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Saturday, November 26, 2016

CROSS WORDS

I would say that never have so many labored so hard to obscure what was so obvious to so many as during the spring of 1944. Every school child in Europe knew that sooner or later the allies were going to hurl themselves against the Atlantic coast of France. 
And there were only two places with beaches close enough for unlimited air support from Britain and wide enough for major military operations - the Pa de Calais, just 20 miles across the channel, and 75 miles away, in Normandy. But it was vital the 400,000 German defenders not know which of these two spots was the eventual target, or exactly when the invasion would occur. The planned date and location of the invasion was maybe the second biggest secret of the 20th century.
It would take 1 ½ million military personnel, and probably another 2 million civilians to prepare and launch the invasion. And 4 million people can not keep a secret. So the invasion was divided into pieces, each given a code name to disguise how it fit into all the others. 
The over all plan was code named “Overlord”. 
Misinformation fed to confuse the Germans was code named “Bodyguard”.  Bombing to isolate the beaches was code named “Point Blank”. 
Naval operations were code named “Neptune”. Operation “Tonga” was the code name for the British parachute and glider attacks behind the beaches. 
The British beaches were “Gold” and “Sword”, the Canadian beach “Juno”, and the American beaches “Utah” and “Omaha”. 
Architectural drawings for the two floating harbors built in England and towed across the channel were “Mulberry”.
And the flexible gasoline pipeline rolled out and laid down under the channel after the invasion was named “Pluto”.
Out of the millions of documents generated for “Overlord” - the 9th Air Force's plan for the airborne troops parachute  drops alone was 1,376 pages and weighed 10 pounds - ranged from shipping bills of lading to company rosters. Only a few thousand of these referred to the actual time and place of the invasion. But almost all of them hinted at one or both. 
Besides being stamped with “Top Secret” and "Eyes Only", these few documents also had the word “Bigot” stamped on them. Only a few thousand people with an absolute “need to know” were allowed to handle or read “Bigot” papers. These people were given special security clearances, and were described as “Bigots
or “Bigoted”.
There were, of course, slip ups. In March a U.S.sergeant accidental used “Bigot” papers as packing for a present sent to his sister. When the package broke open in transit, workers in the Chicago Post Office were put under FBI surveillance. Some wind and an open window forced British staffers to spend two hours recovering 12 copies of a “Bigot” memo from a Whitehall street.  An abandoned briefcase containing “Bigot” papers was turned in to a train station master in southern England. And several officers were reduced in rank and relived for talking too much at cocktail parties. But the British domestic Military Intelligence Service - MI 5 - thought all the leaks had been plugged.  At least until they picked up a copy of a London newspaper on 2 May, 1944.
The Daily Telegraph - “The Largest, Best, and Cheapest Newspaper in the World” - started out as a penny tabloid in the 1850's.  By the 1930's it had built a circulation of almost 1 million readers by assuming its audience was intelligent, middle class and progressively conservative.  The Telegraph helped make Winston Churchill Prime Minister in May of 1940., and in late 1941 the paper printed an offer to donate £100 to charity for each person who could solve the paper's crossword puzzle in less than 12 minutes. Winners were then ordered to report as code breakers to Beletchley Park, home to the Twentieth Century's ultimate secret. 
And then on Tuesday, 2 May, 1944, a “Bigoted” officer was solving the Telegraph crossword and stumbled over the clue for 17 across - “One of the U.S. (4 letters)” 
The next day the paper published the solution -  “Utah” - one of the intended American invasion beaches (above).
It was most likely  a coincidence. Right? Well, paranoia being an occupation hazard for intelligence officers, this hyper vigilant one decided to look closer.  And ominously,  a review of solutions to April's crosswords turned up more invasion beaches - “Gold”, “Sword” and “Juno” 
Well,  gold and sword were common crossword words, and even if Juno was unusual it was decided an investigation might draw too much attention  And for ten days the Telegraph crosswords were clueless, as least as far as military intelligence was concerned. 
And then on Monday, 22 May, 1944, the clue for 3 down - “Red Indian on the Missouri (5 letters) – led to the obvious solution published on Tuesday, “Omaha”. -  the other intended American invasion beach (above). And now that their suspicions had been aroused, in the same puzzle the word “dives” appeared, which might refer to the Normandy river named Dives, at the eastern edge of the invasion target area. And also in the puzzle there was the name “Dover” which did not have any special importance to the invasion, but which, at this point just sounded suspicious. MI 5 decided to assign two agents to investigate.
