Barack Obama and Identity Politics

There’s an interesting passage in this NYT article on Barack Obama and race:

Though Mr. Obama’s presidency ended up being defined in many ways by America’s reaction to his race, he carefully avoided racially liberal appeals during his original campaign, even taking the time to criticize the purported excesses of campus liberalism. Mr. Obama had begun his national political career with a speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, declaring that “there’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” During his 2008 campaign, to give just one example, he turned down an invitation to Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union, an event Hillary Clinton attended.

I never thought Barack Obama was a typical African American, which is unsurprising given he’s the offspring of a Kenyan father and white American mother rather than the descendants of slaves. Indeed, Obama’s only connection with slavery was that his mother’s ancestors used to own some. But even in his politics he seemed more steeped in the anti-colonialism Marxism of his father than the race-hustling of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Sure, he no doubt engaged in plenty of race-hustling while a community organiser in Chicago, but that was a means to an end rather than a lifetime obsession. His wife, on the other hand, seemed to be quite the opposite: her thesis was called Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community, which gives you an idea what was on her mind as a young lady. I’ve heard said that Barack was content to date white women before someone nudged him in the ribs and said if he wants a political career he’d better get with the programme and pick a sista, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.

Whatever you think of Obama, his 2008 campaign was not based on identity politics, and a lot of people hoped he’d be a normal president who happened to be black, rather than a Black President. Everyone overlooked Condoleeza Rice’s skin colour because it was irrelevant to her public persona; by contrast, people like Maxine Waters and Kamala Harris have made theirs a central part of who they are, seemingly to the exclusion of everything else. In 2008, Obama knew that if he ran on a black-as-an-identity platform he’d likely lose, and I genuinely don’t think he personally saw himself that way. However, by the time the 2016 election came around US politics had swung completely in the direction of identity politics:

During her 2016 campaign, Mrs. Clinton invoked concepts like intersectionality, white privilege, implicit bias and systemic racism. She warned of “deplorables,” while Mr. Obama once gave a speech arguing that “to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns” was something that “widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.” According to the American National Election Studies 2016 survey, Democrats perceived Mrs. Clinton as more racially liberal than they had perceived Mr. Obama in 2012, when his strategy was not notably different.

So what happened? I think much as though Obama wanted to be a normal president who happened to be black, he felt beholden to the adoring masses of African Americans who genuinely believed he was one of them. When millions of people are shouting “black, black, blackety-black” at you and one of them is likely your wife, eventually you’re going to start believing it. Particularly stupid was Obama’s remark that Trayvon Martin “could have been my son”. The progeny of well-connected Ivy-league graduates is unlikely to get himself shot by a vigilante while roaming the grounds of a gated community in Florida even if he’s black, mainly because he’d never be there in the first place. Obama’s children have nothing more in common with Trayvon Martin than those ghetto kids saying “ah’m Tiger Woods” in 1996 had with their club-swinging idol. But this happened in 2013 during his second term, and it was 2016 when he invited Black Lives Matter to the White House. This was unlikely something 2008 Obama would have done, and probably not 2012 Obama either.

What was obvious is many African Americans, and certainly all the race-hustlers among them, thought Obama was “their” president and he ought to put black issues first. The reality was while Obama was flattered enough to make the right noises, sorting out black America’s issues was no easier for him than it was for anyone else, not that he bothered to try. This is why there’s a sizeable portion of African Americans who think Obama let them down; finally they get one of their own in the White House, but nothing changed. Like with so much of Obama’s presidency, he neither did one thing or the other. If he’d have shunned racial politics entirely and simply been a president who happened to be black, it would have been an enormous arrow in the heart of identity politics. Instead by dabbling in it during his second term and embracing some of the most damaging aspects of black American culture, he allowed every other minority to view the presidency as a vehicle for furthering special interests rather than transcending them. I doubt Hillary Clinton would have centered her entire campaign on being a woman had Obama not left office with the likes of Black Lives Matter believing they had the ear of the president.

To be fair, I think Obama probably lacked the mental strength to shrug off the enormous pressures that came from being the first black president; I suspect anyone else would have succumbed to some degree. But what’s certain is that the Democrats have bought into identity politics wholesale and aren’t letting go, and it’s a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit. Ironically, that may well be Obama’s real legacy.



From the BBC:

A former Georgia lawmaker and author has taken a major step towards becoming the first ever African-American female governor of a US state.

If elected in the deeply conservative state, Ms Abrams would become the first woman and the first person from an ethnic minority to lead the southern state.

