October 11, 2019

Twitterville Quip Achievement Unlocked

September 28, 2019

1950, Explained

Isenguard.Gov Redux

September 09, 2019

#1 son recommends

Richest country in the world, ladies and gentlemen


And some say, it's not that bad...

This [decline of the Canadian film industry] was further complicated by the colossal failure of Carry On Sergeant (1928), an expensive dud of a film about an adulterous Canadian soldier that all but ended feature filmmaking in Canada for almost 25 years. 


September 08, 2019

That sweet vigorish

I received an old-fashioned letter from Dr. Kapital this week, in which he made an interesting observation.

"The Other Front [he wrote], I can always tell you when a company's glory days are over.  It is the simplest thing in the world: they get interested into finance.  IBM, GM, GE - titans of industry that tried financial alchemy to extend their lives.  It always works - for a time - but there is a reason industrial businesses have historically sold for 16 times earnings, and financial businesses for 10.  In the end, finance is, as Bulgakov styled it, a 'black magic show, with money falling from the ceiling,' enabled by a credulous crowd.  But the show does end - every ten years or so - and we learn again that those slips of paper are not quite what they were imagined to be.

"I will never forget that fateful call with General Electric in 2008 when they told us that they were having a little problem with the commercial paper market, which financed much of their business on very attractive terms, but only for very short periods of time.  They avoided disaster with the expensive assistance of Mr. Buffett, and recently took the pledge to abstain completely.  This comes a bit too late, I suspect, but there is always hope for those who repent.

"So I was interested to see that these modern technology companies are now taking an interest in the dazzling world of finance.  Facebook and Apple are toying with cryptocurrency, as if actual currency were not cryptic enough.  Uber, its Golden Age already behind it, is entering the payday loan business.  And they say now Amazon dreams of becoming a bank, as Wal-Mart did before it.

"Trust me, there are better dreams.  To paraphrase the Oracle of Omaha, when a great industrial firm enters the dark forest of finance, it is latter that is likely to preserve its reputation.  Far better to return capital through judicious dividends and well-timed share repurchases, than to waste it on such frivolities.  The aged company should follow the wisdom of the Buddhist sage, and accept its fate with grace:

Barefoot and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people
Of the world.
My clothes are ragged
And dust laden,
And I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life...

"But, of course, no one ever got a bonus for that."

Fill that Havoc void with good clean Finnish fun

If you see a car in this video, it will crash.

But it’s not the crashes I love so much as it is the reactions of the Finns watching the crashes in this compilation of local Finnish rallies from the past year. Yes, a ton of people immediately do rush to help the drivers, check to see if they’re hurt, and get the cars going again (if possible). But there’s also a heck of a lot of hooting, hollering, cheering, and all-around applause for truly spectacular crashes.


September 06, 2019

Good night

One evening in Vienna in 1933, as Nazi thugs skirmished with police outside, Lorre sat in a ‘subterranean bohemian wine place called Majolica Hall’ with some friends: a group of writers, actors and composers. One of them started teasing him, saying how funny it was that he always seemed to play ‘a monster or a second violin’, never an ‘important classic part’. ‘You’re thinking of Hamlet,’ Lorre said, adding that he knew all the parts by heart. Someone urged him to give them a rendition. The audience waited, half-embarrassed at the thought of fat, hunched little Peter doing ‘To be or not to be’. But instead, he recited the part of the first gravedigger. ‘It was terrific,’ one of his friends recalled. At the end, Lorre rounded on his audience. ‘You sons of bitches, you thought I was going to play Hamlet and make a fool of myself. My part is the gravedigger and if I had ever played it on the stage I would have stolen that play.’



September 04, 2019

Parliament to Boris: Drop Dead

Have I ever steered you wrong?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was battered again on Wednesday as lawmakers from his own party and the opposition pressed ahead to stop his plan for leaving the European Union without an agreement — and then turned down his call for an election.


The A Team

I cannot overpraise Bryan Curtis' interesting article on The Big Show (1992-1997).  As I read it I copied a paragraph or two as a tease for this post, and by the time I was done realized I'd copied almost half of the thing.  It's superb, and it explains significance of a show I only appreciated in the last year or two of its existence.  Here are two representative samples:

