Hole in the Clouds
Aug 1, 2009
Last Saturday was the fourth annual Scott Fisher memorial soccer game, in which the Deering varsity soccer team plays Team Alumni as a fundraiser for the Vera Foundation, an organization devoted to teen suicide prevention. Scott Fisher was a Deering soccer player and honor student who died by suicide a few months after his graduation in 2005.
Deering High School
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Players all wore wristbands with the number 8, Scott's number.
If Hank and Allen participate in this game again next year, they will both be playing on the alumni side. But this time they played against each other--Allen as an alumnus, Hank as a current Deering Ram. In this picture, that's Allen in white at the far left, and Hank in purple at the right. I failed to capture them both in action in a single frame, but at least here they are walking on the field at the same time. The game actually drew a good crowd; this view shows the visiting-side bleachers in the background, which were of course empty.
Usually, the alumni dominate these games. They are grown men, averaging at least 30 pounds heavier than the ever-hopeful teenage boys who challenge them. Also, there are dozens more alumni than there are current players, plenty of fresh legs. The young Rams do have a few advantages, however: they are in peak physical condition, their ball handling isn't rusty, and, unlike most of the alumni, they were wearing shin guards.
Alumni won the 2009 game, 4-1. That's not the score that matters domestically, however; what counts here at home is how the brothers scored against each other. This was a fine year in that regard; they tied, nil-nil.
Aug 2, 2009
Our Mongol Rally teams--"just call us Mongoleers"--have been making good progress on the drive from England to Mongolia, except for the guy who got threatened with arrest at the Ukrainian border and decided to retreat to Prague.
(Image credit: Team Yippo)
Those who took the northern route through Russia are now deep into Siberia, approaching Irkutsk or partying there. Except for those who had car trouble or who had to detour around Belarus, which closed its border this year to Mongoleers, without notice, they've been making good time.
The teams taking a more direct route, through Kazakhstan, report pleasant people--not even a little like Borat--but extreme heat and frequent police stops. The police want USD, it seems--U.S. dollars. We're told that 20 USD is the going rate per car per stop, but fast talkers can sometimes make 20 USD cover a whole convoy of Mongoleers.
Those attempting a more southerly route, through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekhistan, and other countries unknown to Americans report astonishing sights, including a marble city ("slippery when wet"). They like the people and the food but say the roads are narrow and winding and confusing and slow.
The southern route through Iran proved open this year, contrary to predictions, and Mongoleers there report excellent highways and no problems.
Where are our folks? Well the boys from Detroit are pretty much worthless--as of a couple days ago, they were still in Germany. They had a lot of friends to visit along the route.
Captain Subprime and his Spanish buddies? They're spending the night at the Uzbekh border, waiting for the guards to show up in the morning and let them into the country.
And Yippo, our Dutch couple? They have crossed Iran without incident and are now in Turkmenistan, eating lunch.
Aug 3, 2009
This rock formation, known formally as the Richat Structure and widely as the Eye of Africa, sits at the southern edge of the Sahara desert in Mauritania. It's a favorite of the astronauts looking down on us, and also a favorite of students of Landsat satellite imagery. It's not a meteor crater or a volcano, but a sedimentary rock formation, layer upon layer of tough, resistant sandstone, brought into sharp relief by softer mudrock that is eroding away. The reason for its perfectly round shape is . . . not well understood.
(Image credit: NASA Landsat 7)
This image incorporates infrared energy as well as light from the visible spectrum, so the colors are not natural. But twhen the sun is shining on the Sahara Desert as the astronauts sail above it, they do see the Eye of Africa as blueish.
Aug 4, 2009
For another entry in our occasional series on post-Soviet public art, consider this monument, erected in 2007 in Moscow, thonoring the Nobel-prize-winning author Mikhail Sholokhov.
(Image credit: Susan Wiggin)
There must be something about the situation of this monument that makes it difficult to photograph the whole thing at once. I've settled here for a picture that shows barely more than half of it--missing off to the right is most of a stone pedestal supporting a rowboat carrying a bronze statue of Sholokhov himself. That's the bow of the boat and the curve of Sholokhov's back at the right edge of the photo. He is just sitting in the boat, not rowing.
The boat and the swimming horses are not directly from any of his novels, I'm told. Note that there are two groups of horses, both apparently trying to swim upstream but veering off in slightly different directions. One group is reddish in color, the other whitish. This has all been described as a metaphor for the Russian Revolution, in which Sholokhov fought as a 13-year-old boy on the side of the reds. His most famous novel, And Quiet Flows the Don, looks at life among the Cossacks of his native Rostov-on-Don region of Russia in the years leading up to World War I and the Russian Civil War and revolution. If the river is representing time or history, it is surely significant that Sholokhov is facing bacward in the boat.
