Obviously, the spotlight's on Murray and Sawant, and the real fun part will be watching their two crowds mingle. I keep saying "crowds" because we're talking hundreds of people, perhaps more than a thousand, and the building's been buzzing with anticipation for days. The capacity of City Hall's lobby, where the ceremony was moved to accommodate a larger-than-usual audience, is 800 people, with overflow rooms set up nearby for 400 more. There are plenty of balconies around for gawkers to hang off of, too, but as outgoing council president Sally Clark said in the briefing this morning, the fire department will be watching like a hawk for the building to fill to capacity, so they're also ready to pipe the audio of the ceremony out onto the City Hall steps. According to the legislative department organizing the shindig, they'd already gotten more than 850 RSVPs as of last week.
But Sawant and Murray supporters don't tend to be the same people. Remember that postelection precinct-level analysis by consultant Benjamin Anderstone, who wrote that "Murray and Conlin shared nearly identical bases"? So this afternoon, expect City Hall to fill with scruffy Sawant supporters bearing signs and slogan T-shirts, while Murray's people will eventually leave the ceremony to head over to Benaroya Hall, where he's having an evening celebratory event. The excitement around his inauguration is a bit more complicated—it's a celebration of both the first gay mayor and the return of the establishment's candidate to the seat of power. And of course, both of them have drawn national attention, especially on the minimum wage issue, so the media frenzy is likely to be livelier than usual, too.
If you want to watch the ceremony from afar, you can do so right here, starting at 3:30 p.m.
Amy Davidson has a nice piece on Michelle Obama's magisterial use of fashion as a tool of political as well as personal expression.
Michelle might have responded to that, as many women in similar, if less prominent, situations do, by being flawlessly proper—some unchallenged idea of ladylike, wearing dresses and suits and jewelry indistinguishable from Cindy McCain’s or Ann Romney’s. Or she could have affected dowdiness until getting to the point where, as Justice Sotomayor put it, ““They just can’t fire me over the earrings anymore.”
One shouldn’t need to go to Princeton (as Michelle also did [like Sotomayor]) to be treated with courtesy. But... There is the matter of having the right thing to wear, and of asserting—and even demanding—recognition for what the right thing is for you. Fashion can be a fight, and one not so divorced from justice.
I appreciate the way Michelle's appearance embodies the life advice I recall David Mamet once giving to somebody (however dudey his language): "If you're smarter than the other guy, be smarter than the other guy."
More gawking here.
So the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has the support of both Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez. (That ought to drive the Teabaggers bananas.) And now Zelaya is stuck in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, trying to whip up support for a counter-coup. He's also starting to go a little stir crazy:
After a couple of days of street demonstrations, Tegucigalpa was getting back to normal Thursday, and Mr. Zelaya was reduced to making hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by "Israeli mercenaries."
It looks like both sides have violated the Honduran constitution. From the NYT:
According to a recent analysis of the legal issues of the case prepared by the Law Library of Congress in Washington, both Mr. Zelaya and those who ousted him appear to have broken the law.
In Mr. Zelaya’s case, he flouted court rulings ordering him not to conduct a survey on whether to convene a citizens assembly to change the Constitution. Eventually, the chief prosecutor filed a complaint with the Supreme Court accusing Mr. Zelaya of treason and abuse of authority, among other charges. That led to an arrest warrant that was carried out on June 28.
But Mr. Zelaya was not formally arrested when soldiers raided his home. Instead, the army detained him, took him to the airport and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, even though the Honduran Constitution says no citizen may be handed over to foreign authorities.
Obama has called Zelaya's removal a coup and withdrawn aid from Honduras—but would he do the same if the Iranian military turned its guns on Ahmadinejad and installed Mousavi?
Another sticky fact: Zelaya is not only vocally supported by Chavez, but by Brazil—and Ahmadinejad has been crowing about how much he loves Venezuela and Brazil these days. So does that put Obama in the same camp with Chavez, Brazil's da Silva, and Ahmadinejad? Just add a Kim and you have an American conservative's worst nightmare.
