Self-taught Scholar Who Changed the World

Math is hard. Life is hard. Get over it.
– a favorite tee shirt

I follow mathematical principles pretty well for a non-math major, and particularly enjoyed one undergraduate class titled “Physics for Poets.” But I cannot imagine how someone could come up with a new way of understanding and explaining mathematical and logical principles. But George Boole did just that, creating a new scheme which paved the way for an entirely new system of thinking.

A bust of George Boole at University College Cork Photo by J. Emmons

A bust of George Boole at University College Cork Photo by J. Emmons

A shore excursion on our recent cruise took us to University College Cork in Ireland. In the 1800s this was Queen’s College, and George Boole was the first professor of mathematics there. In 1854 Boole published The Laws of Thought and secured his place among the foremost mathematicians, philosophers and logicians of the century. The Boolean algebra incorporated in this treatise is credited as laying the foundations for the information age. Without Boole we would not have easily understood the fundamental importance of electronic switches and the world of ones and zeros governing everything that any computer does. I wonder if Boole had any idea what could grow from this new formulation!

Boole was born in Lincoln, England, the son of a shoemaker. He had a primary school education but very little academic training after that. A local bookseller may have helped him learn Latin but he taught himself modern languages. At sixteen he became the family breadwinner and became a teacher. He picked up additional mathematics books including a calculus text. “Without a teacher, it took him many years to master calculus.” (Wikipedia) Boole taught at a variety of schools and made contacts with mathematicians as he studied further on his own.

At the age of 34 he went to Ireland to become the first professor of mathematics at Queen’s College (Cork) and continued his studies and writings. In addition to his work in math and logic, he invested his interest in a variety of humanitarian causes, including early closings and measures to reduce prostitution. . He died of a fever at 49, leaving a wife and five daughters.

The university commemorates his importance to mathematics and the digital age which has followed.

A green in the older section of UCC, formerly Queen's College in Cork Photo by Je. Emmons

A green in the older section of UCC, formerly Queen’s College in Cork   Photo by J. Emmons

One thing which struck me repeatedly as we toured Ireland, however, was the frequent mention of restrictions on the Irish educational opportunities and religious practices during England’s domination. Irish Catholics were not admitted to universities there, and catholic churches could not be located on main streets. Such a flexing of colonial muscle surely reinforced bad feelings on the Irish side at least, and shored up the attitude of superiority of the privileged Anglo-Irish. I had thought that perhaps Boole managed to beat the system of Irish suppression – but he was English. However he did beat the English class system for succeeding without having an Oxford or Cambridge education.

How much Irish brain power or poetic wisdom was torched or left to die unheeded in those decades? 2016 is the centennial of the 1916 Easter uprising which began the successful battle for Irish independence. You don’t need to dig very deep to uncover residual hard feelings on the Emerald Isle.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

18 August 2016

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The ‘Three Weird Sisters’ of Macbeth – Temptation, Ambition, and Guilt

“And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.”
— Banquo,
Macbeth, I,3

“Wow” is not all I have to say about the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Macbeth, but it is a start! Two years ago we were wowed by King Lear in this theater. In July we were back to see “the Scottish play,” and loved it!

This was my view from the top balcony. Afternoon sun was hard on people directly across for a short time.

This was my view from the top balcony. Afternoon sun was hard on people directly across for a short time.

This production was arty rather than classic, but by adding music, lighting, and other special effects, they heightened the surreal implications of the prophecies and characters’ responses. The stage was altered to provide some special effects. Metal staging with trap doors was extended forward and additional grating and lighting were added around the columns.


The stretchy black fabric was used in the first scene and later with Banquo's ghost. The metal stage extension and grating around the pillars also aided special effects.

The stretchy black fabric was used in the first scene and later with Banquo’s ghost. The metal stage extension and grating around the pillars also aided special effects.

