Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Baroque King

There's a wonderful segment on art and architecture on the History Channel that I enjoy watching.  The other night the host focused on King Charles.  He had lured Anthony van Dyck to London to be the court artist, and he painted numerous portraits of Charles, the royal family and other nobles during his time in England.  The host noted that van Dyck was favored because he usually applied a little artistic surgery to his subjects, making them look more elegant than they really were. This triptych was fascinating.  Unfortunately, van Dyck died young, replaced by William Dobson, who was an excellent portrait artist in his own right.  Dobson tended to be less flattering, which I suppose is why he ended up in the almshouse.  Of course, it was this extravagance that led to Charles' undoing, but as the host noted, Charles is responsible for bringing Baroque to England.

This is a fragment of a larger painting in the National Galleries of Scotland.  Artist unknown.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Books

I'm reading an interesting book right now:  American Canopy about the importance of trees in the development of the nation.

I also see that Henry Wiencek has finally released his Jefferson book.  I guess enough time has passed since the book on the Hemings family.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Red Line

One can only imagine that this little presentation was for American consumption, as Bibi Netanyahu illustrates his red line.  As a result of all this bellicose talk this past week in regard to Iran, oil prices have shot up, thanks to the jittery commodities market.  Obama offered a tough but well measured speech, which of course was assailed by the Republicans, notably Allen West, who felt that Obama should have invoked the "Angel of Death" on Islamicists.  And, Romney and Ryan wasted no time decrying Obama's defense cuts, noting the jobs that would be lost in Virginia.   Ryan had supported this bi-partisan measure back in 2011 as a means of reducing the deficit, and actually included defense cuts in his Republican lauded deficit reduction plan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Commemorating the National Park Service

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a stamp collector.  Here's one of my favorites - a 1934 impression of Mesa Verde.  The Postal Service came out with a series on National Parks that year.  A friend called my attention to this fantastic monument.  I had the good fortune of visiting Mesa Verde back in 1987.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Becoming Abraham Lincoln

Dainel Day-Lewis certainly cuts a striking image of Lincoln for the upcoming film due out in November.  The biopic is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, so one doesn't have to worry about Lincoln stalking vampires in this one, although it looks like Spielberg applies a rather heavy hand.

I hadn't realized Robert Redford had made a movie on the assassination of Lincoln, entitled The Conspirator, just last year.  Here's a trailer.

American Century

Count how many times Romney says "American Century" in the second clip from this huffpost link.  He seems to think we are losing our place in the world and criticizes China for trying to become an economic and military superpower, as if there is only room for one in the world.  His language is bellicose, and his criticisms of Obama harsh, which is why Obama point blank asked if Romney is trying to incite another war.

It seems that Romney is letting himself be steered by the religious conservative rump of the party, rather than by the neoconservatives, which is why Bill Kristol and others have called him out in recent weeks, especially for his remarks during the unrest in Benghazi.   Huntsman has repeatedly questioned Romney's foreign policy statements, but it seems Huntsman remains firmly in the Republican camp, given his political aspirations for 2016.  Here is Huntsman recently on Morning Joe.  Scroll past the prattle over Mike Barnicle's pink shirt.

I keep hoping that at some point we can come to terms with our notion of American exceptionalism and the devastating consequences of having adopted this as a post-WWII foreign policy.  We made the 20th century the "American Century."  We carry on the Truman Doctrine, having substituted "Islamicism" for Communism.  Obama has tried to strike a balance in his foreign policy, but it is one that doesn't seem to be resonating either in North Africa, the Middle East or in the United States.  As a result, Romney has chosen to incite more unrest in the electorate, both at home and abroad with his outlandish statements.

Friday, September 21, 2012

“Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home--but not for housing. They are strong for labor--but they are stronger for restricting labor's rights. They favor minimum wage--the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all--but they won't spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine--for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing--but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.”

This quote is attributed to Harry S. Truman.  I haven't done any fact-checking yet to make sure it isn't one of those "reconstituted quotes" some of our friends on the right are so fond of.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Salem, 1692

The events in Arthur Miller's The Crucible took place much later but Barry mentioned witch trials occurring in early colonial Massachusetts.   I was surprised Anne Hutchinson didn't find herself burnt at a stake given her outspoken views.  Instead, she briefly joined Roger Williams in Providence before her sad fate at the hands of the Siwanoy warriors, as a result of the fallout of the Dutch-Indian wars.   Miller saw his play as an allegory of the McCharthyism of the 50s, so the events depicted shouldn't be taken literally.  I hadn't realized The Crucible was made into a movie with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.

