Quotulatiousness

August 20, 2014

Vice.com – prepare yourself for President Rand Paul

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Vice is not a venue that normally has nice things to say about any Republican, but they go out of their way to do so for Rand Paul in this profile by Grace Wyler:

For the past two years, from the moment Ron Paul called off the Revolution and headed back to Texas, the political establishment has been eagerly waiting for his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, to run for president. They’ve watched with amusement as Paul popped up around the country — in Iowa and New Hampshire, at Evangelical powwows, Howard University, the ACLU — and at the top of early 2016 polls. Unlike his father, it’s hard to deny that he Paul is a “serious” candidate. But the idea that he could actually be elected President of the United States? That’s never been taken very seriously.

But with half of the GOP’s 2016 bench trying to avoid prison time and Democrats spinning their wheels in Obama’s second-term rut, the idea of a President Rand Paul is starting to sound less and less crazy. On issues like criminal justice reform, mass surveillance, and drug policy, Paul is casting himself as Another Option, carving out new space as the candidate who can make room for both small-government libertarians and other voters — young people and minorities, mostly — who don’t see either party as particularly effective or relevant. And some of what he’s saying makes a lot of sense.

Take Paul’s comments about the events in Ferguson, Missouri. In an op-ed published by Time on Thursday, the Kentucky Senator laid out a remarkably blunt, even angry, assessment of the racial tensions at the center of this week’s riots, linking policing issues to his broader critique of the federal government.

[...]

On other issues, too, Paul has been able to find unexpected common ground with voters outside of the aging, white GOP base. His views on issues like medical marijuana, federal sentencing laws, government spying, drones, and military intervention are much more closely aligned with public opinion — particularly among young voters — than those of any of his potential 2016 Republican rivals, and also of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This is probably not, as last week’s New York Times Magazine suggested, the harbinger of some national libertarian moment. But it does give Paul the space to expand his appeal with the younger generation of voters — something the Republican Party admits it needs to do if it ever wants to win another presidential election.

QotD: Maine

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The entire state is oceanside, just like in the video. There are rumors of some vast, undiscovered bogs or swamps or mountains or something out west, but no one would ever go there. LL Bean is in Freeport, and you’re not allowed to be in Maine more than an hour’s drive from there. If we had police, they’d check. Bean’s used to have catalogs filled with shotguns and fishing poles, but now they only sell banana hammock bathing suits for Canadians that go to Old Orchard Beach and think it’s the Riviera, and button-down men’s shirts for ladies to wear.

Maine has various slogans. They used to call it Vacationland, but Mainers couldn’t help themselves, and got to reading the Vacationland road signs while driving to work in the office park in Westbrook, and forgot the signs were for people “From Away” — the charming soubriquet Mainers use when they want to call someone a Masshole, but the guy hasn’t paid his bill yet. Anyway, everyone in Maine went to Disneyworld at the same time, on the same bus, and there was no one left in Maine to direct the tourists from Massachusetts to the best places to icefish in June, or where to find all the huggable bull mooses in rutting season, or how to properly approach a black bear cub. Note: Always get between Mama bear and Baby bear. They love that.

“Maine: The Way Life Should Be,” was another one. It was less of an overt threat than New Hampshire’s motto, it’s true, but it left too much room for rumination on its meaning. I haven’t been to New Hampshire in a while, but if memory serves, their slogan is “Live Free, Or Else,” or something to that effect. Maine’s sounds friendlier, but its ambiguity rankles some. It’s never wise to get the tourists thinking. It smacked a bit of “Your life is bad, and you should feel bad, and we’re here to tell you so.”

Sippican, “Maine Is Totally Like This, Totally”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-02-26

August 19, 2014

Transportation Safety Board report on the Lac-Mégantic runaway train and derailment

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:21

The full report is available to download from the TSB’s website.

This summary of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s (TSB) Railway Investigation Report R13D0054 contains a description of the accident, along with an overview of the analysis and findings, the safety action taken to date, five key recommendations, and what more needs to be done to help ensure an accident like this does not happen again.

Lac-Mégantic derailment aftermath in July 2013

[...]

