With rioting in Ferguson, Mo., U.S. troops going to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group and nuclear negotiations in Iran not going as well as he hoped for, how did the president justify taking time to “pardon” a turkey Wednesday?
With rioting in Ferguson, Mo., U.S. troops going to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group and nuclear negotiations in Iran not going as well as he hoped for, how did the president justify taking time to “pardon” a turkey Wednesday?
Thousands of people joined a second night of protests Tuesday in response to the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of Mike Brown.
Angry about the decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, college students and activists stormed District streets and converged in front of the White House on Monday night to protest.
 
 
 

Semester in Washington Intern Blog

Dec 16, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Ambassador Robinson Githae chats with Ambassador Donald Teitlebaum, deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of African Affairs at the State Department. The U.S. was one of the first countries to set up a diplomatic office following Kenya’s independence in 1963. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaClick on photo to enlarge or download: Ambassador Robinson Githae chats with Ambassador Donald Teitlebaum, deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of African Affairs at the State Department. The U.S. was one of the first countries to set up a diplomatic office following Kenya’s independence in 1963. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaBy Rocky Asutsa

Kenya’s Ambassador to the U.S. Robinson Githae pledged to ensure the interests of Kenyans living in the U.S. He made that promise during celebrations to mark 51 years of Kenya’s independence at the ambassador’s residence in Maryland, affectionately called Kenya House.

“During my tenure, I hope to work closely with you to ensure that your interests are well represented, that you are well facilitated and that the full benefit of Kenya’s hardworking, enterprising, well-educated and patriotic diaspora is felt back at home,” Githae said.

The celebration attracted 200 Kenyans from all walks of life living in the Washington area. These included students and professionals. The crowd also featured friends of Kenya. The occasion helped some of them learn a few things about Kenya.

“I was reminded today that Lupita comes from Kenyan parents. Also, she was born in Mexico. I was also reminded of President Barack Obama’s ancestry. It was nice to see pictures of his visit to Kenya.” Dawne Young, a marketing and media consultant, said.

Lupita Nyong'o is a  Kenyan-Mexican  actress famous for her role in the film “12 Years a Slave.” She won an academy award for best supporting actress for her role and has been named the most beautiful woman by People magazine.

“The ambience was good. Enjoy great food and good company. I had a chance to meet people I hadn’t seen in a long while,” Kwamboka Omwenda, A U.N. Foundation staff member, said.

The party featured a band playing Kenyan music. Guests included ambassadors and the dean of the diplomatic corps.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Ali Badawy, a Kenyan living in D.C., left, Kwamboka Omwenga, U.N. Foundation staff, and Bernadette Francis a Tanzanian national, share a meal during the Kenyan independence day celebration. They said a move toward the diaspora vote is welcome. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaClick on photo to enlarge or download: Ali Badawy, a Kenyan living in D.C., left, Kwamboka Omwenga, U.N. Foundation staff, and Bernadette Francis a Tanzanian national, share a meal during the Kenyan independence day celebration. They said a move toward the diaspora vote is welcome. SHFWire photo by Rocky Asutsa“It was very enjoyable. I thought it was an engaging speech. It is key for the development of Kenya to engage other world powers, not just the U.S.,” Richard Brennan, an international business development consultant, said. “I always love kachumbari and nyama choma.”

Kachumbari is the Kenyan version of salsa, and nyama choma is roast beef.

The ambassador urged Kenyans in the U.S.to register and apply for new-generation national identity cards. This will help to ensure they will be able to vote in the 2017 elections. He noted that more U.S. firms are investing in Kenya. 

“I will endeavor to work closely with business organizations to ensure that even more Kenyan products enter the U.S. market and conversely, more U.S. firms join Coca-Cola, General Electric, Google, IBM, Proctor and Gamble and Honeywell, who have invested in Kenya,” Githae said.

 

Dec 11, 2014

By Lorain Watters

It’s a Saturday evening, and the year is 2072.

Lounging in my anti-gravity chair, I hold up my hand and watch the home screen of my communicator materialize out of thin air. The words “what would you like to do” appear on this opaque surface, ready to compute any desire I have.

I feel particularly productive. Nonchalantly, I say, “Laundry, order pizza and buy my mom a birthday present.”

