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  • Archive for the 'History' Category

    Robot Emeritus

    Posted by David Foster on 25th July 2017 (All posts by )

     

    Ninety years ago this month, the first Centralized Traffic Control system was placed in operation, on a 40-mile stretch of railroad belonging to the New York Central. From a central console, the Dispatcher was able to control switches and signals anywhere in the territory.  The positions of individual trains were displayed via lights on the panel. Interlocking logic at the remote locations ensure that neither dispatcher errors nor communication problems could set up potentially-dangerous conflicts.

    In today’s terminology, it was a geographically-distributed robotics system, with a strong flavor of what is now being called the Internet of Things–although the communications links in the system were not provided by the Internet, obviously, the concept of devices announcing their status via telecommunications and receiving commands the same way was quite similar.

    To railroad men of the time, the new system seemed almost magical:

    The dispatcher was there and he was just filled up with enthusiasm on this new gadget called centralized traffic control… Along about 10 o’clock, he just yelled right out loud, ‘Here comes a non-stop meet.’ We all gathered around the machine and watched the lights that you know all about, watched the lights come towards each other and pass each other without stopping. That, to me… was history on American railroads, the first non-stop meet on single track without train orders… and you never saw such enthusiasm in your life as was in the minds and hearts of that crew.

    CTC technology caught on quickly, and by the mid-1930s, stretches of track up to 100 miles long were regularly being operated under CTC control.  In principal, there was no limit to how far away the operator could be  from the controlled railroad territory.

    I post items like this because they provide needed perspective in our present “age of automation” when there is so much media focus of robotics, artificial intelligence, and ‘the Internet of Things,’ but not a whole lot of understanding for how these fit on the historical technology growth trajectory.

    Posted in History, Tech, Transportation | 5 Comments »

    Saturday at the Movies: A Review of Dunkirk

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd July 2017 (All posts by )

    I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
    Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t move two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
    Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Current Events, Film, History | 35 Comments »

    Worthwhile Watching

    Posted by David Foster on 16th July 2017 (All posts by )

    A good video on the women who flew military aircraft in Britain during WWII.  Title is a little misleading, lots of airplane types other than Spitfires were involved.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, History, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Rerun Post: Bidwell-Bartleson, 1841

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th July 2017 (All posts by )

    The westward movement of Americans rolled west of the Appalachians and hung up for a decade or two on the barrier of the Mississippi-Missouri River. It was almost an interior sea-coast, the barrier between the settled lands, and the unpeopled and treeless desert beyond, populated by wild Indians. To be sure, there were scattered enclaves, as far-distant as the stars, in the age of “shanks’ mare” and team animals hitched to wagons, or led in a pack-train: far California, equally distant Oregon, the pueblos of Santa Fe, and Texas. A handful of men in exploring parties, or on trade had ventured out to the ends of the known continent … and by the winter of 1840 there were reports of what had been found. Letters, rumor, common talk among the newspapers, and meeting-places had put the temptation and the possibility in peoples’ minds, to the point where an emigrating society had been formed over that winter.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, History, Miscellaneous, Reruns | 6 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman and Josh Blackman: Yes, Trump Can Accept Gifts

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th July 2017 (All posts by )

    The NYT elevates itself by printing an op-ed by Professors Blackman and Tillman:

    The Constitution offers several remedies for a president’s improper foreign entanglements. Congress can regulate, by statute, the receipt of presents from other nations or require the president to make disclosures about his foreign commercial arrangements. Of course, as a last resort, the president can be impeached and removed from office for bribery. However, the Foreign Emoluments Clause can provide no redress in relation to a president’s foreign entanglements either in the courts or through the impeachment process, for the simple reason that the clause does not cover the president or any other elected officials.

    The piece is a concise presentation of Seth’s argument about the Emoluments clause. Worth reading in full.

