United States

The X Factor USA: Top 16 Evaluation

The X Factor USA’s live shows are rolling around in just two weeks and given the rapidly declining standards of my country’s edition, I am truly grateful. Once more, the Stateside version has produced 16 top class acts. Here is how they are shaping up going in to the final rounds.

Kelly’s Over 25s

Rachel Potter

Can she sing?
Yes, very well in fact. Rachel surprised everyone at her first audition with her impeccable high notes. The Four Chair Challenge didn’t go as well for her and she was put through based on her first audition.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
Hmm… this is debatable. She can definitely sing and she was likeable in her first audition and the country market in the US is huge but she did herself no favours by rattling off excuses in her second performance. I think Victoria Carriger would have been better received by voters.

Jeff Gutt

Can he sing?
He’s actually got a great voice. It’s very much suited to rock ballads but he can sing, he was unlucky not to have made it to the live shows the season before.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
Not really. Sure, he’s likeable as a good singer and being a single father supporting his son but he doesn’t look like a star and he doesn’t have much charisma. He could do well from this but I can’t foresee him being a global star.

James Kenney

Can he sing?
Another yes, here. He’s not a strong a singer as Jeff but his voice is soulful and unique within the competition.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
Not really. Sure, he’s likeable as a good singer and being a single father supporting his son but he doesn’t look like a star and he doesn’t have much charisma. He could do well from this but I can’t foresee him being a global star.

Lillie McCloud

Can they sing?
Can she ever! Vocally, Lillie is a cut above the rest of the competition. It says a lot that she is the only act to have received two standing ovations so far this season.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
You may think a 54-year-old grandmother has little to offer mainstream music but the stage presence she carries is that of a seasoned veteran. She has the look, she has the talent. Can she connect with a younger audience? Maybe not but with a voice like hers, that shouldn’t be problematic.

 

Demi’s Girls

Khaya Cohen

Can they sing?
Vocally, she’s arguably the strongest in Demi’s category.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
Meh, probably not. She’s enthusiastic and likeable but does she stand-out? Not really.  That’s why I’ve just used those generic terms to describe her.

Ellona Santiago

Can they sing?
Yes, she can. Simon picked her out as the star singer when she was part of Season 1 group InTENsity.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
Again, she’s very forgettable. She’s just your average girl. She’s yet to show anything that sets her apart from any other female singer with a good voice.

Danie Geimer

Can they sing?
Again, she is a very good singer with amazing control for a 15-year-old.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
Thankfully, she may do. She’s certainly more memorable than her two predecessors. She’s the geeky girl at school that no one pays attention to, until they realise how talented she is. I bet that story will resonate with many of the show’s younger voters.

Rion Paige

Can they sing?
Yes, she can. Excellently, in fact, for a 13-year-old.

Does she have the ‘X Factor’?
She’s arguably the most likeable contestant in the whole competition, her resolute positivity in the face of her disability is simply inspiring. I almost want to see her succeed more for her mum than herself.

Paulina’s Boys

 

Carlito Olivero

Can they sing?
He can but he’s definitely one of the weaker singers in the competition.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
Sort of. He’ll appeal to certain audiences but he’s nothing special.

Carlos Guevara

Can they sing?
He can, very well in fact. One of Paula’s strongest singers.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
He’s certainly likeable given his triumph over Tourettes Syndrome whenever he sings, but he isn’t the most charismatic.

Tim Olstad

Can they sing?
Yes, he is a very good singer. That’s about all he is.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
Not all. He is easily the dullest contestant left. Simon was spot on when he said he’d only appeal to older audiences.

Josh Levi

Can they sing?
There are better singers in the competition, but yes he can sing.

Does he have the ‘X Factor’?
I think so. The girls seem to love him, he’s confident without being arrogant and his stage presence is impressive. There’s no reason he can’t go far.

Simon’s Groups

 

Sweet Suspense

Can they sing?
As they’re a manufactured group they can all sing equally well. Well, there’s one stronger singer but…

Do they have the ‘X Factor’?
Potentially. They’re fairly likeable and will probably be popular with young teenage girls.

Restless Road

Can they sing?
Very well, particularly together.

Do they have the ‘X Factor’?
Absolutely, it was a genius move of Simon’s to put together a group of three young male country singers. I’m certain they’ll do well.

Alex and Sierra

Can they sing?
They have unique voices. They’re not powerful but good, no doubt.

Do they have the ‘X Factor’?
I think so. They have a unique style and are actually likeable as a couple, you want them to succeed because of how down-to-earth they are. I love them.

RoXxy Montana

Can they sing?
You bet they can. Coming from a gospel choir, their voices are very soulful too.

Do they have the ‘X Factor’?
They could be the new Destiny’s Child. They’re very talented, great performers but they’re not necessarily as likeable and charismatic as the other acts. They might not do as well as predicted.

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Boycott Blatter’s Bulls**t?

No one is happy about this. This being FIFA’s decision to hold the 2022 edition of the World Cup, football’s grandest international tournament in Qatar. And, it’s not football snobbery that’s the plaguing the internet forums. The most contentious issue without doubt with the decision is moving the beloved tournament to an untraditional winter commencement.

Simpleton… Blatter prays for an escape from this giant mess.

Let’s start with the good points about this arrangement. This shouldn’t take too long. FIFA claims that holding such a renowned event in a country less interested in football will spread word of football and help develop Qatar’s and the surrounding nations’ footballing abilities. And to be fair, that is a good point. In fact, if that was the only, genuine reason and there weren’t so many faults with the decision, I’d probably back Blatter and co.’s decision.

