November 26, 2015

Tom Kratman’s “Dear Russia” letter

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tom Kratman looks at what is known about the Turkish military’s attack on a Russian aircraft earlier this week:

Firstly, my condolences on the recent murder of your two pilots. While one might argue that shooting descending parachutists (as opposed to paratroopers) would be permissible in some circumstances, as when there is no reasonable possibility of capture, in this case there was such a possibility. Obviously, you’ll want revenge. I – and I think most Americans, at least such as are not in favor of a large and viciously fundamentalist Islamic state in the Middle East – understand and, generally speaking, approve of things like that, where called for. The situation, however, is more complex than that. Because of that complexity, I strongly encourage you to dispense with emotion, to the utmost of your ability, and reason carefully before acting.

I can’t offer condolences on the initial shoot down of your Sukhoi-24, because I really don’t know what happened. If it drifted into Turkish airspace, and the Turks shot it down, even if they pursued it out of Turkish airspace…well, you’re in an unenviable moral position to complain about any of that, given the conduct your predecessor in interest, the USSR, with regard to KAL 007. If, however, it never violated Turkish airspace, and the Turks crossed over to attack it, you may well have a casus belli against Turkey.

If the Turks are offering war I strongly advise you to decline the invitation. They are very nearly a peer competitor, having similarly sized armed forces, quite possibly better trained, an economy almost as strong as your own, and likely rather stronger when you count out export of raw materials. They’re not as technologically sophisticated as you are, but they have friends who are more so. And you just wouldn’t believe the long-standing love affair between the US Army and the Turkish Army, based on their performance in Korea in the early fifties.


A little aside is in order at this point. I’m not really so concerned about the incident that just took place, with one of your planes shot down by the Turks, and the ejected pilots murdered on the way down. What’s really bugging me is the almost instantaneous assumption of people over here that this was the first set of shots in World War V, World War III having been the Cold War, and World War IV the on-again, off-again, fiasco with the Islamics. On its own, this should not be capable of doing that. Add in paranoia, self-fulfilling prophecy, idiotic foreign policy on many fronts, from many fonts, a fairly inscrutable Turkey…I’m a little concerned that things might spiral out of control.


Earlier in this missive I said I don’t know what happened. Nonetheless, here’s what I think happened. I think that Sukhoi was on a strike mission against the Turkmen Brigades in Syria. I think you’ve been occasionally bombing the crap out of the Turkmen Brigades in Syria for a while now. That would tend to explain the vindictiveness of the folks on the ground who shot at your descending pilots. I think because of that bombing, the Turks, or at least one of the Turks, north of the border decided to help his or their close cousins in Syria. I think it made not a bit of difference whether or not you crossed the border; the Turks wanted to set an example and instill a little fear and friction on you, so would have crossed themselves even if you hadn’t. I suspect the order to do this came from the highest levels in Turkey, probably Erdogan, himself.

No, that doesn’t mean that whipping out the Polonium 210 dispensers would be a good idea.

Britain’s latest military and strategic five-year plan

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Back in 2010, the British government published the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which I joked should properly have been called the “Slashing Damage to Strategic Resources” plan. Back then, the strategic picture was fairly undisturbed with no obvious rising threats, but the economy was still in bad shape. That meant that the RN, RAF, and the army had to cut, cut, cut (and cut some more). The next version of that document has just been published and this time it’s been joined to the National Security Strategy in a single document. Patrick Bury looks at how things have changed from SDSR 2010 to the new NSSSDSR 2015:

On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled Britain’s new National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review in the House of Commons. It marked the first time the United Kingdom has undertaken a review of its strategy and security within the new five-year schedule. This edition is also notable in that it combines the National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which were previously two separate documents. True to its name, the NSS outlines the perceived threats to Britain and its vision for dealing with them, while the SDSR details how the armed forces are configured to execute this vision.

These developments point to a realization in the United Kingdom that it must be more flexible and responsive in terms of setting strategy and defense priorities. After introducing the NSS in 2010 in the wake of criticism that Britain “couldn’t do strategy,” the Conservative government clearly feels it now makes sense to present both policies in a single document. Similarly, the overarching tone of the document is one of internationality. Britain clearly believes it will be working with the United States and France especially closely in the future. But what is inside, and what does it mean?

