Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Notes from the Field

Every week, we’ll get a look at book selling and culture through the eyes of our field reps. This week, with our “inaugural” piece, Bob Barnett of Louisville on his Obama Inauguration “Ticket Gate” experience.

Looking at the Inauguration

Bob Barnett

GeoEye-1 (aka the Google satellite) is the world’s highest resolution imagery satellite, and it views the Earth from 423 miles above the surface. On January 20, at 11:19 AM EDT, GeoEye-1 was poised over Washington DC and snapped an image of the National Mall area, only a few minutes before the beginning of the Inaugural ceremonies. GeoEye-1 can distinguish objects as small as 16 inches, so with the proper zoom control, one could look at the Inaugural image and see me, my wife, and 4 year old son. We had travelled there from our home in Louisville. We were lucky enough to have received prized “Blue” tickets (courtesy of my in-laws’ notorious Republican congresswoman). We were ready to experience the moment. We arrived at the designated Metro stop at 8:30AM. We rode the escalator upwards to a brisk wind-chilly 15 degrees F and thousands of people.

To find us on the satellite image, one would need to look not in the secure, standing room Blue area, but in the mass of people standing outside the gate to the security checkpoint for the Blue area. That’s right. We were victims of ‘Ticket-Gate’. After waiting in a ‘line’ for almost 3 hours, we were unable to reach the promised, secured area for viewing the event.

At first, a spokesman for the Capitol Police suggested that no ticket folks were turned away. Videos on YouTube, photos on Flickr, posts on Twitter and texts and emails to the Washington Post contradicted this notion. The Secret Service had no comment. Next, a spokesperson suggested the areas were filled, and they had not counted on the wearing of ‘puffy’ outerwear by ticket holders. (For more details on the fiasco, go here.)

And then came the clear view from GeoEye-1. Not only were many of the ticketed areas far from filled, but there were also enormous crowds outside the Blue, Silver and Purple gates at 11:19 AM. (GeoEye-1 could not see the thousands stranded in an underground tunnel for over 6 hours). Of course, anyone familiar with the brilliant Cambridge book, Our Changing Planet, knows that satellite imagery is one of the best ways to interpret what is happening on our fragile planet.

Don’t get me wrong. It was wonderful to be in DC during the Inaugural festivities. Despite the problems inflicted on thousands of people, a cool million plus were able to share the moment at the mall. (We missed the swearing-in, but caught the address in a Best Buy showroom.) There were no arrests. Strangers offered hand warmers to our chilled son. It was America at its flag-waving best – hopeful, tolerant, exuberant. It was also an example of how the world and its problems are being documented in the twenty-first century — from the ground level view of iPhones to the sharp, discerning eye of a satellite 423 miles overhead.

Latest Comments

Have your say!