Skip to main content
Steve Chisnell

ChizBlog

Go Search
Home
ROHS Main Site
AP English Lit
Expectations
Submitting Papers
Presentations
Books
Art & Music
Travels
Green
ChizBlog
Contact Me
  

Chiz Web > ChizBlog > Categories
Opportunity and Anxiety

As I write this, Hosni Mubarak's resignation video plays on YouTube. It's a surreal idea, imagining somehow that I can recline on my sofa with a laptop and witness an historic moment of regime change from a major US ally. And since I am watching it virtually as a "live" event, I can convince myself that I understand it. Later on, I might Tweet it or create a pithy Facebook status about it.

It is in the nature of such news, I suppose, that it offers us the impression (never the reality) of knowledge. I watch the protests, hear the pundits, read about the Obama administration's responses, and weigh out what I end up believing. The more direct my video experience, the more the rhetorical suasion of the medium convinces me that I comprehend, 24/7, the story. But it is impression, illusion, like the vision of the philosopher who falls into the well while contemplating the stars, or like the hapless mall pedestrian who falls into the fountain while texting.

By this I do not mean to undermine the enormous strength and will of the Egyptian people to non-violently resist and insist upon democratic reform in a country ruled by a 30-year dictator who was largely supported by the international community. I mean only that the stories around them and their sequels are not fully read.

CNN and others have reported about Obama's conundrum these past weeks. Does he support the people and their obvious calls for democracy or does he continue his support of a major US ally, even knowing that such support is hypocritical, that at several levels, Mubarak ran a corrupt government which denied the rights of his citizens? And if the US did not side with Mubarak, what about other friends of the United States who have similar records? There are many, and even now, we see protests resembling those in Egypt appearing across parts of the Middle East: Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the Gaza Strip. Iran's Khameini and others have called it a "Muslim awakening" similar to its own 1979 revolution (even while it shuts down internet access to prevent protests as home).

I don't agree with Khameini's analysis (I write as if I understand it, of course), but at least in one sense I have anxieties for Egypt's opportunities. Regime change is never simple, never predictable, and we rarely get what we wish for. While Americans celebrate the resignation of Mubarak, we would do well to hold our collective breath for a minute, a tactic followed by the White House, it seems, as it responds slowly and cautiously. And while we're waiting, a few quick historical reminders of populist regime changes:

  • In Iraq in 1968, US support of the Baath Party coup brought Saddam Hussein to power.
  • The US support of Afghan resistance in the 1980s also was training Al Qaeda.
  • Democratic movements in India against British rule also spawned the division of India and Pakistan and 60 years of struggle and war between them.
  • The Bolshevik revolution against czarist Russia birthed the Soviet Union.
  • The popular Chinese Revolution brought to power Mao Tse-Tung.
  • The Cuban Revolution supported by the US brought Fidel Castro to power.
  • The 1979 Iranian Revolution overthrows the Shah and brings to power the Ayatollah Khomeini.
  • A strong popular Islamic movement in Afghanistan in 1996 brought the Taliban to power.

Now, I know that for every example like these there are dozens of successful movements. And I also know that international political scholarship points to MSS and MDS frameworks to draw contrasts to Egypt as much as parallels. I also know there are many—assuredly small—extreme Muslim groups in Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood, for instance) and elsewhere (Hamas, Wahhabists, Salafiyyists) that are strategizing about their growth in light of these transitions.

I am also cautious about the sustainability of the Egyptian populist movement, not that it is ineffective but that it might have been too effective, accomplishing its goal in a mere 18 days, not enough time to build plausible or credible voices for new reformed leadership. India had its Gandhi, South Africa had its Mandela, and Myanmar has Aung San Suu Kyi. Who is the polarizing voice behind the Egyptian reform? Only more time will tell. For now, Egypt is in the hands of the military and Mubarak's colleague and former vice-president Suleiman—not a reform at all, just yet, but a holding pattern.

Liberals in the US are fond of pointing accusatory fingers (and justifiably so) at the rulers of Saudi Arabia, for instance, and calling upon the US to renounce its affiliations or to force reforms. Maybe we should. But whatever we do in our zeal to support democracies in absolute terms, let's be cautious. Egypt's work is hardly over; it has barely opened the door to change, and the months and years before it may be as precarious as those of Iraq or Afghanistan, Nepal or Haiti. It may never devolve into a Somalia, but we must not expect the story to be over now, even though MSNBC and FOX will lose interest only days after CNN does.

