Friday, May 31, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... that former Howard University dean of architecture Harry G. Robinson III was the first African American chairman of the United States Commission of Fine Arts, first African American president of the National Architectural Accrediting Board, first African American president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and first African American executive consulting architect for the American Battle Monuments Commission?
May 22 is the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This past May 22, a group of kids from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., went to Decatur House in Lafayette Square (a block north of the White House) for an interactive learning experience: They dressed in period costumes as Abraham Lincoln, Civil War generals, and others, and acted out the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

They were joined by Michelle Obama, on a surprise visit to see them do it.

Obama was joined by American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault. Amex donated $1 million to Decatur House to support the renovation of the 195-year-old property. Decatur House is owned and operated as a house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (a private organization).

First Lady Michelle Obama visits Decatur House
In the article in the newspaper says that many local Boy Scout councils are reaching out to Christian religious fundamentalists to try to pacify them regarding the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay youth to join the organization.

This begs several questions:

Why do Christian religious fundamentalists believe they own the Boy Scouts of America? Why do they get to interpret what "duty to God" in the Boy Scout oath means? Why is it their interpretation -- and not that of the MCC Church, or Buddhism, or Janism, or Shintoism, or Jews -- that rules here?

Just because this tiny minority of fascist theocrats is the most vocal and, like a fifth column, has secretly implanted a majority on the Boy Scout Council?

And if they get to interpret what "duty to God" means, does that mean Muslims, Buddhists, liberal Christians, Jews, and others are no longer welcome in the Boy Scouts of America? Because it seems, now, that there is a religious test to join the Boy Scouts. You either believe what the fundamentalists believe "duty to God" means, or you can't join.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

This is the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. I find it fascinating for reasons that are not clear to me. And yes, it really does put out light and steam like that.

It is a memorial to Missourians and Kansans who died in World War I, and was designed by architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle (who also did the William McKinley Memorial Mausoleum in Canton, Ohio, and the National USS Maine Monument in New York City). Ground for the memorial was broken on November 1, 1921, and the memorial dedicated on November 11, 1926. All the funds for the memorial came from private donations; the Kemper family (who owned the giant insurance company) oversaw the fundraising.

The memorial is in the Egyptian Revival style, although there are Art Deco elements. It is made of reinforced concrete, with an exterior of Indiana limestone ("Bedford stone"). The Observation Deck at the base of the memorial is made of granite.

The tower is 217 feet high, and 36 feet in diameter at the base and 28 feet in diameter at the top. An elevator within the shaft leads to an observation platform at the top. Four 40 foot tall limestone "angels", designed by Robert Aiken, are sculpted into the top of the tower, and represent Courage, Honor, Patriotism and Sacrifice. The top of the memorial emits a huge cloud of hot steam illuminated by orange lights. This creates the illusion of a burning pyre.

The memorial is approached from the south. A quarter-mile-long grassy mall is lined by concrete walks and formally planted double-rows sugar maple trees. Two Art Deco sphinxes, their wings covering their faces, guard the stairway leading up to the memorial. "Memory" faces east towards Europe, and its face is covered as a reaction to the horror of war. "Future" faces west toward "the course of the empire", and its face is covered since the future is unknowable. Each sphinx is made of reinforced concrete clad in limestone, and is 12 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 feet high.

Two Egyptian Revival temple-like structures, Memory Hall and Museum Hall, flank the tower on the east and west ends of the Observation Deck. Each is 46 feet wide and 93 feet long. Memory Hall in the east showcases floor-to-ceiling World War I battle maps and bronze tablets that list the names of the 401 Kansas Citians who died in the war. Museum Hall has a rotating exhibit.

A frieze 48 feet high and 488 feet long is carved into the north wall. Designed by Edmond Amateis, it depicts the progress from war to peace. Beyond the memorial to the north is a fountain with water cascading down a flight of stairs to a lawn. A stone wall forms the northern border of the lawn, and contains bronze busts of five Allied leaders who attended the dedication in 1926.

In 2004, construction began on a museum below the memorial. Designed by the architectural firm of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, it opened in December 2006. Congress has legislatively designated it the National World War I Museum, and it contains an extensive collection of World War I artifacts (tanks, planes, artillery, guns, uniforms) and exhibits about the Great War.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A lot of people ooh and ahh over these sort of book nooks. I'm not so sure I'd like it.

It looks nice and all. Well built. But where's the sunlit? In fact, it looks kind of dark. I don't like reading in the dark. It also looks woefully uncomfortable. All those hard edges, that flat seat with no real cushions, the inability to recline if you are sitting upright, the right angles.

No, this is not the snuggery for me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pavlof Volcano in Alaska erupts. But don't you worry: The GOP sequester has cut all funding to the network monitoring this volcano, so only the International Space Station knows what's going on.

WE HAVE THUNDER AND LIGHTNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


There's a storm outside
And the gap between crack and thunder
Crack and thunder
Is closing in, is closing in
The rain floods gutters
And makes a great sound on the concrete
On a flat roof
There's a boy leaning against the wall of rain
Aerial held high
Calling "Come on thunder! Come on thunder!"

Jell-O wrestling with hot boys at Phase 1 on June 5 here in D.C.


Foam parties are so early 2000s... Jell-O and pudding: Now that's art!