The difference between ’90s SportsCenter and a modern comedy show is that SportsCenter was much, much harder. Patrick and Olbermann had the mandate to deliver the news instead of just riff off it. They wrote their own material. The Big Show may be the only comedy show in TV history that didn’t have a writer’s room.
Two hundred nights a year on SportsCenter, as the hosts sat at their desk, a PA would run into the control room with a tape of a highlight that was set to roll within minutes. Through a headset, Williamson or McQuade or Ramsey would ask the anchor who was off-camera to give a thumbs up if he’d been handed a shot sheet. Then, as Patrick and Olbermann saw a highlight for the first time, they had to be both accurate and hilarious.
“And from that grew a kind of trench-warfare humor,” Olbermann said. “Haha, we’re going to die tonight! And that led to a lot of giggling and making fun of things, particularly management.”
. . . 
One day, Patrick and Olbermann were called into a room by their bosses and scolded for being too silly, too self-referential. According to James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’s oral history, an executive actually pounded a desk at the meeting. The hosts were told they could no longer call SportsCenter “the Big Show”... 
When forced to say the show’s proper title, the anchors bellowed, “THIS...is SportsCenter”—which might have triggered the famous Wieden+Kennedy campaign. When Olbermann reported that Rupert Murdoch would challenge ESPN with a new cable sports network, he gave out Bristol’s area code on the air. As in: Call me.


September 02, 2019

Great moments in British government

"I don't want an election, you don't want an election," Johnson said...


September 01, 2019

Not raids

For a raid to be a raid, three conditions must be fulfilled:
  • There is an (attempted) surprise attack
  • The force goes to a hostile location and tries to fulfill its mission
  • The force withdraws when the mission is complete

So these operations - however admirable or heroic - are not raids: 
  • Battle of Tulagi and Gavutu–Tanambogo, August 1942.  Although the capture of Tulagi by the U.S. Marine Corps had raid-like elements, they did not withdraw after their victory, instead occupying Tulagi and turning it into a key strongpoint for U.S. naval forces in the Guadalcanal campaign.

  • Carlson's Patrol, Guadalcanal, November-December 1942.  This famous march of 150 miles, which included a dozen or so battles and skirmishes, was more a pursuit or reconnaissance in force.  There was sustained contact with hostile forces, and, apart from harassing and defeating the enemy where possible, no concrete objective.  

  • The Rangers take Zerf, February 1945.  There are some similarities to the Tatsinskaya raid in the sense that the Rangers were tasked to conduct 'deep operations' in German-controlled territory.  And, as at Tatsinkaya, the objective was to deny supplies to an enemy force - in this case German troops in Zerf, a town on the western German frontier.  The Rangers did so, and although they were told they would be relieved in 48 hours, a change of plan meant it actually took nine days.  Their service was heroic, but their operation was never conceived as anything other than the permanent capture of territory in support of offensive operations...so not a raid.
Not saying it was easy


Tao Te Ching is having none of that bullshit

I also find this bit timely:

The more prohibitions and rules, 
The poorer people become. 

The sharper people’s weapons, 
The more they riot. 

The more skilled their techniques, 
The more grotesque their works. 

The more elaborate the laws, 
The more they commit crimes.

These are from the Stanley Lombardo translation, which came out in 1993.  The translators's preface explains his intentions:
After examining previous translations, we came to realize that there were four things we could attempt that were different and potentially useful. First, we wanted to translate rather than explain the text. The Tao Te Ching is always terse, and sometimes enigmatic. Previous translators have often offered explications rather than pure translations; they explained what they thought Lao-tzu meant rather than what he said. We have chosen to let the text speak for itself as much as possible.  
Second, we found that earlier translations, because they often paraphrase the text, tend to be verbose, extending the concise Chinese text into much longer sentence patterns. To some extent this is inevitable. Chinese consists of a single monosyllable for each word and often does not mark such grammatical features as tense and number. Any intelligible English translation must use more words and syllables than the original, but we believe that it is possible to recreate much of the terse diction and staccato rhythm of the ancient Chinese. Therefore we have kept as far as possible to the bare bones of the language, favoring Anglo-Saxon monosyllables over Latinate polysyllables. In this way we have tried to preserve some of the flavor of the original text.  
Third, we have completely avoided gender-specific pronouns. The original Chinese does not have the pronouns “he” or “she,” but previous translators have inserted “he” to refer to the Taoist Sage. It could be argued that most early Taoists may have been male, but the Tao Te Ching often praises the female spirit, and there is no reason why the text does not apply to women as well as to men. Therefore we have been gender neutral in our translation. 
Finally, we have provided an interactive element in our translation. Since no version can replace the original text as a document, not only will each generation retranslate and reinterpret the text, but each reader should have some direct contact with the original words. We have therefore provided a transliteration of one line in each section, together with the original Chinese characters, keyed to a glossary.


The Good Raid

The Marine Corps raiding manual singles out one raid for particular praise, Operation Claymore, the March 1941 British commando raid on the Lofoten Islands off the northern cost of Norway.
The attack of the Lofoten Islands is an excellent example of an ideal selection. It met a military need; the location and enemy defenses made it susceptible to attack; it was within the capability of a well-trained but inexperienced raid force; and it provided a much needed morale boost to the nation.

According to the Manual, this is how you do things.

Target Selection, Intelligence
The Lofoten Islands are remote (north of the Arctic Circle) and difficult to defend, but strategically important.  Normally a quiet, pleasant place.