My communicator displays “processing requests” and within minutes, a wash bot whirrs past with a bag of dirty laundry.

“Bing!” The oven goes off, and I smell pepperoni and sausage wafting from the kitchen. My communicator pings, bringing up a list of possible birthday presents for my mom. Sifting through the list, I pick one, approve the purchase and see – via a live cam – a gift bot deliver the present to my mom’s door.

As I close my hand, the screen disappears with a “whoosh,” and I make my way to the kitchen for dinner.

Sound a little far-fetched? Maybe it is. But if we look at where we are today, the science-fiction feel of the scenario may not be a thing of the distant future.  

The so-called sharing economy, in which people are sharing goods and services with each other via their mobile devices, is booming, and fast. Although it may be peer-to-peer now, the advances in technology will turn the sharing economy into one driven by technology, more so than what we have today.

If you need to get somewhere but don’t feel like overpaying for a taxi or waiting in 20-degree weather for a bus, you can order a ride with Uber or Lyft from your mobile app.

Always wanted to see that one Broadway show, but don’t have enough money to pay for a hotel? Airbnb lets you, essentially, couch surf with a host.

Craving authentic Mexican food? You can order food on Feastly, and someone will make you a home-cooked Mexican dish that you can eat in the chef’s home when it’s ready.

If you’re getting tired of your American friends and want to talk to someone more exotic, Wayfare lets you do just that. The app will let you talk to people across the globe, eventually leading to meet-ups in other countries.

All of these possibilities for new cultural experiences and new friendships can happen with your smartphone as the medium, which is great. But what happens when the feeling of experiencing something new begins to fade and people keep expecting the immediacy and ease of acquiring goods and services?

Earlier this year, the Nielsen Company asked people on the Internet what they thought of the sharing economy and got 30,000 responses from around the globe. Sixty-eight  percent said they would like to participate in the sharing economy. Whether food, transportation or doing laundry, people are adopting this new mentality of “sharing is caring.”

Despite this seemingly positive outlook for humanity finally getting the gist of what it means to share, it may end up proving more difficult than intended.

Taxi companies have already seen a decline in profits and revenues because of Uber and Lyft in San Francisco. Apartment complexes in New York have tried to prevent the growth of what they deem illegal hotels with the rise of Airbnb.

On top of this, data is gathered on everyone who uses these sharing services, raising privacy concerns. That happened when an Uber executive threatened to track journalists.

John Breyault, National Consumers League vice president, said these sharing services provide a sense of immediacy. Consumers are slowly accepting this as a norm, which is “unrealistic.”

Having the ability to attain anything we want at the touch of our fingertips can seem like a good thing, but the farther we go down that proverbial rabbit hole, the easier it will be to forget why these services started in the first place.

Instead of sharing goods peer-to-peer to experience the culture, the sharing economy will eventually become an economy in which physical interaction won’t be necessary anymore.

Society has already thought about and created easier ways to get things done – building drones and robots to fight wars, delivering packages, driving cars, dispensing cash and greeting guests at hotels.

These sharing services are not about sharing as much as they are to strengthen the dependency on technology. The future of that dependency is inevitable, and as long as technology continues to advance – in an attempt to make life easier for everyone – we will live life the same way we organize our Netflix queues. 

 

Dec 4, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: A group of reporters gathers in front of the Blue Room where the official White House Christmas tree stands 18 feet tall and nearly 12 feet wide. SHFWire photo by Kara MasonClick on photo to enlarge or download: A group of reporters gathers in front of the Blue Room where the official White House Christmas tree stands 18 feet tall and nearly 12 feet wide. SHFWire photo by Kara Mason By Kara Mason

The theme for this year’s White House decorations is “A Children’s Winter Wonderland.” But as I walked through the front door of the president’s home Wednesday afternoon for the media’s preview of the decorations, I discovered it was a winter wonderland for me, too. 

Twenty-six Christmas trees can be seen throughout the tour – including the massive 18 foot official tree in the Blue Room. There’s a huge gingerbread White House replica, countless wreaths and mechanical statues of first dogs Bo and Sunny.

There’s also the smell. The entire house smells like gingerbread and pine. First lady Michelle Obama said they could even smell it upstairs, where the family lives. It’s worthy of a Yankee Candle scent. 

