history


Assessing the Bush years | The frat boy ships out | The Economist
I know I said I would try to be more positive in my entries but I just couldn’t help myself. On this day of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, I find it strangely comforting that a publication as conservative as the The Economist is more than willing to comment on the deficiencies of “W” and his administration and legacy.

Mr Bush relied heavily on a small inner core of advisers. The most important of these was Dick Cheney, who quickly became the most powerful vice-president in American history. Mr Cheney used his mastery of bureaucracy to fill the administration with his protégés and to control the flow of information to the president. He pushed Mr Bush forcefully to the right on everything from global warming to the invasion of Iraq; he also fought ruthlessly to expand the power of the executive branch, which he thought had been dangerously restricted since Watergate.

The two other decisive figures were Karl Rove, Mr Bush’s longtime political guru, and Donald Rumsfeld, his defence secretary. Mr Rove was obsessed by pursuing his dream of a rolling Republican realignment, subordinating everything to party politics. Mr Rumsfeld regarded the Iraq war not, like his boss, as an exercise in democracy-building, but as an opportunity to test the model of an “agile military” that he was pioneering at the Pentagon.

The fruit of all this can be seen in the three most notable characteristics of the Bush presidency: partisanship, politicisation and incompetence. Mr Bush was the most partisan president in living memory. He was content to be president of half the country—a leader who fused his roles of head of state and leader of his party. He devoted his presidency to feeding the Republican coalition that elected him.

This is a great article and well worth the read. It’s refreshing to read a point of view from outside the states.

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Exhibition Review – ‘One Life – The Mask of Lincoln’ – The Faces of Lincoln, as Revealed in Books and a New Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – NYTimes.com

It’s been a while since I shamelessly plugged anything but I couldn’t resist today. This is a wonderfully positive review that mentions the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition called ONE LIFE: The Mask of Lincoln. It’s a small show but packed with great images of the man. 2009 is the year of Lincoln celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth so there is Lincoln stuff all over the country. Here is a quote from the article:

Two white plaster masks appear next to each other in a display case at the National Portrait Gallery here. One shows a middle-aged face with a firm, grim look — perhaps because the subject had to control his breathing as the sculptor waited for the substance to harden. The plaster eyes are scooped out, but you can glimpse the interior man in the subtle musculature of the jaw, the high cheekbones, the expansive, smooth brow. He is determined, vigorous and (we know) ambitious.

The other mask is of the same man’s face, about five years later. It seems more of a death mask than one taken from life. Those years — between 1860, when this man, Abraham Lincoln, was beginning his campaign for president of the United States, and February 1865, when he was just two months away from being murdered — seem to have carved the flesh from his cheeks, hollowed out the eye sockets more decisively than any sculptor’s thumb, and dug lines and pockets in aging, sallow flesh.

This modest exhibition of 30 images of Lincoln at the Portrait Gallery — “One Life: The Mask of Lincoln” — may turn out to be an understated highlight of Lincoln’s coming bicentennial year, which promises a full harvest of academic conferences, exhibitions, the reopening of Ford’s Theater and scores of new books, many offering revelations from freshly plumbed archives and analyses of figures major and minor. But the juxtaposition of these masks may remain one of the most potent, graphic images of the effects of the crucial years they frame.

If you are in DC (possibly to see the newly re-opened National Museum of American History), please visit the National Portrait Gallery and take in this lovely exhibition.

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Nov. 14, 1889: Around the World in Only 72 Days

Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, was the prototype of the independent woman: “one tough broad” in newspaper parlance. She came to the business after the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch read her angry rebuttal to what would today be called a sexist editorial by one of the paper’s columnists. The editor was duly impressed and, after tracking her down, offered her a reporting job. It was there she acquired her pen name, Nellie Bly, which she carried with her for the rest of her life.

After traveling to Mexico and attacking the Mexican government for corruption in a series of stories, she returned to the United States and moved to New York, where she eventually found a job with Joseph Pulitzer‘s World. She covered women’s rights issues but also specialized in investigative stories. In fact, she’s often credited with inventing the practice of investigative reporting.

Inspired by Jules Verne’s wildly popular 1873 novel, Around the World in 80 Days, Bly proposed to her editors at the New York World that she undertake the same trip to try and break the fictional record. Traveling by steamer, train, rickshaw and any number of other conveyances, she did — by eight days.

What an amazing feat for a woman of her time when most women rarely traveled in public without an escort or chaperone! I picked this item to note in honor of my mom. She was born 80 years ago today. Unfortunately, she died 3 years ago. Love you, Mom!

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NPR : StoryCorps: ‘Listening Is an Act of Love’

Every once in a while I listen to NPR in the morning. If I’m lucky, I get to here a recording from the StoryCorps, an independent project recording stories/oral histories around the country. I truly wish my parents could have participated since they both had stories that were both individual and yet universal.
I believe it’s crucial that we tell the next generation our stories and those of the past generations. It’s through stories that people are truly remembered – videos and photographs are not enough.

“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation—reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.”
-Dave Isay, Founder, StoryCorps

You can listen to the StoryCorps podcast through iTunes or listen to storys through the StoryCorps website and blog.

Here is a spot that ABC did about Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps. He wrote/compiled the book, Listening is an Act of Love, sited above:

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Facing Down The Status Quo – washingtonpost.com

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is slowly lifting the curtain on how it will approach the multitude of stories about African Americans. The museum is years away from opening on the Mall. Today its first exhibition opens at its Smithsonian sister the National Portrait Gallery, whose rich materials it scoured to present images from the past 151 years.

“Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits,” surveys 100 photographs, from a 1856 ambrotype, an early technique of photography, of Douglass to a 2004 snapshot of musician and composer Wynton Marsalis with a microphone in front of him, not a trumpet.

The faces are powerful and gorgeous. Their poses telegraph dignity and warmth. Their stories tell how they made steps forward as individuals to forge an image of a resilient, talented people.

We received a great review from the Washington Post for the exhibition that opened last Friday.

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Sept. 4, 1888: Photography Leaps Into the Late 19th Century

1888 George Eastman receives a patent for the first roll-film camera and registers the name “Kodak.”

What he would think of the about digital photography? He was right that everybody would take photographs one day but I don’t think he envisioned the world of camera phones and paparazzi. I love snapshop photography but it’s certainly generated a plethora of crappy images.

Personally, I’m glad that roll-film is still available even though it is a great polluter. I still have at least 5 roll-film cameras including two “brownies” with movable bellows that use 120 size film.

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