A commenter on The Stranger's historic inauguration coverage writes:
I haven't had time to sit down and read the article through yet, just glanced at it, I just wanted to say the illustrations that accompanied the story by Kathryn Rathke are just fucking beautiful.
Totally. Just look at this (click that above link for a better-quality version of it):
What you might not know if you haven't spent the last two months digging through archived material from past presidential inaugurations is that this image is an update on and an homage to an 1861 wood engraving depicting Lincoln's first inauguration.
Lincoln's first inauguration was a bit of a nail-biter, considering he had won after not even having been on the ballot in nine Southern states. Certain people wanted him dead so badly, especially in Baltimore; passing through that city, he grudgingly agreed to let his advisers sneak him out of town 12 hours earlier than scheduled, under cover of night and in a disguise (he put on a hat other than a top hat—I love you, 19th century) because the Baltimore police—the police!—refused to protect him.
As for the above image, according to this site:
While early inaugurations were small, local affairs, by Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration the crowds had swelled from thousands to tens of thousands, lining the parade route and packing the Capitol grounds. The entire nation shared in the excitement thanks to illustrated weekly newspapers, which delivered images within days of the event to homes across the country. With the nation on the brink of civil war, Abraham Lincoln feared that violence would mar his inauguration day. For the first time during an American presidential inauguration, the primary duty of the military units escorting the president was to protect him rather than to serve a ceremonial role. The inauguration was held on the east front of the Capitol, with the unfinished dome providing a symbolic image of the fragmented nation.
Here are a few choice moments:
Every stage of the campaign was branded a historic moment, each first more historic than the last, so by the time of the inauguration, the word no longer seemed able to describe what was happening. You got the sinking feeling that it was all being mischaracterized, not looked at directly, preemptively shuffled into the dustbin of nostalgia, prepackaged as a memory, passed over.
It was surprising that such a watershed moment, at such an ominous time, was embroidered in such whimsical fluff, details posterity won't remember: the glittering thing affixed to Aretha Franklin's forehead; Rick Warren's storybook-sweet invocation imagining "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses... shouting in heaven" while the cutest clouds tumbled by overhead...
But Obama, lately steeped in the work of the famous gloombot Abraham Lincoln, did something darker, had a different idea of the moment.
After the speech there was the expected storm of applause, and then everyone's own inner silence, the formless moment of organizing judgment, and a lot of people ended up saying that they found it wanting. The Stranger's national-politics reporter, Eli Sanders, was disappointed. The speech "was not as great as it could have been," wasn't "soaring" enough, was "without a climax," he blogged. Most committed observers agreed. What did they want from the speech—that speech!—that they didn't get? Wasn't the speech itself the climax? Was the problem that the speech wasn't written for the immediate moment?
Read the whole, rich, moody, questing thing here.
Uhhhhh. I'm sorry. I confused some random guy for P. Diddy.
Is this P. Diddy?
Another amazing image from the inauguration, this one a "gigapixel" panorama of such high resolution you can zoom in on the snipers miles away.
You can also find your coworkers.
And my favorite picture of Bush and Cheney ever, both of their personalities perfectly captured. Bush looking churlish and arrogant, Cheney looking every inch the Super Villain.
UPDATE: Here are some details on the making of this image, from the photographer's blog.
In a November interview with 60 Minutes, a week and a half after the election, Steve Croft asked Michelle and Barack Obama how their lives had changed since the election.
MICHELLE: You know, it's calmed down a bit. I mean, we're— We're back into more of a routine.
BARACK: There's still some things we're not adjusted to.
MICHELLE: Like what?
MICHELLE: What do you want?
BARACK: Me not being able to take a walk.
MICHELLE: Oh, well, you know...
BARACK: No, I mean, those are things that—
MICHELLE: I don't walk as much as he does. So I guess I don't miss it.
BARACK: Yeah, I mean, you know.
MICHELLE: You want to go for a walk?
BARACK: I do. I'd love to go for a walk. Although it's cold today. But...
MICHELLE: Yeah, I wouldn't go with you.
