Year over year

by Volker Weber

I have been visiting the US for 24 years, with a short interruption in 1991/92 at least once a year and as often as four times a year. With that many data points you see things improving (more healthy food) and other things getting worse. TV news have become worse each visit. I first noticed this when the bomb went off in Oklahoma City during my vacation in the US. There was nothing else in the news for 2 weeks. Today nobody seems to even notice the irony in these two messages:

The invasion of Iraq, which ousted Saddam Hussein and has cost the lives of some 1,300 U.S. military personnel and billions of dollars, was 'absolutely' worth it, despite the absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President Bush told ABC News' Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview..
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

One of the things that you cannot grasp as visitor is the daily life of regular people. Is the country really divided between Republicans and Democrats? I honestly don't know. Some people have argued that this is overblown by the media, but I have also talked to people who are really uncomfortable working with or living in a neighborhood of people "who buy into the B/S".

But what is definitely on the rise is paranoia. We even had an argument with the gate agent because Ute photographed the gate in Atlanta.


Fear gets viewers, and fear is also part of the American Psychy. If you look at American history, Americans always have to have the belief that someone is out to get them, it's how they drive their economoy and keep people in line.

First it was the Indians, then it was the Brits, then it was the Germans, then it was the Japanese, then it was the Russians and now it's the countries of tyranny (no longer referred to as terrorists as that makes the whole Iraq war look a scam).

The thing I find most interesting about American media is they always need a war no matter what the subject, IT Magazines always have a war going on Office Suite Wars, Browser Wars, open source war etc. Sports games are always portrayed as battles with warriors, which is pretty insulting when real warriors are dying on foreign soil. I never hear soccer, rugby or other sports players in other countries referred to as warriors, whereas as pretty much every football game or other sporting event here is referred to as "Valiant Warriors going into an epic battle"

Do I have a point not really, but I will say this If you want world news do not watch US TV.

Carl Tyler, 2005-01-19

A few days ago I was shocked about the behaviour of two sixteen year old US boys I met while playing with my bike on a public playground. I asked them about their origin and first they did not want to tell me. But the sound of their speaking was truly american tongue. So I said "You're from the US, right?" And they replied quickly: "Yes. But do not judge us. Because it's like that our parents did not vote for Bush."

I couldn't help myself bursting into laughter stopping quickly recognizing that they were truly ashamed and terrified.

I apologized and told them that I do not judge anyone about his origin and they calmed down a bit.

Okay they were kids, but it still was a strange experience for me.

Martin Schroers, 2005-01-19

Belgium (and perhaps the rest of Europe except France - they already have it, but it's called chauvisnism) could do with some sense of patriotism the Americans have. It makes people feel more 'one' with the rest of the nation.

(ok, ok, the one about France is a joke, n'est-ce pas?)

I remember an American friend of mine (he's from Texas) who worked in Brussels telling me how proud he felt when the American flag was raised for an event he participated in while in school. Whe he spoke about the event, it seemed as if he recalled it, and he seemed to 'shine' suddenly.
I kept waiting for the punch line until I suddenly realised that he was meaning every word of it. It made a big impact on me - having that feeling of 'being proud of your country' must be something; I've never had it and from what I can tell neither do most of my fellow country citizens.

On the other hand, you have to be able to step outside of yourself and look at what you are doing, even laugh with yourself. Not sure if a patriot can stand that kind of critique.

Alex Boschmans, 2005-01-19

Alex, maybe you are right about Belgium but then maybe this is what makes the belgians what they are: self deprecating, no nonsense, and humoristic (and utterly bonkers on the highways I should add). There is a story/rumour that circulated sometime ago that the mayor of Dinant (where Adolphe Sax lived) offered a Saxophone to Bill Clinton and when doing so told him: "This is for a better sax life." and Clinton laughed heartily.

I am Belgian, I have lived in France for 15 years, in the US for 6 and in the UK for 10 (working for a German Bank). I sometime wish people were more "Belgians". But then again if I had been in Belgium all my life I would probably think differently...

"Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them." Albert Einstein

Christophe Dehon, 2005-01-19

As a UK & US citizen, I can understand why some might see patriotism as an admirable virtue, but it's also heavily open to abuse by the government. It's dangerously related to nationalism.

During the run-up to the war in Iraq, opposition to the war in the US was consistently labelled 'unpatriotic' by the government. This spoke volumes, for me, about the damage that patriotism did to discourse in the US. Since 11/Sep/01 there has been little debate in the US about how and why the attacks took place; patriotism's role in sentencing us to repeat our mistakes cannot be underestimated.

Britain, by comparison, is a country that is oft characterized by little patriotism. And though sometimes that can be frustrating - us Brits can seem very down on ourselves - I do think that, at the end of the day, our sense of country is no weaker for it. And I much prefer the self-deprecating approach that the Brits have to the American sense of primacy and infallibility.

Robert Dow, 2005-01-19

Just a correction, when the 'Indians' (he meant Natives) were the 'enemy' the first go round, we wern't Americans... we were French, English and Germans. The second go round they were 'savages' and aside from the wisdom and courage of Crazy Horse and a couple of other like minded cheifs, there wasn't much of a war... more like ethnic cleansing, which from my perspective, having bloodlines going back to the Natives, was pretty sucky. But I digress.

US news is a direct outgrowth of capitalism. It's not fear so much as sensationalism they're after as that brings viewers and drives up add revenue.

Fear is more often used by other segments of the commercial sector. Pharmecuticals are a great example. The government usually reserves fear for last ditch public opinion crafting, relying on patriotism first. Nationalism is almost an antithesis to America though, especially the armed forces which is made up of Latinos, Blacks, Philipinos, Whites, Natives, etc. You might get strong patriotism that pushes the envelope in the direction of nationalism, but our society is too heavily integrated for there ever to be a simple exclusionary platform upon which nationalism would really function. It requires an enemy that is identifiable on sight... which has posed a real challenge for hawks in an America that hosts hudnreds of thousands of Arabs. What nationalistic furor you see is fringe here.

When the anger over a particular subject wanes, so does the public interest, on both sides of the political divide.

Jerry Carter, 2005-01-19

wow, this thread is a bummer. Really great. Should be on the NY Times front page.

Pretty much the only way of "thinking" I don't get over is, when people think of themselves as superior to another country. Like this 'old Europe' B/S.

Stefan Heinz, 2005-01-20

I've posted my thoughts on this here.....

Brian Benz, 2005-01-20

Volker, try listening to NPR while you're out there if you can - avoid the broadcast news at all costs.

listing of stations:

Brian Benz, 2005-01-20

The Boston NPR station ( is particularly good in the morning.

David Richardson, 2005-01-20

@David, Hey, even Vegas is good, who'd a thunk that? :)

Brian Benz, 2005-01-20


Your observations are mostly right on the mark. TV news has been steadily declining for about 30 years. Local news is a wasteland, even in the largest cities. National news is not as bad, but it is a shadow of what it once was. Barbara Walters herself is a shadow of the newswoman she once was. Paranoia is definitely on the rise, too, encouraged by both government and media.

Are we a divided country? You bet. It isn't as deep or sharp a division as the media might have you believe. It isn't as disturbing for most people as it might be for some of the folks you've met. But divided we are, on many issues and in basic philosophy. It is hard to imagine imagine that changing soon. A centrist party would have to emerge to isolate the far left and far right in minority parties, IMHO, for that to happen... and it won't be easy.

The crazy thing is that the nationwide opinion polls do not support President Bush's position that the war was "absolutely worth it". Opinion is split, but slightly more than the margin of error come out against it. But he was re-elected anyhow.


Richard Schwartz, 2005-01-21

Published more of my thoughts on this here.....

Brian Benz, 2005-01-21

See I have no problem with most Americans like (99%), my problem is with the administration and the media, but then it kind of loops on itself if Americans weren't watching the media and if they hadn't elected the current administration then there would be no problem?

God bless NPR, and the Daily Show. Without these two outlets I would go batty living in America. Also praise be satelite radio where I can listen to BBC World Service all day long :-)

Carl Tyler, 2005-01-21

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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