Friday Photo: Washington Monument from the top down

October 26, 2012

U.S. Department of Interior, on Instagram:

Interior’s Instagram caption: It’s not every day you see the #Washington #Monument from this angle. #dc #mall #bestofteday

For me, additional security in Washington, D.C., has stolen much of the fun, joy and awe of the Washington Monument — compounded by the damage from the 2011 Virginia earthquake.

Before September 2011, the Washington Monument was open until midnight in summer months.  Tourists head off for dinner and hotels at before 6:00 p.m. — the tourist lines disappear, and especially after 10:00 p.m. on most nights, one could, or one and the three or four visiting friends you had could, without waiting catch the elevator to the top for an absolutely matchless view of Washington D.C. at night.

Spy on the White House; spot the tourists dangling feet in the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial; see the light in the Capitol Dome indicating Congress in session, and gloat that you were in recreational mode instead.  See a couple kissing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, thinking no one would see them.  Watch the arc of U.S. Airways airplanes coming down the Potomac River corridor, panicking anyone in the USA Today building who happened to look out and look down on an aircraft passing by, and almost hear the screams from the non-frequent DCA fliers as the plane banked sharply at low level to line up with the runway at National Airport (it will never be Reagan to true aviation buffs, who still miss the controllers who gave us confidence in that thrill ride).

For the Fourth of July, the National Park Service (NPS) used to conduct a lottery to select a tiny handful of professional photographers to shoot the fireworks, one of the best displays on Earth.  The fireworks shoot from near the Lincoln Memorial.  Does NPS do that any more?

Then walk down the stairway, past the hundreds of carved memorial stones, gifts of Americans who wished to honor George Washington by contributing some large, expensive rock to the interior of the obelisk rising Pharaoh-style out of the swamp near the Tidal Basin.  Notice the color line shift that marked the Know-Nothing Party control of the group building the monument — the original American Tea Party austerity group, who stopped construction for 20 years just to prove they could impose austerity on those ‘spendthrifts’ who wished to build a monument to a man, even without any public money, and even though they controlled the commission only from 1855 to 1858 (the Civil War intervened).

The Washington Monument, all 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches of it, is closed now.  When I visited last, in June, damage from the earthquake was still being assessed, and to protect the monument and the public, no access to the interior was allowed.  Around the base, the 50 U.S. flags still fly 24 hours each day; but the paths to the monument now have blockades to stop any unauthorized truck, perhaps laden with explosives, and the public benches sat empty where we used to meet small-town Americans awed by the thing, and foreign tourists in awe of America.

The caption from Interior begs more explanation.  Why don’t we see this view?  The Washington Mall — that expanse of grass and, now, museums between the U.S. Capitol on the east end and the Potomac-side Lincoln Memorial on the west — graces pilots’ air charts as a civilian no-fly zone.  After too many small-plane pilots gave the FAA fits, and somebody parked one on the lawn of the White House, FAA banned all flights over the mall, except by police or other official aircraft.  Pragmatically it’s the D.C. cops and Marine One helicopters who might be able to capture this view.

How did Interior get the shot?  The Instagram doesn’t explain. Perhaps it was part of the work to repair and restore the monument from the earthquake.

This picture highlights some interesting things. You can see wear and discoloration of the stone, from weather.  Discoloration is not consistent; you can see how the windows at the top alter the even flow of water.  Acid rain causes the stone to turn gray, then black; the monument is light only from a couple of scrubbings (though, contrary to climate denialist and GOP claims, Clean Air Act control of acid rain reduces the damage since 1972).  Some of the discoloration may be from copper solutions washed off the window frames by the rain.

If you look closely, you can see one of the cracks caused by the earthquake.  At the peak rests a tiny pyramid of aluminum, undistinguishable from the limestone.  Aluminum?  Yes — while the metal is a very common element around the Earth, refining it out of ore was difficult, commercially impossible in the 1880s when the Monument was completed.  As a last tribute to Washington, builders capped it with what was then one of the most precious metals on Earth, aluminum.  Soon after, the advent of mass quantities of generated electricity made aluminum refining commercially viable; today we make disposable drink cans out of what was once the most precious metal on Earth, when purified.  One may ponder how George Washington would consider such technological changes in the nation where he hoped every citizen might have a “vine and fig tree,” first to cap his monument with aluminum, and then make millions of tons of the stuff to throw away.  We are an industrial society to an extent Washington did not, perhaps could not anticipate.  Would he approve?

