The Power of Symbols

Cymbals are very powerful, nay, loud, if played properly. But today, I’m talking about symbols, not cymbals, and they they have power too, as witnessed by the following news stories:

  • From the “Birds-Eye View” Department: The Los Angeles Times is reporting about a big “oops” by the Navy in their 1960-era buildings used to house SeeBees in Coronado, California. It seems that when you view the buildings from Google Earth, they form a swastika. Now, this wasn’t intentional (although I’m surprised no one noticed it on the plans), and isn’t visible at ground level. However, now that the Navy knows about this, they have budgeted up to $600,000 (in FY07-08) for changes in walkways, “camouflage” landscaping and rooftop photovoltaic cells to change the top-level view. Now only if they could do something about the pentagon…
  • From the “Dancin’ at the Cocoanut Grove” Department: One long time abandoned symbol of the the classy days of Wilshire Blvd has been the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel. This is where Robert F Kennedy was shot in 1968. The grounds are now being turned into a high-school, and the LAUSD was going to try to save the historical nightclub for the auditorium. But according to the LA Times, that’s not going to happen. LAUSD Officials have indicated that testing determined that the structure was too weak to withstand an earthquake, and so, the Board of Education decided Tuesday to tear down most of the structure of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, as part of the $341-million plan to build an elementary, middle and high school that will house 4,240 students on the 24-acre property. Demolition of three-quarters of the Cocoanut Grove is slated for next month. Current plans call for completion of the K-3 building in 2009 and the remainder in 2010. Under the current plans, only the east wall, the circular entry and a portion of the glass west wall of the nightclub and historic Paul Williams cafeteria will not be destroyed, along with some interior features that were removed and will be incorporated into the design. The historic pantry (where Kennedy was shot) could not be saved; LAUSD decided in 2005 that the district would collect 29 items from it — mostly doors, electrical items and an ice machine — put them in storage, and tear down the rest of it.
  • From the “A Penny for Your Thoughts” Department: The Lincoln penny. Worthless to some, nonetheless we all know its back: a sheaf of wheat (pre-1960) or the Lincoln Memorial (post 1960). But that’s about to change. Starting in 2009, according to the SF Chronicle, the back of the penny will be changing. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Lincoln penny, the U.S. Mint, at the direction of Congress, will introduce four rotating designs on the back of the penny for that year depicting different aspects of Lincoln’s life. As for the images, we hit the power of symbols again. The first two designs were easy: a log cabin depicting where Lincoln was born in 1809 for the first image, Lincoln as a young man reading a book and taking notes with a quill pen as the symbole of Lincoln’s early years, and Lincoln on the floor of the Illinois legislature for Lincoln in early adulthood. Ah, but for Lincoln’s presidency… what symbol. The committee picking the designs didn’t like the choice: a half-completed Capitol dome, evoking Lincoln’s famous order that construction of the Capitol should continue during the Civil War as a symbol that the Union would continue. They want images of Lincoln as a war president, perhaps visiting the troops. But some panel members instead want the image to portry Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. Still others thought it was more important to emphasize Lincoln’s role as commander in chief during the Civil War, a viewpoint that prevailed on an 8-2 vote.
  • From the “Read the Footnotes” Department: It appears that Barry Bond’s famous ball (he only has one) will be going to Cooperstown, after it has been branded with a suitable symbol for Mr. Bonds, an *. The symbol is meant to remind people that Bonds’ record is tainted by alleged steroid use, although Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs (someone just slipped them into his Big Mac). But then again, I don’t know from baseball living (as Tom Paxton once noted about Chicago) in a city that doesn’t have a professional baseball team (the Angels, no matter what they say, are in Anaheim).