Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Space Window at the National Cathedral

If there has been one place we have visited in our time here in Washington that has totally blown me away it would be the National Cathedral. It's the closest thing America has to Notre Dame in its size and grandeur. Although, Notre Dame has been completed since 1345, our National Cathedral was under construction until 1990. This was because although it has a designation by Congress as our "national" cathedral, no government money has gone to support its construction. That's the separation of church and state in action! 

Inside, I couldn't quite believe the size of the structure. I've seen the memorial services that have been held there but it doesn't give you the feeling of how immense the cathedral is. 

One of the most famous stained glass windows in the Cathedral is the Space Window which tells the tale of the Apollo 11 trip to the Moon.

Here is a closer look. The tiny white circle in the red figure is a piece of moon rock brought back and presented to the Cathedral by the three Apollo astronauts on the fifth anniversary of the lunar landing. When Neil Armstrong passed away in 2012, he was given a memorial service held in the Cathedral which was attended by the other Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Use My Camera Classics: Seeing the Mona Lisa

**In this series of posts, I revisit interesting locations and sites that I never got around to posting about when I originally visited them.**

Paris, May 2013

On the day we visited the Louvre back in 2013, it was rainy all day and I think we had an easier time with tourists because of it. I'm the first to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of art museums. Give me a natural history museum or technology museum and I'm a happy camper but an art museum doesn't do much for me. 

The Louvre, of course, is the mother of all art museums and I previously wrote about seeing parts of the Parthenon there at the time of our visit but I never got around to showing our experience seeing their most famous piece, the Mona Lisa.

While the museum was generally busy, without question the busiest room was the room with the Mona Lisa. Viewers are kept well away from the painting as it has been attacked many times by onlookers. In 1956 acid was thrown at it and in other occasions a rock and even a coffee mug from the Louvre gift shop has been thrown at Da Vinci's work.

She is kept behind bullet-proof triple-paned glass which makes getting a good photo of the work nearly impossible.

But that doesn't stop people from crowding around with their high-powered cameras trying to get a perfect photograph that just isn't going to happen with that glass in front of it.

For me, the artistry of sculpture is so much more beautiful than a painting. My favorite Louvre piece is the headless Nike of Samothrace which dates back to the 2nd century BC. It was found in 1863 on the island of Samothrace which is one of the most northern Greek islands near Turkey and has been on display at the Louvre since 1884.  

Here's another photo from a different angle.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Visiting the Exorcist Stairs In Georgetown

A few years ago we visited the famous steps in Odessa, Ukraine that were featured in the film Battleship Potemkin and recently we visited another set of steps made famous in a film. In The Exorcist, a young girl is possessed by a demon and two priests try to save her through an exorcism. The film is set in the Washington DC neighborhood of Georgetown and the climactic final scene features a row of steps which are located along the side of the girl's house in the film.

Here's the brief clip of the final scene. I'm a great fan of this movie as the film's director, William Friedkin, made one of the best police dramas in The French Connection and then followed it up with one of the top horror films ever made. 

Here is a fan-made poster for the film that highlights the long flight of steps.

And here are the steps as they are today. You'll notice that they are not located next to a house and instead are bordered by a building on Georgetown University's extended campus. Through film trickery, Friedkin seamlessly make it look like the home was right next to the steps. 

They are an intimidating set of steps to be sure and as we were taking photos around them a runner came and ran up the stairs and I'm not exaggerating when I see he looked like the possessed priest at the top. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

We Picked An Interesting Day To Visit The Capitol

On Wednesday, we took a tour of the U.S. Capitol which is undergoing renovations. Construction has been going on since 2015 and the project will be complete and the scaffolding removed by Inauguration Day 2017.  

Going on a tour of the Capitol is organized chaos as there are hundred of people touring it at the same time. As a visitor you are divided into smaller groups and a set of headphones which is connected to a microphone on your tour guide. It was nice to be able to hear everything our guide was saying no matter where you stood and our guide was Alan who was of course an expert on every aspect of the Capitol.

You start in the Crypt which was originally designed as the final resting place for the Father of our Country, George Washington. Washington never wanted to be buried here and ultimately his family decided to leave him in his final resting place at Mount Vernon.

Each state has two statues around the Capitol celebrating two people that the state legislatures have designated. This statue to Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt was done by Gutzon Borglum who designed Mount Rushmore.