Unfortunately, the bid was also full of holes such as the ignorance of Qatar’s scorching hot summers that would make playing football in almost impossible. As a result, Blatter proposed a Winter World Cup which has angered football fans across the globe. Not only is his idea a breach of decades of tradition, it would also be a monumental disruption to the major domestic leagues around the world, something many a football fan tend to value more. There are too, no stadia fit for the World Cup currently in Qatar, meaning up to eight venues would have to be constructed within the next 9 years. On top of the logistical issues, there are huge social issues too. Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar meaning any gay man making the trip would be at risk of imprisonment and five years in prison. When Sepp Blatter was rightly criticised for allowing the event to be held there he simply told LGBT fans to keep a low profile. Not only is the decision to hold the tournament in Qatar, a painful inconvenience it is also dangerous to one cross-section of football fans. Maybe we shouldn’t be inviting an intolerant nation to embrace the ‘beautiful game’.

Money talks… Other nations offered better conditions.

It really does beg the question; what were the voters thinking? How on earth, given all of this information could this scorching, homophobic nation be a better choice than say the United States or Australia? Two countries that don’t endanger certain members of society through human rights violations. Two countries who could hold a competition in the northern hemisphere’s summer months without people evaporating. Two countries with expanding domestic leagues that would be hugely benefited by the promotion the World Cup brings.

It simply makes no sense to isolate the vast majority of football fans and domestic leagues to appease one tiny country not even remotely interested in football. Well, it doesn’t until you remember what a corrupt, selfish, money-grabbing scheme Sepp Blatter currently employs at FIFA HQ. Rumours spread that Russia had effectively bought their bid’s victory for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and given how feeble Qatar’s claim to the tournament is, you can safely assume money played a part here.

We continue to await the inevitable confirmation of the tournament’s move to Winter and eagerly we hope that the main footballing bodies elsewhere will stand up to Fifa and tell them where to shove it. Will they? I wouldn’t count on it.

Culture Clash : Things Americans do that Brits hate

To start, let me say that Britain and America are bezzie mates, at least politically. We like you, we really do, I mean we don’t like you as much as your cooler Northern neighbours but that’s a different story. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that this post is purely for fun and nothing is really meant by it. Please still be our friends. 

1. Aggressive patriotism

Now, don’t misunderstand. Most Britons love their country. In fact, patriotism was at an all-time high during the Olympics and the Queen’s jubilee celebrations last year but Americans’ love for their country is a different kettle of fish. The average Brit won’t take kindly to you using phrases such as ‘greatest nation on earth’, ‘God bless, America’ or chanting ‘USA! USA! USA!’ repeatedly. In the States, you see the star-spangled banner hung from every other building. Here, you’ll only find a Union Jack on the beach front of Skegness. Maybe, we’re just jealous of how much pride you have for your country. Or maybe, we still feel a little awkward about the whole ‘Empire’ thing.

Proud… Your love for your country upstages ours.

2. Mispronunciation of UK place names

Get an American to look at these two place names; Leicester and Loughborough and then ask them to pronounce them. They probably will be unable too. While we know they’re pronounced as LES-STER and LUFF-BROH, some and I stress some Americans have been known to refer to them as LAY-SESS-TER and LOO-GUH-BUH-ROO-GUH. I suppose we can’t be too hard on you though, we do like to pronounce things completely differently to how they’re spelt. And in fairness, I’d imagine those from the north-eastern states are quite apt at interpreting the pronunciation of British place names, seeing as we creatively named every bleeding town up there after one of our own.

Sad… I wish everyone knew how to pronounce the name of my hometown

3. Therapy 

Americans love their therapy. They use it liberally and why not? It’s an effective way of raising issues with a mediator to allow all parties the chance to voice concerns. Us Brits don’t understand this, we’re more for repressing our issues and deep-seeded anger and letting it bubble up later in the form of sarcastic quipping.

Open… Even America’s favourite family uses therapy

4. The hatred of ‘Jaywalking’

This is more of a personal one. When I went to America last summer, there was nothing the average pedestrian was called up on more than ‘jaywalking’. For those of you that don’t know; ‘Jaywalking’ is walking to the other side of the street when the road is clear but traffic has not been halted by a red light. In the UK, it is called crossing the road.

Absurd… Americans like to make crossing the road a difficult experience

5. American Sports

People of all nations will be reading this bit and in their head shouting ‘YES!’. We hate your sports and everything about them. We hate the cheerleaders, the pop stars doing the half-time show, the silly commercialised names, I mean what is with the ‘New York Red Bulls’? The local derbies of the MLS are even sponsored by car manufacturers, for goodness sake! We hate the paegantry, sports in the UK are for getting merry and singing amusingly hurtful songs to the other team not for catching a sneak preview of Miley Cyrus’ latest single. We’re driven insane by the fact baseball’s prime competition is called the ‘World Series’ despite the fact all but two of the world’s nations don’t bother to compete. But, most of all we hate what you call ‘football’. You have tainted our favourite creation. This will always be a blip in American-British relationships, one for which we will probably NEVER forgive you.

Pageantry… Brits dislike the showbiz nature of US sports

6. How much you love our accent

At first, we have to admit, it’s very flattering when you compliment us on our accents. In Britain, we aren’t very complimentary to each other’s dulcet tones. But you lot seem to love it – if you head Stateside you’ll be greeted by people asking ‘where is that accent from?’ before they politely pretend to have heard of a small commuter village outside of Huddersfield. But it does go a bit far when you then reel off lists of phrases that you want us to say in ‘British’, which isn’t a language by the way, nor an accent. In fact, some of our accents are as audibly offensive as some of yours. Also, do we always have to be the bad guys in movies? We’re not all evil.