Happy Birthday, New York Times

Today marks the 161st anniversary of the New York Times, which began with this first page in 1851.  You can even get a collection of Complete Front Pages through 2009.  Of course, we all remember our days in the old NYT forums, and how these forums were paved over to make way for the current blogs, but I still like perusing the old rag from time to time.

Bench Wars

An interesting battle has erupted over Antonin Scalia's new book, Reading Law.  Seems highly respected Judge Richard Posner, of the 7th US Court of Appeals, took exception to Supreme Court Justice Scalia's "textual originalism," noting that Scalia often equivocates in his rulings.  Posner makes some very fine arguments in his review of the book, while Scalia fumes over these criticisms.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

October Surprise

It seems the October Surprise came early this year with the attacks on embassies in Egypt and Libya.  The attack on the consulate in Benghazi has proven particularly deadly with 4 confirmed American deaths, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens (pictured above), whose fleeing car was struck by a rocket bomb.  No doubt this will test the Obama administration in the following weeks, as similar "surprises" have previous Presidents in the last month of their terms.

Wikipedia dates the October Surprise back to 1972 and Kissinger's statement, "Peace is at hand," in reference to the Vietnam War, but it only served to enhance Nixon's lead in the polls.  President Carter was in the final stages of negotiating a Iran hostage release before the 1980 election, but it seems events conspired against him.  Gary Sick broke a story to the New York Times that the Reagan campaign had negotiated a secret deal with the Iranian government to delay the release, which occurred less than an hour after Reagan's inauguration.

In this case, a movie, Innocence of Muslims, outraged protesters.  It was released earlier this year, with the notorious Terry Jones' backing, but only recently translated into Arabic and made available on Youtube after failing to generate any interest at movie theaters.  It was picked up by an Egyptian television channel over the weekend.  The Israeli-born filmmaker, Sam Bacile, is a notorious anti-Muslim, who now hides from scrutiny.  Apparently, an embassy official at the Egyptian embassy in Cairo apologized for the film, which Mitt Romney was quick to seize upon and make into an issue.  Of course, it doesn't take much to set off Islamic fundamentalists, but this seemed a particularly well-timed incident.


I want to thank all those looking in on this blog.  I see we have followers from Lithuania, Russia, France, UK, China, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Thailand this week.  We are a bit ethnocentric here.  Not enough said about Central and South American history.  Always open to suggestions!

Please feel free to comment.  The posts are open.

Thinking in Pictures

The ongoing battle between capital and labor brought to mine John Sayles' strong film, Matewan, from 1987.    It got quite a bit of attention and resulted in a book which showed how Sayles approached the Matewan Massacre of 1920.

There aren't too many American films that take the point of view of labor, at least not in recent years, but it was interesting to see that the main characters in The Hunger Games came from a coal mining community similar to one you would find in West Virginia.  Seems that Suzanne Collins has a sense of history.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In the Shadow of No Towers

It seems Americans will never let go of 911, as they have never forgotten the Iran hostage crisis on 1980.  There are any number of posts on facebook, each trying to capture a more poignant moment than the one before.  At least, the rage finally appears to have subsided.  The memorial, which opened last year on the tenth anniversary, seems to have eased some anxieties.  But, I really don't get the feeling most Americans have come to term with the horrific event, at least not in any meaningful way.

You hear the Republicans calling for even more national defense, and Muslims remain the principal target of Tea Party rants, like this one in Arizona.  Many candidates went so far as to make Sharia law a campaign issue, with more than 20 states considering anti-Sharia legislation.  I would think they would be more worried about the increased call for Biblical law.

We seem a nation riddled by our own doubts, prejudices and fears, which is what Art Spiegelman took aim at in his large format book, In the Shadow of No Towers.  Odd, when you consider the firepower we have, not to mention the economic might.  Yet, an insecurity complex persists, which I suppose is why 911 will resonate for many years to come.  We are not immune to terrorist violence, and no laws or no walls is going to make us any less vulnerable.  As Ron Paul said to a less than receptive crowd, we should live by the Golden Rule.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unsquare Dance

On a brighter note, here is a little piece of Americana by Dave Brubeck.

Fear and Loathing of Obama

It seems the dream of a Post-Racial America has yet to emerge.  I get a kick out of articles like this one that try to dance around the race issue in this campaign.  Jesse Washington seems to go out of his way to present both sides of the issue, when it is so damn apparent that race is at the center of the Republican fear and loathing of Obama.  It's as Alec Baldwin tweeted, "If Obama was white, he'd be up by 17 points."