    Posted in History, Law, Trump | No Comments »

    Summer Re-run: Granny Clarke

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th July 2017 (All posts by )

    (A summer rerun from my other blog – a diverting reminiscence of California and Old Hollywood)

    Granny Clarke was the mother of my mothers’ dearest friend from the time that JP, my next-youngest brother and I were small children, before my sister Pippy was born, and my parents were living in a tiny rented cottage in the hills part of Beverly Hills – a house on a dirt road, with the surrounding area abundant in nothing much else but chaparral, eucalypts and rattlesnakes. Mom and her friend, who was eventually of such closeness that we called her “Auntie Mary” met when Mom began to attend services at a Lutheran congregation in West Hollywood, rather than endure the long drive to Pasadena and the ancestral congregation at Trinity Lutheran in Pasadena.
    Auntie Mary Hammond was a little older than Mom, with four sons, each more strapping than the other, in spite of Auntie Mary’s wistful hopes for one of them to have been a girl. The oldest were teenagers, the youngest slightly younger than JP . . . although Paulie was as large and boisterous as his older brothers and appeared to be more my contemporary. They lived all together with Auntie Mary Hammonds’ mother, Granny Clarke, in a townhouse in West Hollywood, an intriguing house built on a steeply sloping street, up a flight of stairs from the concrete sidewalk, with only a tiny garden at one side, and the constant background noise and bustle of the city all around, not the quiet wilderness of the hills, which JP and I were more used to. But there was one thing we had in common with Paulie and his brothers— an immigrant grandparent with a curious accent and a long career in domestic service in Southern California.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Film, History, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings.  Nasser and his listeners are quite amused that anyone would propose such an idea in the modern year of 1958.  The video reminded me of this post from March 2014…

    Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.

    For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”

    And John Kerry:  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

    The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years ago..in early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

    Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

    ‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

    Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

    Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

    American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

    Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

    In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

    But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Humor, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Selling New Concepts can be Challenging

    Posted by David Foster on 6th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Via Maggie’s Farm, here’s a Bob Newhart skit from 1970. Bob plays the role of an 1890s-style venture capitalist, talking on the phone with inventor Herman Hollerith, who is trying to explain the merits of punched card technology.

    LINK

    Related: Father, Son & Co., the biography of long-time IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr, is the best business autobiography I’ve read. I reviewed it here.

    Posted in Advertising, Book Notes, Business, History, Media, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Shall It Be Sustained?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th July 2017 (All posts by )

    For the 4th of July of 2014,  Cassandra had an excellent post:  Independence in an Age of Cynicism.  I recommend the entire post and all the links; read especially the third linked essay, which Cass wrote in 2008:  Why I Am Patriotic: a Love Letter to America.

    For the last several years, on July 4th I’ve posted an excerpt from Stephen Vincent Benet’s poem Listen to the People.  The title I’ve used for these posts prior to 2013 was It Shall Be Sustained, which is from the last line of Benet’s poem.

    Narrator:

    This is Independence Day,
    Fourth of July, the day we mean to keep,
    Whatever happens and whatever falls
    Out of a sky grown strange;
    This is firecracker day for sunburnt kids,
    The day of the parade,
    Slambanging down the street.
    Listen to the parade!
    There’s J. K. Burney’s float,
    Red-white-and-blue crepe-paper on the wheels,
    The Fire Department and the local Grange,
    There are the pretty girls with their hair curled
    Who represent the Thirteen Colonies,
    The Spirit of East Greenwich, Betsy Ross,
    Democracy, or just some pretty girls.
    There are the veterans and the Legion Post
    (Their feet are going to hurt when they get home),
    The band, the flag, the band, the usual crowd,
    Good-humored, watching, hot,
    Silent a second as the flag goes by,
    Kidding the local cop and eating popsicles,
    Jack Brown and Rosie Shapiro and Dan Shay,
    Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s,
    The black-eyed children out of Sicily,
    The girls who giggle and the boys who push,
    All of them there and all of them a nation.
    And, afterwards,
    There’ll be ice-cream and fireworks and a speech
    By somebody the Honorable Who,
    The lovers will pair off in the kind dark
    And Tessie Jones, our honor-graduate,
    Will read the declaration.
    That’s how it is. It’s always been that way.
    That’s our Fourth of July, through war and peace,
    That’s our fourth of July.

    And a lean farmer on a stony farm
    Came home from mowing, buttoned up his shirt
    And walked ten miles to town.
    Musket in hand.
    He didn’t know the sky was falling down
    And, it may be, he didn’t know so much.
    But people oughtn’t to be pushed around
    By kings or any such.
    A workman in the city dropped his tools.
    An ordinary, small-town kind of man
    Found himself standing in the April sun,
    One of a ragged line
    Against the skilled professionals of war,
    The matchless infantry who could not fail,
    Not for the profit, not to conquer worlds,
    Not for the pomp or the heroic tale
    But first, and principally, since he was sore.
    They could do things in quite a lot of places.
    They shouldn’t do them here, in Lexington.

