Quotulatiousness

August 31, 2015

Ten years later – how the media covered Katrina

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

W. Joseph Campbell describes the media’s role in contributing to — and sometimes inventing — the persistent myths of what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made land-fall:

I call it the “myth of superlative reporting,” the notion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught 10 years ago, journalists bravely held powerful officials accountable for their inept responses to a storm blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchorman, gave voice to the “myth of superlative reporting,” describing Katrina coverage as “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”

A quintessential great moment is was not.

The reporting of Katrina, as I wrote in my 2010 media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “was in important respects flawed and exaggerated. On crucial details, journalists erred badly, and got it wrong” in describing horrors the storm supposedly unleashed across New Orleans after making landfall east of the city on August 29, 2005.

Journalists reported snipers firing at medical personnel, I noted. They reported shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the Convention Center in New Orleans. They told of bodies being stacked like cordwood inside the Convention Center.

News reports also spoke of roving gangs that terrorized occupants of the Louisiana Superdome, where many people had taken shelter. The reports said children were victims of sexual assault, that one seven-year-old was raped and her throat was slit. They reported that sharks were plying the flooded streets of New Orleans.

None of those reports, as it turned out, was verified or substantiated.

“If anyone rioted,” said a bipartisan congressional report about Katrina, “it was the media.

“Many stories of rape, murder, and general lawlessness were at best unsubstantiated, at worst simply false.”

Erroneous and over-the-top reporting, I wrote in Getting It Wrong, “had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.”

Here’s what I wrote ten years ago, based on the media reports coming out of Louisiana:

(more…)

QotD: Artistic memories of other futures

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

Two exhibitions in New York this season revisit memories of futures past: Nam June Paik’s “Becoming Robot” (which will be at the Asia Society until January 4) looks to a cybernetics-obsessed midcentury avant-garde, while the Guggenheim’s “Reconstructing the Universe” show of Italian futurist works (which has just closed) documented a movement that, while aesthetically quite distinct from Paik’s, is organized around the same essential vision: man’s aspiring to the condition of machine.

[…]

There are occasionally clever pieces: A seated Buddha contemplates a television-and-camera set-up that contemplates him back, the Buddha and his image on the screen suggesting an infinite feedback loop. A reclining Buddha stretches atop two television screens showing a video of a nude woman reclining in the same position. (Paik very often cuts to the root of the avant-garde sensibility: “How do we get some naked chicks in this?”) His robots are still interesting to look at, some of them primitive mechanical assemblages, some of them televisions and other electronic devices piled together anthropomorphically, though the contemporary commercially made robot toys on display for context are at least as interesting, their nameless creators liberated from such pressures as attend those who understand themselves as artists. Though it should be noted that the makers of the Micronaut robot toys I loved as a child were not entirely immune from the puerile sexual obsessions of the so-called avant-garde: This, for example, was on the market long before anybody ever exclaimed: “Drill, baby, drill!”

The Italian futurists, whose love for machines and violence and the machinery of violence and whose hatred of women would do so much to shape the aesthetics of fascism, foresaw a less sexy future than Paik’s, if one that was no less mechanical: Biplanes soar over the Roman Colosseum, cities are fitted together like clockworks, machinery everywhere is ascendant. By the time Mussolini makes his inevitable appearance, he, too, has been reduced to a piece of artillery, his face simply another item in the Italian arsenal, a big, fleshy cannonball.

One of the purposes of art, high or low, is to make visible the philosophical; the fascist understanding of society as one big factory or one big machine was expressed in futurist art.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.

August 30, 2015

The nature, faults, and virtues of Science Fiction according to Robert Heinlein

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Library of America posted Robert Heinlein’s comments from a lecture series in 1957:

First let us decide what we mean by the term “science fiction” — or at least what we will mean by it here. Anyone wishing a scholarly discussion of the etymology of the term will find one by Sam Moskowitz in the February, 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I shan’t repeat what he has said so well but will summarize for our immediate purposes. The field has existed throughout the history of literature but it used to be called by several names: speculative romance, pseudo-scientific romance (a term that sets a science fiction writer’s teeth on edge), utopian literature, fantasy — or, more frequently, given no name, simply lumped in with all other fiction.

