The Obamas are decorating their private spaces with more modern and abstract artwork than has ever hung on the White House walls.
Pieces by contemporary African-American and Native American artists are on display. Bold colours, odd shapes and squiggly lines have arrived. So, too, have some obscure artefacts, such as patent models for a gear cutter and a steamboat paddlewheel, which now sit in the Oval Office.
Works by big names from the modern art world – Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko – are rubbing shoulders with lesser-known artists such as Alma Thomas, an abstract painter from the 1960s and 1970s.
Thomas’s Watusi (Hard Edge) hangs in the east wing, where Michelle Obama has her offices. The acrylic on canvas, on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum, shows a jumble of geometric shapes in bright reds, blues and greens.
Glenn Ligon’s Black Like Me No 2, a Hirshhorn loan now hanging in the first family’s living quarters, is a “text painting” that reproduces words from the 1961 book Black Like Me, a non-fiction account by a white man who disguised himself as a black man and travelled through the south.
Ligon, a black artist from Brooklyn, said the painting’s theme fitted with the president’s efforts to create a dialogue between races. “It’s a really important part of what he’s about and symbolically what he’s done,” he said.
Jeri Redcorn, a 69-year-old Native American artist from Norman, Oklahoma (…)
Brains are calorically demanding organs. Our distant ancestors had small ones. Australopithecus afarensis, for example, who lived some three million years ago, had a cranial capacity of about four hundred cubic centimetres, which is roughly the same as a chimpanzee’s. Modern humans have a cranial capacity of about thirteen hundred cubic centimetres. How, as their brains got bigger, did our forebears keep them running? According to what’s known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man’s cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power. The result of this self-reinforcing process was a strong taste for foods that are high in calories and easy to digest; just as it is natural for gorillas to love leaves, it is natural for people to love funnel cakes.
Although no one really knows what life was like in the Pleistocene, it seems reasonable to assume that early humans lived, as it were, hand to mouth. In good times, they needed to stockpile food for use in hard times, but the only place they had to store it was on themselves. Body fat is energy-rich and at the same time lightweight: when the water is taken out, a gram of fat contains 9.4 kilocalories, compared with 4.3 kilocalories for a gram of protein, and when the water is left in, as it is on the human belly, a gram of fat still contains 9.1 kilocalories, while a gram of protein has just 1.2. As a consequence, a person with a genetic knack for storing fat would have had a competitive advantage. Power and Schulkin are both researchers at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and they argue that this advantage would have been especially strong for women. Human infants are unusually portly; among mammals, only hooded seals have a higher percentage of body fat at birth. (Presumably, babies need the extra reserves to fuel their oversized brains.) Tellingly, humans, unlike most other animals, have no set season of fertility. Instead, ovulation is tied to a woman’s fat stores: those who are very thin simply fail to menstruate.
Of course, for early humans putting on too many pounds would have been a significant disadvantage; it’s hard to chase down a mastodon or track through a forest if you’re tubby. Thus, there would appear to be a Darwinian argument against obesity as well. Power and Schulkin get around this problem by noting that, as a practical matter, opportunities for eating too much were limited. Austerity was the rule for hunter-gatherer societies, and that didn’t change when people started to form farming communities, some ten thousand years ago. In fact, human remains from many parts of the world show that early agriculturalists were less well fed than their Paleolithic forebears; their skeletons are several inches shorter and often show signs of nutrition-related diseases, like anemia. Genes that controlled weight gain wouldn’t have been selected for because they simply weren’t needed.
In America today, by contrast, obtaining calories is very nearly effortless …
Peggy Noonan (WSJ) on Sarah Palin’s resignation:
To wit, “I love her because she’s so working-class.” This is a favorite of some party intellectuals. She is not working class, never was, and even she, avid claimer of advantage that she is, never claimed to be and just lets others say it. Her father was a teacher and school track coach, her mother the school secretary. They were middle-class figures of respect, stability and local status. I think intellectuals call her working-class because they see the makeup, the hair, the heels and the sleds and think they’re working class “tropes.” Because, you know, that’s what they teach in “Ways of the Working Class” at Yale and Dartmouth.
What she is, is a seemingly very nice middle-class girl with ambition, appetite and no sense of personal limits.
“She’s not Ivy League, that’s why her rise has been thwarted! She represented the democratic ideal that you don’t have to go to Harvard or Brown to prosper, and her fall represents a failure of egalitarianism.” This comes from intellectuals too. They need to be told something. Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College. Richard Nixon went to Whittier College, Joe Biden to the University of Delaware. Sarah Palin graduated in the end from the University of Idaho, a school that happily notes on its Web site that it’s included in U.S. News & World Report’s top national schools survey. They need to be told, too, that the first Republican president was named “Abe,” and he went to Princeton and got a Fulbright. Oh wait, he was an impoverished backwoods autodidact!
America doesn’t need Sarah Palin to prove it was, and is, a nation of unprecedented fluidity. Her rise and seeming fall do nothing to prove or refute this.
“The elites hate her.” The elites made her. It was the elites of the party, the McCain campaign and the conservative media that picked her and pushed her.
Vicente Serrano’s documentary A Forgotten Injustice chronicles our ability to turn against our brothers and sisters during times of social panic. The film tells the hidden history of the mass deportation of more than 2 million Mexican immigrants in the 1930s. More than 60 percent of those given the boot were U.S. citizens who ended up living in Mexico as illegal aliens.
Serrano’s own grandmother was deported from Los Angeles in the 1930s and ended up living in Mexico for 70 years as an illegal alien. It was her story that, six years ago, inspired the Chicago-based, Emmy-winning Telemundo journalist to start working on A Forgotten Injustice.
“When I learned about the magnitude of the injustices of the ’30s. I felt a responsibility to tell the story of my grandma, her brother and the more than 1 million people,” says Serrano. “I always wondered why my grandmother’s stories ended with tears.”
The California Supreme Court’s decision upholding Proposition 8 will be analyzed as a referendum on gay marriage. That would be a mistake. There are much higher stakes in the case. At bottom, it posed the question, What is a Constitution for? The Justices did not address that issue explicitly, but their action spoke volumes.
Prop 8’s ratification by the voters in the 2008 election overrode the Court’s earlier decision invalidating the state’s marriage exclusion of lesbian and gay couples. Lesbian and gay couples challenged Prop 8 as an “unconstitutional constitutional amendment.” Their argument, rejected by the Court, was that Prop 8’s fundamental change in minority rights should have gone through the more deliberative process for constitutional “revisions.” California Attorney General Jerry Brown made a similar argument, that a Constitution cannot be amended to retract “inalienable” rights.
At war in the Prop 8 case were two competing visions of what a Constitution is for. Representing the supporters of Prop 8, former Judge Kenneth Starr argued that a Constitution (or at least the California one) is an expression of the values held by the citizenry. To use Aristotle’s language, the Constitution is the “soul of the city.” Modernizing Aristotle, California provides its citizens with formal opportunities to express their constitutional commitments, through popular initiatives. Once the voters had spoken, the Court itself would have been engaging in unconstitutional usurpation if it had insisted on same-sex marriage.