    He looked around and saw his neighbors’ faces

    The poem is very long, and is worth reading in full. The full text was published in Life Magazine; it is online here. The Life text may be a little difficult to read; I posted an excerpt which is considerably longer than the above here.

    Benet’s poem ends with these words:

    We made it and we make it and it’s ours
    We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained

    But shall it?

    Posted in History, Holidays, USA | 3 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Some Short Book Reviews

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd July 2017 (All posts by )

    Three mini-reviews in this batch:

    “Vanity Fair,” William Makepeace Thackery
    “The Promised Land,” Mary Antin
    “Metropolitan Corridor,” John Stillgoe

    I picked up Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” from the shelf where it had lain unread, lo these many years, and spent two weeks utterly immersed in the world of Becky Sharp and her friends associates victims. I’d never read the book before, but did see a made-for-tv movie based on it several years ago…IIRC, the movie was far more centered around Becky herself, whereas the book develops the other characters to a considerably greater degree.

    Very funny (once you get used to the dense writing style) and utterly unsentimental: Thackeray called it “a novel without a hero.” Those looking for escapism by reading about the elegant lifestyles of the English upper classes should definitely look elsewhere: for all others, this book is highly recommended.
    ***
    “The Promised Land,” by Mary Antin, is the story of the author’s journey from Polotzk, Russia (a town which was part of the Jewish Pale of Settlement) to Boston, Massachussetts, with her family, in the late 1800s. Antin was a keen observer and a vivid writer–particularly impressive given that she had no exposure to English until she was 13. “The Promised Land” was published in 1912, having been first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly.

    Here’s a description of tenement life:

    It must not be supposed that I enjoyed any degree of privacy, because I had half a room to myself. We were six in the five rooms; we were bound to be always in each other’s way…I could stand at any time in the unswept entrance hall and tell, from an analysis of the medley of sounds and smells that issued from doors ajar, what was going on in the several flats from below up. That guttural, scolding voice, unremittent as the hissing of a steam pipe, is Mrs. Rasnosky. I make a guess that she is chastising the infant Isaac for taking a second lump of sugar in his tea. Spam! Bam! Yes, and she is rubbing in her objections with the flat of her hand. That blubbering and moaning, accompanying an elephantine tread, is fat Mrs. Casey, second floor, home drunk from an afternoon out, in fear of the vengeance of Mr. Casey; to propitiate whom she is burning a pan of bacon, as the choking fumes and outrageous sizzling testify. I hear a feeble whining, interrupted by long silences. It is that scabby baby on the third floor, fallen out of bed again, with nobody home to pick him up.

    To escape from these various horrors I ascend to the roof, where bacon and babies and child-beating are not. But there I find two figures in calico wrappers, with bare red arms akimbo, a basket of wet clothes in front of each, and only one empty clothes-line between them.

    …and of her feeling of freedom and opportunity and the wonders of the public library:

    Dover Street was never really my residence—at least, not the whole of it. It happened to be the nook where my bed was made, but I inhabited the City of Boston. In the pearl-misty morning, in the ruby-red evening, I was empress of all I surveyed from the roof of the tenement house. I could point in any direction and name a friend who would welcome me there. Off towards the northwest, in the direction of Harvard Bridge, which some day I should cross on my way to Radcliffe College, was one of my favorite palaces, whither I resorted every day after school.

    A low, wide-spreading building with a dignified granite front it was, flanked on all sides by noble old churches, museums, and school-houses, harmoniously disposed around a spacious triangle, called Copley Square. Two thoroughfares that came straight from the green suburbs swept by my palace, one on either side, converged at the apex of the triangle, and pointed off, past the Public Garden, across the historic Common, to the domed State House sitting on a height.

    It was my habit to go very slowly up the low, broad steps to the palace entrance, pleasing my eyes with the majestic lines of the building, and lingering to read again the carved inscriptions: Public Library—Built by the People—Free to All.

    Did I not say it was my palace? Mine, because I was a citizen; mine, though I was born an alien; mine, though I lived on Dover Street. My palace—mine!