They always make my poor Zoom do something degrading. If it's not dressing him up like a clown, it's making him run around like a dog and eat from a dog dish or else make him pretend he's a baby who needs a stuffed animal.

But nothing can hide his beauty. He is to, me, the idea man. (And it has everything to do with that face. And maybe his legs.)

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... that among all museums dedicated to African Americans history and culture, the oldest is the College Museum at Hampton University (1868), the newest is the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (opening in 2017), and the largest is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit -- although it will be superceded by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2015?

Monday, May 27, 2013

A living tree memorial to the dead Minutemen of Lexington, Mass., at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lexington Minutemen memorial - Section 1 - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-01-18
Tombstone for 18 sailors who died in a fire aboard the USS Forrestal on July 29, 1967.

The Forrestal was launching air strikes at North Vietnam from the Gulf of Tonkin. At 10:50 A.M. a Mark-32 "Zuni" rocket on an F-4B Phantom II accidentally fired. The rocket flew across the flight deck, striking a wing-mounted fuel tank on an A-4E Skyhawk awaiting launch. The rocket's warhead did not detonate, but the tank rupture and the fuel burst into flames. Other external fuel tanks on the Skyhawk overheated, ruptured, and caught fire. Lt. Cdr. Fred D. White, pilot of the Skyhawk, fled his aircraft to avoid being burned to death. Two 1,000-poun AN-M65 "fat man" bombs attached to the Skyhawk also fell to the deck and lay in the pool of burning fuel. Lt. Cdr. John McCain (yes, the U.S. Senator) was in a Skyhawk next to White's, and also fled his plane.

The "fat man" bombs were designed to withstand 10 minutes of heat, but they were old and not in good condition. They exploded after just a single minute. The explosion destroyed both aircraft, blew a hole in the flight deck, and sprayed burning jet fuel even wider. White and most of the fire control crew were killed. Two more Skyhawks nearby began to burn as well, with more bombs and rockets now on fire.

Nine bombs exploded aboard the Forrestal that day. With most of the ship's fire control teams now dead or injured, untrained sailors began trying to control the blaze by hosing down the deck with seawater. Water does not extinguish burning jet fuel. Instead, burning fuel poured down into the interior of the carrier along with the water. Damage control teams were also no longer functiong due to casualties, and sailors began simply rolling bombs and rockets over the side of the ship to prevent further explosions.

The deck fire was not brought under control until 12:15 P.M., and the internal fires on decks 2 and 3 not controlled until 1:45 P.m> The fires were not considered extinguished until 4:00 A.M. the next morning.

The fire killed 134 crewmen and injured 161 more.

Eighteen of the dead were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Investigators later learned that the crew was arming rockets early to get aircraft up in the air faster. This shouldn't have been a problem as there were safety pins in the rockets to prevent them from launching. These safety pins had little tags on them, and what no one realizes was that the backwash from jets taking off and landing was catching these tags -- which acted like sails, and pulled the pins out. There aren't enough facts to know which aircraft launched the Zuni rocket. But the assumption is that when the plane switched from internal to external power, an electrical surge hit the rocket. With the rocket armed and the safety pin gone, it launched.

Procedures were changed to prevent it from happening again. Multiple crew members were subsequently trained in fire control (not just the fire control teams), and all aircraft carriers were equipped with automatic foam (not seawater) deck-wash systems to hand fire.

USS Forrestal group burial site - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15
Living tree memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to those forgotten dead who lost their lives during "Exercise Tiger" in World War II.

In 1943, Allied forces in England began a series of large-scale rehearsals for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Slapton Beach in Devon was one of these training grounds, chosen for its similarity to Utah Beach in France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that the men needed to be trained under battlefield conditions, so he authorized the use of live fire during the training exercises. To minimize the risk to the soldiers, firing was to stop 30 minutes before any disembarkation was to occur; beachmasters were to ensure that the beach was safe to land on (e.g., no unexploded shells); and troops would land without shelling occurring. Early in the morning on April 27, a British cruiser off-shore began shelling Slapton Beach, and American and British troops began disembarking. Delays in getting the shelling under way meant that troops came ashore as firing continued. Communications errors meant that the cruiser never told the LSTs it was still firing, and the LSTs were unable to tell the cruiser to stop. Troops were not supposed to go beyond a white line laid in the sand, but no one told the Americans, apparently -- and 308 American soldiers died from "friendly fire".

The exercise continued. It had to; there was no time for mourning. D-Day was coming.

The following day, April 28, was the day for more disembarkation exercises. Nine LSTs loaded with about 30,000 U.S. and British soldiers were taking part. Now, German U-boats were known to patrol the English Channel. U-boats had been sighted in the area during the night, and although the British cruisers were informed -- the LST captains were not. Shore batteries had spotted the U-boats as well, but were told not to fire so that the Germans would not learn that the coast was defended. Neither piece of information was forwarded to the practice convoy. The practice convoy should have been safe, since two British cruisers were assigned to protect it. But one cruiser collided with an LST, was damaged, and withdrew. This left the convoy essentially unprotected, as the remaining cruiser was supposed to be firing at the coast. Again, no one told the LSTs, and no one thought to get another cruiser out into the Channel. Worse, the American and British militaries were using different radio frequencies, and could not communicate with one another.

