September 6, 2012
Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein could have been forgiven if on Wednesday they confused the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte with last week’s Republican convention in Tampa. Just as the fledgling Hurricane Isaac played havoc with the first day of the GOP schedule, the threat of Thursday night rain led to a change of plan for President Obama’s address.
But the two curators for the National Museum of American History were keenly attuned to their surroundings Wednesday evening as delegates filed in to Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena for a round of speeches leading to former President Bill Clinton’s appearance deep into prime time. “The themes are different, the arenas are different, and there’s always a difference when the party of the incumbent meets,” Bird said.
Yet his mission, and Rubenstein’s, remained the same as it was in Tampa, and at presidential nominating conventions going back to the 1980s. There on the convention floor, they were hoovering up material expressions of people’s engagement with the political process–the buttons and banners and posters and, yes, funny hats people wear or carry at the convention. With the passage of time, even a funny hat can document a campaign issue or theme.
One difference Bird noted between this year’s conventions was that it was harder to walk around Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena than in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “The delegates here aren’t all on the arena floor; they’re up in the seats,” he said. As he spoke, a delegate walked past carrying a Teddy bear with enough Obama pins in it to set off the most distant metal detector, and another slid by with a giant red tricorner hat on his head and a Virgin Islands license plate affixed to the back of his vest. “Sometimes,” Bird said, “you want to just want to let this whole thing wash over you.”
Instead, he and Rubenstein secured a stash of the pre-printed signs that would suddenly bloom during the speeches that night. And earlier, they had taken reporters from CBS, the Charlotte Observer and National Public Radio on what they call “walk-arounds” to show them how the political-history curation game works (I.e., see stuff, desire stuff and ask politely for the donation of said stuff after the done is done with it.)
If getting around the arena was tough on Tuesday and Wednesday, it promises to be prohibitive Thursday night, when Obama is scheduled to give his speech formally accepting his party’s nomination. Before the rain clouds loomed, that event had been scheduled for the Bank of America Stadium. Now it’s scheduled for the arena, which holds about 50,000 fewer people. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the organizers adjust,” Bird said.
August 20, 2012
The Hirshhorn Museum was evacuated and closed to the public today. According to museum officials, a security officer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Law enforcement is on the scene and is investigating the incident.
August 3, 2011
With the impending release this Friday of the documentary summer blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I thought we should all be prepared in case we ever face chemically enhanced apes that attempt to take over our world. In the past on our site we’ve investigated zombies and kept a running record on robot technology, but the threat of ape rebellion had yet to be cataloged. The National Zoo’s Amanda Bania, a keeper who works with the great apes, told me that gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and the other ape species can best us in many ways, even without being injected with mysterious serums by James Franco. This week’s list deals with 5 ways that apes outdo humans:
1) Apes are 7 to 10 times stronger than humans of a comparable weight, or as Bania puts it: “Apes are insanely strong. In a one-on-one they have us beat hands-down.”
2) They have four hands. While not technically true, apes’ feet are basically like hands, according to Bania. Their lower appendages are adapted to help them climb trees with ease. Additionally, their hands have “a have a reduced thumb and their fingers are longer, which helps them grip when moving through the trees,” says Bania. “You couple that with strength and it’s not a fair fight in the trees.” While orangutans are the only arboreal ape, giving them the best climbing skills, they are also the most solitary, so good luck getting them into any sort of infantry regiment.
3) Their army will be led by a chimpanzee. Chimps are exceptionally smart, which makes sense when you consider that they (and the more mild-mannered bonobos) are the primates most closely related to us (a 98.76 percent match by DNA). Chimps have to navigate complicated social structures in their groups. One might think that the 800-pound gorilla would boss his way around a group, but they operate in a single-male monarchy, says Bania. He would have no experience leading an army of other male apes (unless he had a WAC-equivalent composed of of bonobos—their social groups are female-led).
4) Chimpanzees are battle-tested. Not only would the chimpanzees be leading the revolution, but they are known to go on “border patrols” and even kill opponents. “There is group-on-group warfare in chimp society where if they find other males in their territory, they will hunt them down and kill them, more often than not,” says Bania.
5) Even their stupidest members are still smart. The intelligence scale of primates is rather clear. With humans at the top, it then moves from chimps and bonobos to other great apes to lesser apes on down to monkeys and then prosimians such as lemurs, which are at the National Zoo and “aren’t the brightest.” But, Bania is quick to point out, “Duke University has a lot of cognitive research with lemurs that shows they can work on a computer and do sequencing.”
In the end, “If anyone was going to take over and give us a run for our money, it would be chimps,” says Bania. Fortunately, the National Zoo doesn’t have any so we here in D.C. are safe. For now.
May 9, 2011
There isn’t too much to say here other than if you missed The Simpsons last night, be sure to check out the opening sequence embedded above. (Pardon the b-roll in front) To nitpick a little: there are 19 museums and galleries, not just one; the Hope Diamond, Fonz’s jacket, Dorothy’s slippers, the Spirit of St. Louis and Jackson Pollack are not in the same building; the Star-Spangled Banner is a lot bigger. On the other hand, to their credit, they did a nice rendering of the Natural History Museum building and they even had the foresight to preview this year’s mummies exhibit (now in a sneak preview.) Did you catch anything else in the background that’s not in the collections?
March 24, 2011
It’s the rare professional athlete who gets to be known by just his first name. There’s Mickey, Babe, Lebron, Kobe, Mario, Ronaldinho and a smattering of others, including Pedro, one of baseball’s greatest pitchers. Tomorrow, a painting of Pedro Martinez will be added to the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, joining portraits of other baseball greats, including fellow Dominican Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk. And within a few years, pending Martinez’ official retirement from professional baseball, he will certainly join those players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Former Boston Globe writer and ESPN commentator Peter Gammons said the portion of Martinez’ career from 1997-2003 was “the most dominant stretch of any pitcher in baseball history.” During that period, Martinez lead the American League five times in ERA, three times in strikeouts, five times in hits allowed per nine innings and won the league’s Cy Young Award three times in 1997, 1999 and 2000. And in this writer’s estimation, he was robbed of the award in 2002. He was an integral part of the 2003 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino and brought the World Series trophy back to Boston for the first time in 86 years. Martinez was also known, lovingly in Red Sox Nation—not so much elsewhere, for his antics of questionable taste. He befriended the 2-foot-4-inch tall actor Nelson de la Rosa as a “good luck charm” and famously threw down 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer during an on-field brawl in a 2003 playoff game.
Even though he is far past his prime and currently not signed with any major league team, when Martinez arrives in Washington for the donation ceremony tomorrow, he will still be the best pitcher in the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals notwithstanding. And I say that as a loyal, but downtrodden, Nats fan.
Artist Susan Miller-Havens’ painting, donated by Peter Gammons and his wife Gloria, will hang in the “Recent Acquisitions” wing of the museum after tomorrow’s private ceremony.
UPDATE: At the ceremony, Miller-Havens revealed that she hid rose petals from the Dominican Republic beneath the pitchers’ mound in her painting as an extra gesture to Martinez. Their friendship reaches back to his joining the Red Sox in 1998. Her goal when painting this portrait was so viewers “could see a Pedro Martinez that maybe you haven’t seen before.”
In response, Martinez said, “Susan, there are not enough words to say ‘you are beautiful’ and your art is even prettier.” In front of an audience of a few hundred friends, family, press and dignitaries, including Marichal, Gammons and the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, Martinez thanked his fans and supporters frequently. “I’m very happy to be inducted into this museum,” he said, perhaps hinting at his speech to come in a few years at the Hall of Fame.