Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Worldwide plotting

President George W. Bush has a new policy: to start a Reign of Freedom around the world. So now we know: the invasion of Iraq wasn’t about getting their oil at all. He wanted to let freedom slither onto the gritty plains of Iraq and grow, menacingly and quietly, until it Ruled.

Hmmm. Something doesn’t fit there. Freedom does not, and cannot, rule — or reign, as he so grandiloquently put it. That’s by definition. What a twat. (He’s even going to send into combat loads of people who have woken up for years thinking they’re retired!)

All news seems to be old news these days, whether it’s a fight on Big Brother (our own Deputy Prime Minister punched a guy a few years ago) or a set of political memoirs (the inches pile up and still nobody’s any the wiser). But did you know that the first ever hand–printed tabloid newspapers were called broadsides? The link leads you to an online collection of them, and there are plenty of stories from the days when a murder story was to be salivated over and the type–gutters dripped with blood. And when wives were sold. I bet if you told one of those people, then, about today’s sites like EBay, they’d have clamoured for a ‘Wives’ section.

Of course, today’s public are more libertarian: wives don’t allow themselves to be sold. They give themselves away on websites all over the world. Heh.

Here’s a site with PDF copies of early printed books. (Including “A Booke of Secrets”. Endearingly silly – they bloody *published* them!) Also: Incoming Signals, a site so wonderfully peppered with typographical linky bullets, you’d think an ant with inky slippers had taken a walk. Stationery design – calm and beautiful and bulletless – at Passing Notes.

The ever–popular ‘bunnies’ series continues: Titanic in 30 seconds with bunnies. And Coudal continues too: with a great redesign and a retrospective of some of its frontpage graphics. Way to go, bro. z.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Important men in suits and ties, talking about torture

This is hypnotically interesting and tainted:

On June 22, 2004, the White House officially released 14 documents originating from the White House, the Pentagon and the Justice Department concerning the Administration’s interrogation policies [in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and against the ‘unlawful combatants’ held there].

Here they are.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Trains in the City

Hudson Rail Yards, New York City

All right. It’s not Sex and the City (as I titled my University dissertation [PDF]) but I suppose if you have a fetish for metro sex, it’s one way of getting your kicks. I got the photo from the insightful, urban, lively Gothamist:

Gothamist was struck by this photograph of the railyards the new development would replace, because there’s something beautiful about this mass of trains in the middle of the city.

There certainly is. The convergence — or, should I say, collision? — of trains and river is superb, particularly against a river of this breadth. In your mind, they just do not belong together, and yet when you see this in a city, in the flesh, as it were, it is perfectly fitting.

You get the effect in London somewhat, but London’s large stations don’t abut the water in the way these yards do. Waterloo station (which is currently London’s — and the UK’s — only international rail terminal) has a wide splay of tracks like this, but it isn’t as close to the aqueous and vaguely oily ripple of the Thames as it should be.

I have fond memories of Waterloo. Particularly the little coffeeshop which used, as its interior walls, the old bare masonry of the station’s outer shell. And my early days in London, when I worked at the National Film Theatre in their Press Office, and stopped in Waterloo each morning for breakfast and contemplation. How close by everything seemed then… *sigh*

Monday, June 21, 2004

“Yes officer, I'm paperpete”

Yet another reason for someone who doesn’t already live there to get worried about the thought of visiting: America’s police can now demand that you give your name to an officer who asks for it, when you’re not even suspected of anything. It’s worth noting that the House was deeply divided on the vote, and that this is only the first stage. Both points are gratifying to some extent. But it still worries the bit of me which wants to go there sometime.

Also worth noting that my brother once drunkenly said “I haven’t had a cunt all night, Drinkstable” to a UK officer and got laughed at and told off.

My friends Giles and Mark sat in my kitchen last night and discussed an article in this month’s issue of the Observer’s monthly music mag, called The 100 Greatest British Albums. MetaFilter has blogged it (quite surprisingly, I have to say — I just didn’t think stuff I read would pass muster with MeFites — but they’re coming to a lot of the same conclusions (or similar) that Mark and Giles arrived at: far too much ‘———’ and far too little ‘———’. Whatever floats one’s boat, I suppose!

Also from MetaFilter: The State of the Commons (which are the range of intellectual, textual, natural, etc. resources that the American (or worldwide!!) public collectively owns, but which nasty companies try to attach rules to), How to cope with all those words you don’t quite know how to use or which you often mistake. And, if you want to go back to uni but don’t want to leave your job, or your comfy chair, just surf right along to MIT's Open CourseWare pages. It is fascinating, the range of stuff out there in cyberspace these days.

I’m a bit pissed off to hear that Hotmail blocks all email from GMail, even invitations, because I sent a couple of people GMail invitations and they won’t have got through. Grrr! But I guess I can console myself (har har) by playing a little textual Hamlet.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Impending work

That might seem to be a strange title. After all, even though I post throughout the day, who’s to know, reading this, that I haven’t had a job for quite a long time? Well, I haven’t, and starting tomorrow, I have.

