Thursday, March 30, 2006
Perhaps the most famous thing about Minneapolis, at least for some of us of a certain age, is the Mary Tyler Moore show. At the end of the opening credits, she tosses her hat into the air. To commemorate the spot is this statue just outside the Marshall Field's department store.
On March 29, 1937, Crowds flocked to see the lavender blossoms of the "world's largest wistaria vine" in Sierra Madre. The vine at Scenic Point had been planted in 1894, and had grown so big that in 1918 it became the star of its own annual festival. By 1937, it was said to cover more than an acre, and the fete to celebrate it lasted two weeks. By then, the vine had engulfed, and finally crushed the roof of the original house beside which it had first been planted — from a one-gallon can. A new owner of the property erected pergolas, lattices and metal supports to hold the vine. One of numerous Times articles about the festival called the vine "one of the five or six best-known Southland spectacles outside this state." The vine exists to this day, spread over two properties, and goes on public display one day a year.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud brick building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, albeit with definite Islamic influences. The mosque is located in the city of Djenné, Mali on the flood plain of the Bani River. The first mosque on the site was built in the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the centre of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa.
The site has been the location of a mosque since the original building was commissioned by Koi Kunboro in 1240, before Djenné emerged as a major city of the empires of Mali and later Songhai. Peul conqueror Amadou Lobbo, who took Djenné in his jihad, ordered the original mosque demolished in 1834. He considered the original structure, which had been modified from a palace, to be too lavish. The only portion of the original building that still survives is an enclosure containing the graves of local leaders. A re-creation of the original was completed in 1896 but was subsequently demolished to make way for the current structure. Construction on the current Great Mosque began in 1906 and was probably completed in 1907 or 1909.
The walls of the Great Mosque are made of sun-baked mud bricks called ferey, a mud based mortar, and are coated with a mud plaster which gives the building its smooth, sculpted look. The walls are between 16 in and 24 in (0.4 to 0.6 m) thick. The thickness varies depending on the wall's height: taller sections were built thicker because the base has to be wide enough to support the weight. Bundles of palm branches were included in the building to reduce cracking caused by frequent drastic changes in humidity and temperature and to serve as readymade scaffolding for annual repairs. The walls insulate the building from heat during the day and by nightfall have absorbed enough heat to keep the mosque warm through the night. Gutters, made of ceramic pipes, extend from the roofline and direct water drainage from the roof away from the walls. The prayer wall or quibla of the Great Mosque faces east towards Mecca and overlooks the city marketplace. The quibla of the mosque is dominated by three large, box-like minarets jutting out from the main wall and has eighteen buttresses. Each minaret contains a spiral staircase leading to the roof, and on top of each minaret is a cone shaped spire topped with an ostrich egg.
Water damage, in particular flooding, was a major concern of Traoré when he planned the construction. The annual flooding of the Bani River causes Djenné to become an island, and unusually high floods can inundate parts of the city. The Great Mosque was constructed on a raised platform with a surface area of 5625 m² (62,500 ft²), which has so far protected the mosque from even the most severe floods.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Man Who Never Was is a 1954 book by Ewen Montagu and a 1956 2nd World War war film based on the book. It is about Operation 'Mincemeat', a 1943 British Intelligence plan to deceive the Axis powers into thinking Operation 'Husky', the Allied invasion of Sicily, would take place elsewhere.
The film starred Clifton Webb as Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu. Operation 'Mincemeat' involved the acquisition of a human cadaver, dressing it as a 'Major Martin' and putting it into the sea near Huelva, Spain. Attached to the corpse was a brief-case containing fake letters stating that the Allied attack would be against Sardinia and Greece. When the body was found, pro-German Spaniards passed the papers to the German Intelligence Service who passed them on to their High Command. The ruse was so successful that the Germans thought Sardinia and Greece were the intended objectives weeks after the landings in Sicily had begun.
The real name of the person/body remained secret, but in 1997 it was believed that he was a homeless Welsh alcoholic named Glyndwr Michael. The report was found to be inaccurate because the family that provided the body did so under one condition, that his identity never be revealed. The body was buried as Major Martin in a cemetery in Huelva, Spain.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Garbo was the British codename of Juan Pujol García (February 14, 1912, Barcelona – October 10, 1988, Caracas), a double-agent who played a key role in the success of D-Day towards the end of World War II. The false information Pujol supplied to the German command helped persuade Hitler that the main attack would come later, resulting in his decision to hold back troops from the area around the D-Day landings.
Pujol was a Catalan who had developed a detestation of Nazi Germany after his experience of Fascism in Spain. He decided around 1940 that he must make a contribution to the war by helping Britain, Germany's only remaining adversary.
His wife made the first approach to the British but they showed no interest in employing him as a spy. So he resolved to establish himself as a German agent before approaching the British again to offer his services as a double-agent.
