Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GQ Man of the Year

Barack Obama, Michael Phelps, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jon Hamm were named GQ's men of the year. According to the accompanying article, these men were chosen, because they "blew our minds." The four are among 27 men or groups of men listed.

I don't know what sort of criteria blowing a mind is, and I have to say, mind-blowing is not how I view either Hamm or DiCaprio--I think they are fine actors but just two of many.

I am more intrigued by the pairing of Obama and Phelps, both figures who achieved big things by inspiring the nation--and grinding it out. 

Anyone who knows swimming knows that it's the grind-iest of sports, hours and hours in a pool, and some more doing "dry-land" work,  all with the hope that endless practice will lead to greatness. Obama is no stranger to the grind, though of a different form, an endless triathlon of traveling, speaking, and meeting.  The success of Obama and Phelps shows men of the year can be celebrities and those who put in the time. (And of course, win eight gold medals or become president.)


Saturday, December 27, 2008

On a Mood

I don't think I've ever experienced the strangeness of the world we live in now--optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. The economy is getting worse and worse, and many people couldn't be more excited about the new Obama administration.

Obviously they are not related by cause and effect--Obama is not even president yet, and has had no impact, save for perhaps a small positive one on the stock market, since he has been elected. 

But they are related in other ways. For one, people seem to be feeling part of something larger than themselves in both a positive and negative way (or just negative, I guess, if you're not an Obama supporter). The optimism about Obama is related to the economic downturn. It certainly would have been more difficult for Obama to get elected in a good economy. And one feels the optimism because there are problems in the United States and the world that many people believe Obama can solve.  Without significant problems, the basis or need for optimism is less tangible. Which is what hurt Al Gore in running for president--there was no seemingly urgency to elect him. 


Friday, December 19, 2008

Meet the Obamas!

Thanks to Laura Burke for turning us on to this article in Time.

One of the many keen observations James Poniewozik makes has to do with how popular culture deals with the semiotics of a popular black family and a popular black president--topics that have interested SemiObama from the start:

After Obama won, there was talk of a "Huxtable effect"--the idea that pop-cultural portrayals of African Americans from The Cosby Show to 24's David Palmer readied white America for a black President. But maybe there's an opposite factor at work here too--the 50 Cent effect. The impact of the Obamas comes partly from the unspoken contrast to a decades-old media archive of images of black people as problems or threats, from news to cop shows to hip-hop. Broken families, perp walks, AKs and Cristal.

Suddenly the most photographed black man in America was giving speeches and calling world leaders. Suddenly the most discussed black women in America were two adorable kids and their lawyer mom. Suddenly you had a news story involving a black man and dogs, and it wasn't Michael Vick.

As Obama's profile and presidency matures, it will be fascinating to see how popular culture coverage of him (and his family) also evolves.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Soda

Obama Soda!

Read about and listen to the full story on NPR.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interview with the Designer of the Obama logo

Via Kottle.

An interview with Sol Sender, who designed the Obama campaign logo (shown here on the campaign home page).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Soon Is Now?

Found: Storefront, Geary Boulevard, San Francisco.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Cult of Competency

Chris Cillizza ("The Fix") notes that Barack Obama is doing his best to show competence as he prepares for becoming president. As we've said before, we think this is one of the most powerful narratives that Obama has going for him--that he's going to run the government efficiently and without drama. In other words, that he is going to run the country as he ran his campaign. This is different than "running the government like a business," frequently heard as George W. Bush, armed with a Harvard MBA, took office.* 

Given the struggles of the financial industry and now the automobile industry, running anything like a business now has multiple and conflicting meanings. Businesses care about products, efficiency, and cost control. Governments can care about those things, but their obligations are to the people, where corporations do have obligation to some people, the shareholders. 

Obama himself has identified with at least one company, Google, a company known for innovation as well as the same reluctance for internal drama. At a talk in front of Google employees in late 2007, he noted that his campaign and the company also shared a belief in delegating and innovating from the ground up rather than solely from the top.
"There is something improbable about this gathering," the Illinois senator told a packed cafe auditorium of hundreds of Google employees. "What we share is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up."
And one notable hire from industry has been Google's Sonal Shah, who is on Obama's transition team. In any case, it's clear that Obama is focusing on competence as at least one of his organizing principles (the previous mentioned Rivals metaphor is another), and one that has at least started to get the attention of outside observers.


*In the same Google search, I also discovered that Microsoft donors favored Hilary Clinton while Google favored Obama (and in the above article about George Bush, the writer compared him to Jack Welch, the legendary president of General Electric.) That's not surprising considering the cult of personality that ran through both Microsoft and the Hilary campaign.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Better than Fred

New York magazine reports on Alphacat, who does a better Obama impression than SNL's Fred Armisen.

Obama state Google correlations

Courtesy of Kottle...

Check out the correlation generator at StateStats. I'll leave the explanation to the site, but I played around with it for a while, and so far the search for "hybrid" has the highest correlation with "voted for Obama." 


Metaphor for stimulus money that's only barely Obama related

As the Washington Post details today, the government efforts to use infrastructure spending to revive the economy might take a bit too long to ramp up, and people might spend a tax break too quickly. Of course, the economy needs both. Coffee+sugar--long-term stimulus + short-term energy. It's not an exact science...but neither is economics. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yet Another Obama Doll

Sure, my newborn son was happy about the University of San Francisco T-shirt, but nothing made him smile like his new Barack Obama doll.

Pointing toward the future with his left hand and ready to pound the podium with his fisted right, this big eared but loveable figurine made both Gavin and his daddy think about the word "change" in a new way (if only for a moment).


Team of rivals

I want to point out how limited the term "rival" is at least in terms of professional background and to some extent ideology. First of all, before Clinton and Obama fought for the presidency, they were both relatively liberal Democratic senators, a group numbering in the dozens. "Rival" Robert Gates is a member of the Bush administration for sure, and a former director of the CIA, but he is also a former college president, a position that requires tact and fund raising skill as much as intellectual vision. Janet Napolitano is a governor, Eric Holder a former office holder, Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary and president of Harvard--all insiders, part of an elite group that has access to real power in the United States. And not only are they insiders, but they are either former or current government office holders or politicians, whose job description includes smoothing rough edges of their own personalities.

It's interesting to note the derivation of the term rival--according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it comes from the Latin, rivalis--meaning "one living on the opposite bank of a stream from another." Or in other words, same stream, different bank.

In a sense, this is a team of rivals not unlike a national Olympic team is a team of rivals. Athletes might compete against one another for years and years, but then are thrown together on the same team every four years--after competing against each other for the same spot on the team. Sound familiar?


Entertainment Weekly on Obama and pop culture

Benjamin Svetkey speculates on what our president-elect might mean for the entertainment industry. My own take is that it won't mean too much immediately, unless you count news programs as entertainment--the interview with Barack and Michele Obama was one of 60 Minutes's largest audience in years. More about that later...