Well, she’s certainly ticking all the diversity boxes, but what’s she actually done?

It was in Georgia where she made her mark with a number of historic achievements.

She became the first African American female valedictorian of her high school before earning her undergraduate degree from Spelman College. She also received a master’s degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from Yale University.

Ms Abrams was first elected to the Georgia state House of Representatives in 2006, and would later become the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly as well as the first African American to lead the state’s House of Representatives.

So her achievements are basically being African American and female.

She has been considered a rising star among her party’s progressive wing, taking centre stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

She gave a rousing speech on economic inequality, drawing on her own experience, and strongly backing presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

I’d have thought backing the candidate who lost an unloseable election would count against her, but that’s just me.

Ms Abrams won the support of Mrs Clinton, who recorded a robocall – an automated telephone call with a recorded message – for the former state House minority leader ahead of Tuesday’s election.

So she’s got the support of the person who lost that unloseable election.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and California Senator Kamala Harris – who are all viewed as possible 2020 presidential contenders – also threw their support behind Ms Abrams.

National organisations including Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and EMILY’s List have also endorsed Ms Abrams.

And the backing of hard-left lunatics.

Aside from her political work, Ms Abrams has written eight romantic suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery.

Finally we get some actual achievements. Whether they’re enough to sway the good people of Georgia is another matter, though. No doubt when they plumb for the Republicans, racism and misogyny will be to blame.

A number of women battled for and won their Democratic Party mid-term bids in Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas, highlighting the strength of female candidates in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

In Texas, Democratic candidate and former Dallas County Sherriff Lupe Valdez became the first openly gay Latina nominee for governor in the state’s history.

Another candidate with a laundry list of diversity credentials, but no achievements of note. Not even a single, solitary, romance novel – unless the BBC is neglecting to mention it.

Also among the winners was political newcomer Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, who won a Kentucky primary for a seat in the US Congress.

Okay, this is better.

“It’s more, this time, this climate, right now,” Ms McGrath told CNN before her win against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. “It’s very clear that people are looking for more women.”

I’d save that remark until you’ve won the seat, madam.

The US currently has six female governors.

Yes, I recall one called Sarah Palin. What did the BBC and their fellow travellers think of her, again? Funny, nobody made a big song and dance over Nikki Haley being the first female Indian-American governor, either.


Europe’s choices over Iran

A response from Germany following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Europe can no longer count on the United States to protect it, urging the continent to “take destiny into its own hands.”

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future,” she said during a speech honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Agence France-Presse.

This will be music to the ears of many Americans, who are wondering why the US remains committed to defending Germany from…well, who? Russia? Germans have made it quite clear they prefer Putin’s Russia to Trump’s America, and who else is there? Oh, but wait:

German defense spending will fall far short of levels demanded by President Donald Trump’s administration for years to come, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense minister said.

Those levels are actually NATO commitments; Trump’s demand is merely that Germany meets them. The problem Germany has is that it is dependent on the US for security (assuming it is actually required) and hates it, but they don’t hate it enough to reach in their pockets and pay for it themselves. Like a spoiled teenager who hates the rules in their parent’s house, they don’t want to move out either because that would involve hardship.

What will be interesting is the response of Germany, France, and the UK to this:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was in Moscow on Monday, as Russia tries to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive in the wake of Washington’s pullout, pushing it into rare cooperation with Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was scheduled to discuss how to try to save the nuclear deal with Zarif, the Interfax news agency reported.

Zarif’s tour also took him to Beijing at the weekend and will see him visit Brussels later in the week, as the international backers of the 2015 accord scrabble to save it.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at a news conference with Lavrov.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

A few months ago, Russia was accused – perhaps fairly – of conducting a chemical weapons attack on British soil, and there were expulsions of diplomats and lots of tough talk from European leaders about solidarity with Britain. Then a few weeks ago Russia’s client in Syria allegedly used poison gas against civilians and everyone went mental, with Britain and France joining the US in launching missile strikes against targets in Syria. Russia was a pariah nation run by a gangster regime, we were told, so it’s going to be very interesting whether the commercial interests of European businesses consign all this rhetoric to the dustbin. It’s going to be particularly interesting to see what Britain does, given Boris Johnson and Theresa May’s recent criticism of Russia. At least nobody is pretending it’s about nuclear security any more.