About a quarter of the way up from the base, you see the color of the limestone changed, as I noted earlier.  All the stone on the face of the monument came from the same quarry; however, during the cessation of construction during the rule of the Know Nothings on the monument commission, rock from the quarry continued to come out, to be used in other projects.  By the time construction on the monument was restarted, rock quarrying pulled out limestone of a slightly darker, more reddish color.  Builders decided to continue with the color variation rather than pull down the stone already stacked.  The Washington monument thus becomes a memorial not only to Washington, but also to the politics he futilely hoped would not affect our nation’s government, even non-governmental commissions working around and about the government.  That color line preserves in stone some of the political errors of the mid-19th century.  It remains unclear whether anyone ever learned a beneficial lesson from those times.

At the base you see patterns of stone unrecognized at ground level (are those white stripes the benches to wait in line to get up to the top?).  Around the monument a phalanx of 50 U.S. flags, which fly constantly (except in hurricanes), and you can see the lights that illuminate the flags and the monument at night.  Flying into Washington, D.C., at night, becomes one of the great vistas of the world, pierced by the shining white spire of the Washington Monument against a black sky (or dark blue, better), and the panorama of great public buildings, also lighted limestone.

Under local and federal zoning rules, skyscrapers are not allowed in that core area, to preserve the buena vista.

And finally, in the photo you can see fewer than a dozen people, colored dots at the base of the structure.  Are they looking up?


Desperation shows in the anti-warming camp

June 30, 2010

Willis Eschenbach, whose credentials I do not know, is back for another guest post at Watt’s Up With That.

Eschenbach contests conclusions drawn by the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, about the effects of warming in New England.

In a probably-unintentionally humorous way, Eschenbach shows just how desperate grow the anti-warming camp.  The purloined e-mails show no wrong-doing, and worse for denialists, no significant errors in the case that global warming occurs and is problematic.  Legislation to fight climate change has a chance of passing this Congress.  EPA promulgated rules on measuring CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s resolution to stop EPA failed in the Senate.  There was the hoax about the fourth-grade science project claimed to refute Nobel-quality research, and then there was the bungled story that mistakenly claimed a solar-energy company sent a non-working bomb to an economics professor in Spain in revenge for his paper against government support of green energy.  One can see how such a string of losses might set back the hopes of even the most delusional denialist.

Either ignorant of Godwin’s Law, or so desperate he thinks it worth the gamble, Eschenbach quoted somebody (did he ever name who?) going on about the Big Lie technique attributed to the Nazis in establishing policy in Germany before and during World War II.

Mike Godwin, discoverer of Godwin's Law - Wikimedia image

Mike Godwin, discoverer of Godwin's Law - Wikimedia image

Is there a more plaintive or pitiful way to say one is over one’s head and has run out of argumentative gasoline?

Eschenbach’s case is not particularly strong — he pulled temperature data (he said) from the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) to make charts showing, Eschenbach claimed, there is no 4°F rise in average New England winter temperatures since 1970.

After a couple of skirmishes to see whether Watts’ watchdogs still prevent my posting, I offered a small rebuttal that, of course, slipped quickly into the abyss of Watts Moderation.  It may eventually escape that particular eddy, but in case it doesn’t, here’s the post:

Tim Neilson asks:

PS Ed Darrell – do you have any evidence refuting the post?

Most claims of someone practicing “big lie” tactics are self-refuting, the opposite of a self-proving document under the law. Is this any exception? Mr. Eschenbach offers no evidence to suggest that a committee of Congress publishes material it knows to be wrong for propaganda effect. (The quotes relating to Hitler comprise a grand rhetorical tactic known as “red herring.” The mere presence of that material, were we to apply Godwin’s law, refutes Mr. Eschenbach’s case.)

There is no evidence to refute.

Mr. Eschenbach offers a few jabs at data that show the effects of warming in New England, but he does not appear to bother to look at the data the committee used. This is a bait-and-switch tactic of argumentation that most rhetoricians would label a spurious. Does Eschenbach rebut or refute the committee’s data? How could anyone tell?

