September 29, 2015

Argentina’s side of the Falklands War

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

James Lockhart discusses some recent revelations from the Argentine government on their side of the 1982 Falklands War:

Earlier this month, the Argentine army declassified documents showing that some officers abused other officers and soldiers under their command and subjected them to excessively harsh disciplinary measures, including torture, during the Falklands War of April to June 1982. Reportedly, this included beatings and mock executions. One lieutenant described how “another officer tied his hands and legs to this [sic] back and left him face down on the wet sand of a cold Falklands beach for eight hours.” Though declassified, these documents remain in the army’s archives, requiring a trip to Buenos Aires for anyone who wishes to read them.

Argentine Lieutenant General Benjamín Rattenbach, however, presided over an inquiry just after the war. The Rattenbach report, which Argentina’s Servicio Privado de Información, an independent news agency, has made available online, presents the junta‘s history of the Anglo–Argentine dispute from 1833 to 1982. The report critically reviews the junta’s strategic and operational planning that preceded its decision to invade the Falklands (which Argentina refers to as Las Malvinas) in 1982, and summarizes the negotiations that occurred both before and after the war. It contains insights that help us understand what was going on and why it led to some Argentine officers’ and soldiers’ maltreatment.


The Rattenbach report criticized the junta‘s political decisions, its ad hoc operational planning, and its commanders’ multiple failures in execution. In short, it found that the Falklands campaign represented an ill-conceived, poorly planned, and terribly implemented military operation, especially in the area of logistics.

The junta‘s multiple errors in judgment began becoming apparent just before its invasion began. As the report notes, “On 1 April, late in the evening, [Secretary of State] General [Alexander] Haig told Ambassador [Esteban] Takacs in Washington that he was aware of the invasion that was taking place. He asked that the operation, which would place two powers friendly to the United States at war with each other, be stopped. He offered to mediate the dispute and he warned him that if war were unleashed, the Reagan administration could not remain neutral. It would necessarily side with Britain.” Reagan telephoned the junta‘s leader, General Leopoldo Galtieri, reiterating this message to no avail.

Thus the junta‘s errors in judgment included its failure to anticipate and plan for Washington’s granting British forces use of American-controlled airfields on Ascension Island. But the junta‘s errors in judgment went deeper than this. It believed that by occupying the islands, it would force Britain to negotiate, and that would be the end of the matter. It did not plan for a British military response. Indeed, it did not begin planning for one until the Royal Navy had already put to sea.

The Rattenbach report also concludes that “logistical operations did not unfold in an acceptable manner.” In fact, Rattenbach and his colleagues describe an unmitigated disaster. When they began their investigation, they soon discovered that it was “useless to seek any coherence” in the junta‘s logistical planning before it launched the invasion, and they could discern only improvised logistical operations afterward. They cite the 5th and 12th Infantry Regiments to illustrate what this meant on the ground. These units lacked vehicles and in many cases, ammunition. There was no internal transportation system to move the supplies they did have. This reduced their combat effectiveness by 40–50 percent before anyone had even fired a shot. “LOGISTICS CANNOT BE IMPROVISED,” Rattenbach aptly insists in all caps.

September 22, 2015

A unique genetic population in the Dominican Republic

Filed under: Americas, Health, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

BBC Magazine on the extraordinary lives of the Guevedoces, children who suddenly develop male sexual characteristics at puberty:

The discovery of a small community in the Dominican Republic, where some males are born looking like girls and only grow penises at puberty, has led to the development of a blockbuster drug that has helped millions of people, writes Michael Mosley.

Johnny lives in a small town in the Dominican Republic where he, and others like him, are known as “Guevedoces“, which effectively translates as “penis at twelve”.

We came across Johnny when we were filming for a new BBC Two series Countdown to Life, which looks at how we develop in the womb and how those changes, normal and abnormal, impact us later in life.

Like the other Guevedoces, Johnny was brought up as a girl because he had no visible testes or penis and what appeared to be a vagina. It is only when he approached puberty that his penis grew and testicles descended.


So why does it happen? Well, one of the first people to study this unusual condition was Dr Julianne Imperato-McGinley, from Cornell Medical College in New York. In the 1970s she made her way to this remote part of the Dominican Republic, drawn by extraordinary reports of girls turning into boys.

