USA Trip


5th March 2008 - 20th March 2008

Napa, California




This presentation wouldn't be complete without including a few observations during my brief trip to the USA, this being my second. In the evenings after work in Portland, I would arrive back at the hotel, switch on the telly and flick through the channels. Apart from the news, I hoped I could pick up some football (soccer). Not surprisingly, the only sport I saw being covered night after night, was basketball. Whilst I was at (my friend) Barry's, we did watch football (soccer) on the Fox channel.  The Fox Sports Regional Networks, or simply Fox Sports Net (FSN), are a collection of cable TV regional sports networks, owned and operated by  News Corporation.  I had thought that the Garden Hilton might cater for international tastes but I had to remember that I was in the land of baseball, American football and basketball. Though soccer has a strong following, it has never been supported by the media.  It is deemed non-commercial-TV-friendly. Attempts have been made to change the structure of the game.

To quote from an article in US Today in 2006, during the World Cup finals in Germany, sports pundit Frank Delford  asserts: "There's really a lack of proficiency in the game. God didn't intend for us to use our feet and our heads. Though what soccer players do with their feet and their heads is extraordinary, it is in the same way that spinning plates is extraordinary."  In reference to soccer's offside rule, which prevents attacking players from standing any closer to the goal: "That's simply un-American. We're all about forward, forward, forward, in sports and in our society. From the 19th century onward, we have not taken to soccer. It's almost as if it's not in our DNA to like it." There are historical factors.  "America was all about being independent from Great Britain, so soccer's inability to stick here really is a product of historical forces," says Randy Roberts, a historian at Purdue University. "It's also worth noting that the sports that gain popularity in any culture tend to have great appeal with the lower classes. That's true with soccer in the rest of the world and with sports like basketball here."

I was struck by the level of individual acute obesity, higher than I would have expected it, not just isolated cases. It's become a problem in the UK too, worryingly, amongst juveniles. To quote wikipedia regarding US health: "Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight; the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter-century." It was however refreshing for me to see the number of cyclists on the Silverado Trail in Napa and people on my hike in the Columbia River Gorge. I wanted to be out there with the cyclists in the glorious sunshine and even bought a book of Wine Country Bike Rides, for the next time.


Town centre, Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley.


Wine farm near Healdsburg on Highway 28.


Calistoga town centre.



Regarding the media, particularly television, I cannot say whether the TV channels on view in the hotel I was staying at in Portland are representative of the prime channels on offer but I found the coverage of important topical issues somewhat superficial.  Obviously the Clinton/Obama/McCain USA Primaries featured in the news but coverage of environmental issues e.g. global warming, was non-existent. Thom Hartman wrote in his book "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" (in reference to America) that "Things may look good simply because we don't see or hear what's happening".  He went on to say "In today's news it's often the large, multinational corporations who are at the forefront of planetary environmental destruction, but also among the hundred largest corporations in America are the five who own the TV networks that deliver the evening news, which in no small part accounts for why Americans are so ill-informed".  Now I don't for one moment believe that all Americans are poorly informed and my point is, this is not an attack on the people. It is a comment about the corporate media.  I was truly interested to find out what Americans I met thought of the Bush Administration but was reluctant to ask. I did meet someone on an internal flight who expressed his opinion somewhat vociferously and he wasn't complimentary either. A friend of mine who runs an Internet-based travel company stated and I quote: "There's a lot of deliberate manipulation of patriotic emotion, however, amongst 'educated' people there is a strong anti-Bush feeling. I have met some of these people and they're so embarrassed about the USA's image. The problem in America is that a dissenter gets branded as 'unpatriotic', which is the ultimate sin".  Who and precisely where are the 'uneducated', one might ask? The  perception of being misinformed certainly does not apply to folk I met and worked with on this trip.

Olivia, Carter and Alesya.

I truly believe that most Americans are good, honest people! I think the problem abroad is that people outside the USA don't really know what ordinary Americans think or feel, other than how the population votes during presidential elections, whilst not understanding the population demographic and how that influences politics [in the UK the generalization, which isn't necessarily accurate, might be that the upper class are politically conservative and the working class left-wing]. For me personally, visiting any country is not just about its sites and culture but about learning and understanding the mindset of its people too. The view abroad might be that the Bush Administration and its policies are seen as "the face of the nation" and people therefore regard all Americans (unfairly so) as being the same as its leader. One might argue that the same generalisation can be made of Americans, in that "the world begins and ends at the west and east coasts" [smiley]. The perceived dislike of Americans was echoed by non other than singer/guitarist/songwriter Jackson Browne, who made the comment on stage in London at a concert I attended, that, after reading a British newspaper, that he was shocked and annoyed at the animosity towards America as a country. Jackson, lyrically, of course, is no stranger to criticism of American politics and the role of the Administration in global conflicts, in many of his songs. Political protest came to the fore in Browne's music in the 1986 album, Lives in the Balance, an explicit condemnation of Reaganism and U.S. policy in Central America. Flavoured with new instrumental textures, it was a huge success with Browne fans, though not with mainstream audiences.

Many of the universities in the USA have traditionally had a strong left-wing culture. What would interest me is what the influence of religion might be in defining US patriotism. The comment regarding dissenters brings to mind the case of the famous country band, the Dixie Chicks, to quote wikipedia website: "During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the band performed in concert in London on March 10, 2003, at the Shepherds Bush Empire theatre. During this concert, the band gave a monologue to introduce their song Travelin' Soldier, during which Natalie Maines, a Texas native, was quoted by The Guardian as saying, "Just so you know, [...] we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." Though this is the official circulation of the comment, the full text of the statement Natalie Maines made was as follows: 'Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas'.  Directly after Natalie's statements on stage, co-band member Emily Robison reportedly remarked that the band supported the American troops 100 percent. The comment about  President Bush, who served as the 46th Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000 before his election to President of the United States, was reported in The Guardian's review of the Chicks concert. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. media picked up the story and controversy erupted."

It is nothing new that American musicians become engaged in political issues. The protest songs during the Vietnam War are a prime example. The new album by Sheryl Crow, entitled Detours, is no such exception in terms of the trend (see link below). She’s spoken rather publicly about her advocacy for environmental issues and peace. Though the album reflects her battle with breast cancer and her recent relationships, it also deals with social and political issues facing America: ".... where we are as a nation and the fact that we've gotten so far away from what America was founded on. Our reputation has been very damaged, and all this in the last seven years. How do we get back to who we are, what we stand for?"


The Dodds clan, front porch, Napa.


Barry & his wife Kim on front porch, Napa; Barry and his brother Brian in the kitchen of Barry & Kim's Napa home; The loving "young" couple.


The taxi from Heathrow took me home. I went in later that morning to my office. In retrospect, I should have been in Napa for Easter, as the expected annual icy spell hit southern England over the Easter weekend, and it snowed.  Ah, I could have been in Napa.......sipping that exquisite fermented Napa grape!  I have to say that I love the country and would make every effort to visit again someday. Did somebody say that rock group Yes were touring America in 2008?



Part One - Portland, Oregon: [ 1 ]  [ 2 ]

Part Two - Napa, California: [ 1 ]  [ 2 ]  [ 3 ]

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