An ideal target:
The Lofotens provided the Germans the majority of their fish oils, an essential ingredient in manufacturing explosives. The nearest German airfields were iced over at this time of year and the nearest garrison able to influence the battle was almost 60 miles away. It appeared resistance from both ground and air forces outside the objective area would be slight.
In contradistinction to Dieppe, the intelligence in this case was precisely accurate.

Force Composition
According to the Marine Corps manual, it is best to keep raiding forces as small as possible, and put as much firepower as possible behind and above them.  On the first count, the British did reasonably well, sending about 500 troops - enough to handle prisoners and demolitions, but only about 1/10 of the size of the forces employed at Tatsinkaya or Dieppe.

On the second however, they traded firepower for stealth, employing just five destroyers to support the attacking force.  The British were not willing to risk bigger ships on this sort of operation.  The error had no consequences in this raid, but a similar miscalculation at Dieppe meant that when the raiding force got into trouble there simply was not sufficient firepower offshore to suppress the enemy and allow an orderly evacuation.

HMS Expendable Legion

The RAF did not participate for the same reasons as the Luftwaffe - the target area was out of reach of military air bases at this time of year.  Still, you couldn't have Ark Royal with its obsolete aircraft hanging around a couple hundred miles offshore?  What if a Geman cruiser or two had been in the area?

(By the way, when Ark Royal was critically hit by a sub in November 1941, it was Legion, one of the destroyers from the Lofoten Islands raid, that evacuated her crew.)

In any case, excess firepower was not needed because surprise was complete.  The raiding force took a very roundabout route to the target to avoid detection, sailing first to the Faroe Islands and then north toward the Arctic before turning east toward Lofoten.

The target selection, intelligence, and approach were so well done the raid was virtually unopposed.  The only German asset to fire a shot was the armed trawler Krebs, which was quickly disabled, plundered (more on this later), and sunk.  After that, it was a cakewalk:

The raiding force had one casualty.  Against that, it...
  • Destroyed a cod boiling plant, two factories, and 800,000 imperial gallons of fish oil.
  • Destroyed 18,000 tons of shipping including the merchant ships Hamburg, Pasajes, Felix, Mira, Eilenau, Rissen, Andø, Grotto, and Bernhard Schulte, as well as the aforementioned Krebs.
  • Took 228 prisoners and, according to the Marine Corps manual, "over 300 Norwegians returned with the commandos to serve with the Allies throughout the remainder of the war."
  • Achieved a much-needed propaganda victory - the Marine Corps manual states that "the raid was filmed and shown throughout Britain to the delight of every audience."
  • It is debatable whether the raid "held the Hun in a constant state of jitters" as promised in the newsreel, but the fact is that this and subsequent raids forced the Germans to divert significant forces to the defense of Norway.  They garrison ultimately consistent of almost half a million men, a larger force than Sixth Army (the one they lost at Stalingrad) or the Afrika Korps.
And best of all...
  • Captured from Krebs rotor wheels and code books for an Enigma machine, which "enabled Bletchley Park to read all the German naval codes for some time and provided the intelligence needed to allow Allied convoys to avoid U-boat concentrations." - Wikipedia

Also, Full marks for theatrical effect.  As they departed, the raiders left behind the hallmark of a successful raid operation: a massive column of smoke:

As seen from HMS Legion (Wikipedia)

Well done.  I wish the reader many such raids in their careers.

  • "Operation Claymore" on Wikipedia - (link)
  • "Lofoten Islands Vacations in Norway" - (link)


Football great Eric Cantona makes some good points

He began by quoting Shakespeare, then gave a proclamation about advances in technology making human beings eternal before dourly lifting up the inevitability of war and crime. This was done at a draw for a soccer tournament.

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona gave one of the most bizarre speeches in human history at the Champions League draw - (link)

August 31, 2019

How (not) to conduct your raid

Here are a few basic principles from the U.S. Marine Corps publication Raid Operations, which is available for download by raiding hobbyists here.  Remember: if raiding manuals are outlawed, only outlaws will have raids.

For each principle we supply a counterexample from the disastrous August 1942 British-Canadian raid on the French port of Dieppe, which had losses comparable to Badanov's raid on Tatskinskaya, but with no strategic benefit whatsoever.

The goals of the Dieppe operation were to win a propaganda victory, embarrass the Germans, and gain some experience.  Yes on the experience part.  As for the rest, not so much.

