Monday, July 04, 2011

The Fourth...
A CNN Poll reveals that only a slight majority (58%) of Americans know in what year we declared our independence. One in four didn't know from what country we seceded. Oh my...

Americans have a notoriously bad reputation for awareness of history and of the vast world beyond the continental US. I remember years ago when I was on a business trip in Chicago, I was stopped by a couple of college students doing a survey for a political science class. They were asking random people in the international terminal to name 5 heads of state from countries other than their own. Nearly 90% of European and Asian residents could. Only 40% of Americans could. I am proud to say that I passed the test -- I even stumped the pollsters when I told them who the President of Malawi was -- they hadn't heard of Malawi.

The 4th of July is an odd holiday. What's the deal with fireworks? Are we reenacting the national anthem? The rockets red glare? The bombs bursting in air? Who decided that we needed to commemorate our giving the finger to Britain with bangs and booms? Cats and dogs all over the US are hiding under beds and wondering what the fuck is going on.

Ah the rituals of the 4th. Burnt hot dogs and watermelon. Root beer floats and small town parades. In my white trash family 4ths for years have been celebrated with the family Olympics. These hotly contested games include a cherry pit spitting contest (for distance, not accuracy), a water balloon toss and, my favorite, the "who the hell am I?" game. Figures from American history are written on a piece of paper which is then taped to your back. Through a series of "yes" or "no" questions you have to guess what person you are. The only problem is that nobody in my family knows anything about American history. For example, one year I had "Ben Franklin" taped to my back. I asked an aunt "was I ever President of the US?" And received the answer "yes." Further questions elicited the helpful information that lived in the 19th century. It's no wonder I lost that year.

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