However I’m not actually going to say here what the job is or where it is, because there’s been far too much strife going on lately vis–à–vis employees blogging about their work (or even not about their work, but just being identifiable as an employee by what they post about in general) and being fired.

I could be working in a paint factory or something. You never know. But you won’t know (or at least shouldn’t) from what I write here. I don’t intend to mention work a whole lot, anyway.

Right now, though, I’m having the usual ‘night before work’ blues. You know: won’t be able to stay up as late as I did, my whole day will be eaten up, I’ll have to rush things I didn’t rush before, etc. etc. etc. With any luck (and a fair amount of state generosity) I won’t run out of cash before the first paycheck comes through. With even more luck, I’ll find out I’m doing something interesting, or at least not oppressive. There are plenty of people who honestly don’t dread going into their jobs each day. I want to be one of them. There are plenty of people who actually like what they do quite a lot, in a real sense. I want to be one of them, too.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

d00d, TH15 r0x0r j00r b0x0rz

G3t y0ur PHr3Ku3N7ly H4s|{3d K0o?St330nZ 4n5w3r3d H3r3:

“w00t”, “w007”, or “\^/007” or the smiley “\o/” is a common interjection, analogous to “Yeah!” or “Yippee!” One view is that it originated as a variant of the interjection “whew”. Another view believes that it is from hacking, when a hacker would exclaim “Root!” when he got root access. Yet another view is that it originated from an acronym for Want One Of Those. It actually got started as part of the online arena–FPS gaming community (esp. Quake) — short for “We Own the Other Team”.

And just in case you still have no idea — why not????/ The linked article is from Wikipedia and describes ‘Leet’ in detail.

Ulysses & Pepys

No, not Ulysses the god. Ulysses the book – by James Joyce – is now available in daily weblog format, a page a day. (Via Foreword.) It follows on from the previously–established Pepys’ Diary (which, as well as being voyeuristic is an entirely unpretentious intro to the period in which Samuel lived.

I swear this is real

Courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

From MetaFilter: Have you heard of Fucking?

In Austria?

As a result of increasing attention from the media, Fucking has become more and more well–known throughout the world.

Apparently it’s as old as the hills. Well, not quite. But still a very old place. MetaFilter also points to the Amish (ha!) town of Intercourse, in Pennsylvania, and Pussy, and Condom, in France.

Wikipedia has a list of other unusual placenames: I particularly like Big Bone Lick (Kentucky), Bastardo (Italy), Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (a lake in Massachusetts), Dildo (Newfoundland), Lord Hereford’s Knob (a hill in the Welsh Borders, also called Twmpa), Muff (Northern Ireland), Fok Shitt Wan Kaa (Northern Thailand), Little Shittington (in a fictional English country I made up myself), Pissing–by–the–Sea (ditto), Simmering (in Vienna, Austria), Twatt (in both the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scotland) and finally the seemingly unpronounceable Zzyzx in California.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


(wakes up)

(burning throat and burning nose running like a tap)

(painful sneezing fits)

(feeling of utter lethargy and slothfulness, aches in legs)

This isn’t flu. This is hayfever, a really, really bad day, it’s just not fair. :o((( (cries)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Stephen Carrie Blumberg: book thief extraordinaire

From 'Gods Becoming Men' by Olga Tobreluts

More on the above at the end: I thought it was colourful but it wasn’t what I immediately wanted to write about here.

I want to write about this. Grand Theft Biblio.

It finished, years afterwards, with doorknobs. Stephen Blumberg, and his associate Steven Worden (apt, really) were found in a house — which was then in possession of a bank — having stolen a rather impressive amount of doorknobs. Blumberg’s theft of a vast amount of rare manuscripts and books from libraries across the nation was only remembered later. And he’d previously been sentenced for that, erm, offence.

At 2 a.m. on March 20, 1990, police in the small town of Ottumwa, Iowa ended the career of a man who is arguably the world’s most notorious bibliomaniac. With his arrest that night, Stephen Carrie Blumberg said goodbye for the last time to the library he had spent twenty years amassing. In that time he had gathered books from forty–five states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces. The value of his collection has been estimated conservatively at seven million dollars. Blumberg’s library, like all good collections, had a unifying theme; every one of his 23,600 books had been stolen.

Blumberg was allowed to continue his 1990s bookish spree because historical libraries, on discovering a theft, would not release information or co–operate with police for fear of advertising their lack of security – and for fear of ridicule.

Blumberg stole books because he loved them. There was not a thought of selling them on — no: they were far too precious for that, and far too deserving of a caring, careful owner. He is significant, Jon Wilson writes, to anyone with an interest in understanding bibliophiles because his obsession with books grew out of an understandable passion for them. Only in his extreme and criminal actions did he cross the line from book love to book madness. In Blumberg we see the characteristics of a true bibliophile, magnified by a madness that was not original with him. Blumberg is only a recent example of a collector whose book love has turned into book madness.

