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Tag: Obama

The black Gatsby

Tuesday, 25 August, 2015 1 Comment

The gay editor Aaron Hicklin asked a group of people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and national correspondent for the Atlantic, began his list with The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read,” he says of it. Next is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I’m a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it,” writes Coates.

A rather slim story? Is he talking about length or bulk? At 180 pages, Gatsby is compact, but it’s still bigger than Between the World and Me, the latest Coates book, which weighs in at a slender 152 pages. Although Coates is no Fitzgerald (his writing is too unwieldy), he does offer an occasional flash of Fitzgerald-like sparkle: “The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments. It is the last bottle of wine you have just uncorked but have not time to drink.”

Gatsby And now, the real thing: “As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.” Does this passage suggest that Fitzgerald was an early advocate of #BlackLivesMatter or just another shill for white privilege? According to The Uppity Negro, aka Joshua L. Lazard, the Gatsby masterpiece is an embodiment of American Blackness and Baz Luhrmann’s recent film of the novel, thanks to “hip hop music set in a story from the 1920s”, brings to the surface what had been hidden. The story of Jay Gatsby — “a man who didn’t fit in the society that he claimed and so desperately wanted to join” — is the story of black America. Snippet:

“Even when he had entrée, and actually created his own entrée, he was a lonely man surrounded by hundreds; he was alone at his own party. The blackness of it was that he was in and of himself a ‘second America’ created because of the forces of the society that dictated what success was and his struggle to obtain it. He was met with the existential question that Black America faces today: now that I have it, what do I do with it? Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but as the parties ended, Gatsby fired his waitstaff, New York was plunged into a post Gatsby era, and for many as Obama has ascended to the presidency, twice now, the phrase post racial constantly gets thrown around careless like a champagne bottle at a mansion party in West Egg.”

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Robert Browning said. Thursday, here, in keeping with our times, the gay Gatsby and the feminist Gatsby. Tomorrow, Gatsby and robotics. Honestly.


A Drone’s Eye View Of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Wednesday, 28 January, 2015 0 Comments

Meandering from Cork to Donegal, the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s longest coastal touring route. This beautiful drone footage of the trail is by the talented UAV/drone pilot and photographer Raymond Fogarty.

By the way, Raymond Fogarty made headlines last year when it emerged that drone photographers in Ireland needed licensing by the Irish Aviation Authority. And the regulation of these “unmanned aerial vehicles” is very much in the news this week after it emerged that an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had (drunkenly?) flown a drone onto the grounds of the White House. This has led President Obama to call for regulating unmanned aircraft: “There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife,” he said. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”

Meanwhile, take a look at Dronestagram, a website where drone photographers share and discuss their work. Love this shot of the sun setting over the town of Annecy in south-eastern France.

This just in: UAE plans new drones law following Dubai airspace alert


How Obama Lost America

Tuesday, 4 November, 2014 0 Comments

According to the analysts, the Republicans are set to become the majority party in the US Senate following today’s mid-term elections. In his New York Times column on Sunday, Ross Douthat sought an explanation for a key talking point of the campaign: the unpopularity of President Obama. With the US unemployment rate down to six percent and energy independence getting closer, one would think that voters should be somewhat grateful, but no. “The public’s confidence is gone, and it doesn’t seem to be coming back,” writes Douthat.

After poring over the landscape, Douthat says that the disaffection with Obama “mostly reflects a results-based verdict on what seems like poor execution, in which the White House’s slow response to ISIS is of a piece with the Obamacare rollout and the V.A. scandal and various other second-term asleep-at-the-tiller moments.” Another essential part of the picture is the state of the American middle class. Its members seem to have concluded that the drop in the jobless numbers and the fruits of fracking won’t make things much better. The squeezed middle believes that the recession is not temporary but deeply structural and this has led to disillusionment and despair. Gone forever are the heady days of Hope. When people look at Obama now they can sense the drift caused by a captain dozing at the wheel. Today, the voters will opt for change.


Vladimir Putin’s favourite joke

Wednesday, 19 March, 2014 0 Comments

No, it’s not the one about Obama sending Biden to Poland yesterday, although that has generated its own share of mirth. Despite what his numerous critics insist, Putin does have an impish wit and while it’s not very comical to be on the receiving end of his barbs, as the family of Alexander Litvinenko knows full well, there’s a lot to be learned from what Russia’s latest “strong man” finds amusing. Here goes with his favourite joke:

In the bitter cold of the Russian winter, during a wild storm and with darkness falling, a peasant is wandering home to his humble village. Suddenly, he stops as he sees an exotic bird on the ground, nearly dead from hypothermia and hunger. So, he picks it up and warms it with his breath. The bird revives and the peasant is left wondering what to do next as he cannot afford to feed it. At this very moment a herd of cows appears out of the driving snow and one of them drops a large dollop of shit as it passes by. Knowing that if he puts the bird in the steaming substance, it might live until morning and then fly to a milder climate, the peasant does this and trudges towards home.

