The Woman Who Made Jo van Gogh-Bonger – The New York Times

“In 1885, a 22-year-old Dutch woman named Johanna Bonger met Theo van Gogh, the younger brother of the artist, who was then making a name for himself as an art dealer in Paris. History knows Theo as the steadier of the van Gogh brothers, the archetypal emotional anchor, who selflessly managed Vincent’s erratic path through life, but he had his share of impetuosity. He asked her to marry him after only two meetings.

Jo, as she called herself, was raised in a sober, middle-class family. Her father, the editor of a shipping newspaper that reported on things like the trade in coffee and spices from the Far East, imposed a code of propriety and emotional aloofness on his children. There is a Dutch maxim, “The tallest nail gets hammered down,” that the Bonger family seems to have taken as gospel. Jo had set herself up in a safely unexciting career as an English teacher in Amsterdam. She wasn’t inclined to impulsiveness. Besides, she was already dating somebody. She said no.

But Theo persisted. He was attractive in a soulful kind of way — a thinner, paler version of his brother. Beyond that, she had a taste for culture, a desire to be in the company of artists and intellectuals, which he could certainly provide. Eventually he won her over. In 1888, a year and a half after his proposal, she agreed to marry him. After that, a new life opened up for her. It was Paris in the belle epoque: art, theater, intellectuals, the streets of their Pigalle neighborhood raucous with cafes and brothels. Theo was not just any art dealer. He was at the forefront, specializing in the breed of young artists who were defying the stony realism imposed by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Most dealers wouldn’t touch the Impressionists, but they were Theo van Gogh’s clients and heroes. And here they came, Gauguin and Pissarro and Toulouse-Lautrec, the young men of the avant-garde, marching through her life with the exotic ferocity of zoo creatures.” . . .

” . . . Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.

The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. Her full story has only recently been uncovered. It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.” . . .

Jonathan Alter | Can Biden Be Our F.D.R.? – The New York Times

Mr. Alter is a journalist and the author of “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.”

Credit…Left, Popperfoto, via Getty Images; right, Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

” “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes,” Mark Twain (supposedly) said. If so, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. could be a couplet. With a few breaks and the skillful execution of what seems to be a smart legislative strategy, President Biden is poised to match F.D.R.’s stunning debut in office.

That doesn’t require Mr. Biden to transform the country before May 1, the end of his first 100 days, the handy if arbitrary marker that Mr. Roosevelt (to the irritation of his successors) laid down in 1933. But for America to “own the future,” as the president promised last month, he needs to do amid the pandemic what Mr. Roosevelt did amid the Depression: restore faith that the long-distrusted federal government can deliver rapid, tangible achievements.

With one of the biggest and fastest vaccination campaigns in the world and the signing of a $1.9 trillion dollar Covid relief package, the president has made a good start at that. His larger aim is to change the country by changing the terms of the debate.

Just as Mr. Roosevelt understood that the laissez-faire philosophy of the 1920s wasn’t working anymore to build the nation, Mr. Biden sees that Reagan-era market capitalism cannot alone rebuild it.” . . .

Judy Batalion | The Nazi-Fighting Women of the Jewish Resistance – The New York Times

Dr. Batalion is the author of the forthcoming “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,” from which this essay is adapted.

“In 1943, Niuta Teitelbaum strolled into a Gestapo apartment on Chmielna Street in central Warsaw and faced three Nazis. A 24-year-old Jewish woman who had studied history at Warsaw University, Niuta was likely now dressed in her characteristic guise as a Polish farm girl with a kerchief tied around her braided blond hair.

She blushed, smiled meekly and then pulled out a gun and shot each one. Two were killed, one wounded. Niuta, however, wasn’t satisfied. She found a physician’s coat, entered the hospital where the injured man was being treated, and killed both the Nazi and the police officer who had been guarding him.

“Little Wanda With the Braids,” as she was nicknamed on every Gestapo most-wanted list, was one of many young Jewish women who, with supreme cunning and daring, fought the Nazis in Poland. And yet, as I discovered over several years of research on these resistors, their stories have largely been overlooked in the broader history of Jewish resistance in World War II.” . . .

