Published on 22 Jan 2015
For a decisive advantage on the Western Front, the military commanders of both sides are trying to use technological advances. And so this week, German Zeppelins are flying their first air raids on English towns. Winston Churchill is outlining his ideas for what would later become the tank. Meanwhile at the Western Front, the soldier Adolf Hitler is thinking about how this war is going to continue.
January 23, 2015
January 22, 2015
A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions — how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over — and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad — and they didn’t buy their commissions.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
December 4, 2014
Paul Richard Huard has another in his series of blog posts on the weapons of the 20th century:
During the early morning of Oct. 25, 1893, a column of 700 soldiers from the British South African Police camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River.
While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force of up to 6,000 men — some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.
Among its weapons, the column possessed several Maxim machine guns. Once a bugler sounded the alert, the Maxims spun into action — and the results were horrific.
The Maxim gunners mowed down more than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman. As for the British column, it suffered four casualties.
The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare.
In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears. That is how Earth-shattering a weapon the Maxim gun was.
“The round numbers are suspicious,” C.J. Chivers wrote in The Gun, his history of automatic weapons. “But the larger point is unmistakable. A few hundred men with a few Maxims had subdued a king and his army, and destroyed the enemy’s ranks. Hiram Maxim’s business was secure.”
February 9, 2014
Nigel Davies looks at the uncritical admiration of the form of democracy (while actively ignoring the actual practice) among Western media people:
It is interesting to look around the world at the moment and identify the failures of democracy, and to be amused by the Western media’s complete incomprehension of what is going on and why.
Time and time again you get headlines about how people should stand back and accept the ‘democratically elected government’, despite the fact that the democratic result was a fairly evil dictator keen on persecution, mass murder, civil war and ethnic cleansing.
This is because most ignorant Western journalists believe as an absolute truth that ‘democracy’ is a good thing, despite all the evidence that democracy is as bad, or even worse, than any other form of government. (Interestingly many non-western journalists treat democracy with considerable scepticism, which baffles Western journalists even more.)
Just to be clear Robespiere, Napoleon III, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were in some form ‘democratically elected’ leaders, and every Communist dictator, ever, has regularly received about 97% of the popular vote in their countries.
Which brings us to unofficial one party states, like South Africa, where there is a popular vote which means virtually nothing. People get a say, but there is no chance of removing the party which — very largely through its dreadful economic and social policies — has kept the vast majority of the voters ignorant and poor (while flooding them with propaganda suggesting that result is an outside conspiracy, and only the people’s party can save them …) Actually some of you might recognise this more directly as being Mugabe’s very blunt approach, but the principal is the same when adopted by more weasely worded one party statists (for whom too many Western journalists have a romanticised and highly inaccurate perspective).
Most African (and many Asian and Middle Eastern … and Eastern European) ‘nations’ that pretend to democracy, are effectively one party states where the ‘opposition’ is never really going to be allowed to get anywhere.
A current example he points to is Egypt:
I am not just talking about people like Hitler who managed to manipulate 25-30% of the vote to dominate a chaotic parliament long enough to change all the rules and entrench their power. (Though that appears to be the default result for 90-95% of all Republics throughout all history, so perhaps it is worthy of some reflection.) No, I am more interested in places where a genuine majority of the population vote repeatedly for a leader who every educated and thinking (not the same thing unfortunately) person knows will lead them to disaster.
Effectively what we are talking about here is popularistic appeals to the ignorant peasantry who make up the majority of the population.
Egypt recently elected the Muslim Brotherhood. This was done by the majority votes of the ignorant peasants in the rural areas, and against the wishes of practically anyone who could be classed as educated, literate, liberal, or with an understanding of rule of law, or role of commerce and legal rights in a modern society. Ie: the traditional appeal to the ignorant to grab control of the ‘means of production’ and ‘distribute it more fairly’ — which always leads to the same results of poverty and persecution whether you call it a Fascist state (Nazi Germany) Communist state (People’s Republic), Theocratic state (Muslim republic, Hindu republic, North Korea), or just a kleptocracy.
Naturally the Western journalists believe the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to develop its ‘democratic’ course.
The inevitable result of letting the Muslim Brotherhood rewrite the constitution and entrench their powers while introducing a Muslim republic with proper Sharia laws, would be a particularly nasty form of dictatorship. Like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, future votes would have been ‘controlled’ and eventually pointless. So the intervention of the military to throw them out and try and redo the democratic project was necessary, and possibly the only (very slim) hope of making it work. However, like Fiji, it may be only the start of many interventions to stop backsliding, until the military and people give up in disgust and settle down to exactly the sort of dictatorship which, more or less, kept things together and slowly moving forward under their previous dictators.
January 22, 2014
Published on 20 Dec 2012
……and snappeth the spear in sunder.
