. Albert Einstein’s name has become a synonym for genius in the 20th and 21st centuries. Even the Theory of Relativity has become a household expression, but most people don’t really know what it means.[iv] They just know Einstein from that cute picture of him sticking his tongue out. Sadly for Macie’s scientific legacy, he didn’t leave any amusing anecdotes behind him.

He studied rocks. And not one of them fell on his head.

This rock famously didn't fall on Macie's head.

Macie did, however, leave a legacy behind him that might not be as monumental as Calculus or Relativity, but has made a much more direct impact on my life and the lives of millions of night owls, college students and cranky commuters the world o’er: he invented an improved way of brewing coffee.

Macie left us something else that he’s perhaps more well known for than you realize.

When Macie’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, died, he left his illegitimate son quite a sizeable inheritance. Macie, however, had no sons of his own. He always meant to settle down and start a family, but mineralogy, he was too late to discover, is a demanding mistress and she would not share him with another. And so when the goodly scholar James Lewis Macie passed away in 1829, heirless and alone, he left nearly the entirety of his considerable fortune to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford – with one stipulation: if Hungerford were to die with no sons of his own, the entire inheritance was to be given as a grant to the United States of America for the creation of “an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Another well known United States Grant

This was a stunning and unexpected development. James Macie had no ties or associations with the United States of America whatsoever. That he should wish to give his entire estate to the government of the fledgling nation across the pond could hardly have been anticipated by anyone.

Six years after Macie’s death, his nephew did indeed die without an heir, and so according to his last will and testament, James Macie donated $503,318 to the government of the United States. In today’s currency, that would be a sum in the billions of dollars. After some deliberation, the US government did as Macie wanted and established an education institution in his honour.

Since Macie’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, was long since dead, in his later years Macie was free to call himself by his father’s name. And so, the institute was named the Smithsonian in honour of James Smithson, the man whose posthumous donation made it all possible.

Today, the Smithsonian is one of the most prestigious, as well as the largest, museums in the world. James Smithson gave the United States, and the world, more than a monetary gift. He gave us all the gifts of history, science and knowledge. But, perhaps just as importantly, he gave us the gift of improved coffee brewing. When you consider that Starbucks has done as much to worsen coffee brewing, that makes James Smithson the nemesis of Starbucks and the champion of coffee lovers everywhere. And that’s an awesome thing indeed, my estimable readers.

Did I mention the Smithsonian is the home of the original Kermit the Frog?

And Fonzie's Jacket, too. So awesome.


[i] Audacity? Temerity? Cheek?

[ii] He was a mineralogist.

[iii] Second if you include ‘The Thing of Applied Stuff-ery.’

[iv] Similar to how Hollywood disaster movies always confuse Armageddon with things like oil rig workers nuking asteroids.

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Independence Day

Independence Day marks the anniversary of the day the United States of America adopted the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, forming its own fledgling nation. It is also the first in what eventually became a whole slew of National Days in July, when more than twenty sovereign nations, and more than a few dependencies, celebrate their nation’s formation. Independence Day ranks as my third favourite National Day in July, behind Vanuatu on the 30th and Kiribati on the 12th, and just ahead of the Canada-Burundi-Rwanda triple entente on the 1st.

234 years ago on this very day, the Founding Fathers of these United States of America signed their names on the Declaration of Independence, thereby declaring war on the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. If they succeeded, they would have accomplished the impossible, like modern-day Davids slaying a rather posh and well-bred Goliath. If they failed, they essentially signed their death warrant that day. But it was a risk these brave men were willing to take, because they understood the importance of providing for posterity a day when Americans could purchase and use explosives in the comfort of their own yards and consume excessive quantities of low-quality beer and fattening meats. The Founding Fathers understood that the people of this land had certain inalienable rights, and no government — no king upon the throne — had the authority to strip them of these rights. They understood that the American people had the rights to life, liberty and the purusit of happiness; even if it meant high cholesterol and obesity rates. Only a government of the people, by the people and for the people could possibly govern this land in justice; and therefore, it stood to reason, the bigger the people of America become, the more democratic the government will be. Or so Thomas Jefferson is believed to have written in an earlier draft of the Declaration.

