May 23, 2011

· Misc · Politics

President Obama is in Ireland and thus so also is the presidential superlimo. The heavily-armored vehicle is an unholy hybrid of a Cadillac, a medium truck, and a small tank. According to the gearheads on Wikipedia, the vehicle is

fitted with military grade armor at least five inches thick, and the wheels are fitted with run flat tires … The doors weigh as much as a Boeing 757 airplane cabin door. The engine is equipped with a Eaton Twin Vortices Series 1900 supercharger system. The vehicle’s fuel tank is leak-proof and is invulnerable to explosions. The car is perfectly sealed against biochemical attacks and has its own oxygen supply and firefighting system built into the trunk. … two holes hidden inside the lower part of the vehicle’s front bumper … are able to emit tear gas The vehicle can also fire a salvo of multi-spectrum infrared smoke grenades as a countermeasure to an Rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) or Anti-tank missile (ATGM) attack and to act as a visual obscurant to operator guided missiles. … The limo is equipped with a driver’s enhanced video system which allows the driver to operate in an infrared smoke environment. This driver’s enhanced video system also contains bumper mounted night vision cameras for operation in pitch black conditions. Kept in the trunk is a blood bank of the President’s blood type.[citation needed] Interestingly, there is no key hole in the doors. A special trick, known only to Secret Service agents, is required to gain access to the passenger area. Furthermore, the entire limo can be locked like a bank vault.

Superlimo: 0. Dublin Corporation: 1.

Pretty impressive. However, in their efforts to anticipate every threat, the designers of this thing nevertheless failed to account for the unique engineering characteristics of Irish roads. Foreigners may not be aware that, historically, Ireland’s roads (in conjunction with the system of road signs) have been both its primary transportation network and main form of defense against invasion. During World War II (or “The Emergency” as it was politely referred to in Ireland) the contingency plan against Nazi attack was simply to uproot the road signs and otherwise leave things just as they were, thereby transforming a national transport network into a dangerous labyrinth of treacherous, crater-ridden byways. And so, in an echo of this grim period and forty years of EU Structural Funds notwithstanding, this morning the superlimo got stuck on a hump outside the U.S. embassy.

In fairness to Dublin Corporation and its employees, the Irish road system may not really be to blame here. (Though it’s hard to resist the idea.) Instead, I can attest—as someone who has queued up many times over the years outside the U.S. embassy in the course of getting a various visas approved or renewed—that the ultimate culprit is probably the State Department itself, by way of the variety of security measures it put into place around the embassy during the 1980s. Between them, the system of gates and security bollards, together with the state of the footpath on the Elgin Road, conspired to leave the superlimo high and dry. There’s a metaphor here somewhere.

Update: Via Facebook and elsewhere comes the argument that, because Embassies are sovereign territory, the road was in fact American. On the other hand, of course, the purpose of Obama’s visit was to reaffirm his roots in the town of Moneygall. So Irish reaction has moved quite smoothly from “American President’s Limo Gets Stuck On Irish Road” to “Returning Irishman’s Car Damaged By American Road”.

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I am Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m also affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Read a brief overview of my work or my Curriculum Vitae.

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