Monday, March 31, 2008

Weekend Photo Mix

It seemed as if we were all over the place this past weekend, from the Upper West Side, through Chelsea, and downtown near City Hall. The first shot is of a vintage Ferrari, parked on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea. Because New York City is a place of money, one is never surprised by the cars one sees. Bentleys, Rolls, Aston-Martins, and Ferraris are not unusual, from vintage models to the latest examples costing several hundred thousand each. Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars are so commonplace as to be ignored. This Ferrari, however, was drawing a crowd. Most observers couldn't believe it was parked on the street, given its potential value as a 1950s or early 60s model. The second and third photos are from the Houston St. subway stop for the 1 train. The station is full of these beautiful marine-themed mosaics. Finally, there's a photo from downtown, taken on Chambers Street, just east of Broadway, looking east to one of the city's municipal buildings.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

St. John's Windows, Part 2

Here's another set of stained glass windows from St. John's Lutheran Church in the West Village. These 19th century German-made beauties are in the Rector's Study, located in the Parish House. Often, these little windows, tucked away in studies, side chapels and sacristies, are more beautiful than the larger windows located in the church itself. Indeed, I've been in so many churches here and in England that seem to reflect this pattern, with the smallest windows serving as little gem-like icons set aside in the quietest places. Although one could make an argument against such windows along the lines of "graven images" and "idolatry," many of these tiny windows could serve as focal points for a devotional discipline or meditative moment (a role they've often played).

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Thursday, March 27, 2008


I found this great mosaic showing Bush and McCain, constructed using photos of most of the U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq. Because photos of all 4,000 were not available, there are some duplicates. Click here to see the very large original version. With no end to the conflict in sight and the potential for a McCain victory in November increasing, expect this total to increase significantly. I find Bush's smug demeanor especially offensive given the severity of his crimes.

Empire State

With the Empire State Building one of my favorites among New York's larger buildings, I've enjoyed working just around the corner from it for the last year. Everywhere one goes in this neighborhood one can find it peeking out from behind all of the other height-challenged structures. And if buildings are organic structures, anthropomorphized by so many authors (particularly in children's books), then the apartment towers and blocks of offices in this neighborhood must suffer an inferiority complex in the shadow of this tower of steel, glass, and stone. I always marvel at the irony of this confident - and yes, phallic - symbol for New York, since it was constructed at one of the lowest points in the history of this city and nation. It at least provided jobs for several thousand New Yorkers desperate for employment in the period before Roosevelt moved from Albany to Washington and launched the relief programs of the New Deal. (And like so many New York residents, I've never done the "tourist thing" and gone to the observation deck!)

The middle photo was taken as a sepia image, then photoshopped a bit as an experiment.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Spring Finally Here?

Despite the continued cold temperatures, Spring seems finally to have made an appearance in New York. Beyond the obvious association with Passover and the Last Supper, I don't know the history of Easter as a officially sanctioned feast within the institutional Church. But I do wonder the extent to which Easter - like Christmas - incorporated pagan traditions and festivals, particularly in the Celtic church prior to the Synod of Whitby. Since we know that the early Church often co-opted local pagan religious practices and initially created a hybridized orthodoxy in many areas, one has to speculate on the rough juxtaposition of Easter and the Spring Equinox. And, given the physical manifestations of Spring and Easter's emphasis on resurrection, no doubt there's some association. I can't even begin to understand the formula, derived as early as the 4th century, used to calculate the date of Easter each year. But according to that formula, Easter can never be before March 22nd or after April 25th. So our Easter this year was as early as any of us will ever see it, since Easter will not land on March 22nd until the year 2265. Easter was last observed on April 25th in 1943 and will again be celebrated on that date in 2038. (Just a bit of Easter trivia for those of you who care about such things. I enjoy this sort of thing simply because it reveals how fluid belief and practice could be in the early Church, or ecclesia primitiva as it's sometimes called. So many religious groups today seem too concerned about enforcing rigid orthodoxy that they threaten to create a monolithic faith over which contentious parties will inevitably fight. Of course, warring over what constitutes orthodoxy and heresy punctuates the entire history of Christianity.)

