29 July 2007

Victoria Cross: A. Jacka


Lance-Corporal, 14th (Victoria) Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Born: 10 January 1893, Winchelsea, Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery on the night of the 19th-20th May, 1915, at "Courtney's Post," Gallipoli Peninsula.
Lance-Corporal Jacka, while holding a portion of our trench with four other men, was heavily attacked. When all except himself were killed or wounded, the trench was rushed and occupied by seven Turks. Lance-Corporal Jacka at once most gallantly attacked them single-handed, and killed the whole party, five by rifle fire and two with the bayonet.

(London Gazette Issue 29240 dated 24 Jul 1915, published 23 Jul 1915.)

Medal of Honor: F. D. Baldwin


Captain, Company D, 19th Michigan Infantry
(later First Lieutenant, 5th US Infantry)

Born: 26 June 1842, Manchester, Mich.

Citation: Led his company in a countercharge at Peach Tree Creek, Ga., 12 July 1864, under a galling fire ahead of his own men, and singly entered the enemy's line, capturing and bringing back 2 commissioned officers, fully armed, besides a guidon of a Georgia regiment.

Citation: Rescued, with 2 companies, 2 white girls by a voluntary attack upon Indians [at McClellans Creek, Texas, 8 November 1874] whose superior numbers and strong position would have warranted delay for reinforcements, but which delay would have permitted the Indians to escape and kill their captives.

28 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J K Rowling)

(I suppose I should begin by warning that there are mild spoilers here. I do say that a few things happen, but in most cases I don't specify who is involved. So it should be safe to read this, even if you haven't finished the book yet.)

My family got started on the Harry Potter books shortly after the US edition of the second book came out. They were already starting to get a lot of publicity; my mother-in-law was a librarian*, and her library had both books, so she brought the first one home to see what the fuss was about. I spotted it lying on the table and picked it up - and couldn't put it down. And she, my wife and I have bought every book since then as soon as we could after publication. My older daughter started reading them, too, after seeing the first movie. (By now she's read the first six books at least five times each, and I think that as I write this, she's reading Deathly Hallows for the third time....)

I have to admit that by the time this book - the seventh and last one in the series - came out, the questions of who lost, who won, who lived, who died, who married whom, &c, were almost secondary. The thing I most wanted to know was just what, exactly, made Severus Snape tick. We finally get to find out in chapter 33 (of 36); I was right about whom he was really working for (Dumbledore or Riddle), but the reasons behind everything blew my mind.

In the previous book, Half-Blood Prince, it was discovered that Lord Voldemort (once known as Tom Riddle) had split his soul into several parts and embedded most of those parts within objects known as horcruxes; as long as at least one horcrux remains intact, Voldemort cannot be killed. When Harry, Ron and Hermione were last seen, they were planning to drop out of Hogwarts and go looking for both the horcruxes and a means of destroying them. They do, and the fun begins....

If you're one of those who have been turned off by the idea of reading children's books, forget that - this is no longer just a children's series. There's no sex, other than a couple of instances of passionate snogging, but there's quite a bit of violence. Several characters, amongst them a couple whom we've known since the first book, are killed, and others are injured (including one victim of "friendly fire"). Bellatrix Lestrange meets her well-deserved end, at the hands of an unexpected opponent. The final battle between Harry and Voldemort (yes, they do square off at last, and no, I'm not telling who wins - go read the book!) was well done. When Voldemort faced Dumbledore at the end of Order of the Phoenix, he became angry when Dumbledore kept calling him Tom; he seems to like it even less when Harry calls him Riddle.

And speaking of Dumbledore, we get a lot of really interesting background information on him....

Not all is death and violence, of course. A lot of minor characters we haven't seen recently reappear - such as Harry's old Quidditch team (Oliver Wood, Katie Bell, &c), Viktor Krum, the spiders and centaurs from the Enchanted Forest, Dobby and Grawp. Griphook, the goblin who first took Harry to his private vault at Gringotts, plays an important role. We also see the whole Weasley family, including Charlie, Bill and Percy. There are two weddings (one of them offstage), and a baby is born.

A few choice lines:
"If you think I'm going to let six people risk their lives - !"
" - because it's the first time for all of us," said Ron.


Never once had he imagined Dumbledore's childhood or youth; it was as though he had sprung into being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old. The idea of a teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt.




"OI! There's a war going on here!"


... a herd of galloping desks thundered past, shepherded by a sprinting Professor McGonagall.

I do have a couple of minor complaints, one being that while the Death Eaters are using every unforgivable curse and any other deadly spell they can think of, Harry and his friends are still using stunning spells and trying to disarm their opponents. I also thought the epilogue ("Nineteen Years Later") was a little too cute, though those who are really desperate to know the futures of some characters (Do those two really marry?) will be happy with it.