The convoy was steaming north across Lyme Bay in a straight-line formation, which made it easy for the U-boats to pick targets. The U-boat attack was horrifyingly effective: One LST sank. One LST caught fire and was abandoned. One LST caught fire but beached itself. One LST was damaged by "friendly fire" (resulting in 15 documented deaths). An appalling 638 servicemen (441 U.S. Army and 197 U.S. Navy) were killed. Many drowned, as rescue efforts by the LSTs and cruiser were minimal. British citizens living on the shore provided more rescue assistance than either the U.S. or British military. Many soldiers drowned because they simply did not have their lifejackets on, and their heavy packs pulled them under. Others put on their lifejackets incorrectly, and found themselves head-down in the water. Their heavy packs meant that they could not right themselves. There were so many bodies in the water that rescue craft had a difficult time moving about.

Exercise Tiger was the worst military disaster suffered by the United States. More than 900 men died on Slapton Sands, while just 200 died on Utah Beach on D-Day. In large part, this was because the U.S. and British military learned their lessons from Exercise Tiger: Convoy protection was enhanced, radio frequency issues addressed, lifejacket training improved, new fleets of small craft were dedicated to picking survivors out of the sea, and more.

Because the D-Day preparations were under the strictest secrecy, there was little reporting about the Exercise Tiger deaths at the time. When secrecy was lifted a few months later, there were more important things to report -- like the Normandy invasion, the capture of Rome, the invasion of Saipan, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the general attack by Soviet forces to clear the German forces from Belarus, the first bombing of Tokyo since April 1942. Exercise Tiger was not covered up, but it was never widely reported due to a host of circumstances. Mention was made in minor books and obscure military publications, but even to this day full disclosure about the events of Exercise Tiger remains elusive.

Exercise TIGER memorial - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15
Living tree memorial to the 65th Infantry Regiment (the "Borinqueneers") in Arlington National Cemetery.

65th Infantry Regiment memorial  - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
Living tree memorial to African Americans who served in World War II.

African American Korean War memorial  - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
The Argonne Cross, long forgotten in Section 18 of Arlington National Cemtery.

Maas-Argonne Offensive, also called the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire western front. It lasted from September 26 to November 11, 1918. Of the 187,000 Allied casualties, 117,000 were American. Imperial Germany lost 90,000 to 120,000 men. After the war, about 2,100 remains were reinterred in Section 18.

In 1921, the American Women's Legion won permission to erect a plain white cross in the field of the Argonne dead. A grove of 19 pine trees once formed a semi-circle to the sides and rear of the cross, but they are all gone now.

This section of the cemetery, very far from the "public attractions" receives no visitors. It is dry, scratchy, poorly maintained, and forgotten. A children's playground is just 10 yards away, to provide that extra bit of dignity.

Argonne Cross - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
You may often see people claiming that teachers, nurses, lawyers, artists, factory workers, and others had no part in securing freedom. "Veterans did that! ONLY veterans saved your freedom!" As if, somehow, our society was militaristic and ideas didn't matter.

Take this advice from someone who knows better:

"When we assumed the soldier we did not lay aside the citizen."

- George Washington, letter to the Continental Congress, June 26, 1775
2d Connecticut Heavy Artillery Monument -- the "Defenses of Washington Monument" -- Arlington National Cemetery commemorates one of the primary forces dedicated to defending the District of Columbia from attack by the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.

On a rough, square granite base is a plinth of smooth grey granite inscribed with the dates "1862" and "1865". A grey granite Maltese cross is inscribed in a rough dark granite colum on the plinth. Inscribed on the cross are the words "Defences of Washington." Atop the column is a square dark grey polished granite on which is affixed the coat of arms of the state of Connecticut in bronze. Circling this are inscribed the words "Erected A.D. 1896 by the State of Conn." A highly polished cone of dark grey granite above the column is topped by a cross of similar rock.

2d Connecticut Heavy Artillery monument - east side - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
USS Serpens Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, dedicated to the 253 members of the United States Coast Guard who died when the ship exploded on January 29, 1945, while anchored off Guadalcanal. The loss of the Serpens remains the largest single disaster ever suffered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

USS Serpens Memorial - closeup of northwest view - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
Shield of the United States Department of War on the Theodore Roosevelt Gate, one of two main gates at the entrance of Arlington National Cemetery. The gate was constructed in 1932. The department did not change its name to the Department of Defense until 1947. Prior to 1947, the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Army had equal standing and direct access to the President, bypassing the Secretary of War. These departments were subordinated to the Secretary of Defense at the same time of the name change.

Theodore Roosevelt Gate - War Office seal - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
Portion of the Armored Forces Monument on Memorial Drive, near the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

Armored Forces Memorial - main panel detail - Arlington National Cemetery - 2011
Standing on Memorial Drive, near the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. The structure in the foreground is the Women in Military Service for American (WIMSA) Memorial. The house on the hill is Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee National Memorial.

Women in Military Service for America Memorial - w Arlington House - 2011

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Not sure if I like this or not. The seating area appears narrow and to the right. The steps are to the left. The books are under the steps. Wouldn't they get dirty there, or wouldn't people kick them?