The witches’ lines were cut back. We had no “Eye of newt and toe of frog” cooking scene over a cauldron, and they did not come across as typical Halloween witches at all. Instead they were sleek, dark seers and tempters whose beguiling predictions were enough to turn Macbeth’s world upside down.

When the ghost of Banquo (recently murdered at Macbeth’s command) appears at Macbeth’s celebratory banquet, he usually is sitting in Macbeth’s chair – though no one but Macbeth sees him. In the Globe’s production the ghost rose up under a stretchy black cloth in the center of the stage. The figure was completely masked this way, making it clear that only guilty Macbeth could see and recognize who it really was.

Waiting for the play to begin

Waiting for the play to begin

A constant theme in the play is moral confusion. The witches say “Fair is foul and foul is fair” in the opening scene. One minute later, just before meeting the weird sisters Macbeth says, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (Then it does get muddled!) Throughout the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth intermingle treason and murder to make them into reasonable deeds because the ‘good’ result has been prophesied. Listening to later prophecies with a critical ear, and knowing how the story will turn out, we can hear the gaps in those predictions. Macbeth A) should fear Macduff, but also B) need not fear any man of woman born. Macbeth takes B to mean he is home free and immediately discounts A. But when C happens (Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane) he knows the jig is up. All predictions have come true and he is doomed.

Are the witches predicting things that will happen regardless, or just devilishly planting seeds to tempt ambition and see what might happen? Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take the bait and brings about their own destruction.

As often happens with a good story of any age, connections between Macbeth’s situation and ours today kept bubbling up. Seeing this play in the weekend between our national party conventions left me wondering how much of what politicians say is entirely – or even partly true. Which claims and predictions are hoped to be self-fulfilling prophecies? How many of us will fall for half-truths we want to hear? Will we confuse an evil for apparent good, or be convinced a good thing is actually very bad?

Temptation and ambition abound in the political arena these days. And guilt can inspire many further missteps once those two have been put in motion. There is real danger lurking in the too quick acceptance of any prediction.

The three evils of Macbeth are still very much with us!

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

11 August 2016

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Genius Lived on Brook Street

“Whether I was in my body or out of my body I know not.
God knows it!” – George Frideric Handel

“My goal is to be one with the music. I just dedicate my whole life to this art.” –Jimi Hendrix

One of the biggest surprises we uncovered in our recent visit to London was the Handel Hendrix House. This is a combination of George Frideric Handel’s townhouse and the top floor apartment next door where Jimi Hendrix lived more than two hundred years later. Who knew??

Handel, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, came to London at age 27 and soon became established as a successful composer of opera, oratorio and organ concertos. He lived alone but used his home for composing and rehearsing with various singers and musicians. He would invite potential patrons to attend rehearsals as previews for works not yet published. He rented the house on Brook Street for many years and died there in 1759 at age 74.

Handel's bedroom at 25 Brook Street, London. Photo by J. Emmons

Handel’s bedroom at 25 Brook Street, London. Photo by J. Emmons

One comment about the bed on display in his room was that the bed might look short to modern eyes. In Handel’s day it was believed that sleeping sitting up aided digestion. Handel loved good food and probably needed help overcoming acid reflux while digesting the morsels which made him such a large man.

As they say on Monty Python, “now for something completely different”!

In an entirely different age and society, Jimi Hendrix spent part of two years of his short life living in an apartment in the building adjacent to Handel’s home. The Handel Hendrix Museum provides a good overview of Hendrix’ life and career.

Jimi Hendrix bedroom redolent of 1969 Photo by J. Emmons

Jimi Hendrix bedroom redolent of 1969 Photo by J. Emmons

There is a video summarizing his musical progress. Because his father was superstitious of anything left-handed, Jimi turned the guitar upside-down and used his right hand for fingering the frets. A bedroom is decorated as it was in Jimi’s day, using ‘artifacts’ from the era; only the mirror was actually his. Widely regarded now as one of pop music’s greatest guitarists, Jimi burned brightly before his untimely death in another London flat just months shy of his 28th birthday, just the age Handel was when he arrived in London.

