Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Asymmetrical Numbers

Welcome to the jungle we've got fun and games
We got everything you want honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money honey we got your disease 
--Welcome to the Jungle, 
Guns 'N Roses    

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly,
I gotta love one man till I die 
--Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine, 
Porgy and Bess     

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine? 
Could you be mine? 
--Would You Be My Neighbor, 
Fred Rogers

While the topic of the Islamic State (IS) is perversely fascinating, we will instead look just at our reaction to the group, a reaction which violates the principles of war, diplomacy and logical thought. A reaction not equal in reason to the actions of IS, which are clear, evident and understandable, if not grotesque.

The United States has killed both the No. 1 and No. 2 leaders of IS to much fanfare, but to what end? No military or political objective was accomplished in the execution of this very costly project. The U.S. Homeland is no safer. As such, our effort is wasted, and our violence just as criminal as theirs.

Reports indicate that 15,000 IS troopers have been dispatched to the next life, hurried along by ~5,500 U.S. airstrikes. This equates to a success rate of 2.73 kills per strikes. Parsing the cost of each airstrike, are they cost-effective if they do not achieve a military objective?

Are these casualties worth the expenditure, or could our dollars be better spent on social programs here in the U.S.?

Further, the U.S. has trained and equipped only 54 moderate Syrian rebels thus far at a cost of $36 million USD. The goal is to recruit 3,000 fighters by the end of 2015; 4,500 in 12 months. That amounts to a cost of $666,666.67 per recruit. [For that outlay one could buy a bona fide (somewhat) Hollywood sniper and reap a higher entertainment value, at that.]

Aside from the crack 54 -- each earning a cool $400 per month-- one must wonder whose pockets are being lined by the overflow. Someone is benefiting from this egregious expenditure, and it is not the average U.S. taxpayer.

The U.S. pays big bucks for questionable proxy-quasi-allies to fight against people who pay nothing for theirs. So who is winning this asymmetrical war?

Choose any field you wish on which to apply your metrics.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]


  1. Isn't it amazing how Americans still pretend their military is useful at training foreign paramilitary or militar personnel?

    They have a string of dismal failures, a string of producing brittle forces and there's never being acted on the insight that past training missions did not succeed. What's the famous definition for insanity again?

    Go ask the Sri Lankan military train Syrian fighters instead, for example. Or hire exile Chechen fighters as trainers. Or those old South African mercs (who were hired by Nigeria instead, as it seems).
    NATO land forces should be the dead last on the list of potential trainers. (Yes, Germany only produces lo-volume nonsense in this regard as well.)

  2. Umm...well, yes. The US (along with several other Western powers...) is "breaking windows with guineas" is how the Brits used to describe it; throwing money at a "problem" that is a problem only - or largely - because of domestic political stupidity and intellectual sloth. Next thing you'll be telling me that there's gambling at Rick's Cafe!

    Yes, it's stupid. No, it's unlikely to change. Partly because the fucking idiots that have been singing the "more rubble = less trouble" song since the Cold War have never been driven out of American political life in disgrace and partly because it is in the nature of great powers to farkle about in foreign climes. Join the chorus that has advised would-be Caesars to spend their time and money at home since...well, Caesar.

    Kidding aside, you and I know that anyone in political power here who suggested letting the locals alone to fight this out would get hammered by the Right and pilloried by the moron press parroting the wingnut talking points. So for the cost of a few measly billions this gives pols on both sides of the aisle political cover. Win-win! Well, except militarily and in the Middle East, but how many of those people vote in Ohio, hunh..?

  3. I'm not sure whether this is completely on the lack of skill on the part of the trainers, Sven. I suspect we're seeing something similar to the same problem the US had in Vietnam; the political weakness of the factions the West supports makes creating a decent military nearly impossible. So the Iraqi Army 2015 has the same.problems the ARVN of 1969 had; corrupt "leaders" and demoralized troops who have little motivation to fight or die for a disastrous regime.

    I'm not saying that the West does this well. But I'm not sure if "Chinese" Gordon could create an Ever Victorious Army out of these mooks...