For anybody who loves the holidays as much as I do, it’s definitely a winter wonderland. But I was experiencing it with a sea of other journalists, which was the icing on the cake, or Christmas cookie as it would be.  

Everybody was buzzing around taking photos and interviewing the volunteers as quickly as they could before racing off to the next elaborately decorated room. For a young journalist, it’s the most stimulating and inspiring environment.

Before being escorted to the decorations, journalists, photographers and cameramen lined up outside of the briefing room, and somehow I found myself next to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

In short, I’m a huge fan and was not cool about us meeting at all. I didn’t even say anything to her until we were being escorted out of the White House. I had no idea what to say to my idol.

“So, I’m an intern and I love your work,” I told her. “I listen to you every day.”

Yep, not cool at all. Probably the least cool I could have been.

We ended up talking for a few minutes over sugar cookies and cider outside of the White House.

I walked out through the gates after one of the most amazing Washington experiences in my time here: Being able to cover the holidays with people I idolize in a place that is amazing to begin with.

 

Dec 4, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Rocky Asutsa, daring the snow to hit him like African hailstones, during a brief snow shower in D.C SHFWire photo by Wesley JuhlClick on photo to enlarge or download: Rocky Asutsa, daring the snow to hit him like African hailstones, during a brief snow shower in D.C SHFWire photo by Wesley JuhlBy Rocky Asutsa

The past week has been eventful, and that’s putting it lightly. I made a turkey delivery, covered a protest, dared the snow, had my first Thanksgiving, and saved a bundle on Black Friday. But this was not all with one swing, and I almost got away unscathed.

It started with coverage of protests over the grand jury decision in Ferguson. Mo. Listening to the anger and frustration in the protesters’ voices was depressing.

Most of the protesters were young people, some in high school, across the racial divide. However, the upside was that they had suggestions for a way forward.

Then Thanksgiving came, and I remembered what one protester said: “There’s nothing to be thankful for.”

In my two months here, I’ve made some friends, and so I had two, wait, three of them invite me over for Thanksgiving dinner. No, I’m not that popular, at least not yet. On Thanksgiving eve I got a message from another friend who was going through a rough time. The news made my momentum toward a Thanksgiving crawl fizzle out. I couldn’t see myself going out and having a blast knowing someone else was having it rough.

So I spent the better part of Thanksgiving at home, brooding. Reading of terror attacks back home in Kenya didn’t help. But then I came across an article detailing the origin of Thanksgiving and in particular a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation on March 30, 1863:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.”

What was remarkable is that the announcement came in the midst of the U.S. Civil War! The history reminded me of the reason for the season. So I went out and had my first experience of an American Thanksgiving, complete with turkey and cranberry sauce. The family I dined with reminded me of my family back in Kenya – loud and fun-loving. Everyone had a story to tell, including their 90-year old nana, who told me all about her efforts toward making the crosswalks safer for seniors in Montgomery County, Md., just outside of Washington. The conversations were lively, and time flew.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I had a turkey experience that sent me to Red Hot and Blue in Lansdowne Center in Kingstowne, two train rides away to the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, Va. I had ordered a turkey to donate toward a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless people here in D.C. In my eagerness I had not seen that the turkey needed to be delivered hot and ready to serve. On the Friday before the dinner, I got an email reminder with “hot and ready” written in bold. After frantic back and forth emails and consulting, I placed an order for a precooked one and managed to deliver a 12-pound turkey in time. Phew!

As I settled back to my apartment after Thanksgiving dinner, I recounted the events of the day and was then reminded of "black Friday."

It comes the day after Thanksgiving. There are a number of stories about how it got the name. One is that in the rush to get deals, people would cause traffic accidents and even become violent. Another is that, in business terms, the day officially ushers  consumers into the Christmas shopping season and moves retailers’ accounts from the red to the black - loss to profit. 

I was curious to see this played out, especially after calls by some to boycott black Friday.

Thankfully, I managed to get a new camera unscathed and saved a ton in the process. But then, I  picked up a cold.

