Archive for the ‘prose’ Category

A memorable traditionalist? On Obama’s inaugural

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The file left, on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, by former President George Bush for the forty-fourth president, Barack H. Obama – courtesy of the Boston Globe

Some have said they’ve been disappointed by Obama’s inaugural speech, saying it lacked a memorable poetic line in the tradition of FDR or JFK.  What?!  After a mere sixteen hours, they think they are in a position to evaluate the memorable-ness of a speech? Come on!  FDR died almost fifty-four years ago, and JFK just over forty-five years ago: it takes time for history to define what might or might not emerge as memorable.  For goodness sake.  (For what it’s worth, my money is on his offer of friendship to leaders around the world who will renounce violence and corruption in favour of mutual respect –

[…] we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.)

Here is an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s take

Mulling over the address yesterday, I felt in retrospect that the restraint and classical tropes of the speech were deliberate and wise. From the moment he gave his election night victory speech, Obama has been signaling great caution in the face of immense challenges. The tone is humble. We know he can rally vast crowds to heights of emotion; which is why his decision to calm those feelings and to engage his opponents and to warn of impending challenges is all the more impressive. He’s a man, it seems to me, who knows the difference between bravado and strength, between an adolescent “decider” and a mature president, between an insecure brittleness masquerading as power, and the genuine authority a real president commands. He presides. He can set a direction and a mood, but he invites the rest of us to move the ball forward: in a constitutional democracy, we are always the ones we’ve been waiting for.

He is not a messiah and does not act or speak like one. He’s a traditionalist in many ways.


Shove a piece of the pipeline up your considerable a**, Palin

Thursday, October 30, 2008

– that from a new blog, Margaret and Helen, set up by two octogenarian friends living in different parts of the USA so they could stay in touch. (The pipeline referred to is a $40 billion, Alaskan natural-gas pipeline – about which, surprise surprise, Sarah Palin has been less than economical with the truth.)  The language may be a bit blue – and I may be a bit British for saying so. But this, Helen’s polite request, comes with feeling:

Please take your ridiculous hair, your over lipstick-smacking mouth, your Lenscrafter look smarter glasses and your poorly fitted designer jackets back to Alaska.   And when you get there, shove a piece of the pipeline up your considerable ass.  I’ll be damned if we’ll put our children’s future in your hands.

Helen was taught how to blog by her grandson, and met her friend Margaret sixty years ago in college.  That would have been 1948 – the year President Truman authorised the post-WWII Marshall Plan, the Berlin Blockade and the Cold War began, and the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sarah.

Via The Daily Dish.

Ouch! McCain’s history of ‘failing upwards’

Thursday, October 9, 2008 photo by Gerald Herbert

From Tom Dickinson’s iconoclastic portrait of a self-centred misogynist, who crashed two US planes on his way to becoming a very dishonourable man, in Rolling Stone magazine –

In its broad strokes, McCain’s life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior. At each step, with the aid of their fathers’ powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives’ evangelical churches.

In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot.

Exquisite? ‘Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip’

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I watched this thanks to Ray Ison, and was mightily impressed with the quality of the animation and the sound effects.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I found myself wanting more!  I’d love to see the team that created this apply their talents to lots more stuff.  It strikes me this medium can work incredibly well as a storytelling and educational vehicle. Very nice song at the end.

Now for my critique.  On the whole, the narrative was cogent, but the intense relaying of scientific information seemed to cater more for a science-literate audience.  I felt the scripting and narration left quite a lot to be desired.  The narrator skipped quickly between concepts, leaving non-scientists like myself befuddled and breathless, and needing to rewind the animation to work out what was being discussed and to catch up.  It seriously denigrated my experience of what could be a stunning project.  I dearly wanted a simpler script and much, much clearer transitions between each science-spiel segment.  And less jargon. (Interestingly, the animation’s creator conceived the animation as an old-fashioned piece of unilateral communication.)

I’m curious what you think and how you feel about it.  Comments and insights welcome.

The Woodland of Wishes in today’s Guardian

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mark Cocker’s Country Diary

Our neighbouring parish is laced around a rather confusing network of roads where I invariably seem to get lost. But if the village lacks a centre, the villagers themselves certainly don’t lack heart or organisational ability. Last weekend they put on their fifth and, in my opinion, finest sculpture trail. The idea originated more than a decade ago with a more modest project to showcase some of the beautiful gardens in Bergh Apton. The event worked brilliantly and in subsequent years they added a cultural dimension. Now it is one of the biggest sculpture exhibitions in Norfolk and surely one of the most important arts events in any British village.

This year they weren’t blessed with the weather. When the vehicle behind us became mired en route to the car park and its hopelessly spinning tyres set up a thick spray of Norfolk mud, it seemed a perfect metaphor for the wider sense of frustration. Fortunately, on the last of three weekends the sun shone, 1,000 cars filled the field and the roads were thronged with cyclists and walkers.

People at the entrances to the dozen gardens often asked you which was your favourite piece, suggesting a hint of friendly rivalry between the burghers of Apton. I must confess, despite the glorious range and quality of the work, I almost plumped for a non-sculptural feature. No, not the string quartet, nor the brass band, nor the vast throng besieging the ice-cream trailer. The Wishing Trees were an inspired bit of old English animism: we were invited to express our heart’s desire on lengths of calico attached to the spreading limbs of summer greenery. (One touching piece read: “I wish my grandad would come back to live [sic].”) At Bergh Apton last Sunday it certainly felt as if some dreams had come true.