The monument is the work of a committee: artist Alexander Rukavishnikor, architect Igor Voskresensky, and sculptors Iulian and Philip Rukavishnikov.
Sholokhov is something of a Soviet success story. Although the revolution ended his formal schooling at the age of 13 and he suppored himself in the early 1920s as a stevedore, he decided to become a writer and took advantage of writers' seminars offered for workers.. His mother, a Ukrainian, was illiterate until late in life, when she decided to learn to write letters to her son.
Perhaps the greatest feud of Soviet literary history involved Sholokhov and Aleksandr Solzhenitzsyn, who despised one another. Sholokhov wrote a scathing review of Solzhenitzsyn's work, and Solzhenitzsyn accused Sholokhov of plagiarism. Many Moscow residents dislike the monument intensely--Sholokhov had nothing to do with Moscow, they say, and should not be memorialized in the city--certainly not on the street named Gogol Boulevard, The underlying issue seems to be that he's a Soviet author, and these latter days are a problematic time for monuments to Soviet authors.
Aug 5, 2009
This photo is ten years old now. Since then our five boys have rarely shown up in the same time zone, much less the same picture frame--this is an important document in family history.
(Image credit: Carol Stack)
The original negative is gone; there may be some high-resolution prints around somewhere, but I'm not sure where. What I've got on my computer is a scratched, speckled, and stained scan comprising just a handful of pixels.
This gussied-up version is only arguably better than the straight scan. Whatever: from left, in order of age, that's John, Ted, Joe, Allen, and Hank.
Aug 9, 2009
Midtown Manhattan, looking south from the 68th floor of Rockefeller Center.
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 10, 2009
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 11, 2009
When the Custom House tower opened in 1913, tthe zoning code for the city of Boston limited building height to 125 feet. Because the Custom House was a federal installation, it could flat-out ignore the restriction; this tower is 496 feet high, making it the tallest building in Boston until 1964. The exterior is essentially unchanged to this day, though the interior has been drastically redesigned. It's now a time-share condo complex operated by Marriott.
(Image credit, Library of Congress, via Shorpy)
Underneath the tower is a large Doric temple built in 1847, an imposintg structure that housed the warehouses and regional financial offices of the customs service. Most of the federall government's income in those days came from import levies, so in port cities such as Boston, custom houses were typically the nicest buildings in town.
In this picture, the clocks at the top of the tower have no hands. This is probably because repairs were being attempted; the wooden minute hand was so big and heavy--22 feet long--that the clock mechanism struggled to push it up from the 6 toward the 12, often failing. Until the hands were replaced with plastic a few years ago, the clocks rarely kept good time.
Aug 12, 2009
Hank is on the observation deck atop Rockefeller Center, and I've got a new software painting thing to play with.
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 13, 2009
Monday was hot and sunny in Concord, New Hampshire, a good day for a Clean Energy and Green Jobs Now Beach Party in front of the capitol dome. The idea was to encourage New Hampshire's U.S. senators to help pass a clean energy jobs bill when they go back to Washington this fall. Among those beaching it in Concord were environmental activists from the Sierra Club, 1 Sky, and other organizations, including our friend Cathy Goldwater and these girls with their big bear.
Green Jobs Now Beach Party
(Image credit: courtesy of Cathy Goldwater)
Aug 14, 2009
Last weekend, Taiwan was hit hard by Typhoon Morakot.
Aug 15, 2009
If you believe what you read in Earth Imaging Journal, which you shouldn't, there's an 86.6% chance that bin Laden has been living here in Parachinar, Pakistan, ever since he was last seen by Western intelligence agents--not seen, actually, but heard from, on VHF radio--in December 2001. The mountain ridge at the top of this picture is the border between Pakistan's Kurram tribal region and Afghanistan's Tora Bora district,
Earth Imaging Journal
Osama bin Laden
A couple of UCLA professors wrote recently in Earth Imaging Journal that they had used high-resolution satellite imagery, similar to the imagery we are familiar with in Google Earth, to identify the three buildings in Parachinar most likely to be inhabited by bin Laden and his close associates. The professors looked for defensible structures of appropriate size that are on the electric grid or served by generators, with trees and shrubbery to complicate surveilance from the air. One of the three likely compounds turns out to be the local prison--and why not? The tradition of fugitives seeking refuge in prisons is long and illustrious.
