31 May 2008

This day in history: 31 May

1862: Confederate forces under Joseph E Johnston and G W Smith engaged Union forces under George B McClellan outside Richmond, Virginia, in the tactically inconclusive Battle of Seven Pines.

1864: The Battle of Cold Harbor began when the Army of Northern Virginia (Robert E Lee) engaged the Army of the Potomac (Ulysses S Grant) east of Richmond. The battle ended on 12 June in a Confederate victory.

1889: Over 2200 people died after the South Fork Dam, on the Little Conemaugh River, failed, sending a 60-foot (18m) wall of water through the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

1911: RMS Titanic, built by Harland & Wolff Ltd in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was launched - less than a year before she sank in the early hours of 15 April 1912.

1916: The British Grand Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe KCB KCVO and Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty GCB KCVO DSO, engaged the German High Seas Fleet, under Vice Admiral Reinhardt Scheer and Franz von Hipper, off the west coast of Denmark. The Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War, proved indecisive, though the British lost three battlecruisers, three armoured cruisers and eight destroyers, and the Germans lost one pre-dreadnought, one battlecruiser, four light cruisers and five torpedo boats. Four British sailors - Commander The Hon Edward Barry Stewart Bingham (HMS Nestor), Boy Seaman John Travers Cornwell (HMS Chester), Major Francis John William Harvey, RMLI, (HMS Lion) and Commander Loftus William Jones (HMS Shark) - were awarded the Victoria Cross.

1942: Three Japanese midget submarines entered the harbour of Sydney, Australia, in an attempt to sink Allied ships. Shortly after midnight, one boat fired a torpedo at USS Chicago (CA 29), but missed, the torpedo sinking HMAS Kuttabul instead. All three submarines were lost.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Dr Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910), died on this date.

And happy birthday to Walt Whitman (1819–1892), Don Ameche (1908–1993), Denholm Elliott CBE (1922–1992), Clint Eastwood (1930-TBD), Johnny Paycheck (1938–2003) and Peter Yarrow (1938-TBD).

30 May 2008

"In Flanders Fields"

"In Flanders Fields"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This poem was written 3 May 1915 by Canadian physician Lieut Col John McCrae, after he witnessed the death of a friend the day before. It gets posted a lot around 11 November - Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and other countries. The date, of course, commemorates the end of World War I.

I was reminded of this poem by a string of other posts I've written this year, as veterans of that war die. The "bad guys" in World War I were the three nations known as the Central Powers: Germany, the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, and Austria-Hungary. Erich Kästner, a retired judge believed to be the last German veteran of WW I*, died on 1 Jan 08. Yakup Satar, the last Turkish veteran, died on 2 Apr 08. And Franz Künstler, the last Austro-Hungarian veteran (he was born in a town which is now part or Romania), died earlier this week, on 27 May.

To begin with, the "good guys" were the three nations of the Triple Entente - the UK, France and Russia - but they were joined by the rest of the British Empire and by many other countries as the war progressed, including Italy and the US. Lazare Ponticelli, an Italian who served with the French Foreign Legion, was the last French veteran of the war; he died on 12 Mar 08. (The last actual Frenchman who served in the war was Louis de Cazenave, who died on 20 Jan 08.) The last known Russian veterans died in 2004: Boris Klovsky (who also served in WW II) on 1 June and Stanislaw Solinski (a Pole who served in the Russian army) on 6 December.

According to Wikipedia**, there are now only eleven surviving World War I veterans:
Henry Allingham, 111, is the last survivor from the Royal Naval Air Service (which combined with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in 1918). He's also the last known survivor of the Battle of Jutland, having started out in the surface fleet, and is currently listed by the GRG as the oldest man in Europe, the second-oldest person in England and the 20th-oldest person in the world.

Henry Patch, 109, served in the British Army (the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry), and is the last veteran to have served in the trenches on the Western Front.

Gladys Powers, 109, served with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Royal Air Force. She is the last known female veteran of the Great War.***

Sydney Lucas, 107, also served in the British Army (the Sherwood Foresters), though he was still in training at the end of the war and did not see action.

William Stone, 107, served in the Royal Navy; he also was still in training when the war ended.

Claude Choules, 107, served in the Royal Navy. (He emigrated to Australia after the war, and served with the Royal Australian Navy in World War II.)

Delfino Borroni and Francesco Chiarello, both 109, served in the Italian army. (Chiarello also served in WW II.)

John Ross, 109, is the last surviving Australian veteran; he served in the Australian army.

John Babcock, 107, who went overseas with the Canadian army but did not see action, is the last surviving Canadian veteran.

Frank Buckles, 107, the last US veteran of the war, served in France with the US Army.

This article from Wikipedia lists the last surviving WWI veteran from each country that took part in the war.

* "Believed to be," because Germany doesn't keep track of veterans the way other countries do.
** The usual caveats concerning Wikipedia articles apply.
*** The last female veteran from the US, Charlotte Winters, died 27 Mar 07.

Click on the "Poetry Friday" button at left for this week's round-up, which is hosted by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader. (Susan, of Susan Writes, has done a round-up of previous round-ups here.)

RIP: Harvey Korman

Harvey Korman
15 Feb 1927 - 29 May 2008

ZUI this article from ABC News:

Harvey Korman, the tall, versatile comedian who won four Emmys for his outrageously funny contributions to "The Carol Burnett Show" and played a conniving politician to hilarious effect in "Blazing Saddles," died Thursday. He was 81.

