Flat Earth

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Fat of the land

I ALWAYS forget how fat Americans are until I return to the US, and feel once again that I am in a Beryl Cook painting come to life - fatties everywhere, whole families of them, not just fat but so grossly overweight that some of them can barely walk, even though they are invariably wearing shorts and trainers.

This was the first time I had been to the States for a holiday rather than work, so I suppose the obesity was more noticeable. But a ramble around New England confirmed one or two other prejudices as well, such as the depths to which commercialism penetrates American life. Allegedly scenic drives on Cape Cod, for example, can turn out to consist of nothing but miles and miles of diners, car showrooms, souvenir and antique outlets and 24-hour "drive-thru" cash machines.

There is an element of amusement in the parade of signs - the second- hand shop in New Hampshire called Veronica's Hangup, in parody of the national underwear chain, Victoria's Secret, or the nearby fireworks plant which proclaims "Noise R Us!" - but it is not what one is there for.

The locals, it seems, want you to spend your money and move on without interacting with them, and often the only way of detecting a turnoff to a picturesque harbour is to look out for a sign which advertises Mac's Marine Engines or similar.

If I needed further proof that the dollar is king, I found it in a Boston bookshop which had a stack of Marx's Das Kapital - on the remainders table.


AND here is yet more evidence ... instead of allowing its research chimpanzees to retire, the US Air Force is giving them to private companies, one of which will use them for more experiments.

Some of the apes, descendants or companions of the first chimpanzees to fly in space, were employed in early jet aircraft research, developing equipment such as ejector seats. More than half have been used in Aids and hepatitis experiments, and some are still diseased. Now 111 are being given to a New Mexico foundation which has already been fined once for violating animal care standards and is being investigated for a second complaint. (Not that that stopped it from getting a contract to operate a research ape facility at an Air Force base.)

Some chimpanzees are reported to be quite proficient in sign language, but I don't know whether anyone has tried to explain to them the concept of a free lunch and its inapplicability in America, even if you happen to belong to another species.

Maid in Greece

THE compilers of a new Greek dictionary seem to have an attitude towards women from the Philippines which is little better than that of the US military towards chimps. They define a Filipina as a "housemaid or a person who performs non-essential auxiliary tasks".

The Philippines government has protested, but the slur spotlights its inability to create enough prosperity at home to stop six million of its citizens having to seek work abroad. Many, it is true, are housemaids: "It's a sad commentary on the status of our women," said Dominique Coseteng, one of four women in the 23-member Philippines Senate.