Friday, April 30, 2010

4/30 Moment of Zen: Lincoln, Surprised

Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the figure of Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial, made the specific request that the sculpture never be lit from below. However, at George H.W. Bush's inauguration in 1988, held at the Memorial, just this happened, highlighting just how much lighting can affect the way something looks.

Thanks to Gabe and Ben for digging up this picture and to Ruben and Sophie for reminding us.

4/29 Moment of Zen: Anatomy of the Tribble

Moment of Zen:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

4/28 Moment of Zen: If Insects Were Bigger

...And You Thought New England Mosquitoes Were Big

Published in London from the 1890s to the 1950s, The Strand Magazine is best known for being the first place Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his stories about one Sherlock Holmes. Its contributor list also includes such literary heavyweights as Rudyard Kipling, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse.

In 1910, it also published a piece called, "If Insects Were Bigger, " including the above picture, which was given the caption, “Panic Caused by a Mosquito in Piccadilly Circus.” About 78 years before Photoshop and 51 years before Mothra, other illustrations bear captions like, “A Lacewing Fly Spreads Consternation in Wellington Street” and “A Dragon-Fly Captures an Unsuspecting Four-Wheeler in Liverpool.”

The author, J.H. Kerner Greenwood, noted: “It is true we are still molested by hordes of wild animals of bloodthirsty propensities. These wild animals only lack the single quality–namely, that of size–to render them all-powerful and all-desolating, and this quality they have not been able to attain owing to the lack of favouring conditions.”

Click here or the picture above to see more from this feature.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4/27 Moment of Zen: Solargraphy

A Fingerprint on the Snowglobe?

It looks a little like the densely lined arch of a fingerprint, maybe some abstract stick-figure rainbow if it weren't on a photo. What you see is a solargraph, taken by a pinhole camera. If photograph is built from the Greek roots photos, "light" and graphos "write," its process as something literally "written in light" emerges. Using a very long exposure time—usually many months—and a very small aperture (opening), solargraphs track the path of the sun, changing in its arc across the sky a little bit each day in relation to the earth's tilt. Not only is it evidence of the particular way out planet travels through space over the course of the year, it looks pretty cool, too. Click the picture above to go to Tarya Trygg's Solargraphy database, which lets you search for solargraphs from around the world (I recommend just continent and city). She also lists a lot of good information about how to make your own solargraphic image using a pinhole camera which can be made for under $10.

This site also has good information about how to make a solargraph, plus general information about pinhole photography.

Click any of these for a full-size version:

Monday, April 26, 2010

4/26 Moment of Zen: The G-Word?

Moment of Zen:

The G-Word?

You may recognize the inscription above from the Holocaust Museum in DC. It ends with a question, "Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?" Hitler uses this question as a justification of the mass murder he has authorized. So who does remember the annihilation of the Armenians these days? Who knows enough about it to remember?

Beginning 95 years ago, on April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turkish government forces began a systematic cleansing of Armenians from their territory, which at the time included modern-day Turkey and large portions of Armenia and the Arabian peninsula (See map), in response to the rising Turkish nationalism which was at a height during the First World War. When actions ended with WW I, 1.5 million of the 2.5 million Armenians living in Ottoman territory had been killed - about 60% of the Ottoman Armenian population. Although the Turkish government put in place immediately after WW I tried and convicted some nationalist leaders of murder in relation to the Armenians, but it has not formally acknowledged the systematic, ethnically-based extermination.

Not only has Turkey never quite owned up to that stain on its history, but no American president has been willing to use the specific word genocide to refer to what happened to the Armenians. The word itself, though formed from classical roots (genos, Greek for "race, kind" and -cide from Latin caedere, meaning "to cut down, slay), was not used until 1944, when it was coined to describe the Nazi's systematic elimination of Jews, and was a term officially recognized by the UN for broader usage in 1948 - thirty years after the end of the Armenian situation. Emerging from a precedent like that certainly presents it as a word that is not to be used lightly. Different governing bodies, including the European Parliament, the Israeli Knesset and the Russian Duma have officially recognized the losses of the Armenian Genocide as such, but such official acknowledgments did not begin until the 1980s. American presidents have historically shied away from the g-word, expressing condolences to the Armenian community regarding their "tragedy" (Bush, Sr.'s descriptor). Even Pres. Obama has demured from using it during his presidency (though he's used it in the past), acknowledging it as a "massacre" and an "atrocity" in his speech about it on Saturday (Apr. 24, the international day of remembrance of the event), but carefully not referring to it as "genocide."