All in all, it's a good, strong book, one of the best in the series. Rowling does a good job of tying loose ends together in a satisfactory manner. (I'm going to reread the entire series now, in order, using my knowledge of the ending to see what I missed the first time through.)

Update 2209 29 July: Edited to add a couple of points that were in my original (mental) draught, plus a spoiler warning, and to correct some misspelt words.

* I say "was," because she is now a retired librarian.

Freedom Crusader

How to Win a Fight With a Liberal is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Conservative Identity:

You are a Freedom Crusader, also known as a neoconservative. You believe in taking the fight directly to the enemy, whether it’s terrorists abroad or the liberal terrorist appeasers at home who give them aid and comfort.

Take the quiz at www.FightLiberals.com

ZUI the Guide to Conservative Breeds.

H/T to Tam.

27 July 2007


There are motivational posters:

There are Demotivators.

Now, there are Military Motivators:

See the rest of them here.

H/T to LawDog.

22 July 2007

Victoria Cross: L. E. Queripel


Captain, The Royal Sussex Regiment; 10th Parachute Battalion

Born: 13 July 1920, Winterbourne Monkton, Dorset

Citation: In Holland on the 19th September, 1944, Captain Queripel was acting as Company Commander of a composite Company composed of three Parachute Battalions.
At 14.00 hours on that day, his Company was advancing along a main road which ran on an embankment towards Arnhem. The advance was conducted under continuous medium machine-gun fire which, at one period, became so heavy that the Company became split up on either side of the road and suffered considerable losses. Captain Queripel at once proceeded to reorganize his force, crossing and re-crossing the road whilst doing so, under extremely heavy and accurate fire. During this period he carried a wounded Sergeant to the Regimental Aid Post under fire and was himself wounded in the face.
Having reorganized his force, Captain Queripel found himself cut off with a small party of men against the strong point holding up the advance. This strong point consisted of a captured British anti-tank gun and two machine-guns. Despite the extremely heavy fire directed at him, Captain Queripel succeeded in killing the crews of the machine-guns and recapturing the anti-tank gun. As a result of this, the advance was able to continue.
Later in the same day, Captain Queripel found himself cut off with a small party of men and took up a position in a ditch. By this time he had received further wounds in both arms. Regardless of his wounds and of the very heavy mortar and spandau fire, he continued to inspire his men to resist with hand grenades, pistols and the few remaining rifles.
As, however, the enemy pressure increased, Captain Queripel decided that it was impossible to hold the position any longer and ordered his men to withdraw. Despite their protests, he insisted on remaining behind to cover their withdrawal with his automatic pistol and a few remaining hand grenades. This is the last occasion on which he was seen.
During the whole of a period of nine hours of confused and bitter fighting Captain Queripel displayed the highest standard of gallantry under most difficult and trying circumstances. His courage, leadership and devotion to duty were magnificent, and an inspiration to all. This officer is officially reported to be wounded and missing.

(London Gazette Issue 36917 dated 1 Feb 1945, published 30 Jan 1945.)

Medal of Honor: H. W. Kuchneister


Private, US Marine Corps; USS Marblehead (C 11)

Born: Hamburg, Germany

Citation: On board the U.S.S. Marblehead during the operation of cutting the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898. Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, Kuchneister displayed extraordinary bravery and coolness throughout this action.

21 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Got home from Borders with our copy of the book (and also my mother-in-law's copy) just before 0100. Unfortunately, I have to be at work at 0730, so I went straight to bed. No telling when I'll actually get to read the thing; my next day off isn't until Wednesday....

Update 0057 22 Jul: I got home around 1600 to discover that my 11-year-old had already finished the book. (She admitted to having stayed up until dawn, reading.) No-one else was home, so I claimed the book; I'm now on page 502 (beginning of chapter 25, "Shell Cottage"), about two-thirds of the way through.

One of the girls from work was also at Borders at midnight; she told me that she had stayed up long enough to read the first two chapters, and they were intense. I'll say. The whole bloody book is intense - it hasn't slowed down a bit since the beginning. Wow.

Update 0015 23 Jul: Wow....

