Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Meet Me In St. Louis

Looking up at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka the Gateway Arch). Definitely very impressive from the outside. Also impressive? The line to get in. Depending on time of day, you could spend more time waiting in line than actually riding the elevator to the observation deck.
Inside Union Station. The station, repurposed as a hotel, is a grand space with a nightly light show. One of the more impressive public spaces in the City.
At Busch Stadium with a view of the Arch, Court House, and downtown.
A view from behind home plate.
One of the great things about St. Louis is all the public art and sculptures on display. This is part of a larger display along Market Street. 
Soulard Market is a hidden gem near the Budweiser brewery (and tours and free tastings). However, this is more likely to leave a lasting impression with a copious amount of fresh food, spices, teas, and other local delicacies. 
More of the fresh food on display.
From the top of the Gateway Arch looking West. There was a bit of haze plus the windows don't exactly give you the clearest views (and they're incredibly tiny - each one is less than a foot high and about 18 inches wide). Everyone gets wedged in tight up there trying to hunch over to get a view, let alone decent photos.
Fountains outside Union Station at night. 
More fountains outside Union Station.
The Lincoln home in Springfield, Illinois. It's where Lincoln accepted the nomination to lead the Republican Party in the 1861 presidential elections, which he won. 
We hit several stretches of Route 66 in and around St. Louis. This particular stretch was near the Lincoln National Historic Site.
Inside the State Capitol of Illinois.
Looking up at the State Capitol of Illinois.
St. Charles, Missouri. Home to the first state capitol and first capital of Missouri.
White Haven, the home owned by US Grant and where he lived prior to the Civil War. It's where he met his wife, who was from a family of slave holders. 
Inside the Budweiser Brewery.
Inside the Court House where the state's Dred Scott cases played out.
This space is recreating the look and feel of the court room at the time of the Dred Scott decision. The courtroom was originally several times larger than this.

Walking through the Old Courthouse, you could really feel the history around you. Hitting these historic sites really did give you a sense of the importance of the St. Louis environs and why events turned out the way they did - it was where US Grant got his first exposure to slavery (via his wife's family). It's where the infamous Dred Scott case worked its way through the courts on its way to an abominable decision by the Taney court, and where the nation was at a crossroads- literally and figuratively as a central point on the way West.

If you want to get a primer on civil rights and equal protection under the law, look no further than the courthouse downtown. The courtroom for Dred Scott leaves a lasting impression on those willing to learn - we are still a world away from truly having equal protection under the law, and minorities are still persecuted and not treated equally.

That goes for religious as well as ethnic minorities. So, when I hear about how Christian persecution in the US, I have to wonder what planet these people are talking about, because Christians aren’t being persecuted here - they’re being exposed to the limits of separation of church and state as the Founders wanted because no religion shall be established, which means that Christians can’t impose their views on everyone else through state acts (like legislation).

A few other observations about St. Louis in general. The food is pretty damned good. Had Imo's and Ted Drewes as well as great Italian food at a place off the beaten path. Square One distillery and brewery is a nice spot in the Lafayette neighborhood. The area's parks and recreation activities are quite nice, and there's plenty of distinctive architecture to take in.

But there was one thing I couldn't quite figure out. Why did local and state leaders think that every street, let alone highway needed more lanes of traffic? The place could have accommodated two or three times as much traffic and still had room for several times more. It's one of the most overbuilt areas for roads I've ever traveled. The area could definitely benefit from a road diet.

For these photos, I shot with my Canon 60D and either the Sigma 8-16mm, f4.5-5.6 or Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 lenses.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Gaza War Continues: Where Do We Go From Here?

The latest battle in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas (Operation Protective Edge) continued without any sign of letup. Israel's military continues ground operations inside Gaza, while Hamas has continued firing rockets and missiles at Israel. Israeli ground forces have taken casualties while Gazan casualties continue to grow.

Thus far, Palestinians living in Gaza have taken the brunt of the fighting. There have been hundreds of casualties and it is still unclear just how many of them are civilians and how many have been Hamas fighters. Media outlets are relying almost exclusively on Hamas and PA sources for casualty counts, and Hamas has been notorious with lying about who was killed and conflating their casualties with civilians.

It is indisputable that Israel has hit civilians, including children in the course of the fighting and trying to hit at Hamas terrorists who are entrenched in urban areas and firing at Israel from within civilian areas. Israel reports that they've killed at least 270 terrorists, while the UN indicates that 479 have been killed overall, including 364 civilians, 76 militants, and 39 who they can't classify. Gaza's Health Ministry puts the tally at 632 killed and nearly 3,800 wounded.

