Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Too Darn Hot

At 104 the only people dressed appropriately for work today are the baristas at Sadie's Hot Spot, the sexpresso place up the road on McLoughlin.

It's just too damn hot to work. It's almost too hot to think. I feel like an old dog who just wants to lie in the shade and pant.

We have about two or three of these heat waves a summer. We all know they're going to happen, we all suffer and sweat and hate them every time they do. And yet, we always make a big deal out of them, like somehow they're a nasty surprise we didn't expect. Go figure.

Lisa asks if we don't cool down in the evening, and we usually do. But when these big summer high pressures build up they trap the heat and humidity and smog over the valley. This morning at 5:30 the air had that hot, breathless feeling that means it didn't really cool down overnight. And tomorrow is supposed to be worse.

Since I've posted the cheesecake, I should be fair and expose myself too. Here's how I had to go to work this morning (less the steel-toed boots, which were just too miserable to wear in past the door):And here's how I looked within about 10 seconds after getting back to the shop this afternoon:Now you see why I work in the soils engineering business.

I just don't have the legs to make it as a runway model.

Hard to believe, I know. But it's true.

Jesus wept, it's fucking hot.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Safe abed, fucking-A right, and how about another go then, eh, Sally?

This is sort of...no, this is really fascinating.

That somewhere in England, now just a crabbed line in some cracked vellum muster roll written over 600 years ago, lived a man with my name and, perhaps, a bit of my face.Yep, "John Lawes" is my right name. And his. Our birthdays some 540 years apart.

Was this a great-great-great-great-etc.-grandfather? I'd sure like to think so.

And I note smugly, as an old soldier who knows that there are old soldiers and bold soldiers but few old, bold soldiers, that the crafty old bastard knew better than to enjoy an all-expense paid trip to France in 1399 to enjoy the 14th Century cooties, trench foot, bad food and irascible natives. I'll bet the shrewd old sod knew exactly where he wanted to be on Crispin Crispian's Day and that wasn't goddam rainy marching on some painful field with a happy fucking few.

Sod that for a game of soldiers.

Fascinating. (h/t to Robert Farley over at LG&M)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Canary, meet Coal Mine

Somewhat lost in the federal health care/war funding/global warming/wise Latina raree show was the sad little, noxious little budget deal worked out in California this Monday.It has to say something about who we Americans are and what we're becoming that the best idea that the Golden State's best and brightest (okay, we'll exempt Da Governator from that, but, still, We the People of California elected his Austrian ass) could come up with to "balance" the state budget was to rob their own counties and municipalites blind, to kick the poor and sick in the crotch, and to cut nonessentials like teachers, garbagemen, cops, paramedics and highway maintenence workers (in the state that practically invented Car Culture, no less...).

You can read all about it in the linked LA Times editorial, but even that supposedly liberal news organ seems to have developed collective amnesia about a couple of salient points.

1. The "we're broke, we just don't have any money, we HAVE to cut your food stamps (AFDC, Head Start, fill-in-the-blank...) or die, you silly Negroes..." meme goes all the way back to the toxic little property tax time-bomb the California GOP wired up in 1978, Proposition 13. We here in Oregon then devised our own little suicide pact, Measure 5, clearly on the conviction that if California was going to be Tom Fool and lead the best plan for us was to be Jack Fool and follow.

The direct result of this was to save Ma and Pa Goober a couple of hundred dollars a year on their rancho deluxe out there near McMinnville while giving Pacific Gas and Electric, Flav-R-Pac, and Megacorp Development an immense windfall of untaxable largesse, which, of course, they immediately rushed out to donate to the widows, orphans, disabled, and mentally ill that the now-tax-strapped state government had to chuck off the welfare rolls and out of the state institutions, colleges and job training programs they could no longer fund, so that the poor devils didn't have to beg for change at the top of the on-ramps of the roads the state could no longer maintain.

Not.

2. California compounded their own stupidity by then crafting a 2/3rds supermajority rule for passing legislative revenue measures, which has effectively prevented the state from passing any NEW revenue measures since 1996.

I love this little cartoon because of what it says about the mindset of the people who are fond of this situation. The cartoonist wants us to see that the Republican elephant is a simple but wise old soul, doing his math like a good householder and making his expenditures meet his income, and the Democratic donkey is a maddened policy wonk, all goofy for taxing everything moving to fund kooky-spooky crunchy granola frills.

But the cute little exercise fails when you realize that Jumbo's "a = b" is a logical fallacy. "a" isn't "a", it's "x", and "b" is "y". The animals in the legislature can - unlike the prudent household - change their income and outlays to meet their needs. So, in a sense, it's the donkey's frantic figuring that represents what a real government has to do: try and figure out what it needs versus what it wants, and then what it can take in versus what it would like to take in. The elephant isn't being simply honest; he's being simpleminded, he's using an axe to craft a budget rather than a woodcarving tool. Which explains a LOT about how Republican "governance" has gotten us here.