Korman died at UCLA Medical Center after suffering complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said. He had undergone several major operations.


On television, Burnett and Korman developed into the perfect pair with their burlesques of classic movies such as "Gone With the Wind" and soap operas like "As the World Turns" (their version was called "As the Stomach Turns").

Another recurring skit featured them as "Ed and Eunice," a staid married couple who were constantly at odds with the wife's mother (a young Vicki Lawrence in a gray wig). In "Old Folks at Home," they were a combative married couple bedeviled by Lawrence as Burnett's troublesome young sister.


Harvey Herschel Korman was born Feb. 15, 1927, in Chicago. He left college for service in the U.S. Navy, resuming his studies afterward at the Goodman School of Drama at the Chicago Art Institute. After four years, he decided to try New York.

"For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway," he told a reporter in 1971.

He had no luck and had to support himself as a restaurant cashier. Finally, in desperation, he and a friend formed a nightclub comedy act.


In 1960 Korman married Donna Elhart and they had two children, Maria and Christopher. They divorced in 1977. Two more children, Katherine and Laura, were born of his 1982 marriage to Deborah Fritz.

In addition to his daughter Kate, he is survived by his wife and the three other children.

The Carol Burnett Show - absolutely wonderful. Carol, Harvey, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway were the stars, and I loved every minute of it.

Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett and Tim Conway

28 May 2008

Godiva rides again

ZUI this article from the Daily Mail:
An unexpected sight greeted a few startled early risers this morning as a group of young women rode almost naked on a white horse through Hyde Park recalling the legend of Lady Godiva.

The real Lady Godiva modesty was said to be preserved only by her long tresses when she rode naked through the streets of Coventry in protest against her husband's harsh taxation of his people.


The ride was organised by the film director Vicky Jewson, who directed a modern retelling of the story recently.

Several naked ladies on horseback rode through Hyde Park for the DVD release of British romantic comedy Lady Godiva, and to raise money for Maggie's Cancer Support Centre in Oxford.

Lady Godiva, a noblewoman during the reign of King Canute, is said to have ridden naked through Coventry in an attempt to stop her husband's cruel treatment of the people of the city.

Actress Libby Jewson who plays Penny in the film was one of the group who created the startling spectacle to promote the film about a schoolteacher who has to decide whether to recreate Lady Godiva's infamous ride to win a £100,000 bet.

Warning: The article linked to above includes photographs of the riders, and may not be safe for viewing at work.

IMDb's listing for Lady Godiva can be found here.

RIP: Franz Künstler

Franz Künstler
24 Jul 1900 - 27 May 2008

The last remaining World War I veteran from the Central Powers has died.

ZUI this article from the international edition of Der Spiegel:
One of the last veterans of World War I has died in Germany aged 107. Romanian-born Franz Künstler, who served in the Austro-Hungarian army and fought on Germany's side, died after an operation on his intestine in the southern German town of Niederstetten.

The mayor's office confirmed a report in Bunte magazine that he had died. Künstler, who was the oldest man living in Germany, was born on July 24, 1900 in Soost in what is now Romania and was drafted into the 1st Artillery Regiment of Austro-Hungarian army in February 1918, nine months before the end of the war. He fought on the Italian front.


Künstler had lived in Niederstetten since 1946 and worked as a guide in the hunting museum of Schloss Haltenbergstetten castle. He is believed to have been the last World War I veteran living in Germany.

The other two Central Powers nations were Germany and the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Erich Kästner, believed to be the last German veteran of World War I, died on 1 Jan 2008; the last Turkish veteran, Yakup Satar, died on 2 Apr 2008.

According to this article from Wikipedia, there are now eleven surviving veterans from the Allied nations: six British, two Italian, and one each from Australia, Canada and the United States.

RIP: Clémentine Solignac

Clémentine Solignac
7 Sep 1894 - 25 May 2008

ZUI this article from AFP:
France's oldest citizen, Clementine Solignac, who lived through two world wars and the turn of two centuries, has died aged 113, her retirement home said on Monday.

Solignac died early Sunday morning surrounded by her family, in a retirement home in Vorey-sur-Arzon in the central Haute Loire region, the town where she was born on September 7, 1894. Her funeral will take place on Wednesday.


Until the age of 106, she led an independent life, cooking for herself each day on a wood-burning stove and milking her grandson's cows, according to relatives.

For those who read French, a longer article (with photographs) from AFP can be found here.

According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), Mme Solignac was the fourth-oldest person in the world at the time of her death. They now list Eugenie Blanchard (born 16 Feb 1896), of the overseas department of Guadeloupe, as the oldest living French person and the 14th-oldest person in the world.

Solignac is the second supercentenarian to die since the death of Astrid Zachrison on 15 May. The other was Daniel Guzman-Garcia of Columbia (6 Feb 1897-21 May 2008).

The GRG's list of validated living supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday) currently includes 74 people (10 men and 64 women), ranging from Edna Parker of Indiana (born 20 Apr 1893) to Maria-Lucia Ugual Pistrelli of Italy (born 3 Apr 1898). Blanchard is the only one listed as living in France.

27 May 2008

RIP: Dick Martin

Dick Martin
30 Jan 1922 – 24 May 2008

ZUI this article from NPR:
Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," Greenberg said.

Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years.

He was surrounded by family and friends when he died just after 6 p.m., Greenberg said.

