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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Show a little class: GOP aide to Obama daughters............

WASHINGTON: Indian-American writers continued to make the White House reading list as President Obama took to his twin roles of reader-in-chief and consumer-in-chief in what is becoming a customary presidential outing after Thanksgiving. 

Trailed by the Secret Service and the White House press pool, the US president headed out at noon on Saturday to a local bookstore called Politics & Prose for some book shopping aimed at encouraging independent stores on what has been dubbed ''Small Business Saturday'' — to distinguish it from the big retail chain store rush that sweeps across American Thanksgiving. Politics & Prose is owned by a couple of former Washington Post reporters, and Obama had sortied out there last year too with his daughters Malia and Sasha. 

As it happened last year, when he latched on to Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, Obama's selections this year was topped by Indian-American physician Atul Gawande's well-received book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Gawande, who is also a New Yorker staff writer aside from being a surgeon and a Harvard med school professor, is a former White House aide going back to the Clinton White House. Being Mortal is Gawande's fourth book, and it centers on geriatric medical care and quality of life issues in a society that is does not easily accept the aging process and death. 

Obama is a known Gawande fan on account of the blistering insights the Indian-American writer-physician has provided into the US health care system. The US president has often cited Gawande's New Yorker article about wasteful medical spending in America and made it mandatory reading for the White House staff leading up to his Affordable Care Act. Being Mortal describes how America has medicalized aging and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome, and argues that medicine should improve the quality of life instead of merely averting death. 

Amid the ongoing Ebola crisis, the US President also bagged the old classic Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad that deals with colonialism and racism associated with imperialism in Africa. China too is on his mind going by his choice of New Yorker writer Even Osnos' "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China." Among newer fiction writers, he picked Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. 

Malia and Sasha bought their own stash of childrens' and teenager books. The girls, who are now 16 and 13, were subjected to a vituperative online attack on Thursday by a Republican flack, ostensibly for dressing sloppily and looking disinterested during a White House Thanksgiving event. 

''I get it you're both in those awful teen years, but you're a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. Then again, your mother and father don't respect their positions very much so I'm guessing you are coming up a little short in the good role model department," Elizabeth Lauten, an aide to a Republican lawmaker, wrote in a caustic Facebook post that went viral. 

There was an immediate backlash on social media with demands that Lauten be fired even as she reeled back to apologize for her outburst. ''Ripping into a 16-year old and a 13 year old shows a lot of class,'' sneered one reader, while another called it an example of cyber bullying. 

The president and his daughters showed no sign the controversy affected them as they went around choosing books. Obama picked up one shopper's baby and also chatted with the author David Baldacci, who happened to be at the store signing books. When the President was at the cash register paying for his purchases, a patron called out to him to close the US facility in Cuba where suspected terrorists are detained. 

''We're working on it,'' Obama replied, then jokingly asked the nearby crowd of shoppers: ''Any other issues?'' 

As his credit card was being swiped, Obama also joked, ''Hope it works,'' in an apparent reference to an incident where a restaurant declined his credit card while he dined out in New York City in late September.