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Monday May 10, 2004, 02:31

The world is in pretty rough shape right now. I don't think that anyone can deny that right now. From an economic standpoint on the home front, outsourcing is the new four, er, eleven letter word that can get you dubbed a terrorist quicker than you can say "Bangalore" and the rising employment figures mean jack shit when you look at all of the people still out of work with relatively few prospects on the horizon. Internationally, if there was ever any chance to shed ourselves of the "stupid American" stereotype, we pretty much blew it with our most recent foray into the business of torture and humiliation.

On the other hand, I did manage to get myself a job in the middle of the "jobless recovery" and even if our fists are in the wrong place, I do honestly believe that our hearts are probably on the right track when it comes to US foreign policy (at least in the grand abstract). And more than anything, the current state of the world has gotten me a lot more interested in it.

It's true. I have never been much of a news buff. I would "read the Times online" which meant, in reality, that I would read articles that people thought I might find interesting, and I might skim the headlines. It was when I moved to Boston that I began to get lulled into the public radio monotone that would drift out of my radio on the weekends, and it was only after I moved to New York that I set all of my radios (AM and FM stations) to public radio stations and broke off the knobs so as never to be without my All Things Considered ever again.

In the past several years, things have started to change a bit. I have found myself tuning in to Fox News and the O'Reilly Factor on occasion to try to get some other views on the world (and have generally been pretty upset at myself after the fact). A slow start, to be sure, but I have been receiving the Sunday New York Times and have been encouraging myself to read through more than just the Style and City sections, giving at least more than simply a cursor look at the business and Week in Review sections. And I have been tuning into the AM public radio station during the day to listen to the news programming rather than the afternoon music offerings.

It also helps that the world is in such a state these days and that I have at least a handful of friends who are not only up-to-date with their current events knowledge, but also have various degrees of dissatisfaction with the current administration and the job that the United States is doing in maintaining its place in the global society. Interestingly, I can not offhand think of a single friend of mine who is satisfied with our president and is planning on voting for him in the upcoming election (though pretty much everyone I have spoken to is of the impression that a toothbrush could be running a better campaign than Kerry right now).

I think that there is a certain amount of maturity that one needs to attain before being able to start looking at the world's news. I just don't think that most people can handle it, and the problem is really that in doing so (at least for the majority of the people around) we are admitting that there are areas of the world over which we do not exert any immediate control. To be sure, there are things we can do to be better citizens, and there are things that we can do as individuals that can affect global change (see the populace of Spain recently voting into power a Socialist administration and said administration subsequently pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq) but for the most part, an interest in politics and other world news is to understand that there are things in this world that are important because they affect us as individuals and that we need to be informed about them so that when they come and kick us in the nuts, we know what just happened.

Local news, fluff news, does not require the same level of sophistication because we are able to personally connect. We are able to look at a news helicopter crash and be able to recognize the buildings where it happened. We can watch the local network "Fraud Gang" bust the local department store for allowing customers to return used underwear and then putting it back on the rack because we can then go to the store and know that we too may be wearing someone else's dirty skivvies. But I cannot know the horrors of what happens in a prison camp in Iraq and I cannot know what happens inside of the United Nations and it is therefore really simple for me to ignore that part of the world to say "it does not apply to me and I will treat it as such," which is why, for example, our incumbent president is sitting so high in the polls right now. Because people can look at our economy, and see that an increase in the employment numbers can relate directly to their own employment situation, and because people can see that our country is involved in two foreign wars that probably have very little direct, personal impact on their own lives (other than, of course, those people who have friends and loved ones currently deployed in the service of their country), it is very easy to then make the jump that the current administration is the best answer for the current situation because whatever it is that they are doing is helping the economy, which is relevant.

The problem then is two-fold. The first is to convince people that it is important to understand the news of our world and that there is a certain correlation between that news and government foreign policy and that there are implications that come right back down to the local news level that we are all able to understand (regardless of its actual relevance). And the second problem is to then synthesize all of this new, sophisticated world understanding and place it into action to potentially effect change, starting from an individual level and bubbling up to an impact that can be felt on a global scale. The environmentalist mantra of "think globally, act locally" applies in this situation as well.

I am at the beginning of my growth. I have come to the point where I understand that having an understanding of the world is important and that I should do everything I can to try to gather as much information into my head at one time as I can.

The next step is to figure out what to do with it.

Related Links:
National Public Radio
All Things Considered
Bill O'Reilly
Fox News
Photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse
Commentary from Rush Limbaugh
BBC News: US powerless to halt Iraq net images

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