Diverse… For a small country, we have many accents.

7. Geographical ignorance

Again, I think this annoys me more than most Brits. I like to know about geography and I’m sure many of you are very knowledgeable too but a lot of Americans seem to think that London is the be all and end all of old Blighty. You don’t know the names of our counties but I can name all fifty of your states (I’ve done it many times). Maybe, we don’t like that you don’t reciprocate our appreciation of your country’s geography.  Then again, if I’m honest, I’d probably be as ignorant as many of you, if my country had the wonderfully varied landscape yours has. Just know this, at least. We don’t all live in London and whilst we’re on the subject, we’ve never met the Queen either.

Ignored… There are more places in the UK than London

8. Taking credit for others work

Americans and Brits have learnt to avoid certain topics of conversation over the years and at the top of that list are the events of World War II. A tip for all of you, never say to a Briton that you ‘saved our ass in World War II’ or that we’d ‘be speaking German now if it wasn’t for you’. We appreciate your help and over the years, we’ve been great allies to each other but Brits see these sorts of comments as a huge mark of disrespect to our armed forces. We also don’t really appreciate your tardiness in said events either but hey ho. Another thing that grinds our gears is when the American flag appears next to the ‘English’ option on a language selector – we would probably settle for the bisecting half-flags of the States and the UK but ignore our flag altogether and we are not amused.

Irritating… It was our language first

9. Your chocolate

I think you’ll agree with us – our chocolate is better than yours. In honesty, ours isn’t even that good but at least it’s not Hershey’s! I’m not being melodramatic here, I once tasted a Hershey’s kiss and it tasted like vomit. Chocolate stateside generally tastes burnt and bland, not velvety smooth and sweet like we’re used to over here. Many Brits were actually appalled when Kraft bought Cadbury’s a few years back, I was simply happy for you.

Vile… There’s a reason they’re shaped like turds.

10. Your spelling

No surprises here. We hate the way you spell words. Why do you hate the letter ‘U’ and why do you love Zs (Zeds) so much? If we’re honest, this is one of the few reasons we prefer Canada. Although, they’ve fallen victim to your movement for excessive usage of the alphabet’s 26th letter, they at least know how to spell ‘centre’ eh?

Different… Americans have mutated the English language.

11. Your interest in our dental hygiene

Our teeth are not that bad. Yes, some of us have some dental issues but we’re not that bothered. You seemed to be more concerned about the alignment of our gnashers than we are! We care more about bad breath. I’m not really sure where this stereotype started – I for one don’t know anyone with horrible teeth. Maybe you’ve been watching too much of the Jeremy Kyle show? In fact, speaking of trashy talk shows, we get the Jerry Springer show here, we know your teeth aren’t always perfect either!

False… I don’t mean the teeth

12. Your politeness

Okay, we don’t actually dislike this, it just baffles us. It genuinely confuses the average Briton when in the US, a stranger stops to say hello or help you take a picture or carry something. When Americans in restaurants or shops are polite and compliment us for being good customers, or if any American compliments us in general, we immediately think to scour your face for traces of sarcasm and when we find nothing, our brains nearly explode. Your politeness is so wonderfully genuine that our overly cynical mindset simply cannot cope.

Okay… Google thinks this is a picture of ‘friendly Americans’

That completes my list. I hope nobody was too offended and thus, I invite any American to do the same thing for us Britons – we love to put ourselves down.

A Not So Happy Ending

On May 3rd 2013, ABC took the decision to cancel critically acclaimed comedy Happy Endings,  just three seasons in to its life span. Despite efforts from several networks to revive the show – it remains dead.

Undervalued… Happy Endings has been wrongly terminated.

Gimmick… Alex ran out on her wedding in the show’s pilot episode.

Most people are probably unaware of what Happy Endings is all about. I’m sure many know it as an obscure featureless comedy that currently does the rounds on E4 on Tuesday nights but in reality, it rarely gets its due praise. The show focuses around a group of six thirty-somethings in a big American city – unthinkable, I know. But honestly, it’s not like Friends or How I Met Your Mother in any other respect. There is no laugh track, no producer manufacturing humour and subliminally telling you when you ought to giggle. Unlike other sitcoms, the relationships are already formed and the series kicks off with Alex running out on her wedding to boyfriend, Dave. Despite this, the group tries to keep together instead of splitting as two of its members break up. Typically, the characters explore all sorts of quirky ‘sitcomy’ scenarios with various combinations of the six main characters but unlike most sitcoms, that if we’re honest are watchable at best, Happy Endings is legitimately funny. The characters are all likeable, the stories engaging and the jokes all encompassing that you feel like they’re your’s and your friend’s very own private jokes.

Hilarious… (L-R) Penny, Brad and Jane are the stand-out characters.

You’re probably thinking if it was as good as I’m saying it is then it would still be in production and I suppose that may be true. Throughout its tenure, the series received resounding critical acclaim being called “one of the sharpest and warm-hearted comedies on the air” and “the most underrated, under-watched series on TV, that may also be the funniest”.  Initially, the show drew decent ratings stateside often exceeding seven million viewers during its first and second seasons. Then, Happy Endings became the unfortunate victim of schedule congestion and was moved to Friday nights, colloquially known as the ‘Friday night death slot’ among American TV buffs. The ratings plummeted as low as 1.73 million viewers by the series’ penultimate episode resulting in its cancellation. The hardcore cult following it had amassed was nearly enough to grant it a resurrection on a different network but alas, it failed to materialise.

