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Coming Attractions (North Carolina)

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh

In case you’re wondering, I’m not done yet with my posts on our trip to North Carolina last week. Still to come are a post on our visit to Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of History last Thursday and another on our visit later in the day to the North Carolina Museum of Art. We wished we had much more time for both. North Carolina’s commitment to the two museums (and to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which we didn’t get to visit because it is closed for two weeks in preparation for the opening of its new wing this Friday) is stunning, and exemplary.

More later in the week.

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

Categories: Museums

Wanker of the Decade

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

To celebrate ten years of blogging, Atrios has been writing a series of posts at Eschaton on the top ten wankers of the decade. It culminated today, the anniversary day, with his selection of the winner. If you haven’t been following along, I recommend some remedial reading.

You can start with this morning’s review, a list of the nine runners up with links to his posts about them. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from his comments last Wednesday on 8th runner up Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist. The excerpt will give you an idea of Atrios’s perspective and the criteria for making the list.

Cohen’s had a long career, wearing one of the “liberal” hats at the Washington Post. It’s a bit sad, thinking about it, as occasionally the “good” Cohen makes an appearance and gets something really really right, but all of that is washed away by decades of the kind of wankery that can only come from lifetime employees of Fox on 15th. And when bad Richard makes an appearance, he’s really, really bad. Monsters walk among us bad.

As for the big test of the decade – just how awesome do you think the Iraq war will be! – Cohen failed miserably. He was bested by the fools, the Frenchmen, and of course the dirty fucking hippies.

From 2/6/03.

It is time once again to quote my favorite philosopher — Tevye, the lead character from “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was his habit to weigh his options by saying, “On the one hand, ” and then, “On the other hand,” until he confronted a situation where there was no other hand. This is where Colin Powell brought us all yesterday.

The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.

I’ll quote also from Atrios’s post about 3rd runner up Joe Klein of Time.

He’s a fairly typical Democrat who hates Democrats, liberal who hates liberals, the real problem with the Democrats being unions, hippies, people who hate the military, people who vote for Democrats, the Democrats they vote for. The usual.

He spent years being America’s Concern Troll when it came to Iraq. He opposed the war except, you know, he didn’t really bother to tell anybody. He wasn’t all that much of a fan of how things were playing out, but the real problem, of course, were the Democrats who were trying to kill off all of our troops by cutting off funding.

And the winner is? Well, who else? Tom Friedman, come on down.

Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false “centrism” which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

If you’re still not sure why Friedman is a fraud, review the video above from May 29, 2003, with Friedman’s famous “suck on this” explanation of why we needed to go to war in Iraq. What an arrogant SOB!

Yet he continues to rake in the big bucks: mega-bestselling books, highly paid speaking appearances, TV, the column. If ever an emperor had no clothes, it’s him.

Anyway, read Atrios.

Categories: Journalism, Politics

North Carolina State Capitol

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

North Carolina Capitol, Raleigh

I’m slowly writing a series of posts on our trip to North Carolina last week. I’ve written about our dinner last Monday at Lantern; our visits last Tuesday to the Duke Homestead and Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, our visits last Wednesday to the Greensboro Historical Museum, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro; and dinner last Wednesday at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Next: more posts, on the places we visited during our Raleigh outing last Thursday.

We arrived in Raleigh a little after 10:00 last Thursday morning, coming in from the west past the Carolina Hurricanes hockey arena, the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, and the NC State ag school. Pretty open spaces, no urban feel. The transition was sudden, and in moments we were passing by the north side of the main NC State campus, with lots of traffic, coming in on Hillsborough.

The State Capitol occupies a square block in the center of the city, with streets from north, south, east, and west deadending at the block. Hillsborough is the street coming in from the west. I imagined we would see the capitol from afar, but between its modest scale and the trees, it emerged only when we were two blocks away.

We had some trouble finding a parking lot. All the visible lots were marked for employees only. Eventually, as we widened our search, we found a private garage, circled up to a high level, and parked. Once we found the elevator and came down, we found that we had exited just a half block south of the capitol. (We also discovered that what we had exited from is called a parking deck, not a parking garage. I’d be curious to know just how broad a regionalism this is.)

