“The Mystery of ISIS” by Anonymous

The New York Review of Books, 13 August 2015

Self is not kidding: for the first time ever in her many years of reading The New York Review of Books, there is a piece whose writer is identified only as “Anonymous.”

It’s a review of two new (well, relatively new; the issue self is reading is a year old) books about the rise of Islamic State aka IS/ISIS/ISIL/Army of the Levant and its founder, Ahmad Fadhil aka Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan (Regan Arts) and ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger (Ecco)

The reviewer asks:

  • “Who (in 2003) could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and — defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth — create a mini-empire? The story is relatively easy to narrate, but much more difficult to understand.”

The piece is very long and dense with information. Among its many references is one to Lawrence of Arabia (who said “. . . insurgents must be like a mist — everywhere and nowhere — never trying to hold ground or wasting lives in battles with regular armies.”) and another to Chairman Mao (who insisted that “guerrillas should be fish” swimming “in the sea of the local population”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

You May Share My Bed, Mr. A. Lincoln

from the Books section of the Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, 23 July – 24 July:

On the day Joshua Fry Speed met the 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln was destitute and looking for a place to stay in Springfield, ILL. Speed, scion of “a wealthy Louisiana plantation family”, owned a dry-goods store. “On impulse,” Speed invited “this newcomer to share his his double bed in the room above his store, rent to be discussed later.”

In Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln, biographer Charles B. Strozier “maintains that , at a time when only ‘one percent’ had beds, or for that matter bedrooms . . .  Speed’s offer carried none of the sexualized connotations it would exude today . . .  For Lincoln, who had shared beds with other males throughout his impoverished life, Speed’s offer promised company at night, warmth in winter and split expenses year-round . . .  Of course they tossed and turned against each other every evening, but when they were awake they talked about navigating ‘the uncertain world of women.’ ”

A book about Abraham Lincoln’s sleeping arrangements during his young manhood? What next? Self is so there.

Nice review by Harold Holzer.

Stay tuned.

Poem For 9/11 (Tin House, 2002)

12/19/02

by

David Lehman

It seemed nothing would ever be the same
This feeling lasted for months
Not a day passed without a dozen mentions
of the devastation and the grief
Then life came back
it returned like sap to the tree
shooting new life into the veins
of parched leaves turning them green
and the old irritations came back,
they were life, too,
crowds pushing, taxis honking, the envies, the anger,
the woman who could not escape her misery
as she stood between two mirrored walls
couldn’t sleep, took a pill, heard the noises of neighbors
the dogs barking, the pigeons in the alley yipping weirdly
and the phone that rang at eight twenty with the news
of Lucy’s overdose we just saw her last Friday evening
at Jay’s on Jane Street she’d been dead for a day or so
when they found her and there was no note
the autopsy’s today the wake day after tomorrow
and then I knew that life had resumed, ordinary bitching life
had come back

Curve in London

The Daily Post Photo Challenge this week is CURVE.

  • FIND INSPIRATION IN THE CURVES AROUND YOU

— Cheri Lucas Rowlands, The Daily Post Photo Challenge

Self presents three types of curves:

  • Sign on a street corner in London
  • The curve of a swan’s wings
  • The curve of a swans’ neck
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Self’s ‘hood’ in London

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Swan Settling: Bletchley Park, June 2016

Self adores swans, though some can have quite a nasty temper. The ones in Bletchley Park are amazingly docile:

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This may be the same swan as previous. There’s a whole flock of them by the lake at Bletchley Park.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Trying To Think of the Good In Life (Pure 3)

Just two days ago, the sun was shining, all felt right with the world.

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Central Park, New York, Friday 10 June 2016

And this was a picture self took in Bletchley Park, outside London, just a week ago:

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Bletchley Park, Where World War II Codebreakers worked to turn the tide.

And another from Bletchley Park. The swans are exceedingly tame and are so used to people that they let children go right up to them and pet them.

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The tamest swan self has ever encountered: Bletchley Park, June 2016

In solidarity with the people of Orlando, Florida.

Stay tuned.


Numbers 4: Exhibits, Museum of the History of Science (Oxford) and the British Museum

Self-explanatory!

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Oxford, England: May 2016

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Assyrian Gallery, British Museum, London: May 2016

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Another Caption from the Assyrian Gallery in the British Museum: May 2016

Numbers 3: More From Bletchley Park

Each building in Bletchley Park has specific displays and documentary films. In the codebreaking huts (a total of 11, self thinks there were), the lighting is purposefully dim, as if to give the impression of how much secrecy was involved.

