Thursday, April 30, 2015

The White House has announced that it has purchased a new china service!

I have a mild fascination with some White House china, most notably the Lincoln service (which I've written an article about) and the Wilson service.

The White House must order new china about once every 10 years, depending on wear and tear. Recent past colors have included celadon green (Truman), white (with flowers; Johnson), red (Reagan), gold (Clinton), and gold (G.W. Bush). Although dark blue has been used on previous orders of White House china (both the F.D. Roosevelt and Wilson services used it), this type of light blue has never been used before on American state china.

The new Obama service porcelain was designed by First Lady Michelle Obama, with assistance from her friend, the interior designer Michael S. Smith. Planning for the new china began in the fall of 2011, and Obama consulted White House chefs (past and present), White House staff, and the Pickard China company of Illinois on the design and style of the porcelain, pieces, and color. White House dinners are growing ever-larger in size. Existing White House china settings are often used together, mixed and matched so that 400-, 500-, and even 600-setting dinners can be given. Michelle Obama was constrained by the need to design a china service that mixed well with existing china, but which reflected the Obamas' own personal style and tastes.

The Obama china service made its debut on April 27, 2015. It was first used on April 28 for a state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Each setting has 11 pieces and there are 320 settings, for a total of 3,520 pieces in the entire service.

The "service plate" or "charger" is the largest piece in the set at 14 inches. A charger is designed to be a placeholder, so that each diner knows to "sit here". As the meal is served, additional elements of the service are placed atop the charger. The charger helps protect the tablecloth from spills, but it also helps act as an aesthetic backdrop to the other pieces of china. The Obama chargers feature a lip of gold gilt, impressed with a fret (Greek key pattern). There is a narrow band of plain gilt on the rim next to the lip, with the rest of the rim in fluted gold filt. A narrow band of plain gold gilt is placed just inside the well. In the center of the charger is the Presidential coat of arms in gold. The seal should be the first thing the diner sees when they are seated.

Each dinner plate is 12 inches in diameter. The lip of the dinner plate is plain gold gilt. The broad rim of the plate has an undecorated pinwheels and fronds in bas-relief. The bas-relief design was taken from an Empire-style china service purchased by then-Secretary of State James Madison in 1806. The bas-relief element is unique to White House china, which has never featured anything like it before.

The Obama china service also includes an 11-inch dinner plate, a 10-inch luncheon plate, a 9-inch salad plate, a 9-inch dessert plate, a 7-inch tureen plate, and a 6-inch saucer. Each of these plates has a lip in gold gilt, impressed with a fret-oval-and-dart motif. Each motif is separated by two dots arranged perpendicular to the lip. The rim of the plate is in a new color designed specifically for the Obama china service. This color is named "Kailua Blue," a bright blue inspired by the hue of the sea in President Barack Obama's home state of Hawaii. The fluted rim of blue is followed by a delicate inner line of gold gilt which completes the decoration. Only about half the rim is taken up by design and color. The dessert plate, the last plate the diner should see, also has the Presidential coat of arms in gold gilt in the center.

Each setting comes with a coffee cup. The cup has a lip of plain gold gilt, followed by a narrow band of gold gilt in a dart-oval-dart motif set perpendecular to the lip. This is followed by a band of fluted Kailua blue, and then a delicate band of plain gold gilt again. Each cup has the Presidential coat of arms; if held by the right hand, the coat of arms faces the guest.

Unique to the Obama china service is an individual tureen. Although large tureens have been part of White House china before, this is the first time an individual-sized tureen has ever been designed. The tureen reflects a more modern style of dining, which emphasizes soups, small entrees, or desserts requiring more than a bowl but not a large tureen. Each tureen is small, about 6 inches across. Handles on the side of the tureen are plain, consisting of a scroll with one acanthus leaf above and three below (helping to reinforce the scroll). Each tureen is about 4 inches deep. The lip of the tureen is plain. The rim is designed with the same plain pinwheels-and-fronds design in bas-relief. Below the rim, the side of the tureen is decorated with a narrow band of Kailua blue edged in a delicate line of gold gilt. The lid of the tureen is plain, with a mushroom-motif handle. The cap of the mushroom is fluted, with a botton topping the cap.