20 July 2007

Living VC holders

The other day, when I wrote my post about Corporal Bill Apiata VC, I mentioned that there were 12 other living holders of the Victoria Cross. Just for the record, here's the complete list:

Lt Col Eric C T Wilson VC, East Surrey Regiment - Somaliland, 1940
WO Tul Bahadur Pun VC, 6th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1944
Flt Lt John A Cruickshank VC, RAFVR - North Atlantic, 1944
Maj The Right Hon Sir Tasker Watkins VC GBE, The Welch Regiment - France, 1944
L/Nk Bhanbagta Gurung VC, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1945
Hav Lachhiman Gurung VC, 8th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1945
Pte Edward Kenna VC, Australian Imperial Force - New Guinea, 1945
Lt Cdr Ian E Fraser VC DSC, RNR - Johore Strait, 1945
Sgt William Speakman VC, The Black Watch - Korea, 1951
Capt Ram Bahadur Limbu VC MVO, 10th Gurkha Rifles - Indonesia, 1965
WO Keith Payne VC OAM, Australian Army - Vietnam, 1969
Pte Johnson G Beharry VC, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment - Iraq, 2004
Cpl Bill H Apiata VC, New Zealand SAS - Afghanistan, 2004

19 July 2007


You've probably run across lolcats a time or few by now - those cute pictures of cats (or occasionally other critters) with sayings added, usually in what I've seen described as a cross between 1337 and Engrish. For instance:

Now there's something even better: philolsophers.

And my favourite:

16 July 2007

Boats of the rich and famous

The latest thing amongst the mega-rich, it seems, is luxurious private submarines. ZUI this article from the Seattle Times:
The ocean floor is the final spending frontier for the world's richest people. Journeying to see what's on the bottom aboard a personal submersible is a wretched excess guaranteed to trump the average mogul's stable of vintage Bugattis or a $38 million round-trip ticket to the international space station aboard a Russian rocket.

Luxury-sub makers and salesmen from the Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf say fantasy and secrecy are the foundations of this nautical niche industry built on madcap multibillionaires.


Herve Jaubert, a former French navy commando, swapped his cutlass for a screwdriver in 1995 to build his first luxury submarine. Now chief executive of Exomos, a Dubai-based custom-sub maker, Jaubert takes a more romantic view of the work: "I'm a poet who builds submersible yachts for rich people."

"Spending $80 million for a boat that goes underwater in a market where one that doesn't costs $150 million is a deal," Jones says. "Our Phoenix 1000 is four stories tall, a 65-meter-long blend of a tourist and military sub."

Indeed. According to this*:
The Phoenix 1000 is a 65-meter (213') personal luxury submarine. The initial design was originally executed for a client and now awaits a buyer. As proposed, the submarine would constitute the single largest private undersea vehicle ever built, and arguably, one of the most significant personal transportation devices of the century.

And what does one get? Well, to begin with, this thing (which when surfaced, looks like an ordinary - large, but ordinary - yacht, has an estimated range of 3500 nautical miles, with a cruising speed of 16 knots (top speed, 18 knots). The maximum submerged speed is only ten knots, but the operating depth is 305 metres. Yes, that's 1000 feet.
The main passenger area consists of two decks, each 31 meters (102') long and 6 meters (20') wide. The upper deck is accessed from one of two hatches, either from the deck saloon or from a hatch to the after portion of the superstructure. Two stairways, one in the center of the deck, the other in the after section, lead to the lower deck.

The upper deck is intended to provide space for an engineering workstation, a switch and contactor room, crew cabins and mess, as well as the galley. The forward portion, which ends at a bulkhead, is designed as a room of the owner's choosing.

The main deck is situated such that the forward portion, with eight 1.8 meter (6') diameter acrylic windows, contains the living and dining areas, while the section aft of the beam houses the owner's stateroom and guest cabins. Five viewports, 90 centimeters (35") in diameter, are situated on both port and starboard sides.

For a mere 78 million US dollars, in case you're interested.

But ownership of these private subs, it seems, can lead to some severe problems.

ZUI this article from NineMSN:
Some of the world's richest people are reportedly using their private submarines to indulge in deep-sea sex in front of panoramic marine vistas.

But these aquatic trysts are sometimes interrupted by groups of voyeuristic dolphins, which excitedly tap on windows with their beaks.

One of the world's top designers of luxury subs, US Submarines president Bruce Jones, told Bloomberg that dolphins were a problem for the amorous owners of his multi-million dollar vessels.


* Clicking on "Luxury subs," above the name Phoenix 1000, gets you this description of smaller offerings from the company. The Seattle 1000 actually sounds reasonable - sort of. (No price quoted, but as the man said, if you have to ask, you can't afford it.)

15 July 2007

APC 6, mobile-phone towers 0

ZUI this article (with photo) from CNN.com:
A man appeared in court in Sydney on Saturday after taking an armored personnel carrier on a rampage through the city's western suburbs in which he destroyed six mobile phone towers, Australian media reported.

Wondered briefly if this was someone I knew, until I saw that the man arrested was only 45 years old....

The Washington Post has slightly more in the way of details.

H/T to Tam.