He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lorship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really -- one has to ask oneself -- what dignity is there in that?
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... the 1968 thriller movie Ice Station Zebra was inspired by news accounts about a missing Corona satellite capsule that inadvertently landed near Spitzbergen in April 1959 and was been recovered by Soviet agents?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

Something's wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren't of Snow White
Dreams of war
Dreams of lies
Dreams of dragon's fire
And of things that will bite, yeah

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We're off to never-never-land

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

When all that's left to do
Is reflect on what's been done
This is where sadness breathes
The sadness of everyone

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

Yeah, hey, yeah
Tears that soak a callous heart
Why you act frightened?
I am enlightened
Your weakness builds me
So someday you'll see

I stay away

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

Check check check check

Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh! Aooooh!

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

The music video is pretentious and preachy. Scott Weiland is a drug addict who has wasted his talent. Velvet Revolver never took advantage of his vocal skill.

But it is a great rock anthem.

Some days, all music must have a guitar.

Brains are sexy. And the sexiest guys are in libraries.

(An early Ben Fink Shapiro image...)

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But someone else saw fit to promote an article I had written, and it got onto the front page.
Did You Know ... that Boundary Channel off the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., was dredged and widened to provide fill material to raise the ground by more than 8 feet (2.4 m) when The Pentagon was constructed?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Scottie: Midge, who do you know who's an expert on San Francisco history?

Midge: That's the kind of greeting a girl likes!
- Vertigo

I do know why I like him. But Blogger limits me to just 150,000 words...
My new friend!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's got a very crisp mouth feel, and has a solid cider taste. There is a slight sour taste left on the front of the tongue after imbibing, but it isn't bad. (I can't stand sour ciders. Slightly sweeter ones are my strong preference.) It's also available in grocery stores now, unlike my all-time favorite cider J.K.'s Scrumpy, which can only be found in liquor stores.

When I talk to young writers, and I say, "Have you read this or that?" -- "Well, no but books are so expensive..." -- I say, "Well for God's sake! The central library is a wonderful library! For heaven's sake, use it! You've never going to be able to write if you don't read!"

- Nadine Gordimer (South African writer, political activist, and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature)
Popocatepetl -- the volcano just 33 miles from Mexico City -- bleches lava, smoke and ash on May 20, 2013.

Get out while you can.

Want to learn how to write your name in Elvish?

Learn how here.


This picture was taken on Columbia Island -- which is part of the District of Columbia -- in the early 1930s. Because of a land grant from the King of England (who assumed Native Americans didn't hold title to their own land, the bum), D.C.'s boundary extends to the high water mark on the Virginia shoreline. Columbia Island began in the 1840s as a shoal that was part of Teddy Roosevelt Island, and some time after the 1880s became its own island.

Columbia Island got built up and expanded by the Corps of Engineers between 1925 and 1927 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge project. A road west across the island was built and a road leading south (you can just barely see it here to the left) led to the George Washington Memorial Parkway (which opened in 1932, George Washington's bicentennial birthday).

A bridge (Boundary Channel Bridge) was built across the (what else?) Boundary Channel to link the island to Virginia. (The big pillars in the foreground and the unfinished smaller pillars a bit further on define the bridge.) Memorial Drive and the Hemicycle were built to provide a new way to the cemetery, and as a ceremonial gate to Arlington. (In 1997, the Hemicycle got saved and turned into the Women in Military Service to America Memorial.)

Up on the hill is Arlington House.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Notice that there is a big Greek temple like thing to the left of Arlington House. What is this big temple-like thing???????

A puppy will lick your face at some point in the future as your reward for getting the answer right.

Sophie: They say that the brightest spark burns best when circumstances are at their worst.

Calcifer: Yeah, but no one really believes that.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... that the name of John Malkovich's production company, Mr. Mudd, comes from the name of a Thai man and convicted murderer who acted as Malkovich's driver while he was making The Killing Fields in 1983?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not only did Flickr make some design changes (forcing gigantic, monstrous images onto my personal home page to make it less useful -- and eliminating all whitespace), now their pricing scheme is going to force me to pay $500 a year for 2T of data storage when I used to get unlimited storage for $25 a year.

There's a good analysis of what they've done wrong here.

I understand why they are doing this: By fucking over the paid users, they are hoping to attract unpaid users who won't care that they have to put up with a lot of ads. Flickr has become a teratogenic offspring with Facebook has its mother and Pinterest as its father.

I am looking for a new web host with unlimited storage at a decent cost, and a way to migrate.

Wikipedia, you got it wrong. "Between" implies that the gays attacked the homophobes, and the homophobes attacked the gays.

In Tbilisi, the rabid "Christians" led by the hate-heretic Ilia II engaged in an attack. There was no provocation, there was no wrong-doing, there was no violence by the LGBTQ marchers.

A more correct headline would be "A peaceful anti-homophobia demonstration in Tbilisi, Georgia, leads to attacks by members of the Georgian Orthodox Church on an LGBT marchers."

How interesting.

I use Fandango to purchase movie tickets online. I did so for ST:ID yesterday. Now they gave me a free HD download of the first "Star Trek" movie on iTunes.

Now, if I owned the Blu-ray, I'd be screaming mad. For the $18 I spent on buying a 3D, IMAX movie ticket, I got the first movie for free. Huh.....

What does that say to people who buy these movies on DVD?? I'm disconcerted.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... 2012 Olympic gold medal winning decathlete Ashton Eaton had no idea what the decathlon was until after he graduated from high school -- and then set a world record in it within just four years?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... that despite the general presumption against the enforceability of letter of intent in the United States, they are widely used to provide risk mitigation?
This guy would be super-duper "marry me now!" hot -- if it weren't for the unpleasant tattoos covering up his otherwise stunning body.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I few days ago, I started "remembering the Maine."

