It's nice of Barack Obama to tell his fellow-citizens that their nation has no intention of preying upon their private lives.
It's fine that he should reflect upon the concept of American patriotism, and that he might refuse to label a certain US citizen as a patriot. But we in the world outside ObamaLand don't give a fuck about American patriotism. The courageous whistle-blower Edward Snowden is now being hunted by ugly Uncle Sam as if he were an escaping cotton-farm slave. If Obama could call upon a military drone to target Snowden and blow his arse off, I fear that this whole affair would be instantly terminated. But Obama (thank God, or whatever) doesn't possess such a drone, and so the US president is obliged to air his fury by the cowardly act of cancelling a meeting with Vladimir Poutine.
Living outside ObamaLand, we in the Old World simply don't like to learn that America is spying upon us. So, we're on the side of the allegedly-unpatriotic running slave, and praying that he won't get caught.
In my Antipodes blog, I've often expressed my consternation concerning Australia's failure to protect her citizen Julian Assange.
Besides, this disgusting subservience on the part of the land where both Assange and I happened to be born has meant that I would be ashamed, these days, to imagine ever setting foot once again on that unfriendly soil, polluted by ages of unpleasant "politics". In spite of all the blood spilt stupidly in Europe, I prefer to remain here (maybe I have no other alternative), since many of us Europeans do seem to believe in liberty, equality and fraternity... not just egotism and fake "mateship".
Today, there's another endangered whistle-blower, pursued relentlessly by the ugly police of Uncle Sam: the US citizen Edward Snowden.
— photo Reuters, Bobby Yip
It's enlightening to observe that, while the Australian nation wouldn't of course lift a little finger to protect this individual on the run (contrary to our legendary Robin Hood mentality, once expressed in the case of fleeing bushrangers), the Australian citizen Assange has been doing so, as best he can.
Meanwhile, we Europeans are totally shocked to learn that the supposedly nice black guy Barack Obama has apparently been treating us Europeans as if we were second-class citizens of the world, because he has been spying upon us, night and day.
— drawing by Hammer, Austria
Whenever we Europeans have been crying out ceaselessly for the above-mentioned great human principles of universal liberty, equality and fraternity, Obama has apparently preferred to think of us as untrustworthy foreigners.
— drawing by Schot, Netherlands
Mickey's ears say "Hear, hear..." in all the languages of Europe. And we Europeans must reply emphatically to big-eared Obama that a so-called friendly ally shouldn't treat us that way. Meanwhile, we must also do everything that's imaginable to save the soldier Snowden...
The Mormon dimwit Mitt Romney invited Clint Eastwood to ramble on incoherently at the Republic convention. The actor decided to speak to an empty chair, as if it were occupied by Barack Obama.
Obama replied to Eastwood and Romney by means of a marvelous three-word tweet and photo:
It's an excellent example of the effectiveness of imaginative tweeting. The power of such a message, today, is equivalent to what would have been obtained in the old days (before the Internet) by a vast and costly billboard campaign.
Between Barack Obama and François Hollande, an introductory exchange of a few words on the theme of US cheeseburgers and French fries might have been interpreted as a lighthearted evocation of the recently-adopted diet of our new French president, who used to be quite a plump little man.
photo pool/AFP — Philippe Wojazer
Ah, if only international diplomacy could be determined solely by smiles!
Apparently Barack Obama told François Hollande that he wasn't obliged to stand out in the "crowd" of G8 members by continuing to wear a necktie. Hollande explained that the necktie was purely for the French media. Are we really as formal as that in old-fashioned France? It's a fact that one of our new ministers, Cécile Duflot (chief of the Greens), was the object of certain criticism when she turned up in jeans, on Thursday, for the first ministerial meeting at the Elysée Palace.
The following White House photo highlights the rapid ascension of François Hollande into the sacrosanct courtyard of the great:
It makes me feel good to see France represented at last, within this assembly, by a fine solid left-wing Frenchman such as François Hollande... as opposed to our recent tiny twitcher, Nicolas Sarkozy.
We've all heard that black is beautiful. It's time now, for the Anglo-Saxon world, to learn that socialism is not a dirty word. Here in France, in a perfectly democratic manner, socialism has become our political credo.
It would be unimaginable that two great defenders of human values such as Barack Obama and François Hollande might not become instant friends, on the same wavelength.
