Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cutting to the core of things

I hate dull knives. I don't know why people don't keep their knives sharp.

My mom is scared of cutting herself, which isn't such an irrational fear. However, this fear has made her decide that a dull knife is a better knife. Then, because the knife isn't sharp enough to effectively cut things, she has to press harder and then the knife slips and she cuts herself.

I am currently helping at a bed and breakfast that also has a restaurant. You would expect the restaurant's knives to be sharp.

But they are not.

And it is annoying.

There is probably some sort of political metaphor in here somewhere, but I am too lazy to look for it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Matt Damon as Matt Damon: Political Analyst

Recently, Matt Damon spoke out against Sarah Palin.

Perhaps my favorite part is where he says something like, "I need to know if she thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago. She's gonna have the nuclear codes, so I need to know if she thinks that."

Look at the comments about the video on YouTube, and then compare them to the comments on MSN. This little exercise provokes some interesting thoughts about the types of readers who visit different sources.

I do agree with some of the comments. For example, what qualifies Damon to discuss politics? How much can he know about the "average" American? However, I don't think that his status as an actor completely invalidates his ideas.

A final question: Does our knowledge of the source where the information is provided (in this case, YouTube or MSN) affect our viewing of the video?

Friday, September 12, 2008

More political meanderings

In my earlier post about 9/11, I mentioned the burden of being informed. We can only read so much.

My own attempts to stay informed often lead me to left-leaning publications. I like several websites that combine culture, entertainment, business, and politics (such as Salon, Time, and Slate); unfortunately, most of these lean in a singular political direction, which somewhat limits some of the debate that could occur in my own mind. However, I feel that an awareness of the biases of what I read help me make a fairer interpretation of the source, even though I am not taking in such a rounded field of opinion. (Perhaps I am just another victim of the much-discussed "liberal media bias.")

When I wrote about 9/11, I was aware of an article recently published in Salon, "What's the difference between Palin and Muslim fundamentalists? Lipstick." However, I didn't want to link to the article without having a chance to read it.

I won't offer much for commentary here, but I will say that it is an interesting and thought-provoking article. Take a look and see what you think.

And it plays off of the jokes I mentioned earlier, which gives this post that nice level of self reflexivity that I enjoy so much.

In which I further define myself through my taste in music

We entered a bar in the small town of Vedano Olona, Italy. We ordered the locals' drink of choice, named something like the dark black blackness or some such, even though the drink is far from black in color. It is a mix of spumante, Campari, vermouth, and possibly bitters, and is an enchanting red hue.

We waited for the server to mix the drinks, a time consuming process because of all the ingredients and because they bring it out stratified in layers.

On the large projection screen behind us played a Kid Rock song I have never heard before, "All Summer Long."

The song reminds me a lot of my late teens and early twenties hanging out on the lakes of Wisconsin, although we had a few less women pole dancing in bikinis.

It struck me as odd that such a song would be playing in a small town in Italy. I wondered how much of the cultural reference would transfer. For that matter, I wondered how the song would seem to someone from the city of New York or maybe Los Angeles, where such small town reminiscences would possibly seem just as foreign.

Perhaps audiences are just taken in by the sampling of "Werewolves of London" which later gets mashed-up with the chord progression from "Sweet-Home Alabama."

I sipped my drink, content, but also craving the water of a far off place.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sapere è mezzo della battaglia

Tomorrow is September 11th.

I am in Italy, and from here you would never know that tomorrow is a day that carries a lot of weight for a lot of people. The news features some American politics, but most of it is coverage of the mudslinging between candidates and of parodies of the race from sources such as JibJab.

The news showed Palin cracking a joke: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull?"

She paused, and then gave the punchline: "Lipstick."

The news followed with Obama's response: "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig."

(The news didn't show it, but his quote continued, "You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough.")

But nothing about September 11th.

It makes me wonder about our own news. How much does the common American insulate himself or herself from knowledge about the workings of the rest of the world?

I remember a former cohort from the teaching world who asked his students if they knew the name of the president of France, and almost no one knew the answer.

Perhaps I'm naïve to expect a mention of 9/11 here in Italy. I don't really know why I thought the Italians would care. Do we Americans care about politics in Italy? Do we even know who the head of their country is?

Perhaps I wanted a mention in the news so I could know how the day will be remembered. How many of us will take a moment to reflect on the tragedy? Do the events still hold a place in the mind of the "average" American?

And how often will the numbers, 9/11, be tossed about as some sort of generic rallying cry?

One Family Guy episode features Lois running for mayor. Her campaign speech starts to fail, so she stouts spewing random phrases such as "9/11!" "Osama Bin Laden!" "Terrorists!" The crowd roars into an approving frenzy.

Here in Italy, people have asked us things such as, "Obama is the only person I see on TV. How can he not win?"

We tried responding with talk of demographics and such, but people's interest only runs so deep.

Obviously, each of us cannot know everything about the politics of the world. And I don't want to sound like a GI Joe public service announcement from back in the day: "And knowing is half the battle!"

But we do need to educate ourselves, and be smart about how we do it.

I remember a presentation a classmate gave way back in eighth grade social studies class. He claimed that Martin Luther King was actually a self-hating racist who was secretly working with the Ku Klux Klan. When the teacher asked him about the source, the student produced a stack of papers that he acquired from who knows where.

With a media system that thrives on the juicy bits, the mud slung back and forth, it's becoming harder and harder to know what to think and what to believe.

Soon, our nation makes a decision that affects not just our nation, but our nation's place in the world. America does not exist in a vacuum. If we do our best to educate ourselves about other countries, perhaps those other countries will respond in turn, making foreign policy a policy that is a little less foreign. Dialogue, by definition, flows more than one way.