These Two Photos Show Eight Years of Change

At first glance, the image looks modern. People mediating their own experience of the moment via a glowing rectangle. Taking their very own version of a famous photograph.

New York Magazine has a long feature on the eight years of Obama’s America.

The first illustration in the piece is a compelling diptych of President Obama: two portraits taken eight years apart.  The difference is stark.  His hair has turned grey and his face is rumpled.

President Barack Obama, by Dan Winters

However, the photograph that really brought home for me the changes of the past eight years was one taken on inauguration day in January 2009.  Its a version of an image that I’ve commented on before.

Inauguration party, 2009.  Chicago Tribune/MCT
Inauguration party, 2009. Chicago Tribune/MCT

At first glance, the image looks modern.  People mediating their own experience of the moment via a glowing rectangle.  Taking their very own version of a famous photograph.

But when you compare it to the photograph below, taken in 2016, the inauguration image suddenly looks horribly dated.

Hillary Clinton waves to a selfie-taking crowd at a recent campaign event in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Barbara Kinney


How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist

“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan.  “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”

This is exactly right, I responded.

I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd. Continue reading “How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist”

The Role of Citizen Does Not End With Your Vote

President Brack Obama celebrates with Michelle Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden, in Chicago after winning re-election. (AFP)

Congratulations President Obama, re-elected.  Its a relief that the candidate with the broader coalition and the policies of inclusion, not division, won the day.

During the campaign, there was much analysis of how President Obama’s first term was disappointing.  Blocked by a hostile Congress, he was unable to implement his full agenda.  Big issues like Global Warming were left to fallow.

I was struck by a line in his victory speech: “The role of citizen does not end with your vote”.  Concerned Americans need to be activists.  When they take matters into their own hands, as Gay Rights activists on the left, and ‘Tea Party’ activists on the right have done, they are able to shift the political consensus.

Fololowing Obama’s re-election, the Democratic Party now has a unique database of information on voters and supporters.  It seems to me that this was an under-used resource during the President’s first term.  Obama and his party colleagues need to start campaigning now for a better, more liberal congress in 2014 – one that can deliver proper reform on climate change and other issues that urgently need attention.

Neck and Neck in the Polls?

This week, the BBC reports on the US Presidential this week have been consistently reporting the race “neck-and-neck”. This assertion is grounded on opinion polls: the latest BBC report trumpets an ABC News poll which places both candidates on 48% of the vote.

The problem is, one poll does not tell the whole story. Each polling outlet has a slightly different methodology which skews the results. For example, some poll only ‘likely voters’ and some ask everyone; some pollsters call cell-phones, while others use only landlines.

As a foreign media outlet, the BBC is not covering the race with the granularity of the domestic US media.

Rather than report the result of one poll, The corporation would do better to report on the polling averages between polling outfits, and the trend-lines of generated by each pollster over a given period. Both these macro views look better for President Barack Obama, whose polling in the last fortnight has been improving. More importantly, State Level polling shows the President ahead in battleground states like Ohio. Poll analysis site Five Thirty Eight (hosted by the New York Times) models the election on this basis, and is currently putting the chances of an Obama win at 85%.

This does not mean that Obama is coasting towards a second term. Governor Mitt Romney could still win. But given the totality of the polls, President Obama can be said to have the advantage. The situation does not really warrant the metaphor “neck-and-neck” which suggests either horse is equally likely to win. In the betting markets, Barack Obama is the clear favourite. He hasn’t won, but he is ahead.

So why does the BBC cherry-pick a single poll as its headline? Simples: “neck-and-neck” is a more sensational headline than “Obama ahead”. And the more sensational headline will deliver more viewers on Election Night.

Heathcare Reform Photo

I just saw this photo on a BBC News report on healthcare reform.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior staff, react in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as the House passes the health care reform bill, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

It was pulled from the White House’s official Flickr stream, and I think it may soon become emblematic.  It will be used to illustrate a huge victory, substantial but also symbolic, of the Obama Administration.  The President looks chuffed but not ecstatic.  A job well done, but you sense he will be turning to his staff to ask, “what’s next?

Maybe that’s not what happened in reality.  Maybe the President went mental and stood on a table with a knife, lording over his defeated enemies.  But we don’t see that photo.  Significantly, we only have this one image of the celebrations, so that is what will persist of that moment – its a clever bit of subtle PR.  Politicians have been shaping the narrative with flattering images for centuries, of course.  But its always interesting to watch it happen in real time.

Social Cost of Slavery

The unease of great-grandparents long-since buried, still festers in the soul, and it cannot be excised by education, science or modernity.

Via Blattman, by way of Sides and Sullivan, an interesting piece of research on how the slave trade had an impact down the generations:

we show that individuals whose ancestors were heavily threatened by the slave trade today exhibit less trust in neighbors, family co-ethnics, and their local government. (pdf)

This reminds me of several things.  The first is the debate between Alan Keyes and Barack Obama in 2004, when they contested the Illinois Senate seat that Obama eventually won by a landslide.  Keyes essentially accused Obama of being “not black enough“:

Barack Obama and I are of the same race, but we are not of the same heritage. And there is a distinction. Race is something physical. Heritage is something that may have an element that is physical or biological, but that also includes other elements of history and experience–the kinds of things that have helped to shape the mind and heart of an individual and that are not determined by physics and biology. And we are of different heritages. I’m of a slave heritage, and he is not.

Although Keyes was right to make the distinction between heritage and race, he was wrong to think it had any electoral relevance.  And in the light of the Harvard research, it looks like he was wrong about the extent of the differences between his and Obama’s heritage.   Even if Obama, through his father, is not of slave descent, he is however from a people from whence slaves were drawn.  And that brings with it similar social problems to bona fide slave children (as Keyes would have it).

Second, I’m reminded incidentally of the correlation between the counties that voted blue (i.e. Democrat) last November, and the cotton picking regions of mid-nineteenth century America.

Thirdly, I’m reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s formulation: “We are the heir of all ages”.

Which in turn allows me to ponder the idea of ancestor worship, popular in many African cultures.  Taken literally, the idea that your forebears might be watching you seems like an irrelevant and primitive idea.  However, seen through the prism of the Harvard research, the idea of being haunted by your country’s collective past takes on a new and very real meaning.  The unease of great-grandparents long-since buried, still festers in the soul, and it cannot be excised by education, science or modernity.

Part of the 'Gambella Stories' series by Turkairo
Part of the ‘Gambella Stories’ series by Turkairo