My Father: A Veteran’s Story

Frank P. Costa, Sr. is 91 years old and resides in the Home Sweet Home assisted living residence in Kingston, NY. Quite by accident, I saw my father in a TV ad for Home Sweet Home on a local TV station. I mentioned the TV ad to a cousin of mine and we talked about possible residuals that should go to his estate for the heirs to split. Of course, this was a ridiculous discussion and we got a good laugh out it. My father suffers from dementia and many of his memories of the past are no longer accessible to him in any detail. Having a discussion with him, of any consequence, is just about impossible now.

Dad was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S Army during World War II. He was in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His first combat jump was on the night of June 5-6, 1944 into Normandy France – D-Day, the allied invasion of Europe. The designated landing zone was the area around the small town of Ste. Maire Egliese. It was on the only main road to the fortified city and deep water port of Cherbourg, further west. Ste. Maire Egliese was the principal objective of the 82nd so that the Allied armies could prevent any German rescue or resupply of Cherbourg.

My father was positioned as the first soldier to exit the plane when the green light, the jump signal, was given. On his training jumps he was always faint and queasy in the aircraft. He couldn't wait to get out of the plane and into the fresh air. So the jump sergeant sat him next to the door of the C47. The triple A flak (anti-aircraft artillery) was so heavy, the pilot veered to avoid the danger and gave the jump signal at a purely arbitrary moment. Many of the pilots in the following planes, with other 507th paratroopers, followed the lead pilot's right turn. They landed more than 30 km from their intended drop zone.

Dad landed in a flooded field, up to his shoulders in water. He cut himself out of the risers on his parachute with his trench knife, but he lost his M1-A carbine. With the arrival of dawn, he spotted a church on high, dry ground and made his way out of the water. He regrouped with his regiment, part of it anyway, in the tiny hamlet of Graignes, maybe 15 km from Carentan. The village church with a tall bell tower was the most recognizable feature and occupied the highest elevation in generally flat terrain. The church was of typical medieval Norman design, but I don't know how old it was. One-hundred seventy-six soldiers (176) assembled, including a few from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. There was one Army Airforce fighter pilot. None of the surviving vets remembers where the fighter pilot came from.

The 507th was a headquarters outfit. That meant they had mortars, 50 caliber 'light' machine guns, and lots of explosives. They also had a lot of communications equipment, but they were too far away to contact any of the allied units. They were completely cut off from all communications. They had some great officers with them – a Colonel ('Pip' Reed), a Captain, and number of Lieutenants. The first thing they did was ascertain where they were with the help of the locals. They were so far off the drop zone that their location was off their military map. After much deliberation and argument, Colonel Reed decided to stay and set up a defense perimeter, rather than try to get back to the friendly lines through unfamiliar terrain and mostly flooded fields.

The head of the French Resistance in the area was a Graignes farmer, named Regault. His second in command was the Mayor of the Hamlet. The trusted locals were instructed the night before, by Regault and the Mayor, that the invasion was coming and that they were expected to do their duty when the time came. Regault had two daughters, Yvette 18 and Marthe 12. They were to become heroes in their own right and save the lives of many of the Americans. The first thing the locals did was to scour the area for the equipment and supplies that were parachuted with the soldiers. They smuggled the equipment in their horse carts and wagons. The proprietor of the local restaurant, Mme. Brousier, organized her suppliers to bring in large quantities of food stuffs to feed the paratroopers. They had to smuggle and be discreet so as not to attract the attention of the German soldiers in the area. The Germans soon learned of the existence of the Americans, but did not know who they were, how many, or how they were equipped. Some of the young French girls ran off to alert their German soldier boy friends.

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3QD’s New Columnists

Hello Readers (and Writers!),

Well, we received around ninety submissions of sample essays in our search for new columnists. Most of them were very good (with a few incomprehensible and even insane pieces thrown in, just to test our sanity, I suppose) and it was hard deciding whom to accept and whom not to. So hard, in fact, that we ended up deciding that we will dramatically expand the number of 3QD columns by doubling them. Hence, today we welcome to 3QD the top twenty people (in the combined ratings of the editors). Without further ado, these are, in alphabetical order by last name (this is not a ranking of any kind):

  1. Fountain-pens-530 Namit Arora
  2. Evert Cilliers
  3. Norman Costa
  4. Gerald Dworkin
  5. Richard Eskow
  6. Sam Kean
  7. Affinity Konar
  8. Kris Kotarski
  9. Colin Marshall
  10. Katherine McNamara
  11. Maniza Naqvi
  12. Alan Page
  13. Jonathan Pfeiffer
  14. Daniel Rourke
  15. Olivia Scheck
  16. David Schneider
  17. Aditya Dev Sood
  18. Jeff Strabone
  19. Bryant Urstadt
  20. Manisha Verma

Three of these people (Norman Costa, Affinity Konar, and Aditya Dev Sood) will begin writing at 3QD today. I will be in touch with the rest of you to schedule a start date. The “About Us” page will be updated with short bios and photographs of the new writers no later than the day they start.

