Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas, 2010

Here's hoping God showers blessings on you and your families this Christmas, and on all of us, and our country in 2011. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heck of a Job, Nancy

Is the President just delusional? Thursday Politico quoted President Obama's response to a reporters's question on whether Congressional Democrats would benefit from new leadership:
Speaker Pelosi has been an outstanding partner for me. Harry Reid has been a terrific partner in moving some very difficult legislation forward. And I’m looking forward to working with the entire leadership team to continue to make progress on the issues that are important to the American people.
How about some other similar thank-yous: "Thank you Captain Smith for bringing Titanic into port." How about "General Pickett, the Confederate States of America thanks you for your efforts at Gettysburg." Or "hey, Admiral Nagumo, sorry about those four carriers you lost, but  you did Japan a good job at Midway." Then there's "gee, Senator McGovern, great effort in the 1972 elections. See you at Nixon's victory party."
I shudder to think what happens if Nancy stays outstanding, or Harry goes on being terrific. Should we just declare national doom and bankruptcy now?

Thursday, November 11, 2010


(an annual post)

Have you forgotten yet ?
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz – The nights you watched and wired and dug...?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again ?’ . . .
Have you forgotten yet ?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Siegfried Sassoon “Aftermath, March 1919.”

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. In part because the calendar is crowded with holidays, Veterans Day replaced an older holiday, known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of the First World War, surely the most needless, tragic, but consequential war of modern times. Canada, Australia and the other British Commonwealth nations, very appropriately, call today “Remembrance Day.” World War I is ancient history to most of us, yet this conflict, the war that in many ways brought down Armageddon, is with us, always. Pause, friend, for a moment, wherever you are, and remember.
At ten minutes past 5 a.m., on the morning of 11 November, the German armistice delegation, meeting with their allied counterparts in a railway car near the French city of Compiegné, accepted the Allied terms for an armistice. The Germans found the terms harsh (although they were no harder than those they had forced on the Russians in 1917) and they signed under protest.
Although the Germans had agreed to quit, the fighting did not stop until 11 a.m.: the dying that went on the rest of that long morning as pointless and futile as the whole war. In the Argonne, future President Harry Truman's artillery battery was in action, firing until it had no more ammunition at 10:45 a.m. Just east of Mons, Belgium, a Canadian soldier, Private George Lawrence Price, was fatally shot by a sniper at 10:58 a.m., two minutes before the cease-fire, the last of over 60,000 Canadians to perish.
The cease-fire came, but the dying did not stop. The Allied naval blockade of the defeated Central Powers remained in place -- and it was rendered more effective by Allied access to the Baltic Sea. With agriculture and transport disrupted by the war and the political chaos in Central Europe, thousands died of malnutrition, mostly the aged and children. Meanwhile, bankrupted and bereaved survivors, particularly in the defeated countries, now demanded an accounting from their leaders, and tried to understand what it had all been for, and why this had happened.
When historians look back upon our times, they will probably agree that the 21st Century really began on 11 September 2001. Similarly, Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year old Bosnian-Serb revolutionary bandit, member of a terrorist organization familarly called the Black Hand, the al Qaeda of its time, effectively began the 20th Century about 11:15 a.m. on 28 June 1914 when he murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg by a bridge in Sarajevo, in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. A month and a week later, after multiple diplomatic fiascos no novelist could invent, that seem impossible to believe today, all Europe was at war.
Ninety years later, Sarajevo was the scene of more violence, this time between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, quarreling over the make-up of the post-Cold War Balkans. The 20th Century thus ended where and as it begin, in Sarajevo, in blood, with another war that nobody would win.
The 1990’s violence in the former Yugoslavia, like almost everything else in modern diplomacy, stemmed from the war that Princip helped begin, and which people tried to begin ending today in 1918. Over 10 million dead bodies later, the war he and a baker’s dozen of incompetents started ended today, in 1918.
Officially ended, anyway. How can an atrocity like the First World War ever truly end ? Fought over nothing, ending in no victory for anyone, except political cranks, left wing and right wing radicals, demagogic ideologues and other fanatics. The road to Auschwitz, Hitler and Stalin runs straight from the murder scene in Sarajevo, through the railroad siding in Compiegné where the armistice was signed. The Second World War killed more, in raw numbers, than the First – but the later war was only a continuation made possible by the poisons unleashed in the first war.
Satan had a good day of it in Sarajevo in June 1914. If not for the murderer Princip, and the clumsy diplomats and generals who blundered Europe and the world into a war everyone but the crazies lost, whoever would have heard of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini ? Lenin would have rotted away in exile with his books and scribblings; Hitler no doubt would have died in deserved obscurity in some Vienna doss-house. Stalin would have met the inevitable fate of a bank robber; and Mussolini perhaps never left journalism. No collapse of the British Empire forcing America onto the world stage to redress the great-power balance. No Great Depression, no Nazis, no World War II or Holocaust, no Cold War. Maybe no collapse of the Ottoman Empire giving us, ultimately, Bin-Laden, Zarqawi, Hamas and suicide bombers.
But Gavrilo Princip fired his fatal bullets, and the whole edifice of civilization crumpled before them. The shots of Sarajevo echo still. Gentle reader, think today of his crime, and of all whom, unknowing, ultimately paid. Because of the shots in Sarajevo, men who had no reason to hate each other fought and murdered each other all over the world in job lots -- in the fields of Champagne, on the roads of Poland and in the snows of Russia, in Iraq and in China. Children died in the cold Atlantic and starved by the million in Russia, the mountains of Armenia, and the Balkans. Sleepy eastern Europe, so long a quiet agricultural backwater, twice in fifty years was turned into an abattoir.
Beyond the seas, America lost its isolation. Americans died in the Argonne and, thirty years later, in the Pacific and in the deserts of Africa; later in the jungles of Vietnam. Today US Marines are dying in the hills of Afghanistan, all in some way because of, or related to the acres of warehouses of cans of worms opened by Princip.
Besides killing, maiming and wounding millions, the war had other, more insidious effects. The First World War, besides murdering millions, killed the faith of the western peoples in their civilization, in progress, parliamentary institutions, science and religion, and left us instead the poison fruits of Communism, Nazism, and Socialism. Most fatally, the west, outside of America (for a time) lost confidence in itself -- at some level even in its right to exist as a culture. Germany and Russia, gravely wounded in both body and spirit, led the turn away from God, progress, law and civilization, and burned books and millions of their own citizens. Britain, mother of Parliaments and the law, crippled and bankrupted by that war and its continuation, abandoned its Empire, is ashamed of its past, and its political class today quivers in fear of criticism by modernity's ascendant barbarians.
Today in 1918 -- on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh month, of the eleventh day – the first war ended, and the pace of the killing slackened for a time. Think of all war dead today, dear reader. But, almost 100 years on, spare a thought for a moment or two for all the dead of the Great War, so pointless, so long ago, but so horribly, tragically important.

