how the world sees america

June 2007 Archives



June 1, 2007 5:07 PM

Schwarzenegger's Green, But Bush's Barely Catching On

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Oxford - Maybe because World War II didn’t demolish most of America, we can’t visualize the total havoc that climate change could one day reap.

Maybe because we’re not as densely populated as Japan, we are a little less attuned to nature as she strains to meet our needs. And maybe because we have only two big political parties duking it out for power, a green party can't influence a ruling coalition like it does in Germany today.

These maybes come from German citizen Katarina Umpfanbach, currently a master’s student in environmental change here at Oxford. But unlike most of her peers, she nevertheless believes Bush's announcement today signals a somewhat meaningful change.

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June 4, 2007 9:45 AM

BMX: Rails Always Smoother on the Other Side

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Where does the Bicycle Motocross (BMX) mecca lie? Where the rails are smooth, the money is good, and the pace is calm. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find all of that in one place.

In England, the pace is calm but the money is bad. In America, the money is good and it’s easier to gain prestige, but the pace is hectic and the competition fierce. Cities have also installed spiked handrails to stop skaters and bikers from grinding on them, making it harder to ride just for casual recreation.

Yet America claims to be the birthplace of the sport. In 1970 somewhere in Southern California, so the legend goes, a bunch of kids emulated their motorcycle motocross heroes by grabbing their 20" Schwinn Stingray bicycles, entering a backyard dirt park and getting serious air: thus BMX was born. Through the next two decades, documentaries, competitions and word of mouth helped spread BMX around the world to Japan, Australia, and England. In 2008, China will introduce BMX to the worldwide Olympic Games.

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June 5, 2007 11:42 AM

Abusive Father, Fatherland, But America Stood By

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As a child, checks from America financed his father's alcoholism. At thirty, he invoked the memory of JFK in bar fights with British guys and in run ins with the British authorities who accused him of supporting the Irish Republican Army. Now Tom Dolan lingers on street corners in London's Trafalgar Square, seeking out the comfort of American strangers.

Over many hours, Tom slowly unraveled his life story for me. He has never visited America. His connection to the country is with the idea of America and of Irish-Americans, which gave him great strength in "hellish times."

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June 6, 2007 8:26 AM

Backpack Fit for a Street Fight

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Photo of the bag from back in DC, as I was packing to leave.
“Put that thing away or you’ll get bashed on the head,” a Colombian man selling pasties warns me in Gipsy Hill. I slip my small Sony HDV camera off my neck and tuck it into one of my shooting backpack’s many slots. The other slots house a MacBook laptop with Final Cut Pro, a Nikon D100 still camera, two Schriber microphones, HDV tapes and lots of extra batteries. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside I have everything I need to write and post daily on washingtonpost.com.

The small scale is what makes my project possible. I spent Monday afternoon with Tom Dolan and then explored an old gymnasium where muscular kids inject themselves with horse steroids. Lugging anything more with me like lighting equipment, a crew, even a tripod at times would make me stick out sorely. The work would be more challenging, potentially dangerous or even impossible.

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June 7, 2007 12:04 PM

UK Is America's Aircraft Carrier

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“The one right thing we did was to get rid of our colonies, all of them…just as America should get rid of its colonies,” Peter Underwood says as he stocks his canal boathouse. “America runs bombing missions out of Britain” using the isle as an aircraft carrier. It's hard to see how America represents freedom anymore, says Peter.

Peter spent forty years as a journalist covering crime and politics. He had a stint running a PR consultancy specializing in crisis management for big oil. But after a heart attack Peter chose to turn his hobby -- boating up and down England's canals -- into a way of life. He now spends half his time on his boathouse and half at the pub, where “talking politics is part of the fun.” What he hears from the other “laid back” canal-goers -- and what he firmly believes -- is that an arrogant America has become a true threat to global stability.

