Monthly Archives: February 2014

Art notes: Hanging with Obama in the Oval

By Christopher B. Daly 

Without waiting for congressional approval, President Obama recently took an executive action to change up the art work that he looks at during his long work days in the Oval Office. Since last week, there have been two landscapes by Edward Hopper in the room — on loan from the Whitney Museum in NYC. The paintings, classic Hoppers from the 1930s, show the rural landscape on outer Cape Cod.Wishing he could get away?

Wishing he could get away?



As it happens, I visited the Whitney myself a couple of weeks ago and roamed around in the permanent collection, which does indeed contain some terrific Hoppers. One of my favorites is this self-portrait, which I took a picture of. Here’s a detail:










I’m not sure it should hang in the Oval Office, though. I think I would find those eyes impossible to ignore, and I’d get nothing done. 

Here’s the scoop on the Oval Office artwork, from William G. Allman, the White House curator, writing on the White House blog:

New Additions to the Oval Office

Two paintings by Edward Hopper (1882–1967), widely recognized as one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, were hung in the Oval Office on Friday, February 7, 2014. Cobb’s Barns, South Truro, and Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro — oil on canvas works painted in 1930-33 on Cape Cod — have been lent by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the world’s largest repository of Hopper’s works.

Before building a house on Cape Cod in 1934, Hopper and his wife rented a hillside cottage for four summers. From that house, Hopper executed a series of paintings and drawings of the buildings on their landlord’s farm below, exploring the structures from several angles and at different times of the day.

Emblematic examples of his work, the two paintings lent by the Whitney Museum capture the strong sense of atmosphere and light as well as the empty stillness that characterize much of Hopper’s imagery. They also demonstrate Hopper’s fascination with the various forms of this country’s vernacular architecture — a subject he would return to again and again, resulting in some of the most enduring images of American art.

The Hopper paintings, hung one over the other at the southeast side of the room, add to the breadth of American paintings represented in the Oval Office today:

George Washington by Rembrandt Peale, c.1823
Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story, c.1915 (from life studies painted in 1861)
The Three Tetons by Thomas Moran, 1895
The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam, 1917
Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell, 1946

All five of these works belong to the permanent White House collection, which does not include any works by Edward Hopper. Another notable change to the items hanging in the Oval Office is the removal of a rare printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. As a document on paper, it needed prolonged rest from further exposure to light. As a loan to the White House, its preservation required its removal.


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Memo to WashPost: No royalty here!

By Christopher B. Daly

How do these things happen?

Here’s the most prominent part of the homepage  for today’s Washington Post, the morning after a state dinner held at the White House for prominent French bachelor Francois Hollande.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.26.10 AM

That headline: “D.C. royalty turns out for state dinner” is a stunner.

Royalty? Really? The word is not even placed inside quote marks. Just presented as a matter of fact? Aw, c’mon.

We all know that Post editors intend it as a kind of shorthand for the American establishment (which, btw, includes a lot of people who live far from the District in such remote outposts as New York, Hollywood, and Kentucky).

It would be tiresome and pedantic to point to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Sec. 9:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

That about covers it. How could anyone at the Post seriously entertain the notion that the guests at the White House constitute “royalty”? Have they been watching too much “Downton Abbey”? Or, do they really think they are that special? The Post certainly didn’t help itself today, especially among us citizens peasants out in the provinces.

Vive la Republique!


In other social notes: I see that among the guests was Jill Abramson, the NYTimes executive editor. According to the official guest list from the White House, her escort was not her husband (Henry Griggs) because most guests are invited alone and paired with another guest. Jill was paired with a man named William Woodson, who was not further identified. Was it the author or the actor?

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The history of journalism lives on in Worcester, Mass.

By Christopher B. Daly

Here’s a recent article in Worcester magazine introducing readers to the incomparable American Antiquarian Society. It sounds like a museum of antiques, but it is actually the most extensive collection of American newspapers, pamphlets, lithographs, sheet music, and ephemera from the 17th century through the late 19th century.

From the article:

A few of the Society’s most valued materials include a first-edition copy of Lewis and Clark’s journals, printed in the early 1800s; the first printed Bible in British North America, released in 1663; the only known copy of the famous English book “Pamela,” which was the first book printed

COVER_philosophic-cockin the United States, published and sold by Benjamin Franklin; and the only known original copy of the political cartoon “The Philosophic Cock,” which was an early slam of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, depicting Jefferson as a rooster and Hemings as one of his hens. At the end of last year, one of the few remaining copies of the first book ever written and printed in British North America, in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book, sold at auction for $14.2 million – the American Antiquarian Society just so happens to also have an original copy of the book.