    A very interesting book, recommended for all. (The full text is online at the Gutenberg Project–includes a number of pictures which weren’t included in my hard-copy edition of the book.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Immigration, Society, Transportation | 2 Comments »

    History Weekend: The Near-Forgotten Man

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was a prominent 19th century hero, a celebrity, almost; a military officer, war hero, notable horseman and explorer, hero of the western frontier, good friend of several other notable frontiersmen, friend of one president, and appointed to offices of responsibility by four others – and those offices varied quite widely in scope. He was also a champion of the Native American tribes, prominent in Washington high society for decades, and seemed to lurk meaningfully in the background of key historical events at mid-19th century. Curiously, his name doesn’t readily spring to mind more than a hundred years after his death; the most prominent places bearing his name being Beale Street in San Francisco, and Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville in north-central California. One would think for all his various services to the nation and for his vast array of prominent and still-famous friends that he would be more of a household name. Perhaps he was for a while – but four decades or more of politically-correct restructuring of American history have elevated some, and reduced others to mere footnotes in dusty journals. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, History, USA | 16 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Time Travel

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Margaret Soltan’s husband was searching for his grandmother’s name on Google, and found her in a 1908 portrait, which is now in the National Museum at Warsaw.

    The post reminded me of a post from a couple of months ago by Bookworm, about finding a book in which  her grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913:

    As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English.  The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran).  Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.

    Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends.  I have no word for how charming these little missives were.  An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together.  An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it.  Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”

    And Bookworm’s post, when I first read it, reminded me of a passage in the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, close friend of Churchill and emissary to France during the campaign of 1940. Spears had grown up in France, and in the 1960s he returned to the house he had lived in. There, he found a picnic basket filled with his grandmother’s old letters:

    The next letters I opened dropped me back two generations into a land of other people’s memories but with an occasional sharp glint as they recalled things I had heard of as a child. They were the letters of a poor sick young woman written to her absent husband whilst she was immobilised awaiting her first and only child, my mother.

    I never imagined my grandmother other than I had known her, white haired, stout, and dignified. The picture painted in these letters of a girl frantic with loneliness and longing, exasperated at the threat of a miscarriage which kept her lying on her back, begging her husband to come to her, all told in the reserved language of that day, filled me with a kind of fond protective amusement. It was so unexpected. Time, so long imprisoned in these boxes, was revealing itself in an entirely new guise, oscillating quite regardless of years from one generation to the next or back again–more, it was taking me, an elderly man in the 1960s, and leading me back to the year 1864, there to watch over, with infinite tenderness, a young woman I had never known, my grandmother as a young wife…

    Another time-travel experience, albeit of a less directly personal nature than the above three ventures back in time, can be found in this set of photographs: 1910–The Summer of our Content.

    See also the comments for the original post of the above.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior | 5 Comments »

    Summer Rerun: Sir Patrick Spence

    Posted by David Foster on 21st June 2017 (All posts by )

    Just because I like it…

    The king sits in Dunfermline toun,
    Drinkin’ the bluid red wine
    ‘0 whaur will I get a skeely skipper,
    To sail this ship o’ mine?’

    Then up and spak an eldern knicht,
    Sat at the king’s richt knee,
    ‘Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor,
    That ever sail’d the sea.’

    Our king has written a braid letter,
    And seal’d it wi’ his han’,
    And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,
    Was walkin’ on the stran’.

    ‘To Noroway, to Noroway,
    To Noroway owre the faim;
    The king’s dochter o’ Noroway,
    It’s thou maun bring her hame.’

    The first line that Sir Patrick read,
    Sae lond, loud laughed he;
    The neist line that Sir Patrick read,
    The tear blinded his e’e.

    ‘O wha is this has dune this deed,
    And tauld the king o’ me,
    To send us oot at this time o’ the year
    To sail upon the sea?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Poetry | 3 Comments »

    Book Review – “Blitzed”

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 13th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Blitzed is a book by Norman Ohler about drugs and Germany during WW2. The book also appears to comprehensively demonstrate how these drugs impacted military tactics and operations for the German troops and also how they altered strategy at the highest levels.

    From a tactical and operational perspective, I can see how the narrative of the use of drugs to push troops to move faster and work at night aligns with my understanding of the early years of WW2. The Germans did cover ground rapidly during the early years of the Blitzkrieg and absolutely outfought the Allies (overall) at night. They also managed more sorties for their air force per plane and were more effective at leveraging their military assets (also through battlefield recovery at night of damaged equipment). Compared to WW1, especially, the distances that the German troops covered during the Blitzkrieg phases of 1939-41 were amazing and their combat power remained strong.

    From a strategic perspective, the book attempts to align the delusional attack known as “the Battle of the Bulge” in late 1944 to the use of drugs by the supreme commander, which would account for his thoughts that this shock attack could break the will of the Allies to fight. This is an interesting line of thought and if we had perfect information we would attempt to match the various drugs he was prescribed on top of the decisions that were made during different battles and campaigns during WW2.