And so, here we are.

Imagine a nation in which a small handful of wealthy people live a First World lifestyle.

Their homes are nicely maintained, their roads well paved, their neighborhoods patrolled by polite, competent, professional police officers. They and their neighbors get First World medical care in daintily appointed medical clinics, shop at the best locations, dine, party, work and generally live as well as any human society in the 21st Century can arrange.

Then imagine that the bulk of the nation lives in precarious, decaying cities, towns and countrysides, prey to the collapsing, badly maintained public roads, buildings and utilities around them. Their lives are made more random by the capricious nature of their public "servants": seldom present and, when appearing, typically bribeable or even worse, merely indifferent. A fraying middle class lives squeezed between the wealthy, who despise them and the poor, who envy and hate them. Their political power is notional, their involvement in their own government negligible, they are useful only as fodder for the wealthy.

But you don't have to imagine this. All you have to do is travel south, east or west, to find dozens of impoverished Third World nations where this condition is the standard. Every craptacular little dictatorship or oligarchy the U.S. Army helped me vacation in, from Panama to Egypt and points between, featured this vast disparity between the rulers and the ruled. This wasn't a bug; it was a feature.Democracy cannot exist in a feudal society. It dies, or is killed, by the desperation, foolishness and ignorance of the peasants and the greed, venality and indifference of the nobles.

California has now chosen, rather than to even mildly discommode the wealthy, to disadvantage the disadvantaged. Rather than even attempt to close the gap between the rulers and the ruled, it chooses to allow the public weal to fall victim to private wealth.

There is a name for this sort of system.

But "republican", it's not.

Ever since the Elevation of Saint Ronnie, our public discourse has been dominated by the idea that "taxes are bad". In this sense, the conservatives that lost the Battle of Watergate won the larger war. They wanted to concentrate power in the nation's elite, and, largely, they have. They wanted to move the nation's laws - if they could not move the nation's people - to the right and, largely, they have.Well, California has reached the conservative state of grace; the state, and those in the care of the state, now exist to serve the needs of the wealthy. We shall see if the result is beneficial for the state and her people as a whole. We shall see.

(crossposted at MilPub)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Christ, I think my heart just exploded like a Pepsi on a hot stove...

Chicken. Fried. Bacon.Jesus wept. No wonder we're rapidly becoming the Ottoman Empire of the 21st Century.

Small Step to Nowhere..?

I'm not immune to popular enthusiasms, and with that I note the 40th anniversary for the "small step for a man" that capped NASA's manned space program in 1969.I was not a particularly bright kid at the age of 12, and I remember the summer of '69 more for my mother's frenzied ranting at the Chicago Cubs on their way to their traditional September swoon in the year of the Miracle Mets than for the lunar landing.

And, really, after forty years, you have to look back - at least, some of us look back - and wonder; what the fuck?

Riley over at Bats Left/Throws Right pretty much nails it. The space program was born, grew, and died like a mayfly, in 1969, It didn't die because somehow we jacked the money to bomb Vietnam or give food stamps to Negroes.
"It died because it's damned near at the edge of what we might accomplish provided we threw everything we've got into it (and if we haven't learned from doing that several times over that the main thing it accomplishes is bankruptcy, then we've been paying even less attention than we appear to be), and means fucking nothing whatsoever to anyone above the mental age of eleven..."

The reality is that Einstein's Wall makes interstellar travel impractical unless you're willing to construct monstrous argosies that will carry, in effect, little Earths, voyaging for countless generations through the empty voids between the stars. Even assuming the idea was practical - and the ill-fated "Biosphere" experiments suggest that we are, at best, generations away from a workable model, no nation could afford it. Mars and Venus, the closest planetary objects to us, cannot support life, and the remaining planets are even worse.

Nope. We're stuck on this planet save for in the imagination of sci-fi fans, books and movies. The "moon shots" were a one-off, a vastly expensive, mildly entertaining bit of government pork thrown at the military, useful for collecting some rather valuable geologic data but otherwise sterile. The fact that there are mental ten-year-olds presently in elective office that seem to think that sending a human being to Mars is a good idea says more about our electoral process than it does about the value of the idea.

So I guess I understand why the "celebration" of the anniversary of Apollo 11's landing was so muted.

Who celebrates the puberty of a eunuch?