Shortly after the engineer left, the Nantes Fire Department responded to a 911 call reporting a fire on the train. After shutting off the locomotive’s fuel supply, the firefighters moved the electrical breakers inside the cab to the off position, in keeping with railway instructions. They then met with an MMA employee, a track foreman who had been dispatched to the scene but who did not have a locomotive operations background.

Once the fire was extinguished, the firefighters and the track foreman discussed the train’s condition with the rail traffic controller in Farnham, and departed soon afterward. With all the locomotives shut down, the air compressor no longer supplied air to the air brake system. As air leaked from the brake system, the main air reservoirs were slowly depleted, gradually reducing the effectiveness of the locomotive air brakes. Just before 1 a.m., the air pressure had dropped to a point at which the combination of locomotive air brakes and hand brakes could no longer hold the train, and it began to roll downhill toward Lac-Mégantic, just over seven miles away.

[...]

Almost all of the 63 derailed tank cars were damaged, and many had large breaches. About six million litres of petroleum crude oil was quickly released. The fire began almost immediately, and the ensuing blaze and explosions left 47 people dead. Another 2000 people were forced from their homes, and much of the downtown core was destroyed.

The pileup of tank cars, combined with the large volume of burning petroleum crude oil, made the firefighters’ job extremely difficult. Despite the challenges of a large emergency, the response was well coordinated, and the fire departments effectively protected the site and ensured public safety after the derailment.

Published on 19 Aug 2014

Animation – Sequence of events in the Lac-Mégantic derailment and fire

On 6 July 2013, a unit train carrying petroleum crude oil operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) derailed numerous cars in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and a fire and explosions ensued.

The Prime Minister’s statement on the 72nd anniversary of Operation Jubilee

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

It was a bloody shambles, but we still remember the bravery and sacrifice of the troops who went ashore at Dieppe in 1942:

On August 19, 1942, nearly 5,000 Canadian troops, along with British and American Allies, undertook a raid on Dieppe to test new equipment, probe the strength of German defences and gain the experience necessary for a larger amphibious assault.

The majority of the forces that attacked that day at five different points along the 16 km front encountered stiff resistance, unexpected obstacles, and a well-entrenched, well-prepared enemy. The Canadians fought on, through machine gun fire, mortar barrages, and sniper and air attacks.

The lessons learned at Dieppe and subsequent landings proved invaluable for the D-Day invasion and were instrumental in saving countless lives on June 6, 1944. Sadly, the Raid on Dieppe came at a steep price for Canadian participants, with 916 making the ultimate sacrifice and 1,900 taken as prisoners of war.

On this solemn day, let us remember the courage and sacrifice of the thousands of Canadians who fought with bravery and determination at Dieppe to free Europe from Nazi tyranny and ensure the peace and freedom that we enjoy today.

Lest we forget.

Barack Obama’s clemency deficit

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:31

I’ve posted items like this before, showing that President Obama is the least merciful president of modern times (and the only presidents less clement were Washington, Harrison, and Garfield). Now the New York Times editorial board joins the chorus:

On Jan. 20, 2009, in his last moments as president, George W. Bush gave Barack Obama a hard-earned bit of wisdom: whatever you do, he said, pick a pardon policy and stick with it.

It was sage advice, yet, more than five years later, President Obama has not heeded it. As a result, as one former pardon attorney has said, the clemency power is “the least respected and most misunderstood” power a president has. Yet it is granted explicitly by the Constitution as a crucial backstop to undo an unjust conviction or to temper unreasonably harsh punishments approved by lawmakers. It also can restore basic rights, like the right to vote, that many people lose upon being convicted.

In the past, presidents made good use of it, but as tough-on-crime policies became more popular, the number of grants fell dramatically. Judging by the numbers, Mr. Obama, who has, so far, granted just 62 clemency petitions, is the least merciful president in modern history.

[...]

Mr. Obama’s failure to wield the pardon power more forcefully is all the more frustrating when considered against the backdrop of endless accusations that he is exercising too much executive authority, sometimes — his critics say — arbitrarily if not illegally. In this case, he should take advantage of a crucial power that the Constitution unreservedly grants him.

