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  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    25 years on, ripples of Myanmar’s tumultuous 1988 summer still linger

    YANGON, Myanmar — Twenty-five years later, you can still see the fear in the eyes of the doctors — two young men carrying a schoolgirl, her blouse drenched in blood, through streets where soldiers were brutally crushing pro-democracy protests.The photograph, thrust to prominence when it ran on the cover of Newsweek, came to symbolize the defeat of a 1988 uprising in the nation then called Burma. The revolt’s end cemented the power of the military, sent thousands of activists to prison and helped bring a future Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, to prominence....

  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    Roswell Incident at 66

    “THE INTELLIGENCE OFFICE of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.”That first paragraph out of Roswell was worthy of Orson Welles — as if an extraterrestrial tale told in stentorian tones. It was the paragraph that launched not only a news article, but also a cultural curiosity that continues to spark conversation and controversy to this day — as if attracting UFO buffs and conspiracy theorists by magnetic pull from the world over.“RAAF Captures Flying Saucer / On Ranch in Roswell Region,” blared the bold headline on that front page of the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record. The date atop the page: July 8....

  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Kim Jong Un handing out copies of "Mein Kampf"

    Senior North Korean officials received copies of “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s rambling prison memoir, as gifts for Kim Jong Un’s birthday this January, according to a report by New Focus International, a North Korean news organization that sources from defectors and volunteer citizens within the country.The famous Nazi autobiography was reportedly distributed as what’s called a “hundred-copy book,” which refers to Pyongyang’s practice of circulating an extremely limited number of copies among top officials, though most books are forbidden in North Korea. Gifts marking the leader’s birthday are typically imbued with special political significance.The book was apparently not distributed to endorse Nazism so much as to draw attention to Germany’s economic and military reconstruction after World War One. A North Korean who works on behalf of the country in China told New Focus that Kim gave a speech endorsing Germany’s inter-war revival and encouraging officials to read “Mein Kampf.”...

  • Originally published 06/14/2013

    Robert W. Fogel, an innovative and Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, dies at 86

    Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian who used empirical data in innovative and iconoclastic ways, most notably to dispute longheld assumptions about why slavery collapsed as an institution in the United States, died June 11 at a rehabilitation facility in Oak Lawn, Ill. He was 86.The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter-in-law Suzanne Fogel. Dr. Fogel, a Chicago resident, spent much of his career at the University of Chicago and directed its Center for Population Economics.Dr. Fogel shared the 1993 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences with Douglass North, then of Washington University in St. Louis. Both winners were on the 1960s vanguard of a field known as cliometrics, which merges economic theory with statistical analysis of hard numbers raked from the past; Clio is the muse of history in Greek mythology....

  • Originally published 06/13/2013

    Whitey Bulger trial opens in Boston

    BOSTON — James “Whitey” Bul­ger is an old man now.He wears reading glasses. His hair is pure white, but not much remains. And when he stood up in a federal courtroom Wednesday morning to finally face the music, to stand trial for a lifetime of gangster crimes, he rose slowly, no longer the menacing Irish mob boss who allegedly scratched out 19 lives while the FBI looked the other way.Wearing a long-sleeved green shirt, jeans and sneakers, Bulger sat passively as a prosecutor described his younger, more sinister years as leader of the Winter Hill Gang, including the time he allegedly marched a safecracker named Arthur “Bucky” Barrett to a set of cellar stairs after torturing him in a chair in pursuit of $40,000 from a bank robbery....

  • Originally published 06/06/2013

    Piece of Berlin Wall up for auction

    PARIS — Pieces of the Iron Curtain’s most iconic symbol, the Berlin Wall, are being put up for auction in Paris after being decorated by some of the world’s top artists.Slabs of the smooth concrete that divided East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989 totaling 60 meters (66 yards) were given to artists including France’s Daniel Buren and the late Eduardo Chillida of Spain in the 1990s to be used as canvases.The result of their unique work is going under the hammer in central Paris on Thursday, under the title “Artists of Freedom.”...