The NSS related-chapters outline the usual myriad of threats commonly listed in the post-Cold War era. Based on the security services’ National Security Risk Assessment, these threats are then classed into tiers. Tier One risks are the highest priority based on high likelihood and/or high impact. Reflecting the impact of threats and hazards, and the development of risks since 2010, the latest assessment includes a greater number of Tier One risks than in 2012. These are listed in order as terrorism, cyber, international military conflict (rising since 2010), instability overseas (Tier Two in 2010), public health (a new addition), and natural disasters. Interestingly, the general erosion of international order and resulting chaos also makes a more significant appearance.

Here’s the quick overview of what is promised this time around:

UK SDSR 2015 summary

One area that looks concerning is that the British government appears to be considering replicating the Canadian experiment with merging the military services into a “unified” structure:

Tying all these developments together, this SDSR is notable for its underlying shift towards viewing Britain’s smaller services as a single force, as unveiled in the new Joint Force 2025. Over the next decade, the core of the Joint Force will be based around an expeditionary force of around 50,000 (compared with around 30,000 planned in 2010’s Future Force 2020) and is set to include a new F-35 equipped aircraft carrier, “a land division with three brigades including a new Strike Force; an air group of combat, transport and surveillance aircraft,” and a special forces task group. Of course, the Whole Force concept underpins jointness, but one gets the sense that future SDSRs may well pave the way for the merging of all three services into one force in the name of flexibility and in the search for efficiencies. Another interesting nuance was the primacy of special forces in the document – above that of the Royal Navy which is the senior service – perhaps an indication of why the government is investing an extra £2 billion ($3 billion) in its equipment as well. The number of staff at GCHQ (the signal-intelligence agency), MI5 and MI6 (the domestic and foreign intelligence services) is to also increase by 1,900.

Despite this SDSR unveiling the first major investment, rather than reductions, in the United Kingdom’s security forces for about 25 years, there are a number of noticeable gaps. The first concerns its people. The army remains at its smallest size since the Napoleonic era; recruitment and retention is a problem across British defense; and it remains to be seen if the government’s Spending Review released tomorrow will better the terms and conditions of service. Without the right people in the right place, all the fancy kit in the world is not much use. The message is also clear that rapid-reaction forces are in fashion, and boots on the ground and long-term counter-insurgency operations are out, at least for now. The now bit is important: with a lot of these investments and the Joint Force structure not scheduled for delivery for ten years, there is plenty of scope to adjust or change course entirely between now and then. Which is exactly how the Brits do long-term strategy. Nevertheless, this SDSR is clearly intended to show that Britain wants to remain in the top tier of international powers over the coming decade.

Inflation hits high school football, where there are now more than 400 “state champions”

Filed under: Football, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In this week’s football wrap-up, Gregg Easterbrook looks at the most tangible evidence of the popularity of football in America: that there are more than eight times as many high school state championships as there are states in the union:

High school football playoff season has begun across the country, and continues nearly till Christmas. The result will be not 50 titlists but at least 425 state high school football champions. In the N.F.L., every team save one is ground into dust. In high school football, it’s trophies galore!

Expanding postseason brackets at the high school level are another indicator of the runaway rise of football popularity.

Back in the day, there weren’t hundreds of high school state champions; many states had no postseason. I graduated from Kenmore West High School near Buffalo; in 1969 the football team finished ranked first in New York state. That storied squad appeared in eight games, then put away its gear because there were no playoffs to attend. This year’s Kenmore West team suited up for 10 regular-season dates followed by two postseason contests. The Blue Devils’ 10-2 finish got them only to the subregionals of a now-sprawling postseason tournament producing 16 New York state football champions.

New York state pales before Texas and California. In the crazed Texas system, 704 public high schools playing 11-man football made this year’s postseason; plus playoffs for private institutions and schools in the six-man rural version of the sport. Texas offers 10 brackets of 64 schools, each football bracket about the size of the March Madness basketball tourney. Hundreds of Texas playoff games build up to the Lone Star State naming 26 state high school football champions. The last trophy will not be determined till the double-whistle of a night game Dec. 19 at the stadium where the Houston Texans perform. To win a Texas state title, a high school needs to appear in 16 games — exactly the same wear-and-tear on the body as in an N.F.L. regular season.

All this expansion of the high school football year is great … for the fans and the coaches. It’s definitely not so beneficial to the players on the field: not only significant increases in the chance for injury, but also increased distraction from actual school work. Too many football players are hoping to get into college on a football scholarship (and many of them also nurture unrealistic dreams of a professional career in the NFL after college). Perhaps it’s because high schools don’t cover the statistics on that:

The old shorter seasons allowed high school football team members to participate in the extracurricular activities that are essential for college acceptance. Admissions officers know that teenagers with weak grades and only “football team” on their application are not prepared for college.