When she got there she found the rumours were true. She did lots of studies on the Guevedoces (including what must have been rather painful biopsies of their testicles) before finally unravelling the mystery of what was going on.

When you are conceived you normally have a pair of X chromosomes if you are to become a girl and a set of XY chromosomes if you are destined to be male.

For the first weeks of life in womb you are neither, though in both sexes nipples start to grow.

Then, around eight weeks after conception, the sex hormones kick in. If you’re genetically male the Y chromosome instructs your gonads to become testicles and sends testosterone to a structure called the tubercle, where it is converted into a more potent hormone called dihydro-testosterone This in turn transforms the tubercle into a penis. If you’re female and you don’t make dihydro-testosterone then your tubercle becomes a clitoris.

August 30, 2015

Argentina’s decaying armed forces

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Argentina is, once again, suffering the consequences of populist-but-incompetent governance, and the state of the armed forces clearly reflect the economic woes of the country. Last year, Rowan Allport contrasted the Argentinian military in the late 1970s leading up to the Falkland War with the hollow shell of today:

It is difficult to believe from the vantage point of 2014, but in 1978, Argentina came within hours of invading Chile. The scheme arose as a result of a conflict between the two countries regarding the ownership of the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands, which are situated at the western entrance to the Beagle Channel – a waterway running between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The plan envisaged the seizure by the Argentine military of these and a number of other islands, to be followed shortly after by an invasion of mainland Chile, with the intent of capturing the capital Santiago and other key population centres. From this position, the Argentine leadership believed that it would be in an unassailable position to force Chile into a beggar’s peace regarding its territorial demands. Whilst the operation was ultimately aborted at the last minute, it was the then government’s belief that Buenos Ares had the ability to exercise hard power on a substantial scale – together the domestic economic crisis it was experiencing – that ultimately led it to once again travel down the path of aggression with the invasion of the British-governed Falkland Islands in 1982. Although Argentina did not expect the British to attempt to retake the territory and ultimately lost the conflict, its armed forces were – in addition to performing the initial amphibious assault which captured the islands – able to deploy a carrier group, surface action groups and submarines into the South Atlantic, and managed to inflict significant losses on the British using modern anti-ship weapons and a substantial fleet of jet aircraft.

Flashing forward over three decades, the Argentine Armed Forces find themselves in a calamitous state. The depleted Argentine Navy rarely puts to sea, is desperately short of spare parts, and much of the ordinance carried by its ships is past its expiration date. 2012 saw the training ship ARA Libertad seized in Ghana on the orders of a hedge fund seeking reparations from the Argentinian government [blogged here]. Shortly afterward, the corvette ARA Espora was stranded in South Africa for seventy-three days after the German company hired to repair a mechanical fault refused to carry out the work as a result of the Argentine government’s unpaid bills. Then, in a final indignity, 2013 saw the sinking of the decommissioned destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad in port as a consequence of poor maintenance [blogged here]. The Argentine Air Force largely consists of a collection of obsolete aircraft mostly dating back to the 1970s, which are frequently grounded due to poor serviceability. The Argentine Army has deployed on operations without some of even the most basic equipment and rarely has the resources for training.

So how did this situation arise? As with most such calamities, the root causes are both financial and political. The story of Argentina’s economic fall from grace – both historical and contemporary – is well known. In 1914, Argentina was the tenth wealthiest country in the world, but a century later it has fallen to fifty-fourth place. The last three decades has seen the country careen from crisis to crisis. During the 1980s, Argentina was crippled by inflation and external debt. The free market reforms begun under President Carlos Menem allowed a short reprieve, but a succession of financial crises in Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South East Asia during the 1990s – combined with a failure to tackle numerous underlying domestic economic issues and corruption – sowed the seeds of further catastrophe. In 1998, Argentina’s economy fell into a depression, climaxing with the largest debt default in human history. Though a commodities boom and a currency devaluation allowed room for a brief recovery, the increasing use of interventionist economic policies by the government, along with the 2008 global financial crash and attempts by so-called ‘vulture funds’ to obtain payment for debts on which Argentina had previously defaulted led the country back into crisis, forcing another default in 2014.