Shortly afterwards, however, another peasant comes along and hears the bird chirping happily in its warm surroundings. He picks up the bird, breaks its neck and takes it home for supper.

Putin, convulsed with laughter by this stage, tells his terrified audiences that the joke offers three vital lessons for life:

1. Do not believe that everyone who drops you in the shit is your enemy.
2. Do not believe that everyone who gets you out of the shit is your friend.
3. Whenever you are in the shit, keep quiet about it.

It’s doubtful if he told this joke to Hillary Clinton during the ill-advised “reset.” Wonder if he’d tell it to Mitt Romney, though? He’s a realist, after all.


Kissinger: “The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”

Thursday, 6 March, 2014 0 Comments

“Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.” So begins a Washington Post meditation by Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977.

Titled “How the Ukraine crisis ends,” the article spares no one: “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities,” says Kissinger.

He’s got this advice for President Obama: “For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.” And when it comes to President Putin, he calls him “a serious strategist”, but warns that “whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War.”

Kissinger’s preferred outcome is “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” Sadly, one feels that this will not satisfy any of the key players in this drama.


Snowden deserves life in Russia

Monday, 20 January, 2014 1 Comment

For an entire swathe of useful idiots, Edward Snowden is a hero. In fact, however, he’s a thief. password Worse still, he’s a traitor. In an eye-opening account of Snowden’s amorality, Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball of Reuters reported that he gained access to his cache of documents by persuading some 25 of his fellow employees to give him their logins and passwords, saying he needed the information to help him do his job as systems administrator. Most of these colleagues were subsequently fired. It should be noted also that Snowden signed an oath, as a condition of his employment as an NSA contractor, not to disclose classified information, and he was well aware of the penalties for violating that oath. But he stole an estimated 1.7 million documents, anyway.

Then there’s Snowden’s admiration for the enemies of freedom, which became public in a statement he made in Moscow last July, soon after Vladimir Putin granted him asylum. He thanked the countries that had offered him support. “These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, have my gratitude and respect,” he declared, “for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.” Earlier, Snowden had said that he sought refuge in Hong Kong because of its “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.”

The man is either naïve or evil. Take your pick.

On Friday, President Obama limited Snowden to two mentions in a more than 5,000 word speech as he criticized his “unauthorised disclosures.” There was no suggestion of clemency, and there will be none. “It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard, and the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating,” said President Obama. “No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account.”

Edward Snowden has sentenced himself to life in Russia, which is ruled by an unpleasantly authoritarian regime. He deserves his fate.

This just in: “The heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees suggested on Sunday that Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, may have been working for Russian spy services while he was employed at an agency facility in Hawaii last year and before he disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified government documents.” The New York Times

Note: It’s telling that Snowden has not released any documents detailing the cyber-operations of Russia or China, even though he must have had access to the NSA’s reports on the hundreds or thousands of hacking campaigns that they have carried out over the years.


Indoctrination in Ireland: Yes, we can

Wednesday, 15 January, 2014 1 Comment

The Irish language (Gaeilge) has its own logic. There are, for example, no words for “Yes” or “No.” Instead, you have to use a negative sentence, such as Ní maith liom (“It isn’t good with me”.) When it comes to the modal verb “can”, things get even more complicated. So, “I can do it” is expressed as Is féidir liom, which means, literally, “It is possible with me.” By the way, the le preposition in its compound forms is an essential component of the language:

Liom: With me
Leat: With you (singular)
Leis: With him
Léi: With her
Linn: With us
Libh: With you (plural)
Leo: With them

At Davis College in Mallow, County Cork, the preposition is presented in a chunk of syntax that will prove very useful, no doubt, for the next tranche of emigrants.

Is féidir linn


Time for a new Conversation

Monday, 28 October, 2013 0 Comments

The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival was The Conversation, a cautionary technological tale written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford. Since then, The Conversation has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

What made the film especially significant was that it employed the same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used when spying on political opponents. Because the film was released just before Richard Nixon resigned as President, many interpreted it to be a commentary on the Watergate scandal and on the dangers of technology in the hands of those determined to use it for personal or political advantage.

So what are the chances of Hollywood producing a Conversation for our times? You know, one that would highlight any theoretical abuse of surveillance power by the Obama administration. Don’t hold your breath. “Obama fundraiser at George Clooney’s home nets $15 million” reported CNN in May last year. Attendees included, “DreamWorks studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; designer Diane Von Furstenberg; Barbra Streisand and her actor husband James Brolin. “Folks are still hurting out there and those frustrations with Washington and the nonsense they see on the news is making them more cynical than they were in 2008,” Obama said. How true. But Hollywood “folks” ain’t hurting too bad so it’s unlikely they’ll be making movies about “the nonsense they see on the news” anytime soon. Anyway, they’d prefer not to offend their candidate.