BARACK: I know. Well, that's something I don't think I'll ever get used to. I mean, the loss of anonymity. And this is not a complaint. This is part of what you sign up for... [I miss] being able to just wander around the neighborhood.
Of all the things he's said in interviews before and after the election, this is the one exchange that I think about most, that makes me feel closest to the guy, and last night in his honor I took the Metro into the city, got out at Federal Triangle, and went for a walk. To see Lincoln.
The National Mall is a lot less crowded now that it was three days ago, but in the dark all the Porta Potties are still standing there, thousands of them, the stuff inside them probably frozen. There's a ritualistic-looking circle of 170-odd Porta Potties to the southeast of the Washington Monument; there are hundreds and hundreds of Porta Potties lining both sides of the frozen reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial; there are hundreds more lined up along Constitution Avenue and strange clusters of two or four scattered elsewhere. A young lady who had to go slowly opened the door to one and said, "Oooh, it's scary in there!" The guy with her said, "Use your cell phone," meaning, use it as a flashlight. A third friend said, "Don't drop it!" There are stacks of rented fences all over, and lots more rented fences that haven't been stacked yet. There are weirdly empty vendor tents, their white flaps blowing in the freezing wind, and big rented lights lighting up empty patches of grass.
From afar, the Lincoln Memorial looked like the site of a party, looked very Hollywood, with flashbulbs going off constantly, though it wasn't until I got closer that I saw how mobbed the place was, swarming with people. Many of them were wearing white-and-red striped scarves, like Waldo from the Where's Waldo? books.
There was a young woman with a sign that said WE CHOOSE LIFE. I played dumb. She explained, "We came here for the March for Life rally today." The Waldos—most of them young, many of them guys—were pro-life activists. Then came another wave of people (dozens and dozens) in orange beanies that said, "Diocese of Rockford March for Life" and, on the back, "Life HQ!" Then another wave of people, maybe four-dozen strong, in blue lanyards that said "Fall River Diocese: 2009 Pro-Life Pilgrimage."
A self-appointed tour guide was leading the people in orange beanies around the memorial, dispensing wisdom about the monument, not all of it true. He said, "There's a certain section on the other side"—referring to the side of the memorial in which Lincoln's second inaugural address is carved—"that will mean a lot to you. So, if you want to move to the other side..." And they all started walking, and I surreptitously followed. When we got there he pointed to the section in the address about how both the North and the South prayed to the same God, hoping that He would help them vanquish the other...
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
"Pretty amazing, isn't it?" the self-appointed tour guide said. "Both sides claim God was on their side. Does that make you think of a different issue, other than slavery?"
"Oooh, yeah!" a lady replied.
"They don't talk like this anymore," the tour guide went on. "You mention God three times in a speech now, you're over with." It took all I had not to tell them that Lincoln didn't believe in Christ or the afterlife, in spite of his public rhetoric, or to ask what they all thought about that surprising word in Obama's inaugural address earlier in the week: "nonbelievers."
Hanging out there was becoming unenjoyable, though the anti-abortionists were happily running all around the monument, looking for the typo in the carved letters (and constantly misidentifying it), jumping off the steps three people at a time to get mid-flight shots for their Facebook pages, saying insane things to one another ("My cousin got date raped and it actually helped the healing to have the baby"), and running out onto the frozen reflecting pool. After 10 or 15 kids were out walking on it, all the way in the center of it and not stopping, an adult came down and barked at several guys standing on the edge and thinking of joining them, "Christians! Stop, stop! Stop!"
I continued with my walk, up to the White House, where a group of young adults and their parents were standing against the gate wearing green hoodies that said "You formed me in my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. —Psalm 139:13." They were holding candles and murmuring, "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now in the hour of our death. Amen." Some of them were dripping the wax onto the sidewalk, making shapes. I imagined the Obamas inside, jumping on the bed, screaming out variations on Can you believe we live in the White House now? Can you believe how comfortable this bed is? Can you believe it?