Something the media has failed to mention is the difficulty of doing business in Iran even without US sanctions in place. I can’t find the link now (Google search results are swamped by recent developments) but a few years ago one of the big Chinese companies effectively walked away from an Iranian oil and gas project having utterly failed to make any progress, citing the intransigence of the locals as the primary reason. Anyone who has read the history of Iran, particularly the bit concerning Britain’s dealings with Mohammad Mosaddegh over BP, will get a clear idea that doing business there is fraught with difficulties, not least because the Iranians are severely tough negotiators. There has been nothing preventing Chinese, Russian, or Turkish firms making hay in Iran in the absence of American and European countries for decades, but they haven’t, and for good reasons.

One of the main problems facing western companies concerns the ownership of Iranian companies. As is to be expected under such a regime, pretty much every major company is in some way owned by the government or powerful individuals connected to it. In many instances it is the The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which controls the company. From Wiki:

IRGC first expanded into commercial activity through informal social networking of veterans and former officials. IRGC officials confiscated assets of many refugees who had fled Iran after the fall of Abolhassan Banisadr’sgovernment. It is now a vast conglomerate, controlling Iran’s missile batteries and nuclear program but also a multibillion-dollar business empire reaching almost all economic sectors. Estimates have it controlling between a tenth and around a third of Iran’s economy through a series of subsidiaries and trusts.

The Los Angeles Times estimates that IRGC has ties to over one hundred companies, with its annual revenue exceeding $12 billion in business and construction. IRGC has been awarded billions of dollars in contracts in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, as well as major infrastructure projects.

Last October Donald Trump sanctioned the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, independently of the nuclear deal. Leaving aside the difficulty of executing major projects in Iran without falling foul of US sanctions on the IRGC, can you imagine having an IRGC-owned company as a partner or contractor? Would they carry out the work as per the contract? To whom would you turn if they didn’t? It’s hard enough doing business in Russia with companies run by well-connected gangsters; now imagine what it’s like contracting with the private army of the Ayatollahs.

Major European nations risk creating an enormous political and security rift with the US over this Iranian nuclear deal, all for the benefit of a handful of companies who reckon they can make money in Iran. The way they’re talking, and the way it’s being reported, you’d think the money was already in the bank. It’s not, and probably never will be. Politicians should heed this point.


Europe and Iran

Amid all the wailings over Trump binning Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, this part made me laugh the most:

Mr Khamenei told the crowd that Iranian officials “want to continue the nuclear deal” with Britain, France and Germany, but added: “I do not trust these countries either.”

He continued: “If you could get guarantees from them in such a way that they can be trusted, no problem then you can continue.

“If you cannot get such a strong guarantee from them, and I see it very unlikely that you can, we could not move and continue like this anymore.”

The Iranians are not stupid and know full well the Europeans’ sole interest in Iran is as a lucrative market for their leading businesses. When Macron says he hopes to “keep working” on the nuclear deal, what he means is he wants to somehow keep the place open for French companies to go in and make hay, having strangled them with regulations on their home turf. They’re not in the least bit interested in whether or not Iran develops nuclear weapons or spreads terrorism around the Middle East, but they pretended they were in order to get Obama to lift the sanctions. Now they’re pretending the US withdrawal from the deal doesn’t matter, which is dishonest in the extreme: this was always a US deal which other countries simply piggy-backed on for business reasons. The Iranians know this, and they also know that if the US imposes sanctions the Europeans will fold like a cheap suit as soon as the US Department of Justice or Treasury Department starts growling.

The Iranians probably have a grudging respect for Trump’s outspoken manner and stubbornness, even if they don’t like him. I suspect they hold Obama and the various grovelling European governments in utter contempt.


Another casualty of identity politics

This story is worth reporting, but not in the way the Washington Post has chosen:

The three D.C. students couldn’t believe the news. They’d developed a method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains, and NASA announced last month that they were finalists in the agency’s prestigious high school competition — the only all-black, female team to make it that far.

The NASA competition called on students to find creative ways to use space technology in their everyday lives. The teens said they considered dozens of ideas but settled on a water purification system because they noticed some water fountains in their school could not be used because of potential lead contamination.

They worked at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator — a technology lab focused on diversity and entrepreneurship near Howard University — where they volunteer, and their mentor at the incubator encouraged them to compete and supervised them on weekends as they built a prototype.

The teens purchased two jars, placing meters in each to test the purity of the water. In one jar, the teens place shards of copper in the water — with the copper acting as the experimental contaminant. An electric fan spins the water while filtering floss — a type of fiber — collects contaminated particles. Once clean, the water is transferred by a straw into the second jar. The meters verify that the water is clean, and the teens said they trust their system so much, they drank the water.