But won’t the guys get recruited? This is the Grand Illusion of contemporary high school football — devote your high school days to playing in a huge number of games, as well as to year-round conditioning, film study and 7-on-7, because recruiters will come calling. Hundreds of thousands of tween and teen males happily dwell in this Grand Illusion. Then recruiters don’t call.

Each spring, roughly one high school senior football player in 60 is offered an N.C.A.A. scholarship. Roughly one in 125 receives an “ath admit,” acceptance to a college he would not otherwise have qualified for. Athletic admits to the Ivy League or the New England Small College Athletic Conference are solid gold, better in many ways than N.C.A.A. offers. Rolled together, about one high school letterman in 40 gets a college boost from football. While one in 40 gets great news, many more on the football team end up with reduced chances of regular college admission plus regular financial aid.

Expansion of high school football seasons and playoffs has not happened to serve students. More high school games serve the interests of coaching-staff adults who want to pretend to be Don Shula, of state sports organizations that want to be more important, of hustlers who run the growing universe of “showcases” and “combines” that bilk parents of fees in return for the false promise of a recruiting edge for their children.

It’s been nearly a generation since most companies stopped accepting job applications for “entry level jobs” on a career path without at least a university degree. Encouraging teenage boys to ignore academic work through high school to get a microscopic shot at getting into college through football is a form of fraud. Worse, the way high school football players are treated (both in the form of adulation from fellow students and pampering by staff) further encourages them to keep dreaming rather than to keep football in its proper place and getting an education. At least to the extent that high schools are still equipped to teach, anyway.

Korea: Admiral Yi – IV: Those Who Seek Death Shall Live – Extra History

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Oct 2015

Yi’s success had forced the Japanese to give up offensive naval operations, but their huge fleet remained entrenched in Busan harbor. While Yi pinned them down, reinforcements from the Chinese army had finally arrived and helped the Korean army take back the country on land. Yi petitioned for marines to take Busan back from the Japanese, but his requests were ignored. Instead, he focused on making his base on Hansando self-sufficient: he promised protection to refugees in exchange for them working the island, building his equipment, and even researching military technology. But a truce was called with Japan, one that dragged on for years until Hideyoshi broke it by ordering a second invasion. An informant brought word of secret, unprotected Japanese fleet movements, but Yi recognized it as a trap and refused to go. However, his friend Ryu’s enemies at court seized on this as an opportunity to put Yi on trial for treason. They demoted him again, and gave his fleet to Won Kyon. Won Kyon fell into the trap Yi had refused, and a coordinated surprise attack from the Japanese resulted in the destruction of all but 12 ships. Yi was quickly re-instated, but ordered to disband the navy. He refused, and planned his counterattack carefully: he would fight at Myeongnyang Strait, where he hoped the natural currents would do what his numbers could not. His plan worked: the reversing tide caught the Japanese by surprise and flung their ships against each other right as he pressed the attack. With 13 ships versus 133, he once again drove back Japan with zero losses to his own navy. Word of his success brought other ships out of hiding and convinced the Chinese navy to ally with him at last.

QotD: Culture warriors

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

Culture War 2.0 is as inescapable as it is obnoxious. Its loudest proponents, the Social Justice Warriors, live off a drama that they create, playing enlightened victim-activists fighting micro-struggles against micro-aggressions in areas most people have never even thought about.

The issues are ideological, but they’re mainstreamed by focusing on personal narratives. The victim-activists are usually millennials from wealthy families with useless degrees. It’s a story as old as radicalism, but in the dawn of the 21st century, it’s activism and culture war being replayed as farce.

Culture War 2.0 politicizes narcissism and insecurity. It obsessively masticates culture the way that its political predecessors destroyed people. Its target audience lives and thinks in terms of premium cable shows. They are to it what novels were to its 19th century counterparts.

Even its ideology is more grievance than theory. It only cares about theory to the extent of parsing the Victim Value Index and determining who has more or less privilege, who ought to feel more guilty and who ought to feel more victimized. This is ideology as soap opera. Politics as a means of deciding who gets to play what emotional role in a societal drama.

