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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Vetting Process

What would Ben make of all this?

Yesterday (Monday) was Veterans Day, better known in other countries which also participated in the War that unfortunately did not End All Wars as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day (actually the holiday was on Sunday, but observed on Monday so as to create a three-day weekend). Veterans Day commemorates those who have served in the U.S. military and shouldn't be confused with Memorial Day (observed on the last Monday in May), which honors those who died fighting in this country's many conflicts. We take the military very seriously in the U.S., with the post-9/11 media constantly thanking our "heroes" for serving their country in the defense of my freedom, though it's never been made clear how that was threatened in the first place by the people of Vietnam, Grenada,  Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Calls for universal health care or free university tuition are always answered with questions over how such "socialist largesse" can be paid for, yet few seem to ask where the money will come from to pay for the newest aircraft carrier or next-generation fighter plane. The Pentagon receives over $700 billion a year, to cover the costs of 2.8 million employees and a network of almost 800 overseas military bases in more than 70 countries and territories. Direct American involvement in the war in Afghanistan has been going on for 17 years, with more than 2400 U.S. dead and no end in sight, and yet was barely mentioned as an issue in the recent midterm elections. And speaking of our "heroes", not enough attention is being paid to the trauma suffered by some as a result of their military service - the latest white terrorist was an ex-Marine who served in Afghanistan (and I don't even want to get started on the gun sickness in American society, another issue with no end in sight amid an unwillingness among many in our political elite to do anything meaningful about it, except for useless "thoughts and prayers").

It can all be a bit much at times, what with endless wars, senseless shootings, political acrimony and my own personal family and health issues. Fortunately, there are days like this past Saturday. Despite a high of only 45°F (7°C), it was beautifully sunny. Having rented a car for the weekend, I drove to Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria, Virginia. I loosened up by walking along the paved path that circles the park, passing by the horse stables for the U.S. Park Police:

Though the fall foliage reached its peak the previous weekend, the leaves were still pretty colorful in places:

Fort Hunt Park gets its name from the military installation that used to watch over the Potomac. Remnants of some of the fort's batteries have been preserved:

My name is Kaminoge and I approve this park

The circuit completed, it was time for the real walk to begin, as I crossed under the George Washington Memorial Parkway to join up with the Mount Vernon Trail already in progress. My goal was to finish the final 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) to, you guessed it, Mount Vernon. It was an easy, straightforward walk, beginning with views of Fort Washington on the other side of the Potomac River in Maryland. Originally built in 1809, it complemented the later Fort Hunt (1893) in defending Washington, D.C. from an invasion from the sea:

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the Potomac!:

The trail made its way over boardwalks built over swampland...:

...and past some stately homes on the other side of the Memorial Parkway:

The Cedar Knoll restaurant, "Mediterranean fare with a river view". I made do with apple slices and matcha-flavored Pocky ポキー sticks:

A little bit of history en route to Mount Vernon. I tried but failed to get the hawk flying in the background into the shot:

Crossing the stone bridge over the above-mentioned Little Hunting Creek:

My hiking book warned me the trail was "steep" as it approached Mount Vernon but it was anything but:

The Mount Vernon Trail is no doubt usually busy with anglers, cyclists, joggers, picnickers et al, but the chill probably kept most of them away on this particular Saturday. The same couldn't be said of Mount Vernon itself - cars were slowly searching in vain for spots as I passed by the parking lots:

Having been to Mount Vernon previously, I contented myself with the food court and gift shops (and restrooms) outside the entrance. The reward for my walk was a high cholesterol level-be-damned bacon cheeseburger, eaten al fresco on the patio as all the indoor tables were taken - the sweat from the effort to get to Mount Vernon kept me warm during lunch. Afterward, it was back the way I came as I returned to Fort Hunt. In all, the walk took a shade under four hours (lunch break included), and covered a distance of 8 or so miles (around 13 kilometers):

While Saturday was a fairly successful day, Sunday could be best summed up as a case of the blahs, with one notable exception. I'd planned to go for a bike ride, buy a new pair of shoes and study some Amharic, but in the end I did none of those things, the result of an ennui I seem to be feeling a lot of lately. Fortunately, the day was saved when my family and I joined up with some friends of ours for dinner at the Vienna branch of Sakura, one of those "Japanese-style" steakhouses you don't find in Japan. It was my first time to sample a Koshihikari Echigo Beer こしひかり越後ビール, a tasty rice lager:

The preparation of the entree was a performance, of course, though my daughter doesn't look too impressed in the photo below. However, Amber really showed off her talents when she successfully caught in her mouth all four pieces of shrimp the cook tossed her way with a flick of his spatula:

I was hoping to do something with my daughter on Monday, but as she had had a couple of days off from school the previous week due to "professional development" for the teachers, she had to go to school as usual on the Veterans Day holiday. With Shu-E preferring to stay home, I found myself riding the Metro solo into the District to check out the Newseum, an interactive museum designed to promote awareness of the First Amendment, as well as trace the historical development of modern journalism. Leaving the Federal Triangle Metro station and making my way along Pennsylvania Avenue, I passed by what used to be the Old Post Office, but which has been transformed into a Trump International Hotel. No conflicts of interest here, folks, move along:

I also passed by a couple of monuments that seemed to epitomize the holiday:

The Newseum. Admission is on the hefty side, but it turned out to be worth it:

