Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. The Telegraph is covering the events as if in real time, in a blog-like format, most recent posts at the top.
No aesthetically-appealing photos or amusing stories today, I’m afraid, just some very serious links and excerpts.
The rockets of Hezbollah. I knew they had accumulated considerable weaponry, but didn’t know it was this bad.
Kevin Williamson on preventing jihadist violence
James Schall of Georgetown University on Orlando in hindsight:
The Orlando killer was not alone. He was a true believer and other believers in the mission of Islam inspire him. Neither he nor any of his predecessors or future companions are to be explained by psychology, economics, or sociology. They are to be explained by taking their word for what they are doing. If the President of the United States or the British Prime Minister, the media, the professors, the clerics, cannot or will not understand this reality, we cannot blame ISIS and its friends. They are also realists who understand where ideas and reality meet, sometimes on a battlefield in Iraq, sometimes in a night club in Orlando.
The Democrats as the American Totalist Party
Football player Herschel Walker reports that he has had speaking engagements canceled because of his support for Donald Trump. Which is exactly the kind of action one would expect from members of a Totalist party.
Shortly before the Brexit vote, writer Frederick Forsyth wrote about the basic character of the EU: Government by deception:
You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.
Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve.
It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.
Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.
A former ‘big proponent’ of the EU has this to say:
To be fair, the EU’s main problem has always been its troubled relationship with democracy…This contempt for the will of the people might still be perceived as tolerable if the leaders otherwise seemed sensible – but now that someone as bad as Merkel calls the shots in EU, we’re reminded of just why having perpetual democratic safeguards is so important…the EU’s contempt for European voters and its current attempts to shut down dissenting voices bodes ill for its ability to course-correct on its own. If the EU is to be saved, it first needs to be humbled, nay, outright humiliated in such a manner that no-one can doubt that recent developments can’t be allowed to continue.
John Hussman of Hussman Funds looks at Brexit from an economic and investing perspective: Brexit and the bubble in search of a pin. He quotes his own post from last month:
My impression is that the best way to understand the next stage of the current market cycle is to recognize the difference between observed conditions and latent risks. This distinction will be most helpful before, not after, the S&P 500 drops hundreds of points in a handful of sessions. That essentially describes how a coordinated attempt by trend-followers to exit this steeply overvalued market could unfold, since value-conscious investors may have little interest in absorbing those shares at nearby prices, and in equilibrium, every seller requires a buyer.
Imagine the error of skating on thin ice and plunging through. While we might examine the hole in the ice in hindsight, and find some particular fracture that contributed to the collapse, this is much like looking for the particular pebble of sand that triggers an avalanche, or the specific vibration that triggers an earthquake. In each case, the collapse actually reflects the expression of sub-surface conditions that were already in place long before the collapse – the realization of previously latent risks.
When sleep the sentinels, ’tis the barbarian at the gate who strews their eyes with dreams. Then are they vanquished by the desert, leaving the gates free to turn noiselessly on their well-oiled hinges so that the city may be fecundated when she has become exhausted and needs the barbarian.
Sleeping sentry, you are the enemy’s advance guard. Already you are conquered, for your sleep comes of your belonging to the city no more, and being no longer firmly knotted to the city…And when I see you thus I tremble; for in you the empire, too, is sleeping, dying. You are but a symptom of its mortal sickness, for ill betides when it gives me sentries who fall asleep…
For if you no longer know that here a tree stands, then the roots, trunk, branches, leafage have no common measure. And you can you be faithful when an object for your fidelity is lacking? Well I know you would not sleep were you watching at the bedside of her you love. But that which should have been the object of your love is dispersed into fragments strewn at random, and you know it no more. Unloosed for you is the God-made knot that binds all things together.
–Antoine de St-Exupery, Citadelle
There was a bit of media coverage of Hillary Clinton choosing to wear a $12K Armani jacket while delivering a speech lamenting Inequality. The price of this jacket, of course, represents an utterly trivial proportion of the wealth the Clintons have amassed from their lifetimes of Public Service.
This little incident serves to emphasize a point I made several years ago in my post Jousting With a Phantom: leading ‘progressives’ for the most part don’t really believe in anything resembling equality–indeed, quite the contrary.
Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.
Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?
The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?
There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is such an asset.
Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured: the pivot day of history.
Neptunus Lex: The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.
The Battle of Midway took place from June 4 through June 7, 1942. Bookworm attended a Battle of Midway commemoration event in 2010 and also in 2011: Our Navy–a sentimental service in a cynical society.