It didn't seem the newspaper itself could be responsible. The owner and editor-in-chief, William Berry, was so trusted he had briefly served as the Minister of Information. But agents learned the crosswords were written ahead of time not by a staffer, but by a 54 year old freelance “compiler”, a legendary amateur football player and “stern disciplinarian” headmaster of the Strand School for boys, Mr. Leonard Sydney Dawe (above). And the agents had questioned Dawe once before about his crosswords and a security breach.
On Sunday, 17 August, 1942, a puzzle composed by Mr Dawe contained the clue “French Port (5 letters), and the answered confirmed on Monday, 18 August, by the word “Dieppe”. At 5:30 in the morning of Wednesday 19 August, 1942, 5,000 men from the 2nd Canadian infantry Division, 1,000 British Commandos and 500 U.S. Army Rangers landed on the stone beaches of the French harbor of “Dieppe” (above). Their objective was to seize and hold the port for 24 hours.
But the Nazis were waiting as if they had been forewarned. Less than 6 hours after landing the Canadians had suffered 50% causalities (above) and the surviving men had been withdrawn. MI 5 had interrogated Dawe for several hours then, and come to the conclusion that the word “Dieppe” had been “a coincidence”. But as they say in the intelligence game, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and you are in BIG trouble.
The puzzle published on Saturday, 27 May, 1944 was the final straw. Almost as if Dawe were taunting officials one of the clues to that day's puzzle was “...some bigwig like this...”(8 letters)”, which led to the solution on Sunday, 28 May of “Overlord” - code name for the entire invasion! .Leonard Dawe was arrested at the school's temporary home in Effing and brought in for questioning. As he had two years earlier, Dawe denied having any inside knowledge, and kept denying it  “They turned me inside out,” he said later. “But they eventually decided not to shoot me after all.”
Meanwhile Dawe's crosswords kept indicting him. Tuesday, 30 May the clue was “This bush is the center of nursery revolutions”. The answer, printed on Wednesday 31 May  was “Mulberry” - the name for the floating artificial  harbors. And then on Thursday, 1 June the clue for 15 down was “Britannia and he hold the same thing.” The solution published on 2 June was “Neptune” - code name for the naval operations within Overlord. It seemed to some that disaster was certain. But shortly after that the Daily Telegraph crossword didn't matter anymore.
Just fifteen minutes into Tuesday, 6 June, 1944 the first paratroops landed on French soil. At 5:45 in the morning the Operation Neptune bombardment began. And at 6:30 troops began landing on the American beaches of Omaha (above) and Utah . An hour later the British and Canadians followed. 
By 3:00 that afternoon the first sections of a Mulberry harbor breakwater were sunk off the beaches. By nightfall, the allies had landed 156,000 men along 50 miles of Normandy coast, and penetrated up to 6 miles inland. The invasion was a success, so far..
On Wednesday, 7 June, Leonard Dawes was released by MI 5, and after reporting to the schools managing board - who were close to firing him - the first person he wanted to see a 14 year old student named Ronald French. Having called the boy into his office, Dawe immediately, “...asked me point blank where I had got the words from. "I told him all I knew...” And what young Mr. French knew would have sent the spooks from MI 5 into a faint.
According to Roland, the school's temporary home was surrounded by Canadian and American military camps, filled with young soldiers, most no more than four or five years older than him, all in training for the invasion.  ”I was totally obsessed about the whole thing. I would play truant from school to visit the camp. I used to spend evenings with them and even whole weekends...I became a sort of dogsbody about the place, running errands and even, once, driving a tank.” 
He explained that the soldiers talked freely in front of him... "because I was obviously not a German spy. Hundreds of kids must have known what I knew.". Bryan Belfont, a younger student recalled, ““The soldiers were obviously lonely...they more or less adopted us. We’d sit and chat and they’d give us chocolate.” But just how much did these children know?
Everyone knew the outline of the invasion plan and they knew the code words”, said Roland. “Omaha and Utah were the beaches, and these men knew the names but not the locations. We all knew the nickname for the operation was Overlord....Hundreds of kids must have known what I knew.” As proof Roland showed Dawes the composition books he had filled with diary like notes. According to Roland, Mr. Dawe “was horrified and said the books must be burned at once.” And while  the book burned, Dawes lectured the boy on national security, and war time censorship. “He made me swear on the Bible I would tell no one about it.” Roland was so traumatized he stopped doing crosswords, even though he had enjoyed them up to this point.