Its political expressions exist in the space of the personal narrative. In this tawdry post-Orwellian future everyone will get their essay of victimhood on Medium or ThoughtCatalog read for 15 minutes. Their drama will, very temporarily, be a trending topic. For a generation of overindulged children, broadcasting their petty pains is the closest thing their lives have to love and meaning.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

November 25, 2015

The delaying tactics of Fabius Cunctatus

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

James Holmes suggests a few lessons modern tacticians can learn from the great Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus:

Quintus Fabius would nod knowingly at seeing the world turned upside down. Celebrated as Fabius Cunctatus (“the Delayer”), the Roman dictator lent his name to strategies whereby commanders deploy strategically defensive yet tactically offensive methods to forestall a decisive battle — all while marshaling manpower, implements of war, and other resources to right the military imbalance.

Skillfully prosecuted, a Fabian strategy proffers an opportunity to defeat a superior foe in a conventional trial of arms. And indeed, Fabius’s feats of arms earned him the nickname “Maximus” among Romans — signifying rock-star status. Historians of classical antiquity ranging from Polybius to Plutarch to Machiavelli considered him an icon of patient, guileful martial statecraft.

Polybius retells Fabius’s tale expertly. After trekking over the Alps, the Carthaginian warlord Hannibal’s army had rampaged throughout Italy, compiling a virtually unbroken record of battlefield victory. In particular, his triumph over the Roman legions at Cannae won enduring fame in Western military circles. Two millennia later General Dwight Eisenhower recalled in his memoir Crusade in Europe, “Every ground commander seeks the battle of annihilation,” maintained Eisenhower; “he tries to duplicate in modern war the classic example of Cannae.”

Granted emergency powers, Fabius assumed personal command of the legions and encamped near the Carthaginian host at Aecae. Upon learning that the Roman army was nearby, Hannibal resolved to “terrify the enemy by promptly attacking.” The Roman riposte? Nothing. No one responded to the Carthaginians’ approach. They trudged back to camp. Having acknowledged his army’s “manifest inferiority,” Fabius “made up his mind to incur no danger and not to risk a battle.”

He was ornery that way. Better to live to fight another day, and on more favorable terms. Why rush in and risk fresh disaster? Rome was fighting on home turf. Its armies were beneficiaries of an “inexhaustible supply of provisions and of men.” Fabius only needed time to tap that potential, transforming latent into kinetic military power.

National Review‘s Katherine Timpf will not apologize

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At least, she’s not planning on apologizing for making a few (not-even-PG-rated) jokes about Star Wars. Her critics, in addition to pouring scorn and hatred on her for daring to joke about such a holy topic, also threaten her life:

Now, I received a few death threats right after I posted the aforementioned tweet — which, by the way, was why I was saying Star Wars fans were “crazy” in the first place. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal, and I kind of forgot about it.

Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.

The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

    justin 12 hours ago
    Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

    needmypunk 16 hours ago
    I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

    sdgaara2 1 day ago
    Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

    Guardian978 22 hours ago
    I want to cut that blonde c***’s face off and stick it to a thermal detonator. What a network full of c***s.

    dethklok21 1 day ago
    Wow what a f***ing thunder c***. I hope this b**** gets hit by a f***ing car.

    Mikki Yeong 1 day ago
    those death treaths are approved by me look at that b**** it’s a typical i wear big glasses to look smart but in fact i’m stupid as f*** btwthose glasses used to be only weared by nerds stupid h**

    TheValefor1984 1 day ago
    We should get her address then bury her a** in Star Wars memorabilia lol

    TheGreenStreak452 1 day ago
    I just want to burn Fox News to the ground and all their stupid employees.

[Asterisks not in the original.]

To be fair, AlphaOmegaSin did say that he denounced threats on my life because “Just because you’re a f***ing idiot doesn’t mean that you should have to die.”

A problem with being a free speech absolutist is that you have to accept that some members of the community are going to use it to be as grotesquely offensive as they possibly can. Way to live down to expectations, Star Wars fans.

Food labelling laws and craft brewing … not a match made in heaven

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Health, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Eric Boehm on how well-intentioned laws can still have significant and unforeseen negative side-effects:

Brewers are facing the prospect of spending potentially thousands to determine calorie counts for every variety of beer produced. Unless they spend the money to provide the information, breweries may never get their products into chain restaurants, like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s.

As is often the case with regulations, smaller breweries stand to lose the most.

“A regional craft brewer or a major brewery can spread the cost over a much larger volume of sales and it’s not so unreasonable for them,” said Paul Gatza, a former brewer who now heads the Boulder, Colorado, based Brewers’ Association, an industry group.

