‘The Art of Partying, From Socrates to Capote’ – The Wall Street Journal

Frank Sinatra and his wife, actress Mia Farrow, as they arrive at Truman Capote's Black and White Ball.

Frank Sinatra and his wife, actress Mia Farrow, as they arrive at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the most famous (or infamous) Hollywood-arts-money-politics-celebrity mash-up of the 20th century. What made Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball at New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1966 so special was the way he managed to bring together power players from every section of American society, from McGeorge Bundy (who had recently left the post of White House national security adviser) to Frank Sinatra. Some say that the ball inaugurated the era of the celebrity A-list. Continue reading…

‘Much Ado About Stuffing: A History’ – The Wall Street Journal

For a festival that celebrates amity, thankfulness and American values, Thanksgiving generates a lot of arguments, perhaps none more contentious than the issue of stuffing.

The disputes begin with the name, because some people refer to stuffing as “dressing.” Also, some insist that stuffing is only stuffing if it’s from inside the bird, while others can only abide cooking it separately and serving it as a side dish. Continue reading…

‘Barbie and Her Many Ancient Sisters’ – The Wall Street Journal

From left, Presidential Candidate Barbie (2004), Registered Nurse Barbie (1961) and Career Girl Barbie (1963).

From left, Presidential Candidate Barbie (2004), Registered Nurse Barbie (1961) and Career Girl Barbie (1963).

Since her arrival in 1959, Barbie has evolved into an international phenomenon with a grip on modern culture. Her success testifies to the genius of the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler—born 100 years ago this week.

Some social commentators call Barbie, with her strikingly varied career choices, an avatar for women’s liberation. Others call her a tool of patriarchal oppression, beginning with her anatomy—which, according to one scientific analysis, would force her to walk on all fours if she were alive, due to her tiny feet and top-heavy body. Continue reading…

‘When the Enemy Is at the Gates’ – The Wall Street Journal

When the Enemy Is at the Gates

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

After a rebellion erupted in 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the city of Aleppo found itself split in two. Today, with help from Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s regime is laying waste to rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Mosques, museums, hospitals and schools there now lie in ruins. The image of a stunned, wounded little boy covered in soot and blood held the world’s attention briefly in August, as the siege went on. Many classrooms have moved underground, but the fact that schools continue to operate at all in Aleppo testifies to the determination of parents and educators to keep alive both civic values and culture.

Sieges have often drawn out such higher ideals and achievements, even as they show humanity at its brutal worst. Continue reading…

‘Monuments With Staying Power’ – The Wall Street Journal

In Turkey, a subterranean strategy. ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

In Turkey, a subterranean strategy. ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Mount Rushmore celebrates its 75th birthday this month, with many more to come, according to geologists: They estimate that the granite presidential faces will withstand the forces of erosion for 7.2 million years.

Poets have long bristled at efforts by the rich and powerful to immortalize themselves in stone. In “Ozymandias” (1818), Percy Bysshe Shelley portrayed such attempts as vainglorious and futile. All that remains of Ozymandias, king of kings, is “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone… Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies.” The poem’s ironic message lies in the king’s inscribed command to “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” when all around there is nothing but empty sand. Continue reading…

‘HMS Terror—and the Moral Challenge of Exploration’ – The Wall Street Journal

Engraving showing the end of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845 entitled 'They Forged the last link with their lives'. This engraving was taken from a painting by W. Thomas Smith exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1896. PHOTO: MARY EVANS/ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS LTDT/EVERETT COLLECTION

Engraving showing the end of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition of 1845 entitled ‘They Forged the last link with their lives’. This engraving was taken from a painting by W. Thomas Smith exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1896. PHOTO: MARY EVANS/ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS LTDT/EVERETT COLLECTION

Earlier this month, searchers found the HMS Terror beneath the Canadian Arctic ice, solving one of the most famous mysteries in maritime history. The ship was part of an expedition led by Sir John Franklin that vanished in the 1840s while trying to locate the Northwest Passage.

The disappearance inspired more than 50 search expeditions, as well as an outpouring of literature. Charles Dickens had a major hand in a stage production about the disaster, and an elegy by the poet Algernon Swinburne, “The Death of Sir John Franklin,” asked poignantly, “Is this the end?” Continue reading…

‘The Risks of Trading Abroad, From Mesopotamia to Apple’ – The Wall Street Journal

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Doing business overseas has put many enterprises on the road to making big money—but it can also be a quick way to lose a lot. Apple is vigorously fighting a bill for $14.5 billion in back taxes that the European Union says it owes Ireland. The iPhone maker will survive whatever happens, but the dispute illustrates the risks that businesses face when dealing with foreign governments. It’s a challenge that has grown more serious in recent years with the rise of aggressive nationalism in many countries.

In much of the ancient world, the presence of foreign merchants was regarded as a boon. During the third millennium B.C., the Mesopotamian ruler Sargon the Great boasted of his modern port facilities and the international trade that they attracted. The ancient Greeks went further and built specially protected ports for trade. There, taxes were low and legal rights were guaranteed, and foreigners could enter into contracts with confidence. Such arrangements enabled the Greeks to profit from extensive long-distance trading networks and proved inspirational to the Romans. Continue reading…

‘When Works of Art Come Apart’ – The Wall Street Journal

When Works of Art Come Apart

‘Spy Booth,‘ a mural by graffiti artist Banksy, in April 2014 . PHOTO: NEIL MUNNS/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Amid repairs last week to a home in the English town of Cheltenham, one of the most famous murals by the graffiti artist known as Banksy ended up accidentally reduced to rubble. The artist had painted “Spy Booth,” depicting spies holding up listening devices, on an exterior wall of the house, around an actual public telephone booth. This fiasco followed the discovery in July that Australian construction workers had inadvertently destroyed three Banksy stencils in Melbourne, bringing to five the number of the artist’s works that had vanished on one stretch of road.

Banksy’s street art, by its nature, is especially vulnerable to such losses, but his work isn’t alone in suffering such a fate. Many of the world’s most famous artworks require constant vigilance and upkeep. Michelangelo’s magnificent David in Florence, for example, is checked every two months or so for fractures. Continue reading…

‘A Brief History of Leaking’ – The Wall Street Journal

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Spies easily deciphered letters by Mary, Queen of Scots ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

Is a private email merely a leak that hasn’t happened yet? It is starting to seem that way after the number of hacking scandals in recent years. We still don’t know the culprit behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computers, although President Barack Obama has tied Russia to the operation. The theft seems too sophisticated to blame on a pimply teenager in a bedroom.

But the fact that the reason remains a mystery (was it to help Donald Trump, embarrass the U.S. or settle some private score?) highlights a longstanding difficulty in plugging leaks: People divulge secrets for all sorts of reasons—from the vindictive to the virtuous, and everything in between. Continue reading…