Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Devil is in the Numbers

Sheer's link to the Atlantic Magazine contained this interesting tidbit:

The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

It reminds me of an old WWII joke:

A General at the Imperial Military Staff HQ in Tokyo would go to a Chinese barber every Wednesday for a shave and a haircut. Once the General was seated in the chair, the Chinese barber would ask, "How goes the war, Honorable General?" The General would respond with statistics from the China Front, for which he was responsible. Something like, "The War goes well. Last week - 15,000 Chinese soldiers killed, 1,000 Japanese killed." or "30,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 700 Japanese killed." The barber would answer, "Very good. Very Good." (OK, back before PC, it was said as "Velly Good".)

This went on week after week. The Japanese General was rather surprised that a Chinese person would find such tilted odds "Very Good". So the next time the General gets his hair cut, he answers, "200,000 Chinese soldiers killed, only 200 Japanese killed", to see how the barber would react to his false, but staggering odds. As always, the barber answers, "Very good. Very good."

So the General asks, "Chung How, you are Chinese. Every week I report 15 to 1 or higher losses for the Chinese. Today, I reported 1,000 to 1 losses for the Chinese. Yet, you always answer, 'Very good. Very good.' How can such lopsided odds be very good to a Chinese person?"

The barber smiled and simply said, "Yes, Honorable General, the odds are tilted, but soon there will be no more Japanese soldiers!"

If one American middle class worker is sacrificed by American profit maximizing businesses to raise 4 Chinese and Asian workers out of proverty, pretty soon there will be no more American middle class workers!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November in History: Battle of the Wabash 1791

Over at GFT.Happy Thanksgiving, too, from all of us here; may you have a better day than St. Clair and the boys had on the banks of the Wabash 220 years ago!

The Quiet of Thanksgiving Morning

I've been silent for some time because I felt I haven't had much to fact, what I've been feeling most of late with regards to our society et al is a desire to say, "Fuck this, I'm done. Later bitches!"

However, that isn't very helpful, and so I watch the news feeling the gloom of watching a nation spasm in either it's death throes of a dying Republic, or the squalling of new birth of our Plutocracy. The question of which has long been settled by the Department of Homeland Security actively coordinating the suppression of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. If ever there is evidence of the government actively engaged in activity that goes against the wishes of the public at large, this is it.

The Republic is dead. Long live the Republic.

So, now, here I am, early in the morning, standing guard on two smoking turkeys that I put on the smoker at 6:45am, pondering the "what next?" for us as a nation.

President Obama has clearly chosen sides.

I think we're in for a very long winter, and I suspect, and this suspicion needs more research, that by next summer we're going to be looking at a very different world...and I think, again based on this suspicion, that we're going to be none-to-pleased.

Anyway, back to the turkeys, and my best wishes to all of you on this...:::sigh:::...wet day of Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Pub Mates

Regardless of how world affairs may be screwed up at present, the bride and I have much to be thankful for, primarily our health and that of our offspring and family. Tomorrow, we will have a traditional Thanksgiving with a long time friend from the US to remember that we have been more than generally fortunate in this life.

We wish a grand Thanksgiving to our comrades in arms (and comrades in keyboards). We hope that your fortunes are as good as ours, if not better.

And to those in need, our thoughts are with you for a better tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Valse Triste

It's been a while since I've posted something like this, something away from the woes and tribulations that trouble us daily.

The post below inspired this.

And do go to 62angelo's youtube user page to see more great stuff like this piece.

Anybody else a fan of J. Sibelius?

What music refurbishes your spirit?


Langemarck Day, The Other Event Associated with 11 November

Nonne Boschen, 11 November 1914

Say the 11th of November and you automatically think of Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day. There is another event associated with that particular day and in fact that particular war (the First World War of 1914-1918) which I would like to introduce should you not be aware of it.

Langemarck Day commemorates the "Battle of Langemarck" or the more extensive First Battle of Ypres or the battle of Bixchote, all which took place during October and November of 1914. This was part of the so-called "race to the sea" when both the German and Allied armies attempted to outflank each other after the German defeat at the Marne.

This First World War battle or series of battles developed a mythic quality for both the British and Germans during that war. For the British it was the death of the "old Contemptibles", the end of Britain's post-Boer War Army and the Army of the Haldane reforms.