ZUI also this article from the The Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution:
"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," the hyperactive, joke-packed show that Martin and Rowan rode to fame, made conventional television variety programs seem instantly passe and sitcom humor seem too meek for the times.

"Laugh-In," a collage of one-liners, non sequiturs, sight gags and double-entendres the likes of which prime time had rarely seen, proved that viewers were eager for more than sleepily paced plots and polite song-and-dance routines. It quickly vaulted to the top of the ratings and spawned an array of catchphrases: "Sock it to me," "Here come da judge" and Martin's signature line, "You bet your sweet bippy."

"People are basically irreverent," Martin said in 1968, explaining the show's appeal. "They want to see sacred cows kicked over. You can't have Harry Belafonte on your show and not have him sing a song, but we did; we had him climbing out of a bathtub, just because it looked irreverent and silly. If a show hires Robert Goulet, pays him $7,500 or $10,000, they're going to want three songs out of him; we hire Robert Goulet, pay him $210 and drop him through a trap door."

Though Martin had a respectable career in nightclubs before "Laugh-In" and enjoyed success as a television director after it, his five years on the show elevated him to a different level of fame. "Laugh-In" won Emmy Awards for outstanding variety or musical series in 1968 and 1969, and the special guests who dropped by to deliver one-liners included Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Johnny Carson and, memorably with "Sock it to me?" Richard M. Nixon.


Thomas Richard Martin was born Jan. 30, 1922, in Battle Creek, Mich. His father, William, was a salesman; his mother, Ethel, a homemaker. In the early 1930s the family moved to Detroit, where Dick's teenage years included the bout with tuberculosis, which would keep him out of the military.

At 20, Martin, with his older brother, Bob, headed for Los Angeles with hopes of breaking into show business. He worked fitfully as an actor, a comic and as a writer for radio shows like "Duffy's Tavern," but was plying another trade, bartending, in 1952 when the comic Tommy Noonan brought in Dan Rowan, a former car salesman with showbiz aspirations of his own. Noonan introduced the two, and they quickly found their shtick: Rowan the sophisticate, Martin the laid-back lunk. They took their act on the road, inching up the club-circuit pecking order.

"It had no real highs or lows, it was just straight-ahead work," Martin recalled of those early nightclub years in a 2007 interview. "I don't think we ever failed. We didn't zoom to stardom, but we always worked."


In the early "Laugh-In" years Martin and Rowan were as opposite offstage as they seemed to be onstage. Martin, whose 1957 marriage to Peggy Connelly ended in divorce in the early 1960s, was the swinging bachelor; Rowan the quiet family man. But in 1971 Martin married Dolly Read, a former Playmate of the Month who had appeared in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." After divorcing four years later, they remarried in 1978. She survives him, as does a son, Cary, from his marriage to Connelly; his son Richard; and one grandchild.

I loved Laugh-In: Dan and Dick, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson ("Verrrrrrrry interesting...."), Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, the if-A-married-B jokes ("If Ann-Margret married Terry-Thomas, she still wouldn't have a last name."), the "News of the Future" (a 1969 prediction that sometime in the '80s USS Constitution would get a new set of sails and be sent off to do her part in Vietnam), the other skits (in one inspired by a wave of skyjackings, Santa Claus says, "Well, that's the last of the presents - now we can go back to the North Pole and relax," and a Castro lookalike pops up from the back of the sleigh: "One moment, Señor Claus...."), &c. It's still one of my all-time favourite shows.

Rowan and Martin also did a movie called The Maltese Bippy; it got terrible reviews at the time, I believe, but I enjoyed it and I'd love to see it again. (Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have ever been released in any format for home viewing.)

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin

25 May 2008

Victoria Cross: W. G. N. Manley


Assistant Surgeon, Royal Artillery

Born: 17 December 1831, Dublin, Ireland
Died: 16 November 1901, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Citation: For his conduct during the assault on the Rebel Pah, near Tauranga, New Zealand, on the 29th of April last, in most nobly risking his own life, according to the testimony of Commodore Sir William Wiseman, Bart., C.B., in his endeavour to save that of the late Commander Hay, of the Royal Navy, and others.
Having volunteered to accompany the storming party into the Pah, he attended on that Officer when he was carried away, mortally wounded, and then volunteered to return, in order to see if he could find any more wounded.
It is stated that he was one of the last Officers to leave the Pah.

(London Gazette Issue 22896 dated 23 Sep 1864, published 23 Sep 1864.)

Note: A pah is a Maori fortified village.
During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Manley served with a British ambulance unit supporting the Prussian 22nd Infantry Division. He was awarded the Iron Cross, 2nd class, making him the only person to have both the VC and the EK.

Medal of Honor: R. Talbot and R. G. Robinson


Second Lieutenant, US Marine Corps; Squadron C, 1st Marine Aviation Force

Born: 6 January 1897, South Weymouth, Massachusetts
Died: 25 October 1918, Belgium

Citation: For exceptionally meritorious service and extraordinary heroism while attached to Squadron C, 1st Marine Aviation Force, in France. 2d Lt. Talbot participated in numerous air raids into enemy territory. On 8 October 1918, while on such a raid, he was attacked by 9 enemy scouts, and in the fight that followed shot down an enemy plane. Also, on 14 October 1918, while on a raid over Pittham, Belgium, 2d Lt. Talbot and another plane became detached from the formation on account of motor trouble and were attacked by 12 enemy scouts. During the severe fight that followed, his plane shot down 1 of the enemy scouts. His observer was shot through the elbow and his gun jammed. 2d Lt. Talbot maneuvered to gain time for his observer to clear the jam with one hand, and then returned to the fight. The observer fought until shot twice, once in the stomach and once in the hip and then collapsed, 2d Lt. Talbot attacked the nearest enemy scout with his front guns and shot him down. With his observer unconscious and his motor failing, he dived to escape the balance of the enemy and crossed the German trenches at an altitude of 50 feet, landing at the nearest hospital to leave his observer, and then returning to his aerodrome.