I won't be posting any congratulations just yet.

In the Spirit of a Holiday

Far be it for me to recommend holiday gifts, especially after that magna-glut of materialism, Black Friday. But now that America has its collective fix of self-indulgence and pseudo-savings (how many of us set a budget before we left home that day?), it may be that we wish to appease our guilty consciences.

A plethora of socially-conscious choices are before us. And, who knows? If you try one or more of my suggestions, maybe the idea will spread. So, in the name of making the American dollar go as far as it possibly can, I offer a few options that some of you may not know about.

Microloans

Truly these are the strongest kind of charitable support one can offer: your dollar supports someone in need, and then it is paid back to be used again. Each cycle of repayment, your gift recipient is again encouraged to reinvest, drawing him or her into a habit of support, even without giving another penny.

  1. Kiva.org – Kiva has now become the most powerful individual microloan program out there, allowing individuals to sponsor new and established entrepreneurs to become stronger and more self-sufficient. Kiva sponsorships can literally change lives by growing economies. Our Interact club now has over $1200 invested in Kiva, adding a little more each year.

    Gift Option: It's not too late! You can give Kiva gift cards this holiday in $25 increments. Gift cards can be mailed, emailed, or printed for the recipient.

  2. Vittana.org – Vittana, like Kiva, makes microloans, but here does it by paying for the educations of students in the developing world, increasing their earning potential for the rest of their lives. Again, $25 is all you need to start a loan (and that actually pays for a great deal!). I'm currently supporting a Vietnamese woman who is studying to be a teacher. $500 once will help her earn over $2500/year, and then I can reloan the same amount again.

    Gift Option: Vittana is harder for gifting, but you can create a community/family account and give as/for a family.

Donations

Thousands of charities ask for donations to local and international causes. How do we know our money is going where it needs to? And how is my dollar best spent? Working with the assumption that the best donation is one which impacts a local community over the long term, here are a few which work most powerfully.

  1. Women for Women International – Women for Women specializes in helping women recover from the effects of war. Study after study reveals that women suffer disproportionately more from conflict and are most instrumental in re-establishing stable families and communities. Here's an organization which offers numerous ways to help, including full sponsorships, special training and education, or special gifts for as little as $10.

    Gift Option: Physical gift cards or e-cards both possible! Be careful with sponsorship, though, as it is a perpetual cost of about $350 each year.

  2. Heifer International – Heifer gives the gift of animals to families who need them to become self-sustaining, ending hunger and poverty. Various animals can be gifted to families from as little as $20 to as much as $5000 ("The Ark," two of every animal in the catalog). There are also community projects which can be funded and followed. This is a program which continues to grow in its reach and success.

    Gift Option: Physical gift cards, e-cards, and printable cards are available.

  3. Oxfam America Unwrapped – Oxfam American helps in dozens of ways to end hunger, locally and abroad. It's new "Unwrapped" project makes gifting easier. Oxfam gifts are generally more expensive than the above programs, probably because of the extent and variety of its projects. However, it has done a great job of social networking its projects, as well—spreading the word, creating wish lists and gift registries, and helping you select the right gift for each on your list.

    Gift Option: Gifts start under $25 and are available with printed or e-cards.

  4. American Red Cross – The battleship of relief organizations, the Red Cross has the most extensive way to gift to those in need, from relief efforts to support for American troops abroad, and from phone cards to meal trucks in the United States, there are few places in need where it isn't working.

    Gift Option: Gifts for as little as $20; printed, printable, and e-cards. You can also phone in your gift, if you wish.

 

Fair Trade Products

Decided that you must have some small or large material gift for giving? Fair trade and locally-produced gifts are great ways to raise awareness of the economic impact of our dollar. Stay away from the malls (which ship mass-produced gifts for large companies) and buy from sole proprietors, local business owners, and local craft shops. And if you want fair trade, try a specialty outlet like these.

  1. Global Exchange – A fair trade online store, the more expensive products here are guaranteed to come from artisans around the world who are paid fair and equitable wages for their work. Most products are modest in size, but often quite unique, and shoppers can purchase by country or type of product. The "Coffee Shop" is the most fun to browse through.

    Gift Option: Products for as little as $10 and up to about $60. While it's already too late to guarantee shipment by the holidays, gift cards are printable or emailed and can be done easily.

  2. Green America – An organization which works to create more social justice economies and help consumers make wise choices, Green America offers guides for sustainable gifting, a "Green Pages" of socially-responsible companies, and a thorough analysis of larger companies and what they are/aren't doing to help. Their gift guide this year offers specials such as re-used items, sustainables, and organics.