As Jacob Sullum said, “Obama deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.”

Academic criticism kills everything it touches

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:57

In the LA Review of Books, Daniel Marc Janes explains why so much academic writing — especially literary criticism — is so tediously dust-dry and boring:

IN THE COURSE of this essay, I want to examine Geoff Dyer and his relationship with the academic establishment. The aforementioned relationship, I will go on to argue, has heretofore been an uneasy one, but the occurrence of a significant, apparently paradoxical event has provided the ideal research opportunity with which to conduct said examination. As I will reveal, this event — the organization of an academic conference in his honor — lays bare the manifest tensions in his work between a hostility to what he considers deadening academic analysis and a profound desire to get closer to his subject. The organization of my essay is as follows.

I cannot blame you if you have stopped reading by now; Geoff Dyer certainly would have. To Dyer, this kind of prose — with its pathological signposting and life-sucking verbosity — exemplifies all that is wrong with the academic world. In a 2011 New York Times column, he eviscerates a work of criticism for precisely these reasons: the art historian Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, whose long-windedness trickles down from its title.

But it is in 1998’s Out of Sheer Rage that Dyer truly gets his knives out. The book describes his failed attempts to write a scholarly study of D. H. Lawrence. As he drudges through a Longman Critical Reader on the author, he finds himself increasingly angered by its contents: trendy theoretical titles like “Lawrence, Foucault and the Language of Sexuality” and “Radical Indeterminacy: a post-modern Lawrence.” He wonders:

    How could these people with no feeling for literature have ended up teaching it, writing about it? […] writing like that kills everything it touches. That is the hallmark of academic criticism: it kills everything it touches. Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.

In Dyer’s mind, the academic conference may be the worst offender of all. He goes on to describe his horror on meeting an academic who specialises in Rainer Maria Rilke:

    You don’t teach Rilke, I wanted to say, you kill Rilke! You turn him to dust and then you go off to conferences where dozens of other academic-morticians gather with the express intention of killing Rilke and turning him to dust. Then, as part of the cover-up, the conference papers are published, the dust is embalmed and before you know it literature is a vast graveyard of dust, a dustyard of graves.

QotD: Power corrupts, police and conservative edition

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

When this principle of “power corrupts” is the driving force behind a conservative’s approach to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, why are so many conservatives unwilling to apply it to those who enforce many of the government’s laws? In the days since Michael Brown’s death, we’ve seen video footage of police firing teargas onto people’s private property (language warning). We’ve heard reports of police arresting journalists who were not engaging in any illegal activity. If power seems to be corrupting those charged with keeping the peace during the recent unrest in Ferguson, why do some conservatives refuse to consider the mere possibility that a police officer may have been corrupted by power in the event that sparked the unrest?

The answer is, I think, quite simple. For many conservatives, especially those of us living in nice, comfy suburbs, it’s hard to apply the “power corrupts” doctrine to law enforcement because we’ve never seen corrupted enforcers of the law. We’ve never been wrongly arrested. We’ve never witnessed our children put in jail based on the false reports of police officers. We’ve never seen our neighbors beaten or tazed without cause. And in the extremely unlikely scenario that a police officer drove into our neighborhood and murdered our unarmed friend in cold blood, we cannot possibly fathom a scenario where the justice system wouldn’t be on our side and where that police officer wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. Therefore Brown must have been a violent, gang-sign flashing thug, foolish enough to think he could swipe a cop’s weapon because, in our minds, there’s no conceivable way that a police officer would gun down an innocent man.

But just because we don’t see the corruption of law enforcement in our own lives doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Police brutality is not the Bogeyman. It’s not an urban legend witnessed by none but told by many. It’s not a myth created by a primitive tribe that is too simple to understand the true source of the brokenness in its communities. Black people believe in police brutality for the same reason they believe in rain — because they’ve felt it.

Hans Fiene, “Michael Brown And The Conservative Inconsistency”, The Federalist, 2014-08-15.