Veterans Day, 2010

When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.

Inscription, British War Memorial, Kohima, India.(attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds, Times Literary Supplement [London], 4 July 1918).
As our soldiers, sailors and aviators struggle and stand on guard for us throughout the world, particularly today in Iraq and Afghanistan, pause in your business for a moment, and think of them, and of our veterans who have already served. Remember those who are not with us today, because they made the ultimate sacrifice. Think, also of their families at home, who bear their own scars incurred in coping with the absence and perils of their often far away loved ones.
In particular, I am remembering in my own prayers today five US Navy casualties of the Battle of Midway (4 June 1942). Samuel Adams, Lieutenant (j.g.) USN (Scouting Squadron 5, USS Yorktown), holder of three Navy Crosses, who did as much as anybody -- more actually --  to win the battle; Wesley Frank Osmus, Ensign USNR, (Torpedo Squadron 3, USS Yorktown), Frank Woodrow O’Flaherty, Ensign USNR (Scouting Squadron 6, USS Enterprise), and Bruno P. Gaido (Aviation Machinist's Mate (1st Class)) -- O'Flaherty's gunner. Lieutenant Adams and his radioman/gunner, Joseph Karrol (Aviation Radioman (2nd Class)) were presumed killed in action near the battle's end. Osmus, O'Flaherty and Gaido were all US aviators shot down and captured during the attacks on the Japanese fleet, and subsequently murdered by their captors. They each faced their fates alone, but they are never forgotten.
Went the day well ?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill, Freedom, we died for you.
John Maxwell Edmonds, Times [London], 6 February 1918.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Blogroll (or lack thereof)

Visitors may notice the disappearance of my Blogroll. This was not intentional, at least on El Jefe's part; but is due, rather, to the apparent demise of Blogrolling, the Blogroll provider. El Jefe means to correct this sad state of affairs ASAP, but in the meantime, if fellow bloggers have suggetions for non-techie El Jefe suggestions on where he might find another easy-to-use blogroll widget, he'd love to hear them.

Der Tag!

At last, Election Day! El Jefe  and millions of others have been waiting for two years to deliver the first installment of payback for Election Day 2008. The predictions for the House of Representatives are all over the place, most now suggesting that the Republicans will gain upwards of 60 seats. Jay Cost, writing in Weekly Standard, has an excellent breakdown of how matters are likely to develop in the lower chamber.
As for the Senate, the consensus seems to be that the Republicans pick up eight seats formerly held by Democrats (Arkansas, Wisconsin, Nevada, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and North Dakota). I'll go with those, but I think there might just be a pleasant surprise in Washington, where Patty Murray could go down. Some results (particularly in Washington) are apt to be final only after weeks of recounts and similar shenanigans.
Election Projection (Blogging Caesar's site) and Real Clear Politics, among othershave plenty of details for those so inclined. But it looks like political curtains for Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their whole scurvy crew, and here is a link to some appropriate musical accompaniment for that thought. . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keep Talking, Nancy

Nancy Pelosi wants to investigate the funding of opposition to the Islamic center near the WTC site in New York City. It seems that Queen Nancy (in San Francisco, wanting to talk about a local issue was outraged to be given a question about the mosque project: "There is no question there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded..."
Keep talking Nancy. Every time she opens her mouth, it costs the Left a thousand votes, except in deluded San Francisco, which will probably have her forever.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Visit to Craonne

