Saturday, August 12, 2006

America through its Televised News

If anybody wants to get to the bottom of the societal and cultural differences between America and Tunisia, I have one advice... Compare the televised news.

In this first post, I will share with you my views on the televised news in the US. In the next, I will draw from my experience with the news in Tunisia to emphasize certain aspect of the Tunisian common psyche.

I guess first in America we have to distinguish between local and national news. In general, the local news are affiliates of the big networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc..). Their main focus is what is happening in your city. They tend to focus on the practical direct aspects of the information (traffic, crime, local teams in your area). They compete/ differentiate on the immediate services, better weather forecasting tools, nicer choppers for live coverage of traffic, involvement in the community, and insights in the local political and sports scene.
The national news come in two shapes:
-The networks that squeeze in 30 minutes of daily news (plus weekly documentary and the off the cuff specials), and
-The new (not so new) platform, namely the 24-hour news channels (FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC etc).

Although the two types of news have some fundamental differences (mainly time allotments, and the fact that cable has more room for editorials and comments vs actual news), they both share some important characteristics namely sensationalism and short attention span. First one has to recognize that this entities (except PBS) are free enterprises, and that ultimately their goal is to make money in a very competitive environment driven by ratings. From that standpoint one can understand that they need to "chock" to keep viewers riveted to their screens. Mundane nice upbeat news don't go well with a "blaze" audience, and cannot compete for their attention and their spending dollars with other TV programming and other media . The gory, scary, graphic, inflaming news can attract people's attention. That takes me to the second point, which how fast the big story of today does not even make it to the news tomorrow. It's amazing when you watch the news here, you have the impression that the general public and the news in general have a huge case of Adult ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The corruption scandal surrounding a congressman that was "Breaking News" material yesterday, is not even talked about today as this famous actress made a foul out herself when she was arrested by the police for drinking and driving. The war that last week was called the first salvo in WWIII is not even worth mentioning today!!

Finally two observations or trends:
- Americans tend to blindly believe their news and rarely question the motives and the source. They tend to develop viewing habits consumerate with their political, economical status and views. In other words, if you are conservative you will mostly watch FoxNews and you have more predispositions to believe what they you hear and see. The same applies to liberals and the rest of the middle road America.

- Less and less Americans are getting their news from TV (or printed media). Increasing numbers are getting their news from the internet and the blogsphere.

In conclusion, as in everything else, American news have a practical focus not matched anywhere else. Their main focus is how each piece of news will impact you, the viewer. Whether it's an election that will impact your taxes, a far flung war that will impact the price of the gas at the pump, the main focus how it will impact our lives here.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Questions about Tunisia?

I wanted to discuss my perception of the pace of things in Tunisia. I am concerned that my few encounters with the system and a few people in the last ten years are not representative of the general way of doing things in the country where I am from and where I grew up. I would love to think that my few experiences are not representative of the 21st Century Tunisia. These are my questions:

-why does tomorrow means next week? And why does 8:00 AM means 10:00 AM?
-why are there white lies?
-why do people say they can when they can't?
-why does everybody have an opinion on everything?
-why does everybody understands (in fact they think they understand) geopolitics and world affairs?
-why are business and success suspicious?
-why do people say the same things several times in the same sentences?
-why what region you come from matters that much (sfaxi vs. sahli vs. Djerbi vs Beldi etc)?
-why is the weather important?
-why does every sentence has to have a proverb in it?
-why is it cool, hip, sophisticated to use French sentences?
-why do we say we are Arabs when the Arabs are one of the people that colonized us? why don't we say we are Turkish (they ruled us for three centuries), or French, or Romains or phonenicans?

Clearly these are some funny observations and are not intended to offend the sensitivity of my fellow country men and women...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Summer Vacations in Tunisia

I am going home this summer for vacations and I am having some apprehensions!!!
Can I learn to chill and enjoy "nothingness"? I have invented this word to describe one of the best past time in Tunisia. Here they call it hanging out or chilling out. I guess all cultures/ countries have some nothingness built into their social make up. I am eluding to the preponderance of nothingness in Tunisia. Whether it's sitting at a coffee shop (shooting the breeze), waiting for somebody to show up for a late appointment or a show to start, embarking in silly impassioned debates over soccer, it seems to me that in Tunisia we do a lot of nothingness.
Don't get me wrong there is ample situations and time for nothingness here (for example watching stupid reality TV shows), however the major difference is nothingness is a choice, not a way of life, you can avoid it.

