Archive for February, 2008

Making the connection: emotions, voting and leadership

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is interesting –

I suspect that the answer to the question –

What is it the Independent male voters are reacting to when they register ‘disagreement’ with Clinton?

– are the emotions she expresses, namely, frustration and complaint.

I suspect that these qualities are not ones a sizeable proportion of citizens would want in their leader. Rather, they would probably prefer a ‘can-do’ attitude and the implicit assurance that difficult situations, no matter how grizzly or seemingly unfair, can at the very least be addressed and possibly improved.

Then again, of course, they might relate to the sense of injustice and see in the other a mirror of their own complaining behaviour…

Amazing London flat for sale…

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

… on a quiet, tree-lined street in the north-central district of Islington. The oasis that is the Barnsbury Conservation Area of Islington is just the kind of place you’d want to be.

It’s close to excellent public transport links, including St Pancras’ much vaunted, new Eurostar rail terminal.

Wonderfully, it’s only five minutes walk from the very happening hive of cafe, restaurant, bar, shop and cinema culture that is Upper Street.

(And the flat is also 46metres above sea level – find Stonefield Street on by tapping in these coordinates: 51.5383°N 0.108°W – which will come in very handy when sea levels rise. Don’t worry, the substantial hill that Islington is on is not going to erode away that quickly.)

Check out the dedicated website here. [Website now disabled.]


I’m happy to report that the flat is now under offer.

Update (15.5.08)

The flat has now been sold.

The arts of the possible & impossible: Obama on religion and politics

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Having recently been given Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, and zipped through it from cover to cover, I was impressed with the quality of his writing and his ability to communicate his experience and thinking in an engaging way. In it he covers the American political and economic landscape and ‘The World Beyond Our Borders’, chapters that stirred in me the impression of an outstanding political mind.

But I found his chapter on ‘Faith’ to be particularly constructive, which he began with a lyrical telling of his upbringing.

[…] my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist that she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well. Moreover, as a child I rarely came in contact with those who might offer a substantially different view of faith. My father was almost entirely absent from my childhood, having been divorced from my mother when I was two years old; in any event, although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist, thinking religion to be so much superstition, like the mumbo-jumbo of witch doctors that he had witnessed in the Kenyan villages of his youth.

When my mother remarried, it was to an Indonesian with an equally skeptical bent, a man who saw religion as not particularly useful in the practical business of making one’s way in the world, and who had grown up in a country of Hinduism, Buddhism, and ancient animist traditions. During the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighborhood Catholic school and then to a predominantly Muslim school; in both cases, my mother was less concerned with me learning the catechism or puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer than she was with whether I was properly learning my multiplication tables.

And yet for all her professed secularism, my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity, and love, and spent much of her life acting on that instinct, sometimes to her detriment. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both.

Most of all, she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, transitory nature that would properly be described as devotional. During the course of the day, she might come across a painting, read a line of poetry, or hear a piece of music, and I would see tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she would wake me up in the middle of the night to have me gaze at a particularly spectacular moon, or she would have me close my eyes as we walked together at twilight to listen to the rustle of leaves. She loved to take children – any child – and sit them in her lap and tickle them or play games with them or examine their hands, tracing out the miracle of bone and tendon and skin and delighting at the truths to be found there. She saw mysteries everywhere and took joy in the sheer strangeness of life.

– Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, pp.204-5

To my eyes, these are unusual words for a politican to write, to say the least. He follows them with what seems to be constructive commentary on being a politician in an increasingly fractious, multicultural world.

Below is a video, which conveys Obama’s maturity and wisdom, posted on the campaign blog with the following introduction –

Barack Obama is a committed Chrisitan who has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s Southside for the past twenty years.

In June of 2006, Senator Obama delivered what was called the most important speech on religion and politics in 40 years. Speaking before an evangelical audience, Senator Obama candidly discussed his own religious conversion and doubts, and the need for a deeper, more substantive discussion about the role of faith in American life.

