Cultural differences always make it a “little bit sticky”

An article by Ed Crooks and  Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in today’s FT points up the difficulty that BP has had in finding “the right tone to fit America’s emotional register”,

That climate of opinion [ where even Barack Obama has been attacked for failing to show enough emotion, and pushed by the US media to show how angry he is] makes it particularly damaging for BP to appear to be making light of the disaster.

Mr Hayward has been the target of many of the attacks on BP, becoming the “most hated and clueless man in America” according to the New York Daily News, after a string of inflammatory remarks.

Some of the comments for which he has been criticised have been entirely defensible, such as his admission to the Financial Times that BP lacked the engineering capability to tackle a blown-out well in deep water. Others have been crass and insensitive, such as his observation that “I’d like my life back,” for which he was forced to apologise on Facebook.

He has a British tendency to make a joke or smile to try to defuse tension, which has made it look as though he does not understand the gravity of the situation.

It was that last paragraph that really caught my eye.

Being a Brit I understand only too well that approach; after all, it is a stock-in-trade for most of us this side of the Atlantic.

But cultural differences have been a perennial source of misunderstanding for Britons when dealing with Americans. A telling example was at the height of the Korean War, in April 1951, when men from 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment were holding a key ford over the Imjin River. They found themselves heavily outnumbered by the Chinese, who had sent an entire division of 10,000 men against their 650.

A day and a half into the action, surrounded and with ammunition and supplies running low, they were in imminent danger of being overrun. An American, Maj-Gen Robert H Soule, asked the British brigadier, Thomas Brodie: “How are the Glosters doing?”

As reported in an article in the Daily Telegraph on the 50th anniversary of the battle, 

the brigadier, schooled in British understatement, replied: “A bit sticky, things are pretty sticky down there.” To American ears, this did not sound too desperate.

The Glosters lost 622 men and officers to death, injury or captivity.

More on 42 days

Marshall Grossman’s post Electing Obama, the Supreme Court and American Exceptionalism in is well worth reading for his take on the importance of Obama’s candidacy. I was very struck by his comments on law, and his reference to James Harrington,

“To be sure the signers of the Declaration of Independence represented the enfranchised classes of Englishmen, but they also knew the difference between a republic and a kingdom and they understood the significance of a government based on a written constitution. Writing under a pseudonym in the Boston Gazette in 1774, John Adams both asserted the English origins of the new republic and its aspiration to something different when he famously quoted the English republican theorist James Harrington’s call for an “empire of laws and not of men,” strategically substituting the word “government” for Harrington’s “empire.” We have in the last seven years seen a sustained and often successful effort to replace that government of laws with something closer to the royal prerogative against which Harrington wrote in 1656.”

In Gordon Brown’s Britain, we are inexorably moving back towards that royal prerogative. 42 days is just one more step along that journey. 

Stopping at nothing

Is there nothing that Hillary Clinton will not do or say to get the Democratic nomination? Obama’s was a measured reaction to her quite extraordinary remark that she was continuing to run because of what happened to Robert Kennedy,

“I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make. . . And I think that is what happened here. Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it and I will take her at her word on that.”

But we now have (see Clinton Camp stokes RFK Controversy by blaming Obama in The Huffington Post) the riposte,

“The Obama campaign … tried to take these words out of context,” Clinton campaign chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said on “Fox News Sunday.” “She was making a point merely about the time line.”

And so it goes on. All that is certain is that whatever rage drives her, she is showing herself to be a deeply flawed person.  There has been much about her determination, and husband Bill has been railing against the way she is being treated by the media. Sarah Amos on ABC News (quoted in The Huffington Post) reported

“Former President Bill Clinton in South Dakota today delivered a harsh critique of how his wife has been treated during her presidential bid, telling the crowd that he has “never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running,” and that, “she will win the general election if you nominate her. They’re just trying to make sure you don’t.”

As it all starts to unravel, where best to throw blame?

Just what will Hillary not say to be President?

She may be a clever woman, but her judgement (or her speechwriters) is singularly troubling. Hillary’s latest argument, reported in The Huffington Post , is that there is some sort of equivalence between what is happening in Zimbabwe and the refusal of the DNC to count the Florida and Michigan primaries.  As reported by Fernando Suarez for CNS News

Desperate to get attention for her cause to seat Florida and Michigan delegates, Hillary Clinton compared the plight of Zimbabweans in their recent fraudulent election to the uncounted votes of Michigan and Florida voters saying it is wrong when “people go through the motions of an election only to have them discarded and disregarded.”

“We’re seeing that right now in Zimbabwe,” Clinton explained. “Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people,” Clinton told the crowd of senior citizens at a retirement community in south Florida. “So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote. It is the single most important, privilege and right any of us have, because in that ballot box we are all equal. You’re equal to a billionaire. You’re equal to the president, every single one of us.”

She may want the nomination but it is remarks like these which should ensure that not only does she not get it but that Obama does not entertain the idea, which is gathering some steam, that she take the junior position on the ticket.

Bringing home the bacon

A postscript to my post yesterday on Balkan porkies. On the BBC News website this evening, a report about Hillary being pressed on her Bosnia claim, plus the video of her arriving in Bosnia. The camera never lies (unlike Clinton it seems)

Video shown on US TV network CBS shows the then First Lady walking calmly from her plane. Her campaign has said she “misspoke” about landing under fire. Aides to Barack Obama, her rival to be the party’s presidential nominee, argue she overstates her foreign experience.

What astonishes me is that she is prepared to go to the lengths she has, surely knowing that every statement will be subjected to the minutest scrutiny. And what exactly does “misspeak” mean? A facility for telling porkies clearly runs in the Clinton family.