Saturday, March 30, 2024

Shrine of Inari at the BBG

This is my favorite part of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden - the Shrine of Inari with the two fox statues in front. Shrines to Inari invariably have these fox statues - or kitsune, apparently. I know they are messengers of the god but also, they're so cute.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Orchid update ~ eight flowers

This last one appeared a month after the seventh flower.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Civil War - but with cats

I found this funny graphic at the Library of Congress website recently and then, coincidentally a couple of days later at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

It's called "The Question Settled" and the cat on the right represents the South - or to be exact "Jeff" as in Jefferson Davis, the white cat represents the North as indicated by "Old Abe" on his collar, and the cat on the left has a ribbon labelled "contraband" which is what the enslaved people, rescued from the Confederacy by the Union Army, were called.

This version from the Library Company is in better shape than the one in the Library of Congress, but you can still see spots and stains on the image. I'll have to clean that up with Photoshop one of these days. More about the image here.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Getting Right with Lincoln

Initially I called my play about the friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass THE LINCOLN-DOUGLASS DEBATES but decided to change it to GETTING RIGHT WITH LINCOLN.

The first title was a response to the Republican party's shameful abuse of the memory of Douglass, specifically when a Republican state senator of Virginia, in the early days of the ongoing campaign by the Republican Party to erase Black history, introduced a bill to ban the teaching of "divisive concepts."

He was open, however to the discussion of "history" for example "the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass."

The senator had confused abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass with white senator Stephen Douglas, who famously had a series of debates, primarily about slavery, with Lincoln in 1858. This was after Donald Trump had said “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Which made it sound like Trump believed Douglass was currently alive.

But in the end I decided that too many people might not get the difference between Douglas with one S and Douglass with two Ss and so might assume the play was about the actual Lincoln - Douglas debates. 

The phrase "getting right with Lincoln" is used often by historians, as I came to learn in the year and a half of researching Lincoln and Frederick Douglass before writing the play. The phrase comes from an essay by historian David Donald published in The Atlantic in 1956, although apparently Donald originally got it from a congressman:

 as Congressman Everett Dirksen solemnly assured his Republican colleagues, that these days the first task of a politician is "to get right with...Lincoln."

I decided to use the phrase as a way to describe Frederick Douglass' gradual appreciation of Lincoln and their friendship, which was cut horribly short by Lincoln's assassination.

Also it sounds cooler than my first title, although the phrase has been used by some of the least cool people imaginable, starting with Donald himself. Although he does not explain why he finds it so objectionable that all points on the American political spectrum want to claim Lincoln as an ally - does he not understand how politics works? - he does not hide his contempt for politicians as a whole. And then of course there's the very fashionable misogyny of the time:

the seventeenth annual Lincoln Day dinner of the New York Republican Club, held at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1903. Some five hundred men attended--their wives were segregated in those happy, bygone days-

Even less cool is Charles R. Kesler, who wrote Getting Right with Lincoln: Why Lincoln's Conservative Critics Are Wrong. The article is valuable in that it demonstrates a right-winger admitting the right's hostility towards Lincoln, but a quick Google of his name demonstrates that Kesler is awful. He was a member of the Trump-led Republican Party's scheme to erase Black American history, the "1776 Commission." 

As if that isn't bad enough, Kelser wrote an apologia for Trump after January 6, in which he cites third-rate thinker and professional racist Steve Sailer

Nobody except other racists take Sailer seriously, and so I have no doubt Kesler is a racist. Abraham Lincoln does not need an extremist ghoul like that defending his honor.

More recently the phrase was seen as the title of the 2021 book Getting Right with Lincoln: Correcting Misconceptions about Our Greatest President by Edward Steers. It's an exhaustive and exhausting book examining claims about Lincoln's relationships and beliefs. Steers finds no nit too small to pick. It's not a fun read, although I do appreciate its emphasis on the fact that historians, while usually starting out from the same primary sources, often do not agree among themselves.

In a lecture about Frederick Douglass in 2018, historian David Blight used the phrase too:

...there's this old saying about Abraham Lincoln that I think David Donald coined in a 1955 essay, 50-something. And the line is simply "getting right with Lincoln." You know, choosing your Lincoln and getting - using Lincoln for your cause, getting on the side of Lincoln. What would Lincoln think? What would Lincoln have done? We kind of do that with Douglass now to some degree...

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Sassy Lincoln

While doing research for my Lincoln play, I found this photo of Lincoln. It seems more dynamic than most of them - he doesn't look so much like his monument here, more like a guy who's about to say something - probably tell a funny story. It almost looks like he's winking but I think more likely his eyelid just drooped like that.