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June 8, 2007 3:46 PM

Why Rupert Murdoch Polarizes U.S., Not UK

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I can't escape Paris. She's everywhere here, baring her American all. But strangely, I never see Victoria Beckham, (a.k.a. Posh Spice) on the front page of The Post back home. Puzzled by this, I decided it was time to better understand UK media, and so I turned to an expert to help me figure it out.

In the cavern beneath the Royal Society of Arts, Bill Emmott -- who grew The Economist circulation six fold in his thirteen years at the helm -- talked to me about media, contrasting the UK and U.S. scenes.

1) On Rupert Murdoch’s News: Fox News in the U.S. and Sky News in the UK are both owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch so why is the former so “politically polarizing” and the latter “quite centrist”? Does the divide tell us there’s “a divided America,” an ideological Rupert Murdoch, or just different business incentives across the Atlantic? Basically, Emmott says, America has a bigger news market so you can segment it more by ideology and still get millions of viewers. Watch the video to see more.

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June 9, 2007 2:23 PM

Anglo-American Relations In the Brown Era

Guest blogger for How England Sees America

by J. Clive Matthews of Nosemonkey/Europhobia

While Blair got on well with both Clinton and Bush, giving the US/UK friendship its most cozy love-in since the Thatcher/Reagan era, Brown is a bit of an unknown quantity.

Concerns have already been raised over some of Brown's ministerial appointments -- notably that of former UN Deputy Secretary-General Sir Mark Malloch-Brown as Minister of State with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, whose critical comments about the attitudes of some sections of America towards the United Nations last year led to a strongly-worded official complaint by the then U.S. envoy to the UN, John Bolton.

Likewise, Brown's new right-hand man and campaign leader, Jack Straw, fell out of favor with the U.S. while Foreign Secretary under Blair for comments about American policy towards Iran, with some suggesting that he was removed from his post at the request of the Bush administration.

It's also pretty much a given that such is the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the Bush presidency in the UK that to move away from Blair's heavily pro-U.S. approach is likely to be a vote-winner.

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June 11, 2007 12:13 PM

American Football: How Not to Get a Date

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Being your high school’s quarterback might help you nab a girlfriend in America, but it’ll do you little good over in England. “It’s rugby but they wear helmets” says Rachel Matthews dismissively. Jignasa Patel continues: “In comparison to [English] football, [in American football] you don’t get to see the beautiful men running around in their shorts and t-shirts. Instead they wear shoulder pads, tight costumes and head gear –- which in my opinion make them look like triangular wannabe superheroes instead of lean athletic men!”

They have other complaints too:

1) “the game doesn’t flow, too many starts and stops"
2) “it goes on for too long for a game that claims to be an hour long”
3) “the rules are complicated”
4) “the audience is really into wearing giant foam fingers -– which makes no sense at all”
5) “if you are watching a game on the TV you are bombarded with American advertising every five minutes...that is probably why the game was designed to stop and start so much”

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June 12, 2007 9:49 AM

Communists to Hezbollah Question U.S. Democracy

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What do nude bikers, North Korea admirers and activists knitters who "stitch and bitch" have in common? They were all out at Trafalgar Square this weekend demonstrating for their respective causes -- and questioning America’s use of the word democracy.

I stumbled into this motley scene searching for -- surprise -- a Starbucks to write in. Following the loud noises, I found myself in the square surrounded by George Bush’s face on “#1 Terrorist” placards. “Down with American Imperialism!” a teenage boy screamed. Not quite as welcoming as a beauty pageant, but it seemed like an interesting place to talk America.

The pro-Palestine march was the main draw for most, but the fringe elements quickly stole my attention. Along the perimeter of Trafalgar Square about a dozen communist and socialist information booths hung big red banners emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. Do they all hate America and its breed of capitalism, I wondered? The answer, I found out, was far more complicated.

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June 13, 2007 10:39 AM

If You've Got HIV, America Doesn't Want You

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London - "I have HIV," Biagio, a bartender at Escape in Soho tells me, so "I can't ever visit America." He's right, unless he puts his anti-retroviral drugs in unlabeled bottles and hopes immigration control doesn't stop him.