People who know me are possibly aware of my interest in military history. A while back, I read Major-General Sir Edward Spears’ memoir Liaison, 1914 – the general’s account of his experiences as a British cavalry lieutenant (and intelligence officer), assigned to the staff of the French Fifth Army during the opening campaign of World War I.
Despite his (then) junior rank, Spears had tremendous influence: his credibility with both the British and French high commands doing much to insure these allies cooperated, after a fashion, in the early days of the war. Spears continued, in one position or another, as a liaison officer between British and French high commands throughout the First World War; ending it as cabinet liaison between the French and British war cabinets. During all this activity, he was wounded four times, mentioned in dispatches, and found time to marry an American heiress.
Spears, a great friend and supporter of Sir Winston Churchill, played a similar role in the Second World War, serving for a time as the go-between between the Churchill government and DeGaulle’s Free French.
In any case, Spears was a superb writer. Liaison, 1914, is his account of the opening campaign of World War I. I will have a fuller review later, perhaps, but for now, to give you a flavor for Spears, his times, and his writings, I will leave you with part of his visit to the town of Craonne, between the rivers Aisne and Ailette, northwest of Paris, in Champagne, during the “Great Retreat” of 1914:
I shall never forget arriving at dusk, at Craonne…It was quite impossible to get into the town except on foot, and that was not easy. An endless column of motionless cavalry completely blocked the road. The great towering cuirassiers, clumsy and massive in helmets and breastplates, sat impassive on their horses. Not a man dismounted. In the still evening air, the booming of the guns seemed very near. A gust of wind animated the horsetail plumes that hung down each man’s back, then the long steel-clad column was still again. . .
Headquarters was installed in the small Chäteau where Napoleon stayed, so it was said, a hundred years ago when attempting to stem the tide of another invasion.  
I went on the terrace where dinner was being served. It was an ideal situation and a perfect night. The view extended over the Aisne and across the plain to where the lights of Reims could be seen gleaming 20 miles away. . . 
There was a faint clatter outside, a metallic jingle, the beat of iron-shod hoofs on the steep street of the little town; the cuirassiers were moving off at last. . .
On every road leading south the endless columns marched on and on without halt and without rest.
Over Paris a German aeroplane dropped a message announcing the arrival of the enemy in three days’ time. . .
Years later, when the war was over, I found myself in the same neighbourhood, but there was no trace of Craonne to be seen. Not a wall, not a stone where the pretty little town had stood. I came on a post to which a board was affixed which bore the word “Craonne”. That board, and those green mounds and hummocks, were all that was left of the place through which the great retreat had once swept
Maj.Gen., Sir Edward Spears, Liaison 1914 (Da Capo 2000, 316-18).

The New World That's Coming. . .

While we get ready to enjoy our weekends, it is all too easy to forget the concerns of the wider world. Most Americans, on some level, probably wish the rest of the world would just go away -- and with good reason. Life here is pretty sweet. Unfortunately, for us and our children, we may not be interested in the world, but the world is very interested in us -- like it or not, the US is stuck up to its eyes in absolutely everything. Here is a sampling of today’s headlines at the webpage/aggregator “Real Clear World.” Today's headlines are not atypical.
Many of us have been privileged to spend our lives growing up, living, working and raising our families in the greatest, richest, most powerful country ever to exist in the history of the world. Even America’s poor of today are rich beyond the wildest imaginings of nine-tenths of the humans who have ever lived. Americans have always worked hard, but to a great, often underestimated degree, we owe our national prosperity to a unique set of favorable conditions, chiefly the undisputed military and economic control by a more or less unified population of a whole continent’s worth of resources and space; as well as the outcome of both the world wars, in which the Europeans succeeded in exhausting themselves and handing the US financial and military control of the west. For the past 100 odd years, the world has been our oyster.
Now, those underlying conditions are shifting. America’s power is in relative decline, while that of others rises. Shifts in the relative power positions of nations and groups of people, historically speaking, are seldom peaceful.
There’s a lots for us to think on, and big new world coming, that we need to try to get our children ready for. It can still be good, for America, but we need to get our house in order, and so far, we're not even in the game. Well, we are --because you can't get out of the game, which goes on forever -- but we're not really playing). The people who govern us -- from both parties, are living in a fool's paradise, squandering our children's splendid birthright for a mess of pottage. Enjoy your weekends, but remember that the future’s out there being written. It doesn’t care whether we like it or not.
The End of the West as we Know It.
Natural for Russia to Flex Her Muscles.
UK Must Reject Anti-American Lib Dems
Iran Risks Multi Front War.
Venezuela is Crumbling.
America is Not Greece.
Hezbollah Remains Armed & Dangerous.
BRIC Nations Won’t Conquer the World.
Syria Asks Russia to Pressure Israel.

