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    Anecdotal Observations On History & Politics


    Mapping Partisanship in the US Senate: 1989-2013

    Everyone knows that dysfunction in Washington has reached new lows, but now there's a fascinating way to visualize just how bad it's become.
    In a new study of polarization in the Senate, Harvard computer science student Renzo Lucioni has created a model to graph the voting relationships of Senators across party lines. What began as a senior class project has since made its way from the online depths of Reddit to publication in the latest issue of “The Economist”.
    Using data from every vote of every Senator from each session of Congress since 1989, Lucioni used red and blue dots represent Republican and Democratic Senators, respectively. The lines connecting them denote the instances when one Senator has voted with another, and the model graphs those with most votes across party lines closest to the middle. The more overlap you see in the graph, the greater the bipartisanship in that particular session of Congress.
    If you fast-forward through the years, you’ll see the dots gradually retreat behind their respective party lines: it evolves from a tightly-knit sphere to two distinctive clusters. The increasing trend towards polarization becomes most apparent over the last decade, from 2003, through President Obama's Administration, to the present. The 113th Congress appears as you might expect: split down the middle.

    Images Courtesy Renzo Lucioni,
    The Economist described the visuals with a more colorful analogy: "Though America's political polarization has become a fact of life, it has never been seen so graphically: as a diseased brain, with few neural pathways between the two hemispheres."
    Though Lucioni warned against over-interpreting the results, “Be careful not to read into it too much, it shows that Senators are working across the aisle less, but it doesn’t measure their ideological ‘placement’ – it’s missing an absolute center.”
    He says he was surprised by the attention he’s received so far.  “My intent was only to share it on Reddit,” but added that “Government is an interesting space to apply these methods, it’s not commonly done.”


    Rare New Footage: JFK on First Debate with Nixon

    JFK discusses historic first debate with Richard Nixon in candid, newly discovered footage, as seen on HardballFrom my original post at, Nov. 20.

    “As a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television.”

    That was Jack Kennedy, reflecting on the now-legendary first debate with Richard Nixon of the 1960 presidential campaign. Newly discovered footage from the NBC News Archive shows Jack Kennedy speaking candidly as he puts on make-up, just four days after the famous confrontation played out on live television.

    The first presidential debate of 1960 was the first one ever televised. More than sixty million people watched and what they saw proved to be more important than what they heard: a haggard Nixon, just back from the hospital, pale, with sweat on his chin and upper lip.

    By comparison, Kennedy was cool and confident, projecting the “winning” image that would take him to the White House.

    The story goes that Nixon relied on make-up that failed to hold up under the hot lights of the studio. The newspapers had a field day with the story, and “The Chicago Daily News” went as far as to suggest that Nixon’s make up may have been intentionally sabotaged by a Democratic make-up artist.

    That story turned out to be untrue, but the “make-up issue” was as hotly debated as the debate itself.

    This clip is a rare glimpse behind the curtain at Jack Kennedy’s off-air persona as he prepared for an interview with David Brinkley and Chet Huntley of NBC News. It was taken at his home in Hyannis on Sept. 30, 1960.

    Historian Michael Beschloss discussed the importance of the recently-discovered footage on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC on November 20th, 2013:

    For additional information, please contact Hardball staff or the NBC News Video Archive team.

    Courtesy Chicago Public Library

    New, candid footage of JFK's off-air conversation before an interview with NBC News is discovered

    New off-air footage of Kennedy using eye-drops prior to interview with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of NBC News discovered in archive

    Rare, candid footage of JFK having makeup applied is discovered in NBC News Archive, featured on Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC


    KENNEDY:  See that story about the Democratic makeup man that sabotaged Nixon?
    OFF-CAMERA:  [inaudible]
    KENNEDY: Yeah, who did make him up?
    OFF-CAMERA:  [inaudible]
    KENNEDY:  Yeah, then why-
    OFF-CAMERA:  Who was it Len, do you know?
    OFF-CAMERA:  No, he has a man who does that for a long time.
    KENNEDY:  Same fellow, but why doesn’t Chicago Daily news have that?
    OFF-CAMERA:  They weren’t looking for it. [inaudible]
    KENNEDY: I must say, all these newspapers keep putting a’ knock now on the debate. I think it’s just (pause) media rivalry. Isn’t it?
    OFF-CAMERA: Well there’s some of that.
    KENNEDY: …as a Democrat, I can say I don’t know what we’d do without television. I look at print and…
    (shakes head)


    Political Costumes & Masks on Halloween 2013

    Halloween 2013 may have received a boost from the dysfunction in Washington. The $7 billion dollar industry usually sees it's highest sales of political costumes in election years, but this time around some retailers are seeing a "bump", which they attribute to the government shutdown in early October. Here's our package on Halloween 2013, and the history of political costumes:


    Nixon Tape Animation: Kissinger Recounts Moscow Trip

    It was 40 years ago this week that embattled former President Richard Nixon agreed to turn over audio recordings of his White House conversations to Watergate investigators. But while the "Nixon Tapes" are in the public record, no historian has listened to and transcribed more of the almost 4,000 total hours than Texas A&M Professor and author Luke Nichter, who runs Now, he and best-selling author Douglas Brinkley have teamed up to write the "definitive" book on the tapes.
    In his research, Luke has found some gems that have been hiding in plain sight for years and he's shared one of Nixon's more light-hearted conversations with me as an exclusive for Hardball. Here's Richard Nixon with his secretary Rose Mary Woods speaking about Henry Kissinger's recent trip to the Soviet Union -- the subject? "Russian Hospitality":

    As seen on Hardball 10/21/13, with special thanks to Luke Nichter for bringing this audio clip and transcript to my attention.



    Nixon:       Where the hell do you think Kissinger was over the weekend when I was trying to call him?

    Woods:      Probably out with some babe.

    Kissinger:  That’s it—

    Nixon:       Well, I’d hope so. I hope so.

    Woods:      He probably was.

    Kissinger:  It wasn’t [unclear]. I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. President, it wasn’t through lack of offers.

    Nixon:       Is that right?

    Woods:      Oh, my word. Aren’t you modest, Henry—?

    Kissinger:  No. No, there it's got nothing to do with modesty. The head of their State Security, General [Sergei] Antonov, greeted me at the airport and said he had a whole bunch of girls, all 25-years and younger...

    Kissinger:  Then I said I want to take a swim. So, again, they said—they asked, “Do I want masseuses?”

    Nixon:       Masseuse? Oh, they use those for that purpose?

    Kissinger:  Yeah. Oh, God, and they said any hair color I wanted. But they did it—

    Nixon:       Jesus Christ! Oh!

    Kissinger:  —so revolting. You know—

    Nixon:       It takes all the fun out of it.

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