Victoria Cross: A. J. T. Fleming-Sandes


Temporary Second Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion The East Surrey Regiment

Born: 24 June 1894, Tulse Hill, London

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery at Hohenzollern Redoubt on 29th September, 1915. Second Lieutenant Fleming-Sandes was sent to command a company which at the time was in a very critical position. The troops on his right were retiring and his own men, who were much shaken by continual bombing and machine-gun fire, were also beginning to retire owing to shortage of bombs. Taking in the situation at a glance, he collected a few bombs, jumped on the parapet in full view of the Germans, who were only twenty yards away, and threw them.
Although very severely wounded almost at once by a bomb, he struggled to his feet and continued to advance and throw bombs till he was again severely wounded. This most gallant act put new heart into his men, rallied them and saved the situation.

(London Gazette Issue 29371 dated 18 Nov 1915, published 16 Nov 1915.)

Note: 2nd Lt Fleming-Sandes's first name was given in Gazette issue 29371 as Arthur. An amendment printed in Issue 29381 (dated and published 26 Nov 1915) reads:
The first Christian name of Second Lieutenant A. J. T. Fleming-Sandes, V.C., 2nd Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment, is "Alfred," and not as published in the London Gazette of the 18th instant.

Medal of Honor: G. A. Davis Jr


Major, US Air Force; commanding 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force

Born: 1 December 1920, Dublin, Tex.

Citation: Maj. Davis distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While leading a flight of 4 F-86 Saberjets on a combat aerial patrol mission near the Manchurian border [on 10 February 1952], Maj. Davis' element leader ran out of oxygen and was forced to retire from the flight with his wingman accompanying him. Maj. Davis and the remaining F-86's continued the mission and sighted a formation of approximately 12 enemy MIG-15 aircraft speeding southward toward an area where friendly fighter-bombers were conducting low level operations against the Communist lines of communications. With selfless disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy, Maj. Davis positioned his 2 aircraft, then dove at the MIG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear he singled out a MIG-15 and destroyed it with a concentrated burst of fire. Although he was now under continuous fire from the enemy fighters to his rear, Maj. Davis sustained his attack. He fired at another MIG-15 which, bursting into smoke and flames, went into a vertical dive. Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy fire being concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MIG-15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Maj. Davis' bold attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighter-bombers to successfully complete their interdiction mission. Maj. Davis, by his indomitable fighting spirit, heroic aggressiveness, and superb courage in engaging the enemy against formidable odds exemplified valor at its highest.

13 July 2007

NZ VC awarded for Afghan service

ZUI this article from The Australian:
A New Zealand soldier has become the first person since World War II to be awarded the country's highest honour for bravery, after a daring rescue of a wounded comrade while serving in Afghanistan in 2004.

Corporal Bill Apiata of the New Zealand Special Air Service was given the Victoria Cross for New Zealand.

The medal is based on Britain's Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for British soldiers.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said Corporal Apiata, 35, was awarded the medal for carrying a severely wounded soldier across open ground while coming under heavy fire.


There are 22 New Zealand soldiers who have been awarded the British Victoria Cross, the last of which was in 1946 for service in World War II.

New Zealand separated its system of honours and awards from Britain's in 1999, creating the new award.

Like New Zealand, fellow Commonwealth countries Australia and Canada have established their own version of the British Victoria Cross.

TVNZ has this to say:
It was 3.15am one morning in Afghanistan in 2004 when a troop of SAS soldiers came under fire from 20 enemy fighters with machine and rocket propelled grenades.

Apiata was blown off the bonnet of his vehicle in the attack and one of colleagues was seriously injured. Apiata picked up his colleague and carried him 70 metres in what was described as broken, rocky and fire-swept ground under heavy fire. He placed his colleague into safety and then joined the counter attack.

The government says Corporal Apiata showed little regard for his own life when he saved his colleague who would certainly have died from loss of blood otherwise.

And from The Age, we have this:
Three other members of Apiata's squad, from the Special Air Services commando unit, were awarded lesser gallantry medals for actions in the battle, in Afghanistan in 2004. They were not named for security reasons, Clark said.

Apiata was a member of the SAS squad that won a Presidential Citation from US President George W Bush in 2004 for their actions in Afghanistan.


His medal is the first Victoria Cross awarded a New Zealander since WWII and the first to a serving member of the Special Air Service anywhere in the Commonwealth, Clark said.

Clark said Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, New Zealand's head of state, had approved the award for Apiata.

The New Zealand Herald has Cpl Apiata's citation, as well as the other three, here.

In addition to Apiata, there are currently 12 living holders (six British, two Australian and four Gurkha) of the Victoria Cross: eight from World War II, and one each from Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Iraq.

