Saturday, August 28, 2010

Comments on the Restoring Honor Rally

Throughout history America has seen many great leaders and noteworthy citizens change her course. It is through their personal virtues and by their example that we are able to live as a free people. On August 28, come celebrate America by honoring our heroes, our heritage and our future.

Join the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and many more for this non-political event that pays tribute to America’s service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.

Our freedom is possible only if we remain virtuous. Help us restore the values that founded this great nation. On August, 28th, come join us in our pledge to restore honor at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

-, description of the Restoring Honor Rally

I had heard about this rally early today, and got curious about it, so I started reading to understand what the fuss was about.

There is some colorful language at work here. It sounds nearly as terrible to critique something called the ‘Restoring Honor Rally' as it would be to critique something called the ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act' (Formal title of the Patriot Act).

I disagree with the suggestion that it will be a non-political event. I believe that this claim is at odds with the description's later claim that it will help restore honor and the values that founded America. The interpretation of heroism, honor and virtue are extremely variable. One's perception of whether these values are alive and well in America are inevitably political, and more so are the questions of what actions or policies America should adopt in order to restore those values, were they to have fallen.

This cannot not be a political event, even more so due to the presence of such polarizing figures as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. I disagree with the event description's assumption that these individuals or the movements that they represent are the arbiters of what constitutes American virtue, honor and heroism.

Let's see what happens on Saturday.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Five Photos

Chandelier at Grand Central
This is the view from below one of the chandeliers in Grand Central Terminal. This particular chandelier is above the bridge that connects Vanderbilt Hall to the Main Concourse. There are a few lights in the chandelier directed toward the floor itself; those are the ones that are flaring in the photo. Also see the Grand Central Terminal Flickr group. There are more shots from this angle by other contributors, as well as some classic New York style photos of commuters at rush hour.

Above a Taxi
This is in response to the prompt #279: "Make a photograph from a high point of view. Get on top of a building, use a ladder, or just look down at a small object." The photos from everyone who responded to this prompt can be found at

New York Public Library, Hallway
One of the hallways of the New York Public Library. I didn't take a picture of the main reading room, in observance of their 'no photos' sign. The main reading room is, however, one of my favorite places in New York City.

Mike at the Neptune Diner
My brother Mike, at the Neptune Diner in Astoria. We ate here twice this weekend. This is not healthy.

Bicycle Horn
I resisted the temptation to honk this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alleged Nuclear Weapons Programs: Iran and Israel

"The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats."

New York Times
U.S. Assures Israel That Iran Threat Is Not Imminent
August 19, 2010

Iran and Israel have at least one thing in common: they are Middle Eastern countries with alleged nuclear weapons programs.

According to the Times article quoted above, the United States expects that Iran will not have a nuclear bomb for at least a year. As a participant in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, Iran’s nuclear facilities are subject to review by international weapons inspectors. The administration believes that were Iran to approach the point of having sufficient weapons-grade Uranium for a bomb, such would come to light within weeks, and at that point, military strikes could be made. The article claims that this has given Israel sufficient assurance so as to not attempt a pre-emptive strike.

Israel has maintained a policy of ‘opacity’ regarding its possession of nuclear weapons, and has never publicly stated whether they have them or not. Like India and Pakistan, Israel never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is not subject to UN inspections of its nuclear facilities. Nonetheless, as evidence regarding Israel's alleged nuclear program and arsenal has leaked over the years, its existence has become something of an open secret, acknowledged in the press and at least one study by the U.S. Air Force Counterproliferation Center.

As Israel itself does not acknowledge existence of the program, a number of Arab nations have recently pushed for inspections of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The implication is clear: If Iran claims that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, and is already subject to international inspection, then why should not Israel’s nuclear facilities suspected be subject to inspections as well? The black and white answer would be that Israel has not signed a treaty mandating such inspections, however, in light of the information already public about Israel’s program, the question is not wholly unreasonable.