  • Originally published 06/04/2013

    Trinity test site still has radiation traces

    The sun was rising as a teenage boy swung a metal wand back and forth, back and forth. The Geiger counter hanging at his waist clicked, testifying to the radiation streaming from the ground and through his body.The White Sands Missile Range in the New Mexico desert is home to Trinity, the place where the nuclear age began on July 16, 1945. Twice a year, in April and October, the site has opened to the public. Each time, thousands of people arrive by Winnebago, motorcycle and tour bus, making a pilgrimage to check out the slight crater left by history’s first atom bomb test. Measuring just 340 feet across, the depression is underwhelming, a slight dent in the ground. A stone obelisk marks ground zero, where the bomb was detonated atop a 100-foot steel tower.The Trinity weapon, a version of which destroyed Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, used plutonium. That fuel was more far more efficient than the uranium in the bomb dropped over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, but it was thought to be less certain to work....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Stephen Brumwell wins George Washington Book Prize

    Stephen Brumwell has won the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize for his biography of the first president, George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus).A historian who was born in Portsmouth, England, and now lives in Amsterdam, Brumwell received the award at a ceremony last night at Mount Vernon.The jurors’ citation said, “In the hands of this fine biographer, Washington emerges as a flesh and blood man, more impressive than the mythical hero could ever be.”...

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Vicksburg marks 150th anniversary of Civil War siege

    VICKSBURG, Miss. — Even 150 years later, Vicksburg is still overshadowed by Gettysburg — so much so, that the Mississippi city is having its Civil War commemoration a few weeks early rather than compete with Pennsylvania for tourist dollars around July 4.Union forces waged a long campaign to conquer Vicksburg and gain control of the lower Mississippi River. The effort culminated in a concentrated military attack that started May 18, 1863, and a siege that started eight days later. Confederate forces surrendered the city on July 4.The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1-3, 1863, and it produced a shockingly high number of casualties — 51,000 dead, wounded or missing....

  • Originally published 05/22/2013

    America’s fluoride wars

    “A few things remain constant in America – death, taxes, baseball and, since the 1950s, widespread, often successful efforts by a passionate minority to keep fluoride out of drinking water,” Donald R. McNeil wrote in Wilson Quarterly. McNeil has written one of the more complete histories of the fluoridation wars that I was able to find. It starts on Jan. 26, 1945 when the city of Grand Rapids, Mich. became the first city to fluoridate its water supply. It was meant to be a public health experiment, to test whether fluoridation could protect against tooth decay, especially among younger children.It would take decades to have any results and, therefore, ”the pioneers of fluoridation were generally a cautious lot,” McNeil writes, noting that they thought “that communities should at first fluoridate only on a test-batch basis.”...

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    Revisiting the Johnstown Flood

    When Elias Unger looked out from his front porch on May 31, 1889, he was astounded by what he saw. His house overlooked Pennsylvania’s Lake Conemaugh, a 2½ mile-long man-made body of water formed by one of the world’s largest earthen dams. On that morning, the rain-swollen lake was dangerously close to breaching the wall.Gathering a work crew, Unger labored frantically to shore up the dam, but it was too late. By afternoon, the 72-foot wall had given way, sending 20 million tons of water surging down the Little Conemaugh River Valley toward Johnstown, Pa., and claiming the lives of 2,209 people.On a recent visit, I stood near Unger’s porch, looking out over a pastoral valley dotted with trees and the Little Conemaugh gently meandering through it. A railroad track ran along the valley floor. I could see the remainder of the dam: two earthen abutments with a telltale 270-foot gap between them....