While we’re at it, here are some headlines from today’s Real Clear Markets:

Second Debt Storm: Who Bails Out Nations?
American Solvency Hinges on Low Interest Rates.
Look Out, Asia is Emerging Stronger.
Take One Guess What Greece Has to Jettison for a Bailout?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The President's Interesting Supreme Court Choice

To virtually no one's surprise, the President has nominated the present Solicitor General of the United States, Elena Kagan, to the Supreme Court seat of outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens.
Given the composition of the Senate, the odds overwhelmingly favor Ms. Kagan's confirmation, despite her total lack of judicial experience. Ms. Kagan has plenty of impressive credentials -- she is the former Dean of the Harvard Law School, where she was also a professor of law. She has also been a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and former Associate White House Counsel under President Clinton. But the lack of real judicial experience, much less the lack of non-academic, non private sector experience, are weaknesses in her resume that will no doubt draw some criticism.
I think, however, that Ms. Kagan's real vulnerability will turn out not to be her resume, but her tenure as Dean of Harvard Law School. In her capacity as Dean, Ms. Kagan barred US military recruiters from the Harvard Law campus, apparently because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as to homosexuals.

Ms. Kagan's views on this subject are right in line with elite opinion in most of academia, the media and the bar, but probably not with the American public, which supports the military; and is likely to weigh barring military recruiters from Harvard higher than misgivings about unfairness to homosexuals. At any rate, Ms. Kagan's reluctance to accept recruiters on her campus will reinforce flyover country's doubts about this administration, its choices and the worldview of our present political elite. For that reason, Obama's political wisdom in making this appointment, in an election year in which his party, is (to put it mildly) in a corner, is questionable.
However, without more, Ms. Kagan is likely to be confirmed -- the Democrats simply have too large a majority in the Senate for the appointment to be blocked. Moreover, the appointment is not necessarily vital to balance on the Court, Ms. Kagan replaces Justice Stevens: the nomination trades liberal for liberal. Unless the case for Kagan completely disintegrates, there is not necessarily a reason for Republicans to pull out all the stops, this time. Too many Democrats would have to be alienated from the choice. Still, Ms. Kagan's current position is a bad omen -- the last Solicitor General to be nominated to the US Supreme Court was Robert Bork.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Battle of San Jacinto

