WSJ Historically Speaking: A Brief History of Leaking

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Is a private email merely a leak that hasn’t happened yet? It is starting to seem that way after the number of hacking scandals in recent years. We still don’t know the culprit behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computers, although President Barack Obama has tied Russia to the operation. The theft seems too sophisticated to blame on a pimply teenager in a bedroom.

But the fact that the reason remains a mystery (was it to help Donald Trump, embarrass the U.S. or settle some private score?) highlights a longstanding difficulty in plugging leaks: People divulge secrets for all sorts of reasons—from the vindictive to the virtuous, and everything in between. Continue reading…

The Sunday Times: These shootings reveal an America still shackled to the ghosts of slavery

Photo: John Mark Arnold

Photo: John Mark Arnold

In 2009, a few months after President Barack Obama took office, Jiverly Wong shot dead 13 people at a community centre for immigrants and refugees. Later that year Nidal Hasan killed 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas. In 2011, Jared Loughner shot dead six people outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. The next year James Holmes killed 12 people in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado; followed by Michael Page who killed six in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; followed by Adam Lanza who killed 26 people — 20 of them children — in a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. In 2013 Aaron Alexis killed 12 inside the Navy Yard in Washington.

The next year, Fort Hood was attacked again when Ivan Lopez killed three. This year, Craig Hicks killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and this month Dylann Roof shot dead nine members of a Bible study group at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

These are just the massacres that gained international attention. In fact, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School atrocity 2½ years ago, there have been 72 mass shootings — involving three or more people being shot — with at least 226 being killed.

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The Sunday Times: Read Obama’s lips: he has just skewered President Hillary

Photo: Travel Coffee Book

Photo: Travel Coffee Book

BACK in 1998, Nicole Kidman was playing in the West End, stunning audiences with her naked turn in The Blue Room. It was a performance memorably described by Charles Spencer, the Daily Telegraph critic, as “pure theatrical Viagra”.

Over in the United States, we were watching our own version of The Blue Room as the sex saga of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky played out almost nightly on our screens. But the only performance that really mattered that year was the night Clinton delivered his State of the Union speech to a Republican-dominated Congress.

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The Sunday Times: America, the land of unleaders, lets in a brutal new world order

Photo: davide ragusa

Photo: davide ragusa

RIGHT now, is there any American child who says: “Mom, Dad: when I grow up I’m going to be a leader”? Movie star, lawyer, software designer, maybe. But leader — as in the person who makes things happen — nooo. That’s not the American way any more.

Instead the United States has unleaders. They carry the seals of office but they don’t wield them because that would be problematic. To the unleader, anything that implies the existence of a vertical relationship bears the stigma of imperialism and God knows what else. Forget about driving, shaping, changing or simply taking responsibility for events. That’s 20th-century talk. Unleadership is a state of being rather than the act of doing.

It is not a new phenomenon. The average 19th-century American politician barely rated on the leadership scale. Aside from Abraham Lincoln and a handful of others, most US presidents before the 20th century were a sorry lot of party hacks and political hucksters.

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The Sunday Times: The Ugly American inside Obama is wagging his finger at the world

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Barack Obama began his recent four-nation tour of Asia by having dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Japan’s renowned sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The restaurant has three Michelin stars but only 10 seats and it can take years to get a reservation. The set meal consists of 20 exquisite sushi pieces, each personally cut by 88-year-old chef Jiro Ono. According to a witness, Obama decided he was finished after the 10th and put down his chopsticks.

There are three possible reasons why Obama stopped eating halfway through the meal. 1) The 44th president is severely allergic to raw fish. 2) Obama was frightened of pulling a George HW Bush and throwing up in Abe’s lap. 3) He was, well, kind of full, you know?

I have a strong suspicion that the answer is No 3. Obama has a political tin ear whenever he has to hobnob with foreigners — such as the time he bowed to the Japanese emperor in 2009 only to ruin the gesture by simultaneously shaking hands. Whether it was ignorance or arrogance or a combination of the two, the gaffe pandered directly to the stereotype of the “Ugly American”.

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WSJ Historically Speaking: The Backward Seating at the State of the Union

Photo: PETER ARKLE

Photo: PETER ARKLE

The end of January brings two certainties: another 49 days until spring and the president’s State of the Union address. In the past, the president often used to palm off this constitutionally mandated chore to a clerk; nowadays he (or she) is expected to deliver it in person. But in every other respect, the rituals associated with the event haven’t changed at all: The president speaks for about an hour, ecstatic applause erupts from one side of the chamber, and grim silence exudes from the other.

Many foreign observers find these partisan reactions reassuringly familiar. What they find puzzling is the placement of the Democratic Party to the right of the aisle and the Republican Party to the left. Equally confusing is the U.S. media’s long-standing allocation of the color red to the Republicans and blue to the Democrats. In the rest of the world, right-wing parties sit on the right and left-wing ones on the left; blue is the color of conservatism, and red is the color of revolution and communism—or pink, if one leans toward socialism—something apparently unknown to the networks and CNN.

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