C.S. Forester is his great war novel, The General, describes the battle in this way:

And as he stooped, he heard all the rifles in the line redouble their fire. Borthwick's two machine-guns began to stammer away on his left. The Germans were renewing their advance; once more there were solid masses of grey-clad figures pouring over the fields towards them. But one man with a rifle can stop two hundred advancing in a crowd - more still if he is helped by machine-guns. Curzon saw the columns reel under the fire, and marveled at their bravery as they strove to struggle on. They bore terrible losses before they fell back again over the crest.
page 41

The British Expeditionary Force landed in France with 85,000 infantry and by the end of the campaign had suffered 86,000 casualties, most of them from the infantry. From who had not fallen in Flanders or Mons, along with the British Army of India, and the mass of volunteers who came forward during 1914-15, Britain built a new army which in turn would be bled white at the Somme and Passendaele.

The German myth, however, was to be much more eventful.

First, let's consider General Erich Falkenhayn's comments written after the war. He wrote in his memoirs:

The enemy's offensive was completely broken. He was thrown back almost everywhere either to, or across, the Yser, and a firm connection was established between the coast at Nieuport and the previous German right wing near Lille, thus forming a front from the Swiss border to the sea. That which had to be attained under any circumstances, if the war was to be carried on with any hopeful prospects, was attained. Several times it seemed as though it only needed perseverance in the offensive to obtain a complete success - how near we actually were to it has since been made sufficiently plain. At the time, however, our movement came to a standstill.

Inundations, skillfully managed by the Belgians, put an end to the attack of the German right wing, which was making good progress and bore the main pressure. The young army corps further south fought with incomparable enthusiasm and unexcelled heroism. The disadvantages of their urgent and hasty formation and training, and the fact that they were led by older and for the most part retired officers, as others were not to be had, naturally made themselves felt. In particular there were deficiencies in the new field artillery formation, a fact that was emphasized all the more strongly by the shortage of ammunition. Nor was the leadership entirely satisfactory. At the beginning of November, GHQ could not conceal from itself that a further thorough going success was no longer to be obtained here, particularly in the inundated area, in the face of an opponent who was continually growing stronger.

General Headquarters 1914-16, pp 33-34

The last German attack was on 11 November and was repulsed by the British and French with heavy losses on both sides.

Perhaps there had been a chance to turn the Allied flank and seize the French ports, the British had no reserves left . . . But the French did, and the Germans were exhausted. Getting the infantry through was not the same as keeping them supplied, and artillery and shells were short. The Germans were far from their railheads and the British and French falling back towards theirs.

However, The German High Command (OHL) issued the following press release on 11 November 1914:

We made good progress yesterday in the Yser sector. West of Langemarck, young regiments charged forward singing "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles" against the front line of enemy positions and took them. Approximately 2000 men of the French infantry and six machine guns were captured.

We now know this report was entirely fictitious. Most of the German troops engaged from mid October on were not student volunteers, there had been no mass singing (running across a sodden field with full equipment circa 1914 did not allow for one to sing), and the attacks in question had been poorly planned and coordinated. There were reports of the German infantry being shelled by their own artillery as they advanced. In all it was not so much a lost battle as a debacle and massacre, but the mental image of those young German students singing to their deaths had great resonance at the time, they came to symbolize all the losses of those first bloody months of war. And as time went on and the losses piled up, the heroes of Langemarck came to symbolize all those who had sacrificed themselves for Germany during the war.

Taping into this sentiment, a member of the Bavarian List regiment wrote:

. . . And then followed a damp, cold night in Flanders. We marched in silence throughout the night and as the morning sun came through the mist an iron greeting suddenly burst above our heads. Shrapnel exploded in our midst and spluttered in the damp ground. But before the smoke of the explosion disappeared a wild ‘Hurrah’ was shouted from two hundred throats, in response to this first greeting of Death. Then began the whistling of bullets and the booming of cannons, the shouting and singing of the combatants. With eyes straining feverishly, we pressed forward, quicker and quicker, until we finally came to close-quarter fighting, there beyond the beet-fields and the meadows. Soon the strains of a song reached us from afar. Nearer and nearer, from company to company, it came. And while Death began to make havoc in our ranks we passed the song on to those beside us: Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles, über Alles in der Welt.

