Why Obama Will Go Down as One of the Greatest Presidents of All Time

Already missing our soon-to-be-former POTUS.

Something is dawning on us—it’s almost too soon for us to admit, but it’s there, a half-considered thought only now blooming in our brains. Maybe we dismiss it with one of those quick cognitive fly swats. Nah, too early to say or I hate that guy. But the truth is coming, and it sounds like this: Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.

Wait. One of the Greatest? you ask, your thumb emoticon poised to turn up or down on me. The guy haters love to hate with their very best hate game? Like 20-Dollar Bill great? Like Mount Rushmore great?

Yep. (We just won’t build Mount Rushmores anymore.) In so many ways, Obama was better than we imagined, better than the body politic deserved, and far, far better than his enemies will ever concede, but the great thing about being great is that the verdict of enemies doesn’t matter.
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In fact, and I say this as a Bill Clinton fan, I now feel certain that, in the coming decades, Obama’s star will rise higher than Clinton’s, and he’ll replace Bill in the public mind as the Greatest Democrat since FDR.

This has to do with the nature of Obama’s leadership, which is to play to legacy (and Clinton’s impulse, which is to play to the room). Bill Clinton will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the Democratic Party. Barack Obama will long be revered because he’s charismatic, presided over an economic revival, and changed and elevated the view of the presidency. He’s simply bigger than Bill.

More to the point, Obama’s legacy is the sort that gets canonized. Because the first rule of Hall of Fame-dom: The times have to suck for the president not to. Civil wars, World Wars, depressions and recessions. You got to have ’em if you wanna be great. That’s why we rate the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts over That Fat Guy with the Walrus Mustache. Like Obama, these Great Men were dealt sucky hands, won big, and left the country better off than it was before.

To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.

But it’s also why we downgrade the Jimmy Carters and Herbert Hoovers. Were they as bad in real time as we remember them in history? Probably not. But they were dealt sucky hands, only played one round, and left the country feeling worse off. Legacy Game over. (Hoover reminds me more and more of Donald Trump! Elected with little political experience, Hoover was a rich bastard whose central theme was that government was wasteful. His answer to the Great Depression was to start a trade war and build a massive project called the Hoover Dam. The dam turned out to be a giant wall that did not stop or solve larger problems. Déjà vu, thy name is Trump Wall!)

Obama has a few other edges in the long haul of history, beyond specific hurrah moments like Obamacare, rescuing the economy, and making America way more bi-curious. Being the first black president of course secures a certain legacy. But what now feels distinctly possible is that, just as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, over time he may be judged less for the color of his skin than for the content of his character. That character came across every time haters or Trumpers or birthers tried to pull him down into the mud or question his American-ness. He just flew above it all. And, luckily, he took most of us with him. He was the Leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which is harder to rule. At a time when we became more polarized, our discourse pettier and more poisoned, Obama always came across as the Adult in the Room, the one we wanted to be and follow.

Ironically, one of the lock-ins to his Hall of Fame Greatness was originally supposed to be his Achilles’ heel, the shallow thing critics loved to smear him with: his eloquence, his “reliance” on speeches and teleprompters (Sarah Palin once famously screeched, “Mr. President…step away from the teleprompter and do your job!” while herself reading from a teleprompter), as if addressing the country as a whole, trying to unify or inspire people, were a superficial thing. But pivotal words at pivotal moments are not only how we come to admire great leaders, it’s the primary way we remember them. The first thing most people can recall about Lincoln? The Gettysburg Address. FDR? Fireside chats. George Washington? His amazing Snapchats. (George was first with everything.)

With Obama, each thoughtful step of the way, from his soaring acceptance speech (“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep…”) to his epic speeches on race and religion, his responses to the shootings in Tucson and Newtown, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the opening of Cuba (“Todos somos Americanos!”), and countless other momentous occasions, he knew how to speak to our better angels at a time when it was hard to locate any angels.

Lastly, there’s the arc of history, bound to bend downward. As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, and the ability for any politician to get anything done more unlikely, the job of president will become less LBJ tactical and less FDR big-dealer. The job will largely be to preside. To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.

It may be hard to imagine now, but in the face of rising chaos, we’ll crave unity all the more, and in future years whoever can speak most convincingly of unity will rise to the top. (It’s also hard to imagine many beating Obama at the game.) This year’s carnival election, with Trump as a kind of debauched circus barker, only makes the distinction clearer. The absurdity and car-crash spectacle of it all have already lent Obama an out-of-time quality, as if he were a creature from another, loftier century. Whatever happens next, I feel this in my bones: We’ll look back at history, hopefully when we’re zooming down the Barack Obama Hyperloop Transport System, and think: That man was rare. And we were damn lucky to have him.