But the term “science fiction” is now part of the language, as common as the neologism “guided missile.” We are stuck with it and I will use it … although personally I prefer the term “speculative fiction” as being more descriptive. I will use these two terms interchangeably, one being the common handle, the other being one that aids me in thinking — but with the same referent in each case.

“Science fiction” means different things to different people. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra” — in which case the term science fiction has piled up a lot of expensive overtime. Damon Knight, a distinguished critic in this field, argues that there is no clear distinction between fantasy and science fiction, in which opinion August Derleth seems to agree. I cannot forcefully disagree with their lines of reasoning — but I wonder if they have made their definitions so broad as to include practically all fiction? To define is to limit: a definition cannot be useful unless it limits. Certainly Mickey Spillane’s murder stories could easily be classed as fantasies, as can many or most of the love stories appearing in the big slick magazines. But I feel sure that Mr. Knight and Mr. Derleth did not intend their definitions to be quite that unbounded and in any case my difference of opinion with them is merely a matter of taste and personal convenience.

Theodore Sturgeon, a giant in this field, defines a science fiction story as one in which the story would not exist if it were not for the scientific element — an admirably sharp delimitation but one which seems to me perhaps as uncomfortably tight as the one above seems to me unusefully roomy. It would exclude from the category “science fiction” much of Mr. Sturgeon’s best work, stories which are to my mind speculative rather than fantastic. There are many stories that are lumped into the class “science fiction” in the minds of most people (and in mine) which contain only a detectable trace, or none, of science — for example, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Fritz Leiber’s great short story “Coming Attraction,” Thomas F. Tweed’s novel Gabriel Over the White House. All three stories are of manners and morals; any science in them is merely parsley trimming, not the meat. Yet each is major speculation, not fantasy, and each must be classed as science fiction as the term is commonly used.

Reginald Bretnor, author, editor and acute critic of this field, gives what is to me the most thoughtful, best reasoned, and most useful definition of science fiction. He sees it as a field of literature much broader than that most often termed “main-stream” literature — or “non-science fiction,” if you please — science fiction being that sort in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact. This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science — he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness. Any subject can be used in a science fiction story under this definition, provided (and indispensably required) that the author has the attitude comprised by the three-fold awareness and further provided that he has and uses appropriately that body of knowledge pertinent to the scope of his story. I have paraphrased in summary Mr. Bretnor’s comments and I hope he will forgive me.

Mr. Bretnor’s definition gives the science fiction author almost unlimited freedom in subject matter while requiring of him high, rigorous, and mature standards in execution.

In contrast to science fiction thus defined, non-science fiction — all other fiction including the most highly acclaimed “literary” novels — at most shows awareness of the by-products of scientific method already in existence. Non-science fiction admits the existence of the automobile, radar, polio vaccine, H-bombs, etc., but refuses to countenance starships and other such frivolities. That is to say, non-science fiction will concede that water is running down hill but refuses to admit that it might ever reach the bottom … or could ever be pumped up again. It is a static attitude, an assumption that what is now forever shall be.

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.

QotD: The debatable Vosges

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

Having completed to our satisfaction the Black Forest, we journeyed on our wheels through Alt Breisach and Colmar to Münster; whence we started a short exploration of the Vosges range, where, according to the present German Emperor, humanity stops. Of old, Alt Breisach, a rocky fortress with the river now on one side of it and now on the other — for in its inexperienced youth the Rhine never seems to have been quite sure of its way, — must, as a place of residence, have appealed exclusively to the lover of change and excitement. Whoever the war was between, and whatever it was about, Alt Breisach was bound to be in it. Everybody besieged it, most people captured it; the majority of them lost it again; nobody seemed able to keep it. Whom he belonged to, and what he was, the dweller in Alt Breisach could never have been quite sure. One day he would be a Frenchman, and then before he could learn enough French to pay his taxes he would be an Austrian. While trying to discover what you did in order to be a good Austrian, he would find he was no longer an Austrian, but a German, though what particular German out of the dozen must always have been doubtful to him. One day he would discover that he was a Catholic, the next an ardent Protestant. The only thing that could have given any stability to his existence must have been the monotonous necessity of paying heavily for the privilege of being whatever for the moment he was. But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all.