Maine war poster

By 1880, the American Navy was one of the smallest and ill-equipped in the world. Even Brazil had bigger and better warships, and in 1884 Congress realized that a couple modern warships could easily seal off the U.S. coastline and leave the nation imperiled. The Maine was one of America's first battleships. Even so, it was considered a "second class" battleship, much less well-designed that those the French, Argentinians, Brazilians, and Germans had. Her two gun turrets "sponsoned" -- the side of the ship rather than on the deck, cut out of the superstructure. There was one port and aft, another other fore and starboard. She was small for a battleship, almost a cruiser in size. Yet, she was very heavily armored, so she could ram.

Maine model
A model of the USS Maine

Sponsoning? Ramming?? These were technologies already out of date when the Maine was laid down, and her construction took almost a decade. She was launched in November 1889, but delays in obtaining her armor and fitting her guns meant that she wasn't actually commissioned until September 1895! For 18 months, she cruised the North Atlantic. On April 10, 1897, Captain Charles Dwight Sigsbee took command of Maine.

USS Maine 1897
USS Maine at sea in 1897

The 1890s were a period of great unrest both in Spain and in her colonies. In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died childless. His will named his 16-year-old nephew, Philip, as his successor. Philip was the grandson of Charles' half-sister, Maria Theresa -- the first wife of Louis XIV of France. Ascending the throne of Spain would unite France and Spain into a single nation, and no other country in Europe wanted that. So Philip was forced to renounce any claim to the French thrown. He ruled as Philip V. But Louis XIV of France declared that, should he have no children, Philip V of Spain should ascend the French throne to keep the Bourbon line intact. This triggered war, in which Italy, several powerful German nations, and Great Britain waged war on Spain and France. In the process, Spain lost her territories in the Netherlands and Italy. Philip V retained his throne, but he suffered from periods of insanity for the rest of his life, and Spain significantly weakened during his long, 45-year reign.

Philip's successors were weak-willed and weak-minded, and in 1807 Napoleon invaded Spain and forced Charles IV to abdicate. At first, the Spanish people loved the revolution, but Napoleon installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as king. Rebellion quickly broke out. Napoleon was largely successful in stopping British and Portugese intervention, but then invaded Russia. With French forces split and weak and the French economy collapsing, the Bourbon king, Ferdinand VII (son of Charles IV) was put back on the throne. Spain was left ruined, and its political elites were deeply divided between Bonapartists, Bourbons (or Carlists), and republicans (who wanted no more kings at all). Rebellions among Spanish colonies in the New World quickly liberated Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and more. It barely held on to Puerto Rico and Cuba.

wreck of the USS Maine - low tide - Havana Harbor Cuba - 1911
Wreck of the USS Maine at low tide in Havana Harbor in 1911.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I haven't been posting the past two days because I've been writing.

Looking east through colonnade at apse - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012-05-19

I am utterly fascinated by history. I think I always have been, but I just never knew it. As a child, I devoured anything about dinosaurs and paleontology I could get my hands on. I hated the little kiddie books in my elementary school library, because they were all "gee, big dino! such teeth! roar!" instead of the factual, detailed books I wanted to read. I loved politics, even though my family was so brain-dead that discussion of current events in our household consisted of grunts, single-syllable shrieks of outrage from my father ("WHAT??!?!?!??"), and demands to shut your fucking pie-hole. I have no clue where my love of politics came from, except that it seemed powerful. And to someone teenaged, gay, closeted, and terrified by the abuse of his parents and classmates, power was really seductive. As I got older, power lost its appeal for me. That's in part because I became empowered (coming out does that), but also because maturity and experience bring with it an expansion of vision.

It wasn't until I had to really embrace adulthood -- outside of graduate school, away from the temp jobs, actually doing something that matters rather than just earning money -- that I began to understand the immense importance history played in shaping my life. Our lives. Those of everyone around me. I began to interact with people who actually thought about their community, their employers, the way their place in the world interacted with that world.

Memorial Amphitheater - south colonnade 02 - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012

Growing up in Montana, in a neighborhood that did not exist until two years before I was born, in a town that had not really been more than a down-at-the-mouth local trading hub for cows and grain, I never got any sense of history. Of place. No sense that "something happened here". Frankly, no one around me was interested in the things that happened there, either -- even though, oddly, things had happened there. Perhaps they didn't know about them? No... I think they did not care about that, and that disinterest was passed on to me.

St. Paul had scales drop from his eyes. My ability to see was not nearly so quick.

Once my sense of history was awake, I became increasingly aware of the ebb and flow of it around me. Of the ways in which I and everyone I knew was surrounded, shaped, manipulated, controlled, bounded, pushed, supported, energized, and carried by history. I became deeply aware that most people didn't know mouse turd number one about the place in which they lived. In a city like Washington, D.C., where much of the destiny of the world has centered (rightly or wrongly) since 1915, that seemed... surprising. Not shocking, not appalling. Surprising.

