The Finish, by Mark Bowden

This is a good book, highly recommended, a complex story well-told.

Bowden notes that in many of his final letters, Osama bin Laden has a “quaint courtesy,” and indeed his language does sound oddly cute.  Here’s an excerpt from one written close to his death:

It would be nice if you would pick a number of brothers, not to exceed ten, and send them to their countries individually, without knowing the others, to study aviation… it would be nice if you would ask the brothers in all regions if they have a brother distinguished by good manners, integrity, courage, and secretiveness, who can operate in the United States…

It would be nice.  Maybe it’s the translation.  Osama also doesn’t think too much of Joe Biden, advising in another letter:

The reason for concentrating on [trying to kill Obama, but not other high-level Americans, during a possible visit to Afghanistan] is that he is the head of infidelity and killing him will automatically make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there.  Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the United States into crisis.

Anyway, the book has some excellent information on the lives and careers of figures key to the hunt for Bin Laden.  I learned, for instance, that on 9/11, Bill McRaven, later head of Joint Special Operations Command, was in a hospital bed, having had his pelvis cracked and his back broken during a parachute accident.

Bowden introduces speechwriter and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, noting his”prematurely thinning black hair.”  Later, we learn, “his hair had thinned on top.”


Ship’s Cats

A good Wikipedia page, well-illustrated.

Here’s Blackie, with Winston Churchill:

Here is Convoy:

Sadly, Convoy was lost when the HMS Hermione was sunk in the Mediterranean in 1942.

Here is Peebles, known for shaking hands with strangers:

Pebbles served on the HMS Western Isles, which was used to evacuate children from Guernsey before the German occupation.

And here is Tiddles:

When he sailed around Australia in 1801-3, the explorer Matthew Flinders had a cat named Trim.  According to Flinders, Trim was eaten by slaves in Mauritus some years later.  Here is a statue of Trim in Sydney:

Mrs. Chippy deserves and will receive more extensive coverage at some future date.


First Space Jump

Joseph Kittinger.

Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, and his right hand swelled to twice its normal size. Ignoring the pain, he rode the balloon up to 102,800 feet and said a short prayer — “Lord, take care of me now” — before stepping off.

Of the jumps from Excelsior, Kittinger said, “There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.”

Here is his gondola, on display at the National Air & Space Museum:

Kittinger was shot down on May 11, 1972, just before the end of his third tour of duty [in Vietnam]… Kittinger and his wingman were chasing a MiG-21 when Kittinger’s Phantom II was hit by an air-to-air missile that damaged the fighter’s starboard wing and set the airplane on fire. Kittinger and [Weapons Systems Operator William] Reich ejected a few miles from Thai Nguyen and were soon captured and taken to the city of Hanoi.

Kittinger and Reich spent 11 months as prisoners of war (POWs) in the “Hanoi Hilton” prison. Kittinger was put through “rope torture” soon after his arrival at the POW compound and this made a lasting impression on him.


Sunday Morning In The Mines, Charles Christian Nahl, 1872


The Faroe Islands

From The Atlantic’s In Focus, pure The Helytimes bait:  photos of the Faroe Islands.  These two are credited to Arne List.

Traditional Faroese food is mainly based on meat, seafood and potatoes and uses few fresh vegetables. Mutton is the basis of many meals, and one of the most popular treats is skerpikjøt, well aged, wind-dried mutton, which is quite chewy. The drying shed, known as a hjallur, is a standard feature in many Faroese homes, particularly in the small towns and villages. Other traditional foods are ræst kjøt (semi-dried mutton) and ræstur fiskur, matured fish. Another Faroese specialty is Grind og spik,pilot whale meat and blubber. (A parallel meat/fat dish made with offal is garnatálg.) Well into the last century, meat and blubber from a pilot whale meant food for a long time. Fresh fish also features strongly in the traditional local diet, as do seabirds, such as Faroese puffins, and their eggs. Dried fish is also commonly eaten.


Statue Storm!

“Oh SHIT!” I thought, as I lay in bed last night.  “I’ve forgotten!  What was the consequence of the ‘Letters from the Segovia Woods,’ written by Philip II of Spain to Margaret of Parma in 1565-66, wherein Philip rejected requests to abolish the laws against heresy in the Spanish Netherlands?!”

It’s a wonder I got to sleep at all, but I did.  All night I was haunted, however, by dreams of Dutch Calvinists smashing Catholic art.  My dreams looked like this:

When I woke up, it was with a smile.

“Of course,” I remembered.  “The Letters from the Segovia Woods led to the ‘Beeldenstorm’ – the ‘statue storm’ – wherein angry Dutch Protestants destroyed Catholic iconography.  Then the Duke of Alba shows up to repress the uprising, etc. etc., the 80 Years War is ON.”

Here, from the relevant Wikipedia page, is Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Preaching Of John The Baptist:

Who’s that looking back at us?  Bruegel himself?  I dunno, but here’s the kind of detail you’d get to see if you were at the Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest:


Hurricane, Bahamas (1898)

Winslow.  Not on display at the Met.