So, today I’m blogging from Idaho where I’m visiting the in-laws. This is the first time I’ve been back in the States long enough for the place to feel foreign since decamping off to Belgium a couple years ago. Actually, the strangest part of this trip has been the feeling of being in a foreign country, even though it’s a country that I’ve spent almost half my life in.
Some of that could be Idaho. I’ve lived in California, Colorado, Indiana and New Jersey, and this is a bit like Colorado. Of course, I haven’t lived in Colorado in 20 years. But, considering that I’ve spent most of this trip either working on a white paper for my employer or planted in front of basic cable, I have to at least consider the possibility that Idaho isn’t really the problem.
[Warning: This post is long and will contain extensive references to life in America. The Americans will probably all get it. You may not.]
Anyway, I though I might point out some things that coming here reminds me that I miss about America, along with some I don’t:
- Having more selection in fast food than McDo, Quick and the local kebab merchants. (Yo quiero Taco Bell.)
- Grocery stores that stay open after six and on Sundays.
- The open road and the sight of mountains on the horizon.
- Bagels. (Damn, I miss bagels. Even Idaho bagels.)
- Buffy reruns.
I don’t miss:
- Crappy American fries.
- The fifteen pounds I lost by moving away from fast food and the four I’ve gained back in the last week here.
- SUV’s, the smell of the Interstate, and the odor of the local rendering plant.
- Biscuits in gravy.
- Fruits, vegetables and cheese that taste like cardboard.
- The words: “Parental discretion is advised”
There are a few important bits of knowledge that many Americans don’t seem to have that I would consider really quite important. So let me point out a few things for any American readers we have who need the refresher. I suspect few of you do, but some of your compatriots clearly need it and I would appreciate it if you could distribute these little bits of knowledge as far and wide as possible:
- The Bible does not predict the establishment of the State of Israel, nor does it predict that the Antichrist will attack it when there is peace with the Palestinians. Yes, I’ve read the entire Bible. I even used to go to Sunday school. Whatever it is you think you’re reading there, it isn’t there. Frankly, if there has to be peace in Israel for the world to end, I wouldn’t start cashing in my stocks yet anyway.
- I don’t care what Jesus would do; I worry too much about about what George W. Bush would do. And, I will accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour when you accept that you’ve been brainwashed by your cult.
- Yes, I’m from Europe and no, I don’t like Heineken. I also don’t drink Coors because I don’t like the taste of horse urine in a can.
- France and Germany have virtually identical policies towards Iraq and it’s the US that has softened its stance, not the other way around. Yes, it is entirely fair that the US should pay nearly all of the bill for rebuilding Iraq, because if you broke it, you have to fix it.
- They’re euros, not euro-dollars. And they’re not worth eighty cents, they’re worth a buck fifteen. Get used to it.
- I don’t care if you were in Vietnam, you’re still a drunk redneck in a pick-up truck.
Okay, so this hasn’t been a great trip. I hadn’t realised how much these little things annoyed me until I got here.
However, the real crowning moments of disappointment have all come from CSPAN. My mother-in-law doesn’t have the Sci-Fi channel, or FoodTV, or even F/X. I can’t even get CNN. So, I’m stuck with the network news and CSPAN. The network news is pretty bad. I get the impression that news on the Big Three networks reaches mostly people over age 70, and that the producers assume anyone that old can only stay awake about 20 minutes.
CSPAN, however… Wow. First, I watched the confirmation hearing for Bush’s appointee for Secretary of State for Indian Affairs. It’s some guy named David Anderson who owns a bunch of BBQ restaurants in the upper Midwest: “Famous Dave’s.” He starts the hearing with a recording of an episode of Oprah where he was featured, talking about how he dragged himself up from alcohol and drugs on the reservation to become the Harvard MBA and successful businessman he is today.
As soon as I saw the Oprah tape, I figured that the fix was in. This wasn’t a confirmation hearing, it was a formality, and Mr Anderson was confirmed unanimously before the relevant sub-committee. I assume his hearing before the full committee will be just as smooth.
The thing is, there was only peripheral mention of the long running legal troubles that the Bureau of Indian Affairs faces. (They’re getting sued for robbing the tribes they’re supposed to serve of something like half the annual GDP of the US over the course of 150 years.) Furthermore, there was hardly any mention of Indian gambling at the hearing, just a little bit. It turns out the Dave Anderson didn’t make his fortune in the restaurant business, that’s just what he does now. He started out in reservation politics and worked his way up to an executive position in some reservation casino operation. He said that he intended to divest himself of any assets he had in the gambling industry and abstain from any decisions involving gambling permits.
He did say one thing that struck me as worth knowing: He’s for casino gambling as a temporary measure to finance development of more permanent industries on reservations. I’m somewhere between indifferent and against on reservation casinos, so at least his position is one I can understand. But, I was really irritated by hearing about how his personal story was an “inspiration” to young Indians and how his business experience qualifies him to run the BIA. The first is laughable and the second ridiculous. I’m sure his life story is largely as described: that he was an alcoholic kid from the rez with nothing to his name who managed to pull himself together. (Although as the hearing progressed it turned out he was from Chicago, but hey, that’s just details.) I doubt very strongly that knowing the guy who runs the BIA used to be a drunk does much of anything for kids of any background.
I would have liked to have heard the nominee say something like “I’ve run a dozen BIA projects on time, and under budget and without legal problems.” That would have impressed me. Running casinos and grilled cow establishments doesn’t impress me. And, I was on one level completely unsurprised and on another disturbed that someone with such close ties to the gambling industry would be allowed to take over the BIA. I mean, that’s like letting oilmen decide on your policy in the Middle East.
The second disappointing thing I saw on CSPAN was the Democratic primary debates. First, did Joe Lieberman look like Senator Palpatine back in 2000? I swear, the resemblance is uncanny. Well, at least having a Republican in the Democratic primary gives all the other Democrats something to agree on: They all hate Lieberman. Otherwise, who the hell are all these losers? I recognise Gephardt because I’ve seen him run before, Al Sharpton is hard to miss, and I assume the black lady is Carol Mosley-Braun. But the others? Was it just me, or did anyone else need cards to tell them all apart?
I’m not hopeful about this bunch. The one who I think is Kucinich sounds like Jerry Brown. John Edwards is the smiling guy, right? He gets off some good one liners, but is way too Kennedy for his own good. Kerry just sucked. This Dean guy wasn’t too bad, but he certainly didn’t distinguish himself in the debate I saw. I’ve heard Gephardt tell stories about NAFTA that didn’t make sense before, and listening to him take credit for Clinton’s economic record is just pathetic. I had hope for Wesley Clark, but not anymore. Frankly, I think I could vote for Carol Mosley-Braun. I could bring myself to vote for Al Sharpton in a pinch. The rest just make me glad I never did become a US citizen.
I’m a lot less optimistic about the Democrats in 2004 than I was before. If it had just been about destroying Lieberman, well, that would have been okay. Every time he said something, I wanted to sing: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…” But, if the debate is any sign of what’s going on, the battle lines all seem to be drawn between the pro- and anti-Bush camps within the Democratic party. That not just ridiculous, it’s a strategy for defeat. If the Democrats can’t all come together behind annihilating Bush, there’s even less chance of getting the electorate behind it. I’m beginning to think Michael Moore is right: the Democrats should draft Oprah.
I’m not sure when I’ll next be back in the States. Probably next summer, just as the election is heating up. It’s not something I’m looking forward to.