As I mentioned before, the Capitol dome is under construction and so we had scaffolding blocking most of the portraits and statues. I guess it gave us a unique view of the Capitol that not everyone gets to see.

The Dome itself was mostly covered by a cloth except the center which shows Washington in heaven with 13 woman that represent the 13 colonies plus Liberty and Victory sitting at his side. The painting is called the Apotheosis of George Washington which means Washington becoming a god. It really is a testament to Washington that he didn't become a dictator of the new country because I think a large majority at the time would have been alright with that.

After the Capitol tour we were going to see the House and Senate both of which were in session. For that part of the tour, you need to get passes from your representative or senator and Laura stopped by our Atlanta representative's who is John Lewis. He's famously wearing the backpack in this photo or on the far right of this one.

As we were waiting in line to view the House of Representatives, I received an e-mail alert from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Rep. John Lewis was staging a sit-in on the floor of the House. I was shocked as we were just a few hundred feet away. Maybe we would get to see some history in the making!

The line eventually stopped moving and Capitol staff came out and told us that they weren't letting anyone else in while the protest was going on. We could wait in line if we wanted to but it could be several hours.

The sit-in lasted until the next day and brought a lot of attention to the gun control legislation debate. We will give the House and Senate a try on another when are the Supreme Court cases announcements being announced again? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Visiting The Ty Cobb Museum

Shortly before moving to Washington DC for the summer, I was able to visit the small Georgia town of Royston which is home to the Ty Cobb Museum. Cobb was certainly the best baseball player of his era and the best contact hitter to have ever played the game. He became a little overshadowed when the first home run sluggers like Babe Ruth dominated the league but he was the highest vote getter among the first Hall of Fame class of 1936.

Royston is located in the north east corner of Georgia near the South Caroline border and is about 30 miles north of Athens. Here's a mural dedicated to their favorite son in downtown Royston. 

Although Cobb is famously nicknamed the "Georgia Peach," for some reason it only occurred to me recently to figure out if there was anything honor Cobb (other than a huge statue in front of Turner Field in Atlanta). 

It turned out that in Cobb's later years after retiring in baseball and earning a small fortune from being in early investor in Coca-Cola, Cobb donated money to start a small 24-bed hospital in Royston. That investment has expanded to what is known as the Ty Cobb Healthcare System and Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center.

In one of the smaller clinics in Royston, they have created the Ty Cobb Museum and as it is connected to the larger healthcare system it probably won't suffer the fate of other small museums that can't find the funding to continue operations. 

It sports the best Ty Cobb card collection I've seen in person in terms of quantity of original cards. Although, they should probably hire me as a consultant to display these in something better than a toploader.

The museum has a personalized movie of Cobb's life in the style of Ken Burn's baseball and a whole bunch unique Cobb pieces including this bronze bust.

They also had Cobb's lifetime pass to attend any baseball game for free.

There was also a bronzed version of one of Cobb's original baseball cleat. This seems appropriate as Cobb was known for his aggressive baserunning and frequently sliding into catchers and infielders with his cleats up. Here's a famous photo of him in action.

In the gift shop I was very excited to see special Ty Cobb cards made exclusively for the museum. I picked up two of the cards which were sealed with a gold sticker with the red card on the left limited to 1,000 copies and the blue card on the right limited to to just 367 copies. 

After we finished taking a look at the museum, we took a ride out to the local cemetery and found Cobb's mausoleum. It is located on a peaceful plot that overlooks much of the cemetery and is a fitting tribute to the man.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Unabomber's Cabin

The Newseum's main claim to fame is their exhibit of large intact pieces of the Berlin Wall and I'll posts photos of that in a little while. They also have an extensive display about many famous cases in FBI history. They have things about the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Soviet spy Robert Hanssen, and after coming around a corner you are greeted to his sign. 

I enjoy taking photographs of odd signs and that one is going to be hard to beat.

Taking a step back, you realize you are standing next to a wooden shed that wasn't much bigger than a large living room.

You may have seen it before too if you have ever been the coverage of the Unabomber case and his capture in Montana. Here's the shed as it was during the time of Ted Kacysnski's capture in 1996.

