Category Archives: Poetry

This Day in History: Nazis Invade Czechoslovakia

Radio Praha remembers this dark day in history with a post including some poetry. It begins…

Eighty years ago today, on March 15 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction.

There was no choice, really, as Hácha was tortured and literally manipulated by Nazi “doctors” into signing away his country’s existence. An eye-witness (M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, in the French Yellow Book) reported it as heart-attack and injections until the suicidal papers were signed.

President Hácha was in such a state of exhaustion that he more than once needed medical attention from the doctors, who, by the way, had been there ready for service since the beginning of the interview. […] At 4:30 in the morning, Dr. Hacha, in a state of total collapse, and kept going only by means of injections, resigned himself with death in his soul to give his signature.

Two very notable points are made in the Radio Praha post, which a reader hopefully will not miss so I’ll call them out here.

1) Chamberlain was fighting an uphill political battle in Britain to oppose Hitler’s insanity. Although in retrospect many obviously want to say Chamberlain should have been more aggressive towards Nazi Germany, at the time he had to carefully navigate through many in Britain who wanted to embrace fascism.

Six months after the Munich deal was struck, Chamberlain explained invasion of Czechoslovakia as his “I told you so” moment to allow him to declare war, instead of being an oops moment he regretted. It’s a very subtle and important distinction in the texts.

It has been suggested that this occupation of Czecho-Slovakia was the direct consequence of the visit which I paid to Germany last autumn. It is said that, as this was the personal policy of the prime minister, the blame for the fate of Czecho-Slovakia must rest upon his shoulders.

“I may remind you that, when it was first announced that I was going, not a voice was raised in criticism. Everyone applauded that effort. It was only later, when it appeared that the results of the final settlement fell short of the expectations of some who did not fully appreciate the facts-it was only then that the attack began, and even then it was not the visit, it was the terms of settlement that were disapproved.

Had Britain been more aggressively opposed to Hitler earlier there’s a good chance Hitler would have been assassinated by the Nazi military itself, but that’s tough speculation. We know General Beck said his coup plans were cooled when he thought foreign nations wouldn’t support it.

More certain is the fact Chamberlain was trying to keep pro-Hitler factions at bay in his own country. He would likely have lost control of Britain by moving faster or more decisively against Germany. Chamberlain’s cautious approach ultimately meant handing control of his party to Churchill, who earlier had more aggressively opposed fascism.

While handing control to Churchill meant Chamberlain himself took a step away from leading, his party neither lost control (as Churchill famously proved) nor did Chamberlain allow Britain to side with the Nazis as so many in Britain had hoped. That’s the political complexity and proper context for the “I may remind you” quote above.

2) A popular commentator in Prague used a form of poetry to navigate the dark veil of censorship by Nazis

Allow me to mention a non-military fact. Somewhere from afar a black crow flew over Prague. It circled above the National Museum building above the headlights and listening devices of the German army and headed down Wenceslas Square to Můstek. Perhaps the crow was surprised by the noise it had heard and the picture it saw below.

Radio Praha points out that his attempts to avoid Nazi censorship weren’t enough, however as “eventually they lost patience with František Kocourek. He was arrested by the Gestapo and would later die like so many others in Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Nterini – Fatoumata Diawara

In a story that I’m almost certain nobody has read (based on everyone I have asked about it)…hundreds of thousands of letters that were seized by British warships centuries ago, now are getting digitized for analysis by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Somewhere in the U.K. National Archives in London, there are 4,000 boxes containing more than 160,000 undelivered letters from ships captured by the British during the naval wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Now those letters — some of which are bundled in old mail bags and affixed with wax seals that have never been broken — are about to go online.

[…]

The mail, sent mostly between 1652 and 1815, is written in 19 different languages and contains songs, notebooks, packages and personal correspondence.

[…]

Many of the letters are made inherently tragic by having never reached their destination.

A series of four letters from a Madam Dupont in Quebec between 1702 and 1703 show a woman frantically trying to reach her husband, who is away on business in France, and growing increasingly despondent by his lack of response.

“These letters are full of the hazards of the flu epidemic and chicken pox in Quebec and her tone gets more and more desperate, because she doesn’t get any sign of life from her husband,” Freist said.

