The Somme in All Its Gory – Monday Map

Brilliant Detective Work at 4D Somme

Cartographers use the scarred landscape of France, World War I maps, and satellite imagery to plot the battlefield in stunning detail

somme-overlay

The website 4D Somme is dedicated to the British units raised in Ireland and Ulster, who saw considerable action during the battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916, and ended nearly 5 months later, on November 18th.

But the overall imagery provided covers the entire battlefield.

somme-lines-july-november

Above, the British lines at the start and end of the battle.

Hundreds of thousands died to move the front about 7 miles – over one million casualties in total among the British, French, and German forces fated to take part in arguably the most savage and costly battle in human history.

The satellite maps and the overlays taken from actual WWI strategic mapping can be zoomed into down to the individual village, trench, or observation post.

somme-air

Above, actual reconnaissance photographs lined up perfectly where they were actually taken from aircraft similar to those operated by my maternal grandfather, who flew for the American forces father south near the end of the Great War.

While other sites go into greater detail about the people who fought and died along the River Somme in 1916, this site is entirely engrossing and highly recommended.

The 4D Somme full url is

http://queensub.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=f0629347d5dc4d6987686f876eec5649

 

Remembering the Somme 100 Years On

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Battle of the Somme

World War I veteran memories reveal the horror and humanity, and lessons that need relearned, however painful

Forty years ago, author Martin Middlebrook collected eye-witness accounts for his seminal work on the most horrific battle known in human history. But most of them remained hidden until only a few months ago, when they were turned over the Imperial War Museum, in London.

Many of them have now been made available to the public.

Please check out these podcasts and interesting short articles at the museum’s website.

And this article about them at the BBC’s website.

The battle began on July 1, 1916, when over 58,000 British soldiers were lost, with a third of them killed outright. Compare that to the American loses on D-Day (4,697,) at Gettysburg (23,049 over three days) and it will help put things into perspective.

The Somme lasted nearly five months, resulting in over 1 million causalities.

At a time when a new and popular video game, Battlefield 1, is focusing on the combat that took place during the First World War, it is sobering to learn of the real life experiences of actual veterans, many of whom could not bring themselves to speak of their combat experiences until near the end of their lives.

But it is even more important that such stark reality be exhibited before the minds of anyone advocating the use of military force and sending the young men and women of today into harm’s way in the name of  “our national interests” or “national defense.”

somme-satellite-map

source: 4D Somme

A Most Dishonorable Result

We get the government we deserve

Such quotes give scant comfort in an era when integrity means so little

During the first State of the Union Address given by President Barak Obama, when he stated that health care reform would not cover illegal immigrants, Joe Wilson, Republican Representative from South Carolina, shouted from his seat, “You lie!”

The President stopped his speech long enough to reply, “That’s not true.” But too few Americans could tell the difference between the two statements.

Social media was filled with commentary about the incident, with many saying things like “What’s the big deal? Democrats have booed Republican presidents during their addresses too.”

I knew then that if relatively literate, educated Americans do not understand how partisan booing of a President’s policies differed from a serving member of Congress declaring before the nation and the world that the President of the United States is a dishonest and dishonorable man, we were in serious trouble.

But I completely underestimated just how bad it has become.

Now, seven year later, the minority of Americans who actually vote have elected someone to the Presidency who has repeatedly proven, in absolutely verifiable ways, that he is serially dishonest and egregiously dishonorable, and they voted for him anyway.

Like so many, I failed to heed the dire warnings of Carl Sagan at the end of the last century, as he predicted how the American people might sign away their very liberty, if education in this country so deteriorated that voters were unable to distinguish fear mongering from inconvenient truths, and propaganda from reasonable assertion and argument supported by empirical evidence and verifiable fact.

But even such a brilliant wise man as Dr. Sagan could not have envisioned an American electorate unable to see the difference between the baseless character-smearing of the expert career bureaucrat proven to be the most truthful Presidential candidate in this past election cycle, and the overwhelming documentary evidence proving that the rank amateur who won the Presidency is a truly dishonest and dishonorable man unfit to serve on even a PTA board.

Like many a successful shyster, he convinced them to vote against someone else. I realize that a lot of these voters were simply unaware of what they were actually voting for.

Facts Forgotten

The Trump campaign won in part by using the technique where you accuse someone of something terrible, which cannot be disproved, and then say it louder and louder and over and over until the masses believe it must be true.

