Obama on libraries, librarians & the freedom of speech

Stephen’s Lighthouse points the beam at a four year old speech, which Obama held for the American Library Association as a young senator. His eloquence and his sense for “the right thing to say” is no news. He says:

At a time when book banning is back in vogue, libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.

That’s why I’ve been working with Republicans and Democrats to make sure that we have a Patriot Act that helps us track down terrorists without trampling on our civil liberties. This is an issue that Washington always tries to make into an either-or proposition. Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles. But I don’t believe in either-or. I believe in both ends. I think we can do both. I think when we pose the choice as either-or, it is asking too little of us and it assumes too little about America. I believe we can harness new technologies and a new toughness to find terrorists before they strike, while still protecting the very freedoms we’re fighting for in the first place.

Ah! The man who spoke those words is now president of the United States. Ain’t that great?

Read the whole speech here.

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American royalty

It will come as no surprise to anybody reading this blog that I’m deeply fascinated by American politics. So of course I skipped all the dreary British politics in today’s Times and jumped directly to an article about what’s facing Obama in the next 100 days. Author Paul Kennedy is a British history professor at Yale, who’s spent the last 25 years in the US. Another article took an anthropological view of the footage from the inauguration day – very entertaining! Did you notice, for instance, that Michelle Obama took her shoes off at one point?

Caroline Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy

Later on I read an article in the online edition of the New Yorker about Caroline Kennedy and why she has withdrawn her candidacy to the senate (where she had made a bid for her uncle Ted Kennedy’s seat only a few weeks earlier). If you wan’t an exact reason, don’t hold your breath… The article gives fantastic insight into American politics at a level below what we usually hear about. And it gives insight into the only royalty America has – the Kennedys. For more of that, read the excellent article in Vanity Fair’s November issue about Jacqueline Kennedys intellectual “flirt” with France’s then minister of culture, André Malraux, over Mona Lisa.

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Now there's a strange way with words!

Israel has admitted – after mounting pressure – that its troops may have used white phosphorus shells in contravention of international law, during its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip.

It’s in The Guardian. My italics.

It’s like saying “I may have poisoned my husband’s dinner”. Honestly, unless you’re headed straight for Alzheimer’s, there’s no such thing. Are they alleging that some foot-soldier accidentally got out the phosphorous shells and fired them without his superiors’ knowledge? Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time foot-soldiers had to take the blame. Think Abu-Ghraib

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All is said

so I’ve surfed around for some less serious titbits to add colour to this day of promise.

If you haven’t read any comments, I suggest you pop by The Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post (this one is good), Huffington Post and dont’ forget the always thorough Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic (comments from right), (comments from left). Oh, and Whitehouse.gov has got a very new look and feel. On Kottke.org I read that all third-party content is licensed under Creative Commons. Is that cool or what?

Back to the less serious. You did wonder who designed Michelle Obama’s dress, didn’t you? And have an opinion? Well, you’re not alone. Read about the designer and what hundreds of NYT readers thought here.

The Inauguration lunch is also described in detail. It’s modelled over one of Lincoln’s lunches.

An anthropologist muses over Obama’s changed way of speaking. I’ve noticed a change, but am not exactly a linguist, so hadn’t caught exactly what kind of change it was.

Here’s Hollywood Obama gossip on a Washington Post level. It’s Dana Milbank writing – he’s not just any old gossip columnist. (Note that you may have to sign in to Washington Post to read this – but it’s free).

And here’s what we’re now rid of. I know you’ve probably already seen this. But funny it is!

The ObamaNene poster was created here. Go get your own!

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What will Obama do? (and something about parenting)

Andrew Sullivan does some deliberation and a bit of wishful thinking in The Sunday Times. It hasn’t been published online, but probably will be tomorrow or some time next week. Here’s a couple of quotes to wet your appetite:

On Israel, perhaps, we will see the biggest shift. Obama has so far been preternaturally silent on the Gaza bombardment, in deference to the “one president at a time” mantra and because he knows full well that if he were not about to become president, the Israelis would not have launched their attack.

(…)

Obama almost certainly believes, for example, that no one is enjoying the Gaza disaster more than Iran’s government, and that Tehran’s more radical mullahs fear nothing more than fighting an election at home while Obama appeals to the Iranian people over their heads. It is perfectly reasonable to be confident that Obama threatens President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in ways that Bush never managed. I hope at least.