    Gift Option: Too many to mention here!


I'm sure you know of many more charitable and socially-conscious choices for gift giving. Offer them here!

The Acts of Man

 

Is there a reason why the situation in Myanmar angers me so?  It is late May, and on May 2 Cyclone Nargis ripped through the country, likely killing over 120,000 people, and 2.5 million require immediate aid.  Only now has the government accepted the idea of genuine aid into the country, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the country.  Even so, no significant aid has—even today—been delivered.

 

 

There’s no need here to hash out all the reasons why this is.  The military junta, a corrupt cadre of generals who refused to accept the results of a 1990s democratic election, is now infamous for human rights abuses, violations of international agreements, and other atrocities.  Some initial attempts by the UN and ASEAN to deliver food found the government taking it for their own uses.  And the dozens of US and European ships off the coast are laden with helicopters ready to deliver everything they need. 

 

 

Contrast this audacity to the healthy and immediate response of China to its recent earthquake in Sichuan, an enormous natural disaster filled with stories of success and optimism. (And contrast this, too, to the 1976 earthquake in China where borders were closed and 250,000 died.)

 

“Why not just airdrop the aid?” a CNN commentator asked a UN aid coordinator.  That would be a violation of Myanmar’s air space, he replied. And, “We prefer to work with the government, if at all possible.”

 

Nonsense. As hundreds and thousands die each day, clogging the rivers with bodies, every diplomatic mistake is too great.  Three weeks have passed as I am writing this with diplomatic touring, diplomatic tea, and diplomatic cordialities hiding the real deaths which are so easily preventable.  Sovereignty is not sacred—it must not be.

 

UN Security Council

 

I could offer international legal justifications for broaching Myanmar air space (how the ICCPR does not allow human rights violations which, through neglect, cause suffering and death, even when a state of emergency is declared, for instance).  The bottom line, however, is moral as well as political: a government has an obligation to the welfare of its people.  If it fails this obligation, it is no government.  And if no legitimate government, no worries about sovereign airspace.   

 

The US has the helicopters ready.  Send them in.  We could cross borders for worse reasons.

 

 

In doing so, the US should also go to the United Nations to author a new Universal Declaration of Disaster Relief, to be signed by all nations, an expectation that in the event of catastrophic natural disasters all nations are expected to coordinate with regional and international aid agencies to bring in support within 48 hours.  To delay longer is not merely negligence but a crime against humanity.

 

Under a UDDR, disaster relief will not be turned down and will be coordinated by the most able international agencies available.  Signatories would agree that delays would indicate their abdication of host nation status and management of the disaster:  the world would take over where the government failed.  (And the US could also not repeat its hubris in turning down relief from Cuba following Hurricane Katrina.)

 

Okay, you sense that I am angry.  But the idiocy of Myanmar ruling General Than Shwe (a UN spokesperson said that the government was “not the most enlightened”) is not what puzzles me most.  I want to know why I’m angry at this negligence and I do not raise similar ire at the same government’s or Nigeria’s violence against ethnic minorities, at Russia’s declaration that a gay pride parade was “satanic,” the denial of rights of the Chiapas Indians in Mexico, or the innumerable wars in Somalia or the Caucasus.   

 

Is it because when humans attack humans, I am saddened but not surprised—yet when the natural world strikes the innocent I am moved? Am I, then, so jaded by human cruelty, selfishness, and ignorance that I am numbed to it?  Am I more moved by an “Act of God” than an “Act of Man”?  Or is it that I can’t imagine why anyone would hesitate to help those whose homes have burned or flooded, but can somehow rationalize an Armenia or a Darfur? (That one makes me shudder.)

 

Is it simply the ferocity, speed, and devastation of the tsunami or wildfire which moves me whereas manmade deaths, however terrible, are dragged out over time and cannot compare in intensity (or attention-deficit news coverage)?

 

Even now, I don’t know.  But it strikes me, that all of these are, in the end, human acts.  The Sudanese, Nigerian, and North Korean governments select their policies, perpetuate their crimes with premeditation—just as the governments of Myanmar and China make opposite decisions for their people affected by natural disasters.

 

 

After 48 hours, the negligence of Myanmar moves beyond the excusable.  The decisions to deny visas to aid workers and holding aid in Rangoon are premeditated, no different from a government intentionally shutting off heat and water supplies, no different from a government intentionally firing hundreds of thousands of bullets.