Pickard China produced the dinnerware. The tureen was incredibly difficult to make. It took workers more than a year and innumerable trials to produce the tureen.

The china service was paid for by the White House Historical Association -- a private foundation established by Jacqueline Kennedy to buy furniture, china, and decorative and fine art for the White House. The service cost $367,258.

"Scarecrow" -- the 15th episode of Gotham. This concludes the two-parter begun in "The Fearsome Dr. Crane".
  • Julian Sands as Gerald Crane
  • Charlie Tahan as Jonathan Crane
Doctor Anderson: The boy's received a massive dose of condensed hormones -- cortisol, adrenaline...and another compound we're still trying to identify. The combination nearly killed him.
Det. James Gordon: But he's gonna live?
Doctor Anderson: Yes... But we ran a CAT scan in order to determine if he suffered any brain damage. The results -- we've never seen anything like them before. The hormones themselves have long since worn off, but the effects... They seem to be lingering.
Det. James Gordon: What are you saying? That he's still in fear?
Doctor Anderson: Well, not just fear. Jonathan's brain activity shows he's in a constant state of intense terror.
Det. James Gordon: How long until this goes away?
Doctor Anderson: Well, that's just the thing, detective. We can't be certain it ever will. Imagine the thing you fear most in the world. Imagine that it's all you see. Every waking hour.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April 25 is ANZAC Day -- one of the great holidays in Australia and New Zealand. It celebrates the landing of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops at Gallipoli during World War I.

Huh? Wha'? I know, you don't know what that is.

Let's go back in time a 1299 AD.
At the time, Turkey was divided in a host of tiny sultanates. ("Sultan" is the Arabic word for "king" or "nobleman".) One of them, the Seljuk dynasty, asked for help from Turkmenistan -- a country on the east side of the Caspian Sea north and northesat of Iran. Big mistake: When the Seljuk kingdom collapse, the leader of these horseman, Osman, took over. Within 25 years, the Ottomans (as they came to be known), had extended their rule throughout most of Turkey. They bypassed Constantinople (the capital of the waning Byzantine Empire), and invaded Europe. By 1450 AD, they had conquered Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Moldova, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia. Constantinople fell in 1402. In the late 1400s, the Ottomans turned east and south. They conquered Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the east. To the south, they overran Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and eastern Iran. They conquered the Saudi peninsula from Sinai two-thirds of the way to Yemen, all of Egypt, and most of Sudan. By 1550 AD, they'd conquered everything around the Red Sea, down to the Horn of Africa. They'd also pushed west to conquer coastal Libya, all of Tunisia, and coastal Algeria. They'd even conquered the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf down to Muscat.

At its height, in 168s AD, the Ottoman Empire was the largest the world had ever seen -- even larger than Alexander the Great's, or the Roman Empire.

Quite naturally, it then began to decline. European powers began to take back Europe from the Ottomans. After the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the Ottomans lost Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. It lost most of Serbia in 1867, and then lost the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878). At the Congress of Berlin, which ended that war, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro gained their independence. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria remained part of the Ottoman Empire, but were autonomous. (Austria-Hungary invaded Bosnia-Herzegovina later that year, and although the Ottomans protested... their troops were easily routed.) Britain effectively gained control of the island of Cyprus and Egypt. The Ottoman Empire lost Libya during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912, and lost Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria after the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913).

And it had further yet to fall.

Now let's get to World War I.
Imperial Germany invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914. Germany's plan was to sweep across the broad, flat Belgian plain and plunge south into France. Their goal was to reach Paris and force a surrender within six weeks. But the Belgians resisted, and the Belgain fortress of Liège and Namur held out for two weeks. The Germans bogged down, and by mid-September the advance had ground to a halt just inside the French borders. And there they would stay until summer 1918. More than 4 million men would die as soldiers with bayonets charged into machine-gun nests.