After four days in the trenches we came back. Even our step was no longer what it had been. Boys of seventeen looked now like grown men. The rank and file of the List Regiment had not been properly trained in the art of warfare, but they knew how to die like old soldiers.

The author was Adolf Hitler and the book was Mein Kampf. He obviously understood the importance of myth, since this is the closest thing to a description of battle he provides in this chapter, which is mainly about attacking "politicians", "Social Democrats" and "Jews".

The legend of Langemarck brought together various German ideals: youth, nation and sacrifice, but also the notion that the old order had wasted the sacrifice of their own youth, had been even unworthy of it and that the next time this situation presented itself the national leadership would/could not falter, as the Kaiser, Falkenhayn and the OHL had done. Thus the dead lived on in the aspirations of the German nationalists to reverse the verdict of Versailles.

Already on the first anniversary of the OHL press release, November 11, 1915, there were numerous calls in the German press for a "Langemarck Day" to commemorate the students' sacrifice. Although no official recognition of the day was ever granted by the Kaiser, it became something of a nationalist day of patriotic celebration even before 1918. With the end of the war, the collapse of the monarchy and the founding of the first German Republic on 9 November 1918, Langemarck Day took on ever more importance. It became the counter-national holiday to the Republic's 9 November.

As Hitler's quote above indicates, the National Socialist movement was quick to recognize and adopt all the ideals and symbols associated with Langemarck to their own ends, this contrary to the actual fact that the German student volunteers had probably included a significant number of German Jewish volunteers. As with the original OHL press release, the intent was not to remember or honor the dead, but to cynically exploit them and/or cover up unwanted facts.

I remember seeing a high quality film of a speech Hitler gave before coming to power. He was in a suit and in a round room flanked by raised rows of wooden benches, as in university lecture hall. He was almost crying by the end, addressing the women especially, the mothers of those dead children most likely, essentially "here I am, I've returned to lead . . . "

If one looks a bit closer at all the various ideals and propaganda themes associated with what Langemarck had become by 1939, we see the original ideals of youth, nationalism and sacrifice combined with revengeful bloodlust, political/ideological fanaticism (which had never existed under the Kaiser) and a belief in modernity as a technological means to achieve extensive power political goals. It is interesting in this context to recall that the stated Nazi goal for the new Germany was to return to a mostly agrarian community, discarding the urban society which had risen in Germany after the 1870s. The conquest of the Soviet Union was to provide this land for the new generations of German farmers in the east . . .

The German war cemetery at Langemarck has an interesting history of its own. It is interesting to compare it to the near-by British war cemetery in terms of layout and architecture.

What does Langemarck tells us today? I think there are several lasting lessons we can learn from its history.

First, no matter how noble national ideals are they can be subverted and transformed into something unrecognizable by politics especially politics associated with wars and violence.

Second, it is always appealing for a military high command, or even the political leadership to dress up a military disaster in patriotic/heroic garb and try to pass off it off as something else.

Third, Langemarck is an example of thoughtless waste. If a country or political community is faced with a long war, then resources, including especially human resources have to be used to their most efficient purpose. Was it in the best interests of either Germany or Britain to man their volunteer formations with the cream of their youth, instead of using those educated and dedicated young men to serve as officers in the new armies? What happens when most of the next generation of leaders are killed or maimed in war, allowing the Hitlers to rise to the top?

Finally there is a great distinction between sacrifice and waste, and it is the people for whom the sacrifice is offered or the waste suffered to decide based on an unemotional weighing of the facts what indeed has taken place. With the resort to war comes naturally sacrifice, but also responsibility to endeavor that the sacrifices called upon are both necessary for the achievement of the shared rational goal and that any waste is exposed as what it is. Power, responsibility and accountability should all go together.

The victims deserve at least that.


I've enjoyed reading the comments on this thread. I think a reevaluation, beyond the propaganda versions generated during the war, is finally possible. It could do much to make for a better Europe and perhaps, with some luck and a lot of effort, also for a better world.

I'll leave the last word to C. S. Forester, from The General:

(His main character Curzon has just found out that he is in command of the cavalry brigade, the Brigadier having been killed by a direct hit on his HQ. This conversion of thought process takes about "ten seconds" since Curzon is well versed in the characteristics of his institution. This takes place during 1st Ypres.)

