Archive for May, 2017

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

Early Season Wildflower Blooms

They are predicting a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain every day for the coming week.  And although it was slightly overcast yesterday, the weather was cool and dry.  So I decided to go for a late afternoon weekend bike ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of D.C., at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia .

Having been there before, it occurred to me as I was initially riding through the refuge that there was very little color compared to the last time I was there.  This is evidenced by the above photo.  The green has returned with the Spring.  But most of the other colors have yet to follow because many of the larger blooming plants do not peak until later in the summer.  But as I continued riding I looked more closely and was intermittently able to find a variety of color in small flowers and leaves along the way.

The small size of the blooms gave me the chance to practice some selective focus photography. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts as shown in the photos below, there is no type of photography can capture their true beauty.  For that I recommend you get out there and see it for yourself.

The whole experience reminded me of how there is always beauty all around you.  It’s just that sometimes it’s not obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it to find it.

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Bike to Work Day 2017

Today is National Bike to Work Day.  The League of American Bicyclists began Bike to Work Day in 1956 as part of National Bike Month, which makes today the 61st annual event.  The metropolitan D.C. area has been participating for over a decade.  It was originally started here in 2001 by The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), of which I am a member, and is now also co-sponsored by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Unfortunately, commuting to work by bike is not an option for me due to the proximity of where I live to where I work.  I do, however, attempt to commute to work responsibly by operating a vanpool service.  And to show support for the concept of riding a bike to work, my traditional practice on National Bike to Work Day is to arrive at work, get one of the bikes that I keep at the office to ride during my lunch breaks, and then go out and ride, and hang out with the commuters and other like-minded bicyclists at the Bike To Work Day pit stops.

Each year WABA, along with local bike shops and organizations, sponsor pit stops along many of the commuter routes in the area.  So I first ride to the nearby pit stop at Freedom Plaza.  I am able to have breakfast at one of the stops, where they hand out fresh fruit, granola bars, locally-baked bagels, and all kinds of other items.  They also give away other free items like T-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc., as well as a chance to win a new bike and other prizes in various drawings.  Then I ride around to some of the other 84 area pit stops that they set up throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  So I take a little time off from work and make a morning of it.

Bike to Work Day is a clean, fun and healthy way to get to work. But even if you’re unable to commute via bicycle, use can use the day as a spark to getting out there and riding a bike more.  Or maybe riding again if it has been a while since you were on a bike.  Whether it’s for recreation, exercise, running errands, or for any other reason, riding a bike not only has its benefits for both the rider and the environment, but it’s also fun.  As a former resident of D.C. named John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

         

          

         

         

        

         

        
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Police Week Tributes (Part 2)

I enjoy various aspects of how National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day are recognized here in D.C.  Things such as The Annual Blue Mass at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church and the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service provide a level of solemnity.  And the arrival of the Police Unity Tour, and seeing different National Police Week Vehicles on the streets of the city, are also highlights.  But perhaps the most meaningful and poignant aspect of the occasion is the leaving of mementos and tributes by visitors to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

As I walked through the memorial and took in both the memorial and the tributes people have left there this week, I try to imagine the stories behind the items.  Some of the items are very official looking, and remind me of the honor due to the officer memorialized there, and the debt of gratitude owed to not only that person but all the others who are also inscribed on the walls of the memorial.  Examples of this include plaques, flags and patches.  Other items left at the walls are so personal and intimate in nature, such as photographs, letters and stuffed animals, that I feel almost like I’m intruding.  I was also particularly moved by the helmet for a police bike officer which someone had left, along with blue and white roses which had been laid on top of it.  Regardless of the official or personal nature of the tributes, all of the items left at the memorial add to the experience, and make visiting the memorial during this week especially worthwhile.

Finally, as this year’s National Police Week is coming to a conclusion, I’d like to encourage everyone to please take a moment to remember all of the Federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation, as well as the more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers currently serving throughout this country.

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Police Week Tributes

There are currently more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers serving in the United States, about 12 percent of whom are female.  These are the highest numbers ever.  And according to the preliminary FBI’s Uniform Crime Report from January 2015 to June 2016, an estimated 507,792 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 5.3%.  So with an increasing number of officers dealing with this much violence, which is also on the increase, the consequences can all too often be tragic.

Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 20,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.  As of April of this year there were 21,183 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty whose names are engraved on the walls of The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  This includes 768 officers from New York City, the police department that has lost more officers in the line of duty than any other. Texas has lost 1,706 officers, more than any other state. The state with the fewest deaths is Vermont, with 23.  In addition to local law enforcement officers, the total number also includes 1,117 Federal officers, as well as 689 correctional officers and 39 military law enforcement officers. These numbers include 309 female officers, six of whom were killed in 2016, including a local female police officer named Ashley Guindon, who was killed in February of last year on her first day on the job.