The main entrance to the capitol is from the east. A couple of school groups were lining up to enter. We squeezed past them, went through the east door, and got in line at the security desk behind a family of three from England. When it was our turn, the security guard asked for ID from one of us. I gave her our license and wondered what systems her computer tied into. Could she log into the NSA files and review my email and bills? I suppose not, but I know she spent a good half minute doing something at her computer before okaying us. We went through the metal detector, beyond which was a counter and a woman offering information. She gave us a guide to the building and a brief orientation, telling us to come back if we had questions.

I soon realized that tours were only available for classes, of which there were several working their way around the building. Looking at the website now, I see that tours for the general public are given only on Saturdays. Since Gail wanted to use a restroom and the women’s room was one floor up, that’s where we started our tour.

While Gail was touring the restroom, I proceeded to the central atrium and looked in on the legislative rooms to north and south, the Senate and the House. They were beautiful.

North Carolina Senate, 1840-1961

Gail joined me and we went back and forth between the two, walking in as far as was accessible. There are plaques on the wall listing the members during the 1840 and 1961 sessions. Had I read the pamphlet I was holding, I would have realized this, but the legislature moved out of the building after 1961. My other clue was the fact that there is a new Legislative Building two blocks north, which we had driven past in our search for a parking deck.

There are public galleries on the third floor. We couldn’t enter them, but could look through the doorways and down on the two meeting rooms. Also on the third floor, to the west, was the meeting space for the state supreme court, and to the east, the state library. The court moved out of the building early on, with the space converted to storage for the state geological collection. A sign explained that the state hired a geologist to survey the state and look for economic opportunities. The collection has since been moved to UNC, but representatives remain in the room.

State Capitol 3rd floor, geology collection

I’ve failed to explain that the earlier state capitol building had burned in a fire in 1831. The replacement was built between 1833 and 1840. The state library had gone up in flames with the building, except for the books a particular legislator had taken out that were a year overdue, or so the sign explained. His books and a donation from former president Madison formed the nucleus of the new collection.

State Capitol 3rd floor, state library

The supreme court moved out, the legislature moved out, but the governor remains. Back on the first floor, we looked down a closed off hall to current-use offices. Across the way, a class of kids was looking into a room. We joined the line, then had the space to ourselves, staring into the array of furniture, not yet understanding that this was the real, live governor’s office. A sign explained that this and the not-visible room beyond were the offices of the governor and governor’s assistant, with the governor in the room beyond until, more recently (the 1940s? I don’t remember) the governor switched them at which point this room became the governor’s office. It has a pair of doors that swing open when the governor isn’t in, revealing the doorway we were standing at and looking through. To the left of what you see below is a large desk and additional furniture that it was difficult to make out.

North Carolina governor's office

We completed our tour by chatting with the woman who had given us the still-unopened pamphlet at the start. She was extremely knowledgeable, and funny. She said something about giving tours on Saturdays, which I now realize makes sense, since those are the days of public tours. She also filled in some of the gaps in our understanding. We learned about the construction, all stone. None of that pine that burned down a few years earlier. And we learned that the old House and Senate rooms are available for rent. I asked if we could hold parties there. No. No food or drink. Just meetings.

Here are two of the many stories she told: In the early years, there was of course no indoor plumbing. To use bathrooms, those working in the building had to head outside to a privy in the far corner of the property. In particular, that meant those poor judges on the third floor had a long ways to go and a hard climb back. No wonder they moved out early! And those books that President Madison donated? Well, you know, Dolley was a NC native. After the fire, she was so sad. Every night — our guide imagined — Dolley would look at James in just the right way, with just the right voice, and ask if he wouldn’t want to give some of his collection to the state. You know, the way women do. Until he said yes, sure. I suggested that maybe the guide wasn’t supposed to let me in on the secret ways of women. Too late.

The block immediately north of the capitol connects the capitol to the legislature. Picture this intermediate block as three north-south stripes. The stripe to the east, running north-south, is the North Carolina Museum of History. The stripe to the west, also running north-south, is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. In-between is a walkway called the bicentennial mall, connecting the capitol and legislature blocks. It’s a lovely arrangement. See below for views north through the mall to the legislative building

North Carolina Legislative Building

and back south through the mall to the capitol, with the museums to the sides.

North Carolina Capitol

From the capitol, we would spend a couple of hours in the history museum. Then we went into the legislative building, pictured in closeup below.

After checking in, we walked up along staircase that leads directly to the third floor. To east and west are the public galleries for the House and Senate. They were locked, but we could look through the glass and down to the legislative spaces on the second floor. They lack the elegance of their 1840 counterparts, but were more attractive than I anticipated.

