…of Photography

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Do you know what I love about photography and why it gets me so excited?  It is because there is power – and magic – in photography!!!

I did not take today’s photo – I was in it!  This is a family picture of years gone by.  What is the power and magic here?  The ability to transport me across the years (like being “beamed” somewhere in Star Trek) to a time and place that is no longer, but which still has the ability to stir my heart and emotions.  It’s magic…I can recall antics of the kids at this age, trips we took as a family, places we lived, things we ate, the sounds of their voices and laughter.  How precious all those things are to me!  More than anything, the magic is that I can feel afresh how I felt then about my family…and how I still feel about them.  Maybe this is proof that love is eternal…that it never goes away, nor does it diminish.  In fact, it grows and blooms every more beautiful!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  American drive-in movie theaters experienced their golden era during the 1950s, but some Floridians were watching movies under the stars in their cars even before then: The city of Miami got its first drive-in on this day in 1938. The Miami drive-in charged admission of 35 cents per person, which was more than the average ticket price at an indoor theater, and soon had to trim the price to 25 cents per person.

America’s first-ever drive-in opened near Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933, and was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, whose family owned an auto parts company. The inaugural feature was a 1932 film called “Wives Beware,” and admission was 25 cents per car and an additional 25 cents per person. The sound for the movies was provided by three large RCA speakers next to the main screen. (The quality of the drive-in experience improved during the 1940s with the advent of the in-car speaker.)

Following World War II, the popularity of drive-in theaters increased as America’s car culture grew. By the early 1950s, there were more than 800 drive-ins across the United States. Although they earned a reputation as “passion pits” for young couples seeking privacy, most drive-in customers were families (parents didn’t have to hire babysitters or get dressed up and their children could wear pajamas and sleep in the car) and often featured playgrounds, concession stands and other attractions. Some drive-ins were super-sized, including Detroit’s Bel Air Drive-In, built in 1950, which had room for more than 2,000 cars, and Baltimore’s Bengies Drive-In, which opened in 1956, and claimed the biggest movie screen in the U.S.: 52 feet high by 100 feet wide. Over the years, attempts were made to develop a daytime screen that would enable drive-ins to show movies before it got dark, but nothing proved successful.

At their peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were some 4,000 drive-ins across America. However, during the 1970s and 1980s the drive-in industry went into decline and theaters shut down, due to such factors as rising real-estate values (which made selling the land for redevelopment more profitable than continuing to operate it as a drive-in) and the rise of other entertainment options, including video recorders, multiplex theaters and cable television. By 1990, there were around 1,000 U.S. drive-ins. Today, they number less than 400 (states with the most remaining drive-ins include Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York).

New Jersey has the distinction of being the home of not just the first drive-in but also the first fly-in theater. In June 1948, Ed Brown’s Drive-In and Fly-In opened in Wall Township and had space for 500 cars and 25 planes.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  China’s “one child” policy has contributed to female infanticide and has created a significant gender imbalance. There are currently 32 million more boys than girls in China. In the future, tens of millions of men will be unable to find wives, prompting some scholars to suggest that this imbalance could lead to a threat to world security.

…Boxed Whine

Double click to see a larger image
Double click to see a larger image

I think that most people in the eastern part of the United States have just about had it with the weather.  It’s been brutal – and I live in one of the  nicer places.  We’ve not been below zero at all, while some parts of the country have really suffered from massive snowfall and temperatures in the -30’s.  And, based on the news tonight, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to end any time soon.

For our neck of the woods (about 30 miles north of Atlanta), the governor has issued a state of emergency starting tomorrow at 2 p.m.  Oh, we’re not going to experience anything like Boston…but in Georgia, 4-6″ of snow is enough to really mess things up.

And so, that brings me to the picture for today.  Do you remember when boxed wines first came out?  I do.  I am not sure if they still sell it or not, but when I saw this sign in a store, I thought, “Why not!?!?”  And right now, there’s been enough whine from those who are boxed in by snow and cold, that boxed whine might be a great product to sell!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in1836,Texas Colonel William Travis sends a desperate plea for help for the besieged defenders of the Alamo, ending the message with the famous last words, “Victory or Death.”