Note: A few short years ago in Germany, a rabid hatred of George W. Bush was regarded as a sign of sanity but the mania ended in 2008 and was followed by a wave of Obama idolatry, equally terrifying in its obsessiveness. This fever has cooled, too, and Germany’s yellow press is now comparing Obama to Nixon using words that evoke Watergate.

Bild and  Obama


Romney got it right on Putin and Obama

Friday, 13 September, 2013 0 Comments

Mr Putin on the smile “Two decades after the end of the cold war, Mitt Romney still considers Russia to be America’s ‘No. 1 geopolitical foe.’ His comments display either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics. Either way, they are reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender.” So thundered the New York Times on 28 March last year. The cause of its outrage was a piece that the Republican presidential candidate had written for Foreign Policy magazine titled Bowing to the Kremlin. Romney’s summation of Obama’s Russia strategy was devastating:

“Unfortunately, what they are getting is a sad replay of Jimmy Carter’s bungling at a moment when the United States needs the backbone and courage of a Ronald Reagan. In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness — and given the word ‘flexibility’ a new and ominous meaning.”

And so it has come to pass. “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. President Obama now finds himself in a position where he must depend on the kindness of strangers, like Vladimir Putin. But that strategy didn’t work out very well for Blanche DuBois.


Obama and that Chamberlain feeling

Thursday, 12 September, 2013 1 Comment

Sir Henry “Chips” Channon was an American-born British Conservative politician, author and chronicler. Here’s his diary entry from 12 September 1938:

Chamberlain “Towards the end of the Banquet came the news, the great world-stirring news, that Neville [Chamberlain], on his own initiative, seeing war coming closer and closer, had telegrapher to Hitler that he wanted to see him, and asked him to name an immediate rendezvous. The German Government, surprised and flattered, had instantly accepted and so Neville, at the age of 69, for the first time in his life, gets into an aeroplane tomorrow morning and flies to Berchtesgaden! It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history. The company rose to their feet electrified, as all the world must be, and drank his health. History must be ransacked to find a parallel.

Of course a way out will now be found. Neville by his imagination and practical good sense, has saved the world. I am staggered.”

A year later, the situation was very different. No way out had been found, the world had not been saved and the name of Neville Chamberlain became eternally synonymous with that dreadful term, appeasement.

“I believe it is peace for our time,” said the hapless Chamberlain upon his return from the despot’s Alpine eyrie, and one could not but feel a shiver of déjà vu while listening to the awful speech delivered by President Obama on Tuesday night. Here was a leader who casually drew a red line in the sand, and then found he had to do something about it. Faced with a humiliating defeat in Congress, he has now decided to let the Russians, steadfast allies of Assad, set the agenda on the international stage. And he admitted all this with an air of boredom. “It is hard to believe such a chill man has such warm feelings about the sad end of strangers far away,” wrote Peggy Noonan. “I think this has been one of his big unspoken problems in the selling of his Syria policy.” With her “sad end of strangers far away,” Noonan was deliberately echoing Chamberlain, who said: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Knowing that the US president will grasp at any straw to avoid taking military action against Damascus, Vladimir Putin, now writing op-eds for the New York Times, is thrashing Obama in this global PR game. Having presented Obama with the meaningless option of weapons inspection, Russia has saved Syria from immediate attack and ensured that Assad can continue merrily upon his murderous way. It’s all very Chamberlain like.


Obama must strike now

Friday, 30 August, 2013 6 Comments

The spineless stance of the 285 British MPs who hid behind the tainted skirts of the UN last night does not change reality. To let the Syrian tyrant go unpunished now would assure him, and like-minded barbarians, that the proliferation and use of chemical weapons will be tolerated. And that cannot be. If the UK is unwilling to uphold this prohibition, it is even more important that the US does. In the words of The Economist:

The Economist “Because doing nothing carries risks that are even bigger. If the West tolerates such a blatant war crime, Mr Assad will feel even freer to use chemical weapons. He had after all stepped across Mr Obama’s ‘red line’ several times by using these weapons on a smaller scale — and found that Mr Obama and his allies blinked. An American threat, especially over WMD, must count for something: it is hard to see how Mr Obama can eat his words without the superpower losing credibility with the likes of Iran and North Korea.”

Obama must now proceed with a “punishment of such severity that Mr Assad is deterred from ever using WMD again. Hitting the chemical stockpiles themselves runs the risk both of poisoning more civilians and of the chemicals falling into the wrong hands. Far better for a week of missiles to rain down on the dictator’s ‘command-and-control’ centres, including his palaces. By doing this, Mr Obama would certainly help the rebels, though probably not enough to overturn the regime. With luck, well-calibrated strikes might scare Mr Assad towards the negotiating table.”

It’s time to hit Assad. Hard. Otherwise we can abandon civilization to the wolves. In his third year of wavering, two years after stating Assad had to go, one year after drawing — then redrawing — that red line, Barack Obama must act. Alone, if necessary.