I guess I am diverging. I am literally stressed out for not having an exact plan for everyday of my vacation. My family in Tunisia is championing the play it by ear approach...

I will have to wait and see....
I keep telling myself the secret of life is to be nimble and adopt to your environment (as the famous saying goes, when in Rome...) . I have to adjust back to Tunisia way of life at least for two weeks...

Sense of Sufficiency!!!!

I am disgusted by reading the Tunisian press after the Spain game. Reading our impartial and professional papers you get the feeling that Tunisia played very well and deserved better (heroic, best game since Argentina 78, deserved better, lions of Tunisia etc). Did they watch the same game that I have seen? Tunisia was at best average, non creative, too scared to lose, players lacking the fundamentals of soccer, and clearly unentertaining.
I am puzzled and outraged by the culture of "sufficiency" and lack of ambition that they cultivate in us. What would have been the reactions if we have won?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Houston Professional Teams

What's happening with our professional teams in Houston? it's has been an awful fall for major teams. I was not thrilled by the Astros (remember Pujol 9th inning home run, and the sweep in the finals). You don't wait forever to go to the World series to get swept in that fashion by the White Sox. The Rockets are lethargic and people in the city and the local media are very soft on Yao. He is no all star and he should not be mentioned in the same breath as T-Mac or be compared to Shaq.

Should I dwell on the Texans? I don't recall ever having a home team in any sport in all of my life as pathetic.

The Fans in Houston need to become more demanding like New York and Boston fans. David Carr, Yao Ming, Enseberg will have no sympathy (and will not survive) if they were playing in those markets.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Running the Houston Marathon

What is this banged up middle aged delicate knees retired soccer player doing this time? Alright my friends I decided to run the Houston marathon (26 and some miles) on January 15th, 2006. With no training and no previous experience with long distance runs, this seems quite a challenge, but I am not one to "run" away from challenges. Also I will run for a good cause, I will raise money for a charity that works with the Texas Children Hospital. I officially started training the weekend of Thanksiving....

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries

I wanted to share you with stories and pictures from my recent vacation. I decided recently with a couple of friends to take a motorcycle ride through the western part of the US. Initially, we wanted to ride on historical "Route 66" from Texas to California. Unfortunately we found out that the reason they call "historical", is because it does no longer exists (at least not in a functional way). My trip companions were my friend "Ben" from Philly and his friend "Haj" from back home. Both Ben and "Haj" are experienced riders that have several years of experience riding different types of motorcycles. Both are also married with three kids each, and "Haj' never drove in the US. Ben and "Haj" flew to Las Vegas a couple of days before me. I joined them on Friday night.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

At 9.00 AM, we went to the Las Vegas Harley Davidson (Eagle Riders), and picked up three motorcycles. We chose Harley Davidson's Road Kings (around 800 pounds). We crammed our clothes in the metallic saddles of the bikes. My first contact with the bike was not very successful (I almost dropped it in the first turn during my test drive in the dealer's lot). This episode helped me free up my tension and apprehensions, but unfortunately kind of scared my two co-travelers. We decided to head "slowly" toward the Grand Canyon (some 300 miles away). We traveled the first day painfully slow behind the direction of "Haj" rarely topping 60 mph. We avoided the Hoover's Dam road as it is challenging, and rather decided to take an extra 60 miles to catch highway I-40. Needless to say that the views, and landscape were breathtaking. Once we reached I-40 after Kingman, Ben took the leadership of the pack, and the real experience started with peaks of speed, highways turns, climbs, and whirlwinds caused by 18-wheelers. My two companions were rightfully adamant at not driving over night, so we settle at the first little town we met after dark. We spend the night in Williams, Arizona (60 miles away from the Grand Canyon). This small town was almost a ghost town. The streets were dead, and the restaurants were empty. We decided that we will have plenty of time to party and go out at other stops and that we'd better rest up before heading toward the Grand Canyon.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