Travis’ path to the Alamo began five years earlier when he moved to the Mexican state ofTexas to start fresh after a failed marriage in Alabama. Trained as a lawyer, he established a law office in Anahuac, where he quickly gained a reputation for his willingness to defy the local Mexican officials. In 1832, a minor confrontation with the Mexican government landed Travis in jail. When he was freed a month later, many Anglo settlers hailed him as a hero. As Anglo-American resentment toward the Mexican government grew, Travis was increasingly viewed as a strong leader among those seeking an independent Texan republic.

When the Texas revolution began in 1835, Travis joined the revolutionary army. In February 1836, he was made a lieutenant colonel and given command of the regular Texas troops in San Antonio. On February 23, the Mexican army under Santa Ana arrived in the city unexpectedly. Travis and his troops retreated to the Alamo, an old Spanish mission and fortress, where they were soon joined by James Bowie’s volunteer force. The Mexican army of 5,000 soldiers badly outnumbered the several hundred defenders of the Alamo. Their determination was fierce, though, and when Santa Ana asked for their surrender the following day, Travis answered with a cannon shot.

Furious, Santa Ana began a siege. Recognizing he was doomed to defeat without reinforcements, Travis dispatched via couriers several messages asking for help. The most famous was addressed to “The People of Texas and All Americans in the World” and was signed “Victory or Death.” Unfortunately, it was to be death for the defenders: only 32 men from nearby Gonzales responded to Travis’ call for reinforcements. On March 6, the Mexicans stormed the Alamo and Travis, Bowie, and about 190 of their comrades were killed. The Texans made Santa Ana pay for his victory, though, having claimed at least 600 of his men during the attack.

Although Travis’ defense of the Alamo was a miserable failure militarily, symbolically it was a tremendous success. “Remember the Alamo” quickly became the rallying cry for the Texas revolution. By April, Travis’ countrymen had beaten the Mexicans and won their independence. Travis’ daring defiance of the overwhelmingly superior Mexican forces has since become the stuff of myth, and a facsimile of his famous call for help is on permanent display at the Texas State Library in Austin.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Unlike most other fish, the ocean sunfish does not have a tail. A female sunfish can lay 300 million eggs each year, more than any other known vertebrate. Each egg is smaller than the period at the end of a sentence, which is especially intriguing because the ocean sunfish (or Mola mola) is the heaviest known bony fish in the world with an average adult weight of 2200 pounds.  The species is native totropical and temperate waters around the globe. It resembles a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Sunfish can be as tall as they are long when theirdorsal and ventral fins are extended.  They live on a diet consisting mainly of jellyfish, but because this diet is nutritionally poor, they consume large amounts to develop and maintain their great bulk.

…Consider a Peacock

Double click to see a larger version
Double click to see a larger version

I wonder how many times in my life I’ve said in response to a query from someone about what I’m doing, “Oh, I’m just killing a bit of time.”  It’s a common enough expression, after all…but of course, when we kill time we are really killing a bit of our life because we only have so much time “to kill” and then we run out!

Today’s photo if of a peacock at the Hindu temple near Lilburn, GA.  In Hindu belief (so I’ve learned) the peacock is considered to be a sacred bird, known as the mayura.  In images of the mayura as a mythical bird, it is depicted as killing a snake, which according to a number of Hindu scriptures, is a symbol of the cycle of time (hence, “killing time” – get it!?!?!)

It is also a belief among Hindus that the feathers of the mayura are sacred and as such are used to dust the images and implements of Hindus.