Meanwhile, idiots in my native Antipodes might continue to believe that socialism is the political philosophy behind the welfare state, which encourages so-called bludgers, as opposed to early birds and hard workers who strive mindlessly for decades to amass the tiny nest egg that will take care of their old days. In this perspective, my impression of Aussie "political philosophy" has not changed over the half-century since I left my native land. It's hopelessly dumb!
These days, people who hear of the Sarkozy couple would have normally imagined this duo:
There's an offspring. The extreme right-wing politician Marine Le Pen was offended by the fact that the given name of Sarko's child, Giulia, is not pure dyed-in-the-wool French. But this will surely not give rise to a revolution.
Meanwhile, the major couple in the news is the Merkozy duo:
And a little bit of the Obamazy duo:
The couple strolled together in the rain, at Cannes, in front of musicians of the French Foreign Legion.
Then, on the Friday evening TV news, Obama heaped praise upon the French president for his rôle in the current Greek crisis.
I've never been a fan of Nicolas Sarkozy, but I've admired his tenacity in dealing with this affair… even though nobody is convinced yet that all the basic problems have been solved.
Governments of progressive societies need lots of finance to improve the situation of their citizens, and it's obtained through taxation. To my mind, Sarkozy is on the right track when he advocates a Tobin tax on financial transactions. I would imagine that François Hollande, our likely next president, would also strive to install this good tax.
The website where I found this hilarious clip said: "Obama's armored vehicle can protect him from everything except ridicule."
Apparently, embassy personnel made vain attempts to dislodge the vehicle, while leaving the president and his wife inside (for obvious security reasons). Finally, after some three-quarters of an hour (which is a huge delay in the case of a US president), Barack Obama and his wife were obliged to get out of the stuck vehicle and move into a more mobile automobile.
These days, observing happenings such as this ridiculous incident, coming a week after the DSK affair, the academic author Nassim Nicholas Taleb must be applauding with glee. The principles of his famous "black swan events" are outlined in my article of 15 March 2010 entitled Singular happenings[display].
This little American girl, Ann Dunham [1942-1995], had an ancestor named Mary Kearney.
Meanwhile, this little Aussie girl, Kathleen Walker [1918-2003], also had an ancestor named Mary Kearney. However the two Marys belonged to different generations, separated by half a century.
Jumping back in time to the end of the 18th century, we find that the Kearney ancestors of both girls were Irish. Ann Dunham had an ancestor Joseph Kearney, born around 1794 in Co Offaly (province of Leinster). One of Kathleen Walker's ancestors was a Michael Kearney, born around 1785, probably in nearby Co Clare (province of Munster). Admittedly, Kearney is not an unusual surname in Ireland. Nevertheless, with a minimum of speculation (which remains an essential ingredient in genealogical research), one could well imagine that these Kearney males were cousins, if not brothers.
Let's jump forward in time, to 1961. In Hawaii, Ann Dunham married a Kenyan gentleman named Barack Obama. This photo shows Ann holding their son named Barack Obama II, born on 4 August 1961:
As for the other little girl, Kathleen Walker, she was my mother.
It's a fact that both Ann Dunham and Kathleen Walker, brought up in continents on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, can be identified as great-granddaughters of Kearneys settled in south-west Ireland at the end of the 18th century, within a radius of a hundred kilometers or so. As I've pointed out proudly in chapter 4 of my monograph entitled A Little Bit of Irish[display], the Kearney ancestors of my mother Kathleen Walker lived in the legendary village of Spancil Hill.
Nicolas Sarkozy has made it perfectly clear that, if the outcome of London's G20 summit is not acceptable, he will simply get up and leave. "The crisis is too serious to permit having a summit meeting for nothing." Sarkozy is insisting, above all, on the installation of regulatory procedures in the international financial domain. This desire for regulations is shared by the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and also by the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who declared: "One of the goals, accepted at Washington, is that no institution or major financial entity should remain beyond control and supervision. That is what I hope to see confirmed and consolidated in London."
Furthermore, as France's minister of Finance Christine Lagarde has pointed out, the French president is adamant that tax havens throughout the world must be eradicated. The latest rumors, expressed on French TV this evening, are optimistic, in the sense that Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown has echoed Sarkozy's belief that tax havens should cease to exist in the modern world. The big question, of course, is whether Barack Obama will be prepared to acknowledge the priority of these European themes.