Thanks to all of the people who sent samples of writing to us. It was sometimes tiring, but still a pleasure to read them all. If you didn't make it this time, we will keep you in mind for the future. And congratulations to the new columnists!

Best wishes,

Abbas

Tips For Clueless People Who Get Mugged

From Craig's List:

Super-mugging-redux So you've just moved into a new “gentrifying” neighboorhood that's full of urban culture, cheap(er) rents, and wonderful friendly people. An odd lack of organic food stores and greenmarkets, but you can't have everything. So one day you're doing something FUCKING RETARDED like walking back from the store alone at 1 am or walking home from the subway while texting your sorority sisters back in the fucking midwest or something while SIMULTANEOUSLY listening to an ipod with the bright white headphones and you get fucking mugged. Congrats, YOU'RE A FUCKING DUMBASS. No, it's not 1990, when men where men, crackheads would fucking cut you and the robbery rate was about a billion times higher than it is now, but it's still new york and you were still fucking dumb enough to think that paying $1200 for a studio in a shitty neighboorhood is somehow hipper than moving to fucking Queens.

Anyway, here's some helpful tips for the next time someone jacks your shit.

1) Pay attention. Granted, you weren't paying attention to start with or you wouldn't have gotten mugged, but now that you've been hit from behind / had a gun shoved in your face, pay attention.

2) Follow directions. Give the friendly mugger what he wants. Don't talk back or fight. In all likelyhood, you're a pussy hipster retard, and are, by NYC law, unarmed.

3) You've been paying attention right? Remember some simple things in this order: sex, clothing color, clothing type, headwear, and direction of flight.

4) Congratulations! You've just been robbed and you're still alive. What now? Well, don't go back to your apartment and call the cops thirty minutes later. Don't call your mom in Kansas and tell her first. CALL THE COPS AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. You'd be amazed at how many people fuck up this simple step. Pay phones still exist as do 24/7 bogies. Go there, call the cops.

5) It may take a while for the cops to show up. The 911 system, at best, will result in a five minute wait before we're even notified. Then we have to drive there without killing anyone. Be patient. For that matter, tell the 911 operator exactly where you are. Nothing makes a responding cop happier than having to scour the area for your dumb ass while the perp gets away.

More here.

How Bombay Became Mumbai

Mumbai-skyline

The talk at my Thanksgiving table—as no doubt at every Indian-American household—was all Bombay. We watched CNN through eating, with its hysterical headline blazing, “Mumbai: City Under Siege.” Years of suicide bombings had suddenly given way to a wholly unexpected takeover of the major hotels, more typical of James Bond-villainy than latter-day jihadism. They differed in their attire as well: News reports insisted on pointing out that the attackers and hostage-takers wore jeans and t-shirts. When I was younger, I used to travel through Bombay in order to get to my ancestral city, Bangalore. A bus would take you from the international to the domestic airport, along a vertiginous swath of blue-tarped slums. The air was oppressed by humidity; the rain didn’t wet you, it slimed you. And those slimed shantytowns, shadowed—as every traveler ritually points out—by white stalagmites of luxury towers everywhere, had always been proof to me that it was a city of absolute evil. But poverty was only one of its evils. A Hindu family friend once took me on a drive that led through a large Muslim ghetto, its streets dusty and narrow. “Everywhere the Muslims go, they make the place dirty,” he said.

more from n+1 here.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

062308-benjaminbutton

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which forms the basis for the new David Fincher movie starring Brad Pitt, originally appeared in Collier’s on May 27, 1922 (earlier the story had been rejected by Metropolitan), and was then featured in Fitzgerald’s second story collection, “Tales of the Jazz Age.” Fitzgerald was, at the time, the most famous young writer in America, thanks to the smash success of his first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” published in 1920. He’d become the voice of the youthful and disillusioned post- World War I generation, of the exuberant and half-decadent Jazz Age. He wrote with his finger on the pulse of popular culture and with an eye to the nation’s swiftly changing mores. A typical Fitzgerald story of this period would be “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” combining bored youth, quick repartee and rivalry among girls thinking of sex with the kind of effortless grace and eloquence that were already his trademarks.

more from the LA Times here.