Today is the 174th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, the great Texas victory near what is now Houston that was the pivotal battle of the Texas War of Independence. General Sam Houston’s 900 or so Texans surprised and routed Mexican President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s 1,350 Mexicans in just 18 minutes.
Despite the vanishingly small numbers engaged, San Jacinto turned out to be decisive, chiefly because, on the morning following the battle Texan scouts captured Santa Anna himself, and Texas was able to subsequently extort enough of a settlement from the captive Mexican leader to make independence stick. For Mexico, San Jacinto turned out to be the first major blow in a process that lost that country not only Texas, but its entire north – today the American west. San Jacinto, the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War are obscure subjects to most Americans today. Not so in Mexico, which has not forgotten its lost northern territories.
As a military campaign, the Mexican side of the Texas Revolution has always been of great interest to me. The 1,350 Mexican soldiers the Texans defeated at San Jacinto were only a portion of the Mexican forces available in Texas. The Mexican Navy had total control of the Gulf of Mexico and free movement up and down the Texas coast all during this period, and Santa Anna’s “Army of Operations” had almost 6,500 troops in Texas. The Texans had lost nearly 500 men at Goliad, in addition to the 183 killed at the Alamo (which also held most of the available Texan artillery). Houston’s 900-odd half-trained recruits with two guns were the sum total of rebel forces available. How, then, did Mexico lose this war?
Remembering the Alamo and Goliad sometimes obscures the fact that up through the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna ran a pretty good campaign. Just getting an army from central Mexico to Texas was a massive military accomplishment before railroads and the internal combustion engine. The Mexicans had to bring their army across the northern Mexican desert and keep it in food and water, and haul along a big enough margin of supplies for operations such as the Alamo siege. (Food and fodder would normally be bought or “requisitioned” locally, but armies needed extra supplies for periods when they were largely stationary, such as a siege, when local food supplies would quickly be exhausted).
The massacre of the Alamo defenders, as well as Texan prisoners at Goliad and other places in early March probably appeared to Santa Anna to have cleared the boards as far as his campaign was concerned. The rage and fear his actions generated among Texans for a time seemed to work in his favor, as colonists packed up their possessions and fled east, in headlong flight for the US/Texas border. Clearing the majority of the Anglo colonists out of Texas (and no doubt replacing them with military colonies of settlers from his armies) was no small part of Santa Anna’s plans to secure Texas for Mexico – which probably explains his ruthless policy towards Texan prisoners.
In retrospect, the Battle of San Jacinto was lost for Mexico before its first shot was fired, sometime between the fall of the Alamo on 6 March 1836, and San Jacinto, on 21 April, that is, during the period of the so-called “Runaway Scrape.” After the Alamo and Goliad, the last major Texan military force was Houston’s army, which hovered near Gonzales all during the Alamo siege. Upon hearing of the fall of the Alamo, Houston realized that he could not hope to meet Santa Anna’s concentrated forces in the field, and he moved his army east, towards the US border. Settlers fled too, and they were encouraged to destroy their property (particularly food) before leaving.
The US border. . .Santa Anna no doubt desired to close out his war quickly, primarily to forestall US intervention, and he moved out rapidly in pursuit of Houston. Santa Anna, in his capacity as President of Mexico, had already addressed letters to US President Jackson, warning Jackson against interference in Texas, and stating that Americans captured in arms in Texas would be treated as pirates. Santa Anna was probably aware of the personal and political connections between Jackson and Sam Houston, and he would have wanted to finish the war quickly, before the US could decide to intervene.
The Mexican military and political situation the morning after the Alamo fell was not unlike the US/UN situation in Korea in 1950, after MacArthur’s lighting reconquest of South Korea from the invading North Koreans. Much like Santa Anna in Texas, MacArthur was in a hurry to end the war with the complete conquest of North Korea before China could interfere. Consequently, MacArthur (as his armies moved into North Korea) threw prudent military planning out the window in the name of haste. Just as Santa Anna probably considered the Texans, MacArthur thought the North Koreans beaten, and his primary concern was getting his forces to the Chinese border at the Yalu to block Chinese intervention, not caring if in the process his troops got scattered all over the map. . .
For somewhat similar reasons, Santa Anna made haste for the US border, following Houston, wearing his jaded troops out with forced marches trying to bring him to battle and get on to the border. Wikipedia’s article on the Texas Revolution speculates that Sam Houston might have intended to retreat clear across the US border and possibly trigger American intervention (a US army was assembling on the border). We cannot know if Houston actually had this possibility in mind, and in retrospect it seems politically unlikely, but Santa Anna had to take it seriously, and try to catch Houston before he got there.
Whenever I drive to San Antonio, I imagine the barefoot Mexican conscripts, cheap shoes long disintegrated, marching day after day in either hot sun or torrential rains, fording swollen rivers, mainly concerned with foraging for food. The siege of the Alamo had probably consumed much of Santa Anna’s initial stockpile of supplies. The forced marches, the scorched-earth Runaway Scrape of the settlers (burning food needed by the Mexican Army), and Santa Anna’s own uncertainty as to Houston’s precise whereabouts and intentions led Santa Anna to allow his army (fairly concentrated after the Alamo) to become increasingly dispersed as the pursuit wore on. As Santa Anna closed in on the US border, near what would be the battlefield of San Jacinto, only 850 or so men were with him. The rest of his army was scattered.
Santa Anna deeply admired Napoleon, and is said to have called himself the “Napoleon of the West.” I wonder if Santa Anna knew anything about Napoleon’s Battle of Marengo in 1800? Napoleon, trying to pin down an Austrian army in northern Italy, was concerned the Austrians would slip by him, and avoid battle. Napoleon was uncertain of the Austrians’ location, and dispersed his troops to block possible routes of escape. . .but on the morning of 14 June 1800, near the village of Marengo …he stumbled into the whole “missing” Austrian army, with a only a fraction of his own forces present, and was nearly destroyed. In the event, reinforcements arrived, and Napoleon prevailed.
On his own day of surprises, Santa Anna was not as lucky as Napoleon, nor as bright. 500 last minute reinforcements, led by Santa Anna’s brother in law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, gave Santa Anna a bit of a numerical advantage, but Santa Anna squandered it by failing to post sufficient pickets. On the morning of 21 April 1836, the Texans attacked Santa Anna, surprising his force in camp, with the bulk of his army scattered behind him all over the Texas coastal plain like MacArthur’s on the Yalu when China came into the war, or Napoleon’s on the morning of Marengo.
In just eighteen minutes Houston and his Texans swept all Santa Anna’s campaign plans and greater geopolitical concerns about American intervention, Anglo colonization of Texas and a Mexican empire in the west right into the dust bin. The next morning, 22 April 1836, Texan scouts found Santa Anna near a burned bridge, hiding in tall grass, having doffed his splendid uniform for that of an infantry private. Mexico would now have its cup of bitterness filled to the dregs, and the captive President-General would soon put his name to the Treaties of Velasco, which gave Texas a viable legal claim to independence.
More battles, a Texas-Mexico cold war and a much bigger hot war with the US in 1846 would follow, but for Mexico, San Jacinto, was the real disaster that lost an empire.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Court Martial of a Birther

The US Army is going to court-martial Lieut. Colonel Dr. Terry Lakin, who has refused to deploy to Afghanistan because he considers orders from the President to be “illegal” on the grounds that President Obama was not born in the United States (and thus ineligible to be President under the Constitution’s Article II, §1).
The Army is acting correctly. Lieut. Colonel Lakin is a serving officer, who has not been asked by his superiors to commit war crimes or other illegal acts. Whatever Colonel Laken believes about the President’s Constitutional qualifications, and whatever his grounds for so believing, the Colonel does not have standing to challenge the orders of the Commander in Chief.
The time for challenges to the President’s qualifications to fill his office has long since past. President Obama has been returned as President by the popular ballot and the electoral college, the results of that election certified by the Senate, and accepted by the courts and by the Colonel’s military superiors. In any case, such challenges are best lodged in other places, and by other persons, and not by serving officers. The very idea of military officers deliberating like some sort of debating society about what orders they will obey is ludicrous, dangerous and subversive of discipline. Lieut. Colonel Dr. Lakin, in his capacity as a military officer, has nothing to say about it; and should either shut up and soldier, or resign and accept the court-martial and the consequences.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Care About Character? You Bet it Is