So how bad is it now? Argentina is being forced to retire the last of their supersonic jet fighters because they can neither maintain nor replace them:

According to IHS Janes

    “The Argentine Air Force is drastically cutting staff working hours and decommissioning its last fighter aircraft amid continuing budget issues.

    A recently published daily agenda indicates that the service’s working hours have been significantly reduced, from 0800 to 1300; rationing of food, energy consumption, and office supplies has been directed headquarters staff and property residents; and only the minimum personnel required to staff headquarters, directorates, and commands are working.

    These orders, issued on 11 August, take effect 18 August. A next step will cut Monday and Tuesday as working days. Moreover, air force officials said any aircraft taken out of service will not undergo maintenance for now.”

This leaves the Argentine military with just two types of jet aircraft A-4’s and IA-63’s and both are subsonic, decades old and barely serviceable. Argentina had looked into buying new Gripen’s from Sweden via Brazil but this was vetoed by the United Kingdom which makes a large number of internal components for the aircraft. They had also looked at JF-17’s from China, but the JF-17s proved too expensive to modify.

August 23, 2015

The Falklands War – The Untold Story

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

Published on 19 Aug 2013

Falklands Crisis was a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The conflict resulted from the long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

August 18, 2015

Donald Trump’s immigration “policy” proposals

Filed under: Americas, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle found herself coming back to the phrase “bag o’ crazy” when she tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals:

To be fair, he does have some practical positions. Some of them will be controversial, like criminal penalties for people who overstay temporary visas. Some of them are theoretically feasible, but wildly expensive, such as tripling the size of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and stepping up detentions and deportations.

Then there are the less practical ideas, which are — well, there’s a reason I got stuck on “bag o’ crazy.”

Most notably, Trump is promising to end birthright citizenship and get Mexico to pay for building a giant wall across our nearly 2,000-mile border. He also adds bizarre promises like a temporary halt on issuing any green cards at all until the domestic labor market recovers and a “refugee program for American children” aimed at getting foster kids into better homes.

This is not a serious policy document. Ending birthright citizenship would require a Constitutional amendment, which would never pass Congress, much less the three-quarters of the state legislatures required to ratify it. The difficulty of this task is exceeded only in the difficulty of getting Mexico to pay for a 2,000-mile wall that Mexicans have no interest in.

But critiquing Trump on the basis of his policy fantasies sort of misses the point. The precise reason that people like him is that his campaign is completely unmoored from underlying realities.

Every election season, candidates release white papers outlining what they will do when they take office. Those policy papers inevitably have a bunch of magic asterisks where the candidate has substituted heroic assumption for plausible numbers. These heroic assumptions do the bold and necessary work of hiding the costs of their rosy promises from voters. For example, Obama’s promise that his health care plan would save the average family a bunch of money, and also, never include a legal mandate forcing them to buy health insurance.

While those policy documents always have a certain … let’s call it a “muscular optimism” — they’re ultimately at least weakly tethered to the plausible. Viable Republican presidential candidates do not promise that on their first day in office, they will repeal Roe v. Wade. Democrats do not claim that they will provide universal preschool education for a net cost of $5. That’s just unrealistic.

But a broad swath of American voters are hungry for those sweet little lies. Or big lies. These voters don’t want some guy who crafts a policy agenda that could actually be enacted, some triangulated plan that could get past the American system’s checks and balances. In Dave Weigel’s terrific piece on a Trump rally in Flint, Michigan, two quotes, from two different people, stand out:

    “Being a businessman, he knows the ways around. I don’t think he’d go to Congress and ask. I think he’d just do it.”


    “I compare Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan. He lets people know what he’s going to do, not what to ask for.”

This is, of course, a completely inaccurate picture of how government works. But they’re sick of how the government works.

June 21, 2015

Chile’s red wine regions

Filed under: Americas, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Chile has emerged over the last decade or so as a dependable source of relatively inexpensive — and good value — red wine. Here is Wine Folly‘s brief overview of the distinctive wine regions of Chile:

It seems unlikely that the thin, long country of Chile is a larger producer of Cabernet Sauvignon than the US, but it’s true!