Trump’s increasing declaration that no one has ever been more corrupt than Hillary Clinton was nothing more than an outrageous insult to hurl at an opponent. It can’t even be considered an opinion, as it has no basis in fact, and was put forth and repeated without a shred of evidence presented to back up his claims.

This technique is known as “the Big Lie” and it has worked very well for many people like Trump, since Adolf Hitler published the concept in Mein Kampf in 1925.

That is not to say Trump is a Nazi. He isn’t.

Fascism doesn’t mean “Nazis.” It means “the merger between the corporation and the state.”

That is the definition of Fascism according to Giovanni Gentile, the man who invented it.

And that is exactly what the American people voted for; even if most of them didn’t even know it, including Donald Trump.

All they know is they voted for the tough-talking outsider who is going to shake up Washington – by voting into power the very corruption they thought they were voting against.

They just handed the White House and Congress to the Oil Companies whose profits are soaring but pay no taxes, the Insurance Companies that will deny them healthcare or skyrocket their premiums once the ACA is repealed, the Pharmaceutical Companies who will continue to charge them many times more for drugs than what people pay in other countries, and the shadowy firms who make most of the weapons of mass destruction in the world and grow fat by eating up more than half of every tax dollar that should be going to repair our schools, bridges, roads, and affordable healthcare in the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have it.

In case you think such statements are soft on “national defense,” you may have not noticed that the USA’s military is larger and more powerful than THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED.

A Safe Place

At 3:30 AM, after drinking more scotch than at any time my life, I posted on social media my sincere disappointment with the results of the most important election in my lifetime, and my disgust for those who would knowingly vote for Institutionalized Intolerance, Bigotry, and Brutality, which Donald Trump embraces and encouraged.

I received a private message in response to my election night reaction, asking “Do you need a blankie and a safe place?”

My impromptu reply included the following:

Oh my.

You could not be more wrong.

I have spent far too many years in a very safe place on an island off the coast of America, in the only cosmopolitan city on the continent.

From here I could feel sorry for working class women in places like Texas, who could not access safe and affordable healthcare, or even a textbook on history or science that presented the world to young minds as it really is, rather than sustaining the precious but false beliefs of those empowered to ban books and even ideas.

But my own life was relatively untouched by such things, and I grew complacent and comfortable and on the sideline far too long.

While I could be tempted to emigrate from America to the civilized world – a place that is, around the globe, horrified at what happened here on the 8th of November – that would be deserting my homeland on the brink of its worst crisis since the Civil War.

Only, this time, the winning forces belong to the bigotry-based aristocracy that grow ever richer on the masses of ignorant laborers, because they vote against their own better interests, if they vote at all.

A little over a decade ago, representatives from around the world, who really know what they are talking about, took part in a poll that named North Korea as the worst threat to world peace and global stability.

The United States of America came in second.

The Obama Administration went a long way toward repairing the severe damage to our credibility brought about by the last Republican administration, as well as overseeing an historic and remarkable domestic economic recovery from the calamity that happened during the Bush Administration, and all despite disgraceful obstructionism on the part of a hostile Congress, the like of which having never before existed in U.S. history.

So yeah, I am distraught to the point of despair that the United States of America is now going to backslide from all of that progress and set the world back decades if not a century, when very real threats like Climate Change cannot wait, rather than leading the world into a brighter future, as it once did.

As a white Anglo-Saxon male with health insurance, most any election result hardly touches my own life.

Yet I grieve for my fellow Americans who will suffer mightily as a result of this election. And that includes those who brought it upon themselves.

Well, some of them anyway.

But I grieve most for those in this once great nation that was built upon principals of enlightenment and justice for all, whose civil rights and human rights are threatened, denied, or abused, now that the Ugly Americanism of ignorance, intolerance, bigotry, brutality, and persecution have been given a green light and the reigns of power, and in many cases will almost certainly be legislated into law.

Tolerance Has Its Limits

I have never been particularly political, except in cases of notable social injustice. My life has been built upon tolerance, even for the most intolerant, who I tended to pity if not as much as their victims, except in cases of overt bigotry. But no longer.

With very few exceptions for the genuinely ignorant or those of misguided religious principals, I simply will never forgive anyone who voted for Donald Trump in knowing opposition to raising the minimum wage so families with two full-time working parents do not live in poverty, protecting Social Security and Medicare, science education standards based on actual science rather than denial or mythology, true environmental protection, truly equal civil rights and protection under the law for all Americans including equal pay for equal work and national healthcare, stopping criminals from buying firearms without a waiting period in some states to use for crimes in other states, and forcing corporations and the extremely wealthy to pay taxes equal to their income.