Note: USS Ralph Talbot (DD 390) was named in his honour.


Gunnery Sergeant, US Marine Corps; 1st Marine Aviation Force

Born: 30 April 1896, New York City, New York
Died: 5 October 1974, St Ignace, Michigan

Citation: For extraordinary heroism as observer in the 1st Marine Aviation Force at the front in France. In company with planes from Squadron 218, Royal Air Force, conducting an air raid on 8 October 1918, G/Sgt. Robinson's plane was attacked by 9 enemy scouts. In the fight which followed, he shot down 1 of the enemy planes. In a later air raid over Pittham, Belgium, on 14 October 1918, his plane and 1 other became separated from their formation on account of motor trouble and were attacked by 12 enemy scouts. Acting with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in the fight which ensued, G/Sgt. Robinson, after shooting down 1 of the enemy planes, was struck by a bullet which carried away most of his elbow. At the same time his gun jammed. While his pilot maneuvered for position, he cleared the jam with one hand and returned to the fight. Although his left arm was useless, he fought off the enemy scouts until he collapsed after receiving 2 more bullet wounds, one in the stomach and one in the thigh.

24 May 2008

This day in history: 24 May

1487: Ten-year-old Lambert Simnel was crowned in Dublin as King Edward VI.

1830: Passenger service began on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), on a 13-mile stretch of track between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills.

1861: US forces occupied the city of Alexandria, Virginia. Colonel Elmer E Ellsworth, 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, noticed a Confederate flag flying above the Marshall House Inn, and went up the stairs with four other men to cut down the flag. He was on the way down the stairs when the inn's owner, James W Jackson, killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Corporal Francis Brownell immediately killed the innkeeper. Brownell was awarded the Medal of Honor.

1883: After 14 years of construction, the Brooklyn Bridge, in New York City, was opened to traffic.

1930: Amy Johnson, who had taken off from Croydon on 5 May, landed her De Havilland Gipsy Moth in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia.

1941: Battlecruiser HMS Hood was sunk eleven minutes into a battle with German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen; there were only three survivors from Hood's crew of 1418.

1962: Astronaut Scott Carpenter, in the space capsule Aurora 7, made three orbits of the Earth, in just under five hours.

1975: Soyuz 18 was launched from Baikonur, carrying cosmonauts Pyotr Ilyich Klimuk and Vitali Ivanovich Sevastyanov to the Salyut 4 space station. They remained in orbit for 63 days, returning to Earth on 26 July.

In addition to Col Ellsworth (1837-1861), David I Sanctus, King of Scotland (ca 1084-1153), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), George Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, KB (1719–1792), Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland CB (1887-1941), Robert Ritter von Greim (1892–1945), Archibald Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell, GCB GCSI GCIE CMG MC PC (1883–1950) and "Duke" Ellington (1899–1974) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686–1736), Queen Victoria of England(1819–1901), Jan Christiaan Smuts OM CH PC ED KC FRS (1870–1950), H B Reese (1879—1956), Edward "Mick" Mannock VC DSO** MC* (1887–1918), Bob Dylan (1941-TBD), Gary Burghoff (1940-TBD) and Rosanne Cash (1955-TBD).

23 May 2008

Announcements from NASA

First, this one:
NASA Thursday adjusted the target launch dates for two space shuttle missions in 2008. Shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is now targeted for Oct. 8, and Endeavour's STS-126 supply mission to the International Space Station has moved from Oct. 16 to Nov. 10.

The final servicing mission to Hubble was moved from Aug. 28 due to a delay in deliveries of components, including the external fuel tanks, and the need to prepare Endeavour for a possible rescue mission approximately two weeks after STS-125 launches.


The Shuttle Program also has decided that Atlantis will be assigned two additional flights after the Hubble mission in order to more efficiently fly the remaining shuttle flights using the three orbiters in sequence.

(STS-126, of course, is the mission which is to carry my fellow bubblehead Captain Stephen G Bowen, USN, into space. )

Next, this one:
News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center are set for the upcoming launch of space shuttle Discovery. Shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 5:02 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 31.

On Wednesday, May 28, Discovery's seven crew members are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy at 11:30 a.m. NASA Television will provide live coverage as Commander Mark Kelly makes a brief statement to media. Badged journalists planning to cover the event must be at Kennedy's news center by 10 a.m. for transportation to the Shuttle Landing Facility.


On launch day, a blog will update the countdown beginning at noon. Originating from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the crew's progress and watch the spacewalks live. As Discovery's flight wraps up, NASA will offer a blog detailing the spacecraft's return to Earth.

And finally, this one:
Launch of NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST, is targeted for Tuesday, June 3, from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The launch window extends from 11:45 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. EDT and remains unchanged through Aug. 7. The June 3 launch date is dependent on space shuttle Discovery's May 31 liftoff, and will move if the shuttle launch is delayed.