In November 1914, Imperial Germany tried to break the emerging deadlock. It offered to return to the Ottoman Empire much of its former lands in Europe if the Ottomans would enter the war on the side of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany). Germany believed that the Turks would be able not only to throw several hundred thousand troops northwest to aid the Austro-Hungarian Empire in resisting the Russian attack, but also that the Turks would be able to invade and take Egypt -- seizing the Suez Canal and cutting Britain off from vital resources and troops in India, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire was horribly weak. Its troopes were barely trained, it lacked transportation and artillery, and what few weapons it had were old and outdated. But the Ottomans were still a threat. All they'd need to do is sink a ship or two in the Suez Canal with some well-placed artillery shots, and Britain would be crippled.

Winston Churchill was Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty. He had authority over British naval policy and strategy, but not day-to-day command of the British High Seas Fleet. That fell to Admiral of the Fleet Jacky Fisher, who was First Sea Lord. Churchill had long been obsessed with the Balkans -- that area of southeast Europe where Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and a host of smaller nations came together to meet Turkey and the Middle East. Where these two continents meet is known as the Turkish Straits. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea. To the east is the land-locked Black Sea. A narrow peninsula, known as Gallipoli, extends southwest into the Mediterranean, with the coast of Turkey opposite it. This creates the Dardanelles, a strait 38 miles long but only 0.75 to 3.75 miles wide. The coastline consists of high bluffs on either side, which makes it easy to bombard a ship traversing the strait. Once past the Dardanelles, there's the small Sea of Maramara. The Bosphorus, another strait, leads to the Black Sea. The Bosphorus is just 19 miles long and about 2 miles wide. Constantinople (it would not be renamed Istanbul until 1930) straddles the southern entrance to the Bosphorus.

Strategy was never Churchill's strong point. He often acted like a fan-boy around the military, loving guns and tanks and ships and wanting to command troops in the field. He was inept at military tactics and strategy, and yet he was a superb political leader.

Churchill proposed to attack and seize the Dardanelles. His theory was that this would bottle up the Turkish Navy, allowing the British and French to have free access to the Suez Canal and Mediterranean. It would also make it easier to bottle up the Italian, German, and Austro-Hungarian navies in the Adriatic Sea. Troops on the Gallipoli peninsula could threaten Constantinople, forcing the Ottoman Empire to pull troops out of Europe and the Middle East to defend their capital city. This would take pressure off the Suez Canal. The British were also fomenting rebellion among the Algerians, Libyans, Tunisians, Saudis, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis, and Iranians. Their goal was to use these rebellions to pin down the vast Ottoman troops in the Middle East. Seizing the Dardanelles would force the Turks to send supplies via the more difficult overland routes, and possible even cause the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Churchill proposed an amphibious landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. Once up the steep bluffs, the troops could race along the ridgetops and seize the entire spit of land. Resupply by sea would allow the Allies to keep Gallipoli, and once in their hands the main strategic goal of the campaign would be assured.

Fisher opposed the plan. The Allies had attempted to run the Dardanelles with naval ships in March 1915, and failed miserably. The Turkish artillery proved far more mobile than expected, and proved to be much more supplied with ammunition than supposed. The Turks had heavily mined the straits, and anti-submarine nets were up and working. To Fisher, the Turks were better prepared and supplied than Churchill assumed, and they had far more men on the Gallipoli peninsula than anyone in the British Army had guessed. It was suicide to try an amphibious landing.


The opposing forces
Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command what was now called Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). This 78,000-men unit consisted of the 1st Australian Imperial Force, the 8,500-man New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the British 29th Division, the 63rd Royal Naval Division, and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps. The Australians consisted of the 10,500-man, all-volunteer Australian 1st Division and three 5,500-man light horse brigades. The Royal Naval Division was made up of Royal Navy and Royal Marine reservists and volunteers not needed for service at sea. The 25,500-man unit had no medical, artillery, logistics, or other units, being intended only as a very lightly armed infantry force capable of defending temporary naval bases. The Oriental Expeditionary Corps consisted of about 16,700 colonial troops. The white soldiers were raised from French colonists in Algeria and Tunisia. It was strengthened by the 175th Infantry Regiment (a unit of the regualr French army) and a battalion of the French Foreign Legion. The black African soldiers formed a regiment, and had been raised in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger. They were mostly trained as skirmishers.

Another 2,000 civilian laborers from Egypt and Malta supplemented the military forces.