I particularly like the distinction between politics as the art of the possible compared with religion as the art of the impossible. In Obama, I think, we truly have a world statesman for our times.

Wait; stop; what are we all doing here? A moment in time for reflection

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Great piece of performance art at Grand Central Station in New York –

Courtesy of Our Cultural World.

The illuminated tree

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lonely Tree, originally uploaded to flickr by aremac. Another fantastic photo for Sumptuous World courtesy of Picture Post.

What’s at stake

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Michael Tomasky writing yesterday in the Guardian

[…] Americans look around themselves and see a middle class that is prosperous but deeply anxious; a healthcare system that works reasonably well, except when you really need it; a world that hasn’t reacted very positively to our attempts at bullying it; a planet that might indeed be suffering for our, pardon the pun, sins of emission.

Americans have given up on Bush. That much we know. What we don’t know is whether they’ve given up on his ideology. It may be they look at Bush’s failures and see an ideological failure, a failure of conservatism. But it may also be that they see only an execution failure, a failure of competence.

So these are the questions – and they’re very important and profound questions – this election will answer: will American voters say that they want a “change,” to go back to the key word, only from incompetence to competence, keeping basic conservatism intact (John McCain, arguably)? Will they say they want a shift away from conservatism, but the cautious and incremental shift that Clinton represents? Or will they want the broader change that Obama signifies – a change not dramatically to the left of Clinton in ideological terms, because he is not, but potentially a vast change in the political culture, toward something that does not accept our red v blue divide and culture wars as a given and would redeem America’s most solemn original sin of racism?

Liberals around Washington, indeed around the country, are upbeat because it feels like it might be one of those moments. It feels like enough Americans are tired of conservatism, not just of incompetence. It feels like enough of them see that conservatism doesn’t have good solutions to some of the new problems America confronts. Not that many Americans, still, are willing to call themselves liberal; just about one adult in five. And no one is hankering for a return to the 1970s or seized with a burning desire to pay higher taxes. But the current mood in the country seems to indicate that Americans are willing to give liberalism that second chance.

And if liberalism gets that chance and succeeds, the modern conservative movement will enter into a period of introspection and recrimination unlike any it’s ever experienced. What in this context does “succeed” mean? As little as two things. If a Democratic president and Congress – and everyone expects that Congress will stay in Democratic control – can 1) pass healthcare and 2) articulate and implement a strategic foreign policy vision that defends America and charts a new course in the world, then Americans will embrace this new liberalism. Movement conservatism will be forced to transform itself so utterly as to be unrecognisable as its erstwhile self; which is another way of saying that, short of its 60th birthday, it will in essence perish.

That’s all that’s at stake.

(Courtesy of Memex 1.1.)

Slay that dragon, Obama!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Maureen Dowd writing in the NY Times

The relentless Hillary has been the reticent Obama’s tutor in the Political School for Scandal. He is learning how to take a punch and give one back. When she presents her mythic narrative, the dragon she has slain is the Republican attack machine. Obama told me he doesn’t think about mythic narratives, and Tuesday night in Chicago he was reaching up for “a hymn that will heal this nation and repair the world.”

But, if he wants to be president, he will still have to slay the dragon. And his dragon is the Clinton attack machine, which emerged Tuesday night, not invincible but breathing fire.

(Article courtesy of Memex 1.1.)

Worth voting for, just for the music

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Begs the question, what outpouring of poetry, art, film, theatre, literature, philosophy and scientific endeavour would emerge should the big O go on to win the general election? This music video might just herald a new renaissance celebrating the human spirit and soul. God bless America.

A First Spouse fit for the Washington White House

Saturday, February 2, 2008

If it is going to be a battle of the spouses, the Obamas win. Michelle Obama’s beautiful soul, intelligence, honesty, composure and humanity trounces, I think, the politics (and dysfunctional psychologies) of the old that, for better or worse, is bound up in the flesh and blood of Bill Clinton. Watch and listen to this interview with Barack Obama’s wife.