I skipped over our time in the North Carolina Museum of History. More in the next post.

Categories: Architecture, History

Secret War and Collateral Damage

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

Our “secret” drone war in Yemen is a continuing puzzle, and worse. Last October, I wrote about the drone killing the week before of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995. I followed up two months ago with the report of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism on drone killings of civilians in Pakistan and a month ago regarding Attorney General Holder’s defense of drone killings of US citizens, as reported by Charlie Savage in the NYT, “if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible.”

I am returning to the subject in this post in order to draw your attention to Michelle Shephard’s piece in the Toronto Star yesterday (hat tip: emptywheel) on Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. It is essential reading.

At one point, Shephard recalls Leon Panetta’s statement about drones in 2009, when he was the CIA director, that “these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage.” Shephard’s reporting adds to the evidence that Abdulrahman was not an operational leader of Al Qaeda planning attacks on the US who could not be captured alive. In fact, he was by all evidence just a kid.

His grandfather, Nasser al Awlaki, a Fulbright scholar, former agricultural minister and prominent figure in Yemen, said Abdulrahman had nothing to do with his father since he had gone into hiding in 2009.

Nasser al Awlaki has never apologized for his son’s radical views, but said he had also worked hard to insulate his grandchildren from the controversy. He attempted, he said, to give them a “normal life.”

It later emerged, but was not widely reported, that the strike did not kill its purported target, AQAP’s media chief, Egyptian Ibrahim al Bana.

The U.S. administration has refused comment.

It is unclear whether Abdulrahman was the target or if the U.S. had bad information and was going after Bana, or someone else. Either way, Awlaki said he wants answers.

So do the student demonstrators who forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, many of whom knew Abdulrahman. They carried posters in Change Square with his picture last year and the words: “The Assassination of Childhood.”

“We just don’t know why they did that,” Awlaki said of the U.S. strike. “Is it because Abdulrahman was there? It’s very possible, but I cannot claim with certainty what happened. Is it a blunder on their side?

“They cannot claim he’s collateral damage.”

Drones and U.S. directed missions have killed hundreds in Yemen in the past four years, some hitting AQAP targets, many more striking civilians.

The Obama administration, of course, continues to refuse comment. National security and all that.

The killing of Abdulrahman, his father and American citizen Samir Khan, the editor of AQAP’s English-language online magazine who was also killed in the September strike, offers an opportunity to challenge the drone program in American courts. The American Civil Liberties Union has led this fight for information, but has had little success.

“When we file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the CIA’s response is that the drone program is a state secret, that confirming its existence would jeopardize national security,” said ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer.

“And yet,” noted Jaffer, “The CIA, or administration more generally, routinely discloses information to the public, to the press, that is meant to make people feel comfortable, that the program is closely supervised, effective, necessary.”

The law doesn’t apply when it comes to our never-ending wars, especially our secret wars.

Categories: Law, Politics

I’m Tethered

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Let me take a break from the posts I’ve been writing in which I describe some of the sights we visited when we were in North Carolina last week in order to insert a travel note of a different sort.

In preparing for our trip, I knew we would stay for three nights in a New York hotel where we have been dozens of times. I have learned from painful experience that their wifi internet connection is of variable quality. Sometimes it works seamlessly. Sometimes I can’t get a page to load for minutes. And I pay for this of course.

We would then spend four nights in The Carolina Inn on the University of North Carolina campus. Free wifi was promised. Given the university connection, perhaps it would be just like home. Or better.

Was it time to tether?

Let me explain. Tethering is the process by which you convert your internet-enabled smart phone into a wifi hotspot to which you can “tether” other devices — a laptop, a tablet, whatever. No need for those stand-alone “mifi” devices that various cell phone companies offer with separate monthly plans, but that end up being one more object to travel with, one more item to charge. Just let your phone do it all.

