Washington Babylon — May 16, 2008, 7:51 am

McDonald’s: Baku Hot Spot

A few weeks back I posted an item about a 2005 Senate trip Barack Obama made to Azerbaijan during which he lobbied dictator Ilham Aliyev on behalf of McDonald’s and complained about obstacles faced by the company in opening restaurants in Baku, the Azeri capital. A Westerner residing in Baku subsequently sent me the following note:

Obama should be happy to know that McDonald’s is now thriving in Baku, with four locations, including one in the swanky, central Fountain Square. Every day Baku’s growing elite, clad in the most ostentatious plastic outfits that money can buy, parade in and out while techno music is pumped through the speakers, giving the place more the feel of a nightclub than a fast-food joint. Speaking of Obama, Azerbaijanis are generally suspicious of him because of his connections to the Armenian lobby and his public support for the recognition of the genocide. And speaking of Armenia, I’ve been told by a number of proud Azerbaijanis that there are no McDonald’s restaurants in Armenia. Obviously the future belongs to Azerbaijan!

I also received another letter of complaint, with the writer saying,

I was disappointed in your unfounded attack on Obama today. In your post “Obama to Azeri Dictator: Set Our Big Macs Free,” you suggested that Obama’s visit to Azerbaijan and subsequent meeting with President Aliyev was limited to questions about McDonald’s and Boeing. In fact, a few minutes on Google reveal that more issues than that were raised.

The writer included articles that showed Obama had discussed topics with Aliyev ranging from biological weapons to elections (and, of course, “the exploitation of energy resources.”) He also met, according to the articles, with other Azerbaijani officials and opposition leaders.

Which is a fair point and gives a fuller account of Obama’s agenda during the trip. On the other hand, Obama as far as I can tell made few public comments in Azerbaijan that were critical of the government. And it’s discouraging that he used his personal time with the dictator to lobby for McDonald’s and Boeing.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

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