When Napoleon called us “une nation de boutiquiers”, a nation of shopkeepers, he meant to insult us. Down the centuries, many Continentals have disparaged what they see as the soulless money-grubbing of the English-speaking peoples. Fascists and communists used remarkably similar language when they attacked “decadent Anglo-Saxon capitalism” — though, happily for the human race, it turned out not to be in decay at all.
It’s true that there was always a countervailing Anglophile tendency: Voltaire and Montesquieu, among others, admired us precisely because of our individualistic, mercantile, libertarian ways. But the idea that we “Anglo-Saxons” are too materialistic has never entirely gone away.
The phrase “Anglo-Saxons”, in this sense, is of course economic rather than racial. When the French talk of “les anglo-saxons” or the Spanish of “los anglosajones,” they don’t mean descendants of Æthelwulf or Oswine. They mean people who speak English and believe in small government, whether in Kowloon, Killarney or Kaukapakapa.
A nation of shopkeepers? Sounds good to me. What would you rather have? A nation of generals? Of civil servants? Of monks? Small employers are the greatest heroes we produce, and their heroism is all the greater for being unappreciated, unacknowledged, unthanked.
Daniel Hannan, “Shopkeepers have done more for human happiness than generals, statesmen or kings “, Telegraph, 2013-12-03
December 4, 2013
December 3, 2013
Published on 30 May 2013
Documentary looking at the much-loved sitcom from its first transmission in 1983. The programme features an exclusive in-depth interview with Edmund Blackadder himself, Rowan Atkinson, the first time he has agreed to talk about his experiences making the show. Also reflecting on their time on the show are other key members of the team, including Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis.
December 2, 2013
November 30, 2013
We looked at the problems of setting up a Scottish naval organization last week, and now Sir Humphrey turns his attention to the proposed air force for a post-independence Scotland. The proposed air force equipment from the white paper included “a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth” and “a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron”:
The first challenge is the Typhoon fleet and how it can be operated to best effect. QRA is a very expensive thing to do properly — it’s not just about having pilots based in a cockpit ready to take off. Setting up QRA is about having a Recognised Air Picture, a means of sharing information and communicating it to the airbase. It is about having the C2 links in place so that in the event of a scramble, the means exist for the senior decision taking Minister to be able to authorise a shoot down decision and then for the pilot to carry it out in an appropriate manner. This ability needs to be available 24/7/365 and is an onerous task on aircrew and support teams.
In the SDF the reality is that with only 12 jets available, their entire effort will be taken up doing QRA — assuming two training aircraft come over, this gives a squadron of 10 aircraft to generate 2 airframes on a constant basis. Take two out of the equation for servicing, two on the flight line and two being prepared to take over, and this leaves you with a flex of four aircraft to conduct all training and flying for the fleet.
The MOD currently estimates that Typhoon costs £70k per hour to fly (full costs), so assuming that it flies for 30 hours per airframe per month over a year (an averaged figure as there will be peaks and troughs), you suddenly realise that it would cost £2.1 million per month, £25 million per year to keep each aircraft going, or a total of nearly £300 million per year to ensure that two jets were constantly available for QRA. This is well over 10% of the putative budget. Add to this the operating costs of RAF Lossiemouth currently exceed £100m per year, and you realise that nearly 20% of the SDF budget is going to be taken up just to run QRA.
As Sir Humphrey pointed out in an earlier post on the naval question, there’s no guarantee that lopping off a “fair share” of the UK’s existing equipment inventory makes any sense for the quite different needs of an independent Scotland. Again, the right approach is to ignore the equipment question at first and instead analyze the actual needs — what does Scotland need their air force to do — rather than building a wish list of impressive machinery that almost certainly won’t provide value for the money. An independent nation needs to protect their own airspace (or be involved in alliances to provide that protection communally), but that requires identification of actual or potential threats to Scottish interests.