But the good professors claim to have no actual evidence concerning his whereabouts; it's all an exercise in geospatial modeling, utilizing distance-decay theory and island biogeography. Ivory tower stuff.
The only thing is: I just googled Parachinar, and for the last couple of weeks now, the city has been bombed by the Pakistani Air Force, presumably at our direction. They say they're targeting Taliban, not al-Qaeda--whatever they're doing, please let it not be based on distance-decay theory and calculations at UCLA of an 86.6% slam dunk.
Perhaps you're like me and don't remember exactly what went down back in December 2001, when we invaded Afghanistan and announced that we'd pinned down Osama bin Laden in his cave in Tora Bora. We knew all about the caves there because a generation ago, we'd helped some anti-Soviet Afghan warlords forttify them and build a complex of underground bunkers.
We asked Afghan army troops to go in there and kill all the bad guys, backed up by our air support, Special Forces, and CIA operatives. As soon as the Afghan forces arrived in the area, they announced that the bad guys wanted a temporary cease-fire, so they could gather their weapons and surrender. It is said that our response was "What the hell? Go on in and get 'em." At that point, the Afghan soldiers turned their weapons on the U.S. "advisers," and it took 12 hours before they agreed to resume the mission. Evern after the end of the "cease-fire," it is believed that some of the Afghan soldiers staged a diversionary action to further delay and weaken the attack. Several hundred Taliban were eventually killed or rounded up in the caves of Tora Bora, but no major weapons caches or "training camps" were found.
It is possible that bin Laden escaped into Pakistan during the fake cease-fire, hiking through the December ice and snow, up and over a 14,000-foot mountain pass. It's also possible that he had already escaped by then, or that he'd never been there in the first place.
U.S. General Tommy Franks blamed the Pakistanis for not telling us that their border wasn't very secure near Tora Bora. Where in the world is Tommy Franks these days?
Aug 16, 2009
Even in the leafy dapple of New York's Central Park, these are dog days for horses.. The inscription on the trough reads: "Presented to the S.P.C.A. by Edith D. Bowdoin, 1912."
Edith D. Bowdoin
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 17, 2009
They wanted a picture of themselves at their lakeside campsite in Banff National Park, so they put the camera on a rock and set the shutter for a delayed snapshot.
Banff National Park
(Image credit: National Geograpic)
The whirring sound made by the camera as it prepared to snap attracted a squirrel, who chattered right back at it and got himself nicely pixellated for his 1/250th of a second of fame.
Or so it said on the National Geographic website. Hat tip to John "J.J." Stein for this fine submission to our irregular summer series of cute animal pictures. (Yes, there are more....)
Aug 18, 2009
Family life among the animals can get up close and personal with a webcam aimed 24/7 at a mud wallow in the forest claimed by a pack of wild boars, or a nest of sticks atop a telephone pole where a couple of storks have laid their eggs. But that was last summer and the summer before--this year, in Estonia, the webcams are mounted at an ostrich farm. One clutch of baby ostriches has hatched now, and you can watch the fluffy little bird-brained things squirming and snuggling under a heat lamp. Mom and Dad are outside in a paddock, incubating another nestful of eggs--looks like the male and female take turns sitting on the nest.
Go here to get your fill of ostrich video eye candy. The website is in Estonian, but even we Amurricans can figure out how to click on the pictures.
Hey, it's free--watch those ostriches all you want. The heatlamp is left on round the clock, so time zones won't keep you and those babies apart. Outside in the paddock, it gets light in Estonia around 10 or 11 p.m. Eastern daylight time. If you're up late, you can turn on the ostriches and watch them sitting on the nest and bobbing their heads a little, strolling along the fence line, grazing in the grass. Will you get bored? Yes--you're not an ostrich. But technology can hold your interest: instead of watching the ostriches in real time, you can click on another date and hour, and see what they were up to back then. By dragging your mouse across the bottom of the video frame, you can watch everything the ostriches did that hour in just a few seconds, and you can even watch them in reverse. Clouds will race across the sky, the sun will leap up from the horizon, and the ostriches will hop about right smartly.
If you could speed up the entire first year of video of a baby ostrich's life, you'd see it gain 100 pounds and grow as tall as an adult human. By age 3 or 4, mature ostriches can be 9 feet tall and weigh 350 pounds. They have three stomachs but no gall bladder, in case you were wondering.