Chile’s vineyard area dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon is second only to France. The country has become a winemaking hot spot due to the cooling effect Chile receives from the Pacific Ocean and the Humboldt Current. In other words, Chile has an ideal climate for wine. Chilean red wines have gone from good to exceptional in recent years and yet, they still offer good value.

Click to see full-sized image at WineFolly

Click to see full-sized image at WineFolly

Most of Chile’s vineyards are located in the Central Valley Region, which is a large region that contains several smaller valleys including Maipo, Colchagua and Maule Valley. Most of the Central Valley is wide and flat and this is where the bulk of Chilean wine is made. If you’re looking for age-worthy wine however, the fine wines of Chile tend to be found in the foothills (areas with higher elevations), especially the sub-regions of Puente Alto (in Alto Maipo or “High Maipo”) and Alto Cachapoal (“High Cachapoal”). Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends have a signature tart-and-fruity style, typical of a cool-climate wine. The tartness (aka acidity) comes from cool ocean breezes being pulled inland by the incredibly tall Andes Mountains.

June 19, 2015

QotD: There is a lot of ruin in a nation … but not an infinite amount

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Europe, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Over the years, I’ve had many arguments about economic policy with my statist friends. I put them into three categories.

  • The completely unreasonable statists blindly assert, notwithstanding all the evidence around the world, that bigger government and more intervention are actually good for growth.
  • The somewhat unreasonable statists acknowledge that bigger government and more intervention might have some minor “efficiency” costs, but those costs are acceptable and affordable in the pursuit of more “equity.”
  • The semi-reasonable statists admit that bigger government and more intervention hurt growth, but they argue that “libertarian types” must somehow be wrong because our predictions of economic chaos never materialize.

The folks in the last category have a point. For decades, advocates of limited government and free markets have warned about the economic cost of bad policy, yet where’s the collapse?

Why hasn’t Atlas shrugged, as libertarians have warned? Why have predictions of economic dystopia (examples here and here) been wrong?

I have two responses to these questions.

First, the economic damage caused by an expanding welfare state has been offset by improvements in other types of economic policy.

Second, maybe dour libertarians have been right, but got the timing wrong because it takes a long time and a lot of bad policy to destroy an economy.

And that’s today’s topic, because it certainly looks like both Greece and Venezuela have finally reached the end of the road. Let’s call it the Thatcher Inflection Point.

Dan Mitchell, “Atlas Is Shrugging in Greece and Venezuela: Two Case Studies of Statist Failure”, International Liberty, 2015-05-27.

May 28, 2015

QotD: The key strength of markets

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This is a general and pernicious failing of the left in my view. They really, just really, don’t get what it is that markets do and do very well. What markets do do is they produce the information, through the price system, of who is willing to produce what at which price and who desires to consume what at which price. Thus we get an efficient allocation of scarce resources by our use of markets. And Hayek pretty much got his Nobel for proving that there is no other system to hand which can perform this function. The planner simply cannot gain enough information to be able to perform that function, nor process it real time (and no, computing can’t do it either, Allende and his computer to run the Chilean economy was wrong.)

It’s entirely possible to critique markets on the grounds of equity though. For example, too many people are too poor if we just leave it to the market. Perhaps we agree with that idea, perhaps we don’t: but that argues for changing peoples’ incomes through intervention, not for abolishing the market in the provision of goods. Or, as I’ve said before, if Chavez and Maduro want poor Venezuelans to be better off then send them more money. Don’t mess with the market: the result of that messing will inevitably be the sort of breakdown we see here.

As for the people of Venezuela, well, obviously, this isn’t going to work out well. Their rulers have pretty much bankrupted the country through their incompetence: and now they’re taking more economic power unto themselves?

Not going to work, is it? Even competent governments haven’t been able to make nationalised food distribution systems work…

Tim Worstall, “Amazingly, Maduro Is Going To Make The Venezuelan Economy Even Worse. Yes, Worse”, Forbes, 2015-05-03.

May 19, 2015

The 1982 amphibious landings at San Carlos Water

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

Think Defence looks back at the successful amphibious landings in the Falkland Islands by a less-than-fully-prepared British military:

If the amphibious operations in Normandy were unprecedented because of the scale those in 1982 in the Falkland Islands were equally remarkable, nor for scale but for the huge distance involved. Another breathtaking feature of Operation Corporate was the speed in which it was mounted and the degree of improvisation that would in the end, be needed.