I began my exploration in the below-street level first floor, watching part of a documentary on sports journalism. I came in as Bobby Thomson hit his Shot Heard 'Round the World, then watched Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Wide World of Sports ("the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat"), before being reminded of the Munich massacre, one of my earliest memories of how cruel the world could be:

There is also an exhibit on the Berlin Wall...:

...that includes an actual section of the Wall, as well as one of the guard towers that stood watch over the "death strip". The first of many sobering exhibits to come:

Next, I took the elevator up to the top (sixth) floor and started to make my down to ground level. First, however, I stepped out onto the terrace for the view down Pennsylvania Avenue, taking in the U.S. Capitol...:

...and the National Gallery of Art:

Each day, the Newseum posts that day's front pages of a sampling of newspapers from all fifty states. The state where I grew up was represented by the Los Angeles Times...:

...while news from my current state of record was presented by The Seattle Times:

The most gripping exhibits were those showcasing Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs (WARNING: some of the following pics may be disturbing), like this award-winning shot from the Ferguson unrest of 2014 that shows that police officers aren't always "heroes":

Malcolm Browne's famous picture of Thích Quảng Đức calmly burning to death on a street in Saigon in 1963 in an act of self-immolation:

"Tank Man" by Stuart Franklin:

Hiroko Sekiguchi of the Yomiuri Shimbun 読売新聞 took this photo of a man looking for his family amid the rubble left by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tōhoku region of Japan in 2011 東北地方太平洋沖地震:

Even the photos that have been seen numerous times still retain the power to shock:

Making my way down. A collection of press ID badges:

One of the most fascinating sections of the Newseum is its collection of original newspapers and pamphlets going back several centuries and reporting the major stories of the day. The lighting was too dim to photograph many of them, but images could be called up on computer screens:

I was able to get shots of a couple of front pages:

This is the headline held up by Harry Truman in a famous photograph following the 1948 U.S. presidential election:

As the Newseum is financed by a private foundation, it is free to bring attention to the current atmosphere faced by journalists in this country:

It seems that in some respects not much has changed:

The 9/11 Gallery includes the ruins of the antenna that stood on the roof of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the background are copies of headlines from newspapers around the world reporting the attacks:

This connection between the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute and the more recent brouhaha over NFL players taking a knee in protest against unarmed African-American men being gunned down by police serves as a sad reminder that too many white folks in this country still get upset when black people seek to bring attention to the injustices they face:

In case you're wondering, the best country for press freedom is Norway, according to Freedom House:

How Freedom House ranks the world, with green being "free", yellow "partly free" and red "not free":

My next destination doesn't rate too highly:

A wall lined with photographs of some of the many journalists around the world who have been killed in the line of work:

Edward R. Murrow, part of an exhibition on radio and television:

Though it isn't easy to see through the glare, this is the room where the museum receives digital submissions from all over the world:

Visiting students having the chance to be TV reporters. It was too bad Amber couldn't have come with me:

More award-winning photographs, like this one of the Charlottesville car attack:

The 1984 Ethiopian famine, taken by Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe:

I remember seeing this photograph in Newsweek, to which my father subscribed. It shows the body of a Thai university student who had been lynched by a pro-government mob in the 1976 Thammasat University massacre in Bangkok:

I'm also old enough to remember this photo, having seen it in a newspaper (most likely the Orange County Register):

I'm too young to recall Kent State, but I haven't forgotten seeing the shot of the Vietnamese girl crying from the pain of having been napalmed when it was first published in Newsweek:

On the other hand, perhaps it was better that my daughter wasn't able to go:

Not all the prize-winning photographs were disturbing:

One of the most touching baseball photos ever taken:

If you don't know this one...:

The last exhibit I checked out focuses on the FBI's work fighting terrorism and cybercrime, as well as the pursuit of notorious most-wanted criminals like Bradford Bishop, a Foreign Service officer who brutally murdered his wife, mother and three children in 1976 after being passed over for promotion. He has yet to be caught (assuming he's still alive at 81 years of age):

Engine parts and landing gear (among other artifacts) found in the rubble of the World Trade Center:

Some items were more personal:

The Unabomber's cabin:

The Newseum is a fascinating museum that is well-worth the high admission price, and the message it promotes has never been more relevant than now in this era of so-called "fake news" and the current administration's hostility toward the role played by a free press.

Passing by some doorways on the way back to Federal Triangle station:

 Federal Trade Commission

 Department of Justice

The Brutalism that is the FBI Building proves that not all of Washington's architecture is grand:

And now as this Veterans Day has come to a close, let's continue to honor those who serve in the military. My grandfather, father and brother-in-law are or were veterans, and both my uncles on my mother's side fought for their king and country during the Second World War. At one time I even seriously considered enlisting in the Coast Guard. But just like wishing  "thoughts and prayers" after a shooting tragedy without demanding something concrete be done to address the underlying causes, repeating "thank you for your service" without thinking about why this country continually puts its servicemen and women in harm's way in foreign lands is the very definition of disrespect. It's a sad commentary on modern American life when a late night TV comedian is held to a higher standard than the highest elected official in the land ("I like people who weren't captured").

It's also pretty sad when it takes The Onion to point out the inadequate care traumatized veterans receive in return for their service. As someone else once said, the best way to honor veterans is to stop creating them. Or even better yet, for those who served and suffered in the line of duty, to create a society that truly lives up to the lofty ideals those veterans have been told they were protecting.

A recent sunset