In the video below things get really interesting at about 2:45.

How many cities have time-warp juxtapositions like this? Given enough years, unexpected combinations are bound to occur. But having two extraordinarily gifted musicians separated by a wall and 210 years makes me wonder if something else was going on.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

4 August 2016

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The Titanic Sails On

Seize the moment. Remember all those women
on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
– Erma Bombeck

Google “Titanic Museum” and you will be surprised by how many sites are revealed. Las Vegas, Branson, Pigeon Forge, and Halifax all advertise amazing exhibits. Add to that the short term traveling exhibits at museums with greater callings (such as the Portland Science Center in ME) and it is easy to see that, more than 100 years after its sinking, the Titanic still fascinates us. The Titanic Experience in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a very good museum and I recommend it if you are curious about this blockbuster event from the early 20th century.

Belfast is where the Titanic was built. (They love to add “It was just fine when it left here.”) The two year old museum is located in the Harland and Wolff dockyards where the hull was created (easily visible from our cruise pier but a cab ride away by land). The museum incorporates excellent multisensory presentations and displays to engage visitors about much more than just the sinking of the behemoth. Beginning with the setting in Belfast, visitors learn about the city’s two main industries at the turn of the century – linen mills and ship building. Other sections of the museum depict the construction methods, the furnishings, the sailing and the sinking.


The outside of the Titanic Experience looks like ship's prows.

The outside of the Titanic Experience looks like ship’s prows.

The construction work was physically demanding and dangerous. (OSHA would not know where to begin.) For example, the rivets used to connect the steel plates were heated white-hot on the ground. Young boys would pick up a rivet with tongs and toss it up to the riveting site many feet above. There another youngster would catch the rivet in a bucket (or maybe not). He would transfer it to the men applying the rivets. One man would put the rivet in place through two aligned holes (with tongs? hot pads?) and hold it in place with a small sledge hammer. Two men on the other side of the plates would immediately pound the exposed end of the rivet with alternating blows while it was still very hot and malleable to flatten and secure it. Hearing loss was a frequent health hazard for riveters.

One other interesting tidbit I remember is this: since there were no laundry facilities on board the ship sailed with 45,000 clean, pressed napkins!

The first class cabins are what usually feature in film treatments of the ship’s story, but bits of the second and third class accommodations appear in the 1997 James Cameron film. The intent of the décor for first and second class space was to look like a classy hotel rather than a ship. But the lowest category cabins, emigrant class, were not posh at all. Four single men would share one bunk room. Single women traveling could share a twin bunk room. The single women would share dining and lounge space with emigrant families, only slightly segregated from the single men.

Comparing this largest ship of its time against current ships, the Titanic had dimensions close to our mid-size ships (such as Celebrity’s Infinity). The space-to-passenger ratio by tonnage looks much larger than current ships but that is misleading. Modernization has freed up a great deal of space usable for passengers (space no longer required for furnaces and boilers) to make a voyage more comfortable for everyone. She had a capacity for 2453 passengers but was only about half full on the maiden voyage. Even with that there were not enough lifeboats for the people on board. The assumption in those days was that lifeboats would be used to transfer people to an assisting ship in multiple trips rather than evacuate the entire population at once.

The iceberg collision and sinking are truly tragic. In the final section of the museum visitors hear the actual voices of survivors describing their experience.

Why are we so fascinated with this ship? Is it the pride (the Unsinkable Ship) that went before the fall (nature’s iceberg beats human steel) that draws us? Is it the loss of life which could have been avoided? (Lifeboat requirements were changed after this incident.) What draws you back to the Titanic?

Titanic poster

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

28 July 2016

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Create the Vacation YOU Want

Chilling out on the bed in your hotel room watching television, while wearing your own pajamas, is sometimes
the best part of a vacation.
— Laura Marano

Your time away should be invested in the things you want to do.

