Monday, September 30, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that when Columbian Harmony Cemetery closed in 1957, its 37,000 graves were moved to National Harmony Memorial Park -- but most of its marble headstones were buried in a landfill on-site, and its granite headstones, highly detailed marble markers, and other funerary monuments hauled away as junk and used as riprap on privately owned land near Caledon State Park in King George County, Virginia?
Sometimes, you just have to throw your hands in the air, and say:

I love D.C. statuary!

I love DC statuary

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery."
- Joseph Conrad

I know I've not been a good blogger for 2012. It's been a very strange year for me. I left one job, and started another, and that has led to a large amount of writing for me. But when you write all day, it's almost impossible to turn around and write a long, involved, well-written post in the evening.

I've also done quite a bit more photography (although my skills have not risen much). To improve my work, I'm snapping photos in RAW format rather than as JPEGs. This means hours (if not days) spent adjusting images to the right look and then transforming them into JPEGs and then posting them to Flickr. And that consumes a lot of time, too.

But I am trying harder to post more frequently, and the kind of posts I used to publish. Sometimes, I even succeed in doing it.

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that the energy company Dynegy attempted to buy Enron in 2001 but failed, nearly went bankrupt in 2002 (several executives were convicted of fraud and mismanagement), then went bankrupt in November 2011 after exiting the energy trading and natural gas supply business to focus on electrical generation?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I wrote or assisted with is in bold.
Did You Know ... that Charles Evans, Jr. survived a deadly apartment house fire in 1975 that killed his mother and two sisters, and later served as a producer of the 2004 Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, and the 2012 documentary film Addition Incorporated?

Friday, September 27, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here. The article I helped write is in bold.
Did You Know ... that although the 1996 film The Preacher's Wife is an uplifting film about Christian faith, angels, Christmas, the power of prayer, and the power of gospel music, lead actress Whitney Houston later admitted that she used illegal narcotics every day while making the film?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I refuse to post these to the front page of Wikipedia any more. But I will post them here.
Did You Know ... that the upcoming film Chavez shot scenes in grape fields in the Mexican state of Sonora, where the production was afflicted with massive dust storms, tremendous number of insects, and heat so intense that several actors collapsed on the set from dehydration?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I recently watched Arnaud Desplechin's 2008 motion picture Un conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale). It's terrific.
"We don't know ourselves, we knowledgeable people -- we are personally ignorant about ourselves. And there's good reason for that. We've never tried to find out who we are. How could it ever happen that one day we'd discover our own selves? With justice it's been said that 'Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.' Our treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures -- collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically concerned with only one thing, to 'bring something home.' As far as the rest of life is concerned, what people call 'experience' -- which of us is serious enough for that? Who has enough time? In these matters, I fear, we've been 'missing the point.'

"Our hearts have not even been engaged -- nor, for that matter, have our ears! We've been much more like someone divinely distracted and self-absorbed into whose ear the clock has just pealed the twelve strokes of noon with all its force and who all at once wakes up and asks himself 'What exactly did that clock strike?' -- so we rub ourselves behind the ears afterwards and ask, totally surprised and embarrassed 'What have we really just experienced? And more: 'Who are we really?' Then, as I've mentioned, we count -- after the fact -- all the twelve trembling strokes of the clock of our experience, our lives, our being -- alas! In the process we keep losing the count. So we remain necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves, we have to keep ourselves confused. For us this law holds for all eternity: 'Each man is furthest from himself.' Where we ourselves are concerned, we are not 'knowledgeable people.'"

That's a quote which one of the characters speaks in the film.

I loved this movie. I'm going to reveal most of the plot below. People sometimes say, "That's terrible! I want that surprise of not knowing." So don't read below.

Myself, I find that sometimes plot isn't so important. We all know what happens in Moby-Dick: Ahab takes the crew on a long sea voyage, he drives the crew slowly mad, they spot Moby-Dick at the end and do battle, Ahab dies, the crew dies trying to save him, the whale sinks the ship, only Ishmael survives. Moby-Dick isn't about the plot, per se. Moby-Dick is about the vast detail contained in the sea voyage, and how this comes alive for the reader. Moby-Dick is about the way character comes to life through speech, behavior, and detail. On film, Moby-Dick is about how the actors bring the story to life through movement, tone, eye contact, and body language.