    1. South African mercs had no difficulty creating (and leading) indigenous troops to quick victory in West Africa - thesorry state of the government was no obstacle.

      You need to unnerstand the country and the people, then decide together with their leaders what kind of force to build. This may end up being a feudal force, a warlord's seasonal merc force, a village militia, etc.

  4. And the Germans trained up a damn good little army back in 1914. What the heck does that have to do with this situation, Sven?

  5. My understanding of Syria is that there basically IS no "government, and most of these guys are lined up with some faction or other. The "moderate faction the US appears to be trying to train appears to be a clusterfuck and there appears to be no real idea what this supposed force will look like, or do.

    Basic training of troops isn't rocket science. Hell I've done it. It doesn't take some special salty old Rhodesian war vets. But...the leadership has to be there - either in the local people or the outside trainers (as your.SA mercs or the SF guys in the mountains of VN...) and the locals have to want to fight. So far it looks like either or both are lacking. So I'm not convinced it's some sort of special failing on the part of the West here. That could be a part, but it could be only a small part...

    1. You show why American trainers fail to train indigenous people into effective ground forces: You don't get the difficulty.
      This isn't about basic as in a Western army, this is about developing a force that fits into the context. Fundamentals of command, fundamentals of pay, fundamentals of daily routine and much more may need be adapted to circumstances. The attempt to slap some basic and infantry training on recruits with civil war experience, add some leader training and staff training for those meant to become officers ... that doesn't work.
      It turns out parodies, not effectie ground forces. Many warlords with an inner circle of relatives do better than that.

    2. Agreed. That's kind of my point. The problem in Syria is similar to Iraq; it's not that the Western armies are bad at training troops. It's that the Western politicos are bad at identifying factions that can 1) reliably ally w the West and 2) provide leadership to those armies and win.

      My guess is that the main reason for that is that the Western ideals are unpleasant to the locals. They don't "hate our freedoms"...they hate our secularism, or our support of Israel. So the only factions who will ally with us are the dirtbags the real badass locals despise (e.g. Achmed Chalabi etc...)

      Hard to make a good army out of that dross, no matter who's training'em...

  6. One thing to consider is how much of this is an "Arab thing". Try and think of theists time an Arab army fought well against a decent opponent. You'd probably have to give the Egyptians credit for '73...but how much of that was IDF overconfidence? The Ottomans only count if you lump "Arabs" with "Turks" - probably fightin' words in Turkey.

    It's not like the IS jokers are whipping up on the Afrika Korps, here. But it also seems entirely possible that the IS is getting the most aggressive and motivated of a pretty small pool of good fighters. Outside the Kurds, who have they beaten that's worth a lick? And if they've got the most motivated guys in Syria...what the hell is left to work with?

    So I'm saying that 1) the Arab states have a pretty poor record for creating quality modern forces, and 2) if IS is getting "the best of the worst"...what's left to "train"?

    1. Hezbollah has been decimated in Syria severely - thousands of casualties. These guys did make a stand against the IDF before ...

      And as someone with experience in basic training you should know how civilians can be turned into soldiers who shed comfort and even sleep expectations in an astonishing way. The pool of potentially useful fighters numbers in the millions in Syria.

    2. Which just reinforces the oddity; why can't the West find a reliable proxy? And it seems to come back to the ethnic, economic, and political chaos involved in this mess. My suspicion is that we're seeing the beginning of the end of the colonial constructs "Syria" and "Iraq". Something will emerge, but it seems unlikely to be some sort of bland, multi-ethnic, pro-Western entity...and the chances of finding a significant number of Syrians to fight for that seems correspondingly low...

  7. @S O - "The pool of potentially useful fighters numbers in the millions in Syria."

    Many of those millions are cutting through barbed wire to get into the EU, or perhaps drowned in the Aegean on their way.

    1. Yes, individuals are no warriors. That's something generated by group dynamics. These people are in the social environment of (split up and decimated) families, not in the social environment of a fighting force or of a community that mobilizes one.
      They act accordingly.