NASA's new gamma-ray observatory will open a wide window on the universe through the study of Gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light. GLAST data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics.

NASA will hold a pre-launch news conference at NASA's Kennedy Space Center news center at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 1. The briefing will be carried live on NASA Television.

RIP: Robert Lynn Asprin

Robert Lynn Asprin
28 Jun 1946 – 22 May 2008

ZUI this article from TransWorld News:
Author Robert Asprin died in his New Orleans home on Thursday at the age of 61. No cause of death has been announced.

“Bob passed away quietly in his home in New Orleans, LA. He has been in good spirits and working on several projects, and was set to be the Guest of Honor at a major science fiction convention that very week,” said his family in a statement.

This post from the Quotulatiousness blog gives further details.

This article from Wikipedia has a bit more background material:
Robert Asprin was born in St. Johns, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Michigan from 1964 through 1965. From 1965 through 1966 he served in the United States Army. He was active in the early years of the Society for Creative Anachronism under the name "Yang the Nauseating" and co-founded the Great Dark Horde in 1971.

Asprin's first novel, The Cold Cash War, an expansion of an earlier short story of the same title, was published in 1977.

Over the next few years, he created and edited (with his then-wife, Lynn Abbey) the Thieves' World series of shared world anthologies, perhaps one of the first projects of its type.


Also in 1979, Asprin began to chronicle the comic adventures of Skeeve and Aahz in the "MythAdventures" series. Originally illustrated by Frank Kelly Freas, and later by Phil Foglio, the highly pun-driven books follow a "demon" magician who has lost his powers and his inexperienced human apprentice as they travel through a variety of worlds in pursuit of wealth and glory. Some of the early "Myth" novels were later adapted as comic books by Foglio and others.

The Asprin bibliography at Fantastic Fiction lists over fifty books, including 12 Thieves' World books and 18 (not including omnibus editions) in the MythAdventures series.

18 May 2008

Victoria Cross: J. P. Woods


Private, 48th Battalion (SA), Australian Imperial Force

Born: 2 January 1891, Gawler, South Australia, Australia
Died: 18 January 1963, Claremont, Western Australia, Australia

Citation: For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty near Le Verguier, north-west of St. Quentin, on the 18th September, 1918, when, with a weak patrol, he attacked and captured a very formidable enemy post, and subsequently, with two comrades, held the same against heavy enemy counter-attacks.
Although exposed to heavy fire of all descriptions, he fearlessly jumped on the parapet and opened fire on the attacking enemy, inflicting severe casualties. He kept up his fire and held up the enemy until help arrived, and throughout the operations displayed a splendid example of valour, determination and initiative.

[London Gazette issue 31082 dated 26 Dec 1918, published 24 Dec 1918.]

Medal of Honor: A. L. Murphy


Second Lieutenant, US Army; Company B, 15th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division

Born: 20 June 1925, Hunt County, near Kingston, Texas
Died: 28 May 1971, near Catawba, Virginia

Citation: 2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry [near Holtzwihr France, 26 January 1945]. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective.

16 May 2008

RIP: Astrid Zachrison

Astrid Zachrison
15 May 1895 - 14 May 2008

ZUI this article from The Local:
Astrid Zachrison, Sweden’s oldest person, passed away on Wednesday night, just shy of what would have been her 113th birthday on Thursday.


Sweden’s former oldest person was Elsa Moberg, who died at 2001 at the age of 112 years and 143 days.

According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), Zachrison was the seventh-oldest person in the world at the time of her death. The GRG currently do not have any other Swedes on their list of validated living supercentenarians (people who have reached their 110th birthday).

Zachrison is the tenth supercentenarian to die since the death of Kaku Yamanaka on 5 Apr 08. The others were Anna Monti-Arnaboldi of Italy (19 Oct 1897-6 Apr 2008), Nellie Jones of Michigan (30 Jan 1897-9 Apr 2008), Elizabeth Stefan of Connecticut (13 May 1895-9 Apr 2008), Cora Boggs Gentry of Alabama (14 Apr 1897-11 Apr 2008), Angela Sottili-Feroldi of Italy (21 Feb 1898-11 Apr 2008), Helen Johnson of Oregon (20 Jul 1896-17 Apr 2008), (Mildred) Chrissie Martenstein of California (9 Jun 1897-18 Apr 2008), Hulda Carlsson of Sweden (2 Feb 1898-22 Apr 2008) and Maria Campagna of Italy (1 Aug 1897-2 May 2008).

At the time I write this, the GRG's list of living supercentenarians has not been updated to reflect Zachrison's death. Other than her, it currently includes 76 people (11 men and 65 women), ranging from Edna Parker of Indiana (born 20 Apr 1893) to Maria-Lucia Ugual Pistrelli of Italy (born 3 Apr 1898).

14 May 2008

Destroyer to be named after SEAL

The US Navy will name a destroyer after Lieutenant Michael Murphy, a SEAL who was awarded the Medal of Honor last year for heroism in Afghanistan. ZUI this article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin:
The Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will be named after Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy, the Pearl Harbor officer who sacrificed his life to save his Navy SEAL team three years ago during a firefight in Afghanistan.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter made the announcement yesterday at a ceremony in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., held at the park named after Murphy. The park is located at the lake where Murphy worked as a lifeguard before he enlisted in the Navy.