I headed north on Pennsylvania. The Washington Monument veined in the bare trees. White buildings glowing orange in the street lamps. Heaps of trash bags at the curb. Empty bleachers still sitting there days after the parade. Empty folding chairs. Limp bunting. More Porta Potties. A hot-dog vendor shuttering his cart. The mixed-up clutter of square and circular windows of the Willard Intercontinental Suites, all lit up. Casimir Pulaski on his horse, black against the bright buildings behind him. Historical photos as window displays in a CVS Pharmacy. The Capitol Building lit up like a souvenir at the end of the avenue. A big banner on an office building reading "WELCOME MR. PRESIDENT" and another one a few floors below it reading "THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT," no commas on either of them. A man saying to his wife, "Now we need a relaxing vacation. This wasn't a vacation. We need to get away."
Apparently the same folks that ran the Beijing Olympics were running the inauguration...
The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama’s oath of office at the inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the National Mall and watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians playing along.
This news is making me wonder if John Roberts flubbed the oath of office by accident or if it was planned that way so that OBAMA COULD TAKE THE OATH OF OFFICE WITHOUT PUTTING HIS HAND ON THE BIBLE!!!!
One last little bit of bus blogging business, even though the ride with the comedians is long since over (and never got any funnier). I was going to say something quick about the inaugural poem, which it sounds like everyone hated but I sort of liked. The reason I liked it has nothing to do with its relative merits as a poem—which I'm not really qualified to discuss anyway—and only to do with a scene:
After Obama's inaugural address ended, as people were hustling for the exits trying to beat the huge crowd, there came a thing that many of us (including me) had completely forgotten was coming. This poem, over loudspeakers, for some 1.8 million people. Such a thing doesn't happen often. Still, people fled, and I liked that Elizabeth Alexander seemed undisturbed by this. Maybe that softened me up to appreciate her inaugural offering. But in any case, when it came I enjoyed its references to the primacy of words—the way they create our lives and our politics, the difficulty of getting them just right in a moment that can go many ways (which is every moment, really). Given how badly language was abused by Bush, and how it was often dismissed during the presidential campaign by people trying to cast Obama's oratory as "just words," it was nice to hear this:
We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider...
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
Shortly afterward, from behind the Capitol building, a green helicopter rose into that sharp sky and passed right over my head. Inside it: George W. Bush, sealed tight, headed for Texas, his words no longer powerful. It was a nice moment, and the poem, for me, a nice complement.
I didn't cry on inauguration day like I did on election night. The pomp infected me with giggles. That stilted poem sent me into guffaws—subject, verb, object; subject, verb, object—and I had to leave the room to avoid contaminating everyone's moment. But I misted up yesterday morning when I saw the newspapers—Barack Obama is the president. And this morning I teared from both eyes—for about 20 minutes—when I saw this photo:
She is Vertie Hodge, 74, at an inauguration party in Houston, Texas. The picture is part of this collection, which Anthony linked to earlier.
This comment on my Obama speech post made me laugh because it's probably true:
that post was longer than his speech.
Sorry. I had a lot of time on that bus full of comedians. Another commenter asks:
Can you truly speak for 1.8 million people?
Point taken, and no, I don't think anyone truly can. But trying to interpret mass sentiment is a big part of the game of politics (and political coverage). Hard to avoid. Meanwhile, Erica's response, and her sharing of her favorite speech section, reminds me that I meant to share something I liked about one of the sections I criticized:
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
I like this section it because it's provocative. It's clearly a slap at Bush. But more broadly it's an indictment of a style of gaining power and leading people that relies upon dishonesty, unfair play, manipulation, close-mindedness, and cronyism. What's provocative is this: all that dishonesty and unfair play and cronyism stuff works. Proof is easy to find in D.C., but it's also everywhere one looks, and common enough to be a standard theme in the stories that entertain us. The night before the inaugural I fell asleep watching an episode of Mad Men with a friend. On this episode, one of the main characters, a secretary, was distraught at the way that hard work, fair play, and loyalty wasn't enough in her office. The people who succeeded there played a different game, a rougher game, a game that is also old—even if not true in the sense of the word that Obama employs.