I’ve always admired the beauty of the peacock, though their cries can be quite terrifying if you’ve never heard them before as they sound like a woman or child screaming.  I remember the first time I heard them was when we lived near a park in Tampa, Florida.  I was just a kid and my bedroom was at one end of the house away from my folks and sister.  When the sound of the peacocks from that park came flying through the window, I was sure someone was being murdered.  The next day, a neighbor explained what it was…and I eventually got used to it.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1885, a 19-year-old man named John Lee was taken to the gallows in Exeter, England, for the murder of Ellen Keyse, a rich older woman for whom he had worked. Although he insisted he was innocent, Lee had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. However, after the noose was put around his neck and the lever that would release the floor beneath his feet was pulled, something malfunctioned and Lee was not dropped. Strangely, the equipment had been tested and found to be in working order. In facts, weights used in a test run plunged to the ground as expected. The hanging was attempted two more times, but when Lee stood on the trap door, and the lever was pulled, nothing happened. He was then sent back to prison. On November 15, 1884, Keyse, who had been a maid to Queen Victoria, was found dead in a pantry next to Lee’s room. Her head was severely battered and her throat cut. There was no direct evidence of Lee’s guilt; the case was made solely on circumstantial evidence. The alleged motive was Lee’s resentment at Keyse’s mean treatment.

The authorities, mystified at the gallows’ inexplicable malfunction, decided to ascribe it to an act of God. Lee was removed from death row, his sentence commuted, and he spent the next 22 years in prison. After he was released, he emigrated to America. The cause of Lee’s remarkable reprieve was never discovered.

Condemned prisoners no longer have a chance at such reprieves. Even when there are mishaps in carrying out an execution (in one case, an executioner failed to properly find a vein for a lethal injection), authorities follow through until the prisoner has been put to death.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  A dog’s shoulder blades are unattached to the rest of the skeleton to allow greater flexibility for running.

…the Simple Life

Double click for a larger version of this image
Double click for a larger version of this image

For the past several years, my wife and I have been intentionally trying to simplify our life.  It started when we sold our house outside of Cloverdale, CA and moved into town.  We continued to downsize while in town, and then when we move to Georgia in December 2011, we downsized some more.  When we moved back to CA in late summer of 2011, we downsized yet again.  And, we have continued downsizing in spurts ever since.

Let me say this: I have really enjoying simplifying life!  We don’t have as many things as we once did (but we had far more than we needed or could use!) and that’s just fine by me.  It is true that the more things you have, the more things own you.  They break, or are replaced be newer models leaving you wish you had the latest and greatest.

Not only do we not have as much “stuff” as we once did, I no longer have to do yard work – which I always hated with a passion anyway.  We have been living for the past 2+ years in our fifth wheel RV and have been able to go back and forth as needed (or wanted) in order to be with family – something we’d not have been able to do while tied to a house that we either owned or rented.

Bottom line: I love the simple life!!!!

During the first year that we were in the RV, my wife saw another full-time RV’er in the park where we stayed in California who made engraved wooden signs.  She ordered one made for us and it is the subject of the picture today.  I took this shot on Saturday morning after some very light snow had fallen during the night.  We’d just returned from walking the dog and I noticed the sign sitting on one of the chairs we put outside the RV.  I thought it looked interesting with the pine needles that had fallen and the snow that had accumulated.  I didn’t touch a thing – just went inside, grabbed the camera and took this shot.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 2006 in the early morning hours, a gang of at least six men, some of them armed, stole 53 million pounds from the Securitas bank depot in Kent, Great Britain. It was the largest such theft in British history.

The plot was well planned. On the evening before, two men, dressed as police officers, pulled the depot manager, Colin Dixon, over as he was driving in nearby Stockbury. They convinced him to get out of his car, and forced him into their vehicle. At about the same time, two more men visited Dixon’s home and picked up Dixon’s wife and eight-year-old son; eventually all three Dixons were taken to a farm in West Kent, where the gang threatened their lives if Colin refused to cooperate with the robbery.

The Dixons were then forced to go with the gang to the Securitas depot, where Colin helped them evade the building’s security system. The gang proceeded to tie up 14 depot staff members, load the £53 million into a truck and, at about 2:15 a.m. on February 22, drive away. No one was injured in the robbery. Eventually, one depot worker was able to contact police, who launched a massive search for the culprits. As the stolen money was all in used bills, it was difficult to trace. Securitas and its insurers posted a £2 million reward for information leading to the arrests of the robbers and return of the money.