The history of iPhone tethering is a painful one. Long after Apple introduced the capability, long after one could tether in other countries, AT&T didn’t allow it. When they finally did, there was a twist. Those of us who bought iPhones long enough ago and have stuck with AT&T have unlimited data forever for our monthly data charge of $30. Somewhere along the way, AT&T ended unlimited plans, requiring new iPhone buyers to choose between two plans that, I think initially, were 200MB/month at $15 and 2GB/month at $25. Looking at the website now, I see that the deal has changed — 300MB/month for $20 or 3 GB/month for $30. So here I am paying $30/month for unlimited. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

The reason this is an issue is that in order to enable tethering on the iPhone, one has to change one’s data plan, thereby giving up unlimited data forever. In addition to the 200MB and 2GB plans, there’s a 5GB plan, for $50/month. If one wants to tether, one must choose that. You can choose it, travel, come back, and switch to a smaller plan. What you can’t do is switch back to the unlimited plan.

Thus, if I want to tether, I sacrifice unlimited, something I’ve been loath to do.

Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter, for two reasons. One, under no imaginable current circumstance would I ever go over 3GB/month. I don’t download and watch movies on my phone. Two, AT&T has recently imposed a slow-down on big users with unlimited plans. If they go over 2 or 3 GB, download speeds decrease drastically. Thus unlimited isn’t so unlimited.

The upshot: I’m giving up essentially nothing by giving up my unlimited plan. If I’m not traveling/tethering, I can pay the same $30/month for 3GB of data usage and I’ll surely be fine. It’s virtually unlimited, given my usage patterns. And by going to $50/month, I’m paying $20 but saving the daily hotel charges. A bargain, actually.

But is the tethering connection fast? Is this really a bargain? I decided to find out.

I went online, signed in, and clicked the box changing my data plan to $50/month for 5GB. I then got an error message, something about a conflict in what I was trying to do. Tried again, same message. Called AT&T. The person I spoke to had no clue, but after a long hold she explained that it turns out AT&T wouldn’t let me keep my text message plan if I changed my data plan. Bizarre. I could pay per text or pay $15/month for unlimited. You know, I don’t text much. I was paying $5/month for 200 texts. Forget it. I said go ahead and make the change. She put me on hold, came back, said it was done. I now have no text plan, but the big data plan and tethering.

This was two Thursdays ago. I went to the iPhone settings, turned on wifi hotspot, tested it on my MacBook Air, and it worked. I was set.

Ten days later, what do I think? It’s great. At the hotel in New York, I did everything I usually do, except maybe watching videos, and I was using about 100MB/day. (I didn’t explain, but once you tether, all the devices that use the iPhone’s internet connection have their data usage counted against the monthly iPhone limit.)

When we checked into The Carolina Inn, I opened my MacBook Air, connected to the free hotel wifi, and got an amazingly fast connection. I wasn’t going to need tethering. For a moment, I had doubts about my decision. But that night, after dinner, the wifi didn’t work. Same in the morning, after initial success. That was the continuing pattern. When it worked, it was fast. But it was completely unreliable. Back to tethering.

I have to say, I prefer free hotel wifi to the $20/month additional cost of the AT&T tether-enabled plan, but only if the hotel wifi works. If it doesn’t, that $20/month beats free. And just knowing that option was there whenever I needed it was a pleasure.

I only wonder why I didn’t make the move earlier. I was so worried about sacrificing my unlimited plan. Big mistake. Another attraction is that I could bring my iPad (wifi only) and use that too through the hotspot. I didn’t bring it on this trip. Why carry everything? I chose the iPhone, the MacBook Air, and my lightweight Kindle. Next time, though, now that I know how well tethering works, I might bring the iPad rather than the Kindle.

I now need to decide whether to stick with the current data plan or switch down and wait for the next trip to return to the tethering plan. I have no need for tethering at home or work. I suppose I could use it to connect my iPad if I find myself somewhere without free wifi, like driving in the car. But I can just as well use the iPhone itself then. Anyway, I recommend it. It worked smoothly, saved me money, and ensured a good connection at all times.

Categories: Computing

Crook’s Corner

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

A few days ago, while still in Chapel Hill, I wrote about our dinner with Joel at Lantern. (Boy was it good!) Crook’s Corner Cafe and Bar is another famous Chapel Hill restaurant. After our day in Greensboro — during which we visited the three museums described in the preceding posts but failed to eat lunch — we picked up Joel and arrived at Crook’s Corner for an early dinner.

It’s a pretty low-key place, with a pig on the roof. According to the quotes on the website homepage, “Crook’s continues to live up to its national reputation as a temple of Southern cuisine” (Raleigh News & Observer) and is “sacred ground for Southern foodies” (NYT). I don’t have much of a baseline. This was more a chance to learn what one eats at a temple of southern cuisine than to judge.