Churchill, Kitchener, and Hamilton agreed that the Turks would be surprised by the landing, and thus the MEF would not land under fire. They believed Turkish morale was low, and the Turks would surrender as soon as they were confronted. They decided to land on the very southern tip of Gallipoli, so that the Royal Navy would be able to support them with shell fire on three sides.

The Ottoman Fifth Army, with six divisions (the MEF had five), defended Gallipoli. This force was commanded by Otto Liman von Sanders, an officer in the Imperial German Army who served as the head of the Germany military mission to Turkey. About half of the senior officers in the Fifth Army were also German. von Sanders considered Beşik Bay (surrounded by the towns of Kepez and Çanakkale) on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles to be the most vulnerable, since the bluffs here were more easily climbed and the most important Ottoman artillery batteries guarding the straits were nearby. von Sanders stationed a third of his troops here. Another two divisions were stationed at the town of Bulair on the European side of the at the north end of the strait to protect the Ottoman supply and communication lines.

Turkish officer Mustafa Kemal (later known as Kemal Ataturk) commanded the 19th Division. Unlike von Sanders, Kemal believed that the British would land at the very southern tip of the peninsula, where their warships would be of the greatest use. His troops were stationed along the bluffs on the Aegean Sea, with their headquarters at Gaba Tepe. His forces were supplemented with the 9th Division, 3rd Division, and a cavalry brigade.

The landings
Hamilton planned to land on the Aegean Sea side of the Gallipoli peninsula. His troops would then move across the pensinula and sieze the Ottoman forts from behind, making it safe for the Royal Navy to pass through the Dardanelles and into the Sea of Marmara. Five major landing zones were foreseen: "S Beach" was in Morto Bay on the straits side of the peninsula. "V Beach" was at Cape Helles, the southernmost tip of the peninsula, and was intended to be the main landing zone. "W Beach" was just around the corner at Tekke Burnu, and was also part of the main landing zone. "X Beach" was on the Aeagean side, opposite Morto Bay. "Y Beach" was further north up the coast, near the village of Krithia. The sixth beach, known as "Anzac Cove", was separated by a fair distance from Y Beach. The French forces were to make a diversionary landing near Çanakkale (then called Kum Kale) to draw off the Ottoman Fifth Army, then re-embark and join the forces at S, V, W, X, and Y beaches. The Royal Naval Division was to do the same at Bulair.

The landings began on April 25, 1915. Unfortunately, the landing ships were old colliers which allowed just a single soldier at a time to leave the ship. At V and W beaches, the Turks had almost no men. But they were armed with machine-guns, and they slaughtered the Allied forces at will. There were 60 percent casualties at V Beach, and 70 percent at W Beach. At Y Beach, no resistance was encountered. But the commander had no orders to move inland, and so sat still. The Ottomans quickly reinforced Krithia. Further north at Anzac Cove, the handful of Ottoman defenders managed to contain the landing. Every single Turkish defender died, but casualties among the Anzac forces were so heavy that they not only ran out of ammunition but were forced to spend the night on the beach awaiting reinforcement. Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, leader of the Anzac unit, contemplated the re-embarkation of his troops.

During the night, the Ottomans rushed reinforcements to the Gallipoli landing zones.

On April 27, the Ottoman 19th Division was reinforced by six battalions from the 5th Division. They tried to drive the Allied forces back onto the beaches, but failed after British naval gun fire turned the tide. The next day, the British and French (recently arrived from their failed diversion at Çanakkale) at Y Beach attempted to take Krithia and failed. An Ottoman counter-attack ran into British machine-gun fire and failed. Reinforced Anzac forces tried to attack the night of April 29-April 30 to cross the peninsula, but were driven back.

Stuck on the miserable beaches
Now the Allies were stuck on the beaches. They were constantly harassed by machine-gun fire from above. Troops had to huddle at the base of the cliffs in order to avoid being fired upon, while ships landing supplies were visible to attack. Troops at the cliff base had to watch in horror as their comrades moving food and medical supplies across the exposed sand and shale were gunned down just a few feet away. Many guns, ammunition, and supplies failed to make it, and were spoiled by seawater before they could be retrieved. Moving the wounded, whose screams pierced the day and night, proved just as hazardous.