I hope that too!!!

Make a search for this article on The Times webiste some time tomorrow (try “Andrew Sullivan Obama”) or enjoy his sharp and immensely popular blog on The Atlantic.

On an entirely different subject I enjoyed and agreed with (would I have enjoyed it if I didn’t agree?) another article, this one by Rachel Johnson. Actually, she quite often annoys me, but in a way that makes me read her columns anyway. She blogs too. The article is about a certain kind of British middle class parents, of whom I’ve already met quite a few. They are a bit scary!!! She writes:

We’ve all become grimly used by now to the excesses of hyper-parenting – it’s been richly documented over the past decade as more and more university-educated parents, often former career girls turned full-time mothers, have diverted energy and ambition from the boardroom to the playroom. Even so, this now constant, almost compulsory, blurring of boundaries between parent and child takes the horror to the next level.

(…)

Moreover, according to the clinical psychologist Oliver James, parents who bathe in the glory of a child’s performance can be hugely damaging. “It’s disastrous if children’s achievements are used as vehicles for the parents’ prestige,” he says. “Then the withdrawal of love is only a tiny mistake away.”

(…)

If you subsume your identity into that of your child, you are, according to the psychologists, enmeshed. That’s shrink-speak for “disturbed” and it means you can’t get your kicks in your own right but only through your offspring and their achievements, and are flagging up a desperate form of displaced narcissism. And yes, you probably need urgent help.

I’m sure my Danish readers are all going: “You must be kidding!” But no, I’m not – this is British reality. I’m hoping that my Danish voice of reason will always be there to kick me in the behind should I start acting like this. But I believe that I could never live my life through my children. I have ambitions for my own life, which are not yet fulfilled!

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Tools for a better understanding of conflicts

I’m trying my hand with some new podcasts now that I’m exercising three times a week. You can hear a lot of podcasts in 4-5 hours! One I listened to today was BBC’s technology podcast called Digital Planet. It was surprisingly good and this episode focused almost exclusively on the Gaza conflict. Some of these wonderful Open Source people have developed a debate wiki called DebateGraph, which encompasses all the stand points and all the arguments in the Gaza conflict and shows them in a graphic way. I’ve been trying to embed it here on my blog, but I just can’t get WordPress to do it. What kind of media is a wiki exactly, anyway? But click here and have a good look at it. The British newspaper The Independent has been more successful than me, it’s embedded on their website and they are presently using it to show “What Obama should do next”. Really marvellous tool!

Digital Planet also mentioned another tool called Ushahidi, originally developed for the conflict in the Democratic Replublic of Congo, which monitors all sources to find out the correct number of casualties. This one is adopted by Al-Jazeera.

A couple of other news tit-bits from around the world: Obama has, in yet another show of supreme insight in how the media works, released a letter he’s written to his two little girls here only a few days away from his inauguration. Read it in its entirety here. There’s also an interesting letter going in the other direction, namely the star of the blogosphere Arianna Huffington‘s letter titled “Moving forward doesn’t mean you can’t look back”. It’s about America not closing its eyes to the crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney administration. She quotes George W.

As for the economy, Bush insisted, “I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted growth.” Which is kind of like saying the flight of the Hindenburg was fabulous up until the landing.

Which reminded me that I still haven’t seen Bush’ farewell address. It’s a must-see, I think. With remarks like that!

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Voices of reason

There might be more than good cause for hand-wringing, exaggerations and “loud” statements over the state of things in Palestine. But I believe that the mellow and calm voice of reason is the one that will get us places. Listen to this woman, Syria’s first lady (read about her here first):

She says the most important things within the first 2-3 minutes if you’re too busy to watch the whole interview.

Ezra Klein points to another voice of reason, Anthony Cordesman. He ends the article published through Centre for Strategic and International Studies like this:

As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting in 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.

We should also listen to what intelligent people on “the other side” have to say. Here is an interview with Bernard-Henri Levy and here’s one with Israeli soldier and history scholar Michael Oren. With all respect for these two scholars, I think they both grossly underestimate how much Hamas and therefore all the militants in the Middle East gain from this and how much this will harm Israel and then the rest of us in the long run and, no less, how much harm it does to the remaining moderate Arab countries, just as Mrs. Al-Assad says in the interview at the top of this page.

