Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Public Perceptions

It is interesting to me how many discussions I've had with foreigners who think that only they get the truth from the press. Generally, they argue that our press (American) lies to us and tells us only what the President wants us to hear, while their press shows the real truth. This from people in countries like Brazil, whose President Da Silva recently suggested censorship of the press and the Middle East where the press are virtually arms of the local government and heavily controlled. We think we have press bias!

Anyone who looks at the facts can see that the press in America is biased today. They report stories negative to people they favor and barely touch on the positives. There are numerous examples. During the recent Presidential campaign, they were very quick to downplay positive aspects of the Iraq War than the negative stories of prison scandal and death tolls. This negatively impacted the President. There are other examples. Stories even get promoted more because they negatively impact the competition -- repeated stories about Fox News' conservative bias from all other more liberal news organizations. The slamming of the Dan Rather story by everyone but CBS News, where he works. Tell me that doesn't show bias of its own! The sad thing is it wasn't always this way.

As recently as the 1970s, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. He served CBS News for decades! He was renowned for his fairness and impartiality. Newspapers went out of their way to edit out biases in reporters' stories and to assure the public got both sides, well presented, of every issue. So what happened? My opinion is that this is the result of a general watering down of our values. I think that is something European countries went through several decades ago. But now it is happening here.

The election of John Kerry would have brought support for a number of policies that would change the American identity, because they would negate long standing morals and beliefs on which this country was founded, and on which our traditional American character has been built. The artistic community and press have cried out about Bush's reelection because he has the opposite agenda. Somehow artists and press today have become smitten with their own knowledge and influence. They have bought into the old lie that they are better or higher beings and therefore deserve to tell other lesser beings how to vote and how to think. By way of contrast, when you study history and look at people like William Shakespeare, Rembrandt, George F. Handel, J.S. Bach, Leonardo Da Vinci and others, they have one common strain -- respect for their own human limitations and expectation that there remain things all around us that were created by a being higher than ourselves. It is evident all over their work. Yet it is not so evident in the work of arrogant artists like Michael Moore or Tim Robbins today.

This is sad for all of us. Because this nation was founded on Christian principles "under God, indivisible." Yet now there is a growing divide. And at the root of it is a lack of respect for those of other ideologies and beliefs than our own. It is disturbing that the nation of freedom is becoming a nation of freedom to only be honest with those who agree with you. If we continue in this direction, America will lose its world influence and solidarity with drastic consequences. How can we stand up as examples to the whole world of liberty and compassion, when we can't stand to let our neighbor speak his mind? How can we stand up as example to the world of unity despite differences, when those who don't get their way would rather immigrate to Canada than stay and examine how we got to a place where this land might not be the place we want to live? I think now, more than ever, America needs self-examination. We need to figure out what we've lost and discover how to bring it back. It begins with reexamining our own biases and demanding of ourselves that we not force our opinions on those around us. But the problem is, far too many Americans could never even agree on that.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

America v. Brazil

I recently entered a new environment where cultures have been clashing for months. Orkut.com, an invite only website where people can join communities on topics of interest ranging from alma maters to sports teams to singers to languages of the world. It is fun and interesting, but there has been a war raging.

It started several months back when the number of Brazilian members outnumbered Americans. Portuguese and Brazilian references are everywhere. And apparently some of our American friends got angry that they couldn't read all the postings or hit on all the cute girls. I think this is sad. Americans are notoriously (throughout the world) known for cultural elitism and ignorance. They think the American culture is superior to everything else and have never bothered to find out what everything else is. I will not waste words here arguing over America's superiority overall (because I don't think we are), but we are the world's sole remaining super power and we are a cultural presence felt throughout the world. But that doesn't negate the important contributions of other cultures. For example, French restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Italian restaurants, Pizza parlors...need I go on. That's cultural influence from non-American sources right there. Sure, we've perverted it to Americanized food in many cases, but it still retains core elements and the label. American culinary arts have been heavily influenced by other cultures. In fact, even the quintessential American cuisine, the hamburger, which is known throughout the world now through McDonald's and other fast food exports, is accompanied by French Fries (a gift from our English friends though not the French). And a lot of our indigenous plantlife was imported original with settlers and colonizers from other lands.

Okay, so Brazilian food, while amazingly good, is not as famous here. But no one who knows anything can deny that Brazilian music has heavily influenced American culture more than that of any other country (excepting perhaps the classical composers of Europe). From THE GIRL FROM IMPANEMA (1963) to TRIBALISTAS (2002), American musicians are listening to and reacting to the influence of Brazilian musical artists. The Bossa Nova craze started by the international notice in 1959 of Palm D'Or Winner BLACK ORPHEUS (Orfeu Negru) [which, by the way, also won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1960] is still felt today. Jazz was never the same. There was a profusion of Jazz albums pairing American and Brazilian musicians which continues today. Three of the most highly regarded Jazz albums of all time in America involve Brazilians: JAZZ SAMBA by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz (with Bossa Nova songs by Brazilian composers), GETZ/GILBERTO by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (where IMPANEMA was released to become a hit single) and BUTTERFLY DREAMS by Flora Purim (an early example of Jazz Fusion). [Purim and Gilberto are Brazilians and other Brazilian musicians and songwriters contributed to both albums.] Paul Winter, Herbie Mann and many other known Jazz artists have done records of their own featuring Brazilian influenced music. Some of the top percussionist in pop music have roots in Brazil as well. And Brazilian percussion has been featured by top artists in the field to enhance their songs. So almost everyone I know has enjoyed the impact of Brazilian music in America. Culture ignorance aside, this deserves respect.

