Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review 370: To Rule the Waves

TO RULE THE WAVES: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, by Arthur Herman. 648 pages. HarperCollins, $26.95

The tone and approach of Arthur Herman’s “To Rule the Waves” is captured by the title of an earlier book: “How the Scots Invented the Modern World.” Here we are told that every significant development of the past 500 years was instigated or controlled by the Royal Navy.

In his if-all-you-have-is-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail historiography, Herman frequently sinks into self-caricature. For example, in his version the Invergordon mutiny of 1931, a minor labor strike, instigated the decision by the Bank of England to take the United Kingdom off the gold standard.

Real historians, it should not be necessary to say, have a more complex story.

The story of the navy is worth a real historian’s attention. Traditionally, King Alfred is called the father of the English navy. Herman never mentions him and is correct to start the story of the modern navy 600-odd years later. That is one of his rare good choices.

John Hawkins, slaver, smuggler and pirate, is credited as the pioneer of England’s venture into distant waters. Herman displays few virtues as a historian but one is that he pays attention to more than the thunder of guns and the clash of cutlasses.

He credits the Navy Board (inaccurately) as the start of modern western bureaucracy. The Inquisition would be a better choice, and even if limited to military matters the Venice Arsenal has a strong claim. However, the Navy Board was important in changing the navy from a mélange of free-lance bandits and aristocratic warriors into an instrument of continuous state power.

Oddly, hundreds of pages later Herman opines that in the ‘60s, as the Royal Navy was being shrunk to a size appropriate to a small nation, the Admiralty was acknowledged as “the most efficient of the three services’ headquarters.” He appears never to have heard of Northcote Parkinson nor to know that the Admiralty was the subject of the study that led to “Parkinson’s Law.”

The story flows smoothly, if inaccurately, forward from Hawkins and Drake.  Almost no figures can be trusted; some are so ridiculous that any reader will understand that it was not true that sugar consumption in England grew to 12 pounds per person per day. Other numbers are equally wrong if not so obviously so.

The book was incompetently proofread (if proofread at all) and the overall impression is that it was put together with all the care lavished on an undergraduate term paper begun the night before the day it is due.

It is not only numbers that are unreliable. Herman says the commander of the assault on the Dardanelles forts was Admiral Ian Hamilton. In fact, Hamilton was not there and in any case was an army general. Herman has Bill Halsey commanding at Midway when – in one of the most famous naval anecdotes of the Second World War – he was in sick bay, opening the way for the outstanding battle commander of that conflict, an unknown junior flag officer named Spruance.

In one of the most misguided sentences I have seen in print in a long time, Herman writes in his acknowledgments: “Allen Flint  painstakingly went through the final manuscript with a discerning and erudite eye.”

The Royal Navy really did do a great deal to shape the modern world. “To Rule the Waves” is nearly worthless if you want to learn how.

Friday, July 29, 2016

O’Reilly Wiki’d

RtO has obtained the transcript of Bill O’Reilly’s work session for his O’Reilly File report presented the day after  Michelle Obama’s speech in Philadelphia.

O’Reilly’s work sessions have been audio and video taped since about 2012 at the insistence of Fox News’ legal department. It is not known how Wikileaks obtained this transcript but it came from a source that has been reliable in the past.

Michelle Obama’s remarks about slave labor being used to build the White House open a topic that many Americans know little about. But her statement requires some context.

The men working on the White House around 1800 were slave and free white and black. And isn’t that what makes America great?

Labor was scarce in early Washington, which was being raised out of a literal swamp, so overseers, uh, labor bosses contractors were wise to recruit carefully and treat their hands well.  The image of slaves being driven with a whip is liberal obfuscation.

The men building the people’s Executive Mansion were given good food –- pork and corn bread – and the government supplied comfortable housing. (Note to research staff –find picture of government housing for slave workers)
Attractive, comfortable government housing for workers
(Video shows O’Reilly in a reverie) You know, sometimes I wouldn’t mind living in government housing. Down in the projects, y’know. Have you seen the prices of even a 2-bedroom in a District neighborhood with good schools and bars? And I remember what the old guys used to say when I was growing up: I’m glad I’m a white man but I’d give anything to be a nigger on Saturday night.