The next day, three people, one man and two women, were arrested in connection with the case; one had attempted to deposit £6,000 into a local bank that was bound in Securitas depot tape. However, all three were later released without being charged. Police continue to investigate the case, and more than 30 people have been arrested, though there have been no convictions. Police are also said to have recovered nearly £20 million of the stolen money.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Leonardo da Vinci proposed that houses be built with spiral staircases so people couldn’t urinate in the corners.

…Tinsel Town

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On Monday we had freezing rain and everything was coated with ice.  I shared a photo already that was taken with my cell phone, but today there’s another.  No, we didn’t have another ice storm (at least not yet, but they say we might have some tomorrow night/Saturday morning)…it’s just that it’s not gotten above freezing since then and the ice is still all over!

When I got up this morning, the temperature was about 9, but with wind chill -4.  The dog didn’t seem to mind when I took her out, but when back to the house, I quickly realized we didn’t have running water.  We are full-timing it in our RV, and we have a heated water hose…well, sorta.  Because of the location we are now in, I had to put about a 3-foot extension hose on it which I’d wrapped in foam.  But, as cold as it was, that part of the hose froze up.  I eventually got the ice out of it, but with the temperature not supposed to go up above freezing until Saturday, I decided we needed to get a longer heated hose.

We drove to Camping World and all along the way we were treated to mile after mile of frozen trees.  These were right next to the parking lot at the store.  What was interesting is that the ice looked like tinsel on the trees.  It was as if someone had flown overhead and dropped tinsel on every branch…and as you moved, the ice would reflect the light differently, giving it the appearance of tinsel moving in the breeze.  It was a lovely sight.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  on this day in 1851, an angry mob in San Francisco’s business district “tried” two Australian suspects in the robbery and assault of C. J. Jansen. When the makeshift jury deadlocked, the suspects were returned to law enforcement officials. Jansen was working at his store at the corner of Montgomery and Washington when two men beat him unconscious and stole $2,000. Another merchant, William Coleman, then decided to play prosecutor and assembled judges and jury members from a crowd that had assembled at Portsmouth Square. Fortunately for the Australian suspects, the men who defended them got three jury members to agree that Jansen hadn’t been able to see the men who had robbed him clearly. Although some members of the mob wanted to hang the alleged thieves in spite of the verdict, the crowd dispersed. Later, however, local authorities convicted the men at a real trial in court.

Vigilantes were fairly common during the Gold Rush boom in San Francisco. One committee spent most of its time rooting out Australian ne’er-do-wells. They hanged four and tossed another 30 out of town. In 1856, a 6,000-member vigilante group was assembled after a couple of high-profile shooting incidents. This lynch mob hanged the suspects and then directed their attention to politics.

Such vigilante movements were generally popular all over the West in the middle and late 19th century. The San Francisco vigilantes were so well regarded that they took over the Democratic Party in the late 1850s and some became respected politicians.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Auschwitz was the largest and highly organized death camp in history. It was actually three camps: a concentration camp, a death camp, and a slave labor camp. It was 19 square miles, guarded by 6,000 men, and was located in the Polish town of Oswiecim. It was opened June 1940 and initially held 728 Polish prisoners. By 1945, more than 1.25 million people had been killed there and 100,000 worked as slave laborers.

…Patience!

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Double click for a larger version

How patient are you?  Maybe you’re like me…you can be very patient about some things, but when it comes to other things, you can get in a hurry.  When it comes to creative things, I’m not that patient.  When it comes to manual labor, like building something with wood, I’m absolute NOT patient.  I want to get it done as fast as I can so I can get back to something that I enjoy.

That makes the artistic things that others do all the more impressive to me.  This is another photo of the Hindu mandir in Lilburn, Georgia, that I shot about 10 days ago.  It is a particular section where two different colors of rock were placed side by side (one more bluish and the  other more of a cream/white).   That’s what first caught my attention, but when I zoomed into it with my telephoto, I was even more impressed with the labor of love it was to hand-carve the designs!  If it had been me, I’m fairly certain that my hammer and chisel would have been flying far too fast and I’d have broken the rock and ruined the whole thing!  Double click the picture above to see it in a larger version and you’ll see what I mean.