In other words: It's about acting.

American audiences seem to forget this. I forget this.

After all, what American actor or actress today acts? Name one movie in which Brad Pitt has actually turned in a performance. Yeah, I can't think of one, either. It's not about doing a fake accent, or wearing a pencil mustache. Pitt always seems to mistake the bits and gobs that he dabs onto his appearances for real acting.

The French seem never to have forgotten about acting. Even a fatally flawed film like Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is almost (well, almost) redeemed by superb acting. Compare Michael Pitt in The Dreamers with his paint-by-numbers appearances in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bully, and Last Days. The difference can be felt on your skin.

Are there stand-out acting performances in Un conte de Noël? Not really. But then, every single person in this film is acting. There is not a single actor (yes, I can use that term) in this film who is not trying very hard to turn in an excellent performance. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie -- these people just "appear in." They do not act. But every single person in Un conte de Noël ACTS.

I can't say that Catherine Deneuve is a great actress. Or that she's better than Jean-Paul Roussillon or Mathieu Amalric or Laurent Capelluto. I can't say that Anne Consigny is better in a scene than Jean-Paul Roussillon, or that Deneuve's scene in X is better than what she does in Y.

But everyone in this film is acting.

My god, it's good.

There's also something very unnerving that happens visually in this film, too. Desplechin and his cinematographer, Eric Gautier, try very hard to create a sense of disjointedness. Here's how:
In most films, editing cuts match action to action. Let's say I'm sitting in a chair and rise up to answer the door. The camera might be level with the table at my elbow, and captures me rising up out of the chair. The next camera shot is level with my head, and shows me rising up into the camera -- continuing the movement from the first shot. I move right to left across the field of vision. Now the camera is pointed at the door, and I move into the shot and open the door. Surprise! It's Simon Jacobi and Karel Grosse, with flowers and a wedding ring and a three-way marriage license. I embrace them.

Notice how each editing captures the start of one action, and matches it with the completion of the next action. This is called "match on action." It is the most common editing cut in the world.

Continuity is also observed in editing. Let's say I am talking to African American gay porn star Castro. The camera looks at my face as I say something. It looks as his face as he responds. I say something, and it focuses on me. He says something, and it focuses on him. This is a shot-reverse shot. In each shot, we look the same, have the same body language, are posed the same, etc. Sometimes, movie directors will say, "I want you to do this scene calmly. Then we'll do it again, and I want you to be calm but a little firmer. Then we'll do it again, but Tim will be calm and Castro will be a little sad." The editor then selects the best takes of all three, and melds them together into a performance. Nonetheless, you don't see me sitting there calmly in one shot and in the next I'm walking around ranting and raving and waving my arms. You won't see Castro wearing a black t-shirt in one shot and a red sweater in the next.

Continuity in film is key.

But in real life, is there continuity? Not really. As human beings, we're not really that observant. I don't notice that you have a cup of coffee in your hands until halfway through our 10 minute conversation. I think you are paying attention to me, but then after five minutes I realize your eyes are looking at your PDA. We talk and talk...and only after 10 minutes do I realize that your friend is in the background, waiting for us to finish.
Desplechin throws out match-on-action and continuity editing.

He wants us to feel the disjointedness of reality. He wants us to see Abel lifting a coffee cup to his lips and then a split second later do it again. When Anne is talking to her son, Paul, Anne is seen sometimes leaning left and sometimes not leaning at all. Simon is seen swabbing the floor almost brutally one moment, and then next leaning on his mop as if tired and pensive. And the next second, he's brutally mopping away again.

Life is like that. Things happen when we look away for a second or two. Things move around in life.

This film has people and things move around, too.

You know, in a bad live television show, a person might talk about having a cup of coffee, and then it magically appears on the table in the next shot. It's jarring not because it shifts your sense of reality, but because it stands out against the rest of the show -- which is seamless and smooth. Desplechin's film is never seamless, never that surreally smooth.

And it's wonderful.

Massive plot spoilers back here........................................

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Here I am, dreaming of Zac Efron.... and Fitz & The Tantrum's "Out of My League" comes on.

I hear you, universe. But a guy can dream, can't he?