This is a fantastic achievement for which the three girls ought to be extremely proud. Here’s their picture.So what’s the rest of the story? This:

The next stage of the science competition included public voting, and the Banneker High School students — Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, all 17-year-old high school juniors — turned to social media to promote their project.

But while the teens were gaining traction on social media and racking up votes, users on 4chan — an anonymous Internet forum where users are known to push hoaxes and spew racist and homophobic comments — were trying to ensure the students wouldn’t win.

The anonymous posters used racial epithets, argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for the teens only because of their race. They urged people to vote against the Banneker trio, and one user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. They recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.

Which is pretty appalling however you cut it, but I suspect it is a symptom rather than a cause. In the era of affirmative action and identity politics, a lot of people would assume these three girls had advanced in the competition because they were black and female, rather than because their invention was any good. If you are going to promote people on the basis of their membership of a minority group rather than their competence, pretty soon people will question whether any member of a minority group is competent and deserving of their position.

As I’ve argued on this blog before, what is so insulting about efforts to help women in STEM fields is that it ignores the millions of women who have done very well in STEM without affirmative action or other patronising policies which lower the bar. The real losers from affirmative action policies aimed at helping minorities is not people who fall outside the designated groups but genuinely competent minorities who not only have to sit alongside less-capable colleagues of the same sex or skin colour, but now have their own competencies called into question. Some time ago a very capable female engineer was invited to attend a management training course reserved only for the best and brightest in the organisation. She confessed she felt uncomfortable because she found it full of women, and she hoped her being female wasn’t the only reason she’d been asked to attend. She wanted to be there wholly on merit or not at all, and I could understand why.

The online abuse targeting the three girls in the story above is unsurprising given how gender and race have been elevated above human achievement in the era of identity politics. At some point, those who fall outside the designated victim groups will start to push back and much of it will be unpleasant. Not so long ago few would have doubted these girls deserve to reach the finals of the NASA competition, and they would have been held up as an example to aspiring black and female students. Instead their achievements are being doubted and the competition, along with everything else, turned into a political circus. It’s a shame the Washington Post chose to make the story about idiotic racists on obscure web forums rather than the appalling effects on society of the poisonous identity politics they’ve done so much to promote.


Casual Racism from the BBC

Yesterday I came across a bizarre interactive webpage on the BBC’s world service website which, I think, is there to help foreigners harangue Americans about their gun laws. It starts by allowing you to pick your character:

1. Charlene, a rootin’ tootin’ gun lovin’ redneck who doesn’t like other people very much.

2. Akinjide, a Nigerian on holiday from Lagos.

Why the BBC feels the need to help Nigerians deal with Americans they encounter on a bus to Phoenix using money taxed from the owners of televisions in Britain I don’t know, but here we are. Now I don’t know what bus this scenario is supposed to take place on, but from the description my guess would be it’s a Greyhound. Can you take guns on a Greyhound? No. So we’re already in fairyland, and it doesn’t get much better. I’ll post a few of the remarks each character is supposed to be saying:

I hardly think someone from Lagos is going to argue the prevalence of legally-held guns is a requirement for a country to suffer serious levels of violent crime. You’d also not likely find a Nigerian who doesn’t appreciate guns are useful when it comes to protecting yourself, your family, and your property – particularly in a place where violent criminals have easy access to them. Besides, private gun ownership is not prohibited in Nigeria.

It is highly likely that any Nigerian travelling on a bus to Phoenix will know someone back home who has had their home invaded by armed intruders, and probably know some who’ve been shot dead. Even moderately wealthy Nigerians are terrified of armed thugs murdering them during a robbery, hence they erect high, glass-topped walls around their houses with sturdy gates and often lived in secure compounds with armed guards. Nigerians might find American gun laws daft, but few would dismiss the danger home invasions represent.

Sorry, who is supposed to be speaking here? A Nigerian from Lagos or some woke British paleface who reads The Guardian? Did the person who wrote this actually know any Nigerians?

This is probably how the BBC thinks gun-carrying southerners speak to people, particularly black men who sit beside them on the bus. I suspect the author is basing the character on people he or she met in New York – where they do speak to each other like this – rather than anyone in Texas or Arizona where they’re unfailingly polite (in part because so many of them are carrying guns).

The BBC seems content to portray Africans as wholly ignorant on the subject of American gun laws. As Ali G would say, isn’t that a bit racist?

