Thebastidge: Ugly Americans
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    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Ugly Americans

    It's funny how you can pick out nationalities in an International Airport.

    Korean dudes are usually the ones wearing white socks with black shoes and dark slacks (or plaid slacks, lol.) Guys, white socks are for sports. (My Korean friends already know this.) Japanese tourists are famous for their whiz-bang cameras. Brits have a look about them.

    And Americans. Oh, ugly Americans. Just always talking too loudly and overly friendly like bumbling dogs, good natured, but annoying, drooling on the furniture and looking around blankly with a goofy grin.

    Or some would have you believe, anyway. It's true many Americans are rather provincial in their outlook on international travel and lacking the outward facade of sophistication of our European cousins. Yes, some people make a jackass of themselves thinking that speaking louder will help someone understand a foreign language, And yes, some get shrill with disappointed feelings of entitlement when things like laws, regulations, and customs aren't the same as back home.

    But let me tell you what I like about Americans overseas.

    Americans walk proudly wherever we go. This is not arrogance, it is what should be the natural expectation of any human being- the right to go where you wish as long as you aren't bothering anyone else, without having to explain yourself, and only paying reasonable amounts- i.e. not needing to bribe people to do the job they are already being paid for, nor for the "privilege" of doing something that is already legal. It is the expectation that anywhere one might go, that they'll be as safe as they would be on an American street.

    If you think about it, that's quite a statement, with lots of subtle meaning underneath. Americans expect to be safe where ever we go. Why do we expect this? Is it because we're cocky in our technological advantage, or because we think that nothing can affect "the rich"?

    No, it's because America is a safe place, and we grew up safe. It's a habit with us to be only marginally concerned about their own safety.

    This is a truly extraordinary thing. It does prove that Americans need to know more about the world, but also shows that we expect better of people around the world, than those people typically expect of themselves.

    It's an optimistic outlook.

    Americans are shocked and surprised by bribery. One does not ask for a bribe from strangers in America. Chummy relationships with kickbacks and extortion do exist, of course. But the cop on the street doesn't ask for bribes from a speeder, nor does the speeder typically expect to be able to bribe their way out of a ticket.

    They may try to weasel out with excuses, but that's more of a game than anything else.

    Compare this to other countries, even "civilized" Europe.

    Americans are friendly. We will chat with strangers in airports with the expectation that the stranger will be polite and agreeable. We will ask things and tell things that are considered brash and gauche by many culture's standards, because we don't expect to need to hide things, or worry about a lot of social condemnation, or to present an aspect of world-weary cynicism to show our sophistication. We expect to be judged upon the content of our character, the logic of our expressed thought, and our actions, more than upon our mannerisms or family connections.

    We expect that even if one has antipathy towards another race, it is rude to demonstrate it, and rudeness reflects more poorly upon the source than the target.

    Americans are willing to show their childlike delight with cool architecture, and gizmos that go fast, or far, or do neat tricks. Americans appreciate the efforts of others- for a short time until something new comes along. We have no problem expressing that appreciation verbally, easily, and often. Then we move on, because it's not a static world.

    I like these qualities about my compatriots.

    Tag: Patriot's Journey (with JimK, Scott, Lil, Doug, and our fearless leader Drumwaster)


    Blogger Another Bratcher said...

    hmmm Having an issue with my blogger account so I'll just post here that this is from another bratcher.

    I heard several stories regarding our fellow American from Georgia that traveled inter-continentally with a rare strain of TB recently and it made me think of this post.

    I admit that I am a bit ignorant to the details in the case, however, what I can find seems to be (rather typically) sensationalized in the American media. I do not know the extent to which this "super" strain of TB is truly a threat, except to know that it is reported as dangerous by the CDC. I see two things that strike me as interesting from the media accounts.

    First - That this brazen idiot would travel inter-continentally with a disease that has the potential to cause serious health issues to many people. Who reading this would not concede that planes act as large petri dishes? The scientific community's "precautionary Principle" winces at this action.

    Second - That one American citizen with this strain IS news as he travels, but that a recent instance of 45 out of 46 infected people in a remote African village dying from it DID NOT make the news. I read a post from a CDC memo stating that this strain poses a significant health threat to the entire world..and yet it takes one lapse in judgment from an American to bring it to light.

    8:49 PM  
    Blogger bitingblondewit said...