Okay, so watch this scary, scary video. You will never drive in the rain ever, again. Watch for the crag at about 5 seconds in.

Then wait 15 seconds.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

There's been a lot of jabber the last two weeks about how Bayard Rustin -- the openly gay, African American civil rights leader -- is a "forgotten man".

Is he?

The fact of the matter is, most civil rights activists are forgotten. While Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jesse Jackson are well remembered, most Americans (and most African Americans) would have a hard time saying exactly what it was that they did. Even assuming that a person could say "Rosa Parks sat down on a whites-only bus", that hardly begins to cover her lengthy activism after that. Most people today probably don't know who A. Philip Randolph, Mamie Till-Moberly, John L. Lewis, or Bayard Rustin are, much less what they did.

One might argue that Rustin is a special case, in that he would have been remembered -- except that he was gay. There's plenty of evidence that Rustin's sexuality has been ignored by even his supporters. But if you consider the evidence, most of that suppression occured during his lifetime. Since at least 1997, there has been extensive acknowledgement of Rustin's homosexuality. But where is the concomitant increase in his visibility, then? It's not come. That kind of puts the kibosh on any hypothesis that he's been ignored due to his sexuality.

Indeed, Rustin was openly gay during his lifetime (almost flamboyantly so, given the era he lived in) and his homosexuality was widely discussed (in highly negative terms) by conservatives and racists. Again, that kind of puts the kibosh on any theory that Rustin was "forgotten" due to his homosexuality.

To hammer just one more nail in that coffin: If Rustin was "forgotten" because of his sexuality, he should have been "more forgotten" than other, heterosexual civil rights leaders. But he hasn't been. I dare anyone to show me evidence that the public has "forgotten" him more than Randolph or Thurgood Marshall (who spent a half-century litigating Brown v. Board of Education and other cases before getting on the Supreme Court) or Lewis. Such evidence doesn't exist.

It's important to raise public (not just academic) awareness of who Rustin was. That should happen for a wide range of civil rights activists, but it should happen for Rustin in particular because of his dual role as both an African American civl rights activist and gay rights activist.

It's important to do this, too, because so many "inheritors" of the civil rights movement have turned out to be raving, froth-at-the-mouth homophobes. Yet, Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced Rustin. King never once spoke out against Rustin's sexuality. King never pulled any "love the sinner, hate the sin" bullshit on Rustin. Raising Rustin's profile among the public will go far to resisting the rising tide of homphobia among certain civil rights activists.

But is it important to keep saying Rustin is "forgotten"? No, because I think that misstates the case.

I think you have to ignore the broader public for a moment, because they don't remember anyone unless they're twerking or collapsing from drug use.

Think for a moment about historians, academics, memoirists -- the kind of people who should remember Rustin. Is Rustin "forgotten" by them? Hell no!! More than 20 books about Rustin have come out since 1995 -- far more than about almost any other civil rights activist except MLK and Parks.

Is Rustin's sexuality denied or suppressed by them? Hell no!! Half of those books are by LGBT authors who celebrate it, and the rest are extremely inclusive about Rustin's sexuality. Some even go so far as to point out that Rustin was highly promiscuous, to the point where he could not be left alone with handsome young black activists or he'd sexually molest them. (There's almost a trend among scholars to take joy in pointing out his promiscuity.)

I don't think it does either the African American civil rights movement or the gay rights movement any favors by perpetuating the myth of Bayard Rustin as the "forgotten man". That myth does an incredible disservice to those who've worked hard since his death to raise awareness about Rustin the black man and Rustin the gay man. It also perpetuates the myth that most people are drooling homophobes who don't want to learn about Rustin "simply because he was gay". The fact is most people are just shit-lazy, not homophobic. If you tell them about Rustin, they are pleased to know. (Tell them to crack a book open, and they back off like Dracula before the Cross.)

The myth of Rustin as the "forgotten man" is a self-serving myth. It makes for good copy when news outlets like In These Times and Daily Kos and Huffington Post want to get eyeballs (and hence sell advertising and make money). It reinforces the victimhood of LGBTQ people, so that they can feel outrage (instead of getting up off their asses and changing the world) and so that the LGBTQ organizations which serve them can suck on that outrage and get a few more donation dollars.