PRINCIPLE #1:  GET THE INFO.  "Detailed planning for a raid requires precise intelligence. The availability or lack of intelligence affects all aspects of the raid operation."
Intelligence on the area was sparse: there were dug-in German gun positions on the cliffs, but these had not been detected or spotted by air reconnaissance photographers. The planners had assessed the beach gradient and its suitability for tanks only by scanning holiday snapshots, which led to an underestimation of the German strength and of the terrain.  The [original plan said] "intelligence reports indicate that Dieppe is not heavily defended and that the beaches in the vicinity are suitable for landing infantry and armoured fighting vehicles..."- Wikipedia

ALWAYS check if there are Germans dug-in on the cliffs

[T]he Calgary Tanks that did arrive onshore were restricted in their movement, many becoming bogged down by the shingle beach (consisting of large pebbles, known as chert). 
- The Canadian Encyclopedia 
“Having served as a Commando soldier, my main impression after studying the landing beaches… was one of amazement that anyone with the slightest knowledge of amphibious warfare could contemplate such a place.”- Robin Neillands

PRINCIPLE #2:  KEEP IT SECRET.  "Surprise is a force multiplier essential to raid operations, and is achieved by many means. The capability to conduct the unexpected raid creates for the enemy a host of contingencies for which he must prepare."
[P]art of the landing force encountered a small German convoy, that alerted the German defenses. As the ships approached the Dieppe beach at 5:20 a.m., it was clear that they had lost the element of surprise.- "Disaster at Dieppe", the CBC 
The belief that the Germans had received accurate and detailed warning of the attacks has been strengthened by subsequent accounts of both German and Allied POWs. Major C. E. Page, while interrogating a German soldier, found out that four machine-gun battalions were brought in "specifically" in anticipation of a raid.  There are numerous accounts of interrogated German prisoners, German captors, and French citizens who all conveyed to Canadians that the Germans had been preparing for the anticipated Allied landings for weeks. - Wikipedia

PRINCIPLE #3:  BLAST 'EM.  "[F]ire support, particularly on-call fire support, should be considered for every phase. In the event of premature detection, fire support may be the most rapid and effective method of reinforcing the raid force."
The planned air bombardment on Dieppe was reduced, for fear of French casualties, and because of the continuing priority of the strategic bombing offensive on Germany. Eight destroyers were allocated to bombard the shore from seaward, as it was judged that battleships could not be used, being too vulnerable when they were close to the coast...- Julian Thompson, BBC 
The Essex Scottish Regiment and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry landed roughly on time, but they had lost the element of surprise and the limited fire support had failed to suppress or destroy German fire positions. As a result they were met with crushing fire; very few ever got off the beach. - Major C.J. Frederickson

More of this needed:  Warspite at Normandy

PRINCIPLE #4:  HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY.  "Withdrawal must be swift and orderly...The means for evacuation must be available for immediate loading when the raid force arrives at the beach or landing zone (LZ). This is critical as the enemy may be actively pursuing the raid force. Cover is required to prevent enemy interference."
Throughout the extraction, the landing craft were heavily engaged by fire coming from the East and West Headlands (the area that was supposed to be captured by the R Regt C and S Sask R respectively). Only through aggressive RAF support and the use of smoke screens could any landing craft make it ashore and back out to sea. Even with this support, many landing craft were destroyed in the shallow water or sunk as they tried to move away from the beach. - Lieutenant-Colonel James Goodman, USMC

Here are two additional rules not mentioned in the Marine manual from my extensive experience  planning raids as a soldier of fortune:

DO NOT ASSUME THE ENEMY WILL STAY CONFUSED.  As with mountain climbing, tiger wrestling, and drug dealing, it is easier to get in than it is to get out.  As the plan proceeds your own capacities diminish as the enemy begins to regain his senses.  You want to be going out the door when that happens.  Therefore, never adopt a plan which ends with "and we will escape in the confusion."  Work out your exit strategy and a good Plan B beforehand, not late in the afternoon, on a beach swept by machine gun fire.

They might be assholes, but they're not stupid.

I also have a second principle, which the raiding force did employ at Dieppe:

EMPLOY UNREASONABLE PEOPLE.  Here is a sensible-looking fellow.

At Dieppe, after various superhuman feats, he finished up the day covering the extraction of survivors from a strongpoint he'd established:


Progressive showcase to the world

See also:
  • "144 California Billionaires Make Forbes' 2018 List" (link)
  • 'The Containment Plan' from 99% Invisible (link)
  • City of Quartz, 2nd ed. (link)

August 28, 2019

We've all seen it

August 25, 2019

Primitive Zatoichi

Just messing around tonight with Primitive, a Mac program that rebuilds photos up from primitive shapes.  Here I've taken the moment in Zatoichi Challenged (at 6:57 here) when the samurai raises his sword but freezes, unable to strike down Zatoichi as he tries to to protect an innocent woman and child.  As the snow falls on them, the samurai - seriously wounded - is trapped between his duty to follow orders to kill these people, and his own humanity.

I ran the Primitive program with circles first to get the snow and broad outlines of the characters, then switched to triangles and small rectangles to put some definition in.  It's a fun program.