The meaning of Obama

From Prospect Magazine:

Obama What is the meaning of Obama? It is, of course, impossible to evaluate a presidency that has yet to occur, notwithstanding premature declarations that he will be a “transformational” president to compare with giants like Lincoln and the two Roosevelts. But it is not too early to analyse the meaning of his election. The fact that a mostly white democracy has elected a biracial chief executive is epochal in itself. Liberal democracy is now firmly rooted in much of the world, but many, if not most, liberal societies today would not choose to be led by someone who does not look like a member of the dominant tribe. Its history of slavery and apartheid notwithstanding, that can no longer be said of the United States of America.

The nightmare of the racist right in the US has always been “race-mixing.” It was particularly moving therefore to see a mixed-race president, who had begun his presideantial race in Abraham Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois, conclude it on election night with an address to a jubilant multiracial crowd in Chicago's Grant Park, named after the general who defeated the slave south in the civil war. There were many ghosts among that crowd. But Obama was not elected because the American people chose to set an example of colour-blind democracy for the world. He was elected because the 2008 presidential election was a referendum on George W Bush's two disastrous terms. And whether Obama's election marks a transformation or a restoration depends on how the regime of his predecessor is viewed. If Bush's presidency was an aberration, then Obama's election can be seen as a restoration. On the other hand, if Bush's presidency was typical of an earlier pattern, then Obama's election can be viewed as a novel departure.

In my view, Obama's election was a restoration, not a transformation.

More here.

Is Happiness Contagious?

From Science:

Happy With a tanking economy and global violence on the rise, there's at least one thing to smile about: A pair of scientists is reporting that happiness can spread through social networks, meaning that friends of the cheery contract the happiness bug themselves. The data behind the new findings come from, of all things, a massive study of cardiovascular disease. In 1948, researchers began collecting health and other information on U.S. adults as part of the Framingham Heart Study. Today, the project has data on more than 14,000 people, and it has helped researchers identify many of the major risk factors behind heart disease and stroke. Because the Framingham leaders, trying to track volunteers over many years, worried about losing contact with them, they asked all subjects to provide the name of a friend who would know how to find them if necessary. Often, those friends were also part of the study.

Nicholas Christakis, formerly a hospice physician at Harvard, and James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, used these data to create a social network of nearly 5000 people. The duo then matched the information with various health data. Last year, they reported that weight loss and weight gain could “spread” through the network, meaning that a guy whose friends were overweight was more likely to pack on the pounds himself (ScienceNOW, 25 July 2007). Christakis and Fowler published a similar finding on smoking earlier this year.

Now, the two have turned to something more ethereal: mood.

More here.

The Real Bill Ayers

William Ayers in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_10 Dec. 07 12.27 In the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. I refused, and here’s why.

Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama’s campaign, his opponents invented a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. The refrain was a question: “What do we really know about this man?”

Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, a Palestinian scholar and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and dark affiliation, became big news.

I was cast in the “unrepentant terrorist” role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the “Two Minutes Hate” scene from George Orwell’s “1984,” when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.

More here.

Night falls on Karachi

Taimur Khan in The National:

Karachi Even though Karachi smouldered for most of the decade, the perennial narratives of Pakistan as a chaos-ridden failed state permanently on the brink of becoming Talibanistan were flawed; local resilience and toughness proved them only half true. During my visits, I saw the shrines of Sufi saints, unique to South Asian Islam and especially to Sindhi culture, teeming with worshippers; the Urdu bazaar in the old city was packed with people buying books; and when the Indian cricket team finally came to play, the city revelled for days. After September 11, the economy grew at a pace that rivalled India’s, and, as in India, there was for the first time the formation of a broad middle class. Last year, an outburst of bourgeois consciousness helped force out Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, and demanded elections that many hoped signalled a meaningful shift towards democracy and away from military-feudal rule. The West was outwardly enthralled because it seemed that Pakistan was finally on the teleological road to liberal democracy, the only modernity it cares about.

Two weeks ago I visited family in Karachi for the first time in three years. The fragile optimism I encountered in 2005 has evaporated. In the Nineties the upper middle class was comforted by the fact that no matter how bad things became in the short term, the status quo would always reassert itself: the military would always intervene to protect its interests, which overlapped with theirs. The army and intelligence agencies may have been fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan and on the border with India, but internally, the state maintained a surface equilibrium. But now the military is fighting a full-scale war on its home turf with the Pakistani Taliban. The idea that the army can maintain internal control has been revealed as fiction.

More here.

The Magic of Metric

From Rocket Scientist:

Metric-english-400 There are a bunch of good reasons to kiss the English system of measurement goodbye, not the least of which is that we’re the last damn country to be using it, including England. Here are a few of them.

*If math makes your eyes roll up into your head, skip to the end.