Update 7/21 pm: I want to hammer this home - I'm not saying this stuff just to be curmudgeonly. The IDEAL of space exploration, of humanity finding a way to the stars, is a terrific one. Not only for the pure knowledge and adventure of it - being confined to a single planet is begging for extinction. But here's my deal; why are we celebrating our piddly little "dream" of flag-waving Yankee Doodle moon shots? Why not dream REALLY big? An "Ark in Space", the real chance to give the human race a shot at a future beyond the lifetime of our star?

National space progams like the Apollo missions, IMO, are the problem, not the solution. They divide the human race, forcing nation to compete against nation, militarizing the space programs and condemning us to farting around near the Earth's orbit for the next ten generations.

The real dream is up there. But the groundwork for the dream is here, on Earth, and it involves moving beyond the Apollo-type missions to real, global cooperation and exploration and, yes, commercialization, of space.The day we see the launch of the "Nostromo" from Kaiser's orbiting shipyard near Ceres, with a commercial crew and funding from Reynolds Metals, will be the true culmination of the dream of space exploration. At that point we will truly be reaching out into space, rather than simply using it as a void through which to swing a fist.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's Not About The Bike...

This weekend was one of those "Life is what happens when you're busy planning other things" kind of a time. I had wanted to take some time and think about a couple of the things I've been watching or following lately: The Tour de France, our current political and economic meltdown over health care and financial policy, the hearings to decide who is wiser, a wise Latina or a wise-ass white guy.

But instead, we got all busy and did tons of fun family things, starting Saturday with a bike ride down to the little puppet theatre near Cathedral Park.It was sponsored by the City's Office of Transportation - more about them later, and was just the sort of goofy, crunchy-granola, whole-grain thing that Portland does so well. Hip urban moms with henna tats on their Teva'd feet, natural-fiber-wearing schoolkids with names like Ronan and Sarita, Hip urban dads dragging the trailabike behind their soulpatch and bike mug of fair trade coffee.Of course, our two didn't care anything about this. They just liked the ride, and the silly puppet show, and then the treats at the little cafe afterwards. But they were sweet, and had fun, so we did, too.Little Miss had no idea what was going on, but she had it figured out; Mommy and Daddy were going to cuddle her and play with her, and even......hang her upside down until she squealed. And that worked for her.Big Peep was a more discriminating puppet voyeur; he liked the silly show, and was more than gracious to accept a chocolate chip cookie afterwards, but the ride back up the hill wasn't quite to his liking. He did, however, enjoy building his first plastic model. And here it is: USS Lionfish, a Balao-class fleet sub from WW2.

Very different from MY first, God knows at this point what THAT was, but I recall that whatever it was was nearly indistinguishable underneath the model glue. Peep and I did a little better job.After a lazy afternoon and a good nap (by Little Miss) we got dressed up and went out to eat at Lorenzo's, in the Mississippi district.

Damn good meal, and, more to the point, the kids were fun and friendly and happy - no meltdowns, tantrums or difficulty listening to mom and dad. So WE got to enjoy our meal with relative grace. Always a plus. And everyone got to pat the little "David" statue on the wiener on the way out. Score!On the way home we stopped at Albina Park to cool off in the fountain. The Peep splashed and had a great time, Mojo and I enjoyed the peaceful evening amid the roses, and...Maxine did her delightful little "Star Dance"... videoThe bonus was the bridal party that tripped on down to take pictures. Hopefully somewhere in their wedding album is a shot with the fat, tattooed Northeast Portland woman shin-deep in the dirty fountain water while industriously scratching her ass. Happy anniversary, honey!Sunday we got out early because we wanted to take "Aunt Kristi" (our friend Kristi, the athletic, blonde teacher whose was one of the Peeper's early crushes) on the "Sunday Parkway" ride around her neighborhood.

These things, also sponsored by the City's DOT, are a terrific idea which I understand was imported from Colombia, where the City of Bogotá closes down streets for people to walk, run, cycle, skate...whatever, just not involving a motor.So we went, and we rode, and everyone had Big Fun, whether just riding through the northeast Portland neighborhoods on a gorgeous, perfect sunny morning...or trying the Bike Obstacle Course......or exploring new ideas and new places in the parks, full of booths, vendors, and bike-, walking- and other alternative-transportation organizations......or just enjoying the time spent together and with our friend...After the ride we stopped at our own North Portland "Beaterville" Cafe' for a slap-up lunch, home for some playing, napping and light housekeeping. We left a much more relaxed and happy Aunt Kristi, who had no idea that her northeast Portland home was so much fun. Mind you, it helps when you and your gal pal Mojo are smokin' hot!Then it was on to the pool, where much splashing fun was had by Dad and the grunions. Little Miss, of course, was adorable.And here we are; not exactly Tour material, but happy and having enjoyed a great day. Hope you weekend was as pleasant.So...I have another one of those damn "days off without pay" tomorrow, and I'll try to post the original post I had in mind for thise weekend then. Ciao.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Love for Three Oranges

I have her blog bookmarked over on the sidebar because her combination of the art of living and the science of adorable daughters is so delightful, but every so often Maia over at Une Envie de Sel really brings the heat. And today she's smoking:

I had to steal this little drawing to show you. Hard to breakdown all the things that make it so terrific. The artistry, of course, the combination of dark and light, straight line and curve, colors and shapes and the arrangement of them all that turns a blank page into a little Faberge' gem that holds a moment within it.