Another problem with automatically adopting the same equipment as the UK is that the supporting organizations and infrastructure will also have to be created to utilize the equipment:
The other problem is who actually supports the aircraft — a lot of deep level RAF servicing has been contracted out now, and these contracts will be null and void for the SDF airframes. The SDF will either have to spend a lot of money to introduce servicing facilities (which are not cheap) or it will have to enter into all manner of very expensive commercial arrangements with UK companies to get them to support Typhoon in Scottish service. This sort of arrangement cannot be skimped either — if you don’t service your aircraft, then you quickly lose the ability to fly them. As such a newly independent Scotland may find itself hamstrung by a need to pay a great deal of money in support contracts and servicing contracts and not capital investment in new technology.
The proposal to acquire C130s seems similarly expensive. There is not, and has never been a C130 basing presence in Scotland. This means that the SDF would need to pay out from the start to set up a C130 support facility and hangar in Lossiemouth. They would also need to find sufficiently trained crews and groundstaff – a small point, but the C130 fleet has been based at Lyneham and Brize Norton for nearly 50 years. Finding a sufficient pool of operators and support staff to uproot from their home to go to a newly independent Scotland is going to be a major challenge in itself.
November 29, 2013
Tim Worstall explains why it would make no sense whatsoever to impose taxes on the winnings from betting:
The point about betting of all types, including this spread betting, is that the winnings of some people are, and must be, entirely offset by the losses of others. Yes, certainly, there are companies in the middle who organise things and they are taxed on their earnings and profits in the usual manner. But the winnings of some punters come from the losses of others.
It’s also a pretty standard part of the UK taxation system that if there is going to be tax charged on the income or profits of something then there will also be an equal allowance against losses on doing that same thing. For example, Gordon Brown changed the law on a company selling a subsidiary: no longer would corporation tax be changed on any profits from doing so. But so also a company could not claim a tax credit for a loss from doing so.
So, if we introduced a tax on betting winnings we would also need to have a system of credits or allowances for betting losses. And here’s the problem with that idea: betting is a less than zero sum game. The winnings of any person or group of people are obviously the losses of all other people betting. So tax charged would be equal to tax credits gained. But it’s worse than that as the bookies are also getting their slice in the middle. Meaning that total winnings are less than total losses. So our credits and allowances for losses would be higher than any revenue gained from the winners.
November 28, 2013
Published on 24 Nov 2013
Five Clydesdale shire horses have taken part in a charity race at Exeter racecourse.
The horses thundered down the home straight with the aim of promoting the breed, which has been given “at risk” status.
The horses took part in the Devon Air Ambulance charity race 35 minutes before before the day’s main racing and were ridden by professional jockeys.
The two furlong race was won by Tom Parker, ridden by Michael Nolan.
Sir Humphrey says he’s neutral on the political issue of Scottish separatism, but he has a few professional criticisms of the fleet plan contained within the white paper:
At a most basic level, the paper appears to fall foul of what can be described as the ‘fantasy fleet’ syndrome so often found on the internet. In other words, people have taken an order of battle, hived of a reasonable sounding level of equipment and assumed that this would make a good defence force. That’s a great theory, but in reality its likely to be far more complicated than this.
For starters, the British Armed Forces are the product of hundreds of years of evolution, procurement and support. They operate a closely integrated set of equipment, underpinned by a well developed training network, and supported by a very complex set of support contracts to ensure availability. Due to the numbers and amounts of equipment in service, costs can be calculated using economies of scale, and planned workflow, in a way that smaller sized support cannot.
A nascent SDF would find itself operating a truly eclectic collection of units which are not necessarily the most appropriate for its situation. For instance, the proposal that the Navy takes on two Type 23 frigates seems a little odd. The Type 23 is one of the worlds most advanced anti-submarine warfare escorts, and designed to be a submarine killer par excellence. To use it to best effect requires a well trained crew, who have a range of extremely specialised skills. Assuming that no one is forced at independence to join the SDF, the challenge will be recruiting and retaining a core of niche skills to actually employ the vessel in her intended manner. This includes the engineers, weapon systems maintainers, the warfare department and those with the skills and experience at all ranks and rates to use the vessel in its intended manner.