The Museum Security Network’s Book Thefts page muses:

He takes some understanding. How does one reconcile an apparently genuine appreciation for a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle bound in ivory calfskin and a slovenliness so pronounced that the wife of an acquaintance felt she had to Lysol the chair he had sat in whenever he stopped by? He barely finished high school. He never married. He had a long history of mental illness. He was nomadic, driving around the country in an old Cadillac or truck, stealing books, endless books, books he selected with care for his collection. But he was not above common thievery. Often, with henchmen, he would steal antiques and sell them. He came from a well-off family and had a private income of $72,000 annually, but now and then he needed extra money. He never sold his books. He said he would return them one day.

I won’t rehearse the shadowy shenanigans to which Blumberg must have been driven in his quest to liberate these precious paper parcels from their academic slumber. It is easy — as Miles Harvey explains in his positively stellar, compulsive book The Island of Lost Maps — to remove an individual page from a rare book. Even when you are under the proboscis of a particularly hawk–eyed librarian in a million–dollar facility with security guards.

(I have to interrupt here. You know that book reference above? The American Society of Archivists, bless it, is awfully sniffy. “Of far less relevance is Harvey’s preoccupation with his own psychological motivations for writing The Island of Lost Maps,” it positively declares. “These ruminations occur too frequently and belong in a diary and not this book.” What nonsense. The man’s infectious enthusiasm shines through and is a delight. Anyway. Book theft.) —

It is less easy to remove an entire book. It is positively difficult to repeat this feat, again and again, until one has amassed one’s own illicit library. And yet Blumberg succeeded.

I know I said I wouldn’t go into his methods. But I can’t help wondering: how does a man, looking like your usual library–rat, manage to order up a priceless manuscript or map from the stacks and then just disappear with it? He is obviously the living incarnation of every film noir trenchcoat that has ever… been projected.

Present–day librarians — and not just universities — still worry:

Not having to erase books my last few minutes, I meander over to the bulletin board. A new posting about a convicted library thief is hanging front center. The full–page warning has two photos of Stephen Carrie Blumberg, a full description of height, weight, hair color, and an account of events leading up to his jail time and recent release on probation. The All Points Bulletin sent out warnings to all libraries and bookstores to look for this felon. Blumberg was convicted in 1990 of “interstate transportation and possession of 19 tons of rare books and manuscripts valued at approximately $20,000,000. He was sentenced to 71 months imprisonment and 36 months parole” (APB, 1996). Blumberg was ordered by the courts to notify his parole officer before visiting any bookstore or library and is supposed to identify himself by name to staff at these locations. “Luckily the students at UI are not ‘professional thieves’ as this man appears to be,” I think to myself. Interrupting my daydream about the library thief, the computer lab monitor hollers at me, “That’s everybody,” as he exits the library. Whew...

PNLA Quarterly: Pacific Northwest Library Association, 76:2 Winter ’93 [PDF].

Plucky librarians, and The Law, do have some recourse to safeguards, however. In 1996, our tender, bookloving Stephen was required by a Judge to identify himself on entering any library or bookstore. In the UK ths order would be important because it is hardly ever imposed — except on juveniles who have repeatedly robbed a shop, or on paedophiles who have frequented a neighbourhood. The fact that the innocents at risk are books and the predator a bibliophile kleptomaniac shows the depth of concern to which a Judgely breast may be stirred in the States.

And here are some more interesting things: More stealing, this time of subway trains. More maps – this time by artistsMillbank Pier in London… Travel (of a kind, actually standing still) at airports… and more travel (except this time underground, in the city of New Yorkan index of –ians and –ites from The Morning NewsGods Becoming Men: Olympic figures in Athens this summer… that’s about it for now.

Bless this house

Pollen Grain: image (c) U. of Arizona

It’s warmer outdoors than it is indoors today. It was the same yesterday also, courtesy of a stone–tiled hallway and kitchen downstairs. I can’t think of another reason, anyway — my window is petulantly and firmly closed as the pollen is annoying me too much, and I’m sitting here and pretending not to notice as it gusts up at the panes invisibly and tries to get my attention. If it keeps this up, I may complain to its clematis.

Gigantic caught my attention (because of its name, and secondarily because of this jaunty post on blog redesign) via Gapers’ Block (which has a list of summer reading including several titles that had me nodding in encouragement), via Link Worthy (which contains link after link and a linky blog buried somewhere inside, too).

And now I can’t remember what I was going to write about in the first place, so I’m off for some green tea.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The old man said something special…

…when he left the White House for the last time. His farewell speech to the US, given on a midwinter night in 1999, and which I’ve just watched for the first time, was delivered with an almost grandfatherly benevolence. And in it:

Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the people.” “We the people” tell the government what to do, it doesn’t tell us. “We the people” are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the people” tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the people” are free.

And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.

That speech (the transcript is here) certainly shows what newfound eloquence can come from having an ‘Old Hollywood’ actor in a political job: I suspect that Reagan knew before he started that his job would be just as much about acting as it was about politics. However, in this speech there’s something more.