RATS! [via Nina Reznick]

Sure, some people might think of rats as being more icky than intelligent. But folks who know these rodents best can tell you there's a remarkable brain behind those little beady eyes of theirs.

Here to prove that is a clever rat named Pepper. With a bit of training from his owner, Abby Roeser, he's learned how to be the perfect gentleman.

When he hears the sound of Abby sneezing, Pepper leaps into action — to fetch her a tissue.

Pepper is not the only rodent capable of shattering negative stereotypes about his kind. In fact, Abby owns several rats whom she's taught a variety of tricks that demonstrate their astuteness and skill.

Here's a video of Pepper and his friends in action.

It just goes to show how wrong many people are about what rats are capable of. All it takes to realize their full potential is time, love and, of course, some snacks.

"I train my pet rats using clicker training and positive reinforcement. Their favorite treats are Cheerios, but they also enjoy working for dog treats, peas, and dinner leftovers," writes Abby.

"My rats are from various sources, if you are interested in getting pet rats, check local SPCA's and rats rescues."

Pepper is not the only rodent capable of shattering negative stereotypes about his kind. In fact, Abby owns several rats whom she's taught a variety of tricks that demonstrate their astuteness and skill.

Hope Sweet Ship [ via Cacciatore]

The "Benson Ford" originally transported iron and coal for the Ford Motor Company! 

The ship was decommissioned in 1981 after nearly 50 years of service. 

Benson                                                            Ford 1

After being decommissioned it wasleft to rust for four years before the front part of the ship was removed and perched on top of the 18-foot cliff above Lake Erie, to serve as a vacation home.

Benson                                                            Ford 2

Looking across the bow, it seems that the boat is actually
steaming - full speed ahead!

Benson                                                            Ford 3

The ship still contains the beautiful wood-paneled state rooms, dining
room and lounge designed by Henry Ford.

Benson                                                            Ford 4

Benson Ford 5

The boat was used by Henry Ford to travel across the Great Lakes. Thomas Edison was a frequent guest on this beautiful ship.

The present four-deck ship-house is 7,000 sq. ft. and includes walnut-paneled staterooms, a dining room with galley, and passenger lounge designed by Henry Ford for his personal use while on board.

The ship-house was originally owned by Frank J. Sullivan, but after failing to turn it into a hotel in 1992, Sullivan auctioned the building to father and son Jerry and Bryan Kaspar, who still enjoy relaxing there while taking time off from work.  It has been modernized with a garage, a game room, a bar, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and four bathrooms.

The 90-year-old cargo ship is beautiful, as she sits overlooking her former waterways.

Benson                                                            Ford 6

Visitors must be okay with heights if they take a tour onto the bow of the boat and see the water so far below.

Benson Ford 7

This ship-home has maintained the historic and beautiful interior, which is updated with modern amenities.

Benson Ford 8

Benson Ford 9

Benson Ford 10

Benson Ford 11

Bryan Kaspar says: "Everyone who sees our home from the outside, wants to look inside.

I think everyone who sees it is amazed at the gorgeous woodwork throughout our beautiful ship-home."

Benson                                                            Ford 12

Benson Ford 13

Benson Ford 14

This impressive getaway includes five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a captain's office and living room with panoramic views across Lake Erie.

'I love the deck on the fourth floor. It's a great place to enjoy a cocktail overlooking the lake and the nearby cliffs, and to watch the sunsets is amazing from there.'

Videographer Nick James, who conducts tours of the home, says, 'The most incredible part is standing at the helm with the way the boat hangs over the cliff. It actually feels like you're on the open water.'

I love the history that remains all around the Benson Ford.  In the parlor, you can imagine Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sitting there puffing on their cigars.'

When you're there, it feels like you're stepping back in time, and that those two famed gentlemen could appear at any moment.'

An incredible beauty of a long-ago ship, still available for water lovers to see.

Benson Ford 15

Japan’s latest trend: ‘Zentai’ By Terrence McCoy

They meet on clandestine Internet forums. Or in clubs. Or sometimes at barbecue parties, where as many as 10 adherents gather every month to eat meat and frolic in an outfit that falls somewhere between a Power Ranger’s tunic and Spider-Man’s digs.