 

The rest of the world must decide how long the slaughter will continue.

Year of the Potato—For Corn Eaters

I just found out today—please don’t ask me how—that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato.  That’s IYP, for those of you who are on the inside track.

IYP

 

Who knew such amazing facts as 1/3 of all the world’s potatoes are grown in China and India, that Dan Quayle still can’t spell the word, and that McDonald’s fries have more corn in them than potatoes (at least, as far as calories are concerned)?

 

The United Nations has gone all out with the spuds, producing a high-tech video, a complete history of the food, and a contest for the best potato recipe and photographs.  And there are holidays and festivals around the world:  if you can’t make this month’s Potato Congress in Ecuador, you may want to go to Fort Fairfield, Maine this July for the nine day Potato Blossom Festival featuring concerts, beauty pageants, sports, and mashed potato wrestling.

 

 

As important, potatoes are the fourth most important food staple, after wheat, rice (which had its year in 2004—sorry you missed it), and—of course—corn, which is the Number One food source for Americans and the world.

 

It might be safe to say—as Michael Pollen does in The Omnivore’s Dilemma—that humans have evolved into the “koalas of corn.”  Heavily subsidized by the federal government, corn is remarkably cheap and is therefore overgrown and used for nearly everything food-related.  It fattens our beef (in a most unnatural and even unhealthy way, often complicating cattle digestion; cows are therefore fed antibiotics to offset its effects); milled, it is ethanol for our gas tanks; it thickens fast food milkshakes; it’s the oil in margarine; it’s packed into bread and vitamins; it holds together the bits of meat in a “chicken” McNugget, and it replaces sugar as an infamous sweetener (high fructose corn syrup) in many of our foods, including ketchup, yogurt, salad dressing, and soda.

 

More, each bushel of corn grown uses up to a third of a gallon of oil, with all of its environmental and political problems.  And it produces an economic paradox, says Pollen:  the more corn we produce, the cheaper the cost.  The cheaper the cost, the farmer reasons, the more need to grow more corn next season to increase profits.  The more corn that is grown, the more we need to seek places to use it.  Thus we create ethanol for our cars, and we bleach the nutrients out of it to make our breakfast cereals (and then feel better when those cereals are re-“fortified” with essential vitamins, also made from corn). 

Debate rages on about biofuels.  Will growing corn for fuel reduce the amount of food necessary for the world population?  Rather than detail the argument here, I will merely refer to the above paragraph.  As important, the increased production of corn displaces other crops which might also benefit the need for diversity in our food supply. 

 

Want a good read?  Pick up Pollen’s book.  In the meantime, I have to check the ingredients list on my box of Ore-Ida’s. 

 

Feeling China’s Lead

Last Sunday I heard the women in the restaurant booth next to mine complain about toys from China.  One, in particular, was loud and vehement in her opinions.  “I’m going to buy American from now on!” she practically yelled. “China should just leave us alone!”

 

And no, I didn’t set down my bite of feta cheese omelet (which was pretty amazing), to counter her points.  Angry as she was, she would never have heard me.  More, her comments revealed some pretty basic misunderstandings of consumerism, free markets, and our trade deficit. 

 

Dora in China

 

I won’t write here about the faulty inspection system in China (which does need to be addressed) or the poor inspection systems in the US.  No, I won’t remind anyone about the Tylenol scare of the 1980s or the Firestone tire worries of 2000.  I won’t talk about Sharp’s 2006 fiery battery recall or of the pet food recalls this past spring.  It would be wrong of me to write about the Nestle recall of chocolate bars with plastic in them this past April, or Gerber baby food recalls this summer, or that for the second time in three years Topps Meat Company was cited for poor inspections and this fall’s beef recall is the second largest in US history.  (Topps finally closed a couple of weeks ago.)

 

What’s that?  These aren’t toy recalls?  Okay, so I also won’t write about K-Mart recalls of toy rattles which choke babies, Hi-C drink recalls of “Cool Cuffs” toys, Kenner’s recall of its Colorblaster paint guns, or Lionel Train’s recall of its Snoopy train. 

 

But none of that is really the point.  The fact is, China products are cheap, US consumers want cheap products fast, and free markets supported by US trade policy allow and encourage US companies to find their products and parts from China.  Put simply, the US buys far more from China than it sells to China, creating a trade imbalance or deficit.  As the US total trade deficit approaches $1 trillion (yes, that’s trillion), about one quarter of that is trade with China.  I mean really, what do you think Wal-Mart means when it talks about “Price Rollbacks,” “Beware Falling Prices,” and “Save Money. Live Better”?   It’s only those last two words which are cautionary.