    2. There are about 7 million Syrian males between the age of 15 and 65. Even with conscription, the Assad military numbers about 178,000. Now, who should be armed, trained and led, and where will the training of these elements from the "millions of potential useful fighters" take place? Will ISIS look the other way, or will there formations in training have be protected from both government forces and ISIS?

      Thing is, there is a clusterfuck going on. Multiple rebel groups vying for control of the country, and we are trying to determine which of these will come out on top, while still supporting the overthrow of the current government, while the "good" rebels fight the Government and ISIS, and ISIS fights the "good" rebels and the government and anyone else that gets in their crosshairs.

      I wonder why the Syrian population is jumping ship.

  8. I should add this; a Facebook pal had a link to an article about Icelanders offering shelter to Syrian refugees. And one of the first comments was from this joker opining how ironic this was because Facebook = Arab Spring = Syrian civil war.

    Yeah. That's the general level of the US public's understanding of this mess. Is it any surprise the US Middle Eastern policy is incoherent? I mean, we're talking a level of comprehension based on "I Dream of Jeannie" reruns.


  9. To all,
    we lost RVN, same in Iraq and Afgh. Algeria to Syria is a total mess. The refugee problem is a direct out come of the invasion of Iraq. Turkey is drifting from US sphere and the Ukraine is a potential war zone for US forces.
    forget the Islamists-are we crazy or just idiots.
    what has benefited any one from our WOT? isn't just war theory that the evil of the war must be out weighed but the good produced by the violence?
    aren't we in serious negative figures here?
    and we keep stirring the pot without a hope or prayer of any successful outcome.
    that's insanity.
    jim hruska

  10. Well, Jim, my guess would be that if you ran your arguments by a random D.C. type, you'd get;

    1. Some variation of the "but we have critical interests/allies we can't abandon!" theme, and

    2. The denial that the U.S.has tried and failed. The "more rubble less trouble" will claim we didn't try (our strategy was too limited, our force inadequate), while another group will claim we haven't actually failed.

    I think we here tend to agree with you that US Middle Eastern policy has been a clusterfuck for at least 40 years if not longer. But there's no such consensus inside the Beltway, and the costs of these idiot adventures are all but invisible to the voters. So there's little or no pressure on the government to stop.

  11. And I wish I could link to it, but I saw an excellent article discussing the EU refugee problem that talked about the causes. Iraq didn't help, Jim, but it is far from the primary let alone the only cause. Drought -very likely driven by climate change - political instability, economic problems...they all seem to be part of this. The gist was that this is a complex and damn near insoluble problem.

    1. Chief-

      Finally, the EU is beginning to differentiate between "economic migrants" and "refugees", even if they can't come up with a coordinated and coherent program to handle either. The Dublin Protocol for the handling of illegal migrants never anticipated the magnitude of today's situation, but was more focused on individuals and/or small groups.

    2. I honestly believe all Syrian war refugees who arrive in Germany are economic migrants.
      The were safe in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey and then decided to flee from the poverty of war refugee camps, after their flight from civil war had been successful.

      I think we should use one of three approaches:
      1. Fund refugee camps in the area and drop whoever made it into the EU back into those camps
      2. Pay some West African country to accept whomever we send them in exchange for a grand per head, then dump all "refugees" there after only a few days in the EU.
      3. Set up a huge "refugee" camps on private ground on some Med Island or two, with basic needs covered but no luxury whatsoever and no access for the media or NGOs - until they want to leave the EU.

      Any one of these three would end the human trafficking and migration within a few months, and revert what happened so far.
      What happens instead in Germany and some other countries is that the migration is being used as an opportunity for a domestic stand against xenophobia, with do-gooders turning pro-refugees and advocating a very good treatment, calling them welcome.

      I suppose these do-gooders are running into a horrible, horrible pyrrhic victory, since their actions will make the problem even worse and in a few years just about everybody will know that the do-gooder approach killed thousands of people.
      I really, really don't want to see the inevitable xenophobic backlash to this stupidity.