(Jerks self back to job at hand. Picks up memo and reads aloud) Must be from that Murdoch boy who’s filling in for Roger. What’s his name? The dorky one. “Your theme for tonight’s O’Reilly File should concentrate on the theme, why is Michelle so uppity, without saying so in so many words. Let our viewers know that slavery was an integral part of the American experience, and not nearly so unpleasant as portrayed by that Jew Zuckerman may Allah roast him in the fire.”

Which one signed this?  Huh? “By (can’t quite make it out) for Mr. Murdoch.” Well, we’ll see about that. Bill O’Reilly deals only with Top People. If Murdoch wants to deal with me he’ll deal with me one-to-one.

Doesn’t he know how many millions I bring into this station? I can carry my audience elsewhere, y’know, Mr. High-and-Mighty Immigrant from Down Under, just like Glenn Beck.

(Editor’ note: according to the New York Times, $100 million a year, from which must be deducted O’Reilly’s $20 million salary and the production costs of the show; the net to the Murdochs is about what they spend polishing their yachts.)

(A blonde research assistant enters the office. O’Reilly cannot remember her name, only that she’s the one with the big bazongas.) “Is thereanything else, Mr. O’Reilly?”

“Call me Bill. Check back after sign-off, I‘ll have a special job for you.”

What else can we say about slave workers? They got a guaranteed retirement with none of the risks in a 401(k), two weeks vacation, great medical, and a company-sponsored softball league that played the team building the Capitol after work on Saturday night, with all the iced beer and watermelon a darkie could want.

(Scribbles notes, rings for research assistant) Check these facts for me, honey. And be quick about it.

(In another reverie) God, I wonder what it’s like to pork that Melania. She’s got legs like a Barbie doll and brains to match. I wonder if with the right approach Donald would go for a three-way.

(Comes back to job)

Religion and family values. I need to get those into the piece. Let’s see.

And the black worker on the White House – just like the white workers – lived with their families in traditional male-female marriages and on Sundays they worshipped their God at the church of their choice. And really, isn’t that what makes America great? You can marry whoever you want, within traditional frameworks, and worship Jesus just as you please; and if you don’t like it where you are, why, the American way is to pull up stakes and strike out for a better life somewhere else.

It’s divisive liberals like Michelle Obama who leave that part out. And for tonight, that’s the O’Reilly bile, I mean File.

God, it’s a lot of work to fill up just 90-seconds of air. Where’s that research assistant?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's not about NATO, stupid

The NY Times has a typically Washington-centric piece about the disarray in the Turkish army.

So it's time for RtO to do what it does and state the obvious:

1. The army is an uncertain fighting force. Pictures of its generals show chests full of campaign ribbons, but the army hasn't fought overseas since the Korean War (where MacArthur maneuvered the Turkish Brigade to annihilation). Those ribbons represent nothing more than Zippo raids against defenseless Kurdish villages, hundreds of whose burned remains mark the army's pacification methods in southeast Turkey.

(Kurdish sources say the army has lately resumed Saddam's pacification program, setting fire to the forests where the Kurds live. This has been going on, off and on, for a long time.)
Medals for murdering children

2. Erdogan is no democrat and no friend of europeanization, so whether the army is effective or not, it has for a long time not been available for NATO purposes. The Times' fretfulness about the coup's effect on NATO is quaintly out-of-date:

That is a blow, not only to the country, but also to NATO, of which Turkey is a member. The Turkish military is a crucial ally in fighting terrorism, reining in the Islamic State, and in controlling the migrant tide that has overwhelmed Europe. Chaos within the military symbolizes not only its waning power in the country — and the rise of the police, which Mr. Erdogan built up as a bulwark to the military — but its diminished reliability as a partner to the West.

3. After the Germans and the Croats, the Turkish army has the worst record for atrocities against civilians of any regular army, worse even than the Sudanese.This has been the case under the Ottomans and under the republic..

Turkey was never a democracy, only a disguised military despotism. Erdogan has brilliantly taken over the despotism intact by replacing the army with his own party.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The godly vote

The sinners throw the best parties anyway
There's a meme making its way round that is, I think, the most profound comment on the presidential election:

What would the Republicans have said about Obama had he featured his five children out of three different women?