The debate over whether the Revolution can be justified will rage on long after the United States of America ceases to exist, but one must admit it was remarkably foresighted of the Founding Fathers to look to a day when the people of America could ignite explosives and launch rockets in peace, eating themselves to an early grave without interference from tyrants on foreign thrones. So when you light up the grill today, breathe deeply that smoke and remember that aroma well. For that, gentle reader, is the smell of freedom.

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Future Week, Part V: The Space Race

There was a time when America was more futuristic than it is today. It was the 1950s and 1960s. The USA and the USSR were locked in a deadly game of threats, intimidation and brinkmanship known as the Cold War. Whoever lost would have to accept the other as the world’s only superpower, and would very likely have to abandon their way of life. Whoever won would be the dominant world power and would have exclusive rights to having the name of its country start with “US.” Needless to say, America won. That’s why the USSR is just Russia now. The United States and the USSR never actually met each other on the field of battle, thus why it was called the “Cold War” – no fire was exchanged. Instead they chose to fight each other through threats, propaganda, and through other countries, among other things. One of the most interesting Cold War battles, and by far the most futuristic, was the Space Race: a competition between Russia and the United States to achieve goals in space exploration before the other nation.

Space Dog

Laika the dogstronaut in her space kennel.

Russia had the upper hand for a while, but mostly by achieving things no one really cared about. Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into space in October 1957. The Russians were so excited about their achievement that, like drunk college guys with a deep fryer, they just started sending anything they could find lying around into space, just to see what would happen. They sent old rubber tires into space, car batteries, three fur Cossack hats, two empty bottles of vodka, Joseph Stalin’s hair pomade, and, eventually, political dissidents. When the excitement wore off, the Russian government realized how silly they’d been acting and decided to send people into space for serious research. Well, sort of. They sent a dog up first just for poops and giggles. But then they sent up a voluntary person. The first human being in orbit!

 

The overt silliness of the Russian space program really gives you some perspective on how lazy the Americans were being.  While Russia was still messing around with sending trinkets into space “just ‘cuz,”[i] America somehow managed to be behind on every major development in space exploration. America was second in launching satellites, second in sending an animal into space (Although, they did send apes instead of dogs. NASA gave them all typewriters too in hopes that one of them would randomly type out the works of Shakespeare – in space – giving America eternal bragging rights.[ii] If that didn’t work out, at least America could brag that their space animals had opposable thumbs.[iii]), and second to have an astronaut in space.

Space Chimp

Ham the chimp after his return to earth. Shortly after this picture was taken, he signed his last words, “Tell my wife I poop chair,” and then he died.iv No one was sure what he meant.

But America’s all about the wow factor. They just love pulling themselves together in the last minute for the win. And so, in Hollywood hero fashion, complete with the aforementioned confident slow-mo swagger and thumbs up, America went for the tie-breaking score in overtime: they put a man on the moon. Several men, in fact.

If the tried and true rules of colonialism still apply, and I see no reason why they don’t, America didn’t just go to the moon, America colonized the moon. In the first age of exploration (what we will call the Terrestrial Age of Exploration, to differentiate from the Age of Space Exploration, and because it sounds more futuristic), all a country needed to do to colonize another country is send men to that country in a ship and plant a flag in the soil. If a local population lived there, they had to find a way to force them into compliance. According to these rules, the moon is property of the United States of America. The US government sent men there who set foot on lunar soil and planted an American flag. America is the only country to have done this.[v] It just so happened there wasn’t a local population to subdue, but let’s face it. If there were, America would have subdued liberated them.

 

Union Jack

Moon Flag

 

When you look at it that way, the only reason the moon still exists is because America hasn’t decided to nuke it into oblivion. There’s a great deal of conjecture among historians and political scientists about why America didn’t blow up the moon as a demonstration of power to the USSR. Some propose America feared it would invite the Soviets to retaliate by extinguishing the sun, but there’s little proof the Russians even knew the sun exists, so that seems a little farfetched. Others theorize, and I’m in this camp, that the greatest display of power America could have chosen was to not blow up the moon. That way its nightly appearance sends a clear message to planet earth: “If the moon shines on your country, it’s because America wants it to.” And in perhaps the greatest example of propaganda in history, it also turned the moon into a symbol of the light of democracy shining on the dark and oppressed places of the earth. It is for this reason that we will henceforth refer to the moon by its Cold War title, the Light Orb of Democracy.