    3. Sven

      Just refugee camps? I would think you could do a "klassification" first to separate out the ones fit to work (A Gruppe) in industrial labor camps and thus be able to better economically compete with China and other cheap labor countries. 1,200 calories/day and a barracks cot would work just fine and cost little. Of course, they would have to be sterilized first so that they don't burden the state with the cost of bothersome offspring. And don't just sell the rest of them to West African states. The B Gruppe could fetch a lot more money as subjects in medical experimentation, particularly if there are twins available. Then sell the C Gruppe to the West Africans, and put D Gruppe on those islands you mention to die off where they will be out of sight and thus not stir up the do-gooders.

    4. The idea is to convince millions to not come to a high cost of living country, but to stay where the maintenance of refugee camps is cheap (Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq). The point is thus not the camp, but the "nothing to be gained by coming to us" aspect - and a quick deportation in order to save expenses which then can be allocated to more efficient efforts.

      Financing the food, medication and schooling for all refugees in Jordan can be done for the same net fiscal expense as support for 100,000 migrants in Germany.
      I strongly dislike such waste.

    5. You are working on the assumption that the refugees will want to return home, rather than be integrated into the society and workforce of the state offering them asylum. The success the US had with nearly 300,000 Vietnamese and Cuban refugees was based on programs to integrate them into the society and workforce. If all Europe plans to do is accept them as welfare cases, then that's unfortunate. Having worked the Cuban Refugee Program, I underwhelmed with Europe's approach.

    6. I estimate the share of Germans who are honestly interested in having 100,000 Syrians to integrate in our country at approx. 5%.
      If we want immigration, we can invite Poles, Romanians, Serbians, Greeks, Spanish, Italians, Slovakians, Croatians, Slovenians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians; Gulgarians ... Syrians are somewhere between Southeast Asians and Africans in the list of desirability from an integration point of view.
      The only exception are Syrian Kurds. They could "integrate" like Turkish Kurds, except that all groups of Turks nevert really integrated in 50+ years - they built a parallel society instead.

    7. I spoke of "integrate", not "assimilate". Thanks for the lesson in racial desirability scales.

    8. You have little clue about Germany apparently. We're not racist like the U.S.; we're looking at nationality, not really at race.

      "white" Albanians from Europe have a worse reputation than the Lebanese, Romanians worse than Indians, Chinese better than Russians ... And we know which foreign groups integrated how well in German society.
      100,000 Chinese, Carribbean people, Ukrainians, Serbs or Kurds would be no headline-worthy issue to us.
      And this affair could easily grow to 1,000,000 instead of 100,000, so at one point we need to find a solution that includes keeping them away. 1,000,000 migrants from a different culture group would no doubt produce horrible backlash even without do-gooders doing their exaggerations first.

  12. Think it's worth noting that we have contradicting motivations and players in the mix, just within the US. Not to mention in Turkey, Israel, the Saudi-faction, and the Iranian-factions, also plus Russia and China.

    I think that a large part of this can be laid at the feet of a strange sort of beltway imperial wishful-thinking. That all it takes is cash to motivate young men into killing for your cause.

    Napoleon said, "A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him" and I think we figure if we change the amount to $400 a day it'll be different. But it isn't. Especially when we're looking for people who don't exist.

    We want rebels who will somehow support Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia and be cool with us calling the shots from day one in a region where those three are despised. And also where people will put bounties on groups that support any of these three. And also in a country that is considered strategically significant to major nations with serious military leaders.

    The problem with Syrian intervention is that there are SO many obvious downsides to any sort of involvement. Syria is not a backwater, like Afghanistan or Vietnam in 1960. Or internationally isolated, like Iraq and Libya. It has serious patrons that care that their group wins. And we want our group to win... sort of. The US has decent methods for turning citizens into soldiers, but it just refuses to depart on anything other than absolute victory turns and our methods are incapable of delivering that.

    Why isn't a separate Kurdish safe zone, Alawite safe zone and Sunni zone acceptable to the US? It actually would be fine for us, just not our allies. We could definitely get something going that would set this up, we could train some groups that would help there. The problem is our goal is insane.

