What does the new Oval Office say?

Somewhat strangely, when President Obama took office, he opted to eschew tradition and not change anything about the decor of the Oval Office. Well, while the president was on vacation last week, he finally put his own personal stamp on the office. The Oval got new furniture, a new rug and new wallpaper. He kept the pictures of Washington and Lincoln, as well as the desk (“The Resolute”).

What’s interesting, however, is not the new decor (stately, yet bland—I actually really liked the old carpet) is that he chose to have the carpet bordered by some historical quotations. However, the list is not surprisingly in the least:

  • “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Towards Justice” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • “Government of the People, By the People, For the People” – President Abraham Lincoln
  • “No Problem of Human Destiny Is Beyond Human Beings” – President John F. Kennedy
  • “The Welfare of Each of Us Is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us” – President Theodore Roosevelt

Two Democrats, two Republicans and a civil rights leader. Sounds about right.

No more printed Oxford English Dictionary?

CC photo by Flickr user thrig

Sad news for bibliophiles: The Oxford English Dictionary as we know it may never be printed (in full) again. Nigel Portwood, the CEO of the Oxford University Press, told the Sunday Times (behind a pay-wall, damn you Murdoch), via the Telegraph:

“The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of per cent a year,” Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of OUP, told the Sunday Times. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he said: “I don’t think so.”

The current printed dictionary, the second edition, which was released in 1989, comes in at 20 volumes: over 21,000 pages of definitions, usages, spellings, pronunciations and histories. Electronically, though, the whole thing comes in at a scant 540 megabytes, which would fit easily on just one CD-ROM (roughly five-and-a-half of them would fit on one of the new Kindles).

The third edition will likely find its way to some kind of internet subscription service. After 21 years of work, the 80 lexicographers working on the revision have completed only entries “A” through “Rococoesque,” (What do you mean, “rococoesque” isn’t in your dictionary, Firefox?) a rate of 0.83 letters per year. So, who knows if it’s even relevant news now. Indeed, the Oxford University Press quickly released a response to outcries that some folks’ favorite tome would be discontinued:

No decision has yet been made on the format of the third edition. It is likely to be more than a decade before the full edition is published, and a decision on format will be taken at that point.

Great Moments in Campaign Advertising: What has Nixon done for me?

Since you may have never seen a Hubert Humphrey advertisement. For a little background, most of Humphrey’s advertising was negative, since he was in the uncomfortable position of being the sitting vice president in a terribly unpopular administration (and had been nominated above other Democrats who were far more popular, despite winning zero primaries). So, the general aim of the campaign was the paint Nixon as out of the loop and untrustworthy.

Here, we see a tactic that pre-dated Karl Rove by decades. Nixon’s biggest strength, at least in his last run in 1960, was his experience. But, eight years out of office, and Humphrey’s campaign could paint this as a weakness: If he was so experienced, what has he ever done? However, Humphrey’s weakness, being part of the Johnson administration, which oversaw the escalation of the unpopular war in Vietnam, was too much to overcome, and Nixon won handily, enough so that George Wallace (American Independent Party) winning the South had no effect.

New York Times Columnist Line of the Day

If you’re one of the four-or-so frequent readers of this here blog, chances are you also occasionally check out the New York Times op-ed page. You may even know the names: Thomas “Friedman’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose” Friedman, Gail “The Colander” Collins, Nicholas “The Dark Crystal” Kristof, &c. This is a daily feature dedicated to these folks: one line that is either awesome, funny, insightful, intelligent, ridiculous, or utterly divorced from reality. I hope you enjoy.

Today’s is from David “Yawny-Pants” Brooks, who in his column “Nation Building Works,” actually encapsulates the fragile and tenuous victory in Iraq very well in one line:

Guns have been put in closets, but not destroyed.

Morning Constitutional – Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Good morning, folks. Bristol Palin and David Hasselhoff are going dancing. Now, your morning constitutional:

The war is over.

Reliable security, a functioning moderate West Bank government, and a growing Palestinian economy are encouraging signs as preparations intensify for a Palestinian-Israeli summit at the White House on Thursday.