One might argue that even taking into account Inchon and Suez it was the worlds most complex and demanding amphibious operation since D-Day.

Since VE day and Suez the UK’s amphibious capabilities had dwindled both in scale and capability, the Royal Marines concentrating on their Northern Europe role.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 the scale of the challenge had many echoes of D-Day; a need for joint service cooperation and a number of technical challenges to overcome for example. What we did not have was the luxury of time, no time to develop new and novel solutions, no time for testing and no time for practice beyond what was available on the journey south.

Due to the short timescales British Rail could not reposition their rolling stock to get the War Material Reserve (about 9,000 tonnes just for 3CDO, 30 days combat supplies and 60 days of general stores) to the ships so instead, a fleet of RCT and civilian trucks were used.

More or less, we went with what we had.

In little over a month from the invasion, the first ships had departed the UK on their 8,000 mile journey South.

There is no need to recount the general history of the campaign but from a ship to shore logistics perspective there were a number of equipment and capabilities available to Commodore Clapp and Brigadier Thompson worth describing.

Earlier posts on the Falklands War can be found here.

April 21, 2015

The Religious Leaders During WW1 I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:03

Published on 20 Apr 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This week, he is explaining the role of the religious leaders during the war and what role the South American countries played.

April 17, 2015

Viking Greenland during the Little Ice Age

Filed under: Americas, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charlotte Persson looks at what happened to the Viking settlers in Greenland as the Little Ice Age set in:

In the middle of the 13th century the Vikings who had settled in Greenland encountered no less than ten years of harsh and cold winters and summers. The Norsemen, who were living as farmers, bid farewell to many of their cattle during that period.

The Greenland Vikings were also prevented from setting sail to fetch supplies from their homelands in Europe because they didn’t have enough timber to build trading ships. So when Scandinavian traders didn’t happen to pass by they were left entirely on their own.

But this didn’t knock them out; on the contrary they lived with the worsening climate for almost 200 years during what we later would call the Little Ice Age. This is the conclusion of a new Ph.D. thesis.

“The stories we have heard so far about the climate getting worse and the Norsemen disappearing simply don’t hold water. They actually survived for a long time and were far better at adapting than we previously thought,” says the author of the new study, Christian Koch Madsen, Ph.D. student at the National Museum of Denmark.

April 8, 2015

Venezuela’s economic plight

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

J.R. Ireland sums up the Venezuelan situation:

The current fate of Venezuela is one of the most wretched and tragic foregone conclusions in modern history — an economic system that was doomed, from the first optimistic days of its implementation, to fail miserably and to beggar the poor, beleaguered Venezuelan people as it did so. There was no other way it could conceivably end. This sort of command economy has been tried continuously throughout the 20th century and humanity’s failure to learn from socialism’s shortcomings is the primary reason the next century is unlikely to greatly improve upon the last, at least from a human rights perspective.

So anyone who had paid attention to the decay, stagnation, and eventual collapse of every command economy of the 20th century knew immediately that Chavista socialism would be no more successful than Castro’s socialism, Mao’s socialism, Lenin’s socialism, or Pol Pot’s socialism and would end, eventually, in the same great grey void of hopelessness, impotence, shortages, inequity and despair. Therefore, those of us who actually know anything about the failings of such command economies cannot be particularly surprised by the fact that condoms currently cost $755 for a 36 pack of trojans, that authorities have begun making it illegal to shop more than twice a week in a desperate attempt to alleviate shortages, or that women must now wait in long lines to get something so simple as tampons. This was guaranteed to occur all along and the foreordained Day of Judgment was only ever so slightly delayed by a period of high oil prices which allowed the Venezuelan government to paper over systemic failings with a vast influx of petrodollars.

What I now have to ask is this: When can we expect an apology from the various ‘enlightened’ and ‘caring’ progressives who applauded Chavez during his rise to power, who claimed that every one of Chavez’ failings was the fault of bigoted American imperialists undercutting the Savior of South American, and who declared Chavez to be some sort of righteous admixture between Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and George Washington?

March 31, 2015

Latin America During WW1 and Who Are You Guys? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Americas, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 30 Mar 2015

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again and answers your questions. This time he explains the situation of Latin America during World War 1 and you get to know some of the people behind the camera of our channel.