If you go to Whatever Town you do not have to do The Usual (as conventional wisdom would have you do). For example, Panama has the Panama Canal and that’s a great place for geek overload, watching the trains and water and ships going to and fro. But Panama has world class wildlife viewing opportunities and great beaches too. Santa Fe, NM, has wonderful art shopping, museums, and open air opera. But it is in easy distance of great hiking and camping opportunities too. Peru has archaeology, indigenous crafts, museums, and history – but it also has Amazonian wildlife and is an emerging food destination.

What do YOU want to do with your time, energy, money, and personal space? Make your trip your own!

I recently had great success reshaping what would have been seen as a slam dunk history trip into what I really wanted to do.

The Governor's Palace is wonderful but we did not need to see it again. Photo © Wangkun Jia |

The Governor’s Palace is wonderful but we did not need to see it again.
Photo © Wangkun Jia |

My sister and I live far enough apart that getting together for quality sister time takes planning and commitment. She has an abundance of timeshare credits. We both like the atmosphere of Colonial Williamsburg but have visited the shops and official buildings enough that those are not as great an attraction as they once were. We both enjoy sewing but neither of us needs new garments or sewn gifts. Lastly, we both like to dine well.

Was there hope for us to be away from home and spend fun, quality time together? Yes!

Sister Judy reserved a week for the two of us at one of her timeshare connections in Williamsburg, Virginia. Judy is an avid seamstress (much more committed than I am) so she brought her sewing machine, her serger, and an abundance of necessary tools. I brought directions for making Little Dresses for Africa. We both brought fabric from our personal stash. In the timeshare apartment, we pressed, cut, stitched and created variations on the very easy pattern. At the end of the day – or whenever we needed a change of pace – we would go out for a wonderful meal, often in CW (as the locals call Colonial Williamsburg).

Here are three of the dresses we made. Photo by J Emmons

Here are three of the dresses we made.
Photo by J Emmons

For me, this was a very satisfactory revision of the standard trip to historic Virginia. During the week we completed seven dresses, each with a variation that kept us entertained. Now seven girls have a new dress and we have a week’s worth of usefulness and shared sister time.

I realize that sewing vacations are not for everyone but you probably have a personal passion which could be shaped into a wonderful escape to suit only you. Go for it! Let me know if you need help planning.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

7 July 2016

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4th of July Outside the Box — with Reading List

The United States is the only country with a known birthday.
— James G. Blaine

Let’s try thinking outside the usual box this Independence Day. Before you settle in for grilled burgers and fireworks, think about refreshing your knowledge about the history we celebrate.

1776Certainly Minuteman National Historical Park in Lexington and Concord is worth a visit if you have not been there recently. If you are up for a walk in the city, try the Freedom Trail in Boston again, ending at that wonderful standby the USS Constitution.  But if you want fresh insights to familiar places, I heartily suggest reading 1776 by David McCullough. This narrative about this most important year in the nation’s birth actually begins in 1775 with the skirmishes in Boston, Charleston, and what are now the historic suburbs. The first third of the book is all the more special if you know the landscape. If you do not know the lay of the land, this book will encourage you to get out to see it.

Another site related to the colonial era (rather than revolutionary) is Plimouth Plantation and the replica (full size but still tiny) Mayflower II. It takes only about 30 seconds to see Plymouth Rock but the ship and settlement can fill the rest of your day easily.

Further afield there is Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, complete with the Liberty Bell. The park rangers have an especially thought-provoking exercise revealing who among us would have been entitled to vote in 1776.

While in Pennsylvania you really should continue west to Gettysburg, the site of the three day battle which became the turning point of the Civil War. It was fought July 1-3, 1863; if you leave now you could be there for the annual reenactment, but you might prefer to plan now for next year. If you go any other time be sure to take advantage of the guides who will talk you through the entire battle with as much detail as you have time for. To be prepared you might want to read The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara.