Short film detailing how this great film was made.
With contributions from Lady Ellen Baker, James Booth, Glynn Edwards and others.
Update: Zulu was primarily the story of the defence of Rorke’s Drift by B Company of the 24th Regiment under temporary command of Royal Engineer Lieutenant John Chard (who was senior to Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th). Less well-known is the larger battle of Isandlwana which happened earlier the same day, where Zulu forces defeated a much larger British force. This show investigates the site of the battle, discussing some of the reasons why the battle was quickly forgotten, as one of the worst British defeats of the Victorian era:
Published on 8 Sep 2013
We are all familiar with the famous story of a handful of British redcoats fending off thousands of Zulu warriors, made famous by the film starring Michael Caine, but this did well to mask another battle just a few miles away where 1,300 British were slaughtered by the natives in just two and a half hours. This fascinating programme looks at what went wrong for the British Empire builders on that fateful day.
December 19, 2013
December 11, 2013
In the Guardian Simon Jenkins discusses the way the media covered Nelson Mandela’s funeral:
Enough is enough. The publicity for the death and funeral of Nelson Mandela has become absurd. Mandela was an African political leader with qualities that were apt at a crucial juncture in his nation’s affairs. That was all and that was enough. Yet his reputation has fallen among thieves and cynics. Hijacked by politicians and celebrities from Barack Obama to Naomi Campbell and Sepp Blatter, he has had to be deified so as to dust others with his glory. In the process he has become dehumanised. We hear much of the banality of evil. Sometimes we should note the banality of goodness.
Part of this is due to the media’s crude mechanics. Millions of dollars have been lavished on preparing for Mandela’s death. Staff have been deployed, hotels booked, huts rented in Transkei villages. Hospitals could have been built for what must have been spent. All media have gone mad. Last week I caught a BBC presenter, groaning with tedium, asking a guest to compare Mandela with Jesus. The corporation has reportedly received more than a thousand complaints about excessive coverage. Is it now preparing for a resurrection?
More serious is the obligation that the cult of the media-event should owe to history. There is no argument that in the 1980s Mandela was “a necessary icon” not just for South Africans but for the world in general. In what was wrongly presented as the last great act of imperial retreat, white men were caricatured as bad and black men good. The arrival of a gentlemanly black leader, even a former terrorist, well cast for beatification was a godsend.
Mandela was crucial to De Klerk’s task. He was an African aristocrat, articulate of his people’s aspirations, a reconciler and forgiver of past evils. Mandela seemed to embody the crossing of the racial divide, thus enabling De Klerk’s near impossible task. White South Africans would swear he was the only black leader who made them feel safe — with nervous glances at Desmond Tutu and others.
South Africa in the early 90s was no postcolonial retreat. It was a bargain between one set of tribes and another. For all the cruelties of the armed struggle, it was astonishingly sparing of blood. This was no Pakistan, no Sri Lanka, no Congo. The rise of majority rule in South Africa was one of the noblest moments in African history. The resulting Nobel peace prize was rightly shared between Mandela and De Klerk, a sharing that has been ignored by almost all the past week’s obituaries. There were two good men in Cape Town in 1990.
December 8, 2013
Salil Tripathi met Nelson Mandela and finds the frequent comparisons between Gandhi and Mandela to do less than justice to both men:
The South African freedom struggle was different from India’s, and the paths Mandela and Gandhi took were also different. That did not prevent many from comparing him with Gandhi. But the two were different; both made political choices appropriate to their time and the context in which they lived.
Gandhi’s life and struggle were political, but securing political freedom was the means to another end, spiritual salvation and moral advancement of India. Mandela was guided by a strong ethical core, and he was deeply committed to political change. At India’s independence, Gandhi wanted the Congress Party to be dissolved, and its members to dedicate themselves to serve the poor. But the Congress had other ideas. Mandela would not have wanted to dissolve his organization; he wanted to bring about the transformation South Africa needed, but he also wanted to heal his beloved country.
This is not to suggest that Gandhi wasn’t political. He was shrewd and he devised strategies to seek the moral high ground against his opponents — and among the British he found a colonial power susceptible to such pressures, because Britain had a domestic constituency which found colonialism repugnant, contrary to its values.
Mandela’s point was that he didn’t have the luxury of fighting the British — he was dealing with the National Party, with its Afrikaans base, which believed in a fight to finish, seeking inspiration from the teachings of the Dutch Reformed Church which established a hierarchy of different races, which led to the establishment of apartheid. “One kaffir one bullet,” said the Boer (the Afrikaans word for farmer, which many Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were); “One settler one bullet,” replied Umkhonto weSizwe, the militant arm of the ANC.
