Obama

I was really very impressed by Obama’s speech this week. And somewhat suprised to hear a major US politician speak on complex, subtle issues in thoughtful, nuanced terms. For non USAmericans, I think it’s often hard to empathise with US-style patriotism; in particular, the seeming impossibility of seeing the US as anything other than a shining beacon of goodness, as the world’s policeman. Watching the warmongering, flag-waving television news in the US in 2001/2 terrified me, and left me feeling like an alien in a strange land. But this speech did give me a vivid sense of an America that one could admire, even aspire to live in, and one that was a lot more honest with us all about its failings and difficulties, as well as justifiably proud of its many strengths. I really think this was a landmark speech, and one that shows the US at its best.

I was reading around the various responses, and so here’s a quick link-dump. Daily show; The Onion; Andrew Sullivan; Juan Cole; Fox News.

And also Daily Kos quoting of all people Mick Huckabee:

And one other thing I think we’ve gotta remember. As easy as it is for those of us who are white, to look back and say “That’s a terrible statement!”…I grew up in a very segregated south. And I think that you have to cut some slack — and I’m gonna be probably the only Conservative in America who’s gonna say something like this, but I’m just tellin’ you — we’ve gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told “you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can’t sit out there with everyone else. There’s a separate waiting room in the doctor’s office. Here’s where you sit on the bus…” And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.

Quite so. And Huckabee deserves praise for acknowledging this. A similar perspective would bring some rationality to foreign policy discussions too. Understandably, most of the commentary we’ve seen on this speech have been on US domestic politics. But one point that seems to have gone underemphasised in the commentary I’ve read (even beyond The Onion!) is that for all the folk inside the US sympathising with Wright’s “God Damn America” outburst, there are hundreds or thousands or more out here in the rest of the world who are frustrated, angry and outraged by the actions of successive US governments. Giving the world a US president who seems capable of acknowledging this and beginning to address it would be a breath of fresh air. Elect him already! :) (and not that guy who jokes about killing my friends, please…).

Empathy, Art or Science?

head of a  papier-mâché model from Dr. Auzoux collection, Smithsonian.From xForums, “the last bastion of intelligent discussion”, via Daily Kos:

That sucks and the guy deserves money but it’s really not the guards fault his spine is made out of paper mache.

If America were Iraq what would it be?, Juan Cole (Informed Comment, 22 September 2004).

What if, from time to time, the US Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the US Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?

Papier Mâchè spine xrayImagine having a papier mâchè spine…

Juan Cole on blogging and the middle east

Juan Cole on The Blogging Phenomenon, and speculation from Steven Levy and Jeff Jarvis.

Who knows English in the Middle East? Usually young men from wealthy or at least middle class families. They are disproportionately likely to favor capitalist, unregulated markets, to be secular in their outlook, and to be pro-Western. I.e., the views of many (not all) Western-educated Middle-Easterners are almost the complete opposite of most other Middle Easterners. You have to know something about the Middle East to know something about Middle Eastern bloggers in their own context.