Flag

And many of us do benefit.  America’s poor can afford $35 DVD players, Microsoft and Mattel can move more products, and Chinese workers get jobs.  US companies which haven’t outsourced to low-wage countries lose, of course, as do children who chew on their Barbie Dream Houses, but that is the price of a US policy (and an ignorant consumer-demand market) which perpetuates an unsustainable trade deficit.  [China made almost $25 billion in September alone as a trade surplus while the US lost nearly $60 billion the same month.]  According to BBC, even with all the toy recalls, the US purchase of Chinese toys continues to increase.  Worse, our US economists call these numbers “Good news,” because they are slightly better than the summer imbalance.

 

Truly, economics is complicated, far too much for a simple blog entry this evening, but there are bigger issues about the Chinese lead in its trade than some paint. (Yes, read that every way you want.)  Here are a few big-ticket issues which we should address now in order to better secure our global position with China:

 

  • Let’s get control of our mortgage and interest rates and of our housing market;
  • Let’s look at what our schools are doing to train students for a realistic global market, not one mandated by outdated notions of the industrial market;
  • Let’s talk about China’s artificial lowering of its own currency values to prevent higher-priced US products from reaching its people;
  • Let’s engage China in real discussion of its concerns over intellectual properties (books, music, film) which have created an enormous black market for pirated US art in China;
  • Let’s talk about Chinese unemployment rates while we talk about US unemployment. (Currently there are more Chinese without jobs than there are total jobs in the US);
  • And let’s get to work transforming our own economy, education, and awareness about what the US market must become.  The days of the manufacturing base are fading and the techno-information-service industry age is past-upon us.

To “Buy American” is a simplistic and perhaps outdated slogan for a complex problem.  And China is doing nothing to consumers that we haven’t demanded in Labor Day Sales and Sam’s Club wholesalers. 

 

I paid my tip for a superior omelet (feta cheese from Germany, spinach from Mexico, side slice of pineapple from Panama, but tomato and eggs from Iowa and Wisconsin.  Mmm!), and thought about what I would say to her as she brought a fresh-brewed cup of genuine Colombian-bean coffee to her Revlon’ed lips.

 

Read more about the US-China trade issue:

 

·     http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html

·     http://www.uschina.org/statistics/2004balanceoftrade.html

·     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_surplus

·     http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/07/business/worldbusiness/07scene.html?_r=1&oref=login&pagewanted=all

·     http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5j5053deIQXuHmOzFPADTSja70i_A

·     http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080&sid=ayIRVbmgV3Mk&refer=asia

·      http://www.upi.com/International_Security/Emerging_Threats/Analysis/2007/10/12/commentary_new_global_paradigm/7381/

·      http://worldnews.about.com/od/china/a/china_trade.htm

·      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6294624.stm

 

News and Neutrality
Someone, perhaps Neil Postman, said that the media doesn't tell us what to think, but it tells us what to think about.  In the early US, many journalists styled themselves as "Watchdogs for Democracy," charged with investigating corruption and protecting human rights through the press. Later, journalists called themselves "objective," claiming that they would merely report the events of the world without judgment. Many of our corporate media still make this claim, crying foul if anyone suggests they have prejudice or bias.
 
 
As an experiment, then, I perused what four of our major news corporations published as news on the home pages of their internet sites.  Leaving out editorials, celebrity and sports coverage, and advertising, whatever is left--news--might or might not be objective.  I will leave it to you to decide what findings are here, what is valid, or if you wish to carry out this analysis in a more long-term and scientific way. 
 
 
Sampling of Internet Home Pages of Four Major Networks:  Numbers of News Stories

30 September 2007

 

 

FOX

MSNBC

BBC

CNN

Anti-Democrat

7

0

0

0

Anti-Bush

0

0

1

0

Neutral GOP

3

2

0

1

Neutral Dems

0

1

0

3

US Violence

13 (59%)

12 (48%)

3 (30%)

8 (42%)

US Non-violent

9 (41%)

13 (52%)

7 (70%)

11 (58%)

Iraq

3

2

0

1

Iran

5

0

1

2

World Violence

12 (100%)

15 (60%)

10 (40%)

5 (50%)

World Non-Violent

0 (0%)

10 (40%)

15 (60%)