And yet Mandela’s lasting gift was his power of forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He showed exceptional humanity and magnanimity when he left his bitterness behind, on the hard, white limestone rocks of Robben Island that he was forced to break for years, the harsh reflected glare of those rocks causing permanent damage to his eyes. And yet, he came out, his fist raised, smiling, and he wrote in his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, that unless he left his bitterness and hatred behind, “I would still be in prison.”
By refusing to seek revenge, by accepting the white South African as his brother, by agreeing to build a nation with people who wanted to see him dead, Mandela rose to a stature that is almost unparalleled.
Calling Mandela the Gandhi of our times does no favour to either. Gandhi probably anticipated the compromises he would have to make, which is why he shunned political office. Mandela estimated, correctly, that following the Gandhian path of non-violent resistance against the apartheid regime was going to be futile, since the apartheid regime did not play by any rules, except those it kept creating to deepen the divide between people.
H/T to Shikha Dalmia for the link.
December 6, 2013
Within moments of the announcement that the great man had passed away, left-wingers on twitter gleefully started posting quotes from Reagan-era conservatives about Mandela. At the time, most right-wingers’ opinions of Mandela — with one notable exception — ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. (This William H. Buckley column from 1990, which compares the recently-released Mandela to Lenin, was not atypical.)
Support for apartheid was never justifiable, but when that racist system was in its death throes, it was hardly unreasonable to worry about what might come next. Many political prisoners and “freedom fighters” have eventually come to power in their countries, only to become exactly what they once fought against — or worse. (One of the most infuriating examples is just over the South African border, where the once-promising Robert Mugabe has driven Zimbabwe into the abyss.)
The young Mandela was a revolutionary, and after spending his entire life as a second-class citizen, and 27 years behind bars, any bitterness on his part would have been understandable.
Instead, he chose an unprecedented path of reconciliation:
The real measure of one’s greatness comes when that person achieves power. And by that standard, Mandela was one of the greatest of them all. May he rest in peace.
Damian Penny, “Why Mandela was different”, DamianPenny.com, 2013-12-06
February 25, 2013
In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill shows how the western media has managed to ignore horrific things in South Africa, but suddenly the murder of a pretty white woman has them all utterly rivetted to what’s happening in that country:
Last year, 34 black striking miners were gunned down by South African police at the Lonmin mine in Marikana. Some were shot in the back as they attempted to flee. Some were killed as they surrendered. Others were killed 300 metres from where the main massacre took place, suggesting they had been chased — that is, hunted down — by the armed servants of the ANC. Yet there was no outrage in the Western liberal press. There were no fuming leaders; very few angry columns. Amnesty International, guardian of the modern liberal conscience, issued a weak, almost uninterested statement about this act of mass murder, and then went back to throwing money and staff at the campaign to have Pussy Riot — prettier and way more fashionable than those dead miners — freed from jail in Russia.
This month, a pretty white woman, Reeva Steenkamp, was killed by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, in a gated community in South Africa. And this time, right-thinking observers went crazy. The shock and outrage have been palpable. Feminists have popularised the Twitter hashtag #hernamewasReevaSteenkamp, to draw attention to the scourge of domestic violence in South Africa. Column after column tells us that the Steenkamp killing shows that the New South Africa is sick, that it’s a fear-ruled, crime-ridden, corrupt nation. This tragic shooting and the fractured court case and debate it has given rise to have cast a “lurid light” on South Africa, commentators tell us, calling into question its image as a “Rainbow Nation”. Where the massacre of 34 black workers elicited a collective shrug of the shoulder among observers over here, the killing of Steenkamp has got them tearing their hair out, demanding answers, wondering what the hell went wrong with the country they once admired (the New South Africa) and its ruling party that they once cheered (the ANC).
All of which raises a very awkward question: why is the shooting of a white woman in a domestic setting more shocking to liberal commentators than the massacre of 34 black miners at a public strike and demonstration? This isn’t a complaint about how the media elevates celebrity news over all other forms of news. I can understand why there is so much media and public interest in the Pistorius/Steenkamp case: it isn’t every day a global sports star shoots his famous, beautiful girlfriend in questionable circumstances. But what is striking is the fact that it took this incident — and not, say, the ANC’s massacre of 34 miners — to open Western liberals’ eyes to the profound problems, the moral and political decay, in modern-day South Africa.
January 2, 2012
Walter Russell Mead has a textbook example of finding the cloud to every silver lining in the pages of the New York Times:
A worthless desert in South Africa, largely inhabited by drought-stricken sheep and a handful of marginal farmers, turns out to contain rich natural gas reserves that could bring a new wave of economic growth to South Africa and provide huge numbers of well paying jobs for poorly educated workers.
The New York Times, of course, is wringing its elegantly manicured hands. And why not? The soil of the Karoo desert is “fragile,” and the extraction of the natural gas will involve fracking. What will happen to the sheep?
