I am such a sucker for animal videos - and these pandas are so, so cute. Nothing NOTHING makes me happier even for a few seconds a day than seeing adorable animals. Does that make me sad? I don't care.
It's always interesting to read how the British perceive American cultural rites...and it does take me back in time, I must say. Glad those days are behind me. I think.
Why fake ID is an American rite of passage
8 April 2013 By Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine, Washington DC
New York is pioneering "unforgeable" driving licences in a bid to clamp down on fake IDs. Will it succeed in a country where generations have relied on false documents to buy alcohol before reaching the legal age of 21?
It is Friday night in a busy Washington DC saloon when the barman meets the eye of 20-year-old Madison Jeffries and tells her: "I'll need to see some ID."
Madison - not her real name - doesn't so much as blink. Calmly, she reaches into her handbag and produces a Florida driving licence that declares she is 21 - old enough, that is, to buy alcohol legally.
The bartender looks carefully at the card. Down to the last detail, it is a well-crafted fake, indistinguishable to a layman from the genuine article.
When Madison's college term began in September, the political science undergraduate handed over $120 (£79) to a fellow student who, in turn, ordered a batch from a friend with a lucrative talent for forgery.
Satisfied, the barman hands back the bogus licence and takes Madison's order.
"It's never been questioned," she says later, sipping her sangria. "I used to have one that was even better, which said I was from Ohio, but I lost it. It fooled a cop in a liquor store once."
Each weekend, this scene is repeated across the United States. This is a country where binge drinking is widely regarded as synonymous with college life, yet the minimum age for purchasing alcohol is 21 - higher than virtually anywhere else in the developed world.
In an attempt to crack down on the practice, New York state has unveiled new driving licences engraved with a "ghost image" that floats in a transparent window and, officials proclaim, is virtually impossible to tamper with or forge.
Similar cards have been issued in Virginia since 2009, and if they prove a success the other 48 states could follow suit. Given that it is virtually impossible to purchase alcohol in the US without being asked for ID, this would make it much harder to convince bar staff or grocery store staff that an under-age purchaser is over 21.
But the sheer prevalence of bogus identity cards like that carried by Madison suggests that efforts to circumvent the authorities' latest tactics are inevitable.
All the evidence suggests that acquiring phony identification is commonplace among huge swaths of otherwise law-abiding young American adults - especially those who have left home for the first time to study at university.
"Possession of fake ID among college students is endemic," says Steven M Jacoby, a Maryland lawyer who each year defends 50 to 80 undergraduates charged with possessing forged identity cards.
Though the law frowns upon using bogus government documents - perpetrators typically risk up to six months in jail, depending on which state they live in - acquiring a fake ID is widely seen as a normal part of growing up.
In the 2007 coming-of-age comedy Superbad, a pivotal scene features the blatantly under-age Fogell, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, attempting to buy copious amounts of liquor with a phony Hawaii driving licence that gives his name, improbably, as McLovin.
The ordeal is depicted as trial on the path to adulthood - reflecting the US society's contradictory attitudes to under-age drinking.
"Maybe Americans like the illicit part of it - they see that as a rite of passage," says Julia Martinez, professor of psychology at Colgate University, who led the Missouri research.
The law has ensnared a number of high-profile under-age drinkers.
In 2012 Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, was found with false identity documents when she was caught drinking at the age of 20 in New York. Jenna Bush was caught attempting to use fake ID to buy alcohol while under age in 2001, while her father was president. Both received community sentences.
As in the prohibition era, the ban has created a huge, and potentially lucrative, black market.
"Every September and January at the start of term, on every campus you will have a couple of guys from another school come down and set up shop in someone's room with laptop and a laminating machine," says Jacoby.
"They do 100, 200 in a week, and they can be very sophisticated."
Websites - many of them operated abroad - selling "novelty" fake US driving licences proliferate on the internet.
All this creates a market for items which can prove very useful to organised criminals and terrorists. The 9/11 hijackers used fraudulently obtained identity documents to buy airline tickets and sign up to flight schools.
As a result, Jacoby says, authorities go after those producing fake IDs "like the hounds of hell" and anyone caught manufacturing them can expect to go to prison. In Texas, the maximum sentence is 20 years.