From a U.S. security perspective, the answer is self-serving but clear. Better that a predictable ally be in possession of nuclear weapons than an unpredictable potential adversary, and public acknowledgement of an Israeli nuclear program could add instability to the region, and distract from efforts to keep Iran from gaining their own nuclear bomb.

Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that the presence of Israel as an assumedly nuclear state may well have been a catalyst for surrounding Arab nations to desire a bomb of their own, in order to both have greater power in the region, as well as have an effective deterrent against an Israeli nuclear attack. It may not solve anything for the United States to attempt to address Israel’s nuclear program. However, I am extremely curious as to whether Israel’s program will come under greater scrutiny as the prospect of a nuclear Iran grows in the coming year.


While my college Political Science education was limited to a six course minor, I’ve always been at least somewhat interested in foreign policy, particularly in regards to nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation. All the same, I qualify myself by saying that my reading and background on this is that of an interested layman, and I’d welcome any feedback, comments or corrections.

- Rob

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Philadelphia Visit

Here are photos from a recent trip home to Philadelphia. These are a few of the highlights; if you'd like to peruse the rest of them, click on any image and you'll be taken over to my Flickr photostream (thanks to the blog Confessions of a Travel Junkie for the idea on formatting things this way).

Ok, first stop:

Geno's Steaks

There’s an eternal debate as to whether Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteaks are better. I have no preference between the two. The first place I ate a cheesesteak at is on Henry Avenue, and is named Fiesta. It has to this day remained my favorite.

Watching the game
Wes and Kim watching the Phillies game

I’m not by nature a sports fan, but Citizens Bank Park was really fun. Most of the stadiums that I'd been to in the past (albeit few) had the aesthetics of a parking garage. Citizens Bank Park, however, has a very open and spacious feel to it. We watched the game from the standing room area up by the scoreboard. You could see what was happening on the field perfectly well, and there was also room to spread out and relax, rather than being stuck in seats for the night. Were I to be living in Philadelphia right now, I’d be down for going to a Phillies game even just to hang out.

Little Blue Car

My parents and I went to a diner called ‘Jem Restaurant’ one afternoon. It's in a shopping center whose storefronts, among others, include a Panera Bread and an LA Fitness. I found myself trying to tell my mother that restaurant’s deliberately put-on 1950s - 1970s decor was some sort of post-modern/Baudrillardian simulation. I was put in my place when, upon exiting, I saw photos on the wall evidencing that this diner had actually been around for a really long time. This is like the Times Square Howard Johnson's. While perhaps there may have been some attempt at a design evoking nostalgia for classic Americana, it may be just as well be the case that a lot of this stuff was hung on the walls a long time ago, and have since become pieces of classic Americana nostalgia.

Ceiling Furnishings

That aside, there was little explanation for this waittress uniform hanging from the drop ceiling.

Jamie and Airport sculpture

With family members coming and going, our family made two trips to Philadelphia International Airport while I was home. This is my sister, Jamie. She, as well as my brother Mike and I, found this structure pretty strange. There's a bench on the inside of the loop, and vines growing on the outside.

American flags in Chinatown

I’m working on a documentary short film about Chinese human smuggling and child trafficking. We had dim sum in Chinatown one afternoon, and then I walked around for a while with a video camera to grab some additional footage. The film discusses to some degree the promise of America as perceived by immigrants, so the American flags strung up all over were perfect.

Looking Up in 30th Street Station

This is inside 30th Street Station. I use Septa and New Jersey Transit to get back and forth, so I pass through here whenever I go home.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Thrift Store Visit

While visiting home this weekend, I went with my parents to a thrift store in Norristown, PA. Here are a few photos of the odds and ends found there.

Mary Lynn Gullette's diploma from Penn State's Continuing Education program.

Wall of TVs.

From the book section.

I'm pretty sure it's been cleaned, but I was hesitant to get comfortable.

Like the diploma for sale, this initially struck me as a little sad. But on the other hand, this a thrift store, not a pawn shop, and these could well be donated out of well meaning generosity.

