New! – Your Ironic Middle-Aged Haikus of the Day

Returned rental car
They tried to charge extra hours
Not what they quoted


Your doctor’s office
Miscoded the procedure
Insurance won’t pay


Modern vampire tales
Even square beta guys know
It’s porn for teen girls


Once upon a time
We laughed at denture glue ads
Sadly, no longer

Chicago “TIFs”

In Chicago a “TIF” stands for “Tax Increment Financing”. Here is a link to the City of Chicago web site which explains how a site qualifies as a TIF. Basically a TIF limits the amount of property tax the city can collect at the location and in effect gives the owner / developer a big tax break. There are many reasons listed by the city as to why a location might qualify but supposedly it is used to eliminate “blighting factors”.

The Chicago Reader has written a series of articles about how TIF’s are used to reward already rich developers with tax breaks. The Sun Times wrote one this week:

It’s time for another serious look at the pros and cons of Tax Increment Financing in Chicago — a tiff over TIF — the controversial economic development program that’s supposed to revitalize struggling neighborhoods by offering financial incentives to potential investors.

The “sweeteners” come from property taxes that, to a large extent, might otherwise be spent on education, housing, parks, libraries, and public safety.

That’s defensible when there’s enough tax revenue to go around, but it’s problematic in lean times, like now, when Chicago is closing schools, firing teachers, reducing library hours and trying to fight violent crime with fewer police officers.

Another concern is that many TIF “districts” are in affluent areas, especially in and around downtown, which violates the intent of the state law that created the program in 1977 to revitalize “blighted” communities.

Here is a project that is being built under a TIF; this is for a $29M park alongside the Chicago River at Canal and Lake Street. the “River Point TIF” is obviously located in an area that doesn’t appear to be tied to much blight…

While it is likely that politically connected developers and clout-heavy individuals are tied to this process, on the other hand this is one of the few ways the city actually and concretely assists businesses that generate all of the economic value for them. Businesses pay very high property taxes in Cook County / the Loop and then the tax breaks fall back to the selective few that run through this process. It is a very opaque process and there is limited information available on the TIF accounts and funding.

Cross posted at LITGM

The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse

The Second World War demonstrated the devastation that could be caused by even conventional bombing…and was capped by the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the intensification of the Cold War and the first Soviet atomic bomb test…and the Communist aggressiveness demonstrated by the outbreak of war in Korea…air defense of the United States became an issue of very high priority.

During World War II, the British had been successful with their innovative network of radar stations linked to command centers at which the positions of friendly and enemy aircraft were plotted continuously and orders issued to fighter squadrons and antiaircraft gun sites. In the postwar era, though, the increased speeds of combat aircraft, combined with the utter devastation that could result from a single failed intercept–one plane, one bomb, one city–drove the view that something better than manual plotting would be required.

Although digital computers were still very much in their infancy in 1953, the solution to the air defense problem chosen in that year was a computer-based system to be known as SAGE…the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment. Real-time information from multiple radar sites flowed in digital form to the computers at the SAGE Direction Centers. The computers tracked the targets, friendly, unknown, and enemy, and displayed them on dozens of video displays at each Center. Battle-management personnel at these displays made the determination of which enemy targets should be engaged with what priority, and what friendly aircraft should engage them, and the computers then calculated the optimum intercept courses. For certain fighter aircraft types, the interception commands could be relayed directly via datalink, obviating the necessity for voice communication. SAGE Direction Centers also had control over high-speed BOMARC antiaircraft missiles…these carried small nuclear weapons intended to ensure that a near miss would not allow enemy bombers to escape.

At the heart of each Direction Center was a pair of  computers, AN/FSQ-7, duplexed for reliability. Each pair contained fifty thousand vacuum tubes, covered almost an acre of floor space, and consumed about 3 megawatts of power. (Some sources cite the 50,000-tube number as being for each computer of the pair–either way, it’s a LOT of vacuum tubes.) Here’s a fairly well-done recent article about the SAGE project. Note, however, the author’s comment about “thousands of people all over North America constantly scanning their radar screens for Soviet attacks, all hankering for an opportunity to launch a radio-controlled nuke.”  I wonder: does this guy really believe that the airmen at the SAGE scopes were really looking forward to a nuclear war, or did he just think that’s the sort of thing that would play well with his editors and his audience?