  • Originally published 05/15/2013

    Slave cabin in SC to be restored

    Curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture are working with restoration experts to dismantle an antebellum slave cabin on Point of Pines Plantation in Edisto Island, S.C. The cabin was donated to the museum last month by the Edisto Island Historical Society. The two-room cabin, which measures 16 by 20 feet, is believed to be in its original location and will become part of the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition in Washington when the museum opens its doors in 2015.“Slavery is one of the last great unmentionables in public discourse,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum. “The cabin allows us to humanize slavery, to personalize the life of the enslaved, and frame this story as one that has shaped us all. [Slavery] is not just an African American story.”The museum had been searching for a slave cabin to display for its permanent collection. The cabin will be displayed prominently in the museum, visible from three levels. Although the cabin will be reconstructed on-site, visitors will not be able to enter or touch the cabin because of its fragility....

  • Originally published 05/13/2013

    Preservation Virginia releases its annual list of ‘most endangered’ places, sites

    RICHMOND, Va. — Preservation Virginia’s annual most endangered list includes Arlington National Cemetery, a network of rural schools that aimed to improve educational opportunities for young black students in rural areas, and Manassas Battlefield.The private, non-profit preservation group on Monday identified eight places, buildings and sites that it concludes face “imminent or sustained” threats, even to the point of their survival in some cases. The threats include planned roads, neglect or development....— Arlington National Cemetery, threatened by the 27-acre Millennium Project expansion. It would disrupt the cemetery’s surroundings and destroy a 12-acre section of Arlington House Woods, as well as its old-growth hardwoods and a historic boundary wall.— Rosenwalds Schools, a rural school building program by Julius Rosenwald to provide a better public education to African-American students in the segregated South. A total 381 of the schools were built in Virginia. They are now threatened with demolition and neglect....

  • Originally published 05/10/2013

    Unclaimed Civil War vets interred with 4 others as Arlington Cemetery dedicates columbarium

    ARLINGTON, Va. — For more than 100 years, the cremated remains of two brothers — Civil War soldiers from Indiana — sat on a funeral home shelf, unclaimed and largely forgotten.On Thursday, their remains were given a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery, which dedicated a new columbarium court designed to hold the cremated remains of more than 20,000 eligible service members and family.It is the ninth columbarium court at Arlington, where roughly 400,000 are interred.The first six remains to be interred at the court were recovered by the Missing In America Project, an organization based in Grants Pass, Ore., that scours funeral homes across the country to recover remains of veterans that have gone unclaimed....

  • Originally published 04/25/2013

    Michael Beschloss's picks for 7 striking images of ex-presidents

    With the five living presidents meeting Thursday in Texas, we asked presidential historian Michael Beschloss to give us a sense of these presidential gatherings. Beschloss, author of nine books and contributor to the PBS NewsHour and NBC News, had only to look at his Twitter feed, which features images such as this, from the opening of the George H.W. Bush library in 1997....

  • Originally published 04/25/2013

    Bush library dedication

    DALLAS — All the living American presidents past and present are gathering in Dallas, a rare reunion to salute one of their own at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.Profound ideological differences and a bitter history of blaming each other for the nation’s woes will give way — if just for a day — to pomp and pleasantries Thursday as the five members of the most exclusive club in the world appear publicly together for the first time in years. For Bush, 66, the ceremony also marks his unofficial return to the public eye four years after the end of his deeply polarizing presidency.Bush will be feted by his father, George H.W. Bush, and the two surviving Democratic former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. President Barack Obama, fresh off a fundraiser for Democrats the night before, will also speak at the event at the sprawling, 23-acre complex housing the presidential library, museum and policy institute....

  • Originally published 04/18/2013

    Walter Pincus: Kim Jong-un -- A Son Trying to Find his Way

    Walter Pincus is a national security journalist for The Washington Post.How provocative has the United States been to North Korea?For almost two months, the United States and South Korea have had more than 200,000 ground troops, tanks, helicopters, fighter-bombers, strategic bombers, submarines and destroyers exercising close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and the disputed sector of the Yellow Sea on the border between the two Koreas....[T]ry, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of 30-year-old Kim. He succeeded his father in late December 2011 and for the past five months has been maneuvering to consolidate his authority over the Korean Workers’ Party and Korean People’s Army. Early on he replaced three older generals who had been close to his father and talked of getting closer to the people.