There would be little point in speeding up video of an ostrich running; they can go from 0 to 27 miles per hour in a couple of seconds. Sometimes people race ostriches, with jockeys on their backs using saddles and bridles. They are said to be much more difficult to control than horses, but also much faster.
(Image credit: unknown)
Aug 19, 2009
In 2004, Iranian-Canadian photographer Sam Javanrouh went back to Tehran, his hometown, for a photo shoot. Here, he shows us Tehran's Eskan towers framing a glimpse of the Alborz Mountains. "Brings back so many memories," says Javanrouh.
(Image credit: Sam Javanrouh)
Aug 20, 2009
Thirty-seven feet above the main entrance to 30 Rock in Manhattan, which used to be called the RCA building, this guy with a crown and a big beard pushes aside the dark clouds of ignorance to let the sunshine in. His big golden compass promises architecture and all the arts--castles and cathedrals of human achievement. The quotation is biblical, from the book of Isaiah, but the man with the compass is from some other spiritual realm, where civilization included commerce between godlike humans and all-too-human gods.
Who is he? Where did he come from? The short answer is that he was copied from an eighteenth-century painting by William Blake, "The Ancient of Days." Blake presents this Ancient as a false little god, trying to build his own false little world with that big compass. The compass also brings Masonic mysticism into the picture.
What was Rockefeller thinking in 1933, when he adorned the entrance to his crowning public achievement with this strange image? Elsewhere in his new Center, he memorialized Prometheus, who defied the gods by supplying humanity with the fire of science and art, and he commissioned a bronze Atlas, the demigod who carried the world on his back as punishment for warring against the real gods.
Ignorant and learned people both have tussled with this stuff, so I'll stay out of it. I just like the imagery of somebody pushing those clouds apart, making a hole, piercing the gloom with brave new light.
John D. Rockefeller
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 21, 2009
Ever since last week, the Susquehanna River's been missing a big fish. Just kidding--he threw it back. Allen says this small-mouth bass is 19 inches long and weighs about four and a half pounds.
(Image credit: Mike Landis)
Aug 22, 2009
Time to catch up with the Mongol Rally folks. After about six weeks on the road now, many of the 200 or so teams have recently reached Ulaan Bataar, where they signed the rally book, did their laundry, and partied. There is no prize for arriving first. Rallyers donate their vehicles to Mongolian NGO's and eventually make their way home somehow.
A team called Rolling Cones, from Richmond, Virginia, spent three days wandering in the Gobi Desert in their pink ice cream truck. They say the rocks in the Gobi are so iron-rich that compasses don't work there. Mongol Rally rules discourage GPS navigation, but the Rolling Cones had secretly stashed a little GPS unit deep in their luggage for just such a contingency--not that they anticipated exactly such a contingency, but contingencies happen. They noticed that a roadwork crew was speaking Mandarin Chinese instead of Mongolian, and it had been three days since they'd last known where they were, so . . . turned out they were in the extreme southeast corner of Mongolia, a few kilometers from the Chinese border, in a spot on the map that was completely empty of roads. But there was a coal mine nearby, which is why the Chinese were building a new road, and at the mine there were two geologists from Virginia Tech. So it goes.
All the blog posts are full of promises to post their Mongolia photos soon. I trust them, of course, so I'll make the same promise. In the meantime, here's a nice one from back in Kazakhstan, near the shriveled shore of the Aral Sea. Photo by Team Mongoliza, who list their hometown as "southeast Asia."
(Image credit: Team Mongoliza)
Aug 23, 2009
Hank shot this unusual view of Washington, DC, last spring from the top of the U.S. Capitol dome. Almost all the buildings you see here represent the political sector known as K Street--corporate offices devoted to lobbying politicians and/or "complying" with government regulations. Corporations and professional associations built all these nice new buildings in the hope that proximity to government officials would help them make lots and lots of money.
What do they do in these buildings? They dole out money to congressmen and various campaign committees, to improve access and influence. They work with legislators and regulators to shape the scope and wording of laws and regulations. They coordinate publicity campaigns to influence public opinion in their favor. But mostly, they push papers around to keep business-government interactions running more or less smoothly.
Calvin Coolidge said it: The business of government is business. In this picture, you can see it for yourself.
At the top of the picture is the National Cathedral, which is arguably outside the K Street axis of operations.
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Aug 24, 2009
During World War II, the shores of Casco Bay were heavily fortified, and the entrance to Portland harbor was mined. In 1942, a German U-boat was identified in the bay by a Civil Air Patrol pilot, but it got away before military aircraft arrived on the scene.
