All Change?

Let’s redefine the concept of “lame”. Lame is me.

I was in Paris on Tuesday afternoon: but rather than wandering down to the Marais for a brioche, I bought a sandwich poulet fermier at the station, stayed in my hotel room and took photos of CNN’s coverage of Obama’s inauguration.

Even from a distance, watching the events on a small TV and brushing baguette crumbs from the bedspread, one got a real sense of The Inauguration as a Historic Moment.  But perhaps in anticipation of the day, we had reimagined too much the gilded,  selective memories of ceremonies past – the investitures of Lincoln, FDR, JFK .  Obama’s speech was good, but it wasn’t great. George Kenney thought it “underwhelming” – a little harsh perhaps, but George’s reservations about Obama are healthy and justified.

If Obama’s speech didn’t quite reach the heights we had hoped, there has been some other political poetry floating about this week that’s quite cute.  Matt (the amigo formerly known as  DJ durutti)  composed a haiku on the news that Karl Rove (no, he hasn’t yet been beamed back to the Planet Zorgon) is alive and twittering:

It really is him
Foxtard tweeps rejoice. Just don’t
follow me @KarlRove!

I haven’t any clue why anyone would choose to follow Karl Rove when you can follow Darth Vader instead: much funnier, slightly less evil and more skilled in the ways of the force.  (When I started following Vader, I un-followed MC Hammer: somehow fictional Sith-power won out over knowing irony).

Anyway, although the Bush era is finished, and we will probably continue to laugh at W’s malapropisms for many years to come, a moment should be taken to salute the true Poet Laureate of the Bush presidencyDonald Henry Rumseld. His masterpiece “The Unknown” formed part of a Finance lecture on my MBA course last term as we contemplated where the credit crunch might lead:

The Unknown
(composed at a Department of Defense news briefing, Feb. 12, 2002)

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

Obama’s cabinet would do well to remember Rumsfeld’s wise words as they plan their programmes for the coming years. Even in the most powerful political office in the world, it is not possible to know or forsee everything. Human beings are vain to think they can control or anticipate all eventualities. At the centre of power in America is just a regular human being. And that is the most scary, and yet the most hopeful thing of all.

The Weight of Hope


It always happens at 4am.

In November 2000, lying in bed, listening to the radio (France Inter as I recall- I was living in France), we hear the news that Florida, earlier called for Al Gore, is back in the “too close to call” category.  Two weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively declares George W. Bush the victor in Florida, and therefore the new President.

It’s hard to remember what the world was like in 2000… Guantanamo Bay was still an obscure footnote of history and geography. Most peoples’ internet connections ran at 56k. The founder of Facebook was still in high school. The World Trade Center was just another pair of skyscrapers in Manhattan.  At 4am on November 5th, 2000, there was no clue as to how fateful that presidential victory would be.

Cut to 4am in Birmingham, November 5th 2008. Lying in bed, listening to the radio. The BBC have just called Virginia for Obama. They’re about to cross to London for a news bulletin, when Jim Naughtie announces that the West Coast polls have closed: Oregon, California and Washington are falling into the Democrat’s column.  With 293 electoral college votes, Barack Obama is the new President.

In the ensuing hours, journalists try to write history off-the-cuff. First black president. The end of Reagan-era politics. McCain’s majority in Montana cut to 17,000. A re-drawing of the political map.

But he punditry sounds clumsy when faced with the image of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, in tears as he awaits the president-elect’s arrival at Grant Park.  No other western [Correction – industrialised] country has ever elected a member of an ethnic minority as head of state. “I Am – Somebody” indeed.

But there are still fears. Can Obama ever live up to the huge expectation – that enormous weight of hope – that has accumulated around his candidacy?

Obama’s victory is an obvious milestone in American civil rights – and yet last night California, Florida and Arizona passed consitutional bans on gay marriage.

Given the burden of vested interests at home and overseas, how much reform is truly possible?  How much does Obama actually represent “change”? His platform is moderate – he doesn’t represent the radical agenda that some have ascribed to him. By world standards, Obama is more John Major than Hugo Chavez.

We can’t really tell at this point what an Obama presidency will bring. We don’t know what the world will be like 4 years’, 8 years’ time. All we do know is that Barack Obama is the best hope we have right now. On behalf of the 95% of us on the planet who aren’t Americans, America has made the right choice and that fact is worth celebrating.

*Photo credits – Getty/AP

About Bloody Time, Mate

Stolen Generation

There is still some hope for the world. The new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is preparing to deliver an official apology to the stolen generation in the parliament in Canberra on February 13th.

Saying ‘sorry’ really is only a first step, but it is a significant step by an Australian government to acknowledge some of the deep injustices suffered by the koori since colonisation. It was a step that John Howard (and deputy sheriff and former Aussie PM) John Howard famously refused to take.

I hope the Rudd government offers a turning point for Australia and their relationship with the koori, who represent some of the oldest cultures and languages on the planet. Maybe the last 200 years of colonialism and shameful government policy represent just a minor blip in the 60,000 year history of human habitation in Australia.

Soul Power 2005 !

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and leaving comments on etnobofin over the past little while. It is almost miraculous how little virtual communities of people can form around particular tiny specks of HTML in this ocean of almost limitless information. I hope we all can provide each other with a little bit of clear signal among all the static.

Anyway, it’s been a fairly eventful 24 hours here in little ol’ New Zealand. It looks like we’ve retained a Labour-led social democrat government, by the skin of our teeth. 23,000 votes separated the two major parties nationwide. It was very close.

And more bizarrely, somebody tried to fly a stolen aeroplane into Auckland’s Sky Tower last night, in the middle of the election. This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often in New Zealand. It was certainly a little scary and confusing when the news started filtering through to the gig I was playing last night.

To lighten the mood, here’s Maceo Parker (as), Fred Wesley (tb), Pee Wee Ellis (ts), Rodney Jones (gt), Larry Goldings (org), Kenwood Dennard (d), Candy Dulfer (as) and Kym Mazelle (vox), performing in Köln in March 1992.

Maceo Parker – Soul Power ’92 (14’13)
From Life on Planet Groove: Verve 214 517 197-2 [Buy]

And in other positive news, Ubuweb is back up and running ! And Hubert de Lartigue shows us how to make X-Wings out of Paris metro tickets (the photos are cool, and there are instructions in English and en français).

Blow that horn, Maceo!

R.I.P. David Lange

Former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange (PM 1984-89) died last night at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, at the age of 63. While the controversies of his Fourth Labour government will be endlessly documented and debated for years to come, there is no doubt that he will be most widely remembered internationally as the head of state to make New Zealand a nuclear-free country.

Lange’s policy involved the banning of US nuclear-powered warships from New Zealand’s ports, and the effective withdrawal of New Zealand from the ANZUS defence alliance. A high point of his term as Prime Minister was his eloquent speech at the Oxford Union in 1985, arguing that nuclear weapons are morally indefensible. The transcript of his speech is online here.

Well loved by New Zealanders, David Lange will be missed.

Charles Mingus – Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me
From Oh Yeah: Atlantic 90667 [Buy]

How “Religious” doesn’t always mean “Conservative”

Photo: Nrbelex

A nice column in the Guardian by Instapundit‘s Glenn Reynolds on the complex interplay between the conservative/liberal dichotomy in US politics and the role of religion on both sides of the divide…

“…religiosity – something often associated, especially by Europeans, with American conservatism – is also a staple of the US left. Just look at that icon of US liberalism, Hillary Clinton. The north-eastern style leftism associated with her is sometimes frankly, sometimes implicitly, religious.”