Similarly, the issue of maintenance will be a complex one. There are no T23s based in Scotland, which means that a great deal of money will be spent creating a permanent support facility for the class in Scotland. In these circumstances the SDF will need to negotiate and establish support contracts, similar to the ones used by the RN, and pay to put in place the complex web of support arrangements in order to keep the vessels available for service. In a small procurement and support budget, it is hard to see where the money will come from for this sort of activity.
The sheer running costs of the vessels will also be a challenge — on average it costs about £20 million per year (source THEY WORK FOR YOU) to keep a Type 23 at sea, and about £3 million for MCMVs and patrol craft. To keep the Scottish Navy afloat, you are looking at an annual running cost of around £60 million — before you consider salary costs of the crew and the shore support infrastructure to go with it. On a relatively small budget of £2.5 billion, it is easy to see how much of a cost it would be just to keep the ships at sea, let alone deploy them.
In a sense, the white paper’s defence plan does appear to have been drawn up with an eye toward “order of battle” and “table of equipment” that would create — on paper, anyway — a scaled-down version of the RN, RAF, and British army. That isn’t the sensible approach for an independent Scotland’s defence needs. The first thing they should have done is analyze what practical tasks their defence forces would be required to undertake, then consider the most cost-effective way to build and equip an organization to accomplish those tasks.
When I was a child, I was obsessed with toy soldiers. I had hundreds and hundreds of them from various eras from Roman versus Celt down to 8th Army versus Afrika Korps. When setting up my “battles”, it was always the soldiers with the cool kit who got to be the heroes: stirring combat poses and cooler weapons were my selection criteria. When I moved on to building models, the same characteristics dictated the particular models I built: more heavily armed ships, bigger tanks, more weapon-studded aircraft. The authors of this portion of the white paper appear to have had similar childhoods … and they’re still influenced by the same selection criteria. What sense does it make for Scotland’s defence forces to operate Type 23 frigates and Typhoon aircraft? They’re cool kit, but do they accomplish the primary protective duties for Scotland cost-effectively? Almost certainly not.
Scotland has a large coastline and significant offshore assets to protect, but it isn’t likely to need the hugely expensive (and admittedly very capable) kit that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force need to accomplish their wider tasks. Scotland’s navy is much more likely to end up resembling a strong coastguard than a battle fleet, and their air force will probably not be equipped with top-of-the-line fighter aircraft (especially not F-35 or Typhoon fighters) as they would eat a hugely disproportional share of the defence budget for capabilities the Scots don’t actually need.
I strongly suspect the best course of action for Scotland (in the event of a successful independence vote) would be to negotiate a short-to-medium term deal with the rest of the UK to provide military units to Scotland as an interim solution while a sensible Scottish organization was built-up to take on those roles. It might sting the pride of nationalists to admit that they can’t afford to take on the full trappings of an independent state immediately, but it would be far more practical (and far less expensive) than carving off “their share” of the UK’s existing military.
November 27, 2013
Think Defence has posted a portion of the Scottish Independence White Paper dealing with defence issues. This includes an outline view of what is thought to be required for Scotland’s (non-nuclear) military establishment at independence:
One naval squadron to secure Scotland’s maritime interests and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and contribute to joint capability with partners in Scotland’s geographical neighbourhood, consisting of:
- two frigates from the Royal Navy’s current fleet
- a command platform for naval operations and development of specialist marine capabilities (from the Royal Navy’s current fleet, following adaptation)
- four mine counter measure vessels from the Royal Navy’s current fleet
- two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to provide security for the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, as the Royal Navy only has four OPVs currently, a longer lead time for procurement might be necessary
- four to six patrol boats from the Royal Navy’s current fleet, capable of operating in coastal waters, providing fleet protection and also contributing to securing borders
- auxiliary support ships (providing support to vessels on operations), which could be secured on a shared basis initially with the rest of the UK
These arrangements will require around 2,000 regular and at least 200 reserve personnel.