Family values seem a dead GOP issue. 

Well, for me they always did. I grew up surrounded by Southern Baptists, Church of Christers and similar who were happy to tell me I couldn't be moral if I didn't accept their personal deity, although their own standards of morality were nothing to write home about. Just about all of them were racists, for example.

There has been a change for the worse, though. It began when political evangelicals wanted to vote for the racist Reagan over the antiracist Carter. This required a quick flip, because evangelicals had always said they opposed divorce, and even if their own divorce rates were comparatively high, they enforced the ban against politicians. Few could run successfully in heavily evangelical districts if they had been divorced. 

The flip was easily made. 1980 was the campaign year in which "born again" became a potent political slogan, but what was really newborn was the moral preeners' new enthusiasm for serial marriage. 

Since then, evangelical voters have managed to forgive and re-elect David Vitter despite his  diapered romps with whores and Scott Des Jarlais though he was exposed as having  forced women to have abortions.

Now their John the Baptist is a 4-times married, racist drug addict and their Christ is a philandering racist business cheat.

I think I'd rather hang out with publicans and sinners, like Jesus did (Matthew 9: 10).

For another view of godly politics, read Fivethirtyeight's analysis of the Catholic vote.

The real difference between women and men

I bought some shirts the other day, and as I
You'd wear those in public?
was peeling off the labels, an insight occurred to me:

From time to time, I see a guy on the street in a new pair of pants -- usually jeans -- and you can tell they are new because the long sticky label that tells the inseam size is still on it.

But I have never seen -- and you will never see -- a woman overlook that. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Turkey's Night of the Paring Knives

If the putsch in Turkey was so small, how could it be that so many top people (over 70 governors) were involved?

In 1934, Hitler used a story of a fake plot to purge the leftists from the Nazi Party (and, along the way, to bump off some conservatives who had helped him to the chancellorship but were no longer useful).

(1934 was a bad year for revolutionary leftists elsewhere as well.)

This week, Turkey's medium-strongman Erdogan  used the story of a (possibly confected) plot to purge his country of the remnants of its revolutionary liberalism.

Western diplomats said on Monday that Turkey’s response to the coup attempt suggested that the government had prepared lists of those they believed to be linked to Mr. Gulen’s followers, before the unrest.
A senior Turkish official said that members of the Gulen movement in the military had been under investigation for some time, and that the group had acted out of a sense of emergency when they realized that they might face prosecution.
“There was a list of people who were suspected of conspiring to stage a coup,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, in line with government protocol. “And they did attempt a coup even though many people, including myself, treated the claims as a conspiracy theory at the time.”

Some quarters have proposed that Erdogan staged the coup himself, which would explain why the army -- which knows how to stage coups even if it isn't any good at other army-type stuff --  seemed so feeble and confused. Perhaps but it is as easy to think that some wannabes went off half-cocked and Erdogan just seized an opportunity he had prepared for.

He is, after all, one of the most skilled politicians of the century.

 So far, at least, no one seems to have been murdered in the sweep-up, which differentiates it from the Nazi Night of the Long Knives. It could be as effective, nonetheless.

The comparisons to the Rohm or Kirov purges cannot be pushed too far. For one thing, the liberalism of the Turkish army is sharply constrained.  The liberalism of Ataturk never gained traction in Turkey, one of the most rightwing societies in history.

After his death, what remained was a militant secularism among the soldiers who recognized that  they could never match western (that is, Greek or Russian) armies if bound by the antimodern chains is Islam. (The Ottoman soldiers had recognized this as early as the mid-18th century, which is when they contrived to set up Turkey's first printing press, which for generations printed nothing but military manuals; if the sense of the society had its way, Turkey still would not have any printed books.)

In every other respect, the army was hard to distinguish from rightwing armies on which Uncle Sam has lavished shiploads of modern weapons -- Brazil, South Vietnam, Indonesia etc.

For fear of communism, the United States never challenged the Turks to liberalize. Now it refuses to demand liberal reforms because it wants 1) to maintain Turkey as a member of NATO; and 2) has managed to wheedle some small concessions toward supporting US policies nearby.