Biden Endorses Filibuster Rule Changes – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The fight over the Senate filibuster escalated sharply on Tuesday, as President Biden for the first time threw his weight behind changing the rules even as Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, threatened harsh reprisals if Democrats moved to weaken the procedural tactic.

In an interview with ABC News, Mr. Biden gave his most direct endorsement yet of overhauling the filibuster, saying that he favored a return to what is called the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of legislation occupy the floor and make their case against it.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it, what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” the president said. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.” The comments were a significant departure for Mr. Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate who has been frequently described by aides as reluctant to alter Senate procedure.

“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he added.”

Great reporting by Carl Hulse, followed by great comments. Enough with the namby pamby.

Where on earth did I get namby pamby, probably from my famously outspoken mother.

And it is real expression, says Wikipedia: ”

Namby-pamby is a term for affected, weak, and maudlin speech/verse. It originates from Namby Pamby (1725) by Henry Carey.

Carey wrote his poem as a satire of Ambrose Philips and published it in his Poems on Several Occasions. Its first publication was Namby Pamby: or, a panegyrick on the new versification address’d to A—– P—-, where the A– P– implicated Ambrose Philips. Philips had written a series of odes in a new prosody of seven-syllable lines and dedicated it to “all ages and characters, from Walpole steerer of the realm, to Miss Pulteney in the nursery.” This 3.5′ line became a matter of consternation for more conservative poets, and a matter of mirth for Carey. Carey adopts Philips’s choppy line-form for his parody and latches onto the dedication to nurseries to create an apparent nursery rhyme that is, in fact, a grand bit of nonsense and satire mixed.

Philips was a figure who had become politically active and was a darling of the Whig party. He was also a target of the Tory satirists. Alexander Pope had criticized Philips repeatedly (in The Guardian and in his Peri Bathos, among other places), and praising or condemning Philips was a political as much as poetic matter in the 1720s, with the nickname also employed by John Gay and Jonathan Swift.

The poem begins with a mock-epic opening (as had Pope’s Rape of the Lock and as had Dryden’s MacFlecknoe), calling all the muses to witness the glory of Philips’s prosodic reform:

“All ye Poets of the Age!
All ye Witlings of the Stage!
Learn your Jingles to reform!
Crop your Numbers and Conform:
Let your little Verses flow
Gently, Sweetly, Row by Row:
Let the Verse the Subject fit;
Little Subject, Little Wit.
Namby-Pamby is your Guide;
Albion’s Joy, Hibernia’s Pride.”

Timothy Snyder – On Tyranny – Trade Paperback

#1 New York Times Bestseller • A historian of fascism offers a guide for surviving and resisting America’s turn towards authoritarianism.

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.

“Mr. Snyder is a rising public intellectual unafraid to make bold connections between past and present.” —The New York Times

Source: Timothy Snyder – On Tyranny – Trade Paperback

Opinion | The Afghan War Is Over. Did Anyone Notice? – By Elliot Ackerman – The New York Times

Mr. Ackerman is a former Marine and intelligence officer who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

“I first read “The Iliad” in high school. The translation my teacher handed out had a single photograph on the cover: American G.I.s on D-Day storming out of a landing craft onto Omaha Beach.

The subtext of this pairing wasn’t obvious to me, as a teenager. The rage of Achilles, the death of Hector and all those Greeks in their “black-hulled ships” seemed to have little to do with the Second World War.

Many years later, after having fought in two wars of my own, that image has come to resonate in a new way. If “The Iliad” served as an ur-text for the shape the ancient Greeks assumed their wars to take (Alexander the Great, for example, is said to have slept with a copy beneath his pillow when on campaign), then World War II has served a similar function in our society, framing our expectations of war, becoming our American Iliad. We still expect to be the good guys; we expect there to be a beginning, a middle and an end; and we expect that the war is over when the troops come home.

But that final expectation — that a war is only over when all the troops come home — has never really held true, not in World War II, and not today.”