But it's the subject of the drawing that so tickles my fancy. The hopeful daughter pleading from behind her treasured box of prepackaged, preservative- and artifical color-added, Stearman-biplane-orange, absolutely-no-ingredients-found-in-nature "Mac and Cheese"; the horrified veggie-Mom, her finger already raised in dire warning as the fruits of her local-produce-shopping lie packed wholesomely in the cloth bag at her feet...it's every parent's dream, nightmare and reality all lovingly presented in a simple illustration.

I've sent you over there before. But today is just a reminder that you pass her by at your own risk; there's always something piquant next to the saltcellar.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Semicool Things in North Portland: Dinner at The Fishwife

North Portland Night Out: Mojo enjoyed Mommy's night off with a pampering at Trixie's Beauty Bar and some retail therapy while the children and I enjoyed a meal at North Portland's own "Fishwife". videoNot bad: think your neighborhood mom-and-pop place, a kind of Fifties relict, funky Kennedy-era decor, lots of locals out for a regular midweek night. The food was actually pretty decent, for a change, and Daddy did NOT get teabagged. And there was ice cream after.

Win.

Plus the lovely Mojo came home with a smokin' hot new nightie. Yowza! Hopefully some evening real soon we'll both be awake enough to smoke-test it.

Makes you wonder how those couples with fifteen kids manage to...aw, never mind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slipping Away

I'm at home today, "enjoying" another holiday without pay. Mojo is at work and the kids are in daycare. I need the time to think, and decompress, and grieve a little.

Because when I got into my work yesterday I found that the other staff person had been put on "hourly"...meaning that he only works when there IS work. In effect, he's been laid off other than when we have something billable for him to do. And right now, we have nothing.This is the sort of thing you read about 1929; about men begging for work and finding nothing. Guys who had never rested more than a Sunday a week in their lives, strong men, men who wanted work and couldn't find it.

There's something deeply wrong with a society, with an economic system, that can't find a place for people who want to do something, or a job for people who can do the job. It doesn't feel that way when you're working and doing well, but now, with the prospect of a job and work I love slipping away, I feel that abyss gaping before me and fear the sickening drop. I've been through hard times before. I've come home and sat down with my wife and had to tell her that I might not have a job the next day.

But this feels different. This IS different. Not only is my company reeling and my job is in jeopardy - everyone's job is unsafe. We advertised for a position in the winter and got hundreds of applications. For a low-level job with a tiny company. And I'm fifty-two. I will be out there competing with twenty-somethings, hungry, mobile and infinitely more adaptable.So I have been feeling like I'm sitting beside the bed of a dying friend; unable to do anything but sit and watch the slowing breaths and the growing pallor. Sick with fear, wanting to jump up and tear something, howl and cry, but constrained by responsibility and the need of others to be stoic. Fearing the worst and at the same time longing for the release to come, like a silent snowfall, blanketing the earth, covering all the imperfections and blemishes with an all-forgiving obscurity, where the noises of pain are muffled and trials and fears are chilled into immobility by a remorseless, impersonal, universal, perfectly lethal nepenthe.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Decisive Battles: Plassey, 1757

Plassey Date: 23 June, 1757

Forces Engaged: Honourable East India Company: 1,000 to 2,000 European and British troops, and 800 to 2,000 native soldiers (“sepoys”), including a single battery of artillery; roughly 3,000 in all, under LTC Robert Clive.

Before proceeding, we should discuss the curious organization the British brought with them to Plassey. First, it should be understood that the “British Government”, that is, the King and Parliament of England, were not officially invading or conquering the native governments of the Indian Subcontinent. This engagement, as was every engagement fought by British forces in India until 1858, was part of the commercial dealings of the Honourable East India Company, “HEIC” or “John Company”, the corporation of merchant-adventurers licensed to trade with the Indies.

The HEIC was also authorized to raise, equip, train and deploy organized units of formed troops. The rank-and-file of these units could be European in origin or raised from the natives of the territories in the Company’s purview. These “Company regiments” were officered by British professionals and the best were conceded to be on par with Royal (or “King’s/Queen’s regiments) troops.