I think we need to speak the truth about Bayard Rustin. He's no more forgotten than most civil rights activists. That's a problem, but it's not the problem most writers tell us it is.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day

"The anthracite operators wished to offer only the purest, highest quality coal, sorted by size. They achieved this purpose by constructing huge, tall buildings, in which the coal was lifted mechnically to the highest point, and then tumbled down long chutes and open troughs at various angles.

"Breaker boys sat astride the chutes, plucking out the slate and sorting out lumps of coal by size. The clanging noise inside as the chains and belts pushed the coal along was earsplitting. The entire building rattled and shook when the belts were in operation. Fine black dust covered all ledges, walls, and machinery. ...

"Many lost limbs in the machinery. Several were known to have disappeared, to be found hours later mangled and crushed while caught bent around one of the turning wheels. Windows were broken, icy air swept in during the winter, and in the stifling summers the fine dust on their bodies was caked with sweat. ...

"The slate-picker boss would not hesitate to give a boy a stinging clout across the hands for putting coal in the slate box or slate in the coal chute. The slate was sharp, gloves were useless. Raw fingers were called 'redtop.' In winter, old men would sometimes find the path home from the breaker by the drops of blood in the snow."
- The Guns of Lattimer (1978), p. 39, 50

This is photographer Lewis Hine's "Power house mechanic working on steam pump," a photograph taken in 1920. It was one of his "work portraits," which showed a working class American in an industrial setting. The carefully posed subject, a young man with wrench in hand, is hunched over, surrounded by the machinery that defines his job. But while constrained by the machinery (almost a metal womb), the man is straining against it -- muscles taut, with a determined look -- in an iconic representation of masculinity.

Most of Hine's work was for the National Child Labor Committee, a nonprofit organization established in 1904 to combat child labor in the U.S. and around the globe. (It's still in existence today.) At the time, there were nearly 2 million child laborers aged six to 17 working in the U.S. That's out of a total workforce of 24 million. Eight percent of all workers!

"Power house mechanic," however, was taken for the Work Progress Administration (WPA), an agency of the federal government. The WPA was one of the New Deal agencies created to help stop the ravages of the Great Depression. Unemployment had gone from just under 5 percent in 1929 to 10 percent in 1930, 22.5 percent in 1931, to 27 percent in 1932. In cities like Toledo, unemployment hit an appalling 70 percent. In Seattle, it was close to 50 percent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought a variety of stop-gap measures to get money into people's pockets (hoping that the economy would rebound). Nearly half of all Americans had nothing to eat at least two weeks out of the year, and one third of all Americans lost their home. Nearly 70 percent of American children were suffering from malnutrition.

Welfare payments to the states (provided through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration) was Roosevelt's biggest anti-poverty program. But with the Republicans upset that welfare "undermined the work ethic" (never mind that most people were starving), Roosevelt knew that this policy would not last long. He was able to enact two major pieces of legislation (Public Works Act and the Civil Works Act) to hire American laborers and put them to work constructing roads, buildings, prisons, courhouses, airports, public office buildings, state capitols, parks, playgrounds, public housing, ports, and much more.

But funding public works meant drafting building plans, gathering construction materials, training workers... It took too long.

In 1935, Roosevelt won passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which established the WPA. WPA funded existing projects, putting vast numbers of people to work. Sometimes people only worked 20 hours a week, but it was more than zero hours a week. The WPA didn't just hire laborers, either. It hired photographers, artists, writers, painters, sculptors, and more. Much of the great public art which now litters the country -- the fantastic homoerotic sculptures of "Commerce" outside the Federal Trade Commission, for example -- came from the WPA. Huge amounts of American history were saved by WPA historians, cataloguing materials and storing them in WPA-built libraries, while WPA writers read the documents and wrote histories of all 50 states, most major cities, and even important regions (like Appalachia, the Tennessee Valley, and the Columbia River).

Hine was a WPA photographer.

But Hine had not started out in life as photographer, but as a sociology professor.

Backtrack to the turn of the century........... Photography around 1900 was still not considered "art." It was, at best, thought of as mere mechanical reproduction, and hardly anyone believed it had aesthetically pleasing or intrinstincally artistic qualities itself. Alfred Stieglitz was beginning to challenge that with the formation of the Camera Club of New York, the "Photo-Secession" gallery show (which revolutionized the way people saw photography), and his journal Camera Work. But how people saw photography was only just beginning to change when Hines began to take photographs.