“Smaller guys that are just trying to sell a keg or two here or there, they have a decision to make on whether it is worth the additional cost to try to get their beers into chain restaurants,” Gatza told Watchdog.

The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of finalizing menu labeling rules that were part of the Affordable Care Act. Intended to make Americans more aware of their dietary choices, the rules are subject to controversy on several fronts, and the FDA announced in September that implementation of the new rules would be pushed back one full year, until December 2016, as the feds try to work out the kinks.

My favourite local brewery isn’t even a micro-brewery (they’re somewhere between a pico- and a nano-brewery): every week when I drop in, there are three or four new batches ready to sample (and it’s rare that there’s anything left of last week’s offerings). If they had to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to comply with detailed labelling requirements for every small batch they brewed, they’d never stand a chance of making a profit. I understand the urge to ensure that people have a chance to avoid ingredients that might make them ill, but this is the sort of regulation that tilts very heavily toward the big companies that have regional or national markets. A thousand dollars per product isn’t even a drop in the bucket to them, while to a small local business, that might be more than their profit margin when you require it be done for everything they produce.

If only Minnesota got the Mike Wallace they thought they were getting

Filed under: Football — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In my post on Sunday’s awful outing at TCF Bank Stadium against the Green Bay Packers, I aired my opinion on the value of having wide receiver Mike Wallace on the roster. I’m not the only one wondering if Wallace was this year’s worst acquisition for the Vikings, as Judd Zulgad clearly feels the same way:

Mike Wallace arrived in Minnesota last March with the reputation for being a headache off the field but with the promise of being a dynamic playmaker on it.

The Vikings’ hope was that Wallace could serve as the team’s deep threat in the passing game and that the chemistry he would develop with Teddy Bridgewater would keep everyone happy.

According to all accounts from Winter Park, Wallace hasn’t created any issues in the locker room and has been pleasant enough to be around. Unfortunately, for the Vikings, Wallace hasn’t come close to living up to expectations and, unless something turns around quickly, his stay in purple will be a short one.

The statistics don’t tell the story of how ineffective Wallace has been.

The 29-year-old wide receiver is third on the Vikings with 28 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown. A guy who was supposed to stretch the field has a season-long gain of 22 yards.

Through 10 games, Wallace is the biggest disappointment on the Vikings’ roster and it would not be unfair to label him a bust.

Zulgad also pulls up a statistic which surprised me as much as it seems to surprise him: “Pro Football Focus has Wallace with only four drops this season, but anyone who has watched the Vikings on a regular basis would put that number closer to 10.” I haven’t been able to watch every game this season, but I was pretty sure I’d seen Wallace do his patented butterfingers routine on at least a dozen passes.

Zulgad also senses the growing inevitability of the end of Wallace’s time with the Vikings:

Considering Wallace’s lack of productivity, one would think that Johnson and Wright should get more work. The pair certainly has better chemistry with Bridgewater. But benching a guy making $9.85 million for a guy making $510,000 (Johnson), or $1.5 million (Wright) might be a tough sell to the front office.

What won’t be a tough sell is cutting ties with Wallace long before he collects on those eye-popping paydays of $11.45 million he’s due each of the next two seasons.

QotD: The microaggression industry

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The bitterness, anger, and even hate that radiates from them is shocking to me. “This conversation doesn’t make me feel safe” is genuine, actual college speak, in the “microaggressions” school of thought. The purpose is to silence speech that the listener does not care for or that threatens their worldview.

They care nothing for liberty, or truth, or honesty, they do not want a world where people interact and learn from each other, they want nothing save a continual, comforting womb of support and confirmation of their worldview. And they’re more than willing to crush anyone or anything that threatens this.

This attitude might be a byproduct of the bubble wrap children, who were raised so carefully, protected, and supported that they never encountered anything that challenged or made them question themselves. It might be a subversive method of silencing speech and dissent from a political agenda that cannot survive rational discussion. It might be the result of a psychosis that cannot abide being questioned. It might be a combination of some or all of those things.


What’s most troubling to me is that the loudest, most insistent, and most publicly conspicuous of this group are those who at the same time insist that they are lovers of liberty and will not tolerate intolerance.

And yet here we are, in the 21st century, where academics have churned out an entire system designed to do exactly the opposite of what academia is meant to be: silence any debate, questioning, or interaction that in any way threatens one specific certain viewpoint. And its done with passive-aggressive behavior taken to an astounding depth of creativity and precision.

Christopher Taylor, “SOCIAL JUSTICE KITTENS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-22.