    We want a pro-Israel, pro-US, pro-Saudi moderate liberal capitalist Syrian warrior corps. It doesn't exist. We tried buying it, it doesn't exist. We tried bombing Syria until it exists, it doesn't exist.
    The sad part is that it may be that rather than acknowledge this fact, we'll back some group like Nusra to win (like a good realpolitik politician who had to get rid of Assad and ISIS for some reason) and claim they're this group even if they aren't. Or we'll do the same with Assad, or, hell, even ISIS could probably stand for some US support against Hizbollah and be the "great hope we need" rather than acknowledge its a mess and we can't do anything besides help those who leave and give as much food and medicine and support to those suffering as possible

    1. We want a pro-Israel, pro-US, pro-Saudi moderate liberal capitalist Syrian warrior corps.

      PFK - you have summed up the situation in just one sentence.

    2. I'm totally, positively sure that Napoleon did not say "electrify", in any language.

    3. S O, I expect Napoleon was aware of electricity and the experiments and thought surrounding the new science. Discussion, experimentation, and publication of papers about electricity were ongoing before Napoleon was born.

      Jay in N.C.

    4. Jay is right - the term dates back to the 1740s

    5. That "electrify" thing is a sloppy translation at best, maybe even a complete fabrication.
      I didn't find the French original quote - but several other motivation-related original quotes of Napoleon.
      http://evene.lefigaro.fr/citations/napoleon-bonaparte has 137 Napoleon quotes - this one isn't among them, but many other famous ones.
      The consensus in French appears to be that Napoleon considered self-interest and fear as the prime motivators, not some ambiguous "soul".

      And regarding electricity; see my other reply to RAW below.

    6. IMO this is just the latest in the whole "we want a pro-Israel, pro-U.S....etc..." thing we've been trying to do in the Middle East since 1948. It's a chimera, and the old State Department hands warned Truman that when he was kicking around the idea of recognizing Israel ASAP back in '48. You can argue whether of not the value of Israel as an ally is worth it, but you can't argue that having Israel as an ally means pretty much an automatic downside with the most of the rest of the Muslim Middle East.

      The main reason the US has backed so many despots and tinpot dictators is that the various elites in the Middle Eastern nations are more likely to stay bought than the populists. That's why backing the "Arab Spring" was, in geopolitical terms, silly for the US. Any truly "popular" government in most Arab/Muslim nations was ans is going to be against much or most of the U.S. Middle Eastern policy agenda. So you can have Muslim-nation US allies, or popular sovereignty, but not both.

      But for our domestic consumption our pols have to talk the "popular democracy good, evil despots bad" talk, and thus we're screwed, because our realpolitik can never, ever match our rhetoric...

  13. Jay/SO,
    Napoleons field kit included aluminum mess items, which were scarce and costly to produce.
    Electricity is needed to produce aluminum.
    Draw your own conclusions.
    I'd like to add to PFK's sentence. We want democracy and freedom and all the peter patter buzz words, but we consistently oppose democracy and support dictators and autocracies..
    It's truly schizophrenic, but it's always the soldiers diagnosed as such. We never call our leaders schizo, nor our policies.
    jim hruska

    1. No, they weren't made of aluminium.

      "Because of the complexities of refining aluminum from ore, aluminum was considered more rare and precious than gold or silver through most of the 19th century. A pure form of the metal was first successfully extracted from ore in 1825 by Danish chemist Hans-Christian. Techniques to produce aluminum in ways modestly cost-effective emerged in 1889."


      The electric motor and thus the generator were invented in 1821. At Napoleon's time only Volta's battery and electrostatic devices were available for any kind of reliable electricity.

  14. Al,
    My thinking is a lot like yours.
    I think we should use all the black site prisons in the old commbloc countries that we used in the PWOT as refugee camps.We can modify Aushwitz and Buchenwald into real detention centers and dress up the refugees as living history to enhance tourism to pay the bill for their keep.
    We could put the over flow in the Japanese detention centers here in the states
    I'm sure the Russians would play along and rent out the gulags.
    I really believe these people (what ever you call them) are a serious problem. We are assuming them to be benign folks, but i doubt this is true. This is a great way to infiltrate agents and operatives.I'm also sure that a lot of these folks are far from harmless, helpless or innocent.
    jim hruska

    1. jim

      Using resettlement centers, as we did with the Vietnamese and Cubans provides the time to carefully vet the refugees. They were enclosed in a division area with full resources to live in humane conditions. It took a bit over 2 years to closeout the last 22,000 Cubans, but the criminals were weeded out and dealt with. Simply taking them in, doing a cursory screening, putting them on welfare and leaving them to fend for themselves will accomplish nothing.

