January 31, 2017

Searching for World Peace at the UN

There's a place where you can leave the country without actually stepping foot off the island of Manhattan.

And I've been thinking about leaving this country for a while now.

Last week while I was in NYC, I needed to see past my own reflection in the mirror—past my feelings of being distressed and distraught.

When I walked through that security gate at the U.S. headquarters of the United Nations, I needed some hope.

And what I got, at the very least, was some beauty in the form of art and architecture—starting with nickel-plated doors that were a gift from Canada. Their bas-relief panels symbolize truth (veritas), fraternity (fraternitas), justice (justice), and peace (pax). Who could ask for anything more?

The UN formed in 1945 after WWII—more or less to make sure there wouldn't be a WWIII. Given the current state of affairs, I'm not so sure it will ultimately be successful at that.

According to its charter, it aims "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small..."

"...and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom." [emphasis mine]

Photo: United Nations Photo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

That means its 193 member states need to play nice with each other—and that means each of them are widely represented in the art that's on display for ambassadors and members of the public alike to enjoy.

For example, there's a freestanding stained glass window, designed by French artist Marc Chagall as a memorial to former UN Secretary-General  Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, who died in a plane crash on a peace mission, along with 15 others.

In some respects, it's also in tribute to all of those who have given their lives in pursuit of peace.

It's an incredible, monumental work measuring 12 feet high and 15 feet wide...

...filled with symbols of peace...

...and depictions of the faces of those who continue to struggle for peace.

As you wander the hallways of the New York headquarters, a theme begins to emerge amidst the art collection, as with the José Vela-Zanetti (of the Dominican Republic) mural "Mankind's Struggle for Lasting Peace."

There's also the "Chernobyl" tapestry, hand-woven by Alexander Kishchenko of the Ukraine and gifted to the UN by Belarus in thanks for the organization's involvement in mitigating what was widely-accepted as the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. (For nice detail photos, click here.)

Perhaps it all boils down to the Norman Rockwell mosaic "The Golden Rule," which urges us to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We seem to have forgotten that. Everyone seems to have forgotten that.

There are other UN headquarters located in Geneva, Vienna, and Nirobi, but the New York campus in particular has born witness to meetings of the Security Council (whose mission is to maintain international peace and security)...

...the Trusteeship Council (whose operations were suspended in 1994 after the last remaining UN trust territory became independent)...

...and, of course, the General Assembly, the main organ of the UN that deliberates and makes policies. It' also the only one of the UN's six principal organs in which all member nations have equal representation.

I'll admit that the idea of the UN is nice. But I don't find it very comforting right now.

I find myself wishing I'd dedicated more time to Peace Studies in college. It always seemed like fighting was more effective.

But I'm tired of fighting. There's so much to fight against. It all just feels like too much.

I've had a lifetime of fighting, and I've had enough. I'm ready to live the life of a pacifist. I don't want to draw first.

I just want some peace.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Stepping Through a Portal of Peace
Photo Essay: In Search of Peace Awareness

January 30, 2017

This One's On Me

On a recent redeye flight during which I could not manage to even doze off, I found myself watching an interview with Oprah Winfrey on the inflight entertainment.

She wasn't conducting the interview, though—she was the subject of it.

One thing she said that struck me was that her guiding principle in most things is the desire to want to connect—something I can relate to—and that the way that she connects is by sharing.

She tells the story of growing up poor in the Deep South, and whenever she managed to get her hands on a Snickers or Three Musketeers bar, she always waited to enjoy it until her cousins could share in the experience with her.

Sure, she could have saved it all for herself, greedily hoarding that precious chocolate.

But, as Oprah herself said, "it tasted better" if she could share it.

She likened it to a beautiful view—which was often my struggle with traveling and adventuring alone. I had no one to share it with.

Of course, then I started taking photos everywhere I went, and that was my way of sharing the experience. Only, I wasn't sharing it with one special person; I was sharing it with the world (or whoever would click).

Thinking back on the days not too long ago when I was financially destitute, the thing that bothered me the most wasn't so much the inability to provide for myself. It was that because I couldn't provide for myself—I was barely surviving, even with government assistance—I couldn't "share the wealth," so to speak, with others.

I couldn't buy even the tiniest token gift for a friend. I couldn't pay for my own drink—much less treat someone else to one.

I couldn't tip—or, just barely. 

Of course, I found other ways to contribute and feel relevant and important—volunteering, providing emotional support, and other such less tangibles—but I really missed the opportunity to be generous.

I realized that generosity was a real gift.

So, now that I've been gainfully employed a little over a year now, I find myself overcompensating. 

Last Christmas, I found myself dropping more money than I had to buy some Christmas presents for a homeless family camped out on the sidewalk in Hollywood. 

Today, I gave a NYC taxi driver $10 on a $4.80 fare. It's not much, but it brightened both of our days at least just a little bit.

I've been miserly with many things in the past. My boss's children once asked me for some food I had in the office, and I refused them. If they wanted my cookie, I'd think (and perhaps even say), "Get your own!"

But what is life in a vacuum? What's a memory unless it can be corroborated? 

What's a dollar stuffed under the mattress worth?

