advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Friday, February 29, 2008

On Communal Blogging, Or, Today, Education And Promotion Merge

We are forever being reminded that Americans need to know more about our neighbors around the world...and if you’re reading this, we already know you understand the value of seeking out new perspectives—and that reading the work of bloggers is an excellent way to acquire new knowledge.

If you put all that together, it appears that the missing link in the process of learning more about other countries might just be the lack of a finger to point out some quality bloggers who are able to provide some of the insight we seek (and if any of my Middle Eastern friends are around I’ll point an outstretched hand, instead of the finger, just to be polite...).

Those of you who have graced my personal blog with your presence might have noticed the invitation to “visit the Blogpower community” over there on the left-hand margin; and that’s where we will find everything we need to make this world tour happen.

We’ll also discuss a few recent items of world knowledge that have come to my attention thanks to the work of my communal friends...and then: a shameful admission of my own blissful ignorance.

Put it all together, and a good time should be had by all.

Since this is at heart a tour, our first two stops are to places where our guides are not especially political, but instead lifestyle observers.

Which leads to our first story.

You may not know it, but if you live in Sicily there’s a strong probability that your house is not connected to a water distribution system. Sicilians instead rely on water trucks to deliver water to the cistern that serves your residence. There are many who live in villas with other families, which means you and your neighbors share water.

And occasionally, you run out.

And because it’s Sicily, getting the water is a story all its own. There are public water trucks and private water trucks...and waiting lists...and days the water “isn’t being delivered”.

All this and more I’ve learned thanks to a transplanted teacher from Wales who is now publishing Sicily Scene. Even better, "Welshcakes Limoncello" spends lots of her time in fantastic little cafés, takes the time to show us pictures of what they’re serving...and really offers a feel of what it is to be her neighbor.

If we grab a fez, jump across the Mediterranean, and hang a quick right over to the west coast of Africa we’ll be in Rabat, Morocco; which is where Lady MacLeod’s truly delightful “Braveheart Does The Maghreb” walks us through souks, talks about the role of the woman in an Islamic society (a theme to which we will return at the end of the discussion), adds an occasional dose of cultural intrigue...and even romance.

Another transplant—this time a Scot who has “expatriated" her way across Europe, South Asia, North America...and now, with her daughter, Africa; and who apparently is riding a pretty good lucky streak.

She told a tale a few months back of making a date for dinner...but the date was not at a restaurant.

She reports instead that she was taken by her beau to the beach, where a traditional Bedouin tent had been erected. She tells us of the night, and the fires, and the music...and the scented breeze coming through the tent on the balmy Moroccan night.

When you read her work, you begin to understand why Winston Churchill had such a love affair with the Hotel Mamounia...and why George Patton has been credited with describing Morocco as "a cross between Hollywood...and the Bible”.

(Make sure you read the story of the wedding in Fez.)

There are struggles for autonomy throughout the world—including just “across the pond” in the UK. Cornwall is seeking to find their unique niche in this picture, making “The Cornish Democrat” essential visiting.

The Duchy of Cornwall is located in the far southwest corner of England (the English Los Angeles it’s not, just in case the question came up...); and there are those who argue the case that Cornwall’s accession into the UK was involuntary. They further argue that the Duke of Cornwall seems to be the current legal Sovereign, or in the alternative that the People of Cornwall are the legal holders of power.

If proponents have their way the status of Cornwall might resemble that of Ireland, Scotland...or maybe even the Isle of Man.

Were you aware that the UK is debating whether or not to require compulsory education for 17 and 18 year olds? It’s a fact: at the moment many leave school at the age of 16 to enter the workforce. As you might imagine, the debate centers around issues of cost and competitive position in the world marketplace...and strangely enough, the Conservative party does not support the initiative, and the Liberals do.

And then there’s the parking story.

Health care is provided by the UK Government to the citizens, and the National Health Service is perennially short of funds. Premiums and co-pays are theoretically out of bounds...which apparently means the “employee of the month” award goes to the one who is most creative at inventing new revenue streams...which is why the UK government booked nearly $200 million last year (minus the cost of the framed “employee of the month” photo and the little brass plaque) by charging patients to park at NHS facilities.

Call it a tax, call it a co-pay (for the benefit of our UK friends, a co-pay is what insurance companies make us pay for our health care at the time of the doctor’s visit--and it can be up to 50% of the cost of care)....either way it’s a new expense that’s making UK citizens sick—of the NHS.

Mike Ion brings that and more—including discussions of the problems students encounter with school assignments, questions about liberation theology, and an interesting take on the UK voting age...and that’s just in the last week.

Our final guide will show us what life is like for an Islamic woman living in the Sudan.

One of the very first stories I ever read from Kizzie was a conversation about the stratification of status among those who wear the burka or abiya. It was astonishing for me to discover that women who are not veiled often look down on those who do; that they see them as “country bumpkins” who are unable to make their own decisions.

But this is the part of the story where I have to admit my own foolish behavior.

Just a few days ago I was visiting Kizzie’s blog, and she had a few questions about our esteemed President. To make a long story short, the basic thrust of the interrogation was related to Mr. Bush’s lack of understanding about the region.

Always trying to be helpful, I sent a long comment to Kizzie remarking that the ignorance problem she cites is not just Mr. Bush’s, but all of ours. And then I got stupid. I went on to comment that Mr. Bush probably knows very little about Kizzie’s country beyond what he saw in “Blackhawk Down”.

And then I sent the comment away.

And then I re-read what I had written...which meant that I had to quickly write another comment pointing out my own foolishness, and suggesting that my foible is exactly the sort of ignorance that often drives America’s foreign policy mistakes.

“Sudan...Somalia...what’s the difference?” is exactly the sort of dimnitude that has made “The Ugly American” a worldwide joke, and your friendly fake consultant apologizes to Kizzie and all her Sudanese friends for my foolish remark.

But it does reinforce the point.

We, as Americans, need to take the time to learn something about all the world...and if we do, our efforts at foreign policy might get a bit easier, fewer of the world’s citizens might see Americans as targets...and we might even make some new friends along the way.

Not to mention knowing in advance which of Sicily’s cafés offer the best desserts.

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