Fortunately for you, the internet exists. I strongly recommend this TV show, which is a slow starter so give it four or five episodes before making a judgement. The characters from neurotic Jane and her quirky husband, Brad to naiive Penny and Alex, righteous Dave and stereotype busting slob, Max, offer something for everyone – especially Eliza Coupe, Casey Wilson and Damon Wayans Jr. who are masterful in their roles. Who knows? Maybe it will emulate Arrested Development and get a deserved redemption a few years down the line and we can see whether Brad, Jane, Alex, Max, Penny and Dave did get their happy endings.

Why I Love Modern Family

I usually find obsessive fans of anything quite irritating but I have to say that’s rather hypocritical of me. Especially when it comes to Modern Family. I know the show like the back of my hand and given the amount of time I spend watching it, that should be no surprise. After covering the characters, the best episodes, predictions for future seasons and a review of the show as a whole, I was at a loss as to what to write about Modern Family next. So I’ve settled on a shameless list of praise for my favourite TV programme of all-time.

So here are just some of the reasons why I adore it so much.

The Family

Loveable… Modern Family is the sort of programme that makes you wish their life was yours.

In truth, I’m quite a family-orientated person. I spend a lot of time with them and like the extended Pritchett clan, my family is big, loud and loving. My family aren’t quite as hilarious but in a general sense, they do remind me of my loved ones.

It’s actually funny

There have been plenty of comedies to have graced television in the past that have simply not been funny (Scrubs). A lot of sitcoms are simply nice to watch, they’re easy going and they make you snigger occasionally. Whereas, Modern Family is relentless. I often spiral in to fits of laughter watching the programme, even episodes I’ve seen before and not many comedies have made me do that.

The characters

The diversity is fantastic. They’re all very unique and offer different forms of comedy that against all odds, blends very well. I’ve already written about how much I love the characters and I’ve recently update my character ranking so you can view and VOTE on that here; https://thechriswhitingshow.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/modern-family-my-favourite-characters/

It’s very successful but not too popular…

Steamroll… Modern Family has accumulated an average of 4.5 Emmys per season

Sometimes things become a victim of their own hype – thankfully, Modern Family doesn’t. It achieves good ratings in the USA, around the 12 million mark and around 1 million in the UK. It has won a colossal 18 Emmy awards in 4 short years, already surpassing Friends and Seinfeld, leaving it just three behind Cheers. But it isn’t too popular, like the incredibly over-rated, Big Bang Theory. And thankfully, it’s modest fanbase makes it all the more loveable.

The kid stars

I tend to find kids quite awkward to watch in TV shows, because they’re younger they tend to lack awareness and obviously experience of how to behave on camera but you wouldn’t know that with Modern Family’s child stars. From the Pilot, they have performed at the highest level that can be expected. It’s extremely impressive in to just what talented actors Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould, Rico Rodriguez, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons and Sarah Hyland (yes, I know she’s not actually a kid) are. And it’s exciting to see where they’ll go from here.

It’s rewatchability

Biggest fan… Inaugural #MOFY of the week, Chris Whiting

Building on what I said earlier, not only is Modern Family, side-splittingly hilarious, it is seemingly ageless too. I’ve cycled through all four seasons on several occasions and even after the thirty seventh viewing, I’m still laughing at the jokes and even noticing a stolen glance or snide remark, I hadn’t noticed previously that makes me laugh even more. A timeless classic, without doubt.

They care about the fans

This summer, I was fortunate enough to be contacted by a producer at USA, the network where Modern Family is syndicated, to help promote the show before it airs every weeknight from September 24th. I was tracked down and chosen as an honorary #MOFY , to help build the #MOFYNation. I was even given the inaugural Modern Family fan of the week award and sent a limited edition t-shirt for free! What an honour!

My favourite things

This blog is completely pointless and narcissistic but I feel like I moan a lot in my posts so I thought I’d share the things I really like and give them a bit of praise.

TV Programmes

“Shut up, I win”… Modern Family is my all-time favourite TV programme

1. Modern Family
Okay, maybe I’ve praised this show enough but then again, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of gloating about just how good this programme is. Its brilliantly observed  social commentaries, combined with impeccable writing of various types of humour make it a refreshing change from the average US sitcom. It’s already a classic and easily my all-time favourite TV programme.

2. Friends
Given the fact, I’ve spent my entire life watching re-runs of this show on E4 and now Comedy Central, it would be unfair not to have this among my favourites. Unlike Modern Family, it is a typical US sitcom, it’s just a lot funnier than the others.

3. How I Met Your Mother
Funnily enough, I was sceptical of HIMYM when I first heard of it. I assumed it would be a less-funny ode to Friends. And in all honesty, Friends is funnier but HIMYM’s interesting spin on the plot of an average US sitcom and it’s brilliant gimmicks make it stand out from the rest.

4. Desperate Housewives
I don’t even know why I liked this programme so much. It’s just so interesting, a perfect blend of drama and comedy that’s oddly relatable to every day life. At times, it is completely over-the-top and unrealistic but that can be forgiven when you consider it at its best. If you only watch one season of this show, make sure it’s season one.