Those are all things you voted against if you voted for Trump.

And for those who voted thus out of concern only for their own personal greed at the expense of their fellow citizens, just so they can pay fewer taxes in a country with one of the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world, I have lost any respect I might have held for you as a human being – permanently.

 

2016 NFL Football Season Underway

The NFL Football season is upon us.

Predictions and reflections

The first game prediction Denver 24 – Carolina 20

But really, I cannot remember a Week 1 where so few games seemed a sure thing.

Seattle at home against Miami, yeah. But anything could happen in the other games, given all the changes in personnel and people missing in action for one reason or another.

Out on a limb time: End of Season Rankings

NFC East – Cowboys

NFC North – Packers

NFC South – Panthers

NFC West – Cardinals

Wild Card – Giants, Seahawks

Dark Horse – Saints

AFC East – Patriots

AFC North – Bengals

AFC South – Colts

AFC West – Raiders

Wild Card – Steelers, Broncos

Dark Horse – Jets

Woodstock – Still Wonderful 47 Years On

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair.

It actually took place over three days (spilling over into a fourth) on a dairy farm outside of Bethel, New York, because the sleepy town of Woodstock voted to reject the initial plan to have it there.

For the 40th anniversary some films were put together, dedicated to first two days.

Here they are for your enjoyment.

Running just under an hour per film, they are full of footage shot for the Oscar winning documentary entitled Woodstock, but much of it previously unseen. This includes fascinating and entertaining examples of the crowds who attended, as well as the people who put on the festival and the musicians who performed there. Many of these performances were not included in the original theatrical release.

Day One Music Line Up: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Ravi Shankar, Tim Harden, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez went on at 1 AM to close the first day’s program.

 

Day Two Music Line Up: Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janice Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who went on at 5 AM (due to earlier rain delays, ending at sunrise,) The Jefferson Airplane went on at 8 AM, closing out Saturday’s program

 

Day Three Music Line Up: Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnnie Winter, Blood Sweat and Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Monday starting at 6 AM – Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix

Unfortunately, there isn’t a Part 3 available for these videos. But here are some videos from the musical perofrmances…

Crosby, Stills and Nash (before Neil Young came out)

And an except of Hendrix’s legendary performance, before a small crowd of diehard audience members who remained.

Woodstock Festival 1969 – Monday Map

Woodstock’s Three Day’s of Peace and Music

Actually it took place some 50 miles from Woodstock, NY, near the town of Bethel. The site is currently occupied by the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

1969 woodstock festival location

 

My own Woodstock memory comes ten years after the fact.

I was a freshly minted young adult when I attended the midnight movies on Hollywood Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California, to see the film Woodstock, some weeks before the official 10th anniversary was about to take place.

As I waited in line I was befriended by an older guy, with long hippiefied hair and a mustache partially hiding the fact he was missing his two upper front teeth. He claimed he had lost them at Woodstock and that he has a brief cameo in the documentary. He also provided me with various hippiefied things we could ingest to increase the mood of the event.

We sat in the front row of what was my first of many viewings of this iconic film. And indeed, he appeared on the screen, 10 years younger but recognizable.

That next day I was off to the Hollywood Bowl to see a very special concert. I had won tickets on the radio, when I had called up to request a song. Knowing no one in LA that could go, I went alone – without sleep, since I was still soaring from the stimulating night before.

The concert was the first major event that would lead to the “No Nukes” concerts that took place around the U.S. in the coming months.

Being August in LA, I stopped at the Safeway where Hollywood and Sunset meet, to get some fresh fruit and as much water as I could carry, and took the bus to the concert.

As a ticket winner I was allowed in early, and was amazed to see my current hero, David Lindley in person, on stage, doing a sound check with Jackson Browne. I rushed down the sundrenched aisle and accidentally bumped into a woman who had suddenly risen from a chair and started heading up the aisle. I stopped and grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her and to apologize, to Joan Baez.

There she was, looking into my wide eyes with the dilated pupils, the same woman I had seen 12 hours earlier, very pregnant and ten years younger, sending out an a cappella “Sweet Home Sweet Chariot” thundering over the midnight hills and midnight movie like a Valkyrie priestess. And thus the most profound and seriously enjoyable time trip ensued.

