Friday, July 07, 2006

A Year Since July 7

I know I am supposed to be writing about becoming a New Yorker, but this blog is probably going to end up being full of random thoughts completely unrelated to the Big Apple because that is who I am. I am random as hell.
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A year ago today, Kathleen and Emily Benton of Knoxville, Tennessee, became survivors of the London Underground terrorist attacks. This morning, I read that if they had to do it all over again, they would still get on that subway because this ordeal has made them who they are today, and they feel like they are better people because of it. It is refreshing to know that they have taken a tragedy and used it to change their personal lives rather than spend it holed up in some corner crying and asking why.

I saw something interesting on "Good Morning America" almost a year ago about a Web site called This site features touching, dramatic, funny and inspirational photos submitted by people around the world proclaiming that "We're Not Afraid." The creator of the Web site was featured on GMA and spoke about the purpose of his Web site. I agreed with everything he said except for one thing.

He said that we need to go on with our lives and not change anything we do because of terrorists. I agree that we should keep going to work, visiting family and friends, taking vacations, going on dates ... Of course, we should continue with the simple pleasures of our every day lives.

But there are also some things we need to change. Our government needs to change a lot of its domestic and foreign policy because there are many cases where America is just plain wrong. Examples include:
US-Sponsored Plan Colombia ...
Farm Subsidies ...
Failing Foreign Aid Programs ...
Environmental Destruction ...
U.S. Support of Repressive Dictatorships (But I thought Bush wanted to stop the "Saddams" of the world?!?!?!?!) ...

If any or all of these topics are unfamiliar to you, then you should start with David's Wallechinksy's article "Why Do They Hate Us?" - he sums it up pretty well and it doesn't even take 10 minutes of your time.

What can individuals change about themselves in the wakes of these terrorist attacks, whether they are here, London, the Middle East or elsewhere? We need to change our wasteful consumption of every resource. Buy a fuel efficient car. Combine trips to save gasoline. Don't leave the water running while you brush your teeth. Turn off the lights in rooms you are not using. Read more about issues that DON'T affect you directly, like conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone.

My new favorite comedian David Cross does a bit about Americans and our desire to remain willfully ignorant. We live in a country that has access to the news and nobody wants it. To paraphrase him, he says that the most f***ed up thing about the United States is that we have to go to Web sites and news sources outside of our country in order to get the real news. I mean, we live in a society where the major headline on American network news is the genetic reproduction of Brangelina. One of David Cross' funniest lines is: "I am an ignorant mutherf***er who just watches network news and I vote."

And that is why "they" hate us. Many of the big and little things we do for ourselves (whether they are government operations or personal choices) have direct and indirect negative impacts on the people of many other nations. We don't think enough about others to even wonder if what we are doing will hurt anyone else. And we don't even realize what we AREN'T doing. Ignorance is truly bliss. Like David Cross says, Americans can be very greedy, ignorant and short-sighted. We vote on one issue (for example, gun control) and don't pay any attention to any of the other truly evil shit on that candidate's agenda.

Following September 11th, President Bush told us to keep driving, shopping and spending money. What he didn't tell you is that the longer we continue to waste gasoline, the longer it will take our troops to come home. And that's just the real deal. Don't believe me? Read a little and keep up with the facts. And I don't mean to get your news from People Magazine, USA Today, or rely solely on 30-second news segments on FOX or NBC.

It is not my intention to belittle network news or to claim that their 45-second summaries are not valid sources. I certainly tune in to GMA each morning while I get ready for work and laugh at their "Around the Water Cooler" segments, and between jobs I try to check up on national and international events that make it to Charlie Gibson's evening anchor desk. However, it becomes dangerous when millions of Americans use those news segments as their only reference. Tune in to CNN, CSPAN, the BBC or listen to NPR. And try reading!

Pick up the Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, or Newsweek. Try sitting through some programs led by some of our top opinion leaders, such as Wolf Blitzer, Bob Schieffer, Bill Maher and even Bill O'Reilly. As much as I dislike O'Reilly, you need to know all sides in order to create your own opinion. Try reading some books that vary in topics, such as Al Franklin's "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" OR Tammy Bruce's "The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture & Values." Then, THINK for yourself. There are two sides to every story and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

And if you just want some damn funny reading. Check out "The Daily Show With John Stewart Presents America the Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction."

The problem is that most Americans, who claim they don't have time to read a newspaper, would rather watch "The Fabulous Life of Paris Hilton" or catch up on reruns of "Fear Factor." Sure, those shows are fun and I enjoy them, but I try not to let myself become a celebrity- or reality-TV junkie (Give me a "Friends" marathon though and you might not see me all day!). But spread out your interests and you'll become a more interesting person - or at least a well-informed person. I'd rather have a healthy debate with a well-informed person who disagrees with my opinion than to agree with a willfully ignorant individual who only knows a tiny fragment about an issue and can only repeat what he or she heard the nightly news anchor say in a 30-second news bit.

Some say that if we change our lives, the terrorists win. No. Paraphrasing Bill Maher from his book "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden," when you don't change your habits of wasteful consumption and choose to remain ignorant of the issues that face others, the terrorists win. I am inclined to agree.

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