The heat was staggering, reaching 90F during the day. Unburied corpses bloated and putrified in the sun. Massive numbers of biting flies assaulted the troops on the beach, forcing them to remain confined under nets at all times. The flies were so bad that eating became a problem: The moment food was exposed, or a spoon withdrawn from a can, or a piece of fruit bitten into, hundreds of flies would descend on the food. Poor sanitation on the beaches led to a dysentery epidemic. Thousands of Allied troops died of disease.

The effect on Allied morale was incredibly negative.

Safe and warm offshore in his naval command ship, General Hamilton depleted the troops at Anzac Cove and moved them one beach south to Y Beach. On May 5, 20,000 Allied troops attacked Krithia again. They lacked maps, and had not scouted the terrain. Each Allied spearhead was separated from the others by a deep gully, preventing them from reinforcing one another. Ottoman artillery and machine-gun fire stopped them. Reinforced, the Allied trooped continued their attack on May 7. Despite covering about half the distance to their objective, the Allies ran out of ammunition and were forced to dig in. So did the Turks. Trench warfare on the peninsula ended up much the same way as it did in France: Stalemate.

On May 19, 42,000 poorly-supplied Turks tried to push the Anzacs into the sea. Their movements were spotted the day before by Allied aircraft, and the lightly armed Turks suffered 13,000 casualties (including 3,000 dead). The Anzacs saw just 468 wounded and 160 killed.

That was the end of offensive operations in May. The Allies tried to take Krithia again on June 4, but failed miserably in the face of entrenched Ottoman machine-gun nests. An Allied attack inland from Y Beach on June 28 had only limited success, and an Ottoman counter-attack which lasted from July 1 to July 5 proved pointless.

By August, Churchill was demanding that Hamilton "fix" the Gallipoli campaign. Hamilton now planned a major reinforcement of his five divisions with 10 fresh ones. He planned a fresh amphibious landing five miles north of Anzac Cove at Suvla. These forces would push inland across rough terrain and seize the Sari Bair Range - a series of ridges running along the peninsula. Anzac Cove forces would also attack inland. But once more, commanders failed on August 6 to exploit early gains against limited forces at Suvla, and the Allied troops remained on the beach overnight while the Ottomans reinforced. (Hamilton's staff even considered withdrawing all troops from Suvla and Anzac Cove after the disaster.) As usual, the Anzac attacks against Ottoman trenches failed. Only the New Zealand Infantry Brigade managed to achieve its objective, seizing the peak of Chunuk Bair on August 7, but Ottoman counter-attacks killed or wounded nearly every single one of them and the New Zealanders were swept from the hill.

A final British attempt to break out occured on August 21. Three newly-arrived Australian divisions reinforced Suvla, and attacks from Anzac Cove and Suvla attempted to unify these beachheads. But attempts to seize two key hills failed.

The evacuation of Gallipoli
Hamilton asked for 75,000 new reinforcements. Unfortunately, he had the worst timing: The French government had just announced an autumn offensive, which drew off most of the British Army's reserves. This left Hamilton with only 25,000 reinforcements. Then, on September 25, Kitchener demanded that Hamilton give him three divisions to devote to the fighting in Greece (which was winning its war for freedom from the Ottoman Empire).

News of the failure of the Gallipoli campaign was smuggled out of the war zone by journalists. Public opinion quickly turned against the military. Even some senior military officers began to openly critize Hamilton, Kitchener, and Churchill. At a meeting of senior British military leaders on October 11, evacuation was discussed. Hamilton resisted, arguind it would be a terrible blow to British prestige and morale. He was dismissed on October 16, 1915 -- his military career over.

Lieutenant General Sir Charles Monro replaced Hamilton. By now, colder weather had ended the heat and vastly diminished the number of flies. But gale-force winds, cold rain, blizzards, and flooding now hit the Gallipoli peninsula. Hundreds of men drowned in flash-floods. Thousands of others froze to death, and thousands more suffered frostbite. Flooding routinely washed corpses from graves, and Allied troops often awoke at dawn to find themselves sleeping next to putrefying bodies.

