Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Plus Ça Change: A French Comment on Brexit

Sylvie Kauffman quotes a telling comment on Brexit in "Watching Brexit Fall Apart" (NY Times, 22 January 2019).  Referring to the mixed feelings Great Britain has entertained ever since joining what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, the French legislator Jean-Louis Bourlanges quipped, "The British always had one foot in the E.U. and one foot out--now with Brexit they want the opposite."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Is Trump is a Russian Agent? Let's Hope So, Says Garrett Graff

On January 16, 2019, Garrett M. Graff In Wired summed up two competing and mutually exclusive ways to view President Trump.  I'll quote verbatim Graff's first three paragraphs, but I urge you to read his entire piece:  not only is it clear, but the clear presentation of evidence is devastating.*

"It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn't an agent of Russian intelligence.

"The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn't actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America has elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

"In short, we've reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election--or Trump will go down in history as the world most famous 'useful idiot,' as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it."

Either/Or hypotheses don't always work, however, not only because there can be some middle ground between the two extremes, but because chronologically they sometimes can be seen as "First/Then."  In this case, for example, it's altogether possible that Trump was first a "useful idiot" to the Russians, eager as he was to obtain Russian financing for his hotels that he couldn't obtain from US sources.  Then, compromised perhaps by acts like participating in Golden Showers or money laundering for the oligarchs (and of course both are possible), Trump became an agent of Russian intelligence.

All the more reason, then, to hope that Special Prosecutor Mueller's report gets published.


*[I am unable to link to Wired, but you can read Graff's piece by Googling "Graff Trump Mueller."]

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Dillinger's With Saw, Plane & Chisel: How to Build Historic American Furniture

As a collector of American Colonial furniture for over fifty years and a user of hand tools for over thirty, I read Zachary Dillinger’s With Saw, Plane & Chisel: How to Build Historic American Furniture (Popular Woodworking Books, 2016) with keen interest. Unfortunately, the book fails to deliver what its title promises.

Dillinger’s six projects span a good hundred years. With detailed instructions and excellent photographs, Dillinger shows how to build a Jacobean chest of drawers, a William and Mary side chair, a Queen Anne stool, a Queen Anne desk, a Chippendale bookcase, and a Hepplewhite hunt board. But how historically accurate are these reproductions? A critical look at these projects soon reveals that they are generic, based less on specific surviving examples than on stylistic features generally attributed to whatever so-called period is in question. The sources for these six projects remain vague: Dillinger says that the William and Mary side chair copies a chair he owns and that the Hepplewhite hunt board comes from Vermont, but he does not give sources for his other projects. 

Even worse, three of his six projects distort what historic examples looked like. Dillinger’s version of a “Queen Anne” stool, for example, is nothing less than grotesque.  Upholstered stools with cabriole legs were common in England with its more stratified society but rare in America. Squatty with bandy legs, Dillinger’s stool looks as if it had been whelped by an English bulldog. His “Queen Anne” desk also has faulty proportions:  Colonial slant-top desks with drawers were generally about as wide as they were high.  At 29 1/2” wide, Dillinger’s desk is unusually narrow for its height of 41”, so it looks top heavy. His “Chippendale” bookcase possibly could be considered an example of early 20th century Colonial Revival style, but it certainly isn’t representative of American bookcases from the second half of the eighteenth century. It’s a modern bookcase with some period details applied to the carcass the way icing is applied to a cake.

Half of the six projects, therefore, present distorted versions of Colonial American furniture. To that extent, they are not remotely “historic.” Dillinger’s With Saw, Plane & Chisel is a useful guide to hand tool techniques, but anyone who wants to understand period styles or reproduce furniture that looks right will be far better served by Jeffrey Greene’s American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique and Structure (Taunton Press, 1996) or by Norman Vandal’s Queen Anne Furniture: History, Design and Construction (Taunton Press, 1990).