August 23, 2019

Move fast and break things: the Raid on Tatsinskaya

This post relies heavily on an outstanding booklet by defense analyst Robert Forczyk entitled Red Christmas:  The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid, 1942.  (link)

About 35 kilometers east of Belaya Kalitva, Rostov Oblast, Russia, there is a monument commemorating the raid on Tatsinskaya Airfield by Vasily Badanov's 24th Tank Corps on Christmas Eve, 1942.  A column of tanks charge through a gap and up into the sky, leaving a slew of wrecked aircraft in their wake.

It's not wrong.

The Plan
The Germans are bottled up in Stalingrad, only a miracle can save them.  But they've got an airlift going, and it's just keeping Sixth Army alive.  That buys time - Erich von Manstein, the greatest panzer general in the history of the universe - has a counteroffensive underway, and the Germans are rushing in more units to assist with the relief effort.

If the Russians can take out the airfields, the airlift collapses, Sixth Army can't hold out, and the Battle of Stalingrad ends quickly.  But those airfields are 150 miles beyond the front lines, and you'd need to bring heavy weapons to destroy them.  A mechanized operation that deep into enemy territory has never been attempted in modern warfare.

Call it a stretch goal

It is very possible the operation will fail.  On the other hand, this is the Eastern Front in 1942, and if you have to burn a tank corps, maybe you burn a tank corps.

The Russians launch Operation Little Saturn, a coordinated assault through the Italian sector that threatens to cut off Manstein's Panzers as they drive toward Stalingrad.  The fighting is insane and heroic, and leaves a huge gap in the Axis lines.  Through that gap goes Badanov's 24th Tank Corps, heading straight for Tatsinskaya.
At 0200hrs on 18 December, Badanov’s corps conducted a forward passage of lines through the 4th Guards Rifle Corps and advanced southward into the snow-filled void.       - Forczyk

This is not a little commando raid.  This is 5,000 men, 140 tanks, 300 trucks, and some armored cars, going for a motor-tour of Rostov Oblast, a region not noted for its rest stops.  They have enough fuel to get there, but - unless they find some along the way - probably not enough to get back.
The column was immense – initially about 5km (3 miles) long and 1.5–2km (0.9–1.2 miles) wide – but there were few Germans or Italians in the area to see it.  - Forczyk

Even with no enemy around, serious problems crop up:
  • They can only drive during daylight, and there's only eight hours of it this time of year.
  • There aren't enough trained drivers, and after a couple of days the ones they have are exhausted and keep falling asleep at the wheel.  
  • The T-34 tanks are awesome and built for this sort of thing, but the light T-70s - a wartime kludge design - have trouble keeping up.
  • The T-34s have heaters, but the other vehicles don't, so they have to stop periodically so everyone can get out and warm up.
  • Overloaded trucks start to go by the wayside, their suspensions shot.  The men in the trucks, not wishing to be left alone in a frozen desert deep in enemy territory, hop on other overloaded trucks, or onto the tanks.
  • The Corps soon outdistances its air cover, so Badanov has to disperse the force into smaller groups to limit the damage from possible Luftwaffe attacks.
The column spreads out and slows down, sometimes making only 15 miles per day.  But they do move, and on December 23rd they have tanks with riders - but not much else - within striking distance of the target.

The Decision
Badanov was now only 27km (17 miles) from Tatsinskaya and he knew that it was decision time. The 24th Tank Corps was now badly spread out...  Refuelling would take hours and cost him any remaining surprise. On the other hand, his scouts informed him that the two German Kampfgruppen were lingering nearby...  - Forczyk

George Patton once said:  "a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."  Of course his raid failed, but as a general principle it seems sound.

There is a line from the movie Torpedo Run, when a U.S. submarine has an enemy carrier in its sights, but firing will expose it to certain counterattack and probable destruction.
  • Glenn Ford:  What would you do?
  • Borgnine:  I'd stay up and shoot.  That's what we're here for.

Hey...come to think of it...!?

Badanov's low on fuel.  His men are cold and tired.
Safe in Berlin, Göring ordered that his Luftwaffe men would ‘stand fast’ at Tatsinskaya and that evacuation was not authorized unless Soviet tanks were firing on the runway.  - Forczyk

The next morning Soviet tanks are firing on the runway.
[Base Commander] Fiebig was awoken from two hours’ sleep by the sound of rockets exploding nearby, which contributed to his deteriorating state of mind. He was hurriedly driven to the airfield, arriving around 0815hrs. Meanwhile, at the train station, Soviet tankers discovered a train with flatcars loaded with 50 damaged aircraft, intended for shipment back to repair depots in Germany, as well as a train loaded with aviation fuel. These trains, as well as the loading docks at the railyard, were soon set ablaze. - Forczyk

Badanov's tanks, approaching from three directions, hit the airfield during normal flight operations.  Chaos ensues as dozens of German planes try to take off at once, some colliding with one another as the Russians fire 75mm shells into them and spray the area with machine gun fire.  Refueling trucks - easy targets of opportunity and hard for the Germans to replace - explode all over the base.
In the later stages of the raid, some of Nechayev’s T-34 tanks had apparently exhausted their main gun ammunition and they began ramming the tail sections of Ju-52 transports on the flight line, in order to prevent their take-off. - Forczyk

A majority of the German planes manage to take off, including one, according to reports, piloted by a signal officer who had never flown a plane before. Nevertheless, the attack knocks out about 10% of the transport capacity of the Luftwaffe.  The base commander jumps on the last plane out, leaving hundreds of his troops to their fate.