An army HQ function and an all-arms brigade, with three infantry/marine units, equipped initially from a negotiated share of current UK assets, and supported by:
- a deployable Brigade HQ
- two light armoured reconnaissance units
- two light artillery units
- one engineer unit deploying a range of equipment for bridging, mine clearance and engineering functions
- one aviation unit operating six helicopters for reconnaissance and liaison
- two communication units
- one transport unit
- one logistics unit
- one medical unit
Special forces, explosives and ordnance disposal teams will bring the total to around 3,500 regular and at least 1,200 reserve personnel.
Key elements of air forces in place at independence, equipped initially from a negotiated share of current UK assets, will secure core tasks, principally the ability to police Scotland’s airspace, within NATO.
- an Air Force HQ function (with staff embedded within NATO structures)
- Scotland will remain part of NATO‘s integrated Air Command and Control (AC2) system, initially through agreement with allies to maintain the current arrangements while Scotland establishes and develops our own AC2 personnel and facility within Scotland within five years of independence
- a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth
- a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron
- flight training through joint arrangements with allies
In total this would require around 2,000 regular personnel and around 300 reserve personnel.
In addition to military capability following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will establish core government capacity for defence functions, such as strategic planning, oversight and policy functions for defence and security. Given the importance of ongoing shared security interests between Scotland and the rest of the UK, we will ensure a partnership approach during the period of transition to independence.
Following a vote for independence, priorities for the Scottish Government capacity dealing with defence will be planning for the strategic security review to be carried out by the first Scottish Parliament following independence, based on the most recent UK National Risk Assessment and input from Scottish experts and academic institutions.
I linked to a couple of posts by Sir Humphrey on this issue that are also worth considering.
Brendan O’Neill goes through the “half-truths and wild claims” of the recent modern slavery story in Britain:
It was presented to us as another Fritzl-like horror, involving three ‘enslaved women’, at least one of whom had ‘spent her whole life in captivity’ and had ‘never seen the outside world’. Or it was Britain’s own version of the recent Cleveland, Ohio case, in which Ariel Castro kidnapped three women from the streets and shackled them to immoveable objects in his house where he abused them for 10 years. In fact, it was worse than Cleveland, suggested the Mirror, because where those American women only suffered for a decade, these British-based women went through a ‘30-year nightmare of captivity, servitude and unimaginable brutality’. It was, in a nutshell, the worst-ever case of hidden human enslavement, the papers told us. ‘No known victims have spent so long in captivity being brainwashed, beaten, manipulated and terrorised’, one said.
We now know that these claims about the so-called ‘Brixton slaves’ are, to use the only term that will suffice, bullshit. Everything that has subsequently come to light, everything that has unfolded in the six days since these ‘slaves’ were ‘rescued’ from some kind of one-time Maoist commune, has called into question the initial claims made by the police, the highly dramatised narrative imposed on these events by the media, and the hyperbolic descriptions of the case by politicians desperate to appear as modern-day William Wilberforces combatting the evils of ‘slavery’. Indeed, the key question that must now be asked is not ‘How did three women end up in a grim commune?’ (let’s leave that to the police), but rather: ‘Why did the entire British media and the political class, along with campaigners and the Twitterati, so willingly and gullibly buy a horror story that was not true?’
So almost everything we were told about the Brixton case has turned out either to be untrue or to have been wildly exaggerated or dramatised. These were not slaves. They were not held captive. They were not denied contact with the outside world. Rather, what we seem to be dealing with is, quite simply, a very, very eccentric household, in which various people came together, did and believed very strange things, developed an obsession with Mao and conspiracy theories about the British ‘fascist state’, and then ended up regretting it all — well, three of women seem to have regretted it. And so they left. Voluntarily. Without a struggle. It sounds like it was all very unpleasant; it seems clear emotional manipulation was involved and possibly physical force too (but let’s allow the courts to decide that). But slavery? Fritzl-style abuse? Hell, horror, unimaginable brutality? There is nothing remotely resembling evidence to show that anything like that occurred.