We now have an opportunity to see, on a huge stage, two theories of leadership tested one after the other. The Bush theory, which is that nothing is true except what's politically useful at a given moment. (Ironic for a guy who branded himself as an opponent of moral relativism.) And the Obama theory, which is that a person can actually accomplish great things, and be a great and tough leader, while at the same time not being an awful human being.
In the long view, the Obama theory has only rarely been true. (Nice guys finish last, etc.) And it certainly hasn't been true in the short view. (Kerry, Gore, & Co.) But it's a provocative idea, a compelling notion, a sea change in sentiment at the top: the man who leads us now aspires to the good.
We'll see how far that gets him—and us. But, you know, it's worked out pretty well so far.
... in my lab:
Human heart cells beat under a microscope. They started out as embryonic stem cells.
“The work that we're doing is to try to regenerate the heart after a heart attack. We've been able to take stem cells and turn them into human heart muscles in a dish and we've learned how to make the cells survive after we transplant them," said Chuck Murry, MD, PhD, University of Washington.
Embryonic cells are the only kind of stem cells that do that. But the work has been slowed due to federal restrictions. Dr. Murry is hopeful that will change soon.
Hi Nina! Hi Kareen!
Updated, because I loved this when I came upon it eight long, long, long years ago:
Bush Finds Error In Fermilab Calculations
President Barack Obama took the advice of constitutional lawyers and retook the oath of office Wednesday that Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed the first time around.
Roberts re-administered the oath privately Wednesday evening at 7:30 in the White House Map Room. White House counsel Greg Craig said Obama took the oath from Roberts again out of an "abundance of caution."
In more oath-related news, Obama looked annoyed this afternoon when Biden made a joke at the expense of Chief Justice John Roberts for flubbing the oath the first time.
A lot of people have called Obama's speech "underwhelming," which, after watching it twice more, I understand: To me, most of Obama's speeches are overwhelming. In contrast, I thought his speech yesterday was nearly perfect. Although I came of voting age in the era of Clinton—which is to say, the last time people of my political persuasion really got behind a political leader—the hero-worship around Obama has always turned me off. The idea of worshiping a politician isn't just unpalatable to me, it's foreign; I can admire political leaders—I admire Obama—but I know they'll always let me down. Pleasing everybody all the time is not a part of the politician's job description.
I've always been a little cold to Obama because I feel he's never really acknowledged this—never owned his own fallibility, the fact that he will inevitably let his followers down. His speeches have always been too soaring, too capital-H historical, too full of crowd-pleasing flourishes and fillips, for my taste. Unlike the chanting, worshipful crowds, I wasn't looking for a "climactic moment"; as far as I'm concerned, "plain language"—the type of rhetoric Eli referred to as "middle-brow"—is exactly what yesterday's occasion called for. The notes Obama struck yesterday—we are a nation humbled, my predecessor has done harm to America but we will not be broken, change requires work and responsibility—were exactly the ones I wanted to hear at this moment in history.
This was my favorite part:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
...it's just, you know, an observation.
I was talking to some avowed homosexuals last night and we all agreed that we were 1. thrilled to bits about our new president... but slightly disappointed that the gays didn't get a shout-out during the inauguration yesterday. But no one was so disappointed that it ruined the day for anyone. It was a great fucking day regardless. But, um, everyone else got a shout out—the black man, the red man, the yellow man, the mellow man. Just not the gay man. And considering that the gays got a shout out from Obama when he won the nomination, and a shout out from Obama when he won the election, and a shout out from Obama when he kicked off the inaugural festivities on Sunday, the omission of a shout out to the gays from the inauguration itself seemed conspicuous.
But no one was all that upset by the omission; again, it didn't spoil the day for anyone and any feathers ruffled by the lack of a shout out—and the inclusion of Rick Warren—were smoothed over when WhiteHouse.gov went live and we all saw the prominent play gay rights got on "The Agenda" section of the website.