While those caught simply using a phony document to buy alcohol typically escape with a community punishment in Maryland, Jacoby says, it will remain on their record for three years - with potentially serious consequences when they apply for graduate jobs.
Hence the popularity of college fraternities and sororities, where older students often purchase alcohol in bulk for parties and share it with younger members of the society.
Critics warn of the danger of so many young people having their formative experiences of alcohol without the supervision of bar staff and bouncers. Madison says part of the reason she bought her fake ID is that she feels safer drinking in public, in the presence of older adults.
"I don't want to spend the night worrying about whether some frat boy has poured cough syrup in my drink," she says.
However, supporters of the current age limit cite a 2006 study that found those who started drinking as teenagers were five times more likely to abuse alcohol than those who waited until they were 21.
"The age limit will never hold some people back, but I think tightening up the law on fake ID will deter those who are on the fence," says Martinez. "For them, I think it's a worthwhile policy."
Others, like Madison, will continue to run the risk of a criminal record as a kind of initiation ritual into American adulthood.
"I can't wait until my birthday this year," she sighs, and finishes her drink.
Peter occasionally takes pen to paper and writes short stories. He wrote this one in about ten minutes for the daugher of a friend of ours and I think it's really sweet...
The Story of the Useful Pea
In the old Red Shop, on the High St, across from the
Bank and next to the Police Station, Mr Carter had everything. He has pots,
pans and spades. Tools, toys and trophies. Hats, coats and shoes. Pumps,
spanners and hammers. Drums, flutes and trumpets.
Everything had to be useful and that was the rule of
the shop – only useful things could or would be sold by Mr Carter.
Mr Carter sold stuff and bought stuff. He had people
come in to the shop and ask if he had something; if he wanted to buy something
and sometimes if he wanted to swap something. He did all of those things.
One day, about half past three on a Thursday, a tiny
little man came in to the Red Shop with a screwed up brown paper bag and asked
to see the owner. Mr Carter was the only person there and he said he was the
The Little Man asked “Do you buy things”?
“Oh yes” said Mr Carter, “but only useful things”
“Good” said the Little Man “for I have no money, no
food and need to sell my last dried pea”.
“A pea?” asked Mr Carter “A pea is not useful sir. I
cannot buy that I am afraid”.
“What?” asked the Little Man, shocked “a pea is very
useful. I had a large bag once and I ate them, played games with them and even
put them in shoes for a joke. This is my last pea my best pea. I will sell this
you to put here in this wonderful shop.”
Mr Carter was curious and a kind man. “Sir, may I see
this pea please”? he asked.
And the Little Man opened the bag and pulled a large
(for a pea) rather brown and wrinkled sad pea. This he handed to Mr Carter,
with a proud grin on his small face.
“My” said Mr Carter, turning the pea around in his
finger and thumb “this is indeed a pea -
a fine dried pea”. And he placed it down onto the polished wooden counter of
the shop, beside a shiny copper kettle and the grand golden cash register.
“Well sir, how much would you want for this wonderful
dried pea” asked Mr Carter.
“Ten pounds, and the pea is yours. It is worth at
least double that”. Said the Little Man firmly.
“Gosh, that is a lot for one pea” said Mr Carter
“Ah, but” said the Little Man “this pea is useful. It
will save someone’s life one day and it will be well worth having, trust me”.
Mr Carter was very unsure of this statement but did
not want to see the Little Man hungry so he said “Sir I cannot pay that much
but I will give you £5 and also ask the manager of the café along the street to
make you a free breakfast. That really is my best offer”.
The Little Man, stroked his chin, stepped back from
the counter and studied the pea, still resting grandly on the counter. “I
agree” he said, quickly, as if this was a very big decision “but you must
promise that is you see a person in need of help or in distress, you will give
them this wonderful pea, without doubt or hesitation”.
Mr Carter could not think how this might happen, but
he smiled and reached over to his big Cash Machine, and pulled out a £5 note,
which he passed to the Little Man and said ”Sir, I will”.