So why did the media, politicians, feminists and campaigners lap up this half-cooked, shrill, mostly baseless fantasy about slaves stuck in suburban jails in London? Because it spoke to their already existing prejudices; because it seemed to confirm the darker thoughts that lurk in their heads, about wicked men, vulnerable women, and the unspeakable things that happen in ‘ordinary houses on ordinary streets’; because it allowed them to feel, temporarily, like history-making moral crusaders against evil, and to hell with anything so pesky as a fact. Aneeta Prem, head of the Freedom Charity that assisted the women and drove much of the dramatic talk about ‘domestic servitude’ and ‘rescue’, yesterday said there was too much media frenzy around the case and ‘the more information there is that comes into the public domain, the more it will hamper [the women’s] recovery’. So there’s a problem with having too much information about this case? Why? Might it be because the information so dramatically contradicts the fantasy put about by Prem and others about a group of slaves having been held captive in London for three decades?
November 26, 2013
Tim Worstall explains why the rush to legislate based on the public outrage over the most recent case of slavery is a bad idea that will have worse results:
I know that I shouldn’t giggle over such things but the revelation that the three “slaves” recently found were in fact the remnants of a Maoist commune well known to social services (indeed, housed by the local council) does provide a certain amusement as we see various leftish types suddenly running away from the story. However, now onto something a great deal more important. Theresa May and various campaigners are going to use this to try and pass an extremely bad law about modern slavery. And it’s worth our all complaining very loudly about this now, as the bill is being drawn up, not later when it is too late.
The problem is that there are two distinct meanings being conflated together for the convenience of the legislators, police, and media: I) sex slavery (which most people recognize as a terrible crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law) and II) illegal immigration (which is not the same thing at all). By lumping the much larger number of type II cases in with the tiny number of type I, you get a big headline-friendly number to shock and energize the population who think you’re really talking only about type I cases.
As Operation Pentameter found out, after every police force in the country tried to search out and find sex slaves they found not one single case in the entire country that they were able to prosecute for the crime.
That is, the police went looking for slavery, type I definition of trafficking, while this foundation is using the type II definition of illegal immigration (or, to get to that 50% number, simply of immigration, legal or not).
Oh, and Eaves is involved. They were the people behind the Poppy Project. Which, laughably, claimed that evidence of foreign born women working in brothels in London was evidence of trafficking. Guess all those foreigners working in The City are slaves then, eh?
Just to make this entirely clear here. These campaigners (and that includes May here) are going to use our revulsion of the type I trafficking to pass extraordinarly severe laws against the type II stuff. Up to and including life imprisonment and confiscation of all financial assets. Yet it is only type I that is in fact slavery. Type II is more normally defined as the employment of an illegal immigrant.
Anyone really want life imprisonment for employment of an illegal immigrant? Someone who, entirely of their own volition, tried to make their lives better by breaking the law to come to this country is now going to be defined as a slave?
November 23, 2013
Tom Slater thinks it’s time we had a quiet word with the good folks who produce the Oxford Dictionaries:
What this year’s Word of the Year — indeed, the mere existence of this nine-year-old award — reveals is something equally as toxic: the cult of relativism that is laying siege to modern culture.
In recent years, a sentiment has emerged that the concept of ‘proper’ English as something precious which needs to be upheld and protected is painfully old hat, if not vaguely authoritarian. Those who speak out about the youth’s poor grasp of grammar or increasing ineloquence are deemed snobby, elitist and unduly judgemental. Even as universities continue to complain about undergraduates’ increasingly feeble grasp of the English language, many academics have said we should just give up. ‘Either we go on beating ourselves and our students up over this problem or we simply give everyone a break’, argued one such professor.