  • Originally published 04/05/2013

    Roger Ebert, legendary film critic, dies at 70

    Roger Ebert, the Chicago movie critic whose weekly TV show with crosstown rival Gene Siskel made him one of the most widely recognized and influential voices on film, died April 4 of cancer at a rehabilitation facility in Chicago. He was 70.His longtime newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, reported his death.When Mr. Ebert didn’t like a movie, he said so, sometimes sarcastically and always with passion. He and Siskel, a Chicago Tribune film critic, were accessible and entertaining, forgoing both celebrity flash and brain-busting film theory in favor of simplicity: two guys sitting in the balcony of a fake theater, talking about summer blockbusters and indie films with a passion that occasionally spilled over into personal insults....

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    Gulf War veterans show abnormalities in scans of their brains

    When she returned from the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Air Force nurse Denise Nichols experienced sudden aches, fatigue and cognitive problems, but she had no idea what was causing them. They grew worse: Even helping her daughter with multiplication tables became difficult, she says, and eventually she had to quit her job.Nichols wasn’t alone. About a third of Gulf War veterans — possibly as many as 250,000 Americans — returned with similar symptoms.Now an imaging study has found that these veterans have what appear to be unique structural changes in the wiring of their brains. This fits with the scientific consensus that Gulf War Syndrome, or GWS, is a physical condition rather than a psychosomatic one and should be treated with painkilling drugs instead of counseling.Military authorities in various countries consistently denied in the past that there was a physical basis to GWS. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs now accepts that the disorder is physical, the issue has been mired in controversy....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Slavery, Holocaust never OK as political fodder, but Cuccinelli’s history on faith was right

    RICHMOND, Va. — Ken Cuccinelli learned last week that it’s foolhardy to invoke slavery to make a political point.The presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee set off a furor when Democratic Party video surfaced of him comparing the 19th century abolition struggle that triggered the nation’s deadliest war with today’s anti-abortion movement.In remarks made in June 2012 to a Family Foundation gathering of Christian conservatives in Williamsburg, Cuccinelli connected the dots between the role of churches in the early 19th century played in fomenting the movement to contain and eradicate slavery to that of evangelicals in today’s moral crusade against abortion....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Gregory B. Craig: The Voting Rights Act Should Be Left Alone

    Gregory B. Craig, a Washington lawyer, was White House counsel from January 2009 to January 2010.On Aug. 6, 1965, I was working in Coahoma County, Miss., trying to register new voters at the courthouse in Clarksdale. For many weeks, I and other civil rights workers in our project had been knocking on doors, persuading African Americans to go down to the courthouse, stand in line, risk retaliation, take a detailed written test and, inevitably, be rejected as unqualified. We would then ask each rejected applicant to sign an affidavit. We collected those affidavits and sent them in bundles to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The purpose of this effort was to show that African Americans in the South wanted to vote and that this particular person had been prevented from registering for no reason other than his or her race. That summer, we persuaded 500 African American citizens in Coahoma County to try to register to vote. Four or five passed the test. The rest signed affidavits. We prayed that federal officials would read the affidavits and do something about the situation....

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Frank Bures: A Travelogue through Cold War Nuclear Installations

    Frank Bures is a writer based in Minneapolis. In the early 1980s, when I was a fifth-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, in a small town in Minnesota, our teacher, Mr. Odegaard, asked us if we wanted to see something. We did. So he took us down a little-used stairway, through a door and into a tunnel beneath our school. He flicked on the lights. The sound of our shuffling feet echoed down a long, dark corridor.¶ “The walls down here are solid concrete,” I remember him telling us, “and you need three feet to stop gamma rays. When the Russians launch their missiles, this is where I’m coming!” ¶ Mr. Odegaard was an unusual teacher and one of my favorites. He felt that we should know about the real world, in addition to multiplication and division, geography and grammar. He also explained — in great detail — the finer points of the nuclear winter.“Beta rays,” he told us, “those are dangerous, but they can’t go very far. Gamma rays. Those are the ones you have to worry about. Gamma rays can go right through anything.”

