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Obama awards Jhumpa Lahiri National Humanities Medal

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By NewsGram Staffwriter

Washington: US President Barack Obama presented the 2014 National Medals of Arts and Humanities to Pulitzer Prize winning Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri and 20 other distinguished persons at a White House ceremony. This award honors people who have deepened the nation’s understanding of humanities.

She was recognized for her “beautifully wrought narratives of estrangement and belonging” which highlight the “Indian-American experience” and broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature.

“I always do good with writers and scientists. Those are my crew,” said Obama in a grey suit and violet tie as he addressed the audience starting with a quote from Emily Dickinson.

He quoted Emily Dickinson, amid laughter, “One of our great poets, Emily Dickinson, once said that truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it. The truth is so rare. It is delightful to tell it — and that’s especially true in Washington.”

Photo Credit : allbookedup2014.blogspot.com

Obama added, “The men and women that we honour today, recipients of the National Medals for the Arts and the Humanities, are here not only because they’ve shared rare truths, often about their own experience, but because they’ve told rare truths about the common experiences that we have as human beings.” Lahiri’s novel The Lowland was among the books Obama took with him while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, last month.

The Lowland is a story about two brothers who grew up in Calcutta in the 1960s. After one is killed, the other marries his pregnant widow and moves to the US. The New York Times calls the premise of this novel “startlingly operatic”.

Other awardees included artists, historians, writers, and among many others were a philosopher, a scholar, a preservationist, a food activist and an education course.

“Without them, there would be no Edible Schoolyard, no Jhumpa Lahiri novels, no really scary things like Carrie and Misery,” said Obama amid laughter.

(With inputs from IANS)

 

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China’s Internet Censors Block ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Images on Social Media

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US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he arrives for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit banquet in Beijing, Nov. 10, 2014. RFA
  • The image in question showed the Disney version of Pooh and Tigger alongside a photograph of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama
  • The meme wouldn’t be the first time ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to crack down on any satire targeting the president
  • Cadres are also banned from posting about government business to either official and personal social media accounts without authorization

China, July 18, 2017: China’s internet censors appeared on Monday to have banned social media tweets containing a reference to Winnie the Pooh, after a satirical image drawing parallels between the cuddly bear and President Xi Jinping circulated online.

The image in question showed the Disney version of Pooh and Tigger alongside a photograph of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama during their “shirtsleeves summit” in June 2013.

“This photo has already been banned on Tencent,” user @Fantasy326_ tweeted on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo on Friday. “It won’t send, no matter how you use screenshots.”

ALSO READ: Gay Men Dating in Cartoons Banned in Kenya: Is India Standing on the same Pedestal?

User @cha_mi said keywords linked to “Winnie the Pooh” had also been banned on Sina, but “Winnie the Pooh was banned” remained a top search query and hashtag on the platform on Friday.

Commentators appeared to have no doubts over the cause of the ban, however.

“Winnie the Pooh has been banned from the Chinese internet because President Xi Jinping has been compared to him on a number of occasions,” user@ñzan commented. “It is now a banned word.”

“The number of sensitive words in China just keeps on multiplying and becoming more diverse.”

The Financial Times said posts including the Chinese name of Winnie the Pooh were censored on Sina Weibo over the weekend, while a collection of animated gifs featuring the bear were removed from social messaging app WeChat.

The meme wouldn’t be the first time ruling Chinese Communist Party has moved to crack down on any satire targeting the president.

Kwon Pyong, an ethnic Korean from the northeastern province of Jilin, stood trial on Feb. 15 for subversion after he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with satirical nicknames for President Xi Jinping, including “Xitler.”

19th Party Congress

Commentators said censors are clamping down on any whiff of online dissent ahead of the 19th Party Congress later in the year, during which Xi will be looking to cement his status as a “core” party leader for the next five years of government.

Veteran media commentator Zhu Xinxin said Xi seems far more concerned about eradicating the slightest whiff of dissent or criticism than previous generations of leaders.

“There is no humor here, just an obsession with preserving a totally idealized version of the highest-ranking leaders,” Zhu said. “This sort of dictatorial culture elevates national leaders to the status of gods.”

But Zhu said Xi’s sensitivity seems to be a symptom of his fear that he hasn’t yet won an ongoing power struggle in the corridors of Zhongnanhai.

“He is terrified of that things might get out of hand, and that it could be open season for satirizing various party leaders,” he said. “That’s why nobody is allowed to say anything to undermine his power and authority.”

Xi’s administration has stepped up a campaign against dissenting opinions both online and in the country’s tightly controlled state media in recent months, warning officials in January to stay on message when using the social media app WeChat.

Party and government officials have been warned not to use the internet, social media, radio, television, newspapers, books, lectures, forums, reports, seminars and other means “to make off-message comments about central government policy and undermine party unity.”

Cadres are also banned from posting about government business to either official and personal social media accounts without authorization.

The new code of conduct banning “off-message” statements was likely approved by the last plenary session of the 18th Party Congress last October, which was held behind closed doors, political observers said.

That meeting also formally endorsed President Xi Jinping as a “core” leader of the ruling party at the current plenum, potentially putting him on a par with former paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, whose authority must never be challenged. (RFA)


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Russian President Vladimir Putin Named World’s ‘Most Powerful’ Man for 2016

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FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin heads a meeting with senior military officials at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Nov. 16, 2016. VOA

Dec 14, 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been named the world’s most powerful man for 2016 by Forbes magazine, the fourth straight year he has won.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump came in second, according to the magazine, which issued its annual list Wednesday.