The reluctance to defend the English language against the whims of slang and contemporary standards of literacy is always garbed as a freewheeling acceptance that language is always changing, and the idea that enforcing standards only replicates a kind of linguistic class divide: placing well-spoken aristocrats on one side and slang-spouting serfs on the other. But in truth, this relativism about English belies a crisis of judgement in an elite riddled with class guilt. As Brendan O’Neill has pointed out previously on spiked, the outcome of all of this is that children, especially the poorest, are prohibited from mastering a language in its full richness, the mechanism by which they can best engage with society and, more importantly, change it.
Oxford Dictionaries’ celebration of a glorified slang word, that few people had even heard of a year ago, represents another strange development in this trend. Over the course of its nine-year run, the Word of the Year award itself has become little more than an exercise in dictionary compilers ingratiating themselves with the youth. The award seems to have begun life in the form of Susie Dent’s 2004 book, Larpers and Shroomers: The Language Report. Published by Oxford University Press, it offered a potted history of buzzwords, some of which had faded from use while others had established themselves in the everyday lexicon.
The current issue of History Today includes an interesting article by Adrian Bingham on the British newspapers (especially the Daily Mail and the Times) during WW1:
When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 the widespread feelings of fear, uncertainty and patriotic determination were matched at the offices of the Daily Mail by a sense of vindication. The newspaper had been warning about the German threat for years, perhaps most notoriously when it serialised in 1909 a series of inflammatory articles by the journalist Robert Blatchford, which, when reprinted as a penny pamphlet, sold some 1.6 million copies. The Mail had, moreover, consistently demanded that the Royal Navy be reinforced. It was soon styling itself ‘the paper that foretold the war’. For its critics, the Mail’s irresponsible stoking of anti-German sentiment, driven above all by the paper’s owner, Lord Northcliffe, actually helped to create the conditions that enabled conflict to break out. ‘Next to the Kaiser’, wrote the esteemed editor and journalist A.G. Gardiner, ‘Lord Northcliffe has done more than any other living man to bring about the war.’
It was not long, however, before Northcliffe became frustrated with the strict censorship imposed on the British press when reporting events in Europe. ‘What the newspapers feel very strongly’, wrote Northcliffe to Lord Murray of Elibank, ‘is that, against their will, they are made to be part and parcel of a foolish conspiracy to hide bad news. English people do not mind bad news.’ Such censorship was particularly worrying when it risked hiding failures in the prosecution and management of the war. Drawing both on the experiences of his visits to the front and on private sources of information from his many correspondents, Northcliffe became increasingly convinced that several men in leading positions were not up to the job, including the prime minister, Asquith, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener.
The episode that crystallised this concern, over which Northcliffe put both his and the Mail’s reputation on the line, was the Shell Crisis of May 1915. Northcliffe had received letters from the front claiming that British military operations were being undermined by the lack of the right kind of shell and, after the Allies failed to capitalise on an initial breakthrough at Neuve Chapelle due to a lack of munitions, these criticisms began to be publicly aired. On May 15th, 1915 The Times (also owned by Northcliffe at the time) published a telegram from its respected military correspondent, Lieutenant-Colonel Repington, highlighting the problem and Northcliffe decided to go on the offensive. After some critical editorials, on May 21st the Mail published an incendiary piece written by Northcliffe himself and headlined ‘The Tragedy of the Shells: Lord Kitchener’s Grave Error’. Northcliffe pinned the blame for the shells scandal directly on Kitchener:
Lord Kitchener has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells. The admitted fact is that Lord Kitchener ordered the wrong kind of shell … He persisted in sending shrapnel – a useless weapon in trench warfare … The kind of shell our poor soldiers have had has caused the death of thousands of them.
