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Romney pushed for individual mandate in Mass., emails show

A bound copy of the 2006 Mass. health care law sits next to Mitt Romney in his official governor's portrait.

An interesting article appeared in the Wall Street Journal today on Mitt Romney’s work to push through the 2006 Massachusetts health reform law. Through a public-records request, the Journal staff unearthed a trove of emails in which Romney defends the individual mandate and expresses strong support for the law.

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Bloomsday, I said yes

Happy Bloomsday in Dublin, 2007! Photo: Flickr/Ted Rheingold

James Joyce enthusiasts – as well as fans of drinking, swimming and running – around the world are celebrating the 107th anniversary of Bloomsday today.

June 16 marks this annual homage to the Irish author and his 1922 novel “Ulysses.” The date is central to both Joyce’s life and the novel: Joyce is believed to have first gone out with Nora Barnacle, who later became his wife, on June 16; “Ulysses” takes place entirely on June 16, 1904, beginning at 8 a.m.
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A founding father’s books discovered in Missouri library

Researchers announced Monday that 74 volumes in the rare books collection at the Washington University in St. Louis originally belonged to none other than Thomas Jefferson, our country’s third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Scholars at Monticello, Jefferson’s sprawling Virginia plantation, were thrilled. In the 1800s, Jefferson’s extensive library was legendary, and it still carries quite a legacy in our country’s intellectual history; parts of it went on to form today’s Library of Congress. The rest was auctioned off following its owner’s death on Independence Day 1826. By looking at the books Jefferson thought were worth reading, we can get a feel for the literature and worldviews that shaped the early days of our country.

That, at least, is the argument put forward by Monticello scholar Endrina Tay, who is creating a publicly accessible catalog of all the books Jefferson ever read, owned or even recommended. Tay and her Monticello colleague, Lisa Ann Birle, discovered the volumes at Washington University, a find that Tay described as “the culmination of three months of intense and thrilling detective work.”

Among the 28 titles (split among 74 volumes) are architecture books containing a few of Jefferson’s handwritten notes and calculations, Aristotle’s “Politica” (most  likely the last book Jefferson read before he died), and Plutarch’s “Lives” (which included a handwritten note,  in Greek, tucked inside).

The University received the books in 1880 as part of a donation. The donor failed to mention, however, that the volumes’ original owner was one of our country’s founding fathers.

‘Our Sputnik moment’: Then and now

The March 24, 1958 cover of Life magazine. Photo: Getty

In the introduction to tonight’s special hour on education, a show we’re calling “Ahead of the Class,” Jon Meacham briefly quotes from a Life magazine photo essay from 1958 on the state of American education.

The schools are in terrible shape, what has long been an ignored national problem, Sputnik has made a recognized crisis.

The essay was in the first part of a five-part “urgent” series called “The Crisis in U.S. Education” and thanks to the magic (or nightmare, if you’re a publisher) of Google Books, all of the photo essays, not to mention the magazines in their entirety, are available online.

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A couple of pawns in a historic game of chess

While politicians are busy mining the intellectual works of the Founding Fathers for evidence to support their agendas, archaeologists in Virginia have uncovered actual physical evidence of how one such Father exercised his intellect at home. Archaeologists at Montpelier, James Madison’s Virginia estate, recently discovered pieces of two pawns that belonged to the former president’s chess set among a variety of artifacts excavated from a 19th century trash heap.

Historians have long known that our fourth president was an avid chess player. Madison frequently matched wits on the chessboard with his presidential predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, whose granddaughter Ellen Wayles Coolidge would later write that her grandfather, “a very good chess-player,” sometimes participated in “’four hour games’ with Mr. Madison,” as the Associated Press recently pointed out.
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Was the Roman Empire a victim of climate change?

Is the decline of the Roman empire partially attributable to climate change? A new study published in the journal Science suggests it might be, and the researchers behind the study are quick to hint that their findings could prove a fitting cautionary tale for today’s empire-equivalents.

Scientists affiliated with various institutions throughout Europe and America used tree rings to catalog the climate’s history — trees grow more during fertile years, causing thick rings. But during dry years, the trees’ rings grow more closely together. The team compiled wood samples from sites throughout Europe — including ancient Roman ruins — and found that the Romans’ decline was correlated with a period of unusually thin rings.

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Jews who went to the gymnasium (or the real history of Hanukkah)

Hanukkah came early this year, beating Christmas out by a good 24 days. For me — and I think for a lot of other Jewish people — Hanukkah really only became big because it happens to fall close to Christmas. The presents? That’s us trying to stay competitive during the holiday season. My father still remembers a time when he and his siblings got pennies, or gelt, for Hanukkah, not presents under the menorah.

At its heart, Hanukkah is just a fun, little festival where we light candles, sing songs, eat some tasty fried potato dishes, and celebrate a story that, when you get right down to it, doesn’t resemble Christmas at all. In fact, within the story of Hanukkah are some surprising revelations that a lot of Jews — including, until recently, myself — may be unaware of. On this, the last night of the holiday, I thought I might share some of them with you.

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Can you celebrate secession without celebrating slavery?

Can you celebrate secession without celebrating slavery? That question seems to be the core tension surrounding the upcoming celebrations of the American Civil War’s 150-year anniversary. The New York Times recently reported on a series of events over the next four years that commemorate the sesquicentennial, including a “Secession Ball,” a candlelight memorial at Antietam, a parade in Montgomery, Alabama, and a mock swearing-in of the Confederacy’s would-be president, Jefferson Davis.

The legacy of slavery that was central to the Civil War is no cause for celebration, of course; in fact, many of these memorial events will hardly be mentioning it. Michael Givens of the Sons of Confederate Veterans told the New York Times that “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.” Jeff Antley, another member of the organization and Secession Ball organizer, said that “defending the South’s right to secede, the soldiers’ right to defend their homes and the right to self-government doesn’t mean your arguments are without weight because of slavery.”

But the failure to recognize the role of slavery at all has left several others aghast. Lonnie Randolph, the president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP told the New York Times that promoting the Confederacy’s idea of “states’ rights” really refers to “their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”

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Oh, and Happy Evacuation Day

He's open!: During an Evacuation Day celebration in 2008 on Wall Street, George Washington patiently waits for someone to pass him the ball. Photo: Mike Skliar

Thanksgiving happens to coincide this year with another holiday, one that has since been lost to the fickle tastes of ensuing generations. But November 25 was once widely celebrated as Evacuation Day, and it commemorated the day the British — our onetime bossy parents — beat their retreat from New York, leaving the new nation to finally get down to the business of becoming its bratty self.

The year was 1783, and although the American Revolution had effectively ended two years earlier with General Cornwallis’s “mortification” at Yorktown, it took another 18 months for a treaty to be signed, and still more weeks for the British army to pack its things and go.

On the appointed day — November 25 — the citizens of New York had good reason to feel festive.

In the seven years of British occupation, the redcoats had treated Manhattan less like a place they planned to keep forever than like a rock star’s hotel room. They had ransacked its orchards, uprooted its trees, drained its wells and pocked its streets with trenches. The city, of but 12,000 inhabitants, had suffered two terrible fires during that time, and the British had co-opted most of the buildings still standing for themselves and their Loyalists.

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