Operating initially in Lisbon, he pretended to the Germans that he was in Britain. He fabricated reports about shipping movements, successfully convincing them from information gleaned from the library in Lisbon and from newsreel reports he saw in cinemas. He claimed to be travelling around Britain and submitted his travel expenses based on fares listed in a British railway guide. A slight difficulty was that he did not understand the pre-decimal system of currency used in Britain, expressed in pounds, shillings and pence and was unable to add up the total. Instead he simply itemised the costs and said he would send the total later.
Eventually, he again made contact with British intelligence, and again offered his services. This time he was accepted.
Pujol reached Britain in the spring of 1942, and operated as a double agent under the aegis of the XX Committee. He pretended to have recruited a large network of agents, including a number of influential people with 'inside' information.
On occasions he had to fabricate reasons why his agents had failed to report easily available information that the Germans would eventually know about. For example, he reported that his (fabricated) Liverpool agent had fallen ill just before a major fleet movement from that port on the west coast of England. The illness meant that the agent was unable to warn the Germans of the event. To support the story of the illness, the "agent" eventually "died" and a notice was placed in the local newspaper as further evidence to convince the Germans, who were also persuaded to pay a pension to the agent's "widow".
The information supplied by Pujol to the Germans was orchestrated by his British handlers and included a certain amount of genuine events, in order to make the reports appear more convincing. Sometimes, this was achieved by sending genuine information but artificially delaying its arrival until the information would be harmless. For example, a letter might be postmarked with a date before some planned troop movements, but its delivery delayed until after the Germans would already have discovered the information for themselves. The Germans paid Garbo (or Arabel, as they called him) a large amount of money to support his network of agents, which at one point totalled 27 fabricated characters.
Garbo has the distinction of being one of the few people during World War II to receive decorations from both sides, gaining both an Iron Cross from the Germans and an MBE from the British.
Garbo's misinformation was part of Operation Fortitude, the effort that successfully convinced Adolf Hitler and many of the German high command to believe that the main Allied invasion was going to occur at the Pas de Calais, 150 miles east of Normandy, and that the Normandy landings were a feint designed to draw German forces away from the Pas de Calais.
After the war Pujol moved to Venezuela, where he lived in anonymity. He died in Caracas in 1988.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
To Each His Dulcinea (To Every Man His Dream)
To each his Dulcinea
That he alone can name...
To each a secret hiding place
Where he can find the haunting face
To light his secret flame.
For with his Dulcinea Beside him so to stand,
A man can do quite anything,
Outfly the bird upon the wing,
Hold moonlight in his hand.
Yet if you build your life on dreams
It's prudent to recall,
A man with moonlight in his hand
Has nothing there at all.
There is no Dulcinea,
She's made of flame and air,
And yet how lovely life would seem
If ev'ry man could weave a dream
To keep him from despair.
To each his Dulcinea...
Though she's naught but flame and air!
TIMES PAST: MARCH 18, 1904
Ruling in Favor of Automobilists
A Los Angeles judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a woman who said an automobile passing her carriage caused her horse to shy and drop the load it was carrying. The woman, identified in The Times as Mrs. Walker, was seeking $15,000 (about $307,853 in 2005 dollars) from the driver and the man who lent him the Winton automobile, which passed her carriage on the road between Los Angeles and Rivera. But Superior Court Judge Frank F. Oster ruled that the car's driver was keeping to his own side of the road and that evidence showed the horse was skittish around automobiles. A story in The Times about the dismissal of the case ran under the headline: "In Favor of Automobilists" and said that drivers of cars were "congratulating themselves over what they consider the establishment of a valuable precedent in their favor." Shown below is another automobile of 1904: a 1904 Knoxmobile. >>
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
A tornado that reportedly originated near Rancho Palos Verdes tore the roofs off buildings and uprooted trees in Hawthorne, Lawndale and Lennox before heading, accompanied by fierce rain and hail, to wreak damage on factories in East Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times said that for several minutes, "the air above Hawthorne was black with whirling tar paper." People reported being picked up and carried 50 feet to 75 feet by the twister, and others said it lifted cars off the ground. This frightening event took place on March 15, 1930. The images above and below depict the beauty and the horror of tornadoes.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Pakistani police arrested about 1400 people over three days to enforce a ban on kite flying imposed because of a series of fatal accidents. The government of Punjab province had imposed the ban during this year's Basant festival after kite strings reinforced with wire or glass fatally slashed seven people. Fliers often strengthen their strings before engaging in duels in which the object is to cut an opponent's string. Last year 19 people died on Basant day.
The image above shows an unusual kite, the "Peter Pan Boat Kite" . . . and, yes it really does fly.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Yes, I know I did an extensive posting on Edith Piaf awhile back, but she is such an inspiration for me, I couldn't resist. This is her signature piece, translated from the original French, and the emotional impact is universal.