A 1993 law bans all HIV-positive would-be visitors from coming to the U.S. except under special circumstances. The law was put on the books at a time when HIV wasn't well understood and paranoia ran high. It's lingered for over a decade now, leaving people like Biagio and his friends feeling like toxins. Biagio tried to visit Los Angeles a year ago; it would be his first visit to the U.S. But his travel agency warned him not to risk it.

As a UK citizen, he doesn't need a visa to come to America for 90 days or less, but, if caught at customs with HIV-related medication, he could be forced to turn around and head home. "It's ridiculous," Biagio says.

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June 15, 2007 10:50 AM

Turning Back from the Taliban

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Hanif Qadir at the Active Change Foundation.
Walthamstow - When America invaded Afghanistan, Hanif Qadir sent money to a Taliban-run charity for innocent women and children caught in the war. Then he decided to visit the battle ground himself.

He’d seen pictures of Afghan boys with their private parts blown off by the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance and children weeping over their parents' corpses. “All that to catch 22 people, who America can’t even prove caused 9/11,” Hanif laments. He is against the loss of all innocent lives, he says, Americans included. But departing East London, he half-jokingly warned his British-born family that if he saw America committing the grave injustices he expected, he might become a mujahideen himself and never return.

At the time -- between 2001-2002 -- Hanif saw the "war on terror" as a cover for a “crusade” against Islam. "Terrorism cannot represent any lone religion, let alone Islam," he says. Hanif read reports of a U.S. general saying, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol." Rumsfeld defended this as free speech, while Hanif listened to Bush repeat the "false dilemma," “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists." When he heard calls for a war “against evil” Hanif agreed; but the evil was America. And he was ready to get personally involved "helping the innocent."

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June 18, 2007 11:00 AM

American Finds Islam in Jail; Moves to Saudi Arabia

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London - “Bin Laden Wins the Nobel Peace Prize!” bellows Mohammad Dawud. In Hyde Park’s famous “speakers’ corner,” sub-tabloid headlines write themselves. Individuals stand atop stools and shout for hours, competing with one another for crowds of listeners.

In the cacophony, Mohammad's voice caught my ear: an American's! That accent sticks out anywhere. I approached Mohammad gingerly as he preached to a crowd of a dozen about the incompatibility of Sharia law and democracy, waiting for him to finish and dying to hear his story. It was worth hanging around for.

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June 19, 2007 10:15 AM

India Says Wait for Your Visa

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Don't complain, join the queue.
I’d be living with villagers in south India right now, but -- as many non-American trying to visit the U.S. would understand -- my visa is holding me back.

An Air Emirates flight was set to depart Friday, June 15 at 9:30pm carrying me with it. All was in order except my press visa to India, which I thought was being taken care of back in Washington. Not so. I got a call on Wednesday telling me I needed to re-apply for the visa in person in the UK. This could take “days, weeks” I was told. A bit of panic struck.

I went immediately to the Indian High Commission in London, planning to hop the line (or “queue” as they call it here), talk directly with the minister and have this “sorted out right away.” Cutting straight to the visa window, I panted, "I’m an American journalist. This is urgent."

Without looking up, a bored consular official monotoned at me: “Get back in the queue.”

“But, my f--”

“Queue.” This was a lost cause. I got in line.

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June 20, 2007 11:53 AM

The Visa to India Came Through!

It’s quite a relief! I’m shoving off at 9:30pm UK time tomorrow night via Air Emirates…Bracing myself for the heat.

And, yes, I know I'm lucky to be American and to have this sorted out with relative ease. If I was Iranian or Ethiopian I imagine it would be a thousand times more difficult. And I will certainly check out the U.S. embassy in India, a place that holds a great deal of responsibility for me being born American at all...




June 20, 2007 5:15 PM

Most Americans Don't Have Passports

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"Only one percent of Americans carry passports," Bill Tibble, the manager of Palmer's Lodge Boutique Hostel tells me, "I saw it on CSI." I've heard this "statistic" in interviews, on buses and at numerous pubs. It's taken as proof that Americans are uninterested in the world. Is there any truth to it?