    I have seen a number of reviews of this book and most of them seem to think that there is a strong basis of fact. However, there are often bitterly contested reviews, especially with regards to the more sweeping generalizations that were translated as “everyone was on drugs”. Those discussions, to me, are more of a “corner case” of the key findings related to 1) the impact of drugs on the combat power of early war German formations 2) the impact of drugs on decision making at the highest levels of command. I would love to hear from other authors interested in this topic to see how it aligns with their opinions.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Military Affairs | 2 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: President Trump’s Reverse Merryman

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Interesting thoughts from Seth:

    Trump is doing what Taney did, but he is doing it to the courts. Absent his recent tweets, Trump might very well have won*** the travel ban case: an appeal from the Fourth Circuit’s decision to uphold the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction against the (modified) Executive Order. But Trump does not want to merely win. He wants to win Yuuge! He does not want to squeak out a narrow win by a divided court promising more time-consuming, after-the-fact, and morale-draining oversight in the future (e.g., where such future oversight might threaten lower level Executive Branch officers with individual liability).

    Read the entire post.

    Posted in History, Law, Politics, Trump | 5 Comments »

    Remembering the 6 June 1944 D-Day Landings at Normandy

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 6th June 2017 (All posts by )

    For this Anniversary,  please see these two previous 2013 and 2014 Chicago Boyz columns on D-DAY —

    History Friday — Books to Read for the D-Day 70th Anniversary

    June 6th, 2014

    Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, rush toward the shelter of amphibious tanks at the water’s edge of Easy Red sector, Omaha Beach, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Left and right in the foreground are M4 Sherman tanks with wading equipment. The troops in the photo, expecting weak defenses, are loaded down with food and equipment for several days of combat. Most of which was discarded on the beach in their desperate fight for survival. Source: Britannica Online for Kids, http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-40275

    and also —

    Royal Air Force at Omaha Beach

    6th June 2013

    A pre-D-Day picture of a RAF Lightweight AMES Radar and crew landed on Omaha Beach

    A pre D-Day picture of the RAF Lightweight AMES Radar and crew from the 21 BDS (Base Defence Sector) landed on Omaha Beach  Source: http://www.therafatomahabeach.com/?page_id=2697

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | Comments Off on Remembering the 6 June 1944 D-Day Landings at Normandy

    June 6, 1944

    Posted by David Foster on 6th June 2017 (All posts by )

    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.

    American Digest:  A walk across a beach in Normandy

    Don Sensing points out that success was by no means assured:  The pivot day of history

    A collection of D-day color photos from Life Magazine

    See Bookworm’s post from 2012, and Michael Kennedy’s photos from 2007

    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.

    A very interesting piece on  the radio news coverage of the invasion

    Before D-day, there was Dieppe

    Transmission ends

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    Before D-Day, There Was Dieppe

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2017 (All posts by )

    Tomorrow will mark the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.  Most Americans surely have at least some knowledge of this event…but relatively few are aware that there was an earlier amphibious assault on occupied Europe. The attack on the French port of Dieppe took place on August 19, 1942. The objectives were twofold. First, the attack was intended as kind of a “feasibility test” for the large-scale invasion which was to take place later. As stated by General Sir Alan Brooke, “If it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary offensive on a divisional scale.” Second, the attack was intended to convince Hitler that an invasion was more imminent than it in fact was, thereby leading to the diversion of German forces from other areas.

    The troops assigned to Dieppe were mostly Canadians–5000 of them. There were also British commandos and a small number of American Rangers. Eight destroyers were assigned to the operation, along with 74 Allied air squadrons.

    The attack was a disastrous failure. In the words of military historian John Keegan: “When the badly shocked survivors of that terrible morning were got home and heads counted, only 2,110 of the 4,963 Canadians who had set sail the day before could be found. It became known later that 1,874 were prisoners, but of these 568 were wounded and 72 were to die of their wounds, while 378 of those returning were also wounded. Sixty-five percent of the Canadians engaged had therefore become casualties, almost all of them from the six assaulting infantry battalions, a toll which compared with that of July 1st, 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme and blackest in the British army’s history. The 2nd Canadian Division had, for practical purposes, been destroyed…Strategic as well as human criteria applied in measuring the scale of the disaster. All the tanks which had been landed had been lost…lost also were 5 of the 10 precious Landing Craft Tank. And, auguring worst of all for the future, the damage had been done not by hastily summoned reinforcements, but by the forces already present; the 3 Canadian battalions which had stormed the central beach had been opposed by a single German company–at odds, that is, of 12 to 1…” If one defending unit could stop an attacking force with 12 times the numbers, a successful invasion would be impossible. Keegan: “(the disparity between the power of the attack and the defense) clearly could not be overcome merely by increasing the numbers of those embarked for the assault. that would be to repeat the mistakes of the First World War, when the solution of greater numbers resulted arithmetically in greater casualties for no territorial gains.”