So, why is the word so important? While words like massacre, tragedy, and atrocity highlight the grief of so many deaths, they avoid the cause of them: one ethnic group specifically, and systematically trying to eliminate another. A deadly earthquake is a tragedy. A small group of unhinged extremists can cause a massacre. Nobody necessarily has to die for it to be an atrocity. Genocide requires the complicity and action of a larger system to eliminate a people and their culture. The Turkish government has never made any formal acknowledgement of what happened, nor an apology or restitution to those that survived. People, especially important world leaders, using the g-word not only commemorates the tragedy, but puts pressure on the Turkish government to examine and air out some of the skeletons every nation has in the dark closets of their history. As the chilling quote above from Hitler illustrates, a lack of honesty, openness and responsibilty for moral failings can lead others to believe that they can get away with them, too.

Further Reading:
Historical Overview of the Armenian Genocide
"Obama Marks Genocide Without Saying the Word" (NYTimes, 4/24/10)
Background on Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict (Armenian race-based violence against Azeris)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

4/8 Moment of Zen: Color Photos of Imperial Russia

These Photos are 100 Years Old

Seriously. Taken at the beginning of the 20th century by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, official photographer to Russia's last tsar, Tsar Alexander II, they survey wide swaths of the empire from Russian peasants dressed up in their finest to monuments of Central Asian architecture to the railroad as it cut through the expansive empire, making it accessible as it never had been before.

Also remarkable about Prokudin-Gorskii's photos is that they were, for all intents and purposes, taken before the advent of color film. Each color image is composed of shots from three independent lenses, each with a different color filter on it. These three images were overlaid to create a single, colored image. Click the picture to go to the front page of the gallery at the Library of Congress website or click here to read more about his color photography technique.

4/7 Moment of Zen: Glacier Farming

Cool Thought For A Hot Day: Glacier Farming

It may sound a little like something out of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but the art of growing artificial glaciers has been in practice for hundreds of years in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains of Central Asia (both spurs of the Himalayas). Glacier engineers manage runoff from natural glaciers to use as more accessible water storage. From a land where language has just as many words to describe vertical movement as horizontal movement, water that stays in one place is a luxury not underestimated. Click the picture to read more about how one goes about engineering a glacier, how a glacier can have "gender," and see more pictures of glaciers taken from space.

(Also see: Wired's Gallery of "Stunning Views of Glaciers Seen From Space" where the article's pictures, including the one above, come from.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

4/5 Moment of Zen: Holy Senior Senator, Batman!

Holy Senate Committee, Batman!

NB: I will be spending the next week in Washington, DC with my class. As part of our trip and examination of the country's government, we will be visiting a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is one of the most senior (longest-serving) senators and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of whose meetings we'll be sitting in on during our trip. The Judiciary Committee oversees matters like the confirmation of federal judges and examining the boundaries of civil law. Leahy also happens to be the Senate's ranking Batman fanatic whose enthusiasm for the character, which began in 1950 with a 10-cent comic book, has bumped him into being part of the character's canon. Leahy appeared in 1997's Batman and Robin, lent his voice to an episode of the 1990s animated series, and had a one-line speaking cameo in 2008's The Dark Knight. Yes, he's in the picture above being threatened by one of the Joker's thugs. Click the picture to read more about Leahy's history with Batman and more about his involvement in The Dark Knight, and, if you have one, consider bringing a Batman shirt to wear to the committee hearing in DC.

Friday, April 2, 2010

4/2 Moment of Zen: Les Ânes en Culottes

What's your caption?

(NB: This photo has not been doctored at all. The donkeys really are wearing whatever you would call that garment.)

4/1 Moment of Zen: Schnappi

For April Fools, I translated the entirety of the homework blog I run for my students into Russian. Except their Spanish homework. That I left in Spanish. I really should have taken a screen shot of it that way, but we've moved on now. I don't usually share videos on the blog, but I figure for April 1st I figured I'd make an exception for this cute German song about a little crocodile named Schnappi. Enjoy!

Маленький Немецкиы Крокодил Шнаппи!!!