If I end up making this entry public, it will start a trend of my public entries being about Sir Ernest Shackleton - although in this case somewhat indirectly. Wednesday the 14th was the 100th Anniversary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole! To me, anything about Antarctica is immediately about Shackleton, his character and achievements tower over all else.

I wanted to do something to commemorate the day, and I'd made plans with my work friend Alison to go to a bar we like called that's Antarctica. They weren't doing anything special to celebrate but at least it would feel thematically appropriate. However, when I got in that day I had an email from her that she didn't think she'd be able to get out of work until 9PM (things are very crazy for her and she's working a lot of overtime. I, on the other hand, get out between 4:30 and 5). Luckily I was able to make a contingency plan to get dinner with friend!Corey.

Corey an I have been making plans to go to a Polish restaurant to get pierogis for months now, I think - I started craving them and suggested we go back to Poland (we went on a whirlwind two-day trip to Bedzin and Krakow last spring and ate lots of delicious pierogis) so that was the original plan but then I was thinking we could do something more thematically appropriate if we went to a Scandinavian restaurant, since Amundsen was Norwegian. Apparently Scandinavian cuisine isn't particularly popular in NYC, one of the top results was the restaurant at IKEA. XD But luckily of the 4 non-IKEA options (3 of which were different locations of the same chain and one of which was ridiculously expensive), one was perfect!! A little bit fancier than my usually dinners out but not prohibitively so, and since it was a special occasion I was ok with going a bit upscale. AND it was super close to Antarctica Bar, which was perfect because Alison realized that she might be able to get out closer to 7:30 (the 9PM estimate was based on a fit of exhaustion and despair the night before).

So even though earlier in the day I'd been all despairing about my ability to make plans and have a social life (in addition to Alison's expected cancellation, I'd failed to give Corey advanced notice about a Shackleton viewing fiesta that Katie and I were going to have that weekend and she couldn't go so I wasn't sure if we were going to have it at all or when etc etc) everything worked out incredibly well in the end! The Scandinavian restaurant, Smorgas, was absolutely delightful!! And pricey for me is not extremely pricey so if you don't mind $20-$30 entrees then I highly recommend it, and I will definitely be back if I ever want to go somewhere special. Very lovely atmosphere, very quiet between 6 and 7, delicious food, and they gave us a teeny free sample of delicious mulled wine at the end of the meal! Corey and I talked about puppies and compared the personalities and leadership approaches of Amundsen, Scott, and Shackleton, and it was a lovely way to celebrate the occasion! Thematically appropriate activities are just more fun than normal activities.

Actually I need to go back soon because now I know what gravlaks is! (Or gravlax, as it's more commonly known outside Scandinavia.) I was too nervous to order it there but I was watching the Cooking Channel last night and it was some type of French Canadian Christmas Special and it was amazing and he made gravlax, so that was incredibly convenient. XD

After we finished dinner, Alison was able to tear herself away from work and meet me at Antarctica! It was woefully empty of South Pole celebrating revelers, but the fact that it wasn't packed was nice anyway. Alison was thrilled to be out of the office, although we did fall into bad habits and talked a lot about work. It was more about general issues than about Alison's own difficulties, though, so it was less upsetting and I was able to contribute more. Anyway, I was very happy that I was able to celebrate the day.


Although Antarctic Exploration is no longer my most recent nerdy historical subject of interest! A wikipedia research excursion into the British perspective on WWII (starting with the Battle of Britain) lead to a more intense immersion into technological aspects of WWII which lead to an overwhelming interest in tactical deception operations and double agents, eventually leading to me taking several books on the subject out of the library (unfortunately, one of them is 800 pages long and impractical for reading on the subway). SO. AWESOME. I've always avoided WWII before, because to me it's so overwhelmingly overshadowed by the Holocaust.

And indeed, there were some difficult moments - I was generally looking into aspects that I'd never really studied before, and overwhelmingly from a British perspective, particularly focusing on areas of Allied success, so generally it was fascinating and as positive as this sort of thing can be, certainly not depressing. But since I have quite a number of unresolved psychological issues about the Holocaust (of which my grandparents are survivors) there were times when I was unable to avoid following a link to something I knew would be disturbing or upsetting, trying to confront this stuff little by little. Since I was coming at things from a British perspective (much of which we never learn about in American schools) there were certain stories from POWs who were in the concentration camps, and hearing about how horrible their conditions are, and then how horrified they were at how much incredibly worse all the Jewish prisoners were being treated is really lingering.

However, for the most part what I was reading about what just absolutely fascinating and cool. The whole period was so technologically fascinating. Nothing was digital but the war was motivating everyone to push all the existing technology to its absolute limit. I've never been someone interested in military history or certainly weapons development but I actually got quite fascinated. The Battle of the Beams was one of my favorite parts - the progression of Luftwaffe radio navigation and British methods of thwarting this, lead by awesome science dude R V Jones.