"Still," one of my homosexual friends emailed me this morning, "it would've been great if the awesome black preacher at the end had added us to his list: 'Where black won't be asked to step back; where brown can stick around; where yellow can be mellow; where the red man can get ahead, man; where gay can stay; where white will embrace what's right.' Just four more words. Wouldn't that have been amazing?"
Yes, it would've been amazing. But you know what will be even more amazing? Obama delivering on his agenda for gay and lesbian civil rights. He's president now. We don't need anymore shout-outs. We need results. We want—what's that word again? Oh, yeah: change.
Sorry, but there's still nothing all that funny to report from the bus full of comedians. Close, but certainly no exploding cigar: Somewhere south of New Jersey, one of the bus-riding comedians read aloud from some sort of wireless device news that President Obama—President Obama! first time I've written that! feels lovely!—news that President Obama had signed an executive order that will force a change in lobbyist behavior. Then another comedian, a white guy, analyzed: "That's sorta like saying, 'Stop watcha doin, cause I'ma bout to ruin, the image and the style that you're used to..."
But where was I? Oh yeah. We in the ticketed area had just been ordered to take our seats, and the standing masses outside had good-naturedly heckled us, and we had heckled ourselves, too, and then we dutifully sat down to watch the inauguration ceremony.
I really loved this interplay between the world of the crowd and the world of the privileged. When now-former president George W. Bush was introduced, the crowd on the Mall sang: Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye. And the polite people with tickets—because, for the most part, one does not get tickets to watch the inauguration up close without having conformed to a certain sort of decorum for most of his or her life, and thus most all of these ticketed people were trying to behave extremely properly—these polite people with tickets just did not know what to do. A scattered few sang along. But the rest smiled quietly, or scowled loudly. When, later, Bush walked onto the podium, the Mall crowd welcomed him into the cold air with more than a million boos. By then, something had broken down in the proper sections of the proper section, and the ticketed people booed right along with them.
I'm still getting texts from Barack. Yesterday they were practical. I was told at one point that it was too late to take a certain route to the Mall, and that I should take 14th instead. Although I was 3,000 miles away, it was thoughtful of him to mention it. After the speech, I received a message encouraging me to discourage trampling:
Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States. Please stay & watch the parade on the jumbotrons. Encourage your neighbors to exit the Mall slowly.
Later in the afternoon I received this:
Reply to this msg w/your wishes for President Obama. Text photos of your event to 202-503-6207 for on-air use. Terms at ...
I did not text any wishes and am not sure whether I was supposed to send the sort of wishes one might describe as "best" or "warm," or the sort that are more like "here's what I wish you would do." In any case, I like these texts.
Here, as promised, are the cell phone pictures from the third row yesterday.
The view of Dianne Feinstein speaking:
Even its best moments were pale, anemic Whitmanisms ("sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of") and her slam-poetry cadence was like a bumpy wagon compared to the mellifluous magic carpet ride on the preacher-sounds of Obama and Rev. Lowery.
But it's a best-seller:
Alexander's publisher Graywolf Press is rushing out an $8 paperback of the poem on 6 February nonetheless, with a 100,000 first print run. With over two weeks to go before publication, the book is already the bestselling poetry book on Amazon.com; Alexander's new-found celebrity has also sent another of her titles, the 2005 Pulitzer prize finalist American Sublime, into the third spot.
A beautiful gallery of inaugural front pages—here.
Still no good jokes on this comedian bus—though some are trying valiantly. (Behind me, for example, a group of young comics is passing the time by writing a script for a film that involves a White House staff inaugural switcheroo, starring Scarlett Johansson as a naked mover and Macaulay Culkin as Malia Obama). Anyway, about that whole inauguration business:
I was seated in the Orange Zone for the swearing in ceremony. Or, to tell the whole truth, I had been handed a lucky “Orange Standing” ticket the night before the inauguration by a tuxedo-clad Seattle friend who I randomly bumped into near Dupoint Circle, and then used this ticket to weasel my way into an Orange seat with a good view of the inaugural podium. So, more accurately, I was squatting in the folding-chair portion of the Orange Zone.