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Lenard R. Berlanstein, U-Va. history professor, dies at 65

    Lenard R. Berlanstein, 65, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, died Feb. 24 at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.He had lung cancer, said a brother, Bruce Berlanstein.Dr. Berlanstein joined U-Va.’s history faculty in 1973 and taught courses on modern European cultural history until his retirement in 2011. He wrote six books, most recently “Daughters of Eve: A Cultural History of French Theater Women From the Old Regime to the Fin-de-Siecle” (2001).Lenard Russell Berlanstein was born in Brooklyn and was a 1969 graduate of the University of Michigan. He received a master’s degree in 1971 and a doctorate in 1973, both in history from Johns Hopkins University....

  • Originally published 03/11/2013

    Deal is near to shift traffic out of Manassas battlefield park

    The National Park Service and Virginia authorities are close to signing a major Civil War battlefield preservation deal that eventually would close two congested roads that slice through the twice-hallowed ground at Manassas.The agreement, which could be signed by the summer, would provide for routes 234 and 29 to be shut down inside Manassas National Battlefield Park. That would happen once new highways are built along the western and northern edges of the battlefield and serve as bypasses.“We’re down to the wire here. It looks good,” said Ed Clark, the park superintendent, a key architect of the pact. “It puts the goal of removing all the traffic from the battlefield within sight.”...

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    George F. Will: Watergate Reminds Us that D.C. Has Been Worse

    George F. Will is a columnist for the Washington Post.“When I first met Richard Nixon,” Robert Bork says in the book he completed a few weeks before his death in December, “I could see in his expression the conviction that someone had blundered badly.” With the dry wit that, together with his mastery of the dry martini, made him delightful company, Bork says the president, who “almost visibly recoiled,” evidently considered his red beard emblematic of Ivy League left-wingery. Nixon probably thought the barbarians were within the gates.They were. On Nixon’s staff.

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky scholar, dies

    Joseph Frank, a longtime professor of literature whose five-volume biography of the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is considered a landmark of historical and literary scholarship, died Feb. 27 at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 94.He had pulmonary failure, according to the New York Times, which first reported his death.Dr. Frank wrote on a wide range of literary subjects before he began to focus on Dostoevsky — the author of “Crime and Punishment,” “The Idiot” and “The Brothers Karamazov” — in the 1950s.Dr. Frank learned Russian and immersed himself in the turbulent milieu of Dostoevsky’s life — he lived from 1821 to 1881 — to write what some scholars have called an incomparable portrait of the author’s life and times. From 1976 to 2002, Dr. Frank chronicled Dostoevsky’s dramatic life in five volumes that totaled more than 2,400 pages....

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    How Harriet Tubman’s story was saved

    March 10, 2013, will mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Harriet Tubman, a fearless conductor on the Underground Railroad. She is greatly admired for her bravery in guiding slaves to freedom and for her generous spirit. But for many years, her story was in danger of being forgotten.When Harriet was a slave in Maryland, her owner hired her out at 7 years old to do housework. She later worked on a farm plowing fields and chopping wood. But she was determined to be free. One night, when she was 27, she escaped — traveling north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, mostly by walking at night. During the day, she would sleep in the woods on a bed of pine needles.Between 1850 and 1860, Harriet helped other slaves, including family and friends, escape north to freedom. She had to disguise her identity and take enormous risks, but she was never captured....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    Diane Ravitch comes out against Common Core

    Education historian Diane Ravitch, the leading voice in the movement opposing corporate-based school reform, has for several years said she has no definitive opinion on the Common Core State Standards. Now she has come out against  them, in this post, which appeared today on her blog....* * * * *I have thought long and hard about the Common Core State Standards.I have decided that I cannot support them. In this post, I will explain why.