"Any report from the Dragoons?" he demanded.
That was the beginning of eleven days of anxiety and danger and responsibility and desperate hard work. Even if Curzon had the necessary literary ability, he could never write an account of the First Battle of Ypres in which he took so prominent a part, for his later recollections of it could never be sorted out from the tangle into which they lapsed. He could never remember which day it was that the commander of the First Corps, beautifully groomed, superbly mounted, came riding up the lane to see for himself what were the chances of the Cavalry Brigade maintaining its precarious hold upon its seemingly untenable position, nor which day it was that he had spent in the trenches of the Surreys, leading the counter-attack which caused the Germans to give back at the moment when here were only a hundred or two exhausted Englishmen to oppose the advance of an army corps. pp 49-50

Douglaus Haig was the commander of 1st Corps in 1914 and the battle mentioned was Nonne Boschen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden...

Occupy Portland is over.An ad-hoc force of police from several places including Portland Bureau today cleared the two downtown parks that Occupy had occupied. The protesters have regathered in several other downtown sites to "discuss" their next move, but in my opinion this is the end for Occupy.

For more than a week the local pols, newspapers, and television outlets have been voicing increasing impatience with Occupy and, truthfully, it seems hard to imagine how the "protests" would have done anything more than they have which beyond generating a sort of unfocused unease amongst the chattering classes has been no more than an irritant under the silken drawers of the rich and powerful.

It's been more than forty years since the mild insurrections of the U.S. Civil Rights era, half a century since the "nonviolent" protests of the Indian National Congress forced Britain's release of her Indian colony, a full century since the end of the violent strikes and near-rebellions that empowered the American labor unions.In the interim we have forgotten that "peaceful" protest is exactly as effective as "peacefully" resisting a savage beating unless you have your "peaceful" beating carefully planned to maximize your PR value - and it helps if your opponents are frigging morons, or politically and financially exhausted.

The civil rights marchers won because the Southern bigots were stupid enough to physically attack well-dressed men and women on national TV and newspapers. The Indian factions won partially because BG Dyer was a fucking bloodyminded idiot and partially because the Empire exhausted itself fighting two world wars. You could argue that the labor unions didn't actually win, but rather reached a sort of armed truce that lasted until the plutocrats shat the bed in 1929 and helped elect a labor-friendly administration.

Occupy had none of these to help it. Instead, it faced a massively corrupted and paid-for military-industrial-congressional-financial complex that is doing quite well under the present system. Any hopes of an FDR moment disappeared early in 2009 when it became obvious at least to me that the current Democratic administration had no interest in even trying cocking a snook at the banksters. The New New Deal this wasn't.

And the Occupiers forgot the other lesson of those earlier protest movements; that the public could give a shit about your politeness. The relative discipline of the Occupiers ended up looking like meekness, and regardless of what the Good Book says the meek won't inherit jack shit without a pair of brass balls, friendly press, and a sackful of bricks and cobblestones hidden away in case all the politeness doesn't work. And Occupy Portland had none of those things.

And ask the Paris Communards how even WITH those things, if the government is willing to ignore you when you're weak - and kill or arrest when you're strong - you will lose.So the banksters have proved that a camel can leap laughingly through the eye of a needle. They have bought all the government they need, they or their lickspittle brownnosers own the media conglomerates, and the U.S. public is about evenly divided into thirds, and while one third is ignorant and indifferent one of the other two-thirds is actively hostile, either hoping to curry favor with the plutocracy or, tragically, mistaking the random helium in their guts for wings; by the time they fart away their good luck they will be plummeting too rapidly to have the time for regrets.

Occupy might have had more hope if the public was more intelligent and their enemies less powerful. In the first couple of days, or weeks...

But no matter. That hope is gone forever.

In March, 1935 the tiny German Army marched into the Rhineland, the first of Hitler's Thirties gambles. And it was more than a gamble; Hitler and his commanders knew how tiny their little force was. As hapless as the French Army of the Thirties was, and it was a fairly ginormous clusterfuck, a whiff of grapeshot in the old Napoleonic style would have seen the Heer packing across the Rhine and, probably, the end of the Hitler Era two years after it began.

But the French were too meek to make that move, and Hitler's success propelled him all the way to the wreck of the European world ten years later.