This speech isn’t a promise of what he’ll do. It’s his last speech; he can do nothing more as President. This speech isn’t a monolithic account, handed to History, of what he’s achieved. It is instead, as I’ve said above, a fond eulogy, high on emotion and low on detail, to his time spent changing things. A grandfather talking to his grownup grandchildren, his eyes sparkling and his lips poised in a grin, occasionally pursing more than slightly, as older mouths seem apt to do.

And what do you think? How do you want things? Never mind ‘America’ — I’m interested in what I’ve done, and I hope you’ll feel it was worth it. If you don’t, then speak, and don’t stop until you’ve got what you want.

He seems to be saying all that. Of course, he’s a politician. That is his skill. He is an actor. That is his vocation. And he is a Republican, with those values. But I sense a world of difference between his ‘less government’ ideal and Bush’s ‘more government’ soapbox.

Lassoed by a politician with an actor’s guile? Probably. But I yearn for the day when Bush, or anyone like him, says anything remotely like that and means it.

Reagan Lies in State

Reagan lying in state: Capitol Rotunda - Copyright Stephen Crowley, New York Times

And Bush lies in the White House. Cough.

Well, I guess something like this just had to happen, didn’t it?

Capitol police officers, shouting “Airborne threat, four minutes out!” ordered an evacuation as loud alarms sounded, and dozens of dignitaries and former Reagan aides gathered in a reception room near the Senate floor went running down the north steps of the Senate wing.

That’s a quote from the New York Times’ story on President Reagan’s lying–in–state at the Capitol in Washington. State? Hmmm, not for the first few minutes anyway.

Jonathan blogs the former President’s death and the resulting media *cough* obsequies *cough* here, more knowledgeably than most Brits could, because he’s not a Brit:

Ronald Reagan is dead. Can you believe it? What do you mean, of course, you silly twit? Haven’t you seen the impassioned media coverage of this sudden news? And the plans for the biggest funeral America has seen in 30 years?

Dad and I talked about it. I said ‘Didn’t he start off as a Democrat?’ and Dad said ‘I don’t know, but it doesn’t make any difference. There’s very little space between them’. To which I replied something like ‘Well, they do have a liberal electorate there – small enough not to make a blind bit of difference’.

Anyway, I’m certain loads of Americans are distraught over this. It’s a big thing for them. But even if I *was* American, I’m not sure I’d care that much even then.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

When you next go to the US…

…try to make sure it’s in about twenty years or so. By then, hopefully most of the Orwellian laws which currently sit astride your personal freedoms will have disappeared.

A British journalist, Elena Lappin, was strip–searched and imprisoned for more than 24 hours before being deported — for, as MetaFilter puts it, ‘the crime of not knowing about a never enforced 1952 law requiring “special” journalist visas’. A few grabs from her story, which was the first link above:

The Patriot Act, introduced 45 days after 9/11, contains a chapter on Protecting The Border […] One of its innovations was to revive a law that had been dormant since 1952, requiring journalists to apply for a special visa, known as I–visa, when visiting the US for professional reasons.

“You came here as a journalist, and you don’t have a journalist’s visa.” I had never heard of it. […] I requested a glass of water, which the interrogating officer brought me himself. He was a gentle, intelligent interrogator: the interview lasted several hours and consisted of a complete appraisal of my life, past and present, personal and professional. He needed information as diverse as my parents’ names, the fee I would be paid for the article I was working on […]

“How dare you treat an American officer with disrespect?” he shouted back, indignantly. “Believe me, we have treated you with much more respect than other people. You should go to places like Iran, you’d see a big difference.” The irony is that it is only “countries like Iran” (for example, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe) that have a visa requirement for journalists. It is unheard of in open societies, and, in spite of now being enforced in the US, is still so obscure that most journalists are not familiar with it. Thirteen foreign journalists were detained and deported from the US last year, 12 of them from LAX.

This poor woman wasn’t simply told she couldn’t stay and put on the next flight home. She was caught up in a web of officialdom (increasingly applied to peaceful journalists in the US) which chose to flaunt its power for no other reason than…

Than what? I honestly don’t know what to write to finish that sentence. It baffles me. Transport security? Is that being handled well? Is that why they show so much… caution? Not on your life. Is it to combat terrorism? The National Post doesn’t seem to think so.

Oh, hang on, I know! Under current rules, yes, rules which apply to everyone (apart from bad nations – the UK is officially counted as Good) entering the US, you can enter ‘for business or pleasure’ without a visa for a few months. That rule suddenly doesn’t apply to journalists — lying deceitful harmful terrorist scumbags that they are.

I want a reason for that distinction. I want Colin Powell or Tom Ridge to stand up in front of the Press, and the foreign citizens the Press exists to serve, in a fortnight’s time, and give a goddamn fucking REASON. (Although an apology and a withdrawal of these absurdities as quick as possible would be the decent thing to do, really, wouldn’t it?)

Monday, June 07, 2004

Spy on your MP – See photos – Take Photos

TheyWorkForYou is a new beta site which is maintained by a group of guys who say, in their intro to the site: “We are a dozen or so volunteers who think it should be really easy for people to keep tabs on their elected MP, and comment on what goes on in Parliament.”