    Quibble... His father-in-law is with the CDC and specifially studies that strain of TB. He had initially been informed that it would be safe to travel. It sucks for the people exposed as this strain can take months to actually diagnose. I'm sure if someone had informed him that he was on the no-fly list, he would have stayed home. Or perhaps if anyone here had checked his name against the list before he boarded...

    9:03 PM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    I've had TB. It is not the boogie man that it used to be. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection. It is curable. Before antibiotics, TB was going to kill you, and it was a long slow, painful way to die, coughing yourself to death while struggling to breathe.

    TB is a naturally treament-resistant disease, slow to progress. This is part of its resistance. Being a bacterium which metabolizes slowly, it can take a whille for the antibiotics (essentially poison for bacteria) to act to kill the last of it. Then if the patient fails to take the full course of treatment, as people tend to do all the time, the remaining bacteria are those who are selectively more resistant to the original treament.

    TB typically takes years to manifest, and is not easily communicable until it does. The immune system sort of quarantines it in nodules, typically in the lungs, and it only becomes particularly communicable when it gets to later stages where those modules become open lesions and the patient manifests symptoms, like persistant, and even bloody coughing. Treatment for TB takes many months, and people in a reomte African village who are not traveling and spreading this disease where it has been eradicated before are not as much risk to others.

    This story strikes me as mostly sensationalism capitalizing on a disease that still strikes fear because of history, even though modern medicine has conquered it in the civilized world. It does point up a failing of the TSA's procedures, which should have us all questioning the effectiveness of government actions regarding travel.

    The story, space issues aside, should include details like this for perspective, but I would blame that on the poor general education and laziness of journalists rather than racism. It's a maxim, "All news is local." I think the prejudice in this case is for relevance, not race.

    5:36 AM  
    Anonymous Geoffrey said...

    Granted I have not really dug all that far into the story, but how unlikely would it be that this guy boarded the aircraft looking to infect? The guy's father-in-law makes it a little too coincidental for me not to contemplate.

    In any case, the use of antibiotics is not a sovreign cure for any bacterial ills. The same problem also exists for pesticides. Statistically, there will be at least some survivers that will be less susceptible to what was used. They will breed, thus the next generation is less susceptible. Subsequent treatments will be increasingly ineffective, requiring larger dosage or different substance for lethality. In antibiotics, all the medicine has to do is inhibit the infection enough for the immune system to eradicate it, which does tend to have some advantages for the industry. However, any given antibiotic only has a certain life of efficacy. The faster the bacteria reproduce, the shorter the window. Allergies not withstanding, sulfa drugs have been used so universally, that a great many microbes are resistant. Penicillin is also largely ineffective and so we are currently working through the variations. It is not impossible that any bacterial epidemics of the past could not make a resurgence at some point if it has the right transmission vectors. People can and do die from what are considered as curable diseases even with prompt treatment. The only thing that keeps it from headlines is that it's relatively rare and isolated. But put the right bug in a place where the infrastructure has collapsed and things can change dramatically.

    2:44 PM  
    Blogger Larry said...

    "how unlikely would it be that this guy boarded the aircraft looking to infect? The guy's father-in-law makes it a little too coincidental for me not to contemplate."

    I find it highly unlikely. It's much more likely he thought he was okay, didn't know he was on a no-fly list (after all, they keep it secret), and thought he would be okay.

    His father in law is unlikely to come forward now and say he told the guy it was okay, but it's quite possible that he did.

    We haven't heard much of anything from medical experts on whether he was communicable at the time, what stage his disease was in, or much in the way of facts about TB in general or his specific strain in particular.

    you do make good points about the use of drugs- the one point I would add is that the efficacy of these drugs is more damaged by the shortsightedness of people who fail to take a complete course of treatment, and the unnecessary use of anti-biotics in a prophylactic sense (sometimes doing an end-run around the medical establishment by self-diagnosing and self-prescribing) than by widespread use to combat disease. People often insist upon anti-biotics to treat viral infections, not realizing it makes little sense (except for secondary bacterial infections.) More superstition that needs to be erdaicated through education, but many doctors like the infallibility of being the miracle worker and don't care to exlain to mere mortals, and don't consider that the individual, with proper explanations and solicitation of information, can be effective at assisting in their own treatment.

    And suplha drugs have made a resurgence in use and effectiveness- the malleability of bacterial genetics means that any paricular extreme adaption is unlikely to persist in the absense of the environmental factor that selected for it (drug resistance).

    10:19 PM  

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