5 (50%)

 

 

 

 

 

Disease/Health Fears

9

3

1

2

Tech Fears

4

3

1

 

Economic Fears

2

4

 

1

Weather/Environment Fears

1

3

3

3

Civil Rights Fears

5

3

0

0

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrity News

13

12

2

3

Humor

1

4

2

2

Advertising

9

11 disguised*

0

3

Sports

Not counted

Not counted

Not counted

Not counted

 

 

 

 

 

Total News Stories

73

71

42

43

Total Negative Stories

61 (84%)

45 (63%)

20 (48%)

23 (53%)

Total Non-Negative Stories

12 (16%)

26 (37%)

22 (52%)

20 (47%)

 

How did I determine the categories?  Here are some notes on my thinking:

  • "Anti" -- the headline contained diction which implicitly or explicitly judged the event.  For instance, one Fox story was titled "Butting In" for coverage of the Democratic strategies in Congress. In contrast, there were "neutral" stories which, by headlines anyway, covered the event without loaded language ("Debate over Dems Bill").
  • "Violent/Non-violent" -- The violent stories include crime, death, war, etc.,  any story where humans abuse other humans.  Non-violent is a far larger category which includes both positive stories ("Lost Woman Rescued After Four Days") or stories not based on death and disease ("Fire Dept. Gets New Truck").
  • "Fears" -- A category which specifically shows dangers, broad or individual in the particular area ("Brain-eating amoeba" or "Tropical Storm Could be Hurricane").  What's interesting about these stories is that they are in addition to the "Violent" stories above.  A new tech device on the market was categorized as "Non-violent" whereas "New Computer Virus" is tech fear.
  • * As an observation, the advertising on MSNBC's site is mostly formatted exactly as their news headlines are, making it difficult to distinguish.  Buried amongst the other categories, they call ads "Sponsored Stories."  Hmm.

What should I be thinking about?  And with whom will I discuss it?

 

Cultural Claustrophobia

“I have to get out of the country,” she said. “I don’t care where.” 

 

I understood.  Sitting across from me at a small diner, my former student had been complaining about the shallowness of American culture.  Yes, there was materialism; yes, there was political posturing; and yes, there was the dim-witted soap opera which seemed to dominate the lives of so many around us.  But none of this is quite what we were struggling with.  No, it wasn’t the disagreement with idea which tormented us, but the refusal—even inability—of some to acknowledge that a contrary idea existed.

 

Mentally, emotionally, we felt boxed in. 

 

It’s true that every culture and sub-culture defines its own ways of thinking, its own ideologies.  The Buddhist seeks to avoid confrontation just as the Halo 2 player lusts for it.  But I believe that in some ways the American culture brazenly seeks to limit itself.  In other words, our problem isn't that we stubbornly hold onto an idea, but that our goal is to limit our own understanding.

 

·         We’ll obsess over Lindsay Lohan’s latest rehab stay instead of pervasive poverty;

·         We’ll seek amusement through the World of Warcraft rather than build genuine relationships;

·         We’ll dismiss Islam as inherently violent rather than ask serious questions about our media portrayal of it;

·         We’ll seek the best bargains at Wal-Mart and feel pride in our conquest rather than doubt about the reasons for it;

·         And we’ll complain that thinking about it takes too long, is too complicated, or is just too hard.

                            

“I’m too busy to think about that right now,” complains a friend of mine when I mentioned how she could recycle some of her plastics.  And herein is a great lesson, I believe.  Our culture is in the practice of keeping us pre-occupied, busy, speeding along on errands, in an accelerated effort to distract us from questioning it. 

 

More, because we don’t have time to think, our media quickens its pace in parallel.  We are surrounded by sound bytes, fast-clipped video, and instant messaging masquerading as knowledge. As a result, solutions to heart disease are dark chocolate, and Iraq can be settled by merely putting troops in or troops out. We become a nation of simplification.

We are a big open place, and American culture is fast spreading through the world.  Just ask Disney, Coca-Cola, Exxon, or David Hasselhoff.  Can we travel into the world without carrying along our blow dryers, iPods, and cruise ships?  And can we talk about the world without holding our collective breath for the commercial break?

 

“I have to get out of the country,” she said. “I don’t care where.”  Mentally, we hold our breath, longing to outwait the existential absurdity around us, but even the foothills of Himalayas are adorned with Baskin Robbins franchises and Sly Stallone posters (well, they are a little behind).  

 

Is this really American ideology?  Let’s try something different.