Of course, Nigerians are generally conservative, devoutly religious, and know all too well that armed government employees can be as much a source of death and mayhem as any run-of-the-mill criminal. But not the Nigerian featured here, oh no:

Somebody from Lagos wept as he watched news footage of people talking about a gun massacre in the US after the event? Are we sure this guy is from Lagos?

Naturally, this is presented as a scenario which is abhorrent to Akinjide, who has presumably forgotten there are armed guards everywhere in Nigeria.

Now this webpage isn’t completely useless, offering as it does a useful insight into how staff at the BBC view Americans and Nigerians, but as advice on how to approach the subject of gun control in the US it’s more likely to get you killed as enlighten you. I have travelled on an overnight bus to Phoenix and it was full of people who looked as though they were on their way to rob a bank. The two guys in front of me were both felons, and had a lively conversation over whether it’s better to be imprisoned in Virginia – where a man on horseback with a rifle guards you as you pick up trash from the side of the road – or Arkansas where it’s a man on foot with a shotgun. At the back was a US Marine who was half-insane and spent several hours hurling foul-mouthed abuse at his girlfriend down the phone. Anyone who started acting like this Akinjide in the story would probably be killed by someone’s bare hands. Thankfully most Nigerians, the ones the BBC doesn’t know about, are sensible enough to keep the topic of conversation to beer, women, and football.


Perhaps more newsworthy than Stormy Daniels

Me in January, on the subject of Donald Trump and North Korea:

His detractors won’t see it this way, but after Obama’s flip-flopping and prevaricating, Trump is injecting some much-needed clarity into the situation. Everyone knows the Russians and the Chinese would not tolerate a nuclear attack on their interests and allies; Trump is merely restating that the same is true for the US. Personally, I think this makes the world a touch safer than it was.

Me 2 days later:

Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.

Me in March:

A couple of months ago we were told Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea and juvenile tweeting was bringing the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Turns out bitch-slapping Rocketman has given him pause for thought.

The BBC today:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has suspended all missile tests and will shut down a nuclear test site.

“From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the country’s state news agency said.

Mr Kim said further tests were unnecessary because Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities had been “verified”.

The surprise announcement comes as North Korea prepares for historic talks with South Korea and the US.

Mr Kim is due to meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in next week for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade, and US President Donald Trump by June.

Both countries have been pushing Pyongyang to denuclearise and they reacted positively to the latest development.

If Trump keeps this up, Obama should gift him his Nobel Peace Prize.


Fair Weather Friends

From the BBC:

Lance Armstrong has agreed to pay $5m (£3.5m) to the US government to settle a long-running lawsuit that could have cost him $100m (£71m) in damages.

The American, 46, was accused of fraud by cheating while riding for the publicly funded US Postal Service team.

I was aware that Lance Armstrong was facing a colossal lawsuit from the federal government, but didn’t know the details. I always assumed it was because sports doping is seen as a criminal matter in the US, which it generally isn’t elsewhere. Then I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Armstrong and found out it was for different reasons. As the BBC says:

The US Postal Service team ran from 1996 to 2004, with Armstrong winning seven Tour titles between 1999 and 2005.

So the reason the federal government is suing Armstrong is because the US Postal Service sponsored his team when he was doping. Now sure, there’s a case to answer but because it’s the federal government, well:

The team were paid about $32m (£23m) between 2000 and 2004, with the government potentially able to pursue ‘treble’ damages under the lawsuit, resulting in the $100m figure.

I suspect the reason why the case has been settled at “only” $5m is because, as Armstrong’s legal team always claimed, this is about damages and (according to the podcast) no less than 3 studies were carried out demonstrating that the US Postal Service benefited enormously from the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s victories (which was the whole point). I doubt the US Postal Service suffered any noticeable monetary or reputational loss when, 8 years after his last win and 9 since they stopped sponsoring Tour de France teams, it transpired their talisman was doping. I strongly suspect the $5m is symbolic, a chance for a few individuals in the federal government to advance up the career ladder and show the public they disapprove of cheating. Armstrong made the point that the reason cycling has been hit so hard is because the sport has no lobbyists in Washington DC working on their behalf, unlike banks for example.

The lesson here is never, ever do business with the government in any form unless you have protection in place, like a Russian krysha. If things go sour, and someone is looking to make a name for himself*, you could find the full force of the state bearing down on you, making up the rules as they go along.

*Ask Martha Stewart about that.


Professionals at Work

From the BBC:

A woman who was partially sucked out of a window of a US passenger plane after an engine exploded in mid-air has died.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a window, wings and fuselage were damaged. Seven passengers were injured.