It contains a black granite wall dedicated to the men lost June 28, 2005, in Operation Red Wing, with each member's name inscribed. A black granite stone embedded in the plaza bears the picture of Murphy and his Medal of Honor.

ZUI also this article from the Norfolk (VA) Virginian-Pilot:
Murphy, 29, was killed as he radioed for help for himself and three other SEALs during a battle on an Afghan mountainside. Already wounded, he moved into an open area in order to get a clear signal for the distress call; a fatal round caught him in the back as he was speaking on his satellite phone.

Murphy was the first Navy member to be awarded the medal since the Vietnam War. Along with Murphy and two SEALs on the ground, 16 American troops who answered the distress call were killed when their rescue helicopter was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade.

The dead included six SEALs based in Virginia Beach, one of them a member of Murphy's ground team.

And this article from the New York Daily News:
The sailor's father, Dan Murphy - a Vietnam War hero who was awarded the Purple Heart - was in tears when he heard the tribute on Wednesday. It came on what would have been his son's 32nd birthday.

"It was obviously overwhelming," Murphy said.

As far as he's concerned, the ship will be known as "The Murph" when it's commissioned in 2011. "Years from now, young sailors will know who my son was when they sail on The Murph," he said.

USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112), the 62nd - and last - Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, will be built by Bath Iron Works and is scheduled for commissioning sometime in 2011.

The official DoD press release can be found here.

Medal of Honor to be awarded for Iraq

I missed this news item a couple of weeks ago. ZUI this article from the Pittsburgh (PA) Tribune-Review:
President Bush is expected to award a Clarion County soldier the Medal of Honor in June, which would make Spc. Ross A. McGinnis the fifth soldier who served in Afghanistan or Iraq to receive the nation's highest honor.

McGinnis, 19, of Knox died Dec. 4, 2006, from wounds he suffered when he threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of four other soldiers in his Humvee.

Citing anonymous sources, the Army Times on Monday said the president has approved the award. Maj. Nathan Banks, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department can't comment on the matter until the White House makes the announcement.

Zui also this article from the Navy Times:
On Dec. 4, 2006, McGinnis was manning the turret in the last Humvee of a six-vehicle patrol in Adhamiyah in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade from the roof of a nearby building.

“Grenade!” yelled McGinnis, who was manning the vehicle's M2 .50-caliber machine gun.

McGinnis, facing backwards because he was in the rear vehicle, tried to deflect the grenade but it fell into the Humvee and lodged between the radios.

As he stood up to get ready to jump out of the vehicle, as he had been trained to do, McGinnis realized the other four soldiers in the Humvee did not know where the grenade had landed and did not have enough time to escape.

McGinnis, a native of Knox, Pa., threw his back against the radio mount, where the grenade was lodged, and smothered the explosive with his body.

The grenade exploded, hitting McGinnis on his sides and lower back, under his vest. He was killed instantly. The other four men survived.

11 May 2008

Victoria Cross: L. H. Trent


Squadron Leader, Royal New Zealand Air Force; 487 Squadron

Born: 14 April 1915, Nelson, New Zealand
Died: 18 May 1986, Auckland, New Zealand

Citation: On the 3rd May, 1943, Squadron Leader Trent was detailed to lead a formation of Ventura aircraft in a daylight attack on the power station at Amsterdam. This operation was intended to encourage the Dutch workmen in their resistance to enemy pressure. The target was known to be heavily defended. The importance of bombing it, regardless of enemy fighters or anti-aircraft fire, was strongly impressed on the air crews taking part in the operation. Before taking off, Squadron Leader Trent told the deputy leader that he was going over the target, whatever happened.
2. All went well until the 11 Venturas and their fighter escort were nearing the Dutch coast. Then one bomber was hit and had to turn back. Suddenly large numbers of enemy fighters appeared. Our escorting fighters were hotly engaged and lost touch with the bombing force. The Venturas closed up for mutual protection and commenced their run up to the target. Unfortunately, the fighters detailed to support them over the target had reached the area too early and had been recalled.
3. Soon the bombers were attacked. They were at the mercy of 15 to 20 Messerschmitts which dived on them incessantly. Within four minutes six Venturas were destroyed. Squadron Leader Trent continued on his course with the 3 remaining aircraft.
4. In a short time 2 more Venturas went down in flames. Heedless of the murderous attacks and of the heavy anti-aircraft fire which was now encountered, Squadron Leader Trent completed an accurate bombing run and even shot down a Messerschmitt at point-blank range. Dropping his bombs in the target area, he turned away. The aircraft following him was shot down on reaching the target. Immediately afterwards his own aircraft was hit, went into a spin and broke up. Squadron Leader Trent and his navigator were thrown clear and became prisoners of war. The other two members of the crew perished.
5. On this, his 24th sortie, Squadron Leader Trent showed outstanding leadership. Such was the trust placed in this gallant officer that the other pilots followed him unwaveringly. His cool, unflinching courage and devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds rank with the finest examples of these virtues.

(London Gazette issue 37486 dated 1 Mar 1946, published 26 Feb 1946.)

Medal of Honor: J. Anderson, Jr.