Developing the hardware required for SAGE was a challenge; developing the software even more so. IBM’s Tom Watson Jr explained the issue:  “In those days computing was typically done in what was called batch mode. This meant that you would collect your data first, feed it into the machine second, then sit back for a little while until the answer came out. You could think of the batch processor as a high diver at a circus–each performance involves a lengthy drum roll in preparation, a very fast dive, and then a splash. But the SAGE system was supposed to keep track of a large air defense picture that was changing every instant. That meant it had to take a constant stream of new radar information and digest it continually in what is called “real time.” So a SAGE computer was more like a juggler who has to keep a half dozen balls in the air, constantly throwing aside old balls as his assistant toss him new ones from every direction.”

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Illinois Will End up Like Detroit if It Does Not Change Course

Detroit was once the greatest city of the modern world. Automobiles were the cutting edge of technology in the first half of the twentieth century. Talent and genius flocked to Detroit. Innovators in engineering, technology, design, finance, marketing, and management created a concentration of economic dynamism and creativity unlike anything the world had yet seen. Detroit was the Silicon Valley of its day, except its products were made of tangible metal, rubber, and glass. The auto industry transformed America into a land of mobility and personal freedom beyond the dreams of earlier generations. Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.” He meant the old limits could be blown away, and ordinary people could have a better life than they had ever dreamed of before.

(The rest is here.)

How to Lose a War: A Primer

cross-posted from

Since Pakistan is now attempting to get its victory over the United States in Afghanistan formally ratified, now seemed to be a good time to reflect on the performance of American statesmen, politicians and senior generals.

It has occurred to me that we have many books and papers outlining how to win wars. Certainly the great classics of The Art of War, The History of the Peloponnesian War and On War are the foremost examples, but there are also other useful classics in the strategic canon, whole libraries of military histories, memoirs of great commanders and an infinite number of PDFs and powerpoint briefs from think tanks and consultants. Strangely, none of these have helped us much. Perhaps it is because before running this war so few of this generation’s “deciders” read them en route to their law degrees and MBAs

We should engage in some counterintuitive thinking:  for our next war, instead of trying to win, let’s try to openly seek defeat. At a minimum, we will be no worse off with that policy than we are now and if we happen to fail, we will actually be moving closer to victory.


While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat.

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Filthy Filner, Sarah Palin, and the Withering of Political Feminism

(I usually don’t post my rants here, but this is something that I have been simmering about for days. I’ll be back to my usual historical considerations following this brief interruption of temper.)

You know, I am reminded of my own relative naiveté whenever I open a tab on my browser and go to my usual news and political websites these days. I remember when I could innocently assume that the elected representatives of the greatest democratically elected republic on earth could be assumed not to be professional sc*mbags not primarily interested in re-election and being able to soak up enough goodies through their connections to be able to retire as millionaires. I remember when it was confidently expected that they would do the business of administering to the needs of the republic – at least most of the time – with some pretensions at doing what would benefit the public at large, not just themselves, their scummy relations, present and former staff, and their media enablers.

I remembered when feminism meant basically that women should have the same opportunities for education, for employment – and without lowering the standards for either – the same pay for doing the same job, to be considered creditworthy without regard to sex, not be fired from your job on the instant of marrying and/or becoming pregnant, and to have the opportunity to seek election to any political office in the land. Big damn whoops there! Apparently the program of modern feminism means that you can be as ugly to the males in your personal life and those misfortunate enough to attend class or work with you as you please, to have unfettered access to abortion at any stage of the pregnancy, and to demand that your birth control be paid for by others. OK then – and that being considered for any political office while possessing the uterus and tits from your original issue – is also contingent upon being a graduate of an approved university, possessing a non-hickish accent, being the spouse or spawn of one of the accredited political families, and genuflecting before all the right altars of properly progressive thought.

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“Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Vladimir Putin” by Ben Judah

Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin is a recent book on Russia and Putin, published by the author Ben Judah. This book has been recognized by sources such as Bloomberg as an important book on modern Russia. Here is the review I put up at (I bought the book on Kindle) and I strongly recommend this book and the author, as well.