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    Iranians: 'Argo' "anti-Iran"

    ...That perception was re-enforced by the surprise presenter of the award, Michelle Obama. Fars News, Iran’s main hardline outlet, wasted no time in questioning her role, writing, “In a rare occasion in Oscar history, the First Lady announced the winner for Best Picture for the anti-Iran Film ‘Argo,’ which is produced by the Zionist company Warner Bros.”...

  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Jim Cullen: How Six Oscar Winners Tell the Story of America

    Jim Cullen is chairman of the history department at the Fieldston School in New York and author of "Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions" (Oxford University Press). A box office is not a voting booth, but they have their similarities. Neither is entirely democratic in the ways it offers choices, and each is a little too deferential to market forces. But both tell stories about the state of the nation, produced by teams that are fronted by star performers.In politics, some of the most successful performers take on multiple roles. Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama: Their stories have offered versions of the country — where it had been, where it was headed. Some were stories of restoration, others of progress.In the Republic of Hollywood, it’s movie stars, not politicians, who rule. And in Hollywood, as in politics, one of the recurring themes is our national ambivalence about powerful institutions — religious, economic, military or political — and their influence over everyday life.

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Kenneth W. Thompson, director of University of Virginia’s Miller Center, dies

    Kenneth W. Thompson, 91, a scholar of foreign relations and U.S. government who directed the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for two decades, died Feb. 2 at an assisted living facility in Charlottesville.He had double pneumonia, said his daughter-in-law Pamela Thompson.Dr. Thompson led the Miller Center, a nonpartisan institute for the study of the presidency, public policy and governance, from 1978 until his retirement in 1998.In a statement announcing his death, U-Va. credited him with helping create and expand the institute’s speaker series known as the Forum program, the Presidential Oral History Program and bipartisan commissions on national issues. He continued to lead the Forum program until 2004....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    VA Historical Society's slave name database

    CHESTERFIELD, Va. — The Virginia Historical Society is going on the road to spread the word about its database of slave names.Historical society staff will hold the first of five presentations Monday in Chesterfield on the project, which helps scholars and family historians examine the state’s slave-holding past. Called “Unknown No Longer,” the database now includes more than 10,000 names and 1,500 digital images of documents....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    Despite Nazi past, Israel considered pope friend

    JERUSALEM — When Joseph Ratzinger became pope in 2005, many in Israel wondered whether the German-born Cardinal with the Nazi past would prove a worthy successor to the popular Pope John Paul II, whose pluralistic path helped sooth centuries of fraught relations between Jews and Christians.Eight years later, following his surprise resignation Monday, Israeli leaders lauded Pope Benedict XVI as a friend who helped promote dialogue and coexistence....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    Video mashup of 60 years of SOTU

    The Washington Post video team has created a video mashup of State of the Union addresses from the past sixty years -- check it out here.Further Reading:Important State of the Union Addresses in History

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Israelis unhappy with study of their textbooks and Palestinians’

    JERUSALEM — A State Department-funded study released Monday on the contentious issue of how Israelis and Palestinians depict each other in textbooks says both are locked into narratives that portray the other side as the enemy and erase it from maps, yet do not dehumanize each other.The independent study, billed as the first empirical and quantitative analysis of textbooks on both sides, was boycotted by Israel’s Education Ministry, which refused to cooperate. The ministry called the study biased and said it was based on a false comparison between the Israeli and Palestinian school systems....Funded with a grant from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the study was directed by Bruce E. Wexler, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University who worked with two Israeli and Palestinian experts on textbook analysis, subjecting books from both sides to identical evaluation questions, with results fed to a database....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    On vegetable carts, in millet sacks, people of Timbuktu conspire to save priceless manuscripts

