Obama is still black

Jacob Philadelphia Pats Obama's Hair

(Pete Souza/White House)

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 I had no illusions about what, in policy terms, he could accomplish or would even want to accomplish. I had two simple criteria for his success beyond which everything else would be gravy: that he be president and he be black (and by black, of course, I mean brown). Whatever else he did or didn’t do, it was already transformative that he be a black president – something I (and plenty of other folks) never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. Growing up in suburban Washington DC in the 70s, it was clear to me the notion that in America “anyone can grow up to be president” did not apply to anyone darker than, say, Richard Nixon. And let’s be honest, even he was a little swarthy for comfort (look how that turned out). I will never forget how it felt on election night, November 4, 2008, standing on the dance floor of Roccapulco, to look up at the giant screen and weep tears of joy to see a president who was brownish, like me. Like me. In that moment (and whenever I’ve thought about it since, including as I write this) I am Jacob Philadelphia patting Obama’s head: “Yes, it does feel the same.”

In the years that followed it wasn’t about promises kept or broken; it wasn’t about Sotomayor and Kagan; it wasn’t about Bradley Manning and Osama Bin Laden; it wasn’t about teleprompters or professorial detachment or excessive caution in the face of congressional brinksmanship. We had a president who put his pants on one leg a time and who had brown-colored skin. Period. America was different than it had been before. There was no going back. No brown boy born in America would ever again feel the unspoken certainty that “anyone can be president” did not apply to him. (And I do mean ‘him.’ We’re still waiting for a woman president, but I no longer doubt that I’ll see one in my lifetime.) Whatever else happened, no one could go back in time and make Obama not have been elected president in 2008.

As the 2012 election season approached, I had a running argument with my friend Nathan who insisted that if Obama were not re-elected it would invalidate his presidency. I found this ridiculous. Repeatedly. How is a one-term president not a president? I mean, come on, he won the Nobel Peace Prize like two minutes after being elected (drone strikes notwithstanding). So what if he doesn’t win a second term. He was still president for four years. It counts. I argued this point unyieldingly right up until lunchtime yesterday, when, suddenly, despite my best efforts to deny it, I realized it wasn’t as simple as I wanted to be. The anti-Obama rhetoric in the last four years has been so relentless, so venomous, so absolute, that rightly or wrongly, I felt that if Obama were not re-elected, it would somehow undo the transformative power of his election in the first place. ‘Yeah, we tried having a black president once, but look how that turned out.’ I had been wrong. There was a third criterion for his success. Not only did he have to be president and be black, he had to get re-elected. In a strange way, it mattered even more this time, because there’s a big difference between never having had something, and having had something and then having it taken away.

It is with great relief that I note that Obama is still president and he is still black. The transformation was not undone, and I can now say with greater certainty than before that Obama has met my criteria for success, vanishingly modest in political terms, but reality-changing for me and the Jacob Philadelphia’s of the world. So Nathan, you were right. Warren 2016, anyone?

iPads, tinkerers, and visigoths, oh my

Fraser Speirs’ analysis of tech insiders’ negative reactions to the iPad is the best I’ve read so far.

The visigoths are at the gate of the city. They’re demanding access to software. they’re demanding to be in control of their own experience of information. They may not like our high art and culture, they may be really into OpenGL boob-jiggling apps and they may not always share our sense of aesthetics, but they are the people we have claimed to serve for 30 years whilst screwing them over in innumerable ways. There are also many, many more of them than us.

While Alex Payne is absolutely right that the iPad is not a tinkerer’s machine, I think it’s not only reasonable but long overdue that users who don’t want to have to tinker won’t be required to, or, more often, as Speirs notes, rely on regular visits from a technological shaman to keep their machines working.

Yes, the iPad is optimized for consuming media, but it’s no more of a sinister inducement to consumption than a book is. The idea that a single, complex, general-purpose tool (the “computer”) has to serve so many different purposes and audiences through a single hardware interface is merely an artifact of the history of computing. It’s crazy to insist that in 2010 my mother should use the exact same tool to send email and view photos that I use to develop software.

That said, as a tinkerer myself, the prospect of a future where someone who does want to tinker is actually prohibited from doing so worries me as much as it does Payne. The fight for greater openness on the platform is justified. It feels to me like this decade’s analog to the battle over DRM in music, except in this case Apple is the RIAA. They’ll eventually open the platform, or they’ll be routed around. And I’ll be happy to tinker for the cause.

UPDATE: See Roger’s comment below for a reference to Steven Frank’s excellent piece on this very issue.

Fellow Old Worlders, I hate to tell you this: we are a minority. The question is not “will the desktop metaphor go away?” The question is “why has it taken this long for the desktop metaphor to go away?”


A better today

It’s a hell of a thing to find one’s president on the front page of the Financial Times (above the fold, no less) kicking ass in the manner of something written and directed by Melvin Van Peebles and John Woo. I’m impressed.

I won the Nobel Peace Prize today

My gut instinct is that if they could have given the Nobel Prize to the American people for electing somebody other than George W. Bush, they would’ve done so.
Stewart M. Patrick

Microsoft, bless its heart

It was 1984, and we didn’t care. We burst out of the preview screening of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo into the crazy streets. The energy poured off the walls and into our brains like the United Colors. We were high on paint, spray paint, and we thought we’d live forever…

Oops, sorry. That picture isn’t of spontaneous and illicit street art from the 80s at all; it’s a picture of a very earnest photo shoot on Stillman Street from just last week. Microsoft appears set to launch yet another lovably tone-deaf and embarrassing campaign touting, I assume, the ineluctable hipness and freshness of Windows 7.

And if you look closely, you can see that all the black folk who were photoshopped out of other Microsoft ads have generously been re-hired for this one, because it’s, you know, urban.

The iPhone is the new cigarette

This morning I was looking for a reference to back up what I assumed was by now a commonplace, which is that the iPhone is the new cigarette. Google gave me nothing relevant (neither did Bing or Cuil for that matter, so much for decorrelation). So, for the next person looking for such a reference, here it is.

The iPhone is the new cigarette. That’s it. Simple as that. You can stop reading now if you get it.

For people who smoke, the cigarette is still the cigarette. For people who don’t, the iPhone does almost everything that cigarettes do.

  1. The iPhone changes your brain chemistry. For better and for worse it makes you feel good and want more (mechanism of action be damned).
  2. The iPhone gives you an excuse to step outside and fiddle with something when you feel like not working for fifteen minutes.
  3. The iPhone gives you something to do in boring interstitial situations, like waiting in line at the store, or waiting for the bathroom, or waiting in line for the bathroom at the store.
  4. The iPhone gives you something to do with your hands in awkward situations.
  5. In really awkward situations the iPhone gives you a way to check out entirely (granted, that’s a slightly different type of cigarette).
  6. When you’re using your iPhone in public, some people will think you look sophisticated. Others will think you’re annoying.

Come to think of it, even for people who smoke, the iPhone is the new cigarette. It gives you something to do while smoking.