This direct public attack on such an esteemed figure at a time of national crisis was shocking and generated fury among many of Northcliffe’s critics. Members of the London Stock Exchange burned copies of both The Times and the Mail and anxious advertisers cancelled contracts. Thousands of readers stopped buying the papers. Northcliffe, though, was undaunted: at this point he was concerned not with circulation but with what he perceived as his national duty. ‘I mean to tell the people the truth and I don’t care what it costs’, he told his chauffeur. It was clear even to Northcliffe’s opponents, moreover, that there were indeed problems with Britain’s munitions supply. Northcliffe was soon vindicated. Although Kitchener survived in the short term, the Liberal government fell at the end of May 1915, to be replaced by a coalition administration: Asquith remained as prime minister, but Lloyd George was appointed as minister of munitions to address the supply problems.
November 22, 2013
Charles Stross has just posted a link to a recent short story of his (from 2011) which was written as part of a fund-raiser to help keep the Arthur C. Clarke awards going and an explanation of why most short stories can be improved by adding dinosaurs and sodomy:
Now, I don’t write many short stories these days, but I’m a sucker for the right kind of charity approach. And besides, I had a hypothesis I wanted to test: that every short story can be improved by adding dinosaurs and sodomy.
No, seriously: click that link, it’s work-safe but side-splittingly funny if you’ve ever been to a writers’ workshop. And probably utterly incomprehensible if you haven’t, so I shall have to unpack it for you …
In Michael Swanwick’s oeuvre — and he’s one of the most perspicacious, indeed brilliant, exponents of the short story form in SF today — dinosaurs are a short-hand signifier for action, adventure, thrills, and chases: whereas sodomy is a placeholder representing introspection into the human condition, sensitivity to emotional nuance, and a great big bottle of lube.
So when he’s telling students they need to add dinosaurs to their work, he’s eliptically hinting that sensitive emotional nuance needs to be balanced by a bit of GRAAAH!! BITE!!! CHASE!!!!1!!!ELEVENTY (sorry, I got a bit carried away there). And when he tells them to add sodomy, he’s hinting that there may be too much focus on the performance stats of the space super-dreadnought and not quite enough insight into the emotional trauma the steel-jawed captain is grappling with from her seat on the bridge.
Yeah, right. But what happens if you take the advice literally? After all, SF is the genre of the literal space ship, eschewing ironic metaphor in favour of naive wonder at the immanent apprehension of the unreal.
So I was thinking about dinosaurs, and Sodomy, and the challenge of writing a story in the style of Arthur C. Clarke that applied Swanwick’s principles in a deliberately naive and unmetaphorical manner, when I saw this video (which is definitely not safe for work, unless you’re me — you have been warned).
November 19, 2013
In his NFL column last week, Gregg Easterbrook had a bit of fun-poking at the Royal Navy’s expense, based on a rather silly story in the Daily Mail which reported that Britain had many times more captains than combat ships and asked his readers for the “vessels-to-admirals ratio of the once-mighty Royal Navy”. He follows up this week:
Many readers, including Stephanie Cummings-White of Torqauy, England, suggested I should be asking instead for the admirals-to-vessels ratio, citing this 2008 story noting 41 admirals supervising 40 warships. Nathan Green of Hempstead, Long Island, suggested matters were worse, citing this 2013 story reporting the Royal Navy has “15 times more commanding officers than ships,” with 260 captains and 40 admirals for 19 warships.
The “15 times more” story, from the Daily Mail, lists as warships only “major surface combatants” — destroyers, frigates and the Queen’s lone remaining flattop, a light aircraft carrier scheduled to be retired in 2014. The major-surface-combatants definition excludes support vessels plus the Royal Navy’s strategic nuclear submarines, which bear far more destructive power than all the navies of the world combined during World War II. Paul Meka of Buffalo, N.Y., notes that in total, the Royal Navy has 79 commissioned ships, two vessels for each admiral. Yoni Appelbaum of Cambridge, Mass., compared this to the United States Navy, which has 331 admirals for 285 ships in commission, a worse H.M.S. Pinafore ratio than under the Union Jack.