So there was the great leak, the hole in the allied security net. Thousand of young soldiers talking to other young soldiers, overheard by boys.  It was to be expected.  It was even allowed for. Knowing the code words would tell the Germans almost nothing essential. But after 6 June 1944 the invasion was no longer a great secret. Why did Leonard Dawe insist the boy swear never to reveal the details? The answer was that Dawes was protecting  his own “Butt” (1 down, 3 letters) . Because Leonard Dawes was a bit of an “ass”.
Dawes had created more than 5,000 crosswords for the Telegraph since 1925, and over the following decade had stumbled upon the easiest working method. He would lay out the crossword grid on a sheet of paper pinned to his wall. There were no letters in the grid, just empty squares with some blacked out for random aesthetics. And he would then invite his students to fill in the blocks, telling them it was a to improve their “mental discipline”.  In truth it was to improve his income. Dawes would then write clues to match the words provided by his 14 and 15 year old wordsmiths. In their naivety they considered him “...a man of extremely high principle.” But if the truth had come out the newspaper would have fired him for plagiary, and the school for lying.
Leonard Sydney Dawe died in January of 1963.. But Roland French, like the other adolescent wordsmiths, kept his school master's secret for another two decades, finally revealing the the truth in an interview in 1984. And only then did Roland French feel he could start enjoying solving crossword puzzles again..
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Friday, November 25, 2016

HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS

I call it a magical recipe. You begin with one pious Greek aesthetic. Let him rise at room temperature for a millennium or two before blending a little religious fear mongering and a revolution or two, add a smart-ass frat boy, an academic in ancient languages and just a pinch of the Bowery boys. Pour this mixture into the crust of an illiterate German-American and then bake at 350 degrees for a century. What comes out of the capitalist oven is pure piping hot magic. I told you it was magical recipe.
A scant 200 years after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, the faithful in Alexandria, Egypt got curious about when exactly Jesus had been born. And they came up with a nifty answer. Now, Matthew, Mark and Luke all said Jesus had been crucified on the morning after the Jewish “Passover” meal – putting his death squarely in the spring. And the Alexandrian magi decided it would be mythical if Jesus had been conceived on the same date on which he would die 33 years later. Nine months after the Jewish spring festival of Passover, comes the Jewish mid-winter festival of Hanukkah. And that, as near as I can tell, is how Jesus came be born on 25 December.
It didn't hurt that the popular god Mithra (above) and the even more popular the Unconquered Sun god,  Sol Invictis (below), were already sharing that birthday. As Christian mouthpiece Cyprian of Carthage pointed out not long before losing his own head in 258 of the Common Era, “Oh, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born." 
So now Christians could join the pagans in celebrating the birth of their gods – small “g” - alongside the birth of The God – large “G” - despite all the un-Christian behavior associated with the celebrations - over eating and boozing and dancing and sexually suggestive behavior like singing naked in the streets. And not long after this popular idea reached Constantinople, so did Saint Nicholas.
Now, for most of the last 1,300 years the Catholic Church has celebrated Nicholas as Bishop of the rich port of Myrna, on the southern coast of what is today Turkey. But while most early saints achieved sainthood by either being eaten by lions, stoned to death, lost their heads like Cyprian, or – a lucky few – were crucified Christ-like for refusing to renounce their faith. 
Nicholas (above) died of old age and in his own bed. All he did was give his entire inheritance to poor children. To the average Christian that made Nicholas, who died on 6 December, 343 C.E., a saint. It also helped that “manna” periodically dripped from his tomb, and was sold as a miracle cure-all. Still the church officials, who depended on rich people for their operating funds, have never been entirely convinced about this poverty being good for the soul, thing. So it was not with their help, but the rise of Islam a couple of hundred years later that started Saint Nicholas on the road to his north pole workshop.
Because it was Islamaphobia which financed the 3 Italian ships that arrived in Myrna in 1087. Claiming the Muslims were about to ransack his tomb, the sailors bribed and bullied their way into Nicholas' church...
...smashed the shrine, stole, er, rescued, his bones – henceforth referred to as “relics” (above) - and spirited them home to Bari, at the top of the heal of the Italian boot. 
It seemed a perfect fit, because Bari had been the home of a pagan goddess named Pasqua Epiphania – the Grandmother – who once a year filled children's stockings with gifts. Now Nicholas would do the same, every 6 of December.