First I checked the facts, which are admittedly fuzzy: seems about one in three Americans carry passports. That’s far better than one in twenty, but still less than Canada, where 2 in 5 carry passports, and less than much of Europe where the majority carry them.

But there are some reasons, other than being self-absorbed, for why this might be:
1) America is huge. You can ski and surf in one state alone.
2) International travel is relatively expensive for us. We generally have to fly across one of two oceans to get off our soil.
3) Americans have less vacation time. We have on average two weeks of vacation a year versus a month in England. So with longer flight times, precious vacation time can get lost in transit.
4) There’s less desire to emigrate from the U.S. than other nations so perhaps less interest in checking out other places to live.
5) Passports haven’t always been necessary for travel to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. Now they are, and we’re seeing a rise in requests for passports. In fact, the surge in applications was more than expected, causing long delays in issuing passports.
6) Citizens of small European countries -- the size of, say, Maryland -- have long needed passports to travel across their borders. We don't need passports to travel between U.S. states.

But even if these statistics do confirm Americans are less interested in going to other countries, travel doesn’t always equal worldliness. A spring break in Cancun, Mexico isn’t very different than one in Miami. Same is true for Britons: resort towns on the coast of Spain offer plenty of sangria, but not much taste for the real culture of Spain.

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June 21, 2007 12:11 PM

An Irish Blogger's Letter to America

by Niall Conlon, a 23-year-old blogger in Dublin

Americans may be hard pressed to believe it, but it's tough for a European like me to hate America. After all, who could hate a country that gave the world John Wayne, Kurt Vonnegut, Fred Skinner and Tony Kushner? Look around Europe and you'll find American movies, books and music topping the charts. In truth, Europeans stopped looking at these products as American a long time ago. America is in the very air that we breathe, and because of this, we consume many of the myths that America feeds her young.

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June 21, 2007 4:28 PM

En Route to India

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Mumbai, site of this market, is on my list to visit in India as well as Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore.
I showered, shaved, and lightened my backpack so it wasn't a mess of computer wires and cameras. Figured I should check that stuff rather than carry it through airport security.

Conveniently, an American accent seems to help at the airport. Not sure why, but it's either that or my winning smile. And my passport seems to get the benefit of the doubt even though its flooded with stamps to far off places from Antarctica to Morocco to the United Arab Emirates (just Arabic script). So glad that, after a bit of a hassle, I have a press visa in there for my destination.

Have to run to catch my flight. I plan on using the time on board to ponder my experiences in the UK, write some reflective thoughts and regroup for what's up next! Have suggestions for what I should explore in India? Share them below.




June 22, 2007 2:09 AM

How England Sees America

After a month in the UK, I get the sense that Britons feel America has grown up too fast for its own good; its muscles are larger than its brain. Culturally, economically, and militarily, America carries tremendous weight, but doesn’t know how to wield it effectively -- for its own interests or for the benefit of others.

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American culture doesn't always reflect well on us.
In my interviews, the average American came out looking like a pre-pubescent Don Quixote in a sandbox. We’re described as big-hearted, big tippers with an exceptional service culture and a willingness to aid lost UK tourists. But we're also considered somewhat childlike: poorly traveled, insular, fervent with unexamined faith, excessive patriotism and wishful thinking.

The good of this that is we believe we can accomplish anything, spurring innovation and making us work hard. But confidence can easily slip into arrogance. The notion that Americans are exceptional, having founded a city on a hill, particularly irks Britons, who remind me they abolished slavery first. Omnipresent American flags and recurrent politicians’ calls for God to bless America blend faith and politics in a way that violates our founding principles, I'm told. Certain Muslim communities are particularly wary of American religiosity.