Mr. Obama, wrong about so much, is ultimately likely to be correct on this point. At the moment, the health care debate is more about the character of the Democratic Party, which will stop at nothing to foist on the American people a bill that poll after poll shows Americans don't want, and that the country cannot pay for. But Pelosi, Obama, Reid and all their other confederates are certain that the Democratic Party leadership knows better than the people what the country needs; and, that, by hook or by crook, whatever the public thinks, no matter how much we don't want it, we are all going to, come Hell or High Water -- swallow this pill.
On Sunday the 21st, through parlimentary trickery, the Democrats are likely to, for the moment, have their way. Then the President will be correct: the public attitude towards Demon Pass and all the other chicanery that has produced this monstrous bill will indeed show the "character of our country." Will the people sit still for one of the largest power grabs in American history, via trick legislation, or won't they?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama's Polls Under Water

For the first time in this administration, the Real Clear Politics moving average of polls has President Obama "under water" -- that is, on average, more respondents disapprove of the President  than approve. Not before time. The repulsive health care legislation so favored by Obama and his minion Pelosi is clearly opening plenty of eyes. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Still Washington's Birthday

Today is the official celebration of George Washington's Birthday (the actual anniversary is 22 February). Despite the "Presidents' Day" moniker popularly used, which also appears in the statute books of my own State, I prefer the older name for the holiday, which is also the name recognized in the Federal statute book (5 U.S.C. § 6103(a)). Our first President, still among the greatest, deserves so much more recognition than he now gets.

At a time when our sensibilities are daily drenched in the noxious effluent of popular culture; when our political leaders appear hopelessly common, venal or just plain stupid; when all seems to conspire, deliberately or not, to belittle and cheapen the whole concept of nationality and patriotism, it is pleasing to recall the legacy of this most uncommon, most upright of men, who placed all he had and was at the service of his country.

The fact that there is a United States at all is due largely to George Washington, and in particular to his military leadership that terrible fall and winter of 1776-77, when he kept the War for American Independence alive on sheer determination. Of course, while fighting the finest army on the planet with raw troops and militiamen who did not even have shoes, Washington had to keep one hand free to keep the politicians in Philadelphia off his back – these worthies all certain that they were qualified to do his job. Had good sense not finally prevailed with the politicos, the British, in spite of everything, no doubt would have prevailed.

Virtually every day of his adult life, George Washington put his country over himself, and for this reason, he could be trusted with power. No Napoleon or Julius Caesar as a general, George Washington did the infant United States a significant service following the war precisely by being no Napoleon or Julius Caesar as a politician. Washington quietly and competently performed his functions as President, and duly made way for his successor when his legal term expired. Washington's greatest bequest to America was his determination that the American national state not be a banana republic: that it become a peaceful instrument of the law, governed by institutions administered by sober-minded men; and not just another creature to be ruled by a great leader, born out of partisan excitement and mob rule.

Of course, we are all too aware that partisan excitement exists, abetted and inflamed by technologies that Washington and the founders could not forsee. So far, however, the tumult and the shouting of partisans and the factious have been successfully channeled and moderated by the laws and institutions the founders made and that Washington protected and helped to grow.

Today, George Washington is somewhat politically incorrect, on several counts: (Dead White Male; Southerner; Slave owner; Rich Landowner). The history-vandals to whom political correctness is important have tried to diminish President Washington’s legacy in the hearts and imaginations of recent generations of his countrymen. Within living memory, almost every American classroom had its picture of George Washington; today, odds are, you will seek his portrait in vain.

But the joke is on the vandals. If you seek his legacy, look around. This country, and all in it, are the fruits of his labors. The pageant that is the American story did not began with Washington, but that great man gave it its tone and direction; and, the tale will endure long after the book-hiders, picture-stealers and speech-scolds and their false gods are dust.

Washington deserves his own holiday, and perhaps someday we will remember what we owe him, and give him his day back.

Happy Birthday Mr. President, and God bless your memory.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Out of Sorts. . .

Have been neglecting my blog shamefully. Truthfully, I have not felt much up to blogging since fall of 2008 -- first there was Ike, then the elections, and I have been more or less out of sorts in one way or another since.
In any case, here's hoping the blog is not as much abandoned, as in abeyance. Hope to get back to it soon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27 January 1967

Apollo 1 Astronauts Roger B. Chaffee, Edward H. White and Virgil I. Grissom in the Apollo simulator (NASA photograph, available here)

43 years ago today, a Friday, was a busy day at the Kennedy Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 34, at what was then called Cape Kennedy, Florida. By 8 a.m. that morning, a cast of almost 1,000 had assembled to support a “plugs-out” launch simulation on AS-204 or “Apollo 204.” Apollo 204 (better known to history as “Apollo 1”) was to be the first manned Apollo space mission, scheduled to fly on 21 February 1967. Shortly after lunch, the flight crew: Virgil I “Gus” Grissom (Lt. Col., USAF), another Air Force light colonel, Edward H. White, and Navy Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee, suited up and headed for Pad 34.

