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Monday, September 09, 2002

These Three Things I Know Are True

Earth still revolves around the sun.

Elvis is still dead.

Australian newspapers still suck.

That link is to Professor Bunyip's lecture on the stupidity that is Janet McCalman, who is head of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne. McCallum pontificates on the unmitigated evil of the United States in Melbourne's The Age.

(Here is Part II of Bunyip's post-mortem. There's more there about general suckiness of Australian media. Scroll around.)

I don't want to dissect McCalman like a fetal pig--well, OK, I do, but I won't because Bruce Hill, and Tim Blair have turned her into sausage.

But I do want to address one part. After gloating that September 11 has finally taught Americans that they are thoroughly and justly hated throughout the entire world, she has mercy on a few:

Of course, many Americans are wiser than this and are appalled at the losses of civil rights, press freedom and open debate that the war on terror has licensed....

[Yeah, yeah]

But there are a lot of other good folks who don't read quality newspapers or watch public broadcasting or travel overseas unprotected by tourist buses. These are the folks enveloped in the bubble of American insularity. These are the folks who know almost nothing about the outside world and far too little about their own.

I just spent three years in McCalman's country, and the thing that I have learned, reading their "quality" newspapers and watching their public broadcasting and riding on their non-tour buses is this: there is no bottom to the ignorance of foreigners, where the US is concerned.

Now, you take your stereotypical American redneck, with his baseball cap and his overalls, or even his big ol' Stetson and Cadillac with the longhorns mounted on the front. He don't know shit about other countries. He thinks Australia is cowboys from end to end, like Texas with funny accents and kangaroos. Maybe he thinks the cowboys ride the kangaroos. But if you tell him that this isn't true, that there are cities and skyscrapers and the Internet, he won't be offended that you've destroyed his most cherished notions about Australia. Because he didn't, frankly, care much about Australia. (Though he will be real disappointed about the kangaroos; he's always thought it'd be fun to ride a kangaroo.)

But you take your average foreigner, of any persuasion. There is nothing he doesn't know about the US. He knows, for example, that New York is exactly like it is on Seinfeld, and that Los Angeles is nothing but Baywatch babes rollerblading among the Latino gangsters. He knows that American TV can be fully characterized by Seinfeld at one end of the quality spectrum and Baywatch at the other. He knows that every small Southern town has a town picnic right after church, capped off by lynching a couple of "nigras". He knows that when poor people get sick they are sold as scrap and made into McDonald's hamburgers.

He knows that the law conferring US citizenship to those born on American soil does not apply to the children of poor dark-skinned people [I was actually told this]. He knows that Tim McVeigh's only beef was the poor Iraqi babies killed by the US [and this].

I'd go on, but I've forgotten half the foolishness I've been told.

Now that I think of it, though, it isn't your average foreigner who believes this. Other than the Australians, I've not met a whole lot of average foreigners. I've met a lot of educated foreigners, and it is they who revel in the pig-ignorance I have described above. Your average Australian knows more about the US than the average American knows about Australia, to be sure. The average Aussie finds it hard to get away from the US, what with the TV shows and the music and the hyperpower and all. But, like average Americans, they're more concerned with raising the kids and paying the rent and keeping the truck running than with whether they have understood all the latest nuances of the Kashmir conflict.

But your educated foreigners---especially Europeans---know what they know, and you can't tell 'em any different. Many of them have been in the US, but they didn't see anything they couldn't have seen from home, they didn't learn anything they didn't already know before they left home. It's from the educated ones that I have heard the most fanciful accounts of life in the US. Right before they tell me how ignorant and close-minded we are.

Which makes one shudder when you learn that Janet McCalman has taught American history. She teaches health history, so let's hope her classes have been confined to the evil imperialistic ways in which the Americans have forced good sanitation and medicine on other countries, preventing them from dying in agonized squalor as good Mother Nature intended.