Mexico fires 3,200 police officers as it invokes new rules to weed out corruption.

Hurricane Earl, now at Category 4 strength after edging Puerto Rico, moves toward the U.S. east coast and could affect the Carolina coast later this week.

As the military deals with more overweight and physically unfit recruits, a new fitness training regime works on agility and balance training.

A report shows that women will bear the burden of 72% of Britain’s budget cuts.

While the new Gallup poll, which gives Republicans a ten-point advantage generically, may be an outlier, it is a troubling sign for Democrats.

Immigration actually improves incomes across the board.

New sanctions against North Korea aim to cut off the flow luxury goods to Kim Jong-il’s cronies.

Is believing in God evolutionarily advantageous?

Meghan McCain breaks silence on Sarah Palin, saying Palin brought “drama, stress, complications, panic and loads of uncertainty” to the McCain campaign.

As he tries to win the center running as an independent against both a Republican and a Democrat, Charlie Crist’s performing some political gymnastics.

The owner of the L.A. Dodgers gives away four free tickets to every officer in the LAPD.

Finally. heavy drinkers outlive teetotalers?

Late Summer Book Review

The plus side of my rainy Cape Cod trip was that I had plenty of time for reading.  I finished two of the books that I brought with me (the one I won’t write about today is Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which I thought was good but not great).  This was the one I liked better:

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

As a former English major, I always have trouble naming favorite books or authors– just too many to choose from.  But Kingsolver has been high on my list since high school, when my mom first introduced me to The Bean Trees and got me hooked on any and everything that this woman writes.  And she’s written a lot: novels, short stories, essays, poetry, even a nonfiction book  about her family’s year of eating locally, the excellent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  All of this to say, I guess, that if you haven’t yet read anything by her, I recommend it all highly.

The Lacuna, which came out last fall, is her latest, and her first novel in almost a decade.  It is long, dense, and complicated, but also very engaging.  The book follows the story of Harrison Shepherd, the son of an American father and Mexican mother, who shuttles back and forth between his two countries of origin throughout the action of the novel.  Most of the book consists of journals kept by Harrison, and tracks his life from age 12 onward.  Along the way, Harrison spends several years living in the home of Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, including during the period when the exiled Russian Communist Leon Trotsky was staying with them.

Though obviously fictionalized, the book offers an insightful look at the fascinating lives of Rivera, Kahlo, and Trotsky, as observed by perpetual-outsider Harrison.  He makes for a rather odd protagonist, soft-spoken and quiet, generally less interesting than the vivid figures around him–  but as a careful observer, Harrison is able to capture a whole range of events, conversations, people, and scenery (and food– Harrison’s childhood stint as helper to a cook in Isla Pixol included such tantalizing descriptions of meals that it left me craving Mexican food for days).  Kingsolver deftly mixes the historical with the invented, offering at times a fresh perspective on well-known people and events.  At 500+ pages, and spanning several decades and countries, The Lacuna clearly isn’t a quick beach read.  But though the pace varies somewhat, it mostly moves along quite quickly, and I enjoyed the novel very much.  I wouldn’t say this was my favorite of Kingsolver’s impressive ouvre, but it was beautifully written and certainly worth the read.

A Complete History of the Soviet Union Arraged to the Melody of Tetris

This is pretty bad-ass. From the YouTube description:

Buy the whole album at http://www.pigfaceboy.co.uk Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pigfaceboy

A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris.

Music by “Pig With The Face Of A Boy”

Written and performed by DONALD NEWHOLM and DAN WOODS, with MALCOLM GAYNER & ROBIN HARRIS

Photographed by TIM JORDAN
Costumes by LUCY NEWHOLM
Production assistant NICOLA LINCÉ
Special thanks to JAMES LAMONT and REMY LAMONT
Produced by CHRIS LINCÉ and DAN WOODS for the ‘Musical Comedy Lab’

Directed, animated, and edited by CHRIS LINCÉ

Buy the album at http://www.pigfaceboy.co.uk