 Grissom (at 41 the oldest member of the crew) had already flown in space twice, as well as flying 100 combat missions in the Korean War, garnering an Air Medal with cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Grissom had been told, privately, that he was going to be the first American to walk on the Moon. Colonel White, age 37 (the Senior Pilot) was, during the Gemini 4 mission (3 June 1965), the first American to walk in space. The third crew-member, Lieutenant-Commander Chaffee, age 32 (Pilot) had never flown in space. All were married, with children.

 The other main character in this story, the Apollo capsule, “Spacecraft 012” fully lived up to the old saw about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. The Apollo moonships were then cutting-edge technology, marginally capable of carrying humans into space and back and far more complex than any spacecraft previously flown. Spacecraft 012 was itself a stop-gap design, a “Block I” capsule not meant to fly to the Moon; intended as a sort of proof-of-concept vehicle to test Apollo systems in Earth orbit. Future manned flights were to proceed in the upgraded “Block II” version, but design and construction details of this version were not finalized. Among other things, the prime contractor, North American Aviation, didn’t like the hatch design on the Block I ship: it wanted to install an outward opening hatch on the Block II’s. Spacecraft 012’s hatch recessed inward before opening.

Numerous changes and modifications to Spacecraft 012 caused Apollo 1’s first launch date, in the fall of 1966, to be pushed back to the spring of 1967. In retrospect, this delay was clearly insufficient – the ship was simply not ready. But the timetable was pushing -- NASA was racing both the Russians and President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Consequently, Spacecraft 012 was accepted from the contractors and mated to its Saturn 1B booster on Pad 34 despite a number of known and unknown defects and faults – and with its documentation file in appalling disorder. Many problems were attended to. . .but some were not.

The crew was dubious about the readiness and even the safety of their ship: Colonel Grissom telling his wife that Spacecraft 012 was a lemon. Contractors and engineers on the ground had concerns also, but there was a critical blind spot in most of this thinking, which was primarily centered around problems the Apollo might eventually encounter in space, not on the ground. . .

Flight training and testing proceeded, and on the 27th of January, NASA went ahead with the “Plugs Out” test, in which the spacecraft (on the pad atop its unfueled booster) would be manned, sealed-off from the outside; operating totally on its internal power and systems. A simulated countdown would be conducted, and the crew would practice operation of the spacecraft through several hours of post-liftoff flight, the cabin pressurized with pure oxygen. Shortly after 1 p.m., the astronauts, wearing their full, bulky space suits, entered the space capsule, and technical problems immediately began. Grissom plugged his suit into the spacecraft oxygen system, and complained of a foul, buttermilk-like taste. Proceedings halted while the technicians tried to isolate the problem, apparently without success.

The test resumed. At 2:42 p.m. the white-room technicians closed and sealed the spacecraft hatch, then locked the booster cover cap in place. None then knew that the sealing of the hatch marked the closing of another door, for three of the finest men America ever produced had entered their pyre and tomb, and would not leave the spacecraft alive.

Once the hatch was closed, sea-level air was removed from the space suits and the cabin, and replaced with pure oxygen, at a pressure of 16.7 pounds per square inch. Unlike the earlier Mercury and Gemini capsules, Apollo, built for longer voyages, was designed, once in orbit, to allow for a more or less shirt-sleeve environment. Of course, this meant a pressurized cabin with an artificial atmosphere. The engineers at North American suggested an Earth-like oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. However, NASA worried about decompression sickness and nitrogen mixture issues, and selected pure oxygen. Pure oxygen under (as here) high pressure – burns very well.

The test rolled on, and problems continued as afternoon dragged into evening. There was a problem controlling oxygen flow that repeatedly triggered a master alarm. The control center technicians believed the fault was caused by excessive crew movement, but the problem was not actually resolved. Meanwhile, the crew had difficulty communicating with the controllers in the blockhouse and in two other buildings because of persistent static interference, and an open microphone someplace in the spacecraft that the crew was unable to locate. An exasperated, and, by now, exhausted Grissom wondered aloud: “How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?” The ground controllers became increasingly annoyed and preoccupied by the communications problem.

About 6:30 p.m., the crew members, strapped in their crew couches, were going through a checklist when control center instruments recorded both a surge in oxygen flow into the spacesuits and electrical spikes. At about this same time one of the astronauts said: “Fire. I smell fire.” This changed literally in a flash – two seconds later, horrified ground controllers saw flames appear on their cameras and Astronaut White shouted insistently that there was a “fire in the cockpit!”

An escape drill was specified in the manuals, which the astronauts were supposed to be able to complete in 90 seconds. In practice, the hatch arrangement made this impracticable, even if it would have been possible to unseat the hatch and open it inward against the pressure of the oxygen in the spacecraft. The astronauts were apparently able to accomplish part of the drill: the lights were turned up, and Astronaut White, seated in the middle, had begun work on the ratchet behind his head that controlled the hatch. But the astronauts didn’t even have 90 seconds before they were overcome by smoke.

