Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last WW1 British Veteran Dies 2009

LONDON (AFP) - - Harry Patch, the last soldier to fight in the trenches of Europe during World War I, died Saturday at the age of 111, drawing poignant tributes led by Queen Elizabeth II.


Patch fought at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 -- where an estimated half a million troops perished.

He is listed by the website, regarded as an authoritative chronicle of veterans of the conflict, as the last World War I veteran to have served in the trenches.

"I was saddened to hear of the death this morning of Harry Patch," said Queen Elizabeth II.

"We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all."

Nicknamed "The Last Tommy" by Britain's media, Patch was also Britain's oldest man following the death of fellow veteran Henry Allingham, at the time the oldest man in the world, one week ago.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown added: "The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten.

"We say today with still greater force, we will remember them."

Brown said the sacrifices of the World War I generation would be commemorated in a special national service, likely to be held at Westminster Abbey in London.

"It's right that we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during World War One and to remember what we owe to that generation -- our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy," he said.

Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Perth, Australia and served with the Royal Navy, now becomes the last surviving veteran of the 1914-18 conflict from the British side.

Patch did not speak about his wartime experiences until he was aged 100 and was strongly opposed to violent conflict, calling war "organised murder".

"It was not worth it, it was not worth one let alone all the millions," he said of those who died.

"It's important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line -- the Germans suffered the same as we did."

Last year, he travelled to Belgium to remember his fallen comrades and unveil a memorial.

Patch was conscripted into the British army at the age of 18 and served as a machine gunner with the 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

He was 19 when he fought in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

That battle was one of the bloodiest in the conflict. One of the opposing German soldiers was an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.

After four months in the trenches, Patch was wounded by shrapnel and sent home to Britain, his war over.

General Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said: "We give thanks for his life -- as well as those of his comrades -- for upholding the same values and freedom that we continue to cherish and fight for today".

Following the war, Patch worked as a plumber until his retirement in 1961. During World War II, he worked as a fireman.

Patch married Ada Billington in 1919 and the couple were married for 58 years until her death. They had two sons, both of whom Patch outlived.

He married his second wife Jean in 1980 but she died in 1984.

Patch's care home, Fletcher House in Wells, southwest England, said he had died early Saturday. His friend Jim Ross added he was "surrounded by his many friends" when he passed away.

The funeral in Wells will focus on prayers for peace and reconciliation, the Ministry of Defence said.

Patch's biographer Richard Van Emden told BBC television that "he was just a lovely man, he had a sparkle and a twinkle about him.

"He was the last of that generation and the poignancy of that is almost overwhelming."

The website says there are now just three Great War veterans left alive -- Choules plus Frank Buckles, 108, of the United States and Canadian John Babcock, 109, who also lives in the US.

Neither Buckles nor Babcock saw active combat, it adds.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Imperial Angkor

NAT GEO July 2009 did a fantastic article about the fall of the Angkor Dynasty and here's just an abstract.

Imperial Angkor

Its vast water system awas a marvel of engineering - and a cautionary tale of technoloical overreach. At its height in the 13th century, the capital of the Khmer Empire was the most extensive urban coplex in the world. USing imaging radar and other tools, reseachers have learnt that Greater Angkor covered almost 400 square miles, roughly the area of the 5 boroughs of NY City, with as many as 750,000 inhabitants. Most were rice farmers and laborers who worked the giant jigsaw of fields. In the city center, perhaps 40,000 people - elites and farmers alike - lived within the walls of Angkor Thom, a 3.5 square mile enclosure with temples and a royal palace. Though the rainy season usually brought ample water, the ability to store water in great reservoirs called barays and conrol its flow gave Angkor an edge in times of drought or flood. BUt this engineered landscape required constant maintenance. When the water system faltered, so did Angkor's power

Angkor's Complex Plumbing

In Southeast Asia, months of monsoon rains are followed by months of near drought. To ensure a steady water supply, stabilize rice production, and control flooding, Khmer engineers built a newtork of canals, moats, ponds and reservoirs. Massive earthworks slowed the wet-season deluge flowing from the Kulen hills, directing it into canals that fed the barays and temple moats. Spreading across the gently sloping land, the water drained finally into Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia

Sacred Source

The Kulen Hills sheltered the headwaters of the Siem Reap River and were quarried for rock to build Angkor's temples. The hills were logge for timber and firewood o clear land for farming: Deforesation may have caused floods that choked some of ANgkor's canals with sand and silt.