In France, current events have caught up with the G20 syndrome. It was revealed today that several large French corporations appear to have been using a bank in Liechtenstein to whitewash money that should have normally been declared in France as taxable profits. In this context, news broadcasts in France today evoked the whistleblower, Heinrich Kieber, who was responsible for unleashing a planetary affair by revealing the identity of tax fraudsters in the above-mentioned bank. For the last twelve months, there has been a persistent rumor, aired once again today on French TV, that this wealthy gentleman—formerly a skilled data-processing professional—has ended up in a luxury hideout, under an assumed identity, down in a big sunburned country in the Southern Hemisphere.
It appears that ceramic garden gnomes were invented in Germany in the middle of the 19th century. But it was in my native land, Australia, that an amazing gnome event first occurred, in 1986. A woman in the eastern suburbs of Sydney woke up one morning to discover that her garden gnome Bilbo had disappeared, leaving a note: "Dear Mum: I couldn't stand the solitude any longer. I've gone off to see the world. Don't be worried. I'll be back soon. Love and kisses, Bilbo." During the months that followed, in her mail, the lady received photos of her gnome in various well-known European settings: in front of Big Ben, alongside the Eiffel Tower, in a Venetian gondola, etc. And scribbled words of affection on the back of each photo assured his mum in Sydney that he was having the time of his life.
Finally, one night, Bilbo reappeared unobtrusively in his native Sydney garden. His wanderlust was fulfilled, and his mum found him posed calmly among the flowers as if nothing had ever happened. But his gnome's heart was in fact full of contentment and pride in his exploit.
We learn today that this same kind of wanderlust has struck in an unlikely place: Easter Island.
The French press has just revealed that one of the 980 giant statues—referred to as moai—has expressed the desire to travel to Paris "to emit spiritual energy that will change the conscience of humanity". Thanks to the Louis Vuitton group, the maoi's wish will be granted. Next year, a giant statue will be brought from Easter Island to the City of Lights, and it will be posed for a fortnight in the Tuileries gardens.
In my opinion, that's an excellent address for a maoi on a short trip to Paris. It will reside between the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde and the glass pyramid of the Louvre. On the other hand, unlike its homeland, there won't be a view of the vast ocean.
That particular site was chosen by two members of the island's Rapanui community, who came to Paris especially for that purpose. One of them told us what to expect from the maoi's presence: "It will metamorphose the conscience of the materialistic world into a more humanistic conscience." In my humble opinion, in this time of economic crisis and fear about global warming, that's exactly what we need, in France and elsewhere. The Easter Island fellow added: "The maoi is not a mere hunk of stone. It's a link. They show the world that, in attacking Nature, Man destroys himself. The story of Easter Island is the history of Humanity."
Do you know what I think? I reckon that the super bright guy from Hawai, young Barack, might be pulling the strings behind this unexpected and extraordinary scheme for transferring some Pacific wisdom to the Old World. Besides, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the halt in Paris were just a stopover on the way to the White House...
It's amusing that Barack Obama decided to proclaim his oath of allegiance a second time, after the judge screwed it up the first time. And it's interesting to discover that there's no Bible in this repeat event.
Christians might say that God, through His extraordinary communication capabilities, was surely capable of untangling the initial screwed-up message, so there was no point in invoking Him the second time round. It's more likely, I think, that the absence of a Bible proves that, during the screwed-up swearing-in, the Bible was merely part of the decor, rather than an essential element in the act. In my view, this is fair enough, because the role of the book appears to be a rather symbolic do-it-yourself thing in the swearing-in ritual. Each president-to-be seems to have the right to bring along the particular version of the book that pleases him. What would happen, I wonder, if a Jew were to be elected president? Would he be able to bring along a Hebrew edition of the Torah, without any New Testament whatsoever?
On the other hand, this repeat performance of Obama's swearing-in underlines a highly significant aspect of the procedure: namely, the fundamental importance of the exact words pronounced by the future president in his oath. As everybody knows, these words are extracted from the US constitution, and nobody has the right to play around with them, inventing even a trivially modified form of the oath. I found it amusing that the words were screwed up the chief justice John Roberts, nominated in 2005 by a president who became the laughingstock of the planet because of his habit of screwing up words. It was almost as if Roberts had staged deliberately this embarrassing incident as a departure gift to Dubya, to make him feel less alone.
The fundamental nature and all-importance of human language is the subject of The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker, which I've been reading slowly over the last week or so.