I picked up this book based on positive reviews in Bloomberg and elsewhere and was very impressed. I have a reasonably good understanding of Russia based on military history and a decent understanding of the global energy business.
The first thing that comes to my mind is how brave the author must be to go around Russia asking questions about Putin. From my understanding and this book that is a very risky thing to do since the primary purpose of the security apparatus in Russia is to keep Putin in power.
The book follows Putin from the chaos in post-collapse St Petersburg where he worked for a local politician through his election to presidency, the Medvedev years (which were actually the Putin years), and then back into his current stint in charge.
The book is not all negative about Putin, which is what I find most interesting. The oligarchs that took control of the energy and media companies were extremely un popular and Putin brought them to heel. This was in fact popular among much of the population. He also took energy revenues and used them to pay some salaries and pensions and bring some modest amount of stability to the poor. And Moscow was substantially re built with sky scrapers and other elements. He also resolved (for the time being) the situation in Chechnya by allying with the current warlord and this momentarily resolved a horrible active war that was being fought in an embarrassing way for Russia.
It is very interesting to see how close associates of Putin, even those in his Judo club and KGB days, have become billionaires. They have taken control of the energy infrastructure and then a swiss trading function is another source of his supposed vast personal wealth (unproven).
Judah talks to Navalny, the activist against Putin’s latest election, and this is insightful because today Navalny is subject to a phantom prosecution designed to deter him from elective office. You can jump between the articles in the book and the latest news and this is very helpful.
There is a lot in this book. It covers an amazing amount of topics from coast to coast, including the border wars with China and the far, Far East. The author attempts nothing less than a comprehensive, border to border analysis of modern Russia.

I will be writing multiple blog posts out of the concepts in this book, including their relations with China, governance, and the links to the global energy industry. Once again, I cannot recommend this book highly enough and works such as this when the author dared to traverse all of Russia and ask people about a man who hates people asking questions, need to be supported.

Cross posted at LITGM.

Best of the Brackets

Last month, I mentioned GE’s 3-D printing contests.  The company says it has already received hundreds of submissions for one of these contests, the Jet Engine Bracket Challenge, and has posted some of them as a slideshow. Presumably, there is some sort of structural logic (at least in the opinions of the submitters) behind the weird appearance of some of these designs.

The top 10 submissions will be fabricated and load-tested. The objective is to create a bracket that is at least 30% lighter than the one currently in use.

More broadly, GE seems to be attempting to establish a network of useful contributors among the “maker” community of hobbyists and small-scale enterprises.

The End of Media

I was killing some time downtown when I went into Reckless Records, one of the few surviving independent record shops. I browsed a bit and saw the new CD from Grant Hart, formerly of Husker Du, and bought it for $12.99. Why not. I loved Husker Du growing up and even bought a CD from Grant Hart’s first solo act, a long, long time ago and it was decent.

After I got home I ripped the CD using iTunes. I hadn’t done that for so long that it wasn’t even set up to find the songs on the Gracenotes online library, and for a second I was panicked that I’d have to put the song titles in by hand, like I used to have to do many years ago. But I checked a box in preferences and it found everything and then the CD ripped in just a few minutes. I remember staring at my computer for half an hour in the early years when it took eons to rip a CD.

After I was done I was staring at the CD. What to do with it? I gave away all of my CD’s a while ago. I used to keep a few under the TV cabinet for when I was driving but now I have satellite radio or I hook up my iPod when it’s just me in the car. So after a bit of thought I… just threw it in the garbage. The CD kind of wasn’t that great (haven’t given it much of a chance but it was very weird) and if I was going to have ONE CD in the house, it wasn’t going to be Grant Hart.

That is truly the end of media.

Cross posted at LITGM

Alternatives to Obamacare

As Obamacare looks more and more as though it will collapse, there are some alternatives beginning to appear. Several years ago, I suggested using the French system as a model. At the time, the French system was funded by payroll deduction, a source affected by high unemployment, and used a national negotiated fee schedule which was optional for doctors and patients. The charges had to be disclosed prior to treatment and the patient had the option of paying more for his/her choice of physician. Privately owned hospitals competed with government hospitals and patient satisfaction was the highest in Europe.

Recently the French system has run into trouble.

French taxpayers fund a state health insurer, “Assurance Maladie,” proportionally to their income, and patients get treatment even if they can’t pay for it. France spends 11% of national output on health services, compared with 17% in the U.S., and routinely outranks the U.S. in infant mortality and some other health measures.

The problem is that Assurance Maladie has been in the red since 1989. This year the annual shortfall is expected to reach €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion), and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.