    TIMBUKTU, Mali — For eight days after the Islamists set fire to one of the world’s most precious collections of ancient manuscripts, the alarm inside the building blared. It was an eerie, repetitive beeping, a cry from the innards of the injured library that echoed around the world.The al-Qaida-linked extremists who ransacked the institute wanted to deal a final blow to Mali, whose northern half they had held for 10 months before retreating in the face of a French-led military advance. They also wanted to deal a blow to the world, especially France, whose capital houses the headquarters of UNESCO, the organization which recognized and elevated Timbuktu’s monuments to its list of World Heritage sites....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Max Fisher: The Cannibals of North Korea

    Max Fisher is the Post's foreign affairs blogger.There were times and places in North Korea in the mid-1990s, as a great famine wiped out perhaps 10 percent of the population, that children feared to sleep in the open. Some of them had wandered in from the countryside to places like Chongjin, an industrial town on the coast, where they lived on streets and in railroad stations. It wasn’t unusual for people to disappear; they were dying by the thousands, maybe millions. But dark rumors were spreading, too horrifying to believe, too persistent to ignore.“Don’t buy any meat if you don’t know where it comes from,” one Chongjin woman whispered to a friend, who later defected and recounted the conversation to the reporter Barbara Demick for her book, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.” Fear of cannibalism, like the famine supposedly driving it, spread. People avoided the meat in streetside soup vendors and warned children not to be alone at night. At least one person in Chongjin was arrested and executed for eating human flesh.The panic, Demick concludes, may have exceeded the actual threat. “It does not seem,” she writes, “that the practice was widespread.” But it does appear to have happened....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Thurmond’s mixed-race daughter dies

    COLUMBIA, S.C. — Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the mixed-race daughter of onetime segregationist senator Strom Thurmond who kept her parentage secret for more than 70 years, has died. She was 87.Vann Dozier of Leevy’s Funeral Home in Columbia said Washington-Williams died Sunday. A cause of death was not given.Washington-Williams was the daughter of Thurmond and his family’s black maid. The identity of her famous father was rumored for decades in political circles and the black community. She later said she kept his secret because, “He trusted me, and I respected him.”...

  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    Doctor to the mummies

    As a pathologist, Michael Zimmerman was familiar with dead bodies, but when he was asked to autopsy a mummy for the first time, he wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a dozen layers of wrapping, which he peeled off one at a time, “like Chinese boxes,” he said. When he finished, he found the body was dark brown and hard. “It smelled like old books.”That was more than 30 years ago. Now, having dissected and CT-scanned mummies from all over the world — some ancient and some just two or three centuries old — Zimmerman has begun drawing conclusions about health and disease in past eras. His work and that of other so-called paleopathologists is starting to challenge assumptions about which diseases are caused by modern lifestyles and which ones are as ancient as the pharaohs....

  • Originally published 01/25/2013

    Aaron Blake: Why Winning Back the House is a Tough Task for Democrats

    Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for “The Fix,” the Post’s top political blog. A Minnesota native and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal asked his fellow Republicans to shift their focus outside of Washington, D.C.  in his speech Thursday night at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting.Doing so might cheer them up a little....“The Republicans will have an advantage in partisanship in districts for a long time. That, I think, is indisputable,” said Rob Richie, the executive director of the electoral reform group Fair Vote. Of the Democrats, he said, “I think that they’re probably settling in for a long stay in the minority, unless it’s a really big year.”...

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Jim Bendat on the history of presidential inaugurations

    Jim Bendat is an expert on U.S. presidential inauguration history, and has written the book “Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President 1789-2013.” Bendat spoke with Tom Fox, who is a guest writer of the Washington Post’s Federal Coach blog and vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.Can you reflect on some of your favorite leadership moments from past inaugurations?