The site of the committee, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, offers several arguments to suggest changes in New England from warming might pose problems. So far as I see, Mr. Eschenbach addresses only one of those arguments, and that one incompletely.

1. The committee claims that average winter temperatures in New England have risen by 4 degrees F since 1970. Eschenbach offers a chart that, so far as I can tell, confirms the committee’s claim — but Eschenbach uses a chart that covers a much longer period of time, and offers it in a way that makes it difficult to determine what temperatures are, let alone what the trend is (IMHO, the trend is up, and easily by 4 degrees in Eschenbach’s chart). Oddly, he illustrates the chart by showing a surfer in a wet suit, surfing in winter in New England. Surfing is generally a warm-weather enterprise, and though the man has a wetsuit, and though the Gulf Current would warm those waters, the picture tends to deny Eschenbach’s claim, doesn’t it? If it’s warm enough to surf in winter, it’s warmer than the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

And look at the actual numbers — Eschenbach confesses a rise of 2.7 degrees, roughly 9/13 of the rise he intends to deny. Heck, that nearly-three degree rise is enough to cause concern, or should be.

2. The committee notes warmer temperatures would put more precipitation as rain, and not snow. Eschenbach offers no comment on this. Ski seasons in New England have suffered recently because it’s been too warm to keep natural snow, and too warm to make artificial snow (68 degrees F on January 6, 2007). (This is a national concern, by the way.) If the committee errs in this claim, Eschenbach offers no data.

And especially, he offers no data to back his “big lie” claim, that the committee knows differently from what it says.

3. The committee notes that warmer temperatures produce later autumns — a huge impact on tourist revenue in New England, where an enormous travel industry has built up around watching the changing colors of the trees. Such a change would be consistent with other long-term observations, such as those by the Department of Agriculture and Arbor Day Foundation, that the plant zones across America show warming (and some cooling).

Eschenbach doesn’t contest this in any way. Should we presume this is Eschenbach’s agreement that this claim is not a “big lie” claim?

3. The committee refers to warming oceans, and the potential effects on certain parts of the fishing industry, especially cod and lobster. This is caused by ocean warming, not atmospheric warming — so Eschenbach is again silent on this claim. The committee’s claim tends to undercut Eschenbach’s claim of a “big lie” here, and Eschenbach offers no support for his own argument.

4. The committee refers to greater storm damage due partly to rising sea levels. Eschenbach offers no rebuttal of any sort.

Eschenbach fails to make a prima facie case for his big lie claim, and his rebuttal is restricted solely to one measure of temperature that Eschenbach fuzzes up with an unclear chart.

May I ask, since you style yourself a skeptic, what evidence you found in the post that makes a case at all?

Will it ever see light of day at WUWT?

Update: Yes, it sees the light of day at WUWT.  Maybe all my kvetching had an effect.

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Blue jay, purple pepper

July 23, 2009

We’ve been bumping around 100° F for about a month now.  It’s Texas.  It’s hot.

Sometimes the blue jays do all they can to stay out of the sun — like this guy, who was bent on getting some of Kathryn’s weird purple peppers.

Blue jay working to get a purple pepper

Blue jay working to get a purple pepper

Considering these shots were done in the shade, with just a 200 mm zoom, through a foggy window, they came out pretty well.

Blue Jay wrestles the pepper from the plant

Blue Jay wrestles the pepper, or something, from the plant.

The peppers eventually grow to be the size of a Bing cherry — too big for the jays, then.  They go after these peppers before they mature, and after they dry.

With her prize, the blue jay heads for its dining area in the live oak.

With her prize, the blue jay heads for its dining area in the live oak.

Mary K left us with her old bird feeder when she moved.  This year we’ve kept feeders in both the front and back yards.  Blue jays appear to have recovered from their West Nile devastation three years ago — we had one family nesting in the live oak earlier, in the spring — and Kathryn learned that the jays like peanuts still in the shell.

It’s been a good year for watching birds in our yard.  Still haven’t captured that little green hummer in a camera, though.