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June 25, 2007 9:39 AM

Dadi Ma Loses Her Family to America

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I was born American because of Brigadier General Amar Bakshi, my grandfather and namesake. Boisterous and demanding, he ordered his three children to migrate to the “Land of Opportunity” just before dying of a stroke thirty-seven years ago.

Last night I asked my grandmother, a.k.a. “Dadi Ma,” to tell me why the well-respected Indian general was so committed to sending his family to America.

“I never thought of America until your grandfather one day said the children must go there,” she tells me. “At first I thought I would miss them very much…I wanted them to stay, but then I thought I was being selfish….And whatever your dada would say, I would do.”

Any conversation with Dadi Ma inevitably becomes a conversation about her. This annoys her three children to no end, my father included. But for me, young and with some time to spare, it just seems comical, if sometimes sad.

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June 26, 2007 3:51 PM

Why Clinical Research in India Outpaces U.S.

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“Opportunities to develop cutting edge [medical practices] are fast disappearing in…the United States,” says Dr. Kushagra Katariya, who was born in New Delhi, specialized in New York, and recently returned to India. He says that when it comes to developing a new, improved way to treat patients, he can do it “quicker, develop it better, and have the ingredients to really take it much further" than he could in the same amount of time in the U.S.

His decision to first go to the U.S. for advanced medical study was an easy one: “It was obvious that education of all forms was...the best there [in America]. If you had to be the best at what you did,” you “had to go” to America.

He spent almost two decades in the U.S., first in New York training to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and then as an associate professor at the University of Miami. While abroad, he dreamed up the Artemis Medical Institute and developed the contacts he needed to make it real. Here in Gurgaon, ten days from now, the clinic will move from soft-launch into full-scale operations.

Katariya tells me he held on to a “passion for coming back to India…I do belong here.” But when he did finally return, his reasons were far more than emotional. Here, he can combine his clinical practice with scientific research and technological development, all at a breakneck pace.

"Clinical research and translational research is down 70% in the U.S.," he tells me, laying out two primary explanations:

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June 27, 2007 6:30 PM

American-Style Consumerism in India

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Noida and Gurgaon, India’s outsourcing and call center capitals, are making big bucks from Americans, and spending a lot of it on U.S. goods from Pizza Hut lunches to Levi's Jeans. In these booming suburbs of Delhi, consumers and retailers tell me an "aspirational lifestyle" has taken hold. The growing Indian middle class has money to spend, and so they do. I'm wondering: are they trying to spend it like Americans, arguably the inventors of conspicuous consumption, or do they just really like listening to their music on iPods, nodding designer sunglasses to the beat?

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June 28, 2007 8:13 AM

Upcoming Interview: Chellaney on India Nuclear Deal

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What do you think about the U.S.-India nuclear deal: A golden opportunity? Hypocrisy? I'm meeting Professor Brahma Chellaney from India's Center for Policy Research tomorrow at 11:30am Delhi-time, 2am EST. When it comes to the India-U.S. nuclear deal, PG panelist MJ Akbar said he's the best guy to talk to.

Chellaney is a Member of the Policy Advisory Group headed by the Foreign Minister of India and has written a bunch of books on international security and arms control. In this article, India Has Sold Its Nuclear Soul to the U.S., he argues India is being duped by America. Check it out and post or email me any questions you'd like me to ask him.




June 29, 2007 3:24 PM

Professor Disappointed by U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

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India is not “America’s ally,” Professor Brahma Chellaney emphasizes, it is its "strategic partner.” After World War II, Japan and Germany were America’s allies obeying America in a “patron-client” relationship because “they had no other choice.” That would have worked in the 20th century, with countries defeated in war and -- in the case of Eastern Europe -- running to America after the Cold War, “But in the 21st century…any new friend America makes...is going to seek a semblance of equality in the relationship. It is important for U.S. policy-makers to understand a different mindset in a country like India and respect it.”

And anyway, Chellaney says, America doesn’t need so much control to achieve its geopolitical objectives. In fact, Washington’s forceful attitude and "outdated" mindset actually works against it. The failing India-U.S. nuclear deal is a prime example...

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