It's a truly remarkable study of the subtleties of language. I find it a sobering book in that I simply never realized, up until now, the amazing complexity of English verbs, even though I tended to imagine naively that I surely understand, more or less, what they're all about. Often, when words are poorly arranged in a sentence, a native English speaker realizes that something's wrong, but we don't necessarily know why it sounds wrong, and how to fix it. We laugh when we hear of this sign in a bar in Norway: "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar." But George W Bush spoke that kind of English regularly: "I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office." Talking of Bushspeak, Pinker mentions the former president in The Stuff of Thought: "In 2006 George W Bush signed into law the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which increased the fines for indecent language tenfold and threatened repeat offenders with the loss of their license." Isn't it touching that somebody as badly-spoken as Dubya would be offended by indecent language!
I started this post by talking about Obama's swearing-in. Well, on the theme of swearing and oaths, Pinker's book happens to include one of the most colorful chapters you could ever imagine. The chapter title: The seven words you can't say on television. The great Woody Allen once explained his way of telling somebody to leave: "I told him to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words." Now, inspired by Woody's words, I really can't end these rambling reflexions about screwed-up words without a few nice words of farewell to the departing president, who impressed countless observers in such a special way: "Be fruitful and multiply, Sir, and enjoy your retirement."
In the wake of Barack Obama's precisely-planned trip to Europe and his speech to a vast crowd on Kennedy territory in Berlin, were John McCain's campaign people really dumb enough to believe they could get away with referring to the dynamic presidential candidate as a celebrity, and compare him for an instant with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? We see today that the whole thing has blown up beautifully in the face of McCain. Not only have the parents of Paris Hilton complained about how their Republican favorite has used his financial resources (which include a donation from the senior Hiltons), but their daughter—for once in her life—has done something that's both funny and intelligent: she has made a delightful parody video.
[Click the photo to see it.]
Meanwhile, Barack Obama must be getting a kick out of all this negative noise surrounding McCain.
In the following video clip, we see a funky guy introducing, in boxing-match style, a white pastor named Michael Pfleger who then made fun of Hillary Clinton while preaching last Sunday in Barack Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ:
When I see such clownish antics, bordering on some kind of clinical emotional problem, words fail me. If I were a Christian, I would pray that the pastor might be forgiven by his brethren and maybe even enlightened by the Lord. If I were a US voter, I would also be inclined to do a bit of praying, no matter whether or not I believed in God. It goes without saying that I wouldn't dare to suggest that the silly preacher should be punished in hell. On the other hand, I do feel that everything in the world would go a little more intelligently if all the religious crackpots in America, including—above all—those in presidential spheres, would quietly go to hell... at least until after the election's over.
I don't mind admitting that, once upon a time, when Bill Clinton looked us directly in the eyes and swore that he had never had any kind of sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, I was stupid enough to believe him, because he seemed to be so tremendously sincere. I even remember saying to myself: "What great willpower and strong character Clinton must possess, to be able to refuse the cuddly advances of sexy White House women. And what a pity he has to defend his honor courageously against all those nasty people who are trying to invent false reasons for overthrowing him."
On the other hand, as soon as I heard Hillary Clinton telling us how she scrambled across a tarmac under a shower of sniper bullets, something told me there was something wrong with her story. In particular, I found it weird that she should be smiling while relating this tale, as if her alleged courage were almost a matter-of-fact laughing matter. "You must realize, ladies and gentlemen: I'm so terribly brave in such circumstances that it's almost a joke."
I believe that Hillary Clinton's bid to become the Democratic presidential candidate will suffer irreparably through this silly lie.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, seems to have succeeded elegantly and efficiently in putting his former preacher friend Jeremiah Wright back into the glass museum case from which he should never have been extracted. If Obama himself had ever made any of the kinds of fiery declarations attributed to the pastor, there would certainly be cause for concern. But this is not the case. I don't find it alarming that Obama should count this crazy preacher among his friends. The world would be an impossible stage for aspiring statesmen if they were to be judged by their notorious friends.
I love this deliberately-distorted image (by Jason Reed) of the Democratic candidate Barack Obama campaigning at Exeter High School in New Hampshire on January 6, 2008. He's aspiring to great heights, like a Gothic cathedral.
Yes, I have a theory... not just a dream. America might at last be fed up with dynasties... like the Ancient Egyptians, once upon a time. The Kennedy clan. The Bush father and his mentally-inadequate son. Now the legal wife of the big Clinton fucker.
Obama appears to us all as a new message from our primordial land of Africa. Personally, I love and admire the guy. He sounds solid.