ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was June 11 – June 17, 2017

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

We were delighted to learn this week that we are not at immediate risk of extinction, so we took some time to consider the activism of artists and the artistry of actors.


Clip art banner with ICYMI in black speech bibble

Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction

“As scientists we have a responsibility to be accurate about such comparisons.”

The Atlantic, June 13

artists rendering of asteroid strike


At the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, Smithsonian paleontologist Doug Erwin took the podium to address a ballroom full of geologists on the dynamics of mass extinctions and power grid failures—which, he claimed, unfold in the same way.

“These are images from the NOAA website of the US blackout in 2003,” he said, pulling up a nighttime satellite picture of the glowing northeastern megalopolis, megawatts afire under the cold dark of space. “This is 20 hours before the blackout. You can see Long Island and New York City.”

“And this is seven hours into the blackout,” he said, pulling up a new map, cloaked in darkness. “New York City is almost dark. The blackout extended all the way up into Toronto, all the way out to Michigan and Ohio. It covered a huge section of both Canada and the United States. And it was largely due to a software bug in a control room in Ohio.” Read more from Peter Brannen for The Atlantic.

Ai Weiwei is using LEGOs to represent activists at the Hirshhorn Museum

The Architect’s Newspaper, June 14

Art installation

Ai Weiwei is using LEGOs to represent activists at the Hirshhorn Museum. Image: Ai Weiwei, Trace, 2014. Installation view on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco. (Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio)

Ever placed the sole of your bare foot onto a piece of LEGO left on the floor? If you have, you know the and sheer pain and annoyance at 1) How such a harmless looking single brick could cause so much pain and 2) Why it was there in the first place. If one floor-bound LEGO brick is enough to cause you such discomfort, then prepare to be triggered at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of thousands of bricks, courtesy of Ai Weiwei, will be laid on the floor to form portraits.

These are not just any old pieces of portraiture, though. In Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn, the Chinese artist has chosen to represent activists. Perhaps this is fitting. Activists, to those in power, can be as aggravating as treading on a piece of LEGO. Collectively, they are more daunting—as daunting as say, walking across an entire floor of jagged LEGO. Read more from Jason Sayer for The Architect’s Newspaper.

Effort to Create American Latino Museum on National Mall Gets Push in Bipartisan Bill

NBC News, June 15

Capital Dome with trees in foreground

File photo of the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

While Washington has been focusing on a number of other issues, supporters of a Latino Smithsonian museum have been quietly working behind the scenes, pushing Congress to vote this year on legislation to move the project forward.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Robert Menéndez, D-N.J., introduced a bill Thursday to create a National Museum of the American Latino on the National Mall. The bill also starts the process of securing a location near the Smithsonian’s other iconic museums, including the National Museum of the American Indian, and the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Read more from Patricia Guadalupe for NBC News.

See Marlene Dietrich’s Most Iconic Hollywood Portraits

The Cut, June 16

Black and white close-up of Dietrich with cigarette

As Shanghai Lily, in Shanghai Express, 1931-1932.

Before Pantsuit Nation and the boyfriend shirt, Madonna and Miley Cyrus, there was Marlene Deitrich. The hat-topped, cigarette-dangling Dietrich was a paradigm of androgynous style, challenging traditional notions of femininity with roles in films like Morocco and Seven Sinners. A new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., titled “Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image,” which opened today, celebrates the Hollywood icon and her influence on film and fashion. The exhibit’s debut follows the recent rerelease of Marlene Dietrich: The Life, an extensive biography written by Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva. Read more from Sarah Nechamkin for The Cut.

Another, Far Different, Washington Billionaire

The New York Times, June 17

Portrait of Rubenstein against gray background

David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. Credit Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

One famous Washington billionaire has spent years and millions of his dollars building a culture of public service. Yes, it’s not President Trump.

While Mr. Trump was turning his father’s Queens real estate business into an icon of ’80s Manhattan excess, David Rubenstein co-founded the Carlyle Group in Washington in 1987, building it into one of the world’s largest private equity firms.

At 67, he sees himself a part of the generation of public servants who answered John F. Kennedy’s call to ask what they can do for their country. Read more from Elizabeth Williamson for The New York Times.

Posted: 27 June 2017
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.