The inside offered a lot of book shelf space and it makes me reconsider a little bit my love of our wall-to-wall bookshelves. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Pride and Joy of General Dynamics or Having A Moral Crisis At The National Air and Space Museum

When we lived in Lawrence, Kansas, I worked as a federal contractor for a company called Vangent. They did a whole bunch of different things for the federal government from helping people fill out the federal financial aid application to answering the phone when someone called 1-800-MEDICARE. A couple years into working there, the company was purchased by defense contractor General Dynamics who was looking to expand their contracts with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

General Dynamics (along with being the inspiration for the evil company Massive Dynamic in the TV show Fringe) is best known for building the F-16 jet fighter made famous in the movie Top Gun. So during our recent visit to the National Air and Space Museum I wasn't too surprised to see General Dynamic painted on the side of one of the exhibits...

...I just wasn't expecting it to be on the side of a Tomahawk missile!

The Tomahawk was introduced in 1983 and continues to be made and used today. It has been used in the first and second Gulf War and has blown up such places as Serbia, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Basically, if the U.S. decides to bomb someone, the Tomahawk missile is probably going to be used. Each missile costs about $1.5 million dollars and it is said that the Navy has about 3,500 missiles putting the value around $5.2 billion dollars.

Although the band Coldplay isn't exactly exactly known for their political songs, I've frequently thought about the lyrics of "Clocks" that asks the question "Am I a part of the cure? /Or am I part of the disease?" As an employee of General Dynamics, do I share in the moral and ethical issues surrounding the creation and use of a weapon of war? Do I have more culpability for the actions of General Dynamics than a regular U.S. citizen because I received a paycheck from them? These are the sort of questions you wrestle with at 2 a.m. when you ponder the question "am I a good person?"

But in the end, perhaps the Simpsons give me the answer as to how most people, including myself, deal with these deeper questions about themselves and the actions of our government.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Telstar Satellite

As the Soviet Union would always get to say they sent Sputnik to space before the United States did, we reacted by listing a whole bunch of other things we did before them. One accomplishment that is typically listed is that we launched the first communication satellite, called Telstar, in 1962. The two Telstar satellites were owned by AT&T and they were the first attempt at providing satellite communication across the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Air and Space Museum here in Washington has the engineering model that is identical to the two Telstars that were launched. The satellite has a purple reflection to it from the circuit boards all over the surface of the satellite.

The first Telstar only lasted from 1962 to 1963 as solar radiation and high altitude nuclear bomb testing [yes, that's right, nukes exploded in the atmosphere] caused it to short out. However, the Telstar program continues even today as Telstar 18 was launched in 2004 and expected to be in service for 13 years.

I can't finish a Telstar post without sharing the song "Telstar" by The Tornados, the odd little sci-fi instrumental song titled in the satellite's honor. The song became a #1 hit in both American and the U.K. and gave the Tornados a career for 60's.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

One of the newest memorials on the National Mall is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial which was opened in 2011. It located between the Lincoln Memorial and Franklin Roosevelt's Memorial. As you approach the monument you walk through this impressive rock structure. 

This leads you the impressive piece of sculpture that has King emerging from the huge slab of rock. Having lived in the Atlanta area for a few years and having seen King's birthplace and his famous church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, seeing his memorial was one of the top destinations I wanted to see in Washington.

It was a little difficult to get a grasp on the scale of the monument but just take a look at the tiny people walking at the bottom of the photo on the right and you'll get an idea of how large the monument is.

It is located on the tidal basin off of the Potomac River and sits across from the Jefferson Memorial.

In the gift shop I found this first day issue of King's stamp from 1979. I really don't understand how they had 37-year-old first day issues but I took advantage and picked one up. The stamp was originally 15 cents and features an illustration by Jerry Pinkney. It was cancelled on the first day the stamp was issued, January 13th, 1979 in King's home of Atlanta.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mr. Biden's Neighborhood

I live in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington which is named after Charles Glover who was a philanthropist and founder of many of the largest parks in the district. We share the neighborhood with a famous resident, Vice President Joe Biden who has his residence at the Naval Observatory which is about five blocks away.

Vice Presidents have lived there since Walter Mondale during Jimmy Carter's administration but unfortunately you can't see his house from the streets outside the grounds.  Here is what his house looks like behind the fence.

The observatory of course has a rather large telescope and you can make it out in between the trees on the left in this photo I took from the entrance to the observatory.  

As you drive by the observatory the biggest thing that grabs your attention is the huge digital clock "master clock" which tells you the official atomic "time." But does anyone really know what time it is

And here's a bonus anchor for good measure.