With the publicity machine in Bari now squeezing money out of Pilgrims, Nicholas also became useful when Christianity was marketed to the pagan Anglo-Saxons of Germany and the Norse of Scandinavia, who had worshiped the blood thirsty Woden and the violent Thor. Every fall the white bearded Woden (above) would mount his flying horse and with his red cloak sailing behind, ride across the heavens, burning and destroying anything and anybody who got in his way. 
Also sailing across the heavens was the Norse god of thunder, Thor (above). He drove a chariot pulled by a pair of flying goats, improbably named Gnasher and Cracker. But Christianity found a way to tame these 2 angry and violent deities by making them children.
Every 6 December, the youngest boy in northern churches would don a false beard, Bishop's robes, and chose the foods and music for the St. Nicholas feast, afterward leading the other boys into the streets to collect alms for the poor. And if some of the lads should occasionally turn into gangs of snowball-throwing muggers, stealing from the rich and poor alike, well it was all in the domesticated spirit of Woden and Thor. But St. Nicholas would not become Santa Clause until the Americans had driven out the British.
The American Revolution didn't really change that much. The Church of England became the Episcopalians, and the 13 colonies became 14 states, but mostly the people running things in 1775, locally anyway, were the same people running things in 1783 – English religion, English language and English class structure. 
As to be expected, the post war generation rejected their parent's social conventions, and about 1804 - when John Pintard founded the New York Saint Nicholas Society - younger Gothamites decided to transform retroactively convert their grandparents' provincial illiterate English backwater into a provincial illiterate Dutch backwater. 
And the cox man on this voyage back to the future was a 26 year old Manhattan rich-kid smartaleck named Washington Irving (above).
When he joined the St. Nicholas Society in 1809, Irving's contribution was writing the cities' new foundation myth, the verbose and pretentious mockumentary, “History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker” (above).  The author's name, like everything else in the book, was an overwritten joke. A worker who baked children's clay marbles was called, in Dutch, a Knickerbocker, and during the Federalist Period it was the equivalent of calling the author “Joe the Plumber” or “John Q. Public”.
In his book, Irving did not invent “Sinter Klass” - the Dutch translation of St. Nicholas. That figure was already filling children's stockings in Holland every 6 December. But the European Sinter Klass (above) was a pretend bishop who supposedly arrived by boat from Spain – the Netherlands used to be owned by Spain – and was accompanied by his Moorish assistant Zwarte Piet - Black Pete. St. Nicholas delivered presents to good children and Black Pete left coal and twigs in the stockings of bad children. But uncomfortably in America most black skinned people were slaves, so Irving avoided that moral complication by dropping the assistant, and re-imagined Nicholas as...
...a jolly, little plump Dutch elf wearing a tri-cornered hat, a red waistcoat above a “huge pair of (yellow) Flemish trunk hose,” and smoking a clay pipe. The History claimed everybody in New York believed in this Sinter Klass. In trurth, few in New York had ever heard of him. The entire thing was a gag, a joke, a jape. Irving's “History...” wasn't the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” - another adapted Dutch story -  but as any writer will tell you, Irving could never have written the latter without having written the former. Still it was, “The first notable work of imagination in the New World" in somebody's opinion.
Enter printer William Gilley, yet another member of the St. Nicholas Society. One of his most successful money makers was his annual illustrated series, “The Children's Friend”. In Volume 3, which came out in 1821, appeared an anonymous poem which began with good intentions - “Old Sante Claus with much delight, His reindeer drives the frosty night O'er chimney tops and tracks of snow...” But the author wanted a politically correct Christmas, so Sante promised, “...No drums to stun their Mother's ear, nor swords to make their sisters fear; but pretty books...” Beyond the fun police, the poem also introduced Santa driving a sleigh pulled by a  flying reindeer. Gilley later insisted the unnamed author's mother had been “an indian” who lived in the north where reindeer were common and could fly.
That same year one of Gilley's neighbors also put pen to paper. He was an academic who had already composed the well-named 2 volume “Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language” (1809), and similar ponderous intellectual non-fiction. But Clemet Clarke Moore (above) was also a part time poet and the father of six children (he would eventually sire nine), and he wanted to make their Christmas as joyful as possible. 
So as Christmas 1822 approached, Moore decided to compose his own version of the myth with no lectures. It began, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there...”
Under Moore's professional and well educated hand everything came together – St. Nicholas, Christmas eve, snow, and flying reindeer. But it was Moore the poet who rhythmical multiplied the beasts, with just a faint hint of those flying goats.  “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixem”. The last two names were Dutch for thunder and lightening, but within three editions of the poem their names had morphed into “Donner and Blitzen”, which still scanned. 