November 24, 2015

German Rifles of World War 1 feat. Othais from C&Rsenal I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 23 Nov 2015

The next live stream about the Austro-Hungarian rifles and pistols of WW1 will be next Sunday!

Indy and Flo sat down for one of our live streams about historical firearms again. Othais from C&Rsenal explained the various German rifles and pistols of the First World War. Among them of course the famous Gewehr 98 from Mauser and its predecessor, the Gewehr 88. In our next episode we will also have a look at the iconic German pistols such as the Reichsrevolver or the Mauser C96.

How’s your food innovation level for American Thanksgiving?

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle says you can safely avoid novel and baroque food variations for the most stereotypical American meal of all time:

Every year you’re supposed to come up with something amazing and new to do with the most scripted meal in the American culinary canon. Turkey crusted with Marash pepper and stuffed with truffled cornichons. Deconstructed mashed potatoes. Green bean casserole that substitutes kale for the green beans and a smug expression for the cream-of-mushroom soup. Pumpkin-chocolate trifle with a chipotle-molasses drizzle.

I’m sorry, I can’t. I just can’t.

You know what we’re having for Thanksgiving at our house this year? With minor variations, we’re having the same thing we’ve had every year since my birth in 1973. There will be a turkey, roasted whole, because my oven cannot accommodate a spatchcocked 16-pound bird splayed over a sheet pan full of stuffing. It will be brined in a cooler, stuffed full of stuffing despite all the dire culinary injunctions against it, and cooked in the same undoubtedly subpar way we have always done it. My sister will make her homemade cloverleaf rolls, and stuffing with sausage, ginger and apple. There will be cranberry sauce, little creamed onions, mashed potatoes, and butternut squash, with bok choy for those who want greens. For dessert, there will be pie: apple, pumpkin, and perhaps, if we are feeling especially daring, cranberry-raisin.

Novelty is overrated at holidays. If you want to try planked salmon and braised leeks for the first time this year, then bon appetit. But the idea that we must have novelty, that a good cook is constantly seeking out new and better things, is a curse. The best parts of our lives do not require constant innovation; they are the best because they are the familiar things we love just as they are. When I hug my Dad, I don’t think, “Yeah, this is pretty OK, but how much better would it be if he were wearing a fez and speaking Bantu?”

The Mercator Puzzle

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

How badly distorted is your mental map of the world thanks to the use of the Mercator projection? You can test yourself right here in your web browser with The Mercator Puzzle. Click on the image below, then drag each distorted country outline to its correct location on the underlying map:

Click the image to play in your browser

Click to play in your browser

H/T to Laura Hudson for the link.

Soviet military drinking in Afghanistan

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:

Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.

Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.

As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.

QotD: The real lack of diversity issue

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As an editor, I have the privilege of working with all sorts of interesting and influential Canadians. On paper, many of these people are “diverse” — men, women, black, white, straight, gay, trans, cis, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Muslim. Yet scratch the surface, and you find a remarkable sameness to our intellectual, cultural, and political elites, no matter what words they use to self identify. In most cases, they grow up middle-class or wealthier, attend the same good schools, and join the same high-value social networks. They have nice teeth because mom and dad pay for braces, and hit a nice forehand (or three iron) because mom and dad pay for lessons. They know the best patisseries in Paris, because of that epic backpacking trip between undergrad and law school. And as ambitious young adults, they feel okay about ditching the law-firm grind for a prominent life in politics, art, journalism or activism — because a wealthy parent or spouse is paying the mortgage.

We rightly worry about how many women, or blacks, or First Nations individuals are represented in public life. Yet that concern is rarely extended to people whose marginalization cannot be reduced to tidy demographic categories.

In two decades of journalism, I have written and edited countless articles about Canada’s criminal justice system. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, ever spent a night in prison. I have written and edited countless articles about the Canadian military. But never once have I, or any of my close journalistic colleagues, witnessed the hell of war. Nor, to my knowledge, have I ever had a close colleague who lived in public housing; who experienced real hunger; who suffered from a serious health condition that went untreated for economic reasons; whose career or education was compromised by the need to support impoverished relatives; or who had been forced to remain in an abusive relationship for purely financial reasons. We often describe people like this as living “on the margins.” But collectively, this is a vast bulk of Canadians whose hardship and anxiety are rarely witnessed by politicians and media except through survey data and think-tank reports.

Jonathan Kay, “Diversity’s Final Frontier: The real schism in our society isn’t sex or race. It’s social class”, The Walrus, 2015-11-03.

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