It is also indisputable that Hamas has no problem firing from civilian positions including schools and UN facilities. For the second time in a week, the UNRWA has found rocket caches in one of their facilities.

Hamas has become more brazen in where they're storing their weapons, all while their leaders cower in underground bunkers while Gazans who aren't connected with the leadership and don't have the means to protect themselves are taking the brunt of the damage with no where else to go.

It is also indisputable that but for Hamas firing rockets and missiles at Israel incessantly since even the last ceasefire in 2012 (all but one month had missile/mortar or rocket fire) that Israel would not have needed to invade Gaza once again after the latest rounds of barrages that have landed deep inside Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The FAA may have succeeded in doing what Hamas couldn't do directly. After firing missiles in the direction of Ben Gurion Airport, Delta Airlines and a quick succession of other airlines decided that they didn't want to put their planes in harms' way. The FAA then ordered US airlines to halt flights to and from Israel for 24 hours. Other airlines also followed suit.

The airlines rightfully don’t want to see their gear destroyed by the missiles or rockets, and that’ll be more than enough to keep them away though it is strange that they are not willing to fly into Israel but haven't had issues with flights to/from or over other war zones and conflict regions in recent years, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine (prior to the shoot down of Malaysian Air Flight 17).

The FAA order and its effect on the conflict can play out in one of two ways. It could force Israel to a ceasefire while Israel has not achieved its goals militarily so as to get flights to resume. If the flights remain shut down, it would have the effect of imposing economic harms on Israel (lost tourism/commerce) and indirectly strengthens Hamas’ hand.

However, the concern for Israel's economy is just as likely to move Israel to mount an even larger military campaign into Gaza so as to eliminate the threat to Israel's only international airport and crush Hamas' capabilities once and for all. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu is likely to opt for the latter, knowing that his country needs the influx of tourists to keep the economy going and a prolonged shutdown would have dire consequences. Israeli public opinion isn't going to take this kind of existential threat to their livelihood and country; they're going to press ahead with rooting out Hamas if it means eliminating the threat to Israel's airport.

Until now, the primary justification for the Israeli ground assault has been to root out the tunnels and bunkers Hamas has used to bring weapons into Gaza from Sinai, store the weapons, and to infiltrate into Israel. The missile attacks near Ben Gurion are the kind of justification that Israel could make to continue its fight inside Gaza - to eliminate the threat to Israel's economy and transportation networks that fighting to clear the tunnels from Gaza didn't. It would potentially provide the open-ended invitation for Israel to remain in Gaza, a region Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2005 as no nation would ever allow its key transit locations to be under constant threat from missiles and bombs.

Meanwhile, the diplomats are trying to formulate yet another cease fire proposal. It's actually a joke at this point. Everyone knows that the ceasefire agreement is going to end up being the same as all the prior deals between Israel and Hamas. Both sides will promise not to fire on the other beginning at X. Once X plus a given period Y has occurred, Israel will promise Z and Hamas will need to reciprocate with A. The ceasefire deals are essentially fill-in-the-blank and you can substitute the times, dates, and in the end, all that is left are the casualties on both sides to be buried and hospitalized.

It's nice that the diplomats and EU members are calling on Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza to be disarmed, but there's no indication of how or who would do what they propose. Hamas seems to have an answer to that question - they’ll keep firing their munitions until they’ve expended their stockpiles. Israel will continue taking that fire until they have forced Hamas to expend all of its weapons.

Gazans will continue to suffer from Hamas actions and Israeli responses and both Israelis and Gazans will mourn their losses and curse Hamas. And that, unfortunately, is the takeaway.

Cross posted at LGF

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A Fair Lawn Fireworks Spectacular

Happy early 4th of July to everyone! Fair Lawn did their annual fireworks spectacular yesterday at the Memorial Pool, and it was a rousing success.

All photos were taken with a Canon 60D and Sigma 8-16mm, 4.5-5.6, which I am still getting used to. I've taken shots from a similar vantage point for Fair Lawn fireworks in the past, but this was the first time I didn't have to worry about missing any fireworks that weren't in my potential field of view. Instead of worrying about losing photos, I can now crop the best shots down.

These photos, however, are unretouched and uncropped. No additional processing was done.


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