The Space Race gave Americans an enemy to overcome, which is, if we’re honest, the only time when America is truly great. But the Space Race has also done a lot of good for the world that is often overshadowed by the exorbitant price of sending men beyond the atmosphere. A great many modern inventions that we could not, or would prefer not, to live without would never have been discovered without the space program. The truth is, people aren’t willing to spend billions of dollars into researching life-improving technology unless it stirs up their hope and imagination. The space program provides just that, thus it enables the government to research important technology we otherwise would never discover. A new, far more powerful version of rechargeable batteries was created by Black & Decker for the drills and tools used by the Apollo Light Orb of Democracy mission, because you can’t run a power cord 239,000 miles from earth to the Light Orb of Democracy. That technology is now in use in countless items like cell phones and laptops. Pacemakers use satellite telemetry technology; the millions of dollars spent on satellites literally save lives now. It’s doubtful if we would have pacemakers without having launched satellites first. I could name several other examples, and perhaps in a later post I will. But try going a week without your cell phone or laptop, and imagine a world in which men and women with heart defects can’t get a second chance at life, and think about how the space program has improved our lives. That, my fellow citizens of earth, is a very awesome thing.

<Future Week, Part IV


[i]Their words. Not mine.

[ii] “Hey, Yuri, remember the time you guys sent a dog into space and it piddled in orbit? That was right around the time our monkey MoMo typed out the complete works of Shakespeare in zero gravity. Ah, the memories!”

[iii] In space exploration, opposable thumbs are practically a requirement, as is the ability to walk on one’s hind legs. Otherwise, how is an astronaut to do the heroic, slow-mo walk onto the launch pad and give the confident thumbs up before take off? That’s why using chimps was such a big deal. They’re the only ones besides us who can pull it off.

[iv] No, he didn’t. He lived on until 1983.

[v] I was speaking with an English friend of mine about this topic once, and he said, and I quote, “The sun may never set on the British Empire, but neither has the earth risen on it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Future Week, Part IV: American Cheese

American cheese isn’t delicious, appetizing, or even cheese, for that matter. But oh, boy, is it American! American cheese isn’t just another post-industrial processed food-like product. It’s a microcosm for the determination, ingenuity and spirit of the American people. And that makes it awesome.

Americans don’t like to be told they can’t do things, especially by Europeans. For some reason, Americans seem to have this idea that Europeans have been “pushing us around” for eons. And that’s what the Revolution was all about: stopping King George III from pushing them around. In reality, the Revolution had more to do with Great Britain leaving America alone long enough to develop their own identity, so when the Crown started to reassert its own authority, everyone got angry about it. Regardless of the reasons for the Revolution, it happened, and Americans were determined from that point onward not to be pushed around by anybody.

Don't Tread on Me

Even the flag is the colour of American Cheese.

And pretty much every decision America has made as a nation since then has been to ensure that someone can’t push someone else around; and the culture as a whole is characterized by this confident defiance in the advertisements, movies, television, news, clothing, cars, professional sports, and food which seems to say, “don’t tell me what to do.” And nowhere is this more evident than in American cheese.

Europe makes better cheese than America. Everyone knows it. It’s something Europe won’t let America forget about. In fact, when you drive across the border to France the sign says, “Bienvenue en France. Mieux que l’Amérique du fromage!” which means, “Welcome to France. Better cheese than America!” Americans have never been too concerned about consuming high-quality cheeses the way Europeans do, anyway. Aging cheese is just too long a process for the typically convenience-driven American people. And besides, Americans only really want to use cheese for a few things, the most important being putting it on cheeseburgers.

And that’s where Europe decided to stick its cheese-loving nose into America’s business again and tell them what they can’t do. They said that you can’t put good cheese on a hamburger. And they were right. Good cheese tends to growshard and crumbly when aged, making it difficult to slice and stack on a hamburger. The protein and fat in cheese separate when melted, making a greasy, lumpy, unappetizing mess. Cheese also re-solidifies after a time, but never in the same appealing form it had when first used.

