10 observations from the middle of nowhere

1) Just when you think that BAA cannot possibly get any worse, they make an absolute pig's ear of managing difficult weather conditions over the holiday weekend. Flying out of the major London airports is rapidly becoming as pleasant as a root canal. Expect the UK government to force BAA/Ferrovial to sell either Gatwick or Heathrow.

Macro Man is spending his holidays in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as an extremely rural location in that forgotten area known as the middle half of the Unites States. The following things have struck him so far:

2) Someone forgot to tell the locals about the housing market collapse. There appear to be new houses popping up everywhere, yet Macro Man has yet to see a 'for sale' sign on an existing home. Upon making discreet enquiries as to the state of the local market (again, extremely rural, but an hour's drive from a major metropolitain area), he was told that it was 'neither booming nor in recession'- in other words, what a lot of the broad house price indices are showing for the US as a whole.

3) Macro Man will take the 'under' for US December retail sales. He and Mrs. Macro did the shopping for the kids in a Toys R Us a few days before Christmas, and actually had a pleasant experience. Crowds were minimal and they barely had to queue at the check-out.

4) Cable, of which Macro Man is long, is painfully overvalued. Macro Man was chagrined to see an item that he bought in the UK for GBP449 on sale in the US for $499. The dollar sell-off appears to be running out of steam, and this comparison really underscores the degree to which sterling is overvalued. Macro Man will look to sell out his long GBP/USD position at 1.9750.

5) Who says Americans don't have a sense of humour? Observed on a billboard in front of the local liquor store: NEW ITEM FOR THE HOLIDAYS: IN-LAW TOLERATOR. They appeared to be doing a roaring trade.

6) If you were in doubt as to whether the rise in energy prices has had an impact, consider the sign in front of a local petrol station: GIVE THE GIFT OF GAS! ASK ABOUT OUR GIFT CARDS. When gasoline is given as a gift, you know it has become a precious commodity.

One of the Macro clan had to make an unexpected visit to the local doctor to treat the flare-up of a chronic condition. This afforded Macro Man an opportunity to compare and contrast the US health care system with that of the UK.

7) Before you can even make an appointment, a US doctor wants to know your insurance details so he can get paid. Whatever happend to the Hippocratic oath? Moreover, the fact that one still has to fill in details with a clipboard and pen suggests that the productivity miracle has yet to reach the medical profession.

8) That having been said, the price was not unreasonable. The doctor was picked out of the phone book, so it was truly a random sample. The cost for the consultation was $65, a price that Macro Man willingly paid. He suspects that if a similar charge was levied for visits to the NHS in the UK, the service would improve dramatically.

9) Waiting for a doctor in the US is just as miserable as waiting for a doctor in the UK, but the reading material is better.

10) What was really quite interesting is that the doctor in the US, despite being picked out of a phone book and knowing that the Macros were but temporary visitors in this location, seemed more interested in treating the root source of the chronic malady than the doctor in the UK. The consultation with the doctor lasted substantially longer than in the UK, and the diagnosis was one that the Macros had not previously received from their UK NHS doctor. (The condition has not been sufficiently serious to merit consultation with a specialist.) Much to Macro Man's surprise, the doctor provided a week's worth of free drugs to treat his family member's condition. Macro Man was left with the impression that for those that can pay, the American system provides a substantially superior level of care to the UK. Not altogether unsurprising, in the end.
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