The Republicans, and in particular the Tea Party, have tried a number of strategies to gainsay Obama from the notorious birther argument, to the current attempt to link him to a black poet and socialist activist, Frank Marshall Davis, but at the core is race.  Here is what I get when I type in obama racist political cartoons.  Quite a sampling.  One is uglier than the next.  This one drew the most ire.

Young Republicans like to claim they are too young to be haunted by the specter of racism, but that strikes me as a rather lame argument as well.  It is quite clear that the entire modus operandi of the Tea Party, by association the Republican Party, has been to paint Obama as the "Other."

This comes out in many of Mitt Romney's stump speeches.  His attitude has been one of insolence toward  President Obama, as if he doesn't deserve to be in the White House to begin with.  This was palpably present during the so-called Republican debates, when the only candidate to show any deference toward the President was Jon Huntsman.  Herman Cain even went so far as to project himself as a "real black man."

The irony is the Republican Party stood for racial equality and women's suffrage at one point.  The Radical Republicans of the 1860s and 70s pushed for Civil Rights legislation across the board, and managed to get three Constitutional amendments through Congress that explicitly gave the black man the right to vote.  Sadly, universal suffrage wouldn't come until much later.  But, it seems this sense of history is lost on present-day Republicans, who absorbed the Dixiecrats in the wake of the Reagan Revolution.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Stomach and the Body

Back when all the parts of the human body did not function in unison as is the case today, each member of the body had its own opinion and was able to speak. The various members were offended that everything won by their hard work and diligent efforts was delivered to the stomach while he simply sat there in their midst, fully at ease and just enjoying the delights that were brought to him. Finally, the members of the body revolted: the hands refused to bring food to the mouth, the mouth refused to take in any food, and the teeth refused to chew anything. In their angry effort to subdue the stomach with hunger, the various parts of the body and the whole body itself completely wasted away. As a result, they realized that the work done by the stomach was no small matter, and that the food he consumed was no more than what he gave back to all the parts of the body in the form of blood which allows us to flourish and thrive, since the stomach enriches the blood with digested food and then distributes it equally throughout the veins.

The students in my world literature class read a selection of Aesop's Fables this week.  We read the translation by Laura Gibbs which is what the Norton Anthology uses.  I was not familiar with "The Stomach and the Body," but it immediately brought to mind the Republicans' disdain for the government.  

Happy Birthday, Star Trek

Hard to believe it has been 46 years.  The first episode, The Man Trap, aired on Sept. 8, 1966, or Stardate 1513.1.  Quite a celebration with even Google having fun with its letterhead.  The only complete episode I was able to find was on Vimeo, but it is in Castellano.  Oh well!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Inside the bin Laden House

Another book that appears to have been written in the heat of the moment is No Easy Day, the much talked about memoirs of an ex-Navy Seal who was part of the team that raided the bin Laden compound.  Despite all the protestations from the Pentagon, it seems this book will go a long way to clear up the matter, as there has been much circulating in the blogosphere that diminishes Obama's role in calling the shots.  These Swift Boat ads seemed to have missed the mark this time, thanks largely to Admiral William McRaven's defense of the administrative decision.

The Price of Politics

In many respects, Bob Woodward has become a political hatchet man with his well timed books that take aim at leading politicians without offering much in the way of insight except a few tantalizing bits and pieces picked up by news blogs.  Here he goes again with his 17th book, this one on the debt deal collapse, saying,

"It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama." 

I hope he goes a little deeper than this in his book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Democratic Convention kicks off

The Democratic National Convention certainly is more inclusive, not just in the young fresh faces like Julian Castro in his inspiring keynote speech, but in a platform that actually embraces the country, as addressed by Cory Booker in his rousing speech.  Capped off by a great speech by Michelle Obama, and a good round up by Kal Penn.  What a difference a convention makes!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Power and Glory

John Wycliffe reading his translation of the New Testament

Here is a good account of the making of the King James Bible, the so-called "Authorized Version," by Adam Nicolson.  I think the book was called God's Secretaries in the American edition, so as not to confuse it with Graham Greene's classic novel I presume.  I've long wondered what the inherit differences are between it and the Geneva edition, largely translated by William Whittingham.  This was apparently the Bible the original  Pilgrims brought with them because of their understandable disdain for King James.  It was apparently the most popular English edition at the time, later to be supplanted by the KJV.  Don't hear much about the earlier Wycliffe edition, but here it is courtesy of the Wesley Center.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

City Upon A Hill

Barry recited part of John Winthrop's famous sermon in his presentation at Octavia Bookstore.  Here is a copy of Winthrop's full speech he gave before departing on the Arabella in 1630.  Here is a google preview of a biography of John Winthrop by Francis Bremer.