Obviously, the notion that the HEIC was an independent contractor unaffiliated with the Crown was arrant nonsense, made even more apparent by the fact that the British government “loaned” King’s regiments to the HEIC. It was an incestuous relationship from the start.

LTC Clive had two regiments of Europeans – one Company regiment:
• The 1st Bombay European Fusiliers
And a single Queen’s regiment:
• The 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot.
He also had three Company native infantry regiments, the
• 1st Bengal Native Infantry,
• The Royal Madras Fusiliers, and
• The Royal Bengal Fusiliers
The British Crown also provided:
• 9th Battery, 12th Regiment, Royal Artillery
• 50 naval ratings from HMS Tyger

Note 1 - On the order of battle: many accounts, including the Wiki entry for this battle, give the numbers of European and native troops as less than 1,000 British (or, really, Irish, since the “Bombay Europeans” were later merged to form the “Royal Dublin Fusiliers”, the Madras and Bengal Fusiliers were apparently originally Irish, leaving only the 39th of Foot to represent other parts of the British Isles) and 2,000 sepoys or more. Clive’s official report says that the army that marched from Chadernagore consisted of “…about one thousand Europeans, and two thousand sepoys, with eight pieces of cannon. “ However, of the units listed as present only the 1st BNI was unquestionably Bengali. The other units (save the 39th) were, at least originally, European and one (the 1st BEF) appears to have retained that character. So this leaves only three out of five infantry regiments as probably composed largely of Bengalis. I have not been able to locate an order of battle that gives the strengths of the regiments, but to reach Clive’s totals the Bombay and Madras Fusiliers and the 1st BNI would have had to have been fielding close to 700 troops each, an unusually large total for a 10-company British-style infantry unit, where company strengths were typically 30 to 50 rather than 70. So the numbers for the native troops seem high. But I will continue to check on this.

Note 2 - A “fusilier” was originally a soldier armed with a light musket – a “fusil” – originally tasked with escorting artillery but by the early 18th Century used simply an honorific title, like “Guards”.

Forces of the Nawab of Bengal: No accurate accounting of the feudal levies of the state of Bengal exists. Most accounts of the battle suggest that the forces present in or around Plassey that June day amounted to somewhere around 50,000.

However, as we will see, most of those were suborned by various traitors and did not fight. Clive, again in his 26 July report, says that the Nawab fielded “…about fifteen thousand horse, and thirty-five thousand foot, with upwards of forty pieces of cannon.” Officially under the command of the Nawab himself, Siraj-ud-daulah. In fact, the Bengali forces were no better than feudal fighting tails, sworn to their overlords, including Mir Jafar Ali Khan, Jagat Seth, and Rai Durlabh, all of whom were open enemies or restive subjects (at best) of the Nawab. All of the treacherous Bengali nobles held their retainers off of the fight at the mango grove on 23 June, leaving a badly demoralized force of about 5,000, including some 40 French “advisors” to face the British.

The Nawab’s troops were East Indian warriors, effectively unchanged since the invasion of the Mughals over a century before. Footmen armed with sword, shield and spear, cavalry with bow and lance. A handful of Western-trained gunners and infantrymen were attached to the Nawab’s person, but in the persons of the Bengali warriors of June, 1757 the 14th Century fought the 18th.The Campaign: The “Age of Exploration” that began in the 15th Century had, as we all probably learned in school at some point, left the globe spattered with European outposts and outright colonies by the 18th. This was certainly true for the Indian subcontinent. Fortunate to have been spared the arrival of the Spanish, in the 1750’s France, England, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portugal held positions of one type or another all the way from Bombay on the west to Calcutta in the east, along the Arabian and Bengal Sea coasts as well as along the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

The Portuguese had been the first to arrive but, not surprising in view of the size and military weakness of the peninsular nation, also the first to decline. Many of her trading factories and military outposts were seized by the Dutch in the mid 1600s. The remainders were predominantly still what they had been in 1507: small, precarious, almost temporary cantonments, typically manned by a handful of Europeans, in an at best neutral but often vaguely threatening Indian mainland.

The Dutch East India Company was, in keeping with the Netherlands’ commercial character, largely a truly commercial trading organization, and this, with the military incapacity of 18th Century Holland, resulted in a rather unaggressive colonial policy towards India. (Note that the Dutch were not saints; their colonial policies in the Sumatran and Javan archipelagos were fairly brutal. They simply found the Indian princes entirely too well armed and too intransigent for a certain ease of the undertaking).Denmark, as you can imagine, was a bit of a joke.