A Rhyming History of Britain: 55 B.C.–A.D.1966 (James Muirden)

My sister-in-law gave me this book for Xmas '05, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. At first glance, it appears to be something along the line of 1066 and All That, but it's actually a serious (more or less) book. Inspired by Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Verses, Muirden has written exactly what the title says – a history, in iambic tetrameter, of Britain. As he says in the introduction:
I am not a historian. In fact, I wrote this poem in order to teach myself some history. I thought that sorting facts into verse form would concentrate my mind wonderfully. Which it did!

He picked 55 BC because, as far as I know, that's the first definite date in British history.
To start this Rhyming History,
I've chosen 55 B.C.
The Romans, who had got their hands
on all the European lands,
Could see this last annoying bit,
And thought they ought to conquer it.
Their famous Caesar, Julius,
Did not know what to make of us –
He couldn't work out who was who,
Since everyone was painted blue.
He took some souvenirs away,
Went home, and said 'Et tu, Brute?'

The book progresses onward, through Celts and Saxons (55 BC-AD 927) and the houses of Cerdic and Denmark (927-1066). We learn, amongst other things, about Hadrian's wall, the Saxon invasion, Alfred the Great, the Danelaw, Athelstan (927-939*) Ethelred (978-1016), Canute (1016-1035) and Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Then William, Duke of Normandy, arrives upon the scene.
King William wanted to create
An adjunct to the Norman State.
At Westminster, on Christmas Day,
He was crowned king; but on the way
He made clear his innate desire
To set each place he passed on fire.
Wherever his lieutenants went
Their dedicated efforts sent
Flames (and insurance costs) sky-high,
No doubt attracting passers-by,
To see what quadruped or chicken
Had thus been rendered finger-lickin'.

William I (1066-1087) was followed by his sons, William II Rufus (1087-1100) and Henry I (1100-1135). After Henry's son died, though, the nobles balked at having his daughter as ruling queen.
He [Henry], did, however, look abroad
To find Matilda (known as Maud),
His Scottish queen, who soon gave birth
To what he wanted most on earth –
A son, the princely William, who
Wed Maud (Matilda?) of Anjou.
Will sailed from France upon the flood,
His White Ship filled with noble blood...
An unseen rock – need I say more?
A single sailor reached the shore.
(Some of the crew were drunk; the manner
Of his sad death recalls Diana.)

We can conceive the king's despair.
He had no other male heir:
Though he and Maud (Matilda) tried,
All she could do before she died
Was bear Matilda (Maud), to be
His hope of continuity.
The husband Henry chose for her,
The Holy Roman Emperor,
Though head of an enormous nation,
Was not much good at procreation.
Matilda (Maud) tried Number Two:
Count Geoffrey, ruler of Anjou.

Now, since the Normans did not think
Rosé d'Anjou a pleasant drink,
Maud's husband was not to their taste.
Another challenge Henry faced
Was nephew Stephen, Count of Blois
(Tricky to rhyme, but there you are).
He'd wed the daughter of a lord,
Whose name just happened to be Maud,
Though also known as (try to guess),
So things were really in a mess:
Two sides convinced that they were right,
Engaging in a royal fight.

Stephen (1135-1154) won the ensuing civil war, but as part of the peace settlement agreed that Maud's son Henry would inherit the throne after him. The Angevin kings, or Plantagenets (so called because of the yellow broom – planta genista – they used as a badge) reigned until 1399, to be followed by the houses of Lancaster and York, and the wars of the Roses.

Along the way we get Henry II (1154-1189) and Thomas Becket, William Marshall, Simon de Montfort, Edward I Longshanks (1272-1307), Llewelyn ap Gruffyd, Robert the Bruce and Edward II (1307-1327).
Edward the Second disappeared:
Murdered, no doubt; and it is feared
A red-hot poker may have been
Inserted in his intestine.

And on and on, for a total of some 200 pages: Tudors, Stuarts, the Civil War and Protectorate, the houses of Hanover and of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, and the Windsors. Side-notes provide information that isn't given in the verse: Names of battles, acts of Parliament and other events, queens, prime ministers and other important people, as well as dates. We learn about Archbishop Scrope, the Act of Supremacy (1534), Lord Darnley, the Gunpowder Plot (1605), the Great Plague (1665), the Bloody Assizes, the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Peterloo Massacre (1819), Disraeli and Gladstone, and the World Wars.
Pearl Harbor, that uncouth event,
Was, from our viewpoint, heaven-sent.
Japan and Germany had signed
A pact by which they were aligned,
Which meant that Adolf, right away,
Declared war on the USA;
Though what with fighting Russians too,
It seemed a crazy thing to do.
(The 'Axis' nations numbered three,
The other being Italy.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Describes the state that they were in.)

The book ends (on page 208 of my paperback copy) in 1966:
I'll end my convoluted rhyme
With Bobby Moore lifting up
The 1966 World Cup
When England took their Final bow:
'They think it's over – it is now!'