    Captain (later Vice-Admiral) John Hughes-Hallett summarized the lessons of the failure in a report written shortly after the fact. To quote Keegan once again: “‘The lesson of Greatest Importance,’ his report capitalized and italicized, “Is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack,’ It should be provided by ‘heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft’ (which would have to be developed) ‘working close inshore, and by using the firepower of the assaulting troops while still seaborne.'”

    The lessons of Dieppe were taken seriously. Keegan goes on to describe the naval firepower assigned to the actual D-day landings carried out by Canadians at Juno Beach: “Heaviest and furthest out were the two battleships Ramillies and Warspite…They both mounted four 15-inch guns and there were two more in Roberts, their accompanying monitor. Their chief task was to engage the large-calibre shore batteries between the Orne and the mouth of the Seine, but so great was their range–over eighteen miles–that they could in emergency be talked in on any target in the British bridgeheads…Immediately port and starboard of the lowering position was disposed a line of twelve cruisers, the smallest, like Diadem, mounting eight 5.25 inch guns, the largest, like Belfast, twelve 6-inch. Both were covering the Canadian beaches…In front of the Canadian lowering position manoeuvred the supporting destroyers, eleven for the Juno sector…And immediately in ahead of the assault-wave infantry was deployed a small fleet of support landing-craft: eight Landing Craft Gun, a sort of small monitor mounting two 4.7 inch guns; four Landing Craft Support, bristling with automatic cannon; eight Landing Craft tank (Rocket), on each of which were racked the tubes of 1,100 5-inch rockets, to be discharged in a single salvo; and eighteen Landing Craft Assault (Hedgerow), which were to fire their loads of twenty-four 60-lb bombs into the beach obstacles and so explode as many as possible of the mines attached to them.”

    In addition to the need for very heavy naval firepower, the D-day planners learned another lesson from Dieppe: rather than immediately seizing a port, or landing in close proximity to one, they avoided ports altogether, landing supplies initially over an open beach and leaving the capture of a port for a later phase in the operation.

    Keegan quotes are from his book, Six Armies in Normandy.

    There is much talk in management and consulting circles these days about the need for organizations to “embrace failure”…much of this talk is fairly glib and does not always consider that certain kinds of failures are truly catastrophic from a human/strategic/economic point of view and are indeed worthy of stringent efforts to prevent their occurrence.  When failures–catastrophic or otherwise–do occur, it is incumbent on responsible leadership to seriously analyze the lessons to be learned and to apply that knowledge diligently.  In the case of Dieppe, that work does indeed appear to have been done.

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, Germany, History, Management, Military Affairs, USA | 10 Comments »

    You’ve Read About 3d Printing…Here’s 3d Knitting

    Posted by David Foster on 31st May 2017 (All posts by )

    Customized blazers made on-site in about 90 minutes. (Some might call this product more of a cardigan.)  More from the retailer and the equipment manufacturer.

    Benefits of this approach compared with the traditional process include better fit, reduced fabric waste (indeed, the process starts with yarn rather than with fabric), elimination of seams for better durability, and avoidance of inventory vs demand mismatches.  OTOH, the machine is priced at $190,000 and for a store with high volumes, several of them are going to be required.  I’m not sure whether this will be only a niche product/service or whether it heralds the beginning of a sea change in the traditional cut-and-sew method of apparel production…surely something that will come sooner or later, with vast consequences.

    This innovation reminded me of a story from pre-industrial-revolution days.  In 1589, an Englishman named William Lee invented a device called the stocking frame, which aimed to greatly improve the productivity of knitting the material for the stockings that were then in vogue. According to a common story, he was motivated to create the machine because when he came to call on a girl he was sweet on, she persisted in paying more attention to her knitting than to him.  So his intent was either (a) free up her time so she would have more (hopefully) for him, or (b) get revenge on her for rejecting him. (I’d rather think he was naive (version A) than vicious (version B))

    He then arranged to demonstrate the machine to Queen Elizabeth, hoping for a patent.  In one version of the story, she expressed disappointment that the machine was only good for wool and told him to come back when it could also handle silk…which enhancement he was indeed able to accomplish.  In any case, Elizabeth ultimately rejected the device because of concerns about technological unemployment:

    Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.