The Russians mop up efficiently, utterly wrecking the base.

At this point it may be useful to reflect on a problem with raids.  Raids are fun, at first.  You plan creatively, you get to surprise the enemy, and maybe take out a big strategic target.  But, like Game of Thrones, it's hard to work out a good ending.

Most raids are planned like this:
  • 24 Tank Corps: [Achieves surprise, seizes airfield in enemy rear areas and destroys it.]
  • Germans:  OMG WTF aughghgh!
  • 24 Tank Corps: Heh heh heh [Escapes in the confusion]

But most raids go like this:
  • 24 Tank Corps: [Achieves surprise, seizes airfield in enemy rear areas and destroys it.]
  • Germans:  Vector in Luftwaffe scouts, fighter-bombers and dive-bombing units.  Re-direct 11 and 6 Panzer to the affected area.  Re-direct nearby battle groups to blocking positions and support.  Destroy raiding force, take no prisoners.
  • 24 Tank Corps: Ah.

11th Panzer, retreating from the east, is heading straight for the base with orders from Hitler to kill everyone in sight.  Very quickly, Team Badanov is surrounded by well-supplied superior forces.  His tanks, mostly out of fuel (their diesels can't burn the 300 tons of benzene they've captured), are sitting ducks.

Badanov knows it won't go well and gets ready to try and escape.  But there's a problem:  Stalin has a new plan:
At 2200hrs, Badanov was able to get through to Vatutin and reported: ‘Situation critical. No tanks. Large losses of personnel. Have lost half my officers. Cannot keep Tatsinskaya. I ask permission to withdraw from the area. Enemy transport aircraft on the airfield are destroyed.’ Amazingly, Badanov’s request to evacuate Tatsinskaya was refused. Even though the operation was conceived as a raid, Stalin no longer wanted to give up the airfield since he recognized that holding it had great propaganda value. 
- Forczyk
Evacuate?  In our moment of triumph?

Badanov reviews his options:
a) die for nothing on a wrecked airfield, or 
b) MacGyver a breakout and try to talk his way out of the firing squad when he gets back.
He selects b).

This being the Eastern Front in 1942, he escapes by the simple expedient of ordering 300 "volunteers" to attack the Germans in one direction, while he and a thousand men and a few crippled tanks sneak through a gap on the other side of the perimeter.  The 300 are never heard from again.

The remnants, as per Soviet doctrine, manage to return and link up with the advancing main force.

On December 23, 1942, the Germans had a fully stocked and functional transport hub to move supplies into Stalingrad.  On December 28th, they had a junkyard with burned buildings and a thousand or so corpses.  And Sixth Army, already starving, had lost its only lifeline.

[A]ttempts to restart the airlift after the raid from safer airfields such as Ssalsk, greatly increased the distance to Stalingrad and caused the already meagre airlift effort to collapse. The loss of Tatsinskaya and Morozovskaya airfields, as well as the threat to Heeresgruppe Don’s main lines of communication between Rostov and Tormosin, were the final straws that demolished any hope of saving [Sixth Army].  - Forczyk

Despite pissing off Stalin and getting wounded in 1944, Badanov survived the war and subsequent purges, and among other decorations received the Distinguished Service Cross from the United States.  He died in Moscow in 1971.


August 22, 2019

Robert Caro, a great comedic foil for Conan

Short but good, a few good stories from the estimable Caro, author of The Power Broker, and The Years of Lyndon Johnsonan acclaimed biography that is four volumes and counting:

Robert and Conan discuss his biographical works on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, getting into the shoes of his subjects, his new book “Working,” searching for the man who helped steal a Senate election, and the parallels we can draw to today’s events. Plus, Conan responds to a listener voicemail about the size of his skull.


See also the prequel:

Conan O’Brien’s Unrequited Fanboy Love for Robert Caro

“The Lyndon Johnson books by Caro, it’s our Harry Potter,” Mr. O’Brien said. “If there were over-large ears and fake gallbladder scars that we could wear instead of wizard hats while waiting in line to get the book, we would do it.”


August 21, 2019

Podcast pioneer makes it big

Emerging podcast pioneer Conan O'Brian is, based on the two podcasts I've listened to, good:
  • Patton Oswalt (link)
  • Bob Newhart (link)

These are both sublime, but Newhart....man.  Dude turns 90 this year.  Here is a transcription of a story Newhart tells about Jack Benny, rendered in verse.