All Broadway is enthralled with Hamilton, the Tony winning hip-hop musical about George Washington’s right hand man, the first Secretary of the Treasury. Did you know you can visit his home in New York? When Hamilton’s Grange was built it was a country estate, way upland in Harlem. The house has survived more than 200 years and two moves but it is currently in a park which was part of Hamilton’s original estate. This is going on my short list of national parks to visit next. In the meantime I will be reading the biography which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Undaunted CourageIf you prefer wilderness and feel more akin to founding father Thomas Jefferson, perhaps you would rather explore parts of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail with sites in eleven states. You would not have to canoe from one site to the next, nor would you have to rely on Dr. Rush’s “thunder clappers” as a cure-all purgative as the original Corps of Discovery did. But it would be mind-expanding to take in even a portion of the land they covered in two and a half years. The armchair traveler can learn a great deal about their travails reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose.

But if you already have travel plans and more than enough books to read, perhaps you will feel more in tune with the sentiment below. Have a happy Fourth, wherever you are!

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.                                                                                                                        –Erma Bombeck

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

30 June 2016

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America’s Other Best Idea

Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected.
–Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian
Museum of American Art and Renwick Gallery

The National Parks system is widely hailed as America’s best idea. The next best, in my opinion, is the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute funds and runs many engaging museums in the capital, charging no admission fee to the millions of visitors who are educated and entertained by their collections. The Smithsonian also funds and operates a multitude of educational offerings, research centers, and cultural centers. It is an amazing national resource and deserves our support and gratitude.

Most of the museums are on or near the Mall in Washington. You could tour exhibits all day for several days and not exhaust the possibilities (only yourself). Treasures of art, sciences, history, and technology are all here. The Hope Diamond, the First Ladies’ dresses, the “star spangled banner” that flew over Fort McHenry, the space shuttle Discovery, and the pandas at the National Zoo (also part of the Smithsonian) are my top memories. Who knows how much they have in reserve if we just dig a little deeper?

On our recent visit we went to the new Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside the city near Dulles airport. Like the original Air and Space museum on the Mall, this exhibit presents dozens of flying machines, many of them in very dynamic poses of flight. The jumble of “things in the air” made me wonder what happens at night when no one is watching. Do they all spring to life, zoom around to get the kinks out, then resume their positions at dawn as the guards arrive? It’s no surprise that others have had the same thought and made it into  “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” incorporating several Smithsonian collections with that question in mind.

The Udvar-Hazy Center features an SR-71 Blackbird (stealth reconnaissance), the Enola Gay (Hiroshima), an Air France Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery. Most of the specimens look very bright and shiny, spiffed up for display. The Discovery looks more weathered and used – and to my eyes more to be honored for that realism. (The difference was probably a practical decision more than anything since the ceramic tile exterior would have been difficult or costly to “refresh.”)

The scope and arrangement of the museum makes amateur photography difficult. The only machine I could get a decent picture of was “The World’s Smallest Airplane.” Who would fly this plane? There is no room for a passenger so the thrill would be all your own. It looks to me like something out of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “Cars.” And I saw it at the Smithsonian!

The World's Smallest Airplane Photo by J. Emmons

The World’s Smallest Airplane   Photo by J. Emmons

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

23 June 2016

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“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”

People will know you for who you are, but will remember you for what you have done. True leaders make long lasting impacts!”
— Israelmore Ayivor

While in Washington, DC, recently I was able to visit two relatively new monuments to individuals who had an extraordinary impact on the 20th Century. As should be the case with all public architecture, the artistry of each memorial was thought-provoking. Artistic choices are made, and those choices impact the meaning of each memorial. If you have seen these monuments I will be interested in your responses to them.

The monuments to Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are not far from each other. The casual walker can visit both on a stroll along the tidal basin. One implies monumental strength and courage. The other evokes humility and (to my mind) belies the courage and commitment which must have undergirded the life memorialized.