It had long been clear that the situation at Gallipoli was lost. Bularia entered the war on the side of Imperial Germay on September 6, 1915. This opened a land route between Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The Germans began sending the Turks vast amounts of heavy artillery and ammunition, as well as modern aircraft (with German pilots) to drive the Allied planes from the sky. Without their aerial reconnaissance, the Allies were lost. Monro recommended evacuation to Kitchener in early November visited the eastern Mediterranean. The British Cabinet confirmed the decision in early December.[179]

Allied troops were slowly reduced on all beaches throughout December. Infantryman William Scurry invented a rifle that would fire every few minutes as water dripping into a pan attached to the trigger. This deceptive device was used to help hide the fact that too few Allied troops remained to defend the beaches. Anzac Cove and Suvla were evacuated on December 20. S, V, W, X, and Y beaches were evacuated in waves in early January, the final troops leaving W Beach on January 9.

Admiral Jacky Fisher had been forced to resign in May during his bitter conflict with Churchill over the Gallipoli campaign.

But Fisher proved to be right, and Churchill wrong.

Great Britain was being governed by a "War Cabinet". Herbert Asquith's Liberal Party formed the government. Asquith demoted Churchill to the useless position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but kept him in the government. This so undermined support for the Liberals that Asquith was forced to form a coalition government with the Conservative Party on May 25, 1915. Kitchener's influence within the Cabinet plunged, reaching a nadir during the Gallipoli evacuation in December. (He was even overruled when he demanded support for French troops attacking Salonika in Greece.) Asquith also was forced to establish a commission of inquiry, the Dardanelles Commission, into the Gallipoli campaign.

The continuing fallout from Gallipoli caused the Liberals to lose support through 1916. Kitchener died on June 5, 1916, when his ship was sunk by a mine west of the Orkney Islands. David Lloyd George was made Secretary of War, but with far fewer powers and authority than Kitchener. With British losses in France worsening without any gains being achieved, Lloyd George proposed a council to help Asquith manage the war. The Conservatives threatened to resign. Lloyd George then ousted Asquith as leader of the Liberal Party on October 14, 1926. Lloyd George then resigned from the Cabinet on December 5, 1916. This public show of a lack of confidence in Asquith's leadership led Asquith to resign the same day. Lloyd George then formed his own coalition government on December 6, becoming Prime Minister. (Churchill had resigned from Parliament to lead an infantry division in France. His failure there caused him to return to England and get back into Parliament in June 1916. Lloyd George now gave Churchill the non-cabinet post of Minister of Munitions.)

By the time the Gallipoli Campaign ended, over 100,000 troops were dead -- including 56,000 to 68,000 Turkish and 53,000 British and French soldiers. This incudes 8,709 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders -- about a quarter of those who had landed on the peninsula.

The significance of the Gallipoli Campaign was felt strongly in both New Zealand and Australia. Australians and New Zealanders both came to feel that Gallipoli their national identity has been forged at Gallipoli in a "baptism of fire", and the independence movements in both nations can be directly linked to Gallipoli. To this day, the military forces of both nations strongly believe in and promote the "Anzac spirit" which prevailed among their troops at Gallipoli.

And, to this day, every April 25 is commemorated in both countries as "Anzac Day".

As for Mustafa Kemal, he became the first president of the Republic of Turkey after the war.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This is the anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth (assumedly) and death. When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher, Miss McPhail, made us learn a passage from Hamlet. Almost everyone chose "To be, or not to be". I, being a complete contrarian, chose "conscience of the king".

Hamlet is distressed because he cannot bring himself to accuse his mother of incest (at the time, a widow marrying her brother-in-law was considered so) nor his uncle of murder. He's playing for time by pretending to be mad, but doesn't know how long he can keep this up as it's affecting the mental health of his fiancee, Ophelia. All of a sudden, at the start of Act 2, Hamlet's college buddies, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, appear at the castle. Hamlet's father has summoned them, and paid them to whisk Hamlet back to England -- and on the ocean trip there, to kill Hamlet so that Hamlet cannot expose the king's crimes. Hamlet is as yet unaware of their intent to kill him. He's just struggling with what he think is his own cowardice.

As the act comes to an end, chance steps in: The court chamberlain, Polonius, brings in a troupe of actors. They're there ostensibly to perform a Passion play for Lent. Hamlet sends them off with his two buddies. For once, Hamlet is alone with his thoughts. But then, he gets an idea.........................