For variety and beauty, the Vosges will not compare with the hills of the Schwarzwald. The advantage about them from the tourist’s point of view is their superior poverty. The Vosges peasant has not the unromantic air of contented prosperity that spoils his vis-a-vis across the Rhine. The villages and farms possess more the charm of decay. Another point wherein the Vosges district excels is its ruins. Many of its numerous castles are perched where you might think only eagles would care to build. In others, commenced by the Romans and finished by the Troubadours, covering acres with the maze of their still standing walls, one may wander for hours.

The fruiterer and greengrocer is a person unknown in the Vosges. Most things of that kind grow wild, and are to be had for the picking. It is difficult to keep to any programme when walking through the Vosges, the temptation on a hot day to stop and eat fruit generally being too strong for resistance. Raspberries, the most delicious I have ever tasted, wild strawberries, currants, and gooseberries, grow upon the hill-sides as black-berries by English lanes. The Vosges small boy is not called upon to rob an orchard; he can make himself ill without sin. Orchards exist in the Vosges mountains in plenty; but to trespass into one for the purpose of stealing fruit would be as foolish as for a fish to try and get into a swimming bath without paying. Still, of course, mistakes do occur.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

August 28, 2015

The Battle of Hill 60 – Lunatic Persistence in Gallipoli I THE GREAT WAR – Week 57

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

Published on 27 Aug 2015

Peter Hart described the state of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 as “lunatic persistence in the face of the obvious” – and the Battle of Hill 60 proved just that. Outgunned and with a lack of artillery support, the battle was one of the bloodiest days on the peninsular near Constantinople. The Ottoman capital was still out of reach for the Entente to capture. Meanwhile, the war spread to the Indian border region and on the Western and Eastern Front the carnage continued in the air and on ground.

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

August 27, 2015

QotD: The real purpose of the Inquisition

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

In order to understand the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century, we must look briefly at its predecessor, the medieval Inquisition. Before we do, though, it’s worth pointing out that the medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community. Medieval Europeans were not alone in this view. It was shared by numerous cultures around the world. The modern practice of universal religious toleration is itself quite new and uniquely Western.

Secular and ecclesiastical leaders in medieval Europe approached heresy in different ways. Roman law equated heresy with treason. Why? Because kingship was God-given, thus making heresy an inherent challenge to royal authority. Heretics divided people, causing unrest and rebellion. No Christian doubted that God would punish a community that allowed heresy to take root and spread. Kings and commoners, therefore, had good reason to find and destroy heretics wherever they found them—and they did so with gusto.

One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused’s beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?

The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire”—thus, the term “inquisition.”

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

As the power of medieval popes grew, so too did the extent and sophistication of the Inquisition. The introduction of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century provided the papacy with a corps of dedicated religious willing to devote their lives to the salvation of the world. Because their order had been created to debate with heretics and preach the Catholic faith, the Dominicans became especially active in the Inquisition. Following the most progressive law codes of the day, the Church in the 13th century formed inquisitorial tribunals answerable to Rome rather than local bishops. To ensure fairness and uniformity, manuals were written for inquisitorial officials. Bernard Gui, best known today as the fanatical and evil inquisitor in The Name of the Rose, wrote a particularly influential manual. There is no reason to believe that Gui was anything like his fictional portrayal.

By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them “inquests” today, but it’s the same word).

Thomas F. Madden, “The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition”, Crisis Magazine, 2003-10-01.