In addition to all this, the book is illustrated throughout with drawings by David Eccles. My favourites are the one of the English soldiers returning from France with their souvenirs (the Hundred Years War), the variations on British troops heading off to other wars ("Here we go"), and the one of George VI (1936-1952) and the Queen Mum during the Blitz.

Well worth reading, I think. And according to Amazon, Muirden and Eccles have also collaborated on Shakespeare Well-Versed: A Rhyming Guide to All His Plays (2004) and The Cosmic Verses: A Rhyming History of the Universe (2007), which I'm obviously going to have to obtain....

A Rhyming History of Britain: 55 B.C.–A.D.1966, by James Muirden. Walker & Company, New York, 2003. Text copyright 2003 by James Muirden; illustrations copyright 2003 by David Eccles.

* Dates given for rulers are dates of their reigns.

Click on the "Poetry Friday" button at left for this week's round-up, which is hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

This day in history: 13 Jul

1174: William the Lion, King of Scots, was captured at Alnwick by forces loyal to Henry II of England.

1643: Lord Henry Wilmot, 1st Earl of Rochester, commanding the Royalist forces, won a crushing victory over the Parliamentarian Sir William Waller at the Battle of Roundway Down.

1772: HMS Resolution, commanded by Captain James Cook, set sail from Plymouth, England. Cook - and Resolution - would return from this, his second voyage, on 29 July 1775.

1787: The Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance (Ordinance of 1787), establishing governing rules for the Northwest Territory, establishing procedures for the admission of new states and limiting the expansion of slavery.

1832: The source of the Mississippi River, at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, was discovered by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.

1855: The Royal Navy launched an attack with small boats on the Russian fort at Viborg, in the Gulf of Finland. A cutter from HMS Arrogant was badly damaged by enemy fire, and drifted out of control, her crew killed or wounded. Captain of the Mast George Ingouville, despite his wounds, dived into the water and tried to pull the boat out to sea. Meanwhile, Lieutenant George D Dowell, Royal Marine Artillery (attached HMS Magicienne), was taking a break whilst waiting for his own boat to be resupplied with rockets by HMS Ruby. Spotting the cutter's plight, he set out with Ruby's quarter boat. Under heavy Russian fire, he rescued the wounded men from the cutter, pulled Ingouville from the water, and towed the damaged boat to safety. Ingouville (left, below) and Dowell (right, below) were both awarded the Victoria Cross.

1863: Opponents of conscription began three days of rioting in New York City, which would be later regarded as the worst in US history.

1878: The Treaty of Berlin, between Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey, was signed. Amongst other changes, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania became completely independent of the Ottoman empire.

1900: Tientsin (pinyin Tianjin), China, was retaken by European Allies from the rebelling Boxers. Midshipman Basil J D Guy, the Naval Brigade, stopped to assist a rating who had been wounded in the fighting. Unable to carry the man by himself, Guy tended his wounds, despite very heavy enemy fire, and then ran for help. When stretcher-bearers arrived, Guy led them to the wounded man and assisted in carrying him back. Unfortunately, the rating was shot dead just as they reached cover. Private Robert H von Schlick, 9th US Infantry, despite having been previously wounded whilst carrying a wounded man to safety, rejoined his command and, after his command had been withdrawn, remained alone in an exposed position on a dike, continuing to fire, and "obliviously presenting himself as a conspicuous target" until he was killed by the enemy. Guy was awarded the Victoria Cross; von Schlick and eight other men were awarded the Medal of Honor.

1919: The British airship R34 (Major G H Scott, RAF), landed in Norfolk, England, after 182 hours of flight, completing the first round-trip journey across the Atlantic.

1936: The all-time highest temperatures for the states of Wisconsin (114 degress F, at Wisconsin Dells) and Michigan (112, at Mio) were recorded on this date. The record high for Indiana (116, at Collegeville, was recorded the next day.

Jean-Paul Marat (1743–1793), Jochen Peiper (1915-1976) and Red Buttons (1919–2006) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Gn. Julius Agricola (40-93), Nathaniel Bedford Forrest (1821–1877), Bob Crane (1928–1978), Patrick Stewart OBE (1940-TBD), Harrison Ford (1942-TBD), Roger McGuinn (1942-TBD) and Ernö Rubik (1944-TBD).

11 July 2007

RIP: Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson

ZUI this post from the New York Times:
Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady who championed conservation and worked tenaciously for the political career of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson, died Wednesday [11 July], a family spokeswoman said. She was 94.


She died at her Austin home of natural causes about 5:18 p.m. EDT. Elizabeth Christian, the spokeswoman, said she was surrounded by family and friends.
ZUI the White House site for further information.

Wow. Hadn't even realised she was still alive....