August 18, 2014

Another look at the Ross Rifle, initial Canadian infantry weapon of WW1

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:11

Last year, I posted a video by Lickmuffin, showing his recently acquired Ross Mark III, a “sporterized” version of the model that equipped the First Canadian Division when it took the field in France in 1915. Yesterday, David Pugliese revisited the Ross controversy in the Ottawa Citizen:

When soldiers in the throes of battle discard their rifles and pluck a different weapon from the hands of dead allies, there’s clearly a serious problem, writes John Ward of the Canadian Press news service.

So it was with the Ross rifle, the weapon that Canadian soldiers took with them to the start of the First World War a century ago.

More from Ward’s article:

It was the brainchild of Sir Charles Ross, a wealthy Scottish-born engineer and inventor who offered it to the Canadian government as a military firearm well before the war began.

To Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s minister of militia — defence minister in modern parlance — at the time, the Canadian-built Ross was highly accurate and the perfect tool for his soldiers, whom he saw as frontier marksmen.

But troops, some of whom sneered at the rifle as “the Canadian club,” soon discovered the Ross was not suited to dirty, rough-and-tumble trench warfare. They preferred the robust Lee-Enfield carried by their British comrades, picking them up from the battlefield when they could.

The .303-calibre, straight-pull Ross was longer than the Lee-Enfield, a problem in the cramped confines of the trenches. It was heavier, too, and in a day when infantrymen were over-burdened, any extra weight was unwelcome. When fired with its bayonet attached, it tended to shed the bayonet.

The Ross was also susceptible to jamming from dust and dirt and was very finicky about the quality of ammunition. The carefully machined cartridges made by the Dominion Arsenal worked fine, but not so the mass-produced British ammunition, which could vary in size beyond the Ross’s fine tolerances.

Further, it was easy to reassemble the Ross bolt incorrectly. Even when misassembled, the bolt would fit in the rifle and even chamber and fire a cartridge, only to slam back into the rifleman’s face — unheard of for most bolt-action rifles.

David Pugliese also linked to this Forgotten Weapons video, which investigates the best known failing of the Ross in combat:

Published on 16 Jun 2013

There is a long-standing urban legend about the Canadian Ross rifle, a straight-pull bolt action that was used in lieu of the SMLE by Canadian troops early in World War One. The story is that the Ross would sometimes malfunction and blow the bolt back into its shooter’s face, with pretty horrible results. Well, I wanted to learn “the rest of the story” – could this actually happen? What caused it? How could it be prevented? In short, what would a Ross shooter need to know to remain safe? And if I could get some cool footage of a bolt blowing out of a Ross in the process, all the better.

Well, reader Andy very generously provided a sporterized Ross for the experiments, and I started reading into what the issue really was. Turns out that the legend was quite true – you can put a Ross MkIII bolt together the wrong way, and it will allow you to fire without the locking lugs engaged, thus throwing the bolt back out of the gun at high velocity. However, the issue was recognized fairly quickly, and the vast majority of Ross rifles were modified with a safety rivet to prevent this from happening. It is also quite easy to determine if a Ross is assembled correctly, once you know what to look for.

QotD: Police militarization was a response to a problem that never happened

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.

But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Kevin Drum, “We Created a Policing Monster By Mistake”, Mother Jones, 2014-08-16.

Worstall confirms that “the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year it left the European Union”

Filed under: Britain, Business, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:15

There you go … proof positive that the UK cannot possibly, under any circumstances, leave the European Union. Except for the fact that the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year even if it stayed with the EU, because that’s how many jobs it normally loses in a year:

UK Would Not Lose 3 Million Jobs If It Left The European Union

Well, of course, the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year it left the European Union because the UK loses 3 million jobs each and every year. Roughly 10% of all jobs are destroyed in a year and the economy, generally, tends to create 3 million jobs a year as well. But that’s not the point at contention here which is the oft repeated claim that because we left the EU then therefore the UK economy would suddenly be bereft of 3 million jobs, that 10% of the workforce. And sadly this claim is a common one and it just goes to show that there’s lies, damned lies and then there’s politics.