    The inventor moved to France and was there granted a patent by Henry IV…he began successful manufacturing of stockings in Rouen, but the King’s assassination in 1610 made the political climate for the venture untenable.  William Lee lived out the rest of his life in poverty.  It appears that in the late 1600s an improved version of the machine was re-introduced to England by Huguenot refugees from France, this time successfully, and further improvements were made over time, including the ability of the machines to work with cotton.  These improved versions were however too expensive for most artisans to purchase on their own, and they were generally rented out by the same entrepreneurs who provided the framework knitters with their raw materials and purchased their resultant product.

    An interesting article on William Lee and his machine here.

    The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters has a wonderful coat-of-arms featuring William Lee and the object of his desire, with the machine between them.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Britain, History, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Another Long Hot Summer in the Making

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st May 2017 (All posts by )

    Just when I start to think that the fans of Hillary Clinton and her minions in the national establishment are calming the heck down, after the unexpected shellacking at the polls by Donald Trump of Her Inevitableness, the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua … nope, the insane is being cranked up to twelve – that is two more above ten. (Obligatory Spinal Tap reference there.) And the inmates of certain college campi are running the insanity all the way up to thirteen or fourteen, as witness the furious activists at Evergreen University, in Olympia, Washington State. They are bent out of shape over the usual crap that student activists are usually bent out of shape over – but in this case, the frosting on the cake is a video of a raucous demonstration by student activists making their demands, and generally acting like spoiled three-year-olds throwing a screaming tantrum. The video is linked here -And the students take? “We demand that the video created for Day of Absence and Day of Presence that was stolen by white supremacists and edited to expose and ridicule the students and staff be taken down by the administration by this Friday.” Sorry, kids – the internet is forever. Don’t want to be ridiculed by strangers who don’t give a damn for your sensitive little egos? Don’t do ridiculous things.

    Ridiculous things like … oh, I don’t know – pose for an elaborate video shoot with a blood-soaked fake head of Donald Trump, especially if you are a pathetically unfunny failed comedian like Kathy Griffin. In whom, like the Kardashians, I am fabulously disinterested but such is theirs and Kathy Griffin’s unseemly lust for public attention that I can’t help knowing about them anyway, much as I would wish otherwise. At this point, it looks like this tasteless stunt as cost Ms Griffin a gig with CNN on New Years Eve – story here. I imagine that the suits at CNN are counting up the numbers and calculating how many more viewers they can lose if they really put their backs into it.

    And speaking of media figures taking their lumps – last week we had the interesting spectacle of one Greg Gianforte, running for a congressional seat in Montana, charged with roughing up a reporter for England’s Guardian newspaper. Gianforte won the contest anyway, leading observers like myself to wonder if he did any damage to his campaign at all. After all – who hasn’t wanted to slap the cr*p out of a rude and obstreperous reporter now and again? This could get very popular, if incorporated onto White House press briefings. Sean Spicer could draw a name from a hat at the start of every briefing, and punch out the selected reporter. We could call it “Beat the Press.”

    And finally – the latest to surface in the cacophony of crazy is the demand by a group calling themselves “Texas Antifa” to remove a prominent statue of Sam Houston from Houston’s Herman Park, on the grounds that Houston was a slave owner. Doubtless, Texas Antifa is trying to hop aboard the movement to banish statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers from public spaces across the old South and garner some of that sweet, creamy media attention … either that, or someone – either on the right or left – is doing an epic troll. While Sam Houston did own slaves (about a dozen, some of whom were purchased so as to keep a family together, or so sayeth one of the biographies I have read) he was emphatically against the expansion of slavery to the Western territories, against secession from the United States and resigned his office as governor rather than take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. In any case, Texas Antifa has called for a rally on June 10th. At the very least, this event may draw more supporters of keeping the statue where it has been since 1925. I’m no particular judge of prog-speak: Texas Antifa’s Book of Face page is here. Read for yourself and decide – for realsies lefty, stark raving nuts, or clever parody?
    Discuss, if you can bear it.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Education, History, Leftism, North America, Politics | 34 Comments »

    Memorial Day

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 29th May 2017 (All posts by )

    In 1863, two of my ancestors, brothers of my great grandfather, enlisted in the 55th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Company G was recruited from La Salle County and my two great great uncles enlisted on August 6, 1861.

