Lighting Lincoln

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a wonderful place, with its museums and monuments, walking paths and reflecting pool.  My favorite spot on the Mall is the Lincoln Memorial.  It is, quite simply, a majestic place — a kind of temple to democracy and an aspirational symbol of what the United States can and should aspire to be.

lincoln-memorial-statue-symbolsThe most awesome part of the Lincoln Memorial experience is entering the interior and seeing the colossal statute of Lincoln created by sculptor Daniel Chester French.  Towering nineteen feet tall, showing Lincoln seated on an enormous chair, the statute is the embodiment of our ideal of presidential character.  When many of us — at least, those who have visited the Memorial –visualize Lincoln, French’s  depiction is what comes to mind:  deeply thoughtful, somber, placid, resolute, and reassuring.  The dark shadows that sharply etch the 16th President’s craggy face play a significant role in creating that sense of calmness and historical enormity.

Interestingly, it wasn’t always that way.  When the Lincoln Memorial was first dedicated in 1922, French was horrified by the lighting of the statute.  French specifically created the sculpture so that shadows would define Lincoln’s face, but the skylights in the building didn’t produce sufficient overhead lighting to provide the shadows — leaving Lincoln to sit with a kind of blank, zombie-like stare, rather than projecting the sense of unwavering purpose that French had intended.  It wasn’t until 1926, after large floodlights were installed into the ceiling to cast the overhead light in the right way, that French was satisfied.  The photograph below of the worker installing the statue prior to the dedication gives a sense of how different Lincoln looked under the original lighting conditions.

French was right, of course — the shadows are a crucial part of what makes the Lincoln Memorial statue so memorable.  It’s amazing what some light shining from the right direction can accomplish.

Man Working on Lincoln Monument Highlights its Size

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Obesity On The Interstate

On Saturday and Sunday, Kish and I drove home from Maine.  It was a long trip, so we broke it up into two days.  The distance wasn’t a problem for me, though, because I just enjoy driving, listening to the radio, and seeing the countryside pass by.

northway-exit1We rolled along interstate highways in Massachusetts, upstate New York (where we got ridiculously gouged paying tolls on the New York Turnpike), and then Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Because we were on the NY Turnpike, we used the service plazas to fill up, and we visited rest areas on the non-toll roads.  As we stopped from time to time and I passed fellow travelers, I slowly realized something:

My God!  We are a country of porkers!

Look, I recognize that the crowd you see on the interstate highway system in the Eastern time zone isn’t a random statistical sample of the United States as a whole.  I know you can’t extrapolate from the people I happened to see, by chance, as I stopped to fill up or hit the men’s restroom.  But after a while the number of seriously obese people I was seeing at every stop became so obvious that it just couldn’t be ignored.  And I’m not talking about people who are a few pounds above their ideal, either.  I’m talking about people that move with the slow waddle characteristic of the grossly overweight, men with colossal beer guts, women who are huffing and puffing just walking from their cars to a roadside restroom, and people who look like they are ready to burst out of their clothes.

I’m not saying this to be funny, or provocative.  It really was disturbing, and depressing.  There obviously are a lot of morbidly obese people in this country, and if you want to see them just drive a while on the interstate highway system.  When you think about the back problems, and diabetes, and joint problems, and heart disease, and high blood pressure, and other health conditions associated with obesity, you realize that the weight problems of so many people have to be a large contributor to the exploding health care costs in the United States.  Is it any wonder that we can’t control health care costs, when so many people can’t control their own urges and their own weight?

Government By Referendum

Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has shocked the world and rocked the stock markets.  Any American who has a 401(k) retirement account has felt the ripple effects — which shows that, Brexit or not, the world remains a pretty interconnected place.  (Incidentally, is anyone else tired of hearing the word “Brexit”?  It’s such a clumsy, awkward construct for a really significant issue.)

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Washington Post carried an interesting article questioning whether a popular referendum was the best way to decide whether Great Britain should remain in the EU.  The article noted, for example, that some voters regretted their votes as mistakes and that some of the promises made in the weeks leading up to the vote turned out to be false.  The Post article has been mocked by some people as suggesting that the Post, and the liberal elites, harbor deep anti-democratic impulses and an innate fear of an active, engaged electorate.

That’s not quite fair.  There has long been a vigorous debate about precisely how governments should be structured to allow people to exercise their democratic rights.  Those who remember their civics class will remember that the American Constitution was the product of a lively debate in which the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, were adopted to provide checks on what the will of the majority could inflict on the minority. Determining public policy by popular referendum became commonplace only in the 20th century — and my guess is that, in many states, the shackles and unintended consequences imposed by broad, often poorly worded “propositions” often end up being regretted by many of the voters who supported them in the first place.