August 25, 2015

The French Rifles of World War 1 featuring Othais from C&RSENAL I THE GREAT WAR – Special

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

Published on 24 Aug 2015

Check out C&Rsenal for more background information on historic firearms: http://bit.ly/HistoricGuns

In the very first edition of our livestream with Othais from C&Rsenal, he introduced us to the French guns of World War 1, such as the Berthier carbine or the Lebel rifle. This is the first summary of our session surrounding the rifles that the French took into battle and their design. If you are curious to find out more about these, check out Othais’ videos where he goes into even more detail about the individual firearms. In the second summary we will talk about French pistols.

The next live session will be on September 3 and we will talk about German rifles and pistols. You can ask questions for that episode using the hashtag #OthaisGermanGuns

Byzantine Empire: Justinian and Theodora – V: Impossible Burden of Fate – Extra History

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

Published on 18 Jul 2015

The conquest of Carthage and the North African provinces was just the beginning for Justinian’s ambition. He must have Rome. But like Carthage, he must find a reason to attack the Ostrogoths who now hold it. And like Carthage, this reason is given to him when the Ostrogothic Queen Amalsuntha, his ally, is murdered. But unlike Carthage, Belisarius now has only 7500 men, barely half of what he had for North Africa. He sails out anyway, making his first stop at the island of Sicily. All the cities except Panormus surrender to him, and Panormus he takes quickly by seizing their harbor with his ships. Meanwhile, Justinian has bribed the Franks to invade Italy from the north while another his generals marches from the east. But just when the Ostrogothic king is on the verge of surrender, disaster strikes. The other Byzantine general dies, and Belisarius is forced to return to Carthage to quell a revolt. The conquest loses its momentum and the Ostrogothic king imprisons the Roman ambassador. Justinian will not be stopped, and orders Belisarius to return to Italy once North Africa is secure. Alone, Belisarius marches up the coast of Italy until he meets resistance at Neapolis. With his forces too thinned to mount a siege, he engineers a sneak attack by invading through the pipe of a dried, broken aqueduct. Neapolis falls and the way now lies open to Rome.

August 24, 2015

Comparative Advantage

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

Published on 25 Feb 2015

What is comparative advantage? And why is it important to trade? This video guides us through a specific example surrounding Tasmania — an island off the coast of Australia that experienced the miracle of growth in reverse. Through this example we show what can happen when a civilization is deprived of trade, and show why trade is essential to economic growth.

In an economy with a greater number of participants trading goods and services, there are more ways to find a comparative advantage and earn more by creating the most value for others. Let’s dive right in with an example from our new friends, Bob and Ann.

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.

QotD: The real reason for the popularity of the English language in Europe

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

But all this is apart from the moral I wished to draw from the incident. The true inwardness of the situation lay in the indignation of this Britisher at finding a German railway porter unable to comprehend English. The moment we spoke to him he expressed this indignation in no measured terms.

“Thank you very much indeed,” he said; “it’s simple enough. I want to go to Donaueschingen myself by train; from Donaueschingen I am going to walk to Geisengen; from Geisengen I am going to take the train to Engen, and from Engen I am going to bicycle to Constance. But I don’t want to take my bag with me; I want to find it at Constance when I get there. I have been trying to explain the thing to this fool for the last ten minutes; but I can’t get it into him.”

“It is very disgraceful,” I agreed. “Some of these German workmen know hardly any other language than their own.”

“I have gone over it with him,” continued the man, “on the time table, and explained it by pantomime. Even then I could not knock it into him.”

“I can hardly believe you,” I again remarked; “you would think the thing explained itself.”

Harris was angry with the man; he wished to reprove him for his folly in journeying through the outlying portions of a foreign clime, and seeking in such to accomplish complicated railway tricks without knowing a word of the language of the country. But I checked the impulsiveness of Harris, and pointed out to him the great and good work at which the man was unconsciously assisting.