Yet the grounds themselves are beautiful.

Self never got to see the Benedict Cumberbatch movie, The Imitation Game. The film has a special exhibit in the Mansion House — there’s very interesting information from the costume designer, about the thinking behind the way the actors — who played a constellation of codebreakers that included Alan Turing and Stuart Menzies — were dressed.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Numbers 2: Bletchley Park

Since this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge is NUMBERS, that’s all self could think of when she was in Bletchley Park, today.

The grounds are very beautiful. Self was so glad she decided to go.

Since she comes from Silicon Valley, she was most interested in checking out the claim that the world’s first electronic computer (Ahem!) was built on-site by Alan Turing’s team (And to think, all these years, self thought the first computer was made by IBM!)

Approximately 9,000 people worked here toward the end of World War II. All of them left the premises, the day after Germany made its official announcement of unconditional surrender. The documents were shredded, the machines dismantled, and the huts torn down. But the Bletchley Park Foundation has done a superb job at recreating the offices.

It’s only an hour away from London by train.

Self saw two Enigma machines and a fragment of a Colossus.

As well as tons of World War II memorabilia. One small cabinet in the Main House contains a series of memos, one dated December 1941 saying that Bletchley’s request for more material to build code-breaking machines had been denied. Right next to it is a message that came straight from the “Prime Minister’s Office” and was signed by Winston Churchill, May 1942. It’s only two sentences, the gist being: “Whatever they need, give it to them.”

Self imagined it would be inundated by people on a Saturday. But it wasn’t.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Spare 3: The Walk

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You only fully understand London after you’ve seen it from the Millenium Bridge.

Started out from Russell Square. Went to the Tate Modern. Walked over the Millenium Bridge (or, as self keeps referring to it in her head: the Harry Potter Bridge) towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

That is the best way to see London. No tours, no tricks.

View # 1: St. Paul’s Cathedral, seen on the approach from the Tate Modern side. Nothing quite like it.

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Bank Holiday: Monday, 30 May 2016. Hence, lots of pedestrians on the Millenium Bridge.

View # 2: the bridge itself. Such a thing of beauty. You don’t know what the Thames is until you’ve walked across this pedestrian walkway.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death (3 May 1616)

It is also the 400th Anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’s death, what a coincidence!

Seriously mind-blowing.

Self is in Oxford. She went racing to Victoria Bus Station two days ago, lugging the Mother of All Suitcases, only to find that the bus she had tickets for had left at 1:30 a.m. She got in line at the ticket booth (30 minutes wait) and then explained to the lady that she was from America, she made a terrible mistake, she was aiming for 1:30 p.m., not 1:30 a.m. The woman was so kind, and put self on the 1 p.m. bus. She also booked self’s return trip: 15:30. “That’s 3:30 p.m.,” she said. “All right?”

Yes! Yes! Yes! Sorry to be such a stupid American!

The last time self was in Oxford was to attend the Saboteur Awards, which were held in a tavern. That was a fun time. She was a finalist in the novella category.

That was two years ago. How quickly time flies! Of course, she did not win, but it was such an honor just to be a finalist.

Yesterday, self went to a fabulous open-air market on Gloucester Green, and then she caught the last showing of Captain America: Civil War at the Odeon. What a great movie. Sorry, but Marvel cornered all the sass: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Don Cheadle,. The women are great actresses: Scarjo, Ellen Van Kamp, Elizabeth Olsen. (Not that J-Law isn’t. Self loves J-Law. And also Sophie Turner).

After seeing Captain America: Civil War, though, she thinks that Fox should really do their utmost to hang on to Evan Peters(Quicksilver), as he is the only element in their whole Brit-actors-chewing-scenery cinematic universe who is capable of delivering sass on the level of, say, Robert Downey, Jr. And Lord knows, the X-Men could do with a bit more sass.

Now, where was she?

Oh, right, Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary! So, she has determined that she must see at least one thing today that is connected to Shakespeare. As it would be pretty lame of to leave Oxford having only seen Captain America: Civil War.

She does a little internet search and finds that there are quite a number of Shakespeare exhibits in Oxford, operating concurrently. Mama Mia! What an absolute plethora of riches!

She’s going to spend the entire day rushing from one exhalted library to another.

Starting with the Weston. Because the Weston has, in addition to an exhibit on Shakespeare, a map of Middle Earth, annotated by Tolkien himself.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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