See also Sgt Mom’s History Friday post from 2014.
General Electric remembers the factory workers at home who made victory possible. Also, women building airplanes during WWII, in color and the story of the Willow Run bomber plant.
Also, a very interesting piece on the radio news coverage of the invasion
Everyone is aware of Obama’s suppression of the Keystone XL pipeline project. But the legal, regulatory, and PR assault against critical infrastructure construction goes far beyond this. WSJ reports that:
Many major fossil-fuel projects across the U.S., from pipelines to export terminals, have been shelved or significantly delayed because of a confluence of new regulations, grass-roots opposition and a drop in energy prices. Overall, more than a dozen projects, worth about $33 billion, have been either rejected by regulators or withdrawn by developers since 2012, with billions more tied up in projects still in regulatory limbo.
Among the projects that the WSJ article identified as ‘cancelled’ were the $875MM ‘Constitution’ gas pipelines for the Northeastern US and the $3 billion “Northeast Direct” for the same region.
Natural gas is, of course, a major source for generating electricity, and the only practical way of getting the gas to the power plants is via pipeline.
(The CEO of New England’s power grid operator), said pipeline) projects are badly needed. Residential consumers in New York and New England paid between 5% and 41% more than the national average for natural gas in March, the latest month for which data were available. They also paid more for electricity, which itself is increasingly made with natural gas.
A powerful and beautifully-done music video: The war was in color
Neptunus Lex: We remember them
Also from Lex: A memorial day message from 2004
Update: Bookworm’s Memorial Day essay for this year is up at her site
(I posted this review four years ago…given the continued economic difficulties faced by many Americans, and the political implications thereof, this seems like an appropriate time for a rerun)
I’ve often seen this 1932 book footnoted in histories touching on Weimar Germany; not having previously read it I had been under the vague impression that it was some sort of political screed. Actually it is a novel, and a good one. The political implications are indeed significant, but they’re mostly implicit rather than explicit.
Johannes and Emma, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen, are a young couple who marry when Lammchen unexpectedly becomes pregnant. Their world is not the world of Weimar’s avant-garde artists and writers, or of its risque-to-outright-degenerate cabaret scene. It is far from the world of a young middle-class intellectual like Sebastian Haffner, whose invaluable memoir I reviewed here. Theirs is the world of people at the absolute bottom of anything that could be considered as even lower-middle-class, struggling to hold on by their fingernails.
When we first meet our protagonists, Sonny is working as a bookkeeper–he was previously a reasonably-successful salesman of men’s clothing, working for the kindly Jewish merchant Mr. Bergmann, but a pointless quarrel with Bergmann’s wife, coupled with a job offer from the local grain merchant (Kleinholz) led to a career change. Sonny soon finds that as a condition of continued employment he is expected to marry Kleinholz’s ugly and unpleasant daughter, never an appealing proposition and one which his marriage to Lammchen clearly makes impossible. Lammchen is from a working-class family: her father is a strong union man and Social Democrat who sees himself as superior to lower-tier white-collar men like Sonny.
When Sonny and Lammchen set up housekeeping, their economic situation continually borders on desperate. Purchasing a stew pot, or indulging in the extravagance of a few bites of salmon for dinner, represents a major financial decision. An impulsive decision on Sonny’s part to please Lammchen by acquiring the dressing table she admires will have long-lasting consequences for their budget.
The great inflation of Weimar has come and gone; the psychological damage lingers. Sonny and Lammchen’s landlady cannot comprehend what happened to her savings:
Young people, before the war, we had a comfortable fifty thousand marks. And now that money’s all gone. How can it all be gone?…I sit here reckoning it up. I’ve written it all down. I sit here, reckoning. Here it says: a pound of butter, three thousand marks…can a pound of butter cost three thousand marks?…I now know that my money’s been stolen. Someone who rented here stole it…he falsified my housekeeping book so I wouldn’t notice. He turned three into three thousand without me realizing…how can fifty thousand have all gone?
Inflation is no longer the problem, unemployment is. There are millions of unemployed, and those who do hold jobs are desperately afraid of losing them and will do anything to keep them.
Over at The Lexicans, Bill Brandt posted an item about an 8-part TV series titled ‘American Genius’…it is about a selection of inventors and entrepreneurs who have had a major impact on technology, society, and history. It sounded worthwhile and I’ve watched about half of the episodes–thanks, Bill!…definitely worth watching, but OTOH I think there are a few things in the series that should have been covered a little differently.
