Tuesday, February 28, 2017

(Funny) Words of Wisdom

Jon Stewart to the Media: It's Time to Get Your Groove Back

Obamacare: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Congressional Republicans could soon vote to repeal Obamacare.
John Oliver explores why their replacement plans are similar to a thong.

Outlet to Two Oceans

Isa lake: The Two-Ocean Lake

Amusing Planet  Kaushik February 27, 2017 

The Isa Lake Viewpoint, located about 8 miles east of the Old Faithful Area along the Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone National Park, is not a terribly exciting place. On the way to the Old Faithful geyser, you can alight from your vehicle and stand on the edge of a thin sliver of water filled with waterlilies and fallen logs. By the side of the lake is a Continental Divide elevation sign, and an interpretive sign describing the significance of the Continental Divide and Isa Lake. 

‘Continental divide’ is a geographical divide on a continent, often in the form of a mountain ridge, such that rivers and lakes on one side of the divide drain into one ocean or sea, and those on the other side drain into another. Isa Lake straddles the continental divide of North America, standing at over eight thousand feet at the upper watershed for two of America’s most extensive drainage systems— the Snake and Columbia Rivers, and the Missouri and Mississippi.

Photo credit: Firas Wehbe/Flickr

The Lake has two outlets. The outlet on the east side of the lake leads into the Snake and Columbia Rivers and then into the Pacific Ocean by way of the Lewis River. The outlet on the west side of the lake feeds the Firehole River on its way to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico, in other words, into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Isa lake is thus the only natural lake in the world to drain to two different oceans. Because of this it is also known as the Two-Ocean Lake. The lake’s outflow is also counterintuitive, since the Atlantic Ocean lies on the east of the lake and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Isa Lake has no inlet, and is fed entirely by snow-melt. During most of the year, the lake’s water flow is mostly seepage, except during spring runoff. 

Photo credit: Kris Smith/Panoramio

Photo credit: Kent Kanouse/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / Waymarking

Japanese Architects of Karuizawa

Otherworldly Architecture in
Japan’s Magical Mountainside

In the leafy hamlet of Karuizawa, distinctive design is the expression of the uninhibited self.

The 730-square-foot Polygon House is almost completely bare of furniture, comprised of mainly steel, glass, concrete and white walls.

The New York Times  by HANYA YANAGIHARAFEB. 27, 2017 All Photographs by Mikael Olsson. Producer: HK Productions

THE MOUNTAIN TOWN of Karuizawa is about an hour’s train ride northwest of Tokyo, a journey that zooms past the small, heartbreaking scenes of beauty that any traveler here knows, an endlessly repeating pattern of fragile persimmon trees, their unlovely black branches sagging with dusty orange fruit; splintered wooden torii gates, their vermilion paint bleached to a fleshy pink; tin-roofed factories and squat apartment buildings, their patios hung with laundry.

One expects Karuizawa to look and feel the same as all the other villages on the route, but despite its totems of contemporary Japan — the tidy, utilitarian concrete train station; the ubiquitous bright-lit convenience stores selling ice cream and compression socks — it feels not of Japan, but of elsewhere: a pretty, bourgeois commuter’s hamlet in central Europe or New England, the kind of place where a character in a John Cheever story might disembark on a Friday evening, his gray suit jacket folded over his arm.

This sense of geographical displacement is partly due to the relative un-Japaneseness of Karuizawa’s landscape — deciduous where much of the surrounding countryside is piney, and punctuated by hills instead of fields (there’s even a 10-trail ski slope directly behind the station). But it also has something to do with how the town has chosen to define itself: A self-consciously Alpine aesthetic dominates here, complete with snug, peak-roofed cottages, their white stucco facades adorned with wooden latticework. It is a Japanese dream of a particular kind of Western idyll, an idealized village convincingly radiating its own, sincere brand of gemutlichkeit.

The avant-garde structures in Karuizawa, mostly designed by Japanese architects, are as humble as they are jaw-dropping. The architect Ryue Nishizawa was commissioned to build a museum that would house works by Hiroshi Senju — an artist whose monumental waterfall paintings adorn many Japanese public buildings.  

It has also been, for many decades, an escape for the rich and the royal, who come here in the summer to get away from the Tokyo swelter and in the winter to ski and to soak in the town’s many natural, mineral-rich hot springs. In 1957, the then-crown prince Akihito met the then-commoner Michiko while playing tennis here (she won); the imperial family still visits most summers. In the 1970s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono — who was, like Empress Michiko, the daughter of an old, wealthy Japanese family — spent months here as well. (More recently, it’s been rumored that Bill Gates is building a massive estate in town.)