This left England and France. Both powerful maritime nations, both aggressive, both with imperial designs overseas, and both with a fairly poisonous dislike of one another stemming from the wars between them running back to Capetan and Plantagenet times. At the time of Plassey England and France were engaged in what has been called the “Second Hundred Years’ War” that had begun with the War of the Grand Alliance in 1688 and was to continue with relatively minor interruptions to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The single longest period of peace between them was the twenty-seven years between the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713 and the outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740. In 1757 the British and French Empires were again at war, this time the Seven Years’ War; the doors of the temple of Janus had been reopened the preceding year.

So the Plassey campaign, though the immediate aim was colonial and imperialist, was part of a global war between the rival empires for primacy both in Europe and across the world.

The immediate causus belli, however, was between the HEIC and the relatively young, recently enthroned Nawab of Bengal about the Nawab’s unconcealed dislike of John Company’s territorial and economic ambitions in the Bay of Bengal and India as a whole.Most sources cite John Company’s aggressive inroads into Bengal as the principal proximate causes of the campaign. These included the illegal use of Mughal Imperial export trade permits, not paying taxes to the Nawab, interference in the Nawab's court politics and internal business, and strengthening their factories and forts without the consent of the native crown. For the English, the bottom line was that the Nawab was unwilling to grant them the favors they wanted or open the Bengali economy to their profit. And……the Frogs were busy. How much British foreign policy has been formulated, not with any deep geopolitical ends in mind, but out of sheer bloody-mindedness and desire to keep the Frogs out? Certainly in this case the presence of the active and ingenuous Governor-General Dupleix made the British nervous. His attempts to ally the native rulers of India with the French East India Company were a major source of sleeplessness in Leadenhall Street. Possibly the act that prodded the British to move in Bengal was the provision of heavy artillery and the trainers to operate them to the Nawab by the French East India Company.

In any case, the Bengali alliance proved initially fruitful for France; in June of 1756 the Nawab’s troops captured Kasimbazar, Calcutta and the HEIC fortification Fort William located there. The Franco-Bengali offensive stalled there, however, and in January, 1757, John Company in the person of LTC Clive (having been dispatched from the HEIC’s Presidency of Madras in December) turned up to recapture Calcutta on the 2nd. Siraj-ud-daulah turned up on the 5th with an immense feudal army of between 60,000 and 100,000 horse, foot and artillery (although many sources believe the latter, the word of Clive’s deputy Sir Eyre Coote, to be a massive overestimate) which Clive’s little army of 2,000 proceeded to hand a fairly thorough beating.

Although the Nawab signed a treaty ceding everything John Company wanted, in effect sovereignty over their enclaves and immunity from the Nawab’s law and economic regulation, he continued to intrigue against the invaders. He was in a bad position. Not only did the British bulldog have its nose thrust painfully into his crotch, the Marathas were hammering on his arm from the southwest and the Afghan Durrani empire of Ahmad Shah Abdali was raining hitsies on the back of his skull from the northwest. The bulk, and presumably the best, of the Bengali troops had been sent to the west for the 1757 campaign season to deal with the threat of his fellow Indians, a threat that the Nawab probably considered more desperate and more dangerous.

Even his own palace was not safe. Clive and his political officers had worked hard to suborn the Nawab’s disloyal subjects and had succeeded brilliantly. As mentioned above, half a dozen of the Nawab’s principal subordinates, most crucially Mir Jafar, the former royal marshal. This beauty was promised viceroyalty of Bengal if he would betray his ruler, promptly accepted, and Clive then knew it was safe to march. In his own report, he says:
“About this time some of his principal officers made overtures to us for dethroning him. At the head of these was Meer Jaffier, then Bukhshee to the army, a man as generally esteemed as the other was detested. As we had reason to believe this disaffection pretty general, we soon entered into engagements with Meer Jaffier to put the crown on his head. All necessary preparations being completed with the utmost secrecy, the army, consisting of about one thousand Europeans, and two thousand sepoys, with eight pieces of cannon, marched from Chandernagore on the 13th, and arrived on the 18th at Cutwa Fort, which was taken without opposition. The 22nd, in the evening, we crossed the river, and landing on the island, marched straight for Plassey Grove, Where we arrived by one in the morning.”
Clive continues: “At daybreak, we discovered the Nabob's army moving towards us, consisting, as we since found, of about fifteen thousand horse, and thirty-five thousand foot, with upwards of forty pieces of cannon. They approached apace, and by six began to attack…”

The Battle of Plassey had begun.