The AAS attracts scholars from around the world, including Ken Burns and Jill Lepore, and it is  open to the public.

Here’s a note on the AAS’s history from Wikipedia.

AAS was founded by Isaiah Thomas on October 24, 1812 by an act of the Massachusetts General Court. It is the third oldest historical society and the first to be national in scope.[4]Isaiah Thomas started the collection with approximately 8,000 books from his personal library. The first library building was erected in 1820 in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. This building was later abandoned and a new building was constructed. It was completed in 1910 and stands on the corner of Park Avenue and Salisbury Street. There have been several additions to this building to accommodate the growing collection, the most recent of which was completed in 2003.

There’s also a story as to why Isaiah Thomas was in Worcester. He was the editor of a Boston newspaper on the patriot side in the American Revolution called The Massachusetts Spy. On April 16, 1775, when the rebels were coming under increasing scrutiny by the British forces occupying Massachusetts, Thomas began to fear that

Isaiah Thomas, rebel printer, by Ethan Alan Greenwood.  Courtesy, AAS

Isaiah Thomas, rebel printer, by Ethan Alan Greenwood.
Courtesy, AAS

the redcoats would soon descend on his Boston print shop and put him out of business. So, under cover of darkness, he loaded his presses onto wagons and piled on as many back copies of his own paper as possible, along with any other newspapers or other printed material that would fit. He moved the whole operation to Worcester, safely remote from the coastal bases of the British forces, and prospered there. He later wrote the landmark book, History of Printing in America.


So, a hat-tip to Isaiah Thomas.



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Journalism: A discipline of verification?

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalism has been called (perhaps aspirationally) as a “discipline of verification.” In their very useful book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel devote a chapter to arguing that journalism, at its best, shares a methodology with such empirical disciplines as history, social science, and even the hard sciences. The point is that all those fields are trying to gather true data about the real world, and they all recognize the necessity to test and validate their findings.

Today’s NYTimes op-ed page brings two cases in point.

First, a column by Paul Krugman in which he cites a classic case of verification carried out in the wake of the (official) Republican response to the president’s State of the Union speech. Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., related an anecdote about “Bette in Spokane” as a cautionary tale against the president’s signature Health Care program. Turns out, Rep. Rodgers was presenting Americans with what might generously be considered an interpretation of the plight of “Bette from Spokane” — one that omitted some facts.

Some journalists decided to fact-check the congresswoman’s version of Bette’s story, and thank goodness there are some reporters around who can still handle such an assignment. As so often happens, the task fell to the local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. In a recent story, reporter David Wasson tracked down the Republican poster gal and found the real-life Bette Grenier. So far, so good.

Here’s Krugman’s version of the paper’s findings:

Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering — and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”

Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.

So, a hat-tip to David Wasson and his paper for supplying the wider factual base from which we can all draw our own conclusions. In my view, it would seem that Bette and her husband were playing roulette with their old policy (with that $10,000 deductible, they were basically un-insured) and that they are now able to do much better.

Second case:

The Times carries an op-ed advocating for genetically modified wheat. The argument is made by a professor from Oklahoma State (Jayson Lusk, a GMO advocate) and a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution (Henry I. Miller, a co-author of a book trying to debunk what he calls the “Frankenfood myth.”)

They are, of course, entitled to their views. But they are not entitled to their own facts. They begin their argument by stating that GMO versions of corn and soybeans are making money for U.S. farmers and boosting the productivity of American farmland. The way those plants to do that is by containing a gene inserted into them by ag-scientists that makes them resistant to herbicides such as Monsanto’s Round-Up.

The authors go on to note that while most corn and soybean have now been modified to allow them to survive herbicide treatments on their fields, wheat has not been subject to genetic modification — for the simple reason that a lot of American wheat is exported, and consumers in other countries don’t want to buy GMO wheat.

The authors go on to make the case for GMO wheat — not, however, on the grounds that it is resistant to herbicides but on the grounds that it is resistant to drought. That may well be true, and I would like to see some facts that bear on the question. But it is not really fair to switch the terms of the argument in the middle. I wish the Times‘ editors had raised some of these questions, and now I hope they will invite an op-ed reply from someone with a different perspective.

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