This may be due to several factors. The French economy is in terrible shape with high unemployment. More of the funding for the health plan is coming from general revenues. This was not how it was supposed to work. It was payroll funded, much as the German system is, with a wider source than individual employers. This allows mobility for employees and allows employers to distribute risk among a larger pool. Germany allows other funding sources such as towns and states. I think it is still a good model for us but, with the passage of Obamacare, it will take a generation before another large reform would be viable. Obamacare must stand or fall first and I think it will fall but, as in most government programs, it takes years before the sponsors will admit defeat.

Another proposal has been made by a serious study group.

1. The government should offer every individual the same, uniform, fixed-dollar subsidy, whether used for employer-provided or individual insurance. For everyone with private health insurance, the subsidy would be realized in the form of lower taxes by way of a tax credit. The credit would be refundable, so that it would be available to individuals with no tax liability.

2. Where would the federal government get the money to fund this proposal?

We could begin with the $300 billion in tax subsidies the government already “spends” to subsidize private insurance. Add to that the money federal, state and local governments are spending on indigent care. For the remainder, the federal government could make certain tax benefits conditional on proof of insurance. For example, the $1,000 child tax credit could be made conditional on proof of insurance for a child.10 For middle-income families, a portion of the standard deduction could be made conditional on proof of insurance for adults. For lower-income families, part of the Earned Income Tax Credit could be conditioned on obtaining health coverage.

3. If the individual chose to be uninsured, the unclaimed tax relief would be sent to a safety net agency providing health care to the indigent in the community where the person lives, so that it would be available there in case he generates medical bills he cannot pay from his own resources. The result would be a system under which the uninsured as a group effectively pay for their own care, without any individual or employer mandate. By the very act of turning down the tax credit for health insurance in choosing not to insure, uninsured individuals would pay extra taxes equal to the average amount of the free care given annually to the uninsured. The subsidies for the insurance purchased by the insured would then effectively be funded by the reduction in expected free care the insured would have consumed if uninsured. [See Figures II and III.]

The paper goes on to explain the proposal The trouble is that this is another major reform and I see no chance for it in the foreseeable future.

What then is the most likely development ?

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History Friday — MacArthur: A General Made for Another Convenient Lie.

One of the important things to know about General Douglas MacArthur was that almost nothing said or written about him can be trusted without extensive research to validate its truthfulness. There were a lot of reasons for this. Bureaucratic infighting inside the US Army, inside the War Department, and between the War and Naval Departments all played a role from MacArthur’s attaining flag rank in World War 1 (WW1) through his firing by President Truman during the Korean War. His overwhelming need to create what amounts to a cult of personality around himself was another. However, the biggest reason for this research problem was that, if the Clinton era political concept of “The Politics of Personal Destruction” had been around in the 1930’s-thru-1950’s, General Douglas MacArthur’s face would have been its poster boy. Everything the man did was personal, and that made everything everyone else did in opposition to him, “personal” to them. Thus followed rounds of name calling, selective reporting and political partisanship that have utterly polluted the historical record and requires research over decades to untangle.

Case in point is the aftermath of the Sandakan Death March, where the Australian Army and in particular it’s commander General (eventually Field Marshal) Sir Thomas Blamey, blamed MacArthur for the cancellation of “Project Kingfisher” rescue mission and by extension the deaths of those POW’s.

Sandakan Death March

To understand these charges against MacArthur requires a little back ground. Sandakan was a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Northern Borneo that took 2345 British and Australian prisoners captured in Singapore in Feb. 1942. These Australian and British POWs were shipped to North Borneo in order to construct a military airstrip as well as their POW camp. “Project Kingfisher” was a daring plan in late 1944 by which an the First Australian Parachute Battalion would have rescued the 1900 or so British and Australian POW left alive there in January 1945.

Unfortunately, due to combination of official indifference in both Australian high command and intelligence circles, plus disputes with MacArthur’s Headquarters over whether Australian plans to drop the 1st Parachute Battalion were either realistic or had enough resources, PROJECT KINGFISHER never got off the ground. It was finally and officially cancelled in March 1945. The failure to free these POW resulted in a series of Japanese death marches in January and May 1945 for which there were only six Australian survivors by August 1945.