The real curiosity of Karuizawa, though, is not its landscape nor its residents, but rather, its collection of spectacular avant-garde houses, most of them designed by prominent Japanese architects. There is Makoto Yamaguchi’s Polygon House, a quasi-Brutalist geode of distressed steel and glass that perches on a hill in a forest like an abandoned space pod; the concrete, glass and larch wood Omizubata N House by Iida Archiship Studio, whose dramatically steepled roof recalls an ancient Norse ship; TNA’s Passage House, where a horizontally oriented front entryway functions as a trap door, giving visitors the sensation that the forest floor beneath — over which the ring-shaped house hovers — is the ground floor of the structure, and the house itself its attic. Perhaps most splendid of all is TNA’s Ring House, a miniature tower deep in the forest constructed of alternating layers of wood and glass: In the evening, when the sky is dark blue and the house is lit from within, it appears as stacked slices of pure light, its bands of wood receding into the ink of the night.

There is not a single right angle in the Hoshino Wedding Chapel’s cascading concrete arches and soaring interior of inlaid stone.  

LOOKING AT THESE structures — there are around a dozen of them in a town with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants — one might wonder what, exactly, made Karuizawa such fecund ground for experimental architecture: After all, it’s not as if Larchmont or Kennebunk or Aquinnah (perhaps the town’s closest psychographic equivalents) are known for their forward-thinking buildings.

And yet to do so would be to forget how deeply encouraging Japan has always been of the strange, the weird and the experimental, especially when it comes to design. Not strange or weird in the lazy, clich├ęd way we in the West think of Japanese obsessions — the teenagers in their inventive, laborious streetwear; the cafes where waiters are dressed as robots or monsters or giant puff pastries — but strange in their acceptance of the uncanny, their fearlessness of novelty, their delight in anything that challenges them to see the world anew, their lack of cynicism, their desire to be dazzled. Japan, perhaps more than any other country, is a culture of deliberate appearances, a place where seeing is not just part of the experience of life, but life itself. Food is meant to please not just the palate, but the eyes as well; a cone of incense should be smelled, of course, but it should first be seen. Or to put it another way: There is a difference between self-expression and the expression of self. The latter, the right to say and act and behave as we want, is what we value in America. But Japan embraces the former, and that embrace is accompanied by a permission for a specific kind of deviance: For as long as you abide by the culture’s manners and etiquette, you can look however you wish. The society is greater than the self, but the self — its externals, at least — is yours to do with what you choose.

The same might be true for houses as well. Karuizawa is a wealthy town, but wealth here expresses itself not in sameness, but in difference, as if in recognition that one of the joys of having money is being able to use it to make something beautiful and unusual. And yet it’s also worth noting that though these Modernist houses are distinctive — the oldest of them dates to the early 1960s, when the country was on the cusp of beginning one of the most impressive infrastructural and economic postwar comebacks in history — they are also rigorously humble. And in this way, they are not Modernist at all. 

These are houses that are made not to disrupt or overwhelm their surroundings, but to — sometimes literally — reflect them. (Even Frank Lloyd Wright’s structures never receded as elegantly as these do.) They are in union with the forests, with the hillsides, with the trees, and although their materials may be of this century, their intentions are as old as Shintoism, Japan’s native religion and governing ideology: that every stone, every tree, every flower, is possessed with kami, a divinity. The society is greater than the self, and here, the society is comprised not of people, but of trees and rock. What at first appears to be rebellion is actually homage. It is a town full of reminders of what architecture can do: Instead of removing us from the land, it gives us a window to see the earth below — and returns us to it.

In such houses, (Polygon House - completed in 2003) says Yamaguchi, “the interior and the exterior lie side by side, gently joining together.”

TNA architects intended the reedlike supports of the Square House to evoke blades of bamboo grass shooting up from the ground. 

Enveloped in a glass skin, the house is without walls and has few interior divisions of space.

Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, the San Diego-based organic Modernist architect, built the Hoshino Wedding Chapel in the late 1980s.

The exaggerated gable of the Omizubata N House by Iida Archiship studio creates a spectacular terrace. 

Inside, the windows follow the roof line, giving the sleeping loft views of the forest.

Shaped like a wedge, the steel-plated wood Stage House by TNA opens up to a tall wall of glass with living areas on elevated platforms looking outside.  The minimalist entrance, carved into the acute back angle of the structure, gives no hint of the panorama within.  

The house was completed in 2007.

A Few Fine Photos

‘Buffaloes and stars’. This picture, taken at Zimanga game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, used an in-camera multiple exposure, with the first lit for the buffaloes and the second focused on the stars
Photograph: Andreas Hemb

‘Diamond-dust.’ A picture taken in Nagano-ken, Japan, at an altitude of about 1,700 metres. Diamond dust can be seen on only a few occasions during the cold season
Photograph: Masayasu Sakuma

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Revellers from the Mangueira samba school perform on the second night of the carnival at the Sambadrome
Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Bristol, England
Crows pick at deer as they graze in Ashton Court estate, near Bristol, on a frosty morning
Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Verden an der Aller, Germany
A cow is prepared for its portrait during a dairy beauty pageant. About 200 cows compete in 18 different categories
Photograph: Carmen Jaspersen/AFP/Getty Images

Budapest, Hungary
A push me pull you? Giraffe calves in the Savannah House of Budapest Zoo, home to nine giraffes, the latest of which were twins born on February 15th
Photograph: Attila Kovacs/EPA