13 May 2009

President Spock

President Obama has been described by various American media as a Vulcan. There was a Newseek article comparing him to Mr Spock. The best article I've read was actually published in the British newspaper The Times by Chris Ayres.
May 13, 2009
Barack Obama: the first Vulcan in the Oval Office?
Debate rages over whether the President is a nerd, a geek or a dweeb

America used to be one nation under God. As of last weekend, it is one nation under Spock. With the new Star Trek movie at No 1 in the box office rankings, the US media has been falling over itself to compare the mixed-race President Obama with the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer of the USS Enterprise (“Obama is Spock: It's Quite Logical,” declared one headline).

The comparison is immensely tempting and, in many ways, reassuring. Both are cool, analytical and able to dispatch rivals with no more than a sarcastically quizzical eyebrow. Both are part of a rather annoyingly New Agey organisation (Star Fleet and the Democratic Party respectively). And both are greatly concerned with exploring new sources of energy: for Spock, it's dilithium crystals (needed for warp drive); for Barack Obama, it's lithium ion batteries (needed for plug-in hybrid drive).

But if Obama has given America its first Star Trek presidency, I don't think it's because of his Spock-like characteristics. Rather, it's because of the brain-meltingly implausible equations that have so far allowed the President to steer the USS Uncle Sam clear from a fate worse than a Romulan photon torpedo - a “deflationary spiral” (in layman's terms, a vicious economic cycle of falling wages and prices).

On Monday the cost of this evasive action was revealed to be a 2009-10 deficit in the region of $1.84trillion. Talk about science fiction! Would anyone have believed such a feat was possible only a couple of years ago? Meanwhile, below deck at the Federal Reserve, Ben “Scotty” Bernanke is keeping the ship's engines set to Quantitative Ease, thus beaming even bigger deficits several light years into the future.

All things considered, I'm not sure which I find more implausible: the alleged sexual tension between Spock and Lieutenant Uhura, or Obama's promise that most of this money will be paid back by the end of his first term.

Nevertheless, if the success of Star Trek over the weekend says anything about this country as it tries to zap its way out of the Great Recession, it is that Americans are more than willing to suspend their disbelief when presented with a glossy enough production. In that respect, the movie and the Obama Administration are one and the same. I just hope that the wilful gullibility of the general public lasts - and that we're out of this mess before everyone realises that the technology being employed to keep us from obliteration amounts to little more than a cardboard cut-out spaceship dangled from an old piece of string.

A nerdish debate

The President openly admits he's a Trekkie. But there remains some debate over whether he is, in fact, a fully qualified nerd. The evidence is persuasive. As a child, Obama collected Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comic books; his website used to feature a photograph of him posing nerdishly in front of a Superman statue; and he once made a joke at an after-dinner speech about coming from the planet Krypton. And then there is his BlackBerry fixation, his iPhone app and his boffin-friendly campaign pledge to appoint a Cabinet-level “chief technology officer”. From what I can tell, the only evidence to the contrary is that the President is a talented basketball player - whereas a true nerd would surely be happier at home with his computer, fiddling with an Air Force One flight simulator. Still, this is a man who once “joked” to his wife (within earshot of a Newsweek reporter) that her belt looked as though it were studded with dilithium crystals (see above). The future First Lady responded as most attractive women do when exposed to close-range nerdishness. She rolled her eyes.


Nerds themselves are split on the issue. Some claim that Obama is a geek, not a nerd, because nerds, unlike geeks, are socially awkward and therefore wouldn't be able to run for President. Nerds themselves find this offensive, arguing that, on the contrary, it is dorks and dweebs who are socially awkward, not nerds. Over recent months, however, a consensus appears to have emerged. The verdict?

Obama is not a nerd. He is simply “nerd-adjacent”.

Hands up

If anyone can settle the debate, it is Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock in the original Star Trek.

And that is exactly what he has done.

“About a year and a half ago, I was at a political event,” he disclosed on a recent episode of the National Public Radio show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! “One of [the candidates] for the office of President of the United States saw me, and as he approached, he gave me the Vulcan hand signal.”

Was it Obama? Nimoy didn't say. He did, however, reveal that “it wasn't John McCain”.

If President Obama could be described as a nerd or a geek and compared to Mr Spock, I wonder how former President George W Bush would be described in similar terms.

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