My squat: a not fantastic, but also not-too-shabby, seat several spots in from the aisle. I figured there I wouldn’t attract too much notice from the military ushers (black winter coats, white sashes, USHER arm bands, rigid—or maybe frigid, given the temperature—uprightness) who were checking tickets. And I was, fortunately, right. Next to me, in continued adventures in randomness, was Steve Blankenship of Silverdale, who works at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. “This is really fantastic,” he told me, and I agreed. “I feel honored to be here,” he told me, and I agreed with that, too.
Blankenship got his ticket through a pastor in Salt Lake City who got his tickets through Orin Hatch’s office. It was a bit of a chaotic scene there in the Orange Zone—especially after Tom Hanks sat down right behind us and gave all the frenetic picture-snappers one more object to view-find—so I never was quite able to understand how Blankenship, an Obama voter who doesn’t much like the politics of the religious right, was so tight with a Hatch-connected pastor in Salt Lake City. Part of the difficulty was that our conversation kept getting interrupted, as when Hanks jumped up, walked up to Blankenship, who was seated near the aisle, and said something like: “Hi, sir, I’m Tom Hanks. How are you?”
All eyes turned in our direction, trying to figure out why Hanks would suddenly be introducing himself to a man who—and this is no slight but simply fact—looks far more like a corrections officer than a guy who would be moving in Tom Hanks circles. “Sir, your hat," Hanks said loudly, in a self-conscious stage voice. "It’s poofing too much. I can’t see.” (Laughter all around as Hanks, good naturedly, tried to de-poof the gray ski hat, and Blankenship, also good naturedly, consented to the de-poofing.)
It turned out that Blankenship comes from a Republican family and used to vote Republican himself before sitting out the last two presidential elections in disgust at Bush. I asked why he’d become such an ardent Obama fan. “I never changed,” Blankenship told me. “It’s just the Republican party changed and left me behind. I question, if my folks were alive today, whether they’d be Republicans.” Why? “They like to divide people,” he replied. “It’s like an exclusive club these days.”
Blankenship is pro-life, and knows Obama is pro-choice, but he doesn’t care. “It’s not like it’s exactly a pro-life or pro-choice choice,” he said, sounding like he should pursue a sideline in campaign sloganeering. “Government deciding people’s values—I don’t like that.”
Around us: ladies in mink coats, their plush scarves wrapped around their well-cared-for (and in many cases well-scalpeled) faces; less well heeled people with tears already waiting in their eyes; parents with kids they were instructing to pay close attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen please be seated,” an announcer boomed.
We all sat, as instructed. Gloved hands prepared to clap. Behind us, the crowd standing on the mall sent up a huge, cheering laugh.
“Sit down?” they seemed to be saying with their million-plus voices. “Who the fuck is that guy talking to?”
We in the ticketed section all got it, and we all laughed, too.
(Up next: if I’m lucky, an actual funny joke from this comedy bus; Obama’s speech, which I didn't love; and that supposedly-awful poem, which, like I said, I sorta liked. And: photo above via StrangrFlickr.)
The reason for this is hard to explain, but I'm currently on a bus from D.C. to New York with a bunch of comedians who came down to watch the inauguration and are now returning home. No good jokes yet; they're all too hung over. I'll let you know, though.
And about the subject that I've been trying to post on for ages, and am just now getting enough internet-connected time to write up: Yesterday, thanks to events that were truly wild luck and accident, I watched the inauguration from just a few dozen rows behind Christopher.
Behind me: Tom Hanks. Next to me: a guy who works at a women's correctional facility in Gig Harbor. (The odd disjunctions continue.) I had a pretty good view of Obama, too—though he was a somewhat tiny Obama from where I sat. More soon as I blog, blog, blog the comedic bus ride away... But for now, and I know this may make me Slog Enemy Number One, but: I didn't think Obama's inaugural address was as great as it could have been, and I kind of liked the inaugural poem.
Explain myself? Gladly, as the bus ride continues...
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