Patience.  It guess it is a virtue, after all.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 2011,  in a Kent, Washington, courtroom, Gary Leon Ridgway pled guilty to the 1982 aggravated, first-degree murder of his 49th victim, 20-year-old Rebecca Marrero. Marrero’s remains were found in December 2010, decades after her murder, in a ravine near Auburn, Washington. After entering his guilty plea, the 62-year-old Ridgway received his 49th life sentence without the possibility of parole and returned to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he was already serving 48 consecutive life sentences, one for each of the other women he killed.

In the 1980s, residents of Washington State were terrorized by the so-called Green River Killer, whose first five victims’ bodies were discovered in or near the Green River in King County (whose largest city is Seattle) in the summer of 1982. The strangled bodies of more victims soon appeared around King County; all were women, most of them young and many of them prostitutes, runaways and drug users. Ridgway, a thrice-married truck painter from Auburn, became a suspect after one of the victims was spotted getting into his truck. However, when questioned by police, he denied any knowledge of the slayings and passed a 1984 polygraph test. In 2001, he was finally arrested after DNA evidence (a technology not available when he began committing his crimes) connected him to some of the killings.

In a controversial 2003 plea deal, Ridgway admitted to the murders of 48 women between 1982 and 1998, and prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him if he cooperated with police in locating the remains of dozens of his victims. Ridgway reportedly claimed to have murdered more than 60 women in King County, although authorities at the time could only find sufficient evidence to link him to the 48 slayings. (Ridgway’s plea deal was limited to murders in King County; if, in the future, he is linked to unsolved killings in other counties or states, he could be eligible for the death penalty.)

Ridgway told authorities he began to think of murdering prostitutes as his career, and did it “because he hated them, didn’t want to pay them for sex, and because he knew he could kill as many as he wanted without getting caught,” according to The Seattle Times. The serial killer said he picked up women off the street, strangled them in his home or truck, and meticulously hid their bodies near natural landmarks (such as trees or fallen logs) in an attempt to keep track of them.

At the time of his 49th conviction, Ridgway had been linked to more murders than any other convicted serial killer in U.S. history.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: Nearly 50 million tons of e-waste (electronic waste such as cell phones and computers) is created each year around the world. This is enough to fill a line of garbage trucks across half the globe.

 

 

…and Scary Night

Ice shrouded branches, Cumming, GA 2/17/2015

Today’s photo was shot on my Android phone this morning at about 10.  It is a testimony to the night that we experienced on Monday evening.

It started out with some hope of snow…that possibility was in the forecast, and even looked likely, given the fact that rain was coming down and the temps were to go down into the 20’s.  So, we were hopeful.  But the temps didn’t drop quickly.  Instead, the rain became freezing rain, coating the branches and everything with sparkly ice.

We’d actually hoped for snow, but got an ice storm instead.  And about 9 last night, I started to hear sounds outside.  Snapping.  Popping,  cracking sounds.  Crashing sounds.  And then it became apparent that branches were falling off the trees all around where our RV is parked.  About 11 pm, we’d just gone to bed when all of a sudden there was another crashing sound, very loud, a loud pop and a bright flash.  Yep, you guessed it…a branch had come down and taken out the power line.  It didn’t come back on until 9:15 or so on Tuesday morning.

May I say that it was frightening to be surrounded by such large trees with such prodigious branches…knowing they could come crashing down on our RV and crush us to death?  Prayed a lot, did I!  And, we lived to see the morning, as did our neighbors, though some of them were hit by falling branches that punched through the roofs of their dwellings.

As I look outside, I can still see ice on the power lines…icicles, really.  But at least there is no precipitation in the forecast for tonight, though it will freeze again.  I didn’t sleep well last night…but tonight I think I stand a good chance of it.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1944, Operation Catchpole was launched as American troops devastated the Japanese defenders of Eniwetok and took control of the atoll in the northwestern part of the Marshall Islands.