With this week being designated as National Police Week, and the corresponding activities going on here in D.C. during this time, there has been a significant increase in  the number of visitors to the memorial.  And many of the visitors include families of the fallen as well as fellow police officers who knew or had a close connection to the officers being honored at the memorial.  So with the increased number of visitors with direct connections to the fallen officers whose names are chiseled on the walls of the memorial, the number of tributes being left at the memorial increases during this week.

I wrote in this blog last year about Tributes Left at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but because of the ever changing nature of the visitors to the memorial and the tributes which are left there, I visited the memorial again this year.  The following photos show some of the thousands of those tributes.  I find them interesting because some are official in nature, such as plaques, uniforms, or even car doors from police cruisers.  Others, however, are very personal.  These include family photos, letters from children, and even stuffed animals.  Cumulatively the tributes show the magnitude of the commitment and sacrifice of the fallen officers, who were more than just names on a wall.  They were people.  And these people truly deserve to be honored.

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Note:  There was such and outpouring of respect, as evidenced by the number of tributes left at the memorial, that when I finished my visit I realized I had so many photos that it would be best to break it up into a couple of days.  So come back tomorrow for  part two of National Police Week Tributes.

Emergency Rally to Stop Sessions and the New Drug War!

“Emergency Rally to Stop Sessions & the New Drug War!” That’s the wording of the online notification I saw from the Washington Peace Center, which describes itself as “an anti-racist, grassroots, multi-issue organization working for peace, justice, and non-violent social change in the metropolitan D.C. area.”  And as I read through the notification I realized that a protest was scheduled to be held from noon until one o’clock today in front of the Department of Justice Building at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  And since that’s just across the street from my office, I decided to check it out during my lunchtime break. Initially billed as a protest of the new Attorney General’s drug enforcement policies, it ended up including people who were there to protest for a variety of additional causes, such as Black Lives Matter, corporate greed, anti-Trump, and other generic issues such as the people holding signs that simply read “Resist.” Protests in D.C. are often entertaining, but ever since the Occupy protests several years ago I think the messages often get diluted in the diversity of causes that show up in addition to the original reason for the protest. Despite this, I’ll continue to show up at them.

         

         

         

         

         

          

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

This week is National Police Week, which began yesterday and ends this Saturday.  And today is National Peace Officers Memorial Day.  In observance of the event, during my lunchtime outing I attended today’s National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, which was held on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building (MAP).

Today’s memorial service, sponsored by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, was the 36th annual national service to honor law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty during the previous year.  Overall, 118 officers who died in 2016, and 66 were “victims of malicious attacks.” That represents an increase of almost 40 percent from the previous year.

As is traditional, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation to: designate May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day; to direct government officials to display the United States flag at half staff on all government buildings; and to invite state and local governments and the people to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.  The ceremony I attended at the Capitol Building began at 11:00am, and was attended for the very first time by both the President and the Vice President.

The activities began with a lining of the route by hundreds of various motorcycles officers from around the country as busload after busload of spouse and other family members of fallen officers proceeded down Independence Avenue and across the front of the Capitol Building along 3rd Street before entering onto the Capitol Grounds to attend the ceremony.

The highlight of the service for me was when President Trump spoke about Officer Ashley Guindon, a local police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty last February on her very first day on the job, having been sworn in just the day before.  My youngest daughter and I went out to pay our respects and help line the route when she was killed.

Some of the other highlights for me of the service included the music.  The service opened with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by a retired New York City Police Officer, and country music star Kellie Pickler also sang.  The rest of the service included addresses number of speakers, including President Trump, Vice President Pence, othrpoliticians, law enforcement officials, and clergy.  Finally, a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was held immediately following the memorial service.  The service and wreath laying were very moving and thought provoking, and served to remind us all of the service and sacrifice of those sworn to protect and serve.

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Sometimes it’s the little things and details that will catch my eye. Here’s one last photo from today’s National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service that I think is particularly poignant and provocative.  It’s of the wife of a fallen officer who was sitting in the grass and leaning back, and I think it hints that there is a very emotional story behind the image.

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The Haupt Fountains (with the White House in the background)

As I was out for a bike ride in the downtown area of D.C. on this unseasonably warm fall day, I watched as tourists and sightseers hurriedly walked toward some of the major monuments that reside in that part of the city.  But as they were doing so, they were oblivious to the fact that they were walking right past other features and historic aspects of the city that while perhaps not as significant, are certainly worth the time to stop and appreciate them as you pass by.  One such often overlooked feature is a set of fountains which flank the southern entrance to the Ellipse, located at 16th Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP).  They are known as the Haupt Fountains.