American Cheese

But the Americans were not to be put off. Rather than give up on the dream of a delicious cheeseburger, they rolled up their sleeves, dug in their heels, and did what America does best: they forced nature into compliance. They invented a new kind of cheese that slices and melts nicely on a cheeseburger, but isn’t technically a cheese at all. American cheese has cheese in it, and many of its ingredients are cheese-related items, making the result a cheese analogue that replicates many cheesy qualities while avoiding many of its drawbacks. American cheese is basically cheddar mixed with vegetable oil, whey, milk protein, milk fat, enzymes, chemicals and food colouring. Unlike real cheese, American cheese is able to be formed into any shape desired, including pre-packaged, sandwich-sized slices perfect for putting on cheeseburgers. American cheese doesn’t separate into fats and proteins like real cheeses often do, so what one gets when one melts American cheese is a smooth, evenly melted product with little mess. Once melted, American cheese never really re-solidifies. It always stays kind of melted, which is also great for putting on burgers. The cheese keeps the same consistency at the end of a meal that it had at the beginning.

American cheese might not sound that awesome. And, admittedly, on a purely culinary level, it isn’t. But cheeseburgers are delicious, and, while this awesome-compendicronologist prefers his burgers with real cheese, In-N-Out and Five Guys burgers just wouldn’t be the unspeakably delicious guilty pleasures they are without American cheese. The Food Quality section of the In-N-Out website even proudly proclaims, “Our American cheese is the real thing.” And who am I to argue with In-N-Out?

American cheese might not sound that futuristic either. But what it comes down to is this: America faced a problem – how to efficiently and deliciously melt cheese on burgers – and they solved it by defying the very laws of nature; using science to create a new form of cheese that never existed before; a cheese made in a lab that comes wrapped in sterile plastic sheets. That’s about as futuristic as things get. Besides, I’m pretty sure with the crazy shelf life American cheese has, and its unnatural properties, it will long outlast the human race, and any Zombie Apocalypse, Alien Invasion, or Nuclear Holocaust, to infinity and beyond.

<Future Week, Part III Future Week, Part V>

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Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office

I used to think that Winston Churchill was the most huggable government official in the history of the United Kingdom.[i]

Winston

A face so cute, it melted the resolve of Nazi Germany.

That is, until I heard of the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. The Chief Mouser is an honorary title granted to the resident mouse catcher of the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury at 10 Downing St. That is, at the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’s house. There has been a Chief Mouser in employment of the British Government more or less continuously since the reign of King Henry VIII. Perhaps the lowest paid government employee in the UK and ever a darling of the press, it should be noted that the Chief Mouser is also a cat, whose chief duties are to catch mice, laze about and generally out-cute Winston Churchill. Unlike the American custom of the presidential pet (usually a presidential pup), the Chief Mouser is not owned by the PM, but resides in 10 Downing St. independent of the human occupant.

Sybil

Sybil, the most recent Chief Mouser.

I’ve always believed that as Americans, we’ve lost something valuable in severing ourselves so fully from the traditions we belonged to as subjects of Great Britain. Now I know this to be true. Perhaps our forefathers would have looked more kindly upon Lord North and King George III had we known they had a furry little exterminator in the employment of the government. Perhaps His Majesty should have sent the little mouser over the pond as an ambassador of peace. Doubtless he could have won over the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere simply by curiously batting at a ball of yarn, and we could have avoided the whole nasty business of the war in the first place. But what’s done is done. What America needs now is our own Chief Mouser as a symbol of goodwill toward the United Kingdom, and a sign of our undying love of cuteness.

Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, God bless you and God save the Queen. May your claws be ever sharp, your coat ever fluffy, your little paws ever nimble. And may no mouse ever escape your adorable clutches again, so long as a Chief Mouser draws breath in 10 Downing St.

The people of America salute you.


[i] I still think he’s the most huggable world leader in the modern world.

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Filed under Animals, Culture, Cuteness, History