The way we’re supposed to understand the contention is that there’s three million who make their living making things that are then exported to our partners in the European Union. And we’re then to make the leap to the idea that if we did leave the EU then absolutely none of those jobs would exist: leaving the EU would be the same as never exporting another thing to the EU. This is of course entirely nonsense as any even random reading of our mutual histories would indicate: what became the UK has been exporting to the Continent ever since there’s actually been the technology to facilitate trade. Further too: there have been finds in shipwrecks in the Eastern Mediterranean of Cornish tin dating from 1,000 BC, so it’s not just bloodthirsty and drunken louts that we’ve been exporting all these years.

“It’s strange that the oldest literature becomes the model for the digital age”

Filed under: History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:04

Harvard University Press is putting all 520 volumes of the Loeb Classical Library online beginning in September:

When James Loeb designed his soon-to-be-launched series of Greek and Roman texts at the turn of the twentieth century, he envisioned the production of volumes that could easily fit in readers’ coat pockets. A century later, that compact format is still one of the collection’s hallmarks. Beginning in September, however, the iconic books will be far handier than Loeb had hoped: users of the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) will have the entire collection at their fingertips. After five years of dedicated work on the part of the library’s trustees and Harvard University Press (HUP), which has overseen LCL since its creator’s death in 1933, the more than 520 volumes of literature that make up the series will be accessible online. Besides allowing users to browse the digitized volumes, which retain the unique side-by-side view of the original text and its English translation, the Digital Loeb Classical Library will enable readers to search for words and phrases across the entire corpus, to annotate content, to share notes and reading lists with others, and to create their own libraries using personal workspaces.

LCL managing editor Michael Sullivan, whose position was created earlier this year to supervise the virtual library, said that the digitization project is “a major leap forward in the history of the Loeb.” According to HUP executive editor-at-large Sharmila Sen, the launch of the digital LCL marks “a moment of rebirth” for the historic collection. She explained that in the years preceding the library’s 2011 centenary, the trustees and HUP administrators began to think about how to make the LCL “relevant to the twenty-first century.” Even though online databases of Greek and Latin literature have existed for years, said the library’s general editor, Jeffrey Henderson, a classics professor at Boston University, the digital Loeb will be unprecedented in its accessibility and scope: for the first time, readers without knowledge of Greek and Latin will be able to explore a vast range of the classical literary heritage online through high-quality, modern translations. He added that the project, which cost the LCL foundation more than $1 million, will serve as a model for the digitization of other HUP series, noting, “It’s strange that the oldest literature becomes the model for the digital age.”

Consolidating a vast literary corpus involving two different alphabets into an interconnected, elegant, and easy-to-use website required much behind-the-scenes work, Sen said. Designing the software for the digital library and transferring the data have concluded, she noted, but the project overseers view the current product — which will be available by subscription to institutions and individuals — as only a 1.0 version. The website will be a dynamic workspace, Henderson pointed out, adding that user feedback will help the editors increase its functionality.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

Salt studies and health outcomes – “all models need to be taken with a pinch of salt”

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

Colby Cosh linked to this rather interesting BMJ blog post by Richard Lehman, looking at studies of the impact of dietary salt reduction:

601 The usual wisdom about sodium chloride is that the more you take, the higher your blood pressure and hence your cardiovascular risk. We’ll begin, like the NEJM, with the PURE study. This was a massive undertaking. They recruited 102 216 adults from 18 countries and measured their 24 hour sodium and potassium excretion, using a single fasting morning urine specimen, and their blood pressure by using an automated device. In an ideal world, they would have carried on doing this every week for a month or two, but hey, this is still better than anyone has managed before now. Using these single point in time measurements, they found that people with elevated blood pressure seemed to be more sensitive to the effects of the cations sodium and potassium. Higher sodium raised their blood pressure more, and higher potassium lowered it more, than in individuals with normal blood pressure. In fact, if sodium is a cation, potassium should be called a dogion. And what I have described as effects are in fact associations: we cannot really know if they are causal.