It contains a way for you to search Hansard (the UK Parliamentary Record) easily and have your results presented as individual speeches. This feature currently goes back only as far as 2001. But the amazing thing is that you can type your postcode, see who your MP is, see their biography, their voting record, how often they’ve actually been in the House… very useful for some people, and very interesting for me.

A MetaFilter thread linking to excellent, high–resolution AP photos, and high–resolution photos of D–Day. (May disappear soon.)

Another MetaFilter thread containing a moderate flamewar — arising from signs that Bush’s White House may be slowly imploding. Hopeful news if ever I heard any!

And finally: although London’s underground travellers haven’t had the right to take photos on the Tube for some time, New York’s citizens are facing their first such ban. And they’re protesting, as Gothamist reports and Unrelated News shows.

Man gets pissed off, demolishes town

Police move in to arrest the dead man

If this wasn’t so obviously devastating to the town concerned, it’d be absolutely hilarious. Oh, wait: it is absolutely hilarious! :o)

GRANBY, COLORADO — Friends said Marvin Heemeyer hadn’t been seen much lately, and now they know why: he was turning a bulldozer into an armor–plated vehicle.

A vehicle weighing 53 tons and encased in foot–thick reinforced plating, to be exact.

He’d got pissed off about his business taking a turn for the worse, had feuds going with quite a few people in the little town. And then the last straw: this builder (don’t mess with builders!) had a snowmobile (pretty essential in that town, I gather) and it broke down.

And what happened? He’s dead. The police found him like that, inside his vehicle with his stash of guns.

It only took them about nine hours to open the door.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

World War Two ~ War on Terror? What bollocks

I left a comment on this (previously referenced) thread on Dean’s World a while back, and more recently posted the comment below. I’m posting it here because, well, I think it matters enough to say it here too.

There was a victory of patriotism over partisanship [in World War Two]. I’d be inclined to emphasise the monumentally extreme nature of the Nazi threat to the allies collectively a little more, and individual patriotism a little less, however, but that’s a moot point.

However, if (as I suspect) this discussion also attempts to draw a few sneaky parallels between the War on Terror and World War II and the rightness / worldwide agreement / worldwide fear / political acceptability / imperative of truly historic proportions thereof, those parallels will fail.

I say this with my mind concentrated on the goods and evils of World War II and not on those of the War on Terror: these two conflicts are not comparable. No succour for the present war, or for any other war, can be drawn from the specific and horrible threats the Allies faced in the 30s and 40s.

I say the above after having also spent more or less an entire half–year reading various books about WWII. I, like everyone here, am living through the current war. Right or wrong completely aside, I simply don’t sense that we are living through a period which ‘matters’ as much as that one did. Or (the usual naysayers you get in every war aside) that we are in a war agreed upon by as many people worldwide as those who agreed at the time about the absolute necessity of overcoming the Nazis back then.

These are just two completely different wars. Mixing them up with comparisons will be done. Colleagues of mine will be among the guilty parties. I just don’t feel it would serve a purpose, I don’t think it would work — I just don’t think parallels can be drawn between the two. Enough said.

Well, maybe not quite enough said. Over at Dean’s World, even though I despise a lot of the politics there, the discussion on this topic is decent, as you habitually find there, and circumspect. But if I hear of a single proponent of the “War on Terror” directly trying to milk World War Two of some sort of support for their agenda, I’ll want to rip the insensitive f———er limb from limb.

Operation Overlord: D–Day, June 6th, 1944

Sixty years ago today, “Operation Overlord” entered its combat phase as American, British and Canadian troops dropped from the sky in gliders and parachutes, were carried across the sea by a vast flotilla of ships, and struggled from the water into Normandy. The beaches were divided into sections for the purpose of landings and initial operations.

The sections were, from the west, respectively: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword. American troops would land at the first two beaches and the British and Canadians at the last three. A map of the area is here.

The assemblage of landing craft waiting to carry the troops that morning was massive.

Earlier, Airborne divisions, composed of gliderborne troops and, shown above, paratroopers, had landed in countryside set back from the invasion beaches, with the aim of taking roads, gun emplacements, and disrupting German troop and reinforcement movement inland. Most paratroopers landed well away from their drop zones due to German flak, and gliderborne troops and vehicles were sacrificed to Normandy’s monumentally tall and thick hedgerows.

Machinery had been manufactured in great quantity to clear beach obstacles after the infantry advance. It was carried on comparatively small landing craft which were designed to land right on the beaches and allow these bulldozers and tractors, followed by amphibious tanks, to drive off.

Flail tanks like these would be used to harmlessly clear minefields so that vehicles and reinforcements could cross and establish an Allied beachhead.

On the morning of June 6th, men and equipment were loaded onto LCTs (shown above).

This photo from the US Navy shows troops in the tiny ‘Higgins Boat’ approaching the beaches. These craft were flat–bottomed and were skippered by US Navy Coast Guards. Many were completely swamped, and most ran aground on sandbars, resulting in heavily–laden troops having to jump into deep water and dump their equipment to avoid drowning. Those who were ‘luckier’ faced the scene below.