NO REGRETS by Edith Piaff
No! No Regrets
No! I will have no regrets
All these things
That went wrong
For at last I have learned to be strong
No! No regrets
No! Let there be no regrets
Don’t go away
Simply call it a day
Fleeting moments we knew
I will set them apart
Every word, every sigh
Will be burned in my heart
But no tears will be shed
There’ll be no one to blame
Let it always be said
We attempted what came
No! No regrets
No! We will have no regrets
As you leave, I can say
Love was king
If for only a day
Life still goes on
Dare even though love has gone
One last kiss, shrug and sigh
No regrets, even though it’s goodbye
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Imagine a man who gives over 3,000 acres of land to his adopted hometown for a park, and then donates a fortune to build a popular observatory/planetarium/hall of science and a large open-air theater.
Imagine a man who enrages many of his peers with long years of insufferable pomposity and then shoots his well-regarded high-society wife in a paranoid delusion that she is in league with the Pope to poison him and steal his money.
Imagine if they were the same man.
You've just imagined one of the most unimaginable characters in the history of Los Angeles, Col. Griffith J. Griffith.
Famous for Giving Griffith Park to the City, Col. Griffith, who died on July 6, 1919, is mostly remembered as donor of 3015 acres that became the core of Griffith Park, and for donating money to build the park's Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory. But the "colonel" was a complicated man. He had towering virtues and cavernous faults. Along with other big property holders, he made enormous profits from rampant, feverish land speculation that peaked in 1886-87. And, oh yes, he married into money as well. Christina Mesmer wasn't just rich, she was also dignified and respected. They remained married for 16 years. Then in 1903 things went tragically haywire. Although the colonel was richer and more powerful than ever, he was also terribly nervous and edgy, his wife later testified. He compulsively bit his nails, his manicurist said. And he was a sneak drinker, his lawyer said, privately putting away two quarts of whiskey a day while publicly aligning himself with the city's strong temperance movement.
In August the Griffiths went to the Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica. Christina Griffith hoped a month in the Presidential Suite overlooking the palisades would help her husband unwind. But the colonel's strange behavior intensified. Waitresses said he switched his food and drink with his wife's. You never know if someone's trying to poison you, he told them. They chalked it up to a strange sense of humor.
But the last day of the Griffiths' vacation was about as unfunny as things get. Christina Griffith was addressing a few last postcards and beginning to gather her things. Her husband entered the room with a prayer book in one hand and a revolver in the other. Unfortunately, he handed her the prayer book.
She was on her knees when the colonel aimed and fired. Christina Griffith jerked her head at the last minute. That saved her life. She hurled herself out a window, landed on an awning below, and crawled to safety through another window. One author who attended Col. Griffith's trial called Christina Griffith "the society wife who wouldn't die."
Colonel Brought to Justice
The shooting left Christina Griffith disfigured and blind in one eye. Some observers say the colonel was lucky he wasn't lynched. His trial was spectacular and ghastly. Special prosecutors, led by an ex-governor, were called in. The defense was based around a novel idea: alcoholic insanity. Earl Rogers, the colonel's attorney, argued that heavy and steady consumption of alcohol had transformed religious friction in the Griffiths' marriage--he was Protestant, she was Catholic, and they were both devout--into weird murderous delusions. The defense worked. Col. Griffith was sentenced to two years in prison, with the stipulation that he be treated for his alcoholic insanity.
Whatever it was that snapped in the colonel in 1903 apparently snapped back while he was in prison. From his cell at San Quentin, he asked that he not be given any special treatment. He passed up an opportunity to work in the prison library; instead, he made burlap sacks in the jute mill alongside humbler prisoners. He refused parole as well. One of his few remaining friends, a judge, said the colonel wanted to pay his debt to society as fully as possible.
Colonel Rebuilds His Life
When he got out of prison, the colonel had little--other than the park land he had donated to the city in 1896--to tie him to Los Angeles. Most people around town still hated him and most of the others thought he was crazy. He was divorced. His only child was independent. And he was still rich.
But he returned to Los Angeles and stayed for the remaining 13 years of his life. Sources say he was quieter and less pompous. He lectured on prison reform, advocating rehabilitation over punishment. And he persistently worked at improving his park.
In 1912 he offered the city $100,000 to build a popular observatory atop Mt. Hollywood (Formerly Mt. Griffith, it had been renamed while he was in prison.). In his letter to the mayor and city council, the colonel waxed expansively about opening up the heavens to the common people, inspiring, educating and uplifting them. "Ambition," he wrote, "must have broad spaces and mighty distances."
If someone else had made the offer, the city might have jumped at it. But, as things stood, the city council jumped the other way, flatly refusing the money. Wrote one prominent citizen in a letter published on the front page of a local newspaper:
On behalf of the rising generation of girls and boys we protest against the acceptance of this bribe . . . This community is neither so poor nor so lost to sense of public decency that it can afford to accept this money.
The colonel, however, pressed on. In 1913 he offered $50,000 to build a Greek Theater. That project also ground to a standstill. At one point the Park Commission brought suit to force the colonel to stop preparations for construction. The colonel responded by setting up a trust fund to provide money for building the two facilities he had promised after he was gone.
Millions have enjoyed Griffith Park during the nearly 100 years since Col. Griffith donated it to the city. The Greek Theatre has stood for 65 years, the Observatory for 60.