Monday, August 17, 2009

In Google's Name, For My Sake

I look forward to 9 a.m. these days. Which is a strange obsession, considering that i don't gain full sobriety until about noon, by which time my caffeine intake has driven me to torment Google with all sorts of questions.

Mr. Google isn't on the Star's editorial board, whose morning meetings i have been attending since July 27, regularly taking my seat next to the men and women who voice the paper's stand on the day's major issues. The foreigner that i am, i have been less inclined, or perhaps not qualified, to contribute greatly to the discussions, choosing intead to listen while retaining the possiblity to ask an important question or laugh at a clever joke.

Even if i have lived in Kansas City for nearly five months, and while i have been to some places of the type i would never care to visit in Kampala, Kansas City is still not my turf. I do not care whether Mayor Mark Funkhouser should be recalled for allowing his relatives to be a ubiquitous presence around City Hall, and i do not give a damn if the cash-for-clunkers program is not taken to the next level.

What i really care about, and what makes the meetings special for me, is the kind of intensity that often defines them, the question deployment that dismantles a hot topic and leaves it so exposed, even ugly. In the rare moments when there may be some disagreement among the board members, it is still not hard to see where the path leads. And almost always, i have stepped out of the meetings hungry for some answers, ready to do my endless Google searches. The lesson: It is never enough to have a debate that does not raise new questions, or at least one that does not leave room for further debate.

As newspapers go, the search for information is endless, especially as our readers become ever more sophisticated. To keep up with them, and to avoid embarrassment, we must resist the urge to think that we are always more informed than they are.

Recently, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was about to conclude her tour of Africa, the board decided there was an editorial to be written about her trip. I was a natural fit for penning that one. But i did so after defending the idea that she had brought a diplomatic nuance to Africa-U.S. transactions when she told Nigerians that democracy was a work in progress even in America.

My editorial said in conclusion: "As Clinton said in a major speech in Kenya, the U.S. is now seeking Africa as a partner instead of patron. Clinton seemed to read the minds of Africans who, correctly or not, believe that U.S. transactions with Africa are often disrespectful. Her candor disarmed them."

I think i got it right.

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