This scene from ‘Omaha’ Beach shows troops exiting a Higgins Boat and making for the start of the sand. They had in most cases over a mile of water, sand and shingle to cross. The beaches were strewn with steel obstacles, anti–tank and –personnel mines, and were raked by fire from small arms, heavy machineguns, mortars and artillery. Due to the Airborne misdrops during the night, German artillery inland was able to lay precisely–targeted, withering fire on the invasion beaches, and the German gunnery on the beaches themselves was from strongly–built reinforced–concrete emplacements which stood up to direct hits from Allied Navy artillery offshore.

Those who made it across the sand to the shingle and then the cliffs found sights like this (photo: US Navy) every metre of the way. Because of initial German fire superiority over the beaches, many men were killed and vehicles, radios, guns, ammunition, boats, lifejackets, cigarettes, rations, etc. were destroyed before they made land. Exits from the beaches were not established for several hours and some were not ‘open’ even as night fell. This meant that there was nowhere to go, and beaches were sometimes under enemy fire and crowded with Allied men and equipment well into the evening, as seen below.

There is another excellent overview of Operation Overlord at Wikipedia, and a rich selection of info at the BBC World War Two subsite.

The Imperial War Museum's photo search page yields impressive results if you search for the subject: ‘Operation Overlord’ and within the period ‘World War Two’. The US Naval Historical Centre has these pages:

  • Overview
  • Crossing the English Channel
  • The landings in general
  • Omaha Beach
  • Omaha Beach II
  • Utah Beach
  • Pointe du Hoc
  • And it all happened 60 years ago today. Those guys who went onto the beaches and dropped from the sky over Nazi-infested Normandy – a lot were killed. Those who lived would be in their eighties or nineties now, or also dead. The D-Day Museum states:

    On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy. The American forces landed numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 43,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7900 airborne troops.

    11,590 aircraft were available to support the landings. On D-Day, Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and 127 were lost.

    In the airborne landings on both flanks of the beaches, 2395 aircraft and 867 gliders of the RAF and USAAF were used on D-Day.

    Operation Neptune involved huge naval forces, including 6939 vessels: 1213 naval combat ships, 4126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. Some 195,700 personnel were assigned to Operation Neptune: 52,889 US, 112,824 British, and 4988 from other Allied countries.

    By the end of 11 June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.

    On estimates only, I work out that if casualty figures, including injuries, are evenly spread for June 6th alone when approximately 10,000 were killed, missing or injured, and 59 ships sunk, it works out that:

  • c. 7 men were killed or injured per minute
  • c. 5 aircraft were lost per hour (although this does not take into account the massive percentage of air and glider sorties which took place over Normandy in the first 6 hours)
  • c. 2 ships or landing craft were sunk per hour (and this is extremely skewed as most craft were sunk directly after 6am, when the landings first began)
  • And that was all in a day, over a tiny part of France.

    Apart from doing google searches for further info, I’d recommend one paperback book. It’s not often I recommend books on this blog, but D-Day by Stephen Ambrose is superb and even if you think you aren’t interested, you will be.

    Saturday, June 05, 2004

    Garden (un)design

    Koto-in, photo by Alan Tarver, courtesy JGarden

    James Fenton in today’s Guardian Review decries a dangerous buildup of design concerns when it comes to gardens.

    I think, taking the few, precious, historic Japanese gardens we have an an example, that design has its place. It can result in a an effect of completely natural development; an absence of design. A Japanese garden can look obviously designed but so uplifting and absorbing that it is a liberator of the mind instead of an oppressive place. Even though in some cases each and every pebble for the shore of a pond was chosen and placed by hand, the effect is still natural hundreds and hundreds of years later.

    I particularly like Daisen–in, Shugaku–in, Kôtôin, Daitokuji Hojo and Kinkaku-ji.

    Pope violently lashes Bush — with his tongue

    Photo: Associated Press

    The Guardian has this report on Dubya’s gloriously ignominious visit to the Vatican:

    The Pope yesterday subjected George Bush to a very public, relentlessly critical assessment of the US administration’s performance in Iraq, attacking “deplorable” abuses of prisoners and calling for an international solution to the country’s crisis.

    During the president’s visit to the Vatican, which the administration had hoped would help him win Catholic votes in November’s presidential election, the Pope warned Mr Bush he would never succeed in the war on terrorism if he failed to ensure respect for basic human rights.

    I’m not happy in a nasty vindictive I–hate–Bush–whoever–he–is way. I’m very very happy that this has happened, though, because the man reallly has mucked up so much about the world since late 2001 that he’s always deserved a public dressing–down by someone. And since the Pope isn’t as partisan diplomatically as politicians usually are, who better to carry out the job?

    However, as I said in a previous post, the Pope is a quavering old man and what he had to say has made no real impression on Bush or America. (It may affect the Catholic vote there in time, but that remains to be seen.) Largely it won’t change a damn thing. Of that I am certain.

    1944 headlines — today?

    Here’s a really fascinating article written in the present day, but about D–Day. It’s meant to show how the operation would have been reported by the world’s current media.