Graham Nash and John Sebastian also appeared, also ten years older than I had seen them a few hours before. I sank into my box seat and soaked up the heat and fruit and water, never sure if the quivering waves before my eyes were from the heat or hippified ingestiments.

This was primarily small and acoustic performances. There were no big speakers or large bands. The closest being Maria Manchester, who was joined by her father and brother and others, playing the oboe and cello as I recall.

Peter, Paul, and Mary were the real headliners, but the single most impressive performance came from John Denver, of all people, who took advantage of the acoustics to step out in front of the microphones and simply blow everyone away with his own a cappella vocal prowess.

Ten years on, the spirit the pervaded the Woodstock was still very much alive and well in 1979, despite the fact the radio and Hollywood and Sunset were full of disco queens of both sexes by this time. And my identity remained rooted very much in the social-political idealism of Woodstock and the No Nukes movement pretty much to this very day.

Peace

Treasure Trove on Cornelia Street

Since 1977 the Cornelia Street Cafe has enriched the cultural life of New York City.

For almost 40 years, this West Village mecca has provided delicious food and the unique, inspiring performance of music and the spoken word.

And it is currently proving as impressive and delightful an experience as ever, if not more so.

The Bill

Stopping by for an excellent meal, I learned about their summer Solo Fest, starting this week.

Each evening will feature solo performers, beginning with Amy Stiller on Wednesday, July 13, in “Just Think,” a semi-autobiographical journey of the only non-famous member of a very famous family.

 All Solofest offerings are at 6 PM and cost $10, which goes to the artist, plus a $10 food or drink minimum.

That is a spectacularly great price for the chance to see Arturo O’Farrill, the multi-Grammy-winning composer and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing alone on the baby grand piano in an intimate setting. As he will on Friday, July 15.

And on Tuesday, July 19, the cafe’s own Robin Hirsch will present “The Whole Word Passes Through” with tales of the many fascinating people, both famous and obscure, who have crossed the threshold of the Cornelia Street Cafe.

This former Oxford, Fulbright, and English-Speaking Union Scholar never disappoints when it comes to his prose or his extemporaneous storytelling.

The festival runs through July 27, with music, comedy, theater, and political satire. See the cafe’s official website for the full line up and the many other performances taking place this summer.

 The Food

There isn’t an item on the menu I cannot recommend. But my favorites include the kale caesar salad, with just the right amount of avocado and grape tomatoes; the smoked salmon plate with toasted bread, chopped red onion, herb cream cheese, and large capers on the stem; and the richly luscious sea scallops, when they have them.

My go-to entree has been the crusted salmon, which is always excellent. But I only recently had the chicken breast for the first time. Was I ever missing out? It is so tender and juicy and flavorful that it may make you rethink ordering more exotic fare when dining out around New York City. It really is that good.

 The Wine

Mr. Hirsch is understandably proud of the wine list, which offers some interesting and quite reasonably priced selections from around the globe, many of which you are unlikely to taste elsewhere.

I am a new and enthusiastic fan of the Skyline Red, from Idaho, of all places. This blend of several grape varieties is velvety to the point of buttery, with plump dark berries, and integrated oak that is spread throughout, rather than just providing the fruit bowl.

There is also the Cafe’s own label, which appears on a refreshing chardonnay of grape skins, with orchard fruits ripening over time, and on a juicy plum of a pinot noir, both with nicely mild oak and extremely moreish.

And just last night I had a very interesting white wine from France – Perle Bleue, made with a grape used for Cognac and Armagnac. I am not by nature a white wine drinker, but this was extraordinary. Not sweet, but not particularly dry, it had a wisp of sea salt on the nose, and arrived on the palate like an ocean wave, with a vibrant splash that quickly subsided into a relaxing, lingering finish. Itself moreish, but in a curiously enigmatic way.

I cannot speak much to the beers. When people ask me if I am a beer snob, my reply of “Beer is an English word for something made in England by Englishman,” usually shuts down the conversation rather quickly.

But the cafe currently has Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on tap. This Michigan brew is one of best beers in America, with a medium body that is dry yet malty and buttressed by a crisp hoppy edge that remains firm but not overbearing. So it is on par with an English IPA and therefore not the face-puckering astringent grapefruit juice typical of American craft brewing.

The Spirit

But I of all people would be remiss if I did not mention they have some nice Cognac brandy available, which is reminiscent of typical cafe digestifs in France – grounded and pleasant at a decent price. And they also have Brenne, the French single malt whisky.