Wheaton Plaza looking NNW at Tomb of Unknown Soldier - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15Here in Washington, it is far to easy to be seduced by the handsome young comely stud of Official Washington. Official Washington whispers into your ear about Presidents, and Congress, and Lobbyists On K Street. He caresses your shoulders and back, his fingers speaking of limousines, black-tie, expensive cocktails, by-invitation-only parties, Official Events. He is aroused by Power, by being a Very Important Person, by Executive Orders and Authorization Bills and Appropriations and the smell of an early-edition copy of National Journal.

Official Washington is the supermodel of history around here. Beautiful, sculpted, muscular, suave.

And empty. Completely and utterly vapid. Meaningless.

For Official Washington has nothing to do with the actual city of Washington, D.C. This city, this District ruled by Columbia, is about elementary schools and patched roads and traffic jams on Thursday afternoons and swings in the local parks and why the incessant flow of masses of squealing and monotone middle-school tourists drive you crazy and makes you wonder why you even try to go out to eat during Lemming Season (or, as the board of trade calls it, "Tourist Season").

Memorial Amphitheater - south apse decorative urn - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012Presidents don't live in Washington, D.C. They rent here. They never have to participate in the actual life of the city. They barely pay attention to it at all. Traffic is cleared for them, their food is provided for them, their work has nothing to do with moving about the town. Congress is much the same way. So are upper-level executive branch Cabinet secrtaries and assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries. A couple hundred people, at most a thousand or so, lost amid a sea of a half million working, shopping, rent-paying, driving, Metro-taking, clothes-buying, food-eating actual citizens of the District ruled by Columbia.

How big was the City of Washington in 1830? Did it encompass the entire District of Columbia or not? What were its streets like? What were the houses like? Did it have schools? Who lived here, and how did they live? When the spring floods came, were they afraid, or curious? Where did they buy their food? Their clothes? Their toys? Their books and newspapers and entertainment?

When Congress says, "We will build a canal here" -- it isn't Congress that spits on its hands, grabs a shovel, and starts digging. That work is left to the people of the City of Washington. It is the people of the City of Washington that have to dig it, that have to suffer as their streets and parks are clogged with huge mounds of earth, that have to watch their rents skyrocket because swarms of workers are suddenly in the city to dig the canal. It is the people of the city who have to stand by as workers get drunk and brawl in the streets, as hookers and pimps compete for the love of the working class man, as thieves begin to roam the streets, as businesses go broke because of the flood of earth and crime, as taxes go unpaid and schools close and children suffer and the life of the city gets worse and worse. And once the canal is finished (after Congress twiddles its penny-pinching thumbs for two decades ), it is the people of the city who have to operate it, who have no sewers and so much use the canal as a dumping ground, who have to smell the horrible fetid rotting smell from the canal, who have to fish the suicides and murder victims and drowned drunks from the canal. It is the people of the city who finally decide to fill in the canal, build a street on top of it, and take charge of their own destiny again.

Wheaton Plaza looking NW at S entrance to Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15Official Washington may press its body against you, make you feel its power and seductiveness, try to seduce you.

But it's the City ruled by Columbia that lives here. That matters.

What does it mean for Washington, D.C., when Official Washington decides to build a major monument here? Most cities, most people never confront any such thing. In my home town, "monument" meant a life-size bronze statue in a park. No big deal. In most large cities like Chicago or Seattle or Los Angeles, "monument" means a building like a concert hall or civic office building. Maybe, at most, it means naming a park, or perhaps erecting a sculpture in one. Rare is the city like New York or Boston, where portions of neighborhoods are buldozed and triumphal arches and plazas -- dedicated to the famous and the dead -- erected, and which divert traffic in odd and dangerous ways for the next several centuries.

But even in a New York City, the construction of a major monument is almost unheard of today. It takes an event like 9/11 -- which created space in the city's infrastructure -- before something major and new is built. And even then, the memorial replaces what used to be. It does not necessarily alter the city in the way such things used to do a century or more ago.

Looking W across Memorial Amphitheater quandrangle - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15

This does not happen in Washington, D.C. Here, in the City ruled by Columbia, Official Washington gets its way. Every 10 to 15 years, Official Washington approves a new memorial or road or traffic circle or monument. Washington, D.C., is a city where its downtown is constantly being remade and refashioned by the perpetual construction of monuments, parkways, memorial drives, statues, plazas, and commemorations of all kinds. The planning of such things -- where they go, how big they may be, how much they may interfere with the life of the City ruled by Columbia -- are deeply controversial. The construction of such things are highly disruptive to the life of the people of the city, and the final whatever-you-call-it permanently alters no only the landscape of the city -- its look, its feel, it's shape, it's color, it's emotional color -- but also draws in large numbers of new, foreign, disrespectful, loud, rude, angry people to see these things. The ebb and flow of humanity to, through, and out of the City ruled by Columbia changes things, too.

Flowery language, the above.

But it is nonetheless true: Memorials and monuments are constantly being built here, and the remaking of the city by them is something so astonishing in the long run that most people would be flabbergasted to look back and see it.

But who has to live with these memorials? Build a statue in the park in downtown San Francisco or Houston, and it only affects the lives of pigeons. But build one in Washington, D.C., and it deeply affects the lives of people in the city (even though most of them do not realize it).