Units are ambiguous. You know a difference between a pound-force or a pound-mass? Most people don’t. So how much in an ounce? Troy, fluid, standard and, of course, there’s an ounce-force, too. How about a mile? There’s a survey mile, statute mile, Scottish mile, ancient English and Roman miles, Irish mile, international mile and no less that three different nautical miles. Note that the US uses no less than three of these forms of mile. Know how many different kilometers there are? Yep, just the one and they use the same damn one all over the world. The same liters, Newtons, kilograms… One and only one and everyone uses it, even us.

Different units for the same damn parameter. How many units do we have for distance? There’s, of course, all the different flavors of mile, foot and inch. Also furlong, mil, angstrom, parsec, league, yard… In metric there are meters and factors of 1000 of meters. That’s all. In volume, there are cubic inches and cubic feet, also gallons, pints, quarts, barrels, etc. In metric, there are liters and factors of 1000 of liters. The other side of the coin is that, by knowing the unit, you know the parameter. Newtons are force. Kg are mass. Pounds, of course, can be either. Ounces can be a measure of weight or a measure of force or a measure of volume.

More here.

He’s an odd duck, but he’ll interest you

Portraits-le-corbusier

Years ago, as an architecture student traveling in Europe, I sought out Le Corbusier’s home in Paris. I had the address from his books, over which I had pored for hours in the university library. Some of his writings were more than 40 years old, but their rousing rhetoric still made architecture seem more like a noble crusade than a mundane profession. Perhaps that’s why I imitated his spidery ink sketches and his military-looking stenciled lettering. I admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, but the old man — he had recently died — with his capes and flowery pronouncements, was a figure from another era. I had been taught that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a great architect, but his buildings left me unmoved — Mies is not for the young. “Corbu,” on the other hand, though he was 76, continued to produce designs that surprised and inspired — an unusual, spread-out one-story hospital for Venice, for example, with skylights instead of windows so you could see the sky while lying in bed. For a tyro, such invention was irresistible.

more from the NY Times here.

Saturday Poem

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Ethnic Poetry
Julio Marzán

The ethnic poet said,”The earth is maybe
a huge maraca / and the sun a trombone /
and life / is to move your ass / to slow beats.”
The ethnic audience roasted a suckling pig.

The ethnic poet said,”Oh thank Goddy, Goddy /
I be me, my toenails curved downward /
deep, deep, deep into Mama earth.”
The ethnic audience shook strands of sea shells.

The ethnic poet said,”The sun was created black /
so we should imagine light / and also dream /
a walrus is emerging from the broken ice.”
The ethnic audience beat on sealskin drums.

The ethnic poet said,”Reproductive organs /
Eagles nesting California Redwoods /
Shut up and listen to my ancestors.”
The ethnic audience ate fried bread and honey.

The ethnic poet said,”Something there is that
doesn't love a wall / That sends
the frozen-ground-swell under it.”
The ethnic audience deeply understood humanity.
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Astrology and politics in Thailand

Rattawut Lapcharoensap in The Guardian:

600677-Crescent-moon--Luna-creciente-0 On the night of December 1, a waxed crescent moon was reported to have formed a smiley-face in the Thai sky, with Jupiter and Venus as its eyes. In a country whose leaders regularly consult astrologers and numerologists, that celestial smiley-face seemed auspicious to many after the following morning's events, when the constitutional court disbanded the ruling People's Power Party (PPP) and two of its coalition allies on charges of electoral fraud, leading to the resignation of the prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, and an end to the eight-day siege of Bangkok's airports by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The crisis at the airports may be over but the political crisis in the country deepens; and it is a measure of its seeming intractability that some in Thailand looked heavenward for signs of relief.

The PAD and their allies have now forced from office three democratically-elected governments in two years. There is little to suggest that this will be the last. Should fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's allies re-constitute to form another ruling coalition under different party names (and all indications suggest that they will), the PAD and their armed security force will take to the streets again. Their leaders have promised as much.

More here.

Ötzi Made Epic Final Journey, Moss Shows

Kate Ravilious in National Geographic:

ScreenHunter_09 Dec. 06 10.31 Fragments of six species of moss found in his gut suggest that the ancient man used bog moss—a mildly antiseptic and highly absorbent variety—to treat an injury on his palm, scientists believe. Several conflict wounds, including an arrow wound in the shoulder, eventually killed him.

He likely used another species of moss to wrap his food.

Researchers are confident that Ötzi wasn't deliberately eating the moss, but that some of the plant matter stuck to his fingers as he ate.

“Moss is neither palatable, nor nutritious,” said study lead author James Dickson, an archaeobotanist at the University of Glasgow, U.K.

“You'd need to be starving to death before you eat moss,” he said.

The plant discoveries also help piece together his last journey, showing that the fit 46-year-old traveled vast distances in a short amount of time.

More here.