October 2009

Posted by Ellen

For many years now, as the University of Alabama has expanded its football stadium, it's been interested in a small piece of land across the street from the stadium that was home to Temple Emanu-El of Tuscaloosa. The university and the congregation finally agreed to a land swap, and a new synagogue building is now under construction across campus. This past month, the frame went up.

It's not clear what the university will do with its new land--"Some more game-day something or other," according to Anna Singer, who chairs the Temple Emanu-El building committee.


Posted by Ellen

Or Disneyland?

It's the Mormon Temple in the sunset, as seen a few nights ago from the outer loop of the Washington Beltway.

Posted by Ellen

Sail due north from the island of Crete, and you'll get to Athens. If Daedalus and his son Icarus had only had a boat, that is what they might have done. But King Minos was holding them prisoner in Crete--he was enraged because Daedalus had helped Theseus slay the Minotaur and run off with the princess. And King Minos controlled the waters all around Crete, so escape by sea was out of the question.

Daedalus, a native of Athens, had been banished from the city for murdering his apprentice/nephew, a twelve-year-old boy who was so clever that Daedalus was afraid of being overshadowed. He fled to Crete with his son, where he built the labyrinth that Minos eventually used to imprison the two of them. Of course having built the maze, Daedalus knew how to escape it. But escaping the island was a whole nother ball of wax.

He built wings for himself and Icarus from feathers and wax. They flew northeast, toward Troy. We all know what happened next: despite his father's warning, Icarus flew too high, too close to the hot sun, and the wax holding the wings to his arms melted in the heat. He fell to his death in the blue waters now bearing his name, the Ikarian Sea.

His body was retrieved from the sea by Hercules, and he was buried on a hillside overlooking the Ikarian Sea, on the Greek island now known as Ikaria.

This satellite image shows the Ikarian Sea and a hillside on Ikaria, a terraced olive grove. Not much in this scene has obviously changed in the thousands of years since Icarus got too uppity. Although the island is beautiful and the people there are known for their longevity, they have not prospered. Many of the children of Ikaria have fled to far corners of the globe, in a twentieth-century diaspora. They publish a newsletter to keep up with one another, and in the 1960s they held a reunion back home, on the island. There was no place to house all the returnees, so they rented a cruise ship to use as a hotel and parked it just offshore.

Posted by Ellen

The goalkeeper for Toronto FC, an MLS team, plays almost in the shadow of the city's CN Tower.

Posted by Ellen

There's an urban legend about a deer more spectacular than any other, a deer that's pure white, maybe even albino. It is glimpsed from time to time, usually at dusk or dawn or even after dark. It's shy and quick, won't stick around for the camera.

For a hunter to shoot such a deer, a white ghost of a deer, would make the whole forest cry. It would bring a whole lifetime of bad luck to the hunter who felled it. Unless it was actually a good luck charm. Or a trophy like no other--a trophy deer above all others.

One problem with the white deer, urban-legend-wise, is that there's widespread disagreement concerning what it might signify, if it signifies anything. The story is messy, if there is a story to it. But that's okay, urban-legend-wise, because the white deer is real--an estimated 1 deer out of 30,000 is albino, completely white with pink eyes.

Their coloration leaves them especially vulnerable to human hunters and other predators. Do they know that? Is that why they are so shy? Perhaps not, but their light-sensitive eyes may make them avoid daylight even more than other deer.

Nonetheless, Janet Goldwater sort of got a photo of an albino deer that had been eating apples from her tree in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania. "This photo was taken (in a rush obviously!) through the window of my house," she writes. "My opportunity to take a photo came at dusk, hence the slow shutter speed."

Here, the albino deer looks almost like a unicorn, which seems appropriate enough. If you want clearer pictures, you can find them on the tubes.  But this shot seems to pretty much sum up the whole white-deer thing: whatever is out there is hard to see, impossible to pin down, fleeing fast , but definitely, positively, really something.

Posted by Ellen

The boy in Winslow Homer's "The Hound and the Hunter" never saw the movie "Bambi," of course, so his relationship to forest and fauna was nothing like that of my generation.. This boy didn't grow up with that single gunshot trumping all other cinematic memories: What just happened? The hunters killed Bambi's mother? His mother?

Homer's boy, unburdened with Disney-fication, just went hunting. That's what you could do this time of year if you were a fortunate American boy. His dog hounded the deer into the water, forcing it to swim rather than run. Deer swim slowly enough that the boy was able to pick it off with the gun that is now in the bottom of the boat. He'll soon have the deer tied up, ready to drag home. Problem is: the dog is now swimming straight for the boat, and if it jumps in, they'll capsize. What should the boy do? What happens next?

Homer was particularly proud of this painting; he felt he got all the details just right--for example, the transition between the boy's pale forearms and suntanned wrists. But even back then in the late 19th century, deer hunting was becoming culturally problematic among a portion of the population; when this painting was first displayed, there were complaints that the deer was still alive, that the boy was trying to drown it. This interpretation is obviously wrong--a desperate deer, thrashing in the water, would swamp the boat, if the boy could hold it at all. No, the deer is not struggling, and the boy's attention has shifted to the dog.

To be continued, sort of.

In its first ten months, the Center for Torture Accountability has adentified some 35 Bush-era officials and contractors for inclusion in CTA archives. Nineteen of these individuals--more than half--have been researched and written up thus far. They are as follows:

Name                                Torture role

David Addington            Cheney's lawyer
Diane Beaver                "We'll need documentation...."
Cofer Black                  "The gloves come off."
George W. Bush            The enabler
Jay Bybee                     Signed off on it
Richard Cheney            The man behind the curtain
Douglas Feith               "I was a player"
Timothy Flanigan           Lawyer for the Decider
Alberto Gonzales           The rubber stamp
William Haynes             The other enabler
Geoffrey Miller              Brought Guantanamo to Iraq
James Mitchell              Designed and implemented torture methods
James Pavitt                  Pushed the CIA to torture
Patrick Philbin              Pushed the constitutional envelope to justify war without rules
John Rizzo                    Lawyer for the CIA's torturers
Donald Rumsfeld          Set the tone at the Pentagon
George Tenet                Lord of the Black Sites
Mary Walker                Sidelined review of detainee treatment       
John Yoo                      Legal mind of the testicle-crushers

In the next phase of the archives project, another 16 individuals will be included:

Porter Goss
Michael Chertoff
Jonathan Fredman
Michael Dunlavey
Daniel Dell'Orto
Lewis Libby
Condoleezza Rice
Stephen Cambone
John Ashcroft
Scott Muller
David Becker
Robert Delahunt
Steven Bradbury
Alice Fisher
Bruce Jessen
"spiky-haired woman" (CIA associate)

The American Civil Liberties Union project on torture accountability also reviews many of these same characters and incorporates the text of significant torture documents into its website.

For additional biographical detail and timelines, see History Commons.

Update: The Center for Torture Accountability has now launched the Bradley Manning Torture Project.

Posted by Ellen

This is Stockholm after midnight last June, during one of the white nights near the summer solstice. The tower in the foreground is part of the Old Town, which dates back to the thirteenth century. The cranes in the background  are building the part of town that will date back to the twenty-first century.

Posted by Ellen

This is the 1905 varsity basketball team from Charlotte Hall Military Academy in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Sylvester Stallone was a Charlotte Hall boy, shortly before the school closed in the 1970s.

In 1905, basketballs had laces like footballs, and dribbling was very tricky.

Posted by Ellen

The Outdoors Club from Deering High School spent Columbus Day weekend camping at Acadia National Park and climbing the cliffs on Mount Desert Island. Here, Hank inches his way up a crack.