Private First Class, US Marine Corps; 2d Platoon, Company F, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division

Born: 22 January 1947, Los Angeles, California
Died: 28 February 1967, near Cam Lo, Vietnam

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Company F was advancing in dense jungle northwest of Cam Lo [Republic of Vietnam, 28 February 1967] in an effort to extract a heavily besieged reconnaissance patrol. Pfc. Anderson's platoon was the lead element and had advanced only about 200 meters when they were brought under extremely intense enemy small-arms and automatic weapons fire. The platoon reacted swiftly, getting on line as best they could in the thick terrain, and began returning fire. Pfc. Anderson found himself tightly bunched together with the other members of the platoon only 20 meters from the enemy positions. As the fire fight continued several of the men were wounded by the deadly enemy assault. Suddenly, an enemy grenade landed in the midst of the marines and rolled alongside Pfc. Anderson's head. Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off. Although several marines received shrapnel from the grenade, his body absorbed the major force of the explosion. In this singularly heroic act, Pfc. Anderson saved his comrades from serious injury and possible death. His personal heroism, extraordinary valor, and inspirational supreme self-sacrifice reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Note: USNS PFC James Anderson Jr (T-AK 3002) was named in his honour.

09 May 2008

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (S M Stirling)

A while back I wrote a review of The Sky People (TSP), by S M Stirling. Now, at last, I have the sequel, In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (CK).

The premise behind these two books is that two hundred million years ago (early in the Jurassic period), Somebody terraformed Mars and Venus, then seeded both planets with life from Terra. The Somebody - dubbed the Lords of Creation - came back from time to time, presumably to tweak things as needed and also to carry more Terran life to the other planets: more dinosaurs, birds, early mammals, later mammals, humans....

SF of the '30s depicted Mars as an ancient, dying planet, and Venus as an energetic, young world of great swamps and jungles. In TSP, Venus was inhabited by both dinosaurs and mammals (bringing to mind the Pellucidar stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs), and the highest human civilisation was a bronze-age city. The Mars of CK, on the other hand, was ruled by a world-wide empire 30,000 years ago; the surviving city-states are in some ways more advanced technologically than the people of Terra.

The prologue takes place on Labor Day, 1962, at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago. A lot of big names in SF are there, though the only surname mentioned is Burroughs (and ERB wasn't there, having died in 1950). Ted is the Guest of Honour; Fred is there, as are Poul, Bob, Isaac, Arthur, Jack, Beam, "young Larry from LA," Sprague and Catherine, Leigh, and others. Science fiction isn't on their mind at the moment, though; they're all gathering in front of the TV to see the first pictures sent from Mars by the Viking lander.

It was crowded, but virtually none of the fans were there. Not today, though that young friend of Beam's was off in a corner....

The first Soviet probe to reach the surface of Venus had sent back pictures showing humans; now everyone is waiting eagerly to see what will be found on Mars.

SF of the '30s depicted Mars as an ancient, dying planet, and Venus as a world of great swamps and jungles. In TSP, Venus was inhabited by both dinosaurs and mammals (bringing to mind the Pellucidar stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs), and the highest human civilisation was a bronze-age city. The Mars of CK, on the other hand, was ruled by a world-wide empire 30,000 years ago; the surviving city-states are in some ways more advanced technologically than the people of Terra.

The story proper begins on Mars, in May 0f 2000, eleven years after the end of TSP. Archaeologist Jeremy Wainman is setting out to search for the ruins of the ancient city of Rema-Dza, lost thousands of years ago when the world-wide empire fell; Teyud za-Zhalt, a professional practitioner of coercive violence, has hired on as guide and bodyguard. Teyud turns out to be more than she at first appears, however, and soon other Martians are coming after her, looking to earn the rewards offered for her capture, or at least for the delivery of certain portions of her.

Each chapter begins with an "excerpt" from the 20th edition (1998) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, providing more background information on the planet, its people, their technology and customs, &c. Martian tembst (technology) is largely based on bioengineereing. When Jeremy and an associate first enter the city of Zar-tu-kan, for instance:
Each passenger reached into the slot and dropped something as they went by; Sally Yamashita added two inch-long pieces of silver wire.

"One tenth shem," a voice in accented Martian said, through a grill on the side of the stone post.

"Correct weight for two foreigners and up to fifteen zka-kem of noncommercial baggage," the functionary added. "You may pass."

"Doesn't anyone ever try to stiff the tax man?" he murmured to her. "Slipping in copper for silver?"

"There's a mouth with teeth below that slot," she said. "It can taste the purity of metals with its tongue. And if the weight or composition's wrong, it bites down and holds you for Mr. Revenue Service to beat on with his Amazingly Itchy Electro-Rat."

True to the traditions of ERB and Kline, Martians do most of their fighting with swords; they do have guns, but - being bioengineered critters - these are nowhere as powerful as the "radium rifles" used by John Carter. Instead, the weapons generate methane which is stored in a bladder and can then be ignited to propel a poisoned dart.

There's a wild encounter with feral engines (yes, those are bioengineered, too) in the tunnels below Rema-Dza, and the explorers also meet up with more ordinary Martian wildlife:
... just after dawn they'd passed a herd - or flock - of four-footed flightless hump-backed birds that scampered off with black-and-white tails spread, caroling fright with a sound like a mob of terrified bassoons.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book - perhaps even more than I did The Sky People.

As usual with Stirling's books, you can test-drive it before you buy; the prologue and the first six (of fifteen) chapters can be found here.

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, by S M Stirling; Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.
Available from Amazon
here, from Amazon UK here, and from Barnes & Noble here.

* Ted Sturgeon, Fred Pohl, Poul Anderson, Robert A Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Jack, H Beam Piper, Larry Niven, L Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp, Leigh Brackett. And Beam's young friend, I think, is Jerry Pournelle.