As I nursed my cold, I wondered if it was related to my first snowfall experience earlier in the week. I have since apologized for being unable to make it to the other two invites. They understood. Not bad for a weekend. As I near the end of this program, I am thankful that I get to carry all this with me. Indeed, there’s always a reason to give thanks. Hello December.

 

Nov 24, 2014

By Sean McMinn

That was fast.

Just a few weeks after dominating news cycles and inspiring more than a few questionably appropriate Halloween costumes, Ebola appears to be plummeting on the American public’s list of concerns.

Based on an analysis of Google searches for “Ebola,” “Ebola symptoms” and “Ebola virus,” Americans’ interest in the disease is almost back to pre-October levels.

The beginning of October is when Ebola-related searches really started to spike in the U.S. But it wasn’t the first time Ebola had crossed into the country – that was back in August when Dr. Kent Brantly was flown from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

What set off the mass interest in Ebola was a series of incidents in late September and early October. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man, was admitted to a Dallas hospital with Ebola and died there. He was the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Two days later, An American freelance journalist working in Liberia for NBC was diagnosed with the disease. And about a week after that, two nurses at the hospital that treated Duncan were confirmed to have caught Ebola.

Per the Google data, Americans started going online for answers en masse in mid-October, right around the time we learned the two nurses had Ebola. Searches for “Ebola symptoms” spiked, reaching their peak Oct. 16.

To determine the trends, Google uses a formula that compares the number of searches done for a specific term to the total number of searches done in that same time period. Within a given period, it compares each day's searches to the day with the highest proportion of searches. The highest day receives a score of 100/100, and each other day is given a score compared to it.

Until Sept. 30, searches for three Ebola-related terms were averaging about 3.5/100 on Google’s index. After spiking near 100 in October, they’ve fallen back down to about 4/100 during the last three days of data available.

One possible explanation is the lack of new patients being diagnosed in the U.S. Though Dr. Martin Salia died of Ebola Nov. 17 at Nebraska Medical Center, he was infected in Sierra Leone and was already extremely ill when he arrived in the U.S.

The most recent person to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. was a doctor in New York. Officials declared him Ebola-free in mid-November.

Meanwhile, infections in West Africa are still increasing, USA Today reported over the weekend. In the two-and-a-half weeks leading up to Nov. 21, the number of cases has jumped by 30 percent in Sierra Leone, 18 percent in Guinea and 8.5 percent in Liberia.

 

Nov 12, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx got the Concert for Valor off to a rousing start Tuesday after Hudson performed a solemn version of the National Anthem before a crowd of thousands on the National Mall. SHFWire wire photo by Wesley JuhlClick on photo to enlarge or download: Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx got the Concert for Valor off to a rousing start Tuesday after Hudson performed a solemn version of the National Anthem before a crowd of thousands on the National Mall. SHFWire wire photo by Wesley JuhlBy Wesley Juhl

I’ve never covered a concert before, so covering the Concert for Valor, an HBO Veterans Day special show Tuesday on the National Mall was an amazing experience.

Hundreds of thousands of people from the District and surrounding areas came to the free show. I was standing guard over my VIP seat in the bleachers, about a football field’s length from the stage.

For one, the weather was more beautiful than it’s been in weeks. Second, the show had an amazing lineup: the Black Keys, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Rihanna, Eminem and more.

I chose a seat toward the top of the bleachers where I had a good bead on the stage to shoot pictures of the show. I claimed the seat directly in front of me as well to preserve some legroom and have space to work. I quickly found the other people around me were also journalists who were turned down for backstage press passes. The college-radio journalists and freelancers quickly did the same thing, but no extra space would be given to any of us.

It seemed more VIP tickets had been given out than there were actually seats for. My island of misfit journalists stood elbow to elbow and sat cheek to cheek as we learned that there was no cellphone service. Those of us hoping to tweet or send out live updates or photos were out of luck.

As the other reporters settled in to wait to watch the show, I jealously guarded my spot. And as the other reporters sat and watched the show, I shot thousands and thousands of pictures of the show.

Most of them came out blurry. I wasn’t quite close enough, the performers wouldn’t stand still and the lighting was chaotic.

But I got some good ones.

Jessie J, performing her hit “Bang” and a cover of “Titanium,” sang wonderfully and was easily the easiest to photograph of the night. She harmonized with Jennifer Hudson like it was child’s play and knew how to cheat out toward the crowd and find her light.