From the website again, I find that in 1982,

Bill Neal and Gene Hamer thought this the perfect venue to pursue Southern cuisine. Neal wrote several acclaimed cookbooks, including Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie and placed Crook’s on the culinary map. Crook’s has the reputation for being “the birthplace of Shrimp and Grits.” The often copied dish became famous after Craig Claiborne wrote about it in The New York Times. It’s still wildly popular and Crook’s has served it in the late chef’s style now for more than 25 years.

You may wish to have a look at the menu, here.

To start, we shared three dishes: the cheddar hushpuppies with cocktail sauce; the gumbo z’herbes: green gumbo made with Caw Caw Creek country ham; and the Crook’s house salad: mixed greens with mustard vinaigrette. The initial idea was that Gail and Joel would share the hushpuppies while I ate the salad, but I couldn’t stop tasting those hushpuppies. Plus, there was plenty of salad to go around. So we all had a little of everything.

For dinner, I couldn’t decide between the Cajun ribeye, served with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, and the Cajun red snapper with creole vegetables and baked cheese grits. Neither could Gail. When I chose the ribeye, she chose the snapper. Joel had the famous shrimp and grits: shrimp sautéed with bacon, mushrooms and scallions and served over cheese grits. I intended to taste Gail’s snapper, but it was gone before I knew it. I was happy with mine. I never did get Joel’s verdict on the shrimp and grits.

For dessert, we all shared the Mt. Airy chocolate soufflé cake with fresh whipped cream. Very rich, plenty for three.

My verdict? As I said, I wasn’t there to judge. I’m still learning. I sure liked those hushpuppies though.

Categories: Restaurants

Weatherspoon Art Museum

April 15, 2012 1 comment

I’ve just written about our visit to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, last Wednesday. We got to our car around 2:30 in the afternoon. Before driving back to Chapel Hill for dinner with Joel, I wanted to stop at the Weatherspoon Art Museum on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This took Gail by surprise. She might have been thinking a late lunch would be a welcome idea. I assured her that she wanted to see the museum and we agreed that I’d find her coffee and a snack instead.

On reaching the museum, we learned that they didn’t have a café, but were pointed in the direction of local hangout Coffeeology, just down the street. You can see the table where we sat, the two-top just right of center where the guy in the gray sweater is looking downwards.

On returning to the museum, we went upstairs to see the Trenton Doyle Hancock exhibition, WE DONE ALL WE COULD AND NONE OF IT’S GOOD. “Internationally acclaimed Texas-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock is best known for his ongoing narrative and theatrical installations that thrust the viewer literally and figuratively into his personal, idiosyncratic, and, at times, heretical weave of words and images. This exhibition features new and selected works executed across a wide variety of media, including drawing, painting, collage, and sculpture.”

We didn’t spend long, moving on to Telling Tales: Narratives from the 1930s, a small but superb exhibit. From the website:

Artists who advocated both representational and abstract styles attempted to capture the spirit of their age—a time marked by the bleak reality of the Great Depression as well as the uplifting optimism linked with the machine age and its promise of progress. While works by Social Realist and Regionalist artists—the art market’s dominant styles at the time—abound, images by other artists whose concerns were more psychologically penetrating are also included.

Factories

We were two days too early for the opening of Matisse and the Decorative Impulse, being prepared in some additional second floor space. Back on the main floor, we looked at Richard Mosse: Falk Visiting Artist. As the title indicates, Mosse is visiting the university now, and in honor of the visit, the museum has a show of his recent work.

Photographer Richard Mosse has spent the last two years shooting a new series of work titled Infra in the eastern Congo. The artist is known for his restrained and highly aestheticized views of sites associated with violence and fear, such as his 2008 depictions of the war in Iraq, and his large-scale photographs of airplane crash sites and emergency drills. For his work in the Congo, Mosse used Kodak Aerochrome, an infrared film designed in connection with the United States military to detect camouflage in the 1940s. The film reveals a spectrum of light beyond what the human eye can perceive, turning the lush landscape of the Congo into a bubblegum pink. This hue contrasts dramatically with the severe environment within which the people of the eastern Congo live and draws our attention to the complex social and political dynamics of the country. Beginning in 1998, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) became the site of the widest interstate war in modern African history, which has claimed millions of lives. Although the conflict was thought to have subsided in 2006, with the first free elections, thousands continue to die as a result of the ongoing conflict, most due to hunger and disease.