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History Friday – The Notorious Bandit Vasquez

He was of an old-and well-respected Hispanic Californio family, was Tiberico Vasquez; born in Monterey, the capital of what little government burdened the far-flung Spanish and then Mexican province which is today the state of California. (And such a state is in, these days, too – but I digress.) He was born sometime between 1835 and 1840; his family home in Monterey is now part of the local historical district. He was handsome, well-dressed and well-educated. He could read and write, had charming manners, and a touchingly gallant way with the ladies … which eventually spelled his doom, if the Mexican-American War and the Gold Rush had not already end the idyllic isolation in paradise for the old Californio families. They had lived lives of casual comfort, such as it was, a life based on cattle ranching and a profitable trade in hides, of bountiful hospitality among the great land-owning families and their friends, rounds of celebrations, of grand balls and fandangos, and genteel amusements such as bear-and-bull fights, and flirtations in the shade of the olive and citrus orchards planted here and there.

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Wasp Stings and Social Media

We had a problem at the farm yesterday.

I got home a bit early and decided to clean up a deck that had become overgrown with weeds. We had wooden lawn furniture on it. I moved the furniture out of there and cleaned up the area. Later, my kids were playing on that deck and all of a sudden my youngest came screaming into the house in all sorts of pain. She had received three wasp stings on her ankle. The wasps were swarming. I have no idea how I didn’t get stung that whole time.

This morning we saw the wasp nest embedded in the underside of one of the wooden tables and took care of it.

When my youngest was in agony we instantly grabbed our phones and went online and to facebook, to find a cure of some sort. We should have had some sort of sting medicine in the place but didn’t.

Just like when our dog got skunked, we found an instant solution – it was a paste of baking soda and something else. It worked pretty well.

I am blown away at how much information is available at one’s fingertips. A lot of people know a lot about a lot of things.

Pretty Gutsy

A new coal-fired power plant is planned for Georgia.

To be built near Sandersville, GA. 850 megawatts, supercritical boiler, extensive equipment for reduction of SO2 , NOx, particulates. mercury and sulfuric emissions.

It takes a certain amount of courage to embark a project such as this one, given that we have a president who has declared war on coal:

“If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

–Barack Obama, January 2008

In the Shadows of a Mountain Meadow – Conclusion

The execution of approximately a hundred and twenty men, women … and yes, children also … of the Fancher-Baker wagon-train party stands out particularly among revolting accounts of massacres in the old West, and not just for the number of victims. The most notorious 19th century massacres usually involved Indians and either settlers or soldiers in some combination, overrunning a settlement or encampment, or ambushing a military unit or a wagon-train and slaughtering all in it or after a brief and bitter fight. Sometimes this was the overt intent of the aggressor, or just customary practice in the long and bitter Indian Wars; ugly deeds which can be given some fig-leaf of rationalization by attributing them to the heat of battle. But Mountain Meadows was carefully planned beforehand and committed in the coldest of cold blood. How it came to happen is a story almost unknown and incredible to modern ears; bitter fruit of a poison tree which had its roots in the persecutions of earlier Mormon settlements in what is now the mid-West. A recitation of the events and reasons for this would make this account several times as long. Sufficient to say as did the character of Dr. Sardius McPheeters, that the Mormons came to realize that they could only get along with their immediate neighbors if they had no neighbors, and they decamped en masse for the wilds of Utah Territory.

There they set about building their new city, on the shores of a salt lake at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains. Driven by zeal, missionaries for the Church of Latter Day Saints traveled and proselytized fearlessly and widely. Eager and hardworking converts to the new church arrived in droves, ready to build that new and shining society in the desert wilderness. It has been no mean accomplishment, outlasting all of the other 19th century social-religious-intellectual communes: Brook Farm and the Shakers, the Amana Colony and any number of ambitious and idealistic cities on the hill. Most of these places barely survived beyond the disgrace or death of their founder, and the disillusion of their membership.

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Quote of the Day

Richard Fernandez:

The big risk the liberal establishment took in advancing Obama for President was not in proposing a black candidate, but in nominating an incompetent one. That ensured that when the recriminations came it would be about race.
A successful Obama presidency would have been a breakthrough for race relations that would have lasted decades. Conversely, a catastrophic Obama presidency would set things back for generations.
The unspoken takeaway for many would be “never an African-American again”. But that is the wrong lesson. The right lesson, I think should be “never an incompetent again”.
Things might not have been much better, and arguably they would have been worse, under Hillary Clinton. The kind of disaster that is unfolding is across the board. Foreign policy catastrophe, economic mismanagement, chaos in governance, botched programs — they’re just piling up. So in the face that avalanche of woes, Obama will do the easiest thing: make it about race.
But it is really not about race. Race in this case was cosmetic. It was the mask the liberal establishment donned to rejuvenate their tired old agenda. And now that it’s failing comprehensively they’ll blame the mask.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the ones with the most to gain by racializing Obama are faceless backroom boys. They know he’s done for so they’re going to pin the disaster on the black guy, not upon the guys who selected the incompetent who happened to black. They’ll put their political mistakes in the coffin with Obama’s career. Pin it on him and push Hillary 2016.