This picture taken on February 7, 2014 shows Hokkyku Nigo posing before a mirror at a bar in Tokyo. She dresses in a skin-tight, all-in-one Spandex body suit that covers everything -- including her eyes -- and sits in bars, alone but liberated, she believes, from the judgement of others. Hokkyoku Nigo is part of a small subset in Japan with a fetish for wearing outfits called "zentai" -- an abbreviation of "zenshintaitsu", which means "full body suit" -- who say they are seeking liberation through the complete sublimation of the physical self. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Hokkyku Nigo before a mirror at a Tokyo bar on Feb. 7. She dresses in a skin-tight, all-in-one Spandex body suit that covers everything — including her eyes — and sits in bars, alone but liberated, she believes, from the judgment of others. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
It’s called “zentai.” And in Japan, it can mean a lot of things. To 20-year-old Hokkyoku Nigo, it means liberation from the judgment and opinions of others. To a 22-year-old named Hanaka, it represents her lifelong fascination with superheroes. To a 36-year-old teacher named Nezumiko, it elicits something sexual. “I like to touch and stroke others and to be touched and stroked like this,” she told the AFP’s Harumi Ozawa.

But to most outsiders, zentai means exactly what it looks like: spandex body suits.

Where did this phenomenon come from and what does it mean? In a culture of unique displays — from men turning trucks into glowing light shows to women wearing Victoria-era clothing — zentai appears to be yet another oddity in a country well accustomed to them.

The trend can take on elements of prurience, however, and groups with names such as “zentai addict” and “zentai fetish” teem on Facebook. There are zentai ninjas. There are zentai Pokemon. There are zentai British flags and zentai American flags.

An organization called the Zentai Project, based in England, explains it as “a tight, colorful suit that transforms a normal person into amusement for all who see them. … The locals don’t know what to make of us, but the tourists love us and we get onto lots of tourist snaps — sometimes we can hardly walk 3 steps down the street before being stopped to pose for another picture.”

Though the trend is now apparently global, it was once just a group of Japanese climbing into skintight latex for unknown reasons.

“With my face covered, I cannot eat or drink like other customers,” Hokkyoku Nigo says in the AFP story. “I have led my life always worrying about what other people think of me. They say I look cute, gentle, childish or naive. I have always felt suffocated by that. But wearing this, I am just a person in a full body suit.”
Ikuo Daibo, a professor at Tokyo Mirai University, says wearing full body suits may reflect a sense of societal abandonment. People are acting out to define their individuality.

“In Japan,” he said, “many people feel lost; they feel unable to find their role in society. They have too many role models and cannot choose which one to follow.”

So what has that caused them to wear neon-red body suits and prance in the streets?

“In a way, they are trying to expose their deeper self by hiding their own identity,” said Daibo. “I find it a very interesting way of communication.”

Read more at Washington Post


A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World [via Nina Reznick]

The discovery in a remote part of Indonesia has scholars rethinking the origins of art—and of humanity

Scattered on the walls are stencils, human hands outlined against a background of red paint. Though faded, they are stark and evocative, a thrilling message from the distant past.

Read more at Smithsonian.com 

“Dumbest Thing Ever”: Scribbling in the Margins of Dan Brown’s Inferno By Sam Anderson [via David Angsten]

I purchased and read Inferno, which was inscrutable and interminable, and as I read I scribbled in its margins. When I finished, my friend David Rees, the artisanal pencil sharpener, asked if he could borrow it. He added his thoughts.

It was fun to see someone else’s words next to mine. I wrote in black pen, in cursive. David wrote in red pencil, in block letters. I was semi-serious. David swore and told a lot of jokes. Usually we agreed, but occasionally we disagreed. Here are some of the highlights.

WARNING: There are probably Dan Brown spoilers here, but come on, seriously.

Very early in Inferno, I realized that Dan Brown’s career-long fetish for ellipses had reached a whole new level. Basically, ellipses are the hero of the book. They make their first appearance on the dedication page.

After a while I started trying to circle all of them, which became a meditative exercise.

Sometimes I would miss one and David would catch it for me.

We spent most of our time in the margins making fun of Dan Brown.
We mocked his pacing,

his dialogue,

his dialect,

his artless exposition,

his anti-powers of description,

his careless repetitions,

his weak grasp of human behavior,

his lust for fame,

his characters’ gender stereotypes,

his implausible plot points,

and probably the worst “academic” lecture in the history of fiction.

Along the way, we managed to isolate the keywords of the Dan Brown lexicon.

Sometimes David added illustrations.

Usually, David and I agreed.

But sometimes we didn’t.

Recently I passed the book to another friend, who will add her marginal notes, and then I will pass it to someone else, and then someone else, and on and on until eventually we have written more words in Dan Brown’s book than Dan Brown himself. This seems like the only way to tame the monster at the heart of the Inferno.

Read more