The Sources: Bengali records of the engagement are effectively nonexistent. Probably the only literate men present on the Bengali side were in the court, where history-writing was not an established science. We have no letters or diaries from the native side, and most of the accessible accounts are written by the French advisors, who were not in a particularly good position to dispassionately assess the British actions, and their view even of the Bengali side is extremely limited. Perhaps the only near-contemporary native source is Gulam Husayn’s “Riyāż al-salāṭīn”, Gardens of the Sultans, written in 1787.British original sources include Clive’s reports and dispatches now resident in the HEIC records at the British Library, as well additional letters and reports by subordinates such as Eyre Coote. Regimental returns, contemporary maps and the typical multifarious documentary evidence we associate with a modern industrial, literate, culture.

The obvious problem with this is that all we really have is the winner’s broadsheet. Until the mid-20th Century most of the historians writing about Plassey were working from the British sources and, not surprisingly, ended up with a mostly British point-of-view. Modern Indian historians are beginning to reverse this pattern – the most signal example is the revisionist brief on the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta” atrocity and the Nawab’s responsibility or lack of same – but, as with all colonial military engagements, it’s worth remembering who wrote the history.

One of the more accessible modern histories of the battle is written by Peter Harrington included in the “Osprey Campaign Series” of illustrated paperback treatments of famous campaigns. It is clear, well-written and includes the usual excellent maps typical of this series.

The Engagement: The engagement fought around the little mango grove near Palashi is, in outline, about as simple as warfare gets. Trying to square the accounts, however, is a marvel of complexity and muddle. As far as I can tell the battle went something like this:

1. Both sides exchange artillery fire. Despite their heavier weight of metal, the Nawab’s artillery gets the worse of the exchange.2. Siraj-ud-daulah orders Mar Jafar to attack. Mir Jafar refuses. So does Rai Durlaub. The bulk of the Bengali forces sit out the battle.

3. The cannonade peters out after about three to four hours. That portion of the Bengal army that has been engaging the British retires to the Nawab’s camp, including returing their cannon to park. At some time immediately prior to this one Mir Madan, described by Gulam Husayn as the “Commander of the Artillery” is reported killed, pulped by a roundshot, and Husayn reports that “the aspect of Sirāju-d-daulah’s army changed, and the artillerymen with the corpse of Mīr Madan moved into tents. It was now midday, when the people of the tents fled.”

4. Several sources, including the Wiki entry for the battle, report that a monsoon downpour soaked both sides around noon with disastrous consequences for the Nawab’s troops, who supposedly didn’t cover their power stores and were thereby disarmed. I find no mention of this either in Clive’s report or Husayn’s history; indeed, Clive plainly states that of Bengali musketeers that “they kept a smart fire of musketry upon us. “ during the advance that afternoon. I suspect that this monsoon shower, if more than an anecdote, was not especially critical.

5. Someone – Clive says “we”, but at least one modern history (Harrington) insists that it was Clive’s brigade major, Kilpatrick – pushes at least one company of infantry [the grenadier company (or companies – later attacks by more than one are described by Harrington)] of the 39th Foot and two guns the distance from the mango grove to a pair of water “tanks” or reservoirs closer to the fortified camp held by the Nawab’s army.

6. This little force is so successful that more of Clive’s little army advances. Their fire volume and discipline is such that the Bengalis are unable to place their artillery back in battery. By 4 pm the British have stormed the breastworks protecting the Nawab’s camp and the Bengal army is in flight. Pursuit is insignificant but unnecessary – the Nawab’s power is broken.

Let Clive tell us the end of the tale himself:
“We immediately sent a detachment, accompanied with two field-pieces, to take possession of a tank with high banks, which was advanced about three hundred yards above our grove, and from whence the enemy had considerably annoyed us with some cannon managed by Frenchmen. This motion brought them out a second time; but on finding them make no great effort to dislodge us, we proceeded to take possession of one or two more eminences lying very near an angle of their camp, from whence, and (from) an adjacent eminence in their possession, they kept a smart fire of musketry upon us. They made several attempts to bring out their cannon, but our advanced field-pieces played so warmly and so well upon them, that they were always drove back. Their horse exposing themselves a good deal on this occasion, many of them were killed, and among the rest four or five officers of the first distinction, by which the whole army being visibly dispirited and thrown into some confusion, we were encouraged to storm both the eminence and the angle of their camp, which were carried at the same instant, with little or no loss; though the latter was defended (exclusive of blacks) by forty French and two pieces of cannon; and the former by a large body of blacks, both foot and horse. On this, a general rout ensued, and we pursued the enemy six miles, passing upwards of forty pieces of cannon they had abandoned, with an infinite number of hackeries, and carriages filled with baggage of all kinds. Suraj-u-Dowlah escaped on a camel, and reaching Moorshedabad early next morning, dispatched away what jewels and treasure he conveniently could, and he himself followed at midnight, with only two or three attendants."
And that was that.
The Outcome: Decisive strategic British victory with geopolitical implications. Siraj-ud-daulah is eventually captured and murdered by Mir Jafar’s son, the duty of the new Nawab’s heir to secure his father’s throne. The HEIC takes effective possession of Bengal, securing a rich base of operations from which to subdue the rest of the subcontinent.What is worth noting is that the battle itself was a foregone conclusion. Sun Tzu says that the ultimate excellence in generalship is subduing your enemies without fighting. Clive ended up having to fight, but his cunning and the treacherous factionalism of the Nawab’s court ensured that he fought the smallest force possible, and that demoralized by the treachery they saw all around them. The British didn’t acquire their empire by nobility and fair play; cheap wickets where they could get ‘em and if the end meant some fairly filthy means, well, the victors write the histories, then, don’t they?