But Santa remained Irvings' original creation, a “jolly old ELF”- a dwarf, a munchkin, a little person, with a “round LITTLE belly”. That was how he fit down the chimney. And he was driving “...a MINIATURE sleigh and eight TINY reindeer”. Saint Nicholas not only delivered toys, he was a toy. How magical is that? All that was missing was for somebody to bring all these pieces together.
I suspect that Thomas Nast  (above) was dyslexic. Although his family had arrived from the Germany when he was only 6 years old, “Tommy” was never comfortable reading or writing in English or German. But after finances forced him to drop out of the National Academy of Art, on Broadway and Leonard Street in lower Manhattan, the 15 year old became a staff artist for Frank Leslie's Weekly Illustrated Newspaper. Four years later he was offered more money by the New York Illustrated News as an artist-reporter. And the next year – 1860 – the now 20 year old was sent to England to cover a prize fight, and then on to Sicily to cover the war to unite Italy. On his return Nast – with just 50 centers in his pocket – was hired at a generous salary by Fletcher Harper, to draw for his “Harper's Weekly Illustrated News”.
Over his quarter of a century at Harper's, Nast invented the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party - inspired by a mass escape from the Central Park Zoo - and popularized the donkey for the Democrats. Nast would scratch his drawings directly onto wood, before they were copied into metal plates for printing
Still his accurate caricatures so enraged Tammany Hall boss, William Tweed (above and below), the crooked politician ordered his supporters to “Stop them damn pictures... My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see the pictures." 
But Nast turned down a $500,000 bribe to quit, and hounded Tweed until he was arrested. After Tweed jumped bail and escaped to Spain, it was Nast's famous drawings which ensured Tweed's extradition. But it was Nast's yearly Christmas drawings that changed Santa Clause from a diminutives regional figure, into a national symbol.
In 1861 Tommy Nast had married Sarah “Sallie” Edwards, “with brown hair, a graceful form and delicate damask cheeks”. In his drawings she became his idolized image of “Columbia” (above), symbol of the United States. The couple remained deeply devoted to each other for the rest of their lives, and raised 5 children together – 3 girls and 2 boys. Sallie was his business manager, and it was she who read Clement Moore's poem to Tommy, and he enshrined it's images for all time. 
 And as his children grew, so did his Santa Claus, 24 Christmas in a row, 76 etchings in all - becoming a full-sized St. Nicholas, a bearded and smiling hedonist, a real person, unrecognizable anymore as the aesthetic Bishop of Myrna. And he had a new address. Instead of coming from “the north”, Santa's workshop was at the North Pole.
And there were the Christmas Cards, an invention inspired in large part to market Nast's beloved images. And he presented the first image of a child mailing a letter to Santa Claus. 
Santa' pipe, which had started out as a Dutch practical clay, Nast replaced with meerschaum. And from Nast's own Bavarian childhood, he included a Christmas Tree in the party. Thomas Nast's etchings transcended linguistics. In Europe, where St. Nicholas' Feast was still being celebrated on 6 December, Nast's Santa Claus began shifting the holiday emphases to 25 December.
After Thomas Nast, little changed about Santa Claus until Joe Mizen, who painted billboards for the Coke-a-Cola, came up with a tie-in for the Famous Barr Company Department store in St. Louis, Missouri, which boasted they had the world's largest soda fountain. He called his 1930 creation “The Busiest Man in the World”.(above)  Once again it treated the latest incarnation of St. Nicholas as a real man, and Coke decided to use the ad in magazines all that year. 
But the image worried Archie Lee, the executive for the Coke account at the D'Arcy Advertising Agency, who imagine beer companies hijacking the image, once prohibition came to an end.  Lee felt Coke needed a more wholesome and realistic Santa. And one of the artists he hired to develop this mythical real man was Haddon Sundblom.
Sundblom modeled his Santa after his friend, salesman Lou Prentess. And from 1931 to 1964, Haddon was the man who defined what Santa Clause looked like, for all of us - “...plump belly, sympathetic face, jovial air, and debonair bearing.” In this modern version, the traditional Santa was full sized, but his workers were elves. 
And that was the new mythology of Santa Clause. Like the old (above) created to support a myth. And now there is a ninth red nosed reindeer. 
It is hard to imagine how Santa will change in the future. But however he does,  my guess is we will have to go backward, again, and reinvent the past. Or perhaps envision Santa Clause as a computer server delivering presents via reindeer drones. However the future comes, I am certain Santa will never die. Mythical characters never do.
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