    2. In many ways, the Vietnamese and Cuban refugee programs followed the model of post WWII displaced persons (DP) camps and programs. The immediate concern was to provide shelter, nutrition and basic health care, while administratively processing them for what would come next. The camps were set up using existing brick and mortar facilities, and evolved into semi-permanent communities, in recognition of the fact that resettlement could take time. The European DP camps actually established schools, newspapers, houses of worship and even a couple of universities. The objective was to allow the DPs to live like human beings,physically and socially, yet still confined to the camp, until they were resettled, either in new country, or back in their home country.

      The only time the refugees of WWII or the Viet and Cuban programs were publicly supported was whilst in the resettlement camps. Movement into the general population required sponsorship by either family, friends or charitable organizations.

    3. I suspect that the ratio of mad bombers to busted-down farmers is about 1 per 10,000, jim. Mind you, if you do the whole "integration into the host society" thing badly you can produced some mad bombers from dirt farmers or their kids.

      The thing is, these people are a problem that needs a solution. Just kicking that can down the road means...that the can is still there. The failure of the "rest of the world" to either reverse the occupation of the territories and/or to lean on Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt to assimilate/integrate the Palestinian refugees after 1948-1973 meant that those "refugee camps" have become open-air prison/ghettos perfect for incubating mad bombers and mad-pretty-much-everything-else.

      Al has a good point, too; there's a "good" way to do this. It takes time and money and patience, but it makes the integration a hell of a lot more effective AND does a way better job of screening out the dangerous sonsofbitches. We have done this before but it seems to have vanished down the memory hole, another example of the massive case of CRS Syndrome that the U.S. seems to have...

    4. The current handling of the refugee situation reminds me of what a friend in St Petersburg said back in 1992 said about the buildings that were crumbling:

      One of the most amazing "accomplishments" of the Soviet regime was to lose the recipe for concrete back in the 1950's. Now, you think someone would pick up the phone and call the West and say, "Hello. Do you have an extra copy of the recipe for concrete that you could mail to us?" Hell no. We were too proud or too stupid to do that. Instead, we guessed at it, inscribed our guess in stone and have been building shit that falls down around our ears ever since.

      I am not prone to saying the US generally gets it right, but the handling of the Vietnamese and Cuban refugees, whether or not it was good policy to accept them in the first place, was very well done, and thus turned it all into a generally good outcome. When we received the alert that Ft Chaffee would be a relocation center for the Cubans, BG Drummond, who was to be the TF commander at Chaffee, immediately requested copies of any "after action reports" from the 1975 Vietnamese operation at Chaffee, so that mistakes would not be repeated, and successes would. Our FEMA executive did the same for his side of the house, as did the supporting NGOs. Yes, we had some speed bumps, and yes, we experienced some new issues with the Cubans that weren't experienced with the Vietnamese, but having a tested framework from which to begin made for a much more successful operation. 125,000 Cubans arrived in a 6 month period, were successfully handled and ultimately integrated into the general population. BTW, we had the program up and running at Chafee about 20 days after the Administration decided to accept the boat people, converting the post from a sleepy summer RC training site to a full blown relocation center. A couple of hundred military and civilian personnel were brought in to oversee and do the required tasks,and a large number of locals were hired to staff mess, transportation, laundry and other support functions.

      Has Frau Merkel or anyone else in the EU picked up the phone to ask for the "recipe for handling refugees", or are they just trying to make it up as they go along? I would suspect the latter. If there is one thing that makes life in the EU interesting, it's the rank amateurism so often displayed at both the EU and national level. As our friend, Vlad, described it, "too proud or too stupid." The EU formally declared the situation as a "crisis" in April, 2013, yet no one has implemented a crisis response plan.

