Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009: The Year of Hope

(Image from BBC News)

The lab basically stopped working today between 11:30 and 12:30. People gathered to watch the Inauguration on the big screen while drinking coffee and tea and munching on cookies provided for by the lab (Dude. The cookies went fast, which pissed me off since I have had this major urge to snack All. Freakin’. Day.) In light of the festivities and the obvious joy of the management, I couldn’t help thinking of the unlikelihood of the lab doing something similar 8 years ago at the last major Inauguration. I wonder if they instead declared it a day of mourning.

What this also meant was that I viewed the Inauguration with my scientific colleagues, which made for a unique viewing experience.

Here are my thoughts on the pre-speech:

Michelle Obama looks classy. However, I am not completely sold on her outfit. All I know is that I could never pull that look off. Kudos for her for trying and perhaps even succeeding.

The Obama girls are very fashion forward. Pink and Orange. Very cool.

The Prayer--A little flamboyant for my tastes. I like a prayer to be a prayer. Not a speech disguised as a prayer. Also, wondered at the spontaneous cheering during the prayer. Again, not really appropriate behavior for a prayer, which should be conducted in reverence. Just my stuffy opinion.

Aretha Franklin—can’t say that I dig your soul sister. And I think that only a woman of soul could really pull off that hat—it worked for you.

The Special Musical Number—dude. What I wouldn’t give to be able to put together a musical number played by Yo Yo Ma and Itzak Pearlman along with a few other musical geniuses. Loved the bit where Yo Yo Ma was rockin’ out on his cello--a look of joy on his face and the wind blowin’ in his hair. As to the number—I love the Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts so I can’t really complain. I thought it was quite fitting for the occasion.

The swearing in—I loved the fact that Obama fumbled. It is so human. And this right after a discussion with my lab mate on what would happen if that were the case.

During the whole proceedings but also during the speech, there were a lot of tears shed (tears of joy in case you were confused). I was surprised at the level of emotion in the room. A person had to get a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom which was then passed around. And this from a group of people trained for their objectivity and reason. Spontaneous cheers erupted during many parts of the speech. Here were the top sound bites:

“and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

“We will restore science to its rightful place”—This by far got the loudest response and warranted arm waving on top of the cheers.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers.”—Scientists are known to be a bunch of heathens, and they don’t like to be overlooked.

“And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”—Again a very strong statement that had every scientist’s/environmentalist’s heart thumping with joy.

I, too, found myself getting choked up and teary-eyed during his speech. Obama really has a gift for oration, and I thought he was able to touch the heart of every listening ear, whether initially receptive or not. He included a lot of the elements of a great speech: imagery, repetition, personal experiences, historical context, etc. I don’t doubt that this will be considered one of the best speeches in history. But then again, it needed to be.

My favorite bit was the ending. I thought it was brilliant:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations"

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