    In an as yet unfolding apparent fiasco, Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower’s troops got a rude awakening this morning at Omaha Beach here in Normandy.

    Due to insufficient planning and lack of a workable entrance strategy, soldiers of the 1st and 29th Infantry as well as Army Rangers are now bogged down and sustaining heavy casualties inflicted on them by dug–in insurgent positions located 170 feet above them on cliffs overlooking the beaches which now resemble blood soaked killing fields at the time of this mid–morning filing.

    More darkly, this phase of the war, commencing less than six months before the next general election, gives some the impression that Roosevelt may be using this offensive simply as a means to secure re–election in the fall.

    Underlining the less than effective Allied attack, German casualties — most of them innocent and hapless conscripts — seem not to be as severe as would be imagined. A German minister who requested anonymity stated categorically that “the aggressors were being driven back into the sea amidst heavy casualties; the German people seek no wider war.”

    But it wouldn’t have been reported like this today, and there are a few good reasons for that.

    First, the entire world had looked on in literal horror and fear as Germany grew and became more grotesque and threatening. Second, the entire world was in agreement that Germany had to be completely neutralised. Third, it was at the time arguably the world’s most effective fighting–machine. Fourth, like other citizens, modern–day journalists would have recognised all the above. They would also have recognised the need for high morale on the home front in the face of such a threat, and would not have written such speculative reports.

    And finally, every journalist — nay, every single individual — of today, when faced with such an enemy, would categorically avoid and dismiss any electioneering conspiracies. The watchword would be morale for the first few days of World War II, whether it happened in 2004 or 1944.

    Thursday, June 03, 2004

    Waterstone’s Piccadilly: ‘Personal Shopper’ alert

    This isn’t such a weird story as it might seem. The Daily Telegraph, Via MoorishGirl:

    Waterstone's flagship store in Piccadilly has had a “dedicated Personal Shopper” – who will help customers with tricky buying decisions – for some time. Zoe Hall is the young lady who can help you. However, Ms Hall has now added another string to her bow: instead of just recommending particular titles she will, if requested, come up with a whole library.

    The “Personal Library Service” offers those with empty shelves an opportunity to fill them at one go. To illustrate the point Waterstone’s has produced a list of 30 titles which they consider to be “The Essential Library”. It contains such must–haves as Passing Time in the Loo by Stevens W. Anderson, The Mammoth Book of Jokes by Geoff Tibbles and The Good Food Guide. If this were not disconcerting enough, the bookstore seems to be under the impression that the plays of William Shakespeare, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings and A. A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh, along with every other title on the list, are works of “non-fiction”.

    A library is an organic thing, it accompanies you through life, and ought to reflect the taste and knowledge of its owner, not the bookseller. Still, should you need an “all–pink” collection for a seven–year–old, call Ms Hall. Her expertise — but not the merchandise — comes free of charge.

    I was a fixture in the Piccadilly store for more or less all of 2001 — just after the jets had crashed into the World Trade Center, the people milling around for books about Nostradamus were there in droves — and the store was full of what I can only describe as consumer–oriented promotions even then.

    To partially defend this abovementioned crime: as Waterstones’ flagship store, Piccadilly was always going to have ‘supermarket’–type offers which other branches wouldn’t have, and it did. But it also had (and still has) a brilliant stock, which becomes gloriously quirky in certain departments.

    However, Zoe’s being a bit silly here. Either that or the manager is. Or the marketing manager is. Or the otherwise excellent helpfulness of the staff has crossed the line dividing ‘extremely helpful’ from ‘absurdly helpful’. The list (which, unhelpfully, isn’t presented in full by the Telegraph) is… awful. I mean, as a writer and a reader I look at it and think it’s awful. And the thought that a single bookseller anywhere could conceivably help anyone (apart from themselves) to build an entire library, however basic, is risible. *sigh*

    Summer evenings & tiny feathered rear ends

    I was just outside in the garden, sipping my glass of wine (Clock Tower, delicious and expensive) after dinner. We’ve got the wooden chairs out now that summer’s approaching in earnest and one of them is still covered in, hmm, excreta from various birds who relieved themselves on it last summer.

    So I sat there and told poo jokes to myself. And fart jokes, too.

    And then I thought: if we didn’t have an anal or excreta taboo, there’s no way we could have fart jokes because they just wouldn’t be funny. The transgression makes the humour.

    So thank christ, in a way, for one particular taboo!

    Free, web–based email wars

    First there was Hotmail (Microsoft doesn’t get a link from me. Ever. They screw with my Opera) and then there were offshoots. Then there was the furore over Google’s GMail: it would offer you a massive amount of storage space but bots would search the content of your emails for targeted ad purposes.

    Then there was… Aventure Mail. It’s web-based free email, with a large amount of storage space for free, and it’s down. Already. It seems to have recently sprung up, it’s been MetaFiltered and Slashdotted (which is a pretty good server–load simulation for anyone who would provide free email to the web), and it’s fallen at the first hurdle.

    A quick look at the whois info informs me that the admin lives about 10 minutes’ drive away from my house. Maybe I should go over and knock on the door – only to find that the door maybe doesn’t exist in the first place.