Maybe this is why I find myself in a cycle of financial troubles. I was doing well in 2007 when I took friends to dinner and loaned them money. By 2010, I was dirt-poor. 

In 2011, I was once again raking it in. And three months later, I was scraping the bottom of my purse for loose change.

And I never want to share so much as when I've got nothing to share. Because I know how bad it can get.

For now, I'll do small things when I can. I'll try not to be greedy or selfish or immune to the plight of others.

I'll join the ACLU to support their fight to uphold constitutional law.

I'll subscribe to the LA Times website instead of working around its pay wall so its journalists can continue to report on issues I'd like to read about.

I'll donate to the Jamaican bobsled team so they can hire a coach and make it to the next Winter Olympics.

I'll pick pieces of lettuce out of my salad and feed them to my cat, who has a taste for Romaine and blue cheese dressing.

I'll share my bed with him and spend my paychecks on towers, scratching posts, brushes, and catnip.

I'll give what I can, in any small way. Because whatever is mine isn't really mine. It's just a means to an end.

Related Posts:
A Reality, Shared
Mine, All Mine
Life Amongst the Humble

January 22, 2017

Photo Essay: The Boneyard at the Former Cal-Aero Flying Academy

I knew that Chino Airport had two aircraft museums—both of which were on my list to visit—but I wasn't there for them that day. I needed something to eat, and Flo's Airport Cafe was beckoning me, as most airport cafes and diners do.

But when I pulled in on Colonel Scott Drive—a road that's no longer listed on any current maps—I realized I'd stumbled upon something much bigger than a rinky-dink airport that served breakfast all day.

It turns out that today's Chino Airport is located on the grounds of the former Cal-Aero Academy, one of the first civilian flight schools in the U.S.—and while most certainly not the last, it was the largest in the U.S. at the time.

Such flight training became commonplace after World War II started—and, in the case of Cal-Aero, it had become contracted by the U.S. Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1944.

Not to be confused with the present-day Cal Aero Preserve Academy school for grades K through 12, this is where young guys who aspired to be fighter pilots used to learn how to fly B-44s, B-17s, B-24s, and Stearman PT-17s.

Many of the buildings on the western end of the present-day airport are vacant, but a main hall is currently being used as an active U.S. Postal Service office.

Back in the 1940s during the war, Army Air Cadets would go through 10 weeks of primary training and 10 weeks of basic pilot training—both of which included flight instruction and ground school.

Unlike at other military bases and academies, these cadets didn't sleep in barracks—but, rather, motel-style rooms.

Because it started out as a private facility, it was practically like a country club, compared to other defense units.

The Academy could accommodate up to 500 men—but once they're training was done, they would move on to more advanced training at another base farther up north.

In total, more than 12,000 fighter and bomber pilots trained here during the war effort.

But it's been a long time since some of these buildings have been used.

Now owned by the County of San Bernardino, Chino Airport actually does have a relatively thriving business, despite appearances.

In addition to its two plane museums (and cafe), it leases space to various fixed-base operators... civilians can continue to learn to fly here.

There's also a banquet hall directly adjacent to one of the runways, providing a uniquely vintage setting for weddings and other such events.

It's hard to shake the shadow of decorated war hero Colonel Robert Lee Scott Jr., who had been training a total of 110 young pilots at Cal-Aero when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—and who always wanted to be a fighter pilot himself.

Colonel Scott eventually did make it into combat, being called a "one-man air force" by Life magazine (and authoring God Is My Co-Pilot).

Though he ultimately wound up in the "Far East"—and passed away in 2006 at age 97—his presence is still strongly felt in Chino.

The Cal-Aero airfield continued to play an important role even after WWII ended...

...and that was as a "boneyard" for surplus military aircraft.

For some, it was a waystation until they could be sold off.

For others, it was the coroners' office—where they'd be picked apart and their parts melted down.

At one point, the field surrounding the runways were so full of parked warbirds—nearly 2000 of them in total—that there wasn't much of a buffer zone for take-off or landing.

By 1960, ownership of the airfield reverted to the Count of San Bernardino and Chino Airport was officially born.

In the 1970s, Chino Airport shifted its focus from merely storing retired warbirds to actually restoring them—hence the two air museums, Planes of Fame and Yanks Air Museum.

But restoring veteran planes like these is not only time-consuming but also expensive.

It's also a bit of a sham.

When you get to see them with their signs of aging reversed, returned to "like-new" conditions, it erases the visual cues of having actually been flown in combat.

But when you see them in their junkyard state... get a much better sense of what they've been through.

I would much prefer to see them stabilized and preserved but left unrestored.

Sure, they'll never fly agin without their wings.

But they can teach us something that a rebuilt one—or a replica—never could.

This isn't just the wear and tear of time...

...or of being exposed to the elements.

These are bona fide battle scars.

And while none of us can truly comprehend the experience without being up there and shot at ourselves...'s a much more realistic depiction of the firefight than you can find in most historic warbird collections.

Why gloss it over?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Abandoned Morton Air Academy at Gary Field
Photo Essay: The Former Navy Surplus Annex That Became a Mini Railroad
Photo Essay: Bugattis, Rusted & Restored at Mullin Automotive Museum