08 February 2011


"O would some Power the gift to give us
to see ourselves as others see us."

~~ Robert Burns, poem To A Louse, verse 8

THE VIEW FROM ABROAD. This won't come as news to most readers, but the thought bears reminding from time to time. In our personal lives, as well as our collective lives as a nation, it is useful (and often humbling) to hear what others consider important to think about, not to mention what they may think of us. Focusing on our lives as a nation, the U.S. is infamous for pride bordering on hubris. Our culturocentric view of the world, which features us as the preeminent power, leads us to believe that we are always in the right, and that other worldviews are somehow wanting. It is precisely this misleading feeling of superiority, of ascendancy, which many people from other nations find most alienating about us. We would do well to remind ourselves that we may be the most powerful military presence in the world, but we are far from the most important society.

To understand my own cultural assumptions, I find it useful to read and listen to news not just from the U.S., but from around the world. Two news sources which are easily accessible to most Americans are BBC News and Reuters, both based in London. Depending on your local PBS station's programming, you may also access news from German, French, or other sources.

To illustrate, here are two points of view which have received precious little air time on U.S. news services. The first is Foreign Press Says What America's Won't: Sarah Palin Is a Traitor. Quoting from the article -- "By attacking the democratically elected President of the United States at a sensitive time in her country's history, she shows the tact of a boorish drunkard bawling obscenities at a funeral .... To attack the President of the country at a time when the USA needs to close ranks and stand together to consolidate the enormous strides his (President Obama's) intelligent and respectful approach has achieved in building bridges, when her party's period in government bombed them, Palin comes across as a pitifully inadequate anachronism .... Ms Palin cloaks her myth in her flag, but one has to question just what that symbol represents to Ms Palin, given that she won't stop attacking this country's sitting President during each crisis that presents itself. The word patriotism derives from the Greek patriotes meaning "fellow countryman"; that would include all of us, even President Obama. I'm afraid Ms Palin and her followers conflate their false community of nationalism with patriotism, and under the guise of said nationalism, justify harming America's standing in the world along with the very unity of our nation .... Ms Palin stands for a level of vitriole, simmering revulsion so steeped in delusions of self-righteousness, it's tough to swim to sanity once you've been washed in the blood of her particular lamb .... Ms Palin's particular brand of tabloid journalism leaves out anyone who disagrees with her, beats her in a contest, dares to question her, or has the temerity to actually read and debate important issues. She's become an international embarrassment."

A scathing indictment, and one which the American press has studiously avoided, since (as the article notes) "there are many agendas at play here, causing truth to take a back seat to dollars." Whether or not you agree with the assessment of Palin, it is important to consider that many people in other countries do, which colors their perception of America, which affects their willingness to cooperate with American goals. Pragmatically, we would be well advised to do a little less pontificating, and a little more listening.

The second point of view (published in 2008, before the election) features this headline -- Vermont towns vote to arrest Bush and Cheney. Both municipal and state lawmakers "have passed nonbinding resolutions to end the war in Iraq and impeach Bush and Cheney for 'crimes against our constitution' .... Bush has never visited the state as President."

How interesting that we must turn to non-U.S. news sources to read about what is happening in our own country. It is my impression that U.S. news agencies focus strictly on U.S. news, or on foreign news which affects the U.S. (such as the current civil unrest in Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East), but rarely covers foreign news for its own sake. "World news" has an entirely different, more encompassing, and more informative meaning outside the U.S.

THE VIEW FROM ABOVE. On Sunday NASA reported that for the first time in history, humankind is able to view uninterrupted images of the entire sun (the side facing toward Earth, and the side facing away), thanks to the twin Stereo spacecraft orbiting our star. In a stunning video, NASA shared an illustrated description of the operation and the resulting whole-sun view. Just one more piece of evidence that we should be diverting funding from the military and applying it to education, environmental protection, and NASA. If I were king of the world .... (Click on any image to enlarge.)

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