Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cred-It: An Introduction

Earlier today I read something terrifying. It was the front page article of the New York Times, called "How a 'good war' in Afghanistan went bad." The article took me a while to read, since it spanned 3 pages -- which you know in the New York Times means a hell of a lot of complicated words. Regardless, I really wanted to read it, because I'm interested in the news, because I have friends in the military who have been stationed in or are going to the Middle East, because I'm genuinely curious about the world, and because I've never understood what the hell happened in Afghanistan.

As I was reading the article, I started thinking about how much I don't understand. I like to pretend I "get" all this stuff. I watch The Daily Show almost every night. I read several different news sources every day. I have two journalism degrees. I even made up Current Events quizzes for my students when I was a TA at Syracuse. I'm relatively smart, I pay close attention, I kept a pretty-damn-close-to-4.0 GPA throughout my entire academic career, including classes in history, current events and journalism.

And yet I don't understand so much of what's going on globally. Maybe I didn't have the greatest history teachers, maybe I was too concerned with getting A's and not concerned enough with absorbing information, maybe I have some kind of mental block where I can't understand anything that can't be easily spelled. But whichever of those it is, I know it can't just be me.

There's got to be a lot of people out there who don't fully "get" this stuff. Who maybe know what NATO stands for but don't really get what it does or how it relates to the wars in the Middle East. Who don't know Sunni from Shiite. Who've heard of Fatah but aren't quite sure if that's a couple people or a lot of people and whether they're on our side, on someone else's side, or somewhere in between. Who don't really know what Kurdish means exactly, or if there's a difference between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. (And that's just relating to the Middle East. Nevermind stuff right here at home.)

Newspapers simply don't have time or space to explain that kind of stuff. And nobody really has time to go look it up. A lot of people probably think it doesn't matter since it's not going on here. Other people probably just think it's over their heads and they don't want to ask for explanations because they might sound stupid.

I've decided to add a new feature to "Street Cred." I like when blogs do recurring segments, like Ben and Jerzy's The Weekly Dick and Jay Barnes Has a Website's My Various Neuroses. Inspired by the Explainer feature on Slate.com, I'd like to introduce "Cred-It," where I'll help readers (and myself) get more street cred by giving brief explanations of things you might have always wondered. To start it off, it will probably mainly feature explanations of what you need to know to understand the news. And the article from today's Times mentioned above just proves that we all need to start understanding the news a lot better so we actually know what's going on. Eventually I'll also include explanations for other things you might have always wondered about.

Yes I know you could go look up all this stuff on Wikipedia if you really wanted to know. And if you really don't care, then skip all the "Cred-It" entries. I won't be offended. But I do make one promise - I'll try to keep the explanations as short and reader-friendly as possible. Although these are complicated issues, an explanation that's just as complicated doesn't do you any good.

In business we talk about the "elevator speech" - you have to be able to give your main points in the time it takes to ride up in an elevator. Or there's always the old quote that Denny used to have on the margin of his syllabus: "If your idea can't fit on the back of my business card, it's not a good idea." Obviously something as deep and complex as the Israeli-Palestine conflict can't fit on the back of a business card. I won't even try it. But an explanation of NATO could.

So stay tuned, readers. You'll start seeing "Cred-It" entries scattered throughout the blog. Hopefully this will make it easier for you to keep up with the news. And keeping up with the news is so important right now. In case you don't really see why, I'll link to this article again. "How a 'good war' in Afghanistan went bad."

1 comment:

Jerzy said...

I applaud this segment and hope that several years from now you will have unraveled the fettered knowledge you reaped in the colleges you attended. One of the biggest realizations for me in terms of current events and historical interpretation was understanding and coming to know my bias/subjectivity. Sadly, I feel most of my current events bias comes from a pretty identifiable source leaving only the real hard biases to unravel (my gendered self and unrecognized class differences).

Good luck with your endeavour, America is against you. I will point now to the fact that internation news reported that Bush's lymes treatment came late, probably caused permanent nerve damage and was withheld from the public. American newspapers, I believe, had a guy paraphrase the official press release saying the disease was caught early (contrasted sharply by the medical release) and that Bush was routinely bitten by ticks on his bike rides, no big deal. I'll also note that when Newsweek ran a cover earlier this year on Iraq with the words Jihadistan in bold, America's version of Newsweek ran Annie Liebovitz on the cover profiling her exhibit at the BAM (which I went to, it was ok, but I was there for the huge life-size Ron Mueck sculptures not pictures of douche celebrities).