Edison vs Tesla is about the AC-vs-DC power wars, and correctly reports on the sleazy fearmongering tactics that Edison used in his unavailing attempt to maintain DC’s dominance. The show referred to George Westinghouse, who was Tesla’s sponsor in this battle, as “sort of a railroad baron,” completely ignoring the fact that Westinghouse was himself a major American inventor. Most people would think of a ‘railroad baron’ as someone who owns or manages railroads, not someone who invented the air brake.
Farnsworth vs Sarnoff is about the battle to dominate the emerging television industry. It was presented as a David-versus-Goliath story–though Goliath was in this case named David (Sarnoff)–individual inventor versus ruthless tycoon. Sarnoff was indeed ruthless, indeed could be fairly referred to as a prototypical crony capitalist…but it would have been interesting to point out that he wasn’t always a Goliath, wasn’t born to that position, but had in fact come to this country as an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant and had encountered severe and career-threatening anti-Semitism on his path to Goliath-dom.
Space Race is focused on two individuals, the German/American Wernher von Braun and the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev. Korolev was played by an actor who looked a little too young for the role at the subject time period: more importantly, it should have been mentioned that Korolev had been arrested and sent to the Gulag, where he lost most of his teeth due to the brutal labor-camp conditions. There were psychological scars as well–Boris Chertok , who worked closely with Korolev for years, said that there was only one single time that he saw the man really happy. In a series focused primarily on the leading characters and their conflicts rather than on technical details, these things deserved to be covered.
The program refers to a successful Soviet test in 1957 of a missile with intercontinental range, shortly before the launch of Sputnik. Actually, the test was a failure because the warhead disintegrated on reentry…and reentry, while a critical factor for ICBMs, is not important at all for one-way satellite launches. The American belief that Sputnik meant all of our cities were vulnerable to Soviet missiles was a little premature–not much.
I thought Wernher von Braun got off too easily in this program. The show did mention that the V-2 missile was assembled by slave labor in an underground factory adjacent to a concentration camp: the truly horrific nature of V-2 manufacturing (this was possibly the only weapons system ever made that killed more people in its making than in its employment) could have gotten more emphasis, and the evidence is that von Braun was fully aware of what was going on in this place.
I’m also not convinced that von Braun was as absolutely critical to US missile and space programs as the show implies. The program to build the Atlas missile, which was developed in roughly the same time period as Korolev’s R-7, was directed by USAF General Bernard Schriever, with technology expertise provided largely by the newly-formed Ramo-Wooldgridge Corporation and by Convair. I see no reason why this team could not also have conducted a Moon program, had they been so chartered.
The show does point out that von Braun, in addition to his technical and management contributions, played an important role in popularizing the ideas of rocketry and space travel…I had been unaware of his work with Disney to this end. So, in addition to being a genuine rocket scientist (and, arguably, a war criminal in at least a moral sense), von Braun was also one of the great PR men of the century.
Again, with the omissions and missed opportunities, the series is still very much worth watching.
Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals. He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria–Beria being Stalin’s notorious secret-police chief. Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities. So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn’t on Vladimir Putin’s list of 10 favorite people.
Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities. Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime. (More from Claire here.) It certainly seems quite possible that Putin’s intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky’s computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.
I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment. I am also impressed by the logic of Diana West’s question: “Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images’ worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic “grooming” gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on … Vladimir Bukovsky?”
Above and beyond this specific case–and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter–there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government. There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn’t like something he wrote. There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel. And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the ‘crime’ of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.
John Kerry, America’s idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves. But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.
G K Chesterton is credited with the saying “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy–the actual Chesterton quote can be found here) But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.
Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections: it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation. Cheerleading for a ‘borderless world’, without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.
At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding. Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents–ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.
Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
…my feelings right now as expressed in song, prose, and poetry.
For I’, substitute ‘we’:
Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
And rivers that ran through every day
I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away
Now gather up sea shells
And write down brave words
Your prayers are unanswered
Your idols absurd
The seaweed and the cobweb
Have rotted your sword
Your barricades broken
Your enemies Lord
British general Edward Spears, describing his feelings in the aftermath of Munich:
Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich. All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.
The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration. The past tells us what the future should be. When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves, it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.
Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.
I am a little wounded but am not slain
I will lie me down for to bleed a while
Then I’ll rise and fight with you again
Lie down to bleed a while, if you need to–but not for too long–but do not give up. The stakes are way too high.