The U.S. Central Pacific Campaign was formulated during the August 1943 Quebec Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed on, among other things, a new blueprint for fighting in the Pacific: an island-hopping strategy; the establishment of bases from which to launch B-29s for a final assault on Japan; and a new Southeast Asia command for British Adm. Louis Mountbatten.

The success of the island-hopping strategy brought Guadalcanal and New Guinea under Allied control. Though those areas were important, the Allies also still needed to capture the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Gilbert Islands, which had comprised an inner defensive perimeter for the Japanese. Each was a group of atolls, with between 20 to 50 islets, islands, and coral reefs surrounding a lagoon. The Allies planned an amphibious landing on the islands–all the more difficult because of this unusual terrain.

On February 17, a combined U.S. Marine and Army force under Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner made its move against Eniwetok. Air strikes, artillery and naval gunfire, and battleship fire 1,500 yards from the beach gave cover to the troops moving ashore and did serious damage to the Japanese defenses. Six days after the American landing, the atoll was secured. The loss for the Japanese was significant: only 64 of the 2,677 defenders who met the Marine and Army force survived the fighting. The Americans lost only 195.

The position on Eniwetok gave U.S. forces a base of operations to finally capture the entirety of the Marianas. Eniwetok was also useful to the United States after the war–in 1952 it became the testing ground for the first hydrogen bomb.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream is thought to show a volcanic sunset caused by the massive eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia in 1883. The blood-red sunset could be seen as far away as Norway, where Munch lived.

…the Mandir Entrance

Double click for a larger version of the image
Double click for a larger version of the image

Yesterday I shared a photo I took of the side of the Hindu mandir located in Lilburn, Georgia.  I’m generally not big on architectural photography, but this place was special.  Today’s photo was taken from the steps leading up to the front entrance…but I had to take them with a telephoto as you can’t take photos beyond a point about half-way up the stairs.

As my memory serves, based on something I read inside the mandir, there was no steel used in the construction of this building…just stone.  This was done partly because of the extremes of weather here in Georgia (hot, humid summers and cold/rainy winters).  I don’t remember precisely what the statistic was, but because it was built strictly from stone, I believe they said that they thought it would last for 1000 years (in which case it would nearly be as old as me!)

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1894, infamous gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was pardoned after spending 15 years in a Texas prison for murder. Hardin, who was reputed to have shot and killed a man just for snoring, was 41 years old at the time of his release.

Hardin probably killed in excess of 40 people during a six-year stretch beginning in 1868. When he was only 15, Hardin killed an ex-slave in a fight, becoming a wanted fugitive. Two years later, he was arrested for murder in Waco, Texas. Although it was actually one of the few he had not committed, Hardin did not want to run the risk of being convicted and escaped to the town of Abilene.

At that time, Abilene was run by Wild Bill Hickok, who was friendly with Hardin. However, one night Hardin was disturbed by the snoring in an adjacent hotel room and fired two shots through the wall, killing the man. Fearing that not even Wild Bill would stand for such a senseless crime, Hardin moved on again.

On May 26, 1874, Hardin was celebrating his 21st birthday when he got into an altercation with a man who fired the first shot. Hardin fired back and killed the man. A few years later, Hardin was tracked down in Florida and brought to trial. Because it was one of the more defensible shootings on Hardin’s record, he was spared the gallows and given a life sentence. After his pardon, he moved to El Paso and became an attorney. But his past caught up with him, and the following year he was shot in the back as revenge for one of his many murders.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  During a Mars winter, almost 20% of the air freezes.  Kinda sounds like Boston and the north east, eh?

 

…Outside of India

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Double click for a larger version

It has been several years now since I’ve been to India, but there is something about that country that once you’ve been there, sticks with you.  There is an ancientness and mystery to it.  When we moved away from Florida decades ago, people said that once you live in Florida, “you never get all the sand out of your shoes” – meaning a part of it stays with you.  The same could be said about India.

Near Atlanta (a bit north-east in the town of Lilburn), sits a 32,000-square-foot Hindu temple, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.  The structure rests on a 30 acre site and has hand-carved stone spires that reach a height of 75 feet.  It is the tallest building in Lilburn, Georgia.