Made with French barely in French stills in the Cognac region, Brenne is aged in new oak from the Limousin forest, and finished in casks that had previously aged Cognac.

A pure malt spirit of high quality, it is hard to believe it is a scant 7 years old. The telltale toasted marshmallow and wood spice of French oak are further enriched with the orange zest, white pepper, and maraschino cherries of the cognac finishing.

Its youth is revealed by the bubble gum vanillins and lactones on the nose, and the relatively quick finish. However, single malt this young would normally be a blend of various casks, to cover up the rougher edges of immature spirit and smooth out the uncouth tannins. Brenne is bottled as single cask whisky! – astonishing, since it shows none of the harshness normally experienced in younger malts.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the Cornelia Street Cafe is a veritable jewelry box of sensual pleasures and sensational Jazz, poetry, and other artistic expression. It is well worth the time if you are in Greenwich Village, and well worth the effort to get there if you are not.

Open every day except Christmas Day, with 700 shows a year.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Trip Advisor has to say on the cafe.

And that is one man’s word on…

The Cornelia Street Cafe

Cornelia Street Cafe Painting

Painting by Stephen Magsig

The Deadly Zone Rouge of France – Monday Map

Some 100 square kilometers of France is completely closed to people. It is known as Zone Rouge – the Red Zone.

The land there is utterly poisoned by the human folly that was World War I. To this day it remains unfit and unsafe to tread upon, 100 years later.

Zone Rouge - France's Deadly Red Zone

Surrounded by many more kilometers that have been slowly and imperfectly reclaimed, most people are unaware this caged landscape exists among the otherwise beautiful French countryside, near the border with Belgium.

There the Red Baron fought and fell, along with countless others of less-lofty reputations. And there, two place names became synonymous with human suffering on an obscene scale, because of the atrocious loss of life that took place there – Verdun and the River Somme.

As revealed in eye-opening detail at a blog dedicated to all sort of curiosities, the Zone Rouge is freakishly other-wordily, as the residents living near by continue to harvest a ghastly collection of munitions and human remains.

“… the forsaken territory, originally covering more than 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq miles) in the years following the Great War. Today, around 100km2 (roughly the size of Paris), is still strictly prohibited by law from public entry and agricultural use because of an impossible amount of human remains and unexploded chemical munitions yet to be recovered from the battlefields of both world wars…”

The essay is supplemented with many photos from one Olivier Saint Hilaire, which are indeed evocative. With more found via the link to his personal website.

This representational map of the Somme campaign makes up the Red Zone area between the towns of Cambrai, Arras, and Amiens.

The Somme 1916

The Lost Generation

One hundred years ago, one of the most cataclysmic battles in human history was raging in northern France.

The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916. Fifty-three years earlier, on July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg commenced in Pennsylvania.

Over three days of fighting at Gettysburg, a total of 51,112 Americans on both sides were lost as casualties during the entire battle, with some 7,000 killed outright. It remains the bloodiest, most lethal three days in American history.

During the first day’s fighting at the River Somme, the British Army alone lost over 57,000 men, with 20,000 dying on the field.

FIFTY-SEVEN THOUSAND.

The battle lasted four months. The combined losses of the Franco-British and Imperial German armies were over 1.5 million men.

ONE AND A HALF MILLION MEN.

On Thursday last, I watched the semifinal football match of the European championships, between France and Germany. These young men, almost all of them in their 20s and among the finest physical specimens their nations could produce, were giving everything they could to prove victorious for the expectant countries and their own personal glory. And throughout the relatively civil competition, I was haunted by the fact that these same champion athletes would almost certainly have been wearing the uniform of opposing armies locked in deadly strife, had they been born 100 years earlier.

They would have undergone a very different kind of training and physical conditioning to hone their elite skills for the purpose of killing their fellow Europeans, in a war between states whose rulers were, in some cases, cousins.

cousins

For me, the obscene absurdity of the so-called Great War isn’t found in the fact closely-related cousins could inflict such horrors upon their own closely-related European peoples. But rather, that the people of Europe could have done it all over again less than 30 years later – with far worse destruction of treasure and human lives.

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, it is important to remember that the peace that has existed there is not to be taken for granted. Rather, it has required an enormous change of attitudes in nationalism, jingoism, and xenophobia, and continual efforts since the end the Second World War to prevent backsliding.

May the centennial of the Somme and other atrocious acts of war in the coming months and years help to educate and supplicate the current tensions rippling across Europe and its neighbors.