612 But now comes the bombshell. In the PURE study, there was no simple linear relationship between sodium intake and the composite outcome of death and major cardiovascular events, over a mean follow-up period of 3.7 years. Quite the contrary, there was a sort of elongated U-shape distribution. The U begins high and is then splayed out: people who excreted less than 3 grams of salt daily were at much the highest risk of death and cardiovascular events. The lowest risk lay between 3 g and 5 g, with a slow and rather flat rise thereafter. On this evidence, trying to achieve a salt intake under 3 g is a bad idea, which will do you more harm than eating as much salt as you like. Moreover, if you eat plenty of potassium as well, you will have plenty of dogion to counter the cation. The true Mediterranean diet wins again. Eat salad and tomatoes with your anchovies, drink wine with your briny olives, sprinkle coarse salt on your grilled fish, lay it on a bed of cucumber, and follow it with ripe figs and apricots. Live long and live happily.

624 It was rather witty, if slightly unkind, of the NEJM to follow these PURE papers with a massive modelling study built on the assumption that sodium increases cardiovascular risk in linear fashion, mediated by blood pressure. Dariush Mozaffarian and his immensely hardworking team must be biting their lips, having trawled through all the data they could find about sodium excretion in 66 countries. They used a reference standard of 2 g sodium a day, assuming this was the point of optimal consumption and lowest risk. But from PURE, we now know it is associated with a higher cardiovascular risk than 13 grams a day. So they should now go through all their data again, having adjusted their statistical software to the observational curves of the PURE study. Even so, I would question the value of modelling studies on this scale: the human race is a complex thing to study, and all models need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Update: Colby Cosh followed up the original link with this tweet. Ouch!

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One? (Part eleven of a series)

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

You can catch up on the earlier posts in this series here (now with hopefully helpful descriptions):

  1. Why it’s so difficult to answer the question “Who is to blame?”
  2. Looking back to 1814
  3. Bismarck, his life and works
  4. France isolated, Britain’s global responsibilities
  5. Austria, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan quagmire
  6. The Anglo-German naval race, Jackie Fisher, and HMS Dreadnought
  7. War with Japan, revolution at home: Russia’s self-inflicted miseries
  8. The First Balkan War
  9. The Second Balkan War
  10. The Entente Cordiale, Moroccan crises, and the influence of public opinion

We left the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a state of ferment back in part five, having undergone a near-death constitutional stroke in 1867, resulting in a bi-polar domestic and even world outlook to accommodate the newly redefined Dual Monarchy, and dangerously inconsistent treatment of their respective ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities in the Cisleithanic (Austrian) and Transleithanic (Hungarian) “halves” of the empire. This might not have mattered much in the long run if the empire hadn’t been summarily extended in 1908 with the addition of new territory on the southern border of the empire.

Administration turns into annexation

Under the terms of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary had been administering the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the provision that they would be returned at some future date when the stability of the occupied territories had been re-established. In 1908, however, something happened which drove the Austro-Hungarians into a panic: the somnolent Ottoman government was faced with a revolutionary movement called the Young Turks.

Since 1878, the Sultan had ruled without a parliament, having suspended the General Assembly and ending the short-lived First Constitutional Era. The Young Turks were an unlikely alliance of Turkish nationalists, reformers, pro-Western modernizers, and certain national minorities including Armenians and Greeks: in short, anyone with a grievance against the Sultan, the administration, or the general state of life in the empire. The Young Turks forced the Sultan to restore the 1876 constitution and recall the general assembly. They also announced plans to call elections throughout the empire, including the Austrian-occupied territories.

Map of South-Eastern Europe after the Congress of Berlin, 1878 (via Wikipedia)

Map of South-Eastern Europe after the Congress of Berlin, 1878 (via Wikipedia)

Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Alois von Aehrenthal (via Wikipedia)

Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Alois von Aehrenthal (via Wikipedia)

Bosnia and Herzegovina had no existing representation of any sort — with the Ottomans or with the Austrians — and it was feared that the Young Turks, having created representation in the two vilayets would then demand their return to Ottoman control. Austria’s foreign minister, Count Alois von Aehrenthal began to make urgent plans to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. In The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark outlines Aehrenthal’s actions:

