Friday, February 15, 2008

Are Americans hostile to knowledge?

The NY Times posited this question yesterday, stirring quite a buzz from readers. The article begins with the anecdote of Kellie Pickler, an "American Idol" contestant who wonders on a nationally televised quiz show whether Budapest is in France, whether Europe is a country and then seems incredulous when she's informed there is such a place as Hungary. "I've heard of Turkey," she spouts.

Ms. Pickler is hardly a spokeswoman for the U.S. education system, and yet there she was proudly displaying her ignorance for all the world to see.

To be sure, classifying Americans as thick and insular is the height of ignorance, as is judging America based on what you see on TV. If TV content were an accurate reflection of national character, Italy would be squarely at the bottom of the intellectual scale. But chances are the typical Italian would know where Budapest was. It's not in Turkey.

Friday, February 08, 2008

My first film

I've been playing with iWeb over the past few weeks, a few minutes here, a few brief dinners there. Here's the result: a video compilation using snaps and videos pulled from my Nokia N95.

Warning: it's vacation propaganda. Lots of scenes of sunny skies and magnificent scenery. It may not be suitable for workplaces that require full productivity.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Democracy speaks

If Tuesday's Democratic Primary run-off in New Jersey comes down to a single vote, you can blame ten Italians, a Brit and yours truly. You see, my ballot, which hopefully arrived Stateside today, was a collaborative effort. I took a straw poll among friends over the past week; the candidate with the most votes, I informed them, would get "my vote". My choice would be worth 1/12th in the end, a worthy sacrifice, I figured, for a people living in a corner of the world that gets swept up in American foreign policy far too often. (That is a 1/12th vote it is even counted. I realize absentee ballots are only counted when it's close. I failed to mention this to them).

But if it is a close call I have full trust in the good people at Ocean County Board of Elections with whom I am on a first-name basis. (I cannot say enough good things about Ocean County Board of Elections. Really. They send me e-mail reminders and are quick to respond to even the most mundane question. Some of you may be rolling your eyes when our Prez talks about the importance of spreading democracy, but these fine people take it to heart.), who did I/we vote for?

John Edwards.

Kidding. Though he did receive a half-vote for him from Franco.

Here's how it went down:
By Tuesday night (the final night of the polls), turnout was pretty weak. We had set up a "virtual caucus" on a friend's blog and the responses were coming in slowly. No doubt, this bunch of intellectuals was in no mood for further democracy after the fall of the Prodi government last week. So, we took the polls to the constituents. Over a dinner at Lara & Stefano's, we collected two more votes. For Obama.

That swung the count in his favor, unsettling Xtina. She immediately started working the phones (mine and hers) from the dinner table. Xtina is stridently for Hillary and was trying to bring sympathists on side. Sensing unfairness, I sent out a series of SMS messages myself, votes I thought that would blunt Xtina's neo-Marxist, pro-Stiglitz, pro-Philip Roth sensibilities.
They came in one-by-one.

Michael: Bill Clinton. Close enough. That's a vote for Hillary.
Luca: Obama
Giovanni: Obama
Franco, being Roman, voted twice: Edwards and Obama. That's another for Obama.
Mauro: Obama
Manuel & Martina: Hillary & Hillary
Me: Hillary

The tally? six for Obama. five for Hillary. Xtina pulls out a ringer: her dad, Massimo.

Massimo, ever since I've known him, speaks to me about two subjects: life in Umbria and Hillary Clinton. As early as Easter, 2005 he wanted to know whether Condi had enough juice to derail Hillary. Or EE-lay-ree, as he says. I told him Condi has no chance to win the Republican Party nomination. Bah!, he replied with suspicion. Massimo is a loyal Christian Democrat. Hillary would get their party nomination easily, he seemed to be saying. She would probably even get her chance to run the country for 10 months.

His wife, Liliana, on the other hand, still grumbling about the break-up of the Papal States, uses her vote to cancel out Massimo. She is definitely a McCain woman.

So, as Xtina dialed home, I stood ready, blue helmet on, to prevent anything, let's say, fraudulent happening between Xtina and Massimo to put us in a difficult situation. I grabbed the phone once Massimo started speaking.

Massimo, what's your vote?

Kennedy, he started. Massimo has a habit of speaking in circles when he's asked to go on the record.

Kennedy?, I asked.

Ted Kennedy. That's important. He just endorsed Obama. That's big. I'm going with Obama.

Incredulous, I took down his vote and hung up the phone.

In the end, it was 7 for Obama, 5 for Hillary.

10 Italians, 1 Brit, me and Ted Kennedy have spoken.