These two matching fountains were the gift of publishing heiress and philanthropist Enid Annenberg Haupt, who also donated the Enid A. Haupt Garden, a four-acre Victorian garden that is adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle.  They were given at the request of Mary Lasker, president of the Society for a More Beautiful Capital, as part of the First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s plan to have the White House framed in water views when seen from The Washington Monument.  Conversely, when viewed in the opposite direction, the fountains frame the Washington Monument.  As part of the First Lady’s overall plan to beautify The Ellipse, four fountains were originally planned, but only two were constructed.

The 18-foot square granite monolithic fountains with rough exteriors and a polished top surface were designed by architect Nathanial Owings, with the help of stone carver Gordon Newell and sculptor James Hunolt.  The engineering for the fountains was completed by the engineering firm of  Palmer, Campbell and Reese, which then contracted out the construction of the project to the firm of Curtin and Johnson, which completed the project in 1968.

The Haupt Fountains are significant landscape features in President’s Park.  So now that you know a little more about them, I hope that if you’re ever in the nearby area you will be one of the few who actually stop and take notice of these beautiful and historic fountains.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The General Andrew Jackson Statue

One of my goals for this blog has been to ride to and then write a post for each of the Presidential memorials in the greater D.C. metropolitan area. But in order to do this, it was first necessary to define what constitutes a Presidential memorial. Most Presidential memorials have a physical element which consists of a monument or a statue that is a permanent remembrance of the President it represents. This is evidenced by the city’s most well known ones, such as The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial and The Jefferson Memorial.

However, some Presidential memorials have no physical presence at all. This type of memorial is referred to as a living memorial. An example of this would be The Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which is awarded to U.S. college students dedicated to public service and policy leadership. Although it has no physical presence, it is the sole national memorial permitted under Federal law to honor President Truman.

Once the definition was established, I was able to determine which memorials I would be able to ride to, and which ones had no physical presence, or were out of the local area and too far away to visit during one of my lunchtime bike rides. So far I have been able to identify 17 official Presidential memorials with a physical presence, as well as a number of other statues, buildings, streets, monuments and one airport which are named after a President but are considered unofficial because they were not authorized by Congress or were privately built. There are also two official Presidential memorials which have been approved and are currently in the planning stages.

On this bike ride I chose to go to one of the memorials that I have not already visited – The General Andrew Jackson Statue.  Located in the middle of Lafayette Square Park, the memorial to our nation’s seventh President is an iconic equestrian statue.

Commissioned in May of 1847,  just two years after his death, the Jackson memorial statue was designed and created by American sculptor Clark Mills.  Mills also created the statue called Freedom that now sits a top the dome of the United States Capitol Building.  The 15-ton statue of the man nicknamed “Old Hickory” was cast in bronze in 1852, making it the first bronze statue cast in America.  It also gained additional fame because it was the first equestrian statue in the world to be balanced solely on the horse’s hind legs.

The memorial statue depicts Jackson as a general, and for accuracy, Mills borrowed General Jackson’s uniform, saddle, and bridle from the Patent Office, where they were kept as relics. General Jackson sits atop his horse, with his sword sheaved on his left side and holding his hat in his right hand as his mount rears back.  An inscription on the side of the marble pedestal reads “Jackson” and “Our Federal Union It Must Be Preserved.”

The memorial also includes four cannons, positioned at the corners of the marble base, that Jackson had captured in battle that were considered historic trophies.  The pair of cannons on the north had been cast at the Royal Foundry of Barcelona in 1748 and were named for two Visigoth kings: El Witiza and El Egica.  The two on the south were cast in 1773 and were named for two Greek gods: El Apolo and El Aristeo. The statue and cannons were later enclosed by an iron fence.

Amid much fanfare, the statue was dedicated on January 8, 1853, with an elaborate parade preceding the dedication.  A distinguished group including General Winfield Scott, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and the mayor and city council of D.C. marched to the entrance of the White House, where they were greeted by President Millard Fillmore and his cabinet.  Through a crowd of more than twenty thousand, they then proceeded across the street to Lafayette Park for the dedication.  Senator Douglas gave an address on the military accomplishments of Jackson, and then introduced Mills.  However, Mills was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak and only pointed to the statue, which was then unveiled.

The Jackson memorial statue is one of the nation’s most recognizable sculptures, albeit one that might be easily overlooked given its setting among so many other statues and its proximity to the White House.  And although you have more likely than not seen it before in photos and on film, I highly recommend seeing it in person.  However, if you are unable to see the original statue here in D.C., there are other opportunities.  Mills went on to make replicas for New Orleans in 1856 and for Nashville in 1880. A fourth copy was cast in 1987 for outdoor display in Jacksonville, Florida.  For myself, I hope to be able to say one day that I have seen all four of them.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]