Life in USA

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Life in USA

Americans have mastered, like no other nation, the techniques of living in a vast country.

Life in USA

Their road system - over 6 million km (3.8 million miles) of turnpikes and freeways (highways with and without tollgates), rural and urban roads - carries about 160 million vehicles and is America's prime mover both of freight and of passengers making shortish journeys - to work, to the next town, to the drive-in bank or movie theatre, or to the supermarket with its huge car park and loading bays.

There is an excellent and cheap nationwide bus service, but it tends to be used mostly by students, the poor and by foreign tourists who want to get close to the country. Americans, businessmen especially, making long journeys tend to use the internal airline networks which link not only cities but quite small towns.

Railways are not what they were in the prewar heyday of such famous transcontinental trains as the Super Chief, the California Zephyr and the Royal Palm, Few people nowadays travel long-distance by rail, though many, especially around Chicago and New York, use commuter services to get them to work. Nevertheless, in the last few years, there have been serious stirrings on the part of the railway companies to recapture the nation's interest with Sunshine Specials and excursion trains with glass-domed observation cars to such picturesque regions as the Rockies.

Due to the immense distances involved and the amount of 'junk' mail carried, the postal service is poor, so Americans in a hurry make use of the overnight and express delivery services operated by such private companies as Flying Tigers. They also make great use of the telephone; according to the statistics, there is almost one telephone for every man, woman and child in the country.

Distance too is the reason why there are so few national newspapers, though of course there are many local ones of national and even international repute. Many Americans will take the New York Times wherever they live, and the Wall Street Journal is required reading for all businessmen. Racy tabloids like the National Inquirer and Star are on sale in every supermarket, as is the first true national daily, USA Today, which is printed in colour in regional centres from electronically circulated copy. Also stacked in the supermarket racks is a staggering array of magazines covering a multitude of interests.

Television is the true dispenser of news -about six hours of it a day, local, national and international. Almost all of America's 83 million homes have at least one TV set, and almost all programs are financed by advertising, except on 'educational' channels, which have no advertising and are paid for by public subscription and government grants. As well as this Public Broadcasting Service, there are three main national networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - and more than 700 local stations. Then there are some 5000 cable networks serving about 36 million subscribers, so that a city dweller may have dozens of different channels to choose from. He can pick channels that play nothing but serious music, or jazz, or sport, or old Westerns, or news or any other subject he chooses, including religion -a diversity repeated on AM and FM radio. In the nation that contains Hollywood and Broadway, entertainment is big business, but it is also capable of immense variety -from banal soap operas to the best of serious and popular drama - making the USA one of the world's greatest cultural exporters.

The religion-only channels are not surprising in a country where, according to the latest figures (1983), 139 603 059 people - 59.6 per cent of the population - are church members. Yet there is no official religion in the United States, This is not a matter of omission, but of deliberate policy, as laid down in the First Amendment to the Constitution: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...' It is an edict that is firmly upheld. In 1984, a federal judge ruled that town officials of Birmingham, MICHIGAN, were acting unconstitutionally in displaying a Nativity scene on a public site at Christmas (though this was later overruled), and in the same year the Supreme Court ordered that an Alabama law permitting teachers to lead prayers in public schools should be abolished.

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