Films

The force is with Star Wars… my all-time favourite films

1. Star Wars saga
Being honest, I’m not a big film person. Obviously, there are loads of films that I like but few that really stand out. Other than White Chicks and the Lion King, I struggled to think of anything that could compete with this, so it stands alone. Regrettably, I haven’t seen many of cinema’s modern classics (something I intend on correcting every summer but never do). Anyway, Star Wars is the ultimate sci-fi saga. I spent a lot of my childhood being obsessed with this franchise, meaning I have something like 20 lightsabers stored underneath my bed. It really is a great film, and yes the original trilogy is far better. It still shocks me that some people have never seen these films… and I hate them for it.

Albums

“‘Cause this is Thriller. Thriller night!”

1. Thriller
This is simply put the best album ever made. Featuring so many of MJ’s classsics including Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, P.Y.T., Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, The Girl is Mine and Human Nature, you can see why it’s the biggest selling album of all-time and my favourite.

2. Aim & Ignite
Okay, Fun. burst on to the chart scene in Spring 2012, with their hit “We Are Young” taken from their second studio album, Some Nights. While, that album is superb and only just misses out on a spot in the top 5, Fun.’s lesser known predecessor is even better. It’s melodic from start to finish with brilliantly crafted songs and lyrics that really make you think. It’s a shame they didn’t get much recognition for this album too.

3. Fearless
I don’t really care about the stigma attached to picking a Taylor Swift album as one of your favourites. I have a quiet love for country music and she has a well-known talent for song writing. In all honesty, I could have selected either Speak Now or Red to join the top five too but this album is just about her best.

4. Songs About Jane
When you were young, every family had that one album that you played in the car non-stop, every journey. This was ours. It really is brilliant.

5. Rumours
Again, a worldwide recognised classic. My love for this album probably again stems back to my quiet love for country and guitar music. It features many of the bands classics and is hard not to like. Although, funnily enough when I first heard this album, I hated it.

It’s worth noting, these are also my five favourite artists. Honourable mention to S Club 7 for providing the soundtrack of my childhood and yes, I still have a cheeky  S Club party every now and then.

Holiday destinations

Bude-iful… My favourite holiday destination

1. Bude
Ideally, an average looking seaside town in Cornwall is not the place you want to go on holiday. It’s mostly for personal reasons that I’ve picked this as number-one. Nearly everyone has a holiday destination their family goes to often. Bude is that for my family.

2. Los Angeles
Most people say LA isn’t as good as it’s hyped up to be. But it really is, the climate, the people and the sights are all incredible. It’s a place you simply have to visit.

3. San Francisco
San Fran is a great city of diversity, it has such a varied nature to it, there are rural areas, coastal areas, Skegness-esque areas and big city areas. Accompanied by the climate which is great too, it’s a must visit. In fact, if it weren’t for the USA’s gun crime problem, the San Andreas fault and its proximity to Yellowstone, I’d move to California in a heartbeat.

4. Canary Islands
Particularly Gran Canaria and Tenerife, these islands are wonderful, just off the coast of Africa, it is always hot and just a great place to be.

Time for Change : America’s Gun Laws

In the wake of another firearm tragedy in the States, the contentious issue of American gun policy is being more keenly discussed than ever before. Begging the question, why something wasn’t done sooner.

Last Friday, twenty six people of which twenty were aged between six and seven years old, were gunned down by one Adam Lanza in

the sleepy town of Newtown, Connecticut. Unfortunately, events such as this are not uncommon in the United States with several mass shooting occurring across the pond with the last fifteen or so years, including a massacre in a movie theatre in Colorado earlier this year. So what more will it take for the American people to forfeit the second amendment in favour for a bit of sanity.

Many Americans will argue that the problem isn’t the widespread possession of firearms but the mental well-being of the perpetrators. The opposition want free mental health care in order to decrease the likelihood of this happening. Others will argue with the frequency of these shootings increasing in the past few years that residents require firearms in order to protect themselves. However, when similar shootings happened in the UK, the government cracked down on gun possession and fire arm homicide rate is 0.1 in 100,000 across England and Wales.

Culture

Some say tightening gun laws will have minimal effect on gun violence in the short-term because the weapons are already out there. However crack downs on illegal weapons and enforced psychological testing and licensing for gun owners is easy enough to introduce. Michael Moore argued on Twitter that murder is ingrained in American culture, deriving from the execution of the native Americans all the way to the invasion of Iraq.

While that may be true, it is wrong to adopt the mentality that because of this changes shouldn’t be made. Racism and homophobia are prime examples of social wrongs that are gradually being faded out and if action isn’t taken sooner rather than later then gun culture is an evil that will afflict the United States for generations to come.

The Stats

  • The United States are 12th in the world for firearm-related deaths.
  • Per capita, The USA’s homicide rate is 4 times higher than the United Kingdom and Australia, where there is significant gun control.
  • Americans own the most firearms per capita in the world.
  • 8,583 people were killed by firearms in the United States in 2011.
  • There are 89 firearms for every 100 Americans.
  • You are 36 times more likely to be killed by gun fire in the United States than the United Kingdom, again per capita.
  • Over 100,000 people were killed by firearms in the United States between 1998 and 2009. The equivalent of the population of Exeter.
  • 13 – Number of mass shootings in the USA during 2012.

Twenty children and six adults have been robbed of  a future, a chance for freedom. They’ve been robbed of the ‘American dream’ that the United States prides itself on being able to provide. The time is now for change. You can restrict the number of perpetrators through better mental health care but you can also restrict the tools they have access too. Anybody saying that guns aren’t the problem are kidding themselves. How many more innocent people have to die before the American people see sense?

