Hole in the Clouds

December 2014

Once and Future Gitmo

Dec 4, 2014

At the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the radio station bills itself as "Rockin' in Fidel's Backyard," there's a McDonald's, a Jamaican Jerk House, a Starbuck's, and the most notorious prison in recent world history, where our government has stashed people to torture and hide from the eyes of the world.

The prison has been in the news recently, a little bit, because Obama's maneuvering to close the place down has been beaten back by Congress once again, and not just by Republicans either. The one place on earth that has come to symbolize America's most feverish embrace of the dark side will keep on keeping on. 

Prisoners there were called "enemy combatants" in the Bush dialect of Orwellian newspeak; in the Obama dialect, they have been renamed "unprivileged enemy belligerents." They're not awaiting trial. Mostly, they're waiting to die.

The nightmare that is imprisonment at Guantanamo has become less intensely violent over the years; much of the torture nowadays involves tedium and despair, which never go away. Suicide attempts have been frequent, and an unknown number have succeeded; hunger strikes are ongoing, and they are dealt with aggressively. The prison's military management will not release details.

Here's what they will tell us: there is a trailer at Guantanamo that serves as the prison library. No law books are allowed, unless you count John Grisham novels. But there are hundreds of video games, 2,100 movies, and 20,000 books, 90% of them in Arabic. Movies are censored: low violence, no sex.

The Guantanamo MickeyD's is a couple of miles away from the prison complex, near the living quarters of the base's American personnel and dependents. A decade or so ago, when prisoner interrogation was so urgently "enhanced," a story made the rounds that detainees who cooperated were being rewarded with Happy Meals.

The "worst of the worst" could be bribed with Happy Meals? Move them to Florida then.

Cuba   torture   Guantanamo   (h/t: Ted)  

Your Personal Destruction Specialist

Dec 11, 2014

It all seems to be true, what the sign says. Destruction specialists meet you right at your car, and they are indeed prompt. They are helpful. Once they've loaded your papers into one of their wheeled carts, they put a put a lid on it, so that all your pre-destructed papers are protected from cameras, eyeballs, gusts of wind, you name it.

But do they really shred the stuff? Well, according to the company's website, you are welcome to come inside the destruction facility and watch for yourself as up to ten boxes of your papers get processed into little shreds.

The viewing isn't free, however; it'll cost you $30. They say the fee reflects costs incurred when the regular workflow is interrupted to do the destructive thing on your stuff right away. Also, inviting a viewer into the facility means that a destruction specialist will have to be pulled away from his or her scheduled destruction and reassigned to escort duty, to protect everybody else's stuff from your prying eyes.

The warehouse in the background of the photo is the home of Office Paper Systems, which contracts with Montgomery County, Maryland, to process mixed-paper recycling from homes and office buildings throughout the county. Added to this paper stream are the remains of the day after FreeSecureShredding's destruction specialists have done their destruction.

Eventually, all the paper, shredded and not, is sold to paper companies, which process it with chemicals, heat, chopping machines, and strainers before mixing it with fresh pulp to make new paper products.

Maryland   industry   Gaithersburg   recycling   paper   warehouse   shredding  

Bus Stop

Dec 14, 2014

"Boys from Dead Ox Flat waiting for the school bus in the morning. Malheur County, Oregon."

Dorothea Lange took this picture in October 1939 for the Resettlement Administration. During the mid-1930s, the desert country of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho attracted thousands of Dust Bowl refugees seeking construction work on the Owhyee dam and irrigation project; as the project came on line between 1935 and 1939, thousands more refugees sought agricultural work on the newly irrigated cropland.

The name on the mailbox behind the boys is revealed in another of Lange's photos of the same scene: H.E. Hudgins. According to the 1940 census, Herbert and Jessie Hudgins lived thereabouts--but with only two children, an eleven-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. Herbert Hudgins worked as a ditch rider, assigned to travel the length of the new canals and laterals, cleaning out debris and opening and closing the check boards that control the flow of water to different growers' acreage.

The boys look to be wearing new clothes and fresh haircuts, perhaps because the photo was taken on the first day of a new school year. The picture is dated from the month of October, but this was a time and place where school would not begin until after the year's harvest was in. 

landscape   children   streetscape   Oregon   boys   H.E. Hudgins   lunchbags   Malheur County   (Image credit: Dorothea Lange via Shorpy)  

Roger and Darth

Dec 19, 2014

The twentieth-century stone carvers who worked on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., enriched the building with their own personal flourishes. The gargoyle above, for example, is a self-portrait with tools by carver Roger Morigi.

As the project neared completion in the 1980s, National Geographic World sponsored a competition for children to design the final few embellishments. Below is the Darth Vader grotesque, proposed for the competition by Christopher Rader of Kearney, Nebraska; it was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter and carved from limestone by Patrick Plunkett. Other sculptures from the contest include a raccoon, a girl with pigtails and braces, and a man with large teeth and an umbrella.

National Cathedral   sculpture   gargoyle   gothic   stone carving   grotesque  

Not Irving Berlin Weather

Dec 24, 2014

Who dreams of a rainy Christmas? That's what we are headed for this year, as in many years past, here along the east coast of North America.

In 2010, it rained on everybody's Christmas parade in Kuching, Malaysia, but people seemed reasonably happy nonetheless, even afterwards on their way home.

Hereabouts, the winter rain has been nondenominational, this year dampening Hanukkah as well as threatening Christmas, and doing a real number on Festivus. Maybe we'll have a white New Year's.

Here's to holiday warmth and cheer, despite the mess the world is in.

streetscape   Malaysia   parade   Christmas   rain   Kuching   (Image credit: Salt N Pepper)