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Friday, January 30, 2009

A Theatre of Context

"I don't see people getting giddy. They're just relieved that the wrecking crew of Bush and Cheney are finally out of power."
Green-energy campaigner Randolph Horner, 62, on President Barack Obama's inauguration.

The euphoria to President Barack Obama's inauguration party is over, and America has gone back to work - but its people are keeping a close eye on the new man in charge to see what happens after the stardust settles.

Nearly six to one Americans surveyed in a USA Today/Gallup poll said that the inauguration made them feel more hopeful about the next four years, with some of Obama's first actions filled with the promises of his sombre, yet forward-looking, inauguration speech (his chief speech writer is 27 years old).

Orders for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp (though how quick this will be is uncertain) as well the shut-down of all overseas CIA detention centres for terror suspects has been made, including the signing of an order banning harsh interrogation techniques used since 9/11, which critics have denounced as torture.

Obama has also used his first formal TV interview since taking office to reach out to the Muslim world, saying Americans are not its enemy, but whether Muslim leaders will unclench their fists to Obama's extended hand is another matter entirely.

However, bringing his words out of political rhetoric, back home Obama has found a quick response to his reaching out.

Researchers at San Diego State University have documented an "Obama effect" by which the performance gap between black and white students on a test administered before his nomination all but disappeared when the exam was taken after the presidential election.

Nevertheless to ground things into context, Obama's fluffing of his lines as he took the oath this January should serve to remind Americans that he is endearingly human, too, with his being sworn in as US president for the second time in two days, because one word was given out of order during his inauguration.

The Theatre of War

News is the platform where we watch the theatre of life take stage, and no where is our humanity more strongly tested than the drama of war (which always makes a repeat performance).

As Obama names his key envoy to the Middle East, the BBC's region editor Jeremy Bowen describes the most memorable single image of Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza. Bowen is fixated with the image of a young Palestinian father kissing his dead baby son goodbye, while in other reports a Palestinian woman lists the fate of each of her family: her husband and four of nine children dead.

In contrast, any Israeli soldiers accused of war crimes in the Gaza Strip will be given state protection from prosecution overseas, the country's Prime Minister has said.

Ehud Olmert said troops should know Israel would keep them safe after they acted to protect their country.

Getting Sober

Although while it seems that we are yet to see Obama's new temperance comes to reign in war, as it has in US politics, sobriety is being considered a virtue elsewhere.

Due to the current economic crisis celebrities take note: Karl Lagerfeld has declared that bling is dead.

Seemingly remaining defiantly opposed to his own concept of a New Modesty, however; "This whole crisis is like a big spring housecleaning - both moral and physical," the German-born Chanel designer told The New York Times.

The Telegraph paper in its article on the matter points out that in its original, biblical context, modesty should be about looking beyond the bling at the person inside - that is what needs to be modest, not the dress itself, quoting Mark Twain to highlight the futility: "Modesty died when clothes were born."

And finally, moving away to theatrics of a different nature but still in a biblical context, the love of money is still driving some to lose all virtue.

News reports write that two Roman Catholic priests have been accused of stealing $800,000 from the collection plate of their church in the US state of Florida.

The priests allegedly hid the money in the church ceiling and opened offshore accounts, to prove once more that where money goes, there goes morality - out of the window.

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