That's Portland Head Light in the distance, as viewed from the rusting remnants of the fortification on what is now the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
Portland Head Light
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 25, 2009
Hank jumps off the bannister into space. He is falling faster than a cellphone camera shutter can click.
I wasn't around when this picture was taken, and I know absolutely nothing about the landing. But the date on the digital photo file is 2007, so it must have all worked out.
(Image credit: Allen Stein?)
Aug 26, 2009
The 2009 Mongol Rally is history; the adventurers have arrived in Ulaan Bataar (or not), and most have now scattered to the winds. The intensity of the experience may have changed some lives, but not so much Steve and Tom, of Team Mad Lady. Here is their final blog post:
Team Mad Lady
(Image credit: Mongol Rally)
"So we only went and bloody did it didn't we!!
"Arrival party was brilliant fun - our pink blazers re-emerged, a bit more dusty, yet still with that touch of class! The beards we have been cultivating were a welcome addition!
"Was a great night, and a nice chilled day today is the perfect remedy for the nagging hangover! Looking forward to finding a pub to watch the Mighty Spurs this evening.
"So that is that. Final counts:
"-- Police stops - 7 (6 for driving offences - ST 3 TH 3 and one just for a police check)
"-- Bribes paid - not much. Couple of border controls we paid over the odds un-knowingly. Apart from that nothing. Great success!
"- -Tyre punctures/blow outs - 3 (ST 1 TH 2)
"-- Guages broken- 2 (Speedo for last 6/7,000 KM and fuel for last 1,000 KM)
"-- Cable ties used to hold Micra together! - about 15 as they ahd to be replaced a few times!
"-- Rivers crossed - 4 (and only got stuck in 1 - get ready for the video footage!)
"-- Keys locked in car - 1 (Well done Todster!). therefore break ins also 1!
"-- Wrong turns... Too many to count but reckon in the whole we were pretty well. Got a lot better when we realised the alternator interferred with the compass though!
"-- Packs of super noodles eaten - at least 8/10 each!
"-- Sweets distributed - 5kg!!! Toddy loved playing sugar daddy!
"Happy days!!, S&T"
Aug 27, 2009
This 1954 photo was part of a magazine advertisement. Makes me want to buy a Buick, sort of--must be the pearls and the black glove, and that little tiny trunk key.
(Image credit: unknown)
Aug 28, 2009
The town of Clearfield in the hills of west-central Pennsylvania grew little or not at all between 1910--when a photo was taken from a nearby slope, painted by hand, and reproduced lithographically--and the 1960s--when a color photo taken from nearly the same spot was published as a picture postcard. Town population still stands at about 6,000 today. The dark church steeple in the upper right of the older picture is the white steeple in the center of the more recent view.
Apparently, the years have not been kind to Clearfield as far as the artistic level of its town boosters' bird's-eye views is concerned--but that's typical; a lively American artistic genre has been poorly replaced, first by Kodachrome and more recently by Google Earth.
Time marches on, however, in Clearfield. In 1977, the town became the home of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, where the cook "enjoys making burgers bigger than your head, all the way up to the insane 123-pounder."
bird's eye view
Denny's Beer Barrel Pub
Aug 29, 2009
On a couch or a soft carpet, Dobby the dog is pretty good about sitting on command. But on a hard floor? He'll make a show of pretending, as shown here with Emily and Joshua Wiggin, who are very good at kneeling.
(Image credit: Ellen Stein)
Aug 30, 2009
The supply closet at the back of Tommy Flowers's math classroom at University Place Middle School in Tuscaloosa has won official recognition as the world's smallest museum.
Mr. Flowers, who has been teaching for 25 years, has assembled a collection of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts, including plastic hearts, dozens of photos, a skull, and of course, a skeleton. He says he became fascinated with Poe when he was himself in junior high school, and he tries to weave Poe's stories and poems into his students' daily lessons.
The fact that he teaches math, not literature, has not been an obstacle: he wants his students to take inspiration from Poe as they cultivate their imaginations to get the most out of life. Also, he wants them to calculate the square footage of his museum--the answer to that is 22, which is the magic number that got Edgar's Closet desgnated as smallest museum in the world.
"I d like a few visitors," said Mr. Flowers. "But more than anything, I'd like to see a few teachers have museums in their closets."
All five Stein boys went to University Place when it was an elementary school. It has recently added middle school grades as part of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education's scheme to re-segregate the public schools. So far, there have been numerous complaints and petitions, but no lawsuits, so it's working.
University Place School
Edgar Allan Poe
(Image credit: unknown)