Note how the stone of hope which is King seems to be cut from the mountain of despair behind it. Photo by J. Emmons

Note how the stone of hope which is King seems to be cut from the mountain of despair behind it. Photo by J. Emmons

The memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. is the one closer to the Mall. King’s image is presented in a larger than life sculpture which looks like it was sliced out of the solid stone ‘mountain’ behind it. The inscription on the side of the figure is “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” from his “I Have a Dream” speech. This representation reminds me very appropriately of the scripture “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). Fourteen other quotes from King’s speeches and writings are inscribed on the ‘mountain’ behind the ‘stone’ where he appears. The overall impression of the man is firm resolve, strength, and a vital legacy. And it is entirely appropriate.

Photo by J. Emmons

Photo by J. Emmons

A few hundred yards away is the memorial to FDR. We saw the monument at night (a popular activity for visitors to DC) and now realize that we did not see it all. There are several of parts to the monument: two statues of FDR, a bronze soup line, a series of waterfalls implying the controversies and challenges of his four terms of office, and well-known quotes from his speeches and writings.

The larger statue of FDR includes his dog Fala but no chair is visible.

The larger statue of FDR includes his dog Fala but no chair is visible.

Again, artistic choices were made about what to remember or emphasize – and sometimes there were thoughtless oversights. (If they included braille inscriptions to make the

Another realistically sized statue shows FDR's wheelchair. Night time photo by J. Emmons

A more realistically sized statue shows FDR’s wheelchair. Night time photo by J. Emmons

monument accessible to blind visitors, why are those inscriptions 8 feet above the ground, out of reach for most people?) Should his polio disability be shown clearly? Yes and no. In the larger statue he is seated, covered by a cape which hides his chair. In another statue, a wheeled chair is obvious. But the overall intent to commemorate the man who led the country through some of our most challenging years is carried out well.

Designers of monuments know they cannot please everyone – but I found both memorials to be appropriate and evocative.

As for my title, “let us now praise famous men” came into my head but I did not know where I got the phrase. Wikipedia says this phrase (originally from the Wisdom of Sirach) was the title of James Agee and Walker Evans’ book about impoverished sharecropper families during the Great Depression.  Naming people who are at the bottom of the society as Famous Men creates a special poignancy for the phrase, and implicitly questions our designation of what makes a person Famous – or Great.

How many other Great Ones have there been? And where are their memorials? Think about it, and adjust attitudes as required.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

16 June 2016

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How Washington Commemorates Wars

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1946

I was in Washington DC last week just after Memorial Day, and that has made me thoughtful.

Generally speaking I do not like to glorify war. It seems to me that a country’s willingness to wage war is proof of its inability (or unwillingness) to resolve issues through diplomacy or other non-violent methods. In the best of all worlds, rather than be proud that we fought, we would be embarrassed that we had to resort to violence.

And yet….

There is no denying that many people have responded with their own bodies when diplomacy and other measures have failed. I hate to say they “gave” their lives. Instead they did not deny the call when their lives or health were “required” of them by a marginally grateful society. I am deeply moved by this collective action and hope that our nation will not squander such amazing generosity for trivial reasons.

On this visit to the nation’s capital I was able to visit two war memorials which I had not seen before. Both were impressive but in different ways.

The National World War II Memorial is much bigger than I had imagined, larger than a football field. I had seen photos of some of the pillars but had not judged the scope

Aerial view of the National World War II Memorial. -- Wikipedia

View of the National World War II Memorial, taken from the Washington Monument with Lincoln Memorial at the back. — Wikipedia

accurately. (The photo at the right shows how it fits in the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.) I thought to myself, “Yes it is big, just like the war it commemorates.” Arches at either end commemorate the Atlantic and Pacific arenas. The fountain base in front of each arch cites the significant battles in that arena in chronological order. The 56 pillars around the oval name the 48 states and 8 territories of the US during the war. I did not see either of the two “Kilroy was here” engravings which Wikipedia says are included inconspicuously.

Bronze bas relief panels between the pillars represent the range of activities of GIs and civilians during the war. I was pleased that among the inspiring quotes engraved on various surfaces was one extolling the contributions of women who stepped up to the demands of life at home and in the armed forces.