The National Child Labor Committee hired Lewis Hine as a sociologist. But Hine believed that mere words were unable to convey the appalling conditions of not only child labor but blue-collar America itself. He began taking photographs, as much as interviewing people and gathering statistics on work-related injuries and deaths.

One of Hine's earliest works is this image, "Midnight. Glassworks. Indiana." It was taken shortly after midnight on an August day in 1908 at a bottle factory near Indianapolis, Indiana. Hine said that the boy on the left told him he was 16 years old, but Hine later learned he was only 14 years old. The boy had already been working in the factory for four years. This image was taken on the fly, because the factory owner had permitted Hine to photograph his workers but not to interfere with bottle production. The boy paused for just a few seconds to be photographed by Hine. Conditions in the glass factories were horrific: Toxic fumes and smoke were inhaled constantly (leading to chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and death), and life-threatening burns were common.

This photo is titled "Young Cigarmakers in Englahardt & Co., Tampa, Fla." Cigars at the time were rolled by hand, and rollers were usually the youngest children. These three boys are all 14 years old. Most cigar-making occurred in tenement houses, where children rolled tobacco for up to 16 hours a day. Hand-rolled cigars were considered the highest-quality cigars. Children were employed in making "all-hand" (e.g., not rolled by mold or machinery) cigars, because employers thought their fingers were the most nimble. Most children smoked throughout the day. Inhaled dust from the tobacco leaves led to severe asthma, and nicotine poisoning (often leading to death) was common. A child would be paid $4 to $7 for 1,000 cigars, generally producing about 150 cigars a day. (That's like being paid 50 cents an hour in 2010 dollars.) Hine was permitted to take this photograph because the work in the cigar factory that day was light, and the children had four or five minutes to talk to Hine.

By 1911, Hine's work for the National Child Labor Committee was coming to an end. He'd worked for them for four years, and the Committee was getting ready to issue its report. One of the last places Hine investigated were the anthracite coal fields in Pennsylvania. Anthracite coal came mixed with slate (sharp as razors), ash, rock, dirt, and other impurities which had to be sorted out by hand. Anthracite coal burns best if the lumps of coal are all the same size. Although some automation had occurred, allowing mechanical cleaning and size-sorting of coal, most anthracite coal was still processed by hand.

Children did this work... the "breaker boys."

This image was taken at an anthracite coal breaker near South Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1911.

"Once a man, twice a boy" was the rule in the coal fields. Most workers started out at the age of eight in a coal breaker -- a 10-story high coal sorting factory at the mouth of each mine. When you turned 12, if you hadn't been maimed in the coal breaker, you could work in the mine itself, leading mules in the dark or running water back and forth to the miners, or pushing coal carts. Then you worked your way up to miner. By the time you were 40 or 45, you were hacking up black sludge and so broken in body that you went back to the coal breaker as a "breaker boy" again.

For 10 hours a day, six days a week, breaker boys would sit on wooden seats, perched over chutes and conveyor belts, picking slate and other impurities out of the coal. Breaker boys working on top of chutes or conveyor belts would stop the coal by pushing their boots into the stream of fuel flowing beneath them, briefly pick out the impurities, and then let the coal pass on to the next breaker boy for further processing. Others would divert coal into a horizontal chute at which they sat, then pick the coal clean before allowing the fuel to flow into "clean coal" bins.

The work performed by breaker boys was extremely hazardous. Breaker boys were forced to work without gloves so that they could better handle the slick coal. The sharp slate meant the boys left work each day with their fingers cut and bleeding. Breaker boys sometimes also had their fingers amputated by the rapidly moving conveyor belts. Others lost feet, hands, arms, and legs as they moved among the machinery and became caught under conveyor belts. Many were crushed to death, their bodies retrieved from the gears of the machinery by supervisors only at the end of the working day. Others fell into the chutes of coal, and were crushed to death or smothered. Dry coal would kick up so much dust that breaker boys often wore lamps on their heads to see, and asthma and black lung disease were common. Then there was the acid: Coal was usually washed to remove impurities. The water reacted with the coal to create sulfuric acid, and the acid burned the hands of the breaker boys.

