american society, OPW, politics, USA

OPW: Fareed Zakaria on July 4th and Citizenship

Today’s Other People’s Words is a thought about the past week from Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. Here’s what he had to say about the Fourth of July and becoming an American citizen on his PBS show, Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria.

For most Americans, Independence Day makes them think of fireworks, Old Glory, and traffic. For me, this week reminds me of the day, several years ago, when I became an American citizen. I was sworn in a few weeks before July 4, 2001 at a ceremony that would have sent chills down Pat Buchanan’s spine. Seated in a noisy Brooklyn auditorium, more than 2000 new citizens–almost all black and brown faces with the odd British banker looking around nervously–listened to introductory speeches in English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi. A young woman of Indian origin gave us all an earnest lecture imploring us to do our civic duty and always vote.

After the ceremony, a short sweet speech on patriotism, the oath of allegiance, and it was all over. We emptied unto the street where a small welcoming fair had been setup. You could eat pizza, sign up to join the New York Police Department, and get your picture taken with a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. In some cities, the Daughters of the American Revolution host tea parties for new immigrants, but not in Flatbush, Brooklynn.

The atmosphere in the country was then open, confident, and welcoming of the world. Today, too many of us have become fearful, insecure and suspicious of the outside world. It’s strange, it was only six years ago, but it feels like a different age.

american society, metablogging

In Praise of Mses. Hilton and Spears

Paris HiltonI fight a constant battle with myself. Sometimes, especially in the midst of writer’s block, I want so bad to post something lambasting Celebrity X for something they’ve done, said, or felt. Maybe Paris Hilton for violating parole, maybe for sobbing as she was taken back to prison.

One frequent victim of people’s undue ire, at least recently, has been Britney Spears. She’s a bad parent, they say, a mid-rehab addict, a baldy, and a failed comeback.

I am not here to claim that Mses. Spears and Hilton haven’t made some mistakes in their lives. But what 26 year old American woman hasn’t made a mistake or two that they’re not proud of? What American citizen hasn’t made a mistake or two they aren’t proud of? What person hasn’t?

And yet we all too easily forget this. In lamenting this very fact, Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen wrote on 5 March, that we are allowing “savagery without shame [and] judgment without knowledge. All the train-wreck titillation without any of the nasty empathy aftertaste.”

To Quindlen, this problem is caused by national rather than local gossip. She argues that peepers have become an industry with no shame.

Though I think she’s not wrong in this account, I think it is a more than this alone. Though she argues that savage gossip has always existed in some capacity, Quindlen gives the current state too little credit, and perhaps too little outrage.

In the time that gossip was local, the dirty little deed was preformed with some sense of shame. These foibles of local women were whispered; today our gossip is shouted.

And perhaps more embarrassingly, they are passed off as news. Yesterday afternoon, a quick flip of the channels showed that CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News were all covering, at great length, Paris Hilton’s trip back to jail.

The leaders of the 8 most powerful countries in the world had a summit this week. They invited 5 others (Brazil, South Africa, China, India and Mexico) to join them for some discussions to encourage greater collaboration around the world. Today the President met with both Italian president Romano Prodi and the Pope. And yet we spend time discussing whether or not the sentence the judge gave to Paris Hilton was excessive.

I realize that my disgust won’t banish this trend. I suppose all I can hope is that my disappointment will find a companion. That perhaps someone with some power to change this sorry state has a sympathetic ear.

politics, USA

After Bush: How to Restore America’s Place in the World

Our (that is to say the United State’s) requirement that all presidents must be natural-born is patently absurd. Though the first person to make me reconsider this rule was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has shown himself to be an incredibly bipartisan and wise Republican in recent times, it is actually Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist and generally acute observer of world politics, who has pushed me over the edge.

Zakaria has repeatedly astounded me with his ability to look optimistically and critically and all facets of American policy. Further, he synthesizes this analysis into a size that the average person can easily read, digest, and understand in a very short period of time.

Where the New Yorker seems unable to write a thorough analysis in under 60,000 words, Zakaria regularly makes himself understood in a single page. Though his cover story in this week’s Newsweek is longer than that benchmark, none of the words are squandered.

Some of the most interesting observations:

  • “Today, by almost all objective measures, the United States sits on top of the world. But… we have become a nation consumed be fear, worried about terrorists and rouge nations, Muslims and Mexicans, foreign companies and free trade, immigrants and international organizations. The strongest nation in the history of the world, we see ourselves besieged and overwhelmed…”
  • Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, “We will never be able to prevent a small group of misfits from planning some terrible act of terror… The real test of American leadership is not whether we can make 100% sure we prevent the attack, the rather how we respond to it… our goal should be resilience… If one day bombs go off, we must ensure as little disruption–economic, social, political–as possible. The would deprive the terrorists of their main objective.”
  • “If America has a core competitive advantage, it is this: every year we take in more immigrant than the rest of the world put together.”
  • “Above all, the United States has to find a way to send a powerful and consistent signal to the world that we understand the struggles that it is involved in–for security, peace, and a better standard of living. As Barack Obama said in a speech in Chicago, ‘It’s time to… send a message to all those men and women beyond our shores who long for lives of dignity and security that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future’.'”
  • “At the end of the day, openness is America’s greatest strength. Many people of both sides of the political aisle have ideas that they believe will keep America strong in the new world–fences, tariffs, subsidies, investments. But America has succeeded not because of the ingenuity of government programs. It has thrived because it has kept itself open to the world… This openness has allowed us to respond fast and flexibly in new economic times, to manage change and diversity with remarkable ease, and to push forward the boundaries of freedom and autonomy.”

These brief quotes fail to do the article justice. If you do yourself no other favor this week, make it reading the Newsweek cover story, either online, or in print.