At Haj's insistence (he is an early riser), we departed from our motel at 8.00 local time. That was a bad idea, as it just finished snowing and we couldn't feel the extremities of our fingers because of the cold (in spite of the of the extra padding of the gloves). We decided to stop at Denny's, get the breakfast of the champions, and wait out till the sun raises up further. At 9.00, we headed toward the Grand Canyon. The road was a little icy but fairly empty. By the time we got there, the weather warmed up, and the view from the Canyon was simply amazing. We decided that nothing would top a helicopter tour, and indeed, the ride was one of the high moments of this trip.
On the way back, the ride on I-40 was smooth until I literally run of gas (as some of you know, motorcycle fuel indicators are not reliable!!). So there I was in the middle of nowhere, stranded with my motorcycle, while my friends went to the next town (Seligman, 15 miles away) to get me some gas. That wasn't the end of my troubles, as the drive gets dicier with more challenging uphills turns, and a 10-mile decline of 6% (Imagine every couple of miles, they had a flat off-road runaway for trucks if they lose their brakes!!). By the time we got to Laughlin, NV (a town centered around several casinos), it was around 6.00 PM and we were exhausted.

Monday, Tuesday, Dec 13, 14, 2004

I have decided to take the lead and increase our speed. In those two days, our quest was to reach California (or rather populated Cali). We droved through stretches of highway were we did not see anybody, except the occasional 18-wheelers with all the commotion they cause when they drive by you. This stretch of I-40 highway between the Arizona/ California border and Barstow was "a speed freak" dream (let's leave it there). We spent Monday night in Riverside, California where a friend of Ben took us to dinner. Tuesday, We headed toward San Diego, California, that we reached after 2 hours of highway driving with the usual traffic bottlenecks. We drove all the way to Coronado Island. At one point, following traffic, we almost ended up in one of the biggest military base of the nation. Soldiers had to direct us back to "civilian" roads. I liked the architecture, the ocean view, and the small downtown of the Island. After that we drove back on famous Pacific Highway toward Santa Monica (it is most definitely not a highway since there were traffic lights every one hundred yards!). We rode through famous and fancy areas such as Orange County, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and infamous such as Long Beach. We arrived to our prized destination of Santa Monica at around 7.00 PM.

Wednesday, Dec 15, 2004

This was the only day without motorcycle rides. We took an organized tour around LA (one of these tours where they take you to celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, and different landmarks such as Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive etc). It was a fun tour. We had lunch at the world market, and coffee in Hollywood Boulevard. LA always remain me of my younger brother. My first time in LA, I flew to meet with my brother and his crew in their Class trip. That city will always be associated in my mind with my younger brother! The weather is simply breathtaking in LA and Santa Monica. In December, the temperature hovers around 75 degrees (to the point where I had to go buy short sleeved T-shirts), and is constantly sunny.

Thursday, Dec 16, 2004

By far, the ride on this day was the most challenging and dangerous. Once we hit I-15 in the San Bernardino Valley, Santa Anna winds decided to act up (apparently they are famous out West). The winds were blowing sideways at a speed of 100 mph. We saw a couple of 18 wheelers completely flipped sideways. It was quasi impossible to hold the motorcycles steady and straight. My companions wanted to stop but I am glad that we rode through it (as this was the highlight of the trip for me). As usual, once we got to Nevada (Primm), we were met with giant casinos. Primm remains me of a dear friend of mine back home. When we drove together from LA to Vegas in 2000, we stopped by Primm where he bought his then girlfriend a piece of jewelry to take their relationship to the next level (He is happily married to her for two years now). We got to Vegas around 6.00 PM. I was finally able to get out of my leather clothes and boots, and dress up for a change!

Friday, Dec 17, 2004

We learned in the news that several trucks were reversed by the wind on I-15 and that the highway was closed 1 hour after we crossed the valley! During the day, we took a small road trip to Red Canyon (about 25 miles from Vegas). I spent the rest of the day, riding through the different neighborhoods of spiraling Las Vegas. We returned the motorcycles that night. We covered around 1600 miles in 5 days of actual riding.

We spent Saturday night in Vegas (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!!), and flew back on Sunday where I was greeted by my first snow in Baltimore!

This trip was a lot of fun, helped me learn more about my self, pushed my limits, and improved my team work skills. It also allowed me to finally explore the Wide Wild West. I rode through towns and locations that I heard about only in gas trading (Needles, Topock, middle of nowhere, no wonder delivered natural gas is expansive in California!!), or in movies and TV (OC, and Venice Beach). Finally, IT WAS A NICE BREAK (good for recharging my batteries before attacking the new year).

I hope that I did not bore you with my vacation story, and that you have enjoyed my motorcycle diaries and my pictures.

I wish a happy new year to all of you and your families, full of health, joy and success.