It took more than 1,300 craftsmen and 900 volunteers to put together this beautiful 34,450-piece stone building together. Over 4,500 tons of Italian Carrara marble, 4,300 tons of Turkish limestone, and 3,500 tons of Indian pink sandstone was quarried and shipped to the craftsmen in India. Then, all of the nearly 35,000 pieces were shipped to the United States. It serves members of the Swaminarayan branch of Hinduism, which originated in India more than 200 years ago. The traditional design features custom-carved stonework, a wraparound veranda and five prominent pinnacles reminiscent of the Himalayan hills.

The Lilburn location is the largest such temple in North America and was built at an estimated cost of $19 million, the temple complex is only the third of its kind in the country, surpassing similar, but smaller temples in Houston and Chicago. It also surpassed the temple in Toronto, Canada to become the largest Hindu temple outside India.

A week ago I was eager to shoot pictures of anything and had heard about this mandir (which is sort of like the name for temple or church).  It is truly a fascinating site – beautiful on both the outside and inside.  You can go a somewhat self-guided tour that tells you a bit about the particular branch of Hinduism that is associated with the temple, but the most beautiful part of the entire structure is in side the area where they hold their worship services.  The carving in the stone is magnificent and very precise.  It was definitely worth spending some time there to take photos.  The only drawback, however, is that no pictures are allowed inside the building, and even pictures from outside are prohibited within about 100 feet of the entry to the mandir.  Still…I had fun and will share some of the pictures with you in the next few days!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1942, in one of the greatest defeats in British military history, Britain’s supposedly impregnable Singapore fortress surrendered to Japanese forces after a week long siege. More than 60,000 British, Australian, and Indian soldiers were taken prisoner, joining 70,000 other Allied soldiers captured during Britain’s disastrous defense of the Malay Peninsula.

On December 8, 1941–the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor–the Japanese moved against British-controlled Malay, rolling across Thailand and landing in northern Malay. The Japanese made rapid advances against British positions, capturing airfields and gaining air superiority. British General A.E. Percival was reluctant to leave Malay’s roads and thus was outflanked again and again by the Japanese, who demonstrated an innovative grasp of the logistics of jungle warfare. The Allies could do little more than delay the Japanese and continued to retreat south.

By January, the Allied force was outnumbered and held just the lower half of the peninsula. General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 25th Army continued to push forward, and on January 31 the Allies were forced to retreat over the Johor Strait to the British base on the island of Singapore. The British dynamited the causeway behind them but failed to entirely destroy the bridge.

Singapore, with its big defensive guns, was considered invulnerable to attack. However, the guns, which used armor-piercing shells and the flat trajectories necessary to decimate an enemy fleet, were not designed to defend against a land attack on the unfortified northern end of the island.

On February 5, Yamashita brought up heavy siege guns to the tip of the peninsula and began bombarding Singapore. On February 8, thousands of Japanese troops began streaming across the narrow waterway and established several bridgeheads. Japanese engineers quickly repaired the causeway, and troops, tanks, and artillery began pouring on to Singapore. The Japanese pushed forward to Singapore City, capturing key British positions and splitting the Allied defenders into isolated groups.

On February 15, Percival–lacking a water supply and nearly out of food and ammunition–agreed to surrender. With the loss of Singapore, the British lost control of a highly strategic waterway and opened the Indian Ocean to Japanese invasion. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it the “worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.” Many thousands of the 130,000 Allied troops captured died in Japanese captivity.

Later in the war, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the supreme Allied commander in Southeast Asia, made plans for the liberation of the Malay Peninsula, but Japan surrendered before they could be carried out.

TRIVIA ON THIS DAY:  Grover Cleveland was the only president in history to hold the job of a hangman. He was once the sheriff of Erie County, New York, and twice had to spring the trap at a hanging.

…Good Enough to Eat

Double click to see in a larger size...