In order to forestall any such complications [a push by the Young Turks to reclaim the provinces], Aehrenthal moved quickly to prepare the ground for annexation. The Ottomans were bought out of their nominal sovereignty with a handsome indemnity. Much more important were the Russians, upon whose acquiescence the whole project depended. Aehrenthal was a firm believer in the importance of good relations with Russia — as Austrian ambassador in St. Petersburg during the years 1899-1906, he had helped to consolidate the Austro-Russian rapprochement. Securing the agreement of the Russian foreign minister, Alexandr Izvolsky, was easy. The Russians had no objection to the formalization of Austria-Hungary’s status in Bosnia-Herzegovina, provided St. Petersburg received something in return. Indeed it was Izvolsky, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II, who proposed that the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina be exchanged for Austrian support for improved Russian access to the Turkish Straits.

Russian foreign minister Count Alexandr Petrovich Izvolsky (via Wikipedia)

Russian foreign minister Count Alexandr Petrovich Izvolsky (via Wikipedia)

In 1908, having successfully negotiated Russian support for the move, Austria-Hungary swallowed the two provinces and added them to the empire. Then things went horribly, horribly wrong for Aehrenthal and Austria-Hungary. The reaction to annexation was far more angry and widespread than Aehrenthal had expected, the other Treaty signatories demanded answers … and Izvolsky bolted for cover:

Despite these preparations, Aehrenthal’s announcement of the annexation on 5 October 1908 triggered a major European crisis. Izvolsky denied having reached any agreement with Aehrenthal. He subsequently even denied that he had been advised in advance of Aehrenthal’s intentions, and demanded that an international conference be convened to clarify the status of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In his recent article in History Today, Vernon Bogdanor explains the reaction to this less-than-legal Austro-Hungarian swallowing act:

The annexation [...] was a breach of the treaty and of international law. It would have significant consequences. The first was that it made non-Slav rule in Bosnia appear permanent, since the Austro-Hungarian Empire was far more durable than the Ottoman Empire. The annexation was a particular blow to the independent south Slav state of Serbia, which objected. Second, the annexation made the southern Slav issue an international problem, since it involved Serbia’s ally, Russia, which saw itself as the protector of the Slavs. In March 1909 Austria demanded, under threat of war, that Serbia accept the annexation, while Germany told Russia that, in case of war, it would take Austria’s side.

Britain helped persuade Serbia and Russia to back down. The great powers accepted the annexation. The Kaiser, unwisely perhaps, boasted in Vienna in 1910 that he had come to Austria’s side as a ‘knight in shining armour’.

The deciding factor in settling the issue of annexation turned out to be the active involvement of the German government in providing diplomatic pressure on Russia, as Christopher Clark explains:

The issue was resolved only by the “St. Petersburg note” of March 1909, in which the Germans demanded that the Russians at last recognize the annexation and urge Serbia to do likewise. If they did not, Chancellor Bülow warned, then things would “take their course”. This formulation hinted not just at the possibility of an Austrian war on Serbia, but, more importantly, at the possibility that the Germans would release the documents proving Izvolsky’s complicity in the original annexation deal. Izvolsky immediately backed down.

At the time, Aehrenthal took the blame for this fiasco, at least to some degree for his preference for secret deals and understandings. He may have been correct that there was no chance that the other signatories to the Treaty of Berlin would accept the Austrian proposal, but when it all became public, it tarnished his reputation directly and Austria-Hungary’s reputation generally.

Russia hardly came out improved in standing either. As Christopher Clark put it, “the evidence suggests that the crisis took the course that it did because Izvolsky lied in the most extravagant fashion in order to save his job and reputation.” This embarrassing incident at least partially explains why Russia became far more concerned about the fate of the south Slavic populations — having signally failed them once in 1908, Russia could not afford to look like they were going to fail them in future conflicts without forfeiting any influence or control over events in the Balkans. Clark explains the toxic combination of official misinformation, rising political awareness of the Russian middle classes, and the indirect power of the newspapers:

Intense public emotions were invested in Russia’s status as protector of the lesser Slavic peoples, and underlying these in the minds of the key decision-makers was a deepening preoccupation with the question of access to the Turkish Straits. Misled by Izvolksy and fired up by chauvinist popular emotion, the Russian government and public opinion interpreted the annexation as a brutal betrayal of the understanding between the two powers, an unforgivable humiliation and an unacceptable provocation in a sphere of vital interest. In the years that followed the Bosnian crisis, the Russians launched a programme of military investment so substantial that it triggered a European arms race.