This technological/scientific aspect also launched me into a whole exploration of cryptology and in particular the German Enigma machine. If you give something a cool name, I am significantly more likely to read its wikipedia page. The Enigma machine was broken by the allies using valuable assistance from Polish codebreakers and a very early computer designed in part by Alan Turing. Decrypts from Enigma messages were known as ULTRA and were an extremely valuable source of intelligence. I ended up reading quite a bit about the history of cryptology as well. I was able to kind of grasp some early forms of encryption but the nitty gritty behind the decryption of the enigma was waaaaaaaaay to complicated and mathematical for me to understand. And nowadays everything is computery and much less interesting to me.

But the BEST BEST thing is the secret agents - particularly the allies' Double Cross System - run by the Twenty Committee... or XX Committee. XD That right there shows you that all the cool, fun people were working on this stuff. I say "allies" but really it was the British, they pwned double agents and military deception. In part this was opportunity and stuff but the British military system was apparently a lot more flexible than the American and allowed for more opportunity to get quirky creative types together and let them make magic.

Basically, every single German agent sent into the UK was captured and often turned into a double agent. Germany did not have a single agent in Britain that wasn't controlled by the Twenty Committee. Part of the reason for this overwhelming success is that the German intelligence agency, the Abwehr... basically didn't like the Nazis much. So most of them were highly unmotivated to select and train really excellent agents. Agents were often chosen for convenience - "Oh, you speak English? Let's parachute you in... please try to be loyal" and stuff like that. Or quite possibly in some cases the Abwehr controllers were actively trying to sabotage the whole effort, we don't really know. The head of the organization at the beginning of the war was implicated in the plot to assassinate Hitler, so that should tell you something. Additionally, the very nature of the organization and the hierarchy disincentivized speaking up if they later suspected that their agents had been turned. If an Abwehr officer was found insufficient, they would have to enter the army, instead of hanging out in sunny Madrid relaying information. Plus, having agents and supplying information provided prestige, especially if no one looked too closely at the quality of the information.

There were a lot of really interesting double agents, many with awesome code names. Tricycle is one of the most famous - quite possibly an inspiration for James Bond (Ian Fleming was floating around coming up with awesome crazy schemes), although not good looking, he was a wealthy adventurous playboy who apparently was just incredibly charming and irresistible to women. His codename is said to come from his fondness of threesomes, although I've also seen the explanation that it was derived from his two subagents.

But the greatest double agent - and one of the coolest people OF ALL TIME - is Joan Pujol Garcia, aka GARBO. Absolute genius, fascinating dude, wrote some truly epically entertaining bullshit spy letters to the Nazis. Vital part of the D-Day deceptions that caused the Germans to keep numerous divisions at Pas-de-Calais, thinking the Normandy invasion was just a diversion.


HOWEVER. I think I should actually just end this entry here and write about GARBO another time. I just got his autobiography and I'm so friggin pumped! (half the chapters of which are written by the historian who tracked him down - and unfortunately the historian has a slightly questionable reputation, but on the other hand there's no doubt that the man he found is indeed GARBO so I think it's safe to assume the text is overall as accurate as a book written 40 years later about very secret things can be.) It was quite the struggle just to get it, though! It was supposed to come out in February so I pre-ordered it (it was published 1985 but reprinted 2011) and then I kept getting emails moving the release date forward and back. Then finally I was told it was shipped but I got a little "we couldn't deliver this" note from the post office, and I requested redelivery but they totally ignored me, and the USPS site didn't recognize the serial number on the delivery slip. So I had to go to the post office this morning to get it and the whole thing felt faintly ominous, but the pick up actually went really smoothly so I was happy. :) And now I think I will just read it and not write about it anymore!

Or I'll keep re-watching Ouran High School Host Club... either way. XD (Well, I can't take Ouran on the train when I go home for early Hanukkah later!)

Speaking of re-watching, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ohmiya_sg linking to the JE Index a little while ago, I've totally been re-immersing myself in Johnny's stuff. XDD This is still a highlight though!! (God, there's so many arashi sub communities though! And I've been gone for so long, I have to go through a whole bunch of membership processes and I keep forgetting where I've applied and yeeeesh.)

Oh god and speaking of Schalke, there has been so much unbearably cute Raul stuff lately! Or a quote from our sporting director about rumors that Raul might go to Qatar - "We will speak [with Raul] in January. I do not think Raul will move to Qatar. Raul has not played football so long just to earn money. He will not go anywhere without his family; they will decide his future with him." <33333 THAT'S HOW I FEEL, HORST HELDT! Ahhh I can't wait til I get an improved photoshop for Christmas so I can make gifs of all these new videos.

Haha, I like how long ago I said "i'll just end this entry here." Really for me this isn't a long one, though! Basically almost nothing is behind the cuts. XD I wanted to shorten it for your friends lists but obviously everything i'm saying is way too fascinating to be cut... clearly...

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