This is not to stake out a position on whether the decision to exit the EU was good or bad for Great Britain, only to note that it’s entirely legitimate to question whether a complicated issue, having so many ramifications that can’t be fully captured by electoral sloganeering, is something that should be resolved by a popular referendum.  I imagine the American Founding Fathers would have had a very vigorous debate about that question.

The Well-Placed Sewing Machine

IMG_1462My daily walk to and from work takes me past a tailor shop.  The plate glass front window of the shop prominently features a sign that appears to say “Drop your pants.”  Only as you get closer do your see that an old Singer sewing machine that props up the sign also blocks the last two words of the message “Drop your pants off here.”

It’s silly humor, to be sure, but even silly humor that unfailingly produces a chuckle is much appreciated after a long day at the office.  Every day, I appreciate that well-placed sewing machine.

Finally, All On The Same Chessboard

Last night’s Game of Thrones season finale was so chock full of quick cuts and action that the show ran 10 minutes longer than usual, and you almost needed to take notes to keep track of the developments.  But the upshot is that everybody is back in Westeros, or at least well on their way there, accompanied by flapping dragons overhead.  That means we’re heading toward a colossal confrontation next season.

051d9f9d686043c4_pro23-xxxlarge-1Watching the episode, I almost felt like the show’s creators wanted to be sure to touch every major character, and every major setting, at least once.  So we got to see Cersei exact her revenge on the High Sparrow and his acolytes, as well as Margaery Tyrell and her brother and father, by blasting the Great Sept of Baelor to kingdom come.  Of course, Cersei being Cersei, her triumph came at a cost, as decent King Tommen hurled himself from the Red Keep.  So, the old crone’s prophecy was right — all of Cersei’s children are dead.  That didn’t keep Cersei from somehow crowning herself queen, however.  And we also got to see that Cersei is moving well into dear departed Ramsay Bolton territory on the sadism scale, by letting what’s left of The Mountain have his way with Septa Unella, the burly, grim-faced nun who sternly shamed Cersei last year.

In the north, Jon Snow and Sansa have gotten back onto the same page.  Sansa has rebuffed Littlefinger’s creepy and huskily stated attentions — so far, at least, but he’s a pretty persistent guy — and thanks to the gutsy young girl leading House Mormont, Jon Snow has been crowned King of the North by acclamation.  (Wait . . . seriously?  Another King of the North?)  Even more shocking, Bran’s ability to see the past through heart trees has clued us in that Jon is not Ned Stark’s bastard son at all, but rather the son of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen.  Since Rhaegar is Daenerys Targaryen’s older brother, that means The Unburnt and the Mother of Dragons is Jon Snow’s aunt.  It’s all pretty confusing, and sets up next season for some further reveals on what happened to start Robert’s Rebellion so long ago.

What else?  Well, Sam’s in the library of the Citadel.  Ser Davos got Jon Snow to throw the child-burning Melisandre out of the north.  Benjen’s brought Bran and his gal pal back to The Wall.  Jaime threw a few insults at Walder Frey and got back to King’s Landing in time to see his beloved sister crowned as queen.  Daenerys cut loose her paramour.  Grandma Tyrell made it to Dorne in time to hush the brash sand snakes and start to plot her revenge against Queen Cersei with the assistance of Varys — who really is getting around these days.  And speaking of getting around, Arya Stark made it from Braavos to the Twins in the blink of an eye and, using those skills learned in service of the Many-Faced God, got to scratch old Walder Frey off of her to-do list.  About the only people we didn’t check in on were Ser Jorah Mormont and his battle against greyscale and Brienne of Tarth.

The episode ended with Daenerys, and Tyrion, and the Unsullied, and the Dothraki horde, and her dragons, in full sail toward Westeros, where she will try to wrest the Iron Throne from Cersei’s cold, dead hands.  So, after long forays into Meereen, and Braavos, and the Dothraki plains, all of the main characters are finally coming back to the Westeros chessboard.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing:  The Citadel has announced that, as the Starks have long warned, winter has finally come.  We may as well start to get ready now for some undead White Walker action when next April rolls around.

The Ol’ Swimming Hole


Kish and I took a brief detour to Maine, because it just isn’t summer without a trip to the Granite State.  On our brief visit we had the best lobster roll I’ve ever eaten — packed with absolutely fresh lobster, with a juicy, light sauce — and also ran across this dock.  Who wouldn’t feel like getting a running start and taking a jump into the cool water on a hot summer day?

Colossal Keychain


I carry my house key in my right front pants pocket.  Hence, I want a functional key chain that is as small and unobtrusive as possible.

Kish carries her keys in a gigundous purse filled with assorted bric-a-brac.  Hence, she wants a key chain that will stand out as she sifts through shifting mountains of purse debris.

Guess whose keys these are?