Mosse’s technique, as described above, yields amazing results. The landscape colors are altered while other colors remain true, creating surprisingly powerful images. The one at the top is typical. Here’s one more.

On our way out, we took a quick look at the Sculpture Garden.

Who would have imagined that UNC Greensboro has such a good art museum? For that matter, who would have imagined that there are so many wonderful museums in Greensboro? We saw so much in our six hours.

Categories: Art, Museums

International Civil Rights Museum

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Historic Woolworth's, site of Greensboro's civil rights museum

[Photo by me]

I just wrote about the first stop of our visit to Greensboro, North Carolina, last Wednesday, the Greensboro Historical Museum. This was a warmup for our day’s principal destination, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. It is on the site of the Woolworth’s where four North Carolina A&T students staged their historic lunch counter sit-in in 1960. As I explained in writing about the museum two months ago, we had seen a portion of the lunch counter two years ago at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and I was eager to see the rest.

One can visit the civil rights museum by guided tour only. Three weeks ago, I called to reserve a 1:00 PM tour. It emerged that this was unnecessary. We arrived around 12:45 PM, went into the store, and stood in line behind a family of three and a man. They bought tickets for the tour, I announced that we had a reservation, the woman at the counter nodded her head, and sold us two tickets. A few minutes later, the six of us being the lone guests, our tour began.

The guide was a stern taskmaster. She lectured us on the house rules — no photographs, no touching, etc. — then led us down the escalator from the lobby to the basement. Over the next 75 minutes, she would take us into a sequence of spaces, all of which was designed to allow for unescorted study, but we had to glance quickly at any of the written explanations, for she would give us her version of the story and hurry us on. Not that she did a bad job. In fact, she was an excellent guide. The problem with this arrangement was simply that there was so much more to see and read about than we were given the time to do.

Here’s a brief rundown of the tour.

1. At the foot of the escalator is an orientation space. Our guide spoke about slavery and we could see, through the clear wall, a scene with shackles where slaves would be auctioned. On another wall was more orienting information, I can’t remember what. I tried to walk closer to one object, but was told to stand back or I would trigger the opening of the door to the next room.

2. We entered the Hall of Shame. Well, first, our guide told us we would enter it and warned us of graphic images. She looked sharply at the parents of the family of three, seemingly expecting them to offer to skip it, then she asked if they were prepared to enter. They said sure. It has graphic images indeed, from a black man burned in Nebraska some time in the 1800s to Emmitt Till. We stopped at a few, received the guide’s commentary, then moved on.

3. We took seats in the next space to watch a video enactment of the evening before the Woolworth’s sit-in, with the four young men in a dorm room discussing their plan. They go over the reasons for it, the risks they would be taking, then commit to proceeding. Three, we learn, were locals, with the fourth from New York. As the video ends, the wall on which it was projected fades away and we see into a re-creation of their room. The NCA&T dorm that they lived in was demolished, but first some furniture was salvaged and is on display in this exhibit. But before we could walk closer for a look, we were taken to a long hall, our guide explaining that as we walk it, we should imagine the walk the four students took from their dorm to the Woolworth’s.

4. The hall has large photos on the walls, the last ones being Gandhi on one side and Martin Luther King on the other. We stopped at the end as the guide recited the names of the photographed people, all from the US civil rights movement other than Gandhi.

5. From the hall, we took an escalator up, arriving at the Woolworth’s. Or rather, a large space that had been the Woolworth’s, with a long lunch counter running along two perpendicular walls. I don’t recall ever seeing such a huge lunch counter. The two runs of seats were each at least 25 seats long, perhaps 30. Re-created on the walls were prices of items, 5-cent Pepsis and 85-cent turkey club sandwiches. The seats alternated in color between green and orange. We were told that three sets of four seats had been removed, one in the Smithsonian, one in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, the third I didn’t catch where. But we saw no gaps. Had they been filled with seats from other Woolworth’s? Were these the original seats? It’s all a puzzle.

We watched a video on the wall behind the counter that told the sit-in story, with actors re-enacting the scene. The four students sitting down, being refused service, but staying put. An imaginary African-American waitress urging them to leave so they don’t make trouble for everyone. An imaginary white waitress being nasty. A white woman sitting amongst them who expresses support for what they’re doing. More students joining in subsequent days, bringing their books to study and staying all day, with men shown leaning in with unfriendly faces. The store manager studying his books and deciding this was bad for business. The decision to integrate.

