Saturday, October 01, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 18

If you can walk a mile in these, they might not have anything left to them . . .

After you've left these tattered bits of cloth behind, check out Lisa's tiny shoes, and her musings on melon-squeezing and ankles meeting shoulders. Leave it to her to take shoes someplace warm and damp.

Friday, September 30, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 17

Of all the technological marvels of the past quarter century, nothing amazes me more than what has happened to Alexander Graham Bell's humble telephone. Being 45, I am still young enough not quite understanding that I am no longer young. In my youth, this was a phone:

In order to place a local call, you dialed four numbers. You might well end up reaching a party line, limiting privacy. This expanded a bit when one had to add the last digit of the exchange, or a whole exchange to call the town next door. It took forever to place a call, because the dial seemed to take forever, especially if there were a whole lot of high numbers to dial.

Today, one of several phones in our house looks like this:

We still talk of "dialing" someone, but we don't dial. Usually we hit a single button. That is if we want to speak. Sometimes we just type out a quick message for the other person to read.

When the phone isn't being used to play music, check out the internet, or play a game. What was once a large, clunky household appliance, has become a bodily attachment for which direct communication with other human beings is only part of its overall uses. Even more than new drugs to combat diseases, or the latest website, or the ever-growing speed and memory of home computers, it is the humble, telephone that is at the heart of my own sense of amazement at technology.

Lisa weighs the good and the bad, and includes a family moment that might coin a new word.

War In A Museum

Reading the obituaries in my hometown newspaper today, I saw the passing of yet another World War II veteran. The late Jack Joseph Lombardi, 93, served in the artillery, according to his obituary, "in places like Normandy, N. Africa, France, Germany, Italy and the Battle of Ansio [sic]." That would be "Anzio", for those not paying attention.

Those little words hardly do justice to the experiences the late Mr. Lombardi had. Having just completed Rick Atkinson's The Day of Battle:The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, I can easily attest to the reality that Mr. Lombardi's experiences in that mountainous peninsula cannot really be captured in a few pithy phrases. The Allied invasion of Italy remains a point of controversy nearly seventy years later, as do the leaders of the Allied armies - Mark Clark for the American Fifth Army; Bernard Montgomery and Oliver Leese for the British - with that misspelled city, the point of an amphibious landing of dubious strategic value that became an abattoir of American and British lives being the most contentious.

Up until 1943, the war did not exist in Western Europe. The main German focus was in the east, where Stalin's Red Army, over the previous winter, had fought a new kind of war - house to house, sometimes room to room - to reclaim the southern city named after the man whose only title was "Marshal". It had not been easy. Stalin had issued multiple orders that not only desertion, but withdrawal and cowardice were to be answered with immediate execution. At some points near that city of Stalingrad, units fought with other units pointing machine guns at their backs. Through patience and a willingness to absorb horrific losses, as well as tolerate temperatures that killed as many on both sides as bullets did, the Russians routed the Germans from their city after having trapped the Wermacht troops who had entered it.

By contrast, the just-completed North African campaign, Operation TORCH, was a sideshow. Using the Italian colony of Libya and Occupied French colony of Tunisia as staging grounds, the Germans under Erwin Rommel had hoped to drive across the Sahara, taking control of the Suez Canal. By so doing, the British would be forced to go round Africa to resupply their forces fighting the Japanese in India. When Rommel was routed by Montgomery at El Alamein, it was because Churchill, ever the Victorian, was adamant that contact with the Jewel in the Crown not be severed. Control of the Mediterranean was roughly equal until the entrance of the US Navy swept Nazi U-Boats; the loss of the Suez might well tip the balance in the German's favor.

El-Alamein was the bright spot for the Allied effort in North Africa. Monty, who reveled in the fame and glory that followed victory, had made a fatal mistake of not pursuing Rommel's forces immediately, allowing them to retreat in good order - something at which the Germans became adept - until the Americans landed in Morocco, swept across the Atlas Mountain, and became the messy anvil to the British tiny hammer. Eventually trapping the German armies near Tunis, the hope was to destroy them there, a plan that did not go all that well. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in North Africa congratulated himself on having chased the Germans out of the desert, but it was clear no plan for the destruction of Germany in Europe was in place.

The decision to invade Sicily and Italy was determined as much by politics as strategy. The British wanted the Mediterranean to be clear of enemy navies. Chuchill continually referred to the southern coast as Europe's "soft underbelly", and wanted landings on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy to be a staging ground for an invasion of Austria and southern Germany, which he insisted would draw Wermacht troops not only from Italy, but also from the Balkans and Greece. Whether or not he was correct, whether or not it would have been possible for the Allies to fight across the eastern Alps to Austria is a moot point; Allied performance in the much less rugged Appenines up the spine of the Italian peninsula at least suggests that such a course would have ended in annihilation as easily as it would have victory.