10 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

My wife lost her military ID a while back, so this afternoon we went on base to get her a new one. PSD is right across from the Dealey Centre, and on the way in we noticed people queueing up outside the cinema entrance. Then we saw the sign: Sneak preview of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tonight! People were already queued up at 1500 for the 1900 show, but we decided it was worth coming back at 1800, after doing other necessary things, to see if we could get in. Not a problem.

My 11-year-old, who has read all six books at least five times each, was feeling a bit under the weather today, but we were really surprised when she said she didn't want to go. So it was just my wife, our 9-year-old daughter (who hasn't read any of the books) and myself. Eighteen bucks for geedunk, but the show was free, so it came to considerably less than it would have elsewhere.

I suppose I should warn that Here Be Spoilers, for those who read this but haven't either read the book or seen the show themselves....

Good: My wife and I agree that this movie was much better done than Goblet of Fire, both in doing the editing necessary in converting the book to film and also the overall flavour of it.

I thought Evanna Lynch was excellent as Luna Lovegood. Very nicely flaky; I just wish we'd seen more of her (though she at least got considerably more screen time than Tonks did). The SFX folks did a nice job on her patronus rabbit, too.

My first reaction on seeing Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the trailers was that she didn't look the part. She turned out to be another outstanding choice, though, practically dripping evil sweetness.

Grawp was also nicely done, though he was nowhere near as rough as he was in the book.

And, of course, good performances by the regulars, especially the Phelps twins as Fred and George Weasley, making their escape from Hogwarts.

Not good: My daughter, as I said, hasn't read the books, so she was very upset when Sirius died.

Natalia Tena may or may not have been good as Nymphadora Tonks. I don't know; we didn't get to see more than a few seconds of her, when rescuing Harry at the beginning of the film ("Don't call me Nymphadora!") and then later at one of the dinners at the Black townhouse.

Michael Gambon is no doubt a very good Dumbledore, and if he'd had the role from the beginning I would probably like him. The problem, of course, is that Richard Harris did the first two films, and nobody can replace Richard Harris....

And I have to admit that my favourite parts of the book were the bits with Phineas Black's empty picture frame, which were all left out of the film. (At least they did include my favourite scene from Goblet of Fire, Malfoy the Bouncing Ferret, when they filmed it.)

Overall: Outstanding. Maybe the best film in the series so far. Definitely worth going to see, even if you have to pay full price.

08 July 2007

Victoria Cross: J. E. Tait


Lieutenant, 78th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment (Winnipeg Grenadiers), Canadian Expeditionary Force

Born: 27 May 1886, Greenbrae, Dumfries, Scotland

Citation: For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in attack [on 11 August 1918, at Amiens, France]. The advance having been checked by intense machine-gun fire, Lt. Tait rallied his company and led it forward with consummate skill and dash under a hail of bullets. A concealed machine gun, however, continued to cause many casualties. Taking a rifle and bayonet, Lt. Tait dashed forward alone and killed the enemy gunner. Inspired by his example his men rushed the position, capturing twelve machine-guns and twenty prisoners. His valorous action cleared the way for his battalion to advance.
Later when the enemy counter-attacked our positions under intense artillery bombardment, this gallant officer displayed outstanding courage and leadership, and, though mortally wounded by a shell, continued to direct and aid his men until his death.

(London Gazette Issue 30922 dated 27 Sep 1918, published 24 Sep 1918.)

Medal of Honor: H. E. Goettler and E. R. Bleckley


First Lieutenant, US Army Air Corps; 50th Aero Squadron

Born: 21 July 1890, Chicago, Ill.

Citation: 1st. Lt. Goettler, with his observer, 2d Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, 130th Field Artillery, left the airdrome late in the afternoon [of 6 October 1918] on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of this mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in the instant death of 1st. Lt. Goettler. In attempting and performing this mission 1st. Lt. Goettler showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage and valor.


Second Lieutenant, 130th Field Artillery; 50th Aero Squadron, Air Service

Born: Wichita, Kans.

Citation: 2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon [of 6 October 1918] on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor.

07 July 2007

This day in history: 7 Jul

1307: Edward II became King of England on the death of his father, King Edward I "Longshanks."

1456: 25 years after her death, Jeanne d'Arc was acquitted of heresy in a retrial.

1798: The U.S. Congress rescinded treaties with France, starting the Quasi-War. Action started that very day, with USS Delaware (commanded by Captain Stephen Decatur Sr) capturing the French privateer La Croyable off Great Egg Harbour, New Jersey.*

1846: Commodore John D Sloat hoisted the US flag over Monterey, California, thus beginning the annexation of California.

1865: Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt were hanged in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, Washington DC, for conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

1898: President William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution, annexing Hawai`i as a territory of the United States.

