Weekly Roundup 4/25/2011

Obama’s Young Mother Abroad
Janny Scott, The New York Times Magazine, April 24, 2011

In all the discussion of President Barack Obama’s relationship with his late Kenyan father – and all the fact-free conspiracy theorizing about Obama’s birthplace – a major figure in the president’s life has been hiding in plain sight. The late Stanley Ann Dunham turns out to have been an immensely strong-willed woman with a taste for adventure and a deep belief in her son’s promise. He spent some of his formative years with her and her second husband (his stepfather) in Indonesia, a country whose culture of never showing emotion seems to have left its mark on him. So too did her strong personality, which was leavened with a dry sense of humor (one of Obama’s characteristics). This absorbing article, an excerpt from a forthcoming book, tells the story of a woman who tried not to let convention stand in her way.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


The Grand Tour: Europe on fifteen hundred yuan a day
Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011

Articles and books about China pour forth in a never-ending stream. That is as it should be, given the country’s growing presence in world affairs and in U.S. homes (check to see how much of what you own is made in China). Yet, the Chinese still remain mysterious to many Westerners. And, Evan Osnos reports after accompanying a Chinese tour group on a whirlwind bus tour of Western Europe, that the West is just as puzzling to ordinary Chinese. The differences between societies remain vast, and seem likely to endure for the foreseeable future.

For background, see Roland Flamini, "U.S.-China Relations," [subscription required] CQ Researcher, May 7, 2010.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Q&A: Open-Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution
Chris Anderson, Wired online, March 29, 2011

Synopsis: Numerous familiar computer programs and Internet features such as the Mozilla Firefox browser, WordPress blog software and the Linux computer operating system were created as “open source” projects, in which software engineers collaborate to perfect a project and make all programming details freely available over the Internet. Now, the open-source movement is burgeoning in a new field: computer hardware (such as circuit boards) and electronics. A new wave of do-it-yourself electronics engineers, such as young New Yorker Limor Fried, post complete specs of their inventions online, where other do-it-yourselfers can copy, then modify and improve the plans to drive invention forward. The trend could begin a new wave of innovation in which small businesses create a much wider range of niche products that suit customers better than large-corporation, mass-produced electronics do today, she speculated to Chris Anderson, Wired’s editor-in-chief.

Takeaway: “In five to 10 years, I would be surprised if every public school doesn’t have a required class in robotics mechatronics,” said Fried. “You’ll have a return of wood shop, but it will be metal/robotics/electronics shop, and kids are going to have to learn sensors and technology.”

For background, see Patrick Marshall, “Artificial Intelligence,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, April 22, 2011.

Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer


A Royal Wedding, a Tarnished Crown
John F. Burns, The New York Times, April 24, 2011

Synopsis: The royal wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday (April 29) comes at a time when the future of the British monarchy is once again in question, according to The New York Times’ veteran foreign correspondent. Many royalty lovers hope the ceremony will renew Britons’ love for the monarchy’s pomp and circumstance, but the royal family has given the rapidly changing British public “much to dislike” during recent years – most notably, Prince Charles’ divorce of Diana Spencer and later marriage to his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

Takeaway: “[O]nly time will tell,” Burns writes, “whether the anachronism of the monarchy in a democratic age can be rescued by the modernizing changes that seem certain to follow when Prince Charles or Prince William ascends the throne.”

For a look at the issue when Charles and Diana were recently separated, see my report, “The British Monarchy,” [subscription required] March 8, 1996.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Bullies in the Burbs,” book review by Caroline Leavitt

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

The New York Times Book Review, April 25, 2011

Synopsis: Wow. According to reviewer Leavitt, this is one heck of a good legal thriller – and terribly relevant to all young students and their parents. The story revolves around an upper-middle-class mom trying to protect her daughter, a third-grader who is being bullied. The non-stop action begins when a fire at the child’s school forces the mother to choose between saving her daughter and trying to save the children that were bullying her.


“Save Me isn’t just about a devoted mother protecting her bullied child,” Leavitt writes. “It’s really about one brave and determined woman who finds the means to save herself.” The pace is so fast, she says, that “you could get whiplash just turning a page.”

For background, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Preventing Bullying,” CQ Researcher, Dec. 10, 2010.

- Tom Colin, Contributing Editor