Initial findings say an engine fan blade was missing. In a recording, one of the pilots can be heard saying “there is a hole and someone went out”.

That’s the background. Now listen to this conversation between the female pilot and an air traffic controller at Philadelphia airport:

You can hear the pilot struggling to contain the emotion in her voice, but she does a tremendous job of keeping calm. The guy in the tower is as cool as ice, and that’s due to professionalism and training rather than the fact he’s safe on the ground and not up there in a crippled plane. That the pilot, Tammy Jo Shults, managed to handle this situation brilliantly perhaps ought not to surprise:

Shults applied for the Air Force after she graduated. She wasn’t allowed to test to become a pilot, but the Navy welcomed her. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s. She later became an instructor.

She’s now an American hero, and deservedly so. I suspect Trump will shortly be hanging a medal around her neck and saying something well-meaning but cack-handed as he does it.

I find the calmness with which Shults and her interlocutor handle the situation almost mesmerising, but I often find that when watching a real professional go about their job. Oddly, the scene I most enjoyed from the the film Captain Phillips is when the corpsman aboard the US Navy ship examines Tom Hanks for the first time. The way she went about giving him direct, clear, and repeated instructions with completely calm, professional body-language made me think this was a very good actress. Or:

Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips’ medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure.

Which explained it. A friend later told me he’d also been struck by the same scene. Calmness is vital to thinking clearly, and the best way to remain calm is to follow an established procedure and practice as much as possible. If you panic you’ll make mistakes and, panic being highly infectious, you’ll cause other people to make mistakes too.

A Russian friend was flying from Paris to Lagos with Air France once, and a Nigerian lady started having some sort of seizure in her seat. The passengers alerted the stewardess who, frankly, had no idea what to do and her body language let the entire aircraft know it. The passengers began to get agitated, and the stewardess (who was not joined by a couple of others) go the lady to lie down in the aisle. Then she started going into convulsions, and the stewardesses started to panic. They called the head steward, a Frenchman, who arrived and immediately panicked himself. The passengers lost control of themselves and started screaming and shouting. Somehow the air crew regained control of the situation, the woman stopped flapping around, and she got back to her seat. My Russian friend was very unimpressed, and said he had little confidence the pilots would do much better under duress. Given Air France’s safety record, nor have I.

By contrast, I was once flying Aeroflot from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk when my companion ate the wrong thing in the in-flight meal and had an allergic reaction. Her throat began to swell and her breathing got difficult. Normally she carries medicine with her, but either didn’t have it with her or forgot where it was. I alerted the stewardess – the usual slim woman with bleached-blonde hair and painted nails – who took one look and asked my companion firmly what she’d eaten. She asked a few more questions, never raising her voice, then calmly told her colleague to fetch the medicine chest. My companion’s face was swelling up and she was breaking out in spots. A helpful chap in the seat behind thought she was simply airsick and offered her a tumbler of cheap cognac, which I still laugh about today. The stewardess returned with the medicine chest, they confirmed with my companion that it was the correct one, and gave her the tablets. Within a few minutes everything was back to normal, and only those sat nearby had any idea anything had happened. Aeroflot might be the butt of a lot of jokes, but the air crew knew their stuff and didn’t panic, and you can be damned sure the pilots wouldn’t either even if they plane had lost a wing, was upside down, and on fire.

I’ve noticed in my professional life that Frenchmen are prone to panicking under pressure, and letting their emotions get the better of them. By contrast, I don’t think I ever saw a Russian man panic, and there are numerous videos of Russians walking nonchalantly away from horrific car crashes and this legendary one of a pilot lighting up a cigarette after ejecting from his MiG-29. That’s not to say Russians never panic and Frenchmen always do, but propensity to panic is probably cultural in part, and training is needed to overcome it.

Whoever they may be, I find something awesome about a professional calmly going about his or her business, especially in a situation which would render most people unable to function at all. That might be because absolute professionalism is something I don’t see as much as I should. Clearly, the Americans flying planes and manning control towers still have it in spades. Good for them.


Barbara Bush

On the death of Barbara Bush, I am reminded of this quote of hers:

“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.”

Forget the political point, it’s a funny remark. I don’t know much about Barbara Bush, but she seems to have lived her life well. The fact that she is receiving praise from unlikely sources suggests that’s the case:

Naturally there are still many who are hurling vitriol about, but I think on this occasion we can agree they really do lie at the hate-filled extremes of US politics.