Bell Ringer: Bermuda Triangle, Area 51, Marfa, and other cool mysteries

May 17, 2009

If a day goes by that I don’t get a question about one of these sites, it’s a very slow day.

Those questions tell me something else:  Students have genuine interests in geography, and in mysteries.  Students will pay attention to lesson plans that include one or more of these sites in them, especially if you refer to the mystery.

How about just a geography search:  How close is the closest site to you?  Can students visit these sites on their summer vacations?  What airport is closest for tourists?  What arrangements need to be made to visit the place? provides the video — your students have the questions.  Can you provide the answers, or lead them to the answers?  How about listing your answers in comments?

Answers, or more information:

Public Lands insanity

November 16, 2008

Remember when Strange Maps “discovered” that so much of the 13 western states is owned by the Federal Government?  On the one hand, it was nice to see people paying attention to public lands in the west.

Public lands in a western state, with grazing cattle. Wild Earth Guardians image.

Public lands in a western state, with grazing cattle. Wild Earth Guardians image.

Public lands.  Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

Public lands. Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

At the Bathtub, we remarked on the history of the issue with a map that showed where the publicly-owned lands really are (the Strange Maps version only showed a dot in the middle of each state proportionate to the federal land held in the state.)  On the other hand, it was an open invitation for know-nothings and know-littles to jump in with silly ideas.  Remarkably, the post remained free of such folderol — until just recently.

None of these sites gives any serious thought to the idea.  None provides a scintilla of an iota of analysis to indicate it would be a good idea.

As one of the the principal spokesmen for the Sagebrush Rebellion in the early days, I want it known that I’ve thought these issues through, and argued them through, and followed the documentation for 30 years (Holy frijole!  I’m old!).  Issues with public lands revolve around stewardship.  Bad stewardship is not improved by a change in ownership.  Ownership change has all too often only led to worse stewardship.  Selling off the public lands is a generally stupid idea.

Certain local circumstances change the nature of a tiny handful of such deals — but not often, not in many places, and not enough to make a significant contribution to retiring any debt the federal government owns.

On the other hand, incomes from these lands typically runs a few multiples of the costs of managing them.  The Reagan administration discovered the lands were a great source of money to offset losses in other places, and for that reason (I suspect) never really got on the Sagebrush Rebellion band wagon — or, maybe Reagan’s higher officials just didn’t get it.

It’s troubling that such a flurry of stupidity strikes now, during a transition of presidents. This is how stupid ideas get traction, like kudzu on a cotton farm, while no one is paying deep attention.  Let’s put this idea back into its coffin with a sagebrush stake in its heart.

Bottom line:  Keep public lands in federal trust.  The Sagebrush Rebellion is over.  The sagebrush won.


Speaking of presidential transitions, who should be Secretary of Interior?  Stay tuned.


Update 2014: The original GSA map showing percentages of federal holdings in each state (including Indian Reservations as federal holdings), as published in Strange Maps when it was still active.

Update 2014: The original GSA map showing percentages of federal holdings in each state (including Indian Reservations as federal holdings), as published in Strange Maps when it was still active.

Cultural geography mystery – What city is this?

November 12, 2008

I know the city, and I think there are barely enough clues here to figure this one out.  Let me say it is not Los Angeles, though the clues may have led one to figure that out.  I wonder if you can figure this out, or if maybe there are several places that fill this particular bill.

A friend notes in a recent e-mail:

Nothing quite like going into the nearest Vons (right across from the street from campus), hearing French spoken by two guys exiting the store, standing behind two German speakers, East German accent in line to be checked out by a clerk whose first language is Chinese, and hearing two guys rattling away in Russian in the next checkout line.  Oh–and this is after having lunch at the Vietnamese Pho/Banh joint in the same strip mall.
Do you know the city?  Or, do you know another city that fits this bill?
Tell us in comments.
Answer is now in comments.

Yo! History and geography teachers: Free state maps!

August 23, 2008

In the summer of my 8th year, after my uncle, Roland Christian*, sent me his collection of “official” state maps from his latest cross-country drive, several of us kids tried to collect maps of all 50 states. Considering we were in Burley, Idaho, it’s amazing that we could accumulate 36 different states, just by our badgering local gasoline stations for the free ones. We got on our bicycles and visited the stations, one after the other.