I’ve skipped over some of the background. Everyone could shop in the store. It’s only sitting at the counter that was closed to blacks. They could order food at one location in the counter, receiving it and having to stand around in the store to eat it.

6. This was the highlight of the tour, and I thought the end, but through the next door lay a detailed exhibit on the Jim Crow south. There were sections on travel by bus and train, staying in hotels, schools, medical care, voting, … . Each had photos and signs, buttons to push for narratives. I think one could spend a good two hours going through it all. But once again we were raced around by our guide, who highlighted some of the photos and history from each section. For instance, we got to see the test that potential voters would have to pass to be allowed to vote, a hopeless test. I asked what about whites who failed, and the guide explained that children of voters had the right to vote, so they wouldn’t have to take the test. It’s new voters who had to pass, excluding many blacks and some whites.

7. Lastly, there was a room with photos of civil rights efforts worldwide. I entered it prematurely, setting off the video that plays along one wall. The guide made some closing remarks, then we came out to the lobby.

If only we had the leisure to wander on our own. But still, a great visit.

Categories: History, Museums

Greensboro Historical Museum

April 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I got off to a good start in blogging about our New York-North Carolina trip last week (for instance, writing about the Duke Homestead and Nasher Museum of Art), which we visited in Durham on Tuesday), but then stopped dead. Let me try to get Ron’s View re-started here.

On Wednesday, we drove the not-quite-fifty miles from Chapel Hill west to Greensboro, with the principal goal of visiting the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. We had reserved a 1:00 PM tour and arrived early so we could explore Greensboro ahead of time. As we drove around the downtown area, we passed the stadium of the Greensboro Grasshoppers minor league baseball team, the principal downtown office buildings, and then, rounding a corner, a grouping of log-cabin buildings in a small park.

That last item caught our eye. We parked in the first available spot on the street, walked back, and on reading the sign for a nineteenth-century home, realized that this collection was part of the Greensboro Historical Museum. Indeed, we had driven past the museum moments before spotting the house. It was the large brick building just behind us, and the park contained their collection of historic buildings.

In Mary Lynn Richardson Park, see sculpture and stroll the walkways around the Francis McNairy House, originally located near today’s Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Inside, discover furnishings and decorative arts from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Built as a log house, it now looks much as it would have in the 1820s, when the family renovated their home and added clapboard siding.

The Hockett Blacksmith and Woodworking Shops were once part of a flourishing family farm south of Greensboro. Open for scheduled tours and during special events, the buildings serve up a helping of historic crafts that were essential to and every community.

Realizing that we had stumbled on the history museum, we left the park and entered. A kindly older gentleman with a local accent gave us a museum map and oriented us a bit. There wasn’t much on the main floor. The lobby. Restrooms and offices. A century-old cadillac. We climbed the stairs, at the top of which was a display of the Metcalf-Cooke Silver Collection and an adjacent display of some clothing of Dolley Madison:

Before suffragettes and feminists revolutionized the American landscape, one local woman influenced the flavor of our nation.

Icon. Fashionista. Heroine. Guilford County native, and the only First Lady born in North Carolina, Dolley Madison is one of the area’s most celebrated native daughters. Wife of our 4th president, James Madison, Dolley led a life filled with love and acclaim, but also with hardship.

Let Dolley’s personal possessions, collected with care through the years, introduce you to the part of her life marked by privilege, parties and high tea. A calling card case and pair of silk slippers will transport you into the social swirl of her time as First Lady.

Then, discover why Dolley spent her final years in near-poverty and how her possessions, first sold at auction, were later donated to the Greensboro Historical Museum.

Beyond these is a large semi-circular space three historical rooms from North Carolina homes re-created on the outer semi-circle. I’m not seeing a link to them at the museum website. Two, a living room and dining room, were from a wealthy person’s home, circa 1850. The third was an all-purpose room from a home, circa 1800. They were well done, and I imagined them to be the museum highlight. Gail had drifted off to look at the pottery in the interior of the semi-circle. It was an exhibition of Jugtown Pottery:

In the Piedmont region of North Carolina, the words “Jugtown” and “pottery” are practically synonymous. Nearly 100 years ago a couple from New York City visited the nearby community of Seagrove, North Carolina, and stepped in to save what was then a dying tradition of handmade pottery. Then, almost 50 years later, local collectors Joanne and Arthur Bluethenthal visited Seagrove’s Jugtown Pottery and, with a discerning eye, began to purchase a range of beautifully handcrafted clay pieces. The decorative and functional designs illustrate the rich artistic heritage that is a source of pride for Greensboro, the entire state and the nation.