What Washington does not realize is that  rightwing dictatorship under Erdogan will never allow Turkey to be used for NATO's purposes.


In the so-called Turkish democracy

How guns make life better

What could be better than this?

Two teenagers were drinking in Chicopee, Mass., Saturday afternoon when they set off to find a friend, according to authorities. Whether it was the booze or the sheer similarity of the neighborhood’s low-slung homes, the teens somehow ended up at the wrong house.
Let the punishment fit the crime then.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

There ain't no such animal

As Turkish democracy.

Turkey is not now and never has been a democracy. It was a disguised military dictatorship. The army was content to permit the forms of democracy (as, for example, the ayatollahs have been content to allow in Iran),  but any time the civil government seemed likely to interfere with something the army could not stand for, the soldiers intervened.

The electorate never accepted the Kemalist revolution (just as the masses never accepted the earlier reforms of the Young Ottomans). Paul Theroux (In "The Great Railway Bazaar") noted that modernization came to a halt on the day in 1937 that Ataturk died.
A leader with no followers

From that time on, the army fought a delaying action aginst the national consensus against secularism.

The religious parties for a lonf time pursued the revolutionary road, and the army repeatedly suppressed them.

Erdogan, one of the most skilled politicians of our time, is a religious nut who noticed that revolutionaries usually ended up dead or in exile; or, if the revolution succeeded, saw it drift away from its principles.

It was his insight that to wreck secularism and restore Turkey to its Muslim social and political statis, it would have to be done slowly, and by boring from within -- by using democratic forms.

The transition from disguised military dictatorship to theological despotism has been obvious for years now and the only question was, when would the army lose its grip. Now we know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Justice Ginsberg speaks truth to power

And gets kicked for it by the so-called liberal media.

Let's state the obvious.

Trump is a racist, supported by the country's big racist pressure groups (who ought to recognize one of their own) who has attacked the integrity of the courts and said he would, as president, violate the laws.

If ever there was a time a judge is entitled to speak out, this ought to be it. And to criticize a Jewish lawyer for raising the alarm about a candidate who is a racist who disregards legal boundaries is tin-eared. The world has experience of this.

Why aren't the other justices -- and lower court judges --speaking out? Don't they care?

It is also not true that judges shouldn't and don't speak out on political issues. A few years ago I listened to Judge Leonie Brinkema on Maui at a judicial conference: Her theme was that the ordinary courts can and should be the venues for trials of suspected terrorists, instead of military tribunals.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Why do Christians work so hard to deny reality?

Not at all of them, but some of the most visible. Not "bigger than imagination" but bigger than possibility.

Wooden ships cannot be more than 200 feet long; the strength of wood fails when a longer beam (a ship is, in terms of engineering analysis, a beam) is attempted.
Built as big as possible --186 feet
Admiral Nelson's "Victory" was built as big as it was possible to do -- it is 186 feet long at the gundeck.

Some Christians are sufficiently aware of reality to see the problem, but insufficiently sane to accept it.  

“ 'Gopher wood' is not a species, or variety, of wood – but an 'engineering technique.' In Hebrew the term means 'to house in' (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance # 1613). We call this 'structural interlamination.' This means that all the components were joined and laminated together in narrow strips. As an eyewitness, Ed Davis confirmed in an interview with this researcher that the structure he saw on Mt. Ararat was, indeed, laminated together. As our team flew the mountain in 1990 this researcher personally saw a huge laminated beam of wood at the traditional Ark site."

Friday, July 8, 2016

Shoot 'em up

Tarrant County is the home of a particularly violent, noxious and comical open carry pressure group: the kind of people who carry assault rifles to a burger joint to "make it safe."

Dallas News photographer finds the ultimate open carrier 
It also has 100,000 concealed carriers.

Somehow, despite the assertions of the gun nuts, neither circumstance deterred a mass murder. And it wasn't in a gun-free zone.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Book Review 369: The Making of Evangelicalism

THE MAKING OF EVANGELICALISM: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond, by Randall Balmer. 89 pages. Baylor

This is the real Book of Revelation, although most people will find it hard to believe the sensational disclosures Professor Randall Balmer makes toward the end of his little essay.