The invasion of Sicily began with the command structure from Africa still in place - Eisenhower in overall command, Patton leading the American forces, Monty the British - and what amounted to an attempt to encircle most of the island, trapping or destroying the Italian and German armies - the former of which didn't have much heart in the battle; the latter of which was only effective at stopping Montgomery's movement up the east coast of the island. Patton managed to move quickly and easily, facing largely Italian troops who often seemed more eager to throw down their weapons than fire them. The British in the east faced two Wermacht units, one of which, the Herman Goring Division, was among the very best. Unlike the long open stretches of desert that favored the kind of rapid movement Montgomery insisted was possible, Sicily is a mountainous island, with little to no serviceable road mileage that would be available for massed, large vehicles. Facing the twin opponents of German troops and uncooperative landscape, Monty's relatively short trip to the eastern city of Messina, just across a two-mile straight from the Italian mainland, bogged down.

Patton, bedeviled by what he saw as Montgomery's incompetence or cowardice, swung wide and fast, aided in no small part by a coup in Rome that left the structure of Fascist rule intact even as Benito Mussolini spent a few months under house arrest until rescued by German troops arriving by glider. Once word reached the island that il Duce was gone, the Italian armies, who never really wanted much to do with the Nazi grand plans anyway, started surrendering en masse. Faced with the reality that his armies no longer had any will, the Savoyard King, Victor Emmanuel, surrendered. The Allies continued plans for an invasion of the boot, but considered it pro forma now that the Italians were out of the war.

The Germans, however, had other plans. From Hitler through Alfred Jodl, the Wermacht's top General, through the whole command structure, the Germans intended to contest every inch of Italian soil. It was General Kesselring, the top German Commander in Italy, who described fighting there as "war in a museum", and it was. Troops used remnants of the old Roman Appian highway to move on. Every little village and hamlet seemed to have stone pillars and monuments dating to antiquity. Some cities boasted birthing various Roman Caesars or generals, or claimed Ulysses or some other mythical hero as their founder. Of places as different as Capri, Salerno, and Anzio, various Roman writers such as Pliny, Juvenal, and Cato had written or spoken.

The Allied war effort in Italy was hampered by a combination of factors, not least of them the handing off of leadership from the top tier of Allied generals - Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley had all been claimed by preparations for OVERLORD, the invasion of northwestern Europe - and what amounted to a conspiracy of topography. Unilke the vistas across the deserts of Africa or the plains of northwest and eastern Europe, the mountainous spine of Italy was not hospitable to a war of fast movement. Roadways were restricted, and vulnerable to the side that controlled the high ground. Having arrived first, that would be the Germans, a fact the also kept the Allied war effort bogged down for months. The coastal areas were breeding grounds for disease and typhus, malaria, dysentery, and other diseases ran through the troops. Finally, the basic strategic goal of the Italian campaign became a matter of debate. Was the point the destruction of the German armies in Italy, or the occupation of Rome, now already an occupied city?

After landing at Salerno, with the British swinging wide to take ports on the Adriatic coast, the Allied effort looked an awful lot like the First World War. Two massed armies, facing one another across a relatively small front, with the Germans playing defense as the Americans, then the British, threw too-small forces against defenses in depth. Whole divisions were sacrificed in vain attempts at breakthroughs through the fall and winter.

It was Chuchill who saw possibility in an amphibious landing at Anzio, north of the stalemate. Landing significant forces behind the front lines, the Allies could then push, first, south, to break through the German defenses, the sweep north, both destroying the German army and retaking Rome.

The problems at Anzio, however, were a microcosm of problems in the rest of the Italian campaign. The troops, while brave, were too small to effect the decisive blow Churchill envisioned. Having gained the advantage of strategic surprise - the Germans knew an amphibious landing was coming, just not where - the Allies did not take advantage of the first 36 hours of relatively easy landing and expansion of the beachhead, giving the Germans time to regroup and mass forces. When they counterattacked, they nearly drove the Allies back in to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Anzio, like the rest of Italy, became a stalemate.

Atkinson's marvelous narrative of the Italian campaign moves back and forth in perspective, from the Roosevelt and Churchill right down to young draftee soldiers writing home. Capturing the confusion, boredom, and horror that was war in Italy, the reader comes to hear the voices of Patton and Clark, Leese and Juin, the leader of a Free French unit that included Berber tribesmen from Morocco, the goumiers, or "goumbs" as the Allies called them, who were the focal point for the Allied breakthrough in the spring with their assent of unscalable mountains and their vicious tactics that terrified the Germans they faced.

In a style reminiscent of such journalists-turned-historians as Barbara Tuchman and William Manchester, Atkinson has combed through official and private archives, in multiple languages, to present to readers a part of the Second World War we don't thing about too often, yet was the proving ground, and ending ground, for so many. We read in detail of the many horrors of modern warfare, as young men discovered that romance and gallantry disappeared under the weight of massed artillery and aerial bombardment. We read of generals who met their match, either in the terrain or the enemy or themselves, trying to continue the war of movement, yet finding it frustrated by German defenses and the mountains of Italy.

Atkinson has done us a favor by reminding us that the Second World War wasn't all hedgerows and fleet tank battles on open plains, but dirty, sometimes freezing slogging through mud and across small rivers, facing snipers and machine guns as well as official incompetence. For the late Mr. Lombardi, who was there at "Ansio", it is nice for those who have come after to have a place to go so that we can catch a glimpse of the reality behind that misspelled word.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 16

I'm going to cheat today. Again.

