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The Golden Door

Letters to America

A.A. Gill

People used to worry about the 'brain drain' of the smartest to America. Britain ceasing to be the brilliant and innovative nation that had produced the Morris Minor and the hovercraft. You may not know how revered was Sir Christopher Cockerell was, and you may not realize what a noisy and unstable waste of effort the hovercraft was, but we were very proud of it.

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Potatoes were a blessing and then a curse for Ireland, as they were for the peasants of Europe. It is a miserable irony that the potato came from America and sent these people back to Ireland as desperate economic refugees. A quarter of the population died of starvation or emigrated.

When Europeans visit an American supermarket they are stunned at the huge volume of food on display. Americans see it as the reward from the promise of their country. Europeans see it as sinful, mocking all the rationing and sacrifices that are still remembered.

The early settlers brought diseases. European life was unsanitary and sickly, but if you were tough enough to get through the first five years you were probably immune to everything.

And the original inhabitants lived precarious existence, simply because they had no domestic animals to pull a cart or plough. And their soil suffered because no manure to replenish it.

There is a whole raft of assumptions that the liberals make about gun owners: they will be racist, treat women badly, their children will be named after Disney characters spelt by illiterate Eskimos, consider football more important than interior decoration, drive a pickup with angry bumper stickers, and have a flag larger than a double bed flying outside their house (or trailer). Their religion will hate homosexuals, Muslims and science.

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From Lincoln's second inaugural address: "Both parties deprecated war. But one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let the nation perish."

The arguments for resisting American usages and pronunciations are as vain and stupid as they are in vain. New World English is spoken by more people than Old World English, and it's more energetic and creative. It's not 'respectful' of language, because languages don't need 'respect'.

The electric chair is the one piece of American culture that didn't travel.

There is a theory that bravery and risk-taking are forms of madness, and only 1 in a 100,000 is born without the self-preservation gene. But we need those people, because they are the innovators and the explorers. They are also, more often than not, the prematurely posthumous. And America has the space for them. Europe is crowded and hierachical; the tall nail gets hammered down. So America has produced some truly eye-bulging and belief-suspending promises for salvation. It is difficult to imagine that the golden plates engraved with the Book of Mormon could have been found anywhere but in the New World, or that L. Ron Hubbard would have found a congregation for Scientology.

The first (skyscraper) lift shaft was built 4 years before the first lift. In 1852 Peter Cooper constructed the Cooper Union building in NY with an elevator shaft, certain that the lift would eventually come, which it did, in 1856 with Elisha Otis. (Cooper imagined that lifts would be oval. They turned out to be square, but Otis obliging built him a bespoke oval one out of gratitude for the faith he had shown.

Chuck-a-rama is probably the worst name possible for a restaurant. An example of the peculiarly American habit of coming up with dreadful names for new things: Friskies, Cheezits, Chips Ahoy, Koolaid, Wonderbread and Twinkies.

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The Burj Khalifa in Dubai opened at about the same time as a 13 yo climbed Mt Everest. The effort for highest has been devalued to chump change.

How can 'scientists' now claim that the G-spot doesn't exist? How can you lose a bit of vagina? It's like being told Belgium doesn't exist, only sadder.

(Discussing the Scopes trial) "William Jennings Bryan went into politics on behalf of the great Square states, and their conservative agrarian population. All his life he was for the country and against the urban. He saw cities as places of sin and simony ... conurbations which turned the honest hard work of the farmer into lust and debt. Anything that was good and honest and decent about America grew out of the earth, and was husbanded by those who guided a plough or herded a flock."

At the end of the trial Darrow made a famous speech which finishes "Ignorance and fanaticism is ever-busy and needs feeding. After a while it is the setting of man against man, and creed against creed, until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted faggots to burn the men who dared to bring nay intelligence and enlightenment to the human mind."

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Hollywood has convinced Americans, and now half the world, that everybody should have a Dream. And a Dream informed by the movies - lives set to music and are coherent, with one scene flowing to another. On screen, dreams come true, not as astonishing exceptions, but as a rule and a right. he Dreams also have rules, commandments: 'Thou shalt not doubt your Dream' You must work for your Dream'. But if you don't achieve your Dream, it's not the Dream's fault. Terms and conditions apply.

New York is another country. There are celebrities in NY that no-one in New Jersey has heard of. It is interested and influenced by itself. It is basically not American, it's another country.

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