I'll tell you...
I'll tell you a 
story about 
Jack Benny,
how brave he was.

He was the bravest comedian 
I have ever...
You know, it's a...
people have said 
my timing is 
similar to his.

But I don't think 
you can teach timing.

I think you either hear it,
or you don't hear it.

But he was 
the bravest comedian,
and Dick Martin 
told me a story:

And he said that Jack was, 
I think, at the Sahara,
in...in Las Vegas.

And they had the Will Mastin Trio 
starring Sammy Davis Junior
as his opening act.

Left to right: Sammy Davis Sr., Sammy Davis Jr., Will Mastin
And, of course it comes out...
Sammy destroys the audience.
They're pounding, 
and standing on the tables.

And they leave,
and then Jack comes out.

And he said:

You know, in the afternoon,
sometimes around four,
I like to get some tea.
And sometimes four 
forty five...
rarely five...
I'll have this tea.

And I ran into this actor
I had worked with
and his name was
I'm trying to think...

And he said, I don't know what's wrong with me today, 
I promised that Sammy Davis 
could do another number.
Would you like Sammy 
and the Will Matsin Trio?

And you know, 

So he comes out:
"Birth of the Blues" -
Destroys the room,
Pounding on the tables.

And Jack watches him waltz off
and he says:

Here are two variations on the interruption gag:

August 18, 2019

My favorite of his


Flawless victory


August 17, 2019

This one goes out to Big V in Parnassus Heights...

Poverty and homelessness virtually unknown, our public schools the envy of the world...

(Bloomberg) -- California’s general-obligation bond rating was raised by Fitch Ratings to AA, third-highest investment grade and a step above Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

Fitch’s one-notch upgrade on $72 billion of debt “reflects the improved fiscal management that has become institutionalized across administrations,” the company said in a release Friday.

The state’s use of temporary tax increases, reserves and limiting growth in spending will help it better withstand economic downturns, Fitch said. The ratings outlook is stable.  

California’s recovery from the Great Recession has beenstrong. The state has gained more than 3.2 million jobs since the economic expansion began in February 2010, and its unemployment rate is at a record low 4.1%. California was last ranked AA by Fitch in the two years that ended December 2002,
when it fell to A, according to the state treasurer’s office.

“A double A rating is appropriate,” said John Ceffalio, municipal-credit analyst for New York-based AllianceBernstein LP. “They’ve really done a fantastic job building reserves and that’s lasted through two governors.”


No scan, no pay

Attendance was not mandatory for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant north of Pittsburgh, but they had to forfeit pay for the day if they skipped, according to attendance and comportment information obtained by the newspaper.

“No scan, no pay,” workers were warned.


August 12, 2019

Dude's a wizard

August 11, 2019

Blowing it

Coming up - after I read the book - a series of thoughtful and reasoned pieces on Prussia, its rise, its remarkable innovations that are embedded in modern civilization, and its decline and fall, fueled by a propensity to fight wars against the world.  

Norm MacDonald's proposal - that Germany be told "you don't get to be a country no more, on account of you keep attacking...the world" - is what actually happened to Prussia.
It is not often that a great power vanishes into thin air overnight, but that is exactly what happened to Prussia. With the stroke of a pen, a state that had stood at the center of European politics for centuries was abruptly ordered off the stage of history, dismissed as “a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany” by Law No. 46 of the Allied Control Council, signed on Feb. 25, 1947.  - NYT

There is something enchanting about what could have been, about lost opportunities.  So often we don't realize until later that what we took for granted, what we undervalued, was rare treasure.  

L-R: MVP, MVP (somewhere else), MVP and 2x Champion (somewhere else)

So it is with Empire.  Let's say you're setting up to play a game of Civilization, but in real life.  You want to lead your people to world domination happiness and prosperity.  What do you need?  A few prerequisites:

- A secure base
- Abundant natural resources
- A well-developed industrial base
- Strong trade connections
- Brilliant elites
- A culture focused on duty

So, submitted for your approval, the German (Prussian, really) Empire, ca. 1900:

I don't know if you guys are history buffs at all, but this was a pretty nifty operation.  They had everything on the checklist and more.  You could cross the border at Schaffhausen and ride the train a thousand miles, all the way up to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) on the Baltic.  And it's good land out there on the North European Plain, flat and green.

But those central hills and mountains also offered a strong central base, a defensible core, if your leadership wasn't stupid enough to sit like a sitting duck in Berlin when a heavy attack came rolling in from the east.  In the latter stages of World War II, Eisenhower saw that such a relocation could prolong the war, and made preventing it a top priority.