Prince Andrei (in War and Peace), who is falling in love with Natasha, is talking with her sister Vera:
“Yes, that is true, Prince. In our days,” continued Vera–mentioning “our days” as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of “our days” and that human characteristics change with the times–“in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her.” (emphasis added)
Bingo, Leo Tolstoy! I have often observed people writing or speaking about “these days” but equally or more often about “this country” or “this society” as if they had conducted a vast comparative study. Frequently you will hear people talking about some unfortunate characteristic that is pretty much universal across space and time and attributing it the “modern American society” or simply “our society.” Few of these, I’m pretty sure, have either spent a lot of time in other societies or made a serious study thereof, nor have many of them conducted extensive historical research about other eras.
I’ll give the floor to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose Lord High Executioner was looking forward to doing away with:
The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
All centuries but this, and every country but his own
The novel Once An Eagle (also made into a TV miniseries) tells the story of two American army officers, across a time span ranging from the First World War to the interwar years to World War II and beyond. Sam Damon is a farm boy who has worked his way up in rank: he is committed to accomplishing his assigned missions and looking out for the survival and well-being of the men under his command. Courtney Massengale is a West Point graduate with something of an upper-class background: he seeks out higher rank through political maneuvering, prefers Staff to Line assignments, and has little concern for subordinates. The book is widely-read and highly-regarded in U.S. military circles.
In the story’s climactic scene, Sam is commanding a division destined to participate in an attack on a Japanese-held island. He is not thrilled to find that his division has been placed under the command of Courtney–now a three-star general and corps commander despite having spent his entire career in staff roles. He is even less thrilled when he hears Courtney’s plan for the invasion–“PALLADIUM”–which is in Sam’s judgment far too complex to succeed in actual combat conditions.
The Japanese launch their counterattack while Sam’s division is in a highly vulnerable state, in the midst of the turning maneuver required by the Palladium plan. And the reserve unit which could have saved the situation has been redeployed by Courtney so that he can have the honor of being the first American general to capture a Japanese-held city intact. While Sam is leading a desperate fight for the survival of his division, Courtney is riding in triumph through the town of Reina Blanca.
Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale are endpoints on a spectrum, of course; few real people are as good as Sam or as bad as Courtney. But still, it seems to be useful to ask the following question:
What is the mix of Damon vs Massengale in each of our current presidential candidates and among other members of our national leadership?
Here’s a story about some Silicon Valley tech workers protesting outside a Hillary Clinton event co-hosted by a venture capitalist and George Clooney. One might expect that these people are protesting Clinton because their political preferences lean toward the Libertarian or Conservative side. But then, one would be wrong.
They are mostly Sanders supporters. And they feel oppressed by the industry that they are in, and especially by the VCs who fund the companies where they work. Here’s the complaint of a 26-year-old software engineer:
“They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you. But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”
“Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make,” said another guy, this one a PhD student at Berkeley.
Now, one’s first instinct when reading this story–at least my first instinct–is to feel contempt for these whiners. Most of them are far better off financially than the average American, even after adjusting for the extremely high costs of living in the Bay area. And no one forced any of them to work at startups, where the pressures are well-known to be extreme. They could have chosen IT jobs at banks or retailers or manufacturing companies or government agencies in any of a considerable number of cities.
Looked at from a broader perspective, though, the story reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote almost 50 years ago:
(originally published in 2010 and now an April perennial)
Chevy Chase, MD, is an affluent suburb of Washington DC. Median household income is over $200K, and a significant percentage of households have incomes that are much, much higher. Stores located in Chevy Chase include Tiffany & Co, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Versace, Jimmy Choo, Nieman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Saks-Jandel.
PowerLine observed that during the 2008 election season, yards in Chevy Chase were thick with Obama signs–and wondered (in 2009) how these people were now feeling about the prospect of sharp tax increases for people in their income brackets.
The PowerLine guys are very astute, but I think they missed a key point on this one. There are substantial groups of people who stand to benefit financially from the policies of the Obama and company, and these benefits can greatly outweigh the costs of any additional taxes that these policies require them to pay. Many of the residents of Chevy Chase–a very high percentage of whom get their income directly or indirectly from government activities–fall into this category.
Read the rest of this entry »
The mind of the Left, from a former insider
There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing going on
Drinking on a date has very different effects for men and for women
How a US kid turned into a free-range German child
Related to the above: how free play creates emotionally stable children in an unstable world
An American fighter pilot meets the North Vietnamese ace who shot down his friend
Neptunus Lex described the proper frame of mind for winning in air combat as “personal, like you’re in a knife fight in a phone booth, and someone has to die before anyone gets to leave.”