Kulen Hills

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite Dies at 92

By Gary Strauss and Peter Johnson, USA TODAY

From Baby Boomers to the Greatest Generation, journalist Walter Cronkite will be remembered as a voice of calm and reason whenever the nation was shocked by disaster and instability.

The deep-baritone Cronkite died Friday at his New York home at 92. CBS vice president Linda Mason says Cronkite died at 7:42 p.m. after a long illness with his family by his side. They had previously said he was ill with cerebrovascular disease.

In the anchor seat at CBS News With Walter Cronkite from 1962 to 1981, "Uncle Walter," as he was affectionately known by his millions of viewers, came into the USA's living room each weeknight, offering a measured presentation of the news of the day.

That coverage included many of the signature events of modern times: the Cuban missile crisis; the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; the Vietnam War; the Apollo moon landing; and Watergate.

Throughout, Cronkite's comforting, authoritative style earned him iconic status as the "most trusted man in America."

"I had a pretty good seat at the parade," Cronkite once said, reflecting on the 20th century. "I was lucky enough to have been born at the right time to see most of this remarkable century."

Portly and mustachioed, Cronkite would be considered an anachronism in TV news today, a 24/7 environment marked mostly by style over substance. But journalism was in the University of Texas dropout's blood as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Times, later as a radio announcer and then for 11 years at United Press, the wire service where he eventually became a World War II correspondent covering North Africa and Europe and the post-war Nuremberg trials.

He began working for CBS' nascent TV news division in 1950, eventually anchoring the first nationally televised Democratic and Republican national conventions, and later hosting the You Are There documentary series.

"He was the personification of an era," says media critic Andrew Tyndall of "At a time when the entire nation could only get information from a few sources, he's indelibly linked to telling us about iconic events."

Cronkite was on air for a staggering 27 of the 30 hours it took NASA to land men on the moon during the Apollo IX mission in 1969, dubbed "Walter to Walter" coverage by his peers. When astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon's surfaced, Cronkite was almost speechless for the first time in his storied career.

Cronkite earned viewers' respect for his just-the-facts style, rarely displaying much emotion on air. But there was a memorable moment in 1963, when he briefly lost his composure while announcing on live TV that President Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas "I choked up, I really had a little eyes got a little wet," he said in a 2003 interview. "Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually (crying)."

Cronkite's influence was such that after he ended a 1968 broadcast following a trip to South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive telling viewers that the war could not be won, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told his aides, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

It was Cronkite's lifelong fascination with flight — and his unabashed enthusiasm for the U.S. space program— that may be his enduring legacy: his power as a broadcaster was such that he helped stir the public's support for space exploration. "In that age of TV," 60 Minutescreator Don Hewitt said, "Walter Cronkite was as well known as John Glenn."

He was on NASA's list to be the first journalist in space, a project scrubbed after the Challenger explosion.

"I can't imagine any red-blooded person not wanting to get into space," Cronkite told USA TODAY in 1998 before he co-anchored CNN's coverage of John Glenn's return to space at age 77. "Shaking off that idea lacks a certain imagination, a spirit of adventure. I can't think of anything better out there."

Cronkite retired in 1981, replaced by Dan Rather. Cronkite was supposed to have a continuing relationship with the network, but it didn't work out that way, and in ensuing years he smarted at the way CBS rarely invited him back on its air.