Impressive.  But not quite an empire is it?  Yes, it was big, but so was France.  So was Austria-Hungary...and yes, they'd all fit into Russia:

Whatever the Prussians had, somehow it wasn't enough, and in reaching for more they blew it, blew it in a hundred different ways.  There was confusion in the war plans.  Britannica states that
German plans of conquest [in WW I]... moved to the west and for a simple reason: Germany had become the greatest industrial power. The plans for extending German territory in the Baltic—the only plans with which the Prussian Junkers sympathized—were plans for the benefit of landowners. The plans for controlling southeastern Europe, also of long standing, were the plans of German traders. Both were eclipsed by the ambition of the German magnates of the Ruhr to control the industrial resources of Belgium and of northeastern France.

So...let's just attack all of them.  Possibly a mistake.

Just to mention two other issues:

1) A tendency to underestimate the enemy.  In 1914, says Britannica,
The crisis caught the German statesmen unawares. They had now to answer the question which Bismarck had evaded: Were they to abandon Austria-Hungary, or must they fight for its sake a war against the other great powers? The rulers of Germany determined to stand by Austria-Hungary, but they did not at first appreciate that this was a decision for war. They supposed that a firm line would lead the other powers to give way.

Narrator:  they didn't.

2). The elites' quasi-religious belief in historical determinism.  The Wikipedia entry on von Moltke the Younger, who - as every schoolchild knows - commanded German forces at the outbreak of the First World War, concludes with this fine bit, which is as good an epitaph as any for a country that mistook itself for an empire:
Moltke was a follower of theosophy, which taught that humanity was an endless, unchanging cycle of civilizations rising and falling...  Like many of his colleagues on the German General Staff, he was heavily influenced by Social Darwinism. His view of international relations as merely a struggle for survival led him to believe that the longer the start of the war was delayed the worse things would be for Germany.

And that lovely Prussian palace at Koblenz, reconstructed, sits silent and beautiful overlooking the Rhine, presiding with quiet dignity over an empire that never was.


- "The Dynasty That Never Was" (link)
- "Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947" (link)

A few connections

  • Don Sheldon - B-17 tailgunner, 26 missions, Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Jay Hammond - fighter pilot Black Sheep Squadron
  • Lowell Thomas Jr. - flight instructor due to health issues, friend of Dalai Lama

Also - "B-17 Retardent Bombers at Fairbanks" date unclear (link)

August 08, 2019

I heartily endorse this podcast

99% Invisible is very good, available wherever podcasts are sold.  Some favorites:
  • "He's Still Neutral" - (link)
  • "Life and Death in Singapore" - (link)
  • "From Bombay With Love" - (link)
  • "The Many Deaths of a Painting" - (link)
  • "The Secret Lives of Color" - (link)

 That last one is about the 2017 book of the same name, which is winging its way to my mailbox as we speak.

August 07, 2019

Too cool to live, too young to die

I got this book from Loussac Library, and you bet I read it cover to cover.  As far as it was concerned, the B-70 Valkyrie was the baddest thing that every flew, and no two ways about it.  It could fly up to space at Mach 3 and blow up whatever needed blowing up, fly away before enemy radar could vector in interceptors.

Eisenhower didn't want it because missiles were cheaper, probably more effective.  Kennedy campaigned for it, saying Eisenhower was soft on defense.  But,
On 28 March 1961, after $800 million (equivalent to $6.7 billion today) had been spent on the B-70 program, Kennedy canceled the project as "unnecessary and economically unjustifiable" because it "stood little chance of penetrating enemy defenses successfully."  Instead, Kennedy recommended "the B-70 program be carried forward essentially to explore the problem of flying at three times the speed of sound with an airframe potentially useful as a bomber."

They built a couple, undoubtedly the most epic anything that ever stood on a runway.  It was at Mach 3 before they pulled the chocks away.

It did fly, riding its own shockwave:

Landing was basically controlled crashing:

Actual emergencies were even better:

Stop.  My penis can only get so erect.

One eventually did crash, the other's in a museum now.

The contrast with the B-17 strikes me as significant.  Where the B-17 was mass-produced, these were a special edition, two copies only.  Where the B-17 attacked in a huge interdependent cloud, these were the aviation equivalent of special forces - hit-and-run specialists with maybe a couple of escorts.  The B-17 was beautiful "in its way," the B-70 was a show piece with a spiffy pointy nose and cool black windshield.  Obsolete when designed, they built it anyway - possibly for political benefit, possibly as a bargaining chip, possibly in the hopes that some of the technology developed would be useful for something else.

But in my world of car radios with cheap plastic buttons, ugly household appliances, and wood-grain vinyl shelf liners, this thing was The Truth, a pure white instrument for going 2,200 miles per hour for no good reason.  There was never anything better.
  • Wikipedia: North American XB-70 Valkyrie / The "missile problem" - (link)

August 06, 2019

"So much love went into that movie." - #1 son