Californian Dream (Part 4 : Dinner at Tiffany’s)

“They’re not my boogers!” – A grown woman assures me that she hasn’t been wiping boogies on the hand-rail.

To make a long story short. The journey from Los Angeles to San Diego was bloody annoying and filled with unnecessary traffic and questionable tasting Starbust. To make matters worse, we didn’t have the address of the Marriott we were supposed to be staying in. All we knew was that it was near the airport. We searched for hotels on our bitchy Sat Nav and selected the one closest to the airport or so we thought. What we actually did was drive to Terminal 2 of San Diego International airport hoping to find a hotel. Eventually, we found a Marriott near the hotel that was stunning, it was classy, had a pool and was a prime location from the city. It wasn’t ours. We had a reservation at a different Marriott the other side of the airport. Typical. However, our prior bad luck from that day had begun to change. The hotel was equally as grand and had a pool just like the other. It even had restaurants a stone throw away. That evening, we went to Oggies, which was essentially a bar. I had my reservations to be honest, I thought we’d be served shit food and have to listen to arrogant yanks spout about their American superiority as the Olympics blared in the background. But no, the food was delicious (I’d had yet another Chicken Caesar Salad, my 3rd of the holiday), the customers were fine too and our waitress, Ashley was just as helpful and lovely as the others.

American dream… Tucking in to a very large Maccies

The next day, kicked off with a bit of drama. Holly had declared that her charger was missing and that she had left it in LA. Her and my Dad went early to search for the charger in the car and were unable to find it. My sister went off in a strop in classic Holly fashion. I was then unable to find my boxers seeing as we all had to share suitcases. My Dad had arranged anything and if he found a thing out of place, he would hit the roof. Debbie went storming after them both so he could find my boxers and we could find Holly. It turned out her charger was in her suitcase the entire time, what a ridiculous human being she is. Anyway, we went down to the pool; I watched Bradley Wiggins claim gold for Team GB and went for some swimming races against my Dad. I won every time.  By that point we’d decided to head to the beach. The sandy shores of SD were far less crowded than LA. This could be due to the fact it only has a quarter of the population of the Big Orange. Although, I’d contend it was the flea-infested clumps of seaweed that put visitors off. As me and my sister made our way across the beach, a young boy accidentally flicked sand in our faces. We shrugged it off and carried on walking. To our surprise, the child’s mother had chased us down the beach, holding her son by the wrist before exclaiming “APOLOGISE TO THEM!”. The boy did so and we thanked her, although an apology was hardly necessary. If that had happened in England we probably would have been attacked by a Scummy Mummy claiming that we walked in front of her child’s sand. The rest of our beaching was uneventful; I read the rest of Alan Carr’s autobiography and invented a new game called Bounce Ball® with my Dad. Before we left the beachfront, we headed out for a late lunch… at McDonalds. I was excited to gorge myself in true American style and their fast food delights and it was just as incredible as I imagined. A large and I mean large packet of chips, a quarter pounder with cheese and a Dr. Pepper! I had always wanted to have a Dr. Pepper with my Maccies and I finally had! I now knew what they were talking about when they’d been mentioning the American Dream all these years.

Monkeying around… Orangutans at San Diego zoo

Our routine of early morning drama was continuing in San Diego, with just one day to go before we left my Dad had decided to inform me that I must endure two connecting flights home. Seeing as I hate flying I was rightfully pissed off, it even took  my Dad over 10 hours just to apologise for his poor record of informing people. I eventually got over it, at least I can now say I’ve been to Houston, Texas too. Afterwards, we slung our suitcases in the boot and hit San Diego Zoo. The zoo was brilliant; laid out expertly with a real jungle vibe. The wide array of wildlife was spectacular and the SkyFari and open-top buses provided a great views of the site. If I had two complaints and true to myself, I do. They separated the car park in to letter categories then assigned an animal that didn’t begin with said letter. H for Orangutan? Really? And of course, typically given the fact our camera had hosted many once in a lifetime pictures, my Dad went and lost it. Okay, so that’s not really the zoo’s fault but they still couldn’t fucking find it, could they?!

Scenic… Partial view of SD from the 23rd Floor

After a tiring day at the zoo, we drove to San Diego’s famous gas lamp quarter. My Dad had booked two hotels in SD and this one was even more lavish and grand as the other, 23 floors of pomp. The view from the 23rd floor was incredible, you could see a beautiful section of San Diego’s varied cityscape complete with Petco Park. We decided to arm our stomachs with some delicious strawberry frozen yoghurt and tour the gas lamp quarter and to be fair to it it was pleasant but I don’t see why it’s particularly famous, it’s certainly nothing special. For our final meal we ventured down the street to the Old Spaghetti Factory, a quaint Mexican restaurant. I’m kidding, it’s obviously an Italian. The food and decor were more than adequate but the real highlight was our waitress, Tiffany. She was like the love-child of Queen Latifah and Whoppi Goldberg complete with her own catchphrase – “Absolutely!”, followed by a wink. It might seem silly to judge her on her appearance and phrasing but she was very attentive, she was there to refill my glass with Coke before I even had a chance to ask for a top-up. She had even brought us complimentary coffees at the end of the meal. I was so taken to her I decided to tip $5 of my own money instead of just letting my Dad cover it. That night, I feel asleep reminiscing a fantastic holiday as the chirpy voices of NBC’s sports commentators put me to sleep. My American dream was over.