Metallica, who performed some the band’s most iconic tracks, was hard to shoot, just because I thought my face was going to melt from all of their epic guitar licks.

But the hardest to shoot was Eminem, who did that fun song from his movie “8 Mile” and never once stood still. He wore a baseball cap and a hood, which made getting any good shots of him near impossible from where I stood.

HBO put on a great show, and the ocean of Washingtonians in attendance made it an incredible night.

I’ve never aspired to be an arts-and-entertainment reporter, but I had a blast and it was a wonderful celebration of an important U.S. holiday. And shooting the event was like a photography gauntlet, and I definitely learned from the mistakes that I made.

Covering the Concert for Valor made me think that perhaps entertainment reporters have it the worst, because they always have to work while everyone else is having fun.

 

Nov 7, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, D, motions to a supporter from the dais during her election night party. Bowser will be the second female mayor of D.C. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaClick on photo to enlarge or download: Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, D, motions to a supporter from the dais during her election night party. Bowser will be the second female mayor of D.C. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaBy Rocky Asutsa

WASHINGTON - This week Americans voted in the midterm elections. As a Kenyan away from home, I sought to draw parallels between how this important exercise of the democratic process is carried out here and in Kenya.

To get the feel of elections in the U.S, I went to observe actual voting and did an election night  crawl that took me to three parties.

At 11 a.m. the Oyster-Adams School voting center, or polling station as we call them back home, was my point of observation. A hundred yards from the station, I couldn’t see the long queues that characterize most Kenyan stations on polling day. 

Robert Black, precinct captain at Precinct 26 Oyster station polling place, explained that people came in early before going to work, hence the slow stream of voters.

Just like in Kenya, the law prohibits campaigning inside voting halls or going in with campaign material.

The biggest difference is that the U.S. conducts midterm elections, then presidential elections two years later, while Kenya conducts a general election that encompasses both local and presidential elections.

By selecting their preferred candidates on a two page ballot, D.C. voters elected both federal and local leaders. But the congressional delegate  D.C. choose cannot vote in Congress because it is a  federal district - the country's capital, not a state. D.C. also elected an attorney general, mayor,  members of state board of education in each ward, at-large members of the D.C. Council, a council chairman, four ward members and ballot Initiative #71.

The 2012 general election in Kenya was a whole new ball game, the first following the passing of the new constitution in 2010. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission conducted civic education on the four new slots on the ballot paper marked in different colors and with a fruit representing each of the political parties. The new offices were senators, governors, county woman representatives – reserved for women – and county assembly ward representatives for each of the 47 counties.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chair Issack Hassan responds to questions from Kenyans living in D.C. about the 2017 election at the Kenyan Embassy. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaClick on photo to enlarge or download: Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chair Issack Hassan responds to questions from Kenyans living in D.C. about the 2017 election at the Kenyan Embassy. SHFWire photo by Rocky AsutsaThe U.S. system uses home addresses to register voters and is the basis for ensuring people don’t vote more than once. In Kenya, indelible ink on the little finger ensures no one votes twice.

Although there were many differences between elections in the U.S. and in Kenya, on account of Kenya being a young democracy with technological and logistical hurdles yet to be surmounted, there were similarities.

For instance, campaign ads in Kenya feature politicians trying to gain votes by casting their opponents as less desirable for the job, something common in the U.S. as well. A sad trait is that a majority forgets promises the candidates made once they are elected, leading to a general mistrust of politicians.

IEBC commissioners were in Washington this week on invitation from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to observe the midterm elections.

The team signed a memorandum of understanding with IFES, agreeing that the two bodies will cooperate in tackling voter apathy and conducting civic education for Kenya’s 2017 elections. 

They met diaspora Kenyans in Washington on Thursday to discuss possibilities of a diaspora vote. The commissioners explained that it would require legislative action and policy change to enable the diaspora vote. They advised Kenyans who turned up to lobby their leaders back home.

My experience was pleasantly refreshing, especially when I found out about Initiative #71, which is effectively an opportunity for the people to vote on an issue, in this case legalization of marijuana. The party for supporters of the initiative took place at Meridian Pint, a pub, where patrons shouted, “Yes we cannabis!  Yes we cannabis!!” when they realized the initiative had been approved by voters, although it is  subject to congressional approval. State referendums don’t face congressional approval.