Both men smiled, shook hands and they went over to the
cafe. Soon, Mr Carter picked up the pea, looked at it again, shook his head and
then reached up to a shelf to his left, removed a small pink box and placed the
pea inside, putting the box and pea back on to a different shelf behind him.
Many weeks later, with many useful things bought and
sold, it was summer and the shop door was open to try and catch some cool
Mr Carter was reading a book when in rushed a
Policeman looking very worried and concerned.
“Mr Carter, you must help me. I am in massive trouble”. He said, coming
up to the counter. Mr Carter put down his book and the Policeman reached into
his top pocket of his uniform. “I have an emergency call from the bank, I need
to call for help and my whistle is broken. Look”. He showed Mr Carter the whistle
and it was clear that problem was that the pea had fallen out – it would not
Mr Carter smiled, looked up at the pink box behind him
and got it down. He placed the box on the counter next to the broken whistle.
The Policeman was looking out the door at the bank, even more worried and then
Mr Carter reached into the box, pulled out the pea and placed it into the
whistle, and handed that back to the Policeman.
He took the whistle, shook it and heard the rattle of
the pea, nodded his thanks to Mr Carter and said “how much do I pay you”?
“Nothing” said Mr Carter. The Policeman ran out, over to the bank, blowing his
loud whistle hard.
Well, thought Mr Carter, that really was a useful pea
after all – how right the Little Man was!
Have you ever played with a toy like this? These 'executive stress busters', or so they're called, really crack me up. What is the point, I ask you, of mini-Zen gardens, chimes, or metal balls you are supposed to roll around in your hand? I've never been a fan, as you can imagine, of things that do nothing but collect dust.
But I thought I'd give it a try. I received a gift of this Magic Magnetic Puzzle Cube recently, which claims to be a 'puzzle with no solution'. Alas, it is that... it's one of these things that is supposed to stoke your creativity, absorb you completely and thrill you with the sheer joy of maniuplating little pellets. This presumes, however, that one has a creative bone in their body. I do not.
I pulled the cube out of it's cute packaging and sure enough, it felt strange and strangely compelling. These little buggers stick together pretty strongly. But pretty quickly I run into the inevitable brick wall: what should I try to sculpt? What do I actually do with it? I spend a few minutes pulling it, pushing it, twisting and turning the pile only to lose steam pretty quickly. It's cute though, and a good stocking stuffer for the stressed out puzzle lovers in your life.
My husband sometimes works from home, and my favorite thing is when he snaps pics of my kitties in funny poses to send to me wherever I might be. This is one he sent through on Friday that just had me rolling on the floor. I understand this may be a photo only a mother (and wife) could love, but it's worth sharing nonetheless.
The scene: Tate Modern on the Southbank on a rainy day
The question: Why do parents feel compelled to come to a museum with little kids in tow? Really - why?
I was trying my hardest to enjoy a day of culture at the Tate Modern, one of the coolest museums in London, when all around me were prams pushed by paents, and little kids running amok. Instead of letting my rage get the better of me, I indulged in a thought exercise to try to figure this vexing problem out.
Potential answer #1: Kids like art, and we want to make sure little Buffy gets her intellectual curiousity stoked at an early age.
Why this is utterly ridiculous: Seriously? The kid in the pram doesn't know anything other than when it is going to cry again, and the kid running around like a nutter isn't getting anything stoked but his need for speed. Try harder.
Potential answer #2: Desperate parents want to get out of the house and be around civilized people at least once a day.
Why this is utterly ridiculous: Surely there are other places to go, like a coffee shop or a park or even a Chuck E Cheese or something, where you can get some fresh air without worrying that the little ones are going to put their adorable little fists through a Mondrian?
Potential answer #3: It was raining, I grabbed the kids and ran for the nearest free shelter I could find.
Why this is utterly ridiculous: Actually, this one isn't so ridiculous. I can buy this - it sounds reasonable enough - but now that you are dry, get your pram, call a taxi, and leave me in cultural peace.
We have crawled along the finish line,
5:15 am, very grateful that we have a home to return to (via taxi of course) and our own bed to collapse in. Kudos to organisations like The Big Issue that do all they can to help the homeless.