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Obama translated

Friday, 12 September, 2014 1 Comment

“Barack Obama’s address Wednesday on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was surprisingly terrible: a disorganized mess, insincere and unconvincing.” So begins David Frum’s dissection in The Atlantic of the “Statement by the President on ISIL“, which was delivered at prime time. Frum turns Obama’s words into “plain English” and the results are as amusing as they are perturbing. Example:

“We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control. Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.”

In plain English: We’re desperately casting about for allies who aren’t Hezbollah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

According to Frum, the question facing the USA is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?” His conclusion: “That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable — at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.”

The Falling Man

Thursday, 11 September, 2014 0 Comments

Tom Junod’s September 2003 piece for Esquire magazine, “The Falling Man,” which told the story of the iconic photograph taken by Richard Drew on 9/11, has been read millions of times. Today, Esquire is asking readers to make a $2.99 donation to continue reading the article. The money will go to the James Foley Scholarship Fund, in honour of the American journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State terror group last month. By the way, the fee is completely optional. You can still read the story without paying.

“At fifteen seconds after 9:41 A.M., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky—falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame—the Falling Man—became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”


Franklin found

Wednesday, 10 September, 2014 0 Comments

CBC headline: “Lost Franklin expedition ship found in the Arctic”. Victorian England was fascinated by the tragedy of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic, which failed after the ships with their 129 crewmen disappeared. It is believed that the vessels were lost when they became locked in the ice near King William Island and that the crews abandoned them in a desperate bid to reach safety. Sir John Franklin’s wife led an attempt to locate the men, launching five ships and leaving cans of food on the ice in the hope they would find them.

Here, the late Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, accompanied on fiddle by Kevin Burke, sings Lady Franklin’s Lament.

“In Baffin’s Bay where the whale fish blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell”

Apple day

Tuesday, 9 September, 2014 1 Comment

What’s coming up later today? John Gruber has the must-read of the moment. As we wait, let’s contemplate this snippet by Walter Isaacson from Steve Jobs.

“Was Steve Jobs smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. … Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead. Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”

What would Burns have done?

Monday, 8 September, 2014 0 Comments

Born in 1759 in Alloway, Robert Burns died in 1796 in Dumfries. Because of the Acts of Union of 1707, both places are now part of the United Kingdom. But for how long more? The national poet of Scotland savaged the Scottish aristocrats who had been bribed by the English to agree to that 1707 Union of Parliaments in “Such A Parcel of Rogues in A Nation“:

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane —
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Despite this, Burns recognized that there were good sides to the Union, and he saw that an alliance of all the British peoples offered Scotland considerable advantages. He had his loyalist, royalist moments, too, and one imagines that today’s news from Clarence House would have pleased the man who penned “Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat:”

“… For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted!”
Burns was even prepared to toast the monarch:
The next in succession I’ll give you’s the King!
Whoe’er would betray him, on high may he swing!

The same poem contains the couplet: “O let us not, like snarling curs / In wrangling be divided.” Depending on how one reads Burns, and when, and where, he can be construed as an “Aye” and a “Nae”.

Meditation on the images of 9/11

Sunday, 7 September, 2014 0 Comments

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1996 was awarded to the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality.” Her meditation on the fate of those who plunged to their deaths from the burning Twin Towers on 9/11 ponders those unforgettable, searing “fragments of human reality.”

Photograph from September 11

They jumped from the burning floors —
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923 — 2012)


Saturday, 6 September, 2014 0 Comments

Nice beats here by Spooky Black from St Paul. There’s lots more at SoundCloud. Fans of the American hip hop scene will be aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Twin Cities played a significant role in the American hip hop scene with artists such as Atmosphere and Brother Ali.


Friday, 5 September, 2014 0 Comments

Rainy Day is now being powered by version 4.0 of WordPress, named “Benny” in honour of jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman. Blurb: “Paste in a YouTube URL on a new line, and watch it magically become an embedded video. Now try it with a tweet. Oh yeah — embedding has become a visual experience. The editor shows a true preview of your embedded content, saving you time. We’ve expanded the services supported by default, too — you can embed videos from playlists from YouTube, and talks from TED.”

The best job?

Thursday, 4 September, 2014 1 Comment

A famous professor once said: “When I was an engineer I was happy once a month, when I got my paycheck. When I was teaching, I was unhappy once a month, when I got my paycheck.”

Putin’s peace plan

Wednesday, 3 September, 2014 1 Comment

“When I left Russia in 2006, I was exhausted by it,” says Oliver Bullough. Since then, he has recovered his energy and his analysis of the country’s murky workings is always refreshing to read. His pointed tweets on the peace plan produced today by Vladimir Putin are very funny.

Writing: a corrective to the curse of knowledge

Tuesday, 2 September, 2014 0 Comments

From How to write, by @OliverKamm in The Times (£) last week:

“The best piece of advice I’ve ever had on professional writing was from James Harding, then editor of The Times, when I joined as a leader writer in 2008. The big news story was the banking crisis. I knew the technical details very well and wrote many columns on the same subject. They weren’t very good.

James, having listened to me in the leader conference one day, urged me to write down what I’d just said — literally what I’d said and how I’d said it, instead of trying to affect a tone of gravity appropriate to the subject. Writing as if you’re having a conversation with someone who knows at least as much as you do, but different things, is a valuable corrective to the curse of knowledge. As a guide to writing, it’s more useful than following made-up rules about when to use less and fewer, or hanged and hung, and the rest of the pedants’ catechism.”