      There is a reasonably sized number of vacated and under utilized military bases in Germany and other NATO countries that could be put into service as relocation centers. The US converted 4 military bases into relocation centers with roughly 20,000 capacity each for the Cubans over a 15 to 60 day period. Barracks and full living facilities, not tent cities. Centers that were suitable for year round occupancy. In the 18 months since declaring a "crisis" the EU is still making it up as they go along. Even that great bastion of might, Germany, hasn't got a clue.

    5. Aviator,

      "If there is one thing that makes life in the EU interesting, it's the rank amateurism so often displayed at both the EU and national level."
      This seems to be the defining feature of Western democratic governance right now. Competence seems to have deteriorated at an astonishing rate, especially in comparison with the more dictatorial governments in East Asia. While the debate over who is morally right seems to occupy all minds on these pressing issues, the very idea of a competent application of governmental power to solve a problem seems ridiculous.

      Maybe I'm being hyperbolic because I know every government is corrupt and incompetent to a certain extent, but our age seems to be dominated by these problems.

      PF Khans

    6. Dominated...more than the Grant Administration? More than the Harding Administration? I don't think it's hyperbole, PF, but rather, that we all tend to see our own Times as the best/worst ever combined with an electronic age that can bring every distant disaster into our living rooms.

      Keep in mind, too, that the examples Al points out were largely the work of a WW2 generation that got REAL familiar with massive human displacement. It's been nearly two generations since then, and a concerted effort by one political faction to prove that government is bad by ensuring that the tools for good government are broken or discarded.

    7. Chief- My take is that the self anointed movers and shakers in the EU are so busy trying to invent their "New Europe" that they feel that they must also reinvent the wheel at every turn. Combine that with a mentality that results can be achieved by simply ordering it, along with a dose of nationalistic superiority, and you get today's mess. Europe may well have handled mass displacement fairly well several decades ago, but New Europe still hasn't pulled out the old playbooks to see what worked and what didn't.

      There are a large number of us still kicking around from the Cuban refugee mission, something similar in scale to what Frau Merkel is facing. Has she (or anyone else in the EU) put out a call for those people to help her government come up with a plan? After all, she and Herr Schauble have already estimated the costs, but for what? Sven may very well be right about some of the outcomes, even if for a variety of wrong reasons.

    8. I do kind of get the sense that the Brussels coterie seems to think they have reinvented Europe and that all the old rules must be discarded lest nationalist hardheads will use them against the shiny happy EU of Tomorrow So there's that.

      The apparent willingness of every Western government to ignore the "no good answer" option for Syria really appalls me. Yeah, I get that pols have to pretend that there's always a "...it we just do this..." solution to the most insoluble problem....but this is ridiculous. Syria isbroken. Something will emerge from the wreckage but short of a Sri Lankan degree of violence there's nothing the West can do to midwife whatever-it-will-be. An honest pol would say just that. But no one - no one - will. Call me baffled. What would be the downside?

  15. @rangeragainst war:

    Although alum and aluminium salts were known in ancient times, I was taught that the metal was first produced and refined in 1825. That was 4 years after Napoleon's death wasn't it? Perhaps there were some very rare native aluminum metallic compounds around during his lifetime, but I think they were easily corroded. Or perhaps it was Napoleon III that had the aluminum plates and utensils. It was rarer than gold at that time.

  16. Anon,
    i was in Paris in 1969 and went to a Nap1 display that honored his life.
    all i remember is that he had aluminum mess gear for his field usage.

    1. Are you sure that it was the original Nappie? I did a brief look around the 'net and came up with an item about how Napoleon III - the Second Empire guy who ruled in the mid-19th-Century - served his guests on aluminum (the plebs got mere silver or gold).

      Also, articles about the Napster's traveling coach that was captured after Waterloo mentions silver and gold or gilt mess articles but nothing about aluminum. Between that and the time frame I'm wondering if you got the Naps switched around..?

  17. Chief,
    It's possible that i'm just plain lost in space & time.
    The display was for NB's birthday celebration.
    Anyway,one of em' used a gi canteen cup.