It doesn’t happen this way in Kenya. Referendums are usually proposed by politicians.

David Catania, I, vied for the D.C. mayoral seat and lost. His election party, at Longview Gallery, was laid back compared to that of his challenger.  Entry was straightforward, I didn’t need to produce an ID and everyone mingled over free meatballs and chicken kebobs. A side-eye was glued to the big screen adjacent to the media section as conversation flowed and results trickled in. Catania conceded gracefully, something I need to see more of in Kenyan politics, since accusations of fraud followed by protracted court cases characterize post-election reporting.

The election party of Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, D, at Howard Theatre was like a convention. The theater was packed, and there was a charge for drinks and food. The revolving concert-like multicolored lights did not help the photography, but the mood was jubilant.

Demont Pinder, 35, intrigued the few who could keep their eyes off the big screen spewing results, with his on-the-spot painting of Bowser. “I’ll give it to her as a gift,” Pinder said as he painted from Bowser’s picture on his phone.  

Bowser hit the podium and started by thanking her parents – who were in the audience – and family for their support.

“You told me to conduct myself with integrity … I don’t have the words enough to express my appreciation,” Bowser said. “I will make you proud.”

She appeared different from when I saw her a week earlier during campaign when she was posing for pictures with admirers. In some way she was less accessible to the ordinary guy, almost regal. Or maybe it was just the new security detail effect.

 

Nov 7, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Students wait to hear Bob Woodward deliver the keynote address Thursday night at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartClick on photo to enlarge or download: Students wait to hear Bob Woodward deliver the keynote address Thursday night at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartBy Ayana Stewart

Thousands of high school students poured into a giant ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel Thursday night to hear a journalism legend.

Bob Woodward was about to give the keynote address at the National High School Journalism Convention, a conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.

His speech didn't disappoint. He asked students how they report for their school publications and related it to his assignments as a reporter at The Washington Post.

I was fascinated as he discussed breaking the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, co-writing the bestselling book "All the President's Men" and sitting down with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

As I walked into the hotel's bathroom at the end of the event, a girl about 15 or 16 years old turned to me and said, "I felt like he would never stop talking."

I was bewildered. How is it possible to be a young person interested in journalism and not care about what Bob Woodward – a journalism hero if there ever was one – had to say about investigative reporting?

Still, this wasn't indicative of the response of the crowd. Most of the students around me listened raptly and asked insightful questions during the Q&A that followed his 35-minute talk. He answered questions about social media, telling students that he thinks reporting Watergate would be more or less the same today.

He warned against getting too comfortable using technology for interviews, telling students that too much reporting today is done via email.

"There's always a scene to go to," he said.

But it was interesting to see how a select number of students reacted to his presentation. The students behind me whispered throughout the end of the presentation, comparing the Watergate scandal to “Scandal,” the hit ABC TV show. Some teenagers kept their cellphones out throughout the talk.

My kneejerk reaction was to blame this response on teenagers being shallow and uninterested – when I was 16 years old, I probably wouldn't have cared much for Bob Woodward, either. I don't think it's that simple, though.

Based on the sheer number of tweets related to the convention, a good number of students were using social media to interact in their own way during Woodward's speech. And the line of students waiting to meet Woodward and get his autograph was quite impressive.

 

Nov 5, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser thanks supporters Tuesday night during a victory speech. She will replace Mayor Vincent Gray in January. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartClick on photo to enlarge or download: Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser thanks supporters Tuesday night during a victory speech. She will replace Mayor Vincent Gray in January. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartBy Ayana Stewart

Even before David Catania conceded D.C.’s mayoral race to Muriel Bowser Tuesday night, Bowser’s watch party was a celebration.

The Howard Theatre – illuminated with green lights, green signs and green shirts – was filled with Bowser supporters ordering drinks from a well-stocked bar, munching on finger foods from a buffet and dancing to loud pop music blaring through the speakers.

Once the D.C. Board of Elections started to release early vote results showing Bowser in the lead, friends, volunteers and supporters of the mayor-to-be whooped and cheered. “Muriel for Mayor” signs were passed around and subsequently waved in the air.