Technicians frantically rushing to the capsule area to assist were driven back by flames so hot that they had ruptured the hull of capsule. Grissom, White and Chaffee never had a chance to escape, caught behind a double-hatch that took over five minutes to open, bathed in highly flammable pure oxygen, strapped to their crew couches in bulky space-suits. The trapped astronauts died by inhalation of toxic gases and burns.

The electrical fire which asphyxiated the crew was a blow not only to the families of the crew, and to all who knew these men, but to the whole nation, already reeling from Vietnam. An investigation revealed faulty wiring and substandard plumbing throughout the spacecraft (which was full of flammable materials), with the most likely cause of the fire being a short produced by the interaction of a wire with the insulation rubbed off and the spacecraft’s environmental control unit. Changes in the Apollo spacecraft included a different artificial atmosphere, a different hatch and different materials, all of which made Apollo relatively safer. Still, as Apollo 13 later reminded us, the amazing moonships were incredibly dangerous. It is almost impossible to imagine our much more risk-adverse society building such ships now.

Grissom and Chaffee were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, White at West Point. Apollo 1’s booster was later used to fly the first Lunar Module (Apollo 5) in an unmanned Earth orbital test. The fate of the capsule itself was very strange: once the investigators were through with it, Spacecraft 012 was sealed up and placed in a warehouse in Langley, Virginia, where (after a move to a new facility in 2007) it rests today.

Just 21 months after the fire, Pad 34 launched the first successful manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7 -- flown by Apollo 1’s back-up crew. Launch Complex 34 was then taken out of service and dismantled. The concrete launch platform, the base of the pad, still exists, and bears two plaques, the inscription on one of which is an appropriate way to close this essay:
In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could reach for the stars; Ad astra per aspera (a rough road leads to the stars); God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Occupation" of Haiti? You Bet

The Haitian National Palace, Place L'Ouverture, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, heavily damaged after the earthquake of 12 January 2010. The building was originally a two-story structure; the second story has completely collapsed. Compare with picture from 2006, here. (Photograph: United Nations Development Program, via Wikipedia, original here).
A French cabinet official, Monsieur Alain Joyandet, who bears the somewhat ridiculous title of “Secrétaire d’Etat chargé de la Coopération et de la Francophonie” (Secretary of State for Cooperation and Francophony) has accused the United States of “occupying” Haiti. M. Joyandet dropped the o-word after having what the Daily Telegraph described as a “scuffle” with a US commander in the airport’s control tower over the flight plan for a French relief aircraft.
Well, so what if there’s an occupation? Haiti is effectively without government. Its airports, ports, highways and means of communication are in ruins, the government (such as it is even in the best of times) is dispersed and unable to communicate, there are 200,000 bodies all over the place, and no food or drinkable water for millions of people.

Naturally there’s an occupation. There must be people to re-open airports, land, unload and refuel aircraft; people to put the seaports back in operation, secure places to store food, water and medicines; engineers and construction troops to put the roads and bridges in working order; people to distribute the aid and soldiers to protect the aid workers, doctors, media people and do-gooders such as my lord Joyandet from destitute and desperate Haitians. The food, water and medicines are mostly coming from the US, aboard US planes and ships; mostly paid for by the US; and mostly distributed by Americans. There is absolutely a US occupation of Haiti. In fact, the best thing that could possibly happen to Haiti and the Haitians would be a prolonged US occupation of several years duration.

If whatever passes for a Haitian government has a problem with a US “occupation” it can be resolved simply by a meeting between whatever Haitian officials that can be drummed-up, the US ambassador and the US military commanders. Perhaps in flag quarters on USS Carl Vinson? The whole thing wouldn’t take thirty minutes: fifteen minutes for the Haitians to enjoy their first shower in a week and have the use of the admiral’s head; ten minutes talk by the Haitian bigwigs about the grand history of Haiti; thirty seconds for the Flag Secretary to print the two page agreement, a minute for everybody to sign; two minutes for a photo-op, a minute and thirty seconds for everybody to grab coffee and a cookie.
No sensible nation would want to occupy Haiti – the country has always been a basket case, and barring divine intervention will be so until the end of time. Americans, French and everybody else are in Haiti because people everywhere are compassionate and want to help. Location, size and relative wealth naturally means the American role is going to be significant.

From the narrowly American point of view, it is too bad that we cannot transport Haiti and its problems to some other hemisphere. . .perhaps to a point near, oh, France? Alternatively, maybe we should just throw up our hands and declare Haiti a French problem (after all, France is the former ruling colonial power). In fact, I nominate M. Joyandet to be the new “Secrétaire d’Etat chargé de la Coopération, de la Francophonie, et le Gouverneur de Haiti.” I’m sure the French military and the officials that plan its vast budget will absolutely dwell in transports of ecstasy over M. Joyandet's landing them the Haitian job.
Of course, the French don’t really want that responsibility. But their junior cabinet ministers do want their names in the papers, and to get France outsized credit for whatever it contributes, thus maintaining France’s big-brother role in the Francophone world, of which Haiti is a part; and ensuring that right-thinking people everywhere know the proper French officials have burnished their anti-imperialist credentials. All quite understandable, and business as usual. Too much to hope that they'll just let the adults get on with the job.