The Moral Pendulum, The Political Pendulum: Upswings Happen

One of the things we mention in America 3.0 “that distinctively conservative type of pessimism that seems almost to enjoy the prospect of an apocalyptic end to all that is good and true in the world,” and the “doom and gloom” purveyed by many Conservative and even Libertarian thinkers.

We are brash enough to claim that we know better, and that there is a hopeful future for America. The quote at the beginning of our book has many meanings:

Nobody knows
what kind of trouble we’re in.
Nobody seems to think
it all might happen again.

Gram Parsons
“One Hundred Years From Now” (1968)

One meaning is that the authors of America 3.0 have some idea of what kind of trouble we’re in. We also have reason to think “it all might happen again,” meaning that America will reinvent itself and have a new age of freedom and prosperity.

This is especially true of my friends who are religious or cultural conservatives. All too often, they seem to believe that the United States is doomed, and deserves to be. This is odd for people who are religious, and who should know that God’s capacity to intervene in history is no less than it has ever been.

As we have been speaking about the book in the few weeks since it was published, we have found that people want to have hope. They say things like, “oh, God, I hope you are right.” Others are almost offended, demanding that we admit that the country is finished, and that we are mental cripples for thinking otherwise. If the American story is going to have great new chapters, but we have to make them happen, no one can sink into a warm bath of despair and slip beneath the surface, gurgling “I told you so!” Everyone is going to have to get ready to live through “interesting times,” in the Chinese sense, and participate in a contentious and difficult new Founding Era. If you are already tired, that seems like a lot to ask! But time waits for no one, we don’t get to pick which decades we will live in, and God Almighty knows better than we do what we are capable of and what should be demanded of us!

Many people seem to be in the grip of the historical fallacy that the future can be predicted by making straight-line predictions based on existing trends. But this is wrong. There are trends, which provoke counter-trends. There are movements that provoke resistance and reversal. There are declines that provoke reconstruction.

In particular, the moral tenor of society, which we do not say much about in the book, can change, and will change.

Moral reforms and deteriorations are moved by large forces, and they are mostly caused by reactions from the habits of a preceding period. Backwards and forwards swings the great pendulum, and its alterations are not determined by a few distinguished folk clinging to the end of it.

Sir Charles Petrie, The Victorians
Epigraph from The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age is a major influence on America 3.0. In it, among its many riches, is a depiction of a society that arises on the wreckage of our current world.

The restoration of America, at every level, is up to us. Economics and politics, the focus of our book, are hard. Moral and spiritual restoration, which are beyond the ambit of our book, are even harder.

But remember: If something can’t go on, it won’t.

Be happy. And look for opportunities to get to work on building America 3.0.

History Friday – In the Shadow of a Mountain Meadow

Considering all those cinematic or literary occasions in which an emigrant wagon train on the California/Oregon trail was pictured being attacked by a war-party of Indians, it actually happened as represented on very few occasions. That is, a defensive circle of wagons, with the pioneers being well-dug in while the Indians ride around on horseback, whooping and shouting to beat the band, and firing volleys of arrows at them. A little disconcerting for the fan of traditional Wild Westerns to find this out; kind of like discovering that most cowboys didn’t have much actual use for a six-shooter, and that most western towns were actually rather refreshingly law-abiding places. It ruins a whole lot of plots, knowing of these inconvenient verities, but those historians who become passionately interested in the stories of the trail, the frontier, the cattle baronies; they are not terribly surprised. As with everything, the more one looks… the more nuance appears. Of such are books made, non and fiction alike.

Why does this image reoccur, in the face of considerable scholarship to the contrary? Besides the inherent drama in the stories of the westering pioneers and gold-rushers and the desire of those later telling the stories to heighten the drama, probably the biggest reason may be that those who took part in the great transcontinental migrations actually anticipated something of the sort. They had two centuries of bitter history to draw upon, of grudges, warfare, and atrocities on both sides. Of two cultures colliding, of ancient grudges breaking into fresh enmity; why would it be any different west of the Mississippi than it had been east of it?

