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, “ 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 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)