Random observations about the United States and Americans

  1. Toilet water is obscenely high

    America… The land of the weird and the home of the strange

  2. Taxi drivers are mental
  3. For the most part, people are incredibly polite and friendly
  4. Burritos (excluding Taco Bell’s) are delicious
  5. There are a lot of medicine adverts
  6. One Direction and Sofia Vergara are EVERYWHERE
  7. British music as a whole is very popular
  8. ‘Jay-walking’ or ‘crossing the road’ as it’s known in England is frowned upon
  9. Chat or magazine shows have a much quicker pace than in the UK
  10. Andrex is called Cottonelle
  11. Harry Potter is slowed down so Americans can understand it. Really.
  12. Petrol or gas is a third of the price
  13. There is a really cool John Cleese advert for DirectTV – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5VDfizYnxY
  14. TK Maxx is known in the States as TJ Maxx.

Californian Dream (Part 2: Journey South)

“If you want your birthday cake, you’ll have to do a birthday shake! WOOO!” – Enthusiastic staff goad a customer in to dancing

On Thursday morning, my Dad pulled up outside the hotel in a rented Lincoln. No, he wasn’t driving a shit English city or a founding father, it was actually just a normal car.  We forced our bulky cases in to the boot and off we went on our travels. The distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a colossal 381 miles, so an over night stop was necessary. My Dad and Debbie were keen to take the scenic drive, which basically meant enduring an added 2 hours on to our trip, which was made significantly more difficult by a snippy Sat Nav who rudely declared that her application did ‘not support British English’, the cyber bitch!

Anyway, we were on the road, with the shorter leg of 103 miles to Monterey to contend with. Initially, we sat back, enjoyed the scenery and eachother’s company. Quickly, we resorted to plugging in our iPods and relentlessly requesting service station stops. After about 45 minutes, we pulled up at Taco Bell,  a famous American fast food chain. I was quite excited to sample the States take on Mexican fast food. You can imagine my disappoint, when the Central American treat I was served tasted less like a spicy, flavoursome burrito and more like a mushy pile of minced beef that had been soaked in dishwater and wrapped in a bit of scrap paper. Although, the food was a let down, I was becoming very accustomed to the States generous policy of free refills wherever you went. Pepsi galore for the road ahead.

Poor show… My first and last Taco Bell

For the most part, the drive was full of inspiring scenery; scorched, yellow grass and poor towns. That was until we reached Santa Cruz, which is quite simply fantastic. A moderately-sized town with some stunning houses. Santa Cruz was a genuine delight to behold and although we only drove through it, it was rightly deemed the pinnacle of Central California. Monterey would simply not compare. In fact, Monterey was a bit of a shithole. My impressions of it were perhaps not helped by the fact we had endured a perilously dull journey only to be shacked up in a shitty Travelodge. Honestly, I didn’t care that we were staying in a motel in the middle of an American ghetto, I had needed a wee for an hour before we arrived and my bladder was pulsating more violently than an overly-loud stereo. We hastily dumped our luggage, eager to spend as little time in the hotel room as possible and we hit the town. We settled on eating at Bubba Gump’s, an American seafood chain, based on  the film, Forrest Gump. The staff were enthusiastic and all sang acapella for whoever’s birthday it was. The restaurant was so cheesy, there was even an obligatory Forrest Gump trivia quiz. Seriously. The food and atmosphere were both enjoyable and lifted our spirits before we returned to the Travelodge. Oh, on the way back we saw some motorbikes, a lot actually. They were thoroughly uninteresting. We all went straight to sleep bar me. I couldn’t get a wink as I was ambushed with an attack of acid reflux so I stayed up looking on proudly at NBC’s coverage of the Olympics’ opening ceremony until the early hours of the morning.

By 6am the next day, we had checked out and were ready to grab breakfast and head off. Fortunately, the second stint of our drive was much more scenic yet stressful. Dad had opted against popular opinion to pay a $10 entrance fee to access the 17-mile-drive through the neighbouring town of Carmel. The drive was beautiful albeit repetitive, I mean if you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all. It wasn’t as spectacular as my Dad was trying to make out, that came later and it certainly didn’t merit the 42 minutes of film that is now lodged in my camera thanks to Debbie.

The Big Sur… The mountain-top café

The scenery gradually became more and more breath-taking as we approached the Big Sur, famed for it’s vast rolling hills and proximity to the pacific ocean. The contrast of the two was formidable and prompted a stop at an opportunistically placed café nestled in the mountainside showing a stunningly picturesque view of both aspects. Accompanied by a hot chocolate and the surprise appearance of a hummingbird, this stop was the most relaxing moment of what had been a very testing trip. To be honest, the subsequent drive down to La La Land was bloody terrifying. I’m well aware that I’m a bit of a wuss but I’m fairly certain most people would be terrified of driving on a windy clifftop road entrenched in fog with your Dad turning away from the wheel to gawp at every boulder we passed. We then came across a group of elephant seals bathing in the sun on a sandy beach, we liberally stretched our schedule to make time to observe these magnificent beasts.

We made one last stop before we reached our final destination,  an In & Out Burger restaurant in Santa Barbara, the city where Michael Jackson took former residence. The burger was delicious; fresh, crisp and meaty. It was made even the more better due to the golden rays of the sun coating the lush palm trees of the American riviera. We then continued on our journey, we hit Malibu and suddenly we could smell the Hollywood air. The land of the rich and famous was dawning. We had arrived in Tinseltown.

