Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Obama and Basketball

I think this says more about the media than it does about Barack Obama, but yet another prediction has come from our president: Lakers v. Cavs in the NBA final. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

CJR analyzes the Professor Obama meme

and finds it derogatory.

What a President Does

President Obama is the leader of the United States. That much is certain, despite the protestations of some.

But what is less clear is what it means to be president. Or in this case, to lead.

Looking at the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions (subscription required) for lead is somewhat instructive. The first definition is "To bring or take (a person or animal) to a place" is the most direct and literal/physical meaning. 

The second definition is the one I find most intriguing--"to accompany and show the way to: to conduct, guide, esp. to direct or guide by going on in advance; to cause to follow in one's path." 

This one and the fifth are the most relevant to the actions of a president outside of war (which is covered in the fourth definition). The fifth reads:  "To guide with reference to action or opinion; to bring by persuasion or counsel to or into a condition; to conduct by argument or representation to a conclusion; to induce to do something."

Looking at the Oxford almost always surprises me, because it often reveals telling subtleties of language. In this case, the definition that focuses on accompaniment and showing--that leading is as much an act of being as it is showing. It's clear that part of Obama's mission is convince the country that improvement is on the way both through direct persuasion*, as highlighted in the fifth definition,  and through his calmness

In other words, leading is more than decision and speech making; it is indirect and subtle.


*This whole section focuses on the things the Obama administration is doing and has done.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Last week, I was in the Oakland Wal-Mart and came across a most unlikely sight--an entire display of framed photos of Barack Obama. As some scholars have noted, Wal-Mart has become the one place in America where people of all races and classes interact rather seamlessly, leading to the compelling argument that the large box store has become America's new commons.

This is certainly the case in Oakland, where a staggering cross-section of the Bay Area's population comes for iPods, diapers, Oakland Raiders gear, and huge packages of toilet paper. So, it should not have come as such a surprise that this wall of Obama images fronted the main isle from the entrance of the store to the electronics.

After all, Wal-Mart markets itself as a patriotic place. It appeals to blue-collar, traditional family values, and these images of Obama position him in that light. Obama not for the edgy indy crowd (a la Shephard Faiery) but mainstream Obama, mass-market Obama, populist Obama, non-threatening Obama, American Obama.

Indeed, as I was standing in the aisle, taking these photographs, a woman stopped on her way out to scold me: "That's cheating," she said. "You can't just take pictures. You have to buy them. I'm sure he can use the money." We joked about this for a while and chatted on our way out of the store, when something very interesting happened.

Both of us were carrying small bags--we had made minor purchases in the electronics department--however, when we approached the security guard at the exit she got stopped, while I walked on through with no questions whatsoever. Why did she have her bag and receipt checked? Well, she was African American, and I am not; so perhaps that provides an answer.

During the campaign, it was not uncommon to hear complaints that if Obama got elected "blacks" would "take over" or "think they would be entitled to everything." At this Wal-Mart, in Oakland, that proved not to be the case.

The most troubling detail of all? The security guard was African American.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

President Obama's NCAA Tournament Picks

Today at Noon, ESPN released President Obama's completed bracket for the 2009 NCAA Men's basketball championship.

Of course, the one question on everyone's mind is: Does he have Binghamton going all the way?

Spoiler alert!

He does not. The president picks the University of North Carolina and its weepy coach over the Louisville Cardinals and their coach, Rick Pitino, who has never cried in his life.

His other final four teams, Pittsburgh and Memphis are no big shockers. In fact, the President has no real upsets in his bracket, though he does pick VCU to upend UCLA in the opening round.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On Trash Talking

This image, part of a larger article about Barack Obama's attendance at a recent Wizards-Bulls game, seems to be unprecedented in its metaness

In the image, Miles Rawls, wearing a Barack Obama shirt, "trash-talked" with President Obama during the game. Trash talking is a noted aspect of basketball culture, one whose best practitioners are celebrated within the basketball community, although the practice is much more celebrated among players than fans, for the obvious reason that fans don't always attend each other's arenas. 

In fact, among true rivalries, such trash talking can be dangerous for an opposing fan. So the exchange between Rawls and Obama is unique in the comfort Obama felt in trash-talking in the other person's arena. 

But there is also comfort in Rawls trash talking the president of the United States. Perhaps wearing his image made him more comfortable, Obama's personality, or both.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Imagine If Barack Obama Was Losing His Hair

As New York's Vulture column snarkily notes, the story about Barack Obama turning grey is back. We'll let them talk about the coverage. We have a more basic question--what does it mean that our president is getting grey hair?

If you believe television's vanity commercials, greyness=oldness, the most visual example is here, as a dyed-up heroes Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez "rescue" Emmitt Smith from the "Running Back Rest Home" by dye-ing his goatee. That's friendship!

But out of tv-land, the message grey sends is a little more subtle. 

*It signifies stress. The Times headlines its story:  "For Young President, Flecks of Grey," suggesting that young is a contrast to grey. It makes the stress comparison more specifically here:
For a guy who prides himself on projecting a stress-free demeanor, the changes above his temples are speckled evidence that perhaps the psychological and physical strains of the job — never mind the long process of winning it — are in fact taking something of a toll. (Experts say stress can contribute to whitening locks.)

*It signifies gravitas. As the Washington Post headline notes, "Obama's Wearing His Grays as Distinguished Look of the Presidency" 

*And it does so by tying those two things to age. Essentially, the message is that whatever is happening--stress or age--that Obama's image in no way suffers from this change. Either he's taking the job seriously or getting older, both of which compliment his efforts as president.

As always, this coverage reveals as much if not more about the coverage than it does about Obama. The interviews with his barber suggest the lengths reporters will go to read and interpret anything having to do with Obama. 

Just imagine if he was going bald!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Recovery Logo: A Brief Semiotic Rundown

Via Talking Points Memo.

Here is the new logo for projects being funded by the stimulus bill. As is true with product launches and political campaigns, recovery campaigns need symbols, as the President said in remarks today.
These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people -- a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely, to put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done," Obama said. "So when you see them on projects that your tax dollars made possible, let it be a reminder that our government -- your government -- is doing its part to put the economy back on the road of recovery.
 I like the logo's inherent retroness, built on the notion that it's speaking  in images, save for the website address, which also serves a tag for government involvement. My impression is that signs have taken a turn for the textual over the past few decades, so this feels like a throwback. At the same time, it does not feel anchored in a particular time period, so it does not feel entirely nostalgic. 

The bottom left hand corner suggests a plant, and the right has gears, with either a plus or a cross in the center (adding or aiding--you make the call.) The plant presumably means green energy, but it could also mean just growth in general. The gears suggest working together toward a larger purpose.

I don't like the top half of the logo; the balance between the patriotic stars and "recovery.gov" seems off, even if that construction is intentional. The logo seems to want to forego the "recovery.gov"; it seems like a compromise. 

These individual components are surrounded by a circle, which suggests a wholeness and completion. Or perhaps smoothness and ease. Or maybe it's just a circle!

GreenSooner at Kos has a brief history of recovery logos.