The poisonous myth: Democratic Germany’s ‘stab in the back’ legend – Alan Kramer – Irish Times

1919: Germans take war machines apart outside Berlin. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles Germany was required to disarm. This tank is in fact a British tank, captured and put into service by the Germans. Photograph:  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1919: Germans take war machines apart outside Berlin. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles Germany was required to disarm. This tank is in fact a British tank, captured and put into service by the Germans. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

““German economic life is to be annihilated . . . It amounts to the denial of the people’s right to existence.” (German foreign minister Count Brockdorff-Rantzau’s response to the draft peace treaty, May 1919.)

Germany lost the war. It is easy to lose sight of this basic fact. The peace treaties imposed by the victorious nations on Germany and its allies resulted from their defeat and capitulation.

The Treaty of Versailles, signed by Germany on June 28th, 1919 (the others being the treaties of St. Germain with Austria, Trianon with Hungary, Neuilly with Bulgaria, and Sèvres with Turkey), did not result from negotiations between equals, as some German politicians naively hoped.

In fact it flowed directly from the armistice of November 1918, a term that implied a temporary pause in fighting. Over the summer of 1918 Allied offensives were driving the German troops back through France and Belgium towards the German border; increasing numbers of German soldiers, with their combat officers, were surrendering en masse – a sure symptom of the army’s loss of cohesion. To German commanders it was becoming clear that defeat loomed large and imminent.

Strict censorship and the army’s daily false news bulletins meant that news of the armistice came as a shock

Armies, as organisations of violence based on values of bravery and endurance, find it hard to admit defeat. The more thoughtful German officers could read the signs by summer 1918, but the de facto commander-in-chief, General Eric Ludendorff, kept lying to the civilian government about non-existent victories, masses of reserves, and the great losses of the enemy.

Only on September 29th did Ludendorff finally admit to the army leadership that the war was lost. He demanded the formation of a new democratically-based government that must call for an “armistice”. If not the army would completely collapse.”

Source: The poisonous myth: Democratic Germany’s ‘stab in the back’ legend

Great books – Wikipedia

Great books are written publications that have been accepted by modern day scholars as the essential foundation of literature in Western culture. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines them as certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of western culture. Over the years it has become customary for institutes of higher education to incorporate these readings into their curriculum.“The reason for the study of these classical texts is to both allow and encourage students to become familiar with some of the most revered  authors throughout history. This helps to ensure that students and newly found scholars are equipped with a plethora of resources to utilize throughout their studies.

The great books are used in conjunction with literary classes in higher education courses, but are often taught in separate subcategories designed for the tone of the intended learning environment. Mortimer Adler used 500 books, out of the list of 517 books within the conglomeration of mixed titles, to teach his pupils expanded literary knowledge past that of their current generation. While Adler stuck to the original list, with a few differences to some novels, many chose to omit many of these titles in order to suit an undergraduate class semester by allowing for only 130 books, such as Torrey Honors Institute.[1] For more thorough literary criticisms, people such as Harold Bloom have comprised lists of volumes including up to 2400 books of differing natures.(2,400 books, Harold Bloom)[2]

Source: Great books – Wikipedia

A Presidential Historian Makes a Rare Appearance in Today’s Political Arena – By Alexandra Alter – The New York Times

“Last month, the historian and biographer Jon Meacham got an unusual request from Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign. The campaign wanted him to speak at the Democratic National Convention — not to endorse Mr. Biden, but to put the stakes of this election in historical context.

“The request was, define the soul of America, and do it quick,” Mr. Meacham said.

Mr. Meacham is not a Democrat. He has voted for candidates of both parties, and his work has focused his attention on studying past presidents rather than endorsing modern-day ones. When he gave his four-minute address Thursday evening from his home in Nashville, he sat in his library with two portraits mounted behind him: one of Representative John Lewis and one of former President George Bush, painted by his son former President George W. Bush.

It was a rare, high-profile appearance in the political arena for a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Mr. Meacham has spent much of his career steeped in the country’s past, studying the lives of presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

His speech also marked a public moment in a long-running friendship with Mr. Biden, with whom he has had periodic, spirited conversations about American history and how the country’s sometimes-troubled past shapes the present and future.”