This image is "The Night Messenger."

One of Hine's last photography jobs was in Washington, D.C. President George Washington chose the site of Washington, D.C., in 1791. Pierre Charles L'Enfant surveyed the city the same year, and established a major thoroughfare connecting the "President's Mansion" to the site of the future Capitol building. This street was named "Pennsylvania Avenue" (pretty much by accident) in December 1791, and in 1796 the street was physically created when trees in the new city were chopped down along the avenue's route. The underbrush was removed in 1800. A dirt road was actually created in 1803, although this was replaced by asphalt (1823), stone (1852), and asphalt again (1877).

Although Pennsylvania Avenue was the site of the city's first trolley line and its first gas streetlights, the south side of the street was an infamous slum known as "Murder Bay." It was full of tarpaper and stick shacks, and home to cutthroats, pickpockets, and numerous brothels. After General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac camped nearby on the National Mall during the Civil War, so many prostitutes invested the area that it also became known as "Hooker's Division." The two trapezoidal city blocks sandwiched between Pennsylvania and Missouri Avenues (now the site of the National Gallery of Art) were home to the expensive brothels, where the level of service and upscale furnishings became so notorious that this area became known as "Marble Alley." The 12-story Romanesque Revival Post Office Building was built in Murder Bay in 1880 to spur economic redevelopment, but this effort failed. (The building is still standing, by the way.)

"The Night Messenger" is one of Hine's last images for the National Child Labor Committee. It shows the corner of C Street NW and 13th Street NW, in April 1912. (This is one block south of Pennsylvania Avenue.) Griffin Veatch is leaning against the tree at left. The 12-year-old Veatch was a "night messenger" -- a child laborer who directed customers to brothels. The men you see on the streets are visting the brothels in the buildings lining the street. It was common for brothels and prostitutes to employ children to roam the streets and encourage men to come visit the whorehouse. The child usually received a nickel for each customer brought in. On top of that, the brothel would provide one meal per day and allow the boy to sleep in a bed with (usually nestled in among prostitutes) during the day.

Murder Bay was torn down in 1928 when the federal government began building the Federal Triangle complex. Federal Triangle was completed in 1938, and continues to dominate downtown D.C.
Happy Labor Day!

"What does labor want? We want more school houses and less jails. More books and less guns. More learning and less vice. More leisure and less greed. More justice and less revenge. We want more ... opportunities to cultivate our better natures."

window washers - 2011-11-01

Union-made cigar advertisement - Smithsonian Museum of American History - 2012-05-15

Cigar making in the 1800s was a dirty, hard job. Workers sat at tables on backless benches. There was no air circulation, and little light. A worker had to supply his own cutting board and knife. "Strippers" tore the leaves from the plant stems (making sure not to rip the leaves). "Bunchers" laid them in pads of 50. The cigar-maker then adjusted the leaves so that all the holes in the leaves were covered up. The unuseable portion had to be cut off, and the best cigar-makers cut off only the tiniest bit of unuseable leaf. Tougher leaves were used for the wrapper. The goal was to make a perfectly shaped and rolled product. Piece-rates varied from $16 to $22 per thousand. Women made much less than men; Asian laborers often made less than half what whites did. Cigar factories were full of the dust from the leaves, and pieces of stem and branch flew everywhere. Management wanted as little tobacco wasted as possible, the highest-quality rolls and best wrapping, and the highest number of cigars made per day. Managers had the right to remove as many "imperfect" cigars as they liked -- for which workers received no wage.

Unions attempted to win higher piece-rates, limit the abuse of the "right of removal", stop sexual abuse of women and children, obtain more ventilation and better lighting, win adjustable seating, and other benefits.

Samuel Gompers was a Jew born in Great Britain in 1850. He emigrated to the United States, and as a teenager started work in a cigar factory. His job was to read books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets -- anything to help alleviate the tedium of cigar-making.

He became president of the International Cigar Makers' Union, and then co-founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in October 1886. He served as the AFL's president from 1886 to 1894 and again from 1895 until his death in 1924. A critical leader in the American labor movement, he tried to stop the inter-union battles over jobs and members, promoted professional union administration, successfully advocated for the eight-hour working day, and demanded written contracts and improved collective bargaining.