In her memoirs, Russian combat pilot Anna Egorova remembered her mother ”kneeling before the icons, as she firstly listed all our names, the names of her children, begging God for health and wisdom for us, and then at the end of each prayer repeating: ‘God save them from slander!’” She didn’t understand that word ‘slander’ in her childhood, Egorova wrote, but after her brother was sent away as An Enemy of the People, “it was exposed before me in all its terrible nakedness.”
I was reminded of Egorova’s story by a recent article by Richard Rahn titled The high cost of slander:
Endless cruelties have been and continue to be committed on the basis of group slander. The communists and socialists imprisoned and slaughtered many of their merchant and property-owning citizens on the basis of a gross slander, not to mention what the Nazis did to the Jews. In America, blacks, gays, many ethnic groups and women were first stereotyped, then slandered, and then discriminated against. But the fashion of which groups of individuals can be slandered has changed to such people as Wall Street bankers; pharmaceutical, coal and oil company executives; conservative scholars; those who question the global warming establishment; and white males, among others.
The general rule that one is innocent until proven guilty goes back at least to ancient Roman law: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — “Burden of proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.” Over the centuries, not only individuals, but whole classes of people, have been denied this basic human right. The oppressors normally begin by slandering a group, and then use the slander to discriminate and ultimately persecute — and, unfortunately, this persists even in America.
If one listens to Bernie Sanders’ rants, somehow all of those who work on Wall Street are far greedier than most other Americans. It is also obvious that he has no idea of what the functions of financial markets are, nor the disaster that would occur without them. Yes, there are plenty of unethical and incompetent people on Wall Street, as there are in Washington and in most other places in America. That does not justify indicting all who work in a particular industry and a particular place. The ignorant attacks on the financial industry have resulted in increasingly costly and destructive regulation, which increases the risk in the financial system rather than diminishing it.
RTWT. Indeed, much political writing and speech these days is reminiscent of the two-minute hate sessions which were a feature of the totalitarian society portrayed in Orwell’s 1984. Any day on Facebook, one can see the sharing and sometimes the origination of extreme and even vile assertions about individuals and whole groups…usually people and groups that are Designated Targets, similarly to Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.
Claire Berlinski is very pleased with the response to the GoFundMe page in support of her new book ($9700 as of this writing) as well as the strong interest in the crowdfunding investment possibility.
A conversation between Claire and her brother Mischa suggests some grounds for cautious optimism about the future of this country:
Claire Berlinski wants to write a sequel to her important book Menace in Europe, which I reviewed here. She hopes to do this via a self-publishing and investment model, under which people will make contributions toward the estimated $60,000 cost of the project and receive in return a percentage of the profits.
Obviously, it will take some work to structure a deal like this properly and in compliance with all relevant regulations. In the meantime, Claire is doing some initial fundraising via GoFundMe–see the link at Brave Old World. Contributions here, which will go especially toward development of the project website, are straight donations without expectation of any financial return. However, you do get the benefit, as Claire notes, of helping to replace the New York Times and similar publications as gatekeepers of the news.
Having long been intrigued by lighter-than-air craft (see earlier post on this topic), I picked up a copy of Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine…Dr Hugo Eckener being the head of the Zeppelin company for many years, and a man who contributed much to the transient success of this transportation mode. Also, I thought the book would be a pleasant vacation from politics. However, that was not to be…
The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan
(This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)
Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”
In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland. The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.
Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition. He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising. With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar. They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.
Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia. Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,” jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,” Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.” “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”
Ferdy O’Donnell is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land. Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”
Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘
Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen. This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic. His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.
John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land. He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster. “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”
Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.
Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses. His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”
Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces. A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution. He is a talented commander, but the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland. Seen through the eyes of a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it. “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”
This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships. Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:
I’ve previously written about the failure of the “Advanced Automation System,” an FAA/IBM effort to create a new-generation system for air traffic control: the story of a software failure. (The post excerpts the thoughts of Robert Britcher, who was deeply involved in the effort and is an excellent writer–very much worth reading.) The AAS project has been called “the greatest debacle in the history of organized work”–there are a lot of contenders for that honor, though, and here’s another one…
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the first flight of the Spitfire fighter prototype.
See also my post from last year: the Battle of Britain + 75