The photos were taken around Greenwich Village over the last couple of days. Enjoy! (By the way, I love the ability to switch to fully manual settings on this camera. It allows me to play with depth of field, in this case bringing foreground objects into sharp focus while blurring the background.)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bush's War

Last night PBS stations aired the first two hours of a two-part Frontline documentary, "Bush's War," laying out in excruciating detail the steps the Bush administration took to hijack the government and this country, attack Iraq on false pretenses, and embroil the U.S. in an illegal and shameful conflict. If you didn't catch part one, definitely watch the second installment, which will examine the conduct of the war over the last five years. Let's just say that last night's episode was painful and infuriating.

These photos were taken outside famous Marble Collegiate Church. (Some of you may know this as Norman Vincent Peale's church.) Each of these yellow ribbons, posted along the church's 5th Ave. and 29th St. sides, represents a member of the U.S. military who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Examining the names and ages on each ribbon, one notices that so many of the dead were in their 20s. What a horrific waste of human life, with no end of the carnage in sight. What a waste of youthful optimism and opportunities. How can the families of these people believe the rhetoric and lies that spew from Washington? The blood of each of these soldiers is on the hands of Bush and Cheney, who are no less guilty of war crimes than the Nazis tried at Nuremburg. One would be hard pressed to find a more shameful event in U.S. history.

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Easter Sunday

Here are some photos of the stained glass windows in historic St. John's Luthern Church on Christopher Street in the West Village. You can see more photos of the church and its environs on the parish website, which I designed and constructed last year:

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter!

For those of you who celebrate the occasion, Happy Easter! (Enjoy the lilies!) As a child I usually associated Easter with the purchase of a new suit appropriate for wearing to church on spring Sunday mornings. I remember a few occasions when we received Easter baskets full of marshmallow and chocolate eggs nestled in that fake green grass. (Don't let your cat your dog swallow this stuff or you're in for a treat. The same rule applies for Christmas tinsel.) But the concept of the "Easter Bunny" was never really heralded in our household in the way Santa was given nearly equal status to the religious iconography of Christmas. I guess it's easier to reconcile Santa and the spirit of giving with the symbolism of Christ's birth. Sure, I've heard some apologists try to sell the idea that the eggs of Easter symbolize the potential of rebirth and resurrection. But it just seems like too great a stretch, trying to convince one's kids of the Easter Bunny's existence, even during the innocence of the toddler years. It reminds me of Jimmy Stewart trying to pass off the idea that Harvey, his unseen 6-foot rabbit companion is just as real. We've never mentioned the Easter Bunny to our kids. Naturally they like the idea of receiving candy for the occasion, but for them there's no association between the candy and a bunny. Indeed, having frequently watched the Veggie Tales episode on "The Promise of Easter," I'm confident they realize that Easter isn't about bunnies or chocolate. Moreover, we've done our best to explain the significance of Easter - and Christmas - within their proper religious contexts. Whether they ultimately choose to accept the standard Christian ideals vis-a-vis Easter will be up to them as they formulate a mature belief system and explore their own spirituality.

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Random Photos From This Week's Strolls

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Mission Still Not Accomplished"

An editorial in the New York Times marking the fifth anniversary of the start of the disastrous war in Iraq reminds us how little has been accomplished in a time span surpassing U.S. involvement in World War II. Indeed, the primary, albeit dubious, achievements include further destabilization of the region, displacement of more than 20 percent of the population, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and the deaths of nearly 4,000 Americans. Our failure in this illegal conflict, punctuated by human rights abuses, has so eroded U.S. credibility abroad that the nation may never recover its prewar status. Vice President Dick Cheney, visiting Iraq this week, declared that the mission in Iraq was "well worth the effort." His behavior, juxtaposed with Bush's remarks yesterday, underscore the dangers associated with formulating policy based on ignorance, stupidity, and unadulterated arrogance.

There can be little doubt that history will regard the Bush administration as a dismal failure. Whether or not it marks a watershed event in U.S. history, heralding that moment of national decline, remains to be seen. Regardless of who wins the presidential race in November, our next Chief Executive can expect to inherit a morass that will define the character and agenda of his or her administration for years.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Walking home last night, I spied these orchids in a shop window. I love orchids, but still haven't made it out to this year's orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden. There are just too many things to do and too little time.

