May 30, 2006

Americans are just that stupid.

This is depressing. [thanks s.plant]

And the thing of it that drives me even more crazy is that there is some kind of twisted pride in being so closed off from the rest of the world as not to know anything about it. This nation is filled with protectionists, isolationists, and ethnocentrists who aren't any of these things by conscious choice, but pretty much by default, either because their brains have been so addled by caffeine and mass media that they don't know any better (or can't see beyond the immediacy of the quick fix in entertainment or education) or because jingo-nationalism has wiped out any semblance of sentient thought and curiosity about this world around us.

As I've written before, it will be a rude awakening for Americans when our nation falls further from the luxury of its post-Cold War position in the world. The deterioration of sensible trade relationships, the decimation of light manufacturing, the politicization of scientific and engineering innovation, the war on the poor, the ongoing schism of immigration policy, the frenzied and slow-headed dependency on barreled oil, and the apathy concerning engagement with the world's states as equals through the U.N. are only some of the short-sighted mistakes of this and previous governments. The status quo is gone, but Americans are too fat and too slow to adapt. Europeans have adopted to an almost entirely new way of working together, in a short 15 years - who would have thought that there would be a unifying currency in much of Western Europe, or that the U.K. and the "real" chocolate makers would be able to get through their mutual disdain for one another? But it's happening. And America's dependence on foreign labor, fuel, ideas, credit and loans will make it more necessary than ever for the U.S. to continue playing this game of loud bull in the Mikasa store for the sake of its citizenry, while dealing away their rights and the nation's future behind closed doors and executive agreements with other heads of state.

How long before the truly powerful nations in the world stop allowing the U.S. to whine and bully its way through diplomatic relationships? What if they see the U.S. as a rogue nation, with just a little too much power to be stomped on like it stomps other nations? It's a sad joke, really, when Americans wave their flag (or disgrace it by wearing it as a bandana, a hat, or underwear) and boast that they don't need to know anything about the rest of the world. What happens when Americans have to go abroad for better jobs? Will they be able to adapt to new and hostile environments as well as the immigrants who come here? Will they throw fits the way they do as tourists with currently powerful dollars to wave in the face of protest? Will they be able to navigate systems and challenges in languages that they have scorned or forsworn because they pigheadedly refused to learn any of the other tongues of the world (but rather held onto a colonizer's language, regardless of their own Swedish, Italian, Irish, German, Welsh, Polish, Russian, or other roots).

Multilingualism is a rich possibility in the United States that is stopped at the gates by the culture police, so afraid - sensing that we are on some imagined razor's edge between an "American culture" and many pockets of disunity. We could know about the world than others in the world, simply because the U.S. has members of most of the world's community here, but rather than tap into that rich reserve for the sake of knowledge and wonder, the government taps "specialists" from these communities for C.I.A. and F.B.I. initiatives of spying and surveillance, and otherwise, the communities are expected to whitewash their culture and just disappear in this amorphous, boring, non-ethnic "American" identity that is manufactured and imagined. American culture of this kind is a giant, amorphous mass-delusion. New York and Little Rock, Arkansas are not geographically, culturally, economically, or even linguistically connected. It's just a matter of convenience that this thing called America is even 1 nation under anything at this point.

Anyway - enough of this rant.
May 4, 2006

Study: Geography Greek to young Americans

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After more than three years of combat and nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map, a study released Tuesday showed.

The study found that less than six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 33 percent could not point out Louisiana on a U.S. map.

The National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study paints a dismal picture of the geographic knowledge of the most recent graduates of the U.S. education system.

"Taken together, these results suggest that young people in the United States ... are unprepared for an increasingly global future," said the study's final report.

"Far too many lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events."

The study, which surveyed 510 young Americans from December 17 to January 20, showed that 88 percent of those questioned could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia despite widespread coverage of the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the political rebirth of the country.

In the Middle East, 63 percent could not find Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map, and 75 percent could not point out Iran or Israel. Forty-four percent couldn't find any one of those four countries.

Inside the United States, "half or fewer of young men and women 18-24 can identify the states of New York or Ohio on a map [50 percent and 43 percent, respectively]," the study said.

On the positive side, the study noted, seven in 10 young Americans correctly located China on a map, even though they had a number of misconceptions about that country. Forty-five percent said China's population is only twice that of the United States. It's actually four times larger than the U.S. population.

When the poll was conducted in 2002, "Americans scored second to last on overall geographic knowledge, trailing Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Sweden," the report said.

The release of the 2006 study coincides with the launch of the National Geographic-led campaign called "My Wonderful World." A statement on the program said it was designed to "inspire parents and educators to give their kids the power of global knowledge."

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