The British in India did this again and again – played off one ruler against another, one ethnic or religious group against another. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. At least in the medium term that mattered to John Company and, later, to the Crown.

The Effects: The immediate effect was to ensure British conquest of the Indian subcontinent. The victory at Plassey made Bengal a British colony for the next 200 years. It also enabled the HEIC to push towards central India, where seven years later the Battle of Buxar gutted the last of the Mughals, and opened the rest of the lands of what are today India and Pakistan to British rule. Final conquest of India took the next sixty years, but Plassey and Buxar ensured that the British would never be driven back into the sea.In the medium and global terms, possession of India meant that Great Britain went from being another one of the colonial powers of Europe to being the preeminent one, and, having the most to lose, the most aggressive. Many of Britain’s colonial wars and conquests over the next 150 years were begun, or accomplished, to serve some geopolitical purpose related to ruling India. Many of her African possessions were acquired to ensure passage from the home islands to India; Egypt and South Africa, certainly, and the expansion inwards towards central Africa began from there. Indian opium brought war with China, Indian commerce brought in colonies like Singapore, Oman and the Trucial States.

In the long term, and still affecting us today, the British left a legacy of envy, loathing, admiration, hatred and disruption to the places they conquered and ruled. If we’ve learned one thing from the Age of Colonialism, it should be that having your land taken from you and being ruled by a foreigner who has no interest in you or your land other than as something to transform into a tool for his hand is unlikely to result in unalloyed benefits for the conquered.Apologists for colonialism, people like Niall Ferguson, like to point at things like parliamentary democracy and market economics, freeways and flush toilets as the benefit of having a bunch of foreigners come from out of nowhere, knock you down, shove a tool in your hand and make you work for them while whoring out your daughters and drafting your sons for their soldiers. And to Niall, this may, indeed, be a fair trade for democracy, flush toilets and the rest. It is instructive to note, however, than whenever the people conquered by these helpful foreigners have had a chance, they have rebelled and killed as many of the foreigners, down to their women and babies, as possible.And after the land mine, semiautomatic rifle and the electronic media made colonialism passé; in the 20th Century, none of these peoples invited their benevolent overlords to stay on.

Strange, that. Hmmm.

Another artifact of battles like Plassey is the feelings of inferiority, resentment and anger resident in people all over the world at the Western technologies and training that enabled small bands of Europeans – Cortez in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, Clive in India, Kitchener in the Sudan and Elgin in China – to defeat much larger armies of native peoples lacking the military organization and firearms capability of the Spanish, French and British. This sense of irritation at the know-it-all Westerners is one of the reasons they don’t seem to greet us with flowers and candy. Frankly, they’re tired of getting their ass run over every time some Western power gets a wild hair up its ass.

And I can’t say I altogether blame them.

Touchline Tattles: The paucity of unofficial sources makes it difficult to come up with an unusual or quirky little story about Plassey. Perhaps the best story to tell is the tale of Mir Jafar, the traitor whose eagerness to sell his ruler and his people in return for a throne is central to the story of Plassey.

True to their secret arrangement, the officials of the HEIC appointed Jafar the new Nawab, while in the process levying massive indemnities and demands on the principality of Bengal. In less than a year, Jafar was seeing that the British had made him a leader so he could lead his people into virtual slavery. He turned to the Dutch for help, only to find that the British had a way of besting other white people, too. They beat the Dutch and their Malay levies at a battle near Chinsurah in 1759. Piqued at their supposed-puppet John Company forced him to abdicate in favor of his son-in-law.

Who also rebelled against the British, in 1762.

So Mir Jafar returned, to spend the last three years of his life as Nawab.His legacy is as disparate as the legacy of British colonialism in Bengal.

One of his descendants was the first President of Pakistan.

And his name – “mirjafar” – means “traitor” in Bengali, much as “raguser” means “to welch” in French and “Quisling” means to betray and toady to an oppressive conqueror the world over.