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License to Drive

Do I really want to share the streets of Manhattan with someone whose license to drive is based on a five-hour class? With cabs, trucks and buses weaving from lane to lane and jockeying for position as if 6th Avenue was the track out at Belmont, inexperienced drivers face a daunting task. Add a little rain, or worse, snow, and the cab drivers, many of them from warmer, snowless climes, make the streets a demolition derby. When I first arrived in NYC nearly ten years ago, I navigated the streets rather nervously - and I considered myself an experienced driver who had even handled large ice delivery trucks during summer breaks from college. Now, on the rare occasions I actually get behind the wheel of a car, I'm quite comfortable in City traffic. Simply drive defensively and assume everyone is trying to hit you!

During my first year in Manhattan I was amazed at how little one needed to use a car. In fact, I could sometimes go three and four months without driving. Between cabs and public transportation a car really isn't necessary. And with free parking at a minimum and subject to numerous rules and "alternate side of the street" routines for street cleaning, having a car in the the city is truly a nuisance. And how many of us can afford $300+ a month for a secure garage space? So it's no surprise than many people keep their cars outside of NYC (as we usually have over the years) or they simply don't own a car. Many of our friends just rent a car if they need one for a weekend getaway or vacation. I'm also surprised at the number of people who simply don't have driver's licenses, a situation entirely antithetical to the auto-crazy environment which defines nearly all of this country. These residents, usually older, grew up in New York, relied on public transportation or other family members, and never wanted to take on the expense or stress of securing a license. Surprisingly, I also have friends my age and younger who find themselves in the same situation.

In the end, the best means of transportation in New York City is by foot. It's been estimated that New Yorkers walk far more than the average American, and I believe it. A mile or two for our family is an easy trip. (Accustomed to walking long distances, the kids managed a four-mile mountain hike in Vermont last October without complaint.) On Saturday we walked from Symphony Space on Broadway at 96th Street down to 72nd Street, enjoying the mild weather and parade of people. In suburbia I've known people who will drive from one end of a mall to the other just so they don't have to walk the length of the mall to reach a store. How wasteful - in so many ways!
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

WPA Posters

Over the last week I've been reading Nick Taylor's brand new history of the Works Progress Administration, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA. I've long maintained a keen admiration for the WPA, which proved to be one of the most significant programs of the New Deal. Over eight years and $11 billion, the WPA employed 8.5 million Americans and saw the construction of airports, parks, roads, public swimming pools, and numerous other public works projects. The WPA employed writers, actors, artists, and historians, who collected an invaluable series of narratives from the remaining African-American citizens who had lived under slavery. Authors for the Federal Writers' Project even produced guidebooks for each of the states and many cities.

Yet my favorite part of the WPA program has to be the support given to the arts and artists themselves. And while I was especially familiar with the murals painted by WPA artists in post offices and other government buildings, I wasn't as well acquainted with examples of the poster art produced through WPA funding. Of course, posters constituted one of the most important media vehicles of this period, both here and abroad, and were used in advertising everything from movies to travel destinations. (One of my favorite series of posters, for example, is the collection created for the London subway system and Britain's national rail network during this period.) In an age before television, many of these posters represent the 1930s equivalent of our current PSAs, taking on subjects like hygiene, national security, and even safe sex.

Perusing a catalog of WPA posters I was surprised to see how many of these works - most often three- and four-color prints - resembled the socialist realism style then employed in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Obviously the messages were different, but the artists often employed the same idioms of color and design!

Not surprisingly, conservatives in this country opposed the WPA, believing it represented a blatant example of the "creeping socialism" ascribed to Roosevelt's New Deal in general. Such opposition seems puzzling when one considers how many people benefited in areas where state and local governments had failed at relief efforts by 1935. Conservatives also asserted that the WPA was at best an acronym for "We Piddle Around," but this claim seems patently false against the legacy of WPA achievements.

In addition, opponents of the WPA loudly decried the record of federal funding for arts programs. Given the strain of anti-intellectualism that has infected American conservatism, particularly among religious conservatives, this charge isn't shocking. The last thing arch-conservatives wanted in the United States was educated masses with artistic sensibilities, believing the combination would facilitate the spread of liberalism, humanism, and even communism. (Although the anti-communist theme isn't as strong today for obvious reasons, the situation is little different. Indeed, according to Susan Jacoby in her recently-published monograph, The Age of American Unreason, anti-intellectualism in America seems even stronger now, which is starkly at odds with the Enlightenment foundation on which this country was founded.)

But enough sermonizing . . . Here are a few examples of the WPA-funded posters produced between 1935 and 1943. My favorites are the Lake Placid and Philadelphia Zoo posters.