* * * * * * *

N peristyle - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15In 1863, with Civil War dead clogging local cemeteries, Congress voted legislation that -- for the first time in American history -- authorized the construction of cemeteries for military dead. Think about that. Prior to the Civil War, most soldiers were buried where they lay, without markers. Most families knew Johnny wouldn't be marching home again, but a grave was out of the question. Shipping the body home in an era without embalming fluid was not possible. If soldiers fell in the woods or an unimproved field, burial might not even happen! Armies and countries simply did not have the funds, manpower, or desire to find bodies on the battlefield, bury them, mark their graves, and inform the families.

The Civil War changed that. It did so not because America suddenly wanted to "honor its war dead". It changed, because so many soldiers were dying on the battlefield that they simply had to be buried. Otherwise, mass epidemics of typhus, cholera, dysentery, and other diseases would occur. Collecting bodies was important, and burying them was important.

And so the military cemetery arose. Since there are three ready-made lobby groups to make these places "shrines to our fallen heroes" -- the military itself, supported by public funding; military families, organized and urged on by the military to give obesiance to "sons lost in honored glory"; and veterans groups, encouraged by the military and supporting additional military spending so they can receive additional encouragement from the military -- the military cemetery quickly become more than a sanitary measure. It became a shrine.

Arlington National Cemtery is not built on any battle site. There is no particular military value to it, and there never has been. No fort of any meaning or longevity has existed there. No one of importance or fame died there. It never saw military action. It was, quite frankly, nothing more than a struggling slave plantation owned by a man who resented the fact that his wife's father -- who left him those slaves in his will -- ordered that they be given their freedom by 1863.

Looking S at Memorial Display Hall - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012Arlington's singular meaning is that it was inherited by the wife of Robert E. Lee. Not by Lee himself, but by his wife. And when she died, Lee's children -- not Lee -- inherited it. Lee's one-time friend, Montgomery C. Meigs, was an apolitical Georgian whose family owned slaves, too. But Meigs was converted to radical Unionism after hearing Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address in March 1861. Not abolitionism; Unionism, the belief in the federal government and the indivisibility of the Union. When Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy, Meigs saw his one-time friend as a traitor. So when the federal government came looking for cemeteries, Meigs pointed out that he had the perfect spot: Lee's old home at Arlington. High ground. Plenty of space. Close to the battlefields in northern Virginia.

The first burials at Arlington were in the Lee's garden, just south of the house. Within a year, a mass grave of 2,111 soldiers (Union and Confederate) was placed next to it. Meigs delighted in torturing the Lees by burying mass numbers of dead all over the Arlington estate. When officers temporarily living in the Lee home during the war ordered that no more bodies be buried close by, Meigs overrode their orders and had even more of the dead buried on the front lawn right next to the house. If the South won the war, Lee would find his home a charnel house. And if the North won, Lee would be homeless.

Arlington became a shrine because of the huge number of bodies buried there. Nearly all of them were anonymous graves at first (dead pulled off the battlefield), but that hardly mattered. The sheer number of dead drew the nation's attention to Arlington. The despoilation of the Lee home attracted morbid attention, and some delightful, hand-wringing glee. But perhaps most importantly, Official Washington prostituted Arlington by fetishizing and worshipping the concept of Union, victory, and military might there. Arlington was no civilian cemetery. It could have been civilian managed, but it was not. Official Washington wanted to plant the flag -- the Union flag -- at Arlington. It wanted to subtly remind the North of the great sacrifice it had paid, so that no such national division would ever be permitted ever again. It wanted to subtly remind the South that it would never rise again. It wanted to remind everyone that local and especially state government no longer was the master in the nation; only the federal government had power now. It cloaked these fairly brutal statements about power, shame, and order in the somber, innocent clothes of mourning. Arlington was "definitely not" about a large, powerful, national military. Arlington was "definitely not" about the victory of Union over Rebel. Arlington was "definitely not" about mobilizing support for the federal government.

West Colonnade - interior - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012-05-19But it was.

Oddly, though, Presidents didn't visit Arlington much, at first. Only up-and-coming Senators or Representatives went there to make speeches and remember the dead on Decoration Day. (It was, at first, a day to decorate graves and remember the dead. Today, it is Memorial Day -- not about the dead, but about living soldiers and generals and ships and planes and guns and veterans lobbies.) Since not many people lived in Washington, D.C., not many veterans lived here, either. So when former general and Representative James Garfield -- who was lusting for the presidency -- wanted to draw attention to himself, he went to Arlington and gave speeches on Decoration Day.

But where would a person actually stand to give these speeches? In 1874, bitter old Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs -- still superintendent of Arlington Cemetery -- built a wooden amphitheater near Lee's home, too. And for the next 25 years, it served the political purposes to which it was put well. When politicians wanted to speak on Decoration Day, they came to the Old Amphitheater. When veterans groups held their "encampments" (biannual meetings) in D.C. to lobby for veterans' benefits and be close to the old battlegrounds, they made speeches in the Old Amphitheater.

But most people never visited there. Oh, Arlington was very green and very cool, and people loved going into its lower reaches (the "Park") and picnicing there in the summer. Close to the river there were cool springs, and some gazebos. All the graves, though, were far to the north (near the Netherlands Carrillon) or far to the west (near the Fort Myer gate). But it was hard to get to, unless you had a horse, and the streetcar didn't get there until the 1890s. And certainly no one went there in the winter.

