Friday, January 30, 2009

The inauguration

D'OH! This is a later addition -- I forgot to include the link to L's terrific inauguration multimedia experience.

I took notes on this momentous day because I was just so damn psyched I that I wanted to be able to remember it later. OK, so I didn't get around to actually posting it until 10 days after the fact... whatever.

7:00 – Awoke to NPR, which continued in the exciting historical spirit of last night’s CNN pre-coverage. Kept listening on the car ride to the Alewife subway stop. Highlights included the mayor of Newark and his father, and the story of 105-year-old Ella May Johnson attending the inaugural accompanied by a nurse and bundled in a sleeping bag, and Cory Booker, the black mayor of Newark (“Black Politician Says He Represents All Americans”).

Lest we get too giddy about everything, this disheartening reader comment on the latter NPR piece reminds us that ignorance and bigotry still alive and well in American as seen in this reader comment on that story:

You don't represent me! No good wishes for Obama, but I will if he was going to be the President of Ghana or Zimbabwe but not the USA. He is not qualified to be a President, and the idiots voted for him just because he is black. He has no achievements in his life. The Americans should have shipped back the slaves to Africa so we will not have this problem now, having a black President. On top of that Obama does not deserve to be President, he is not qualified, and he bought the white house with the money of his radical left. He is going to implement his radical left agenda, no good wishes for him.

8:30 a.m. – A guitarist who’s often seen in the performance space at Alewife is playing a beautifully harmonized instrumental version of “America the Beautiful” to commuters this morning. Really moving.

8:35 a.m. – Saw a coworker in the train who commented that “half the department is there” in Washington for the inaugural. I remarked that I’d heard of web sites where people could find someone’s couch to crash on in D.C. (as an alternative to paying huge bucks to rent an apartment) and she replied, “that’s what we did for the marches on Washington.” Other things that are new for me today: After not being able to zip up a pair of jeans due to holiday chowing, I've banished the word "diet" but have resolved starting now to simply eat smaller portions, Quite by coincidence I also started reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I eagerly await President Obama’s first executive orders. Restore funding for overseas family planning organizations that provide abortion information? [Later: Yes indeed!] Stem cell research funding? Maybe even gays in the military?

10:46 a.m. – live video shows Cheney in a wheelchair going to his limo. Apparently he pulled a back muscle moving boxes into his new home yesterday. I don’t wish ill health ion anyone, but I confess to a certain satisfaction in the symbolism of seeing Cheney crippled as he leaves office. Can’t help but notice the resemblance to Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

10:55 – The limos are heading for the Capitol. The route is lined with thousands of cops facing the crown rather than the motorcade. There’s been publicity about the Secret Service counter-snipers who have special rifles made for their body size and arm length.

Lots of black hats on the men, lending an oddly Hasidic flavor. One of ‘em looked like Jack Abramoff on his perp walk.

11:13 – Royal trumpets with banners as each former first couple enters. George H.W. Bush walks in with a cane, tottering in like a penguin. Babs looks the same as she did as First Lady (old but tough). Now comes Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. He looks pretty old but she looks great. Now Bill and Hill. He looks kind of depressed actually. Marines give slow synchronized salutes.

Now Malia and Sasha. Sweet girls.

11:38 -- First shot of Obama. He looks serious and serene. He walks without an escort.

11:40 -- Aaaaaagh! NECN web video just died.

11:44 -- Whew; it’s back, but choppy due to increased demand. I’m going to watch on the big TV in the conference room.

“Air and Simple Gifts,” a beautiful musical piece by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo-Ma et al.

Later: Turns out it was a recording; they didn’t want to risk being out of tune or breaking a string in the frigid air. Yo-Yo Ma said on NPR that they actually played their instruments, but they didn't make any sound because they applied soap rather than resin to the cello and violin bows, and they disconnected the piano's hammers from the keyboard. The clarinetist wasn't so difficult to fake, obviously.

My favorite bits from Obama’s speech:

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers.

Favorite lines from “Praise Song for the Day,” the poem written and read by Elizabeth Alexander:

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."


What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

A bit from the benediction by civil rights icon Rev. Joseph E. Lowery:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- when yellow will be mellow -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- and when white will embrace what is right.

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