When Bowser took the stage to give her victory speech, the room became complete pandemonium. People pushed forward, hoping to get closer to Bowser, who wore cobalt blue, despite adopting green as her campaign color.

As she walked on stage, Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” played. Chants of “All eight wards,” one of Bowser’s campaign slogans, filled the room.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Supporters of D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser cheer Tuesday night upon finding out she was ahead of opponent Councilman David Catania. Bowser beat Catania by almost 19 points. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartClick on photo to enlarge or download: Supporters of D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser cheer Tuesday night upon finding out she was ahead of opponent Councilman David Catania. Bowser beat Catania by almost 19 points. SHFWire photo by Ayana StewartAlthough Bowser won a decisive victory, with 54 percent of the vote citywide, Catania beat her in three of the city’s eight wards.

After the hubbub of Election Day, I was more than exhausted as I filed my story. Still, people were dancing, cheering and singing when I left the theater after midnight.

People hugged, snapped photos and showed no signs of fatigue. I zigzagged my way through a large group of partyers doing the “Cha-Cha Slide” as I left the auditorium. 

After a 19-month campaign, this was the night many had likely dreamed of: Bowser claiming the mayoral seat by a healthy margin, continuing the District’s trend of electing African American Democrats.  

It was quite the party. As a journalist who didn’t follow District politics closely until I moved to Washington in September, it showed me both the importance of the mayoral seat to District residents and the sheer joy that comes with a political victory.

 

Oct 31, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Professor Karina Korostelina, director of the Program on History Memory and Conflict at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University presented her findings from “Political Insults” on Thursday. SHFWire photo by Wesley JuhlClick on photo to enlarge or download: Professor Karina Korostelina, director of the Program on History Memory and Conflict at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University presented her findings from “Political Insults” on Thursday. SHFWire photo by Wesley JuhlBy Wesley Juhl

Political insults may mean as much about the group issuing them as the insult itself.<--break->

Professor Karina Korostelina trained in social psychology in Ukraine and is the director of the Program on History Memory and Conflict at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

Korostelina, an expert in social identity and identity-based conflicts, presented the findings from her new book to students and academic colleagues Thursday. “Political Insults” is the first study to focus on insults among nations and studies international events, including North Korea's declaration of war against the U.S., territorial disputes about uninhabited islands near Japan and Russia’s Pussy Riot case.

Politically motivated insults are often symbolic and can escalate into significant, often violent clashes, Korostelina said.

When young Ukrainians fried eggs on the eternal flame near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ukraine, it was perceived as an insult by many and deepened divisions within the country, which has faced multiple violent conflicts recently.

Through examples like this, Korostelina identified and analyzed different types of insults, adding that the type of insult is indicative of the offenders’ motivation. She identified six types of insults:

  • Identity insults assign negative qualities to the group being insulted.
  • Projection insults justify a group’s actions by projecting negative characteristics onto the group being insulted.
  • Divergence insults enhance the differences between groups and seek to alienate the group being insulted.
  • Relative insults deny the group being insulted a right or privilege.
  • Power insults display of power meant to decrease the power of the group being insulted.
  • Legitimacy insults seek to categorize the group being insulted as illegitimate.

While this kind of research is in its infancy, Korostelina’s social theories provide a fascinating framework for interpreting current events, especially political news.

Let me try to apply this model to some U.S. politics.

When Sen. Ted Cruz, D-Texas, filibustered attempts to fund President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act last year – famously reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” – it had elements of multiple types of insults.

It could be perceived as a divergence insult, because it decisively distanced Republican senators from the Democrats, strengthening us-and-them messages. It’s a power insult, because Cruz reminded Democrats they didn’t have the power to stop the hours-long rant. It was a relative insult to anyone who actually wanted that time used to make legislation.

Similar interpretations could be done with many of the White House’s actions, often perceived as insults by congressional Republicans.

When viewed through such a framework, the content of the insult may have less meaning than the social motivations of the insult. Or do the offender’s political intentions enhance the content of the insult?

Either way, studies in social dynamics, such as Korostelina’s, may help to illuminate the political theaters of the world in fresh ways.

 

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