Archive for November, 2008

Culture and war in Madrid

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Elizabeth and I are visiting Madrid this week. This is a beautiful, modern city, with incredible art museums.  We managed to spend several hours in the Centro de Arte Renia Sofia before they cleared out the galleries at a somewhat early 2:30 in the afternoon.

Picasso’s Guernica isn’t the only artwork that reminds the world of the pre-WWII horror that the Spanish Civil War represented.  We saw a film showing children tearing the stones out of streets and making barricades near to our hotel in Madrid.  The photographs of bombed out towns and cities previewed the high level of devastation that would be visited upon many European cities over the following 10 years, children and parents frantically seeking shelter from a rain of bombs delivered by sleek and powerful bombers.

I have to wonder if America would be so eager for military solutions if it had suffered as much as Europe did during the first and second global conflict of the twentieth century.  Americans, especially on the right, tend to characterize Europeans as decadent, weak, and even cowardly, for not being more willing to participate in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Maybe if America had undergone 400 years of nearly constant warfare, and then had much of 2000 years of cultural destroyed, along with several generations of young men, it would have a smaller military today.

Euro Reaction to Obama Victory

Friday, November 7th, 2008
Obama Fan

Obama Fan

It was pretty amazing to see the reaction to Obama’s victory, all over Europe. I spent the week in Cannes, and heard multiple stories about airplanes breaking out in cheers when the news was announced.  All of the papers were full of news and analysis, and the “Financial Times” devoted several pages to the story, even including a full-page biography.

After living in Europe and experiencing first-hand the increasingly negative perception of America, I gotta say it was nice seeing Brand America getting such a boost.

Speaking of boost, I was in a Lebanese restaurant with 3 co-workers when these 3 bright young things in halter tops and hot pants came jiggling into our little restaurant, chanting “Oh-Ba-Ma; Oh-Ba-Ma; Oh-Ba-Ma!”  They went up to the counter of the restaurant, and started dancing with the staff, which turned off the sound on the soccer game and turned on dance music. This went on for awhile, until it dawned on me that they came from the ‘club’ two doors down.   Mark remarked “It must be a slow night,” while Tom grabbed the above and a couple other hurried shots on his phone.

I told Mark that it was important to explain to the ladies that we were not only Americans, but had actually voted for Obama. Mark got kind of a mischievous grin, and started waving them over to our table. It took several tries, but the blond (above) eventually seemed to get it, leaning down and giving Mark a big smooch on the cheek.  Tom and I haven’t washed our bald spots since that night.

Its nice to see people getting excited about politics again.

The latest outrageous Republican stunt and its reception in Europe

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

The US election was front page news in many of the Sunday papers in Europe this week, and there were extended stories in today’s Financial Times. This week’s Economist came out in support of Obama. The Sunday Times of London had a fascinating story about how some Republicans had noticed some apparent similarities between the autobiography of Obama, and purported terrorist William Ayers (a well-established and respected professional, who was never convicted, and probably did not cause as much damage as Joschka Fischer, who was forgiven by the German people and currently serves as foreign minister).

The brother in law of a Republican congressman had contacted an Oxford scholar who does work in statistical analysis of authorship (a subject I’m mildly familiar with), and offered him $10,000 to prove that Obama’s autobio was actually ghost written by Ayers. Oxford agreed to take this on as a consulting project, with the stipulation that the results must be published, no matter which way they came out. At this point, the Republicans failed to cough up the 10 grand. Duh!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fox got this story wrong, reporting that congressman Cannon’s brother in law actually paid the $10K. A lengthy piece by Oxford professor Peter Millican in the Sunday Times indicated that he did not even have the opportunity to accept the money, because the offer was withdrawn after Oxford made it clear that the publishing of the results would not be conditional on Cannon’s hypothesis being proven.

I’m at an event in Cannes with a number of my co-workers from the US and Europe. One other Londoner was aware of this story about the attempt to use a computer to prove the Obama was a terrorist, but none of the Americans or Germans had picked up on it. One of the American analysts did announce, in front of several hundred co-workers, “If you are sick and tired of coverage of the election, DON’T come to Europe.”