Free educational materials: A memory from a distant past.

I haven’t seen a free map from a gas station in years, maybe two decades. My love of geography, my love of chasing odd city names, strange routes, great sights, and history, was spurred by that map collection, I’m sure.

Today, though oil companies have gotten out of the tourism and driving promotion business, state tourism offices, or state road departments typically issue free maps. How to find them all?

To the rescue comes Less Than a Shoestring, with a list of the places to ask in each state, to get a free road map of the state. These maps are great helps for students doing a “project” on a different state. For the history class on your own state, if your school offers such a course, I think such maps are indispensable.

We teach Texas state history and geography in 7th grade. When I taught that course, one of the best classroom aids I had was a collection of the official map of Texas — a year old, but I got a couple dozen copies from the state’s tourism promotion group. They were anxious to get rid of the old maps, and I was very happy to have them.

Here’s something curious: The site, Less Than a Shoestring,  doesn’t list a place to get a map from the District of Columbia — Washington, D.C. You’d think that a town that depends so much on tourism would have an office to promote tourism that would pass out maps to make tourists’ trips easier. Is this just an indication of the great dysfunction of the D.C. government, or did we miss finding the site? Let me know in comments.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the Business Blog @ Capital Active.


* Uncle Roland was a minister for the 7th-Day Adventists, and he traveled to preach around the country. Stuck in a small Idaho town for my first nine years, I thought Roland was a great world traveler. He always stopped to spend a night when he was within a state or two — he was a minister trying to travel on a shoestring, after all — and with his wonderful, deep, preacher’s voice, he had wonderful stories to tell. I miss him still, more than two decades after his death. Which of your nieces and nephews can you influence as Roland did?

Read the rest of this entry »

Alpine Loop? Try Utah’s, gentler, prettier than Colorado’s

August 6, 2008

Utah’s canyons have so many pretty spots. Taking visitors through them I always heard about how no one expected such beauty in the desert. So I was excited to see the headline in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News about taking the Alpine Loop.

Autumn aspens in Utahs Alpine Loop - Wikimedia photo

Autumn aspens in Utah's Alpine Loop - Wikimedia photo

Prettiest drive you can make in a day. Start out in American Fork, head up American Fork Canyon, cross over to the backside of Mt. Timpanogos — you’ll see aspen, pines, fir, some of the prettiest streams you’ve ever seen anywhere. Some years back the Utah Travel Council had a spectacular poster showing the colors in the fall — about five shades each of red, gold and green, aspen and cottonwoods against the balsam and Douglas fir and a few scattered pines. Stop and hike up to Timpanogos Cave National Monument. See where the glacier was on the east side of Timpanogos.

End up passing Robert Redford’s Sundance Ski Resort, and down Provo Canyon (when I skied there it was $6.50 for a full-day pass; have the rates gone up?) — finish up with dinner in a good restaurant in Provo (or drive the 36 miles back to Salt Lake City and have world-class sushi at Takashi).

Alas. The article was about Colorado’s Alpine Loop. Who knew Colorado even had one by that name?

I suspect the Colorado version is less-traveled. The author took a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Utah Travel Council photo of the Alpine Loop showing some of the autumn colors -- not the great shot from the long-ago poster, alas.

Utah Travel Council photo of the Alpine Loop showing some of the autumn colors -- not the great shot from the long-ago poster, alas.

Utah’s Alpine loop is paved the entire way, closed maybe only during a winter of very heavy snow. If you’re just passing through, you can do the drive in three hours or less, easily. If you have a day, grab a picnic, and spend some time stopping to enjoy the mountains.

(Go see Rich Legg’s photos of the east side of Timpanogos, here.)

Some time I’d like to check out the Colorado version. Odds are that I’ll be back in Utah County before then, however, and odds are you’ll be closer to the Utah version than the Colorado version, too.

You know the old saying about “take time to stop and smell the balsam, and ooh and aah at the aspen?” The Alpine Loop is what the aphorist was thinking about. Theodore Roosevelt would have gone there, had he known about it. You know about it now.

Windleys Google map of Utahs Alpine Loop, around Mt. Timpanogos

Windley's Google map of Utah's Alpine Loop, around Mt. Timpanogos

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