1915: The First Battle of the Isonzo**, which had begun on 23 June, ended in an Austro-Hungarian victory over the Italians.

1944: When the Japanese launched a counterattack against US positions on Saipan and overran a neighboring artillery battalion, Private First Class Harold C Agerholm, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, appropriated an abandoned ambulance jeep and repeatedly drove out under heavy fire, single-handedly loading and evacuating approximately 45 casualties during a period of more than 3 hours. Despite intense enemy fire, he ran out to aid two more men, whom he believed to be wounded Marines, but was himself mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper.

1946: Howard Hughes was nearly killed when the prototype Hughes XF-11 crashed whilst attempting an emergency landing near Los Angeles.

1947: The wreckage of a flying saucer may or may not have been found near Roswell, New Mexico.

1948: AK1/c Kay L Langdon, CY Wilma J Marchal, SK2/c Frances T Dovaney, Y2/c Edna E Young, TE2/c Doris R Robertson and HM1/c Ruth Flora, US Navy WAVES in Naval Reserve, became the first six enlisted women sworn into the Regular Navy.***

1958: President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act into law.

In addition to Edward I (1239-1307), Henri Nestlé (1814–1890), Johanna Spyri (1827-1901), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle DL (1859–1930), Ub Iwerks (1901–1971), Veronica Lake (1919–1973) and Bill Cullen (1920–1990) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826), Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), Robert A Heinlein (1907-1988), Jon Pertwee (1919–1996), David McCullough (1933-TBD) and Richard Starkey MBE (1940-TBD).

* La Croyable was purchased by the US Navy, and served briefly as USS Retaliation.

** There were eleven or twelve, depending on who's counting.

*** If you aren't familiar with the US Navy rating system, ZUI this.

06 July 2007

This day in history: 6 Jul

1189: Richard I became King of England on the death of his father, Henry II.

1535: Sir Thomas More was executed for treason.

1553: King Edward VI of England died, to be succeeded - briefly - by his cousin Lady Jane Grey.

1885: Louis Pasteur successfully tested his rabies vaccine on Joseph Meister, a boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog.

1887: David Kalakaua, King of Hawai`i, was forced at gunpoint to sign the "Bayonet Constitution," giving Americans more power in Hawaii while stripping Hawaiian citizens of their rights.

1917: Arabian troops led by Lawrence of Arabia and Auda abu Tayi captured Aqaba from the Turks.

1918: At Villers-Bretonneux, France, Corporal Walter E Brown, 20th (New South Wales) Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, attacked a machine-gun post on his own and with the threat of a grenade, forced the surrender of its twelve defenders. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

1942: Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in the "Secret Annexe" above her father's office in an Amsterdam warehouse.

1943: Lieutenant Commander Bruce A Van Voorhis, commanding Bombing Squadron 102 (VB-102), took off in total darkness to fly a Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator patrol bomber 700 miles, without escort or support, to attack Japanese installations on Kapingamarangi Island in support of the battles in the Solomons. Despite enemy aircraft and fierce antiaircraft fire, he made six ground-level attacks to demolish the enemy radio station, other installations and antiaircraft guns, and to destroy one fighter plane in the air and three on the water. Caught in their own bomb blast, Van Voorhis and his crew were killed when the aircraft crashed into the lagoon. Van Voorhis was awarded the Medal of Honor; his co-pilot, Lieutenant (jg) H A Oehlert Jr, received the Navy Cross and the remaining members of the crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

1944: 168 people - many of them children - were killed and hundreds more injured when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus big top burned during a performance in Hartford, Connecticut.

1967: Nigerian forces invaded Biafra, beginning a civil war that lasted until 1970.

1974: The radio programme A Prairie Home Companion made its first live broadcast from the Janet Wallace Auditorium at Macalester College, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

In addition to Henry II (1133-1189), More (1478-1535) and Edward VI (1537-1553), Alexander II of Scotland (1198–1249), Kenneth Grahame (1859–1932), Vera Leigh (1903-1944), Diana Rowden MBE (1915-1944), Andrée Borrel (1919-1944), Sonya Olschanezky (1923-1944), Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975), Leonard Franklin Slye (1911–1998) and Buddy Ebsen (1908–2003) died on this date.

And happy birthday to John Paul Jones (1747–1792), Sebastian Cabot (1918–1977), Janet Leigh (1927–2004), Pat Paulsen (1927–1997), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1937-TBD), Burt Ward (1945-TBD) and Sylvester Stallone (1946-TBD).

03 July 2007

Independence Day

4 July 1776

"Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks,

I see the pageant

and pomp

and parades.

I hear the bells ringing out;

I hear the cannons roar.

I see Americans,

all Americans



-- John Adams, 1776