Wildlife… Hummingbirds and Elephant Seals

Californian Dream (Part 1: The Golden Gate City)

“DWAYNE?! DWAYNE?!” – A confused waiter hollering a seemingly absent customer

After nearly 12 years of build-up, my sister and I were finally given the American experience we had been promised by our Dad every year since we were toddlers. It’s probably fair to say that California is a dream location for many when picking a summer holiday and that is true of my family. All four of us; myself, my sister Holly, my Dad and his girlfriend Debbie were anxious and excited to experience the famed Golden coast and it was certainly an interesting experience…

On the night of the 24th July, the day before our flight I accumulated a total of 0 hours sleep. I have an irrational fear of flying and I was definitely not savouring the daunting prospect of an 11 hour trip across the Atlantic ocean.  The customary airport formalities went off without a hitch and before I knew it, I was strapped against my will in a steel cage of death precariously hovering over a pool of hungry sharks. Fortunately, my initial terror subsided and was quickly replaced by uncontrollable boredom. There’s only so many crossword puzzles you can do before you start to evaluate the worth of your existence. However, I shouldn’t moan, I caught up on a bit of lost sleep and even enjoyed a couple of films on the journey.

We arrived in San Francisco, full of excitement. Dad had warned us that San Fran would be significantly cooler than our later stops in LA and San Diego but following the tumultuous rain we’d had back in England, a temperature of 22°c was nothing to complain about. We swiftly checked in at the Hilton and went off to absorb the delights of  the city’s Fisherman’s Wharf area, which can only be described as Skegness Deluxe. That may make it sound like a shithole, but the whole area had a charm about it that made it my favourite part of America’s fog city.

Otis…Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time.

The next morning, we awoke at 6am. Our bodies had seemingly failed to adjust to the eight hour time difference with old Blighty and by 8am we were out on the town. You’d think having been up so early we’d have been able to grab a swift breakfast and dive right in to the many sights and sounds San Fran had to offer. But no. In fact, we hadn’t decided on a café to grab breakfast in until 10am. Although our indecisiveness was initially frustrating, our choice to eat at Boudin was perhaps one of the best of our entire holiday. My Dad went up to order our breakfasts. An order of three traditional breakfasts and one granola and yoghurt. However, being the socially awkward person he is my Dad actually asked for three traditional breakfasts to be smothered in granola and yoghurt. The cashier, rightly confused sought the help of her manager and any misunderstanding was quickly rectified. My father then gave his name, Whiting which he politely spelled out for her so she could call our name when our order was ready for collection. I stood with my Dad to collect the food and Debbie and Holly went to wait for our coffees. About 10 minutes passed and our names still hadn’t been called. Others who had ordered after us had come and gone with their food whilst we were still waiting. At both counters a man named ‘Dwayne’ was being summoned loudly by the staff to collect his food and coffees. After about 5 minutes, it dawned on my Dad that ‘Dwayne’ was not coming and his order was in fact ours. The cashier had mistaken the name ‘Whiting’ as ‘Twaing’. As you can imagine, we were in genuine hysterics as we sat outside and loudly scoffed on our granola-free bacon and eggs.

With our bellies full of fried goods, we set off to view the heart and soul of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, which stood ominously in the fog-drenched distance. We set off on the obligatory six mile walk, stopping for snacks at a local supermarket on the way. The Golden Gate Bridge was magnificent. It was majestic and bustling with tourists. Perhaps, it didn’t live up to its hype but essentially it is just two red poles sticking out of the sea. We then caught a bus in the hope of viewing Golden Gate Park which was surprisingly a trek and a half from the city’s infamous bridge. Buses in America are weird. They’re crowded, dirty and full of questionable individuals. A bit like a mobile shanty town. Anyway, we were absolutely shot after such a long day on our feet and we ended up ambling for twenty minutes before succumbing to a sit down and a mouth-watering hot dog.

San Fran-tastic… The Golden Gate Bridge

In fact, food would become a focal point for the rest of our stay in Frisco. The weather was often overcast and cool and with a dauntingly tall city centre and no chance of visiting Alcatraz to look forward to, the morning croissants from Starbucks were quickly becoming a highlight. In fact, San Francisco boasted several brilliant eateries; The Fog City Diner, a classic American diner that did the classic British dish of fish & chips more than justice. Boudin, also got a second visit from us, this time so we could try Fisherman’s Wharf’s infamous clam chowder which was very tasty. A whole host of lovely restaurants are also homed on the vibrant Pier 39, which again had a classic seaside feel to it.

Fox City… Leicester scarf in San Francisco

Our last full day in San Fran arrived and we were anxious to explore the inner city areas; Market Street, China Town and all that jazz. We hopped on a cable car, and when I say hop, I mean stand wedged in a queue for an hour between a chirpy puppy and an obese racist in the Northern Californian drizzle. My Dad decided it would be an excellent idea to stand holding on to the side of the cars as we whizzed through the streets of Frisco. Initially, I wanted to just sit like a normal person but that would have robbed me the pleasure of spotting San Fran’s very own ‘Filbert Street’, which obviously brought a smile to my face. We arrived in the centre of the city and following some initial awe at the sheer size of it’s skyline, the rest of the day was a bit shit and involved a lot of walking back to the hotel. That night, we returned to Fisherman’s Wharf, and I fell further in love with the place due to the fact I saw a Leicester City scarf proudly draping from the ceiling of one of the shops. You can take the boy out of Leicester… the next day, we were on the move. It wouldn’t be as easy as going by foot or air. This time,  we were going by road…