Saturday, March 03, 2007

Musings on life outside the United States...

I've been extremely fortunate, in that the career I've chosen has enabled me to travel broadly. I've been all over Europe, over much of Asia, Latin America, and most of the lower forty-eight states.

I'm increasingly struck by the extent to which we Americans have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. By that, I mean we know very little about the rest of the world, very little about what's going on in the rest of the world, and the saddest part of all, we don't really seem to want to know about anything east of the Atlantic, or west of the Pacific, and even those things which happen north or south of the border are viewed through a very xenophobic lens.

As I write, I'm sitting in my hotel room in the UK, Berkshire, about 40 miles west of London. On television, I'm watching CNN. Yes, CNN. I've found that it's available in most of the countries to which I've traveled, but, apart from the logo in the upper left corner of the screen, most Americans who've never traveled outside the US might not recognize it. Right now, World News is on...and they're covering, truly, stories from around the world... A sampling:
  • Tornadoes in Alabama
  • Bus crash in Atlanta
  • Incest case in Germany
  • Anna Nicole Smith's funeral
  • The trend of young Indians, educated abroad, returning to India
  • Riots in Copenhagen
  • Six Sunnis assasinated in Iraq
  • Iran's president visiting Saudi Arabia ahead of a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan
  • UK sending a team to Ethiopia to find missing tourists
  • World weather (North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia)
  • Roger Federer wins in Dubai
  • Scandal at Walter Reed
  • etc...

Some of the regular programs which appear on CNN:

  • Inside Africa
  • Inside the Middle East
  • Inside Asia
  • World Sport (which truly covers the world...feature story today on the debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Boston Red Sox, and the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas, the Qatar Total Open, among others)
  • etc.

So, who cares? Well, we should...this is CNN, not the BBC, not Al Jazeera. It's an American network, headquartered in Atlanta, and yet the CNN programming I can watch in the US represents only a small subset of the outstanding, worldwide programming that is being produced by them. Why don't they show this stuff at home? Likely, because there's no demand for it by Americans. I realize that this is a sweeping generalization, but in my experience, people outside the US are much more knowlegeable about world events, including those happening in the US, than we are, and in some cases, they seem to understand more about what's happening inside the US than we do...

I've just finished reading Bushwhacked by the late Molly Ivins, and her co-author, Lou Dubose. Ms. Ivins, for those not familiar with her, was a down home, Texas journalist who had a particular knack for political commentary. She was, to be certain, a liberal, a populist, and a Democrat. In Bushwhacked, published in 2003, Ivins and Dubose chronicle the misadventures of GeeDubya and his administration. It is an account of a tenure that I am confident will be viewed by history as the single most incompetent, destructive (of civil liberties, human rights, the US Constitution, the separation of church and state, some sense of balance between the social strata in the US ... I could go on and on), and downright criminal administrations in the history of the United States. Period. I'm fairly well-read, and yet I learned things in this book that I was completely unaware of, things which the US press has simply not covered...

There's a saying in the US (I think it's just the US) that we get the leadership we deserve...we'd best wake up, and soon. We are no longer viewed in the world as a benevolent superpower, or for that matter, a superpower at all...I fear for the world my children are growing up in...

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