"CBS did not live up to the arrangement we had," Cronkite said. "I thought I was only stepping down from the Evening News, but I'd continue to do special events coverage and in-depth reporting. They chose not to use me. I was very unhappy the way it worked out. I kept saying, 'Maybe I could do this,' but it never quite worked out."

Yet in the next breath, Cronkite acknowledged that CBS didn't boot him out on the street, either. He maintained a large office and acknowledged that the network paid him "a magnificent amount of money" over the years, reportedly $1 million a year to do virtually nothing, which made him rich and enabled him to write, travel and found his own TV production company.

Cronkite was married for nearly sixty-five years to Betsy Maxwell, who died in March 2005. In recent years Cronkite wrote a syndicated column, contributed to The Huffington Post blog, received NASA's Ambassador of Exploration award and was the subject of a PBS documentary in 2006 and a 90th birthday party on CBS in 2007.

How did he become "the most trusted man in America?" It was a Roper survey for U.S. News & World Report, Cronkite once said, and he won "because they didn't poll my wife."

And about all this Uncle Walter stuff? "I like to think it started when I got my third chin," he said. Actually, TV was still new in the kinder, gentler '50s and '60s. Tuning into Cronkite and letting him into your home involved a certain intimacy, especially if you were sitting there in your shorts or PJs. So he became Uncle Walter, the most trusted man in America. "I felt it was a characterization of some appreciation," he said. "I couldn't object to it at all."

The man who just once gave his opinion on CBS Evening News was, in fact, very opinionated and in August 2003 began writing a syndicated column for King Features called And That's the Way I See It — a play on his CBS News signoff.

In his later years Cronkite decried the large salaries of TV news broadcasters, which he said created a journalism elite. "When you're making six- and seven-figure incomes, it's hard to understand the concerns of most Americans, no matter how good a reporter you are, Cronkite said. That included himself. "I don't do personal shopping. I don't have to stand in line. They're not, I'm not, living the frustrations of the average man."

He kept homes in Manhattan— he feuded with developer Donald Trump who successfully built a high rise next to Cronkite's apartment complex — and Edgartown, Mass., where he kept a 48-foot ketch, Wyntje, equipped with a bathtub.

But if you sat down in person with Cronkite in recent years, the anchor faded away. He was an old newspaperman at heart, who hung out in police precincts, bars and strip joints in his day, told his share of dirty jokes and still talked fondly of his 11 years at the old "UP."

Unlike today's broadcasters, who work local TV eyeing the network big leagues, Cronkite joined CBS News in 1950 because the money was better, he had a family to support and CBS' legendary Edward R. Murrow wanted him.

But he didn't stay an ordinary Joe, especially after fame and fortune attached themselves to him. Presidents and generals had chiefs of staff, and so did Walter Cronkite. Marlene Adler guarded him and his schedule for years. In recent years he had a knee replaced and wore two hearing aids.

When President Bill Clinton admitted that he had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky— and then went on his annual summer vacation to Martha's Vineyard with wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea— it was Cronkite who brokered a peace between the couple and took them for an afternoon sail aboard the Wyntje.

Historian Don Carleton, who spent four years as a researcher and historical adviser helping Cronkite with his 1996 memoir A Reporter's Life, says he visited with Cronkite several times a year in New York. He last saw Cronkite at his apartment in March. "He always like to talk about what was going on now. He paid very much attention to the news until the last few months," Carleton said.

When Carleton arrived in New York Tuesday, "I tried to see him (and) was told he was not doing well." He said Cronkite had been in frail condition for about a year.

Carleton is executive director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at University of Texas-Austin, home of personal papers and documents donated by Cronkite and CBS. (Cronkite had attended UT and worked on the college paper.) A major exhibit of Walter Cronkite's artifacts is planned for May 2010.

To honor him, CBS News is airing That's The Way It Was: Remembering Walter Cronkite on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Contributing: Sharon Jayson