As Balmer is quick to mention, evangelicals come in several flavors. Balmer was raised in a Scandinavian, Pietist sect, different in style from the ranting Baptists of the South and California. But most evangelicals would probably agree that all of them have the same goal, however much they disapprove of the style the other guys use.

If you have ever had to chase evangelicals off your porch, you will perhaps be amused to find that Balmer divides gall into four parts:

Three influences — Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism, continental Pietism and New England Puritanism — fed into a distinctly American religion. Balmer does not mention that the colonials were virtually unchurched, especially on the southern and western frontiers. That left them open and defenseless for the first phase:

— The Great Awakening and revivalism. From the point of view of all non-evangelicals, the key factor was the intense competition and hatred of each cult for each other. That led them to reject state religion and embrace — even if only tactically, locally and temporarily — civic freedoms.

Balmer, largely sympathetic to evangelicalism, portrays this as a big break, competition giving Americans a church (or churches) they liked and thus leading to a density of religiosity unmatched in any other advanced country.

It was a time of optimism (unless you were a slave or an Indian) which led to a crisis. Evangelicals expected the return of Jesus real soon (none sooner than the Millerites, now our Seventh-day Adventists, who are heartily loathed by most evangelicals); that is, they were Postmillenial in outlook. Their disappointment led to a phase of:

— Premillenialism and pessimism. If Jesus wasn’t coming to fix everything (from the skewed view of evangelicals; the prophecy was for a millenium of ghastly war and suffering), then good Christians would have to fix up the joint themselves: thus their work to reform slavery, prisons, saloons, schools etc.

From a secular point of view (which is not Balmer’s), this was the only positive effect evangelicals were to have on American society.

It didn’t last. As America became more Catholic, Jewish and immigrant, and in some ways secular, evangelicals saw themselves being eclipsed. They withdrew into:

— Fundamentalism. The Fundamentals, written just over a century ago, were a cri de coeur, an attempt to get Christians to agree on the real message. America, or the trendsetting organs in it, said phooey, causing evangelicals to withdraw psychically, socially and above all politically until a new message of:

— Aggressive revivalism, in the form of a noisy Religious Right movement that was more about political power than any spiritual preachment.

It can be argued how much success this has had, but Balmer doesn’t like it. The election of an real evangelical of the best sort, Jimmy Carter, ought to have marked success, but the new evangelicals were having none of it. Carter was attacked by “lavishly funded, highly organized and fiendishly deceptive opponents who would do almost anything to undermine him.”

That is inaccurate but can be made accurate by removing the word almost.

If it meant ignoring the clear teaching of Jesus and generations of evangelical preaching against divorce to support a radical like Reagan, the new evangelicals didn’t even have to swallow hard. And here is where the sensational revelation comes in.

The rise of the religious Radical Right had nothing to do with abortion. Balmer quotes chapter and verse, For example, W.A. Criswell, “one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century,” welcomed Roe v. Wade with this statement:

“I have always felt that it is only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person.”

Other evangelicals welcomed Roe as a support of the separation of church from state, another tradition they have since given up.

If you have any evangelical friends, you can easily recover the cost of Balmer’s excellent book by carrying it around and making bets about, eg, the Baptist position on abortion in 1973.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

TeletubbiePrompter time

Long may he wave
I was planning, a little closer to election day, to renew my call for an adult swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20.

As everyone hears but apparently no one notices, the treatment of the new "Leader of the free world" is more like a frustrated parent trying to give directiosn to a reluctant 3-year-old:

CHIEF JUSTICE: "Do you, Phil N. Name, . . . "

NEW PRESIDENT: "I, Phil N. Name . . ."

CJ: ". . . solemnly swear . . ."

NEW PREZ: ". . . solemnly swear . . ."

If the LOTFW cannot remember the 35 words of the oath, possibly he/she is too stupid for the job.

Oddly, the CJ remembers them; the CJs don't read off a crib sheet concealed in one hand.

It would be more dignified if the CJ asked the president-elect, "Will you swear the oath?"

And then he/she would swear it if he could.

As I say, RtO was planning to again call for a seamless oath. But now I'm not so sure it's time. If the winner is Trump, there's a real question whether he can manage 35 consecutive scripted words.

A huge question.