Thursday, January 22, 2009

Words that resonate

President Obama's inaugural speech set an appropriate tone for the hard work that now begins. It was a fitting repudiation of the politics of the past eight years, and those of us who work in the world of science and policy were especially pleased that he included an absolute rejection of the Bush Administration's partisan interference in science. For me, the key part was his reminder that what needs to be done now is nothing different from what has been done before. In so many ways, it is simple: start by reminding ourselves of the values that make us American:
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate. Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
The full-text of the speech is worth reading... and keeping around to remind us how important it is that all of us come together now and work together toward the common good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And now everyone tries to get home

I have now spent the past five and a half hours at Dulles Airport,
where I and 65 others trying to get a standby seat on any United
flight to San Francisco are forming new friendships and sharing
stories about how we experienced the Obama Inauguration.

There is a physician who was here for military reserve duty, as he put
it, "sequestered" away from the crowds with a team positioned to react
if something happened. There's a family of four who arrived two hours
ahead of their early morning flight but didn't get through check-in
and security in time. And there's a woman who came to watch the
swearing-in and thought she could make a flight yesterday. Street
closures and traffic made that impossible.

Every flight appears to be going out full, with long standby lists.
But there remains a fair amount of good humor. If anything, I think
some folks are happy for the extra time to shop for Imaugural souvenirs.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not the most organized crowd control

I have always had great admiration for law enforcement, but I am
mystified at how poorly the different police agencies coordinated
their crowd control efforts. Park Police were not kept informed about
which streets the District Police opened to pedestrians. At one
intersection, Secret Service seemed to be at odds with District Police
and National Guard soldiers, resulting in a kind of scary few minutes
being pushed by a growing crowd of pedestrians. As one person near me
observed, this does not bode well if DC ever needs to do a mass

Another question that should be asked: Why didn't Metro set up a
system that would allow people to exit without farecards??? Collect a
special fare on entry, then open the gates at the jammed destination
stations. The crowds at Federal Center and L'Enfant Plaza were
overwhelming... And bordered on being dangerous.

Let's hope the officials do a thorough debrief and improve the
planning for Washington's next big event.

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Celebrate, but briefly

President Obama's speech was an eloquent, diplomatic rebuke of the
eight years of George W. Bush, and the transition to this new era is
well worth celebrating. At the same time, his remarks were especially
realistic about how much hard work lies ahead. But Obama is right: if
we put our political differences aside and look for the common good,
America once again will be respected around the world.

Even Rick Warren delivered a message of tolerance, respect and
inclusion. Let us never return to a day when only one point of view is
respected. We can disagree but still respect each other.

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Yes we did!

I hope that President Obama's call for each of us to take
responsibility soaks in across the land. And may his message to our
friends and foes around the world reach their targets, too.

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Emotions are running high

Many around me in this crowd seemed unhappy that Rick Warren was
giving the invocation, but his words resonated across this mall. We
are all here as one, united nation.

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The time has come

With members of the House and Senate taking their seats, we know that
the moment we are waiting for is near. Most of us are doing our best
to ignore the numbing cold (22 degrees last I checked.) but there
still is plenty of warmth here.

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What an awesome sight!

I am on the Mall, straight in front of the Capitol, which is two
blocks away. We can see the podium, but we will rely on a Jumbotron to
see what is really happening.

"Look at us. We are here," exclaimed Cynthia Bell, who traveled here
from Memphis. She said she is celebrating her birthday here "by being
a part of history."

Behind us, the crowd stretches literally all the way down the Mall.
The Washington Monument is in the distance. This is one heck of a party.

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The line stretches more than 10 blocks

My fingers are too cold to type much but this line is filled with
excited people. The Capitol Building is in front of us, illuminated
with floodlights. It is a gorgeous sight.

Slow going to the Capitol

Well, we have been on this Metro train 42 minutes and are just
reaching our third stop. Every couple of minutes, the train operator
gives an update. The stations near the Capitol are being opened and
closed depending on the crowds. At this pace, we still should make it
by the time security gates open at 8:00 am. The adventure continues.

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Bundled up and on our way

A 5:30 am walk to the Washington Metro station got this great day
going. The crowds are large and we are trying to figure out best
bets for walking if we get stuck. But it is a festive crowd.

Monday, January 19, 2009


There is almost an eerie calm quiet here in the nation's capital
region. Many locals have gone away. Many of us visitors are winding
down early tonight because getting to the swearing-in ceremony and
parade will be complicated, crowded, and slow.

But the people I have encountered today all share an energy that I
have never before experienced. The checker at Safeway said she was
trying to get all of her friends to contribute $5 a month toward
helping others. My friend Liisa said this is the realization of Martin
Luther King Jr.'s dream. Another friend said we now will have a
president who understands how complicated the world is today. One
person said we again have a great role model in the White House. Or
two, since Michelle Obama seems pretty amazing, too.

At dinner tonight, my friends and I toasted our new president, bid
farewell to Mr. Bush, and prayed that the world may be a bit better
now. I hope that we are all entering a new era of peace and prosperity.

I look forward to making a lot of new friends as we celebrate this
Inauguration Day.

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Obama Girl + Obama Duet!

Check out this video on YouTube:

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National Day of Service

President-elect Obama's call to make MLK Day a national day of service strikes a strongly positive chord for me. Community volunteering has always been important, and too many people don't make time to help out others.

I was delighted to find that many of the events organized here in the DC area for today have reported they already had as many volunteers as they could use. My friend Chris and I are instead bringing a supply of healthy nonperishable food to the Arlington Food Bank. We will do more active service on other days. I hope many others will, too. The best way we can honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and our new president is to live each day as active members of our communities, unwilling to ignore problems or walk past those who need our help. We are one nation.

To find how to get involved near your home, visit

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration cupcakes?

Buzz Bakery (901 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, Va. 22314; 703-600-buzz)
has an array of gooey treats with inaugural motifs. The Obama cupcake
is sweet potato topped with caramel buttercream and chocolate.

My first picture with Mr. Obama.

A long trip on a regional jet

I have arrived at Dulles Airport, where even 10-Minute Manicure is
offering an Inaugural special.

I am definitely not alone

DC officials had been predicting that 4 million would converge on
Washington for the Inaugural, and unprecedented security measures
would make access to and within the DC area difficult.

That, plus hotel room rates that escalated to $1,000 or more a night
seems to have deterred some of those 4 million. Only half the expected
10,000 charter buses have requested parking permits, and some rooms at
centrally located hotels have opened up. Still no bargain, however, at
around $800 a night at an upscale business hotel.

But on my way across the country, there was no doubt that there are
lots of people going to witness history. Saturday night redeye flights
are not usually in high demand, but the standby lists for my flight
from San Francisco to Chicago was longer than I see for some flights
on days with cancellations. And I couldn't even get on the waiting
list for the nonstop to DC.

In Chicago, it looked the same for any flight going near DC. I am
connecting in Harrisburg, then another flight to Dulles. The first
four flights from Chicago to Dulles or National were completely full.

What is exciting is that many of the people who are headed this way
are not your everyday travelers. I saw one woman with four teenagers
in tow, lots of other families. What all of us seem to have in common
is an air of anticipation that I believe will turn the hope of today
into the reality of a better world tomorrow.

Whether it is 4 million, 3 million, or just a few of us, this is a
wonderful event for our nation and the world. Let this be the start of
a new era of peace and understanding.

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