Gompers suffered from diabetes, for which at the time there was no treatment. He suffered a serious bout of influenza in February 1923, and then was stricken with severe bronchitis in the summer. He was 73 years old, and increasingly frail, and recovery from the bronchitis was very slow. He began suffering from congestive heart failure (brought on by the diabetes, and severely worsened by influenza damage to his heart), and by spring 1924 could no longer walk without assistance. In June, his kidneys began to fail.

Gompers continued to travel heavily, however, on behalf of the American labor movement. He attended the Democratic National Convention in July, standing and speaking for nearly an hour. He attended the AFL's executive council meeting in Atlantic City in August, but was so weak that he could not preside over the daily sessions. Few thought he was well enough to attend the AFL's annual meeting in El Paso in mid November, but he did. During the noon lunch recess and at night, however, he practically collapsed from exhaustion.

Against his doctor's advice, he attended the inauguration of Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles on November 29. (Gompers had played a key role in putting down the rebellion that threatened the regime of Calles' predecessor, Álvaro Obregón.) A special train, escorted by the Mexican military, sped Gompers, his wife, and about 15 presidents of American labor unions to Mexico City. These included the most powerful men in the American labor movement: AFL Secretary-Treasurer Frank Morrison, Granite Cutters president James Duncan, Photo-Engravers president Matthew Woll, Street and Electric Railway Employees president William D. Mahon, and AFL Metal Trades Department president John P. Frey. Calles sat Gompers in a place of honor, and wore an AFL badge during his inaugural ball. But Gompers' friends noticed that he tired easily, and seemed fatigured. The meeting of the Pan-American Labor Federation opened on Decembeer 3, and Gompers stayed in Mexico City to attend the sessions.

On Saturday, December 6, Gompers collapsed. A physician told his wife and friends that Gompers had suffered a severe heart attack and was dying, and it would be only a matter of days -- if not hours.

Gompers expressed his desire to die on American soil. At first, the assembled labor leaders thought they should hire an airplane to transport him, but the altitude (which lowered blood pressure and forced the heart to work harder) probably would have killed him. A special express train was quickly commissioned, and at 7 P.M. on December 10 it began its journey toward the United States. The altitude on the high Mexican plateau was no good for him. He weakened considerably by the time the train reached San Luis Potosi on the 11th. Between Saltillo and Monterey later that day, Gompers' condition worsened. The three Mexican physicians traveling with him believed the much lower altitude might have him, but it did not.

Samuel Gompers arrived in San Antonio, Texas, at 5 P.M. on December 12. He was transported to the St. Anthony Hotel, then the most luxurious in the entire South. His condition had improved slightly, but his personal physician was contact and rushed from New York City to attend him.

Gompers slept little during that night. At about 2:30 A.M., it became clear he was dying. His heart rate was soaring to 160 bpm, and they administered digitalis but it did no good. They bled a pint and a half of blood from him in order to help decrease the heart congestion, and gave him epinephrin. But nothing helped. In his final hours, he made plans for his funeral and his estate. He lapsed into unconsciousness at 3:30 A.M., and died an hour later. Per his wish, his old friend James Duncan held his hand. It was December 13, 1924.

His body was placed in a 1,200-pound bronze coffin. A special two-car train was offered by the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad to carry his body home to Sleepy Hollow, New York. In the forward car was a lounge and sleeping bunks for officials. In the second car was the observation lounge, in which the casket was placed. Two beds were made up on either side of the casket, since AFL officials said they would stand watch over the casket day and night on its journey.

Gompers' body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol on December 14 and 15. His funeral was held Thursday, December 18, in the Lodge Room of the Elks Club at W. 43th Street and 6th Avenue in New York City on December 16. The funeral rites of the Elks was read over him, as was the funeral rites of the Freemasons (to which Gompers also belonged). Two rabbis then read the Jewish rites for the dead over him.

Because Gompers married outside the Jewish faith for his second marriage, he was barred from being interred in Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn (the large and famous Jewish cemetery where Gompers' first wife and many of his infant children were buried). Gompers purchased a burial plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in the fall of 1924, and made his first will about that time. The grave was near that of Andrew Carnegie. He left almost no money, and his only property consisted of his home in Washington, D.C.

Dawn. Memorial Amphitheater. Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial Amphitheater dawn - ANC - 2013-08-24

Sunday, September 1, 2013

All set for winter.