Amazingly enough, for at least two decades, until well after the Civil War, wagon-train pioneers actually encountered little open hostility from those various tribes whose territories they passed through. Not of the open sort described above, anyway. There was a certain amount of petty thievery, of oxen, horses, and mules stolen or strayed at night, sniping from the badlands along the Humboldt River, and sometimes single wagons and small parties of travelers beset, robbed, or murdered at any point along the way. There are any number of reasons for this, some of them overlapping. In the early years, there were actually relatively few wagon parties venturing over the trail during the course of the trail season. They were transitory, well-armed and usually well led, and had no desire to pick a fight with warrior-tribes like the Sioux, the horse-lords of the upper plains. Other tribes along the route took the opportunity to do business with the wagon-train parties, either trading commodities or labor in helping them to cross rivers, and as historian George Steward pointed out, it must have gotten pretty darned boring in the winter camps in the Rockies and the upper plains. A new set of travelers passing through their lands offered an interruption to the same old routine.

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History Friday: MacArthur’s Mission X

I have stated in an earlier Chicago Boyz column that:
One of the maddening things about researching General Douglas MacArthur’s fighting style in WW2 was the way he created, used and discarded military institutions, both logistical and intelligence, in the course of his South West Pacific Area (SWPA) operations. Institutions that had little wartime publicity and have no direct organizational descendent to tell their stories in the modern American military.

Today’s column is the story of one of those “throw away” logistical institutions, one that started as MacArthur’s “Mission X”, what became the small boats and coastal freighter fleet that served MacArthur from 1942 through 1947 as Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) in post-war Japan.

Mission X Small Boats Moving Supplies Forward from a Liberty Ship
A Liberty ship and two captured Japanese sampans discharge and load cargo at an unnamed advanced base.

Small Boats and Coastal Freighters

General Douglas MacArthur had three more or less distinct types of coastal shipping pools operating with the World War II (WW2) Southwest Pacific Area (SPWA) theater’s 7th Fleet:

1) Large vessels that were US Army or War Shipping Administration vessels assigned to Army including Dutch East Indies tramp steamers and Vichie French vessels (along with freighters commandeered by MacArthur as floating storage when they arrived with intentions of return). These were the Army Transport Service (ATS) vessels that were, under a 1941 reorganization, integrated into the Water Division of the US Army Transportation Corps. They were manned by American and; Australian merchant seamen in part, but primarily by the US Coast Guard on newer ship after mid-1944.

2) The small ships and boats section with watercraft of less than 1,000 tons displacement, almost exclusively of local SWPA origin with some built for the U.S. Army in Australia’s small boatyards, that were essential for operating in the coral filled waters of Northern Australia, the Coral Sea, Papua/New Guinea and the scattered islands of the Philippines. They were crewed primarily by a mix of citizens from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, some as young as 15-years old after February 1943, due to a world wide merchant seaman shortage.

3) The US Army Engineer Special Brigades (ESB) in LCVP and LCM landing craft. Each US Army Engineer Special Brigade — and MacArthur had three in the Philippines, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Brigades — was equipped to transport and land a division in a “Shore to shore” operation of under 135 miles. (which was the practical maximum overnight range of a LCM combat loaded with a M4 Sherman tank.) These brigades required a force of 7340 men, 540 LCMs and LCVPs, and 104 command and support boats to move that division. You can find an excellent site dedicated to the ESB’s here —

Of the three coastal shipping pools, the second was the only one MacArthur had for the first 18 months after he came to Australia. It was made up primarily of anything the Australians would let “Mission X”, what later became the US Army Small Ship Service (USASS), impress from Australian harbors. Two and three mast sailing ships, tugs, fishing boats and 40 year old coal powered tramp steamers less than 1,000 tons fit to be hulks were the main components of that fleet.

This small boat “fleet” operated in the face of Japanese air superiority without even Destroyers for escort — the USN did not allow any US Navy warships past Milne Bay. If these small watercraft had escorts, they were Australian motor launches, US Navy PT-Boats and US Army ESB landing craft gunboats.

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The ghost of database past

Section 2, Amendment XIV:

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Article I, Section 2, U.S. Constitution:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

For working on the paternal genealogy of Howard Ira Milligan, my mother’s father, U.S. Census records have proved to be an important primary source.

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