- - - - -

Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.

- Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Saturday, April 18, 2015

One of the reasons I've not been blogging lately is because I've been researching and writing. Like all my writing, this one is a journey.

The journey begins with a news article in the Washington Post on February 10, 2015. I ran across it on April 4, which is unusual. That's because I'm an architecture buff, and a D.C. history buff, and a White House history buff. Yet, somehow I missed this article about a major redecoration of the Old Family Dining Room in the White House.

The White House was designated a museum in 1988 by the American Association of Museums. This means the rooms of the White House generally cannot be altered, because their decor and furnishings are historic. The only rooms at the White House which can be altered are those private rooms used by the First Family. That's because these rooms have been altered time and time again over the years and do not have a historic nature. One of these room was the Old Family Dining Room on the State Floor. Although its decor dated to 1961, it wasn't a historic decor. Yet. Michele Obama radically redecorated the room in 2014, and the room was opened to the public tour in February 2015.

I decided to add the information to the Wikipedia article on the Old Family Dining Room. And, as is usual, the article had no citations, made wild and unverifiable claims, and was woefully out of date. So I spent 10 days researching the Old Family Dining Room and upgrading the article to a semblance of excellence.

Along the way, I wrote an article about heating and HVAC registers. The term had been mentioned in the article, but nothing about registers (those grates which your hot and cold air flows through in your house) was on the site. It took me a day to do that one.

The White House itself is really three distinct buildings: The East Wing, the West Wing, and the Executive Residence.

On a lark, I went to the article on the Executive Residence. And it, too, was a completely poor article. Once more, there were no citations, unverified claims and statements, and out-of-date statements. Some of the statements were just outrageously inaccurate. So I began researching the architectural history of the Executive Residence itself. I'm lucky that I have a lot of books about the White House, and was able to do the sections of the basement, Ground Floor, and State Floor fairly easily. It took a week, but it's done.

I decided to take a break for a bit, because the State Floor research was really exhausting. The Third Floor is going to be a lot worse, because there have been so many changes there.

One of the things I came across as I worked on the Ground Floor and State Floor sections of that article was Raymond Muir. He was the Chief Usher at the White House from 1933 to 1938.

So I went to the article on Raymond Muir. I'd worked on the article for Irwin "Ike" Hoover some months ago, and wondered what the Muir article looked like. It was just a two sentence stub. So I researched Muir for two days, and completely rewrote the article.

Then I looked at the article on Howell G. Crim, Muir's successor. It was in just as bad shape. So, three days of research and a day of writing later, and it was done.

I looked at the article on the Chief Usher, and saw that all of Muir's predecessors did not have articles. So I researched and wrote articles on Thomas E. Stone, William Dubois, and Edson S. Densmore.

Typical of uncited Wikipedia articles, there was missing information. Between Densmore and Dubois, there were two names missing: Carlos E. Dexter and John McKenna. These were hard to write, as they were obscure people about whom little had been written previously. Researching them took a lot of work, and I spent two or three days in research -- finding little.

So now the Chief Ushers list is complete, and all the articles (pretty much) in good shape.

It feels good to write again. It feels good to put my hands into history and dig again. It feels good to contribute again. I know that no one really cares about what I write. I'm not writing about RuPaul's Drag Race or some cute tiger cub hugging a squirrel or something similar.

What I wrote won't draw attention. But it felt good to do it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12, 1961 -- Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human being to orbit the Earth. Humanity leaves the planet for the first time.

Liu Xiang, one of the greatest athletes of the 21st century, has announced that a two-year attempt to rehabilitate his Achilles tendon has failed and that he will permanently retire from sports.

In 2004, Liu became the first Chinese male to win an Olympic gold medal in track. He tied the world record in the 110-meter hurdles in 2004, and broke the world record in 2006 -- becoming the first man to run the race in under 12.9 seconds. In 2007, he won the world championships in the event.

He suffered a severe Achilles tendon inflammation in late 2007, however. At the London Olympics in 2012, he crashed during a preliminary heat and tore his right Achilles’ tendon as he tried to clear the first hurdle.