Washington Monument under repair - 2013-08-25

hot black soccer player 006 - east potomac park - 2013-08-25
Mini-golf in East Potomac Park! No better way to spend the day that trying to get past the Giant Gorrila or the Alligator Water Trap.

family mini-golfing - East Potomac Golf Course - East Potomac Park - 2013-08-25
Great Cormorant 0001 - chomping on eel - East Potomac Park - 2013-08-25

Here are just a few of the shots I got of a Great Cormorant eating an American Eel in the Washington Channel of the Potomac River here in Washington, D.C. You can see all 15 shots here.

The Great Cormorant is a large seabird with an extensive range across North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. It only weighs about three to five pounds, but it has a wingspan of four to five feet! The Great Cormorant is the largest of all cormorants, and is usually black colored with a yellow or dun throat. Great Cormorants vary widely in color, however, and it is not unusual to see them in brown, mottled brown, or grey.

The Great Cormorant is a diving bird, and in fact goes to great depths in lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Dives times of 20 to 30 seconds are not uncommon. It brings its prey to the surface, where it uses its hooked beak to manipulate it into position and then swallow it whole. Cormorants feed on fish, including eels.

Cormorants were once hunted almost to extinction, because fishermen felt that they competed for fish. But that stopped a few decades ago, and now there are maybe 1.6 million cormorants in Europe, as many in North America, and twice that number in Asia and Australia.

The American eel is one of the most widely spread eels in the world. Its habitat ranges from Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, around Florida, and up the East Coast of the United States and Canada as far north as Nova Scotia. Eels are fish, and although they have tiny scales they are covered in mucous that makes them look naked like a snake. They are somewhat vertical than round, and have a fin along the spine. Like snakes, they wiggle back and forth through the water to swim, using their tiny front fins for stability. American eels are generally dark green to greenish-grey, with lighter colors in clearer water. American eels spend most of their lives in fresh water -- rivers, inlets, creeks, and streams. They travel into the ocean to breed, heading for the Sargasso Sea. The female lays up to 4 million eggs in the seaweed, then dies. The hatchlings spend seven to 12 months in the seaweed, and once they are bigger they move toward the shore. Because they are still transparent (their skin has no color), they are known as "glass eels". They continue feeding, mostly on insect larvae, for about two months as they adjust from saltwater to fresh water. Once the eels reach the coast, they move into rivers and streams and take on a yellow-green color, during which time they are known as "elvers". This takes another three to 12 months, and many eels spend this time migrating far upstream. Once they reach "home" (wherever that is), they start changing color and become known as "yellow eels". During this stage, eels take on a sex (male or female). They begin preying on small fis, clams and oysters, crabs and crawfish, insects, worms, frogs, and plants. The final stage of adulthood is the "silver eel" stage, which the eel reachs just before it is ready to spawn. It lasts a few months, as the eel moves downstream to the ocean. Then it dies. Eels can live anywhere from six to 30 years!

American eels are mostly active at night. During the day, they hide in the mud near the shore. Eel populations are in decline all along the East Coast. This is partly due to pollution, and partly due to a loss of the small fish that eels feeds on during the elver and yellow eels stages of their life. Dams significantly disrupt their life cycle, because they cannot use fish ladders. They don't handle low-oxygen water well, but a lot of water in rivers and streams has low oxygen because of dams.

Cormorants are well-known to eat eels. But are eels a big part of their diet? We don't know. We see cormorants eating eels a lot, but that's because the eel writhes around a lot and the cormorant has to shake it (to stun and subdue it) at the surface, then get the eel into position (head down) so that the cormorant can eat it. This takes a minute or so. Fish, crustaceans, and then like doing fight back as much, aren't slimy, and are easier to get down in one gulp. So maybe we just don't see cormorants gulping down fish because they do it so fast.

Anyway, it was cool to see this Great Cormorant eating an American eel. The Potomac River is so polluted, seeing eels there is a big deal.

Great Cormorant 0002 - chomping on eel - East Potomac Park - 2013-08-25

Great Cormorant 0008 - chomping on eel - East Potomac Park - 2013-08-25

Great Cormorant 0010 - swallowing eel - East Potomac Park - 2013-08-25