Posts Tagged ‘American history’

The Worst Thing Every President Has Done

Last week, on Election Day, I found myself in a long Facebook comment thread about the virtues of voting. In it, someone said, “We have perhaps never had a president that has not committed…great acts of evil.” Of course, my first thought on reading that was That sounds like a fun game, and I decided to make a list of the worst* thing every president has done.

*The word “evil,” is of course loaded with all sorts of moral and metaphysical implications, so I’ve slightly reframed it into the “worst” acts every president has done. To be sure, many of these are clearly evil, but I wanted to include every president, and it’s hard to find something really “evil” that, say, William Henry Harrison did.

A quick note: First of all, I’m only including things they did as president. So the fact that Thomas Jefferson probably raped his slaves doesn’t count, though obviously that’s pretty bad. Secondly, I’m not a presidential historian, so my knowledge of some presidents is pretty limited. I welcome input on events I may have forgotten or never learned about in the first place. Lastly, this list is obviously subjective, based on my own moral judgment. As such, it’s weighted against things I find truly immoral, which usually involve the government killing or imprisoning people. Again, though, I welcome disagreement.

And now, the list: Continue reading

Bob Dylan in America: Out of Many, One

“I’ll know my song well before I start singing”—Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is a plagiarist. Did you know that? Just ask Mokoto Rich, who pointed out that the lyrics from Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times, strongly resembled the poetry of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod.

Bob Dylan is a fake. Did you know that? Just ask Joni Mitchell, who recently told the Los Angeles Times that, “Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Bob Dylan is a poet, a genius, and one of the greatest artists in American history. Did you know that? Just ask Sean Wilentz, whose recent book, Bob Dylan in America, attempts to properly place Dylan in the lineage of American artists, from Allen Ginsberg to Walt Whitman, from Aaron Copland to Blind Willie McTell.

Wilentz is, by his own admission, a fan, so there is an unmistakable affection for Dylan throughout the book. When Wilentz discusses the accusations of plagiarism, for example, there’s no hint of condemnation. Similarly, Wilentz writes first-person accounts of concerts with the admiration and awe of a member of the “spellbound” audience.

But Wilentz is also a historian (and a rather renowned one at that), so Bob Dylan in America is not the gushing ode to Robert Zimmerman that so many Dylan books quickly become. Instead, Wilentz uses Dylan as a springboard to investigate the annals of American artistic history, tracing Dylan’s influences and inspiration back to their roots. As a result, Bob Dylan in America is about America as much as it is about Bob Dylan. Continue reading