Shakespeare and Milton may have done their little best to spread acquaintance with the English tongue among the less favoured inhabitants of Europe. Newton and Darwin may have rendered their language a necessity among educated and thoughtful foreigners. Dickens and Ouida (for your folk who imagine that the literary world is bounded by the prejudices of New Grub Street, would be surprised and grieved at the position occupied abroad by this at-home-sneered-at lady) may have helped still further to popularise it. But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St. Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent. One may be shocked at his ignorance, annoyed at his stupidity, angry at his presumption. But the practical fact remains; he it is that is anglicising Europe. For him the Swiss peasant tramps through the snow on winter evenings to attend the English class open in every village. For him the coachman and the guard, the chambermaid and the laundress, pore over their English grammars and colloquial phrase books. For him the foreign shopkeeper and merchant send their sons and daughters in their thousands to study in every English town. For him it is that every foreign hotel- and restaurant-keeper adds to his advertisement: “Only those with fair knowledge of English need apply.”

Did the English-speaking races make it their rule to speak anything else than English, the marvellous progress of the English tongue throughout the world would stop. The English-speaking man stands amid the strangers and jingles his gold.

“Here,” cries, “is payment for all such as can speak English.”

He it is who is the great educator. Theoretically we may scold him; practically we should take our hats off to him. He is the missionary of the English tongue.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

August 21, 2015

Escalation At Sea and Russia Up Against the Wall I THE GREAT WAR – Week 56

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

Published on 20 Aug 2015

The Entente was in desperate need of American supplies and so the German submarine campaign in the Atlantic was a real problem. The British started to run false flag operations with so called Q-Ships to hunt down U-Boats which lead to the so called Baralong Incident this week. In the meantime, Russia was standing up against the wall as the fortresses of Kovno and Novogeorgievsk were falling to the Germans leading to a catastrophic loss in men, equipment and supplies.

Allocating the blame for “Operation Jubilee”

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

In a BBC post from a few years back, Julian Thompson looks at the Dieppe raid:

On 19 August 1942, a disastrous seaborne raid was launched by Allied forces on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe. Why was such a raid ever undertaken? Because, with Germany operating deep in the Soviet Union, the Russians were urging the Allies to relieve the pressure on them by opening a second front in north-west Europe.

At the same time the British Chief of Combined Operations, Rear Admiral Louis Mountbatten, was agitating for a practical trial beach landing, against real opposition, for his troops. In the face of this pressure, Churchill decided that Operation Rutter, a ‘hit and run’ raid on Dieppe, should go ahead.

[…]

Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff — the heads of the Navy, Army and Air Force, who met daily to discuss strategy and advise Churchill — were responsible for this disastrous misjudgement. But, because no written record exists of the Chiefs of Staff approving the raid in its final form, it has sometimes been suggested that it was really Mountbatten who remounted it without authorisation. This is almost certainly nonsense.

The Chiefs of Staff disliked Mountbatten, regarding him as an upstart foisted on them by Churchill, so any unauthorised action on his part would have given them the ammunition to recommend his removal. Since Mountbatten was not removed, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, in his frank and detailed diary, makes no mention of his having exceeded his authority, it seems unlikely that Mountbatten can be accused of mounting the raid without authority.

General Brooke was in the Middle East from 1 August 1942, returning on the 24th, after the event. This was unfortunate, for, as the most forceful and intelligent of the Chiefs of Staff, had he been in Britain in the days preceding the raid, he might have persuaded Churchill to call it off.

Much has been said since about the fact that the Dieppe raid was a necessary precursor to the great amphibious operations that were to follow, in terms of the lessons learned and experience gained. Mountbatten pursued that line all his life. But as Chief of Combined Operations, he did bear some of the responsibility for mounting the operation, so one can only comment, ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

The disaster did point up the need for much heavier firepower in future raids. It was recognised that this should include aerial bombardment, special arrangements to be made for land armour, and intimate fire support right up to the moment when troops crossed the waterline (the most dangerous place on the beach) and closed with their objectives.

However, it did not need a debacle like Dieppe to learn these lessons. As judged by General Sir Leslie Hollis — secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and deputy head of the Military Wing of the War Cabinet with direct access to Churchill — the operation was a complete failure, and the many lives that were sacrificed in attempting it were lost with no tangible result.

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