A common mistake among those who’ve never served in the military is to assume that the appointment as commanding officer of a ship also means that officer is a captain by rank. And the reverse is also assumed to be true: that every captain commands a ship. Modern navies don’t work that way (and probably never did). The rank structure does not imply anything about the command structure other than indirectly. The army always has more brigadier generals than brigades, and not every brigade commander is a brigadier general (although it’s usually the case).
Every western military force in the modern era has more staff in non-combat roles than on the front lines, as they perform essential tasks in ensuring that the warfighters are properly trained, armed, equipped, fed, transported, housed, paid, and have appropriate levels of medical care while they’re doing the fighting (or training). The tail-to-teeth ratio of modern armies is much higher than ever before … and that’s the nature of modern military organizations. Demanding more “teeth” and less “tail” doesn’t mean you’ll get a more capable military — it means you’ll get a less capable one.
Certain armed forces (especially in the Middle East) have relatively huge inventories of weapons and a table of organization implying a much higher “teeth-to-tail” ratio than Western forces. Such armies are not likely to do well in actual combat (and historically have not done well), because they are too brittle and incapable of function after taking some combat losses. The troops run of out ammunition (or water) almost immediately after going into combat, because they don’t have sufficient administrative support to ensure that fresh supplies can be moved to where they’re needed. In many cases, they can’t even move into combat because they don’t have enough vehicles in a fit state of repair and lack the trained mechanical staff to fix anything more serious than flat tires.
Some non-Western navies have relatively large fleets … tied up at the dock almost all the time. They don’t go to sea very often and aren’t able to remain at sea for extended periods. They may have all the outward trappings of a modern navy, but it’s all show and no go. Ships need regular maintenance and ships’ crews need regular training. Sitting in harbour, polishing the brass and looking ship-shape won’t cut it.
Every time a liberal sees someone behaving badly they sigh and say, “They just need education,” but the solution to America’s problems is less education, not more. If we got over this myth that everyone needs infinite academia, we would have less unemployment, more manufacturing, a stronger economy, less student debt, and less school tax. The economy would be stronger and we would all be happier. Ironically, in an effort not to hurt anyone’s feelings, we developed a system where everyone has to go to college, even the stupid people, until we all feel like shit.
When everybody’s special, nobody is. Getting everyone into college means you have to dumb down the curriculum until it is nothing but meaningless drivel that has no application in the real world. Colleges aren’t going to complain when you stick them with more customers. They just take the check, lower the bar, and say, “Come on in.” But getting a gold star on your math test does not a computer programmer make.
When my dad was a kid in Scotland, Britain was practicing a very successful exam system called 11-plus. Dad came from a huge working-class family and as is often the case, one of them had an IQ much higher than the others. They all took their 11-plus test at age 11. His brothers did fairly poorly and he did incredibly well. The brothers were then diverted from academia and put into trade schools, whereas my father got scholarships for private school and eventually got a degree in physics from Glasgow University. The brothers did very well working at a printing press and now lead fulfilled lives as proud tradesmen. My father went on to develop sonar equipment that called the Russians’ nuclear-submarine bluff and helped lead to the fall of communism. This was all thanks to the 11-plus system and it worked beautifully for over 30 years until 1976 when the egalitarians decided it was cruel to admit that some kids are simply not as smart as others.
Not only is this kind of thinking the stupidest. It’s stupidist. What’s the matter with not being smart? As Hemingway put it, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Have you ever seen a genius at a water park? He’s miserable. The only time people with an IQ over 120 are really happy is when they’re at work. They’re basically our slaves. Dumb people ride ATVs with their sons, go bungee jumping, and laugh their heads off when somebody farts. Many of them are also rich.
Gavin McInnes, “A Nation of Working-Class Dropouts”, Taki’s Magazine, 2013-08-23.