    Heh. Kidding. But seriously, since ‘The Troubles’ ended, entrepreneurship has been popular here. Popular, rushed, and ill–regulated, with consequent amateurishness. You see that here. Belfast person decides to start free, large–storage web–based email service: is taken by surprise by traffic issues. *sigh*

    I don’t care though (Pete said, in an ironically geeky way) because I have my lovely first–preference email address and nobody else in the entire world can get one right now and yadda yadda. *grin*

    Wednesday, June 02, 2004

    D-Day anniversary approaches: French vow to down planes

    It's just bizarre, truly bizarre. In a hilariously sad twisting of historical events, on the 60th anniversary of D-Day (Sunday) there will be a no–fly zone over Normandy. France has been raised to its second–highest state of alert since there’ll be world leaders there, and has vowed to shoot down any plane which flies over the region. Here’s a snip from the BBC:

    Some 9,000 troops are being deployed in the northern region, and any planes violating a no–fly zone in Normandy will be shot down, the military warned.

    Surface–to–air missiles have already been installed along the coastline.

    A host of world leaders, including US President George Bush, are to attend the weekend WWII anniversary event.

    Among the guests will also be Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — the first German leader to be present at such an event.

    I’ll skim over all the objections I have to this distasteful flocking of grandees: Veterans and their families will face a hell of a time getting near the area (for the first time in 60 years, no less); townspeople and villagers will not be able to leave their homes in some towns on the day itself (hmm, there’s another twisted mirror); that Bush and Blair will be there is, to put it mildly, a gross affront to the essential and discrete sense of remembrance and dignity which should attend such an anniversary; since in another ten years’ time there will be only a handful of veterns left, this anniversary should be about them, not present-day world leaders who have *chosen* war over peace rather than been truly compelled by a genuinely nasty worldwide imperative.

    America, like Britain, has mythologised its own version of the second world war. Both nations have internalised their own myths to such an extent that they now have to make a determined effort not to see the modern world through a false glass. In spite of our 1940 myth, Britain does not stand today alone against Europe. In spite of its 1944 myth, America is neither the world’s only hope of freedom nor seen as such by other nations.

    This weekend, a wartime president will stand where a peacetime president stood a decade ago. Perhaps he will rise to a little humility in the face of 80–year–olds who learned the hard way what war is and what it is not. But don’t count on it. Bush is unlikely to ask the veterans what they did right and he did wrong. More probable, as Simon Schama put it last week, is that the man who has waged a really bad war will again eagerly invoke the reassurance of the Good War. It is absolutely the wrong lesson.

    Like Martin Kettle (article quoted above originally in The Guardian but for some reason I can’t reach the site right now), I’m cringing at the thought.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Weblogs as online journalism — < snore >

    The International Symposium of Online Journalism discusses, predictably enough, the rise of blogging and its value / meaning / effectiveness / growth / origin / yadda yadda, as journalism. There’s a paper about Wikipedia (PDF) — although why an encyclopedia makes it into the conference centre, I’ve no idea — and one about MetaFilter, Slashdot, Plastic and Kuro5hin (also PDF).

    This could be gone into all year long, all century long, and still nobody would be any the wiser. I’m a trained journalist and I’m also a blogger. INewspapers and the BBC give me the facts, like a bomb going off somewhere or someone winning a race. Where the facts are murky or questionable, like a big scandal or exactly how much global warming is fucking up the planet, I turn to the internet for my factual meat because I can read information, posts by people who question that information, posts which add more, posts which conflict… well, you get the idea.

    When I write an article for a newspaper, the output is the product of all that sifting through claim and counterclaim, interview and rant. When I write a blog entry or reply to someone else’s, the output is my personal preference in what to write or think about, or a supported statement of pure opinion, or an addition to discussion.

    Journalists are employed to do all the research (at least in my idealistic mind) from multiple angles and present an honest and balanced digest thereof. Bloggers aren’t employed to blog and they bring only their own viewpoint and supporting sources, which instantly enter the mesh of the internet as one more piece of information for the browser to read. The difference is clear. You don’t need to have a symposium to figure this out. It’s simple!

    But I guess it keeps some academics in research jobs and puts food on their table. It keeps the meme going. It’s terribly, terribly meta (and therefore very much ‘last year’). And as for weblogs as wikis: we have one word for ‘weblog’ and another word for ‘wiki’ and there’s a reason for that. *sigh*

    Reading papers like these makes me feel both exasperated and on the verge of being justifiably condescending. After all, since I know the net quite well, pointing out professors’s sprawling misunderstandings is as monumentally frustrating as teaching your granny how to do something as simple as printing a file. And It’s so endearing when you see someone 20 or 30 years your senior wallowing in academic consternation and confusion about your own familiar online home. Makes you want to reach out and pet them. Aww!

    Now then, Professor, have a seat here beside Mr. Router, Mrs. Monitor and Ickle Baby Mouse. Sitting comfortably…?” Heheh.

    And you know where I got this from? Slashdot!