“She feels utterly neglected and resented and finally decides not to write anymore. In the letter she says: ‘You can’t love me anymore if you don’t answer. I will now stop writing. I give up.’ But then she writes again and she implores her husband once again to come back.”

No word yet on why the German Prize Papers Project is leading the effort for a British archive.

I almost feel like this is the German way of trying to prove again how terrible the British Empire was for global humanity.

Speaking of letters of humanity, and of messages sent but never received…the Fatoumata Diawara video Interini about migration is a must watch/listen:

Lyrics:

Cette chanson parle de la souffrance que la distance inflige aux amoureux. Mon amour et mon confident est parti loin et ne me donne pas signe de vie. Je l’aime malgré tout et il me manque nuit et jour. J’aimerai avoir des nouvelles de mon chéri, sinon je n’arrive pas à dormir.

Mon amour est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir
Mon chéri est parti loin de la famille
Et ne reviendra peut-être plus
Il était mon ami, mon confident, comment va t-il?
Je veux juste savoir si tu vas bien?
Il est parti dans une contrée lointaine
Il me manque beaucoup
Toi qui as toujours été mon guide
Je t’aime de tout mon cœur

Mon amour a pris son envol
Qui sait quand est-ce qu’il va revenir?
Dites-moi, mon chéri est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir

Il est parti s’installer dans un pays lointain
Et ne m’a rien dit
Ce n’était pas le temps du matin qui m’empêchait de le voir
Ni la chaleur de la journée

This song speaks of the suffering that distance inflicts on lovers. My love and my confidant have gone away and do not give me any sign of life. I love him despite everything and he misses me night and day. I would like to hear from my darling, otherwise I can not sleep.

My love is gone away
And maybe not coming back
My darling left the family
And may not come back again
He was my friend, my confidant, how is he?
I just want to know if you’re fine?
He left for a distant country
I miss him a lot
You who have always been my guide
I love you with all my heart

My love took flight
Who knows when will he come back?
Tell me, my darling is gone away
And maybe not going back

He moved to a distant country
And did not tell me
It was not the morning time that prevented me from seeing him
Neither the heat of the day

They Shall Not Grow Old: Color and Dub Revives WWI Footage

When you watch the footage from this new film, based on old footage, you should ponder if adding color and voices give it more impact as an educational tool:

All school children in the UK now are expected to watch it. The title comes from Binyon’s 21 September 1914 poem “For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

His words were meant to capture the tone after an August 1914 outbreak of war, where the German Army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium on the “Western Front”. British commitments to uphold Belgian neutrality (as well as Anglo-French naval agreement of 1912) led it to declare war in response and send forces into France.

Some have pointed out England’s response was very unlike their entry into Napoleonic wars where England delayed until 1803 coming to the aid of other nations. However, this provocative thinking is ignorant of history, as Britain faced a very different geo-political situation with the German invasion. Napoleon initially presented the opposite scenario, as his seizure of power within France came with an offering to stabilize and end hostility, given the “1801 Peace of Amiens“.

The treaty was welcomed with such enthusiasm by the British public that on returning to London with Bonaparte’s ratification of the preliminaries the First Consul’s ADC, Lauriston, was welcomed by a huge crowd that unhitched the horses and pulled his carriage through the streets shouting ‘Vive Bonaparte!’. […] “In less than two and a half years that is from 18 Brumaire (9 November, 1799) to 25 March, 1802, the date of the Peace of Amiens, France passed from the debasement into which the Directory had plunged her, to the foremost rank in Europe.”

That moment of celebration and hope for peaceful trade definitely was not the situation a year later, when Britain suddenly realized in 1803 they faced complete loss of economic control (Napoleon stated England deserved no voice in global affairs). Germany in 1914, like France in 1803, was threatening Britain’s empire. Delay didn’t seem to be a real option in 1914, given early attempts at German defeat (no matter how unlikely) could avoid another protracted decade-long Napoleonic war situation (1803–1815).

The 1914 German attack threatened stability and safety across Europe and beyond as it violently pushed all the way into France reaching the eastern Paris outskirts. From September 6th to the 10th, six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) counter-attacked along the Marne River and defeated the German Army, forcing retreat northwest.

On 9 September Bülow learned that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was advancing into the gap between his 2nd Army and Kluck. He ordered a retreat, obliging Kluck to do the same. The counterattack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF developed into the First Battle of the Marne, a general counter-attack by the French Army. By 11 September the Germans were in full retreat.