Double click to see in a larger size…

Did you realize how poisonous some mushrooms can be?  (Let me issue a disclaimer here: I don’t know if the picture today is a mushroom, some kind of toad stool, some other kind of fungi or an alien spaceship!)  I recall as a child that my mother told us numerous times that we should NEVER pick something that looked like a mushroom and eat it because it could be poisonous.

There are many false folk tales about mushrooms.  Here are some examples listed in Wikipedia:

“Poisonous mushrooms are brightly colored.”  “Insects/animals will avoid toxic mushrooms.”  “Poisonous mushrooms blacken silver.”  “Poisonous mushrooms taste bad.”  “All mushrooms are safe if cooked/parboiled/dried/pickled/etc.”  “Poisonous mushrooms will turn rice red when boiled”.   “Poisonous mushrooms have a pointed cap. Edible ones have a flat, rounded cap.” (These are all WRONG!)

The deadliest mushroom is appropriately called “the death cap mushroom”.  When someone eats it, they typically won’t experience symptoms for at least six and sometimes as many as 24 hours. Eventually abdominal cramps, vomiting, and severely dehydrating diarrhea occurs. This delay means the symptoms might not be associated with mushrooms, and the symptoms may be diagnosed with a more benign illness like stomach flu. To make matters worse, if the patient is somewhat hydrated, symptoms may lessen and they will enter the so-called honeymoon phase.

Meanwhile, the poison stealthily destroys her liver. It binds to and disables an enzyme responsible for making new proteins. Without this enzyme, cells can’t function, and liver failure results. Without proper, prompt treatment, the victim can experience rapid organ failure, coma, and death.  A few mouthfuls of death cap mushroom can kill.

I’m glad my mom instilled fear of picking mushrooms and eating them.  I’m content to leave it to the pro’s.  But this I do know: whatever it is that I photographed, it was NOT a death cap mushroom!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:  in 1942, the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, as well as the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, escape from the French port of Brest and make a mad dash up the English Channel to safety in German waters.

The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had been anchored at Brest since March 1941. The Prinz Eugen had been tied to the French port since the Bismarck sortie in May 1941, when it and the battleship Bismarck made their own mad dash through the Atlantic and the Denmark Strait to elude Royal Navy gunfire. All three were subject to periodic bombing raids–and damage–by the British, as the Brits attempted to ensure that the German warships never left the French coast. But despite the careful watch of British subs and aircraft, German Vice Admiral Otto Ciliax launched Operation Cerberus to lead the ships out of the French port.

The Germans, who had controlled and occupied France since June 1940, drew British fire deliberately, and the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, and Prinz Eugen used the resulting skirmish as a defensive smoke screen. Six German destroyers and 21 torpedo boats accompanied the ships for protection as they moved north late on the night of February 11.

In the morning, German planes provided air cover as well; ace pilot Adolf Galland led 250 other fighters in an unusually well coordinated joint effort of the German navy and Luftwaffe. The British Royal Air Force also coordinated its attack with the Royal Navy Swordfish squadron, but a late start–the RAF did not realize until the afternoon of February 12 that the German squadron had pushed out to sea–and bad weather hindered their effort. All three German warships made it to a German port on February 13, although the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had been damaged by British mines along the way.

The British lost 40 aircraft and six Navy Swordfish in the confrontation, while the Germans lost a torpedo boat and 17 aircraft. The “Channel Dash,” as it came to be called, was extremely embarrassing to the British, as it happened right under their noses. They would get revenge of a sort, though: British warships sunk the Scharnhorst in December 1944 as the German ship attempted to attack a Russian convoy. The Gneisenau was destroyed in a bombing raid while still in port undergoing repairs, and the Prinz Eugen survived the war, but was taken over by the U.S. Navy at war’s end.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  A common symbol of Valentine’s Day is Cupid (“desire”), the Roman god of love. The son of Venus and Mars, he was originally depicted as a young man who would sharpen his arrows on a grindstone whetted with blood from an infant, though now he is commonly presented as a pudgy baby. This transformation occurred during the Victorian era when business owners wanted to promote Valentine’s Day as more suitable for women and children.

Pictures and Thoughts from a Day in Galen Dalrymple's Life

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