Friday, January 21, 2011

The Star-Spangled Banner

As a next step in our ongoing 1812 project (see here and here), we swung by the National Museum of American History to check out that most famous American flag of them all. You know the one I'm referring to. It was made in Baltimore by Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, two nieces, and an indentured servant. It flew over Fort McHenry in the aftermath of the British bombardment in September of 1814. It inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that eventually became the National Anthem.

A pair of facts about the flag.

It is now eight feet smaller in width than it was when it was first made. After the bombardment, the family of Lieutenant Colonel Armistead, the American commander at Fort McHenry, assumed possession of the flag. For decades, the family permitted small pieces of the flag to be cut out and distributed as keepsakes. There is even one star that is unaccounted for and presumably will never be seen again.

For preservation purposes, the flag is kept in a low light, controlled environment. Here is where the story turns embarrassing for me. As we approached the exhibit, there was a full-sized, gold replica of the flag hanging from the ceiling a few feet in front of the wall. As the other three (read: smarter) Ballas headed into the exhibit proper, I wandered under the gold flag, expecting to see the Star-Spangled Banner hanging right there from the wall. In my mind, that was enough protection for this two hundred year old flag. Wrong! Once you enter the actual exhibit (like a normal human being), you get to see the flag in very low light, inside a glass casing. Let's just say that Desi, Julie, and Z had a good laugh at my expense. And, boy, did I deserve it!

~Steve

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On The Importance Of Educational Exchange

Thanks to an invitation from the Fulbright Program, I had the opportunity to be there yesterday morning when First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit, spoke on the importance of expanding educational exchanges between China and the United States.

As someone who has now been to China a number of times, there was not much at the event that I considered to be news. I am, after all, already convinced of the value of educational exchange, and hopefully in our own small way the four of us have succeeded in bridging just a little bit of the gap between our two countries.

That said, it doesn't take long for me to conjure up the memory of that day in 2003 when I, almost by mistake, agreed to go to China for the first time. It seemed like such a faraway, incomprehensible place to us back then. And so I can understand the need for public officials to exhort young people, especially those who (like Desi and me) are the first in their families to attend and graduate from university. On that score, the First Lady did a fine job.

The real headliners, though, were the students who were on stage during the event, as well as the students I had the chance to have lunch with afterward. The fluency of these young Mandarin speakers just blows me away. I especially enjoyed one student's story of how he ended up in the back of a restaurant with a young Chinese worker singing the song "California Dreamin" as it played on a laptop. As anyone who has been reading our posts for the past several years may have come to appreciate, it is those little moments in educational exchange that oftentimes become the lasting memories.

~Steve

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Live From Rehoboth Beach!

This is what it looked like the other night when I was live on the air with China Radio International talking about the state of political discourse in the United States. And that was the scene in the studio, halfway around the world, where the host and one of the other guests were broadcasting from. Throw in a professor calling in from Tucson, and you have quite the global production!

As for the broadcast itself, click here to listen to the full hour broadcast. It ain't pretty, speaking for my contributions! But it certainly was fun to interrupt a weekend at the beach (that's a room at The Breakers, just a few blocks from the ocean) with a wee bit of punditry!

~Steve

2010, The Year In Review: Part 3 - Best Sporting Event

Do I even have to say?

~Desi