This remarkable change in fortunes was caused partially by the exhaustion of many of the German forces: some had marched more than 240km (150 miles), fighting frequently. The German advance was also hampered by demolished bridges and railways, constricting their supply lines, and they had underestimated the resilience of the French.

France suffered approximately 250,000 casualties in this battle as German forces desperately tried to take Paris. Germany refused to acknowledge their losses. And BEF casualties were recorded as 12,733. Perhaps most significantly, BEF losses signaled the significance of an allied front against German aggression. Some still debate had the BEF and French armies gone further, whether they could have ended German campaigns early and entirely.

A battle in September 1914 thus is considered one of the most important in WWI history, as German retreat at Paris destroyed the “Schlieffen Plan”; quick victory in the West was meant to allow focus on attacking Russia. Instead, Germany was forced to dig in for a protracted war on two fronts. Despite being able to regroup after this battle, ultimately German defeat four years later meant nearly 3 million of its own people killed.

“They Shall Not Grow Old”, named after a September 1914 poem, commemorates in new ways how the British decided to act early and decisively in response to German aggression, saving France and Russia from occupation.

An original written copy of “For the Fallen” has been digitized by the British Library.

‘FOR THE FALLEN’: autograph copy of poem by Robert Laurence Binyon, C.H., made for presentation to the Museum; 1938. First published in The Times, 21 Sept. 1914, and in book form in The Winnowing-Fan, 1914, pp. 28, 29.

Now, as you just read it, did you ponder whether adding color would help? Is that ink black or blue? What is the true shade of the paper?

هواجيس – Worries

Nearly 24 million views of this Majed al-Esa (Saudi production company 8ies Studios) high-budget music video (remake of the 2014 low-budget production) based on an old Bedouin folk song (حظي عجاجه), and still I haven’t seen a translation to English that captures the lyricism.

I realize now it has a been such a long while since I was translating Amr Diab, I am overdue. So without further ado…

جعل الرجاجيل للماحي May men turn into old stone
جعل الرجاجيل للماحي May men turn into old stone
حطوا بنا امراض نفسية They are driving us crazy
حطوا بنا امراض نفسية They are driving us crazy
ياعل مافيهم الصاحي Too insane to get it
ياعل مافيهم الصاحي Too insane to get it
كل واحد فيه جنية What a bunch of fairies
كل واحد فيه جنية What a bunch of fairies
حظي My luck
حظي My luck
حظي عجاجة My luck will blow them away
والحبايب قراطيس Like empty paper bags
حظي عجاجة My luck will blow them away
والحبايب قراطيس Like empty paper bags
من يمسك القرطاس وقت العجاجة Who holds empty paper bags in a storm
ومن يمسك القرطاس وقت العجاجة Who holds empty paper bags in a storm

Ancient Climate Alarms: “If you see me, weep”

It has been five years since Czech climate change researchers highlighted in a report that there are ancient markers to warn when rivers drop dangerously low:

Hydrological droughts may also be commemorated by what are known as “hunger stones”. One of these is to be found at the left bank of the River Elbe (Deˇcˇ´ın-Podmokly), chiselled with the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history (Fig. 2). The basic inscriptions warn of the consequences of drought: Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine [“If you see me, weep.”]. It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893.

Two years after that report the hunger stones were highlighted again by researchers:

The extreme drought period in summer 2015 enabled the levelling of historical watermarks on the „Hunger Stone” (Hungerstein) in the Elbe in Czech town of Děčín. The comparison of the obtained levels of earlier palaeographic records with systematic measurements in the Děčín profile confirmed the hypothesis that the old watermarks represent the minimal water levels.

As the drought and hot temperatures in Europe continued through to today, the AP wire just called out the hunger stones yet again:

Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border.

Meanwhile, just across the border, the Germans have put a slightly different perspective on the news:

So far 22 grenades, mines or other explosives have been found in the Elbe this year, Saxony-Anhalt police spokeswoman Grit Merker told DW. “We ascribe that to the low water level. That’s pretty clear,” she said.

July was the hottest month in Germany since temperatures have been recorded, while July 31 was the hottest day, with temperatures reaching 39.5 degrees Celsius (103.1 degrees Fahrenheit) in Bernburg, Saxony-Anhalt.