It makes me sad that instead of embracing the possibilities that exist, intelligent Americans interested in engaging with others and learning, get territorial and angry about an influx of non-Americans to their discussions. They should welcome the perspective and knowledge base that is different from their own, as it can only serve to enhance discussions if they let it. I mean, plenty of these Brazilian make contributions in English to the discussions. Maybe some have trouble with the grammar, but my Portuguese has problems, too. I am still learning. So are they. Cut them a break. If you want to understand Portuguese, take the time to learn it, like I did. If not, talk to those you can and use the open mind you are presumed to have in entering such spaces (it's kind of implied as Orkut.com above all else is a forum for the exchange of opinions and ideas) to learn from people who aren't like you. They have a lot of value to teach you.

The Democrats for one would love to talk to fellow Bush haters. There's even a Brazilian room for those who hate Bush. Truth is, education is different, information is different, economics, culture -- so much beyond language. So Brazilians really do see the world differently than we do. But that can only help us become more well rounded people...if we take the time to listen.
Maybe that's the problem today -- no one wants to take the time to listen. We all want our quick fix in this culture. Please the senses, satisfy the cravings, and move on. Instead of savoring the opportunities that we let pass by every day. I know I'm guilty of it, but thanks to some Brazilian and African friends, I am trying more and more not to be.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thank God, it's over!

Well, Bush is secure for a second term, with a record lead in the popular vote. I am thankful. But for next week's post, I will write some friends over seas to ask what they know of Bush and why they like or dislike him as well as those around them. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Anticipation

Got an email this week from a friend in Brazil who reminded me that Brazilians are anxiously awaiting the outcome of our election, and, in fact, I am sure this is true around the world. I saw a news article about protestors in Great Britain and how a major newspaper there had invited readers to mail letters to undecided voters in an Ohio county about the election, expressing opinions on how those voters should vote. Of course, many Americans were offended by this, as, no doubt, many British would be offended if we did something similar.

I sit here with baited breath and can hardly wait for the election returns to start trickling in. I believe this is the most important election of my lifetime and that George W. Bush's first term will go down in history as one of the most important Presidency's in our nation's history. Certainly it is far more significant in foreign policy than either of the two Presidents in the 12 years before him, Clinton and Bush, Sr. Both of them did some good things, but September 11 eclipses that. Our whole world changed in that one day. And America became a lot more like other countries who have suffered from terrorism on their soil for decades. Our self-assurance and sense of security were threatened, and it shook us up. It continues to.

I wonder if people all over the world are anxious as I am about the election results. For many Americans, like me, the choice is clear -- traditional values on which our country was founded are at risk. And that means the reality of who we are could change if John Kerry is elected. And that would have implications far beyond this generation and change our country negatively forever -- our whole national identity. For others, George Bush is too smug, or even arrogant. He lied to them (although they stumble when trying to explain and prove this). He has made people in other countries hate us. He is fighting for oil. They have various reasons, none of which hold up well under careful scrutiny.

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with everything George W. Bush stands for or has done. He has been stubborn at times when he should not have been. Some of his advisors have mislead us, and his continued support of them bothers me. And then there are my fundamental issues with the Republican Party. For example, I believe we need gun control. I believe the Founding Fathers who wrote our constitution (and whom, by the way, wrote clearly in many other writings of their faith in Jesus Christ as the principles upon which this country was founded) never anticipated the diversity and power of weapons that are available. And throughout history, despite the freedoms accorded us, Americans have had to make sacrifices to their own freedoms because of irresponsible other citizens who take advantage and abuse their freedoms. You simply don't need a gun that can shoot through three houses to protect your home. And since those same guns are being used by criminals, some limitations are a good idea. Even a necessity. I also, as Christian, do not believe Jesus Christ would take up a weapon to protect Himself. That was not in His character. But getting back on track here, George W. Bush is a good and decent man who really cares about people. He also is decisive at a time when we need a leader who makes tough decisions and stands by them. No human being can be perfect in that. But we need to project strength because we have been attacked to our core. He is also a Christian and thus shares the fundamental values on which this country was founded and which the majority of Americans still hold dear, despite what those on television and in journalism try to project. They are not mainstream America, believe me.

His opponent, on the other hand, changes his views when the wind blows because his primary platform is "elect me at all costs." If you hate Bush, vote for me. If you hate war, vote for me. No my ideas aren't better, no they're not that different, and who cares about the consequences of them, just vote for me. I'll do whatever it takes to convince you. Hardly decisive. Hardly strong.

There are a lot of people who feel different. And many foreigners would agree with them, but they don't know Bush's character the way Americans can. They only see him as the bullying President whose decision to go to war have negatively impacted their economy or who protects American businesses by refusing to bow to trade deals that might not be good for America. Do I think he's wrong in this sometimes, yes. But the point is, the reality is different from they view they get in their newspapers and television -- which often are far more biased than our own and censored by governments so they only hear what the leaders want them to hear.

In any case, I wonder how the world would react if they knew George W. Bush the way so many of us know Him and saw a more well rounded picture. I wonder if America were not the power it is and the terrorists and others with ambition ran rampant, how they'd like an indecisive American President.

I probably should to make my opinions and the thoughts behind them totally clear. But I try to keep these postings short enough to read through fairly quickly and give just enough info to provoke thoughts. The reality is I am deeply concerned about the outcome of this election because of how it could destroy the traditional foundations of our way of life. And the impact of that around the world would likely be immeasurable!