And here again, the first couple of days - "Die erste achtundvierzig Stunden" is how Hitler phrased it - were key.Once the larger public failed to rise in the first couple of days the Occupiers proved to have no strategy to force the issue or force their enemies to submit and their attempt to tame the bulls and bears is done.

Update 11/14: Upon further review, I had a couple of thoughts.

The antiwar protests of the Sixties have something a answer for in what they've done to the U.S. left. The protests were far less effective at "ending" the war than they seemed at the time (and have been mythologized since) - Nixon's concerns for the economy and the public's indifference to the Vietnamese were more crucial. But the result is that somehow the notion that merely marching around and sitting-in would be enough to effect political change and the record of those actions since then have proved this to be the nonsense it is.

The civil rights protestors, the INC activists, the labor movement radicals all had a collection of things that the post-'72 U.S. protests haven't:

1. An actual strategy that involved an entire range of acts, from pure theatre to violent protest, and some notion of how and where these would be applied. If OWS had anything other than "be there" I haven't seen it (mind you, the combination of vast public indifference and active media ignorance/hostility made it difficult to see how they could have done anything else effectively). And to orchestrate this these groups also had

2. An actual structured leadership - often fractious, even infighting, but the leaders were there actively planning the attacks on their opponents. The OWS seems to suffer from the goofy fuzzy-logic cloud-leadership that is to my mind the very WORST hangover of the Sixties protests. People like Lewis and Nehru and MLK were in many ways very unlikeable, manipulative, cunning sons-of-bitches. The OWS people seem to have absorbed the wrong lesson, which is that to get to a beneficent end you need to be a beneficent person. Couldn't be wronger. Many, perhaps most, of the people who have done "good" things for the mass of humanity have themselves been real bastards. You have to break a lot of eggs sometimes to make a good omlette...

Sorry that I'm such a little ray of sunshine today. But, as Matt Taibbi points out, the things that OWS is pointing fingers at aren't minor issues - they go to the very heart of the corruption of the crony-capitalist scam that has been driving the U.S. (and much of the Euro nations) back towards the Gilded Age. I'd have liked to see the U.S. and other western publics "get" that. But this doesn't seem to have happened, and at this point I have to conclude that it ISN'T going to happen. And for someone like me, who is and whose kids will be, part of the 99%, that looks like a bad thing for the future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby's scheme). I died in hell -
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards; so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For, though low down upon the list, I'm there;
"In proud and glorious memory" ... that's my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he's never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west ...
What greater glory could a man desire?~S. Sassoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Marines!

Proud to have worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and always will be. Been celebrating this day since 1960, and hope to do so many, many times more.

Semper Fi!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

With Their Shields or On Them

I'm sitting in front of the computer whilst the kiddos indulge in some truly reprehensible Saturday morning TV - a ritual as old as MY childhood, at least - and came across this Krugman column that ends with a comment that I thought went right to the heart of the discussions we had over at GFT about what I considered the unfortunate narrowing of the social arc of military service in the U.S. circa 2011:
"If people can’t comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost."
The Krugman essay is in reference to the apparent difference between "conservatives" - who seem willing to shove any sort of public-figure misbehavior down the memory hole so long as the offending politician continues to vote for their regressive policies - and liberals, who immediately defenestrate their own "leaders" if the personal lives of those leaders vary from the public positions.But in the course of his post Krugman brings up someone I had forgotten; Ed Luttwak, who wrote back in 1995 that any hope the U.S. (and other Western societies) had of returning to a widespread national service was doomed by the replacement-level birth rates of their peoples. Luttwak's "post-heroic" societies had developed such an attachment to their children "...(b)ecause most couples have only one or two children, the loss of any in warfare becomes intolerable, and conscription becomes unthinkable..."(and)"...child-centered Americans (and Europeans and Japanese) will be forced to rely in the future on allies, mercenaries, and maybe robots to fight on their behalf."So; here I am, looking at my own precious offspring (one inert on the couch, the other somewhere in the back of the house - I can hear her chatting to herself there, anyway...) and wondering - would I give them up if my country demanded it not for existential defense, but for some abtruse foreign policy objective? Would I be "convincible" that burying my son or daughter for some transient geopolitical advantage in part of my country's imperial corona was worth the end of my own personal immortality?And I honestly don't know the answer.

But it certainly raises some difficult questions for me.