A week to remember

Two significant anniversaries last week. Let’s start in northern France, with some staggering numbers.

13 memorable facts about D-Day
D-Day was the opening chapter in a long campaign. The Normandy invasion was not a one-day affair; it raged on until Allied forces crossed the River Seine in August. Altogether, the Allies took about 200,000 casualties over the course of the campaign—including 4413 deaths on D-Day alone. According to the D-Day Center, “No reliable figures exist for the German losses, but it is estimated that around 200,000 were killed or wounded with approximately 200,000 more taken prisoner.” On May 7, 1945—less than a year after D-Day—Germany surrendered, ending the war in its European Theater.

Some of these images really get across the scale of that operation.

Photos: Take a look at D-Day, then and now
The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings will fall on June 6. Here, we take a look back at iconic images of the day and at modern photos related to the day’s events.

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It all looks very different now.

11 incredible D-Day Landing pictures that show the beaches then and now
The following pictures combine original photos taken on and around D-Day with others taken in 2014 and show holidaymakers in the sun, largely oblivious to the horror that took place where they stood over 70 years ago.

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And for a different, but very direct, perspective of events that day, you must take a look at these scanned documents.

Bletchley Park and D-Day
A rare collection of Enigma messages sent on D-Day by the German navy, and broken at Bletchley Park, gives a blow-by-blow account of the action. As events unfold, confusion gives way to a realisation of the scale and importance of the invasion. Intelligence from Bletchley Park played a crucial part in the operation’s planning and execution.

The D-Day commemoration coincided with Trump’s state visit. I loved the language in this view of that from across the Atlantic.

We are being embarrassed by ugly-American grifters on an ego trip to London
Referring to “the red-carpet treatment” accorded to Donald Trump and the ignominious confederacy of unindicted co-conspirators that accompanied him to London, the city’s mayor remarked, “In years to come, I suspect this state visit will be one we look back on with profound regret and acknowledge that we were on the wrong side of history.” Why wait? As an American, I’m already regretting the spectacle of the Trumps tweeting pictures of themselves stumbling around Buckingham Palace. It’s not just that, as a republican, I have no taste for the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the British royal family. It is not even that Trumps are so obviously enthralled by imperial excess.

What I have a problem with is the notion that the United States of America is being “represented” on the global stage by an ugly-American cabal of black hats in ill-fitting tuxedos. Mehdi Hasan got it brilliantly right when he said of the president’s decampment to the United Kingdom: “He’s taken four of his five kids with him, his four grifter kids with him to Buckingham Palace. They’ve been posting pictures all night on Twitter of themselves. They’re all loving it. It’s a great day for the whole grifter family.”

The other anniversary, of course, was in China.

Beijing falls silent as tight security surrounds Tiananmen Square anniversary
Thirty years after bloody crackdown in China, visitors have IDs checked and journalists are warned against taking pictures.

In the UK and elsewhere, reminders of what happened, like this one from The Guardian ten years ago, are so easy to find.

20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square: how events unfolded
Revisiting the protests, from the beginning of the student uprising to the brutal crushing of dissent by the Chinese regime.

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That’s obviously not the case in China.

A look at the many ways China suppresses online discourse about the Tiananmen Square protests
Suppression of information means that an entire generation of people know little about the events, even as the activists involved continue to suffer repercussions, including long prison sentences. In recent years, the government’s censorship apparatus has become even more powerful, with voice and image recognition and machine learning making it easier to block or remove posts at scale.

Jiayang Fan, writing in The New Yorker, was four in 1989.

Memories of Tiananmen Square
I had left China when I was too young to know about censorship, when I was just being introduced to the written word and to the stories that written words told. It would never have occurred to me, or, perhaps, to any child, to question the history books, because that would have seemed like an interrogation of reality itself. In China, the past is never past, but it is frequently purged. The story is rewritten, the narrative reframed, the villains and the heroes recast. There is a hallucinatory quality to such a society, as if you are living a life that does not and never can fully belong to you. China’s vertiginous economic growth during the last three decades, for example, has given people permission to pursue prosperity without ever granting them political autonomy, reducing them to children at the mercy of an irascible, paternalistic government.

Ilaria Maria Sala was an exchange student in Beijing at the time, just a couple of years older than me then.

The very last spring all things seemed possible in Beijing
People handed me spent bullets and bloodied items, wanting me to go back home and tell the world what the army had done. I told them that people knew, every journalist was in Beijing. I was evacuated by the British Embassy to Hong Kong in the early hours of June 7, and returned home to Italy. As soon as I could, at the end of August, I went back to Beijing again, to study, to look for friends, to try to understand what had happened.

Her story continues.

Beijing Autumn: My return to China three months after Tiananmen
Beishida felt too desolate, so I transferred to Peking University, where all the few returning foreign students seemed to have congregated. But as the students there were those most involved in the demonstrations, the authorities decided to suspend the first year, and send all the freshmen to the army instead. The notice-boards at Sanjiaodi, where the political posters had been hoisted just a few months before, where the international TV crews had filmed the students keeping up-to-date with the strike and its developments, where impromptu speeches had been given, was now a deserted triangle dotted with forlorn little posters advertising English classes, chess tournaments, and qigong demonstrations.

