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Friday Grab Bag: Getting Behind Obama and McCain

What is it with the back of Barack Obama's head? I've noticed that news photographers love it. The current Newsweek is the latest publication to feature the side of the Democratic candidate's head that doesn't have a mouth, nose or eyes:


I've seen similar photos elsewhere. It's become a trope during coverage of this campaign. So, what's up? Part of it might be that Obama is simply recognizable from that angle. If so, why? It doesn't seem like the shape of his skull is that distinctive. In fact, it seems well proportioned and nicely symmetrical. Of course, there are the ears.

His ears are certainly a prominent feature, although to my eye they look bigger from the front than the back.

Or is it simply that Obama possesses one huge distinctive feature in the context of presidential politics: that he's African American. Is that a rare enough thing that in any political setting--especially against a backdrop of balloons or a crowd or a huge American flag--a black head will instantly be "read" as Obama's?

I think there have been some white politicians that this sort of shorthand would work for, Ronald Reagan, for instance. With that shock of blue-black hair--resembling the saturated Benday dots of a comic book hero--he could be recognized from the behind. I haven't seen nearly as many shots of John McCain from the back as Obama, but there is one on the front page of today's Washington Post:


Women politicians--like women generally--have more interesting hairdos than men and so we can tell a Hillary Clinton from a Sarah Palin from behind. What's interesting about images of Palin, though, is what some photographers choose to focus on:


The caption doesn't even mention Palin's name, but a well-turned ankle and a peeptoe pump are all we need to know it's her.

BritNews RoundUp
When I lived in England I delighted in the interesting ways the British press covered the, um, news and the odd stories that came from that island nation. I'll try to keep you entertained informed with this weekly feature. According to the Daily Mail, an English eBay customer is being threatened with a libel lawsuit after leaving bad feedback after a transaction. Chris Read said he received the wrong cell phone and that it was chipped and scratched. Vendor Joel Jones says he wants the negative comments retracted. Wrote the Mail: "Mr Jones claims the unfavourable comments have damaged his business. The legal missive goes on to warn Mr Read that if he fails to retract his comments he will be dragged to court where he faces costs, lawyers' fees and damages."

Michael Gambon, the 68-year-old English actor who plays Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies, still has some magic in his wand. According to the Daily Telegraph, his girlfriend is pregnant. Also in the Telegraph: "'Little terrifying faces' discovered on broccoli". Another reason to avoid broccoli?

Readers of the Guardian have been supporting an effort by British athiests to get their viewpoint on the sides of buses. The ad campaign will start soon, featuring signs on the vehicles that read: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Probably? Hedging their bets a bit?

Some of these photos from the Mail of unsafe business practices might make you say a prayer.

Finally, this story comes out of John Hopkins but I don't remember reading it in The Post. The BBC reports there may be a link between the distinctive smell of our flatulence and low blood pressure. Pull my finger, lower your blood pressure?

The Chat in the Hat
Talk back to me today at noon Washington time during the return of my weekly online discussions. Just click here to submit a question.

As always, if you have any ideas for columns or blog items, drop me a line. Thanks for reading.

By John Kelly  |  October 24, 2008; 8:04 AM ET
 | Tags: Britnews roundup, politics  
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Maybe we should start looking at the back of Dubyas head. But on second thought.....

Posted by: simonsaid | October 24, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

About the No God campaign in England, which Richard Dawkins, hardly unexpectedly, has both endorsed and contributed to, the Anglican Church has responded that Christianity (in its version anyway) is not opposed to all enjoyment. C.S. Lewis made that point in "The Screwtape Letters" many years ago.

Posted by: cktirumalai | October 24, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"Finally, this story comes out of John Hopkins but I don't remember reading it in The Post."

Who is John Hopkins?

Posted by: staxowax | October 24, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

staxowax: you may be calling attention to the way John Kelly has phrased his point but Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, has been renowned for medical research for decades. It should of course be "Johns Hopkins", for whom the University is named.

Posted by: cktirumalai | October 24, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

About the Obama headshots, its sort of reminscent of the famous portrait in profile of JFK and RFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think its just an indicator of how enamored the camera is with the Senator from Illinois.

Regarding "self-flatulation" for lowering blood pressure, I wonder what that diet lady on BBC-A who smells her lients "poo" would think of that.

Posted by: mfromalexva | October 24, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Oops. Did I type "John Hopkins"? I meant "Johns Hopkins." At least I didn't type "John Hopkin."

Posted by: JohnFKelly | October 24, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

cktirumalai: "It should of course be 'Johns Hopkins', for whom the University is named."

My (indirect) point exactly!

Posted by: staxowax | October 24, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

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