Another important question in the wake of the annexation crisis was how Austria-Hungary would placate Serbia. Margaret MacMillan, in The War That Ended Peace outlines the rather small pickings Serbia was offered:

The most difficult issue to settle in the aftermath of the annexation was the question of compensation for Serbia, complicated by the fact that Russia was backing Serbia’s demands and Germany was supporting Austria-Hungary. The most Aehrenthal was prepared to offer Serbia was some economic concessions such as access to a port on the Adriatic, but only if Serbia recognized the annexation and agreed to live on peaceful terms with Austria-Hungary. The Serbian government remained intransigent and, as spring melted the snows in the Balkans, the talk of war mounted again around Europe’s capitals. [...] In St. Petersburg, Stolypin, who remained opposed to war, told the British ambassador at the start of March that Russian public opinion was so firmly in support of Serbia that the government would not be able to resist coming to its defense: “Russia would have, in that case, to mobilise, and a general conflagration would then be imminent.”

War was averted in 1908, but the issues that arose (or were exacerbated) during the Bosnian crisis were almost all still significant in 1914. As a dress rehearsal, 1908 went down fairly well: only diplomatic force was exerted, but it showed some of the limits of mere diplomacy and foreshadowed the crisis of July 1914.

August 17, 2014

Jeff Burke plays Bassoon and Theremin cover of “Get Lucky”

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:59

It’s been a while since I last saw Jeff performing live, but this little video taken last weekend at the Coldwater Steampunk Festival gives you a taste of what he can do:

We’d driven through Coldwater earlier in the week, on our way to visit friends in Waubaushene on Georgian Bay, but couldn’t get back there on the weekend for the festival, unfortunately.

H/T to Boing Boing‘s Rob Beschizza for the link.

“Down on the Farm” by Charles Stross

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:06

I’m quite a fan of the “Laundry” series of SF/horror stories by Charles Stross. I thought I’d read all of them (well, all that have been released, anyway), but a discussion thread on the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list alerted me that I hadn’t read “Down on the Farm“, which is available for free on the Tor.com website:

Ah, the joy of summer: here in the south-east of England it’s the season of mosquitoes, sunburn, and water shortages. I’m a city boy, so you can add stifling pollution to the list as a million outwardly mobile families start their Chelsea tractors and race to their holiday camps. And that’s before we consider the hellish environs of the Tube (far more literally hellish than anyone realizes, unless they’ve looked at a Transport for London journey planner and recognized the recondite geometry underlying the superimposed sigils of the underground map).

But I digress…

One morning, my deputy head of department wanders into my office. It’s a cramped office, and I’m busy practicing my Frisbee throw with a stack of beer mats and a dart-board decorated with various cabinet ministers. “Bob,” Andy pauses to pluck a moist cardboard square out of the air as I sit up, guiltily: “a job’s just come up that you might like to look at—I think it’s right up your street.”

The first law of Bureaucracy is, show no curiosity outside your cubicle. It’s like the first rule of every army that’s ever bashed a square: never volunteer.

If you ask questions (or volunteer) it will be taken as a sign of inactivity, and the devil, in the person of your line manager (or your sergeant) will find a task for your idle hands. What’s more, you’d better believe it’ll be less appealing than whatever you were doing before (creatively idling, for instance), because inactivity is a crime against organization and must be punished. It goes double here in the Laundry, that branch of the British secret state tasked with defending the realm from the scum of the multiverse, using the tools of applied computational demonology: volunteer for the wrong job and you can end up with soul-sucking horrors from beyond spacetime using your brain for a midnight snack. But I don’t think I could get away with feigning overwork right now, and besides: he’s packaged it up as a mystery. Andy knows how to bait my hook, damn it.

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