On the buyer's end of things, according to Good Morning America, with a trip to the cleaners and a custom fitting, this can be a great way to get an affordable wedding dress.

Bottoms are in the next cabinet over.

Dominance is fleeting.

Page from the store's bidding book for its silent auction items.

The last person started to write in a bid, and then apparently reconsidered their interest in smurf belts.

'Poultry Tribune' magazine ran through 2006, and lives on at

There were about three bids for this collection thus far, the highest being $11.00.

It wasn't particularly comfortable, and I was not up for bothering with putting it in the car and getting it up to NYC.

If, however, I were 13 years old and still living at home, I would have been all over this.

It looks like a Star Trek chair.

A hundred years from now, '16 Hits from the Gay Nineties' will yet again mean something completely different.

These guys are fierce.

Only purchase of the day.

Per, the camera is from 1982 and used a disk film format made by Kodak. The back pops open, with room to insert a sealed thin cartridge with 15 exposures.

It's not likely that I'll go to the extra lengths to buy film, shoot and develop it, but it was too unique looking to pass up.

Fresh coat of paint.

I've recently grown interested in doing more writing online, possibly complemented by photos or videos. I'd toyed with the idea of starting a new blog and purchasing a domain name, but soon realized that:

(1) Coming up with a catchy blog title is hard.

(2) Buying it doesn't mean I'll use it.

So for the present, I'll continue with this site.

Since my free time tends to ebb and flow, posting frequency will be somewhat erratic, but I'll try to make a habit of it. Content will most frequently be photos with comments or captions since that's quite simply the easiest thing for me to make and put online. I do have a goal of writing more and writing better, so I will work on getting some substantial and thought out pieces completed and posted.

There are archives on this site going back to 2005, which may well be the longest I've ever maintained a website, not including facebook. I am somewhat embarrassed by some of the older posts' inane or otherwise knee-jerk content, but I like the sense of long term continuity that they provide, and some of them are at least half-decent. There are broken photo links in many posts, but I won't be going back to update them.

In terms of design, I changed the site template from the default look that I'd opted for in 2005, redid the sidebar content and called it a day. Admittedly, this template looks to have been very much influenced by John Gruber's, but I must admit that I like the clean and simple look of it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pageantry in Protests

Vedanta Resources Wednesday faced mounting pressure about its human rights and environmental record in India as protesters, including celebrities such as Bianca Jagger, swamped its annual general meeting.

Protesters at Vedanta’s annual general meeting today.
Some campaigners came dressed as characters from the film Avatar, as they liken Vedanta to the evil multinational in the movie.

Wall Street Journal
July 28, 2010

Pageantry such as the above undeniably adds visibility to a demonstration, and may increase the likelihood that a news outlet will take and circulate photos and video. However, at a certain point, the spectacle overtakes the message. The event is no longer about a serious and dire political or environmental issue, but about people who are dressed up like characters from Avatar.

If you then think back to the race controversy surrounding Avatar, this gets a little more problematic. At the time of its release, Cameron's movie was criticized for being yet another movie about white people saving native people (see Huffington Post, Avatar Critics See Racist Theme).

If one applies the same criticism to this protest event, it takes on a bizarre story-within-a-story quality: in attempt to save actual native people, white people have dressed up as fictional native people, who in the movie, are saved by fictional white people. If you then flatten the fictional and actual titles out of this formula, then you're left with white people dressing up as native people who (thank goodness) get saved by white people.

I admit that there is some reduction at work here. Not all protesters are white people, and as I said from the start, undeniably, this stuff gets people's attention. I am now aware of the mining issue in Orissa, India, and in that sense the protest is undeniably successful. I may not have heard about it otherwise. Yet at the same time, I walk away thinking more about the people behind the protest, and the intentions behind their costuming.

Also, in the midst of looking some of this up, I ran into a story from February in which Palestinians protested the Israeli West Bank barrier (full story and video at Blue body paint and all, it's a pretty arresting image.