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Elections everywhere

Polarisation seems to be the political theme, these days.

Socialists strengthen hold in Spain election
Spain’s Socialist Party strengthened its hold on the government on Sunday in the country’s third national election since 2015, with nearly complete results showing growing political polarization and party fragmentation. […] An anti-immigration and ultranationalist party, Vox, won its first seats in Parliament, a major shift in a country that long appeared to be immune to the spread of far-right movements across Europe, in part because of the legacy of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

This doesn’t sound good.

Benin’s government has shut the internet ahead of an election that has no opposition
The West African nation now joins the list of African states, including Sudan, DR Congo, and Egypt who have limited online access ahead of key elections, political referenda, or anti-government protests this year. Activists say the cut-offs usually have significant economic, political, and social costs, particularly given how popular messaging apps like WhatsApp are crucial for voters, journalists, and election observers.

Some places are getting it right, though.

It only takes India a month to set up a better election than the US
To be sure, the Indian election is a thing of wonder. Its scale alone is mind-boggling: More than a million polling stations, 900 million voters, nearly 2,300 parties. It is also an impressive work of democratic logistics that can teach a few lessons to the rest of the world, including countries with far more resources, like the US.

Meanwhile.

The French Ambassador is retiring today. Here’s what he really thinks about Washington.
Let’s look at the dogma of the previous period. For instance, free trade. It’s over. Trump is doing it in his own way. Brutal, a bit primitive, but in a sense he’s right. What he’s doing with China should have been done, maybe in a different way, but should have been done before. Trump has felt Americans’ fatigue, but [Barack] Obama also did. The role of the United States as a policeman of the world, it’s over. Obama started, Trump really pursued it. You saw it in Ukraine. You are seeing it every day in Syria. People here faint when you discuss NATO, but when he said, “Why should we defend Montenegro?,” it’s a genuine question. I know that people at Brookings or the Atlantic Council will faint again, but really yes, why, why should you?

 

She’s been restored before

The images of Notre Dame yesterday were just horrible. Let’s look at some different ones (with apologies for relying on Google Translate).

1840 – Notre Dame before restoration
The success of Hugo’s novel and the beginning of the Romantic Current will contribute to a renewed interest in French Gothic heritage. In 1843, a vast restoration program will be launched at the initiative of Prosper Mérimée, then Inspector General of Historical Monuments. Architects Viollet le Duc and Lassus will win the competition.

Started in 1845, the titanic construction site will last twenty years. Every effort will be made to restore the cathedral to its former splendor. The arrow and the Red Gate will be restored among others. A hundred or so statues, inspired by other cathedrals, will be made under the careful control of the architects.

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(Via a Benedict Evans newsletter.)

Meanwhile.

Notre Dame fire hoaxes are already spreading on social media
Online conspiracists are baselessly trying to blame the fire on their political opponents.

YouTube’s new fact-check tool flagged Notre Dame fire coverage and attached an article about 9/11
The widget showing information about the Sept. 11 terror attacks appears to have been triggered by a new feature YouTube is testing to provide “topical context” around videos that might contain misinformation.

Searching for digital sovereignty

Have you used Qwant yet?

Qwant – The search engine that respects your privacy
Based and designed in Europe, Qwant is the first search engine which protects its users freedoms and ensures that the digital ecosystem remains healthy. Our keywords: privacy and neutrality.

I must admit I had never heard of this search engine before I read this article from Wired. The French National Assembly and the French Army Ministry have announced that they’ll stop using Google as their default search engines, and use Qwant instead.

France is ditching Google to reclaim its online independence
“We have to set the example,” said Florian Bachelier, one of MPs chairing the Assembly’s cybersecurity and digital sovereignty task-force, which was launched in April 2018 to help protect French companies and state agencies from cyberattacks and from the growing dependency on foreign companies. “Security and digital sovereignty are at stake here, which is anything but an issue only for geeks,” Bachelier added. […]

In France, this all started with the Edward Snowden. In 2013, when the American whistleblower revealed that the NSA was spying on foreign leaders and had important capability to access data stocked on private companies’ clouds, it was a wake up call for French politicians. A senate report that same year fretted that France and the European Union were becoming “digital colonies”, a term that since then has been used by French government officials and analysts to alert about the threat posed by the US and China, on issues of economic, political and technological sovereignty. Recent scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook imbroglio, further shook French politicians and public opinion.

A European Duckduckgo, but without the stupid name? Might be something to look further into.

From a time before Duolingo

Food to the rescue.

Gleanings from the past #54
A ludicrous story is told of a great naval function which took place during the reign of the last Napoleon and the Empress Eugénie. Several American vessels were present, and they were drawn up in line to salute the Empress’s yacht as it passed. The French sailors, of course, manned the yards of their ships, and shouted ‘Vive l’Impératrice!’ The American Admiral knew that it was impossible to teach these words to his men in the time left to him, so he ordered his crew to shout ‘Beef, lemons, and cheese!’ The imperial yacht came on, and as it passed the fleet there was a mighty roar of ‘Beef, lemons, and cheese.’ And the Empress said she had never received such an ovation before.