March 11, 2015

Venezuela, then and now

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Kevin D. Williamson looks to the not-too-distant past to see how Venezuela got into the economic disaster they’re currently facing:

Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil — Boss Hugo was a brute, but he understood American politics.

Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.” Some of the more old-fashioned liberals at The New Republic voiced concern about Venezuela’s sham democracy, its unlimited executive authority, political repression, the hunting down of government critics, the stacking of elections and the government’s perpetrating violence inside polling places — but Myerson insisted that Venezuela’s “electoral system’s integrity puts the U.S.’s to abject shame.” Never mind that opposition leaders there are hauled off to military prison after midnight raids.

Vice President Biden, who can always be counted on to cut straight to the heart of any political question, ran into Maduro in Brazil and, noting the potentate’s thick mane, commented: “If I had your hair, I’d be president of the United States.” Tragically for the Sage of Delaware, hair transplants don’t work that way.

That is all going down the memory hole. The Obama administration has announced economic sanctions on Venezuela’s rulers and its intelligence agents, citing the “erosion of human-rights guarantees” – erosion, as though this were something new, as though Hugo Chávez hadn’t been a tyrant back when President Obama’s ally Representative Fattah was carrying his political water all over the eastern seaboard. In the New York Times’ account of Venezuela’s woes and Maduro’s misrule, there is no mention at all of the critical role the American Left played in lending legitimacy to Chavismo, of the so-called liberals and progressives who denounced legitimate protests against Maduro’s brutality as nefarious U.S.-backed coup attempts, who remained — and remain — silent on the regime’s censorship, political repression, torture, and economic incompetence. William Neuman of the Times did find an economist — a leftist economist, he assures us — who went so far as to say that certain aspects of the Chávez program “needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track.”

February 24, 2015

A Victorian-era effort equivalent to a moon landing in the 20th century

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At sp!ked, Alexander Adams tries to put the Franklin Expedition into a context we can understand:

In May 1845, two Royal Navy ships, HMS Terror and Erebus, embarked from London on a voyage with ambitious aims. The mission would forge a passage through the partially mapped channels of northern Canada and pioneer the Northwest Passage. This route from Greenland to Alaska via the icy channels on the Arctic Circle would open new trading routes and allow vessels to forgo the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. The attempt would use new technology pioneered in Britain — coal-fired engines powering propeller screws for locomotion, and tinned food.

The Admiralty decided on a large party in two ships under the command of Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin. Hostile conditions, the use of new technology, and — critically — operating beyond immediate assistance of the few trading forts and whaling stations to the south, meant the expedition was the equivalent of a Victorian-era moon landing. If men, supplies, technology, knowhow or leadership failed, then deaths could be expected. However, experience suggested that if the attempt met insurmountable obstacles there was a fair chance of retreating with only minor casualties, if leadership was decisive enough.

For the purposes of communication, the expedition was supplied with watertight brass tubes to hold written messages, to be left behind in coastal cairns. Provisions for three years were supplied, as it was expected that two overwinterings, locked in sea ice, would have to be borne. Without coal and food depoted ahead, and without a supply ship following the next season, the Admiralty’s plan left Franklin perilously reliant on his own resources.


It became plain, as search parties brought back the few clues, that 129 officers and men had died in the greatest single disaster in Arctic exploration. A rough outline became clear. All had started well but the ships had been woefully underpowered by their engines and relied on their sails. Much of the tinned food — produced by a contractor who was the lowest bidder — turned out to be rotten. A later expedition, using identical tins, discovered that much of their provisions were inedible. Some tins of meat included bone, which reduced the edible content to half of what it should have been. Loose beads of solder may have caused lead poisoning and inadequate preparation of tinned food may have given rise to cases of botulism. Franklin’s ships became beset during their second and third summers, rendering them prey to tidal movements in ice and leaving men dangerously short of supplies. Their margin for survival had been cut to a bare minimum, as evidence of a terse note (the only one ever found) demonstrates. The message said that Franklin had died and survivors were abandoning the ships to head south with rowing boats. It was an impossibly long journey for starving men. (One of those boats — with skeletons — was discovered.)

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress