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 Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Tuesday, 21 February 2006 17:28:51 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

I’m speaking at a conference in Sydney, Australia this week. Over breakfast the past couple days I’ve read through the local newspaper and have found some interesting things.

 

First, local news sucks no matter where you are. People are getting murdered, run over by cars driven by unlicensed drivers, robbed and so forth everywhere. And the news always picks it up and runs with it. (well, except in Toronto, where they cover these things, but always in a distant and clinical fashion – avoiding most of the sensationalism)

 

Second, it really is true that you can get more interesting news about US concerns like Iraq from outside the US. It is the same basic news, but with much more depth. Kind of like NPR, but with an even more objective viewpoint. Rather refreshing actually – I’m seriously wondering if the Sydney newspaper is online so I can keep reading it when I get home…

 

Third, Australia is worried about getting mean. I think that’s just plain cool. A survey just came out rating the Prime Minister over the past few years. People like the fact that he’s shepherded the nation to have a strong economy and that people are wealthier. But they worry, loudly, that the country has gotten “meaner”. People just aren’t as nice as they were in past years. They shout obscenities at football (soccer) and cricket games, where such behavior would never have been tolerated in the past. In short, they are worried about becoming Americans.

 

Of course that view of “American” is a stereotype. Certainly you’ll find this sort of mean-spirited behavior in most major US cities. But if you get out into less fast-paced areas like northern Minnesota, rural Washington state and so forth you’ll find far nicer people. Even in some major cities, like Seattle, you’ll find a far more “kind” perspective than you’d ever find in Cincinnati or New York.

 

Fourth, still on the Prime Minister thing; he’s a Labor party guy, and yet has been responsible for cutting social services and raising fees – putting the squeeze on the less wealthy while supporting the more wealthy. Apparently in Australia the Labor party is more akin to the US Republican party… I find that odd, since I come from Minnesota where the “Democratic” party is actually the DFL (democrat, farmer, labor) party. The idea of “Labor” not supporting social programs just seems twisted and wrong somehow…

 

[I've been told that the Prime Minister isn't Labor, but rather the NSW government is Labor. Nonetheless, my recollection from the article was that it was a Labor entity which had cut the social services, and that still seems odd. Though perhaps I misread the article.]

 

Fifth, the Nightwatch (Babylon 5 reference) is even more obvious in Australia than in the US. There are rotating billboards everywhere on the streets warning that terrorism is everyone’s problem, and urging people to call a national hotline if they see anything suspicious. Kind of like a Turn In Poachers (TIPS) program for terrorism – with big banners to make sure everyone is constantly aware that they should be scared shitless. If you aren’t scared, you are a traitor or something I guess…

 

Sixth, the weird anti-science movement fostered by conservative Christians in the US has spread to Europe (at least). Universities in the UK are having problems with soon-to-be doctors who reject science in favor of Koran or Bible verses. Scary to think that you could soon be treated for an evolved form of the bird flu by someone who doesn’t even believe in evolution… Holy shit!

 

What’s even more interesting in some ways is that these students who reject science (while pursuing scientific degrees) are a mix of Muslim and Christian. Strange bedfellows, given that once they manage to defeat all the rational scientific people of the world they’ll be forced to kill each other because they believe in the wrong sort of creationism.

 

Star Trek had it right with the “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” episode. That episode was so two-dimensional as to be cartoonish, and yet here we are in the real world with people that are at least as cartoonish and irrational. I guess sometimes life mirrors art…

 

Anyway, to sum up: it is pretty clear that the problems faced by people in the US are not unique to the US. Not only do we export our culture, but our irrational religious zeal as well.

 

But most of all, it is so incredibly clear that people are people, regardless of which hemisphere they live in. The problems people create for themselves appear to be entirely universal – which ultimately means we’re all in this together.

Comments [1] | | # 
Monday, 27 February 2006 20:28:08 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
http://www.smh.com.au
http://www.dailytelegraph.news.com.au/
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/
http://afr.com/
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