The past five years I have tried to be heard above the din. I thought that getting in to the internet mix might make a difference. I've been conscientious, honest, occasionally brutal, but never unfair. At the end of it all, I've done little but waste hours scouring for stories, sitting and thinking, then typing typing typing. For what? Even internet communication is infected with the stupid that is pervasive in the land.

It isn't just how idiotic so much of our public discourse is. It is the constant noise. I have come to the conclusion that Americans are ill-informed on so much that is essential in their lives because there is no way to sift through the barrage of noise vying for their attention. Everyone says this, or that, or the other thing without thought, without weighing the wisdom of doing so. The barrage is deafening, and I have come to the conclusion that it is largely meaningless.

Long exposure to the crazy has left me exhausted. Weary of the fight, I continue to turn ever further inward. In the midst of this experiment in solipsism, something brought me to an abrupt standstill:

In the face of an image such as this, what can we say? What possible response to a too-long exposure to the realities of most of the world would be adequate?

I wonder if it is at all possible to make all our noise stop long enough so that we can hear this mother's weeping? Are we willing to expose ourselves to her reality long enough to help her fill the hole in her life? Are we willing to engage in conscious, conscientious silence so that the voices of those who need to be heard can touch our lives? Are we willing to risk silence so that we can really listen?

Reading this, I heard Joan Crawford's voice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 15

With a little help from a little black cat and a bright sunny window . . .

Just when I had despaired of getting a silhouette, I am rescued by a cat who is otherwise indisposed to sitting still.

It's like one of those gorgeous brooches, only it sits on your desk instead of your lap.

Warning: What Follows Could Depress You

With autumn here, a bit of melancholy has seeped in. Not in a bad way. I actually enjoy that bittersweet feeling that comes with the setting of another year, as the world goes to rest.

Alas, the only way to get a decent soundtrack involves really depressing songs. But, that's OK, too.

There's some irony here. The man singing here, Peter Steel, died last year. So, I guess he was right. I like his baritone voice, though.

Here's another cheery selection, musing on the possibility that our world might not be as marvelous as like to pretend.

I should be clear. I am fortunate beyond words in so many ways in my life. I have a beautiful, loving wife; the most wonderful daughters a father could imagine; I am gainfully employed, and the most difficult financial worry we have is how we are going to make all the payments for our Disney trip next March.

So much the rest of the world suffers just to survive. Children die from preventable diseases. Rival factions from Sierra Leone through Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond kill and destroy for power. Central Africa struggles to settle itself after a decade-long war that was the equivalent of the First World War in Europe in terms of body count and political upheaval. Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and so many other countries are wracked by de facto civil war. In Burma, you can be jailed for having contact with relatives outside the country.

In other words, a melancholy, less than sunny view of the world helps one keep perspective. On a planet where children quite literally shit out their insides, where men are trained to kill through enforced desensitization - using random hostages as targets - and young women strap bombs to their bodies, it seems to me that we need to remember the real horrors of life.

It isn't all cut and dried, though. Even in the midst of horror, there can be beauty. Music, for example, helps us remember that.

The Narrow Way: Part I - Pink Floyd
Come See About Me - The Supremes
Vesperae Solennes Confessore: Dixit Dominus - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Blue Skies (Live, Carnegie Hall, 1938) - Benny Goodman Orchestra
Sorrow - The National
Howlin' At The Moon (Live) - Kansas
Poor Boy Blues - Ramblin' Thomas
Innocence - Renaissance
Break It Down Again - Tears For Fears
Cheating The Polygraph - Porcupine Tree

I will be less solipsistic next week, reflecting on the ridiculous, irrelevant Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees. See, one of the most inventive, interesting, consistently awesome bands around will never . . . ever . . . make that "august" institution. Steven Wilson is a musical genius, and one of his many outlets is his band Porcupine Tree, who will be eligible next year. Here's one of my favorites of theirs, which also goes along with today's theme (as do most of their songs, really).

The tour-guitarist with the gorgeous high tenor is American-born singer-songwriter John Wesley. With a name like that, a good United Methodist like me would automatically be a fan. Here's his website, where you can download his albums for free!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 14

You ever get

the feeling


were being


These eyes speak volumes, except it's in cat, so you have to translate.

Monday, September 26, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 13

I asked Moriah to walk around yesterday morning while the band rehearsed before first service and snap some pictures. I have gone through the results, and there are at least thirteen things with me in each of them, so, which one do I pick . . .

Of course, the one I picked makes my ass look big. . .

There's the guitar, stand sheet music, and stool. Jeff, Emily, and Eli Moore, who aren't "things" per se, but they are in the picture. Drum kit, piano, stool, sheet music on piano, keyboard. The screen on the wall behind us. And chords, lots and lots of chords, to make us sound oh, so, loud.

Lisa in her stacks. Probably better than the whole kitty litter thing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 12

I am cheating. I stole this photo from a friend of mine. She took this from her car on her 'Droid. I couldn't get a shot like this if I used a high-end professional camera and set it up.

Picture by Lisa, words by William. Faulkner, that is.

Virtual Tin Cup

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