The Times finds a local farmer who is worried about exactly that.
“If our government lets these companies touch even a drop of our water,” [the farmer] said, “we’re ruined.”
Ruined! By wicked natural gas companies feeding the world’s hydrocarbon addiction. The farmer in question has a herd of 1400 sheep. (It was 2000 last year before a drought forced the slaughter of 600.) One somehow suspects that the farmer will find some other way to make money when the district becomes a major gas producing center. And, worst case, roughnecks eat a lot of meat.
That the Times chooses the lonesome shepherd to lead off one of the best good news stories around these days speaks volumes about the gloomy Gus mindset at the Paper of Record. Why can’t this be a good news story? Will a gas boom save South African democracy, for example? Will new economic opportunities transform the lives of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of poor black South Africans? Will the huge increase in South Africa’s natural gas supply reduce the country’s carbon footprint? Is there anything in the geology to suggest that other poverty stricken parts of Africa might also be similarly blessed? How are local leaders planning the spend the windfall: better schools? better hospitals?
June 12, 2010
In international competitions, it’s always hard to watch when your first and second favourite teams play head-to-head. Had Canada made it to the World Cup, I’d be cheering for Canada first, England second, and USA third. Canada didn’t qualify (again), so I had to watch my other two preferred teams fight it out. A draw at least leaves both teams alive for advancing out of the group stage.
To see how the game unfolded according to the Twitterati, check this Guardian page, where it tracks the progress of the game against the hashtagged posts on Twitter.
June 4, 2010
The official World Cup soccer ball is not popular with some folks. Keepers, in particular:
[G]oalkeepers dislike the Adidas ball more than Diego Maradona dislikes reporters and photographers. Although to the keepers’ credit, they have not yet fired at the balls with air rifles or run over them in their cars.
Basically, the ball is being criticized for being too light and too curvy, as if it were a fashion model who eats too little food and has too much plastic surgery.
Altitude and technology will not only cause goalkeepers stress, but also make balls carry too far on crosses, causing some headers to be missed by two feet, said Marcus Hahnemann, a reserve keeper for the United States and a man not given to understatement.
“Technology is not everything,” Hahnemann said Thursday. “Scientists came up with the atom bomb; it doesn’t mean we should have invented it.”
Adidas has christened the World Cup ball Jabulani, which is apparently Zulu for “offends goalkeepers.”
Not really. The name actually means “to celebrate.” But it has been lost in translation for the guys between the posts.
I seem to recall plenty of disdain being heaped on the official ball every World Cup since I started paying attention. Watch for this article to be re-run in four years’ time, with new names appearing in the fill-in-the-blank spots.
November 3, 2009
This man didn’t pay attention, and took a more exciting ride than he expected:
It probably is best not to fiddle with switches or controls when riding in the back seat of an air force plane.
A man who failed to obey that principle found himself hurtling out of the cockpit, smashing through the Perspex canopy and into space after grabbing the black- and yellow-striped handle between his legs. He had inadvertently pulled the eject lever and found himself blasted 100 metres into the sky on his rocket-powered seat.
The South African air force has confirmed the incident that took place last Wednesday, when the passenger took off for a flight with an experienced pilot from South Africa’s Silver Falcons air display team. Investigators are assuming that the passenger tried to steady himself while the pilot was putting the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II through its paces by grabbing the eject lever.
The passenger survived, with only minor injuries. That’s more than a little surprising:
“We train for this and if you don’t get it right, and are not in the correct ejection posture, you can sustain severe spinal cord injuries or even worse.”
H/T to Jeff Scarbrough for the link.
October 23, 2009
South Africa has a serious corruption problem with their yet-to-be delivered A400M military transport planes:
Yet another corruption case in South Africa. This time, members of parliament are asking why the military is suddenly paying $809 million each for eight A400M four engine transports. The price other nations are paying for the aircraft are under $200 million each. The price South Africa agreed to pay, in 2005, was about $279 million, and included training, maintenance support and some spare parts. It is believed that the price went up so that government officials could siphon off large bribes. Meanwhile, the A400M aircraft is four years behind schedule, and has not flown yet. It was originally to start deliveries to European customers this year. South Africa is supposed to begin getting its A400Ms in seven years. South Africa has already paid $400 million for its A400Ms, and more progress payments will soon be due.
Such blatant corruption is not new in South Africa, but lately the crooks have been winning. Last year, the South African parliament passed a law disbanding an elite government investigation unit nicknamed the “Scorpions.” Investigations by this unit had led to dozens of corruption prosecutions of government officials. That’s why the unit is being dismantled. Corruption is a major problem throughout Africa, and many nations are now setting up units like the Scorpions, after having realized that corruption was the major cause of the poverty and civil wars that afflict most Africans.