View across the plaza towards the Atlantic arch. Photo by J. Emmons

View across the plaza towards the Atlantic arch. Photo by J. Emmons

A portion of the Freedom Wall. one star for 100 deaths Photo by J. Emmons

A portion of the Freedom Wall. one star representing 100 deaths. Photo by J. Emmons

In the manner of the Vietnam memorial (which names every person who died in combat) there is a Freedom Wall with a gold star for every 100 service personnel who died or remain missing from the war (405,399 people).

The entire effect is very sobering – and, as I said, BIG like the war itself.

The smaller Korean War Veterans Memorial is also very sobering but for entirely different reasons. While the WWII Memorial is grand-scale the Korean memorial is very human and accessible. The central feature of the monument is a collection of 19 statues of GIs tramping together watchfully in full battle gear (including radio antennas through their ponchos).

Korean crop

No matter where you stand in the walkway around their V formation, you are being watched by at least one of the monument’s figures. The variety and attention in their aspects makes it clear this is a group of individuals, watching out for any kind of threat. Other parts of the monument are a granite wall with photo images from the war sandblasted into it, and recognition of all 22 nations which contributed to the UN forces in Korea. The monument is tucked into a corner of the Mall, not easily visible from the street.

Korean crop 3

Memorial Day wreaths at the front of the formation. Photo by J. Emmons

There were still Memorial Day wreaths at the front of the formation. Photo by J. Emmons

These two monuments certainly have different presentations and atmosphere. Do they have different goals? I would hope one goal of both would be to prevent similar conflicts in the future.

I realize that I might have unsettled some readers with these comments. What war monuments have been most striking to you? Please let me know your thoughts.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

9 June 2016

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On the Road Again

“The Americans have found the healing of God in a variety of things, the most pleasant of which is probably automobile drives.”
― William Saroyan

Once again I have been on a road trip, and remembered some of the pleasures of extended drives — and some of the difficulties. Which factors stand out for you?

I enjoy seeing the countryside and the urban landscapes which I would miss if I traveled by plane. Driving to your destination can provide a bodily sense of how far you are going – as opposed to the magically shrunken time required for plane travel.

Blue skies and open highways make the classic road trip.

Blue skies and open highways make the classic road trip.

Especially when the trip is along a path I have traveled before, I get to see the changes in development (commercial or agricultural) since the last trip – or since much earlier excursions. Repeated trips also provide time and opportunity to recall previous trips with others, whether they be formerly young children or older adults, now deceased. The first time I saw the Eastern seaboard was in 1968 with my parents. Then years later I drove to the Philadelphia area several times when our children were young.

Driving to my destination also means I will have a car, my own car that I know and understand, once I arrive.

A long driving trip is a great opportunity to listen to a book or two as you travel. (I optimistically checked out four books on CD for the current trip. The librarian told me her husband looked up the frequency of NPR stations all along the route for their last trip.)

Using a GPS receiver for directions gives me a sense of traveling in a tunnel. I have confidence that the next few steps will be illuminated as needed, and that I will arrive where I need to be. But I have no sense of the land I am passing through. Having a live companion to read maps — or being that companion and navigator — provides much more context for each part of the journey. (What are our other options? How close are we passing to Punxatawney?) But if I am driving alone, I much prefer the narrow but accurate directions provided by my Garmin over trying to read a map as I go.

There are some drawbacks to road trips, of course. Extended hours in a fixed position wreak havoc on human joints when movement is finally allowed. It can be surprisingly tiring to just sit there. With a car, there is no good excuse to limit the number of things you bring along, so you can end up taking along much more stuff than you need. Heavy holiday traffic can be a huge disincentive but careful planning can alleviate some of that.

Some itineraries are not practical as road trips because of distance and time required. But it can be very pleasant to drive to a marginal destination. Where are the margins for what you consider a pleasant road trip?

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

2 June 2016

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