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Dylan Matthews: No, America’s Peaceful Transitions of Power are Not Special

    Dylan Matthews covers taxes, poverty, campaign finance, higher education, and all things data for the Washington Post. He has also written for The New Republic, Salon, Slate, and The American Prospect. Follow him on Twitter here. Email him here.One of the strangest features of the inauguration was various politicians’ boasting of the U.S.’s long run of peaceful, democratic transitions. “We do this in a peaceful, orderly way,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in his introduction. “There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy.”Not to rain on everybody’s parade, but this is just about the least special feature of American democracy. You know who else has regular, peaceful transitions of power? Lots of countries....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Obama invokes gay rights in inaugural address

    President Obama on Monday became the first president to use the word “gay” as a reference to sexual orientation in an inaugural address, declaring the movement for equality to be part of the pantheon of America’s great civil rights struggles.“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” the president said. “For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”Obama also made another reference in the speech to gay equality. He placed the 1969 riot protesting a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, as a signature event in the civil rights movement — and ranked it with historical turning points in the battles for women’s and racial equality....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Curators from Smithsonian’s new black history museum scout for artifacts at Obama’s inaugural

    WASHINGTON — As crowds descended and the inauguration unfolded, a few museum curators in Washington kept watch for symbols and messages that would make history.The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will open during President Barack Obama’s second term, and one section will feature a large display about the first black president. Curators have been working since 2008 to gather objects, documents and images that capture his place in history.Curator William Pretzer ventured into the crowd Monday, mostly looking for memorabilia that had a personal touch — beyond the T-shirts and buttons hawked by vendors. Pretzer was most interested in handmade items, but he didn’t find much....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Gettysburg Remembrance Day parade has new date

    In anticipation of larger than usual crowds expected at Gettysburg for the annual Remembrance Day parade, planners have moved the event to the weekend of Nov. 23, a week later than had been scheduled.This year is the 150th anniversary of both the battle in July and Remembrance Day in November, the day President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The parade is very popular with visitors and residents and draws thousands of smartly dressed reenactors who march in military units through the city.Planners say the change was made to better accommodate “lodging requirements.”...

  • Originally published 01/18/2013

    Inauguration of first black president, federal holiday honoring King come to rare intersection

    ATLANTA — President Barack Obama plans to use a Bible that belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he takes his oath of office, a powerful symbol of this year’s rare intersection of the civil rights movement and the nation’s first black president.Monday is both Inauguration Day and the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. It is only the second time the two have fallen on the same day. Some say it’s only fitting the celebrations are intertwined.“It’s almost like fate and history coming together,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked alongside King in the fight for civil rights during the 1950s and ‘60s and plans to attend the inauguration. “If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King Jr., there would be no Barack Obama as president.”...

  • Originally published 01/16/2013

    MLK's dream still not fulfilled, son says

    As he looked across a room filled with civil rights veterans, White House officials and leaders from corporate America, Martin Luther King III said that the issues his father championed and died for have yet to be fulfilled in many communities across the country.“My heart is heavy today! A people who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat their mistakes,” said King, who spoke at a luncheon in the District, sponsored by the National Action Network, that was held on what would have been his father’s 84th birthday.The Rev. Al Sharpton, the group’s president, hosted events in Washington and New York on Tuesday in honor of the slain civil rights leader, but he told community leaders to beware of reducing King’s legacy to the commemorative events held around his birthday.“Martin Luther King can’t be reduced to a ceremony,” Sharpton said....

  • Originally published 03/21/2010

    Historic win or not, Democrats could pay a price, according to historians

    As the final round of the battle over health-care reform begins Sunday, President Obama and the Democrats are in reach of a historic legislative achievement that has eluded presidents dating back a century. The question is at what cost. By almost any measure, enactment of comprehensive health-care legislation would rank as one of the most significant pieces of social welfare legislation in the country's history, a goal set as far back as the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and pursued since by many other presidents. But unlike Social Security or Medicare, Obama's health-care bill would pass over the Republican Party's unanimous opposition. Even Republicans agree on the magnitude of what Obama could pull off, while disagreeing on the substance of the legislation. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said: "Obviously, he will have achieved as president something nobody else has done. So in that sense, it's historic." But he added, "It doesn't end the health-care debate -- it just changes it. And if it does pass, it would be a historic mistake."...

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