Philadelphia IV

On the second day of our Philadelphia trip, we accomplished our other two objectives - visiting Independence National Historical Park and having lunch at Fogo de Chão.

The Assembly Room in the Pennsylvania State House (more commonly known as Independence Hall). It was in this room that George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and the Declaration of Independence was adopted on 4 July 1776.

Another view of the Assembly Room. The design of the American flag was agreed upon here in 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, and the US Constitution was drafted in 1787. Busy place!

The stairs in Independence Hall. This is where the Committee of Five (Adams, Franklin, Sherman, Livingston and Jefferson) sing "But, Mr Adams" in the movie 1776.

A and K meet a couple of the carriage horses.

The menu posted in the window at Fogo de Chão. I'd meant to get a couple pictures of the waiters, but lost interest in the camera after the food started arriving.

Independence Hall.

K and A thanking Truman (the horse) for our tour.

N, K and the Liberty Bell. There's a picture of A and me, too, but by this time A was getting a little cranky so I'm not going to post that one.

The Liberty Bell. I'd never realised quite how large the famous crack was.

Philadelpia was the national capital from 1790 to 1800. The House of Representatives met in this room on the first floor of Congress Hall, immediately to the west of Independence Hall.

The Senate met in this chamber on the second floor. (They were really the upper house and the lower house in those days!)

The carpet on the floor of the Senate chamber is a reproduction of the original carpet, which was made in Philadelphia in the early 1790s.

A view south from the Independence Visitor Centre, with Independence Hall in the background. The low building to the right is the Liberty Bell Centre, wherein the bell is, with Congress Hall visible beyond it. Note the DUKW headed east on Market Street; next time we go to Philly we'll have to include a "duck" tour in our plans. (Unlike the folks in Boston, who use restored WWII-era DUKWs, the ones in Philadelphia use newly built vehicles based on the DUKW design.)

07 May 2008

Philadelphia III

It's only been seven and a half months, but at last I'm able to get pictures of our Philadelphia trip uploaded here....

Our main purpose for going to Philadelphia, as I said before, was to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. We took the train into the city, then walked from the station out to the museum.

I don't know who approved this statue, but he/she/it shouldn't have. Not only is it ugly, but it's also a fountain - with the water issuing out from the backside of the figure at upper right. What were these people thinking of?

The front of the Franklin institute, with the King Tut logo and the picture on the steps. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit, alas - I would have really liked one of the peculiar signage on a couple of the display cases.

My wife (N), older daughter (K) and younger daughter (A) across the street from the museum entrance.

I'm a little more daring (or foolish, if you prefer) when it comes to jaywalking, so I got across the street first. Here come the rest of them....

For me, the other big attraction at the Franklin Institute was the Baldwin 60000 locomotive - a 4-10-2 built in 1926. It was hard to get a good picture of it, partly because it's painted black and partly because it's so bloody big - and it's inside the building, so you can't step back from it to shoot the whole thing. Here I am to provide scale.

The locomotive is set up on a section of track so that it can be moved back and forth a short distance, using hydraulics. Here K and A are sitting in the cab, listening to the guide's talk.

Another picture of the locomotive, taken from the balcony at cab level. The engine is 45' 2" (13.77 m) long - 86' 11" (26.49 m) including the tender - and the drivers are 63.5 inches (161.3 cm) in diameter.

K looks at the telescope in the astronomy display at the museum. They have a lot of hands-on exhibits; the kids enjoyed them, though unfortunately a few of them weren't working.

K and A looking at the fountain in Logan Square, across the street from the museum.

Before and after

Oh say, can you see my eyes?
If you can, then my hair's too short.

I've never liked short hair. When I was a kid, my mother kept it that way; it wasn't until I was in seventh grade that I was allowed to grow it out past a crew cut. I had to get it cut short again in high school, due to my Army Junior ROTC class (required for guys at my school, in those days), though I received a lot of demerits on weekly uniform inspections because I usually went too long between haircuts. Right after dropping out of high school I got another crew cut, then waited 19 months to get it cut again; the ponytail went down to six inches or so below my collar.

I was already in the Navy when I met my wife (and still getting into trouble occasionally because of my hair length). I told her all along that I wasn't planning on shaving or getting frequent haircuts after I retired, but I'm not sure it really penetrated. My last Navy haircut was a boat haircut, given to me by an ET1(SS) from my division a day or two after we left Gibraltar - call it 1 August 2003. That was almost six weeks before I had my final interview with the skipper and went on terminal leave, by which time I was already rather shaggy by Navy standards. My next haircut was in April of '04, my next haircut after that in March of '05. I would have been quite happy to continue on with annual haircuts like this, but my wife didn't like it. My hair was just barely touching my shoulders after a year's growth, but to hear her and her mother talk, you'd think it was long enough for me to sit on.

So we compromised, and I've been getting it cut twice a year - sometime around Easter (getting ready for the heat of summer), and then again in September (so it would have time to grow out some before the cold weather hit). So last week I got my eighth haircut since leaving the Navy. I go to the Navy Exchange barber shop (where I can get it cut by the same barber who always did it when I was here for SubScol, back in '83), and get a regulation cut under the theory that the shorter I get it cut, the longer I can wait until I have to go back.

06 May 2008

National Hamburger Month

It just came to my attention that May is National Hamburger Month.