Earlier this week the water level was down to 51 centimeters (20 inches) in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt. The historical low point was 48 centimeters in 1934.

“If you see me, weep” has a poetic meaning, almost like writing “cry me a river” on the hunger stones, which tourists come to soak up…if you’ll pardon the pun.

Explosives being revealed is such an opposite story, perhaps the Germans soon will inscribe their stones with typically dark humor: “Achtung! Allen Kindern steht das Wasser bis zum Hals, nur nicht Beate, die fängt die Granate.” (Warning! Water too high for children, except for Wade, who found the Grenade.) It expresses that drought brings war for poor people.

Washington Dulles Airport Touts Facial-Recognition Camera ID of Congolese Man

A man with a Congolese ID hidden in his shoe tried to use a French passport to enter the US via Brazil. Dulles airport facial-recognition cameras are being credited with noticing the passport didn’t match his true identity.

This story also comes with claims from US Customs that they believe their system has a “99% accuracy rating”, without any evidence or explanation. This reminds me of the old song

Put on mustache glasses for a lark
and I’ll think that you’re Groucho Marx
Thought Kathie Lee was Busta-Rhymes
and I spotted Elvis fifty times

Lie-lie-lie-la-la-lie

Can’t tell gender, not at all
exploded when I saw RuPaul
Though, even I am at a loss
how I confused Al Roker with Kate Moss

But seriously, Customs saying they believe their system is operating at 99% is not how news is supposed to be reported. Let’s see the numbers, please. Actual investigative reporting doesn’t let a public agency toss out a confidence levels without also supplying evidence and validation, let alone regulation:

During the UEFA Champions League Final week in Wales last June, when the facial recognition cameras were used for the first time, there were 2,470 alerts of possible matches from the automated system. Of these 2,297 turned out to be false positives and 173 were correctly identified – 92 per cent of matches were incorrect.

A Time to Break Silence…Together

Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech of April 4, 1967: A Time to Break Silence

We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

And a remix by Nordic Giants

DARPA’s Heraclitus Drone

Heraclitus of Ephesus (530-470 BCE) famously wrote about the ephemeral nature of knowledge, let alone existence:

“It is impossible to step into the same river twice.”

“We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”

“Those who step into the same rivers, different and different waters flow.”

His poetry is considered a powerful influence on philosophers for many centuries after.

Today DARPA is sewing these old philosophical threads into physical designs for their Fast Light Autonomy program (FLAP), as Kelsey Atherton writes in c4isrnet:

Every map is an outdated map. Buildings change, people relocate, and what was accurate a decade ago may mean nothing to someone on patrol today.

One quote in Kelsey’s article that stood out to me is from FLAP’s program manager, who says he sees cost deflation as the real driver for autonomy.

We don’t want to deploy a world-class FPV racer with every search and rescue team

This brings to mind a story from this past January, which only was recently published by the sensationalist tabloid Daily Star. They describe the high cost of an assassination plan led by the British. During a raid the targets retreated to a cave network, and a highly-trained SAS soldier engaged to finish the mission.

“It was a brutal fight to the death. The SAS sergeant emerged from the tunnel half an hour later covered in blood, both his own and those of the men he had killed.”

The soldier was unable to speak for at least an hour because he was so traumatised.

He later said the air was so thin it was almost impossible to breathe.

The SAS man, an Iraq veteran, later said that the 30 minutes he spent in the tunnels was the hardest of his entire military career.

Deploying world-class talent has prohibitive cost, which is exactly why targets retreat into tunnels that force world-class talent to be deployed. Drones that inexpensively can map high-risk topography clearly changes the equations more in favor of those in pursuit of targets, whether it be rescue or the opposite.

There are two big wrinkles, however, in the development of any sort of Heraclitus drone to keep humans abreast of the latest changes in the environments being stepped into.

First, communications are imperfect in availability. A recent TeamWerx “challenge” to develop amplifier repeater for RF highlights the opportunities to improve ad hoc networks for drones to operate through difficult and closed terrain.

SOF operators have a need for rapidly deployable, interconnected repeaters that can transmit and receive a 1775-2250 MHz range of RF energy that may include near-real time video, audio, and modulated digital data messages. The system of interconnected repeaters should be easily extendable by inserting additional repeaters.