    They enlisted at Camp Douglas and then were transferred to Benton Barracks, Missouri.

    When they were transferred to St Louis in December 1861, there were already 50 men ill with measles, which was to take the life of James Kennedy later. Soon after their arrival, their new commanding general arrived, William T Sherman. There were rumors that he had been relieved of command in Kentucky and was crazy. All looked at him with curiosity. He wore no uniform or decoration. The 55th followed him throughout the war until the Grand Review in 1865.

    The Story of the Fifty-fifth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, 1861-1865 has been used as an e-book for some of this story.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    An Archival Post: Texiana – Mr. Cannonball Was Not His Friend

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (A repeat post from 2012)

    Thomas William Ward was born in Ireland of English parents in 1807, and at the age of 21 took ship and emigrated to America. He settled in New Orleans, which by that time had passed from French to Spanish, back to French and finally landed in American hands thanks to the Louisiana Purchase. There he took up the study of architecture and engineering – this being a time when an intelligent and striving young man could engage in a course of study and hang out a shingle to practice it professionally shortly thereafter. However, Thomas Ward was diverted from his studies early in October, 1835 by an excited and well-attended meeting in a large coffee-room at Banks’ Arcade on Magazine Street. Matters between the Anglo settlers in Texas and the central Mexican governing authority – helmed by the so-called Napoleon of the West, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – had come to a frothy boil. Bad feelings between the Texian and Tejano settlers of Texas, who were of generally federalist (semi-autonomous) sympathies had been building against the centralist (conservative and authoritarian) faction. These developments were followed with close and passionate attention by political junkies in the United States.

    Nowhere did interest run as high as it did in those cities along the Mississippi River basin. On the evening of October 13, 1835, Adolphus Sterne – the alcade (mayor) of Nacogdoches – offered weapons for the first fifty volunteers who would fight for Texas. A hundred and twenty volunteers signed up before the evening was over, and Thomas Ward was among them. They formed into two companies, and were apparently equipped and outfitted from various sources: the armory of the local militia organization, donations from the public, and ransacking local haberdashers for sufficient uniform-appearing clothing. They wore grey jackets and pants, with a smooth leather forage cap; the color grey being chosen for utility on the prairies. The two companies traveled separately from New Orleans, but eventually met up at San Antonio de Bexar, where they became part of the Army of Texas.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, History | 3 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Fanning’s Fatal Path…

    Posted by Jonathan on 14th May 2017 (All posts by )

    (Source)

    Fanning's Fatal Path...

    Fanning’s Fatal Path…

    Posted in Britain, Diversions, History, Ireland, Judaism | 1 Comment »

    History Weekend: Elsie the Cow and the Alamo

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th May 2017 (All posts by )

    Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

    But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo? Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, History | 7 Comments »

    How to Get a Complex/Technical Bill Through a Legislature

    Posted by David Foster on 5th May 2017 (All posts by )

    In 1751, Lord Chesterfield decided that the time had come for England to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.  In a letter to his son, he explained how he got this done:

    I consulted the best lawyers and the most skillful astronomers, and we cooked up a bill for that purpose. But then my difficulty began: I was to bring in this bill, which was necessarily composed of law jargon and astronomical calculations, to both which I am an utter stranger. However, it was absolutely necessary to make the House of Lords think that I knew something of the matter; and also to make them believe that they knew something of it themselves, which they do not. For my own part, I could just as soon have talked Celtic or Sclavonian to them as astronomy, and they would have understood me full as well: so I resolved to do better than speak to the purpose, and to please instead of informing them. I gave them, therefore, only an historical account of calendars, from the Egyptian down to the Gregorian, amusing them now and then with little episodes; but I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to my action. This succeeded, and ever will succeed; they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and many of them said that I had made the whole very clear to them; when, God knows, I had not even attempted it. Lord Macclesfield, who had the greatest share in forming the bill, and who is one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe, spoke afterward with infinite knowledge, and all the clearness that so intricate a matter would admit of: but as his words, his periods, and his utterance, were not near so good as mine, the preference was most unanimously, though most unjustly, given to me.

    Posted in Britain, History, Politics, Rhetoric, Science | 3 Comments »