Oh, I didn’t mention Otto Zenke’s miniature rooms, wonderful furnished rooms made by the prominent interior designer back around the 1930s. I thought we’d seen everything on the floor after the pottery, so we headed to the stairway for the top floor and the Civil War collection, only to see a doorway leading to what turns out to be the museum’s centerpiece, the exhibition Voices of a City. We spent over an hour going through it, would happily have stayed longer.

“What would a city say if it could speak?” asked the writer O. Henry. Indeed, what would Greensboro’s generations have to say about the place, its people and events? Through Voices of a City: Greensboro North Carolina, you will discover new interpretations from more than 300 years of local history.

What may seem like ordinary objects tell extraordinary stories. An ornate shell necklace traded centuries ago by one tribe to another. An illuminated German Bible essential for worship by non-English speakers. A rifle fired during a 1781 battle for independence. A desk used by a newspaper editor who decried slavery publicly yet owned slaves through marriage. A loom that wove denim for apparel worn around the world. A seat from a civil rights sit-in that changed the nation. A flight attendant’s handbook that survived the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

The exhibit does a great job of laying out the human history of the region, from the Native Indian life to today. The wagon route down from Philadelphia through the Piedmont area of North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia, that brought settlers from 1800 onward; the principal settler groups — Quakers, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, Germans, and of course enslaved Africans; Civil War and reconstruction; the growth of the textile industry (denim overalls, Wrangler jeans); Vick’s Vaporub (invented in Greensboro); mills.

See the photos below (and at top) from the gallery photo tour.

There was so much to see, read, and learn. What a superb local history museum!

Categories: History, Museums

Nasher Museum of Art

April 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Rooster, 1991

In my previous post, I described our visit this morning to the Duke Homestead. From there, we drove a couple of miles to Duke University to visit its Nasher Museum of Art, arriving a little after noon. Just in time for lunch, which we happily had at the Museum Café. Gail and I shared a white bean and chicken soup, and both of us chose the curried chicken salad wrap with side salad. This was the most beautiful imaginable day, so we sat on the outside patio, but we hadn’t taken into account how windy it was. Our stuff kept blowing away. After the soup, we moved inside.

Two of the museum’s gallery rooms are devoted to a temporary exhibition, Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy, which was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. A third large space contained several exhibits from the permanent collection. One, Angels, Devils and the Electric Slide: Outsider Art from the Permanent Collection, was prepared specifically to complement the Calder show. We started here, without first reading the sign that explained its complementary role — use of found objects, etc. Perhaps the intent was for us to start with Calder.

No matter. We loved this exhibition. You can see my favorite, Jimmy Lee Sudduth‘s rooster, above. Below is the placard describing it.

There was also an exhibition put together by a Duke class of undergraduates and graduate students containing ancient objects from the permanent collection. And a selection from museum’s medieval collection, the core of which was acquired from the estate of Ernest Brummer in 1966. The museum says this is one of the finest medieval collection in a university museum. I’m guessing there’s not much competition for this honor, but in any case, the collection certainly contains some wonderful pieces.

As for the Calder show, it was a delight. Here’s the online description:

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University presents an exhibition that provides a fresh perspective on modern sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and his influence on a new generation of artists.

Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art pairs 32 master works by Calder with works by seven young artists: Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Aaron Curry, Kristi Lippire, Jason Meadows and Jason Middlebrook. The Nasher Museum is the fourth and final venue for the exhibition, which will be on view from February 16 to June 17, 2012.

Visitors know and love Calder as the inventor of the mobile, and for his legacy as a modern sculptor. This is the first exhibition to explore Calder’s influence on an exciting new generation of artists. Visitors will have a rare chance to see their work side by side with that of Calder, to compare the creative use of materials to define space and explore form, balance, color and movement.

And here is one of the works:

Alexander Calder, Four Boomerangs, c. 1949. Painted sheet metal and steel wire, 39 x 63 inches diameter. Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

[Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago]

Well worth a visit. And have lunch too.

Categories: Art, Museums