Friday, May 22, 2009

Do you like a good forgery? Watch Abe Lincoln giving a talk.

Yes, that's right. No, you really cannot trust anything you see on the Internet. Take a listen.

No microphones or movie cameras existed yet in 1862. But no matter. The technology today for doctoring old footage is still rough. It's easy to spot a fake like this, and watching Lincoln's lips move along with the voice is creepy. But over time, this software will improve and "reality" some day may become like just another flavor of ice cream or another type of TV show.

Beware, my historian friends. If Abe Lincoln can look at you in the eye and speak convincingly in what appears like his own voice and his own words, then how much weight will our skeptical, academic, scholarly works continue to carry in comparison?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gasp! Calvin Coolidge trying to give a speech.

Who was the worst ever President on on the stump?

With the now-not-so-new modern miracle of You-Tube rare old videos pop up all the time. As a result, we get to see just how bad some of the pre-TV Presidents were at trying to talk.

Take a listen to Calvin Coolidge chatting away on the White House lawn in 1924.
"Silent Cal" was not a terrible President. In the C-SPAN president's poll this year, I ranked him solidly mediocre, as number 20 out of 43.
He presided over the Roaring Twenties and Coolidge Prosperity. He left town just before the bubble burst in the 1929 Stock Crash.

Coolidge was an "Accidental President." Republicans nominated him to run for Vice President in 1920 after Coolidge, as Massachusetts Governor, took a strong stand in the 1919 Boston Police Strike. When President Warren G. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 at the height of the Teapot Dome Scandal, Coolidge took the top job.

Watching Coolidge talking from notes in his raspy voice makes you cringe. Could he ever be elected to anything today? We judge public figures today so much by the TV standard, how smooth they appear, how stylish they look, how well they speak. Is it all fluff?

Enjoy the time capsule. Here''s the link.
href="Calvin'>">Calvin Coolidge 1924.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Deep Sea Ocean Divers -- A Story

One of my history obsessions is with old deep sea ocean divers. Back in the 1800s, these hard-hat daredevils were pushing the limits of science and adventure to a shocking extent. Today, they are almost totally forgotten -- a crime.
Here's a piece I wrote for American Heritage Invention and Technology on one diver's near-fatal descent in 1886 on a shipwreck called The Oregon out in the Atlantic Ocean some 20 miles south of Fire Island, New York. It was over 110 feet deep in cold water with rough seas and blinding-bad visibility. Yet he did it with a copper helmet, rubber air-hose supplied by a hand-cranked pump, no lights, no gloves, and almost no scientific understanding of "the bends" or decompression. Just plenty of raw nerve.
Here's the link. Hope you enjoy it:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another great new book on FDR's New Deal

Here's my blurb: "This intimate portrait of the Writers' Project, a gem of FDR's New Deal, is a nostalgic journey through America in the Depression Era. Familiar faces dot every corner, young writers from Studs Terkel to Richard Wright, John Cheever to Ralph Ellison. It's a journey well worth taking, a key formative moment in our literary common culture, well written and nicely researched."