Statue of Peace behind altar in chapel - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15But this was changing. In 1898, the United States fought a six-month war against the corpulent and comatose Spain. Just as the war was about to begin, coal dust in the fuel bunker of the USS Maine exploded, sinking the ship and killing 266 people. Exactly 2,910 Americans would die in the war that followed -- albeit just 345 in combat. The rest died of disease. Spain lost close to 76,500 dead -- roughly 12,000 of them in combat. (This doesn't include the 10,600 dead Cubans.)

The Spanish-American War is practically unknown today (hardly the "forgotten war" that Korean War vet-victims like to claim theirs is). But at the time, it not only marked the first major international military and diplomatic intervention by the United States since its founding but it also healed, for all intents and purposes, the national rift left by the Civil War. Americans united in demonizing and bullying Spain, but despite the very troubling way in which that unity came about -- come about it did.

Within two years, the National Society of Colonial Dames had proposed a Spanish-American War Monument to mark the field in which most Spanish-American War dead were buried. The monument was dedicate by President Theodore Roosevelt (who himself had been launched to fame and a political career by the war) on May 21, 1902.

The Spanish-American War revitalized Arlington National Cemetery. Civil War veterans were dying out, and fast, but suddenly large numbers of new veterans -- with their own monument -- were flooding the cemetery. They were brought to the cemetery by the streetcar, which finally arrived at the front gate of the cemetery in the late 1890s, too.

Looking through the southwest colonnade at the apse - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012-05-19Suddenly, Montgomery Meigs' old wooden amphitheater wasn't so great any more.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In 1904, Ivory G. Kimball was a police court judge in Washington, D.C. He wasn't a popular, or even a good, judge. He was brought up on ethics charges several times, and often took long "vacations" that proved to be cover for "getting him out of the city until things cool down". Kimball was 18 years old when the Civil War broke out. He'd had a good education in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, public schools. As a high school graduate, he qualified to teach school. Yes, that's right. He had been teaching for two years when he joined the Union Army. A year later, he was out -- so ill they wouldn't let him re-enlist. He moved to Washington, D.C., got a job, got a law degree, and became a police court judge. And like all good veterans, he joined a veterans' group: The Grand Army of the Republic, a group for anyone who'd served in the Union Army during the late conflict.

Kimball was 63 years old, but he saw how overcrowded the old amphitheater was. He'd also witnessed the way the nation came together after the Spanish-American War. He felt the old amphitheater was too connected to the Civil War. So he began advocating for a new structure... one that wasn't rustic, but Neoclassical and awe-inspiring. He wanted one dedicated to all veterans, not just Union or Rebel.

W portico 02 - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15Kimball knew Frederick D. Owen, a civilian engineer working for the Army Corps of Engineers. At the time, the Corps ran the city of Washington, as there was no elected government permitted by Congress. Owen was well-known in the city: He'd designe the 1898 flag for the President of the United States, and he'd helped design pedestals for several monumental statues within the city. The government had turned to Owen for designs for a massive (and abortive) expansion of the White House in the 1890s.

In 1903, Kimball got the Potomac chapter of the GAR to call for a new amphitheater. In 1904, he got Owen to sketch out a building for him. And in 1908, he got Congress to approve this building's construction.

Today, This Memorial Amphitheater is the centerpiece of the cemetery. All the focus is there. It didn't open until 1920, and by then it was already so important to everyone that -- when Congress approved the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just 11 months later -- the new tomb had to be placed at Memorial Amphitheater. Other places in the cemetery were not even considered.

* * * * *

Over on Wikipedia, they had an article about Memorial Amphitheater. It was created in May 2005, shortly after the encyclopedia went online, and consisted of 85 words (516 characters). Within two years, it had expanded to 152 words (924 characters). Five years later, in 2012, it was just 236 words (1,464 characters).

From 2005 to 2008, it had no citations. It had just one (to the cemetery's Web site) by April 2012.

At this point, the article described only the amphitheater -- and ignored the entrance hall, museum, and chapel. It mentioned when it was dedicated, who the architect was, that famous funerals were held there, and where the marble for it came from. It also had a short paragraph on Ivory Kimball's involvement.

Not any more.

Standing in E entrance and looking across chapel - Memorial Amphitheater - Arlington National Cemetery - 2013-03-15

Today, the article consists of an adult-like 5,327 words (32,788 characters). The genesis of the new amphitheater is covered, including the existence of the old amphitheater, Kimball's role, the legislative failures and successes, the creation of the commission that built the structure, funding for it, and who the architect was (not Thomas Hastings). The construction of the amphitheater is covered in depth. A full description of the amphitheater and all its components exists, including the site, seating, inscriptions interior and exterior, the three-level stage, the klismos chair, the urns, the crypt below, the east entrance hall and its three levels, the chapel, who sculpted the east entrance friezes and bas-relief pieces, the east plaza, and the unfinished nature of the structure.

The history of Memorial Amphitheater is also covered. This includes the construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the completion of the monumental stairs, the 1956 renovations, the 1958 additions to the tomb, the 1973-1974 renovations, the 1970s attempts to dedicate it to various causes, the 1973 additions to the tomb, the disinterment of the Vietnam War unknown, the 1995-1996 renovations, the sale of stolen artifacts from the structure, and the 2012 renovation. Bad information about state funerals, funerals, and memorial services for the dead at the site has been removed, and good information about services there, the use of the chapel, and other useage added.

Not that anyone cares. I honestly do not expect anyone to go read that very, very good article now.

But the article is there. It's excellent. And I did it.