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Books

My Dad has lost a good deal of his eye-sight and can now only read books with large print (Magna Print) and only under a 100W light bulb. Now my Dad is lucky enough to live in Denmark, which has a fantastic public library service, where he can order a seemingly endless number of Magna Print books and even have them delivered, if he is not up for the walk to the library. But if it hadn’t been so, he’d be in a situation that I truly dread. Finally having the time to read all the books I’ve always wanted to read, but not the ability!

I’m lucky – although I more and more often find myself fiddling with my glasses and taking them off to read magazine- and newspaper articles, I can still read. But I’m always moaning that there’s not enough time. But – even if I don’t watch TV that much, I can still cut down on TV-time and read more. I always read before I sleep. Always. I don’t think I can fall asleep without a page or 50! Right now I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest epos, Outliers. Highly recommended.

On my blogroll I ran into this post about the benefits of reading and about how to find more time to do so.

I guess I could write about Palestine every day at the moment and today I’ve been reading in The Times about the atrocities that the Israeli army has committed. Can one say, without sounding horribly cynical, that maybe these people didn’t sacrifice their lives in vain? Because by now it seems that even very conservative and traditionally Israel-friendly media have now stopped going on about Hamas’ bombing raids, which – honestly – are dwarfed by now, and have teary-eyed middle-aged men reporting from Gaza. About time too!

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No exit strategy (why does that sound so familiar?)

The very serious and high-brow American magazine Foreign Policy has a middle-east blog. I didn’t know that, but now I do and I’ll keep an eye on it, because from what I’ve briefly read, it’s very good. And – my God – do the Americans need to see reason here!

In this post Marc Lynch has been to a round table conversation with the Israeli ambassador Sallai Meridor. Here’s the last couple of lines from the post:

In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. “In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path,” noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.

In the latest post, he tells about the reactions from a person called Ayman al-Zawahiri on behalf of  Al-Qaeda to the bombing of Gaza:

He sounds about as happy as I can remember hearing him of late. He probably can’t believe his luck.

That is of course not at all surprising. Why is it that apparently the American, the British, the Israeli, the <fill in the blank> government can’t see that they are playing right into the hands of this world’s religious fanatics, left, right and eh, hopefully not centre, with this so-called War on Terror?

It’s late and I’m heading for bed – just stumbled over this and had to share it with you.

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Double standards

Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.
Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.

The Gaza conflict makes me even more angry than so many other international conflicts. I think what makes me fume is that America supports Saudi Arabia so strongly, overtly and unconditioned – America that claims to be on a “Nation Building” & “Democracy Exporting” Crusade. Palestine is definitely more democratic than any little bit of desert in Saudi Arabia! And think of the Sauds who were allowed to leave the US during the flying ban after 9/11. And consider that there’s every proof you’d want that it’s the Saudis who finance most of the religious madmen in the Arab world and thus more or less pushed Hamas into power. Because at the same time as supporting Hamas and all the other religious nutters, they – and the US and Israel – have done everything to discredit Fatah. It simply defies belief that the whole world is standing by and idly watching this!

Today’s story about the Israeli “proof” that they only shoot at “legitimate” targets – the Youtube video with the “missiles” being loaded onto the truck – is probably only scratching the surface of the deception the Western press gladly falls for.

A Washington Post story from right after the Hamas take-over.

Here’s evidence of Saudi Arabia financing terrorism, which was delivered to the American senate in 2003.

Here’s some back ground information about Saudi Arabia, Wahabism and terror financing from the Independent.

Wikipedia’s article about Wahabism (state religion in Saudi Arabia). And here about the House of Saud, who rule Saudi Arabia.

A bone chilling story from Vanity Fair about the US deepening the crisis in Gaza.

I could go on, but I won’t.

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Hope

Makes your heart bleed, just as its supposed to do
Makes your heart bleed, just as it's supposed to do

Found this on Jens Unmack’s blog (in Danish). Thought it worth reproducing. Why is it that the politicians who are always going on about helping refugees close to home are the same who want to cut down on International aid? Who support Israel in its constant harrassment of Palestinians and who support conflict-mongering rather than peace-making? I do agree that we cannot possibly help all the world’s refugees by inviting them to Europe. But we could do more to prevent the horrible conflicts that they are fleeing from. But so far, we don’t. Let’s hope Mr. Obama – by not starting any more wars and by hopefully conducting the war in Afghanistan more wisely – will help to curb the staggering number of refugees in the world.

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