A jolt of electricity

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Poster from the Obey website.

Here’s the Utne Reader

Obama is a young man, and no matter what his political future, he too will disappoint the same people he instigated. It’s inevitable. Nevertheless, the millions he’s already touched will never forget this moment in history because, no matter your political stripe, there’s no denying that our nation has been sleepwalking for the past eight years. We put the covers over our heads on September 12, 2001, got up to look around in 2004, and then hit the snooze button again, hoping that things would work themselves out. They didn’t. And they won’t.

Obama has jolted us awake. The air is crackling again with the power of possibility, with the belief that there’s still some magic to be squeezed out of the American Dream. And that sensation is as real as it is unforgettable.

Time for Clinton (and probably McCain too) to step aside

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today, Obama gave the speech of his campaign, maybe his political life. Facing immense scrutiny regarding his alliance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama had to explain how he could vehemently disagree with Wright’s highly politicised outbursts whilst maintaining his friendship. Andrew Sullivan rightly, I think, says this is a speech America has been waiting for for a long, long time –

This MSNBC discussion confirms the ripples the speech will have.

Make your own Obama ad – and win $20,000 worth of equipment

Thursday, March 13, 2008

According to the Washington Post, ‘Oliver Stone, Moby, Jesse Jackson, Ben Afleck, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Lessig are just some of the folks that will pick the ad that will run nationwide.’ Submission period is between March 27th and April 1st; no attack ads will be accepted, and you need to be either a US citizen or permanent resident in the US to apply.

For those who haven’t seen/listened to it, here’s the link to the ‘Yes We Can’ music video. The thing that strikes me about the Obama speech, on which the video was based, is that he gave it in New Hampshire in response to losing that state’s primary. If you think Clinton is the one with tenacity and drive, think again.

If it was me making an ad for the Obama campaign, being a citizen of the world beyond the US’ borders, I’d focus on his international appeal. Being a UK citizen, I’d propose that his judgement would not have dragged my country’s leadership into a spectacularly unholy war.

Palace of Westminster, London - Feb 2007.jpg
The Palace of Westminster, from wikimedia

Characters from the past: the Maharajah of Alwar in The Life of Lord Halifax

Saturday, March 1, 2008

One of the books I’m currently reading is a biography of Edward Wood, Lord Halifax. He is the Briton probably most famously remembered as Neville Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary, who stood by his Prime Minister on return from meeting the German Chancellor heralding ‘peace in our time’ to the world’s media. Their policy of appeasement soon dissolved into dust when Hitler invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany.

Perhaps less well known is not only Halifax’s stint as ambassador to the United States, thereafter, sent by Winston Churchill; but also Halifax’s incumbency as a Viceroy of India (1926-31).

The biography, written in 1965, is engaging, peppered with colourful characterisations, including the following of the poisonous Maharaja of Alwar (1882-1937), which I encountered last night –

Towards the end of May the Princes would gather in Simla for their Council, and the Viceroy became acquainted with these picturesque figures whose characters were as various as the size of their domains and the efficiency with which they were administered. He was much taken with the panache of these rulers, saying of one of them that he was ‘the greatest gentleman he had ever met’, but he noted their backslidings with a shrewd eye.

One of the first to pay his respects was the deplorable Maharaja of Alwar, who claimed to be descended from the Sun God and whose continued presence on his throne was thought by many to be an affront to public decency and a reproach to the Government of India. Here was a strong and baleful personality; a tall man of reptilian beauty and remarkable accomplishments, a philosopher, a scholar and a fine orator even in a day rich in the power of speech. Clearly a victim of schizophrenia, he was known to be a sadist and a pervert, and he had developed towards the English a manner at once insolent and correct that was difficult to endure. He was commonly supposed to have murdered more than one person who had crossed his path, and was said to have tethered a recalcitrant polo pony to the side of the hill in the hot weather, and made daily visits to watch it dying of thirst. Indeed, he was later to have a goat tied outside [Dorothy Wood, the Viceroy’s wife’s] window in his palace at Alwar so that it might be killed in the small hours of the morning by a tame panther and terrifying her by its dying screams, but she was fortunately able to forestall these hospitable preparations by releasing the goat.

Like some Sultan in the seraglio on the Golden Horn he went in constant terror of assassination, and yet was so brave that, disdaining the safety of a machan, he would hunt panther on foot with a spear and follow wounded tigers into the jungle without a qualm. He was a man who could literally produce a shiver in those who encountered him.

Part of Alwar’s insolence consisted in having all dogs removed from his sight, however distinguished their owners. Their proximity, he said, made him feel sick, and it speaks volumes for the man’s personality that he was able to force this intolerable rule on the Secretary of State, Birkenhead, and the Viceroy, two men in whose lives dogs played a large part.

He was also given to a cynical pretence, in order to cause inconvenience, that as his religion forbade him to touch leather he could not ride in an ordinary saddle, a claim that was never made by other Hindu princes, or hold ordinary reins. A buckskin saddle had to be found for him to use on the ride to Annandale, and brown silk gloves prevented contamination by the bridle. The rule of this evil man, who seemed to belong to some other age, was eventually ended by an uprising of his subjects, and he was to die miserably in Paris.

– from ‘Halifax, The Life of Lord Halifax’, by The Earl of Birkenhead (pp.184-5)