“Russia’s president has exerted his country’s influence in nearly every corner of the globe,” according to the business magazine.

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Forbes said the 64-year-old president “continues to get what he wants,” as he is “unconstrained by conventional global norms (and) his reach has magnified in recent years.”

While Putin maintained his hold on the title, Trump was a big mover on the list, rising from number 72 last year to two this year. The reason for the move, according to the magazine, is his “seeming immunity to scandal” having both houses of Congress from the Republican Party as well as his net worth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was listed as the third most powerful person by the magazine, and China’s Xi Jinping took fourth, while Pope Francis was fifth.

Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama dropped from number two last year to 48 this year. (VOA)

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‘Innovation is in Our DNA,’ US President Barack Obama Announces Research and Innovation Funding

During the conference, Obama shared a fist-bump, a gesture of greeting, with Nathan Copeland, a paralyzed man with a robotic arm

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President Barack Obama sits in a flight simulator during a tour of innovation projects at the White House Frontiers Conference at University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016, as NASA astronaut Dr. Serena Aunon-Chancellor watches. VOA

“I’m a nerd,” U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday, speaking at a science and technology conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I’m a science geek. … I don’t make any apologies for it.”

The president got laughter and applause for his comment. He had an audience full of science geeks.

Pittsburgh, once seen as an industrial metropolis in decline, has forged a new reputation as a hub for technological innovation, particularly robotics. Despite cold, rainy weather, a conference focused on science and a visit by the president generated excitement on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, where the conference was held.

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The White House, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh co-hosted the one-day Frontiers Conference, where Obama and other attendees got a chance to examine a Boeing space flight simulator and a SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft that has carried cargo to the International Space Station.

“Cool stuff,” Obama said. He told his audience good-naturedly that he “stuck the landing” while trying out the flight simulator.

Five frontiers

The conference, co-hosted by Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, was the backdrop for the president’s announcement of about $300 million the White House is contributing to research and development.

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The conference addressed five frontiers of innovation: health care and precision medicine; technology and data-driven improvements to communities; artificial intelligence; climate change; and space exploration.

Some of the funding is set to go into a White House report on the future of artificial intelligence, exploring its possibilities and the questions it raises for society and public policy.

The deep-space exploration project will support the president’s goal of sending humans to the planet Mars by 2030.

The Obama administration is putting $16 million into a large-scale public health study and $165 million into projects using data to solve quality-of-life issues, such as traffic congestion. Projects known as the Police Data Initiative and the Data-Driven Justice Initiative will get support for their efforts to improve the U.S. criminal justice system.

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Obama warned against resistance to scientific innovation, taking a swipe at climate change naysayers when he warned against people who “willfully ignored facts or stick their heads in the sand.”

Some of the White House funding announced Thursday will go toward collecting and processing climate data, as well as education initiatives to help citizens and organizations respond to the problem of climate change.

“This conference is about pushing boundaries for what’s possible,” he said in his remarks. “There’s nothing we can’t do.”

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Nathan Copeland, who demonstrates how he can control a robotic arm and feel when the robotic hand is touched. Dr. Jennifer Collinger, one of Copeland's doctors, watches. VOA
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Nathan Copeland, who demonstrates how he can control a robotic arm and feel when the robotic hand is touched. Dr. Jennifer Collinger, one of Copeland’s doctors, watches. VOA

The president got a roar of applause while talking about inclusiveness in science education and opportunity.

“We are the nation that just had six of our scientists and researchers win Nobel prizes,” he said. “And every one of them was an immigrant.”

During the conference, Obama shared a fist-bump, a gesture of greeting, with Nathan Copeland, a paralyzed man with a robotic arm. Copeland can feel sensation in the arm and control it with his mind, thanks to scientific innovation.

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week that the conference is meant to be a milepost rather than a one-time event, designed to inspire people to continue making scientific progress.

“There will be a followup,” he said.

New technology hubs

Pittsburgh, in its new incarnation as a technology hub, serves as the federal agency headquarters for cyberdefense, robotics, software engineering and energy research.

Carnegie Robotics, a network that designs robotics systems for its clients, moved into a former steel supply company building in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 2015 and quickly began expanding.

President Barack Obama fist-bumps with Nathan Copeland during a tour of innovation projects at the White House Frontiers Conference at University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA
President Barack Obama fist-bumps with Nathan Copeland during a tour of innovation projects at the White House Frontiers Conference at University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA

Company CEO Steve DiAntonio told local media that there are now 40 robotics companies in Pittsburgh, twice as many as there were four years ago. The number of robotics employees has tripled in that time.

Obama noted that Pittsburgh is not the only urban area to have revitalized by cultivating new research and technology industries. He also cited Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Cincinnati, Ohio, among urban areas that reinvented themselves.

“Doubling down on science, tech and innovation” helped those places “create amazing new jobs and opportunities,” Obama said. “Innovation is in our DNA. Science has always been central to our progress.”

The conference was closed to the general public, but that didn’t stop a swarm of Carnegie Mellon students from gathering near Obama’s motorcade, hoping to catch a glimpse or a photo of the president as he headed out of town. (VOA)