I can imagine here is where the DARPA folks would say we don’t want to deploy a world-class radio technician with every search and rescue team.

Second, communications are imperfect in integrity. Attackers or even just natural interference degrades signal to levels that perhaps shouldn’t be trusted. Yet who knows when that point is crossed and will they know soon enough? Unlike availability, where signal is degraded in terms of loss, subtle quality changes are a more difficult metric to monitor.

A green beret recently related a story to me from his training in the 1960s, where two teams walked through nearly impenetrable jungle. They proceeded in separate columns, with extreme caution, one led by a “local” guide.

Despite all the training and signals, the column without a guide in front tripped a mock trigger for mines. They asked the guide why didn’t he warn the second column and apparently he replied “why should I?”

The green beret told me “from that point forward we had a different trust”. So here is where I add in the modern modifier, he had a different trust in the quality of information from commodity drones, which takes us back to the old concept of “we both step and do not step in the same rivers”.

The Psychology of “Talking Paper”

Sometime in the late 1980s I managed to push a fake “bomb” screen to Macintosh users in networked computer labs. It looked something like this:

There wasn’t anything wrong with the system. I simply wanted the users in a remote room to restart because I had pushed an “extension” to their system that allowed me remote control of their speaker (and microphone). They always pushed the restart button. Why wouldn’t they?

Once they restarted I was able to speak to them from my microphone. In those days it was mostly burps and jokes, mischievous stuff, because it was fun to surprise users and listen to their reactions.

A few years later, as I was burrowing around in the dusty archives of the University of London (a room sadly which no longer exists because it was replaced by computer labs, but Duke University has a huge collection), I found vivid color leaflets that had been dropped by the RAF into occupied Ethiopia during WWII.

There in my hand was the actual leaflet credited with psychological operations “101”, and so a color copy soon became a page in my graduate degree thesis. In my mind these two experiences were never far apart.

For years afterwards when I would receive a greeting card with a tiny speaker and silly voice or song, of course I would take it apart and look for ways to re-purpose or modify its message. Eventually I had a drawer full of these tiny “talking paper” devices, ready to deploy, and sometimes they would end up in a friend’s book or bag as a surprise.

One of my favorite “talking” devices had a tiny plastic box that upon sensing light would yodel “YAHOOOOOO!” I tended to leave it near my bed so I could be awakened by yodeling, to set the tone of the new day. Of course when anyone else walked into the room and turned on the light their eyes would grow wide and I’d hear the invariable “WTF WAS THAT?”

Fast forward to today and I’m pleased to hear that “talking paper” has become a real security market and getting thinner, lighter and more durable. In areas of the world where Facebook doesn’t reach, military researchers still believe psychological manipulation requires deploying their own small remote platforms. Thus talking paper is as much a thing as it was in the 1940s or before and we’re seeing cool mergers of physical and digital formats, which I tried to suggest in my presentation slides from recent years:

While some tell us the market shift from printed leaflets to devices that speak is a matter of literacy, we all can see clearly in this DefenseOne story how sounds can be worth a thousand words.

Over time, the operation had the desired effect, culminating in the defection of Michael Omono, Kony’s radio telephone operator and a key intelligence source. Army Col. Bethany C. Aragon described the operation from the perspective of Omono.

“You are working for a leader who is clearly unhinged and not inspired by the original motivations that people join the Lord’s Resistance Army for. [Omono] is susceptible. Then, as he’s walking through the jungle, he hears [a recording of] his mother’s voice and her message begging him to come home. He sees leaflets with his daughter’s picture begging him to come home, from his uncle that raised him and was a father to him.”

Is anyone else wondering if Omono had been a typewriter operator instead of radio telephone whether the US Army could have convinced him via print alone?

Much of the story about the “new” talking paper technology is speculative about the market, like allowing recipients to be targeted by biometrics. Of course if you want a message to spread widely and quickly via sound (as he’s walking through the jungle), using biometric authenticators to prevent it from spreading at all makes basically no sense.

On the other hand (pun not intended) if a written page will speak only when a targeted person touches it, that sounds like a great way to evolve the envelope/letter boundary concepts. On the paper is the address of the recipient, which everyone and anyone can see, much like how an email address or phone number sits exposed on encrypted messaging. Only when the recipient touches it or looks at it, and their biometrics are verified, does it let out the secret “YAHOOOO!”